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Data Sheet—Keeping Google’s Other Bets ‘Reasonably Sized’

November 21, 2017, 1:54 PM UTC

It’s all relative.

That’s the most powerful point Ruth Porat, chief financial officer of Google, and its parent, Alphabet, made to me in a recent interview. Before the creation of Alphabet, she told me, investors thought the company’s non-core projects—self-driving cars, Internet balloons, and the like—were losing on the order of $10 billion or $11 billion a year. “The reality was that the operating loss was around $3.5 billion that first year,” says Porat. “And I think that what that said is we have a portfolio of businesses we’re investing in, and it’s a really reasonably sized portfolio.”

It’s a profound statement. Because Google—which doesn’t give financial guidance the way most other companies do—was losing less in a particular kind of investment than investors thought, suddenly those investors were more excited about the financial prospects of Google overall. None of this changed the bottom line in any way, though the shift also helped Wall Street understand better just how good Google’s core business is. In fact, Alphabet’s renamed “other bets” continue to lose roughly the same amount of money as they did two years ago. But investors seem to like them corralled in their safe place.

The bottom line here is that good communication—transparent, forthright, detailed—can make a huge difference, as can finding the right communicator. Credit Porat, a longtime investment banker, with helping Google figure that out, and Google for finding Porat.

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A fuller account of my interview with Porat appears in the current issue of Fortune. I also discussed with her how long Google will keep giving away so much food to its employees—and, in my case, visitors. (The current tally is 178,000 meals daily.) Spoiler alert: Porat promises free grub for Googlers for a very long time.

Adam Lashinsky


At war. The Trump administration went to court to block AT&T's $109 billion acquisition of Time Warner. Antitrust regulators rarely sue to stop mergers that don't involve direct competitors but the Justice Department claims the combined companies could use popular Time Warner TV programming to hamper rivals of AT&T's pay TV services. There obviously may be another reason for the lawsuit, given the president's opposition. The Editorial Board of USA Today said the lawsuit "smacks of politics."

Meanwhile, in another part of the city. Another Trump agency, the Federal Communications Commission, is planning to completely erase its 2015 net neutrality rules, Politico reported. Internet service providers will no longer be banned from blocking or slowing web content but would be required to disclose such practices.

Lost at sea. Skype has gone missing from Apple’s App Store in China and several Android app stores for almost a month. Apple says it was “notified by the Ministry of Public Security that a number of voice over Internet protocol apps do not comply with local law,” and had to be removed.

Lost at sea, part two. The FBI says it hasn't been able to access data on the iPhone used by the gunman in the Sutherland Springs church shooting that killed 26 people earlier this month. Now police have served Apple with a search warrant for help in cracking the device, potentially setting up another showdown like last year's battle over an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers

Invisible ink. Amazon has created a special private section of its cloud service for the government's intelligence agencies. As opposed to, say, the "US East-1 Region, the "Secret Region" is designed to hold classified data.

The future fast approaches. Uber placed an order with Volvo for 24,000 self-driving cars. The non-exclusive deal for XC90 SUVs runs from 2019 to 2021.


Machine learning programs are turning out to be a useful tool for powering new applications in myriad fields. Image recognition, real-time translation, and what about solving murders? Former journalist Thomas Hargrove thinks so. He has built a massive database with the details of more than 715,000 murder cases going back to 1976. As Alec Wilkinson explores in a profile for the New Yorker, Hargrove is using software analysis to look for patterns to help crack unsolved cases. He calls it a "serial-killer detector."

Hargrove began by requesting homicide reports from 1980 to 2008; they included more than five hundred thousand murders. At the start, he knew “what the computer didn’t know,” he said. “I could see the victims in the data.” He began trying to write an algorithm that could return the victims of a convicted killer. As a test case, he chose Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, who, starting in the early eighties, murdered at least forty-eight women in Seattle, and left them beside the Green River. Above his desk, Hargrove taped a mugshot of Ridgway in which he looks tired and sullen. Underneath it, he wrote, “What do serial victims look like statistically?”


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You are probably familiar with a variety of global emergencies like climate change, species extinction, and drug resistant bacteria. But did you know about the looming global shortage of...sand? Seems impossible, right? Nope. As Smithsonian reports, sand shortages are breaking out all over.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.