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Data Sheet—The Theranos Saga Shows Why It Pays to Be Skeptical

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This weekend I finished watching The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, Alex Gibney’s documentary about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. It is chilling, painful to watch, and a reminder of why it pays to be skeptical. If something is too good to be true, and if lots of smart but otherwise unqualified people repeatedly say so, it probably isn’t true.

I winced watching my former colleague Roger Parloff, an honorable man and a talented journalist, recount how he’d been duped by Holmes. I cheered the tenacity of The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou, who refused to be bullied by the once-respectable lawyer David Boies. And I deeply admired the courage of the Theranos employees who spoke truth to power in trying to correct the dangerous record their company was peddling.

Not having yet read Carreyrou’s book, Bad Blood, I hadn’t realized how much Holmes tried to mimic Steve Jobs and Apple, well beyond her penchant for black turtlenecks. Secrecy at Theranos extended to internal groups. Clever, clean marketing created a narrative that masked the complexity of the product. Apple, of course, made computers and phones, not blood-testing equipment.


I got plenty of feedback from my column last week advocating the repeal of a key law that excuses Facebook, YouTube, and other Internet “platforms” from being treated legally as the publishers they are. I’ll come back to the subject as soon as possible. In the meantime, I found two meaningful quotes from people in a position to effect change.

One is from Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, speaking to parliament in the wake of the heinous terrorist act in her country having been livestreamed on Facebook. “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published,” she said. “They are the publisher, not just the postman.”

Robert Thomson, CEO of Wall Street Journal publisher News Corp., made a similar point in an op-ed in his company’s paper. “The creators are still being slain by the distributors, who are publishers, though they find it hard to pronounce the word,” he wrote. “If you are intervening to filter out offensive material, you’re editing, and if you are editing, you should aspire to be a great editor, not selective and reactive but proactive.”

Change is coming. It’s just a matter of time.

Adam Lashinsky


It’s showtime. After a week of new product announcements on Twitter, Apple returns to the Steve Jobs Theater on Monday with a program likely focused on its new subscription video and news services. The event begins streaming at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern. And while Tim Cook & Co. explore the future of television, Viacom and AT&T had one of those old school TV battles. Under a just-announced new deal, AT&T’s 24 million pay TV customers will keep access to Viacom channels including MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon after a weekend of intense negotiations. And in the third act of the future of TV, YouTube is canceling its plans for more expensive scripted shows, Bloomberg reports.

Collectables. In the latest of the parade of tech unicorns prancing towards the stock market, Pinterest made public its previously confidential filing to go public. Sales jumped 60% to almost $800 million last year, generating a loss of $63 million. Goals for the future? “We want to make Pinterest more shoppable.”

The merge before the storm. Speaking of unicorns going public, Uber is bulking up before its IPO, acquiring competitor Careem for $3.1 billion. Careem offers ride hailing and food delivery in the Middle East and Africa.

Adding some costs. No-fee trading stock trading startup Robinhood made its first acquisition, and it’s a millennial-focused podcast and newsletter producer called MarketSnacks, Fortune reports. To be renamed with the metaphor-busting title Robinhood Snacks, the aim is to provide market news and insights while retaining “editorial independence.”

Play by our rules. After requiring that scooter companies provide location data about the start and end of all rides, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation is getting ready for a possible crackdown. It approved only a one month operating permit for Uber, which doesn’t want to provide the location data, versus one year permits for Lime and Bird, which are supplying the data about their customers.


Machine learning and artificial intelligence apps are all the rage but they need to start with data. And that data isn’t always easy or economical to obtain in a format computers can use. Thus the exploding “data labeling” market in India. FactorDaily reporter Anand Murali spent some time delving into this budding niche and explains how it works:

Algorithms today have the ability to absorb more data and, hence, be more accurate. As long as the data is good and clean, feeding another million datasets to an algorithm will inch up its accuracy. This has caused an unending hunger for well-annotated and labelled data for A.I. algorithms and applications. Today, data preparation and engineering tasks account for more than 80% of the time involved in most A.I. and machine-learning projects, according to the Cognilytica report. “If you talk about autonomous driving, one hour of video data can lead up to 800 man-hours of work,” says Siddharth Mall, chief executive of Bengaluru- and San Francisco-based Playment, which works mostly in the autonomous vehicles space.


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Why Africa’s Biggest Media Firm Wants to Create Europe’s Biggest Consumer Internet Company By David Meyer


He’s probably older than your grandparents. This Saturday will mark the 80th anniversary of the arrival of Batman in Batman! Detective Comics. New York Times editor George Gene Gustines has a review of the Caped Crusader’s career highlights, complete with the comic book cover art (like Batgirl debuting in 1966, issue #359). The upcoming issue #1,000 coming out this week returns to a case from the from the very first issue.

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