Benner on Tech: Google Tries to Drive Over Uber

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…

Et tu Google?

It looks like Google is developing some features that could eventually pit the search company against Uber. My Bloomberg Businessweek colleague Brad Stone got the scoop and some great detail, including the fact that Uber is deciding whether to ask David Drummond to step down from its board.

Drummond, as you may know, is Google’s chief legal officer and senior vice president of corporate development. He became an Uber director in 2013, right around the time when Google’s own venture-capital firm, Google Ventures, led a $258 million investment in the ride-hailing app maker.

So here’s the situation: A couple of years ago Google thought that Uber was going to be huge, and it wanted to be a part of that growth by putting a key executive in an advisory role at the company. Its investment arm wanted a piece of the valuation upside. (In my profile of Google Ventures, the firm said that it makes its investing decisions totally independent of Google. But its head Bill Maris did says that Google tends to help his portfolio companies, which gives Google Ventures an edge.)

Even then people speculated that Google could someday make a bid for Uber. The hugely successful app was built, in part, on top of the Google Maps platform, and Uber was trying to become a logistics platform in its own right.

But lots of investors figured out what Google knew two years ago, which was that Uber was growing super fast, and they all wanted in. The company’s valuation quickly jumped from $3.5 billion to $41 billion in just over a year. There was no way that Google -- with about $64.4 billion in cash -- could afford a deal. If it wanted to have an Uber-like transportation company, it would have to create a rival from scratch.

I read this and chuckle because … business! You could succeed by getting a degree from Harvard Business School or by reading King Lear. Up to you.

Obviously a Google-version of Uber is far off. (The Wall Street Journal is throwing cold water on the entire idea.) But, I dunno, is it the worst idea? Who would you trust with your data, Google or Uber? Google owns our e-mail, so it knows much darker secrets about our lives than, say, where we go at 5 a.m.

In the meantime, Uber is trying to pull a Google by launching its own self-driving car initiative with Carnegie Mellon.

** Related: Re/code reports that Uber wants to have robot cars and get rid of the drivers that it seems to disdain, but it also wants its driver to not really worry all that much about being disdained and (someday) replaceable. 

** ICYMI: The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore takes on what it means to archive the Internet. As media critic David Carr tweeted yesterday:

Ventureland

Tinder‘s premium product Tinder Plus is here, reports TechCrunch. Now you can pay more to “undo” bad swipes and to search outside of your immediate location.

All of the digital photo-storing sites are dying or being bought as the niche industry consolidates, according to the Verge.

The top 10 most hotly anticipated IPOs of 2015 include Uber, SpaceX, Palantir and Dropbox, according to the Mercury News tech blog Silicon Beat. The blog also includes revenue figures for the private companies provided by PrivCo.

People and Personnel Moves

Harry Heymann, Foursquare's original chief technical officer and the company's first hire, is stepping down this week, according to the Verge. Heymann will remain an advisor to Foursquare.

Ryan Charles, an engineer who specializes in cryptocurrencies, has left Reddit, GigaOm reports. His departure could likely mean that the company’s plan to give $5 million in equity back to its user base is on hold.

Kevin Weil, Twitter’s vice president of product, talks to AdvertisingAge about the company’s push into video.

Companies

Amazon…

The company has talked to RadioShack about buying some brick and mortar stores from the troubled electronics retailer, Bloomberg reports.

* Related: Bloomberg's in-depth look at RadioShack's demise.

Apple…

** The company will convert a GT Advanced Technologies factory into a data center, Bloomberg reports. GT Advanced, a former Apple supplier, filed for bankruptcy last October after it wasn’t able to produce enough high quality screens.

** Another massive corporate bond sale is in the offing, reports Bloomberg.

** Why do we own iPads again? Wired wants to know.

** Remember when Apple made us cry with this holiday ad? Now it's making people in China cry with a similar spot that made me get all verklempt.

eBay…

The job cuts have begun at eBay and PayPal, according to Re/code.

Google…

** Android's Lollipop operating system has been around for three months and it only accounts for 1.6 percent of all devices that run Android, 9to5Google reports.

** The company, along with Amazon, Microsoft and Taboola, has been paying the ad-blocking software company Adblock Plus to not block ads on their sites, reports the Financial Times.

Lenovo…

The company’s quarterly earnings results beat expectations thanks to robust smartphone sales, CNET reports.

Twitter…

The company tried to make the barrage of tweets that users face less confusing and hard to navigate with a new "Instant Timeline" feature, the New York Times reports.

Verizon…

The company is working to sell up to $15 billion in assets as the wireless carrier works to pay down some of the huge debt load that it took on to complete the Vodafone buyout, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Cybersecurity Blotter

Hackers are using phishing schemes and malware to defeat Syrian rebels as part of the country's brutal civil war, reports the New York Times.

The Obama administration will require intelligence analysts to delete the incidental private information they collect on Americans and foreigners, the New York Times reports.

Media Files

Niche, high-end publications of the world rejoice! Analyst and blogger Ben Thompson's Stratechery now has more than a thousand subscribers paying $100 for the newsletter, GigaOm reports. Not bad for a one-man show.

News and Notes

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler may propose to regulate the Internet like a public utility, in keeping with President Obama’s proposal to do so, and re-ignite the debate over net neutrality, the New York Times reports.

3-D printing company Stratasys lowered its 2014 guidance again, announced an expected $100 million to $110 million write down and saw its shares fall 27 percent, the Wall Street Journal reports.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.