Benner on Tech: Obama Elevates Cybersecurity

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…

“If we’re going to be connected, then we need to be protected. As Americans, we shouldn’t have to forfeit our basic privacy when we go online to do our business.”

That was what President Obama said when he proposed two acts meant to address the uneasy relationship between data, government and commercial interests.

The Personal Data Notification and Protection Act would require companies that had been hacked to tell their customers within 30 days of discovering the breach. He argued for a Federal standard because the quilt of existing state laws vary in quality and make it harder for businesses to operate across state lines.

The Student Data Privacy Act, which would prevent tech companies from profiting from the student data that they’ll be able to access as schools adopt tablet, online software and other services.

I doubt that either proposal will get very far. The GOP will, inevitably, try to crush this as part of a mission to crush everything that the White House proposes in the run up to the 2016 elections.

Introducing the proposals, however, was necessary and smart. Whether we like it or not, Target, Sony and Snowden have elevated cybersecurity and privacy to the level of national discussions. It’s about time that politicians and the White House addressed those issues in a substantive way (meaning a way that includes proposed standards and actions).

Without details about the proposals, it’s hard to know whether or not to champion them as smart policy. But we can say with certitude that they will kick off a crucial debate in Congress that hopefully ends with strong, useful laws and not with a cynical, watered down set of guidelines that protect business interests at the expense of legitimate and necessary privacy needs. Consumers should know when a company has been breached and how it affects their accounts. Students should be able to get an education without giving up their privacy.

The only clear winner for now will be the cybersecurity startups. The fact that even the president is getting tough on security is the best marketing they’ll ever have for all of their new cybersecurity solutions. If they can’t foist their wares onto corporate America now, they never will.

** In somewhat related news, British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to ban encrypted messaging services that don’t give Britain’s intelligence services access to the communications, the New York Times reports. As the Guardian’s James Ball points out, Cameron doesn’t seem to comprehend the implications of his owns statement.

If Cameron is proposing an end to encryption in the UK, then any information sent across the internet would be open for any company, government, or script kiddie with 10 minutes “hacking” experience to access. It would spell the end of e-commerce, private online communications and any hope of the UK having any cybersecurity whatsoever.

** A totally unrelated but somewhat distressing report from the Daily Telegraph says that we bend over to look at our devices so much that it may be causing premature neck wrinkling and droopy jowls that dermatologists call “tech-neck.” I looked in the mirror today and found no sign of said neck, but maybe I’ve grown so accustomed to my neck’s horrid wrinklyness that I can’t see that I look like a shar pei from the jowls down? For now, mirrors lie. The threat of a drooping jawline might be the best argument I’ve ever read for Google Glass, but I can’t afford a $1,500 face computer. I can, however, afford this neck brace and will now wear it everyday, all day, to keep my neck skin taut whilst looking at my phone.

Ventureland

Juicero, a startup that makes fresh juice, is raising $100 million from Kleiner Perkins and Campbell's Soup, Business Insider reports. Google Ventures, Thrive Capital, and Vast Ventures may also be involved in this story that I, at first, thought was from the Onion. “It's like freshly pressed juice, sources who have tried it say, only better. Rumor has it the CEO of Campbell's tried the juice and ran back to cut a $10 million check.”

Instacart, the grocery delivery startup, raised $220 million and is now valued at $2 billion, Bloomberg reports.

Level, a personal finance app that tracks spending, was acquired by Capital One, reports the Verge. Terms weren’t disclosed. Be on the lookout for more deals in the fintech space as financial institutions try to get more innovative or just shut down competitive threats.

Spotify says that it has 60 million active users and that 15 million of them pay for the streaming music service.

Tappy, a disappearing messaging app, was acquired by Tinder as part of a strategic acquihire, TechCrunch reports.

Uber signed a deal with Boston to share ride data that the city can use for urban planning, the Next Web reports.

People and Personnel Moves

Sophia Amoruso, the founder of online retailer Nasty Gal, is stepping down as CEO, Re/code reports. President Sheree Waterso will replace her and join the board. Amoruso will remain executive chairman and work with the creative and marketing teams.

AMD has lost a handful of key personnel, Bloomberg reports. John Byrne, head of the computing and graphics division, is leaving, the company said in a regulatory filing. Chief Marketing Officer Colette LaForce and Chief Strategy Officer Raj Naik are also leaving the company.

Companies

EMC…

The company named Jose Almeida and Donald Carty as directors as part of an agreement to appease the activist hedge fund Elliott Management, reports Bloomberg. Elliott has been pushing EMC to spin off VMWare. With the board appointments, the firm agrees to a standstill.

Facebook…

Instagram fixed a privacy hole that left photos visible on the web even after users set their accounts to private, reports Quartz.

Google…

General Motors said that it would be open to working with Google to develop self-driving car technology, ZDNet reports.

PayPal…

The company is expanding its credit business by giving merchants who use PayPal Credit the option to let consumers pay off a product over several months, VentureBeat reports. (Ingenious extension of credit or a potentially disastrous set up for a chain of defaults within a high-credit-risk ecosystem?)

Twitter…

The company is in talks to buy India’s ZipDial, TechCrunch reports.

Cybercrime Blotter

The U.S. Central Command was hacked. The USCC’s Twitter and YouTube accounts were defaced with messages supporting Islamic State, Bloomberg reports. The Defense Department says it was a prank.

Media Files

CNN’s use of drones in news gathering has received a blessing of sorts from the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA signed a research agreement to share data from the network’s drone experiment, Mashable reports.

News and Notes

Artificial intelligence inspires caution. Dozens of scientists, an AI researcher from Google, Elon Musk and venture capitalists from Founders Fund have signed an open letter urging a more thoughtful approach to AI research. “The progress in AI research makes it timely to focus research not only on making AI more capable, but also on maximizing the societal benefit of AI.”

Silicon Valley shuttle bus drivers want to unionize, reports USA Today’s Mike Snider.

A list of the most innovative companies, this time from 24/7 Wall Street, includes Google, Samsung and IBM.

This old person disagrees with that teenager. Remember the teen who gave us a rundown on how the kids use social media? Well Danah Boyd, an old person who researches how kids use social media, thinks his analysis was a little lazy and myopic. 

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