Benner on Tech: The Sony Plot Thickens and Snapchat's Secrets

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 U.S. is weighing whether to officially accuse North Korea of executing the Sony hack, the New York Times reports. Now that anonymous officials have said that the hermit country is behind the devastating attack, the whole fiasco ties neatly together -- a strange, backward country, an egomaniacal despot, a Hollywood “comedy” that has offended the Communist leadership and a cyberhacking plot to destroy the movie studio that created the film and censor the movie. There are now no release plans for “The Interview.”

The attack sounds like the plot of a bad Sony movie where the ends tie up just a little too neatly. (Wired magazine has talked about why it feels the North Korea theory doesn't add up, and there are tons of conspiracy theories to be found online.) I’ve always been perplexed by the data dumps themselves. The hackers took tons of data, including countless totally uninteresting e-mails. But what’s being released is relatively curated and packaged. In this batch will be the racist President Barack Obama e-mails. In this batch, the hilarious Angelina Jolie notes. And on and on. The thieves not only know what sorts of leaked e-mails will drive Sony execs insane, they have the pop culture acumen to know what kinds of e-mails will lure in reporters and whip the public into a frenzy of schadenfreude.

While I have no doubt that North Korea has an extremely sophisticated cyber-espionage and cyber-crime unit helmed by extremely gifted hackers, I find it hard to believe that there’s an elite unit of U.S. pop-culture aficionados who are working to make us all think that Hollywood is a petty viper pit.

That’s why the possibility that Sony insiders helped to carry out the attack is an interesting one to note. The detail is buried in both the New York Times and the USA Today stories, but it seems like the most important thing. Are there Sony employees who hate mediocre comedies and who dislike their bigwig corporate bosses? Sure, I buy that. That probably describes half the staff. But workers who sympathize with North Korea? And who would actually want to cripple their own company? This is the part of the Sony story that intrigues me the most.

** Related: Lots of people think Sony should release “The Interview” online.

** The Sony malware wasn’t so great. But sorta good was obviously enough to get the job done.

Ventureland

Not one of Snapchat’s advisors, board members or executives could keep Evan Spiegel from releasing this letter? #changetheworld

Uber: It’s complicated 

** An off-duty driver in Boston allegedly posed as an on-duty driver and raped a passenger. The driver was arraigned on charges of rape, assault to rape, kidnapping and two counts of assault and battery, PandoDaily reports.

** Uber’s bad press has encouraged some New Yorkers to switch back to cabs, the New York Daily News reports.

** The company is filing a complaint against a French law in Brussels as it challenges EU member states that have banned its car-hailing service.

** After a spate of driver assaults around the globe, the company hopes that biometric scans can help with background checks, the Verge reports.

Jawbone ran into production snags, and its new fitness tracker, the UP3, won’t be out in time for the holidays.

Huawei is preparing to sue Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, says Patently Apple.

Buzzfeed buys Hyper IQ so that it can build apps, the Verge reports.

People and Personnel Moves

Jonah Peretti, Buzzfeed’s founder, talks to the Verge about the Hyper IQ acquisition, why video is in “hyper growth,” tech, the media and the future of the site.

Ev Williams continues his tour through the media, this time telling Mashable:

“I'm never going to say, 'How can we get as many users as Instagram and Facebook? Breadth and depth are both important. There are a heck of a lot of people in the world; it's hundreds of millions that care about things enough to occasionally read about them. There’s probably tens of millions that care enough to write about them. Is that going to be the biggest thing on the Internet ever? Probably not. Is it going to be one of the most influential things ever anywhere? Possibly so.”

Companies

Apple…

** The company needs a lot more stores to participate in Apple Pay before it can call the payment option a success, says Forbes.

** Tax changes are coming for customers in Europe who buy apps.

Amazon…

It’s official. The company rolls out one-hour delivery in NYC today, the Verge reports.

Oracle…

Larry Ellison’s enterprise software giant beat profit and revenue forecasts in the latest quarter, and analysts say that efforts to respond to cloud computing are paying off, Bloomberg reports. Profit came in at 69 cents on revenue of $9.6 billion. Analysts had predicted profit and revenue of 68 cents and $9.5 billion, respectively.

Twitter…

Dick Costolo’s family trust has sold the last of its shares of Twitter, Bloomberg reports.

Cybersecurity Watch

China has decided that it can’t trust foreign technology, so it plans to purge foreign-made IT from important institutions including state-run banks, the military and other government agencies, Bloomberg reports.

The FBI has been using Metasploit to successfully identify Tor users, Wired reports.

Sony employees are now working in a pre-Internet world thanks to the cyberattack, TechCrunch reports.

Media Files

Wired’s Mat Honan walks us through the Buzzfeedification of news.

AMC Theaters is working with MoviePass to offer a subscription product that lets viewers watch a movie a day for a monthly fee, the New York Times reports.

Nieman Lab prediction for 2015: This is the year a news organization gets hacked and sources get revealed.

Sony leaks reveal that the film industry wanted to use DNS blocking to thwart pirates, according to the Verge.

YouTube MCNs (multi-channel networks) really are changing Hollywood, argues Jason Hirschhorn’s MediaREDEF.

News and Notes 

ProPublica tracked all of the news that China blocked over the past month. 

To contact the author on this story:
Katie Benner at kbenner2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Kirsten Salyer at ksalyer@bloomberg.net