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Has the Trade War Actually Hurt Tech?

November 5, 2019, 2:26 PM UTC

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If you had asked me several months ago how I felt about the prospects for the Fortune Global Tech Forum, which begins Thursday morning (China time) in the megalopolis of Guangzhou, up the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong, I would have told you I was quite concerned.

The talk then was of de-coupling: a separation of the U.S. and Chinese economies to match the already decoupled Western and Chinese versions of the Internet. Tensions were real. The chief financial officer of Huawei had been arrested on charges that sounded like an uncomfortable mix of trade, commercial, and national-security issues. Tariffs were escalating. Corporate sales in both directions were hurting. Hong Kong was boiling. Neither the government headed by China’s Xi Jinping nor the U.S.’s Donald Trump showed any sign of backing down.

Investors and businesspeople generally turned their noses up at all this. Tariffs are bad for international commerce. And while American gripes against China on issues like intellectual property theft, state subsidies of industry, and access to the Chinese market are legitimate, what businesspeople really like about the U.S.-China relationship is that it makes money.

And now it all looks far closer to business as usual than I could have expected. Yes, the Huawei situation is unresolved. (Its Australian-born chief technology officer for its carrier group, Paul Scanlan, will speak in Guangzhou.) And the situation in Hong Kong is even worse. (We’ll host a panel on what the Chinese call the Greater Bay Area, of which Hong Kong most certainly is a part.) At the same time, trade tensions seem to be rapidly de-escalating, albeit with little to show for it that likely couldn’t have been achieved with quieter diplomacy.

The question I’ll have on my mind in Guangzhou is if the events of 2019 have bred lasting mistrust between Western and Chinese businesspeople, or if the spirit of cooperation, collaboration, and eagerness to learn from each will prevail. The conference will explore all the meaty topics: the future of 5G technology, how cloud computing is evolving, the next stage of digital retail, and what big data means in an age of surveillance. The conference promises a lighter approach too: We’ll host a panel exploring East-West relations through the prism of the HBO show Silicon Valley.

Watch Fortune.com for complete coverage of the Fortune Global Tech Forum. And, if the time zone suits you, the entire event will be livestreamed.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

NEWSWORTHY

Let me paint you a picture. More than a year after first touting a Photoshop app for the iPad, Adobe finally released its Photoshop app for the iPad. Illustrator is also coming soon, Adobe said. In slightly less exciting app news, Microsoft unveiled a new icon for its Edge browser program that sort of looks like a rounded ocean wave. 'Cause, you know, surfing the web...Everybody's gone surfin', Surfin' USA–sorry.

Pressure valve. The pols in Los Angeles aren't happy with Uber, which has refused to provide the city with real-time data about its scooter rental customers. L.A. officials said they'd suspend Uber's license to operate if it doesn't comply by Friday. A little farther west, Hawaii’s Department of Taxation will get host records from Airbnb, settling a court dispute over the state’s records request.

Sign of the times. More than one thousand Google employees signed a petition asking the company to create a climate plan and eliminate its carbon emissions by 2030.

Intimate details. Sort of due to California's new privacy law, set to take effect next year, some of the more obscure consumer data collectors are giving people access to their files. New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill got some of her data and it was bizarrely detailed. "Sift knew, for example, that I’d used my iPhone to order chicken tikka masala, vegetable samosas and garlic naan on a Saturday night in April three years ago," she writes.

Rocky road. On Wall Street, Uber skidded out. The company said its third quarter sales rose 30% to $3.8 billion, including a 64% jump at Uber Eats. Bookings rose only 29%, a slowing rate that disappointed investors. Uber shares, previously down 26% from its IPO in June, dropped another 5% in premarket trading on Tuesday.

Ambient knowledge. The latest issue of our new newsletter, Eye on A.I., hits later today. Subscribe now to get your copy of the in-depth take on the artificial intelligence scene.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

If I say the phrase "future of transportation," your mind probably goes first to some high-tech concept like self-driving cars or space planes or, even, underground tunnels (thank you, Elon). But Slate writer Henry Grabar wants to refocus your attention on some very different, much more available solutions to our traffic and pollution woes: the bus, the bicycle, and the elevator. For example:

The elevator is perhaps the foremost example of a relatively ancient transportation technology that could allow people to live and work in closer proximity, reducing the length of commutes and fostering commercial and social vitality. Unfortunately, in most American communities the elevator has been functionally outlawed because zoning requirements will permit no building taller than a small tree. The bus is another overlooked piece of technology that could do far more. In most American cities, buses are hard to depend on because they run infrequently, slowly, and often on routes that are holdovers from streetcar systems abandoned decades ago. Give a bus its own lane, its own route, its own authority over signals, and it can permit car-free land use to flourish alongside.

ON THE MOVE

At Chronicle, the cybersecurity outfit under Google parent Alphabet, co-founder and chief security officer Mike Wiacek announced this week that he's planning to leave. No word yet on his next gig...At Apple, several changes to report. Long-time head of investor relations Nancy Paxton announced on last week's earnings call (her 93rd) that she was retiring...Apple hired noted Columbia University cardiologist David Tsay to work on its health efforts...And with Apple agreeing to use wireless modems from Qualcomm, top wireless engineer Ruben Caballero jumped to startup Keyssa...Telehealth startup Hims & Hers added Dr. Toby Cosgrove, former CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, to its board of directors.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Collaborate or Isolate? The U.S. Tech World Is Watching China’s Advances in A.I.—Warily By Naomi Xu Elegant

Uber Eats’ Hungry New Strategy: Dominate or Exit By Danielle Abril

A Digital Dollar for a Strong United States Financial System By Brian Brooks

Trump’s National Park Changes Could, Ironically, Help Jeff Bezos By Chris Morris

Booz Allen Creates ‘App Store’ for A.I. By Jeremy Kahn

Is Your Company an Innovator? These 5 Traits Make the Difference By Michael Miebach

BEFORE YOU GO

We have a winner for cutest dog illustration of the week. Japan is overhauling the designs on its currency, adding some predictable images to its bank notes, such as Mount Fuji. But Japanese artist (and manga author) Ponkichi took up the challenge and created some Yen of his own design featuring the country's beloved dog breed, Shiba Inu. And they're right on the money.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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Photo: Ponkichi via My Modern Met