Disruption Rarely Announces Its Arrival Ask Curtis Stevens – the gentleman who was knocked on his posterior by Gennady Golovkin in our header image – if he saw the punches coming. Ask former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer if back in the early 2000’s he knew SaaS/cloud-based service delivery models would dominate the software landscape. Ask…
Technology news items that caught our attention this week:
Waymo to launch robo-taxis in Europe: Link
Phoenix AZ as petri dish for autonomous driving: Link
Kroger is launching a fully driverless delivery service: Link
In the “Service, Maintenance, Repair” category: the US Army is using machine learning to predict when combat vehicles need repair: Link
Amazon to acquire online pharmacy PillPack: Link
Amazon plans start-up delivery service for its own packages: Link
Disney gains DOJ approval to acquire Fox assets: Link
Facebook launches Instagram Lite: Link
States agree not to fine Equifax over cyberbreach: Link
Facebook has removed access to legitimate applications such as Apply Magic Sauce due to the backlash from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Unfortunately, when a negative event occurs the corporate response is typically one that overshoots and overcorrects, a ham-fisted approach (Hulk smash!) rather than a logical, methodical approach. Rather than take the time to educate the public, it’s less expensive and easier for companies to fold under pressure. Facebook will undoubtedly survive the public backlash. However, the backlash is not without casualties. Smaller companies that have built businesses on top of platforms like Facebook suffer.
Case in point, Apply Magic Sauce, which I considered embedding into our former insurtech product, “Identity Hub” (read about Apply Magic Sauce in today’s WSJ). I was fascinated by Apply Magic Sauce’s application which predicted certain personality attributes based upon one’s Facebook “likes”. Users were required to opt-in to Apply Magic Sauce. There was nothing nefarious about it. We decided to pass on integrating the application as the use case we envisioned (predictive fraud analytics) wasn’t one that was top-of-mind with P&C insurance companies.
Here’s to hoping that Facebook exercises precision in determining which third party applications to shut off.
The Facebook uproar – wow! I’m shocked that people are shocked. We put our lives online for the world to see – the temptation for nefarious actors to act is there. We can’t be surprised at the result.
What happened? Facebook and UK-based Cambridge Analytica (“CA”) are at the eye of the storm. What occurred was NOT a data breach. It was NOT a cyber-attack. It was a case of poor supervision on the part of Facebook with regard to how a 3rd party developer accessed and used Facebook member data.
Who is Cambridge Analytica? Other than dead in the water, CA is a data mining/data analytics firm. There are thousands of companies like CA that aggregate and analyze data for various purposes.
What did CA do wrong? CA’s sin was that the firm misrepresented itself and how it would access and use Facebook member data. CA positioned itself as a personality survey application. Approximately 300,000 Facebook members downloaded the app. CA designed the app to capture your data and that of your Facebook friends. So for every person that downloaded the application, CA captured data not only on the 300,000 people that downloaded the app, but also on an additional 166 people for every one person – or 50 million people in total. While you may have provided consent, your Facebook friends did not. That’s strike one against CA.
Second, CA used this data to inform the Trump campaign’s political targeting effort. The Facebook members who gave their consent did so never knowing that their data would be used for a political campaign, much less their friends whom never consented to anything.
By the way, the Obama campaign did something similar. It too created an app for political purposes. It too captured Facebook data not only for those members who provided consent, but also for Facebook members who were friends of those who consented but never provided content themselves. So CA and the Obama campaign had strike one in common.
What should Facebook do? I believe Facebook should create a sandbox environment where 3rd party applications are tested to see how they would behave on FB’s platform – a proving ground of sorts – where Facebook could compare 3rd party application behavior to Facebook’s usage terms. However, this won’t happen as Facebook is not commercially motivated to provide this type of expensive preventative measure. It would be a waste of time and taxpayer dollars for the Federal Government to mandate this type of measure as it would be ill-equipped to audit such a process.
What should you do? There is nothing you can do to remove your digital footprint from the world. At the extreme, delete your social media accounts after you have purged your data from the respective platforms. A more practical approach would be to set your privacy provisions to “closed” or “private” across all applications and Websites that you use. Don’t volunteer to share your personal data and that of your contacts when you download apps.
This Facebook CA scandal is hardly news. Guess who else knows much about who you are? Your bank. Visa. Amex. MasterCard. Your local supermarket. Your doctor. Other companies that know or can infer much of what makes you “you” are many. Here are a few:
- Google: Google scans your email and knows what you store in the cloud. It knows your browsing history. Your search history.
- Amazon: Your Amazon order history. Your Amazon search history. Your credit cards stored with Amazon. Amazon provides auto insurance in the UK. Amazon will soon provide healthcare in conjunction with JP Morgan and Berkshire. AmazonGo grocery stores.
- LinkedIn/Microsoft: MSFT’s LinkedIn has your career history and professional network.
- Twitter: TWTR knows your personal and professional interests and who/what you’re connected to.
- Oracle: Oracle owns LiveRamp and other MarTech businesses that infer or know bits and pieces about who you are through deterministic and/or probabilistic analysis. Drawbridge also plays in this space. Acxiom. Experian. There are hundreds of these Analytics firms.
- Apple: Apple knows much about who you are based upon how you use your phone – particularly if your privacy settings are set to “open”.
- Travel & Hospitality: various airlines and airline reservation systems, hotel and restaurant reservation systems, rental car providers – all store personal data elements and preferences.
Here’s our recent CEORater Podcast covering this subject:
Human Capital is Key
“It’s people! Soylent Green is people!” shouted Charlton Heston’s Robert Thorn in 1973’s Soylent Green. Fast forward 45 years and people remain central to the process. Although the process we refer to isn’t recycled human foodstuff but rather the global economy where Intellectual Capital provides economic sustenance and Human Capital is the key ingredient (Intellectual Capital = Human Capital + Structural Capital + Relationship Capital).
Grist for the Mill
It’s only a matter of time before Technology giants begin to reach into public schools in an effort to identify and recruit top-tier talent in an Intellectual Capital-driven global economy.
Technology’s Four Horsemen – Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and Facebook – hired 247,714 net new employees in 2017, up 89% from the previous year’s figure of 131,196. Amazon alone accounted for 91% of 2017’s total and 84% of 2016’s total (this makes sense given the nature of Amazon’s retail-centric, distribution-heavy business model).
Technology companies require an enormous amount of human capital and brainpower. This is especially true of large technology companies that work to define new market opportunities and use cases. Waiting for the U.S. K-12 public education and university systems to produce inadequately trained professionals is both a suboptimal outcome and supply chain bottleneck. Therefore, we expect for companies such as the Four Horsemen to become increasingly aggressive and systematic in their approach to training and recruiting young people.
We have experienced early green shoots of this phenomenon with Peter Thiel’s “Thiel Fellowship” a foundation that awards $100,000 grants to high potential young people. Those accepted (104 fellows and alumni, 2,800 application last year), to the two-year program learn how to write code and build companies. Young people skip or step out of college to become Thiel Fellows where in addition to grant proceeds, Fellows receive support from the foundation’s network of entrepreneurs, investors and operators.
Another example comes from my personal experience in China 2006-2011 where a number of the large China-based IT Services companies set up company-owned “universities” to train recent college graduates in an effort to better prepare them for the type of work that they would perform on behalf of clients. My view is that these companies will reach further back into the student supply chain and begin to recruit and train students during their junior high and high school years.
A misconception that many have is that an engineer fresh out of college can hit the ground running at optimal efficiency and drive massive value for companies. That’s hardly the case. Universities do a poor job of preparing students for life in the real world. It makes enormous sense for companies to actively invest in the U.S educational system both at the K-12 and university levels. Short-term operating profit margin dilution will pay dividends over the long-term in the form of new differentiated products and services. To ensure a worthwhile outcome it is paramount that companies take a systematic approach to execution. If nothing else Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook excel in measuring outcomes and re-calibrating where necessary.
No Teachers Required
Given what we have posited it would make sense for the Four Horsemen and others to get involved in public education early in students’ academic careers. Further, it would be logical for companies to seek to influence the academic experience as much as is necessary to maximize the probability of optimal outcomes for both students and companies. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that the Four Horsemen and a few select others will eventually shape student curriculum — particularly in Math and Science. This may range from content creation to teaching methodologies to the act of teaching itself. Teachers’ Unions ought to be concerned. From a technology standpoint it would not be difficult to replace public school teachers nor college professors with machine learning platforms wrapped in friendly AI skins. AmazonGo is already doing this with retail checkout lines. It’s less a question of “how?” and more a question of public will.
Yes if You Ask Us While AT&T moving to acquire Time Warner and Disney (and Comcast?) moving to acquire Fox are interesting deals, it’s more interesting to us what the next chess move may be in a world that increasingly values content (live sports and premium original content in particular). We recently wrote about and…
We Have Entered an Unprecedented Era of Shareholder Tolerance It is interesting that corporate boards and institutional investors are willing to tolerate “Distracted CEOs” and founder CEOs who wish to exercise outsized control of the companies they founded. Both are examples of poor corporate governance. Our definition of a Distracted CEO is the CEO that…
Recently Facebook (tkr: FB) signed an agreement with Universal Music Group to license UMG’s music library so that Facebook users may incorporate UMG music into user-generated content. Facebook’s Instagram platform is the hottest social media platform at the moment. Instagram kneecapped Snapchat (tkr: SNAP) earlier this year when the former rolled out its “stories” feature. Instagram has further extended its lead over Snapchat and Twitter (tkr: TWTR) by making music available to users – who essentially may create mini soundtracks for each post. Facebook’s limitless balance sheet makes the company an attractive prospective customer/partner for cash hungry music labels. We expect that UMG will be the first in a string of music licensing agreements for Facebook – effectively putting the squeeze to Twitter, Snap and any upstart social network. Snap plans to respond by rolling out a “stories”-like feature called “stories everywhere” which will extend beyond the Snapchat network.
Disney plans to acquire 21st Century Fox in order to create scale for its OTT Netflix competitor. We previously wrote about the deal announcement here. Post close, the content streaming game is effectively a two-horse race between Netflix and Disney. Game over you say? Au contraire – the game has just begun!
No, we’re not referring to bit player Hulu – which Disney will own 60% of post Fox deal close. Rather, the media/technology landscape is not static. Apple plans to invest $1 billion in original content (TV and film). Amazon is a content juggernaut and will have invested approximately $5 billion in video content during calendar year 2017 (Netflix approximately $6 billion over the same period, $8 billion in 2018). Facebook announced a deal with the NFL in September 2017 to stream game highlights and is reportedly looking to hire executives to secure the rights to additional live sports-related content. Could TV and film be far behind for Facebook? You may have noticed that Google is pushing its YouTube subscription service if you’ve watched a YouTube video lately. However, we haven’t heard rumblings of YouTube looking to become aggressive in acquiring third-party content or investing in original content. Video content libraries are grist for the mill for these content giants. Every independent video content provider and content library (i.e. movie & TV studios) is “in-play.”
A combined Disney/Fox OTT service and Netflix are the clear OTT content leaders. However, when the dust settles we suspect that both Disney/Fox and Netflix will be acquired by some combination of Apple, Amazon and Facebook. Apple and Disney have a relationship and therefore we would favor Apple as the likely Disney acquirer. It is unclear if Apple would initiate takeover talks with Disney or if Tim Cook is a counter-puncher and would wait for another company to move first on Disney before making an approach. Our view is that Apple, Amazon or Facebook could potentially move on Disney as soon as the Fox deal closes or nears close. Disney negotiations with Apple or any potential suitor would likely put Netflix in play. This time around it may be more difficult for Reed Hastings to resist.