Summary List Placement
Hello, and welcome to this Wednesday’s edition of the Insider Tech newsletter, where we break down the biggest news in tech.
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Soundtrack: for maximum enjoyment of this newsletter, we recommend listening to “Time Warp,” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” while you read.
They say that lockdown living has warped our sense of time, blurring the boundaries between days and making the past seem at once recent and remote. It sure felt that way on Tuesday, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sat in front of Congress for another grilling.
Haven’t we been here before?
Like the hearings in October and those in July, Tuesday’s rendezvous on Capitol Hill was a bipartisan thrashing of the visiting CEOs, with the legislators serving as proxies for an anxious public to vent its many frustrations about the changes wrought by social media.
“You have built terrifying tools of persuasion and manipulation,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut declared ominously.
“Change is going to come,” Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina warned the CEOs.
Democrats and Republicans were united in criticizing the companies and the regulatory shield Facebook and Twitter enjoy, but that was mostly where the similarities ended. This hearing, like those before it, served mainly to showcase the reality gap between the parties when it comes to basic facts.
But there was one interesting comment from Zuckerberg, who shared his thoughts on how social media should be regulated. Zuck’s take: Not like telecommunications companies (which have almost no liability) and not like news publishers (which have lots of liability).
So what then? “I do think we have responsibilities, and it may make sense for there to be liability for some of the content that is on the platform,”Zuckerberg said. “But I don’t think the analogies to these other industries that were created previously will ever be fully the right way to look at this.”
Missing from the action was the CEO of the internet’s hottest new property, Parler.
Parler’s CEO is not a household name (it’s John Matze, by the way), and until two weeks ago, Parler was not a well known app, either.
Parler is an alternative social network devoted to free speech — and secretly funded by Rebekah Mercer, a longtime conservative donor who is the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer — which has seen an influx of new users in the past couple of weeks. The catalyst for Parler’s growth spurt appears to be Facebook’s clampdown on groups like “Stop the Steal,” a network of users who falsely claim Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump.
The Parler app shot up to the number one spot on the Apple App Store’s list of most downloaded apps last week, and now boasts 10 million users, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s still a fraction of Twitter’s 187 million daily users, let alone Facebook’s 1.82 billion daily users. But it’s got some high-profile faces, including Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
OK, so here’s the real test: If Parler can earn an invitation to the next internet hearing in Congress — which if current trends continue, should be taking place soon — the company will have officially broken into the big leagues.
Beware the IPOs of November
Another oddity in the space-time continuum is the glut of IPO prospectuses (prospecti? prospectopodes?) dropping on the eve of Thanksgiving.
In ordinary times, America’s turkey day would be reserved for family meals and preparations for Black Friday shopping. This year is different, though, and with the capital markets in flux, a whole crop of richly-valued startups have concluded this is the time to go public.
At the top of the list is Airbnb, the short-term rental service that scrapped its IPO plans at the start of the pandemic, but is now back in the game.
- As Airbnb’s S-1 revealed, the company’s business has started to pick back up, with revenue in its third quarter down 18% year-over-year, compared to the second quarter’s jaw-dropping 72% plunge.
- But the company warned that it expects bookings to take another hit in the fourth quarter as the winter wave of COVID-19, and a disastrous new peak in the United States, kicks in.
- Here are the Airbnb insiders who could see the biggest payday when the company goes public. Among the noteworthy non-employee names: Jeff Bezos and Angela Ahrendts.
The other big consumer internet IPO is DoorDash, the food delivery service that thumbed its nose at superstition and filed its paperwork on Friday the 13th.
- DoorDash’s revenue is up a whopping 226%, weighing in at $1.9 billion, in the first nine months of 2020.
- And yet it still could not earn a profit, posting a net loss of $149 million during that period.
But wait, there’s more: C3.ai, an enterprise tech company founded by industry vet Tom Siebel, also filed IPO paperwork, and Roblox, Wish, and Affirm are all on deck and expected to drop their public S-1s any day.
Introducing BI’s new business columnist Adam Lashinsky
On Friday, we published the debut column by Adam Lashinsky, a longtime business journalist who was an executive editor at Fortune magazine and who has authored two books — “Inside Apple” (about Apple) and “Wild Ride”(about Uber).
In his first column, Lashinsky takes a look at the motive behind Larry Ellison’s quixotic quest to get a piece of TikTok. It’s not as wacky as it seems, but the clock is running out on Ellison’s gambit. Read it here.
Every two weeks, Lashinsky will share his insights and reporting with premium subscribers to Business Insider, so if you’re not already a subscriber, this is your sign to take the leap.
Not necessarily in tech:
OK then, that’ll do it for this week. Thanks for reading, and if you like this newsletter, tell your friends and colleagues they can sign up here to receive it.