The Information


The Information’s 2020 Tech Predictions

Last year, our reporters at The Information looked into our crystal ball and made some predictions. We told you that Alphabet would make a big acquisition to help Google Cloud, that ByteDance would challenge Facebook, and that Time Warner would experience an exodus of employees in the wake of the AT&T acquisition. We were three for three! 

This year our reporting team, which is bigger than ever, checked in with our sources and pulled together nearly three dozen predictions across a dozen-plus companies. 


[Bonus] Why Monoculture Moments Are Rare

A trio of executives, Universal Pictures' Katie Goldsmith, Attention Capital’s Nick Bell and Instagram’s Charles Porch, explain the next phase of growth for direct-to-consumer brands.


WeWork Trying to Unravel Office Lease Deals

WeWork has tried to convey a semblance of strength in the midst of management upheaval and mass layoffs. It announced last week that it opened a record number of buildings in December, as coworking spaces long under construction were completed. But quietly, WeWork has been trying to shrink the number of buildings it leases even faster than is widely understood.

Company executives have been talking with landlords and reviewing internal options to find ways of getting out of leases it recently signed on as many as 100 buildings around the world, people familiar with the matter said. While it's unclear how many the company will actually exit, the 100 buildings represent between 10% and 15% of its overall office footprint. 


SEC Stalls Direct Listing Push to Protect Small Investors

In his campaign to rewrite the rules on how companies go public, Benchmark partner Bill Gurley has railed about how investment bankers handling traditional IPOs sell shares at too low a price. But the Securities and Exchange Commission, the ultimate arbiter of how the stock market works, is worried about how proposed rule changes could hurt small investors.

That concern is what drove the SEC’s decision last week to reject a New York Stock Exchange proposal that would have allowed a much bigger group of companies to avoid the traditional IPO process. The NYSE proposed allowing companies to go public via a direct listing—as Slack and Spotify have done—but with the added benefit of selling new shares simultaneously to raise capital. Such a “hybrid” listing, as investment bankers have dubbed the approach, may still be allowed by the SEC, which is conducting a broader review of changing rules for how companies go public. But it could take a year or longer for the SEC to conclude that review, say people familiar with the regulator’s thinking. Meanwhile, the NYSE on Wednesday resubmitted its proposal to the SEC, with some changes. 


Former Snap Executives Raise Funds for a ‘TurboTax for Privacy’

Two former Snap executives have raised a first round of funding for a new startup building what they describe as a TurboTax for privacy. 

TerraTrue, created by former Snap chief security officer Jad Boutros and former general counsel Chris Handman, recently closed a $4.5 million round of seed funding led by Anthos Capital—a venture firm that is also run by another former Snap executive, Emily White. Startup investor Chris Sacca and Neal Katyal, former Acting Solicitor General of the U.S. under President Barack Obama, also participated in the round.


Tencent Nears $2 Billion Investment in Chinese Video App Kuaishou to Fight ByteDance

Tencent is nearing a deal to invest another $2 billion in Kuaishou, creator of a popular short-video app by the same name that’s gained an especially strong following in China’s smaller cities and countryside, say people familiar with the matter. The investment is designed to counter the rise of ByteDance’s group of apps, including Douyin and its overseas counterpart, TikTok. It also reflects how strongly Kuaishou has been performing.

Kuaishou, which means "fast hand" in Chinese, booked a net profit of nearly 2 billion yuan (about $280 million) on 27 billion yuan in revenue in the first nine months of this year, one of the people said. As of Sept. 30, Kuaishou also had 195 million daily active users and 410 million monthly active users; both numbers were up more than 54% year-over-year, the person said. The figures haven’t previously been reported.


To Draw Advertisers, Video Services Need to Agree on Audience Measures

Spare a thought for advertisers contemplating buying commercial time on one of the wide array of free, ad-supported video services, ranging from giants like YouTube and Hulu to smaller outlets like Pluto TV and Tubi TV. Right now, there’s almost no way an advertiser can compare how many people watch all these services, as the viewership metrics used for many vary.

Nielsen, the TV ratings firm, measures the audience for some services, such as Roku, Hulu and YouTube. But for YouTube, it only counts people watching the Google-owned service on computers and mobile apps but not those watching on internet-connected TVs. For Roku and Hulu, it does count internet-connected TVs. And Nielsen doesn’t measure smaller outlets—like Viacom-owned Pluto or Tubi, backed by MGM and Lionsgate—at all. 


Facebook and Google Balance Booming Business with Censorship Pressure in Vietnam

When Facebook and Google want to strike ad deals in Vietnam, salespeople in Singapore get on a plane and fly to major cities like Ho Chi Minh City. They rent out rooms in five-star hotels for meetings with small retailers looking to sell around the world or big brands wanting to reach Vietnamese consumers. Vietnam is the most important market in Southeast Asia for both Google and Facebook, but neither company has any full-time employees stationed there.

That’s because Vietnam is governed by an authoritarian communist regime that imposes strict censorship of online content such as social-media posts and user-generated videos critical of the government. While Facebook and Google comply with the government’s requests for removing or restricting content, people stationed in the country would be vulnerable to pressure for information about the identity of users posting content, said people familiar with both businesses. According to these people, the companies worry that staffers could be arrested or the offices raided, and even route advertising fees through subsidiaries in Ireland and Singapore to avoid Vietnam’s banking system.


Uber Nears Deal for Self-Driving Car Simulation Startup

Uber is in advanced negotiations to acquire the team behind a small Silicon Valley-based startup, Foresight, that develops simulation software to help test self-driving car prototypes, said a person who has worked at Uber and has direct knowledge of the pending deal. 

The small deal, if completed, would aid Uber’s robo-taxi development efforts. Uber has its own simulation software but it has suffered for years from various deficiencies and still has trouble predicting how Uber’s self-driving car prototypes will handle the real world, this person said. Last year, company insiders singled out the poor state of its simulation software as one of the factors that had held back the development of a reliable self-driving car prototype and thus indirectly contributed to its disaster in Tempe, Ariz., where a prototype struck and killed a pedestrian in early 2018.


State Privacy Legislation Stalls Despite High Hopes

Frustrated with a lack of action by Congress on federal privacy legislation and hearing from constituents worried about the security of their personal information online, lawmakers in more than two dozen states set out this year to pass privacy bills. 

The efforts aimed to follow the lead set by California, which last year adopted sweeping privacy legislation. The California Consumer Privacy Act vastly expands consumers’ rights over how information about them is collected and used, and also gives them the ability to opt out of having their data sold. Yet more than a year after California lawmakers voted unanimously to approve the bill, no other state has adopted its own comprehensive measure.


Apple’s Ad-Targeting Crackdown Shakes Up Ad Market

Two years ago, Apple launched an aggressive battle against ads that track users across the web. Today executives in the online publishing and advertising industries say that effort has been stunningly effective—posing a problem for advertisers looking to reach affluent consumers.

Since Apple introduced what it calls its Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature in September 2017, and with subsequent updates last year, advertisers have largely lost the ability to target people on Safari based on their browsing habits with cookies, the most commonly used technology for tracking. One result: The cost of reaching Safari users has fallen over 60% in the past two years, according to data from ad tech firm Rubicon Project. Meanwhile ad prices on Google’s Chrome browser have risen slightly. 


Inside Our Apple App Store Ordeal

It all started with the price.

Peter Schulz, who leads our product and engineering teams, walked into my office and told me that we couldn’t charge what we had planned for our upcoming news app because Apple had “tiers” of pricing app developers must follow. Our planned price of $30 a year didn’t fit into any of those tiers.


The Information’s 411 — The Florida Project

Amir joins to talk about DoorDash's money-losing business and Uber's report on sexual assaults. Alex talks about his investigation of Magic Leap's business and the disappointing sales for its AR headsets.


Airbnb Sells Cash Story Amid Jittery Tech Market

As Airbnb prepares to go public, CEO Brian Chesky feels he has a great story to tell. Over the past decade, he has raised $3.2 billion from investors—and still has all of that in Airbnb’s coffers. It’s a fact he brings up repeatedly in interviews these days, as he no doubt braces for scrutiny that the public markets will bring.

It is indeed a significant achievement for a company that a decade ago was hustling novelty cereal boxes to keep the business going. At the same time, as I’ve reported recently, the home rental company faces major challenges, including steep losses in recent quarters as marketing costs have swelled. A big question looming over the company now is whether investors in the public markets will be drawn to the first part of the story, or focus on the obstacles.


Dented Reality: Magic Leap Sees Slow Sales, Steep Losses

As Magic Leap neared the release of its first augmented reality headset in August 2018, the company’s founder and CEO Rony Abovitz had a bullish target, telling investors and colleagues in meetings that he wanted to sell at least one million units within the product’s first year, according to four people who repeatedly heard the goal from Abovitz. 

Eventually, Magic Leap executives convinced Abovitz—an entrepreneur known for his bold predictions about how the company’s products will disrupt computing—to settle on a more modest plan of selling at least 100,000 headsets in the first year, eventually scaling up to millions of units with future iterations, according to three people with direct knowledge of the discussions. 


Trump Visa Crackdown Hits Outsourcing Firms

Tech outsourcing firms known for bringing workers from India to the U.S. have seen rejection rates for new skilled worker visas surge under the Trump administration, according to an analysis of U.S. government data.

Most affected are companies such as Cognizant Technology Solutions, Capgemini America, Tech Mahindra, IBM and Tata Consultancy Services, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, which released a decade worth of data on applications for the first time in April. Between 30% and 60% of applications reviewed for those firms were denied in the first three quarters of the 2019 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.


At Cloud Jamboree, AWS Makes Room for Frenemies

LAS VEGAS—When Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy took the stage at the cloud giant’s annual re:Invent sales conference here this week, he showed a slide with a photo of an IBM mainframe sitting in a driveway, along with boxes labeled Oracle and Microsoft. The joke—part of a long tradition of Jassy slinging barbs at rivals at the event—was that the companies’ products are getting dumped by customers switching to AWS.

Yet, despite the potshots, AWS allowed IBM inside its re:Invent expo hall, where Big Blue had a big presence this year and last. Inside its brightly lit space, IBM representatives eagerly offered demos of its latest cybersecurity and cloud application development services. It was a surprisingly cordial arrangement for two companies that competed head-to-head several years ago for a $600 million contract with the Central Intelligence Agency, which Amazon ultimately won. 


Who Wins and Loses at Alphabet From Page Departure

Twenty-one years after founding Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced on Tuesday they would be stepping down from their leadership roles at the company. Page will no longer serve as the CEO of Alphabet, the holding company of Google and its ambitious endeavors known as “Other Bets.” And Brin will step down as Alphabet’s president. 

Though the co-founders still hold board seats and a majority of voting power, the shakeup is likely to affect how the company operates. It also poses questions about who in Alphabet’s management team is likely to gain power and who could be on their way out the door. 


With Public Debut Looming, DoorDash Projected $450M 2019 Loss

DoorDash, an on-demand food delivery firm most recently valued at $12 billion which plans to go public next year, expects to lose $450 million this year—but it is faring better than its main rivals, such as Uber Eats.

The financial picture—including projections that DoorDash’s net revenue will be between $900 million and about $1 billion this year—are likely to be closely scrutinized by public market investors. This year has demonstrated that tech companies going public need to demonstrate a path to profitability to get a good reception from investors. Those that don’t, such as Uber, Lyft and WeWork, have had a tough time. WeWork had to cancel its IPO, whereas Uber and Lyft shares are both trading well below their IPO prices.


Introducing the Tech Top 10 by The Information

We launched The Information six years ago to the day with a mission to conduct fearless and deep original reporting about the technology industry. The press was only telling part of the tech story. We focused on what was missing—from the early-stage companies that became the next unicorns to the scandals that have ousted CEOs. 

But there’s a second important role that trusted publications play, which is sorting the signal from the noise. 

And as the noise around tech grows louder by the day, we are taking on this second function. 

Our new app, the Tech Top 10 by The Information, will tell you about the most important tech news happening now and why it matters. It’s designed for consumers who want to be plugged into the big tech stories without searching through Twitter or watered-down general news sites. And it’s powered by our newsroom of experienced editors and reporters, not algorithms. 

The app also features a calendar with upcoming tech events, breaking news alerts and more. 

It’s just $29.99 a year or $2.99 a month and you can try risk-free with a seven-day trial. You can download for iOS and Android today. 

We hope you check it out and look forward to your feedback. 


Page created: Fri, Dec 13, 2019 - 09:05 AM GMT