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I met Wednesday in San Francisco with Ian Bremmer, the globe-trotting political scientist/consultant/budding media entrepreneur. We sat on a sunny bench overlooking the bay as he shared his view of the risks the world faces. He’d spoken at a jam-packed event in Oakland the night before and had been visiting his Silicon Valley clients, who are concerned about worst-case scenarios from the coronavirus crisis.
I wanted to know his worst-case outlook, but I asked him to start with the best. An optimistic way forward would be a quick re-starting of the Chinese economy, with a v-shaped recovery; low U.S.-China tensions; and a seasonal dwindling of the virus in the U.S., making it a non-issue come election season. The worst case: A relapse in China, leading to political instability there; Trump blaming China for the world’s problems, escalating trade tensions; and a significant U.S. outbreak.
“There’s a vast amount of space between those two scenarios,” said Bremmer, using an expression rather than ‘vast amount’ that he wouldn’t be able to say on PBS.
Bremmer continues to travel. He says his firm follows the daily CDC travel guidelines, so they’re not seeing clients in Japan. He was unconcerned about shaking hands. (“I wash them a lot.”) He thinks most people in the U.S. aren’t anywhere near panicking.
Bremmer also cops to having been surprised by Joe Biden’s amazing rebound in the presidential election. He thinks a combination of a weakening U.S. economy, Trump’s poor response to the coronavirus, and the greater likelihood of an uncontested Democratic convention now make the general election a “coin flip.” A couple weeks ago he rated Trump’s re-election prospects as high as 65%.
I asked Bremmer his biggest area of concern that isn’t on most people’s radars. Without hesitating—I’ve never seen him hesitate—he answered: “the de-legitimization of the U.S. election.” He thinks if Trump loses narrowly, he’ll challenge the results, including using “extra-legal” means. Bremmer believes the U.S. can handle whatever Trump throws at it—and he also thinks Democrats will litigate a close election. But he thinks it will be ugly. As a certain poorly behaved politician might say: Sad!
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said at a Morgan Stanley conference in San Francisco on Wednesday that he’s become more comfortable, not less, with his target of Uber sort-of becoming profitable by the fourth quarter. He also said Uber remains committed to its costly self-driving car unit, suggesting Uber, unlike competitors, has the simpler task of providing rides on limited routes it knows will be the most profitable. “This is not a science experiment for us,” he said, without naming which competitors he thinks are tinkering less purposefully. “This is a commercialization strategy.”
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This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Fresh as the morning dew. Have a snarky comment you'd rather not live forever in Twitter's timeline? The company is letting some users try a new kind of post: Fleets, as in fleeting thoughts. Fleets automatically disappear after 24 hours. Kinda like Snapchat. Or Facebook Stories. Or Instagram Stories. Critics of the move got the hashtag #RIPTwitter trending. A perhaps more useful feature addition comes from Google. The mobile Google Assistant can now read web pages aloud and even translate them into other languages. I wonder if "Hey Google, read this newsletter" will work?
The sky was the color of television tuned to a dead channel. Finally, a company is taking a stand and saying, no, we will not produce our own TV shows. Cut all the cords you want, but we won't do it. After a report in Hollywood said set-top box maker and streaming service Roku would make its own shows, the company shot back: “We aren’t creating any original shows and don’t have any plans to do so at this time." Meanwhile, among those who definitely are making their own shows, it's getting more expensive. Short-form video service Quibi raised $750 million of backing, adding to its initial $1 billion from 2018.
The minute you sneeze. In your daily 21st century-plague update, workers at Amazon and Facebook in Seattle tested positive for COVID-19. The companies, along with Microsoft, told non-essential employees in the city to work from home for the next few weeks. The South by Southwest conference is still on, but Apple and Netflix pulled out. Also Fortune has started a newsletter focused just on the coronavirus outbreak's impact on business. Sign up now for daily updates in your inbox.
From a safe distance. On Wall Street, a tech company that was supposed to benefit from the virus outbreak disappointed investors. Zoom Video Communications said its revenue jumped 78% to $188 million. That was better than analysts forecast on average, but didn't meet the wildest dreams of some shareholders. Zoom shares, which had zoomed up 72% in 2020, lost 6% in pre-market trading on Thursday.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The .ORG section of the Internet started off as the online neighborhood for non-profits. It's evolved since then, but still retains that aura, which may be why so many people are concerned about a $1 billion deal to sell the .ORG address registry, known as the Public Interest Registry, to a private equity firm called Ethos Capital. Cara Gagliano, an attorney at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, has an essay this week on why the sale is such a terrible idea. She's particularly concerned with Ethos CEO Erik Brooks saying the deal would allow for risky new products.
This is not the selling point Brooks seems to think it is. .ORG’s value to its registrants is being a reliable and recognized domain for hosting their websites and email systems—which it already offers. The .ORG registry should decidedly not be in the business of taking risks with non-profits’ essential infrastructure by adding bells and whistles that no one is asking for. If those risks don’t pan out, it may well be the non-commercial .ORG community that suffers as Ethos makes up for the loss by skimping on technical upkeep, raising prices, engaging in censorship-for-profit—or bankrupting PIR and walking away with the gains.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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Down $52,000 in a day: Furious Robinhood customers want payback following the app’s two day outage By Lucinda Shen
Want to solve America’s problems? Start with broadband By Adrianne Benton Furniss
After folding phone screens, get ready for unrolling displays By Aaron Pressman
Why it’s so hard to find the next Warby Parker By Nicole Gull McElroy
Tesla skimps on warranty costs to inflate its profits, critics allege By David Z. Morris
Meet the A.I. that helped Facebook remove billions of fake accounts By Jeremy Kahn
BEFORE YOU GO
The latest round of emoji additions includes a key bit for amateur astronomers and people who like rings: the planet Saturn. But every phone OS maker and app developer got to create their own version of the Saturn emoji, and some did better than others at truly capturing the gas giant's essence. Outer space scientist James O'Donoghue compared the emojis and declared a winner. No spoilers, but contestants got dinged for showing Saturn's ring tilting at more or less than its actual 26.7 degree tilt.