(Bloomberg) -- Bloomberg News is hosting the Sooner Than You Think conference in New York, exploring what’s next in technology, Wednesday at The Weylin in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Speakers are discussing topics such as how companies can restore trust in the tech sector; how new frontiers like AI create new obligations for business and governments; the best ways to protect your data in the age of cybersecurity attacks; the antitrust probes of Big Tech and more.
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Via Sees Big Money in Buses (5:45 p.m.)
Daniel Ramot, chief executive officer of ride-sharing company Via Transportation, Inc., sees big money in buses.New York-based Via is often characterized as a smaller competitor to Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. But Ramot sees those companies as disrupting the cab and limo market, while Via is focused on public transportation. In fact, 95% of Via rides are shared, he said. Via also sells software to public transportation systems to improve efficiency, with nearly 100 partners worldwide.
Ramot puts the public mobility market -- which includes city buses, school buses, university shuttles and similar types of transportation -- at a half-trillion-dollar industry, which he sees as a big opportunity, larger than the taxi and ride-hailing space.
And environmental concerns will boost demand for these options.
“There’s always going to be private cars, people riding around by themselves,” he said. “But my hope is that increasingly we will look at people riding around by themselves in a car a little bit the way we might think about someone walking into a kindergarten and smoking.”
Compass Says It’s Not Like WeWork (5:23 p.m.)
The chief executive officer of SoftBank-backed real estate brokerage Compass said his company had already moved away from a strategy of rapid growth before WeWork’s scuttled initial public offering.
Compass has raised $1.5 billion in venture capital, and like WeWork, it tapped SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund. Skeptics in the real estate industry say the brokerage lacks a disruptive technology or business model, and has relied on deep coffers of venture funding to buy growth.
But Compass had stopped expanding into new geographic areas by the beginning of this year, CEO Robert Reffkin said. The company is already profitable in many markets and is under no pressure to go public, he added.
Reffkin enumerated other advantages. He said the company’s strategy of treating real estate agents as its primary customers would help recruiting efforts in the event of a recession. And unlike video-streaming sites or car-hailing services, Compass hasn’t attracted imitators.
“Seven years in, there hasn’t been one copycat,” he said.
California Privacy Law Does More Harm Than Good, Industry Executives Say (4:00 p.m.)
California’s data privacy law does more harm than good for consumer privacy, said Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, and Mignon Clyburn, former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.
The first data privacy law in the country takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, but the representative from the industry group that represents big technology and the former federal official argued the California Consumer Privacy Act needs to be replaced with a federal law. They worry that other states will follow California’s lead and pass their own regulations, creating a possible patchwork of varying standards across the country.
Companies will struggle to comply with multiple laws, Beckerman said.
“They got so much wrong, and what they did do will make people less private,” he said. “It makes no sense that one state can set the rules, leaving the rest of the country to pivot.”
Clyburn agreed, but said a federal law to pre-empt state regulations is unlikely until after the 2020 presidential election.
Former DHS Adviser Says Trump Ukraine Server Allegation ‘Completely Debunked’ (3:30 p.m.)
Tom Bossert, a former Homeland Security adviser to President Donald Trump, called the “conspiracy theory” that Trump has pursued, in which there is a Democratic National Committee server in Ukraine, has been “completely debunked.”
Bossert said he expects more countries to get involved in attempting to influence the next U.S presidential election. “Buckle up, because it’s about to get started in a bigger and larger scale, in my view,” said Bossert, who now works as the chief strategy officer at Trinity Cyber. “The trend that we will see when we look back on this 2020 election is the entrance of China, Iran, North Korea, maybe 10 or 12 nation-state actors that are highly sophisticated.”
Brittany Kaiser, co-founder of the Digital Asset Trade Association, said she’s not sure “that we’ve really learned enough about all of the problems from 2016. Facebook’s policy of allowing political campaigns to lie in campaign ads could allow them to conduct voter suppression, she said. “We don’t actually have oversight over what these campaigns are saying.”
Yasmin Green, director of research and development at Jigsaw, warned that those looking to influence elections have become more skilled. “Defenses are better and the threat is more sophisticated,” Green said. “So looking to 2020 the question mark for me is, are we going to say domestic disinformation doesn’t really feel like on par with state sponsored, cross border election meddling.”
Simon Ventures Head Says WeWork Shows ‘Inconsistent’ Valuations (3:30pm)
WeWork, the work-sharing real-estate startup, created a “ highly dsyfunctional” capital structure as it moved toward an initial public offering, said Natalie Hwang, managing director and head of Simon Ventures, the venture capital arm of Simon Property Group, Inc., the largest shopping mall and retail center owner in the U.S. Simon Ventures passed on the opportunity to invest in WeWork a few years ago. “In the case of WeWork, the public markets ultimately disagreed with private company valuations and I would expect for companies to be valued at increasingly inconsistent fashion.”WeWork was valued at as much as $47 billion before its IPO collapsed and the company’s value fell to an estimated $8 billion in a bailout plan. Jason Illian, managing Director of Koch Disruptive Technologies, the venture and growth arm of Koch Industries, Inc. said WeWork won’t be the last example of a private company’s valuation being overhyped.
Foursquare Chief Says GDPR Needs to Better Protect Location Data (2:30 p.m.)
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation doesn’t go far enough to protect consumers from abuse of their location data, Foursquare Labs Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Glueck said.Glueck said regulators should enact laws to protect consumers’ location data, and make sure they consent to what they share. Glueck said his company supports the European privacy law, but it needs to go further, and the U.S. needs a national privacy law as well.
“There is no rule today about how to use location data or what is informed consent,” he said. “Consumers should not be judged to have consented to anything because of a 200-page ‘Terms and Conditions.’”
Glueck, in effect, is calling for regulation on his own company. Foursquare, which began as a social-media app letting a user broadcast their location to friends, now builds location-data systems for other companies including Uber Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc.
Companies should be legally responsible to use consumer’s real-time location data in the user’s best interest, similar to an accountant’s fiduciary duty. Regulations should ensure “competition can continue but with a high ethical bar,” he said.
Google Rival DuckDuckGo Makes ‘Ton of Money’ From Private Search Engine (1 p.m.)
DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine provider, makes “a ton of money” without resorting to the personalized, targeted advertising that Google uses, according to Megan Gray, the company’s top lawyer and policy chief.
There are many reasons for transferring personal information between companies, but with online search it doesn’t need to be that way, Gray said during a discussion about privacy-focused product design. After you search for a little black dress and then lipstick, companies don’t need to follow you around the web with similar ads, she added.
“That’s only what you see. There’s a lot more behind the curtain in terms of how you are being categorized by the searches you have done,” Gray said.
Gray and other speakers called for an enforceable “Do Not Track” law in the U.S. that would help people easily prevent technology and digital-advertising companies from collecting personal data and following users around the web.
Smartphone settings could have a simple “don’t track me” setting, Gray explained. There are technical ways to do some of this already, but an enforcement mechanism is needed, she said.
The idea that a Do Not Track law would destroy the online ad industry is “a bit of a bluff,” said Elizabeth Zalman, chief executive officer of strongDM, which makes software for securely managing databases and computer servers.
Andrew Farah, CEO of startup Density, said everyone would have to activate such a Do Not Track setting for the digital ad business to be really damaged.
The panel ended with a question about Silicon Valley and whether there are the right incentives in place for entrepreneurs to think about privacy and do the right thing when they’re starting companies.
“Do you want me to get to raise my next round of funding?” Zalman said, prompting laughter from the crowd. Leaders of tech startups should treat data records as real humans and lock down that information, she added. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily baked into the venture capital route.”
WeWork’s Failed IPO Was a Case of Corporate Greed, Former Snap Exec Khan Says (12:45p.m.)
WeWork’s aborted initial public offering is a case of “corporate greed,” said Imran Khan, co-founder and chief executive officer of e-commerce company Verishop. Khan was previously involved in high-profile public offerings, as chief strategy officer at Snap Inc. and as a managing director at Credit Suisse Group AG, where he helped internet companies, including Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, list on the stock market.
Khan said that whenever an investor gives someone money, they are giving trust, and the recipient has a responsibility to live by that trust.
“At WeWork we saw the gross negligence of this trust,” Khan said. It was a degree of irresponsibility he hadn’t seen since 1999 or 2000, he added.
We Co. was valued at $47 billion at its peak earlier this year, but that dropped to only about $8 billion as part of the aborted IPO and bail-out plan.Generally, Khan said that while the private market in many cases results in inflated valuations, he can see why investors like it. “You don’t have to worry about day to day volatility,” he said.“If you want to build a business for the long term, to be honest with you it’s difficult to do that in the public market these days,” Khan said. “I think it’s getting more and more challenging.”
Earlier this year, Khan launched Verishop, which sells lifestyle products which sells a curated offering ranging from clothing to sustainable household items and non-toxic toys.
Ohio AG Wonders if Current Antitrust Law is Sufficient For Big Tech (12:30 p.m.)
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost questioned whether existing antitrust law is sufficient to police Big Tech. “What is the right way to regulate or limit, or separate the power that is being gathered?” Yost said. “I’m not entirely sure that the antitrust jurisprudence we have is adequate.”
Yost described three historic phases of power accumulation: First governments, which were split up into separate branches; then, old economic monopolies, which the federal government broke up; and now, large technology platforms. “Today there’s this third wave of power,” he said. “Power is always antithetical to individual freedom.”
Yost said he is still trying to frame questions about how to restrain that power. He didn’t offer pointed solutions.
Two groups of state attorneys general are investigating Facebook Inc. and Google for abuses of power. Those cases are in their early stages. The attorneys general haven’t publicly articulated a clear legal case against these tech giants and Yost did not offer one Wednesday.
Instead, he asked whether the existing laws were sufficient to deal with the tech giants’ newfound power. “The piece that is proceeding under traditional antitrust principles is probably distinguished by fact patterns and business models of each case. The overall debate question that I’m posing is, is this really about the aggregation of power?” he said. “There’s been tremendous change driven by these big tech platforms -- there’s almost nothing that hasn’t been touched in our lives and impacted, in many, many ways for the better.”
Yost indicated that he was taking a measured approach. “I’m not with the pitchfork and torch crowd, OK?. But we do need to think about the potential outcomes here, and are there things that we want guardrails from?”
Kerry Washington Talks About Changing the Narrative in Hollywood (12:00 p.m.)
Kerry Washington is best known as Olivia Pope, the star of the ABC drama “Scandal.” But now she is starring in a new film called “American Son” on Netflix, and is hoping its message starts a conversation. In the film, which debuts Friday, she looks for her missing son at a police precinct. It’s a timely show in light of several police killings of black Americans. “Whether you’re a man or woman, black or white, it makes you think,” she said. “People who wouldn’t normally watch this are watching this and learning something.”Washington shared the stage with Pilar Savone, who produced “Django Unchained” and heads development for Washington’s production company, Simpson Street. Savone said the film was originally a play. Now that it’s on Netflix, it can reach a much larger audience.
“It’s such an important story for people to see and not everyone has access to Broadway,” Savone said.
Both women said Hollywood is starting to think more about hiring women and minorities -- in front of the camera and behind it. When Simpson Street shoots a pilot, “we want to make sure our candidate pool is diverse,” Washington said.Washington has also invested in The Wing, a woman-focused co-working space. She described the startup as “a sisterhood” where women are “having a lot of conversations on a lot of levels.” She also gave out her phone number, saying it would help her fans connect with her on Community.com, a communications startup. Community, she said, “allows me to engage more with fans on one-to-one basis” and “have a real conversation.”
Washington said she was going to knock on doors this weekend in Michigan and Virginia to encourage people to register to vote. Asked who she’s backing in the presidential race, she demurred. “My candidate is the American people,” she said.
Shopify CEO Lutke Says He’s Helping Others Compete With Amazon (11:19 a.m.)
Shopify Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tobi Lutke said the Canadian e-commerce company isn’t competing with Amazon.com Inc., but helping other people do so. “Amazon wants to be an empire,” he said. “At Shopify, we are arming the rebels.” Lutke said he didn’t think the economy would be healthy if there were five mega-corporations employing everyone, and that the world needs millions of businesses to employ millions of people.
Shopify recently announced it had reached 1 million merchants using its platform around the world.
The Ottawa-based company is spending $1 billion dollars to set up a network of fulfillment centers in the U.S. to help merchants using its platforms deliver products. The company processes millions of individual sales by hundreds of thousands of merchants each year, and could potentially pool shipments from different online stores together. “If you put a lot of lights together you end up with a sun,” said Lutke.
“What will that do for margins? Well, it’s going to be expensive,” Lutke said of the 10-figure investment. He added that Shopify is “a growth investment.”
Shopify is one of Canada’s best performing stocks, having gained about 130% this year as investors reward the company’s fast growing sales. But the company reported an unexpected quarterly loss earlier this week due to higher spending as it expands its customer network and building out the fulfillment centers.
Two Sigma’s David Siegel Talks About the New Rules For Tech (10:40 a.m.)
David Siegel, co-founder of the Two Sigma Investments hedge fund, said if giant tech companies began self-regulation as concerns over privacy mount it might prevent the government from enacting more severe controls.“The industry participants themselves understand what’s possible and what isn’t possible better than maybe a government agency would,” Siegel said. “If the industry could get together and work collaboratively to set rules of the road, then maybe we will all be happier.”
Siegel, who has been outspoken about the benefits and dangers associated with artificial intelligence, said industries like finance and medicine had very little oversight in their early days, and that didn’t lead to good outcomes. He finds it hard to understand why tech leaders would think that their industry would work perfectly without regulations.“I think having regulation in finance is a good thing,” Siegel said. “So I’ve never seen regulation as being a particularly big deal.”Siegel pointed out the trade-offs that come with regulations. Some people want privacy, but if the control of personal data is absolute, that might lead to unintended consequences, like making it harder for authorities to solve criminal activity.“So we might be willing to have a great level of abuse in our society, maybe it would lead to more violence, maybe it will lead to more financial fraud but maybe you’re all ok with that trade-off because you value privacy so much,” he said. “Or maybe you’re not.”
New York-based Two Sigma, a quantitative hedge fund firm that deploys machine learning in its strategies, had $60 billion in assets in August.
One of Tech’s Biggest Critics Takes on The Role of Technology in Society (9:45 a.m.)
Tristan Harris is a former Google employee who has turned into one of the highest-profile critics of Big Tech. His job at Alphabet Inc.’s Google was to make sure ethics were taken into account when new products were designed, but he left years ago to try and push that mission from the outside. Harris, who is the co-founder and executive director at the Center for Humane Technology, says human minds are no match for the sophisticated attention-grabbing algorithms built by Facebook Inc., YouTube and Twitter Inc. and that these companies’ entire business models need to change. “We’re all trapped inside this system,” Harris said.
As long as the goal of these companies is to maximize our time spent on their platforms so they can sell more ads, misinformation, outrage and conspiracy theories will continue to proliferate, simply because they’re more engaging than the truth in many cases, he said.
The recent trend of employees at these companies banding together to try and force changes from within is the fastest way to get these companies to alter their practices, he said. Recent examples of this from Google and Facebook give him hope.
(Updates with comments from Compass CEO)
--With assistance from Gerrit De Vynck, Vincent Bielski, Eric Newcomer, Gerry Smith, Candy Cheng, Alistair Barr and Kartikay Mehrotra.
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