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Data Sheet—Why Corporate Boards Need to Work Harder

November 30, 2017, 1:35 PM UTC

A trade group that represents directors of corporate boards releases the results of its annual board member survey this morning. Here’s a shocker: Technology issues feature prominently on the mind of boards from tech and non-tech companies alike.

Industry change, business-model disruption, cybersecurity threats, and technology disruption itself are each among the tops threats cited by boards, as surveyed by the National Association of Corporate Directors. Each in its own is a reflection of the underbelly of breathtaking changes in Silicon Valley and its regional competitors.

This makes sense. Directors are typically accomplished people from various industries or academic disciplines. Rules require financial acumen on a board of a publicly traded company but not technical savvy. Thus, 46% of the 587 corporate directors (representing 520 companies) surveyed cited disruption to their companies’ business models as a concern.

Technology is supposed to make the world better, but in one key component the bosses of the bosses at public companies think things are getting worse. A mere 37% are either confident their company has adequate protections against cyberattacks. That’s down from 42% last year.

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Interestingly, deregulation isn’t bothering the directors, 8% of whom cited it as a concern. Fewer still, 6%, are concerned about the effects of climate change on their companies.

My favorite non-shocking nugget from the survey is that while a vast majority of directors feel like they understand the culture at the top of the company—in other words, the CEO and management team they deal with most often, 35% felt they had their finger on the pulse of the middle ranks and 18% understood the rank and file. It’s hardly shocking that boards of directors, parachute artists who get paid handsomely to attend a few meetings a year, are clueless about what’s happening at the company beyond what the CEO tells them. They don’t appear intent on doing anything about climate change. Perhaps they could focus some of their energies on understanding the companies they’ve been tasked to oversee.

Adam Lashinsky


Whoopsie. TechCrunch tracked down the former Twitter employee who deactivated President Trump's account on his way out the door. Bahtiyar Duysak says the move was a "mistake" and he didn't actually think Trump's account would be deactivated. "I didn’t hack anyone. I didn’t do anything that I was not authorized to do,” he said.

Time travel tracker. The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in what could end up as a landmark privacy case over the use of cellphone location data. Without a search warrant, police in the case obtained about four months of historical location data for a suspect. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the info seemed to go beyond the expectations of privacy of most people. “I can believe that my location at one moment or other moments might be searched by police, but I don’t expect them to track me down for 24 hours over 127 days,” Sotomayor said. If you want the longer version, the court posted the full transcript on its web site.

Do the right thing. After reporters discovered that Facebook's ad system was still allowing the exclusion of groups like Jews and African Americans, the social network temporarily disabled those options. The ban will last “until we can better ensure that our tools will not be used inappropriately," chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a letter to Congress.

Gone fishing. A computer glitch could mess up travel plans for anyone booked on American Airlines over the Christmas holiday. A program that allocates time off for pilots accidentally allowed thousands to skip out on the holidays potentially affecting 15,000 flights. American is offering 50% pay premiums to lure the pilots back and says it does not expect mass cancellations.

Going down. Big tech stocks have had a banner year in the market, but not on Wednesday. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google—known as FANG—dropped a combined 4%, shedding $60 billion in value, Bloomberg notes. Some saw a bit of profit taking after a good year, other blamed tax reform plans that won't help tech companies much, if at all.

Can you hear me now. There's not much broadband competition around the country but perhaps the advent of faster 5G wireless networks will help. Verizon said on Wednesday that it would start rolling out a home broadband offering via 5G next year, initially in five cities. But many details are still unknown, including pricing and the imposition of usage caps.

Not your dad's laptop. As I recently mentioned I would do, I got a Google Pixelbook and used it as my main computer for a few weeks. Pretty slick for a Chromebook and—with the addition of Android apps—now pretty useful, too. For more, this is my full review of the Pixelbook.


DNA tests are the gold standard in criminal trials, seemingly allowing a judge and jurors to know precisely whether a defendant was at the scene of the crime. But not all criminals leave behind enough genetic material for a traditional DNA matching protocol.

Enter the company Cybergenetics and its algorithm-powered matching software program TrueAllele. The app allows prosecutors to offer likely DNA matches as evidence. However, as Jessica Pishko writes for Backchannel, no one outside of the company has seen the code underlying those algorithms, which it claims are trade secrets. That's not good enough for the lawyers of people convicted with evidence from TrueAllele, like Billy Ray Johnson, Pishko notes:

Johnson’s case is just one of many that used TrueAllele or other prototypes like it. But his lawyers—along with the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Northern California Innocence Project—are making the case that trial court’s decision not to allow defense experts to examine the source code prevented him from getting a fair trial. Jennifer Friedman, the forensic expert for the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office, which also submitted a brief in the Johnson trial, called the decision not to require the source code “problematic.” “When we move into this technology, we are moving people who are doing algebra into doing calculus,” she added.


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Today would be the 350th birthday of Irish writer and satirist Jonathan Swift. The author of Gulliver's Travels might be particularly well-suited to skewering our current political situation, book reviewer Ron Charles observed in the Washington Post this week. "As contemporary allusions are worn away by the acid rain of history, the profound insights of a great work of satire grow more prominent," Charles writes.

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