Data Sheet—Why It’s Time to Cancel the Internet’s Free Ride
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Apple’s “It’s show time” event on Monday is shaping up to be one of its most momentous in quite some time. Apple does events several times a year, typically to announce new products and services. Some unveilings are box-checking exercises: a new phone version with additional bells and whistles, a smaller laptop, a bigger desktop. And so on.
This event promises to have it all: a subscription streaming service, celebrities, even the CEO of Goldman Sachs.
It also is said to include the debut of a paid version of Apple News. As we noted yesterday, The New York Times reported that The Wall Street Journal has bought into Apple’s new service that will take a 50% cut of subscription revenues. The Times itself and The Washington Post are said not to be participating.
The news business hasn’t shown so much promise in years—and not because of the specifics of Apple’s offering or anyone else’s. Leading publications like The Journal, The Times, and The Post all already have robust subscription offerings. Whether or not they enhance their business models by participating with Apple is neither here nor there from an existential perspective. The point is the industry is surviving, maybe even thriving, by charging its customers for their high-quality product. Finally.
At the same time, Facebook, the entity that did more than any other to hollow out the news industry, is floundering. (Google is a close second, for what it’s worth; it does not appear to be floundering.) Facebook is the behemoth that can’t shoot straight. It can’t protect is users’ passwords. It can’t stop apologizing. And it can’t stop degenerates from using its platform to broadcast their heinous acts.
The solution to this is so simple, by the way: Repeal the legislation that’s responsible for it all. I’m talking about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It created the fiction that because terrorist-criminals livestream murderous rampages on Facebook, the “social media” company isn’t responsible, accountable, or liable for the content it publishes. You won’t find such garbage on the sites of any of the news organizations I cited above (including Apple News) or on a broadcast network or cable channel. That’s because those news organizations curate what goes on them—and can be sued if what they publish harms someone.
Repeal this misguided legislation, and Facebook (and Google’s YouTube) absolutely will find a way to prevent their publishing platforms from being used for ill. Would it hurt their business models? Of course. What’s more important, entrepreneurial glory and wealth generation or protecting the integrity of democracy and keeping foul content from hurting people?
Blockbuster. In what could be one of the five biggest initial public offerings of all time, Uber plans to list on the New York Stock Exchange, with a registration filing coming as soon as next month, Bloomberg reports. The deal will look to value to leading ride hailing platform at $120 billion. Uber was one of the first unicorns back in 2013, but it has had plenty of company since. Fashion supplier Rent the Runway is the latest to reach that milestone, raising $125 million of fresh venture capital at a $1 billion valuation this week.
Sideshow. Though its own cable TV business is being eaten away by cord cutters, Comcast doesn't seem to be too worried. On Thursday, it unveiled a $5-per-month Internet streaming service called Flex that doesn't offer content that's not already online for free. (It can also integrate services like Netflix for which its users already pay.) Maybe that's because it's adding broadband customers faster than it's losing cable subscribers. In a not unrelated trend report, Nielsen found adults spent 40% of their leisure time watching TV, down from 42% last year, while time spent on smartphone apps rose to 24% from 21%.
Future player. After Google unveiled its streaming gaming platform, Stadia, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, other companies talked up their plans, too. Retail giant Walmart was circulating its possible plans to offer a gaming service, web site USGamer reports.
Filling a vacancy. The Trump administration is nominating 32-year-old former venture capitalist Michael Kratsios as its first chief technology officer of the United States. Before joining the transition team in 2016, Kratsios was chief of staff at Thiel Capital.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few longer reads that I came across this week that may be appealing for your weekend reading pleasure:
How Google’s Bad Data Wiped a Neighborhood off the Map (OneZero)
Inside the big, twisted industry of neighborhood data collection.
How We Reinvestigated the Serial Murder for HBO (WSJ Magazine)
When two private investigators were hired to evaluate the many theories about Adnan Syed’s murder conviction—made famous by the podcast Serial and a new, four-part documentary series on HBO—they crisscrossed the globe, from the scrap yards of Baltimore to the alleyways of Seoul.
How India Conquered YouTube (FT Magazine)
With 245 million people each month watching online videos, the country is shaking up the global entertainment business.
The Quest to Acquire the Oldest, Most Expensive Book on the Planet (LitHub)
Jet-black and lustrous, the ink shimmers as if the pages were just recently printed, a quality that was long one of the great mysteries of Gutenberg’s art, a hallmark of the Bibles he printed in Mainz, Germany, before August 15, 1456.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The world of startups has been fueled in no small measure the past few years by SoftBank's massive Vision Fund. The $100 billion dream of SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has invested in seemingly every significant tech play you've ever heard of. Now SoftBank is preparing to raise a second Vision fund and The Economist takes a long look at how it's going. After the first fund was hit by the controversy around Saudi Arabia, which supplied almost half its assets, Son is taking a different approach in round two:
The new fund is also likely to avoid the original’s overdependence on two big outside investors. SoftBank would prefer a diverse pool of backers; ideally, none would carry outsized clout, says an investor. The firm also wants its arrangements to become more “normal”, in the mold of Blackstone or KKR, two veteran asset managers. The relationship between Vision Fund 2 and SoftBank would be more “arms-length”; transfers between them would occur infrequently, if ever. People close to the first fund insist that the operation is growing up. That claim will be put to the test.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Nintendo Sets Its Sights on Virtual Reality By Lisa Marie Segarra
Pinterest Eyes April IPO to Capitalize on Hot Market for New Stocks By Don Reisinger
Buying Stock in Tech Building Blocks By Robert Hackett
BEFORE YOU GO
It's the best time of year, if you're a big fan of college basketball. The NCAA tournament, also known as March Madness, kicked off this week. There's already been one big upset, with west region's 12th-ranked Murray State crushing fifth-ranked Marquette 83-64. Think you can pick the winners of all the games and create the perfect bracket? Your odds are one in 9.2 quintillion, the stats whizzes say. It would be more likely to win Powerball twice in a row. Good luck with that.