Here's to the crazy ones
This past week was Blockchain Week in New York, in tandem with back peddling on the part of the tech cartel. As Quartz noted, “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, long under fire for “programming people’s brains,” will testify before the European parliament about his company’s use of data. Not long after, transformative new European privacy rules go into effect that will give EU consumers far more visibility into what companies know about them.
“Now, tech CEOs insist they want to be part of the solution. On Tuesday, Facebook-owned Instagram confirmed a feature that will let users track their time spent on the platform. A week earlier, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced a Digital Wellbeing initiative geared at helping people moderate their use of Google’s products and services by suggesting breaks from YouTube or batching notifications.”
On the surface, not much difference in the Amazon Approach and the Facebook Approach: swallow up everything in your path. If we can’t buy you (Facebook/Snapchat), we will appropriate every new feature you develop and destroy you. Of course, when there’s a product or product line from an outside vendor that’s doing well on Amazon, the company will simply copy it and cut out the middleman.
Variations on a theme.
Not so, it seems, going forward, and it will be interesting to see who’s making the smarter bets. Facebook just introduced Facebook Local, which Wired is calling a Yelp and Foursquare killer and “the only Facebook app you need,” the point being to keep you even more engaged with the site, about which founding Facebook president Sean Parker had some choice words to share this past week, none of them flattering (Sean Parker unloads on Facebook “exploiting” human psychology), giving Axios “a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains.” Bottom line here: Facebook is betting on a mobile future.
At no other time in the history of the world has so much wealth been concentrated in the hands of so few – and amassed in so short amount of time. More worrisome still is the amount of power and global reach of those few, especially considering that their basic stock in trade is surveillance (Former Facebook executive says Google, Facebook are ‘surveillance states’ and risk more regulation).
Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya, the aforementioned Facebook executive, is more bullish on Amazon, as, in his opinion, the online retailer has more competition than Google and Facebook. Um, did he not take into consideration Alexa, or the fact that Amazon Web Services is now authorized to host the US Department of Defense’s most sensitive data, including top secret Pentagon and NSA information.
Ok, this story hit the press the day after his prognostications were published, but we’re sure that this was known in circles prior to the announcement, what to speak of the fact that Alexa has been used as a witness in a murder trial, so how is Amazon not part of the surveillance state?
Should America’s Tech Giants Be Broken Up?, Bloomberg asks. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook may be contributing to the U.S. economy’s most persistent ailments.
The word ‘anti-trust’ has been brought up frequently as of late, and in the age of online, it’s not simply about the detriment to consumers. In this age of globalization – and the tech behemoths, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, do have an undeniable global reach – it’s also about destabilizing the world economy. After just two decades, Jeff Bezos is on the brink of displacing Bill Gates as the world’s wealthiest person.
While we’re well aware of the fact that things tend to happen more quickly in internet time, at this juncture in our history, it’s not about the time, it’s about the repercussions.
Last week, Travis Kalanick, ahem, tendered his resignation as CEO of Uber, the company which he co-founded, and of which he is a 30% shareholder. No mean feat holding on to that much equity, considering the many rounds of funding that the company has received – $8.8B in 14 rounds, according to Crunchbase. It took a shareholder revolt on the part of investors representing roughly 40 percent control of Uber to accomplish the task, according to NewCo.
Then again, he’s Travis Kalanick. Taking a walk down memory lane, here are 13 Instances Where Uber Screwed Up (A Brief Throwback), demonstrating a bit more ubris than was advisable or legal, including class actions; sexist comments (and Susan Fowler’s blog post that started it all); surge pricing; criminal behavior on the part of drivers who were supposedly vetted; falsifying numbers; what to speak of the number of executives who departed the company in quick succession. Uber may not have been Uber without Kalanick’s personality to drive it (no pun intended), and while it has been said that there’s really no such thing as bad press, well, there are many Silicon Valley mantras that are in need of revision.
Uber has always been a predatory, take-no-prisoners corporate culture. They cut corners (drivers were not all properly vetted, it seems; agencies that do background checks do not all follow the same set of rules), and to reach Uber-size in the amount of time it took the company to accomplish its current market share (they’ve been around since 2009 and yes, market share has been falling off of late, which has given its closest competitor a big lift – pun intended: “Uber’s US market share fell from 84% at the beginning of this year to 77% at the end of May, according to research firm Second Measure. Meanwhile, Lyft’s bookings were up 135% year-over-year in April, according to PYMNTS.com,” says Business Insider), you have to be employing measures that simply do not pass the sniff test (Uber drivers underpaid in New York City for years).
We all saw @ChicagoPhotoSho’s tweet:
Bezos: “Alexa, buy me something from Whole Foods.”
Alexa: “Buying Whole Foods.”
Bezos: “Oh, Shit.”
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, last week Amazon acquired Whole Foods in a deal valued at $13.7B, including the debt.
There’s nothing like an Internet outage to demonstrate precisely how much power is focused in the hands of the few. Two weeks ago, at 12:47 pm EST, Amazon Web Services experienced a 3S outage for several hours, taking websites, apps and devices either fully or partially down with it. “Affected websites and services include(d) Quora, newsletter provider Sailthru, Business Insider, Giphy, image hosting at a number of publisher websites, filesharing in Slack, and many more. Connected lightbulbs, thermostats and other IoT hardware (was) also being impacted, with many unable to control these devices as a result of the outage,” Techcrunch reported. “Amazon S3 is used by around 148,213 websites, and 121,761 unique domains, according to data tracked by SimilarTech, and its popularity as a content host concentrates specifically in the U.S. It’s used by 0.8 percent of the top 1 million websites.”
“Notably, this wasn’t technically an “outage,” since Amazon’s S3 wasn’t not entirely out of commission and some services were only partially affected,” says Business Insider, which, once again, failed to disclose that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was a major investor in the publication.
It was back up some four hours later and as often happens with tech, we’re apoplectic when our devices don’t work for a while, but once all is resolved, it’s usually more or less a case of business as usual, and in the case of the S3 outage, it may well have even given a few people a brief respite from the government listening posts.