Trump’s Tech Summit Poses Stark Choices


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The titans of tech pay a call to Trump Tower tomorrow. Visitors will include Tim Cook, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg (but not Mark Zuckerberg), Elon Musk, and Satya Nadella, along with leaders of Oracle, Intel, Cisco, and IBM. (Bill Gates had his own private call with the president elect on Tuesday.) Jobs are the top agenda item, The New York Times reports. But presumably other issues — little things like encryption and privacy, immigration, climate change, free trade, free speech, and hate speech — might come up, too.

Or will they? Are tech’s leaders ready to stand up to the president-elect? Or are they going to provide him with one more photo-op? During the campaign, Trump called for a boycott of Apple, promised to tax trade with China, and said the Internet needs to be “in certain areas closed up in some way.” As president, Trump will carry lots of carrots and wield lots of sticks. But tech companies are rich and powerful, too.

In Recode, Kara Swisher chastises the CEOs, saying they “should be ashamed of themselves for lining up like sheeple after all the numskull attacks Trump has made on what is pretty much the United States’ most important, innovative and future-forward business sector.” In NewCo Shift, Scott Rosenberg (that’s me, the author of this newsletter) argues that tech’s leaders should take a cue from the progressive mayors who have put down markers in opposition to some of Trump’s most extreme anti-immigrant proposals.

Whatever happens at the Trump tech summit, it’s sure to be only the opening act of a drawn-out drama — one in which an industry that thought it could operate outside of politics finds that neutral ground has vanished.

Uber’s “God View” Had an Afterlife

“God view” was the internal Uber name for the company’s tool for tracking users in real time without their knowledge or permission. When the world learned about “God view” two years ago, Uber assured customers that it had strong privacy policies in place and only accessed the data for (unspecified) “legitimate business purposes.”

But large numbers of Uber executives and employees continued to have access to the data even after that incident, according to former employees and a whistleblower lawsuit that the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal is covering. Uber says those claims are wrong and that it has continued to strengthen access protections.

Uber’s been in the hot seat with users recently for its expanded location tracking. One simple thing it could do to win users’ trust would be to reinstate the no-longer-available option to limit its location tracking to “while using the app” only (Quartz). While we wait for that, have a chuckle over what Uber did change after the 2014 coverage of “God view”: it renamed the software feature to “Heaven View.”

How Austin Became a Hotbed of Transportation Experiments

When Uber and Lyft failed to persuade Austin voters to overturn city regulations they opposed, they left town in a huff last spring. So how’s the riding going these days in Texas’s state capital and center of non-conformity?

In Curbed, Patrick Sisson lays out what happened when a bevy of small startups rushed in to fill Austin’s ride-hailing vacuum: “An abandoned market suddenly became a petri dish of proposed services and new ideas, with more competition than any other city in the country.”

Nearly a dozen companies with names like GetMe, Fare, Fasten, and Ride Austin now have 9000 drivers ferrying people around Austin. The competition has opened the door to experiments with different fare structures, business models, and driver pay scales (Ride Austin is a nonprofit). The downside: getting a ride isn’t always as simple and reliable as it was when Uber and Lyft did the job. And state legislation may preempt the Austin law that has kept them out.

Permanent Flooding is New York’s Next Ordeal

Miami isn’t the only U.S. city that faces imminent danger from rising sea levels driven by climate change. Sixty square miles of the greater New York City region will get inundated in the event of a one-foot ocean level rise (Scientific American), which is already beginning to happen and could reach that level, or much more, by 2050.

Permanent flooding even without a storm: That’s the least severe scenario envisioned by a new report from the region’s planning association, which urges planning and preparation starting now. Climate deniers may prefer to wait until the water is lapping their porch.

Why Startup Pioneers Have Arrows in Their Backs

First mover advantage” — the idea that the company that moves into a new market first can gain an irresistible lead — is a myth, writes Steve Blank (NewCo Shift). “Fast Followers” typically end up with more of the market: They get the chance to learn from First Mover mistakes.

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