The Information


What I Hope Substack Changes About Journalism

This week there was a lot of buzz around journalists ditching their newsroom jobs to publish their own newsletters. The trend was chronicled in a New York Times piece, pegged to the news that The Verge’s Casey Newton was breaking out on his own. 

I had to laugh when Ben Thompson, the creator of the subscription Stratechery newsletter, tweeted: “The NYT trend piece on subscription newsletters-as-business officially arrived 2,352 days after Stratechery launched the Daily Update.”


Apple’s Thin Olive Branch to Critics: The Information’s Tech Briefing

Talk about a very thin olive branch. Apple’s decision to waive its 30% commission on in-app purchases relating to online events through the end of the year is about the smallest step the iPhone maker could take to calm critics of its App Store policies and particularly the commission it charges.

In reality, the move is unlikely to do anything to resolve the complaints and will only spotlight Apple’s tightfistedness in allowing the waiver for just a few months. The bigger complaints will only be resolved by major concessions on Apple’s part, such as slashing the 30% commission to 20% or less or Apple allowing another app store to be available on iOS. Neither seems likely without antitrust regulators forcing it to happen.


The Information’s 411 — SPACs: A Love Story

It seems like everyone in Silicon Valley is starting a SPAC. Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, Kevin Hartz, Chamath Palihapitiya, maybe even your roommate.

Reporters Cory Weinberg and Ross Matican trace the origins of the SPAC surge. We explain why these special-purpose acquisition companies have become so popular, how they got started and what some of the downsides are. 


Facebook Opens New Fight With Apple Over Messaging

Facebook executives have sharply ramped up their criticism of Apple in recent months, contesting the iPhone maker’s restrictions on gaming apps and ad targeting, as well as its cut of in-app purchases. Now, emboldened by Apple software changes that suggest it is starting to bend, Facebook wants something else: the option to make its Messenger app the default messaging tool on iPhones.

“We feel people should be able to choose different messaging apps and the default on their phone,” Stan Chudnovsky, the Facebook vice president in charge of its Messenger app, told The Information. “Generally, everything is moving this direction anyway.”

Chudnovksy said Facebook has asked Apple over the years to consider opening up default messaging. Apple has never agreed. Apple’s Messages app is a core feature of its mobile software that encourages people to keep buying its devices, and the app’s encryption of messages is also a cornerstone of the company’s privacy pitch to consumers. Google’s rival Android mobile operating system already lets users choose their default messaging app. 


Microsoft’s Changes to Business Software Terms Could Lift Its Cloud Service and Hurt AWS, Google

A change Microsoft made late last year to the terms of service for Microsoft 365, its cloud-based software that includes Word, PowerPoint and Outlook, could drive some companies that use Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, analysts said.

Under the new terms, which Microsoft disclosed in August last year and outlined in more detail last month, corporate customers will no longer be able to install and run Microsoft 365 applications while using big rival cloud providers including Amazon Web Services, Alibaba and Google. Instead, they must either purchase a license to Microsoft 365 through one of those providers, which could raise their costs, or switch to Microsoft’s own Azure service or one of the smaller cloud providers Microsoft works with, a potentially time-consuming process.



Amazon’s Flying Camera Spotlights Privacy: The Information’s Tech Briefing

Amazon’s unveiling of new Echo and Ring devices today should test just how worried Americans are that tech companies are infringing on their privacy. That’s been a huge concern of parts of the news media in the past couple of years, focused on Facebook in particular. But there has been little evidence that privacy worries were stopping people from using Facebook.

But the reality of potential privacy violations may become more tangible for people with Amazon’s new products. Take the Echo Show 10, which has a video monitor that swivels with you as you move around the room. And you can use it as a remote camera, Amazon says, to “check in on the dog while you’re running errands” or on what you’re kids are up to. 


ViacomCBS Probed Sexual Misconduct Allegation Against CEO Bob Bakish

ViacomCBS has been investigating an allegation of sexual misconduct by its CEO, Bob Bakish, according to several people familiar with the situation. The investigation comes less than a year after Viacom merged with CBS, whose former CEO Les Moonves resigned after several women accused him of sexual harassment and intimidation, including forcibly touching them and creating a culture of fear.

On Thursday, after The Information contacted ViacomCBS, a spokesman said the investigation relating to the Bakish allegation had concluded and that its findings “did not support the allegation.” The spokesman added that “the Board takes any allegation of this type seriously” and that an independent review had been conducted. Bakish did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.



Amazon Quietly Expands Large-Scale Covid Testing Program for Warehouses

After months of trials, Amazon’s program to test its warehouse workers for Covid-19 is ramping up.

The e-commerce giant is now testing warehouse workers in at least 23 states for Covid using its own federally certified laboratories to process samples, The Information has learned. It’s part of a secretive Amazon initiative called Project Ultraviolet, which aims to develop the diagnostic capacity to regularly test all of the e-commerce giant’s several hundred thousand warehouse workers for the virus, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms. 


Better.com’s Valuation Hopes Reflect Fintech Boom: The Information’s Tech Briefing

There’s something of a boom going on in finance tech startups, you may have noticed. Our scoop today about Better.com, the online mortgage lender, looking to raise money at a valuation of $4 billion—several times where it was last valued—highlights the trend. 

In the past week other startups in the consumer finance market—Affirm, Chime and Robinhood—have each raised hundreds of millions of dollars. In the case of Chime, it did so at a valuation of $14.5 billion, according to CNBC, up from $1.5 billion 18 months ago.


Better.com Seeks to Ride Refinancing Wave to a $4 Billion Valuation

Low interest rates have prompted a record number of Americans to refinance their homes this spring. An online mortgage loan startup that has seen strong growth from the borrowing surge is now seeking new financing at a sharply higher valuation than at its last influx of cash a year ago.

Better.com is nearing a deal to raise more than $100 million in new funding that would value the company at about $4 billion, up from about $720 million last year, two people familiar with the matter said. The company has told investors it expects revenue to grow from about $100 million last year to more than $800 million this year, the people said. 


Bourkoff Is Star Media Dealmaker, but Can He Make Shift to Tech?

Aryeh Bourkoff hates wasting time. Rather than checking his overcoat when he goes out to lunch during New York’s frigid winters, the investment banker sometimes asks his assistant to walk with him to the restaurant so she can take his coat with her back to the office. When it is time for him to leave, he summons her to bring it back, say people who know Bourkoff.

Eight years after he launched his boutique investment bank LionTree, Bourkoff’s energy has helped make him one of the most powerful deal-makers in the media industry. This year alone, his firm, with 100 staffers working from New York, San Francisco, Paris and London, has advised on 18 deals, including the $38 billion merger of John Malone’s Liberty Global with the U.K. operations of Spain’s Telefónica, as well as E.W. Scripps’ sale of its podcasting business, Stitcher, to SiriusXM for $325 million.


Is Oracle Biting Off More TikTok Than It Can Chew?

New details about a way Oracle envisions managing TikTok user data and rewriting the app, and how TikTok’s technology actually operates, underscore how hard it could be for Oracle to separate the app from its Chinese owner.

At the same time, Oracle has held preliminary discussions with the U.K. government about protecting TikTok’s user data in that country, similar to its plan in the U.S., said a person familiar with the talks, which haven’t been previously reported. Those talks have happened despite the fact that Oracle and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which is based in China, are waiting for final approval from the Trump Administration over a partnership to resolve alleged national security concerns related to the social media app. 


Google’s Antitrust Battle Looms: The Information’s Tech Briefing

If you haven’t boned up on antitrust law, now’s the time. Multiple news reports in the past day or so suggest the Justice Department will file its much-anticipated case against Alphabet in the next week, kicking off what is likely to be the first of several cases against big tech in the coming months.

According to the New York Times today, the government has decided to focus the lawsuit on Google’s dominance in search, setting aside the issue of its dominance of ad technology in the interests of a quicker lawsuit. That’s bad news for Alphabet. As we noted in this story, a case focused on the ad tech world would play to Google’s advantage. The arcane world of ad tech would be hard for lawyers to explain in a trial. 


Ride High as The Information’s Reporter on Uber, Waymo, Tesla Autopilot

The Information is seeking a reporter to cover Uber and the broader “gig” economy industry as well as the self-driving car developers trying to automate it. This position has produced award-winning journalism in each of the past three years.

 The role traverses ride-hailing and food delivery companies such as DoorDash, goPuff, and Instacart, which were transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and newer entrants including Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens. Lyft is in a precarious position and Uber continues to be a source of corporate intrigue and drama. Many of these companies are now treading on each other’s turf, setting up a war that will generate rich stories on the future of labor and how people shop and move around.

The beat also covers multibillion-dollar efforts to make vehicles drive themselves. That means separating reality from hype and getting inside Alphabet’s Waymo, Tesla Autopilot, Uber ATG and others. The candidate also would help plan and run our annual Autonomous Vehicles Summit, which has become an important gathering for founders and CEOs in the field.

This position requires breaking major news about these industries and writing investigativein-depth features. It’s based in San Francisco and includes competitive salary and bonus. We offer a range of benefits, including health insurance, three weeks paid vacation (starting), generous family leave, a 401(k), a technology budget, and a gym/fitness stipend.

This is an opportunity to join the growing team of journalists at The Information, writing about what’s important in tech and media for a discerning audience. In nearly seven years, The Information has attracted tens of thousands of paying subscribers—putting the business on firm footing—including some of the most influential people on the planet.

Interested applicants should send a resume and cover letter to jobs@theinformation.com. We strongly encourage people from traditionally underrepresented communities to apply, particularly people of color. We are committed to diversity and to building an inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds and ages. 


Airbnb Rental Supply Fell This Summer for First Time

With a successful pivot to close-to-home travel, Airbnb has managed to defy early predictions that the coronavirus pandemic would doom its business. But previously undisclosed figures nevertheless show the toll the crisis has taken on the home rental site. 

Airbnb had about 5% fewer listings on its site that were available or rented in July and August than it did during the same period last year, according to an analysis of data provided by AirDNA, which tracks Airbnb’s business. It is the first time listings have declined on a year-over-year basis during the summertime peak since AirDNA began tracking the figure in 2015. 


Trump Puts TikTok Deal in Doubt: The Information’s Tech Briefing

It’s rare to see M&A end up in complete confusion, as the TikTok deal now seems to be, but then again, it’s rare for M&A to be driven by President Trump. His comments to Fox News Monday morning that TikTok would be “totally controlled by Oracle...and if we find that they don’t have total control then we’re not going to approve the deal” suggests that Trump hasn’t been, um, paying attention to the details. 

Oracle is buying just 12.5% of TikTok, and as we noted on Sunday, the biggest shareholder in TikTok Global once it is separated from ByteDance now looks likely to be Zhang Yiming, the CEO of ByteDance. So not only does it not look like Oracle will have “total control,” it seems it won’t have any control. Chances are, the current CEO will continue to run things. 


Tech Execs Are Obsessing Over Note-Taking Apps. We Tested Them Out

Investors are newly enamored of note-taking apps, financing startups like Notion Labs, Coda and Roam Research at high valuations. Some of the recent buzz stems from a legion of tech and finance superusers. They claim these apps are making them more creative and productive, qualities that can feel in short supply during long days of remote work.

Switching to a new organizational app requires time and effort, however. As journalists who take lots of notes and often organize them haphazardly, we have tried out many such tools over the years. They generally offer an improvement on reporters’ notebooks tagged with sticky notes, but few stand up to lasting use. Some suffer from overly complex features, others feel siloed, and still others don’t seem worth the price. 

Below, we give our take on the newer generation of note-taking apps (Bear, Roam, Coda and Notion), plus an older app (Evernote) and the free alternatives associated with the Apple, Google and Microsoft systems. Got a preference? Let us know in the comments. 


Politics Create High-Wire Act for Tech CEOs

In June, after protests against the police killing of George Floyd swept the country, Glenn Kelman, CEO of online real estate brokerage Redfin, wrote an email to his customers in which he committed to doing more to help Black customers find homes in neighborhoods they’ve traditionally been shut out of. Angry Redfin customers flooded the company with messages.

For Kelman, the response underscored why he has so often felt torn about taking political stands on behalf of the company. Kelman, who declined to discuss his political affiliation, said conservative employees had quit Redfin in the past and the company had lost customers when it had taken political positions. “The platform I’m standing on was built by people who voted for Trump and Clinton,” he said. “I have worked for leaders who had very different political views and were not shy about expressing them and it was deflating. I felt that it was an abuse of power.”


TikTok Valued at Around $60 Billion, As Deal Structure Emerges

Walmart and Oracle are valuing the soon-to-be formed TikTok Global at between $50 billion and $60 billion, according to two people familiar with the deal, as key aspects of one of the most convoluted global tech deals in history take shape. 

Another key point: Zhang Yiming, the CEO of ByteDance, parent company of the China-based viral video app TikTok, could become the new entity's largest shareholder, eventually, according to one of the people.


Accepting Kickbacks, Publishers Are Playing Into Tech Companies’ Hands

For years, news publishers have been clamoring for Facebook, Google and Apple to pay for the news content that gets distributed through their services. Well, they have gotten what they wished for—sort of. And it’s troubling news.


Page created: Mon, Sep 28, 2020 - 09:05 AM GMT