Data Sheet—Thursday, April 13, 2017

April 13, 2017, 1:03 PM UTC

I’d like to take a break from the usual tech stuff to have a short conversation about trees.

Indulge me just this once, and I promise to do my best to make you glad you stuck with me despite that surprising first sentence. Tech people obsess about all sorts of things: the ingredients in their food, the pixels on their screens, their gas mileage—or electric range—their cars get. On Wednesday morning, San Franciscans who still get a newspaper woke up to a delightful article in the hometown newspaper about a 5.4-acre city park being built on the roof of the massive new transportation complex, the Transbay Transit Center.

If the park is as great as it sounds, it will make up for the misery its construction has caused the city for years now. It is our version of the Big Dig in Boston—a gargantuan, traffic-clogging, money pit that ought to make things better but so far has messed things up pretty good.

Now comes the fun part. The city’s newest big park will be a veritable rooftop botanical garden, with multiple species of trees from all over. In fact, writes J.K. Dineen, the ace real estate reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle, there will eventually be 469 trees in the park, and they currently are being staged at nurseries all over California.

All this was good enough. And then I came to the tech-related nugget that caught my eye.

“Buying trees is a surprisingly cutthroat business. And it’s been especially challenging to locate desirable specimens because Apple has been buying up 3,000 trees for its new Cupertino headquarters. When [the landscape architects working on the project] found a tree they fancied they would ‘tag it’ with a locking yellow tag, so that nobody else—like Apple—could get it.”

Apple, of course, has been a famous buyer of trees for its new campus, a quest that dates to the love Steve Jobs had for apricot trees that once dotted the Santa Clara Valley around where he grew up. This marvelous feature from VentureBeat’s Chris O’Brien details just how overpowering Apple’s appetite for trees is.

That’s it. No bits and bytes today. But I hope this helps you see the forest for the trees, because that’s important too.


Google lawyers: Uber expected to be sued over self-driving car technology. According to court testimony on Wednesday, the ride-sharing company was in contact with Anthony Levandowski mere days after he left his Google post to start Otto, a software firm focused on technology for automating trucks. Alphabet's Waymo division alleges that Levandowski took more than 14,000 confidential documents, which it believes are now in Uber's possession. (Wall Street Journal)

Toshiba's relationship with Western Digital could complicate the sale of its chip division. The U.S. computer drive and memory company has a joint venture with the Japanese conglomerate—together they own several semiconductor factories. For that reason, at least two new reports suggest that Western Digital thinks it should get special consideration as Toshiba considers buyout offers for its memory business. Toshiba needs the money to help cover losses from its U.S. nuclear operations. (Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg)

BlackBerry's stock gets big boost from Qualcomm settlement. The mobile chipmaker must refund close to $815 million in past royalties that the Canadian company paid on its smartphones, according to an arbitration ruling made public on Wednesday. For perspective, that amount is almost two-thirds the revenue that BlackBerry reported for its fiscal 2017. The decision can't be appealed. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)

Oracle CEO: We don't need as many data centers as the competition. The giant software company spent "just" $1.7 billion to expand its data center capacity, an amount that pales in comparison to the estimated $31 billion collectively spent by rivals Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Oracle co-CEO Mark Hurd said his company doesn't need to spend as much because the servers and databases behind its cloud software are just that much more efficient. His view: “This isn’t a battle of capex. This is about R&D, about technology, software, innovation and IP; and then the capex to make it work." (Fortune)

This technology could help self-driving cars see better. Luminar, founded by 22-year-old Stanford University dropout Austin Russell, is developing a next-generation LiDAR system that he believes has better reaction time than current options. LiDAR combines cameras, sensors, and software to help vehicles avoid obstacles, including pedestrians. (Fortune)


No fast lanes: What the tech industry just told the FCC about net neutrality. As the chairman of the FCC makes plans to tear up the Internet policy known as net neutrality, Silicon Valley is beginning to voice its displeasure.

After a Tuesday meeting with Pai, the Internet Association—a lobby group representing the likes of Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Microsoft—shared a summary of its positions.

According to the document, the tech industry wants the FCC to forbid Internet service providers from using "choke point[s]" to extract fees from websites or to slow down certain sites. The industry also wants the agency to prohibit companies like Comcast or Verizon to forbid "prioritized access," or what are commonly known as "fast lanes" for favored websites. Fortune's Jeff John Roberts weighs in about what's at stake, and why the comments may fall on deaf ears.


Did you know one of Twitter's top engineers left last month? Chris Pinkham, a now-former vice president who lists his current status as "underemployed," was previously part of the team that created Amazon's cloud services. (Fortune)

Three of the top 10 best-paid CEOs in the U.S. last year were women in tech. The female executives earning that distinction were Oracle's Safra Catz, Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Meg Whitman, and IBM's Ginni Rometty. In that order. (Fortune)

We're keeping tabs on the Uber executive exodus. Eight high-ranking managers have left since February (at least the departures that were disclosed publicly), including Uber's president Jeff Jones, who probably wasn't pleased about the company's ongoing search for a chief operating officer. (Fortune, New York Times, Fortune)


Former Flex CEO Wants to Upend the Multi-Trillion Dollar Construction Industry, by Jonathan Vanian

Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Will Tackle Fake News As It Did Click Bait, by Robert Hackett

How Unlimited Wireless Plans Aid Cord-Cutting Consumers, by Aaron Pressman

Qualtrics Raises $180 Million, In No Hurry to IPO, by Erin Griffith

Etsy Is Making These Sustainability Tools Available for Free, by Rachel King

Roku Is Watching You, But There's a Reason for That, by Don Reisinger

Amazon Gives Parents More Control Over What Their Kids Do Online, by Leena Rao

Robots May Deliver Your New Meal, by Jonathan Vanian


Burger King designed its latest ad to wake up your Google Home device. The fast-food company found a clever way to engage Google's voice-controlled home automation gadget with a television spot that prompts it to perform an Internet search for its Whopper sandwich. Apparently, Google wasn't amused though—it found a way to thwart the gimmick. (Fortune, New York Times)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.
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