Farhad’s and Mike’s Week in Tech: Apple’s Big Media Bet and More Uber Drama

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Mike: I’m already getting a lot of, um, fan mail about the change. Which reminds me; I hope “lame jester” and “inane banter” are cool, new slang phrases the kids use to compliment people.

Farhad: Anyway, let’s get to tech news. Three big stories this week: Apple is becoming a media company. Uber is becoming a basket case. And just about every tech company took up the fight against neo-Nazis.

Mike: That’s a lot to unpack. Can we start with the easy one?

Farhad: Let’s start with Apple. The tech giant has been inching into the content business recently. It owns “Carpool Karaoke” (you have to watch the Adele episode), and of course there’s “Planet of the Apps,” about which the less said the better.

Mike: I think, as a general rule, I am against TV shows that incorporate puns into the title.

Farhad: But as The Wall Street Journal reported this week, Apple has much bigger plans. It is considering investing as much as $1 billion into new content over the next year, letting it make or acquire as many as 10 TV shows.

As The Journal noted, Apple is starting way behind Netflix and Amazon, which have huge stables of original movies and TV shows they’ve been producing for some time. Sure, Amazon has “Transparent” and “Moonlight,” but will it have “Planet of the Apps 2: Social Media Marketing”?

Mike: How about “Planet of the Apps 2: The Appening”? Or maybe “2 App 2 Furious”?

Seriously, though, I hope Apple hires some good content executives from places like Netflix and Amazon. Bring in Ted Sarandos, chief content officer from Netflix, who seems to have a good eye for spotting at least some hit shows. Or someone from high up at HBO. Or heck, just buy Netflix outright! Isn’t Apple sitting on a zillion dollars in cash somewhere?

Anyway, I think Apple needs a real breakout hit, just like Facebook and its big video push. I’m not sure they have the eye for talent that Netflix does, though.

Farhad: O.K., let’s move on to Uber. The last few weeks in the saga of the troubled ride-hailing company have been marked by lawsuits and boardroom intrigue, but I have to admit — I’m totally lost. Can you bring us up to speed on the most interesting new stuff?

Mike: Where to begin? At the beginning of the week, we broke the news that Uber’s board was mulling a few competing outside investments to cash out existing investors, a process that has yet to be resolved.

Then, one of Uber’s largest shareholders sent an open letter to all of Uber’s employees. The shareholder is Benchmark, which last week sued Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former C.E.O., to get him off the board. The letter included an intimation that there was more damning information that could leak if Kalanick didn’t back down from a fight.

But Kalanick isn’t slinking away. He filed a response to Benchmark’s lawsuit Thursday evening. The drama is showing no signs of slowing down.

In sum, it’s like watching a slow-motion car wreck, where no one seems to have escaped unscathed.

Farhad: O.K., finally, let’s talk about neo-Nazis. After the racist protests and car-ramming in Charlottesville, Va., last week, a number of internet companies took action against white supremacist organizations. The domain-name company GoDaddy kicked off The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist site, which then tried to get a domain from Google — which also promptly kicked the site to the curb. Then Cloudflare, a company that protects against network attacks, also canceled The Daily Stormer’s account.

There were lots of others: Facebook deleted an event page for the Charlottesville rally and even prevented people from sharing a Daily Stormer article. Crowdfunding sites blocked neo-Nazi fund-raising efforts, an Uber driver kicked some white supremacists out of his car, Airbnb blocked people it suspected of renting rooms to hold white supremacist parties, and the dating site OKCupid deleted one racist’s dating profile.

Some went even beyond that. Apple’s C.E.O., Tim Cook, wrote a heartfelt letter to employees denouncing racism and President Trump’s response to the racist uprising, and he pledged a $1 million donation to two anti-hate groups.

There was some hand-wringing over all this, however. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil rights organization, argued that the tech companies’ push to ban white supremacists set a dangerous precedent for free speech online. “Any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with,” it said.

I understand this worry; the slippery-slope problem here is real and worth watching. But I don’t share the alarm, because I suspect this slope isn’t all that slippery.

To me, it seems like white supremacists constitute a pretty bright line: If your site’s entire purpose is to spew racial hatred, no respectable company is going to do business with you. The tech giants have had a similar policy toward Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS for years now, and those efforts have not really chilled free expression online. The same thing could work well for Nazis.

What do you think?

Mike: I’m fine with Nazis getting banned from these networks. I understand the free speech argument, but it’s hard to support when the rhetoric also includes the elimination of races other than whites. Go look at the Vice News video on Charlottesville for some perspective.

Let me go meta for a second: How nuts is it that now we’re seeing citizens turn to corporate leaders to voice their concerns against the administration? It used to be folks said, “Write a letter to Congress to spur change.” Now it seems to be, “Write a comment on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page to urge him to ban Nazis.”

Isn’t that odd? Or is that the end result of capitalism in its current form? That we’ve identified the corporations we interact with every day as the power centers that can help people fight back against injustice?

Maybe that’s not such a new phenomenon. But it’s just peculiar to me to turn to, say, Tim Cook, instead of dialing up your local representative.

Farhad: Maybe it’s time to get away.

Mike: I have a plan for that. This weekend, I’ll sit back, relax and open some more newsletter fan mail.

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