Data Sheet—These Bleak Times for Global Tech Companies

December 13, 2018, 1:49 PM UTC

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Timing is everything in life.

Not quite two weeks ago Fortune hosted scores of Western executives in the southern Chinese megalopolis of Guangzhou. We had a splendid time: an open exchange of ideas, a vibrant discussion about the future of technology and U.S.-China relations, bonhomie all around. Participants at the Fortune Global Tech Forum focused on technological advancement and commerce. The thought of being arrested as pawns in an increasingly hot 21st century Cold War couldn’t have been further from our minds.

What a difference two weeks makes. With a senior Huawei executive out of jail on bail in Vancouver and one or possibly two Canadian citizens detained in China in what looks like a retaliatory move, the future for the global technology business looks bleaker than any time since the innocuous-by-comparison dot-com bust. As Clay mentioned here yesterday, western countries are already trying to freeze out Huawei from telecom networks.

What we used to call dot-coms or Internet companies have the least to worry about. China has prevented U.S. “Internet” concerns from operating at scale in China. Their counterparts have made big investments in the United States but otherwise haven’t made commercial inroads.

The story is moving so fast, which is jarring because the framework took so long to build. The China-focused global supply chains that prop up the U.S. hardware giants have been around for decades. A trade war—combined with an executive class terrified to board airplanes to China—could chip away at that framework quickly.

These are trying times.


Jobs for everyone. After a grueling public process involving bids from over 200 cities...oh, wait, no. Apple skipped all that hullabaloo generated by Amazon's HQ2 search and simply selected Austin, Texas, as the site of its new $1 billion major campus. "Talent, creativity, and tomorrow’s breakthrough ideas aren’t limited by region or zip code," CEO Tim Cook noted. The company also said it would expand hiring at other U.S. offices.

Collectively bargained jobs. Speaking of Amazon, a group of workers in the company's Staten Island, N.Y. fulfillment center on Wednesday said they planned to form a union. In a press conference, representatives from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union spoke about labor organizing at various Amazon locations. "We respect employees’ right to choose to join or not join a labor union," Amazon said.

Who gets the job? After complaining that the fix was in on the selection of a cloud services provider for a $10 billion, 10-year Pentagon contract, Oracle is putting its money where its mouth is. The company is suing to overturn the decision to grant the project, known as JEDI, to Amazon. IBM has also been protesting the selection.

Counting crocodiles. As podcasting continues to grow into a real business, advertisers are seeking better data. National Public Radio this week unveiled an open source system called "Remote Audio Data," or RAD, which any podcast can use to track how many people listen and how far into the show they listen. Information is anonymized, and podcast apps will have to build in support for the reporting system.

Look what you made me do. Combining two topics of great interest to Data Sheet readers, Rolling Stone has discovered that a photo kiosk at a Taylor Swift concert at the Rose Bowl in May was using facial recognition software to check fans' faces against a database of "known stalkers" of the singer.

Trust us. After surviving a grueling hearing on Capitol Hill, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke with reporters from the Washington Post, mostly about artificial intelligence. You may not be shocked to learn that he favors industry self-regulation of A.I. rather than new laws. "Regulating a technology in its early days is hard, but I do think companies should self-regulate," Pichai said. "This is why we've tried hard to articulate a set of A.I. principles. We may not have gotten everything right, but we thought it was important to start a conversation."

Featherweight. New laptops debut all the time, but I had to double check the specs on LG's latest 17-inch model because I couldn't believe my eyes. The $1,700 machine, which includes an 8th-gen Intel processor and a screen running at a native resolution of 2560 pixels by 1600 pixels, weighs less than three pounds. Now that's an ultralight.


After repeatedly being criticized for spreading dangerous misinformation, Facebook promised a crackdown. Part of the solution involved partnering with fact checking sites to flag false stories. But reporting by Sam Levin for The Guardian uncovered numerous stories of fact checkers being ignored and overlooked:

Current and former Facebook fact-checkers told the Guardian that the tech platform’s collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they’ve lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work. Some said Facebook’s hiring of a PR firm that used an antisemitic narrative to discredit critics—fueling the same kind of propaganda fact-checkers regularly debunk—should be a deal-breaker.

“They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” said Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of Snopes, a fact-checking site that has partnered with Facebook for two years. “They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck … They clearly don’t care.”


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You missed out on buying Han Solo's blaster (it went for $550,000 in June), but you had your eyes set on Luke Skywalker's lightsaber? Sorry, the auction for the famed Star Wars movie prop has been cancelled after questions of authenticity were raised, including by actor Mark Hamill. Not legit it was, as Skywalker's little green friend might say.

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

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