Benner on Tech: Google, Uber and Hackers

Katie Benner is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about technology, innovation, and the cult and culture of Silicon Valley. She lives in San Francisco.
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Google is under siege in Europe, with lawmakers trying to find all sorts of ways to attack the company’s hegemony in search. The European Commission is investigating Google for antitrust violations, and the European Union's parliament just voted for the Commission to consider a move requiring Google to unbundle its search engine business from its other commercial divisions (though Google was not mentioned by name in the vote). There’s also increasing pressure on Google to compromise the quality of its search engine results with "Right to be Forgotten" laws. (Bloomberg has the best primer here.)

While all of this spells trouble for Google, I have my doubts that any of it will seriously dent the company in the long run. As with any gigantic company, internal issues may be more a serious problem for Google as it figures out how it will make money on more offerings than just online advertising. (As Microsoft has taught us, financial strength doesn’t guarantee that a company will always dominate the landscape.)

Chris Messina, the former Googler who worked on the Google+ product (and brought the hashtag to social media) has given us more food for thought on the Google empire with a long post on Medium. He keeps his criticism narrowly pointed at Google+,  which he has previously criticized on Twitter. But he notes that the project, which consumed a lot of time and resources at the company, isn’t just about a social network that never took off. He writes:

I’m disappointed because I expect better from Google. Like, self-driving cars better, or hot-air balloon internet access better. I don’t want excuses. I don’t want to hear about how competitive or political the internal environment is. Larry is a strong leader. Sundar is too. And I know that they’re getting a ton of mileage (and cash) out of ads, Chrome, and Android —there are plenty of resources. Leaving internet identity in Facebook’s hands would be a massive fail. At least Twitter is making a go at it with Digits. But how does Google[+] fit into this picture? Will it ever? (And no, Google+ Sign In isn’t enough.)

Ventureland

Airbnb is Inc. magazine’s Company of the Year.

This day in Uber…

Uber’s pitch to passengers in the U.S. has been something along the lines of, “Ew, cabs!” And people who’ve logged a lot of taxi time know that this isn’t the worst argument in the world because, well, ew, cabs. But in Germany, where everything is just really nice and about 60 percent of the cab fleet is comprised of Mercedes-Benz luxury sedans (E-Class Series), it’s been harder for Uber to lure passengers into the backs of their neighbors’ Priuses.

For those keeping legal battle score, last week a judge in Reno blocked Uber from operating in Nevada. The state will withhold its blessing until it can sort out whether the way in which Uber handles its drivers and insurance give it an unfair advantage over other companies - and whether it can legally transport passengers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company’s lawyers in France are arguing that new car-service app legislation is unconstitutional, as part of an effort to delay a lawsuit that could threaten Uber’s ability to operate some services in that country too.

And David Carr gives us a thoughtful essay that links the pressures that tech like Uber has visited upon the taxi industry to the damage that tech like online publishing has visited upon legacy publishers. Silicon Valley might celebrate disruption, but it will always feel terrible when it happens to you.

Companies

Samsung…

The much anticipated shakeup at the top is not to be. The Wall Street Journal (which originally said that we’d see massive change at the company’s highest ranks) reports that Samsung's top executives will largely stay put as the company  buys back stock in a bid to prop up its share price. Samsung’s heir apparent is also in the midst of restructuring the company to jettison underperforming businesses and double down on electronics.

Apple…

Steve Jobs’ often acerbic and damning emails will be used against Apple in yet another antitrust lawsuit, this one with potential damages estimated at a mere $350 million or so. As the New York Times writes: “His emails in past lawsuits — a mix of blunt litigation threats against his opponents and cheery financial promises for potential business partners — have made him an exceptional witness against his own company, even beyond the grave.”

Amazon…

Wired takes us inside the company’s fulfillment centers to learn how it’s using robots, rather than abused laborers, to get us our goods.

Hacker News

Wall Street Never Sleeps edition…

Some guys get insider trading information from tippers who write stock tickers on napkins and then eat the evidence.  Others might go the more sophisticated route and hack the email accounts of employees at large companies, like chief financial officers and other deal advisors, who might be privy to market-moving facts.

The cybersecurity company FireEye says that it’s uncovered a massive hacking scheme that targeted 80 companies (mostly big pharma firms) for more than a year. FireEye says that this hack attack was likely perpetrated by English language speakers in the U.S. or Western Europe.

Hollywood edition…

Sony Pictures was hacked at the end of November by a group that called itself Guardians of Peace; and now several of its new movies have hit illegal file-sharing hubs, including "Annie," "Fury," "Mr. Turner" and "Still Alice." "Fury" has been downloaded more than a million times, according to Variety.

News and Notes

Cyber Monday Madness…

If you love to shop online, CNET put together an exhaustive list of Cyber Monday deals just for you. Then you can join the hordes whose insatiable need for more stuff brought down the websites of Best Buy and H-P. You also can help support retailers that may not have gotten as much Thanksgiving-weekend-sale love as they have in the past.

If you liked House of Cards…

In addition to its usual array of (sometimes illegally acquired) downloadable content, BitTorrent will offer an original web series next fall called "Children of the Machine," about a world where androids have taken over and humans must fight for survival. BitTorrent currently has about 170 million users.

Kim Dotcom is broke.

The Girl Scouts have succumbed to the world of online retail.

Today’s video

Interested in the new wearable device from Opening Ceremony and Intel? Well, here’s your MICA promo video starring OC friend Rashida Jones.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net