These are precarious times for the big tech companies. Even as their profits and valuations soar, their political and regulatory quandary deepens. They face growing and multi-pronged attacks for their data practices, their disruption of legacy businesses, their contributions to income inequality, and their role in politics.
On the last point, President Trump upped the pressure yesterday, sending out a tweet accusing Google of rigging news results against him. The tweet seemed to be fed by this story from Paula Bolyard in PJ Media. CNN’s Chris Cillizza countered with this piece.
As a lifelong journalist, this argument gives me heartburn. I’m partial to journalistic outlets that check their facts. And those that do have to reckon with this president’s propensity to put out factually incorrect information several times each day. By doing so, he baits and creates the very scourge he then attacks—a critical press. No surprise to me that Google algorithms surface more critical stories. And in Trump’s mind, criticism = bias. (I’m not denying the real problem of press bias here; just saying the argument has become hopelessly contorted in the age of Trump.)
But here’s the thing: Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter can no longer maintain the pretense that they are simply neutral platforms. They determine the news that most people see. And even if editorial choices are made by algorithms, the companies can’t escape responsibility for them. Indeed, this needs to become rule one in the Age of AI. Humans remain accountable for decisions, even when made by machines. By attacking Google, Trump falls squarely in line with generations of politicians who have criticized decisions by the press.
Trump’s attack only heightens the importance of next week’s hearings, when Facebook, Google and Twitter return to Capitol Hill to talk about censorship and election interference. Twitter and Facebook have learned the lesson of last November, when they sent lower level executives to take the heat. Twitter is sending CEO Jack Dorsey. Facebook is sending COO Sheryl Sandberg. Google is trying to get by with General Counsel Kent Walker. They would be wise to step it up a notch; this is getting serious.
More news below.
Barnes & Noble
Demos Parneros, the former Barnes & Noble CEO who was sacked in July for unspecified violations of company policy, has sued the company for firing him without cause and “irrevocably” damaging his reputation. Parneros claims he lost his job because a deal to sell Barnes & Noble fell through, and founder Leonard Riggio then cooked up reasons to get rid of him. He also says he didn’t get the severance he was due. CNN
Canadian negotiators raced to Washington, D.C., yesterday, following the announcement of a new trade agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. The Trump administration has given Canada until Friday to join the new pact, which is supposed to replace NAFTA. (Why Friday? Congress needs a 90-day heads-up in order to approve the agreement, and the U.S. wants to seal the deal before Mexico’s new president takes office.) “We are encouraged by the progress that the U.S. and Mexico have made, particularly on cars and labor,” said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. New York Times
Aston Martin IPO
James Bond’s carmaker of choice, Aston Martin, is looking to float on the London Stock Exchange. This would be the first IPO by a British auto manufacturer in many years, and it would likely value the company at up to $6.4 billion. The luxury car firm is working on a variety of projects these days, from a personal submarine to an electric flying car. BBC
President Trump has claimed via Twitter that China hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails, “many of which are Classified Information.” He offered no evidence to support this claim. The established view of U.S. intelligence services is that Russian spies hacked top Democratic officials in the run-up to the 2016 election. “China is a staunch defender of cybersecurity. We firmly oppose and crack down on any forms of internet attacks and the stealing of secrets,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. South China Morning Post
Around the Water Cooler
Amazon is reportedly preparing to launch a free TV service called Free Dive, to compete with services such as Roku that rely on revenue from video ads. The report of the plan sent Roku’s stock down 2% in after-hours trading. Fortune
The Chinese economy is likely to pull through the country’s trade war with the U.S. just fine, a Morgan Stanley analyst has claimed. The reason? The Chinese government has plenty of stimulus measures it can take in order to keep the slowing of growth to a minimum, such as tax cuts and liquidity boosts. CNBC
He can’t help himself, it seems. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had another interesting day on Twitter yesterday, denying that he cried during a New York Times interview and, more worryingly, returning to an argument over his labelling of a British spelunker as a “pedo.” At least he didn’t make any more statements to raise eyebrows at the SEC. Bloomberg
If you still use the email services of Yahoo and AOL, both of which are now owned by Verizon’s Oath unit, you may want to take note of the fact that the company is mining users’ emails for advertising keywords—a practice that other big email services, such as Google’s Gmail, have quit because of the privacy implications. Wall Street Journal