Welcome to this week’s roundup! We’ve got some follow-up on big stories like the WannaCry virus and Whole Foods buyout as well as a new Android flagship, meetings between the White House and technology executives, lots of tidbits, and more. Here’s what you need to know in tech this week.
- Potentially in response to Facebook’s blog post last week outlining its approach to combatting terrorism on its platform, Google this week released a similar post outlining its four-fold approach: artificial intelligence, an increase in human flaggers, harsher policies for borderline content, and a greater focus on anti-radicalization. Social networks are increasingly coming under fire for the role their platforms play in the dissemination of terrorist content online, and it is encouraging to see this commitment to transparency and increased effort to fight the spread of terrorism from companies like Facebook and Google.
- The WannaCry ransomware attack that made headlines last month when it crippled hospitals in the United Kingdom hasn’t been fully eradicated. This week, a Honda plant was infected and forced to shut down for a day.
- The fight for net neutrality gained a very prominent ally this week in U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and most likely lost the support of the blogging platform Tumblr due to its acquisition by Verizon as a part of the Yahoo deal.
- Apple dealt a huge blow to its graphical processor supplier Imagination Technologies when the company announced intentions to develop its own GPUs, and apparently things have gotten so bad that Imagination has put itself up for sale. No word yet on who might acquire it, but it would be a good move for Apple’s public relations and GPU development to buy the company after practically putting it out of business.
- Last week’s announcement that Amazon is buying Whole Foods may spell trouble for Instacart, a food delivery startup that holds a contract as the exclusive delivery service of Whole Foods. This puts the company in direct competition with Amazon’s own food delivery ambitions, which will presumably be bolstered by its new relationship with Whole Foods.
Uber: A Company with No Leadership
- Well, it finally happened. After months of controversy and under immense pressure from investors, Travis Kalanick has resigned from the position of Uber’s CEO. While Kalanick is widely considered to be responsible for the company’s rapid growth and its shakeup of the transportation industry, he also fostered a hostile internal culture that has landed Uber in a really bad position, facing multiple lawsuits and accusations of sexual misconduct at every level.
- Kalanick will continue to serve on the company’s board and still seems to hold a majority of voting shares, so it is unclear exactly how much his influence will change as Uber seeks to redefine itself.
- While the tech world speculates as to who will step in as the new CEO, a sizable group of employees have started a petition to actually have Kalanick reinstated. This confusion and ambiguity reveals the complexity of changing company culture and the reality of founder worship that is all too common in the world of technology companies.
- Meanwhile, Uber is trying to repair its relationships with both riders and drivers, sending an email to NYC riders apologizing for losing its way and committing to give drivers tools and features that they’ve long been requesting, starting with the ability to earn tips from riders.
- And as part of its pending lawsuit against Uber, Google-owned Waymo filed a claim that then-CEO Travis Kalanick was aware that he was buying stolen technology when he purchased the self-driving company Otto from former Google employee Anthony Levadowski. Uber has tried to distance itself from Levandowski in order to seem less culpable, but if this new claim is true, it could be disastrous for any chance Uber might have in the case.
White House Technology Week
- This week was dubbed “Technology Week” by President Trump, who invited prominent tech executives to the White House on Monday to serve on a technology council. Attendees included Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
- At the meeting, President Trump claimed to want a “sweeping transformation” of the government’s use of technology, which seems necessary since the U.S. Department of Defense is still storing data on floppy drives.
- Major topics of discussion included storage of government data and the effect of immigration policy changes on the technology sector.
- At a press conference on Wednesday, President Trump announced his commitment to improving internet access in rural areas of the country, though no specific action plan was disclosed.
- And Thursday, the White House hosted another technology event featuring discussions with executives from wireless networks and drone companies. The main takeaway of this event: Executives think that government regulation stifles development, and President Trump seems willing to cut back on regulation in both areas.
OnePlus 5, Now with More Cameras!
- Fans of the OnePlus series of Android smartphones will be happy to know that the company this week announced its newest flagship, the OnePlus 5.
- The basic model sells for $479 and comes with 64 GB of storage, 6 GB of RAM, and the company’s lightly-modded version of Android, dubbed OxygenOS. A more robust model with double the storage and 8 GB of RAM is available for $40 more. Both models come with what the company is hoping will be 5’s biggest selling point: a dual-lens camera.
- Early reviews are mixed, with some praising the phone’s design, price, and camera system and others criticizing the fact that the 5 looks like an iPhone 7 and doesn’t seem to have the proper software to keep up with the dual-lens camera.
- In the past, OnePlus phones have generally been considered mid-range and come with a lower price point to match. This year, the company seems to be aiming to compete with flagships like the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8, resulting in a higher price point and level of scrutiny from commentators. You can try the OnePlus 5 for yourself when it comes out June 27.
Snapchat, Maps, and a Ferris Wheel?
- Snapchat had a big week this week. They released a new feature called Snap Maps that allows users to see their friends (in Bitmoji form, of course) on a map in real-time.
- The company hopes the feature will be used to encourage meetups between friends and the creation and sharing of location-based stories, a feature introduced into the app previously.
- Journalists were quick to point out the similarities between this new feature and a location-based social network called Zenly. Comparing the two, Snap Maps looks like an exact replica of Zenly’s product. This led some to accuse the company of copying, but it was later revealed that Snapchat had actually acquired Zenly behind-the-scenes for $250 to $350 million and then implemented the technology into their main app.
- Others worry about the negative effects this location feature will have for the privacy of Snapchat’s users, especially teenagers. The company has assured users that it is an opt-in feature and that location data will only be shared with people they have added as friends.
- It was also revealed this week that Time Warner has committed to investing $100 million in original content for Snapchat’s Discover platform. This is a big win and an indication that original content could be a viable source of revenue for the company in the midst of questions about its long-term financial viability.
- And in a fun but completely over-the-top marketing stunt, Snapchat erected a giant, yellow ferris wheel at this week’s advertising and media conference in Cannes, France.
- In a case of irony on an epic scale, The Outline this week received a leaked tape of a meeting inside Apple concerning leaks of the company’s hardware and software developments. The company has made good on its promise to double down on security in recent years, going so far as to hire former NSA and TSA officials to help ensure their announcements don’t get out early. Now that they’ve limited part leaks in their overseas factories, Apple has a new challenge: keeping their employees in California from accidentally blabbing to their friends and families.
- Google released its powerful new job-hunting platform and announced that they will no longer scan users’ Gmail inboxes to collect advertising data. (Side note: Before this week, Google was scanning your Gmail inbox for advertising data.)
- Facebook has a new mission statement: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” This seems to reveal a shift in the company’s focus from simply connecting as many people as possible to actually enriching the connections that are fostered through the platform.
- At VidCon, the annual conference for online video creators, YouTube announced several new products and updates to existing ones: a 180-degree VR video standard, an expansion of their YouTube TV service to new cities, new original series for their YouTube Red subscription service, and a new video player that adapts to the size of the video being displayed. I guess the vertical video people have finally won.
- Samsung is actually going through with production of the Galaxy Note 8, and the specs leaked this week. The phone is rumored to come in August with a similar form factor to the S8 Plus, a dual camera, 6 GB of RAM, and of course the line’s signature S-Pen stylus. Also of note is the price point at nearly $900, the highest entry price we’ve yet seen for a flagship phone. Here’s to hoping Apple doesn’t follow suit when it comes to pricing its next iPhone in September.
- Netflix released its first two interactive shows, basically choose-your-own adventures for kids, but on TV instead of in books.
- Mobile phone carrier Virgin Mobile is pivoting to become the world’s first iPhone-only carrier and offering service for $1 a month for twelve months with the purchase of an iPhone.
- Twitter-owned livestreaming platform Periscope this week announced a new form of digital currency called “Super Hearts” that users can buy and then use to tip the creators who they enjoy watching. This method for users to contribute financially to content creators is widespread in China, and it was inevitable that it would eventually spread to the U.S. It will take some time before this sort of service offers creators a significant revenue stream, but it’s certainly a start.
And that’s this week’s biggest technology news. Predictions for next week: Something new will go wrong at Uber, Instagram will copy Snapchat Maps, and the Galaxy Note 8 will be cancelled before it’s ever announced because they can’t get the test units to stop exploding. OK, maybe all of those things won’t happen, but whatever does happen, rest assured that Prosumable will be here to tell you all about it. As usual, thank you for reading, I’d love to hear your comments, and I hope you’ll come back next week for more tech news!