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Data Sheet—Friday, March 24, 2017

As promised, this morning Fortune published my profile of Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group and one of the most singular business executives of our time. With Ma’s distinctive look and Alibaba’s Wall Street success, he and it are well known and yet not well understood, at least in the developed economies where Alibaba’s presence is smallest. And yet Alibaba, at 18 years of age, already is a company for the ages. It is a runaway e-commerce success in the world’s second-largest market. And it is innovative too. Unlike retail giant Amazon, Alibaba is a mere platform for others to sell their wares. That “asset-light” strategy yields far better profits than Amazon at a fraction of the U.S. giant’s revenues.

Ma is an entrepreneur for the ages too. He’s a fluid, if charmingly unpolished, English speaker; a visionary; at times a flamethrower; and quite frequently a bridge between China and the Western world he has grown to know so well. He also has outside interests: He owns a newspaper (like that other guy), supports environmental causes, and evangelizes everywhere for small businesspeople as the foundation of economic development.

Neither Ma nor Alibaba are perfect. Like Chinese President Xi Jinping, Ma rhapsodizes about free trade—from the comfort of the world’s biggest protected market. Alibaba has a persistent counterfeit problem, one Ma is trying to solve but so far without success.

For all these reasons, Jack Ma ranks second on Fortune’s annual list of world’s greatest leaders—behind a decidedly American (and Chicagoan, no less!) pick. I hope you find additional insights on Ma’s leadership in my magazine article.


Yesterday wasn’t a banner day for Data Sheet. Some gremlins reproduced several sentences for no good reason. Also for no good reason, I confused the origin of the famous “know it when you see it” quote about pornography. It was Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart who wrote that, not his predecessor Louis Brandeis. (Thank you to the readers who pointed out the latter and to all of you who ignored the former.)

Other than trying hard to stop making them, I know exactly what to do when mistakes like this crop up: Go on vacation. I’m off next week. You’ll be in the capable hands of my Fortune colleagues, including the incomparable Heather Clancy.

Adam Lashinsky


Twitter is mulling a premium service. The social media company revealed that it’s assessing features to include in a potential new membership tier, one that could include “more powerful tools to help marketers, journalists, professionals, and others in our community find out what is happening in the world quicker.” There’s no word on what it might charge. (Reuters)

Tax lawyers at Amazon and Apple are earning their keep. Amazon prevailed in its fight with the Internal Revenue Service, which was trying to collect more than $1.5 billion in a case linked to transactions that happened more than 10 years ago. Meanwhile, Apple is facing scrutiny over an arrangement that reduced its liability in New Zealand. (Reuters, Fortune)

Samsung is delaying its restructuring plans amid leadership void. The South Korean conglomerate was planning to embrace a holding company structure, a move motivated by activist investor Elliot Management. But the national bribery trial involving several senior executives, including vice chairman Jay Y. Lee, has put that transition on hold. Samsung’s CEO Kwon Oh-hyun updated shareholders Friday, and apologized for Samsung’s role in the political scandal as well as for the massive Note 7 smartphone recall. (Reuters, Bloomberg)

Intel steps up hunt for artificial intelligence experts. The chip giant is building a dedicated research laboratory and product development group designed to anticipate potential applications—ones the Facebooks and Googles of the world might need five to seven years from now. (Wired)

Apple could be making iPhones in India within two months. The company is finalizing arrangements with Taiwanese contract manufacturer Wistron to start making iPhone 6 models in Bangalore, reports The Wall Street Journal. The move could help Apple reduce prices by up to $100 per iPhone. That’s huge for a market where most smartphones sell for less than $150. (Wall Street Journal)


Samsung’s latest smartphone will be unveiled officially next Wednesday. The company needs to get the Galaxy S8 launch right after the embarrassing battery glitches that doomed its predecessor. According to the rumor mill, the new handset will come with a curved screen and will be the first to use Qualcomm’s latest, greatest Snapdragon processor, making for faster performance than competitive products. If you can’t be at the introduction in New York, you can watch the event on the Internet. (Fortune)


WikiLeaks Says CIA Targeted iPhone Supply Chain Since 2008, by Don Reisinger

How Fossil’s Smartphone Embrace Could Challenge Apple, by Aaron Pressman

Why DARPA Funded a Farm Tech Startup, by Michal Lev-Ram

Twitter and Instagram Take More Steps to Remove Objectionable Content, by Barb Darrow

The Winklevoss Bitcoin Fund Might Not Be Dead Yet, by Jeff Bukhari


You can test for pregnancy at home, why not sperm counts? Harvard researchers have developed an inexpensive way to test semen samples using an Android smartphone app and a special phone case. (Fortune)


Enterprise Data World: Become a data-driven business. (April 2-7; Atlanta)

AppianWorld: Accelerate your digital business transformation. (April 3-5; San Francisco)

Magento Imagine: Strategies and technologies for digital commerce. (April 3-5; Las Vegas)

Open Networking Summit: The future of open source communications. (April 7-9; Santa Clara, Calif.)

MuleSoft Connect: Connect apps, data and devices. (April 18-20; San Francisco)

F8: Facebook’s developer conference. (April 18-19; San Jose, Calif.)

Marketing Nation Summit: Marketo’s annual event for digital marketers. (April 23-26; San Francisco)

JiveWorld: Strategies and technologies for workplace collaboration. (May 1-3; Las Vegas)

Apttus Accelerate: Perspectives on automating the “quote-to-cash” process. (May 2-4; San Francisco)

Collision: A tech conference created by the organizers of Europe’s Web Summit. (May 2-4; New Orleans)

Red Hat Summit: The premier open source technology event. (May 2-4; Boston)

Knowledge17: ServiceNow’s annual customer gathering. (May 7-11; Orlando, Fla.)

Gartner IT Operations Strategies & Solutions Summit: How to accommodate cloud services and other “digital” technologies. (May 8-10; Orlando, Fla.)

Gartner Digital Marketing Conference: Actionable advice about martech. (May 10-12: San Diego)

Outperform: The PROS annual conference about omnichannel commerce technology. (May 10-12; Chicago)

Build: Microsoft’s annual conference for software developers. (May 10-12; Seattle)

Google I/O: Alphabet’s annual developer conference. (May 17-19; Mountain View, California)

Epicor Insights: Strategies for retail and resource planning. (May 22-25; Nashville)

Signal: Twilio’s annual developer confab. (May 24-25; San Francisco)

Pure//Accelerate: The future of data storage. (June 12-14; San Francisco)

MongoDB World: A gathering of the world’s fastest-growing database community. (June 20-21; Chicago)

Cisco Live: Education for technology innovators. (June 25-29; Las Vegas)

Microsoft Ignite: Hands-on learning and industry insights for business leaders. (Sept. 25-29; Orlando, Florida)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.
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