MediaFile

Facebook, the most cynical tech giant ever

For all its vaunted idealism, Silicon Valley can be just as cynical as any other area of commerce. The tech companies set up to profit from spam and search-engine trickery are too numerous to count. But Facebook’s short history makes one thing clear: There has never been a tech company that built so much fortune from the exploitation of ordinary people while giving so little in return.

Yes, Microsoft was vilified – and rightly so – for crushing competitors and forcing customers into an inferior operating-system software, but its iron-fisted dominance helped shape an immature and inchoate computer-software industry into a single standard that made PCs everyday devices in offices and homes. Microsoft’s brutal strong-arm tactics were directed at rivals. Its sin against its customers was that its software, for decades, just wasn’t that good.

Facebook, by contrast, built the best social network of its time, so good it left rivals like MySpace in the dust. And that should have been enough to make Facebook a Silicon Valley success story. Once it came time to make money, Facebook exploited its users’ personal data to a degree that no company had ever achieved before.

Over the years, Facebook has curtailed some of its more blatantly exploitative practices, but only after a string of controversies forced its hand. It reluctantly let users control their privacy settings, and then it had to simplify those settings after many found them unnecessarily complex. (Some say they’re still too complex.)

Facebook also backed off changes in its terms of service that allowed it to license users’ data even after they left the site. But even now, regulators are objecting to Facebook’s insistence that users grant the company a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license” to any photo, video or passing thought they see fit to publish on the site. Facebook has not only redefined the social Web – it’s redefining the very definition of “sharing.”

Tech wrap: A trillion-dollar Apple?

Apple Inc briefly edged past Exxon Mobil Corp to become the most valuable company in the United States. Looking ahead, Beakingviews columnist Robert Cyran asks: Could Apple be the first $1 trillion company?

Three initial public offerings were postponed on Tuesday, the latest casualties of volatile market conditions. Nearly half of the dozen IPOs planned this week have now been called off and Fortune.com’s Dan Primack says it “wouldn’t be surprising if none of them get out.” Primack added that Boston-based Carbonite is the best bet to stay the course: “A source familiar with the offering puts its chances of pricing this week at around 70 percent, so long as we don’t experience another major swoon.”

AOL reported a surprise second-quarter loss, citing weaker-than-expected advertising growth. The news sent shares of the company plummeting as much as 20 percent.

Tech wrap: Is Groupon’s IPO window closing?

As the Nasdaq Composite index continued its week-long tailspin, tech investors and analysts are wondering what the stock plunge could mean for the pending IPOs of companies like Groupon and Zynga.

The coming week, which has about a dozen IPOs scheduled to price, will be a good test of the severity of the selloff, according to Nick Einhorn, an analyst at Connecticut-based IPO research house Renaissance Capital. “Less mature, less profitable companies could have a tougher time going public,” Einhorn told Reuters.

If there was to be another recession, writes Investor Place’s Tom Taulli, “the IPO market will freeze up. It will mostly be only standout companies – such as Zynga and Facebook – that will get traction. A company like Groupon, which has substantial losses, may have to delay its offering or cut the valuation.”

from Commentaries:

Start-ups better off with angels than VCs

Self-financed angel investors are often found where venture capitalists fear to tread. They typically provide seed financing to start-ups that is counted in the thousands or tens of thousands instead of the millions VCs have to throw around.

A newly released academic study (52-page Acrobat file) finds angel investors also cut the start-ups they invest in better deals, both in early financing rounds and in cases where the company eventually makes its way to an initial public stock offering.

If our conjecture is correct, then an entrepreneur may be better off avoiding a venture capitalist altogether and going to an angel to obtain their financing.
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While venture investors are prone to underprice IPO firms, reducing the
proceeds from the offering, angel investors have incentives more aligned with non-venture capital, pre-IPO shareholders.