Big Tech’s rough day is followed by Big Tech’s amazing day
This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.
Wednesday was Big Tech’s right-brain day, a day of storytelling, counterprogramming, and fending off creatively-told congressional attacks on their virtues.
Thursday was dominated by the numbers, the left-brain analysis that showed how at least three of the big four are faring in the world’s darkest times. In a word: well. Amazon, Apple, and Facebook surged in the second quarter, each for their own reasons.
Amazon’s cloud business soared, and it bore fruit from its investments in delivery, satisfying sheltered-in-place customers. Apple sold a little bit of everything, including, not that surprisingly, Mac computers. The word computer used to be in Apple’s name and for the last decade it has been a slow-growth annuity for the iPhone maker. Homebound workers need computers. Facebook proved that users and advertisers aren’t that interested in how much the company harms democracy and decency. For now.
Only Google’s numbers gave reason for pause, as advertising revenue declined. Google’s ad business is so big that it’s probably the best proxy for the economy of its cohort. That it didn’t grow in a quarter when parts of the global economy were improving bodes ill.
I’ll be off for a bit, though you’ll hear from me now and again. And of course you’ll be in good hands with our colleagues when Aaron takes a breather too.
I realized I had neglected to share what I’ve been reading in lockdown. I spent a fair amount of time reading Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory, the tragic account of the life and death of football star and gutsy soldier Pat Tillman. The Bush administration and U.S. Army in Afghanistan look like quaint schoolyard fibbers in comparison with the shameful denizens of today’s White House.
For lighter fare, I turned next to 10 Innings at Wrigley, Kevin Cook’s ingenious account of a 1979 slugfest between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs. The book, with its nearly literal pitch-by-pitch account of the game and back-story recollections of some of its stars, is a tonic for nostalgic baseball fans who can’t get out to the ‘ole ballpark.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Leave a message at the tone. I'll be on vacation next week, too, but you can still get a look at some of the newest gadgets. Google says it will unveil a new phone on Monday, expected to be the Pixel 4a, an update to its Pixel 3a low-budget phone. And on Wednesday, Samsung will have some new products, likely including an update to the Galaxy Note 10. It didn't wait to update one of its folding phones, however. The Galaxy Z Flip 5G available to order now adds, you guessed it, 5G capability to the original Z Flip and costs about $100 more at $1,500.
Nothing but blue skies. In the kind of statement that probably sends chills down the spines of competitors, Amazon senior VP Dave Limp on Thursday said his company is "off to the races" and will spend more than $10 billion on its satellite Internet service called Project Kuiper. The declaration followed federal regulatory approval of Amazon's plan to loft over 3,000 satellites for the service.
Lit up like a crystal ball. Is the electric vehicle stock-market bubble back on? China's Li Auto went public on Thursday in the U.S. at $11.50 a share, valuing the company at around $10 billion. It closed up another 43% in its first day of trading. In other IPO news, fintech lender Affirm, founded by PayPal OG member Max Levchin, is getting ready to go public at a $5 billion to $10 billion valuation. The startup was valued at $3 billion in a private fundraising last year.
A bunch of fish covered in feathers. In the streaming wars, Comcast said its new Peacock service got off to a strong start, gathering 10 million users (the free-with-ads offering still isn't available on the Roku and Amazon Fire TV platforms). Meanwhile, Comcast lost another 477,000 cable TV subscribers in the last quarter, as the pandemic continues to accelerate cord cutting.
Going to war is not a game. Relating to very different kinds of streaming wars, lawmakers on Thursday rejected an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to ban the military from advertising and recruiting on Amazon's Twitch and similar video game services. After the proposal went down to defeat, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: Imagine trying to explain to your colleagues who are members of Congress what Twitch is 😭
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The question-and-answer session at Wednesday's Big Tech hearing may or may not have been very enlightening. But CNBC tech reporter Steve Kovach was among those who noticed that lawmakers also released a massive batch of previously unseen internal emails and documents collected from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Here's just one fascinating exchange he highlighted:
As for Facebook, the documents show that its $1 billion acquisition of Instagram in 2012 was at least in part due to Zuckerberg’s desire to quash a buzzy and growing competitor. (Zuckerberg argued in his testimony Wednesday that there was no guarantee Instagram would be a success back then, and that its position today as a dominant social media app is because it had Facebook’s endless resources to work with.)
But in emails with then-CFO David Ebersman, Zuckerberg discussed the advantages of buying Instagram. Zuckerberg agreed with Ebersman that acquiring Instagram would help “neutralize a potential competitor.”
“Instagram can hurt us meaningfully without becoming a huge business,” Zuckerberg wrote in another email released Wednesday.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few long reads I came across this week:
How Not to Deal With Murder in Space (Slate)
A bizarre 1970 Arctic killing over a jug of raisin wine shows that we need to think about crime outside our atmosphere now.
There’s No Such Thing as Family Secrets in the Age of 23andMe (Wired)
DNA tests are cheap and ubiquitous. For some donor-conceived people, they can unearth long-buried truths about their ancestry—and lead to unorthodox reunions.
R.I.P. Cable TV: Why Hollywood Is Slowly Killing Its Biggest Moneymaker (Variety)
As subscribers and viewers flee, media companies that once relied on cable TV are chasing streaming dollars instead.
Murder, Inc: the rise and fall of New York City’s mafia hitmen (HistoryExtra)
Nige Tassell explores the emergence of Murder, Inc – the mob of hard-as-nails hitmen tasked with bringing down the New York City mafia’s most wanted – and how this organisation of contract killers was eventually brought down.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The tech titan testimony: CEOs are overlawyered and underprepared By Jeffrey Sonnenfeld
VC icon Alan Patricof and SoulCycle vet Abby Levy launch fund to invest in aging By Jeff John Roberts
Verizon enters the rural home Internet market with 4G wireless By Aaron Pressman
Health experts on how to run errands safely during the coronavirus By Brooke Henderson
(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
BEFORE YOU GO
It's been eight years since Alanis Morissette released new studio music, but she got some help from one of her toddlers as she debuted the first song from her new album, Such Pretty Forks in the Road, on the Tonight Show on Thursday. Don't miss the super cute reactions and suggestions from Morissette's daughter in this video performance of the song "Ablaze." My Fortune colleagues take over these duties while I'm on vacation, so have a great weekend and see you back here in a few weeks.