Benner on Tech: A Christmas Gift of Freedom and Louis CK's Doll

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…

Here’s a holiday quiz for you. Is Christmas…

A)    A time for love, family and friends?

B)    An amplification of your daily despair?

C)     Socially sanctioned gross consumerism wrapped in ribbon made from the shreds of our tattered civil society?

D)    A day to celebrate both the birth of Jesus Christ and James Franco’s triumph over Kim Jong Un?

If you answered D, then life was pretty grim until yesterday, when Sony Pictures said it would release "The Interview" on Christmas Day in select theaters. 

As you probably recall, the nation’s largest movie theater chains boycotted the film after Sony’s hackers, well, demanded that they do so. (Really brave, guys. Really brave.) And then Sony decided not to release the movie at all. And that waterfall of decisions turned a comedy wherein Seth Rogen hides a missile in his butt into a symbol of free speech and democracy.

But miracles happen! As smaller theaters across the country stepped up to show the movie, Sony decided to release it after all. If you’re interested in celebrating freedom and justice with a trip to the Cineplex, New York Magazine has a list of theaters playing the movie on Christmas Day. 

For those of us who prefer to watch our films at home, we will be able to, starting today. 

Yes Virginia, there is a mediocre gross-out comedy for us to attend after we’ve stuffed our faces and rolled around on our presents.

The cybersecurity industry is celebrating the holidays too. The Sony hack disaster was a marketing gift from heaven. Imagine the executive team that would now say, “It’s a valid business decision to accept the risk (of a cyberattack) … I will not invest $10 million to avoid a possible $1 million loss.”

** Unrelated public service journalism: Masochistically reliving a relationship train wreck? FOMO-induced friend stalking? Hate-clicking on other people’s holiday vacation photos? Go shower. Then learn how to erase everything you’ve ever searched for on Facebook.

Ventureland

Venture capital is becoming increasingly unimportant, according to Institutional Investor. Hedge funds, mutual funds, corporate venture arms and private-equity firms dominate late-stage deals, and seed and angel funds are participating in more early-stage rounds.

Uber probably didn’t think things could get any worse. (Or maybe it never thought things were bad? Hard to tell.) But then South Korean prosecutors indicted chief executive officer Travis Kalanick for violating transportation law, according to Bloomberg News. The Seoul Metropolitan Government, which may ban Uber, is also offering rewards of as much as 1 million won ($905) for information about the company’s services.

Doughbie, an on-demand freshly baked cookie startup backed by 500 Startups, will deliver (select) San Franciscans warm desserts in 20 minutes or less, reports TechCrunch. It’s not a tech bubble. It’s a soft, chewy, sweet ball of unbridled optimism.

Mic.com wants to pre-chew our news for us and drop it in our throats and soothe our feathers and make it easier for us to understand the implications of, say, the growing wealth gap, according to Re/code’s Nellie Bowles.

People and Personnel Moves

Tristan Walker, the ex-Lehman Bros. derivatives trader who started Walker & Company Brands, was profiled by USA Today. Walker is one of the few black entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and he hopes to bring premium health and beauty products to people of color.

"I didn't know Silicon Valley existed until I was 24, and that's a problem," Walker said. "When I was growing up, I knew I wanted to be an actor or an athlete. I knew I wanted to work on Wall Street. Because they were archetypes I wanted to aspire to be like. In Silicon Valley, there were none, and I'd argue that there still are none. We have a lot of work to do to really build and create those archetypes to inspire a generation of folks to want to really participate out here in a big way."

Marissa Mayer was the victim of a sexist hit-job published by the New York Times, argues management consultant Stewart Ugelow.

Companies

Facebook…

** Mark Zuckerberg is determined to break into the China market. The Information’s Amir Efrati has a full rundown of the company’s possible strategies for scaling the Great Wall, including partnerships, censorship and sprinkling the mainland with VC money.

** The National Football League will now post short videos, such as game highlights and news, on the social networking service, according to the Wall Street Journal. Verizon Wireless will run ads against the clips.

** It’s fine for police officers to create fake Instagram accounts and use them to befriend and obtain information from suspects, Ars Technica reports.

Google…

** The company is teaming up with Microsoft to block a hotel industry proposal to prevent guests from using personal Wi-Fi hotspots, Re/code reports.

** The Santa tracker is live.

Microsoft...

The Irish government is backing Microsoft’s attempt to keep the U.S. government from accessing customer e-mails stored in a company database in Ireland.

Samsung…

The company closed its flagship store in London. The Verge says it’s due to the company’s slowing smartphone sales

TripAdvisor…

An Italian regulator fined the travel review website $610,000 for not doing enough to prevent false reviews, the New York Times reports.

Cybercrime Blotter

Sony…

** North Korea may not be solely responsible for the attack, says Bloomberg News.

** Brian Krebs makes a case for why North Korea could be responsible.

** The hack heard round the world should (finally) make cybersecurity a real boardroom concern, says Fortune.

Media Files

E-mails released in the Sony hack reveal a wider racism in the entertainment industry, argues Megan McArdle at BloombergView.

News and Notes

More than half a million public comments on net neutrality went missing when the Federal Communications Commission bulk downloaded the data to share with the public, the Washington Post reports.

Bloomberg View's Noah Smith on why we love online outrage:

Humans are naturally altruistic -- there is a pleasure we get from seeing other people be happy. But we are also naturally sadistic -- in certain situations, we get pleasure from seeing people in pain. This is a common theme in literature. Recall the way that children turned to human sacrifice in "Lord of the Flies," or that the “Two Minutes Hate” diverted society’s animus toward an imaginary villain in "1984."

Watch This… Holiday Edition

“Daddy, look! She’s beautiful.”

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:
Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net