Each week, technology reporters and columnists from 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.
Hello from Washington, D.C., the hot seat of late for big Silicon Valley companies accused of being too powerful, undermining democracy and profiting off the personal details of our lives without our permission. I’m Cecilia Kang, The Times’s technology policy reporter covering tech’s reckoning and other policy issues that fall at the intersection of tech and government.
This past week, the nation’s capital was quiet as many lawmakers were back in their districts campaigning for the midterm elections. And the biggest stories for tech were overseas, with the technology industry’s response to claims of Saudi Arabia’s role in the possible killing of a dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
As The Times’s Mark Landler and Kate Kelly reported, several chief executives pulled out of a lofty Saudi business conference, known as “Davos in the Desert,” that is scheduled for this month in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the most dramatic withdrawal was Dara Khosrowshahi’s, they wrote.
Mr. Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber and an Iranian-American, told the conference’s sponsor in a phone call that the allegations about Mr. Khashoggi were “terrible,” and that he would not go to Riyadh unless the questions about the journalist’s fate were cleared up, according to two people briefed on the conversation.
Uber’s ties to Saudi Arabia are particularly tricky. The kingdom is one of the company’s biggest investors. Yasir Al Rumayyan, the managing director of Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund, sits on the company’s board.
But Uber is not alone. Saudi Arabia has become a top investor in American start-ups, including the office-sharing company WeWork and the augmented-reality device maker Magic Leap, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A great deal of connective tissue between Silicon Valley and Saudi Arabia involves SoftBank’s tech-focused Vision Fund, which has received a $45 billion pledge from the Saudis. The fund has investments in the driverless car company GM Cruise. It has put hundreds of millions of dollars into each of its internet investments in the United States, including DoorDash, Wag and Slack.
SoftBank, which is based in Japan, has been reluctant to comment on the crisis. Notably, its chief executive, Masayoshi Son, had not withdrawn from the Saudi Arabian business conference.
Sprint, which is owned by SoftBank and is applying with regulators for an acquisition from T-Mobile, has been walking a fine line on how to respond.
“At this point in time, we, like most companies that have a relationship with Saudi Arabia, are watching developments and seeing where this goes,” said Marcelo Claure, the executive chairman of Sprint and chief operating officer of SoftBank.
The controversy adds to the already tricky terrain for Silicon Valley companies that have developed global supply chain partnerships, take foreign investments, and look to operate in countries that don’t value free speech or have adversarial relationships with the United States. In many instances, it’s nearly impossible to unscramble the egg.
In other news:
■ Don’t miss the in-depth report by The Times’s Paul Mozur on how the Myanmar military used Facebook as a tool for ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya. He shows in interviews with military and government officials there how easy it was to use the site to spread falsehoods and stoke anger against the Rohingya.
■ The ride-hailing rivals Uber and Lyft are preparing for I.P.O.s next year. Uber’s is predicted to be valued as high as $120 billion, according to Goldman Sachs estimates. The plans are part of a resurgence in tech public offerings, Michael J. de la Merced and Kate Conger reported.
Michael and Kate added that nearly 200 companies had raised more than $53 billion in initial public offerings in American markets in 2018, making it the busiest year for tech newcomers to Wall Street since 2014, according to data from Dealogic.
■ Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, died. He helped usher in the era of personal computing but may have been known less for his work at Microsoft than for his lasting legacy in Seattle, my hometown.
Mr. Allen made Seattle a cultural destination, with his funding of the Museum of Pop Culture and his purchases of sports teams like the Seahawks. The Times’s Steve Lohr wrote his obituary. In an essay in The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gates recounted how Mr. Allen had fostered his interest in technology.
And like Mr. Gates, he used his Microsoft fortune to become a remarkable philanthropist.
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