Kevin’s Week in Tech: Another Facebook-Free Edition
Each week, Kevin Roose, technology columnist at The New York Times, discusses developments in the tech industry, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.
Well, friends, we did it again. We got through another week of wall-to-wall news about Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s two-day marathon of congressional testimony is over, and if you had better things to do than spend 10 hours watching a group of lawmakers ask an internet billionaire how computers work, you can catch up on our coverage here. (Or here, here, here, here, here, here, here or here. We’ve been busy.)
But as always, there is more to tech news than Facebook. So here are a few other stories that might have escaped your attention this week.
Reddit Reveals Russian Trolls and Debates Racism
Reddit is one of the more interesting tech companies out there. I’ve written about how it has battled (somewhat successfully) to keep toxic behavior off its site, by shutting down subforums devoted to racist and hateful topics.
But some troubles remain. This week, Reddit’s chief executive, Steve Huffman, ended up facing questions after revealing that the company had identified 944 Reddit accounts that it suspected of links to Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
As part of the announcement, Mr. Huffman ended up causing an even bigger stir by answering a question from a user about whether open racism was prohibited on the site under Reddit’s rules. “It’s not,” Mr. Huffman replied, explaining that the company’s policies applied to users’ behavior, not their beliefs. After users objected, Mr. Huffman had to add a clarification: “To be perfectly clear, while racism itself isn’t against the rules, it’s not welcome here.”
Uber Branches Out
In Uber’s continuing quest to dominate all non-ambulatory modes of transportation, it reached another milestone this week with the acquisition of Jump Bikes, an electric bike-sharing start-up. The deal, reported by TechCrunch to be for more than $100 million, is the first acquisition made by Dara Khosrowshahi as the company’s chief executive, and it follows a successful bike-sharing test in San Francisco.
The company is also branching into car rentals, through a partnership with the car-booking service Getaround, and public transportation, with a deal with a mobile ticketing start-up called Masabi. Soon, Uber users will be able to buy bus and train tickets and rent cars inside the Uber app.
Notably, as my colleague Daisuke Wakabayashi pointed out, the Jump Bikes acquisition will be Uber’s first experience with actual inventory. In its core car-hailing business, drivers own their cars and connect them to Uber’s network, but Uber will own the bikes itself, and will need to learn how to manage its own fleet of two-wheeled vehicles.
China Cracks Down on Bytedance
My colleague Raymond Zhong had a great story this week about Bytedance, a Chinese internet start-up that has “mastered the art of keeping people glued to their smartphones.” Bytedance, which operates a collection of apps that connect users with news, viral videos and other forms of entertainment, drew the anger of Chinese internet censors.
The agency ordered Bytedance to shut down Neihan Duanzi, an app for silly videos and joke memes that “caused strong dislike among internet users,” according to China’s State Administration of Radio and Television. At least two other Bytedance apps have also disappeared from app stores.
It’s a fascinating look at the opposition faced by Chinese tech start-ups, which makes Facebook’s grilling before Congress look positively mild. And it’s a glimpse of the kind of dilemmas that could await Facebook if it ever does fulfill Mr. Zuckerberg’s long-held goal of getting into China.
‘Despacito’ Goes M.I.A.
In devastating news for fans of catchy summer jams, the music video for “Despacito,” the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee song, briefly disappeared from YouTube on Tuesday after hackers broke into the account of Vevo, the company that hosted the video. Other Vevo videos, by artists like Selena Gomez, Drake, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, were also defaced by hackers calling themselves Prosox and Kuroi’sh.
Vevo told The Verge that it was investigating the source of the security breach. Meanwhile, the “Despacito” video, YouTube’s all-time most viewed video, has been restored. Whew.