Opinion

The Great Debate

from Breakingviews:

Rob Cox: ITT’s ghost hangs over Silicon Valley

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The number of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley familiar with the work of Harold Geneen would hardly fill a 140-character tweet. After all, Geneen wasn’t a technologist, the inventor of a new computing language or the founder of a seminal startup. He was the original M&A machine – the man whose deal-making 50 years ago turned ITT into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate.

As tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba, Rakuten and Google mature and canvass the globe for businesses they can buy that are a few steps removed from their core activities, Geneen’s story is becoming more relevant. These titans of the internet age are embarking on diversification strategies not entirely dissimilar from those of Geneen’s ITT and its many followers, including LTV, Transamerica and Gulf+Western.

Just tick through some of the recent techland shopping excursions. Front of mind, there’s Apple’s potential $3.2 billion pickup of Beats Electronics. It makes headphones not telephones and tablets, from which the company founded by the late Steve Jobs derived three-quarters of its revenue in its most recent quarter. Still, the company can make some sort of industrial case for Beats, given its streaming music service.

That’s less the case with Google’s purchase of Titan Aerospace, a maker of high-altitude drones. The search giant run by Larry Page argues that both companies “share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world.” According to Google: “It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation.”

Theodore Roosevelt on net neutrality

tr & crowd

“Above all else,” President Theodore Roosevelt admonished Congress in 1905, “we must strive to keep the highways of commerce open to all on equal terms.”

Roosevelt could not have imagined digital computers and fiber-optic cables. He was talking about railroads, the highways of commerce in his day.

But though the technology has changed, the principle TR expressed remains as essential as it was a century ago. We ignore it at our peril.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Buying into Big Brother

Whatever high crimes and misdemeanors the National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden may or may not have perpetrated, he has at least in one regard done us all a favor. He has reminded us that we are all victims of unwarranted and inexcusable invasions of privacy by companies who collect our data as they do business with us.

Some, like Google and Facebook, pose primarily as software companies when their main revenue source, and their main business, is to mine data and sell advertisers access to customers. We knew this already, of course, though it seems many of us would prefer to forget the true nature of the technology firms that have boomed in the last decade. Seduced by their dazzling baubles, we have bought in to Big Brother without truly understanding the true price we are paying and will continue to pay for access to their brave new world.

We may take pity on the idiot schoolboy who uses expletives on Twitter or posts a picture of himself holding a joint at a party only to discover when he looks for a job that a trawl by an HR department has made him unemployable. But even smart people -- like the New York mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner, who sent lewd pictures to strangers -- can remember too late that in this wired world we are all being recorded all the time. Yet there is little legal protection from abuse by the companies who collate our personal data and store it for eternity.

from MediaFile:

Instagram’s Facebook filter

The startup had millions of users, but, from the beginning, just one customer.

The predominant way of interpreting Facebook’s billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, in light of the social-networking giant's forthcoming IPO, is that Mark Zuckerberg had to pick up the photo-sharing app to boost his company’s mobile engagement. That would allow him to guard the mobile flank against incursions from Google, Twitter, and whatever other social-media tools might next arise.

That may be true – and it may even be the way Zuck thought about the deal when he swallowed hard and ponied up the purchase price. But that way of analyzing Facebook’s pickup, and the pickup of dozens of other startups, not just by Facebook but by Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, is probably not telling the whole story. Here’s a different theory, one that better describes the tech world that we, the users of the Internet, now inhabit: Instagram may have had millions of us as its users, but it was really built for just one customer: Facebook.

Silicon Valley, for too long, has confused the issue of what it means to be a user of a website, service or app, and what it means to be a customer of the app. Intuitively, you’d think they would be one and the same: The person using the app is the person consuming the app. But increasingly, apps are being made to grab the attention of the hegemonic companies in tech. Whatever it takes to get bought.

Morgan Stanley’s Facebook curse

As Morgan Stanley’s retail force is learning, it’s hard being the anointed one. To most of the world, Morgan Stanley got the plum job of lead manager for the most important public stock offering since Google in 2004. But among the retail sales force at the firm, the Facebook Blessing might as well be known as the Facebook Curse.

The refrain from Morgan Stanley’s rank and file: The IPO of the decade is a lose-lose proposition. That’s because retail investors as well as smaller institutions are likely to be disappointed with their Facebook allotment. Institutional players know how things roll, but for the retail brokerage force, the situation is particularly vexing. Many clients assume that because it is a lead underwriter, Morgan Stanley brokers are on the inside track. That’s true, but means less on a popular IPO like Facebook’s. Financial advisers in the lead group, which also includes Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, do have an edge over the 30 other investment banks tasked with distributing shares. But it’s not much of an advantage. Global demand for the $11 billion in shares appears to be much bigger than the deal itself. Institutional salespeople at Morgan Stanley are already warning clients that they expect the deal to be 20 times oversubscribed, one source explained to me.

It’s always been the case that only a thin sliver of retail investors would be able to get hot IPO shares. They were typically high-net-worth clients who reliably invest in every single IPO that would come their way – hot or not. Shakier deals, of course, were always available to retail clients. In its heyday, Lehman Brothers brokers used to say that some of the mediocre IPOs they pushed were from the “institutional waste basket.”

from Paul Smalera:

What real Internet censorship looks like

Lately Internet users in the U.S. have been worried about censorship, copyright legalities and data privacy. Between Twitter’s new censorship policy, the global protests over SOPA/PIPA and ACTA and the outrage over Apple’s iOS allowing apps like Path to access the address book without prior approval, these fears have certainly seemed warranted. But we should also remember that Internet users around the world face far more insidious limitations and intrusions on their Internet usage -- practices, in fact, that would horrify the average American.

Sadly, most of the rest of the world has come to accept censorship as a necessary evil. Although I recently argued that Twitter’s censorship policy at least had the benefit of transparency, it’s still an unfortunate cost of doing global business for a company born and bred with the freedoms of the United States, and founded by tech pioneers whose opportunities and creativity stem directly from our Constitution. Yet by the standards of dictatorial regimes, Internet users in countries like China, Syria and Iran should consider themselves lucky if Twitter’s relatively modest censorship program actually keeps those countries’ governments from shutting down the service. As we are seeing around the world, chances are, unfortunately, it won’t.

Consider the freedoms -- or lack thereof -- Internet users have in Iran. Since this past week, some 30 million Iranian users have been without Internet service thanks to that country’s blocking of the SSL protocol, right at the time of its parliamentary elections. SSL is what turns “http” -- the basic way we access the Web -- into “https”, which Gmail, your bank, your credit card company and thousands of other services use to secure data. SSL provides data encryption so that only each end point -- your browser and the Web server you’re logging into -- can decrypt and access the data contained therein.

from Paul Smalera:

The piracy of online privacy

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

from Paul Smalera:

Facebook.coop

Facebook shouldn't pay its users. Its users should pay to own Facebook.

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his letter to investors announcing the IPO of his already hugely successful and profitable company. “It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”

Facebook has succeeded wildly, despite internal admonitions that its “journey” is only 1 percent finished. Journalists have latched onto Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook wants to “rewire” the way the world works. In a world of thousands of self-anointed “social media experts,” only Zuckerberg can claim to have basically invented what the world thinks of as social media. He has etched himself into the timeline of human innovation.

Pity then, that Zuckerberg hasn’t turned his talents or attention toward Facebook’s financial underpinnings. After all, an IPO? How ho-hum can he get? If Mark really wants to accomplish his social mission with Facebook, he should share the company’s ownership with the people who helped him create it. Not just his Harvard contemporaries. Not just the programmers. Not even just the venture capitalists.

Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act

Now that Congress has hit pause on its controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and nearly every argument about the merits and failings of the piece of copyright legislation has been made, it’s a good time to ask: what, in 2012, will it take to actually stop a bill like this?

Because despite the delay, the situation still isn’t looking so hot for those looking to bring down SOPA. Amendments to tone down the bill’s more disliked points have been routinely defeated in the House Judiciary Committee by numbers sufficient to pass the bill to the full House floor.

But, at this point in the process, numbers aren’t everything. In the wake of the Arab Spring, talk of censoring technology hits the ears differently. More important is that in SOPA’s short two-month life, opposition to it has catalyzed online and off. But to succeed, its opponents will have to both boost the volume of their public alarm and convince Congress that, in an Internet-soaked 2012, questioning SOPA needn’t be politically fatal.

from MediaFile:

Should you trust Facebook with your email?

INTERNET-SOCIALMEDIA/PRIVACY- Michael Fertik is the CEO and Founder of ReputationDefender, the online privacy and reputation company. The views expressed are his own. -

Facebook already knows a massive amount about you.  They know your age, what you look like, what you like, what you do for fun, where you go, what you eat, whom you know, whom you know well, whom you sleep with, who your best friends and family are, and, again, how old they are, what they like, and so on.

On top of that, Facebook has a well-known history of privacy breaches or at least snafus.  Publicly they seem committed to the notion that privacy is dead.  Their CEO and Founder has said as much.

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