Benner on Tech: Cameras, Immigration and Big Personnel Moves

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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People Are Talking About…

After a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, cities across the country were rocked by protests and riots. While the streets remained quiet here in San Francisco (much to my surprise), the ruling and the way that the prosecutor in the case used the grand jury upset lots of entrepreneurs and investors in the heart of techland. The case has come up fairly often in conversations here, usually as part of an argument in favor of requiring police officers to wear body cameras. 

But yesterday a grand jury decided not to indict a New York City police officer who killed an unarmed black man named Eric Garner, this despite the fact that a coroner ruled the death a homicide and the whole incident was captured on film.

My colleague Megan McArdle wrote a very good column about how and why the system failed Eric Garner, noting that the use of “video won't do us any good if the system refuses to punish cops who use excessive force.”

I agree with that statement, but I also feel that the use of video will eventually put a trove of visual evidence of incidents of police brutality in the public domain. I agree with the very Silicon Valley, pragmatic view that with time those videos will be too hard to ignore.

But as one investor put it, then it’s up to the wealthy, influential and enterprising people in places like Silicon Valley -- those of us who thought of the cameras and the surveillance as a panacea -- to be moved enough by the images to influence local politicians to make real change.

The tech industry has been flexing some political muscle as of late, with big donors like Mark Zuckerberg working to fix our broken education and immigration policies. I would love it if tech started to care about criminal justice as well, both by making the technology to hold people in power to account and by using influence and clout to influence the conversation.

On a related note about tech, visibility and social change …  at a dinner last night to discuss activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas' latest documentary “Documented,” there was talk about whether President Barack Obama's recent executive order on immigration (which a coalition of 17 states just sued him for) might give people room to “come out” as illegal immigrants. The order lessens the threat of deportation and might allow people to talk more freely about what it's like to live, work and pay taxes in a country that doesn't recognize them. As we've seen with the fight for marriage equality, visibility and cultural change always comes before legislative change.

Also noted was the idea that Republicans are courting the tech industry in an attempt to decouple the fight for more H1-B visas from the broader fight for immigration reform. It will be interesting to see if those politicians can successfully woo the tech community.


The venture firm Formation 8 recently closed a $500 million fund, Bloomberg reports. Founded by Jim Kim, Joe Lonsdale and Brian Bonwoong Koo, the firm raised its first $448 million fund in 2012. It’s known for investing in Oculus, the virtual reality startup that was acquired by Facebook. 

Xfund just closed a $100 million fund. Limited partners include New Enterprise Associates, Breyer Capital and Accel Partners. The early stage fund is a partnership between those three venture firms along with Polaris Partners and Harvard University.

Taxi wars …

Uber confirms that it has raised $1.2 billion in new funding. A recent Delaware filing shows that the company authorized up to $1.8 billion in shares for the latest funding round at a valuation of $40 billion (a number that Bloomberg's Serena Saitto reported last month.) Dan Primack says that the company is “currently negotiating with investors for an additional close, which could bring the final figure much closer to the $1.8 billion mark.”

GrabTaxi, a ride sharing service that competes with Uber in Southeast Asia, just received a $250 million investment from Japanese telecom company SoftBank, which is now GrabTaxi’s largest investor. TechCrunch reports that other investors include Tiger Global and GGV Capital.

Loup, a startup that hopes to replace mass transit with a fleet of private drivers that travel set routes, has raised $1.5 million in seed financing from Obvious Ventures, IDG Ventures, Greg Tseng, Enrique Salem, Brian Lee, Barney Pell, Alex Mehr, Shayan Zadeh, Kai Huang, Ali Moiz, Binh Tran and Adeyemi Ajao, VentureBeat reports.

Dan Primack says that Goldman Sachs is working for Uber for free.

The San Francisco Business Times notes that Lending Club’s initial public offering next week could be the biggest IPO of the year from a Bay Area company.

People and Personnel Moves

Andy Forssell, a Hulu executive who served as the company’s interim CEO in 2013, is now the CEO at the video aggregation startup Showyou, Re/code reports.

Michael Seibel, the former CEO of Socialcam, has joined Y Combinator as its first black partner as part of the incubator’s effort to recruit minority entrepreneurs. Seibel tells USA Today:

"Minorities often feel like they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the valley and tech start-ups in general… What I Iove about Y Combinator is that it is a level playing field. If you get in, you immediately become a Silicon Valley insider."

Mat Honan, a writer at Wired magazine, has joined Buzzfeed as the website’s Silicon Valley bureau chief.

Bloomberg News has a profile of Michael Wekerle, the Canadian millionaire whose Difference Capital Financial funds companies such as Hootsuite and Vision Critical Communications. When asked about Difference Capital’s poor performance, Wekerle said: “There were mistakes made. … You can not make a hundred acquisitions and be correct. The last person that was perfect was Jesus Christ and they nailed him to the cross.”


Apple …

The class-action antitrust lawsuit against the company is heating up, with prosecutors telling jurors that the company deleted music from iPods that had been downloaded from competing services.

Market research firm Kantar Worldpanel says that from August through October Apple’s smartphone sales and marketshare grew in almost every market thanks to its larger iPhone 6 phones.

Facebook …

Time magazine’s Lev Grossman has an in-depth look at the social network’s plan to connect the entire world.

Google …

The search giant will retool some of its products so that they’re appropriate for kids ages 12 and younger. New versions of the company’s search engine and YouTube should be out next year.

Yahoo …

Research firm eMarketer says that by next year Yahoo will have a bigger piece of the U.S. mobile ad market than Twitter.

Microsoft …

The Verge reports that the company is selling its stake in Nook back to Barnes & Noble.

Cybercrime Never Sleeps

An internal investigation at Sony says that the latest cyberattack against the company was launched from North Korea. Bloomberg reports that the studio is deciding whether to release the findings publicly after denying a Re/code story saying that it would make such an announcement.

The Intercept has a report on AURORAGOLD, a covert NSA operation that has monitored more than 1,200 e-mail accounts as part of a plan to find and exploit cellphone technology security flaws. According to the report, the NSA also planned to introduce new weaknesses into communication systems that could be used by the spy agency. 

News and Notes

Take Two Interactive Software’s video game “Grand Theft Auto V” was pulled from Target stores in Australia. The latest installment of Take Two’s blockbuster Grand Theft Auto franchise has come under fire for allowing players to do things like kill prostitutes.

Banks have to figure out how to handle conflicts of interest as telecom deal-making heats up.

New York magazine explains how to use social media to win your next breakup.

Bitcoin Watch

50,000 bitcoins hit the auction block.

Mineyuki Fukuda is trying to make Japan an oasis for bitcoin startups.

Today’s Video

Do you love Shingy like I love Shingy? Now you can love his music too.

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