Benner on Tech: Hollywood Cowardice, Apple Workers and Anonymity

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…

Newt Gingrich has called the attack on Sony an act of war. I suppose this is because a nation state was likely behind the attack on the company. (And I suppose that, for Sony execs, this feels like Gallipoli.)

But at the end of the day, it’s a cyber attack on a corporation that blithely ignored weaknesses in its security infrastructure and has been breached many times before. And the U.S. government has been pressing Corporate America to take cybersecurity more seriously for a while now, working on security guidelines and pressing any company that’s part of the nation’s critical infrastructure to beef up its defenses.

It’s been obvious for a few years that corporate online security and the security of the country have been becoming more entwined. It’s been equally obvious that Sony didn’t think that it would get caught up in the convergence.

The BloombergView editorial board recently penned a piece reminding us all that this is still a corporate problem, and not something that requires military engagement.

Sony and other corporations can’t expect the U.S. government to respond to every attack on their behalf. However embarrassing and costly to the studio, the hacking represents a cybercrime, not an act of cyberterrorism directed at civilians or vital national infrastructure. (By the same token, threats against theaters showing a Hollywood comedy that mocks Kim Jong Un hardly compare with the vows of annihilation that constantly pour out of North Korean state media.)

The message, in short, is that companies are responsible for their safety in cyberland. If we start a military response over a mediocre comedy that’s being pulled from theaters then what will be the response in the face of more serious threats?

Remember, “The Interview” is being pulled because theaters are worried about liability if there’s an incident, not because of an act of war. No one in the entertainment industry has the spine to say that this is all ridiculous - and that they won’t be cowed by threats from a nameless, faceless group of hackers. (George Clooney chalks it up to Hollywood cowardice, noting that no industry bigs would sign his letter supporting a decision by Sony to release “The Interview.”) 

Reader Mailbag

** Two takes on Uber…

* Reta: As a driver who worked with Uber for 2 years I can see how they are getting worse everyday for drivers. It only takes one rude customer complaint to get a driver fired or (deactivated) as uber calls it. They keep dropping their rates without even telling drivers. They just grew big to a degree they think they can do whatever they want however they want.

* Thomas: Being a driver of Uber in Las Vegas Nevada for a short time. Travis the CEO of Uber did everything he said he would. Like paying tickets for drivers, giving us rental cars when are cars where taken await by the Nevada Transportation Authority. He also paid for lawyer for us at hearing and all fines… It would appear to me Travis is doing his very best fighting the taxicab Gods in Las Vegas and hopefully one day I will be a happy Uber driver again.


Uber Evermore…

** The company voluntarily halted service for three months in Portland, Oregon so that local officials can write ride-sharing rules, Buzzfeed reports.  In return, the city agreed to drop a lawsuit against the company. The move is unusually cooperative for Uber, which is well-known for entering cities first and then dealing with litigation later.

** The California Public Utilities Commission wants the company to turn over rider data as part of a study on the impact that ride services  have on traffic flow, reports Reuters. Lyft and Sidecar gave their data to the CPUC, which plans to keep the information confidential. But Uber won’t play ball.

** The company wants to patent surge pricing, Bloomberg reports.

Remember Secret, that anonymous messaging app best known for perpetuating mean-spirited Silicon Valley gossip? Well, now it’s back and TechCrunch says it looks just like Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging app best known as a hotbed of mean-spirited college campus gossip.

Weapons laid down in the mayo wars: Hellmann’s mayonnaise-maker Unilever withdrew its lawsuit against Hampton Creek, the Khosla Ventures-backed food startup, reports Fortune.

Postmates, the scrappy delivery service that just brought me a coffee and a bagel for like $18 (desperate times…) is giving Amazon a run for its money by connecting goods from local merchants with customers, the New York Times reports.

Funding Frenzy…

** Data analytics company Mixpanel just raised $65 million and is now valued at $865 million. The company kindly posted its pitch deck too.

** Expect Labs raised $13 million for “anticipatory computing,” which the Wall Street Journal says should help the company make an alternative to keyboards.

** Skytap, an app testing service, raised $35 million.

** Real estate startup Redfin just raised nearly $71 million, GeekWire reports.

People and Personnel Moves (Eccentrics edition…)

Dean Hachamovitch is leaving Microsoft after more than 24-years at the company.

Markus Persson, the Minecraft creator, just paid a neighborhood record high of $70 million for an eight-bedroom, 15-bath Beverly Hills mansion, according to Bloomberg.

Vinod Khosla is challenging a court order requiring him to restore public access to Martin's Beach, Business Insider reports. Khosla’s 53-acre property is adjacent to the beach. He locked a gate leading to the beach parking lot soon after he bought his parcel for $37.5 million in 2008.

Peter Thiel is taking human growth hormone pills so he can live to be 120 years old, according to Business Insider.



** The BBC went undercover at an iPhone production like and the findings weren’t pretty.  Workers were filmed falling asleep on the job and one undercover reporter was forced to work 18 days without a day off.

** Apple shot back at the report in a letter to staff across the UK. Senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams wrote:

We know of no other company doing as much as Apple does to ensure fair and safe working conditions, to discover and investigate problems, to fix and follow through when issues arise, and to provide transparency into the operations of our suppliers.


Kim Kardashian’s favorite smartphone maker reported $793 million in revenue for the most recent quarter, missing forecasts for $931 million. Bloomberg Businessweek says that the stock price fell on the news.


** Citigroup values Instagram at $35 billion, up from $19 billion, says TechCrunch. The photo sharing app was acquired just two and a half years ago for $1 billion.

** Millions of fake Instagram users were just purged too.


** The search giant is unhappy about Hollywood’s attempt to censor the Internet in the name of copyright protections.

** The company is working on a new version of Android that could be build directly into cars, Reuters reports.


** The company has accused Omni Tech Support of using the Microsoft name to fool customers into buying support services, Bloomberg reports. In a lawsuit, Microsoft said its’ received 65,000 complaints related to this type of scam and it alleges that Omni installed malware on computers and stole personal information from the machines.

Cybersecurity Watch


** White hat hacker Marc Rogers lays out 10 reasons why North Korea isn’t behind the Sony Hack. Risk Based Security isn’t so sure either, and it has this pretty thorough timeline of the breach.

** But the FBI is expected to announce today that North Korea is behind the attack and that China may have helped, reports the Verge.

Home routers come up all of the time in conversations about vulnerabilities. Now Threatpost reports that hackers could get into the more than 12 million routers that run a webserver called RomPager.

Breach fatigue is taking hold now that 45 percent of Americans have been notified that their credit card information has been compromised as part of a data breach, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Media Files

“The Interview” should eventually be shown on TV and the Internet just as soon as Sony can figure out how to recoup some of $80 million it shelled out on the comedy, my Bloomberg colleagues Gerry Smith and Mark Milian report.

News and Notes 

Wired’s Matthew Shaer explores the secret world of stolen smartphones.

My Bloomberg colleagues Sarah Frier and Adam Satariano explore the world of Silicon Valley holiday parties.

There are more bots on the web than humans, Wired reports.

As the U.S. moves to normalize relations with Cuba, telecom companies could benefit, says Ars Technica.

The Sony hack was really an advertisement for the erasable Internet, argues Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times, referring to apps like Snapchat and Confide that immediately delete your communiqués. He quotes Confide co-founder Howard Lerman saying:

Everyone is so excited about the cloud, but the cloud is really a drunken Xerox machine making copies of pretty much everything that everyone has said anywhere and spewing it all over the place.

IPO Forecast…

CB Insights’ 2015 Tech IPO Pipeline Report is out. Next year we’ll have 588 private tech companies in the pipeline and 40 of them have valuations (real or rumored) greater than $1 billion. Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz saw the biggest jump in the number of portfolio companies in the pipeline.

Tech experts surveyed by the Pew Research Center, including Danah Boyd, Vint Cerf and Mark Rotenberg, say that online privacy issues won’t be resolved anytime soon.

Watch This

Remember kids, when you sell your equity you sell your soul and could someday appear in a VC holiday video.

It’s never too early for a walk down memory lane. Here are the best musical moments from the Colbert Report. And the best song from last night’s final episode.

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