Ready for 2021? As you track the milestones leading up to the end of this terrible year, here’s one: This is the last Data Sheet for 2020, as we are not publishing for the next two weeks. I’ll be recharging during a stirring staycation in Boston with immediate family and our snow-loving dog Luna:
But before you go, here are some highlights of the newsletter this year.
Among the five most-read essays by Data Sheet subscribers was Danielle’s piece about Netflix capturing the most Oscar nominations (spoiler alert: It only won two. Laura Dern in Marriage Story won best supporting actress and American Factory was the best documentary).
Robert had two, the top two overall, in fact. His piece about the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone was exceeded only by his piece about Iran’s cyberattack capabilities in the wake of the U.S. drone strike killing Qassem Suleimani.
Rounding out the top five were a piece I wrote about Sony’s buzzy but unreal electric car (“a car no one will ever drive”) and a pretty tough assessment of Ginni Rometty’s tenure at IBM.
All of our essays were greatly improved by our newsletter editor Karen Yuan, who’s especially clever at writing the subject lines. Data Sheet readers seemed most eager to read the newsletter in the beginning of the year, before the whole COVID thing, which was when Adam was working on his San Francisco feature story.
We also post every newsletter on fortune.com and the most popular issues among web readers were quite different. Adam snagged three of the top five with his essays about the pandemic’s economic damage, Amazon’s policy of selling anti-vaccine books, and an explanation of scooter startup Bird’s $2.5 billion valuation. Only two essays did better than those on the web. My August piece about MIT’s deep-fake moon landing speech and Robert’s recent scoop that well-known investor Keith Rabois was abandoning the Bay Area.
The newsletter is also about bringing you the must-reads across the tech landscape. Here are the five most-read links of the year:
- Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020 (Sequoia)
- Technology and the Covid Pandemic (Mauro F. Guillén)
- 23 minutes with Peloton’s Robin Arzón
- Fortune’s 2020 40 Under 40 list
- Elon Musk, Blasting Off in Domestic Bliss (Maureen Dowd)
And we always try to leave you with something a little fun at the end of the newsletter. The favorite of the year in that department was this amazing video put together at the Juilliard School when the pandemic was just getting started. Here’s to a 2021 filled with more brilliant music! See you next year.
Hello darkness my old friend. The recent hacking incident against the U.S. government is coming to be known as the SolarWinds attack, after the security company whose widely-used software allowed the penetrations. And it's also turning out to be much bigger than initially realized. The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains America’s nuclear stockpile, was among the many agencies penetrated. You know who was hit but not penetrated though? Microsoft. Or so the software giant maintains: Though it detected the malware in its systems, "We have not found evidence of access to production services or customer data. Our investigations, which are ongoing, have found absolutely no indications that our systems were used to attack others.”
A marathon not a sprint. After running in place for about a year, Google finally got permission from the European Union to complete its $2 billion acquisition of Fitbit. Google agreed to maintain access for 10 years for competing health and fitness apps, among other conditions, in order to secure the approval. Speaking of regulators, Google did in fact get hit with a third antitrust lawsuit. This one is led by the AGs in Colorado and Iowa and focuses on how Google may have hurt specialty rivals like Yelp. Google called the latest case “meritless” and “inaccurate.” The company also posted a long response that's worth reading if you are following the cases. One key argument: The latest lawsuit "suggests we shouldn't have worked to make Search better and that we should, in fact, be less useful to you."
You've been a lovely, lovely witness. While on the subject of lawsuits, the judge overseeing Epic Games v Apple says Tim Apple (aka CEO Tim Cook) and Apple SVP Craig Federighi must testify. The trial isn't expected to start for another six months or more. In other video gaming news, Sony pulled the buggy and controversial new game Cyberpunk 2077 from its Playstation Store and said it would issue refunds to any buyers who want one.
We have so much in common. Some changes afoot at Twitter. The company is dropping the goofy quote tweet prompt every time you try to retweet something. Also, Twitter is testing what it calls "humanization prompts" which will show what a user has in common with someone they are about to reply to (such as "You and Maria both follow the topics soccer, dogs, and rap"). And the company is experimenting with a voice chat room feature called Spaces with a focus on marginalized communities.
You have mad skillz dawg. Despite a lack of Wish fulfillment, the IPO market remains pretty hot. A.I. lending company Upstart's stock nearly doubled in its debut and mobile esports company Skillz merged with a SPAC and saw its stock promptly jump 29% on Thursday. And the pipeline continues to fill. Fancy pre-owned clothing market Poshmark filed to go public as did cryptocurrency conglomerate Coinbase and automation software specialist UiPath. Popular messaging app Discord raised $100 million from private investors at a valuation of $7 billion, saying its monthly active user base doubled over the past year to 140 million.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Apparently some Air Force techies are as much fans of Star Wars as Peter Thiel's crowd loves Lord of the Rings. The Air Force tested an A.I. pilot in a U-2 spy plane this week called ARTUµ. Get it? R2-D2? Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Will Roper explained to Popular Mechanics how A.I. fits into the modern battlefield.
The fact ARTUµ was in command was less about any particular mission than how completely our military must embrace AI to maintain the battlefield decision advantage. Unlike Han Solo’s “never-tell-me-the-odds” snub of C-3PO’s asteroid field survival rate (approximately 3,720 to 1), our warfighters need to know the odds in dizzyingly-complex combat scenarios. Teaming with trusted AI across all facets of conflict—even occasionally putting it in charge—could tip those odds in our favor.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few great long reads I came across this week:
Matt Drudge Logs Off (Tablet)
The Drudge Report has become a conformist shadow of its formerly bratty, oppositional self. Why?
The AI Girlfriend Seducing China’s Lonely Men (Sixth Tone)
In China, a sassy chat bot is stealing millions of men’s hearts. It’s also recording their most intimate desires and emotions.
What If You Could Do It All Over? (The New Yorker)
The uncanny allure of our unlived lives.
How Serena Williams conquers her daily schedule without breaking a sweat (Fast Company)
The athlete and investor shares tricks and apps that help her stay ahead of her competition—and her calendar.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Citron calls this the ‘most ridiculous’ IPO of 2020 By Lee Clifford
GitHub CEO: We’re nuking all tracking ‘cookies’ and you should too By Robert Hackett
Ahead of an IPO, Robinhood agrees to pay $65 million to settle SEC charges By Lucinda Shen
Why investors jumped on board the SPAC ‘gravy train’ By Emma Hinchliffe
Creating a unified society is up to all of us By Sandra Phillips Rogers
Innovation just isn’t happening over Zoom By Tarun Wadhwa
(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
BEFORE YOU GO
For the last issue of the year, let's go out on a super sweet note. Please enjoy this Tweeted story of a good neighbor, a fairy garden, and the exchange of beautiful hand-written notes. And like the fairy Sapphire requests: Be kind and brave. It's almost 2021.