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Year: 2016

Trust, Transparency and Totalitarianism

Trust, Transparency and Totalitarianism

Don’t look at us: Mark Zuckerberg started it.

Last week, The Guardian published a piece entitled Facebook and Google: most powerful and secretive empires we’ve ever known, and, considering the power and reach of the platforms, they’re not merely tech companies: more accurately, they are perhaps two of the most powerful nation-states in the world at the moment and given how ubiquitous they are in our lives, they arguably wield more power/have a larger reach than any corporation or government that the world has seen, to date. As Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles state in the piece, “We call them platforms, networks or gatekeepers. But these labels hardly fit. The appropriate metaphor eludes us; even if we describe them as vast empires, they are unlike any we’ve ever known. Far from being discrete points of departure, merely supporting the action or minding the gates, they have become something much more significant. They have become the medium through which we experience and understand the world.

“As their users, we are like the blinkered young fish in the parable memorably retold by David Foster Wallace. When asked, “How’s the water?” we swipe blank: “What the hell is water?” Read More...

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

While we do realize that many tech companies have young founders whose youthful missteps can sometimes be forgiven, yea, even in business, neither companies nor founders stay young forever, and we were just wondering what the benchmark is for when certain tech companies will grow up and take responsibility.

It recently came to light that Yahoo! was compromised back in 2014, but waited two years to confirm a data breach “affecting 500 million user accounts, which would make the breach the largest in history.” In fact, according to Recode (who broke the story), If you’ve ever created a Yahoo account, take these steps immediately to protect your data – it’s not just your Yahoo account that’s vulnerable. Lest we forget, we sometimes share sensitive information in email, and two years, Gracie? We realize that Yahoo mail is free, but does that mean that the company doesn’t have some sort of responsibility to inform its users when there’s a major data breach? Don’t ask. Or in this case, given that it took two years for the story to come out, more like don’t tell.

Zuck up of the week: Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg admitted last week that for the last two year, Facebook has been systematically overestimating the time its users spent watching videos on the site by ignoring views that lasted less than three seconds – a ‘miscalculation,’ according to Facebook’s David Fischer, that amounted to an overestimation of some 60 to 80 percent. The company’s spin is priceless and definitely worth a read. Read More...

Grey Is the New Black

Grey Is the New Black

Not in a good way.

Bloomberg News recently published a piece reminding us that It’s Tough Being Over 40 in Silicon Valley. Reminding, as this is not exactly breaking news, and nothing has changed since it first surfaced in the days of Web 1.0, and even then, it was getting old fast.

The tech sector is one of the biggest proponents of not discriminating on the basis of  sexual preference and welcoming immigrants of all stripes – all well and good, but if you happen to be African American, female or over 40, it’s quite another story and truth be told, ageism is the most socially acceptable form of discrimination. “…When it comes to race and gender bias, the people running Silicon Valley at least pay lip service to wanting to do better — but with age discrimination they don’t even bother to lie, noted Dan Lyons. “People born after 1980 do not possess some special gene that the rest of us lack. But Silicon Valley venture capitalists and founders somehow seem to believe this is the case. I suspect the truth is that tech startups prefer young workers because they will work longer hours and can be paid less.” Read More...

The Technology Sniff Test

The Technology Sniff Test

As we were riding the Citibike down 9th Avenue early one morning, the exhaust fumes from the buses heading into the Lincoln Tunnel conjured up memories of London and the early morning smell of the traffic exhaust there. Funny how certain smells can almost fool the senses and transport one to a different time and place. It also got us to thinking about New York and San Francisco/Silicon Valley, which will never cultivate certain big city smells of either New York or London.

Technology recently saw two multi-billion dollar exits: Dollar Shave Club and Jet.com – both of which were acquired by large corporations – Unilever and WalMart, respectively. This does give one pause to consider the types of businesses that gestate best in Silicon Valley – the Ubers and Airbnbs and yes, even Theranos’s of the world: companies that do tend to run into regulatory issues and even tax issues, given the European Commission’s recent ruling against Apple, and Amazon and Google are also in their sights; companies with a certain amount of hubris, if not a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude. These are companies that aim high and go big, although in the case of Theranos, well, it doesn’t always work out as planned, and the company crashed hard.

The Grand Central Tech piece that we cited last week notes that “The gulf between the corporate world and the startup world is shrinking from both sides… Much was made of a “funding slow down in 2016”, but from our view, more than any slow down, the rules changed. For startups, successfully raising a Series A now increasingly requires not just growth statistics (i.e. users), but revenue growth and the existence of large, scaled customers.” Which, in case no one ever mentioned it, is the basic foundation for building a business. Read More...

The Onward and Forward Edition

The Onward and Forward Edition

It’s September and everyone’s back, meaning that it’s time to get back to it.

As if…

Welcome back and as we said, no editorial this week, although, two things: Read More...

Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission – Or Just Do it.

Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission – Or Just Do it.

You’d better sit down for this one.  “Whatsapp announced it would begin sharing names and phone numbers with its parent company (Facebook), to allow its more than 1 billion users “to communicate with businesses that matter to you too” – like notifications from airlines, delivery services or your bank, for example,” according to Gizmodo. Yes, we know that this means that Facebook is backtracking on its pledge not to use the data of the 1 billion WhatsApp users they acquired with the acquisition of the message app itself two years ago, and who would ever have suspected that Facebook would have changed its policy?

Forest through the trees: while the online world voiced its righteous indignation about the change in policy, Facebook “laid off the entire editorial staff on the Trending team—15-18 workers contracted through a third party. The Trending team will now be staffed entirely by engineers, who will work to check that topics and articles surfaced by the algorithms are newsworthy,” according to Quartz. Not that engineers are at all biased, mind you, but what do lawmakers and oversight committees know about algorithms, so quite a workaround, all things considered.

It seems to us that the one-time tech mantra of ask forgiveness, not permission, has given way to that old Nike matra: Just do it. At least, in Facebook’s case, it seems. Facebook came under scrutiny not too long ago for displaying a particularly liberal bent, to the exclusion of more conservative reporting in their trending section, but remember, In response (to the claims of bias/partisanship), Republican Senator John Thune, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, sent a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers. Eager to avoid further congressional action, Facebook launched an internal investigation, which found themselves not guilty, according to a piece in Breitbart.* Nothing to see here… Read More...

Users In Charge

Users In Charge

Back in the day, Esther Dyson (and Daphne Kis) hosted an invitation-only conference called PC Forum, and anyone who was anyone in tech would mark it in stone on his/her calendar, (most of them) flying their private jets to Scottsdale, AZ for the annual hegira. At the relative dawn of social, the theme of the conference was Users in Charge. And in those nascent days, we actual took ‘users’ to mean ‘consumers.’

Such innocence. Such trust.

The era of so-called social was a turning point, not just for tech, but for the world at large.  The true creators  – the enabler of the tech world, and by this we mean the homebrews and Steve Wozniaks of the world: the people who really built things that allowed others to build and create and yes, move the human race forward – were a different lot than today’s tech oligarchs: they created jobs and enabled an industry. They created a tool that the world had never seen before, and they didn’t merely reinvent the telephone, or the telephone book, which is what Facebook really is, when you get down to brass tacks, only this time around, it’s bidirectional and not necessarily a wonderfully open platform (yes, we do realize that it’s a walled garden) connecting the world (Facebook Falsely Claims Colin Powell Cleared Hillary In Email Case Saturday morning the site ran a headline in the section declaring, “Colin Powell: Former Secretary of State Confirms He Recommended Using Personal Email to Hillary Clinton.” The only problem is Powell made no such declaration and he denied Clinton’s claim). It seems Facebook has gone from presenting a particular bias, to outright falsifying information. Read More...

And the Silver Goes To…

And the Silver Goes To…

It’s August. The Olympics are on. Why not?

Americans – and tech entrepreneurs, in particular – are conditioned to always go for the gold in the winner-take-all world of tech, but there were two exits lately – both on the East Coast – where tech companies were acquired by corporates for $1 billion or more: Unilever’s acquisition of Dollar Shave Club, and Wal-Mart’s picking up Jet.com for $3.3 billion to challenge/defend itself against Amazon.

For the record, Unilever was also the fourth non-tech acquirer to buy a venture-backed U.S. company for $1 billion or more in the year, according to CB Insights data.  CB Insights goes on to say that “that’s compared to 2014 when tech giants including Facebook, Google, and Oracle made up five of the six acquirers of U.S. venture-backed companies for $1B or more.” Read More...

Things To Do in August When It’s Dead

Things To Do in August When It’s Dead

There is a movie called “Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead and we just couldn’t resist.

It’s nearing the end of summer. Things tend to slow down. The investors traditionally unplug this time of year. What’s an entrepreneur to do?

Carpe diem. Unlike in other years, quite a few investors have mentioned lately – either while speaking on panels or to us personally, that they’re not unplugging for the month (or most of it), as they often do, or at least seem to do. And because they’re around and most people believe that they’re not, guess what? They’re available. Just make sure to use your time – and theirs –wisely. Two points to remember: Read More...

The Just Because You’re Paranoid Edition, aka, They’re Heeere…

The Just Because You’re Paranoid Edition, aka, They’re Heeere…

In case you haven’t yet noticed, Google is now on street corners all over New York City, which is not only home to millions of New Yorkers, but is also one of the most international of cities, hosting tourists and business people from all over the world, what to speak of UN delegates and their families and UN Missions and consulates and visiting politicos. Pay attention.

Not too long ago, a consortium called CityBridge started wiring New York with wi-fi kiosks, many of which are replacing public phones. Everyone loves ubiquitous free wi-fi, but if there’s one thing that we’ve learned about the tech industry, it’s that free is never free: that if you’re not the (paying) customer, you’re the product. “If all goes according to the plan, the kiosks will be as commonplace as pay phones once were,” says The New York Times (New Yorkers Greet the Arrival of Wi-Fi Kiosks With Panic, Skepticism and Relief), “…Once a smartphone is registered, it will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi signals that radiate from the kiosks and extend 100 feet or more.”

Which means that you’ll be tracked all over town. Read More...

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