Bears and Dragons Bite Tech Where It Hurts


Thanks to Trump, Russia and China Ban Virtual Private Networks, and the Internet Loses in the Process. Plus: Uber! & Forum!

It’s hard to pay attention to much more than our own domestic tragicomedy lately, but as we pointed out earlier in the month (final item), there’s trouble afoot abroad for the tech industry, particularly in China. And over the weekend, Russia added its voice to the chorus of countries rejecting American tech giants.

Both Russia and China have been the subject of abuse from none other than our commander in chief, who this past weekend both tweet-primanded China over North Korea, and also announced his willingness to sign a new bill sanctioning Russia. Rarely does retaliation from two of our most cherished antagonists take such a distinctly similar response: they both banned virtual private networks, technology that allows millions of citizens access to otherwise banned or sensitive information. Was the target American business and expats living abroad? Certainly that’s got to be part of it.

Regardless of how it came about, this isn’t good news, in particular for Apple: China is its largest and most important growth market. Which of course meant the company rolled over and played dead for the Chinese censors, registering no protest as the government demanded the company remove VPN apps from its store. “This is the first time China has won the battle to pressure a major foreign tech platform to get rid of software that helped people tunnel out of China’s restrictive version of the Internet,” wrote TechCrunch. Of Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, the piece continued: “China is Apple’s second market after the US and has far more potential for growth. To stay in the country [Cook] must walk a delicate balancing act with the famously restrictive authorities, while growing sales.” So far, that act is looking out of balance. We have our president to thank for that.

Uber CEO Search — Not Exactly Smooth Sailing

Well this is exactly the kind of drama you don’t want if you’re in charge of Uber…but then again, who exactly *is* in charge of Uber these days? Apparently, no one in particular, because board and management intrigue seems to be overshadowing the company’s highly public search for the occupant of the iron drivers’ seat. Recode, the NYT and the WSJ have pieces on the drama, which only intensified last week as leading candidate Meg Whitman summarily dropped out — via Twitter, no less, and without first informing Uber’s board. Apparently ousted founder and CEO Travis Kalanick continues to wield significant power in the process, including a seat on the search committee and extensive lobbying behind the scenes. Uber’s board has been split on how best to handle the search, according to the Times, but has at least agreed to a “truce” so as to avoid yet another round of negative press.

By the end of the week another powerful CEO was being dangled as a candidate — outgoing GE CEO Jeff Immelt. Now that’s a BigCo answer to a very NewCo problem, if ever there was one. However, Kara Swisher at Recode reports that Uber’s board is split on Immelt, and furthermore, that Kalanick is intent on “Steve Jobs-ing it” — coming back in a blaze of glory, as Apple’s founder ultimately did. Um….good luck with that, good sir. Jobs was gone from Apple for a good ten years — not ten weeks.

Rational Discourse — What Are the Biggest Issues in Business?

As I prepare for next year’s Shift Forum (yes, I know it’s summer, but it takes that long), l’m starting to keep a list of core issues we’ll want to debate, as well as speakers who might best represent various sides of those issues. So far my list is pretty predictable: The role of AI in society, single payer health care, universal basic income, should tech oligarchs be regulated, etc.

This is where you all come in — what are the hot button topics you want to hear about, and who are the speakers you want to hear from? Email me: jbat at I want to hear as many ideas as you’ve got. And once again, I pledge that the Shift Forum will be at least 50 percent female — last year’s was extraordinary, and I am sure that fact had a lot to do with it.

Read Last Week’s Daily:

Memo to tech titans: please remember what it was like to be small

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