The Information


Scammers Hack Twitter: The Information’s Tech Briefing

Wednesday’s hack of the Twitter accounts of top executives and politicians, including Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Barack Obama, is an enormous black eye for the company. 

Scammers have used Twitter before to make money. What is worrisome about this hack is the possibility, raised by some people on Twitter, that the hackers gained control of the company’s internal systems to access the accounts. 


Top Airbnb Executive to Depart Amid Broader Shakeup

Greg Greeley, Airbnb’s president of homes and one of the the travel site’s highest-ranking executives, is leaving the company, part of a broader shakeup of Airbnb’s executive team.

The former Amazon Prime executive was brought in two years ago to stabilize Airbnb’s core business. The company informed employees about Greeley’s departure at an all-hands meeting Wednesday.


Online Education Company Udemy Seeks Funding at $3 Billion Valuation

Udemy, one of the most highly valued education technology companies, is taking advantage of the unusually bright spotlight on online learning to raise more money. 

At a moment when the coronavirus outbreak is prompting more people to experiment with virtual learning, San Francisco–based Udemy is seeking new funding at a valuation of $3 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. The online learning marketplace announced a $50 million round at a valuation of $2 billion in February. Udemy has hired Goldman Sachs to assist with the fundraising process. 


ByteDance Plans to Double Down on China Expansion While TikTok Sale Possible

Facing the threat of a U.S. ban on TikTok, the app’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, has told some investors that it plans to focus more on growth in its home market by expanding into new sectors and trying to develop another hit app, says a ByteDance investor.

Even as ByteDance has faced growing international pressure on TikTok, its Chinese business has boomed. ByteDance’s advertising revenue is expected to rise 60% to as much as $27 billion this year, while the company will also generate revenue from ecommerce. The growth is coming mostly from its Chinese family of apps such as Douyin, a short-form video app similar to TikTok, and Toutiao, a news feed. In the first quarter, ad revenue was north of 40 billion yuan ($5.7 billion) according to a person briefed on the figures. 


The Escalating War Between Our Physical and Digital Realities

Is the destiny of the internet to become an integrated extension of the physical world, a separate parallel universe, or to supplant and subsume the real world of today? This question, which has been abstractly rattling around science fiction for decades, is so far unresolved.

It feels clear now, though, that after a long period of peace, the digital and physical worlds are going to war against each other. The conflict brewing today is likely to play a major role in defining the ultimate destiny of the internet, not to mention the version of “reality” we will inhabit in the future. 


Europe’s Regulatory Traffic Jam: The Information’s Tech Briefing

European regulators seem to be caught in a traffic jam of cases against big U.S. tech companies. It’s a situation we could easily see develop in the U.S. in the not-too-distant future, an interesting wrinkle that is likely to work to some companies’ advantage.

The logjam in Europe has emerged in recent days as we have been waiting to see European regulators slap Amazon with antitrust charges. A report a few weeks ago suggested the charges could come by late June. Instead, we’re still waiting. One EU official told us charges could come at “any time,” although there has also been a report they could be delayed until after Europe’s August vacation.


TikTok Agreed to Buy More Than $800 Million in Cloud Services From Google

For years, Google Cloud has languished in third place in the cloud computing market, with fewer marquee customers to boast of than rivals Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. 

Last week, though, word surfaced of a buzzy new customer for Google Cloud—TikTok, the app for sharing short videos that is the year’s runaway social media hit. The deal is a lucrative one for Google Cloud, The Information has learned. In a three-year agreement signed in May 2019, TikTok committed to buying more than $800 million of cloud services from Google over that period, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. 


BuzzFeed’s Peretti on How Pandemic Squashed 2020 Profit Hopes

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic a few months ago, advertisers owed BuzzFeed around $100 million in payments from the fourth quarter, almost one-third of the company’s revenue for last year. CEO Jonah Peretti was worried that with the businesses grinding to a halt and many companies suspending advertising, BuzzFeed wouldn’t be able to collect.

At the same time, marketers were looking at force majeure clauses in their contracts with BuzzFeed to see whether they could extricate themselves from ad deals with the company, Peretti said. That was the backdrop for BuzzFeed’s decision in late March to cut salaries of employees by between 5% and 15%, and then in May to furlough 68 employees. BuzzFeed was one of the first companies to cut salaries in response to the downturn, although a flood of other businesses across different industries quickly followed suit.


Trio of Deals: The Information’s Tech Briefing

Monday’s late stock market sell-off halted, at least for a day, what appeared to be a bubble enveloping Wall Street. Even as Covid cases surge, investors had been acting like all was fine. (And one of the trading apps powering the rally, Robinhood, is directly benefiting, as we note below.)

But deal-making hasn’t slowed: Today we had three noteworthy acquisitions in tech, at least two of which bear the imprint of the pandemic. The biggest, chipmaker Analog Devices’ $21 billion purchase of Maxim Integrated, was the latest example of consolidation in the chip world. (See a smart analysis of the deal here.) Second, Hewlett Packard Enterprise is spending $925 million to buy Silver Peak, whose networking software helps applications run better for remote workers—of particular value right now, with many people still working from home. 


Amazon Alum’s Exit From TV Firm Shows Pitfalls for Tech Execs in Media

Amazon alumni have turned up at a wide range of digital and traditional media firms, such as Snap and Disney. But one of the biggest contingents—around 100—has defected to TV firm Discovery, owner of the Discovery Channel, HGTV and Animal Planet, following a former Amazon Marketplace executive, Peter Faricy. He was hired in 2018 to build a big streaming video group and help Discovery “pivot to become a next-generation media company,” as Discovery CEO David Zaslav said at the time.

But Discovery’s hopes of acquiring a bit of Amazon’s magic are now in question. Discovery said abruptly in mid-June that Faricy would leave, even though one of his biggest projects—a mass-market streaming service internally called Discovery Plus—hasn’t yet launched. His departure comes after months of mounting tensions between him and Zaslav, The Information has learned. The two differed over how much autonomy Faricy would have as well as how fast new streaming services should grow and how much priority to give to big distribution deals with cable firms and other companies, say people with knowledge of the situation. 


Venture Capital Firms Pushed to Take Historically Black Colleges as LPs

A group of Black venture capital managers is pressing Silicon Valley’s largest firms to commit to including historically Black colleges and universities among their limited partners, the institutions and individuals that provide capital to VC funds and reap the returns. 

Lo Toney, who spun out Plexo Capital from Alphabet’s investing arm GV, is leading the effort to get more VC firms to make room in their funds for historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs. The initiative comes as venture firms face mounting pressure to use their weight to address racial injustice. 

At least one VC firm is already considering such changes. In an initiative started separately from Toney’s effort, Sequoia Capital will begin reaching out to HBCUs in the next few months to discuss becoming investors in future funds, according to a person familiar with the matter. 


What Would Have Happened at Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley Conference (or at Least I Think So)

In pre-pandemic times, the most well-known CEOs in tech and media would have spent this week in Sun Valley, hobnobbing, taking nature walks, and yes, doing a little business as part of investment bank Allen & Co.’s storied conference. 

I’ve been on the sidelines of the event for around a decade on and off, reporting and watching the CEOs in their not-so-natural “billionaire’s summer camp” habitat. It’s where, in 2011, I ran into Rupert Murdoch as he was waiting for a ride and asked him if he wanted out of Hulu as much as Disney and Bob Iger did (ha! Disney now owns it). It’s where Amir and I once played an epic tennis game one court over from Bill Gates, the contents of which must remain off the record. 


Amazon’s Stunning TikTok Reversal: The Information’s Tech Briefing

For a few hours on Friday, it looked like any Trump administration ban of TikTok was going to be pre-empted by companies. But Amazon’s startling reversal of its ban on TikTok—it said a Friday morning email to employees ordering the app to be deleted from their phones had been sent “in error”—made that thought moot.

As we reported earlier, we checked in with a slew of other companies and found only one—Wells Fargo—that acknowledged having banned TikTok. Amazon’s reversal raises a couple of questions, though. Did Amazon briefly think about currying favor with Republicans at what would be an opportune time, and then reconsider? (Seems unlikely.) Or did TikTok and its Chinese parent ByteDance find a way to pressure Amazon to reverse its decision? That seems possible. As our story noted, the two companies do business together.


The Information’s 411 — Billionaires Without Summer Camp

Nick Bastone gives us an update on the digital advertising industry and compares the trajectories of Google and Facebook during the second quarter. Jessica Lessin gives her take on whether it matters that the annual Sun Valley conference was called off this year because of the pandemic. 


For TikTok, an Amazon Ban That Wasn’t, a Wells Fargo Ban That Was

It was a head-spinning day for TikTok, the hit video-sharing app. Hours after Amazon told employees to delete TikTok from their phones over security concerns, the internet giant publicly reversed its decision after a flurry of behind-the-scenes discussions between the two companies. 

Amazon’s initial email telling employees to get rid of the app raised the possibility that other prominent U.S. companies might follow suit, at a time when the Trump Administration has warned it is considering a broader ban of TikTok and other social media apps controlled by Chinese companies. While more than a half dozen other companies said they haven’t told employees to stop using TikTok—including Facebook, Google, Netflix and Goldman Sachs—The Information has learned of one that has: Wells Fargo.


How to Start a New Job During a Pandemic

As Twilio’s new head of human resources, Christy Lake normally would have spent her first few weeks on the job talking, lunching and generally hanging out with many of the San Francisco tech company’s 3,000 employees. Instead, her early April start date reduced her schedule of in-person meetings to exactly none. 

“Usually, I’d be able to determine the culture very rapidly by being in the office,” Lake said. “I had a lot of anxiety about how to do this” while sheltering in place.

Office shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic mean the thousands of workers fortunate enough to have been hired since March have only ever worked remotely in their new jobs. That has forced them to find other ways to get to know their colleagues, from using apps that set up random coffee chats to joining online yoga classes. Starting a new job while physically apart means recent hires can feel like the new kid for longer. They may sag under the weight of video-call fatigue. But certain techniques, such as setting goals with managers early on and mapping out time to get to know their colleagues, can help make the process go better.


Apple Reaches New Stage in Development of AR Devices

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted key parts of Apple’s business, but it hasn’t derailed the company’s plans to build what could be its next important technology platform—augmented reality devices.  

The Information has learned that Apple is working with Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology, Apple’s largest contract manufacturer and the one responsible for building most iPhones, to develop semitransparent lenses for its AR devices. As of two months ago, the lenses—considered one of the most essential elements of the head-worn devices—had passed the prototype stage and entered trial production, a person familiar with the matter said.


A New Chip King: The Information’s Tech Briefing

The tech industry saw a symbolic passing of the baton on Thursday, as the market capitalization of Nvidia—the top maker of chips for artificial intelligence projects—surpassed that of Intel, long Silicon Valley’s most dominant chip provider, for the first time, reported Reuters.

The shift underscores the strategic importance many companies are placing on AI, and how investors expect Nvidia to remain a preeminent provider of chips for autonomous vehicles. Its shares are up 77% this year.


China’s Pinduoduo Is Nipping at Alibaba’s Heels

For well over a decade, Alibaba has been China’s top destination for online shopping. But the rapid growth of its leading competitor, Pinduoduo, suggests its hold on the market isn’t guaranteed.

Pinduoduo’s monthly active users climbed 40% in May from a year ago to 471 million, narrowing the gap with Alibaba’s Taobao app, whose users increased 20% to 695 million, according to research firm QuestMobile. Some of Pinduoduo’s growth came as the app, known as a marketplace for cheap goods like $1 pairs of shoes and $2 handbags, began to sell iPhones and other popular brand-name items at significant discounts. That put it in closer competition with Alibaba. 


China’s Market Rally, Twitter’s Latest Subscription Idea: The Information’s Tech Briefing

If you’re wondering why U.S. stocks keep going up—the Nasdaq rose another 1% on Wednesday—one likely influence is China’s stock market. The Shanghai Composite Index has jumped 15% since the end of June, taking it to its highest level since early 2018. Numerous commentators are warning the rally makes no sense, given profit growth.

U.S. market watchers are used to a disconnect between equity valuations and fundamental conditions. The Nasdaq is well above the highs it reached before the pandemic lockdowns hit, crushing the economy, although the broader market is still a bit below its pre-pandemic level. But United Airlines’ warning on Wednesday that it might furlough nearly half its employees later this year is a reminder that economic distress caused by the pandemic is far from over.


Page created: Thu, Jul 16, 2020 - 09:05 AM GMT