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I trick-or-treated (read: drank beer and wine with other parents) last night on a balmy and stunningly clear San Francisco evening. (The top eighth or so of the Salesforce Tower was given over to a dazzling, fiery orange light show.)
The midterm elections are rightly pre-occupying the nation. The capital of the technology industry is consumed with a far narrower vote, a ballot initiative, Proposition C, which would tax the city’s biggest businesses in order to raise an additional $300 million to combat homelessness.
I’m horribly confused as to which way to vote.
I think all ballot initiatives are bad ideas. Funding critical programs is the job of legislatures, not voters. That’s the whole point of representative democracy. California has a particularly destructive referendum history, dating to the early 20th century Progressive era, which has counterintuitively placed undo power in the hands of rich people who fund the measures that should properly be taken up by the people’s representatives.
But enough with the history lesson. This initiative is supported notably by Marc Benioff, the soon-to-be-owner of TIME magazine (but not, as many of my friends seem to think, Fortune) and CEO of Salesforce. Benioff is defying the mayor whose election he supported, London Breed, who has said the measure lacks accountability. That’s a curious argument given that the city departments she oversees will be responsible for spending the money.
Other tech billionaires, including venture capitalist Michael Moritz and entrepreneur Jack Dorsey, say simply spending more money on homelessness won’t solve the problem. It’s worth noting that Moritz, who published this essay this week, has invested in Stripe and Dorsey heads Square, two payment-processing firms whose margins are slimmer than Salesforce’s, but who’ll pay the same percentage of taxes based on gross revenues. (Benioff, who has singlehandedly turned the tide in the race with funding from his company and himself, also has opined nationally on the topic.)
I’m sick and tired of the homelessness crisis in San Francisco and the failure of political leaders to do enough about it. I have little faith the money from this measure will be spent well, and I also believe that more money is needed to combat the problem.
This stuff isn’t easy.
The people united. It’s walkout day at Google offices around the world, as employees protest the company’s perceived failure to adequately address sexual misconduct claims. “Hundreds of people are demanding structural change, not just inclusive sounding PR,” Google and NYU researcher Meredith Whittaker tweeted. Fortune collected some photos of local walkouts posted by Googlers from all over.
Wrist rocket. Struggling wearables maker Fitbit saw it share price hit an all-time low earlier this week, but investors appear to be encouraged by the company’s third quarter earnings report. Revenue was flat (but better than analysts expected) at $394 million and adjusted earnings per share of four cents also exceeded estimates. Fitbit shares were up 12% in premarket trading on Thursday. In music world, Spotify Technology reported revenue jumped 31% to $1.54 billion in its latest quarter and the number of paid subscribers increased by 4 million in the quarter to 87 million. Spotify shares dropped 4% in premarket trading.
Singing loud for all to hear. Sticking in music world, in a possible bid to improve its streaming music service, Apple has talked with bankrupt radio broadcaster iHeartMedia about a possible equity investment, the Financial Times reported. One possible tie-up could involve Apple Music’s Beats One station appearing on regular broadcast radio stations, the paper said. Both companies declined to comment. Apple reports its fiscal fourth quarter earnings after the market closes today.
Contraction faction. For the first year ever, global smartphone sales will decline in 2018, say the experts at Counterpoint Research. Expect a 1% decline in shipments as the smartphone market reaches saturation, the firm says. Another factor? More expensive phones are stretching out upgrade purchases. Growth averaged 16% annually from 2012 through 2017. (The report is not online yet.)
What could possibly go wrong. The Hungarian National Police are testing a new A.I.-powered lie detection system for travelers at border crossings with Latvia and Greece. Called iBorderCtrl, the system analyzes micro-facial gestures to discern whether test subjects are telling the truth when asked about the contents of their suitcases, for example.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Some of the largest and most successful Internet companies may nonetheless be vulnerable to getting squeezed by even larger and more successful rivals. So warns Uber product manager and occasional blogger Florent Crivello in a post on his personal blog. It’s all about the layers of technology and communications that handle consumers’ web travels. He explains:
Every layer here between you and Google represents some control they give up over the end-user experience and relinquish to the owner of that layer: Firefox for the browser, Apple for the OS and computer, Comcast for the ISP, etc… That’s one big reason why Google gets into the business of building OSes (Android, Chrome OS), computers (Chromebooks), browsers (Chrome) and even took a stab at taking over your Internet access (Google Fiber, Google Fi).
It’s not just Google either. Most web giants have been making similar (though less successful) attempts at taking over their complements. Think about the Amazon Fire phone or the Facebook phone. Sometimes companies will try to outright bypass the entire stack and go directly to their customer — that’s one big strategic impetus behind the Amazon Echo. There’s no pesky computer, OS, or browser built by other people. All is controlled by Amazon.
All these giants are keenly aware that they’re building their castle on somebody else’s yard; and they’re afraid that the floor may drop out from under them. You can find one recent justification for this fear in Apple’s last release of iOS and MacOS, which significantly curtails the ability of online advertisers to track your online whereabouts. That’s Facebook’s bread and butter we’re talking about! Other famous examples are Facebook basically killing Zynga in 2012; or Twitter a bunch of 3rd party clients.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The Clock Is Ticking on Amazon’s HQ2. Here’s the Latest News By Grace Dobush
Stop Trying to Make the Foldable Phone Happen By David Meyer
Is There Any Doubt This Man Created Bitcoin? By Jeff John Roberts
BEFORE YOU GO
Hope you had a fun and safe Halloween, if that’s your thing. GeekWire collected a bunch of photos posted by tech companies of employees in costume. Don’t miss the “angsty Care Bears” from PayScale or the brilliant little Slack send-up video by programmer/comedian Alex Engelberg. And don’t eat too many sweets. You’ll spoil your dinner.