Elon Musk’s Weed-Toking Goodwill Tour Isn't Enough to Save Tesla

The thing to remember about Elon Musk smoking a blunt with Joe Rogan is not that he took just one hit, or that he didn’t seem to know what a blunt was, or that he whiffed on an opportunity to show off just how useful his “not a flamethrower” can be. It’s that it came 130 minutes into his two-and-a-half-hour interview with Rogan, for the former Fear Factor host’s podcast, livestreamed on YouTube.

Two hours in which Musk got to play the most popular version of himself: the far-out thinking engineer who doesn’t conform to the status quo. Two hours in which he whoa’d Rogan with cogent breakdowns of the threat and promise of artificial intelligence, his plan to obliterate traffic with underground tunnels, and his enlightened fear of chimpanzees. Musk talked about his idea for an electric, supersonic airplane, complete with a physics lesson on how it would accomplish vertical takeoff and landing. He used math to argue that we’re all living in a simulation. He did it while remaining relatable, likeable, and interesting. And while the interview had its boring moments, it was, overall, a lot of fun.

That’s because it starred Musk at his best. As the guy who appeared on The Simpsons, turning Homer’s silly musings into world-bettering inventions. The Elon who met Stephen Colbert’s accusation of being a supervillain with a sheepish chuckle. The one who earned a cameo in Iron Man 2.

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Cool Elon. Not the version who claimed that the British man involved in the rescue of the Thai cave boys is a pedophile. Not the Musk who sparked shareholder lawsuits and a reported SEC investigation by announcing he might take Tesla private, then recanted a few weeks later. Not the Musk who called a reporter a “fucking asshole” while doubling down on the pedophile claim. That’s the Musk who has seen Tesla’s stock price drop 17 percent since the beginning of the year. So for everyone who doesn’t freak out when someone takes a puff or two, the Rogan interview promised to be a reassuring appearance.

Except that Friday morning, Tesla shares dropped 10 percent in response to news that that human relations chief Gabrielle Toledano, who has been on a leave of absence, won’t rejoin the company, and chief accounting officer Dave Morton had resigned September 4—from a job he started August 6. (CNBC reports Morton was frustrated that Tesla’s leadership was ignoring his advice on the question of going private.) He was the third high-ranking finance executive to leave the company this year.

Tesla finally hit its target of making 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week in June, and Musk, true to form, immediately said they’d hit 6,000 a week this quarter. He has also said this is the quarter Tesla starts—at long last—to turn a profit. We won’t have a better idea of how Tesla is doing on production until early October, or of its financial state until early November, but these departures are just the latest evidence that the automaker is struggling.

Musk’s behavior of late hasn’t helped, of course. But a return to Fun Elon (and the emergence of Blunt Smokin’ Elon) isn’t enough to keep Tesla’s future from going up in smoke.


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Gadget Lab Podcast: Can Facebook and Twitter Be ‘Fixed?’

Facebook and Twitter went to Washington. Almost immediately afterwards, controversial Internet troll Alex Jones was kicked off Twitter. Now what? WIRED senior writer Issie Laposwky joins the Gadget Lab podcast this week to break down the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, tell us what it means for Facebook and Twitter (and Google – which didn’t send its CEO to the hearings), and to help us answer the question that’s become one of the more pressing questions in modern times: Is social media to blame, or are the humans who do terrible things on social media to blame?

Show notes: Issie wrote all about the hearings, as well as Alex Jones getting booted off Twitter, this week.

Recommendations this week: Issie recommends the Dr. Death podcast, about murderous surgeon and the health care system that failed to protect his patients. Mike recommends a podcast, too: The Bob Lefsetz podcast. Lefsetz is a music industry insider and “gadfly,” as Mike describes him; his guests are fascinating. Arielle recommends checking out the @Sweden Twitter account, the “last good thing on Twitter,” before it shuts down at the end of the month. For several years now, the account has been curated by a rotating cast of Swedes who were tasked with representing life in Sweden. Lauren recommends “Glow,” on Netflix. It’s a show about a show about women’s wrestling in the 1980’s. You won’t regret it.

Send the Gadget Lab hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds. Arielle Pardes is @pardesoteric. Lauren Goode is @laurengoode. Michael Calore can be found at @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. Our theme song is by Solar Keys.

How to Listen

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We’re also on Soundcloud, and every episode gets posted to wired.com as soon as it’s released. If you still can’t figure it out, or there’s another platform you use that we’re not on, let us know.

Robinhood, the Zero-Fee Stock and Crypto Trading App, Is Planning to Go Public

Robinhood—the fintech startup that offers stock, option, and cryptocurrency trades with zero fees—is taking steps to go public, starting with the hiring of a chief financial officer.

Robinhood co-founder Baiju Bhatt, speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference Thursday, confirmed the company’s plans for an IPO and CFO hire. Both tasks will need to be handled with care. Bhatt said that Robinhood’s business model has subjected it to constant audits from the SEC and other financial regulators.

In the past couple of years, Robinhood has grown from a quixotic idea—no fees to trade stocks—to one of the more intruiging startups in the fintech space. Robinhood raised $110 million at a $1.3 billion valuation in April 2017. It’s now valued at $5.6 billion.

But Robinhood, like many tech startups planning to go public these days, is still losing money. And it’s branching out into areas like stock options and cryptocurrencies that will incur losses as Robinhood pushes for market share. “We don’t intend to make very much money on it at all for the foreseeable future,” Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev told Fortune in June.

The thing is, investors in IPOs are willing to tolerate losses as long as they will be turned soon enough into growing profits. And they’ve learned to distrust CEOs who talk cavalierly about losing money. Witness the downfall of Groupon after its manic growth failed to deliver profits, or Uber, which has had to retool its expensive global ambitions.

But given that few fintech startups have matured into companies that traditional Wall Street investors are comfortable sinking their assets into, Robinhood’s approach to the public stock market will be closely watched. In May, Robinhood’s active user accounts reached 4 million, surpassing E*Trade, a trading platform long beloved by daytraders.

Robinhood’s push into cryptocurrencies has helped it sign up more users. The company is not only helping small investors in a market that sometimes seems stacked against them, it’s looking like the most disruptive financial startup since E*Trade shook things up in the 1990s with low commissions and real-time stock quotes. Whether its expensive business model will be welcomed by IPO investors remains to be seen.

?Hollywood goes open source

Out of 200 of the most popular movies of all time, the top 137 were either visual-effects driven or animated. What did many of these blockbusters have in common? They were made with open-source software.

That was the message David Morin, chairman of the Joint Technology Committee on Virtual Production, brought to The Linux Foundation‘s Open Source Summit in Vancouver, Canada. To help movie makers bring rhyme and reason to open-source film-making, The Linux Foundation had joined forces with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to form the Academy Software Foundation.

The academy is meant to be a neutral forum for open-source developers both in the motion picture and broader media industries to share resources and collaborate on technologies for image creation, visual effects, animation, and sound. The founding members include Blue Sky Studios, Cisco, DreamWorks Animation, Epic Games, Google Cloud, Intel, Walt Disney Studios, and Weta Digital. It’s a true marriage of technology and media-driven businesses.

You know those names. You probably don’t know the name of the open-source, special-effects programs, such as Alembic, OpenColorIO, or Ptex, but Morin said, “they’re very instrumental in the making of movies”.

And they’re more important than you think. “The last Fast and the Furious movie, for instance, while it looks like a live-action movie, when you know how it was made, it’s really by-and-large a computer generated movie,” Morin said. “When Paul Walker passed away in the middle of production, he had to be recreated for the duration of the movie.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which you know best from the Oscars, started looking into organizing the use of open-source in the movies in 2016. The group did so because while open-source software was being used more and more, it came with problems. These included:

  • Versionist: As more libraries were being used it became harder to coordinate software components. A production pipeline, which had been perfected for a 2016 movie, was likely to have out-of-date components for a 2017 film.
  • Organization: While volunteers tried to track these changes, they didn’t have the funding or resources needed to go beyond recording changes.
  • Funding: Many open-source programs had lost their maintainers due to getting jobs elsewhere or for lack of funding.
  • Licensing: As all open-source developers know, sooner or later licensing becomes an issue. That’s especially true in the motion-picture industry, which is hyper aware of copyright and other intellectual property (IP) issues.

So, the overall mission is to increase the quality and quantity of open-source contributions by developing a governance model, legal framework, and community infrastructure that makes it easier to both develop and use open-source software.

In more detail, the goals are:

  • Provide a neutral forum to coordinate cross-project efforts, establish best practices, and share resources across the motion picture and broader media industries.
  • Develop an open continuous integration (CI) and build infrastructure to enable reference builds from the community and alleviate issues caused by siloed development.
  • Provide individuals and organizations with a clear path for participation and code contribution.
  • Streamline development for build and runtime environments through the sharing of open-source build configurations, scripts, and recipes.
  • Provide better, more consistent licensing through a shared licensing template.

Developers interested in learning more or contributing can join Academy Software Foundation mailing list.

Morin added, “In the last 25 years, software engineers have played an increasing role in the most successful movies of our time. The Academy Software Foundation is set to provide funding, structure, and infrastructure for the open-source community, so that engineers can continue to collaborate and accelerate software development for movie making and other media for the next 25 years.”

Rob Bredow, SVP, executive creative director, and head of Industrial Light & Magic, said, “Developers and engineers across the industry are constantly working to find new ways to bring images to life, and open source enables them to start with a solid foundation while focusing on solving unique, creative challenges rather than reinventing the wheel.”

If you’d like to get into the movie business, now’s your chance. “We’re welcoming all the help we can get to set up the foundation,” Morin concluded. “Writing code today is perhaps the most powerful activity that you can do to make movies. If you’re interested, don’t hesitate to join us.”

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Amazon touches $1 trillion, on pace to overtake Apple

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) on Tuesday briefly joined Apple Inc (AAPL.O) to become the second $1 trillion publicly listed U.S. company after its stock price more than doubled in a year as it grew rapidly in retail and cloud computing.

Its shares traded as high as $2,050.50 before easing a little to end the session at $2,039.51, up 1.3 percent and just short of the milestone level of $2,050.2677.

If the online retailer’s shares keep up their recent pace, it would be a matter of when, not if, Amazon’s stock market valuation eclipses that of iPhone maker Apple, which reached $1 trillion on Aug. 2.

Apple took almost 38 years as a public company to achieve the trillion dollar milestone, while Amazon got there in 21 years. While Apple’s iPhone and other devices remain popular and its revenues are growing, it is not keeping up with Amazon’s blistering sales growth.

Amazon has impressed investors by diversifying into virtually every corner of the retail industry, altering how consumers buy products and putting big pressure on many brick-and-mortar stores.

“It says a lot about Amazon and its ever-increasing dominance of segments of the retailing world as well as the web services business,” said Peter Tuz, President Of Chase Investment Counsel In Charlottesville, Virginia. “They have a tiny share of the worldwide retail sales market so there’s a lot left to capture there.”

(Graphic: Amazon vs. Apple: reut.rs/2PwtdRg)

Amazon also provides video streaming services and bought upscale supermarket Whole Foods. And its cloud computing services for companies have become its main profit driver.

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“Amazon’s a little bit more dynamic than Apple because the iPhone has become more mature. Amazon’s cloud business is an extra growth driver that Apple doesn’t have,” said Daniel Morgan, portfolio manager at Synovus Trust in Atlanta who describes Amazon’s cloud services as its “crown jewel.”

In the second quarter the unit accounted for 55 percent of Amazon’s operating income and 20 percent of total revenue, according to Morgan.

Apple started trading in December 1980 but its stock did not truly start to take flight for another 25 years, spurred by the iPhone, the breakthrough device that left competitors in the dust.

Amazon – founded as an online book-retailer in Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’ garage in 1994 – started trading on May 15, 1997 at $1.50 on a split-adjusted basis.

By October 2009 it had risen to $100 and the stock hit $1,000 for the first time on May 30, 2017. It has held above that level since Oct. 27, 2017.

Just 10 months later, on Aug. 30, Amazon shares hit $2,000 for the first time, just $50 per share away from giving the company a $1 trillion market value.

(Graphic: Analyst Price Targets: reut.rs/2NHwHQq)

The stock is up 74.5 percent year to date. In comparison, Apple has risen about 35.0percent in 2018.

Analysts expect Apple’s revenue to jump 14.9 percent in its fiscal year ending in September, according to Thomson Reuters data, a hefty rise but still far short of Amazon’s expected revenue growth of 32 percent for 2018.

Reporting by Sinéad Carew in New York and Noel Randewich in San Francisco; additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Susan Thomas and Phil Berlowitz

Jon Kyl Will Take McCain's Senate Seat

On Tuesday, Arizona’s governor appointed former Republican senator Jon Kyl to fill the US Senate seat vacated by the late John McCain. The appointment could spell even more government scrutiny for tech giants like Facebook and Google—even though Kyl has only committed to serving until the start of the next Congressional session in January, though he may stay through 2020.

While McCain, who passed away on August 25, never focused his energies on the practices of technology platforms, Kyl has taken up the cause in his private endeavors, particularly as the head of an internal probe at Facebook into whether the platform is biased against conservatives, which was announced in May.

The results of that investigation have not been made public, and it is still ongoing. A Facebook spokesperson said that Kyl would leave the audit, but that it would continue with the team from law firm Covington and Burlington that he had led. Kyl did not immediately return a request for comment. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, also held meetings with Facebook executives about the question of liberal bias as part of the inquiry.

Kyl’s appointment comes just one day before representatives from Twitter, Google, and Facebook are set to testify again before the Senate over concerns about privacy, political bias, and anti-competitive practices. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will also tomorrow appear separately before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to address similar concerns.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing is slated to focus on “foreign influence operations use of social media platforms,” but tech executives will likely also face questions about whether their platforms are biased against certain political viewpoints.

Over the next several months, Jon Kyl will arguably be the senator best-equipped to ask such questions, having ostensibly spent the summer examining Facebook’s treatment of conservative viewpoints, both internally and on its platform. In late August, The New York Times reported that an extremely small group of Facebook employees have internally argued that the company isn’t welcoming to conservative viewpoints.

In recent months, a number of conservative lawmakers, including President Trump, have also accused tech companies like Google and Facebook of suppressing right-wing content, and have questioned whether they should be regulated as a result.

In April, for example, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, half a dozen Republican lawmakers questioned whether the social network had suppressed content produced by conservative commentators Diamond and Silk. Just last week, President Trump accused Google of purposely favoring negative coverage about his administration in its news product.

The belief that tech companies intentionally censor certain political beliefs is also increasingly held by voters, especially Republicans, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in June.

For years, conservatives on Capitol Hill have alleged that prominent tech companies are biased against their beliefs. They often cite a 2016 Gizmodo article as evidence, which reported that Facebook employees suppressed the reach of conservative outlets in its trending product. But while Silicon Valley is notoriously a hub for liberal tech workers, many lawmakers’ specific accusations have largely been unfounded. Still, their complaints highlight the amount of power over Americans’ speech and access to information that a handful of California companies have consolidated.

Kyl appears well-poised to ramp up the questioning over whether Google and Facebook can keep that power while avoiding more government oversight. Aside from his experience with Facebook, the senator also has a history of pushing for the regulation of some internet activities. In the early aughts, he was one of the first lawmakers to advocate for the criminalization of some categories of online gambling and he ultimately helped to pass the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Act.

As a lobbyist at Covington and Burlington, where Kyl has worked since declining to seek reelection in 2013, he has represented clients like Walmart, Georgetown University, and the conservative political organization Judicial Crisis Network. His clients have also included some technology companies, like San Diego-based Qualcomm.

Kyl has also busied himself with more than just auditing Facebook this summer. In a sign of his deep commitment to conservative interests, Kyl has also been guiding Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, through his Senate confirmation hearings.

As Kyl’s fellow senators mull over proposed legislation like a national privacy law, that commitment may also increasingly mean towing the Republican line on regulating big tech. No one is poised better to lead the effort than Kyl.

UPDATED: 9/4/2018, 4:52 PM EST: This story has been updated with comment from Facebook


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In India, Google races to parry the rise of Facebook

SAN FRANCISCO/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Google retains only a slight lead over Facebook in the competition for digital ad dollars in the crucial India market, sources familiar with the figures say, even though the search giant has been in the country far longer and has avoided the controversies that have dogged its rival.

A woman walks past the logo of Google during an event in New Delhi, India, August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Facebook’s success has shaken Alphabet Inc’s Google, led by an Indian-born CEO, Sundar Pichai, who has made developing markets a priority.

Google officials in India earlier this year were alarmed to learn that Facebook Inc was likely to generate about $980 million in revenue in the country in 2018, according to one of the sources. Google’s India revenues reached $1 billion only last year.

Facebook and Google declined to comment on Indian revenue figures or the competition between the two companies.

Google is now pushing back, attempting to lure customers with better ad-buying tools and more localized services. The revamped strategy mirrors initiatives that have succeeded in boosting the time Indian consumers spend with Google services.

The battle in India reflects an epic challenge for Google in developing markets around the world that are crucial to the company’s long-term growth – many consumers in those country’s are gravitating to Facebook and it’s siblings, Instagram and WhatsApp, at the expense of Google search and YouTube, and advertising dollars are quick to follow.

“Facebook is a far more user-friendly platform even though they haven’t created features specifically for Indian advertisers,” said Vikas Chawla, who runs a small ad-buying agency in India.

Facebook ads, compared with those on Google search or YouTube, tend to transcend language barriers more easily because they rely more on visual elements, said Narayan Murthy Ivaturi, vice president at FreakOut Pte Ltd, a Singapore-headquartered digital marketing firm. Pinpointing younger consumers and rural populations is easier with Facebook and its Instagram app, he and other ad buyers said.

And Facebook is succeeding in India, which boasts the fastest-growing digital ad market of any major economy, despite internal turmoil and political controversy. It has been without a country head for the last year, and has faced a series of incidents in which rumors circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp have prompted mob violence.

Facebook and Google between them took 68 percent of India’s digital ad market last year, according to advertising buyer Magna. Media agency GroupM estimates digital advertising spending will grow 30 percent in India this year.

The Facebook phenomenon is evident close to home for Google. During a recent lunch period, six out of 10 people who walked out of Google’s Bangalore offices while looking at their phones told Reuters they were checking WhatsApp. All 10 said they regularly used Whatsapp.

Eight Indian ad buyers interviewed by Reuters were divided on whether Facebook would overtake Google in Indian ad revenue. That such a question would even be debated explains why Pichai, Google’s chief executive, has pressed to flip the company’s approach to emerging markets.

“India is the most important market for the ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative,” Caesar Sengupta, the head of the effort, told Reuters on the sidelines of the annual “Google for India” event in New Delhi last week.

A man walks past a Google hashtag during an event in New Delhi, India, August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW TACTICS

For many years Google designed its services for early adopters of new technology, who tended to be in Silicon Valley, said Nelson Mattos, who oversaw Google’s Europe and Africa operations for several years. Great products would then find a broad global audience.

“Over time, as you saw the growth of Facebook, the importance of WhatsApp and other tools in these new markets, and not the same adoption of Google, the company started to realize that maybe they had to change that approach,” Mattos said.

Shortly after taking the helm three years ago, Pichai mapped a new strategy for places such as India: More services tailored to locals; more marketing on radio, billboards and TV; more local staff and start-up investment.

Google’s India workforce has more than doubled since to more than 4,000 employees, or about eight times Facebook’s presence, according to a tally of LinkedIn profiles and company statements.

Its products evolved too, becoming easier to use with low data plans. Smartphone apps such as Files Go and Tez – rebranded last week as Google Pay – were aimed at Indians.

“There’s definitely a sea change,” said Asif Baki, a user researcher at Google who oversees two-week “immersion trips” in developing markets for senior executives and staff.

The efforts are bearing fruit. Indian users during the first half of this year spent more time on Google services than on Facebook services, according to estimates from audience measurement firm Comscore. Over a similar period a year ago, Facebook came out on top.

Extending those gains to the ad business is a work in progress. A handful of Google executives, including leaders for display ads and small business advertisers, traveled to India earlier this year in a previously unreported trip to better understand the needs of Indian clients.

The visit spurred them to consider ideas such as enabling advertisers to reach users only in a particular Indian state, since language and literacy vary greatly around the country, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

At the New Delhi event, Google unveiled a plan to bring Indian newspaper content online, to increase the supply of search results – and ads – available in regional languages. 

Google still has to reckon with other issues. Small businesses in emerging markets are less likely to have websites, a foundation for Google ad campaigns but unnecessary for Facebook.

Executives met with one Indian merchant who recorded product videos on YouTube then messaged the links to potential customers on WhatsApp, said Kim Spalding, the company’s general manager and product lead for small business ads. 

    Facebook, meanwhile, is already on to commercializing such behavior. Just weeks ago, it began charging for text-based marketing features on WhatsApp, with video ads expected to launch next year.

Reporting by Paresh Dave and Sankalp Phartiyal; Additional reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bangalore; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Alex Richardson

Tesla, Software And Disruption

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Apple Will Require All Apps to Have a Privacy Policy

After data breaches at other tech companies and the European Union’s stricter GDPR rules, Apple is tightening up its App Store.

Apple will require all future updates and new apps to provide a link the developers’ privacy policies. Previously, Apple required any apps with a subscription model to link to their privacy policies, according to the Verge.

Apple told developers about the new requirement, which goes into effect Oct. 3. No apps will be automatically removed if they don’t include a privacy policy after that date since it only applies to updates and new app releases, but any changes made to an app without a privacy policy will now have to include one.

The new rule offers an extra layer of protection for Apple. While the responsibility around data handling first lies with the app developer itself, Apple is reinforcing its role as a platform delivering those apps to users. The move makes sense for Apple, which has often touted itself as a tech company focused on upholding security when it comes to users’ data. Apple also has guide for best practices regarding privacy policies.

Google Is Taking Down Tech Support Scammers

Google is taking action against the tech support scams that advertise on its platform.

The tech giant is making a commitment to removing misleading ads. Google told the Wall Street Journal it removed more than 100 ads every second for violating some part of its policies. Now, it’s also implementing a verification program to further combat bad actors.

The program is meant to ensure that only legitimate third-party tech support companies will be able to advertise on Google. The company announced it will also restrict the category globally in a blog post Friday.

The move comes after an investigation from the Wall Street Journal found fraudulent tech support ads masquerading as larger companies like Apple. Scammers would utilize Google’s advertising system to create misleading ads. The ads would display a link to Apple’s website, but the number in the ad would direct to a call center that the Wall Street Journal says “engages in tech-support scams.”