Each Friday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.
Farhad: Hello, Mike! How are you? You and I are both in New York this week. In fact, you’re sitting right next to me as I write this. The whole situation is very uncomfortable.
Mike: Look at us, a pair of coastal elitists — literally the worst. But I do love New York in the fall. Leaves turn from green to red, pumpkin spice lattes slowly fade into, uh, holiday spice lattes. I miss that from California, the land of one season.
Anyway, next time you write the newsletter while sitting next to me, please don’t stare at me the whole time. It is indeed uncomfortable.
Farhad: O.K., let’s talk about the tech industry. Let’s start with this week’s episode of Problematic Men. A report by The Information found that Andy Rubin, a former Google executive who was one of the founders of Android, was the subject of an internal investigation at the search company that found he had an inappropriate relationship with an employee. He left Google in 2014, and it is not clear what disciplinary measures, if any, the company took. He denies wrongdoing.
The Information also reported that David Drummond, the company’s top lawyer, had an extramarital affair with a female subordinate in his department. The two had a child together. When the affair was disclosed to Google’s human resources department, the woman, a paralegal, was moved into the sales department. She later left the company; Mr. Drummond still works there.
Hoo boy. I suspect we’re gonna get a lot more of these stories from Google and the rest of the industry. I mean, of course we will — we’re talking about a culture that has systematically sidelined women. It’s going to get ugly.
Mike: On the one hand, holy moley! The reckoning continues for powerful men across industries far beyond Hollywood. Matt Lauer just got fired for his own gross indiscretions, not to mention Charlie Rose and even Garrison Keillor, the “Prairie Home Companion” guy.
But on the other hand, while men may be shocked at the heinous acts being reported, the response I’ve heard from women friends is shock that men are actually being held accountable for these acts. For years this activity has occurred in many industries — maybe all industries — and countless women have been caught in power dynamics beyond their control. The fact that a wave of accountability has arrived is surprising, perhaps, but also long, long overdue.
Farhad: Let’s switch to a less ugly story. Just kidding — let’s talk about Uber.
Mike: Oof. But fair.
Farhad: As you know, the car-hailing company is locked in a trade secrets legal battle with Waymo, the autonomous car company spun out of Google. There were some amazing new developments this week. The judge in the case was alerted to a previously undisclosed letter in which a former Uber employee detailed a damning plan to steal competitors’ trade secrets.
This looks very bad! After all, this case is about stealing trade secrets. The judge delayed the trial and harshly rebuked Uber. “I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case,” he said. “If even half of what is in that letter is true, it would be an injustice for Waymo to go to trial.”
Mike, you’re the Uber expert. Is this as terrible as it looks? How does Uber survive this case now?
Mike: This strikes me as the legal equivalent of getting caught cheating on your final high school exams by a teacher who already doesn’t like you. (Not that I, uh, have any experience with that.)
To upset a judge the way Uber has done, by not disclosing particularly damning evidence, has really hurt it. I have to believe that will be hard to come back from. And the trial hasn’t even started yet!
Moreover, this really has Uber in a tight spot as it tries to sell secondary shares to new investors, who are pressing the company to have a lower valuation so that they can get in for cheaper. It’s probably the world’s worst timing.
So, yeah. Another bad week for Uber. But when has it been different? Not since 2014, perhaps?
Farhad: One last thing. Remember Snapchat, the app that started the disappearing photo messages craze? Well, after a terrible year in which it failed to meet investors’ expectations on user growth and revenue, the company is now redesigning its famously complicated interface.
Mike: I’m so old I remember the column you wrote saying you were only going to use Snapchat from now on. Heh.
Farhad: Yeah, yeah. Well, at the heart of the redesign is a concept that Snap says could solve some of the problems we’ve seen on other social platforms. The company is splitting news and stories from brands and publishers into a feed that’s separate from one in which your friends appear. Evan Spiegel, Snap’s C.E.O., says this move could reduce misinformation and tamp down on the performative style we see on Facebook and Twitter.
I think he’s overselling it, but I’m optimistic about this idea. Snap has pioneered a lot of new ideas in social media by questioning the assumptions of big Silicon Valley companies. Maybe it can find some way out of the morass that is today’s social world? Right? Tell me I’m not crazy, Mike.
Mike: I am so conflicted on Snapchat. I really do think that Evan has a brilliant mind for product design, and that he really understands how people share things with each other digitally.
That said, Snapchat hampered itself and its growth with its seemingly intentional inscrutability for so many years. And the way Snap presented itself on its I.P.O. roadshow seemed to position the company as the next Facebook.
Clearly it won’t be the next Facebook. But it could be the next new way to consume legitimate, non-terrible and non-fake media. That doesn’t sound half bad.
O.K., time to head back to California. See you on the plane?
Farhad: Remind me to upgrade my seat at the gate.
Farhad Manjoo writes a weekly technology column called State of the Art. Mike Isaac covers Facebook, Uber and Twitter. You can follow them on Twitter here: @fmanjoo and @MikeIsaac