Benner on Tech: Uber Surges, Apple Appeals and Sony Scolds

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…

The siege of a Lindt Chocolate café in Sydney, Australia, is finally over. But the criticism of Uber continues on, for the ride hailing app’s surge pricing model kicked in amid the chaos, at one point charging those fleeing the scene of the attack up to $100 for a ride as hundreds of police officers surrounded the site.

Uber’s defenders said that drivers wouldn’t respond in great enough numbers to give passengers rides unless they were able to make four times what they would normally make for an average fare.

That argument may be specious, since there’s really no way to know whether a driver near Sydney’s business district wouldn’t just grab a fare that popped up on his or her screen. When I’m in heavily trafficked areas (like a busy downtown business district) Uber drivers are more than willing to pick me up without surge pricing. And if those drivers were aware a life-threatening crisis was brewing just blocks away, one would hope that they would be motivated to pick up fares without the promise of surge pricing.

All that speculation aside, one interesting point was made during a Twitter debate over the debacle (for which Uber has now apologized. The company always seems to apologize after the fact…)

Catherine Bracy, of Code for America, mentioned that if surge pricing really worked, it wouldn’t last for so long. The price bump would quickly subside once drivers were on the road, but surge pricing typically lasts even after drivers have flooded a zone. Tech journalist Ben Thompson, who was defending Uber’s use of surge pricing, did concede that the surge is not only designed to get cars on the road, but to suppress demand. This is an aspect of the surge model that few people think about, and which raises even more pronounced issues about a transportation service that the public might want to depend on in a crisis.

Ventureland

In other taxi app news

** An Uber driver takes a (sleeping) passenger in Manhattan on a zigzagging, fare-jacking $293 ride around the city, Gothamist reports.

** Washington D.C. joins Chicago and New York in creating a ride-hailing app that will compete with Uber, reports the Verge. As I mentioned in a column last week, it’s more than possible that local competitors will chip away at Uber in major markets around the world.

** Uber plans to break into the long-distance ride sharing market by partnering with the German company Carpooling, reports tech.eu

** Go deep into Uber’s lobbying machine with the Washington Post.

** Buzzfeed has an inside look at the bitter fight between Uber and Lyft to control Tampa.

** A long Q&A with Lyft CEO John Zimmer, whose sort of the Jefferson Smith to Travis Kalanick’s Harry Powell.

** France decides to ban Uber Pop, Uber’s low-cost, Uber X-like service, says the New York Times. Uber responds:

Xiaomi…

** Reuters found a filing that says the world’s third largest smartphone maker made $56 million in net profit last year, which casts a new light on the company’s $10 billion valuation.

** Meanwhile, the New York Times says that the company is already being treated like the next Alibaba.

Survey Monkey is now worth $2 billion, says the Wall Street Journal.

People and Personnel Moves

Bonnie Ross, who runs Microsoft’s mega-game franchise Halo 4, is working for stronger female characters without hurting the $4 billion product. Bloomberg’s Sonali Basak and Dina Bass profile Ross, one of a handful of female execs in the world of video game publishing.

Lora Ho, the CFO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, talks about her journey to a top position at Taiwan’s largest chipmaker where she oversees $46 billion in spending. “The glass ceiling is in your heart,” she tells Bloomberg News. “It doesn’t really exist.”

Maxim Nogotkov, Russia's would-be Jack Ma, talks to my Bloomberg View colleague Leonid Bershidsky about how he lost his retail empire to creditors.

Charles C. Johnson is a blogger best known for falsely accusing public figures of things they didn’t do, wreaking havoc and then not being held accountable for the damage. His GotNews is in talks with investors, despite the fact that much of his news is more viral than accurate. As the New York Times’ David Carr writes:

Once a promising young conservative voice who wrote for The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Daily Caller and The Blaze, Mr. Johnson has a loose-cannon approach that alienated many of his editors. There was a time when that would have been the end of it, but with Twitter as a promotional platform, he has been able to build his own site called GotNews.

Companies

Apple…

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will examine last year’s ruling that Apple conspired with five publishers to fix the price of e-books. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the results of the appeal could affect the relationship between any major manufacturer and distributor.

Amazon…

Items on the company’s local UK site were sold for a penny due to a software glitch, Fortune reports.

Google…

** Spanish newspapers are petitioning the government to help stop the shutdown of Google News in Spain, according to the Spain Report.

** Eleven museums took part in a pilot program that uses Street View and YouTube to build mobile apps that let users tour exhibits. Those apps are now available on Google Play, reports TechCrunch.

Microsoft…

The Verge takes a look at just how the NFL is using all those Surface Pros.

Netflix…

New York Magazine lists the videos being removed from the video streaming service, including greats like Kramer vs. Kramer and the Breakfast Club and dogs like Titanic. (Yes, Titanic.)

Twitter…

How to hack the 140-character limit.

Cybersecurity Watch

Sony becomes a camp event…

** The entertainment studio’s hackers said that they’ll withhold selected emails if employees write in and ask for their correspondence to remain hidden, according to Re/code.

** Executives are trying to figure out how to market The Interview (probably the only film title to ever be so closely tied to the Sony brand.)

** The studio tells news outlets to stop publishing stolen information like emails and other corporate data because it “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use” of the material.

The Intercept explains how the British government hacked Belgacom, Belgium’s largest telecoms company.

My colleagues Ben Elgin and Michael Riley have a great story in Bloomberg Businessweek on the cyberattack on Las Vegas Sands. They write:

This was no Ocean’s Eleven. The hackers were not trying to empty a vault of cash, nor were they after customer credit card data, as in recent attacks on Target, Neiman Marcus, and Home Depot. This was personal. The perpetrators wanted to punish the company, or, more precisely, its chief executive officer and majority owner, the billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

A provision that effectively legitimizes how the NSA conducts mass surveillance was slipped into the Intelligence Authorization Act, Techdirt reports.

News and Notes 

This app lets you know when you’re too drunk to drive.

What happens when tech giants must comply with privacy standards that vary from country to country?

Researcher Oren Etzioni talks about why artificial intelligence is not to be feared.

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