Benner on Tech: Silicon Valley and Newsweek's Sexism Cover

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…

Hemlines are all the outrage.

Newsweek, continuing in its longish tradition of enraging techies and Internet denizens alike, published a cover image that outraged many people. Mediaite has a full story that’s just images of angry tweets, but I’ll include one here so you get the point.

The angriest commenters (men and women, mind you) hated that Newsweek used a sexist image to promote a story that was ostensibly a critique of the technology industry’s rampant sexism. As media critic Jennifer Posner wrote, “Clickbait, designed to piss off women while pretending to investigate sexism in tech. Fail -- but you know it.”

I may be in the minority, but I wasn't offended. A faceless cartoon-woman having her hemline poked at by a cursor is an accurate reflection of the content of the story, which was about how women in tech are treated like objects and marginalized.

Sure Newsweek’s lack of wit is irritating. This “controversial” cover is to art direction what whoopee cushions are to jokes -- crude, boring and obvious, but certainly not provocative. The picture wasn’t smart enough to be satire. It wasn’t outrageous enough to be camp.

Sadly, the cover dust-up threatens to obscure the actual story, which is a multi-thousand-word recap of a year’s worth of big, sexist moments in tech. The writer, Nina Burleigh, filtered it all through the lens of a startup called Glassbreakers, a peer-mentoring platform for companies that want to retain and promote women.

It’s a good primer for the many people who don’t pay enough attention to the tech industry to understand why it’s considered a boy’s club.

Burleigh’s long list of past offenses (even though I knew them all already) was sort of breathtaking. I can’t think of another industry that produced so many high-profile sexist incidents last year as tech. You didn’t see a steady drumbeat of lawsuits and assorted complaints about misogyny coming out of, say, the auto industry or financial services or any other big, important business sector.

When you step back and take in that 50,000-foot view, all the sniping over the Newsweek illustration seems very much like a sideshow that threatens to obscure what’s actually happening here. Read the Newsweek story. Read it.

** Earnings round up:

* Facebook turned in a decent quarter, but investors didn’t like how spend-y the company’s gotten. Here’s my take on why Wall Street’s view is wrong.

* Alibaba said that sales missed estimates and that its expenses rose, sending the shares down about 8 percent in premarket trading, reports Bloomberg.

* Samsung Electronics said that earnings fell for a third straight quarter, Bloomberg reports.

* LG Electronics reported an unexpected quarterly net loss and said that it would stop making plasma TVs, the Wall Street Journal reports.

* Nokia’s quarterly net profit exceeded analyst expectations, but licensing revenue fell, reports the Wall Street Journal.

* Nintendo predicts this will be its first profitable fiscal year since 2012, but it dramatically cut its profit forecast to $169 million from $339 million, Re/code reports.

* Qualcomm’s earnings and revenue beat Wall Street forecasts, but an important customer decided not to use the company’s Snapdragon 810 chip and Qualcomm cut its financial forecast for the next two quarters, reports Bloomberg.


Snapchat will host a series of superhero shorts, Bloomberg reports. AT&T is working with the online studios Astronauts Wanted and Fullscreen to create the series “SnapperHero.” The messaging app is also hosting videos from CNN and Yahoo News.

Jawbone’s finances might be more precarious than previously thought. Flextronics sued the company in August, claiming that the hardware startup “materially (and repeatedly) breached the terms of a clear and unambiguous contract … to the extent of over $20 million in goods received but not paid for,” Fortune reports. The suit has since been settled.

Metromile, a pay-as-you-drive insurance startup, worked with Uber to develop a personal/commercial insurance plan hybrid for Uber drivers in California, Washington and Illinois, reports TechCrunch.

Slack, an enterprise messaging startup, bought Screenhero for its screen sharing and voice chat technology, TechCrunch reports.

Spotify will soon become the music streaming service for Sony’s PlayStation Network, the New York Times reports.

Techstars, a startup accelerator, has raised $150 million for its early stage investment vehicle Techstars Ventures, TechCrunch reports.

People and Personnel Moves

Bill Gates participated in his third Reddit AMA. Here’s what he got from his Secret Santa.

Suzanne Rombeau Fletcher will lead Stanford-StartX’s venture capital fund, according to Fortune's Dan Primack. She was previously a managing director at Paul Capital.

Paul Ekman is the 80-year-old psychologist whose facial expression studies are being used as the basis for startups designed to analyze our faces and decode our emotions, and the Wall Street Journal examines his work in a recent profile.

Grace Hopper, the Navy admiral who worked on the first computer and helped create the programming language COBOL, is now the subject of a documentary, “The Queen of Code,” as part of FiveThirtyEight’s “Signals” series.



China’s State Administration for Industry & Commerce accused the company of letting merchants without business licenses operate illegal stores for counterfeit goods on the site and said that corporate employees have taken bribes, reports Bloomberg.


Amazon Web Services introduced Amazon WorkMail, a secure email and calendar service that’s being promoted as a safer and cheaper product for businesses, the New York Times reports.


** The company is number one in China’s smartphone market and it’s tied with Samsung for global market share for the first time since 2011, Bloomberg reports.

** Analytics firm App Annie says that Google Play handily beat the App Store by number of downloads, but that Google generated 70 percent less in revenues than Apple, reports the Guardian.


** When the company reports earnings today after the bell, analysts and investors will want to talk about what kind of future it will have if Apple replaces Google as the default search engine on Safari, the New York Times reports.


The company plans to cut 1,000 jobs to get down to about 5,000 employees in its smartphone division, reports Bloomberg.


Tumblr updated its blogging platform with new features that take aim at the publishing platform Medium.

Cybersecurity Blotter

Western companies are displeased with China’s latest cybersecurity measures, which force them to turn over their source codes and build secret back doors into hardware and software if they sell computer equipment to Chinese banks, the New York Times reports.

News and Notes

Chinese drone maker DJI is making Washington a no-fly zone for its units after a drone crash landed on the grounds around the White House, reports the Verge.

Prepaid mobile phone company TracFone must pay a $40 million fine for targeting customers with unlimited data plans and slowing down their speeds or even cutting off service, Re/code reports.

A Realtor in Arizona has listed his Tesla Model S on Airbnb as a “unique” hotel room conveniently located in his garage, Bloomberg reports. You don’t get to drive the car and you need to be out in time for the owner to commute to work. All of this and (not much) more for just $85 a night.

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