Uber was the most valuable private company in history, but the public market has not been as enthusiastic. The reason why explains a lot about how the tech industry works.

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Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Uber is now a massive, publicly traded company. Anyone can buy Uber shares at a valuation of about $70 billion. This isn’t bad for a company losing billions of dollars a year, but it’s a fraction of the $120-billion valuation the IPO’s bankers initially floated. It’s roughly what private investors valued it at 3 years ago, when the company made $7.43 billion less revenue.

That is to say, there’s a large gulf between how venture capitalists saw the company and how a broader set of investors on the public market see it. Journalists and analysts have tried to explain this yawning gap. Maybe it’s because Uber stayed private too long, or because Lyft messed up ride-hailing IPOs, or because the timing was bad, or because the long shadow of corporate misbehavior has tarnished the brand. …


A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis

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Photo: Darwin Fan/Getty Images

There has never been a town like the one San Francisco is becoming, a place where a single industry composed almost entirely of rich people thoroughly dominates the local economy. Much of the money that’s been squished out of the rest of the world gets funneled by the internet pipes to this little sliver of land on the Pacific Ocean, jutting out into the glory of the bay. The city now sits atop a geyser of cash created from what the scholar Shoshana Zuboff calls “behavioral surplus”-the natural resource created from your behavior, which is to say your mind.

Literal colonies of the working poor now cling to forgotten streets in RV communities. Homeless encampments are stitched onto any liminal plot of land. To lose your apartment doesn’t mean moving one neighborhood over but three cities away, to Antioch or Gilroy or Stockton. …


Thanks to its IPO, Lyft — which lost $978 million in 2018 — is now worth a very large sum of money. Here’s why.

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The Lyft logo is shown on the screen at the Nasdaq offices in Times Square on March 29, 2019 in New York. Photo: Don Emmert/Getty Images

Lyft became a public company today, valued at around $24 billion, which is a lot for a company that’s never made money, may never make money, and in fact lost nearly a billion dollars last year. As the company itself noted in its SEC filing, “We have incurred net losses each year since our inception and we may not be able to achieve or maintain profitability in the future.”

So, why are investors, big and small, pouring money into Lyft? Here’s how the business looks on paper.

First, there are really only two ride-sharing players in the United States — Uber, the clear leader, and Lyft, the clear number two. In addition, Lyft has been growing quickly and taking market share from Uber. The company claims it had 39 percent of the market in December 2018, up from 22 percent two years before. …


As the World Wide Web turns 30, a look back at its early skeptics

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A man using a Vax 6310 mainframe computer, circa 1990. Photo: f8 Imaging/Getty Images

Thirty years ago this week, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at CERN, the European scientific-research center. Suffice it to say, the idea took off. The web made it easy for everyday people to create and link together pages on what was then a small network. The programming language was simple, and publishing was as painless as uploading something to a server with a few tags in it.

There was real and democratic and liberatory potential, and so it’s not at all surprising that people — not least Berners-Lee himself — are choosing to remember and celebrate this era. This was the time before social media and FAANG supremacy and platform capitalism, when the internet was not nearly as dependent on surveillance and advertising as it is now. Attention was more widely distributed. The web broke the broadcast and print media’s hold on the distribution of stories. …


The remarkable #FuckFuckJerry has been as successful as a spontaneous campaign could be

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Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The setup to this story can be contained in a few sentences that would have made no sense a decade ago, but now make perfect sense:

There is an Instagram account called @fuckjerry, which grew by taking jokes and memes created by other people and posting them, eventually growing an audience hungry for ever more jokes. …


The world’s two most powerful countries are fighting over the most important next-generation communications technology

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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker holds news conference to announce a law enforcement against China. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Today, the most geopolitically significant technology spat in the world ratcheted up a few notches.

The Department of Justice unsealed two separate court cases against Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications company, which is headquartered in China. One indictment accused Huawei and the company’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, of creating a “fraudulent financial scheme” that allowed the company to sell technology to Iran, breaking U.S. sanctions. The other newly unsealed indictment documents the 2012 theft of trade secrets from T-Mobile that took the form of designing and operating a phone-testing robot called Tappy.

The current Huawei saga has all the trappings of a Cold War espionage thriller, but reengineered for our current moment. Instead of Russia, it’s China. Instead of arms, it’s mobile technology. Instead of Iran, it’s … no, it’s still Iran, actually. …


A machine-learning model showed promising results, but city officials and their engineering contractor abandoned it

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Workers in Flint, Michigan, replace a lead water-service pipe. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

More than a thousand days after the water problems in Flint, Michigan, became national news, thousands of homes in the city still have lead pipes, from which the toxic metal can leach into the water supply. To remedy the problem, the lead pipes need to be replaced with safer, copper ones. That sounds straightforward, but it is a challenge to figure out which homes have lead pipes in the first place. The City’s records are incomplete and inaccurate. And digging up all the pipes would be costly and time-consuming.

That’s just the kind of problem that automation is supposed to help solve. So volunteer computer scientists, with some funding from Google, designed a machine-learning model to help predict which homes were likely to have lead pipes. The artificial intelligence was supposed to help the City dig only where pipes were likely to need replacement. Through 2017, the plan was working. Workers inspected 8,833 homes, and of those, 6,228 homes had their pipes replaced — a 70 percent rate of accuracy. Heading into 2018, the City signed a big, national engineering firm, AECOM, to a $5 million contract to “accelerate” the program, holding a buoyant community meeting to herald the arrival of the cavalry in Flint. …


It’s disturbing how easily Internet Research Agency accounts blended into America’s online life

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Posts made by the Internet Research Agency targeting African Americans. Photo: New Knowledge

In their efforts to influence the 2016 election, Russian operatives targeted every major social platform, but one demographic group, black Americans, got special treatment, according to two reports made public by the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday.

The reports — one published by New Knowledge, a new disinformation-monitoring group, and the other by the Computational Propaganda Project at the University of Oxford — both tally large numbers of posts across social media that generated millions of interactions with unsuspecting Americans. New Knowledge counted up 77 million engagements on Facebook, 187 million on Instagram, and 73 million on Twitter. …


Sundar Pichai struggled to explain the reality of his company’s power to a House committee convinced of a liberal conspiracy

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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The parade of Silicon Valley figures to Capitol Hill continued today when Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, the core of the Alphabet holding company, went before the House Judiciary Committee.

Like every other tech-company hearing, it was more hackneyed than illuminating, more painful than inspiring. Pichai is a polished executive who rose through Google’s ranks. He is not a boy king like Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey. You knew he’d do the hard work of preparing. It seemed likely he’d sail through the hearing.

Yet as the hearing got under way, Pichai struggled to make sense of the questions that lawmakers put to him. Even friendly Democratic queries asking him to explain how search-engine rankings worked were met with hesitation and stilted rhetoric. If a rep said a keyword he was prepared for, he gave a scripted response, even if it was only sort of responsive. …


The industry’s fall from grace may feel unprecedented, but we have a model for what happens when a beloved industry fails us

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Photo: Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images

Think back a few years, before the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes, before Susan Fowler’s viral blog post, before the #MeToo movement, before the 2016 election. Across the nation, Silicon Valley was the crown jewel of the economy. The companies were youthful and ambitious. The culture was loose and exciting. The capabilities they put into the world’s pockets were astonishing: talk to anyone, know everything, buy anything, all with a few little taps on glass. Yes, this had unleashed unprecedented surveillance possibilities, as Edward Snowden revealed, but these were still the most beloved companies in the country. Their founders were legends.

The past several weeks have been like the past two years in miniature. First, The New York Times released a blockbuster article about Google’s sexual-harassment problems that placed the blame both on the institution itself and on the co-founder and current CEO, Larry Page. Then, Amazon selected its new headquarters, releasing a torrent of criticism of the deals: Why were municipalities subsidizing the richest man in the world in their race to the bottom? And finally, Wednesday, the Times put out a 50-source story about Facebook’s obliviousness to its own platform’s darker possibilities. (In a statement today, Facebook’s board of directors called the story “grossly…

About

Alexis C. Madrigal

Writer, @TheAtlantic. Host of the Containers podcast on global trade and technology. Author of Powering the Dream. @WIRED, @Fusion alum. Married to @sarahrich.

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