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For a presentation supporting my 2012 book about Apple, I had mocked up a photo illustration of what it would look like if Apple showed up onstage at the World Economic Forum in Davos. I drew a red line through the photo to show that Apple didn’t “do” Davos. Apple had perfected the art of making others come to its events, obviating the need for its executives to chew up time at non-Apple occasions. Though I never wrote down the words, I remember an oft-repeated gag line as I gave the talk, saying something like: “If you see Apple executives on the agenda in Davos, sell the stock.”
That hasn’t happened yet. But the company is more than halfway there. It had escaped my attention until recently that Tim Cook has attended the talkfest in the Alps for two consecutive years, including last week. He hasn’t been on the official program. But he did meet with world leaders, including his professional bestie, Donald Trump.
I’m not ready, either, to declare the downfall of Apple over Cook’s decision to behave like a normal CEO. His behemoth brethren Sundar Pichai of Alphabet and Satya Nadella of Microsoft—together the troika of founder successors—were in attendance, too. Sheryl Sandberg, a true Davos woman, represented Facebook there. (And yes, Cook has spoken twice at Fortune conferences, as have a bevy of Apple executives.)
When I made the observation about how Steve Jobs’s company basically had dissed every other company with its exceptionalism, it was yet another quirky and unique aspect of the brilliant design by a founder who didn’t particularly play well with others. That Cook has softened those edges doesn’t strike me as a sign of Apple’s decline. Neither does its $1.4 trillion valuation.
In case you missed my interview in the new issue of Fortune with Sundar Pichai, I got him to open up slightly about his scrutiny of Alphabet’s “other bets” and his management structure. But I think Casey Newton’s criticism of the interview is fair and worth reading … Samasource CEO Leila Janah, was a vibrant, creative, and committed entrepreneur trying to use tech to have an impact. (For an illustration, see my 2016 interview with her in Rome.) She died Friday at age 37 and will be missed by her many friends, partners, and admirers … Book recommendation: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, an ingenious, sorrowful, and gripping tale of slavery, racism, and resilience on two continents.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Plague patrol. As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread from Wuhan, China, around the world, it turns out that one of the earliest warnings of the outbreak came from a startup called BlueDot. The Canadian company uses A.I. to monitor news feeds looking for signs of infectious disease outbreaks and then make predictions about how they will spread.
Sticking their necks out. Hundreds of Amazon employees on Sunday signed their names to a blog post on Medium criticizing the company's record on climate change. Amazon said the post violates its employee policy on external communications. "We do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company," the company said.
M&A all day. Fintech payments company WEX is spending $1.7 billion to acquire Australian payments startup eNett International and British startup Optal. The deals will help Maine-based WEX expand overseas and into the travel payments market.
Reading is fundamental. About a month after a court in Turkey held that the government's ban on Wikipedia was unconstitutional, people in Turkey can again access the online encyclopedia. Turkey's government blocked access to Wikipedia, which has 335,000 articles written in Turkish, in April of 2017.
Are you in the right headspace? Online (and podcast) mattress seller Casper set terms for its initial public offering. Expected to price at $17 to $19 per share, the deal will value the money-losing company at under $800 million, well below the $1.1 billion value it reached in its last private fundraising in 2019.
Rest in peace. In addition to the death of Samasource CEO Leila Janah, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who came up with the theory of "disruptive innovation" to explain how new companies used technology to bring down dominant players, passed away on Friday at 67. Many of the most successful tech executives, such as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and former Intel CEO Andy Grove, credited Christensen's insights with influencing their strategies.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Not everyone gets their news from news sites anymore. And with a growing number of readers turning to chat apps like WhatsApp, journalists need to pay more attention to the sometimes false information being spread by these alternative channels, argues Sharon Moshavi, senior vice president at the International Center for Journalists. In an essay for the Columbia Journalism Review, Moshavi says the professional media should try harder to get accurate stories into chat apps, too.
It’s imperative that news media figure out how to map the contours of these opaque, unruly spaces, and deliver fact-based news to those who congregate there. Journalists must experiment with different ways to identify and engage the chat-app influencers and networks that can amplify quality journalism.
If journalists don’t step up, audiences won’t find much credible news on private messaging apps. Over the past two years, according to our survey, newsrooms in seven out of the eight global regions we examined have cut back on the use of these apps as a distribution platform for their content. The steepest drops occurred in Eurasia/ former USSR (20 percentage points), Europe (16 points), and North America (10 points).
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
What is tech doing to protect the whistleblower’s identity? Not much, experts say By Jeff John Roberts and Danielle Abril
The future of sustainable air travel: How airlines (and you) can fly more efficiently By Danielle Bernabe
Telehealth startup Ro partners with Pfizer to give its ED business a boost By Sy Mukherjee
This tech giant says A.I. has already helped it save $1 billion By Maria Aspan
Ready guest one: Atari-themed hotel deal punctuates the gaming pioneer’s turnaround By Chris Morris
Berlin’s ‘ghost’ airport might finally open—billions over budget and 8 years late By Steven Perlberg
BEFORE YOU GO
Speaking of artificial intelligence combing the world to find signs of imminent disaster, I just finished William Gibson's latest novel Agency about an A.I. program that...combs the world to find signs of imminent disaster and then tries to intervene in human events to help out. Not Gibson's best work and suffering from being the middle book in a trilogy, it was good fun nonetheless. Gibson tells The Guardian it's getting harder to invent a world as weird and crazy as the real world.
On Twitter: @ampressman