A snapshot of the current Bay Area tech and media scene, as told through the career of Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Flickr who’s back with a new company, the workplace chat app Slack.
On the science and tech companies hoping to cash in on cannabis, which has been legalized for recreational use in two states and decriminalized in some form in many others:
For the science and technology set, it’s a classic opportunity to disrupt an industry historically run by hippies and gangsters. And the entire tech-industrial complex is getting in on the action: investors, entrepreneurs, biotechnologists, scientists, industrial designers, electrical engineers, data analysts, software developers. Industry types with experience at Apple and Juniper and Silicon Valley Bank and Zynga and all manner of other companies are flocking to cannabis with the hopes of creating a breakout product for a burgeoning legitimate industry. Maybe it’s the Firefly. Maybe it’s something still being developed in someone’s living room. There’s a truism about the gold rush days of San Francisco: It wasn’t the miners who got rich; it was the people selling picks and shovels. As the legalization trend picks up steam, Silicon Valley thinks it can make a better shovel.
Today we kick off a monthlong celebration of the best stories of the year, as chosen by our community.
An in-person encounter with a hacker named Cosmo, who has infiltrated accounts on Amazon, Apple, AOL, PayPal, and AT&T. In real life he’s a 15-year-old high school dropout:
“Cosmo explained exactly how it is done.
“‘You have to add a bank account. You can make a virtual bank account on eTrade.com with info from FakeNameGenerator.com.’
“Wired verified that it’s possible to create online bank accounts with automatically generated information–although we were also required to enter a driver’s license number, which we got via a second site, using the information from FakeNameGenerator.
“‘You call PayPal, and you have to have the last four of a payment method. You can get that from Amazon or you can impersonate a PayPal agent. They access your account from the last four. You tell them you want to add a phone number, and you add a Google Voice number. And then you say, I also want to add a new bank account I just got. And they add that for you.”
A writer loses everything on his iPhone, his iPad and his Mac—including all of the photos from the first year and a half of his daughter’s life—after a hacker infiltrates his Amazon, Apple, Gmail and Twitter accounts:
“Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn’t have had to worry about losing more than a year’s worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter, or documents and e-mails that I had stored in no other location.
“Those security lapses are my fault, and I deeply, deeply regret them.
“But what happened to me exposes vital security flaws in several customer service systems, most notably Apple’s and Amazon’s. Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.”
Why do startups struggle after being acquired by giant companies like Yahoo? They’re forced to focus on integration instead of innovation:
“When a new startup comes into an established company, the first wall it typically hits is CorpDev, or corporate development: the group within a business that manages change. CorpDev is usually charged with planning corporate strategy—where a business will grow or shrink, the markets it will enter or exit, and what kind of contracts and deals it may strike with other companies. It often oversees acquisitions. It plans them. Approves them. And then it sets the terms.
“When a big company gobbles up a smaller one, only a fraction of the money is handed over up front. The rest comes later, based on the acquisition hitting a series of deliverables down the road. It’s similar to how incentives are built into the contracts of professional athletes, except with engineering benchmarks instead of home runs.”
An explainer on Google’s challenges with privacy, its competition with Facebook and Twitter, and two big questions: Is search no longer central to its mission? And are Google’s recent moves “evil” by its early company standards?
“It’s hard to understand how Google could screw up its core product like that. But there’s a remarkably simple explanation: Search is no longer Google’s core product.
“One Googler authorized to speak for the company on background (meaning I could use the information he gave me, but not directly quote or attribute it) told me something that I found shocking. Google isn’t primarily about search anymore. Sure, search is still a core product, but it’s no longer the core product. The core product, he said, is simply Google.”