Data Sheet—Facebook’s Endless Defense Takes On Endless Critiques
The long knives are out for Facebook. Watching it thrust and parry, without appearing to be defensive, will make for Silicon Valley’s most compelling political theater of the season.
This week Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer and top business executive, made the rounds on Capitol Hill, telling lawmakers and journalists that Facebook cares. Sandberg is an awkward position. She was certain 11 months ago Facebook hadn’t affected the U.S. presidential election when it became apparent that Russian fraudsters spread lies to the U.S. electorate on the social network. Now she and her company aren’t so sure, and they’re trying to make amends.
I liken the treatment Facebook is getting to what I used to call the New York Yankees Effect. The best team in the biggest market with the most colorful players was going to get a ton of scrutiny for everything it did. (Yankees fans, for the first time in years, have a shot at being hated again, and they couldn’t be happier.) Likewise, whatever happens on Facebook is magnified by the appropriate scrutiny applied to the market leader, especially one that is so sure of its righteousness—until it isn’t.
Revisionism will follow. Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton dug up remorseful ex-employees of Facebook, chagrined by the monster they Frankensteined to life. African-American legislators have found their opening, again, appropriately, to criticize Facebook’s lack of diversity, particularly on its board of directors.
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A funny thing about Facebook’s “problems.” Eleven months ago, when I wrote a feature that celebrated Mark Zuckerberg as Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year, the company was worth $350 billion. Today Facebook is worth half a trillion dollars. Facebook can spend and talk endlessly to defend itself so long as it keeps printing money.
As far as that goes, there’s no end in sight.
Stranger and stranger. The leadership vacuum at Samsung in the wake of chairman Jay Y. Lee's bribery conviction deepened on Friday when CEO and Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun tendered his surprise resignation. The move came even as Samsung's stock price hit an all-time high after the company reported record operating profit of $13 billion in the third quarter. “The timing is nonsensical," one analyst told Reuters.
Spreading disgrace. The scandal over Harvey Weinstein hit Amazon on Thursday night, as the Internet giant said it was "reviewing our options" over two expensive shows being made with Weinstein's company. Amazon also suspended Roy Price, the head of content for its video unit, after allegations were made public that he had sexually harassed producer Isa Hackett.
Not you, too, Pikachu. Russian efforts to spread propaganda and fuel racial divisions during last year's election went beyond top social networks like Facebook and even included using Pokémon GO, according to CNN. A Russia-linked account sponsored a contest to encourage people to search for Pokémon creatures at locations where alleged incidents of police brutality had occurred and name any monster captured there for the victims.
No comment. Ajit Pai, the Trump-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, regularly spoke out in the past in favor of a free press. His agency "has the duty to speak out whenever Americans’ First Amendment rights are at stake,” Pai said last year. But when asked this week to comment on Trump's threats against NBC News, Pai's office was silent.
The enemy of my enemy. Target joined Google's unofficial anti-Amazon alliance on Thursday, agreeing to become a seller on Google's voice-controlled shopping platform accessible via smart speakers. Walmart earlier agreed to a similar deal as the big box retailers line up to fend off Amazon's voice-shopping network on its Alexa voice-controlled devices.
Pop pop. Yesterday's two initial public offerings of tech companies received a warm welcome to the stock market. CarGurus closed at $27.58, up 72%, and Restoration Robotics ended at $9.92, up 42%.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Alibaba Is Adding This Key Technology to Its Growing Cloud By Barb Darrow
HP Inc. Plans a Push Into 3D Printers That Create Metal Objects By Jonathan Vanian
Bitcoin Surges Past $5,300 to an All-Time High By Jeff John Roberts
Elon Musk's SpaceX May Fuel $1 Trillion Space Business Boom By Aaron Pressman
Google Promises Change to U.S. Workforce With $1 Billion Pledge By Jeff John Roberts
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
After Facebook's virtual reality announcements this week, Fortune's Jonathan Vanian sat down with the company's chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, to discuss the new Go headsets, his views about VR’s cousin technology, augmented reality, and the impact of relatively new Oculus chief Hugo Barra. Vanian asked about all the competition from others making VR gear like Samsung and Dell. But Schroepfer didn't sound worried:
We hoped that more people would build stuff. I’d be worried if we were the only ones. Because the thing that developers ask for more than anything is a bigger market for their apps. The bigger the market is for the apps, the more developers, and the more great content. This is why we’ve been so focused on trying to get the price down, trying to make things easy for consumers. Because you build a consumer base, then you get developers building awesome stuff, and then lots of amazing stuff happens.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.
The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of 23andMe
23andme has always been the most visible face of direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and it is more formidable now than ever before. In September, the company announced that it had raised $250 million: more than the total amount of capital raised by the company since its inception. Investors estimate that it is worth more than $1 billion, making it a "unicorn" in Silicon Valley parlance—a rare and valuable thing to behold. But for scientists, 23andme's real worth is in its data. With more than 2 million customers, the company hosts by far the largest collection of gene-linked health data anywhere.
Chop and Change: Hacking Is Making Its Way From the Tech Industry to Furniture
As Alexander Lotersztain, the founder of Les Basic, an Australian furniture brand, explains, “hackable” has two meanings. One is the capacity to physically adapt a product in order to change what it looks like or what it does. His modular sofa, Homework, can have tables and power points added to it. “Hackable” can also refer to designs that perform more than one function: he gives the example of another of his products, Valet, an integrated stool and table with wheels, which can be a bedside table, a portable office or a plant stand.
The Toxic Saga of the World’s Greatest Fish Market
Tsukiji is the most exalted fish market on earth, the sort of humbling place that causes the likes of globally worshipped god-chef René Redzepi to deem it one of the “seven culinary wonders of the world.” With nearly 671 licensed wholesale dealers selling more than 500 different kinds of seafood—$17 million worth a day, and more than 700,000 tons a year—the 23-hectare market is so vital to the global commercial flow of fish that it’s almost impossible to imagine how the international sea critter industry would fare without it.
How The Princess Bride Built Film’s Most Beloved Sword Fight
For six months, Princess Bride star Mandy Patinkin had trained to become Inigo Montoya, the world’s greatest swordsman. His worthy opponent, the Man in Black/Westley—played by Cary Elwes—had four months of prep under his belt as well. Spirits were high as the actors performed their duel for director Rob Reiner on the Cliffs of Insanity set for the first time, in London in 1986.
BEFORE YOU GO
Criticize the commissioner of the National Football League on Twitter and you may have faced some hostile pushback from an account called @forargument. The account has no followers and no profile picture, but the Wall Street Journal unmasked the writer: Goodell’s wife, Jane Skinner Goodell.