The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
As tech leaders huddle with president-elect Donald Trump today, many of their employees — the developers and designers who are creating the products at their companies and in their ecosystems — are signing a pledge to work against some of Trump’s key policies. As of Wednesday morning, 624 people had signed the “Never Again” statement, which commits them not to help build a Muslim registry or other database based on race, religion, or national origin, not to facilitate mass deportations, and not to misuse data in ways that could facilitate a repressive government (Buzzfeed). That’s a 10X increase in signatories from the original statement, which launched just yesterday with 60 or so engineers.
As with the rebellion of Facebook employees against Mark Zuckerberg’s initial dismissal of complaints about “fake news” during the election, “Never Again” pits the yearning of tech companies’ rank and file workers to take ethical stands against the pragmatism and caution of their bosses. Anyone alarmed by Trump’s plans faces an age-old dilemma: Do you play an inside game and hope you can steer a potentially erratic and destructive administration off the rocks? Or take a public stand, outside the conference rooms, for principles and issues that are too important to compromise?
So far, most of the leaders of tech are choosing the behind-closed-doors approach, and not just at today’s Trump Tower meet. Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick both just announced they’re joining one of Trump’s economic advisory boards (The Washington Post). As Dave Pell writes (NewCo Shift), these CEOs may well feel they have no alternative to sitting down with Trump: If they don’t, he could lob a nasty tweet at their companies and take their stock prices down a peg.
Maybe these executives’ choice of the inside track will give them real influence. Maybe it will just let Trump brag that they’re on his team. Either way, it’s “Never Again” and similar bottom-up efforts that are really the thing to watch here. That’s because they highlight a crucial difference between Silicon Valley and Trumpland: Tech, like the NewCo economy it enables, depends on a workforce that’s creative, independent, collaborative, and outspoken. Trump’s business world is a closed, private, command-and-control kind of place. It’s “get inspired” vs. “you’re fired.”
These two mindsets are headed for a collision. CEOs are about to get caught in a bind: On one side, there’s an administration that dangles rewards and makes threats to get its way. On the other, there are employees and customers who want to see companies live up to their ideals. There’s only so long that a leader can put off that kind of choice.
Venture Capital Needs to Tackle the Hard Problems
Venture investors need to put their cash to work solving the big, hard problems found in healthcare, employment, and climate change, writes Chamath Palihapitiya (The Information). Instead, they keep “doubling down on the easy things” and failing to tackle challenges that require a longer-term commitment.
“Silicon Valley is now typecast as a monoculture of coastal dilettantes who float from one meaningless endeavor to another, tone deaf to real problems,” Palihapitiya writes.
The good news is that the venture industry is (slowly) getting more diverse and adding new blood that’s more willing to “say yes to hard things.” Also: The current field of VC-backed startups includes quite a few that are tackling the very problems Palihapitiya cites — think of outfits like Honor, AltSchool, Grail, or WorkMarket.
In the current market, these companies can usually raise a first round. It’s in the later stages that our system fails startups that need a longer runway to make headway. Ironically, startup investing has become as addicted to short-term thinking as the quarterly-results-obsessed public company universe.
How Russia Hacked the DNC Should Have Us All Scared
Don’t let today end without reading this long New York Times narrative of how Russia broke into the Democratic National Committee and wrecked the presidential election. It’s not just a gripping chronicle of cringeworthy misjudgments and outrageous deception; it’s a cautionary tale for anyone running or working in an organization that depends on email, which is still pretty much all of us.
Have you turned on two-factor authentication? Do you know how to protect yourself from phishing attacks? The DNC didn’t, and it opened the door to Russian hackers. They passed the DNC files over to Wikileaks, which mainlined them into the U.S. media in a painful, chaos-inducing slow drip.
Even if you were glad to see Hillary Clinton lose, you should be worried. Think of what could happen if someone with mischief in mind got the keys to Trump’s Twitter account. The great fear of information warfare experts was that a “Cyber Pearl Harbor” attack would cripple infrastructure like the electrical grid. Instead, the attack took a different vector — undermining democracy by tilting the outcome of a U.S. election.
The same kind of sabotage can be used by all kinds of bad actors with aims we can’t anticipate. It can be pointed at companies (remember Sony?) as easily as at candidates. It’s bad for the internet, the economy, and the world. We’re going to have to get a lot smarter about security, media, and international relations if we hope to prevent it from happening again.
Note: This article originally referred to the “Never Again” statement as a “petition,” which was incorrect — it is a pledge. We’ve updated the text.