NewCo Shift
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NewCo Shift

Money Quote Friday January 26 2018

Davos to Tech: Drop Dead

Sure, the biggest story in Switzerland is Trump. But the global elite don’t like tech much either, it turns out.

The scrutiny of technology platforms continues apace, and not just from your humble scribe. Silicon Valley narratives tend to have a predictable arc, and we’re near peak “Tech Is Bad For You.” I’d look for counter narratives to start to take hold over the next few weeks — there’s plenty of fodder for stories that remind us how much we love our digital lives. But this past few days, well, they’ve continued to be cruel ones for the titans of our global economy.

Marc Benioff is best known as a business activist on issues like LGBT rights. But this week he’s speaking out on Facebook and Twitter, lending his influential voice to the regulatory fervor that seems to be gripping Washington. MQ: “Here’s a product: Cigarettes. They’re addictive, they’re not good for you,” Benioff told CNBC while in Davos, Switzerland, after referencing Russian election interference. “I think that for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive and we need to rein that back.” By the way, Benioff throws one of the most sought after parties at Davos, FWIW.

Uh oh. The tech titans are losing their base: Democrats in Washington. MQ: “Democrats and progressives still strongly feel that there are shared values with Silicon Valley, but there is also a real concern over the industry’s increasingly concentrated wealth and power,” said Daniel Sepulveda, an ambassador and deputy assistant secretary at the State Department for the Obama administration.”

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair, which celebrates all things tech with its glitzy annual New Establishment conference, has one of the most cutting pieces to date on Facebook. Writer Nick Bilton pulls no punches: “But one thing is certain. For years, Zuckerberg and Facebook have tromped through the technology landscape and demolished everything that stood in the way. This was done without any reprisal, without any consequence. In fact, each time the company destroyed a competitor, or found a way around traditional regulatory concerns, the valuation of Facebook would go up. But now, it seems that all of those actions are coming back to haunt the company, and social media as a whole.”

Oh Lord, and they’ve lost Soros as well? The legendary liberal investor used Davos as a stage to launch a new offensive. MQ: “These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.”

Oh double lordy. This story illustrates how fraught it is to try to manage a culture war breaking out inside your own company. Ick. Double Ick. MQ: “Meanwhile, inside Google, the diversity advocates say some employees have “weaponized human resources” by goading them into inflammatory statements, which are then captured and reported to HR for violating Google’s mores around civility or for offending white men.”

Meanwhile, the US is becoming, once again, a petro state. Wonderful. MQ: “Almost five decades later, with oil hovering near $65 a barrel, daily U.S. crude output is about to hit the eight-digit mark again. It’s a significant milestone on the way to fulfilling a dream that a generation ago seemed far-fetched: By the end of the year, the U.S. may well be the world’s biggest oil producer. With that, America takes a big step toward energy independence.

The U.S. crowing from the top of a hill long occupied by Saudi Arabia or Russia would scramble geopolitics. A new world energy order could emerge. That shuffling will be good for America but not so much for the planet.”

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John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business