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It’s a busy week at Fortune—we’re closing the April issue of the print magazine—so I’ll be brief this morning, with a few thoughts on the news and other things I’m reading.
* I thought of two people when I read about Elon Musk’s defiance of the Securities Exchange Commission: The Unabomber and Roger Stone. What the three have in common is the mistaken belief that they can defy the U.S. government. Things ended badly for the first guy. Stone is feeling the pinch of messing with a judge’s gag order. And Musk isn’t making a good impression with the agency that regulates public companies. Of course, he’s entitled to his day in court. But the staff of the SEC staff won’t let this go.
* The word in privacy legislation circles is that the Federal Trade Commission is a lapdog for the masters of Big Tech, having failed to take meaningful antitrust action against any of them. That may be changing, if you take the Republican FTC chairman, Joseph Simons, at his word. He tells The New York Times he is serious about exercising the FTC’s antitrust muscles and also thinks his agency should have more enforcement powers than it has. This interview is worth a read.
* There’s a delicious irony in this well-reported Wall Street Journal article about the changes afoot at WarnerMedia, the venerable entertainment concern now owned and operated by a phone company. AT&T is having its way with Warner’s outdated structure and its recalcitrant management. Yet that same collection of businesses accounted for an uptick in AT&T’s recent financial results because they are performing so well. For what it’s worth, Fortune used to be part of Time Inc., which used to be part of Time Warner, which is what WarnerMedia used to be called. When Time Warner ran the show it bled Time Inc., the magazine company, of its profits for years. The shoe now appears to be on the other foot.
Coming for you next. We just used Google’s Google Flights to plan our summer vacation. Now Google is coming for the hotel booking sites. The new Google Hotels also offers last-minute bargain bookings—Hello, Airbnb and HotelTonight. In less positive news, Google confirmed in a lawsuit response that it paid out $90 million of severance to Android creator Andy Rubin after he was accused of sexual harassment.
Netflix killer. Meanwhile, in another part of the valley another tech giant prepares to enter another crowded market. Apple said it will hold a media event on March 25 with invitations carrying the tagline “It’s show time.” I’m not much of a Lakers fan or lover of the channel most famous for the show Homeland, but it seems to be an obvious reference to Apple’s own video service coming soon.
Your peanut butter in my chocolate. Will the old and new bosses of Uber soon be clashing, as well? Uber Technologies is testing a program to rent out kitchen space to delivery-only restaurants on its Uber Eats service. That’s the exact business plan of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s new startup CloudKitchens, too. According to a new report from Edison Trends, Uber Eats is locked in a close three horse race for food delivery. DoorDash has 28% of the market measured by consumer spending, GrubHub 27%, and Uber Eats 25%.
You’re making my point. Sen. Elizabeth Warren decided to run some ads calling for the breakup of tech giants, including Facebook, on Facebook. The posts included Facebook’s logo, triggering an automatic take down, the company said. Then, Facebook reversed course and restored the ads “in the interest of allowing robust debate.”
Dose of their own medicine. “Hi FCC, this is John from customer service. Congratulations, you’ve just won a chance to lower robocalls in America today.” So goes a recorded call that comedian John Oliver created to badger the Federal Communications Commission. The host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight spent a portion of this week’s show blasting the agency for its failure to stem the tide of scam robocalls.
Just sitting there. A new startup called Conduit formed by several MIT grads emerged from “stealth mode” on Tuesday. The seemingly brilliant idea? Combine the unused computing power of thousands or even millions of PCs together to provide supercomputing power on demand. The kids are calling it the Airbnb of computing.
Aparecium. Augmented reality game maker Niantic is getting ready to follow up its popular Pokemon Go app with a Harry Potter-inspired title, creatively called Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The company gave a bit of a sneak peek on Monday. Players will have to find traces of magic out in the world, while battling Death Eaters and the soul-sucking Dementors. Wands at the ready!
ON THE MOVE
Uber hired Taj Alavi, a former top marketing executive at Instagram, Intuit, and Johnson & Johnson, as senior director and global head of marketing communications…Austin e-commerce services provider RetailMeNot hired Joshua Platt, former vice president of product for Nordstrom.com, as its new chief product officer…TV station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group may be setting its sights at online audiences. The company hired Amit Mathur, former senior director of engineering at Electronic Arts, as its new vice president of product engineering.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Is privacy dead? Law professor Kate Klonick at St. John’s University had an assignment for some of her students to find out: can you identify a person based solely on what they reveal in a public place? It was too easy, as Francesca Paris reports for NPR. The old protection of privacy through obscurity doesn’t work when so much information is available about almost everyone online, she explains.
Whether you’re in a cheering stadium or a packed commuter train, it’s easy to assume that no one is paying attention to you. And before smartphones, even if someone overheard your conversation, they’d usually have a hard time piecing together whatever information they gathered. The level of effort required to get a complete picture of your identity would, effectively, serve as a deterrent and a privacy protection.
Not anymore. With Google at our fingertips, it’s increasingly easy to learn a lot about a stranger, even with just a few details. Klonick says the assignment “shows us at the very least that lot of the older mechanisms we used to have to protect privacy are no longer particularly robust in the Internet age, obscurity being one of them.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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BEFORE YOU GO
What’s your budget for buying a smartwatch? Fitbit is tempting consumers with a new low price point of $160 on its Versa Lite model. I’ve been trying one out for the last week and I’d advise spending another $40 for the full Versa edition to avoid the loss of useful features like on-screen workouts, Wi-Fi, and stored music. Sorry, penny pinchers.