Data Sheet—Facebook’s Biggest Problem? Its Arrogance

March 19, 2018, 2:32 PM UTC

My favorite line in the dense and important New York Times article this weekend about Cambridge Analytica and its consumer-data bamboozlement of Facebook, came near the beginning. Facebook, America’s preeminent general-purpose daily newspaper wrote, “downplayed” for a week the scope of the data the Mercer-backed organization siphoned from it and “questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control.”

Presented with evidence to the contrary, Facebook changed its tune. Its lawyer called the attack a “scam,” professed to be shocked, shocked there was gambling going on here, and promised to “take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. It is a pattern for Facebook. CEO Mark Zuckerberg labeled allegations that Facebook had been used by Russian baddies to help sway the 2016 election “crazy.” Then he found out what happened and promised to fix Facebook.

Among Facebook’s many problems is its arrogance. It assumes it is right, takes umbrage at any suggestion otherwise, then earnestly promises to fix whatever is broken.

I am no disinterested party here. Facebook for several years has condescended to an often gullible news industry by falsely promising to direct a firehose of revenue-producing readers its way—all while hoovering up what economics were left. Something equally important is happening now. Facebook is condescending to entire countries and is proving unable or unwilling quickly to right its wrongs.

A good first step might not be assuming it is right when queried about its potential malfeasance. Facebook’s recent record would suggest otherwise. Some humility, among other things, is in order.


I highly recommend the lead editorial and cover story in this week’s Economist, which delves far more deeply and intelligently into the China-versus-U.S. industry policy battle I flicked at last week. This superpower fracas defies easy explanation or facile arguments. The topic is important to every business everywhere, but particularly in technology. It’s time to dig in.


Billions and billions. Alibaba is doubling its investment in Lazada Group, its Southeast Asian online marketplace subsidiary, with another $2 billion. The Chinese e-commerce giant is also replacing the Singapore-based company's founder and CEO, Max Bittner, with Lucy Peng, an Alibaba cofounder and confidante. Previously, Peng helped build Ant Financial (née Alipay), Alibaba’s mobile payments affiliate.

No crypto for you. Following Google and Facebook's lead, Twitter is reportedly planning to ban cryptocurrency advertisements on its site. Ads promoting "initial coin offerings," or ICOs, and other digital token sales, have flooded social networks in recent months amid surging hype around cryptoassets, like Bitcoin. Twitter's alleged upcoming prohibition, first reported by Sky News, follows statements by various U.S. financial regulators that suggest these projects should be regarded as selling securities.

Let's go places. Uber is said to be in talks to sell self-driving car tech to Toyota. Japanese media outlet Nikkei, which reported on Friday that the companies were negotiating a possible deal, noted that Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute, recently met with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi at the ride-hailing firm's Pittsburgh R&D center. Uber already has partnerships related to autonomous vehicles with automakers Volvo and Daimler.

Video killed the radio star. Chinese tech giant Baidu's video streaming unit iQiyi is preparing for an initial public offering on the NASDAQ exchange. The Netflix-like business plans to sell 125 million shares at a price of $17 to $19 each for a total of about $2.4 billion. The IPO is expected to give iQiyi some financial firepower to go head-to-head with rival Alibaba's Youku Tudou service.

Et tu, Mollenkopf? Qualcomm is ousting Paul Jacobs, its former chairman and son of its founder, from the company's board of directors. Qualcomm plans to eliminate Jacobs' seat on March 23, just days after he revealed a long-shot plan to take the company private in a leveraged buyout. Last week President Donald Trump blocked Singapore-based Broadcom's $117 billion hostile bid for Qualcomm.

Losing focus. Micro Focus, a London tech giant that bought $8.8 billion worth of software assets from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, is having a rough time. After reporting an expected drop in revenues, Chris Hsu, Micro Focus' CEO, resigned and the company's share price more than halved. Micro Focus' chief operating officer, Stephen Murdoch, is taking over as interim CEO.


What's behind the sudden spate of health care companies inking gargantuan deals? That's the question that fuels "Tech's Next Big Wave: Big Data Meets Biology," the cover story in the latest edition of Fortune. A sample of the recent activity: CVS at the end of last year announced its intention to acquire insurer Aetna for $69 billion. Soon after, an unconventional business trio—Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and J.P. Morgan Chase—said it would team up on a joint venture to tackle rising health care costs. And earlier this month, Cigna proposed to buy pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts for more than $50 billion.

What’s driving this frenzy of health care–related dealmaking? On first glance you might think it’s merely the pursuit of mass itself. Of “scale,” as management types like to say. But in truth, there’s a more powerful catalyst—one so gargantuan and infinitesimal at the same time that it sounds like the answer to a riddle. And that’s data.

More specifically, it’s your data: your individual biology, your health history and ever-fluctuating state of well-being, where you go, what you spend, how you sleep, what you put in your body and what comes out. The amount of data you slough off everyday—in lab tests, medical images, genetic profiles, liquid biopsies, electrocardiograms, to name just a few—is overwhelming by itself. Throw in the stuff from medical claims, clinical trials, prescriptions, academic research, and more, and the yield is something on the order of 750 quadrillion bytes every day—or some 30% of the world’s data production. These massive storehouses of information have always been there. But now, thanks to a slew of novel technologies, sophisticated measuring devices, ubiquitous connectivity and the cloud, and yes, artificial intelligence, companies can harness and make sense of this data as never before. “It’s not the data,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. “It’s the analytics. Up until three-to-five years ago, all that data was just sitting there. Now it’s being analyzed and interpreted. It’s the most radical change happening in health care.”


Here's What to Expect from Apple's March 27 Event, by Don Reisinger

Lithium-Silicon Batteries Could Give Your Phones 30% More Power, by David Z. Morris

Steve Jobs' Daughter Is Writing a Memoir About Their Complicated Relationship, by Verne Kopytoff

What to Know About 2018's First Big Tech IPO, by Robert Hackett

Congress Wants to Use Blockchain Tech to Make Government 'More Efficient', by Lucinda Shen

Adrian Lamo, Hacker Who Turned in Chelsea Manning, Dies at 37, by Jamie Ducharme

IBM Built a Computer the Size of a Grain of Salt. Here's What It's For, by David Meyer


Once upon a time an animator named Walt Disney built a recipe for commercial success: adapt old fairytales into squeaky-clean, nuance-free cartoon blockbusters. This Paris Review essay explores Disney's lore-laundromat through the career of an ill-fated illustrator, Kay Nielsen, whose gorgeous, rejected concept sketches for films like The Little Mermaid depict a hauntingly beautiful fantasy world that might have been. "Disney made his versions canon; the originals were reduced to curiosities," the author writes.

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

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