Data Sheet—Jack Ma’s Next Chapter and What His Departure Means for Alibaba

September 10, 2018, 1:00 PM UTC

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Jack Ma has spoken frequently about retiring. When I interviewed him last year, for example, he said he’d been thinking about retirement since he turned 45 and that eventually younger people deserve a shot to lead. “I don’t want to die in my office,” he said. “I want to die on the beach.”

Ma made his departure official Monday, announcing he’ll step down as executive chairman in one year. That would be his 55th birthday, or a decade to the day he says he started thinking about when to hang it up.

Tongues from China to Seattle to Washington, D.C., immediately began wagging: Why is Ma leaving? Has Alibaba peaked? Does Ma think China has peaked? Is he cleverly sidestepping the day when he can no longer run his business without overt interference from government officials in Beijing?

Having observed Ma at Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou this past summer, I’m guessing the correct answer is ‘none of the above.’ Ma’s commitment to Alibaba, where he is a cult figure, is sincere. I watched him give a pep rally to new management recruits, and it was tough to tell who was more enthusiastic, them or him.

To outsiders, it’s also tough to reconcile Ma’s departure with the ascension of his 46-year-old successor, Daniel Zhang, a former accountant and 11-year veteran of Alibaba. Zhang has little of Ma’s charisma. But few people do. According to Alibaba insiders, Zhang is a workaholic who touches every aspect of what happens at Alibaba. Despite the hunger by the outside world to hear from Jack Ma, it is Daniel Zhang who already calls the day-to-day shots.

Just as the second career of philanthropist Bill Gates has been a wonder to watch, the next chapter of Jack Ma’s life will be fascinating.


Quartz published a thoughtful speculative piece about Apple’s video strategy. They postulate that Apple plans to give away the programs it is spending profusely to acquire rather than charging them. The article also wonders if Apple will illuminate its strategy at its product-launch event this week


Apple a day. Apple has been talking to the likes of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal about joining Texture, a "Netflix for magazines" service the company acquired this year. The newspapers are already doing a fair job selling digital subscriptions on their own so its unclear if a deal makes sense. On the other hand, access to over 1 billion Apple devices could be tempting.

Bad Apple. Conspiracy loon Alex Jones is running out of places to peddle his monstrous nonsense. Apple gave him the heave-ho from its app store, following the likes of YouTube, Facebook, and—more recently—Twitter.

Poison Apple. Researchers found a popular anti-adware iOS app was stealing users' browsing history, and sending it to China. While Apple quickly purged the app, further reports pointed to other malicious apps turning up in the App store, despite the company's reputation for careful screening.

Bobbing for Apple users: Dozens of popular iOS apps, including AskFM and NOAA Weather Radar, are selling users' location information to data brokers. The apps, some of which appear to be contravening their privacy pledges, discern users' whereabouts from cues like Wi-Fi locations and Bluetooth beacons.

Not Apple: The FTC has cracked down on unscrupulous companies that ran sites like "" and "," which appeared official, but whose purpose was to serve as sales leads for for-profit colleges.

Amazon, meet antitrust: The New York Times profiles Lina Khan, a young scholar whose influential law journal article is driving a push to revive old anti-monopoly laws, posing possible trouble for Amazon. The piece is slim on legal details but has fun tidbits about "hipster antirust."

(Bonus: Dorothy Parker's dirty apple quip)


The race to build 5G wireless technology is intensifying. The new standard, which will let carriers deliver data more efficiently, is critical to building out driverless car networks and other Internet-enabled tech. It will also mean lucrative IP royalties for leading companies. So far, China is in the lead as its state-backed strategy has helped build out more of the physical infrastructure critical for deploying 5G. From the Wall Street Journal's deep dive:

China has made 5G a priority after failing to keep pace with Western countries in developing previous generations of mobile networks. The U.S. dominated 4G, built in the late 2000s, much in the same way Europeans controlled 3G standards. The American lead in 4G has been a boon to companies such as Apple Inc. and Qualcomm, and helped give rise to a host of consumer smartphone applications from the U.S.

Since 2015, China has built about 350,000 cell sites, compared with fewer than 30,000 in the U.S., according to an August study by consulting firm Deloitte. It also noted China has 14.1 sites for every 10,000 people, compared with 4.7 in the U.S. That matters for 5G, because the new networks will require much larger numbers of cell sites than 4G.


Verizon Says It's Not Backing Down From Digital Ads Push By Aaron Pressman

Overwatch League Will Have 8 New Teams for 2019 Season By Lisa Marie Segarra

Antarctica Just Became the Best Mapped Continent on Earth By Renae Reints

Google's New 'Touring Bird' Is a Traveler's Dream By Lisa Marie Segarra

Apple Is Working on a Portal for Law Enforcement Requests By Lisa Marie Segarra

Amazon Ordered 20,000 Mercedes Benz Vans for a Delivery Service By Don Reisinger


Would you drop $3,000 for this home gymThe fitness machine of the future doesn't live in your garage or basement, but in your bedroom or living room. Instead of plates and dumbbells, startups like Tonal and Mirror deploy electromagnetics and an LED screen instead. They're compact, look good and offer a real work out. But, oh my, the price! (And it doesn't even include a monthly subscription fee!)

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

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