February 12, 2020
Good morning! This Wednesday, the FTC probes a decade of tech acquisitions, T-Mobile and Sprint get closer to merging, and delivery apps are crushing restaurants.
People are talking
Andrew Yang is no longer running for president, but he has a new job in mind:
- "A secretary of technology or even … one of the existing departments. You know, I'm not a dick. Like, obviously someone like offers me something serious and impactful but we can help do some good work, I'm not going to be like, 'Fuck that.'"
- Jack Dorsey tweeted he was "really sad Andrew is dropping out." Dorsey had donated $6,600 to the Yang campaign. If he didn't donate through Cash App I'm going to be FURIOUS.
President Trump noticed a trend in America's trillion-dollar companies:
- "So you have an M, you have an A, you have a G, and you have an A. You have MAGA."
- (We'll leave aside that, technically, Google is a subsidiary of Alphabet, so really you have MAAA.)
Delivery apps are killing the food industry, chef Richie Nakano said:
- "Every time I see that one of my friends' restaurants is on Caviar or DoorDash, all of them are like, 'We have to do it. We have to be on there, because otherwise we're losing the business.' But then they have to pay 30% commission on each order."
Google can still win the cloud-computing wars, said Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian:
- "We're able to track some of the best sales talent in the industry, and that gives customers confidence that we're becoming much more capable as an enterprise company. That's why we're seeing the growth in customer wins."
The Big Story
Big tech's spending habits are under the microscope
On Tuesday, the Federal Trade commission told Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft that they'll be required to turn over documents related to a decade's worth of acquisitions. The big question: Were those acquisitions used to kill small companies before they could become real competitors?
- "This initiative will enable the Commission to take a closer look at acquisitions in this important sector," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement, "and also to evaluate whether the federal agencies are getting adequate notice of transactions that might harm competition."
- Those five big companies have acquired more than 500 smaller ones since 2010. That includes big-ticket items like Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp and Google's takeover of Nest, but also smaller buys the companies aren't even required to report. Those are the exact small companies the FTC wants to make sure weren't simply being squashed.
The FTC hasn't yet said what it'll do with all that information, but Simons left open the possibility of unwinding past mergers, splitting up companies, or other remedies.
- At the very least it appears the FTC, and the public, are about to get an unprecedented look at how tech giants spend to remain tech giants.
Airbnb prepares to prepare its points system
Airbnb is finally getting around to trying to hire someone to lead a loyalty program it promised two years ago. Protocol's Biz Carson has been tracking the program — here's what she found.
Back in February of 2018, Airbnb announced plans to bring "magical travel to everyone." One of the keys to the plan: A member loyalty program called Superguest.
- CEO Brian Chesky promised Superguest would launch by the end of that year, with the plan to launch it first to 10,000 people over the summer.
- A few months later, Airbnb's President of Homes, Greg Greeley, backtracked hard: "We decided that it wasn't differentiated enough, we didn't have enough community involvement for us to launch it," he said. Airbnb was going "back to the drawing board."
Today, there's still no loyalty program. But there's movement. According to a job listing posted in mid-January, Airbnb is finally looking for a Director of Loyalty to "define the vision, strategy, and roadmap for Airbnb's loyalty and membership program." The company is considering creating a point system, the ad says, that could be used for Airbnb and other services — similar to the way you might use miles to book flights, rental cars or hotels.
- "Loyalty is based on a great product, and we continue to make innovations to our online and offline products," Airbnb spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt told us. "Guests come to Airbnb in part because we offer listings and experiences that they can't find anywhere else. Growing customer engagement remains an important priority for our team."
Maybe Superguest could help Airbnb get back in the black after a rough start to 2019. Personally, if Superguest means I don't have to talk to anyone when I check in, I'll sign up right now.
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Meet the S-Mobile. Or maybe T-Sprint?
After the T-Mobile / Sprint merger was finally approved yesterday by a judge in Manhattan, everybody had thoughts. Ajit Pai liked it. New York AG Letitia James didn't. T-Mobile and Sprint, you'll be shocked to know, thought approving the deal was a swell idea.
One interesting thing kept coming up: People in the "everything will be fine" camp often pointed to Dish as a reason why.
- Dish, which has promised to build a 5G network that will cover 70% of the US population by 2023, has been a feature of this trial all along.
- It plans to combine Boost Mobile (which was a Sprint product, but now that Sprint is T-Mobile, Boost is now Dish — it's all incredibly confusing) and other newly castoff products with its own spectrum. CEO Charlie Ergen said during the trial that it plans to be competitive "with the largest wireless operators in the U.S. from day one."
- To do so, FierceWireless points out, Dish will also need to come up with a retail strategy, because Americans visit carrier stores in huge numbers. Boost's footprint is a start, but to compete with the now-three big carriers Dish will need to expand fast.
It'll take a few years before things really change. And there's still one sticking point for the merger, as the California Public Utilities Commission continues to deliberate. But Tuesday seems to have marked the beginning of a new era for wireless carriers.
How does the wireless industry shakeup change your business? Were you rooting for or against this merger? Tell me what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katelin Holloway is now a partner at Initialized Capital, the VC run in part by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. She was previously vice president of people and culture at Reddit. She told Business Insider she's thinking a lot about people and culture in the new gig, and is excited to write checks to female founders.
Apple hired Jeff Bronikowski, an SVP at Warner Music, to lead "strategic music initiatives" for Apple Music. Bronikowski has a long history in music and tech.
In other news
- An all-time wild tech story: A company called Crypto AG helped governments worldwide keep information secret for decades — and that company was secretly owned by the CIA.
- From Protocol: Big tech companies say they want AI regulation, but they have very specific ideas about what that should look like.
- U.S. officials said Huawei can tap telecom networks via equipment it has built that secretly gives it access without carriers' knowledge.
- A judge dropped some of the charges against Elizabeth Holmes. But she and Sunny Balwani are still being charged with wire fraud.
- The Nevada Caucus App Saga continues: the state's Democratic Party has reportedly tweaked its iPad-focused plan to include a system involving Google Forms. But the voting itself will happen on paper.
- The 50 biggest philanthropists in the U.S. are mostly tech executives — but the amount that they're giving pales next to their net worth.
- Google Health has grown to more than 500 employees, is hiring fast, and is looking into everything from digital medical records to in-home health monitoring.
- From Protocol: Facebook can't keep gun sales off its platform. It banned private gun sales four years ago, but the rule has only led buyers and sellers to find clever workarounds.
- SoftBank's Vision Fund made a $2 billion loss in the last quarter, dragging SoftBank's operating profit down by an eye-watering 99% for the period. A presentation to investors (the slides are as crazy as ever) promised that the tide is turning: It says its listed Vision Fund investments are up $3 billion already this year.
One more thing
The bot that runs a lot of Wikipedia
If you speak Cebuano, a language common in the Philippines and a few other spots in Southeast Asia, you're in for a wild Wikipedia ride. According to a Motherboard report, the vast majority of Cebuano Wikipedia is written by a single author: a bot named Lsjbot. It's responsible for more than 99% of the language's 5 million-plus articles. In a way, it's kind of perfect: The internet's history books, being written by an AI.
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