It is too early to tell if Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn for more than $26 billion will go the way of its purchase of Nokia, the Finnish mobile telephone company, a deal that tanked and had to be undone, sadly for all parties involved. Or if it will be like Skype, a stationary asset that has certainly a large user base but the market value of which has not grown significantly. Neither can we tell if it will, indeed, become a game changer. At this point, we don’t know. If there is one thing we can say, from our humble experience, there is this: when someone pays that amount of money, will want, and will feel entitled too, to see results soon. When those results are not forthcoming, there will be unbearable pressure on the acquired company (i.e., its employees) to “show the money,” and a lot of office disgruntlement will ensue. One reason why mergers and acquisitions end up making everyone miserable is not too different from what makes empires unhappy and causes them to collapse: the conquerors assure they will bring happiness and wellbeing for everyone, but they impose an alien culture and take away the freedom. After struggles that see the demise of a lot of jobs—not as bad as lives, but still—the parties decide to split. It happens all the time. Perhaps the boss of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, has his sight set on the very long term. Is this part of the struggle for supremacy against the other titans in the field: Google, Apple, and Facebook? Is Nadella the chess player that envisions the checkmate after the first couple of moves? To his credit, he was opposed to the Nokia acquisition. But he has now made an even bolder and more expensive move. In the meantime, we quote an analyst from Forbes: “For $26 billion, the acquirer should be getting something that either produces prodigious and rapidly expanding profits or has immeasurable strategic value. It’s not possible to argue LinkedIn offers either.” We will just wrap up by saying that it’s too soon to tell.
Satirical newspaper The Onion ran a mock story about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg advising users not to get their news from the social network site. The story is a joke, done in good spirit. “News” admits a broad definition. If your newsworthy horizon does not extend beyond what family and friends decide to advertise about their lives—birthdays, trips, photos, and other developments people are ready to share with their connections—Facebook is a gold mine. But if you have a keener interest about developments in the community, or world affairs, or anything that concerns a group larger than your social circle, then try to get them from newspapers or media organizations that deal in news. For all their faults, they have an editorial system in place for newsgathering. The other, equally important if more intricate problem with Facebook is that it may foster ideological tribalism: it is a well-known fact of human nature that we like to hear what we want to hear. Social networks tend to group like-minded people, who share news or information that conforms to their own particular views. So, next time you see on Facebook that a friend’s friend saw Elvis Presley riding a motorcycle in Mississippi, check first a newspaper or a media site. But seriously, Facebook is not meant to be your news source.
Apple is publicizing its efforts to fight an FBI request to unlock the single telephone used in a crime. A federal judge last week ordered Apple to create new software and take others steps to retrieve data from the locked phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in a terrorist attack in December 2015 in San Bernardino, California, who was killed in a gun battle with police. The FBI requested Apple that it create an alternative operating system for just that mobile device. It is true that there are another 175 telephones waiting to be broken into, but the bureau is not requesting sweeping access to the universe of Apple devices. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, has come out in support of the government in this case, invoking the imperative of cooperating in the resolution of crimes such as the one at stake, that left 14 dead. Others in the Sillicon Valley, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Google chief Sundar Pichai, have backed Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, albeit in a much muted fashion. The FBI’s suggestions that Apple is turning the case into a marketing operation may have no merits. Yet this much is true: any publicly advertised move is bound to become, by its very nature, publicity. And Apple has cult following all over the world. It would not be unfair to think that the company may be banking on that. The tension between privacy and security is old in democratic societies. That’s why there are courts of law in a system that, however imperfect, affords more equal rights to all parties concerned than any other political order. Techno-populism has no place in this. Admiration earned for technological miracles does not afford privileges before the law, nor does it give a moral upper hand.