The State, Freedom and Big Tech in the Spotlight

That Was The Week, #45


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Editorial:


An Ode to Facebook:

(from Hamlet, spoken by Hamlet)

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1599-1601

Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg once again had to go on the record in front of the Senate this week. The headlines are in the "Politics" section of News of the Week below.


--News Of The Week:

Politics


If that wasn't enough, rumors emerged via the Washington Post that there is an impending anti-trust suit aimed at Facebook dating back to its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp many years ago.

The astonishment at Mark Zuckerberg stating that Steve Bannon's calls to murder various people do not break Facebook's rules enough to ban him drew the eyes of many of the headline writers.

From The Guardian:

"Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook staffers on Thursday that former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon had not violated enough of the company’s policies to justify his suspension from the platform when he called for the beheading of two US officials and the posting of their heads outside the White House as a “warning”."
Bannon appeared to endorse violence against the FBI director, Christopher Wray, and the infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci on an episode of his podcast on 5 November. The podcast, the War Room, was distributed in video form on a number of social media outlets, including Facebook.

Twitter did ban Bannon but Facebook did not.

For my part, I am still of the opinion that free speech (even though platforms are editorialised by their owners) is the higher moral ground. On this on I am with Zuckerberg. Both on Bannon and on the antitrust issue.

Meanwhile in economics, Azeem Azhar has an excellent interview with Chamath Palihapitiya about Silicon Valley needing a shake up.

Economics

For me the biggest news of the week is in the Innovation domain. It turns out that Apple's M1 chip seriously changes the game in personal computing. various tests confirm that in real world situations its $999 MacBook Air and $1299 MacBook Pro 13" can outperform computers costing 10-15 times more. The focus of the articles here is the "System on a Chip" that the M1 is an example of and how it can beat far more costly rivals in video rendering and other high performance use cases. Om Malik and John Gruber both wrote about this wonderfully.

Innovation


And the rest is here:

--News You Can Use: For Founders


--The Best of the Rest: For VCs


Startup Of The Week: AirBnB


Podcast of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


--Talking Point of the Week




--News Of The Week: Dominating the News


State, federal antitrust lawsuits likely to challenge Facebook for buying rivals and weaponizing data

Washington Post, @TonyRomm

State and federal investigators are preparing to bring antitrust charges against Facebook that will challenge the tech giant’s acquisition of two rivals, Instagram and WhatsApp, alleging that the deals helped create an anti-competitive social networking juggernaut that has left users with few quality alternatives.

The charges form a critical part of what could be a wide-ranging legal salvo, according to three people with knowledge of the matter, ultimately threatening to saddle Facebook with its toughest regulatory challenge in its nearly 17-year history.

As the state and federal probes enter their final phases, investigators have explored how Instagram and WhatsApp changed in the years after Facebook purchased them, according to the three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a law enforcement proceeding. Government antitrust watchdogs have weighed whether to contend in lawsuits that these transactions have left users with worse services — and fewer privacy protections — than they might have had if the companies had remained independent, the sources said.


Why the FTC Will Attack Instagram in its Case Against Facebook

Big Technology, @Kantrowitz

  • The framework To bring a case against Facebook, the FTC would use the Sherman Antitrust Act. The act is ancient, signed by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890, but it’s what regulators have to work with today.
  • And by the time you finish reading today, you’ll see why: The environment We’re in the midst of a serious rethinking of tech giant power, a radically different environment from when the FTC cleared the Instagram acquisition eight years ago.

Tech Must ‘Get Uncomfortable’ With Its Impact on Society: An Interview With Swati Mylavarapu

Medium

  • And some of these might seem like fringe ideas, but I think we’re starting to see the credence that this notion of class and caste is starting to take on in public conversations about what’s happening in America, and it’s extremely relevant to what we build in the tech industry and these forces of power and earning asymmetry and the divide between capital and labor and how tech feeds into it.
  • But part of what I’m excited to talk to you about is why I think it’s important that more of us do this kind of work like we’re doing at Incite to invest in early stage political leaders as well as early stage startup and technology builders.

Mark Zuckerberg defends not suspending Steve Bannon from Facebook

Technology | The Guardian

  • Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook staffers on Thursday that former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon had not violated enough of the company’s policies to justify his suspension from the platform when he called for the beheading of two US officials and the posting of their heads outside the White House as a “warning”.
  • Twitter banned Bannon’s War Room account permanently, saying it had suspended the podcast account for violating its policy on the glorification of violence.

Don’t Blame Section 230 for Big Tech’s Failures. Blame Big Tech.

Deeplinks, @elliotharmon. @eff

  • If lawmakers are concerned about large social media platforms’ outsized influence on the world of online speech, they ought to confront the lack of meaningful competition among those platforms and the ways in which those platforms fail to let users control or even see how they’re using our data.
  • But Section 230 isn’t why five companies dominate the market for speech online, or why the marketing and behavior analysis decisions that guide Big Tech’s practices are so often opaque to users.

Silicon Valley Needs a Shakedown with Chamath Palihapitiya.

Harvard Business Review, @chamath, @azeem, @exponentialview

  • Chamath Palihapitiya, investor and CEO of Social Capital, joins Azeem Azhar to explore the dysfunctional relationship between capital and companies, why SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies) are such a necessary innovation, and why he’s pivoted his own firm to focus on hard, important issues like climate change and health.
  • The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harvard Business Review or its affiliates.

The M1 Macs

Daring Fireball, John Gruber, @DaringFireball

That’s one of my favorite axioms. It’s both intuitively and undeniably true. But it gets to the heart of a certain universal cognitive dissonance inherent in mankind. We yearn for everything to be better. Yet we are resistant to change.

Apple’s new Macs based on the M1 system on a chip, the first Macs based on Apple Silicon, are that sort of mind-bending better. To acknowledge how good they are — and I am here to tell you they are astonishingly good — you must acknowledge that certain longstanding assumptions about how computers should be designed, about what makes a better computer better, about what good computers need, are wrong.

Some people will remain in denial about what Apple has accomplished here for years. That’s how it goes.


Is it time to SoC the CPU?

On my Om

  • After nearly five decades — Intel 4004 came to market in 1971 — the central processing unit, aka the CPU, now has competition from System on a Chip, aka SoC.
  • The M1, the first member of the Apple Silicon family focused on laptops and desktop computers, is taking the battle that has been brewing for a long time right into the enemy camp.

Steve Jobs’s last gambit: Apple’s M1 Chip

On my Om

  • It uses Apple’s Unified Memory Architecture (UMA), which means that a single pool of memory (DRAM) sits on the same chip as various components that need to access that memory — like the CPU, GPU, image processor, and neural engines.
  • Jobs learned the hard way that, to stay competitive, Apple had to make and control everything: the software, the hardware, the user experience, and the chips that power it all.

The Substackerati

Columbia Journalism Review, @cjr, @cliomiso

The first week of March, Patrice Peck, a freelance journalist living in New York, started sanitizing everything. She went to Nitehawk, a dine-in movie theater, and brought Clorox to wipe down the little table by her seat, her drinking glass, the utensils. In those early days, she felt like she was the only one obsessing over the coronavirus. As the pandemic spread, she started exchanging updates with a friend via text message and calling her grandmother in Jamaica to discuss the situation there. Peck anticipated that Black people would be hit the hardest, and that this aspect of the story would not receive enough coverage. “It was just very obvious to me,” she said.

By April, shelter-in-place orders were in effect. Peck—who is thirty-three and stylish, lately with cat-eye glasses and short hair—was holed up in her apartment. She and her partner set up to work side by side, their laptops perched on the kitchen island; Peck scoured the internet for news as Black people in America began dying from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, at twice the rate of whites. “I wanted to write something that would be valuable to readers and informative and empowering, particularly to Black audiences,” she said. So she did what so many other independent journalists were doing—she started a Substack.


--News You Can Use: For Founders


Sizing the Ask

NextView Blog, @RobGo

One important tactical decision when fundraising is determining the size of “the ask”. Sizing the ask incorrectly is one of the things I see founders get wrong most often, and it ends up having a meaningful impact to the fundraising process overall. Telling an investor how much money you are looking to raise seems like a simple and benign question, but it’s actually pretty complicated. A couple thoughts.

First, fundraising is a means not an end. Every fundraise process should start internally with the financing needs and goals that the business is looking to hit. Don’t let the tail wag the dog here. You are better off raising the right amount of capital (and at the right time) and screwing up everything I write below than doing the reverse. That said…


Why so many valuable startups seem like the dumbest idea at first

Lucinda Shen, Fortune

Elad Gil didn’t grow up in Silicon Valley. The son of a nurse and an academic studying education psychology, he grew up akin to a military brat, moving between Michigan, San Diego, Israel, and Arizona in his early years.

But he seems to have a golden touch when picking startups that turn into unicorns or decacorns. Gil, who typically makes bets in seed-stage companies, has cut checks to some 25 startups that have since reached the vaunted unicorn status, including Instacart, Stripe, and Coinbase.


DoorDash food delivery app announces plans to go public

Technology | The Guardian

  • DoorDash, the US food delivery app that has seen business almost quadruple during the coronavirus pandemic, filed its intention to go public on Friday, bringing closer one of the most hotly anticipated share sales of the year.
  • Between now and the end of the year, Airbnb, the gaming company Roblox and e-retailer Wish are also expected to launch share sales on New York exchanges.

--The Best of the Rest: For VCs


The VC “Strips off” — Silicon Roundabout Ventures VC Fund Deck Reviewed Live by Draper Esprit LP

Silicon Roundabout

After decades of secrecy and obscurity, the VC world is finally starting to open up (if only a tiny bit). Some funds, for example, decided for the first time to release a copy of the VC fund deck they had used during their fundraise.


What are LPs looking for from VCs? A new report — Sifted

Sifted

  • It’s been a bonanza year for European venture capital — despite fears that the pandemic would put VCs off investing in startups and make it harder for them to raise new funds.
  • The report, which surveyed 73 LPs, including big names like the European Investment Fund, the British Business Bank, Isomer and Top Tier, shows other positive signs for the European venture ecosystem — and some warnings.

Underperforming Tech IPOs Are On the Rise

The Information

The number of dud initial public offerings coming out of the tech industry is on the rise. Amid the flurry of tech companies making their public debut this year, a higher number than in the previous two years have quickly traded below the offering price, data from Dealogic shows.


--Startup Of The Week: AirBnB


Airbnb Finally Files For IPO, We Break Down Its S-1

Crunchbase News

  • It last raised a $1 billion private equity round led by Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners , and $1 billion in debt financing in April 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic took a hammer to its business.
  • The company announced last year that it planned to go public in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic initially raised questions if an IPO was still in the cards.

Everything you need to know about Airbnb’s IPO

Protocol, @ShakeelHashim

  • “Just as when Airbnb started during the Great Recession of 2008, we believe that people will continue to turn to hosting to earn extra income,” the company argues.
  • In the first nine months of 2020, the company made just $2.5 billion in revenue, down 32% from the same period a year earlier.

--Podcast of the Week:


Introducing “How to Fix the Internet,” a New Podcast from EFF

Deeplinks, @eff, @raineyreitman

  • Today EFF is launching How to Fix the Internet , a new podcast mini-series to examine potential solutions to six ills facing the modern digital landscape.
  • In each episode, we are joined by a guest to examine how the current system is failing, consider different possibilities for solutions, and imagine a better future.

20VC: ACCEL’S DAN LEVINE ON THE CURRENT STATE OF SEED & SERIES A, THE RISE OF PRE-EMPTIVE ROUNDS, SOLO CAPITALISTS AND MULTI-STAGE FUNDS ENTERING SEED & MARKET, PEOPLE AND PRODUCT; WHAT TO PRIORITISE?

@HarryStebbings, @TwentyMinuteVC, @daniel_levine


Tweet of the Week:



--Talking Point of the Week


Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech

Mike Masnick, @mmasnick

After a decade or so of the general sentiment being in favor of the internet and social media as a way to enable more speech and improve the marketplace of ideas, in the last few years the view has shifted dramatically—now it seems that almost no one is happy. Some feel that these platforms have become cesspools of trolling, bigotry, and hatred.

Meanwhile, others feel that these platforms have become too aggressive in policing language and are systematically silencing or censoring certain viewpoints. And that’s not even touching on the question of privacy and what these platforms are doing (or not doing) with all of the data they collect.

The situation has created something of a crisis, both inside and outside of these companies. The companies are constantly struggling to deal with their new positions as arbiters of truth and kindness online, despite historically promoting themselves as defenders of free speech. Meanwhile, politicians from the two major political parties have been hammering these companies, albeit for completely different reasons. Some have been complaining about how these platforms have potentially allowed for foreign interference in our elections. I first called out Facebook and some of the social media platforms in December of 2016. For the first six months, the companies just kind of blew off these allegations, but these proved to be true; that Russia used their social media platforms with fake accounts to spread false information, they paid for political advertising on their platforms. Facebook says those tactics are no longer allowed—that they've kicked this firm off their site, but I think they've got a lot of explaining to do.