Benner on Tech: Anti-Vaccine Thinking in Silicon Valley

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…

The tech industry prides itself on data analysis and working from fact rather than belief. But all of that cold, hard logic flies out the window, it seems, when it comes to vaccinations, a scientifically proven way to prevent diseases like, say, measles.

Children at daycare centers that are affiliated with Silicon Valley tech companies are vaccinated at below-average rates, according to a Wired investigation. At a Google daycare, only 49 percent of the kids are vaccinated. As the author Joanna Pearlstine wrote, this “suggests an incursion of anti-science, anti-vaccine thinking in one of the smartest regions on Earth.”

This more faith-based approach to health care can be linked to a totally discredited article that linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism. It’s the sort of thing that seems very out there, but it’s also the sort of thing that hits close to home here in the tech industry, where it’s common to refer to people as “being on the spectrum.”

To rely on debunked science out of fear … well that’s not supposed to be very tech-like. But the vaccination issue is of a piece with the industry’s larger struggle to figure out how much of a bubble it can or even wants to be in. How much of the world can it bend to its will and how much can it accept. The “change the world” ethos isn't always about making the world a better place, and it’s not always positive. Sometimes it’s about bending the world to suit your own reality-distortion field, even if that field has no place in reality.

** In other news: What does the aftermath of a cyber breach look like?

It looks pretty good if you're Amy Pascal. Sony Picture is paying her $30 to $40 million over four years, plus royalties and expenses, and giving her a producer role on some of the studio's most important films -- all of this to step down from her job as co-chair of the studio without a fuss. Sure, lots of people were to blame for the disastrous hack (for example, board members and security officers who didn't care about security), and lots of people wrote stupid things in e-mail. But someone had to be the fall guy. I believe this is often referred to as hush money. And Pascal, who is no slouch, got as much of it as she could.

Since having one’s e-mail exposed to the public is among the worst first-world-problem nightmare scenarios imaginable, Pascal found a sympathetic audience when she was interviewed by Tina Brown last night.

Her Q&A was part of the Women in the World conference in San Francisco, which also featured women who are actually saving the world, such as Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who works with former child sex slaves in Uganda; Sara Khan, the director and co-founder of Inspire, who is battling Islamic State, and Doniece Sandoval, who is trying to make life more dignified for homeless people in San Francisco. 

“All the women here are doing incredible things in this world. All I did was get fired,” Pascal reminded the crowd.

Brown was a kind but firm interlocutor, pressing Pascal to talk about the cyberattack that ended her reign at the top of Sony Pictures. Who was the first person you called? How about when you were called a racist? Were you surprised when no one came out to defend you? “We have to get through this and then we can move on,” Brown said. Hollywood being Hollywood, Pascal apologized to Angelina Jolie first, not Barack Obama. She said it was horrible to be called a racist but unsurprising that no one rushed to her defense. “We all live in this weird thing together in Hollywood,” Pascal said. If we actually were nice, it wouldn’t work.”

The most interesting moment was when Pascal talked about how much less women make than men in Hollywood.

“I run a business,” she said. “If people want to work for less money I’ll pay them less money. The truth is, what women have to do is not work for less money.”

Ventureland

Airbnb must now deal with a website called InsideAirbnb.com that maps out nearly every listing in New York City (27,393 listings) and that could be used by law enforcement to crack down on illegal rentals, USA Today reports.

Jet.com, the would-be Amazon killer, raised $140 million in a round led by Bain Capital Ventures, Bloomberg reports.

Niche, a company that connects social media stars with marketers, was acquired by Twitter.

Quixey, the app search engine, is in the midst of raising $60 million from Alibaba Group, Twitter, SoftBank, Goldman Sachs and GGV Capital, Re/code reports.

Zetta Venture Partners, the VC firm founded by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners alum Mark Gorenberg, has secured $60 million in capital commitments for its debut fund, reports Fortune.

The Periodic Table of Venture Capital Blogs, courtesy of CB Insights.

People and Personnel Moves

Erik Bardman was appointed chief financial officer of Atlassian, a collaboration software maker that is valued at $3.3 billion and expected to have an IPO this year, Bloomberg reports.

Vanessa Wittman will replace Sujay Jaswa as CFO of Dropbox, Re/code reports. Wittman was previously the CFO of Motorola Mobility.

Brianna Wu a video-game developer who was targeted by Gamergate, writes in Bustle why she’s still fighting the trolls and how deadly serious their threats have become.

Companies

Apple…

The company is making factories to pay recruitment fees that factory laborers were once forced to pay, putting to an end to a practice that is referred to as bonded servitude, Bloomberg reports. Apple sold almost as many iPhones each day in the second half of 2014 as makers of Android smartwatches shipped over that time period, according to the Wall Street Journal.

eBay…

When the company splits, it will give $5 billion in cash to PayPal, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Facebook…

Now you can sell your stuff on the company’s platform with Facebook's For Sale Groups, reports Engadget. Not content to just take on eBay and Craigslist, Facebook also unveiled a networking-equipment system that competes with Cisco and Juniper Networks, Bloomberg reports.

Samsung…

The company will release a new Galaxy smartphone whose display covers three sides in an attempt to distinguish itself from other devices and compete with Apple, reports Bloomberg. (Will it work? When was the last time you heard someone say, “I really with this phone screen covered three sides of the device.”) GigaOm reports that the company’s smart TVs are inserting ads into third party content. Bloomberg says the company is also investing $3.6 billion into a new OLED production line for consumer electronics screens.

Tesla…

The company’s fourth-quarter earnings report missed analyst forecasts, the Wall Street Journal reports. The company posted a loss of $108 million and said that deliveries fell short.

Cybersecurity Watch

Google has riled the security world by telling tech companies that their software vulnerabilities will be made public if they’re not patched within 90 days, Bloomberg reports.

Media Files

Announcements by Brian Williams and Jon Stewart signal a media turning point, argues the New York Times's David Carr.

Oddly, Mr. Stewart will leave his desk as arguably the most trusted man in news. And Mr. Williams will find his way back to his desk only if he figures out a way to regain the trust he has squandered.

News and Notes

Bill Gates describes how online classrooms can help the developing world in an editorial for the Verge.

If you don’t want to wear a big plastic fitness tracker, your phone functions as a perfectly fine pedometer, Engadget reports.

Carriers now have to unlock your phone once you’ve paid off your contract, reports Ars Technica.

The U.K. is allowing driverless cars to be tested on public roads, reports GigaOm.

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