Data Sheet—What Elon Musk and President Trump Have In Common

August 20, 2018, 11:54 AM UTC

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The comparison is brain-dead obvious. A bold-faced-name leader, as famous for his celebrity as his debt-fueled accomplishments, irresponsibly vomits his non-vetted thoughts onto Twitter. He attacks enemies a mature leader would ignore. Real consequences ensue.

I’m talking, of course, about Donald Trump and Elon Musk. The former isn’t particularly the purview of this newsletter, but the juxtaposition is startling. Both billionaires have accomplished greatness, one by parlaying a precariously successful real estate business into a legitimate entertainment (and, um, political) triumph, and the other by simultaneously disrupting three separate industries, four if you include his role at PayPal. Both are geniuses at raising money. Neither likes to be told “no” by those around them.

And both love Twitter, which even Twitter is realizing has become the direct-to-consumer scourge of our time.

Most of all, both lack the decency or maturity to turn the other cheek to perceived enemies. It’d be a good thing for the country if Donald Trump stopped dangerously portraying journalists as “enemies of the people.” Heck, it’d be great if he stopped tweet-insulting Americans of any kind. A mature president takes the criticism and, knowing he is the most powerful person in the world, rises above it.

Then there’s Elon Musk, who blames short sellers for so violently injuring Tesla Motors that he needs to thwart them—and remove the distraction they represent—by taking his company private. So instead of doing what mature CEOs under attack from short sellers do, which is successfully operate their company in a way that will defeat the short-sellers, he tweets. And he sends rescue teams to Thailand. And forms additional companies to bore holes in the earth and maybe manufacture candy. A learned man of great intelligence, Musk hasn’t had enough common sense to see that focusing would benefit him greatly right now and that tweeting is the antithesis of focusing.

For his Twitter sins Trump ultimately answers only to the voters, as it should be. Musk potentially has run afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nasdaq, and his own investors, meekly represented by Tesla’s board.

A Twitter time out, as Jack Dorsey wisely promulgated on another user, would be welcome. Musk has belatedly promised to refrain from tweeting about a buyout. As for the other guy, one can only hope.


Make the world a better place. Fortune unveiled its latest Change the World list of companies that are making things better via their businesses. The list includes more than a few tech companies, including India's disruptive telecom provider Reliance Jio at number one.

A case of the Mondays. The Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a complaint against Facebook, saying the company's advertising system facilitated illegal housing discrimination. “Facebook unlawfully discriminates by enabling advertisers to restrict which Facebook users receive housing-related ads based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability," the complaint said. Facebook said it prohibited discrimination and will "continue working directly with HUD to address their concerns.” The social network also faced pressure from the Justice Department. DOJ lawyers last week asked a judge to require the company to crack the encryption on its Messenger app to aid an investigation of the MS-13 gang.

Time is money. One of the reasons people prefer Netflix to standard cable is the lack of intrusive advertisements. But the service says it's now testing showing trailers promoting shows in between episodes of a show a viewer is watching. One viewer told Ars Technica they experienced an unskippable ad for the series Better Call Saul between episodes of Rick & Morty, for example.

Disappearing act. Apple pulled 25,000 apps from its App Store in China on Sunday, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The deleted apps were reportedly forbidden gambling apps. The move comes after CCTV reported last month that Apple was distributing gambling apps disguised as permissible lottery apps.

Wavering. Since the tragic accident that killed a pedestrian in Arizona, Uber has been unable to decide whether to keep working on developing self-driving cars, the New York Times reports. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is considering partnering with other car companies but could also sell off the unit or simply continue to go it alone.

Becoming a verb. Recording live TV was a cool feature pioneered by Tivo. Now Amazon may follow, Bloomberg reports. The e-commerce giant is developing a set top box code named "Frank" that could record live broadcasts and stream the video to smartphones. Amazon declined to comment. Tivo's stock fell 4% on Friday.

ElectrifyingFitbit on Monday introduced a third generation update in its top-selling Charge line of fitness trackers, as the company moves to offer a broader array of new products for the holiday shopping season beyond just smartwatches. The new Charge 3, which will start at $150, adds a larger touch screen, waterproofing, and improved sensors for monitoring heart rates and other biometric data.


The controversy over hosting controversial speech has hit social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but monitoring and filtering speech is also an issue for any site that allows user comments. Linda Kinstler digs into the challenges for TripAdvisor in a piece at The Guardian. Almost half a billion people a month consult the travel site to help guide their journeys via some 660 million mostly user-written reviews. In a deep dive into the site's history, Kinstler says TripAdvisor must constantly battle attempts to game its platform with fake commentary:

TripAdvisor’s in-house forensic analysts use fraud-detection software—the same kinds used to detect credit card fraud—to flag suspicious patterns. But given the sheer amount of reviews on TripAdvisor and the increasing sophistication of the fakes, there is no hope of identifying and removing them all. Last year, Vice writer Oobah Butler managed to get his shed listed as the #1 restaurant in London by soliciting fake reviews from family and friends and posting images of gourmet-looking dishes made from shaving cream and bleach. Before joining Vice, Butler wrote fake TripAdvisor reviews for restaurants, £10 per entry; “this convinced me that TripAdvisor was a false reality,” he wrote of the experience. For [associate general counsel Bradford] Young, fake reviews represent “an iceberg problem”. As he explained: “TripAdvisor can see the 10% that is sticking out of the water. [But] there is 90% or some unknown percent that is very dangerous and problematic that it is not visible to us.”

TripAdvisor also employs a small team of investigators who work in the field, sometimes posing as hoteliers online to expose a review farm. First, they find posts on sites such as Facebook and eBay advertising review services. Then they pose as a business owner looking for fake reviews and settle on a price, and through this process, they collect enough evidence to shut down entire networks of fake review peddlers. In the run-up to the 2018 World Cup, for instance, thousands of fake reviews of hotels and restaurants in Russian cities hosting matches began popping up on TripAdvisor. According to Kay, TripAdvisor investigators found 1,300 suspicious accounts, removed 1,500 reviews from the site, and put 250 restaurants on a “special watch list” of establishments that might attempt to buy fake reviews. They also shut down 18 paid review companies, including one named


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Some people believe in hot streaks, some don't. But at least in fields like science and art, new research may have verified the existence of the streak phenomenon. “If we know where your best work is, then we know very well where your second-best work is, and your third, because they’re just around the corner,” says co-author and Northwestern business school professor Dashun Wang. Maybe Data Sheet can get on a post-vacation roll this week?

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

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