Data Sheet—Mark Zuckerberg’s Natty Apparel and Other Takeaways From a Day on Capitol Hill
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I swear I tried to get interested in Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony Tuesday. I couldn’t.
I loved his exchange with Dick Durbin, who got the Facebook CEO to acknowledge he wouldn’t want to disclose the name of the hotel where he slept Monday night. Touché, senator. I cringed at Zuckerberg’s suggestion that somehow innovation can’t survive government regulation—as if Facebook has a libertarian right to keep moving fast and breaking things. And I continue to fail to see the distinction between Facebook, a company that is responsible for the content on its “platform,” and media companies that produce the content they publish. Who cares? Facebook is a media company and should be legally treated as such.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my ennui over Zuckerberg’s calm zigging and zagging in the face of perplexed lawmaker who stopped just short of asking about the “pipes” that make up the Internet. Investors were giddily bored, too. They bid up Facebook’s shares 4.5%.
What really interested me, though, was the attention paid to Zuckerberg’s natty blue suit, crisp white shirt, and Facebook blue tie. I’ve long been obsessed by the nuanced focus on apparel in Silicon Valley. When I arrived 20 years ago from the buttoned-up Midwest, I couldn’t understand why my newspaper colleagues at The San Jose Mercury News, casual Monday through Thursday, got ripped-jean-and-t-shirts relaxed on Friday. I started wearing a tie on the last day of the work week just to be contrarian.
Zuckerberg has been the picture of dressed-down Silicon Valley since the day he arrived. His well-tailored suit for Capitol Hill was rightly viewed as a sign of respect.
It’s hard to believe we now have an entire additional day of this. Maybe he’ll wear a color other than blue.
Uber fans questioned my skepticism Tuesday about the company’s purchase of bike-sharing startup Jump. “Could bike sharing be a baby step toward Uber’s future as a fleet manager?” asked one reader? “If Uber is seriously considering autonomous, then there won’t be drivers to own the vehicles and Uber will have to gain competency around managing a fleet of cars filled with high-end tech.” Another told me Uber quickly accounted for a large share of Jump’s rides after just six months of partnership.
I’m open-minded on this one.
Stupid is as stupid does. In addition to Adam’s analysis, and stories about Mark Zuckerberg’s rookie mistake of leaving his notes in view when he took a break, there were a wide variety of takes on the testimony. Los Angeles Times reporters David Pierson and Tracey Lien had one of the sharpest, looking at how lawmakers may craft new regulations in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. At the other end of the spectrum, the Washington Post went with this headline: “Members of Congress can’t possibly regulate Facebook. They don’t understand it.” That seems to forget that those members commonly regulate health care, banking, and numerous other areas far more complex than Facebook. (Spoiler alert: It only takes a few smart legislators and many smart aides to write a good law.)
Perhaps the writer also missed some of the tougher, smarter questions that came towards the end of the hearing from senators like former California Attorney General Kamala Harris and former New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan. But the line of the day came more than four hours into the hearing, from former Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, expertly delivered in his slow southern drawl: “Here’s what everybody’s been trying to tell you today, and—and I say this gently—your user agreement sucks.”
Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. T-Mobile’s on-again, off-again merger talks with rival Sprint are back on again, the Wall Street Journal reports. Plans to combine the third and fourth ranked wireless carriers most recently collapsed back in November over price and control issues. T-Mobile is majority-owned by Deutsche Telekom while Sprint is mostly owned by Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group.
What’s normal anyways. The troll-iest of online platforms, Reddit, disclosed Tuesday that it, too, had been a victim of Russian trolls seeking to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. CEO Steve Huffman seemed thrilled that the efforts had been detected over a year too late: “I am pleased to say that these investigations have shown that the efforts of our Trust & Safety and Anti-Evil teams are working.” If you have to have an “anti-evil team,” though, wow.
I ran clear to the ocean. In the next few weeks, Spotify will roll out a new, easier-to-use version of its free with ads streaming music service, Bloomberg reported. The aim is to attract more users and help Spotify hit its announced goal of 200 million users by year end, up from 157 million at the end of 2017.
Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. Office space startup Knotel raised $70 million of venture capital in a deal that valued the company at $500 million. While mainly renting space to freelancers, startups and small companies, Knotel is also developing an office listing service called KnotelKoin using blockchain technology.
It even rained at night. Massachusetts security firm Carbon Black appears to have no blockchain related plans, but filed to go public regardless. The company’s largely subscription-based cybersecurity offerings brought in $162 million last year, up 39% from 2016, but still generating a net loss of $84 million.
(Today’s headlines courtesy of a classic Tom Hanks/Robert Zemeckis collaboration.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Amid the hype over bitcoin and other digital currencies, a new wave of startups, investors and, sadly, scam artists created a cryptocurrency-like vehicle for raising money known as the initial coin offering, or ICO. Many have turned out to be crooked and federal regulators say at the very least most may constitute unregistered securities offerings. A team of reporters for Fast Company is digging into one of the first ICO cases to go on trial. Maksim Zaslavskiy claimed his “REcoin” was backed by real estate. Federal prosecutors charge it was all a scam. Zaslavskiy has pled not guilty. The case isn’t a slam dunk:
But proving beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed securities fraud with digital currency is a difficult task, the blockchain analyst (Preston) Byrne says. “That’s not easy to do by any stretch of the imagination for any crime, much less to say when you have a realm of activity where you’re dealing with very cutting-edge tech that you need to go and explain to a judge or a jury,” he says.
Byrne thinks regulators are doing what they can, given their limited resources. “There are only so many of them and there’s so much illegality,” he says.
But even investors are starting to catch up to the risks. “The nature of the market is changing so that ICOs have to do a lot more to prove that they are worth the investment from a regulatory and technology perspective,” Autonomous’ (Lex) Sokolin told Fast Company in an email.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Original programming efforts from tech companies like Amazon and Netflix have drawn heavily from the worlds of science fiction. (Think of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle or Netflix’s upcoming Lost in Space revival.) And it seems Apple is going in the same direction. In addition to a new space opera from Battlestar Galactica developer Ron Moore and a modernized Amazing Stories from Steven Spielberg, now comes word Apple is also contracting for a series based on sci-fi legend Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. The novels tell the story of “psycho-historian” Hari Seldon and his efforts to predict and redirect future history. We could all use a little redirection these days, it seems.