Full transcript: Lauren Goode on her final Too Embarrassed to Ask

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We say Goode riddance to our colleague with a countdown of her favorite #TooEmbarrassed moments.

On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, co-host Lauren Goode counts down her favorite episodes from the past two years as she bids farewell to her listeners. Goode is leaving to take a job at Wired, but #tooembarrassed will continue with co-host Kara Swisher.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.

Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.

And you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.

It could be anything at all. Like, “What will Kara Swisher do without me?” No really, what will she do?

So many things. I’ll be just fine. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. We’ll talk about what she means in a second. Send us your questions, find us on Twitter, or tweet them to @Recode, or to myself or to Lauren, with the hashtag #tooembarrassed. We also have an email address, tooembarrassed@Recode.net. Reminder, there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed.

And I won’t be checking it.

Well, all right, Lauren.

Good luck, Kara.

Normally I’d scoop everybody on any sort of news, but Lauren keeps … vomiting up information here. But I’ll let you break your own news. So go ahead, since you already started off on such a note.

I’m leaving you.

Yeah, I know.

But really everybody, I am leaving, after more than two years and nearly 120 episodes of this podcast. Is that possible?


I’m leaving Too Embarrassed to Ask.

Where are you going? You’re just leaving? How can I miss you if you won’t go away?

I’m actually just going down the hall. But I’m leaving this podcast. So good-bye. I am, I’m leaving Vox Media. I’m going to Wired.

Uh-huh. And doing what there? That’s a competitor.

It is. I’ll just see myself out now. I’m going to be …

We have security coming right after this. You have to be able to collect your things. We’re having people put things in boxes right now. Then you’ll be gone.

It’s a lot of gadgets.

Yeah, it’s a lot of gadgets. No, you’re not allowed to keep them. Casey Newton’s clearing your desk.

Oh, okay.

We’ll be moving on very quickly. Yeah, security, don’t worry, I can handle her for now. You’re going away. What are you going to write about there? You’re leaving the Vox Media podcast network.

I am. I am.

Who’s going to say ka-ching?

You’ll find somebody.

You have been … let’s just go over it. You’ve been with Recode for forever, right?

I’ve been with …

AllThingsD, too.


When did you come? When did you show up?

My first day was December 1st, 2011.

Where did you come from? The Wall Street Journal.

I had been at the Wall Street Journal and I was video producer and a video reporter there.

Remember that show?

I got to know Walt Mossberg. By the way, everybody, I was really early to livestreaming video.

Nobody watched it.

It wasn’t a thing then. We found out everybody was watching everything on demand anyway. The Netflix-ification of society had begun at that point. So everything was … Anyway, I got to know Walt Mossberg through that project, essentially, and Walt used to come on our live show every Thursday to talk about his column. It was really fun. And we used to have these phone conversations. Got to know him really well. Then I think I went to, I was assigned to cover the D Conference at one point.

Yes, you were.

And you were, I mean, I was like, “There’s Kara Swisher.”

You still do that, too.

I think you were like somewhat dismissive. Like, who is this person?

I was nice to you.

And I think it was Walt and Peter who told you at some point.

We should hire you. But we did, we hired you at AllThingsD. What year was that?

That was 2011.

Wow. That’s a longtime relationship we’ve had.

I know. And then we became Recode.

And then we became Recode.

And that was the new year.

And then we sold.

2014. 2013 or 2014?

2013? I don’t remember.

You should remember that was your, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out” uber-moment.

I know, but you know what, I don’t care. My career is made already. Don’t worry about anything anymore. I don’t have to remember anything.

Yeah, and then we sold to Vox.

Yeah, then we sold to Vox and you went over to The Verge, because all our consumer reviewers went over there, including Walt too.

That’s correct.

And now you’re going to do Wired. And you’re gonna do similar things there?

Yeah, I’m gonna be senior writer of the Gear section, which is Wired’s long-standing consumer tech section.

So you’re top gadget lady, right?

Yeah, I mean, I think … yes, gadgets for sure, but I think …

It’s not a dismissive word, in my opinion.

It’s not a dismissive word.

Maybe Walt liked the word gadget, I don’t know why.

Well, I think that it can make consumer tech sometimes seem a little bit trivial by using the word.

Sometimes it is.

But sometimes it’s actually the apps and services and things that we use, it’s really this whole idea to be connected.

Would you prefer doodads? How about doodads?


You’re senior doodad editor.

I’m trying to say something that’s really deep and insightful and Kara’s just not gonna let me have that moment. So you know what, follow me on Wired and we’ll talk about it.

Go ahead. Go ahead, go ahead, I’ll let you. You’re gonna do big topics and small. Big and small. Big issues and small. And reviewing? You’re gonna continue to review? Because that was your great strength.

I hope so, continuing video. I’ve had a couple of really fun video series here at Vox Media and I hope to continue making videos and figuring out where video is going and, by the way, if anyone else figures that out first, let me know.

You did great ones at Recode. You did some very fun ones.

We had really fun ones here. Remember we did the Apple Watch one? The rules of etiquette with Apple Watch.

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Where I started to show you my vacation photos on Apple Watch and you were like, “You’re never going on vacation again.”

Oh, that was funny! I remember. Oh, that was a good video. We’ve done some choice … what else did we do?

I was gonna say, we did the … you did Uber for Onesies.

Yeah, Uber for Onesies.

We had you appearing on CNBC in a onesie poking fun at the on-demand economy.

I was. I looked good in a onesie, I have to say. Didn’t Mark Bergen do the onesie?

You were still just as intimidating in a onesie.

It was Bergen. We put Kurt Wagner in a onesie.

Casey Newton.

Casey Newton. Were you in a onesie?

And then Shervin who made a cameo.

Oh, my God, in a onesie. Shervin.

In a onesie.

Oh my God.

Yeah, we made that happen.

The things we’ve done, it’s crazy. So you’re gonna be doing that, but you’re still gonna be, like, on the scene.

On the tech scene. Yeah, absolutely.

Right. What do those people at Wired like? Are they nice? I heard they’re not nice.

Oh, really?

Yeah. I’ve heard terrible things about them there.

You’re just saying that. Oh.

They’re awful people. Conde Nast. That means you get to hang out with Anna Wintour? No, they’re very nice, very nice.

Let the shit-talking begin. And let me hang out with Anna Wintour. Anna’s already asked me if I’d like to have lunch.

Not all of them are nice. Yeah, so, that’s my key part. I write for Vanity Fair from time to time, although I haven’t done it in a while. Although I’m still just …

You did. You did, actually.

I go, I appear at their conferences. I have Conde Nast connections.

I will say that Nick Thompson, who’s the relatively new editor in chief at Wired. He’s been there a year.

I’m very pleased they made that appointment.

Yeah, he’s really smart. It’s a really smart group of people and I’m very excited to go work for them.

Tough guy. Yeah. Wired, of course for those who don’t know, is the iconic tech publication that was, you know, it really started off the idea of the tech consumer. Writing about tech as a consumer thing, as a social thing. It was beautiful design and all kinds of things. It’s a Conde Nast publication. So you’ll be online and in the magazine, correct?

That’s the goal.

Okay, good.


Good. Will you have your own column?

I don’t think it’s being defined in that way.

Okay. But, you’re just gonna be writing? But long features too, right?

The senior writer person in this section at Wired has generally done that. It’s not necessarily just about, here’s this thing and here’s what this thing does, but sort of the backstory behind it. Or interesting people or interesting trends.

So events. Like we’ve trained you well. You’ve been onstage.

Oh, I will still be going to events. You know, events are, if you go in with the right mindset and sense of humor, events are a really fun part of the tech industry.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but are you gonna …

It’s kinda wild.

But not go to events. You gonna put on events?

Oh, in events. I’m sorry, I thought you meant coverage of events. I was like, I will still be there. Yeah, I hope to be part of the events team as well. Wired does have events.

I’m gonna have to kill you then. What about podcasts?

Yeah, Kara. I’m gonna be doing it all, Kara.

Oh my God. I’m gonna have to kill you now.

That’s okay. I don’t mind. Everybody, you heard it here. If I suddenly disappear in the next seven days, look for my body in the San Francisco Bay.

I’m excited that you’re doing this.

So, what we’re gonna do here is we’re gonna recap some of Lauren’s favorite episodes and I’m going to be emotional here. You’ve been a wonderful host. I really do enjoy sparring with you and I do, it’s all in love when I say that I hate you. Know that I just miss you.

I’m gonna miss that so much.

I know, but you know what I mean. Like, I like that you … you’re a good foil.

I can’t wait to read the comments after this on our iTunes page. They’ll be like, “Kara drove her away.”

“Lauren’s so nice.” We know, blah, blah, blah, blah. Like, story of my life. Even my mother, like, you know, like … she always takes my friend’s side in a fight. People I’m dating, she’s always like, “Well, mm-hmm.”

See, that’s the worst. You know, it’s so the worst.

It’s fine, it’s fine. So we thought we’d recap some of Lauren’s favorite episodes.

You know what, Kara? Nice doesn’t get scoops.

I know, it’s true. It’s true. Keep down. Stay down. I’m gonna get it tattooed on my ass.

Lauren’s favorite episodes at Too Embarrassed to Ask. Lauren, what was your favorite episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask? Let’s start with you.

There were too many. There were way too many to list, and a lot of times it really did depend on guests, but mostly I enjoyed the episode where you finally admitted that you were obsessed with AirPods after initially calling them ugly and making fun of them.

Three pairs and counting.

Well, how do you have three pairs already?

Because they run out of juice. I have them on all the time. The juice issue is a problem.

I already made Eric Johnson, our producer, find some clip awhile ago of you hating and then professing your love for AirPods, so I’m going to skip that. One of my favorite podcast moments … let’s just play the clip.

All right.


Doug Evans: There’s 400 custom parts in here. There’s two motors, there’s 10 printed circuit boards, there’s a scanner, there’s a microprocessor, there’s a wireless chip, wireless antenna, there’s 775 aircraft-grade aluminum, there’s a gear box, there’s latches that support 16,000 pounds of force. So this is a monster of a machine kind of inside this veil of this nice aesthetic.

And then you have to put these packs in and these are packs of products, not juice. My friend is like, “Oh, juice packs.” You don’t just squeeze juice into a glass.

Doug Evans: No, this is fresh-cut produce.

I like it. It’s good.

Lauren Goode: What’s your short 30-second review of it?

I have to say I’m surprised. I thought it was just juice in a bag and you just squeezed it into a glass. For some reason, I just felt that.

Doug Evans: Yeah, you would need a $ 699 device to do that.

Oh, right, so it’s the pressure that you’re paying for.


Okay, so that is Kara talking about Juicero and astutely noting, by the way, that it seemed like something you would just squeeze in a glass.

I’ll tell you, in advance knowledge, I saw a Kevin Rose video where he did that. So I should have done that and done a story on it.

Kara, tell us how that story ends.

Oh, Juicero. Well, it’s no longer, you know? Nobody’s buying a $ 699 device that squeezes juice when you can do it just as well with your hand.

Who was it that discovered you could squeeze it?

It was Ellen Huet. Great job. I was aware of it. You know, some of the things you see and you’re like, “Of course,” but she got them good. She got them good. Good for Ellen.

Poor Juicero. You know Doug Evans, who we just heard from, I was gonna say he has resurfaced again. Vice had a report recently about raw water.

Not Vice. That was Nellie Bowles’s report. Nellie wrote the first one.

She wrote about raw water, but then Vice added …

He was in the story. He was in the story and then they went around with him, further making him seem ridiculous. Like a ridiculous figure. But, yeah, it was … he went to raw water, so … who says you can’t get crazier, right? You’d think Juicero would be the top of the crazy parade, but no, he’s marching on the raw water. I don’t know what’s next. Fake skin. I don’t know what. I don’t know.

That was one of my favorite podcasts, hands down. Another favorite episode of mine was at South By Southwest last year, when we were both there live. We were in the Nat Geo space. It was this really cool live podcast and we interviewed Mary Lou Jepsen about her brain-reading app. No, seriously, she’s working on brain-reading technology. Here’s what she had to say about that.


You talk about that idea of communicating through thought. How does that happen? Explain what you’re doing with Openwater.

Mary Lou Jepsen: So, Openwater is using LCDs to … it seems like a two-fold approach — make a wearable MRI system and work on telepathy — but it’s the same technology. If I throw you in an MRI machine right now, you as well, I can tell you what words you’re about to say. I can tell you what images are in your head. I can tell you what music you’re thinking of. I can tell if you’re listening to me or not and really get the implications of what I’m saying, because this notion of privacy that we have changes when we can …

See people’s thoughts.

Mary Lou Jepsen: Yes.

Right now you’re saying that you can do that.

Mary Lou Jepsen: And that’s possible with MRI now.


Yeah, I liked that. That was a great episode. Mary Lou Jepsen’s a character. She’s worked for Facebook, she works for Google. She actually happened to be a very good friend of Megan’s at MIT. They went to school together. She’s doing all this stuff around screen technology. That was her first thing. At one point, I remember, she told me she wanted to put a screen across the moon and do moon TV. Which would freak everyone out across the planet.

She talked about that during that podcast. And we were all like, “How would you regulate that?”

Yeah, you wouldn’t. Like, I don’t think there’s any implications of a Coca-Cola commercial on the moon. It’s really interesting. She’s a big thinker.

Yeah, she’s a big thinker. It was a really fun podcast, not just because it was with Mary Lou Jepsen, but because of the live audience and the fact that we were in South By Southwest together.

They’re drinking all the time.

Yeah, and it was at noon or something. It was the middle of the day and it was at a bar, so things were getting a little rowdy. We also shared a room together at South By.

Did we?

Yeah, remember?

We shared several rooms together. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because …

We shared a room together and I, at one point, it was like a Sunday afternoon and there was a lull and I went to go take a nap. I’ll never forget this, you came over to my side of the room, you handed me a sleep mask, which I thought was the nicest thing. You were like, “Here, you’re trying to take a nap. Use the sleep mask.” And I said, “Oh, okay, thanks.” And then you promptly got on the phone with your insurance company and made seven phone calls back to back to insurance agents. As though you had given me earplugs, only you hadn’t. And then I was like, “Well, I guess I’m not napping.”

Yeah, there’s no napping at South By Southwest, but I did give you a nice … do you have that … nice little lovely thoughtful moment of mine. Sorry about that. Anyway, next one. I’m a kind person. I didn’t notice how kind I was.

Let’s see, what should we … okay, so it’s hard to say that this is a favorite, because of the weight of the subject matter. I think it was more of our more impactful podcasts was with Niniane Wang and Joelle Emerson who came on the show to talk about sexual harassment.

We wanted to talk about techniques and solutions and things like that.

It was very solutions focused. Niniane had already, at that point, come out in the media with her story about repeated harassment from a VC, so that was out there already. She hadn’t, I think, done a lot of long-form interviews with people, and she came on to tell her story. Joelle is a founder of a firm called Paradigm and they work with a lot of companies. Sort of, address unconscious bias from the ground up. She’s very solutions focused. They’re both very … very interesting conversation. Here’s a quick clip from them.


Niniane Wang: The Gloria Steinem Foundation tells me that when there’s a hyper-masculine environment, harassment begins to occur. Whether it’s the military, police force, prison, if something is overwhelmingly male, then this type of harassment will occur. And we can do medium-term work to get rid of the bad actors and put processes in place to remove them, but the truly long-term fix is to create more diversity and that, that will create systematic change that helps men understand women more if they are working with them every day. And that will naturally help them make better decisions to change the system to remove harassment.

Okay, hyper-masculine. I agree with that. Silicon Valley, is that like hyper-masculine, because the men here are not as … they’re not like … she was talking about police and things like that. It’s definitely a hyper-male environment here in Silicon Valley. That was really important.

It’s hyper-male and I think it’s worth noting too, whether it’s beta or alpha, there can be a toxicity that arises from any type of insular culture.

Absolutely. It’s hyper-juvenile male, is what it is.


Mm-hmm. It can be.

That’s to me what it is. It’s not quite as menacing as she was talking about, but it’s the same thing. It’s the same result. Whenever it’s the same result, and that was what was critically important with that one in talking about solutions and what to do about it.

Right. Incidentally, this was also where I admitted that maybe sometimes I look up to Kara a little bit.

Look down, because I’m so short.

If you enter an organization as a young person and you don’t see a woman who’s moved up the ranks, who’s maintained a successful career with someone … I can look up to Kara, she’s right here next to me, right? She’s more experienced than me. But for people that enter a work organization that are facing challenges that don’t have that, it can be incredibly discouraging.

I was trying to get you to look down at me.

I did say “look down on me.” Look at me. I’m so funny I already know my jokes.

Now, we did a lot of podcasts about Uber. Johana Bhuiyan came on a couple of times and Mike Isaac from the New York Times that used to be working at AllThingsD and Recode.

Yeah, but Uber’s not my favorite, so they’re not making the list.

Oh, they aren’t?

No, I mean, you know what? Uber was a really important topic that we covered multiple times throughout this year and I’m really glad that we had the people on that we did, but I can’t say any one of those podcasts stood out to me as “this is my favorite” because …

They were the toxic gift that keeps on giving. Do you know what I mean? The desiccated, rotting gift that keeps on giving.

Is it still a gift at that point?

Yes, it is. Today I wrote a story about what was going on there and they’ve had some trouble this week. Although I do like the new CEO. He’s coming to Code. He’s trying. But, honestly, at one point we were at a party and he said, “Thanks for getting me my job, but I hate you.” You know what I mean?

How did you get him his job?

He’s was talking over at Reuters. We did a bunch of stories. You know, we did the one about the India rape thing. Mike did a great issue about regulatory issues. The Information; Amir Efrati did great stories about the escort thing. It all ended up where it ended up, I think the media played a great role in the removal of Travis Kalanick.

Speaking of fellow journalists, we’ve had a lot of journalists on the Too Embarrassed podcasts over the past couple of years. They’re too many to name them all, but Johanna Curr and Jason from Recode came on. Peter Kafka came on once. He and I talked about streaming media services for a full hour, it was quite fun. Dan Seifert from the Verge, Ina Fried from Axios, Joanna Stern from the Wall Street Journal, Casey Newton and Dieter Bohn from The Verge.

Many others, but a few of my favorite episodes hands down were when I spoke with Ray Maker of DC Rainmaker fame about werewolves. Brian Stelter came on from CNN to talk about the fake news phenomena. Jackie Chang from Wirecutter, she came on to talk about tech products to buy when you’re on a budget and it was fantastic. She’s come in a couple of times and it was really fantastic, but the story with Ray Maker …

All right, tell me one.

You weren’t there for that one.

No, I wasn’t, so tell me.

Of course it’s on my favorite list.

Everybody knows Ray Maker, what a name.

One of the first things …

“I’m Ray Maker.”

He’s DC Rainmaker.

All right. If you say so.

By the way, Outside magazine just did a great profile of Ray.

All right, I’ll read it.

Yeah, go check it out.

What did you like about it?

What I liked about it, aside from the fact that you weren’t there, was that we just talked about wearables for an hour and a half.

Oh my God, you must have been in heaven.

I said at the start of this, If Kara was here, I would not actually be having this conversation right now.

No, you can’t, because they’re unwearables.

Because she calls them unwearables.

Are you wearing any? You use to have like 90. What’s that one?

Yes, I’m wearing one. It’s the new Fitbit.

Oh, please. Whatever. Okay.

This is not out yet.

Okay, thank you.

By the time of this podcast, it will be.

It’s huge. It’s enormous still.

It’s not that big.

It’s big. C’mon, it’s like a rock on your … It’s like, “Here, I’m wearing this giant …” It looks like you had some problems with the law and they had to keep track of you. That’s what it looks like.

I’ve never heard that before. No one has ever said wearables look like …

I know, but it should be on your ankle. I think it’s a better fit on your ankle. Anyway, you’ve had a lot of them and let me just say you’ve gotten rid of them. I’m 100 percent correct that these wearables are still not where they need to be.

I would agree with you that they are not where they need to be. That said, I had a very fun conversation with Ray about it because he tests all of the latest fitness packs.

You can keep hoping. Hoping and dreaming.

And we talked about …

That’s what keeps our America great.

All right, all right. Brian Stelter on fake news.

Yeah, Brian’s great.

Let’s play a quick clip from that.


Brian Stelter: There wasn’t as much awareness of that before election day as there was after election day. I would say certainly thanks to the efforts of Craig Silverman at BuzzFeed and the others in the fall, in the September/October range, there was certainly a heightened awareness of these fake, totally made up sites. And now, of course, as you’ve said, the term has been sort of retired. It’s been exploited, it’s been misused by people to mean anything I don’t like, anything I don’t agree with is fake news.

Yeah, President Trump uses it.

Brian Stelter: The president has now kind of taken over the term. I think Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post is right, we shouldn’t be using the term “fake news” so much anymore. We should let that one go and use more specific language like, “These fictional sites that are trying to make money are creating hoaxes and trying to fool people.” So I think we can be more descriptive, but the problem is still very real and very there.


Kara, what do you think? Do you think people are being more careful about using the term “fake news” or is it just firmly embedded in our vernacular?

No, it’s one of these words that’s just gotten away. Trump has just ruined it. You know what I mean? It’s like, everything’s fake news? It’s not. We gotta have another … just “fake” is fine. It’s what we should focus on, that it’s fake. It’s an interesting issue. I think the word’s been made impossible to use anymore by Trump, by calling everything “fake news.” And everyone says it. My kids say it all the time. My dogs say it. It’s just things that aren’t accurate, inaccurate is the word I’d like to use.

The idea that we shouldn’t use the phrase in general because it devalues the actual news, do you think that’s true?

It does. Yeah, I just think that Brian was really smart on this and the idea is, again, what these platforms have allowed to happen is just irresponsible on every level.

Yeah, even more so, we taped that podcast, it had to have been last year, it was definitely 2017, and since then, you know for a while, we would talk about, “What is the responsibility of the platforms and are they just still platforms?” And just over time it’s become increasingly apparent that they are more than platforms and that they’re adopting the rules of media companies.

100 percent. It was a really smart one.

It was and then Jackie Chang, we talked to her about what phone to buy when you’re on a budget, because last year we saw the announcement of $ 1,000 flagship smartphones, and that doesn’t work for everybody. And then in addition to talking about what phone you should buy on a budget, we talked about everything. We talked about laptops, I think we talked about tablets. We may have even touched on e-readers. It was a very good conversation.

She’s just super smart. The budget one was interesting. Of course, I’m very wealthy, so I can buy the expensive phone.

Oh, are you? We didn’t know that. We didn’t know. You haven’t mentioned it 75 times in the podcast before. Oh, now it’s my turn to be snarky, Kara.

The phone is my life, I’m going to spend money on it. Other people buy fine wines, other people buy nice cars. I have a Ford Fiesta. I’m gonna have a nice phone, right?

Are you going to buy me a fine wine when I leave?

Oh, do you like wine?

I like it a little bit.

No, I’m not buying you wine. I’m not buying you a gift at all. Do I have to? You left. You should buy me a gift. We’ll have a party. We’ll have a Lauren Goode good riddance party.

Good with an E riddance. Lauren Goode riddance.

Good riddance. Lauren Goode riddance party. I want to continue the good riddance tour in a moment. You have the perfect name for that. But we’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. Lauren, make it a good one.

Hashtag you’ll miss me.

Nope. No.

Hashtag money.

No, that wasn’t a good one. C’mon! Say the hashtag.

Hashtag money!

We’re doing so well financially. I just had a meeting with out podcast money people.

Uh huh. That’s all gonna go down the tubes once I leave.

No, no, because I’m the key man. That’s the situation going on. I’m making all the dough. I need a good hashtag money. C’mon.

Hashtag money.


We’re back with Lauren Goode, who’s on her Goode Riddance Tour as she prepares to leave Vox Media and Kara Swisher and head over to Wired.


Really, you’ve been a part of our lives. You’re like a … barnacle, in a lot of ways.

I always wanted to be underwater.

But we’re indulging her by going through some of her favorite moments from this podcast over the past two years, which we’ve been doing this two years. Too Embarrassed to Ask. It was Lauren’s idea and it’s been a lovely thing. What’s the next one?

You gave me credit for an idea. That is what people should do. That’s really nice.

I’m good that way.

Thanks for doing that.

I don’t suck up ideas, I’m not a white guy. C’mon, let’s go. The white lady. Let’s go.

This is one of my favorite podcasts, mostly because Louie Swisher made another guest appearance. Your son. Wait, is he going to take over as co-host when I’m gone?

Yes. Yes, he is, because he does rather well. The ratings go up when Louie Swisher’s around.

He should. He probably should. People clamor for Louie.

I’ve got a second one. I’ve got an heir and a spare. Alex on Fortnite, I’m trying to convince him, he’s much shyer than his brother. But Alex is an obsessive Fortnite user.

Oh, that would be great.

I know, but he talks my friggin’ ear off about it. I’m like, can we just record you talking about stupid Fortnite? So, heir and a spare.

That’s actually nice. That’s great. Bring him on. Well, this one is also my favorite podcast. Not just because Louie Swisher was on the show, but it’s because it’s when Kara finally admitted that she has a phone problem. This was from a recent podcast we did with the author Catherine Price on tech addiction.


This is about your phone. I think you might have a problem and you need some help. Now, I’ve thought about what I would say to you at this moment, but I do think you need help and it’s help I can’t give you. Otherwise, I don’t think this podcast relationship can move forward. So, either you need to consciously uncouple from your phone or I’m going to have to leave you on this podcast, and eventually you’re just going to be stuck with some bespectacled guy named Rob or Will or Alex, who speaks in thoughtful tones and is going to want to turn this podcast into a 90-minute discussion about obscure films.

I’m sorry, were you talking? I was looking at my phone. I love my phone, Lauren, and I’ll be honest with you …

This is going to be a long, long road.

I’ve got to tell you, I love my phone more than you. I’m sorry to give you that piece of information, but it’s true.

Kara, that is one of the meanest things. You know what?

Why is it mean?

Friends, family, anybody who’s listening to this podcast …

The phone is fantastic. Why would you be mad at being left by someone who’s …

Leave remarks in the comments section of iTunes if you have any thoughts and feelings on what Kara Swisher just said and I’m just going to leave it at that.


So you said you love your phone more than me and I warned you, I warned you that I was leaving you.

Yes. Yeah, that continues to be the case. I still love my phone more than you.

And I am leaving you.

I know. That’s okay, that’s okay. I’m good. I still have my phone, so what’s the problem? There’s no problem.

We both made commitments during that podcast to try different things. This was after your fancy vacation to Mexico.

I didn’t do any of them. What were they?

You said that you were not gonna use your phone in the elevator.

Oh, I don’t do that. I already wasn’t doing that. I find that rude.

And then I said that when I went on a vacation the following week, that I was not going to pick up my phone first thing and look at it.

And did you do that?

Nope. I looked at it.

See? Both of us. We’re a disappointment to each other. Do you think I’m going to give up my phone for you or I like you more?

You know, it wasn’t that I expected you to give it up, it wasn’t about sacrificing something you love. It was just about prioritizing differently.



Yeah, whatever. But the thing is, the fact of the matter is I love my phone more than you and I will continue to do so long after you leave.

You know, this really could have worked out if we had gone to podcast therapy.

I’m sure if I put with Esther Perel … I just did the Esther Perel podcast. We were on couples.

You did? Really?

Yeah. Esther Perel and I did a great podcast from, but you weren’t there, from South By Southwest. It’s blowing up on the internet today.

I’m gonna have to listen to it.

Because she took apart the Trump marriage for me and then talked about stroking phones.

Oh, really?

Mm-hmm. She’s my new partner. She has a French accent. I got her to … oh no, she’s from Brussels; she’s Belgian. She was talking about, I said take apart the Trump marriage and she goes, “Oh, I could not do this. I do not know them. Eh, okay!” And then she did it. And she had a really great, I have to say …

What did she say about?

She said Melania is in a story she didn’t want to be in and that Trump is a narcissist. So, no hope there.

You know, I do love Esther, but I don’t think you need any degrees in psychology to point out narcissism in that case.

Yeah, I know. I got it. I got it. She had some very … you just listen to it. It’s very good.

I’m gonna listen to it. Yeah, I’m gonna listen to it on my way home.

All right, No. 3.

While I’m crying in my car on my way home from our final podcast.

No. 3, it’s a little bit of a sleeper hit, but one of my favorite episodes was our podcast about podcasts. Once a year we went really meta and we would ask people to send in their favorite podcasts and we would go through our own list of favorite podcasts and it was surprisingly popular. People just love talking about podcasts when they’re not listening to them. Kara, what’s your favorite right now?

Recode Decode.

You’ve got a lot of great interviews lately.

I have! Recode Decode rocks! Scaramuccci, c’mon. Chris Hughes talking about a very serious subject, universal basic income. I talking about sex with Christiane Amanpour. C’mon, couldn’t get better than that. Who else have I done recently? Esther Perel obviously, who’s fantastic. Just everybody seems to want to talk on that Recode Decode. It’s good. We’ve got a lot more that are coming up that are great.

If you were to say one, aside from Recode Decode or Too Embarrassed to Ask, what would it be?

Peter Kafka’s Recode Media. No, I like a lot of podcasts. I like Vox Explained. I like The Daily, I love Michael Barbaro. We’ve got a whole man-crush going on with each other. I really like him. I think it’s really well done. And Vox Explained is quite good, too. It’s new.

It’s very good, yep.

So I’ve just started listening to it. One’s in the morning, one’s in the afternoon, so it works out rather well. And they’re short so — shorter — and they’re nice, they’re packed full of goodness. I listen to the history one. Don’t know much about history. One of the history ones, I can’t remember. I have one on the history of Rome. I’m obsessed with the history of ancient Rome. I don’t know. I like the Pod Save America guys sometimes. They get a little bro-y for me.

You’ve interviewed them too, haven’t you?

Yes, I have. They’ve been on Recode Decode. They get a little bro-y, but I like the bro-y. They’re good bros.

What’s a podcast bro called? It’s just like a pod-bro?

A po?

A pro?

A pro? I don’t know.

A brocast.

Just the same as they are everywhere else, brocast. Something like that, yeah. All right, we’re gettin’ down to it. No. 2.

No. 2. Honestly, this is really my favorite Too Embarrassed to Ask episode of all time. Walt Mossberg was retiring last year in the summer of 2017, so we planned a little surprise for him. We asked him to come on the podcast one last time. It was down at Code Conference in Southern California and we made it seem like it was just going to be like this standard thing, and then behind the scenes, Kara and I were working to get all of tech’s top executives to send in their Too Embarrassed questions to him. Here’s the clip.


Okay, this one is from Bill in Redmond, Washington.

Bill: Hey, Walt, this is Bill. What’s your advice on staying up to date on all the changes once your column is no longer coming out?

Walt Mossberg: Oh, Bill in Redmond. I know how tough it can be when you live so distant from the epicenter of tech. And you’ve never had any experience! Ah, Bill Gates, just … you know what, just scroll through Twitter. And take your chances on what’s fake and what’s not.

All right, fantastic answer!

Walt Mossberg: That’s basically my method.

All right.

Lauren Goode: Walt, if you ever start sharing things that look to be overtly fake, I’ll just DM you and let you know, okay?

Walt Mossberg: No, just message Bill. Say, “Bill, here’s a good one.”

Lauren Goode: I guess we have a lot of listeners in Redmond, Washington, because this one is from a long-time fan named Steve.

Steve: Walt, this is Steven from Redmond. Just a quick question about your review of Outlook ’97. You called it “a great idea poorly executed.” And you said, “The interface was puzzling and that people would be confused by all this dense and daunting interface. It’s cluttered, complicated. Wordy, complex forms and dialogues. But don’t worry, Microsoft’ll get it right by the third version.” Is that all you had to say, or was there anything you wanted to add to that? Oh, and go Yankees!


Honestly, there were so many good clips from that. You know, Phil Schuler, Bill Gates, Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg, Steven Sinofsky, Jack Dorsey sent in a question, it was really great. But the best part of it, they had sent in very thoughtful questions, some of them did, but the best part of it was really hearing Walt’s reaction, because he was so surprised. You can’t see that through the podcast, but his face was so great.

That laugh; I can’t do his laugh. That Walt cackle.

Yeah, it was so great. It’s like a Bezos-like laugh.

He’s a cackler, really.

It’s a ha-ha-ha. Let’s do our Walt laughs.

I can’t do it. That’s good, that’s good.

He was so fun.

He’s a great guy. Lauren, he’s been such a great mentor to me and you and he deserves all the kudos.

He really does.

He does. He’s a good man.

I really, really am going to miss you both. Immensely.

Well, he’s gone. He left. Left us far behind.

You know, Walt’s retirement is like the furthest thing from retirement. He’s so busy.

He is busy.

He’s got so many great things going on.

He’s in a cigar store. But he’s left us, Lauren, let’s be honest.

I know, and now I’m leaving you, but honestly I am so immensely grateful to everything I’ve learned. I’ve learned so many reporting tips and tricks from you guys, but also just learned a lot about the industry. You know, it’s funny, a lot of what it comes down to in this crazy news business is who you get to work with in newsrooms.

Yep. It’s true. Oh my God, you’re going all soppy. Enough about me, what do you think of me?

What do I think of you? What about me? What about me?

What do you like about me most?

Let’s talk about me now. Let’s talk about me.

This is true. Building teams. They always say there is no me in team, but there actually is me in team. I hate when people say that, ’cause it’s like, yeah, it’s right there, an E and an M.

I think there’s no I in team. That’s the phrase.

Yeah, whatever. Teams are important.

What are you gonna do without me?

Oh, you know, I’ll find someone else. I always find someone else. Just think, literally, I got my kids, I got my dogs, Lauren. I got Eric! I’ve got Eric. Will you send Eric, please?

There’s no me in team! There’s no me in team! There is me in team. Wait, I was getting there, because we still have to get to my No. 1 favorite podcast of all time.

Okay, No. 1.

It was just all of ’em.

Oh, Lauren. So sentimental.

Yeah, all of my podcasts with Kara Swisher.

Have I not taught you to be snarky and mean? I feel like I’ve failed.

You are such a softy. I’m gonna go back to them and say … You know, people for years to come are gonna ask me, “What was it like working with Kara Swisher when she was not hiding out at events at Yahoo?” And I’m going to say, “She was a softy.”

Oh, God, please don’t do that.

All right, I’m not gonna.

I’ve worked all these years to frighten and scare people.

Oh, I’m gonna have so many good stories.

Yeah. All right. You promise?

I promise.

All right, Lauren, you’re not going far. Wired is located here in San Francisco, so you may continue to come to our events.

Thank you. I would love to.

And also, my parties perhaps from time to time. Every other one.

Every other one? I feel so pleased.

Let me just say, Lauren is an amazing journalist. She does a lot of reviews and she’s known for reviews and some of the questionable video things she’s done.


But I have to say she’s a great reporter. She’s a dogged reporter. We had hoped she would stay at Recode. She’d come back to Recode, we asked her to be an editor, I will reveal that. We wanted her to do it, but she really … her best stuff is writing and reporting on tech and what it means. I think that’s the great part. There’s not a lot of great people doing this, there just aren’t. I think Wired will be much improved with you there.

Thank you very much. That’s like the nicest thing you’ve said sincerely.

You know that’s all you’re getting.

I wanna give a special shout out to Eric Johnson who is the … I was going to say the voice behind the microphone, but actually he doesn’t chime in all that much. He’s a producer but he’s … Yeah, yeah.

Oh he’s coming on when you’re gone. He’s gonna become the guest host.

Eric Johnson: Get out of the way.

Okay, sorry guys, my chair has gone flying across the room here.

Yeah, he’s coming on.

No, Eric Johnson has been a fantastic person, friend. We’ve known each other since, well, we both went to Stanford, but we didn’t go at the same time. We have worked together since the AllThingsD days. We went to E3 together. We were in E3 and we stayed in that bizarre hotel that was like on the total other side of LA. And anyway, Eric has been a fantastic reporter and now a fantastic podcast producer and all around wonderful human being. So thank you so much for everything you’ve done. It’s been a real pleasure working with you.

Well, Lauren, security’s here to take you away.

Okay, here’s my badge.

Here’s your badge.

And I’ll really miss all of you. I just wanna say thank you to everybody who’s listened.

Oh, the audience, right.

Yes, of course! Who’s gonna listen to you reading mattress ads?

I’m just saying, who’s gonna read the comments, ’cause I don’t. I’ve gotta find someone.

Yeah, who’s gonna read all the emails? Guys, if you send an email to TooEmbarrassed@Recode.net, there’s a chance Kara’s not gonna get back to you. It was me responding all those times.

There’s a chance? A 100 percent chance of rain. C’mon.

You’re probably better off tweeting at her. And I know Eric will also be checking the inbox.

Thank God for Eric.

And I really, really thank all of you for being on this Too Embarrassed journey with me.

Oh, it’s a journey. What should we call it? Should we retire Too Embarrassed?

Goode Riddance. Putting my microphone down now.

All right, this has been another great episode with Lauren Goode. Lauren may be leaving us, but the show will go on because why not.

Recode – All

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Samsung Notebook Odyssey Z Gaming Laptop with 15.6-inch Full HD display, GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, 16GB RAM announced

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Samsung Electronics today announced Notebook Odyssey Z Gaming Laptop with 15.6-inches 1080p display, up to 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, up to 16GB RAM. It comes with thermal management hardware; an in-built Z AeroFlow Cooling System consists of three key components; the Dynamic Spread Vapor Chamber, the Z AeroFlow Cooling Design and the Z Blade Blower. It is powered by the 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor with 6 cores and 12 threads and supports latest DDR4 memory with a bandwidth of 2,400 MHz. The Notebook comes with a refined keyboard with Crater Keycaps that deliver improved precision and comfort and the new Touchpad design, which is located to the side for a more desktop-like feel. It also comes with silent mode option to focus on what you do with the fan noise able to reach as low as 22 decibels. The Dynamic Spread Vapor Chamber covers both GPU and CPU from edge to edge for optimal heat management; the Vapor Chamber is aided by Z AeroFlow Cooling Design, to efficiently push cold air to the hottest parts of the device above and below simultaneously, while pushing out heat air from the vents. Samsung Notebook Odyssey Z Gaming Laptop specifications 15.6-inch (1920 x 1080 pixels) Full HD display 8th Gen …
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Full transcript: Author and Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz on Recode Media

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No two ways about it: Marvel movies make money.

His new book is “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies.”

On this episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz talks about his new book, “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies.” Fritz says the economics of the movie business have been completely transformed by the rise of online streaming services and by brands like Marvel, which have supplanted name-brand stars and directors as the most reliable indicator of a film’s success.

You can read some highlights from the interview here or listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Below, you’ll also find a lightly edited transcript of the full episode.

Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That is me. I’m Peter Kafka. I’m here at Vox Media headquarters in New York City. I’m talking to Ben Fritz from The Wall Street Journal, who’s written a new book called “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies.” Hey, Ben.

Ben Fritz: Hey, Peter.

That’s called an introduction. Before we go further, I want to ask you to recommend this podcast to a friend, to the internet. I’ve been sending out emails recommending Ben’s book. I sent out a Twitter DM yesterday recommending Ben’s book. Someone wrote back and said, “I’m in line at Barnes & Noble to see Ben speak.”

Oh wow.

So that is how one does sort of hand-to-hand promotion. I’m asking you guys to do that so you can listen to this podcast for free. Okay. Golda, is that an adequate promotion? We’re gonna make Golder a character on this show.

And now, Ben, welcome.

Thank you, Peter.

I wanted to work with you for years.

That’s right. You’ve spoken about it for a long time.

You’ve rejected my entreaties, so this will count. You’ve written this awesome book. It’s about the movie business.


If you listen to this podcast, so you’re a nerd who likes media, and the business of media, and how technology’s changing that, this is for you.


It’s a great book. I finished the whole thing. Last chapter on the subway here. Give me the thesis of the book.

Thesis of the book is that we’ve entered a new era of the movie business, which I call the franchise era of filmmaking. The movie business, correctly understood now, I think, is driven primarily by brands, by branded franchises — you know, your Marvel, your Fast and Furious, your Transformers, your Star Wars — and the age of movie stars, or the age of original films, the age of a diverse slates by studios is over, and those movies, they’re still created on the fringes of the business.

If you are someone who wonders why every movie is a superhero movie, or a Transformers movie, if you like that, if you complain about that, this is the book that explains that. And this isn’t a nuance that you quite clearly … I hadn’t really processed all the way through. The idea that movie studios spending a lot of time and attention on big blockbusters is not a new idea, and what is happened over the last 10 or 15 years is instead of saying, “We’re making a Bruce Willis movie or a Tom Cruise movie,” is that, “We’re making a movie that’s about Star Wars or Transformers,” or some brand that you presumably already know.

Right, yeah. Certainly there have been big-budget summer movies since “Jaws,” right, but now it’s not about the movie stars. The star vehicle is over, the Will Smith vehicle, the Bruce Willis vehicle is definitely over, and it’s these brands that are managed just as much as Procter & Gamble manages their brands. That’s what the most successful movie studios do, and the brands are really what’s relevant to consumers globally.

You buy an Apple product because you’re loyal to Apple. You go see a Marvel movie because you’re loyal to Marvel. And this has transformed the economics of the business for sure.

And you explain this in depth, sort of the why — let’s see if I got my reading comprehension correct — but it seems like you’re calling out three specific things that sort of pushed the business this way. One is the internet, and specifically Netflix and the fact that they’re sort of bringing so much content to you at home. Two is the death of DVDs, which cut out a really profitable part of the business and allowed them to make money from less successful movies. And the third is sort of the rise of China. Am I getting that correct?


Yay me!

You comprehended that very well. I would say that the …

I read the book.

Yeah, look at you. Not everybody who’s interviewed me has actually read the book thoroughly, I don’t think. Yes, and I would say the rise of Netflix, I would very … related to that, fold into it, is the golden age of TV, which includes Netflix and Amazon, of course, and also cable networks.

If I’m watching “Breaking Bad” commercial-free for 45 hours at home, it’s gotta be something pretty fantastic to get me into the theater.

Yeah, right. Has to be an amazing theatrical experience. Not to mention that “Breaking Bad,” essentially, is one big 45-hour story, right?


I mean, it’s essentially a really long movie. I think that’s a way to understand it.

Right, and that’s sort of a cliché now, right, that these … that “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” are a very long movie, but it’s true.

It is true.

And even the stuff that’s mediocre, right, is good enough to keep me engaged. So what is gonna get me to the theater? And specifically what is gonna get someone who’s spent money on a movie out to the theater?

Right, sure, right. You mean most TVs, obviously, you have a subscription to it, so the marginal cost of watching that next Netflix or HBO show is zero, and the marginal cost of going to see a movie is substantial, especially if you have kids and need babysitters and everything, so you’ve got so many good options for zero dollars.

They’re gonna get you out of the house, it better be one of two things: Either something so spectacular you would be inferior to watch it in your living room, or that rare thing that happens once in a while still, which is like a cultural moment that you want to be part of and everybody’s talking about “Get Out.” You can’t miss “Get Out.”

Right. I wanna talk more about the industry in general and the book — or what we can learn from the book — but I do wanna highlight something that surprised me when I started reading it, because the title doesn’t say so and there’s nothing in the copy that indicates this, but at least half the book is about the story of Sony Pictures, specifically. You have great access and great detail, and that’s because you’re using … Well, you tell me. You fill in the blank.

Because of the hack of Sony Pictures now a little over three years ago, yes.

So basically that provided you with enormous source material?

Right. You’re correct. We didn’t advertise it heavily because I didn’t want people to see this as a hack book or a Sony book.

Hack book or “This is the story of what happened three years ago at Sony.”

Yes, exactly right. That wouldn’t be so compelling. This is about …

But it is super compelling, because it’s the kind of reporting you wouldn’t normally be able to do. You have all this insight into what Michael Lynton’s thinking, what Amy Pascal is thinking, because they’ve written it in their own words in a way that you can’t really normally get ever.

True, well, this is …

Contemporaneous notes filed by the people in charge of the theater.

Yes, that was absolutely … that was my in to the book. That’s where I started. This hack happened. Is there a book in the hack? That’s really where I started three years ago. First, it was like maybe this is like “too big to fail.” You’re inside the drama and you see what happens, but there were two problems with that. One is the problems in a movie studio and an executive getting fired is not exactly akin to the American economy almost collapsing, and it was so over-covered at the time. There wasn’t a lot left to say about what was happening there.

But I did … the more I dug into it, the more I thought, “Hey, this stuff they are talking about are all these issues that I think about and everybody I know who goes to the movies thinks about.” The people in Hollywood are actually having the same kind of debates. Why can’t we make original movies for adults anymore? Why’s that so hard? How we gonna handle this franchise age? What are we gonna do that will appeal to people in China? How are we gonna compete with Marvel and Star Wars? That’s what the people at Sony were debating, and I realized this is a great …

And you write a book like this, it can’t just be me pontificating, or it could, but I don’t think that’s such a good book, but you want to have characters. You want to have an arc. You wanna see people grappling with problems, and the Sony executives whose emails were released, I think combined with the documents that get you into the economics of their business and combined with some additional reporting that I did provides a narrative and characters that drive all these big issues we’re talking about.

Because if you remember the Sony hack — and it’s hard to remember now because we’re post WikiLeaks, and then everything has been hacked. There was a couple months of enormous coverage of what was in the documents, and lots of embarrassing personal stuff about Amy Pascal’s shopping habits and racial slurs. She came off much worse, I think, just sort of her job and the nature of how she communicated via email.


And everyone sort of harvested the emails for salacious stuff. I pulled out something that David Goldberg had written to Michael Lynton about how to fix the music business, but you went and said, “Oh, there’s a story of a business here.” And the reason why it’s interesting for you and for readers is Sony is a studio that had been doing well and could not keep up with the move into blockbusters — which is a little hard to reconcile, because if you think a little bit about this, these are the people who had “Spider-Man,” which is one of the most successful blockbuster franchises.

Yeah, of the early 2000s.

How come they weren’t able to go, “Well, ‘Spider-Man’s’ working. Let’s do more of this.”

Sure. “Spider-Man” was sort of in an age when you have these diverse movie slates and you have a couple of tent poles. “Spider-Man” was a tent pole, combined with all your Adam Sandler comedies and your star vehicles with Will Smith and your original dramas and all those sorts of things. So, Sony did succeed with “Spider-Man,” but what they weren’t able to do was sort of turn that into a brand, turn into a cinematic universe.

The thing about “Spider-Man” was it was really … for them, in their mind, the way Sony used to do things, it was attached to the talent. It was attached to Tobey Maguire, the star, and Sam Raimi, the director, and as they got more and more powerful and demanded more and more money, the profits from those movies went down and it creatively got worse. If you recall “Spider-Man 3” when he turns into an emo Peter Parker …

Is it the one where he’s dancing?

And he dances in the streets.


Right. It was pretty terrible, and even though it grossed more than the prior two, the “Spider-Man” films, the profits were way down because they were giving all the money to the talent.

But there’s multiple “Spider-Man” reboots.

Then they rebooted it.

Andrew Garfield was the “Spider-Man.”

Yeah, they rebooted it with Andrew Garfield, and it was not so successful anymore. They just didn’t do it well, and that was the only successful franchise that they had. They weren’t able to transition, and by the time the reboot came out, this was when Marvel Studios with “Avengers” and “Captain America” and “Iron Man” and so on was on the scene had created a new, more appealing to global moviegoers style of superhero film, and Sony was really behind the curve.

The bigger issue you’re pointing to that I should mention is it just happened to be Sony that got hacked, but if I was gonna pick a studio that would be a great character, so to speak, for this transition from the star-driven diverse-slate era of filmmaking to the franchise era of filmmaking, Sony would probably be the best one, because they were so successful in the 2000s, and they’ve had such a hard time in the 2010s. They haven’t been able to make this transition.

And it wasn’t that Amy … Am I pronouncing her name correctly? Is it Pascal?


Pascal was above making movies that lots of people wanted to go see, right? She made plenty of Adam Sandler movies. He had basically his own corner of the lot.


Lots of dumb Will Ferrell movies. Nothing wrong with that. But her heart wasn’t in it, right? Those were the things that bought houses. And then what she really liked was making these sort of mid-tier sort of movies with Tom Hanks.

Yes, she likes making …

“Captain Phillips.”

“Captain Phillips,” “The Social Network.” These are the kind of movies that really drove her and excited her, and she’d work with filmmakers like James L. Brooks — even though they cost her a lot of money — because she believed in them and they had made her money in the past. She loved her talent. She got into the movie business not because she wanted to run a studio. She got into it because she loved making movies. She is now a producer again, and she was a producer to start with, and that’s really where her heart is.

She made “The Post.”

Yes, she was Oscar nominated for “The Post” this year.

That is a classic Amy Pascal-type movie, right.

Yes, absolutely.

Stars, prestige, real story you should care about.

Yep, absolutely. It’s an old-fashioned, down-the-middle, quote-unquote prestige movie.

Did that movie make money?

It made a little bit of money. Yeah. I mean, it made a little bit of money, which is totally fine. It used to be you had 10 of those and they all make a little money, combine them together, and you have one or two “Spider-Mans” and you have a great year. But now, it’s rare that those movies make any movie, and the little bits of money that some of them do is erased by the ones that flop and then make nothing on DVD, which is why the only way to make real profits in the movie business these days is to have your “Jumanjis” and your “Fast and Furious.”

Well, there’s a couple versions. I wanna talk about that, but quickly, we make money because people advertise with us. So please, don’t forward past this ad. You should listen to it. This advertiser is awesome, because they support Recode Media. Listen up.


We’re back here with Ben Fritz, who wrote “The Big Picture,” which you should go buy. What’s the best way for someone to buy your book? Do you care if they buy hardcover, or paperback, or e-copy?

There’s no paperback yet, but I don’t care …

Don’t buy the paperback.

Don’t buy the paperback. You’re gonna have a hard time. But I don’t care if you buy an e-book or a hardcover. Whatever you like. If you wanna support your local bookstore, that’s awesome. I highly recommend doing that.

What boosts your …

Of course there’s Amazon rankings, and if you buy it on Amazon you boost my ranking, which gets more people to pay attention to it, so that’s great, too.

Go buy it on Amazon, who also makes movies. We can talk about that in a minute.

Yes, they do.

The counterpoint to Sony is Disney.


Which owns Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar. Dominates moviemaking, right, or dominates this era of moviemaking, dominates the blockbuster franchise version of it. I talk about this all the time. Those three studios that Disney bought, bought collectively for about $ 15 billion dollars. Sort of the best M&A in modern media. Is their success today solely because they had the foresight to buy those three properties? Anyone who bought those three properties would be doing as well as they are?

No, it’s not entirely that. I mean, that’s a big chunk of it. Their success is also, frankly, their willingness to abandon every other kind of movie. Bob Iger sold Miramax. He shut down Touchstone, which means he stopped making indie movies. He stopped making R-rated movies. He stopped making romantic comedies, stopped making original dramas for adults.

Bob Iger didn’t come from the film business. He came from TV, and he was willing to look at it with sort of this, frankly, kind of cold financial approach, and say the branded movies make more money. He said to me, it’s a quote in the book, he said, he loves movies. At the time, “Spotlight,” when I interviewed him, had won best picture. He said, “I love ‘Spotlight.’ I love movies like that, but movies like that are a terrible business. Even in success, the profit margin is pretty thin.”

“Terrible, terrible business,” I think is the quote, right?

“Terrible, terrible business,” yes, and the profit margin’s thin. The profit margin for the branded movies is better, so he bought them. Very smart. And the other smart thing he did is he largely has left them alone. They have their own creative culture, and the creative culture of Marvel is quite different than the creative culture of Pixar, for example, and the people who work there are all passionate about what they do. The Marvel executives are Marvel geeks. The Pixar people are animation geeks.

There used to be this idea — and I think Amy Pascal at Sony would exemplify it — where well, no, the studio head of production, he or she ultimately gets involved and decides what’s best. The comic book people shouldn’t make comic book movies because they’re too geeky and they’re not gonna know what the broad audience wants. So you’d have the superhero movies that were not made …

You’d bring in adults to say, “We’re gonna translate this nerdy thing into something that has broader reach.”

Yes, exactly, and it turns out that the opposite has succeeded. Marvel’s run by Marvel geeks, and Bob Iger and Disney have let them do it, and they’ve been massively successful by leaning into everything that worked about the comics.

If you care at all about this stuff, by the way, your story of Marvel and how that brand was built, and then nearly sold, and how Sony could’ve bought the entire thing for what? 25 million?

Sony had the opportunity to buy the movie rights to virtually every Marvel character for $ 25 million, and the response …

Said, “No, that’s too much.”

The response of the executives was, “Who’s ever gonna be interested in seeing a movie about Iron Man or Captain America or Black Panther? Nobody cares about them.” All they cared about was “Spider-Man.”

So they just bought “Spider-Man” for a few million dollars, for what would’ve essentially been the cost of like half an Adam Sandler movie. They passed on the rest of Marvel. It’s an amazing story. Go read it for that alone, but read the whole book.

Again, back to what you were talking about at Disney, it’s not just that he bought those franchises. Then he said, “We’re gonna get out of the other businesses, because the risk involved in making a movie that might be very, very commercial but doesn’t have a brand attached to it, it’s too high. Also, that the mid-tier movie, much less, the upside there is too limited, and we can still lose a ton of money.”


Because by the way, you can make a failed blockbuster movie, right.


Attaching Marvel or Lucasfilm … Actually all of those are always successful. But you could make a very commercial movie attached to a brand and it still won’t work.


What I’ve been thinking a lot about is why studios aren’t spending money on the very low-budget movies. I just talked to Jason Blum last week at South By Southwest. Seems like — and I talked back and forth with him about this — his formula where you cap your downside, he says he can’t lose money essentially by spending up to $ 5 million on a movie, and then theoretically, could have really, really big pay days when you get a “Get Out” or a … What else did he do this year? “Split.”

“The Purge,” “Split.”

Really big. I can imagine why Disney would say, “Our model works because we only want giant home runs.” But why aren’t more studios … why aren’t more people trying to do the Jason Blum method where you say, “We’re gonna cap this. By the way, we’re not trying to make art films. We wanna make commercial films.” Why aren’t more people trying to do that sort of low, low budget, minimized-risk model of moviemaking?

I think it’s a good question why your Paramounts and your Sonys have not been doing that as successful as Universal has with Jason Blum, and all I can say is I know in some cases they’ve tried to do it, and they’ve done it poorly, and they haven’t managed to get any successful films out of it. Paramount actually had a division — I’m forgetting what it’s called — but who’s devoted entirely to trying to do super-low-budget films, and trying to do just that, and basically none of the movies that came out of that made it to theaters. They were all … they went straight to VOD. They just weren’t very successful at it. Jason and the people he works with have managed to have a few major hits coming out of that formula.

I think that falls in the category of one of those things that seems easy to say but is hard to do. Just like make a superhero cinematic universe. Easy to say, but look at the results Warner Bros. had with DC, and you know it’s easier said than done.

Following the easier said than done, you spent some time in the book talking about Netflix is moving to movies, Amazon’s moving to movies. These are guys with essentially unlimited resources.

Yeah, yes.

Right, billions of dollars for content. Basically, they have not had real success in movies. Netflix will tell you that “Bright” was successful.

Who knows, but it doesn’t seem likely.

First of all, it’s a terrible movie.


And second I think Netflix can shove something in your face and say that you’ve watched it, but that’s not successful.

That’s not success. Absolutely.

Whenever I ask someone why hasn’t Amazon and Netflix been successful at movies yet, the standard answer’s sort of a shrug and, “Hey, movies are hard, and they just haven’t had enough at bats.” Do you think that’s the case?

Well, I would dispute your thesis a bit. I would say Amazon has had some success in the field they’re playing in, which is the indie movie. Two of the most successful indies — and I know it’s weird to say indie and Amazon — but two of the most successful lowest-budget prestige movies of the past couple years have been “Manchester by the Sea” and “The Big Sick,” which were released by Amazon in theaters first before they went on to Prime.

Right. Now those are movies someone else made, they bought, and we’ll call it as is …

They bought and released those movies. Yes.

Then Netflix, by the way, has done some of that. That’s the same thing, right. Not in movies.

Yes. Well, they actually bought “Mudbound” at Sundance, nominated for Oscars. I mean, people liked it. Who the heck knows how many people watched it.

They’ve at least had critical success and success by indie-movie standards in theaters.

Yes, and that’s significant. Indie movies, large studios, have significantly but not completely abandoned that field, and Amazon and Netflix, especially Amazon, are just completely taking it over, because they don’t care about making profits on individual films the way the studios have to. They’ve taken over that, and the question now I think you’re pointing to is, as they start getting into bigger-budget films, mid-budget films, $ 50, $ 100 million, star vehicles, Will Smith vehicles, can they succeed?

The one thing they can’t do, so far — one of the few advantages the major studios have left — is Netflix and Amazon, when they’re streaming, don’t seem to figure out: How do you create an event? How do you make this a significant thing? When a movie comes out and you see it on billboards everywhere and it’s playing in the local multiplex near you, and people who are seeing it, we’re all seeing it together and we’re all seeing it at the same time. It’s not just on my queue and I’m gonna get to it. We’re all seeing “Black Panther” right now. That’s a major event. That’s something that Netflix has not figured out how to do, and that seems fine with TV shows, but with movies that’s a problem.

Do you think if Netflix made “Black Panther,” the exact same movie, and said, “We’re opening it Friday. By the way, if you wanna have a ‘Black Panther’ party, we’ll accommodate that. We’ll throw screenings in theaters.” Or however you wanna do it. Do you think that movie has the same degree of success culturally?

That’s been a debate I’ve been having with some people recently, because it’s a big question. My argument would be no. I don’t think it would have the same impact culturally, because I don’t think we’d all be seeing it around the same time. I think some of us would get to it when we get to it. I think the fact that it feels like it’s a big deal to go out of the house to go see it, that takes a real effort, so therefore that’s something that seems more meaningful to you. You’re seeing it in a group, and you see other people screaming, laughing, having a great time, and then the fact that we’ve all seen it within a span of just a few weeks, therefore we’re all talking about it, I think that absolutely is different.

I remember some of the most significant movies of my lifetime and being in the theater, or waiting on line to see “Jurassic Park,” let’s say, or something. Even the TV shows I loved, like “The Simpsons” or “Freaks and Geeks,” I don’t remember where I was sitting. I don’t remember the moment I saw that episode.

I think the counterpoint is “Game of Thrones,” right, where lots of people are watching it at 9:00 on Sunday, but then there’s a ton of viewing that happens within the next couple days, right, so everyone who’s interested in “Game of Thrones” is watching it within the week.

Right, but a TV show can build to that, for sure. A TV show that becomes successful, right, but a movie is a one-time thing, so you can’t sort of build up. After a season or two, “Game of Thrones” becomes this big thing. We all talk about it every Monday after seeing it the prior night. Perhaps, if Netflix was making every Marvel movie, by the time they got … they had made a bunch of them, become more and more significant, but for a one-off movie, you just can’t create that overnight online.

So you’re reporting the book for a couple years. You finished reporting when last year?

I finished all the research in like late 2016, and then I started my writing.

So this is the problem with anyone who writes a book, right, but I think particularly someone who’s doing what you’re doing. You’re writing about something that’s in flux, which is that there’s a bunch of stuff that’s happened in the movie business.

Wait. Has anything interesting happened in Hollywood in the past six months?

That is not in your … ’cause I’ve got an advance copy here that I got from you months ago, and I thought, well, maybe there was pressure. You would’ve felt pressure to slap something in about Disney-Fox.

I mean, there was no way to do it.

It’s not in there.

It’s not in there. Not in the final version. There’s no way to do it. I mean, the last change I made to the book was November or December, I had had something in there saying the business-friendly Trump administration is likely to approve the AT&T-Time Warner deal.

Yes, I saw that.

Did you see that?


That is slightly changed in the final version.

That has changed.

That’s the last change I made. But Disney-Fox I don’t have in there. It happened too late. But I would like to believe that if you’ve read the book, that deal is not surprising to you.

You lay out the case for why Disney would be rapacious … why Disney would want more, because they’re doing it really well. Beyond the fact that if this deal goes through that this gives Disney the “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men” franchises.


What other impact does it have on the movie business? It just sort of accelerates the trend we’re talking about?

Yeah, I mean, it’s two things. It takes us towards the streaming age. I think, obviously, the ultimate motivation now for everything Disney does now these days is to compete with Netflix. That’s where they’re heading, and they’re also gonna take control of Hulu, so they’ll have three streaming platforms.


Maybe? You think not?

There’s the thesis, right, that maybe this is a chip that they give to Comcast.

Yes, that is possible, depending on everything going on with Sky and everything, but certainly Disney wants to take over Hulu.

That is what they say publicly.

Okay. Fair enough, yes.

And may well believe.

I do believe that. And they’ll have their own Disney streaming service they’re launching, and they have ESPN, and they know they need to compete aggressively with Netflix and go directly to consumers. The Fox deal gives them Hulu, gives them more content. Disney has really shrunk the amount of content they create significantly, which has worked great for them in the movie theater model.

Online you need a little bit more. They’re not gonna produce the 700 pieces a year that Netflix is doing right now, but they need more. They wanna have more brands, because Disney’s all about brands, and after they get “Avatar” they get “X-Men.” They’re getting Fox Searchlight, which is ironic, because Bob Iger shut down Miramax, but I think that’s a business that pairs well with Hulu, should they hold on to it. Hulu’s sort of their adult streaming service, and Fox Searchlight makes movies for adults, but what you are gonna see, though, no matter what they keep from Fox, Fox is gonna be shrunk down, if not ultimately abandoned.

We’re moving to an age of fewer studios, which is what you see in any business when a business is kind of old and new competition comes at them aggressively, then the older businesses start consolidating. They have to do that. They need the resources to compete, and because there’s not as much money to be made in the old moviemaking model, so the old studios have to consolidate in order to challenge Netflix and Amazon, and soon Apple.

Up until the Disney-Fox deal, and you say this in your book, though the conventional wisdom is that the idea that you’re gonna see the movie in the theater, and you’re gonna have to wait many months to see it at home, that’s going away, because Netflix, because Amazon, because by the way, the studios wanna stop this. They wanna figure out some way that you can watch the movie relatively quickly at home. Shorten that window.


Now it seems like, because Disney’s buying Fox, Disney was the one studio that didn’t wanna do this, because they’ve got a model that works really well, that momentum has stopped. I asked Kevin Mayer about this onstage, and he says, “Yeah, this model works great for us. We’re gonna keep doing it.” So do you think we’re gonna go several more years where you’re gonna have to learn to wait many months to see “Black Panther”?

I do think that’s on hold. But the Disney-Fox deal takes two studios out of the equation who wanna do that, and I think Warner Bros. certainly feels like they can’t be in the lead on this, because they’re trying to get bought by AT&T, and something like this is disruptive or might help the government’s case against them, so I think the idea of movies coming to home sooner is on hold. Although, ultimately, it still seems inevitable that window is going to shrink.

What I do think could happen sooner that’s interesting is now that everybody’s pushing towards streaming, you’re gonna see as soon as a movie’s available to watch at home: Right now it’s on DVD and VOD for a few months before it goes to pay TV, HBO or Netflix. That’s gonna start to shrink. I think you’re gonna start to see the movies get on your streaming / pay TV platform, HBO, essentially a streaming platform now, Netflix or the new service Disney’s launching. I wouldn’t be surprised if a movie’s only available on DVD and VOD for a few weeks before it’s available to stream on your subscription service right away.

Because the idea that you’re gonna buy a physical or even digital copy of something, that era’s gone.

That era’s going away.

That era’s left in music, right. Everyone is now … understands that you consume something by paying a recurring subscription fee and streaming it whenever you want.

Right, sure. Absolutely right. That is what consumers like now. It’s what they’re used to, especially younger consumers, and then obviously Disney as they launch the streaming service, wants to make it really appealing. Well, one way to make it appealing is this is the way, maybe this is the only way you can watch a Disney movie at home. Or it’s a way you can watch it at home right away.

And if you’re a studio, that’s sad, because you’ve lost DVD sales and you’re losing with EST, right. That’s buying through iTunes, a digital download. You say, “Well, yes, but now you’re gonna get this monthly recurring fee.” Ten, 15 bucks, whatever your share of that is, and you’re gonna get that all year long, no matter what you give people. So you’re better off in the end.

You’ve acquired a consumer, right, as they say, and you’ve got that recurring revenue, and now you’re starting to get data on that consumer. You know who they are. You know what they like. It’s helpful for marketing. It’s helpful even thinking about what you should make next. That is clearly more valuable, is to own a consumer than to sell them a one-off piece of content.

Back to Amazon and Netflix, Amazon specifically. Again, terms of shift, right? Roy Price, who was running Amazon Studios is out, as of last fall.


And at the same time, Amazon said, “You know this whole thing where we’re doing ‘Transparent’ and we win awards? That’s great. We need giant blockbusters now, and that’s where we’re gonna spend our money.” As you point out in the book, Amazon had carved out its niche as “we’re the giant conglomerate that supports indie filmmakers.” Does that go away as well? They haven’t been explicit about that.

They haven’t been explicit about it in film. And so in TV, they’re making that switch fast. They wanna have their “Game of Thrones,” as they say.

All the quirky comedies, out the window.

Yep, those are gone. They’re not buying those anymore.

We want really big hits.

They spent something like more than $ 250 million just for the rights to do a “Lord of the Rings” show. By the way, a “Lord of the Rings” show for which they can’t use any of the characters who were in the films.


So, what’s it gonna be?

By the way, that’s gonna be a half billion, right, by the time they’re done actually making these films?

Yeah, by the time they’re making it and everything, absolutely. Yeah, massive investment. So in TV they’re making that switch.

In film, they haven’t yet, and they’re slowly starting to do some slightly bigger films. They’re partnering with studios. They’re partnering with Warner Bros. on … I’m forgetting the name, but on an adaptation of a book that might be a $ 40 or $ 50 million movie, so they’re starting to move in that direction, but they just signed the deal with Alexander Payne, who’s an indie filmmaker. That’s definitely the part of the film business that they have latched on to. It’s something that differentiates them and I think gets them more affluent consumers who will buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, which is of course their most important goal.

Bringing this back to Sony. You decide, “Hey, I’m gonna root through the Sony hack emails, as well.” Did you think, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I wanna make a book about using stolen emails.” Again, you talk about it in the introduction. This book is based on stolen emails. Did it take you a while to get comfortable with that idea?

I think, actually, it was more once I started doing it that I started to become uncomfortable. At first, I felt fine, and like other people, as soon as the hack happened I’d gone through to find some of the juiciest.

Did you google yourself?

Of course.


Of course, I searched myself, and … Am I allowed to curse on this podcast?

Yeah, yeah.

Okay, good.

Fuck yeah.

So I found … I searched for Ben Fritz and I found this time I wrote an article about Amy Pascal that she really didn’t like, and another executive who works for Warner Bros. was like, “Don’t worry about him. Fuck Ben Fritz.”

That’s gotta be very exciting.

It was, yeah. The fact that studio executives are talking about how much they fucking hate me, that felt great.

But yeah, going into it, I felt like this is such great material. This is gonna be … I felt good about it. And when I sold the book proposal, and I started, okay, now I have to read every single one. Find what’s interesting and relevant. The way I did it I was like, “Okay. Right now I’m reading Amy Pascal’s emails. Then I’m gonna read Michael Lynton’s emails.” So there’d be a few months where I’m just living in her world and almost getting in her head, and that started to feel uncomfortable.

Did you tell them, “Hey, I’m reading every single email.”

Yeah, I told them as soon as the book proposal was out. Ironically, or let’s say poetic justice for me, the book proposal leaked before I sold it, so the Hollywood Reporter got their hands on it, so I called Amy and Michael and said, “You’re gonna read about this. I’m doing this. I’m gonna do it as respectfully as I can, but just want you to know.” So yeah, there were times I was …

At that point, everyone had rummaged through their underwear drawer, right?


So did they feel any differently about it coming out in book form as opposed to 40 different stories?

At the time, they seemed … they were not pleased, but they were like, “Well, we know you.” I told them I’m not writing anything about your underwear, your Amazon orders, about your kids. I’m not gonna write about any of that stuff. I promise you. They seemed sort of like … they were resigned to it, and they seemed okay with it.

I would say, as the process went on, they both and other people at Sony went back and forth, and they’re like, “I’m okay with this,” or, “Oh my god. This is a nightmare.” But I did my best to … I did it by fact-checking with them. I let them know everything that’s gonna be in the book, so at minimum they couldn’t accuse me of surprising them.

Have you heard from them since?

I have … Well, I guess what I can say is that I have presented everything to them to make sure they wouldn’t be surprised by what would be published, and any responses they may have given to me they asked, I think, they would not be for public consumption.

Again, it’s intimate, but it’s not leering, right?


Yes, Amy Pascal’s getting a mammogram and she’s jotting down emails, but you’re not making fun of the fact that she’s getting a mammogram. She’s trying to save a movie.

Right, right. I mean, you can’t … this is their personality, because they both bring their personalities to their jobs, and you can’t understand how they do their job without knowing that Michael is this very cool customer who comes from a background of great privilege, and was a bit disengaged, let’s say, from the movie business. It could’ve been any business for him. And Amy is really neurotic and really passionate about movies, and she’s up writing almost incomprehensible emails at 1:00 am that are 5,000 words to her subordinates all the time.

So you get to know them in that sense, but there’s nothing about their purely personal lives, their own personal business, especially nothing about their families. I will say while I was researching it, anytime I started reading an email and I was like, “This is clearly personal,” especially if it involved their family, I just stopped reading it and went on to the next one.

You write about the movie business. You’ve done it for a long time. You like movies, right?

Yes, I do.

Like a lot of people who cover this business.


After a deep dive of several years into this book, are you hopeful about movies, or are you resigned to the future of movies?

I am hopeful. I would say, after I was mostly done with the manuscript I felt a little depressed, and then when I sat back to write the conclusion, and I especially I thought more about the streaming platforms, I feel I’d say, maybe two-thirds better and one-third worse, and the two-thirds better is that what any fan of movies really should want is for great movies to be made, for great content to be made, and the digital companies are creating more great visual content than ever before, and some of it is pure movies, and then some of it is a limited series, and some of it is a TV season, but it’s only eight episodes, and you start to say, “What is the difference?”

If you’re watching it at home on your TV or your iPad, what’s the difference between a movie or a limited series or a short TV season? It all starts to blur. And a lot of TV shows now are from people who used to be quote-unquote filmmakers, and are ideas in the past they would’ve brought to a studio to make into a film.

So you’re gonna get amazing stuff delivered to you at home in different lengths, and you can decide if you wanna call it a movie or a TV show or webisode.


Seems like, though, the idea that you’re gonna go to the movie theater and see “The Social Network,” that’s gone and it’s not coming back. That if you’re gonna go to the movie theater, it’s generally gonna be to go see a Marvel movie or something like that, and that you’ll have some anomalies like the “Get Outs” of the world or, again, maybe Jason Blum will make other horror movies that you’ll go. There’ll be some weird anomalies.


Seems like the idea of going to a movie theater and seeing “Lady Bird” in a couple years will just be gone.

Yep, that’s disappearing, and that’s …

And how do you feel about that?

I have mixed feeling about that, right? On the one hand, if more “Lady Birds” are made, and no matter how they’re made, no matter where you watch it, that seems like a great thing. But what’s missing, what we were talking about earlier, this idea that we’re all seeing it together at the same time. It’s part of the cultural conversation. It’s an event that impacts our culture that is lessening and will go away, and that I think is a shame.

When we’re all just watching things on our digital queue and getting around to it when we get around to it, and you and I are not watching the same things at all, and if we are it’s certainly not at the same time, that lessens the ability, I think, of art to impact our culture, and that is something movies have done really successfully for the past century, and that is a bummer.

And if you’re Netflix or someone like that, you say, “You’re just complaining because you listen to radio plays, and things evolve, and things change, and by the way, we can’t tell you, but lots of people watched ‘Orange Is the New Black.’”


“And they were having a shared experience. We just weren’t talking about it that way.” You don’t buy it.

I don’t. I mean, I think it’s evident. I mean, it’s evident that it’s not impacting our culture in the same way. Netflix’s whole business model is we have something for everybody, not we all are watching the same thing at the same time. That’s definitely their model. I believe them that people are watching it, but I don’t believe that 99 percent of the content Netflix is producing is really impactful on our culture, and especially their movies. That is undeniable, and if they try to argue against that, I think it’d be laughable, but they have yet to produce a movie that has had any significant impact on American culture.

We got you all whipped up. That’s a good way to leave the interview.


And promote your book in your words. Go buy the …

Please go buy “The Big Picture …”

There you go.

“The Fight for the Future of Movies” by the really handsome author Ben Fritz, and if you’re someone who has wondered why are there so many superhero movies and sequels and remakes and spinoffs at the multiplex, why are there so few interesting original films for adults, this book explains why that happened, how we got here and what the future of movies may be as all the digital companies are moving in.

Sold. I would buy it. Except I’ve already read it. You guys will enjoy this if you’ve listened to this podcast. If you’ve gotten all the way through this podcast, you will love this book. Go buy the book. Thanks, Ben, for joining us.

Thank you so much, Peter.

Recode – All

Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Nubia Z18 mini to be announced on April 11, could feature dual rear cameras, Full HD+ display

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

ZTE’s Nubia brand has scheduled an event on April 11th to unveil its mid-range Z18 mini, successor of last year’s Nubia Z17 mini in Beijing, China. The invite shows 24OO, which hints at 24-megapixel dual rear cameras for the phone or it could be 24-megapixel front camera. The invite doesn’t reveal any other details of the phone. The phone is rumored to come with Full  HD+ 18:9 aspect ratio screen, Snapdragon 660 SoC with up to 6GB of RAM and rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. It is likely to feature a unibody metal design, similar to the predecessor. The Nubia Z18 mini is rumored to be priced around 1599 yuan (US$ 254 / Rs. 16,555 approx.). We should know all the details when the phone goes official next Wednesday. Source
Fone Arena
Cash For Apps: Make money with android app

Full transcript: Chris Kirchhoff, formerly of the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office, on Recode Decode

How Complete Beginners are using an ‘Untapped’ Google Network to create Passive Income ON DEMAND

Flying cars could be in our future.

“I’m from the government, I’m here to help.”

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Christopher Kirchhoff, a former partner at DIUx, the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office, talks about how the Defense Department is trying to be smarter about technology.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Kara Swisher: I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the general in charge of the Militia Etherege, but in my spare time, I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in.

Today in the red chair is Chris Kirchhoff, a former partner at the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office DIUx, which stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. What a name. It funds private companies in exchange for commercial products that can solve national defense problems. He’s also a visiting technologist at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. Chris, welcome to Recode Decode.

Chris Kirchhoff: Thank you.

When I met you, you were working for Ash Carter. Is that correct?

I was.

Explain this DIUx because I think it’s really interesting. The CIA has an innovation unit here, all kinds of government agencies do, but Ash was a real technophile.

You have to give him credit for his vision. Back in …

He’s defense secretary under President Obama.

He was, but in 2001, he was merely Professor Ash Carter at the Kennedy School of Government, and he wrote an article that said the rate at which commercial R&D is growing is quickly going to surpass what the federal government, the Defense Department, spends on R&D. And so, less than a generation from now, the Defense Department is going to have a real problem. It’s going to be out of touch unless it pivots to private R&D.

He wrote that article in 2001. Of course, fast-forward, and 2015 he becomes secretary of defense and one of his first initiatives is essentially making that pivot happen. So that’s where myself and three other partners get launched out here to Silicon Valley.

So explain how you got here, because we had Ash on the show when he was defense secretary. It was a great show. And he had some really interesting stances on a lot of things. Encryption, he parted ways with President Obama on that issue, all kinds of issues.

But what … how did you get to do that? And talk a little bit more about the background of getting it out … hadn’t been out here, which has been that defense has been very involved with tech but in a different way.

This is peculiar history where Silicon Valley and the Pentagon have been tied together in lots of ways for a very long time.

Yeah. The internet, for example.

Right. Going back to Stanford in the ’60s, actually, there is this incredible deep history out here of federal funded innovation that has really helped commercial firms flourish. But that, interestingly enough, has died out a bit. There’s definitely been a gap, particularly in the last 15 years, a gap that we were in part designed to fill.

What was your background?

Yes, I was minding my own business working as a national security aide in Washington. I was going to Security Council at the time and I had known Ash.

That’s not a small thing.


What were you doing there?

I was the director of strategic planning. So I was in charge of the office at the NSC that is supposed to look into the future and worry about what you can afford next.

Okay. How did you get the skills to acquire to do that job?

Crystal balls. No, I studied technology policy in college and then I got my PhD and then started off in Washington and national security. It turns out there’s a whole lot of technology challenges in national security. I ended up working quite extensively for all the years of the Obama administration on different tech issues.

Through that I had a chance to work for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and worked very closely with Ash Carter before he became secretary, and as a result, when Ash thought about forming this office, he realized that he would need a combination of people to help run it, that the office has to of course know Silicon Valley, you would need to know Washington and the military. That’s an awful lot to ask of one person. So he decided to create a partnership through me and together with three other people with very different skills. I was sort of the Washington guy sent out.


This is actually a problem, because at the time I had five suits and one pair of jeans, so I had to go buy a bunch of jeans. But I moved out here a couple of years ago.

So, what was your charge? You had studied just tech policy. What were the challenges you were looking at at the National Security Council? Give examples for us.


This is intelligence on our challenges we face for the government.

The National Security Council is a fascinating place to work, first of all, but 90 percent of the folks there are worried about what’s on fire today or what’s gonna be on fire tomorrow. That of course is appropriate and necessary. So knowing that they decided to create a small office that was trying to figure out what would be on fire five years from now, that office has kept on going. In fact, the person who took my desk, believe it or not, was the one who wrote the deep state banker memo and then got fired.

Yeah, thanks for that.

So now I know my …

Was there a deep state?


Did you find one in the drawer?

I actually I got a deep state sweatshirt made.

Okay, good.

And I was wearing it out here in Silicon Valley.

Who thinks of these things? Anyway, so you were there at the NSC … and what were you doing? What were you looking at? Like, what’s going on, whatever crisis had happened at that time?

Yes, I was looking actually at a technology … Tech is throwing national security a huge curveball right now because you have all the scary things that we all know about — missiles and nuclear technology from other nations — but then you have other kinds of commercial technology coming online.

So you have really cheap microelectronics, those microelectronic power drones. People can put grenades on drones. There’s all kinds of examples of emerging technology primarily coming out of the startup world, coming from Silicon Valley, in essence. Now, there’s a huge opportunity to a lot of this technology from a national homeland security standpoint, but there’s also a huge risk.


So we looked quite a bit at that topic.

Okay, what about the Russian involvement in the elections? Was that something you all weren’t paying attention to?

You know, one of the people who was supposed to speak at my White House farewell in August of 2016, couldn’t make it because she had to go to a very important meeting, which I later find out it was on that topic.

On that topic. Right.

So there were definitely a small number of people that were working on that.

So, you were there at the NSC and then you were dragged out here, essentially.

No, it was fantastic. I threw my golden retriever in the back of the car, drove over the Potomac, threw my BlackBerry out the window and came out to the land of, you know …

You do have BlackBerrys still there? Only place that still has Blackberrys, Washington, D.C.

What was your idea to come out here? Because again, a lot of agencies have representation here in Silicon Valley and opened up offices.

They do. I mean, it’s pretty small, though, to be honest with you. So In-Q-Tel is a strategic investment firm that you referenced earlier that works for the intelligence community. Then you have a couple of other representatives running around, but the playing field is really pretty open. There’s not too many people here that ingest a lot of technology and get it working in the federal government. We wanted to come out here, actually spend money, actually buy technology, pilot it, and then if it worked, use it at scale in the department.

Right, and back in the department, DARPA is doing that too, correct?

Yes. DARPA is one of the neatest parts of the federal government. It was a privilege to …

The D … Defense, what is it?

Advanced Research Projects Agency, we have to have acronyms. We’re DIUx and they’re DARPA.

DARPA has a very unique mission, which is to do really risky moonshot-style R&D. So if they’re trying it …

Like Mach 10 planes and things like that.

Right. It probably won’t work, but if it works it’ll be amazing. So they invented little things like the internet and the Stealth and all the sensors that made precision warfare work. That’s DARPA.

DIUx had a very different mission, which is to say there are some awesome off-the-shelf technologies being produced today, whether it’s a cybersecurity software suite, whether it’s a robotic ship, whether it’s a drone, whether it’s a new kind of data from commercial satellite, and you can use that today. You don’t have to do anything further to develop it. So our office had a very distinct mission from DARPA, which is to buy technology that’s available right away.

And when you talk about buy, what was that? How much money did you have to do this?

Well, I’m proud to announce that the office has just crossed the billion dollar mark in just under two years of making investments in tech.

This is already making investments, a billion dollars in investments.

Right. This is not making investments in the Silicon Valley venture capital way of buying equity, this is actually buying technology from companies, piloting it. And then there’s a really neat superpower the office has that Congress gave the department, which said if you do a technology pilot and you buy it a certain way you can immediately — and it works — you can immediately allow anyone in the department to buy that technology and scale them.

Without having to go through …

Without having to re-compete. Which is like … this is like the Holy Grail of federal acquisition and we’re privileged to be able to use them.

Give me examples of what … you get out here and what are you … how do you introduce yourself? Again, Silicon Valley doesn’t do a lot of business. It does defense business but not as much as you might imagine.

Yeah, no. I mean, it doesn’t do business with the government really at all.

There’s always people around, the Beltway Bandits.

And for good reason. So, if you’re a startup, your business plan says there’s a thing called …

Your drone startups.

Right. There’s a $ 25 trillion dollar consumer technology market and my tech is going to sell great there. If you go to an investor and you say there’s this teeny federal market, they have to file a lot of paperwork to get into and they don’t tell you for 18 months if you’re in or not. We want to focus on that, you know you don’t get funded.


So we knew that if we came out here with the regular tools the government uses to buy technology, we’d fail. We knew we had to find a different set of tools and we did. And because of those new tools, we can get a contract in about 30 days from start to finish, rather than 18 months.

Right. So, give me an example of once … you get out here and how do you introduce yourself? And then I wanna know what you invested.

Yeah, no. “I’m from the government, I’m here to help.”

“I’m here to buy your technology.” It feels like an episode that David Duchovny should be in. But what was … you kind of look like David Duchovny … anyway, how do you approach this world? Because it’s done in a very different way here.

Yeah, we were lucky to partner with a number of folks that are of the Valley and have a network of relationships here and have run startups and then CEOs at tech companies and have been executives and know their way around far better than I do. So we were able to use them to help us navigate the rollout here. We did that by first coming up with a particular challenge that we wanted to work on, somebody in the military would bring us a hard problem and they were doing it with an actual real-life mission that they figured commercial tech might be able to help with.

Give me an example.

Okay, so maritime surveillance. Right now, it’s really expensive to take airplanes and fly them with sensors looking, for instance, for boats carrying drugs. Wouldn’t it be amazing if, instead of flying 737s with military gear on them, we could take low-cost drones put the same surveillance packages on them, either on the surface of the ocean or in the air, and perform the same mission for much lower costs?

The group that brought that particular problem to us then caused us to go and do some market research to ask the question among the folks in the venture capital community and technologists we know. “Does anybody have tech that might be relevant to this problem? If so, put us in touch.” And then we ran a competition and we had an open bidding competition that anybody could enter. We found some firms had great tech. We were able to move forward in that particular case with the tech pilot.

So they can then sell that directly to the government.

Right, and there’s some additional benefits. I mean obviously the Department of Defense market is not a small one. So, particularly for a startup, there’s real opportunity there, but we provide some additional benefits too, that has been important for startups. We have things like test ranges that are really easy to get on. So if you’re a flying car company — and we work with a couple of those — we can get you on …

Get the flying cars, but go ahead.

You’re welcome in our test ranges in a hurry. That’s a great asset the department has.

Similarly, we can get your user feedback really quick. So it was a great example of one of the technologies that we deployed to Afghanistan with some troops, they were able to get the engineers some real criticism about what wasn’t working, which caused three iterations and the tech that made it much better that allowed the company …

What was the tech?

The tech actually was an amazing communications device. It was a mouthpiece, made by a company called Sonitus, and it allowed hands-free two-way communication using a bone conduction technology.

Near your ear.

Pretty wild. It vibrates your jawbone in such a way that causes the eardrum to vibrate. So imagine you’re on a patrol in Afghanistan or jumping off an airplane or a helicopter. There’s lots of noise. You’re having to grab a walkie-talkie or grab a microphone, which is not great because — or put headphones on to hear — because you’re wanting to keep track of your area, what’s going on around you. So this technology is just a little retainer-like thing that you clip onto your teeth, it proved to be really useful to troops on patrol.

Did they buy them then?

They did, actually.

So let’s get into the procurement issue because … and then we can get to more of the things the defense department needs going forward. The procurement is they design things very specifically. We always get story after story about that, that they design a toilet in a way … when there’s a commercial toilet industry that’s fantastic. They’ve designed in a certain way, they need to have it. It creates enormous costs. It’s out-of-control costs and all these Beltway Bandits take advantage of the situation and know how to work the system. And then there’s all the people that are revolving doors and military people into military contractors, blah, blah, blah. Because they buy everything, the military buy’s everything.

I know that’s certainly true.


But that comes from a particular history, right, which is if you’re going to, if you’re going to buy a nuclear submarine you can’t exactly go on Amazon.com and find 45 vendors.

No, not today. Maybe tomorrow.

Maybe tomorrow.

But they get it there faster.

They sure would. The result of that is the government system — particularly the defense acquisition rules — are set up to deal with companies where there’s often only one vendor. So that raises the question of how do you get a fair price for the taxpayer.


And the way that you get a fair price is your list out 45 pages of specifications for the toilet seat, and you say you must meet them in a certain cost, and that’s how we know we’re getting a fair deal for the taxpayer.


That works okay for a nuclear submarine. It doesn’t work as well for gear that’s much more commercially available. That’s where the problem exists, because we don’t need a drone company selling drones on Amazon.com today that could be used in military mission to fill out 65 pages of technical specifications where their drones should be.

How did you push back within the administration … the way that defense firms set up for that? Because you’ve got all these people. How do you create that situation? What’s the impetus for doing it?

Well, we got really lucky because in our corner we had Ash Carter, Secretary Ash Carter, who really believed in this mission and said, “I want you to find a way to do this, and if anybody tells you you can’t do it, you bring it to me.”

So we did the first thing you always do in these situations. We took a lot of lawyers to lunch and we discovered a very obscure provision of law, called other transaction authorities, that actually had to do this for advanced technology.

You get to work outside the federal acquisition rules quickly, you could just sit down with companies, you get to share information. It had everything we were looking for. Shockingly, very few people in the department were using it. Why? Well, it was obscure, not too many of the contracting officers or lawyers were trained in it. But after taking enough lawyers to lunch, we found a couple that were willing to work with us and agree that this would be a perfect fit.

What you were doing.

And we, as a result, became one of the first groups to use it widely and to use that special provision I referred to earlier, which allows you to go from pilot to production contract without re-competing.

Without re-competing.

When we get back we’re talking to Chris Kirchhoff. He was a former partner at the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office DIUx, which stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, it’s been funding private companies to the tune of a billion dollars in exchange for commercial products that can solve the national defense problems. When we get back we’re going to talk more with Chris about what those problems are and what are some of the things that he got done when he was there.


We’re here with Chris Kirchhoff, a former partner at the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office DIUx, which stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. It has funded private companies in exchange for commercial products that solve national defense problems. He’s now a visiting technologist at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.

Chris, talk a little bit about what … some of the things you were looking for when you got here. You mentioned a few, that problem in Afghanistan with an earpiece, essentially. Name some other things that you guys invested in, and how did you … how did you find … you did searches for them, all kinds of research to find them. Who did you focus on? The big companies? The Googles? Or did you go to the smaller startups in what you were looking for?

Yes, we actually started first by talking to different units in the military and asking them, “Hey, what’s your hardest problem these days? Is there something you think we could do to potentially help?”

And we went from there to doing market research and asking the question, “Is there tech somewhere out in the tech world that might be relevant?”

The big surprise, I think, is showing up in Silicon Valley you’d expect cybersecurity software, software in general, to be a huge part of your portfolio. But actually it turns out most of our deals, many more than software, has gone towards hardware, which I think reflects a huge shift in the Valley here towards hardware itself that was a real surprise.

So a couple examples of projects we’re really proud of. One actually, funny story. Eric Schmidt is the chairman of the Defense Innovation Board.

Yes, he is.

Took his band of innovators around the world.

Is he still that?

He is, yup.

Explain the Defense Innovation Board. We don’t need to explain Eric Schmidt.

Right, so the Defense Innovation Board is a group of folks from outside the department, each of whom have really deep expertise in an area of tech, and they travel together essentially as a bunch of consultants who visit different commands around the world and look at what they’re doing and then make suggestions for maybe how they could be doing things better.

And so the story here is I think representative of the kind of insights they’re able to have. They toured the air operation center in Qatar. So this is the war room, if you will, that’s prosecuting in the air war.

We have most of our forward bases are — correct? — in Qatar.


It’s in the news lately, recently.

Yes. So if you’re trying to prosecute an airstrike in Iraq, in Syria, this is the operation center that does that.

Eric noticed there are these three or four captains doodling on a giant white board and they were … they had all these numbers and symbols and he said, “Well, what on earth are you doing?” They said, “Oh, we’re planning tanker routes. It’s one of the hardest things to do is to get enough refueling tankers in the right orbit so that they can link up right with aircraft to refuel them as we’re getting ready to do airstrikes.”

Eric said, “Well, there’s a thing called software. Why are you still doing this manually?” And they said, “Oh, well we actually have software that does it but it’s awful, it doesn’t really work. So the three of us just take 60 man hours every day to do this. And it’s a real pain because if one thing changes that we’ve got to go do it all over again.”

The math. It’s like they’re in “Hidden Figures.”

Right. So Eric shook his head and said …

Recalculate those Moon trajectories.

And then he turned to DIUx and said, “All right, you guys fix this.” So we did. We sent some of our Air Force guys forward with iMacs. They set up shop. They actually knew how to code. In less than really three months they built a prototype app that allowed the same programming to occur automatically in seconds.

Who had built their first one?

A defense contractor had built their first one and there was a refresh scheduled and we met them, they said, “Don’t worry. The refresh is being worked on now. The initial version should come in 2020, 2021.” We were of course astonished at the length it time …

Timing, and of course we are.

Well … we were proud anyway to send a very small number of folks forward, and in just under $ 2 million.

The fact that they messed up Obamacare just makes … I had an argument about Obamacare with someone and they were like, I said, “Well, you know Tinder makes all these matches, it’s all matching, it was all you had to do was matching, Tinder makes all these matches every day, millions and millions of matches.” And they said, “Are you comparing Obamacare to Tinder?” And I said, “No, Tinder works.”

At the time it was funny, but it was … the expenses were enormously different between what government was charged in terms of software and what you could get almost off the shelf. There’s no shelf to get it off anymore, in fact. You know what I mean? It was a shocking inability to just use software on the fly.

But this is a great way that Eric and the innovation wars were able to contribute, but they know other ways of doing things.


And the process can not only make the U.S. military more effective, but save millions even billions of taxpayer money.

What I find shocking is that they haven’t updated this. That’s the part I don’t get, when businesses have … when consumers have … But, anyway that’s another rant I can make later.

So can you … you had the defense, the board, that Eric was on. Right?


And then what you did was you would go around and do this all around the world?

Right. We work closely with the Innovation Board. Ash Carter also founded, there’s something called the Defense Digital Service, which is a bunch of programmers that work on IT issues.

Special ones, and every agency had those. They were moving those into every agency.

Well, that was the ambition at the end of the Obama administration, but as we know, science and technology in the current administration is a bit more challenged.

They aren’t there. It’s okay, you can say it, there’s nobody working there. But that was the goal is to put people in each agency to redo their IT.

And that actually brings up one of the bigger lessons that I’ve always taken away from my time both in government and out here, which is there is such extraordinary talent out here and there is no way we are going to get them to apply for a civil service job.


Right, and so we need to find some kind of way to get folks out here that are ready to take a year or two of public service and kind of like the Peace Corps, send them in.

Yeah, that’s what they’re trying to do. I was just with Chris Madell in Washington.

But let’s get back to the things you guys did. What else did … A billion dollars is a lot of money. That’s a pretty fair-sized VC fund, for example. What other things did you do?

Yeah, so we did a couple projects with flying cars, which I think really will be …

Explain that please.

The future of, yeah, military transportation. So right now we use helicopters to get around the world. An aircraft investigator once described to me, a helicopter is a million parts flying closely in formation.

That sounds great.

Wouldn’t it be great to move to an electric-powered vehicle with the same range that has one moving part, is silent. So we’re experimenting with different ways to deliver those troops …

Explain flying car. How do you conceive of it? Because I know Larry Page is working, a lot of people are working on flying cars. What does that mean?

Yes, I think there’s … personal air vehicles are of course, as people around here say, an industry of the future, that’s certainly true. So our question …

VL … vertical lift and take off.

Our question is how can we use this prototype technology to do military missions better? And it turns out there’s enormous opportunity both for delivering troops and special forces into denied areas. There’s also great possibilities for resupply, all of which right now are being carried out through much …

Through helicopters.


Right. Explain how it flies, if you’re talking about a flying car, how it’s different than a helicopter.

Yeah. Well, it’s a large drone, essentially, and because it’s electrically operated you have far fewer number of parts than you do in internal combustion engines, so your rate of engine failure is much lower. It’s fully autonomous. The range, actually, is pretty impressive on certain companies’ prototypes.

So what you have is actually something that’s very close to being operational, something that we can almost …

Just like a Tesla of the sky.


And does it look like a helicopter? Does it look like a …

It looks like something out of a “Batman” movie.

Right. Which one? I mean, it has four copter … they have a propeller, correct?

Yeah, there’s a few different designs. But yeah, they all look like a cross between something out of a “Batman” movie and “The Jetsons.”

Okay, and so you would fly those … fly these cars — and they’re not hovercrafts because that’s a whole different area of … people aren’t looking at that?

They can hover, right, which is useful for resupply. But yeah, they can do all kinds of things. So, it was our mission to ask the question if, gosh, you could potentially use these. And how ought we be planning to use this future technology?

Well, everyone put up their hand for that one, right? Like regular people want a flying car. Or everybody wants a flying car, presumably.

That’s true, but it’s much more likely that the military will start experimenting with them first.

Right. First. So, they would do them in missions, in resupply, in night missions, anywhere a helicopter goes, correct? Right now.


Right. Then it would not have to do a lot of maintenance and difficulty.

And you can do things, too, like to segregate a squad. Right now, we’ve put a lot of people typically in one or two helicopters. That’s not great for all kinds of obvious reasons, so wouldn’t it be nice to have 10 or 12 aerial vehicles carrying the same number of people that will not be nearly as vulnerable.

And easier to move, less dangerous to crash and things like that. All right. So how much money do you put into it that, and who’s making those?

Well, the same companies that you probably know about are making them, and this is again an example where the Department of Defense can actually play a role helping these companies on their commercial path.

It’s where they want them, right.

First of all, we have a small amount of money to spend and many of these companies are so capitalized … our money is peanuts, but we also have test ranges that they can go tomorrow and fly on.

Explain these test ranges. They have places where? In secret installations? Or where?

There are secret test ranges. Most of them are not, and a couple of them are actually very close to the Bay Area. So DIUx has set up a couple test ranges, one for flying cars, another actually for drones and anti-drone technology. Which is another real issue on the battlefield.


How can we stop a missle or other foreign adversaries from using drones to disrupt …

Right. Grenades, or look at us. They can do almost anything, correct? Poison or dispersing … and we could use the same, presumably. I’m sure we have.


Yeah. So drones is another one. What other things did you find?

A lot of …

By the way, it was in a “Homeland” episode, they had a drone and then, all right, shot it down.

If only it all worked like “Homeland” or the movies.

Where Carrie saves everything.

I made some great investments in cybersecurity and cloud software, and some undersea and sea-surface technology.

Okay, explain the undersea.

Well, it turns out one of our great advantages militarily is our undersea technology. But at the same time there’s been a lot of progress made on the commercial front. Different kinds of submersibles and robots that can operate in new ways. So that’s another great example of startups out here that have developed a technology that is for a different purpose altogether, but actually it’s quite relevant for military missions.

So this is submersibles to spy … that’s what submersibles are for? Presumably.

You can do that. You can conduct ocean surveillance. You can monitor temperature conditions, which are really important for other Navy missions. There’s a whole bunch of things you can do. Again, these are … DIUx is after broad classes of technology that can be transformational in many ways.

Beyond the submarine.


Then give me one other. Outfits. Clothes. Exoskeletons.

Outfits. Yeah, sure. So we’re … right. Wearables, it turns out, is another great place that there’s a heck of a lot of innovation going on right now on the commercial market.

Imagine you’re on an infantry squad and you have a mission that involves getting miles away in tough conditions. Dehydration is actually one of your biggest enemies. Imagine having a wearable sensor that would allow the squad leader to know when one of his or her soldiers was in danger of dehydration. Little things like that can make an enormous difference.

That’s a great idea, yeah. And what about exoskeletons and things like that? Were you involved in those?

We have not done any exoskeletons, but that again is another great example …

Carrying and lifting.


They’re using them in factory lines now.

They certainly are. Which is a whole nother area of potential innovation, of what technology are we using in modern factories that could also be used in defense factories.

Right. Right. That are being used. Do you find the defense people very open to all this, what you are bringing to them? Or did they think there’s this weird group of guys out in Silicon Valley …

Yeah, it was, to be honest, pretty mixed. The Defense Department is …


Big. Really big, actually, and also very tradition bound for good reason, because it turns out that mistakes in war are costly and you remember them.

So we really did have, I think, a challenge to prove to people that commercial tech could actually be durable enough and good enough to perform — and in cases even outperform existing military technology.

Right. Then when you … what would you say your most successful thing is? When we get back we’re going to talk about what the big challenges are going forward. But what would you think your most successful investment in your tenure was?

To be honest, I think it’s just showing that it can be done.

Right. You can have an innovative, nimble group.

Right, so taking six Air Force programmers and a couple iMacs and for under $ 2 million in literally eight weeks coming up with an app that revolutionized how the air war is fought. That caused a lot of folks across the Air Force to notice and ask the question, “Well gosh, I have this problem too. Could you send some of your guys my way?” Strangely enough, cultural change, I think, is going to be our biggest lever, if you will.

Right. And now what happened in the Trump … do they even know you’re there? Did they know you were there? What was the … what happened after Mattis, I guess?

Yes. Secretary Mattis was very kind with his time. He comes from a background of playing an incredibly transformational role in the Marine Corps so he gets transformation, and he came out last summer and spent a day and a half here in Silicon Valley. I think he’s very enthusiastic about our mission. Sees the logic, sees fit and wants to grow.

And continues to support it.


Continues to … how many partners are here now?

So, we are a couple … Those that started have just moved on and we’re in the process of putting a new leadership team in place.

And that will be the same amount of people doing these investments?

Roughly, and in the office we started with 12 and we’re now almost up to 70 or 75.

You’re located where? In your usual …

Yeah, headquarters is down in Mountain View on Moffett Field. We have a office in Boston, teeny office in Austin, Texas, then a small office also in the Pentagon.

Great. We’re here with Chris Kirchhoff, who just left the Defense Department or I guess Innovation Lab almost, in Silicon Valley, DIUx, which stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. Who came up with that, Chris? Anyway, when we get back, we’re going to talk about where things are going in defense and what will be happening in the near and far future.


We’re here with Christopher Kirchhoff. He’s a former partner at the Pentagon Silicon Valley Defense Office, DIUx, which stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. How did you come up with that awful name? I like DIUx but the rest …

I know. Well, first of all, we had to have an acronym because if we didn’t have an acronym they would not start the office.


We figured X was kind of cool, but I definitely wouldn’t turn to the Pentagon for some really …

Yeah, how about Wakanda? So now you’re a visiting — I’m gonna get to Wakanda — visiting technologist at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. So let’s talk about where the challenges are that we face from a defense point of view going forward. I assume you look at, obviously — I’m joking about Wakanda, but I’m not — this idea of how we think about innovation, how we incorporate it into our defenses.

This doesn’t seem to be an administration that’s super interested in science and technology. That science and technology office is not staffed. It hasn’t been staffed. It was a new thing with President Obama, but the Office of Science and Technology has always been there for half a dozen administrations, I think. And it doesn’t … I don’t think it has a head yet, does it? It doesn’t. No, it does not. Which is like frightening in a lot of ways. So can you talk about what our challenges are now in the near term without science advisers at the White House?

Yes. I was really impressed …

I’m assuming the different agencies still are interested in science, some of them.

Yes. No, that’s certainly true. So the United States is in this peculiar predicament right. We’re 4 to 4.4 percent of the world’s population. We still command a quarter of global GDP. It’s why we have nice houses, nice big screen televisions, all that.

Our challenge going forward is our economic competitiveness. How on earth can we keep generating so much of the global economy with so few people? And if we’re going to be successful at this we’re going to have to make sure the leading part of our economy, the part of our economy that’s most dynamic, that tech sector really succeeds. The tech sector at the moment, if you haven’t noticed, is producing crazy, wild, disruptive technology and that technology will not be successful without the government clearing the road for it.

100 percent.

So what I worry about most now is whether that road can get cleared. Whether there are enough people out here in the tech sector talking to people in Washington about what needs to be done.

Which they’re not. Right. So talk about the areas. I mean, I’m assuming AI, robotics, automation, infrastructure, self-driving, all kinds of things like that.


Or is there more? I mean, cybersecurity.

No, it’s all these things and …

Non-hackable elections.

Wouldn’t that be nice? These things are all important, and one of the greatest challenges is just with people, because the people that tend to know the most about these technologies are not employed in Washington. They’re employed far away. That creates a challenge to begin with. How on earth do we get the people that know the most about the technology talking to the people that are in charge of writing regulations?

So let’s start with that. There was a big push by the Obama administration to get techies to come for short amounts of time and they fixed Obamacare, they fixed a lot of things, they moved in and fixed things. Now they’re really having a hard time recruiting anybody, correct?

They are, and that’s something I worry about a lot. We did this big review in the White House that looked across radical merchant technology.

This is Obama’s …

Right, and where would … It just completely turned upside down the mission of certain federal agencies and departments. The Department of Treasury, for instance, it regulates money.


Something kind of important, and it also turns out is the biggest bank for the government. It clears a lot of payments for federal agencies. So blockchain is going to be something that completely changes the Department of Treasury’s mission. So we asked the question, “Well, how many people are there today in the Department of Treasury that have enough expertise to participate in a peer conversation about blockchain?”

I would say zero, probably.

That was the answer, actually, and it’s not a surprise because the Department of Treasury doesn’t have a DARPA. They haven’t been recruiting for PhD cryptographers. But, it turns out they need to.


And desperately.

Well, they’ve got a Goldman Sachs banker running it who has a kind of unusual manner — I think we can be kind, that’s a kind way of putting it — who doesn’t seem interested in that. Correct? I mean that’s … is that where it comes from, the top in the Department of Treasury?

I think on the tech issues it has to come from the top because if you’re going to get people in the department you’re not through the usual means, right? Get them involved in the top of the policy conversations. You’re going to have to be the one that opens that door.

Right. And these are the departments, presumably, involved with regulating the blockchain. Which they won’t be able to regulate at some point because it’s unregulatable on some level of its being created by not them, or being monitored by not the government.

And you can just imagine if you were to walk across to each building in Washington and ask people there, “What do you do and how is it likely to change in the next five years based on what’s being invented in a garage somewhere?” Boy, there are some real challenges that we’re going to face going forward.

So Treasury, blockchain and what else? Let’s go through them. Blockchain …

I think blockchain and other technologies are …

And then cryptocurrency.

Right. That, of course, impacts the intelligence community’s mission. It also impacts, believe it or not, the development mission. Blockchain is going to revolutionize how a lot of development takes place, whether it’s land titles or new financial technologies to the developing world.

Similarly, the Department of State, there’s this thing called digital now that turns out it changes how we communicate. Almost every department or agency across the government is facing some real curveballs, and the curveballs are coming fast and most of them are not equipped with the kind of people or the kind offices …

Explain what challenge the Department of State faces.

Well, the Department of Defense is lucky because it does have places like DARPA that are part of it. That attracts top commercial talent, that are the best of what they do, and they can …

These are big challenges.

Right, they can look around the corner and say, “Hey boss, there’s this thing that you ought to know about called stealth technology.” Unfortunately, the Defense Department is one of a few parts of the government that has an advanced technology shop like that. And that’s because 30 years ago nobody thought advanced technology was relevant to, say, diplomacy, but it certainly is today. So I think we face a real transformational challenge of how do we re-engineer the State Department to have in it some technologists that can think about how diplomacy might be different going forward?

So how would you … what would they need? What are the issues they need to focus on?

Right. So a lot of the State Department’s mission is reporting and communicating. That, of course, has completely changed. But a lot of the State Department’s mission also is American values. It turns out, our values are actually bound up quite a bit in our technology, and our technology is the kind of mobile phone operating systems that we create and the kind of internet we advocate for.

These are all deeply technological areas, and again ask the question, how many of your scientists are there today working at State?


The answer is small.

Small. And that’s everything … I mean, they operate around the world, has to have some technological element.

There’s this funny story. I think there’s something like 140 foreign governments that have a presence here in Silicon Valley. Until last year, the State Department didn’t have anybody here.

Who do they have here?

They had one person who I think got fired.

Oh, okay.

Or sent along, when the administration changed.

Right. Okay. That’s not good. Another department, name another one. Education. Oh, good God.

Yes, so education is not something I personally looked at, but I mean, there again … Look, ed tech, the revolution going on at ed tech. Does the Department of Education have a DARPA-like appendage that is imagining what the future of ed tech is?


And how that will affect American education policy?

Right. So through every single department, and our government, they have to be thinking about … what about this idea that they were gonna … I mean, I know that Chris Liddell and Jared Kushner were pushing the Office of American Innovation. Pretty much everybody quit it. I think a lot of people that were on these different business councils have left over, I think it was Charlottesville.

How do you get Silicon Valley reengaged then with the government, or this government at least? You have a president who seems entirely uninterested in science and technology and in fact is hostile to it.

These are … the past months have not been kind to those who care deeply about this topic. But I think it’s just crucial to step back and notice that, as a nation, this is our future. This is the one thing we cannot afford to get wrong.

So why are we affording and getting it wrong?

I think a lot of people in Silicon Valley are still sort of pretending that what happens in Washington doesn’t really matter to them. And I think a lot of people in Washington just don’t have easy ways to get the knowledge they know they need.

How do they get … because it really is, you gotta convince people, tech people, to come there. These people have jobs everywhere and are easily available to them here and across the world, really. How do you entice them to come to government?

I’ll give you one great example we found. In the U.S. they have something called the Global Development Lab that’s all about technology innovation and global development.

This is where?



It was run, actually, by a former Apple employee named Ann-mae Chun, and she, within that lab, had the operational innovation team that was the team design to get to “yes.” So it had people from the legal department, from the HR department, from the contracting department, and whatever problem was brought to that team, “Hey, how do we get this Silicon Valley executive in for a year? How can we do this contract faster?” They were given the charge of coming up with a way to do it.

So they actually hired a tech recruiter. Imagine that, the government hiring somebody who is an expert in recruiting technologists with skills.

I can’t believe we’re saying, “Imagine that.” It’s like 2018 at this point.

Right. I mean, you would think, right? But it turns out that the bulk of the government, of course, is governed by the Civil Service Act, whose history goes back to the age of the telegraph, it was designed originally to staff the Post Office. Great at providing general administration, not so great at bringing in tech skills for term tours.

Yet, despite that, every department agency generally has a couple hiring authorities in the books, that if leadership says, “Hey, go do this,” you can get people in.

So what do you imagine … because I see other governments moving very heavily into technology within the government sector. And I’m sure they’re not ever as perfect as any of them. They’re all large bureaucracies so you’re going to fall prey to that. What are the biggest issues that our country faces, do you think?

I think one of the … again, going back to the importance of people, you can sit around a table in Washington and not even know that technology is in the middle of the issue you’re trying to solve if you don’t have somebody around the table that can see it.

So if you don’t have a tech team … I mean, if you have a lawyer in the room and an economist in the room, everybody in Washington has got their lawyer and their economist. But if you don’t have your technologist, you don’t even know what you’re missing. So I think that’s the first and probably the most fundamental part of the solution.

And then of the issues, what do you think the most critical thing is that we have to focus in on?

I think we’re at a moment where technology is probably a part of almost every major issue in one way or another.


I think you can’t any longer say, “Oh well, here are the four issues that technology is a part of and the 12 that aren’t,” and then divide your staff that way. And that’s part of the challenge. This is different than it was even 10 years ago.

So you have to have a technologist at every juncture of governing.

It’s totally ordinary to have a lawyer and an economist on your staff, in fact they have career paths that are set up to support that.

Right, but not for technologists. All right, so what are you doing at Harvard? I want to finish up. What are you studying?

I’m having a ton of fun 20 years after I was a freshman. I got involved in public policy. There’s a little corner of Harvard called the Institute of Politics, it’s a living memorial to JFK. I’m teaching a seminar on the topic of “Public Leadership in a Technological Age.” So whether you’re a computer science undergraduate or somebody studying government — or classics, for that matter — what ought you know about technology, about how it’s produced, about how it’s governed. You can be a future leader on this issue and get ready to join the conversation after you graduate.

And what is your one main thing you tell them? That you have to …

Yeah. Right. Ask not what you … no. So, we get together and we host a bunch of speakers from tech, also from tech policy in Washington. We’re looking for ways to get internships through so they can actually go experience what tech is. And what we tell them is that there definitely is a role, whatever educational track you’re on, to be able to learn more. Whether you’re a computer scientist that … Harvard just debuted an ethics and computer science course this semester. Something that turns out was kind of relevant.

Yes, very.

But if you look at the curriculum on the whole, it’s certainly not built with the idea in mind that we’re in the business of producing leaders that have to be able to grapple with technology policy.

Absolutely. All right, Chris, this has been really interesting. If you … if I had to worry about one thing — I really do like the idea of a flying car — but if I had to worry about one thing and I know you’re not, you don’t want to pick one. What is the thing that you think that government needs to focus most strongly on in the tech area?

Sure. Well, I had a chance to work on Ebola, on the White House Ebola task force.

That’s not coming back, is it?

Well, the thing is we’re kind of changing the world in the wrong way, right? So we’re deforesting, we’re … roads and air travel everywhere and when we deforest, we create these things that scientists call ecosystems where species clump together that normally don’t and it turns out that’s basically creating the world into a giant petri dish for emerging infectious disease.

So I actually worry the most, to be honest, about pandemics, I’m kind of in the Bill Gates camp on that one, when it comes to security.

I’m with you on pandemics, you know I’m obsessed with pandemics.

Do you have any Purell in the office? We should probably …

I have a lot.


I’m a pandemic obsesser.

Thank you so much, this has been very depressing. But we do need technologists in government and this administration really needs to focus on it, but I’m not … I have to say, I’m not very hopeful about that at this point. But we can always hope things can change.

Anyway, this had been Chris Kirchhoff. He’s a former partner at the Pentagon’s Silicon Valley office DIUx, which stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, which is still operating here. It funds private companies in exchange for commercial products that can solve national defense problems. Thank you, Chris, for coming.

Thanks for having me.

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Full transcript: Recode’s Kurt Wagner answers Facebook-Cambridge Analytica questions on Too Embarrassed to Ask

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The data privacy scandal has Facebook scrambling.

On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s Kurt Wagner talks with Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. Wagner says reports of a political data firm exploiting a loophole in Facebook’s old data platform has severely undermined public trust in Facebook.

You can read a write-up of the interview here or listen to the whole thing in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

KS: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.

LG: I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.

KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed To Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.

LG: It could be anything at all, like should Kara Swisher delete her Facebook?

KS: I have to use it first, I don’t use it all. I never use it.

LG: Do you have two Facebooks? Do you have a personal and professional?

KS: I have several. Yeah, I’ve got that. I have a lot, I have like 750,000 fans or whatever the hell you call them.

LG: Likes, followers.

KS: I don’t know. I never go there.

LG: You don’t use them?

KS: I use Instagram and I use WhatsApp.

LG: Oh, therefore you’re not using Facebook.

KS: Yeah, I know, but I use their properties. I use Facebook properties.

LG: No, I’m joking.

KS: Who owns Waze? Is that Google or Facebook?

LG: Google.

KS: All right, anyway, no, I don’t use main Facebook, it’s too heavy-handed for me. Anyway, so send us your questions, we’ll talk about that more. Find us on Twitter and tweet them to @Recode or to myself or to Lauren with a hashtag #TooEmbarrassed.

LG: We also have an email address, TooEmbarrassed@Recode.net, and a friendly reminder, there are two Rs and two Ss in embarrassed.

KS: As always, Lauren.

LG: As always.

KS: So, the reason we’re talking about Facebook, Lauren, what’s the reason? They’re in a bit of hot water, wouldn’t you say?

LG: As we tape this podcast right now, it’s Wednesday, you’re going to hear this on Friday, but it’s Wednesday about six pm Pacific, and Mark Zuckerberg is doing an interview live on television with CNN right now, but he also spoke to some media outlets, including you.

KS: Yes.

LG: Including Recode and Kurt Wagner.

KS: Right. Just a few precious ones.

LG: Just a few.

KS: Yeah.

LG: About the Cambridge Analytica Story, which has really blown up over the past week. So, we’re delighted to bring in Kurt Wagner, Recode’s social media editor, who’s going to join us. I think The Verge’s Casey Newton may pop in in a moment.

KS: Pop in, he’s trying to catch up to our scoop.

LG: He’s filing furiously right now, as are a lot of the news media. Yeah, this is a really … It’s interesting because Facebook sharing your data, Facebook is a free service sharing your data, is not a new story, it’s not a new theme, we all sort of implicitly understand the exchange that goes on when we sign up for a service and we use a service like Facebook. This story in particular has really captivated people. Kurt, why is this happening?

Kurt Wagner: I think it’s a transparency issue. A lot of people do know what Facebook does with your data. I think what caught people off guard here is that, one, some 50 million users found their data in the hands of someone that they did not give permission to have it. Two, we find out that Facebook actually knew about this three years ago and never said anything publicly. So I think there’s this betrayal of trust right now. Not so much that, “Hey, we didn’t know Facebook …”

KS: Mark called it a breach of trust.

A breach of trust.

KS: Yeah.

We didn’t know … It’s not so much, “Hey, we didn’t know Facebook had our data,” it’s more, “We gave it to you thinking one thing, and now all of the sudden we’re learning another.”

KS: More importantly, they didn’t protect it. They weren’t monitoring … What happened is, in 2007 — and I was at the 2008 F8 where he announced this — they did something called Facebook Connect. One of the ways it grew the platform, and the thing that made it big, was bringing all these developers onto the platform to do all kinds of things. There was one called Super Wall from RockYou, where you could put pictures. So they were bringing in lots of apps to get activity going on, which was …

LG: Those app makers were tapping into Facebook’s API to get the data.

KS: Well, in exchange, to bring them, they gave them precious data. They didn’t have a lot of rules, they had rules around it, but they didn’t monitor the rules. So, they had laws, but they didn’t enforce the laws, or they didn’t know what people were doing. So, all this enormous data went out for seven years. Wasn’t that right, Kurt?

More than that. I mean, if it would have been 2007, that’s 10 years, right?

KS: Well, no, they sort of slowed it down in 2014.

I’m sorry. Well, in 2014, they stopped what they allowed. So, let’s pretend you signed up for Words With Friends back in 2013, they would have also had access to all of your friends’ data.

KS: Right.

In 2014, they said, “No,” if you give them permission, Kara, they can take your data, they can’t take all of your friend data.

KS: Right.

Yeah. So for about seven years or so, they were not only giving away data of the people who agreed to it, but also everyone in their network was kind of losing their data, as well, without their permission.

LG: So, where does Cambridge Analytica come into the picture? Talk about that, and how they were mining the data, and how they weren’t exactly transparent about what it was being used for.

Yeah. They got ahold of all their data actually from a researcher, a professor from Cambridge, who created a personality app, I guess, and some 270,000 people used it, 300,000 people is what Mark Zuckerberg said today. So they all signed up to take this personality quiz, and as a result, all of their friends handed over their data unknowingly, as well. Then that professor gave the data to Cambridge Analytica, which is a data firm. That is where the issue happened.

KS: Right, so it’s pass-along, it’s like a virus.


KS: They passed it along and they didn’t have … Facebook was just not monitoring. Look, what Cambridge Analytica did was just suspect and misuse, and they said they were going to do something and they did something else. They said they were going to destroy data, they didn’t. They’re just liars, right?

LG: Mm-hmm. They said, just for background for people who are listening, they ultimately used the data in a way that influenced the … This is a U.K. based firm …

KS: Yes, then they used it for …

LG: … that ultimately used the data to influence in some … Well, the fact of whether they actually did influence people is questionable, it depends on how you feel about psychographics, but they used it with the intent to influence the U.S. election. Then when Facebook did become aware of it, they insisted that Cambridge Analytica basically would certify that they’d cleaned everything up.

KS: Right.

They said, “We deleted it,” and now we’re finding out they didn’t actually …

KS: Also, they shouldn’t have had it in the first place. The whole question is how Facebook didn’t monitor the data it gave out. It was handing out data like candy to get these developers on its platform and then it wasn’t monitoring the data. It’s not just Cambridge Analytica, it’s like who did they give it out to? There’s tons of companies they gave data out to that don’t exist anymore, tons and tons of those. Who knows where the data has gone?

LG: Where does that go?


KS: It goes into the great data … Data sets are critical to marketers and everyone else, and Facebook handed these out for free, essentially, for getting people on their platform for benefit to Facebook. Essentially, you, the user, are the product, you are the product they’re selling. It wasn’t that you didn’t know, it was so confusing, it went from person … Especially the friend graph. If Kurt gave it out, I didn’t agree for Kurt to give out.


KS: So that’s the problem with this, they just did no monitoring. We did an interview with Mark tonight where he said, “Yeah, we didn’t.”

Yeah, and we asked him, we said, “Is it even possible to go out and get it back?” Can you go out and find some app from 2012 that had 100,000 users and therefore the data of maybe 20 million users, could you go out and get all that back? He said, “Not always,” right?

KS: Yeah.

It’s kind of like what we wrote today, it’s like putting the genie back in the bottle. The data’s out there. Once it’s off of Facebook’s servers and onto someone else’s servers, you don’t have much control over it.

KS: They’re not the police, they can’t go in and get it. People could hide it, it could go into dark parts of the web. When he was asked if he could recover some of the data, he admitted not always, and I think it’s more than not always. Not at all, like, really, pretty much.

Again, once it’s out there, it’s out there, and they used it to build their business to what it is today. The responsible use of that data brings up lots of regulatory problems, there’s all sorts of violations of possible agreements they had made with the government before …

Yeah, the FTC might be investigating now, after all this Cambridge Analytica stuff, to see if they violated a consent decree that they signed in 2011. There could be a financial fine, which I don’t think is that big of a deal for someone like Facebook, they have so much money, but I think more concerning would be if Congress comes in and says, “Hey, we’re going to start regulating the data that you take in, because we no longer trust you to do this on your own,” all of a sudden.

Facebook’s whole business is based on that data, that targeting, specific hyper-targeting of ads that requires that data. If Congress says, “You can’t collect it,” or, “You have to collect it in a certain way,” that could change the whole advertising landscape that Facebook is built on.

KS: It’s a rolling controversy, it just keeps going. First it was fake news, then it was the Russian bots, then it was the fake advertising … it’s all the same thing.

LG: Yeah, there’s a convergence of issues that are happening right now, and they’re all contributing to this distrust with Facebook. When you look at … there’s fake news, like literally fake news websites that are having this presence on Facebook, there is the Russian propaganda and Russian influence in the U.S. election-

KS: Advertising lies.

LG: Right. In general, it just seems like there’s this …

KS: It’s the same story, lack of control of its platform, lack of monitoring, lack of responsibility around the data that it’s supposed to protect.

LG: Then on top of it, just as sort of a meta-theme, is people right now wondering if Facebook is good for them in general.


KS: Well, that’s a whole nother thing.

Is it good for your health, on top of all of this.

LG: Right. Right.

Are they stealing your data? Oh, by the way, is it making you depressed?

LG: Oh, by the way, does it make me sad?


LG: So, we’re …

KS: Can I just say, in the middle of this there was also this idea of remaining a neutral platform, which Mark would not go there. We’ve all tried to press him saying, “You have to have values and rules and things like that,” and he said … He keeps in this line, it’s a very Silicon Valley line, that they don’t want to have their personal ideology influencing Facebook rules or regulations. I’m like, “Why not?” It’s your company, kind of thing.

He really controls it because he’s got that special stock, this is the quote, “A lot of the most sensitive issues we face, there are conflicts between real values, right? Freedom of speech and hate speech or offensive conduct, where is the line?” Sounding more like an ethics student than the billionaire CEO of the one of the world’s most valuable companies. “What I’d really like to do is find a way to get our policies set in a way that reflects the values of the community, so I’m not the one making those decisions. I fundamentally feel uncomfortable sitting here in California in an office making content policy decisions for people around the world.” Well, he has to, it’s his company. That, I don’t agree with.

The end of that quote, actually, was the best part.

KS: Yeah.

Which is him basically saying, and I’m reading over your shoulder now, “Who chose me to be the person that basically makes these decisions? I guess I have to because of where we are now, but I’d rather not.”

KS: Yeah.

So it’s kind of that first, almost his first admission I’ve ever heard, of him kind of being like, “I really want to be a neutral platform, it’s not really working, and now, I guess, it falls on me to have to make these tough decisions.” He’s never really said that before.

KS: Which, I’m sorry, I’ve always thought that was just bullshit. Not from him, he’s a very earnest and thoughtful person. Let’s be clear, this is not Travis Kalanick at Uber talking, this guy really does think about it. The fact of the matter is, he has a responsibility and he’s got to start making choices, and they just don’t want to. They keep saying, “We’d rather have the community do it,” but the community has nine different opinions.

LG: That’s also a very data-driven approach. It’s like, how do you actually take the temperature of entire communities of 2.2 billion people around the world?

KS: And too easy to game.

LG: You do it using data and you say, “What do you …”

KS: It’s too easy to game.

LG: It’s kind of like, you vote for the most reputable publishers, you vote for what you want, and I think they’ve been hiding behind that idea that if they just had enough data, then it’s the user base that’s deciding, but that’s not … Kara, I think you kind of pushed this idea of, how did you not anticipate these bad actors though, as you’re building this massive platform.

KS: Yeah. They never do. Facebook Live, they … They have to take responsibility, that’s what adults do. This is their company, they’ve made billions of dollars off of it, they’ve decimated industries, like they really control the online advertising market. They need to be responsible and make choices. Making choices means you piss people off, making choices means you have to give up some things, they can’t have everything. They can’t have the world’s biggest platform and not be responsible for it. I just don’t … I don’t know why we’re even arguing over this situation. If they don’t want to do it, get out of the way and let someone else.

LG: Just to backtrack a little bit, we’re speaking right now, literally on the heels of this mini media blitz that went on this evening, on Wednesday evening. Prior to this, Zuckerberg was silent for about five days after the story broke last Friday night. So, where was he?

KS: Kurt, where was he?

Yeah. He was working. It was so bad that they came out with a statement that said he was working, he was working around the clock is what they had to say.

KS: Apparently around the clock. That’s what you do, you work around the clock.

You work around the clock. I think this was an example of …

KS: Kurt was working around the clock, by the way.

Yeah. What day? I don’t even know what day it is right now, yeah.

LG: Lucky Facebook reporters.

Yeah, this is great. No, I think this was an example of something that they learned from the really big scandal they had 18 months ago, right after the election when he comes out like a few days after and he says it’s crazy that fake news could have influenced the election. Do you know how many times people pointed to that interview and said, “Hey, remember that time Mark Zuckerberg said it was crazy and now look, he looks super naïve, he looked like he had no idea what he was talking about.”

In this scenario, I think that they remembered that interview, or that statement, and they said, “Well, before we get all the facts, the last thing we want is to put Mark out there in front of the press to say something that we’re going to have to backtrack later on when we know more details.” That is my hunch. They have not really come out and said specifically. He said in our interview, he was like, “Oh, one of the reasons it took me so long is I was going through this … I wanted to unveil a plan for all this.”

KS: Yeah, he’s like that.

“Before I say something,” but he could have said something a few days ago.

KS: Right.

I think they just didn’t know enough and they didn’t want him to say something they were going to have to walk back.

KS: They badly handled this in the beginning, when he first said, “We had no impact on the election,” then, “Maybe a little bit,” and then, “Okay, maybe more.” “Oh no, there’s more Russians.” It’s like cockroaches.

LG: Right, right.

KS: If there’s one Russian, there’s hundreds.

LG: Then it became a personal …

KS: By the way, not all Russians are bad, just these Russians.

LG: Then it became a personal resolution of his in the new year to essentially fix Facebook. It went from, “No, this is not a problem, no problems here, nothing to see here,” to, “I need to fix something.”

KS: Right.

LG: That was an acknowledgement.

KS: Yeah.

LG: So what do you think happens from here?

KS: Kurt?

I do think that, as we reported today, there’s a real chance that he could testify in front of Congress now and I think that …

KS: He’s open to it.

He’s “open to it.”

KS: That’s not a yes.

No, it’s not, but I guarantee that they’re all going to ask him now, right?

KS: Yeah.

If he’s open to it.

KS: He doesn’t have a choice if he gets subpoenaed, FYI, he has to.

I think that could happen, I think that’d be a really big deal. I think this FTC investigation could be a big deal. I don’t fully know how realistic it is at this point that they would be regulated more severely, the way we were kind of talking about earlier, but hell, I’m afraid to say that anything is off the table at this point, I think that it’s possible.

I think if you look what’s going to happen in the next week, you’re going to see a lot more about their policy stuff and changes. I think that that’s the immediate plan for them is probably going to be, “Here are all of the things we’re doing to protect your data right now.” It’ll be things like, “We’re going to put News Feed alerts so that you remember to go check and make sure that you’re sharing with the right people, and that you’re severing ties with apps that you maybe used five years ago that you no longer have a relationship with.” I think big picture is that this is not …

KS: It’s not good.

This is far from over.

KS: The stock has gotten really hit because people do intuitively understand this goes to the heart of their business, that’s one of the parts.


KS: The second part is, again, I really like … You like Mark, I like Mark.

I do. I do.

KS: But the slow rolling. I like Sheryl …

LG: Where is Sheryl in all of this?

That’s a better question.

KS: She’s working around the clock.

Yeah. I think that’s a better …

KS: Yeah.

When you think about Sheryl, she built Google’s ad business, or was a huge part in building it, she built Facebook’s ad business, for sure, she’s been there 10 years. What are the two companies right now that are in the middle of this entire ad dilemma? It’s Google and Facebook, right?

KS: Yeah.

She’s very visible on Facebook, but it’s a lot of her “Lean In” stuff, it’s a lot of her philanthropy, and I think there’s a lot of people who would love to hear more from her on this topic.

KS: The only thing I would say, I’m going to push back because today, when I was on CNBC, they were talking about, “Well, why doesn’t Sheryl talk about this?” Mark’s the CEO of this company and he is the founder, he’s the CEO, he’s the technical founder, Sheryl’s not technical, these are technical, highly technical issues. He’s the one that has to talk.

I know they want to bring in Adult Lady, but he’s an adult. He’s an adult man with children, he’s married, he’s been running it for a long time, he’s a very smart man. I talked about this earlier, you’re juvenilizing these Silicon Valley men, “Let’s bring Sheryl to clean up.” She’s absolutely responsible, I a hundred percent agree, but he has to be the face. Just because she’s smoother and talks better, he’s the one, he has the controlling stock, he’s the one responsible, he’s the one that should talk, he’s the one that should take responsibility. It’s fine to have Sheryl, or Chris Cox, who’s head of the platform, or Dan Rose, any of these executives, or the CTO should probably speak, too, but really, it falls to Mark. Mark Zuckerberg wants to be the CEO of Facebook, he has to … Years ago, when he wasn’t being as adult as he was, he had a card that said, “I’m the CEO, bitch,” on his card, which I thought was funny, everyone didn’t like it, I thought it was so funny. But he’s the CEO, bitch.

LG: Right.

KS: Okay.

LG: You want that business card.

KS: Yes, you do.

LG: Has this inspired either of you to reconsider your own Facebook accounts?

KS: I always monitor my security preferences.

No. Yeah, I did actually go through my settings and kind of just poke around since it had been a while, but no. As you pointed out at the very beginning, I kind of know what I got into when I signed up on Facebook. I think I’m also a little bit different in the sense that I write about it all the time. I don’t think it’d be possible for me to do that and not be on Facebook.

LG: You can’t just check out.


LG: Yeah.

I rode from the airport here today and my Lyft driver told me he deleted Facebook.

KS: Oh, wow.

LG: Interesting. Did you ask or did the Lyft driver volunteer that?

No, we were … I’m trying to think. He was asking me what I did and I told him that I wrote about Facebook, and then we started talking about this data scandal, and he was like, “Oh, you know, a few weeks ago I actually deleted my Facebook so I don’t have to deal with any of that anymore.”

KS: Yeah.

LG: That’s really interesting.

KS: I just don’t use it that much. There’s just …

Yeah, I don’t really either, to be honest. I’m much more about … I spend much more time on Instagram than I do Facebook.

KS: Which is a Facebook property.

Correct, but way more time on Twitter, as I’m sure you guys are, given our jobs.

LG: Yeah. I have a professional Facebook page, so I’m not inclined to delete that. My personal one, I think I am using it less, I haven’t done a very sophisticated analysis of my own usage, but I think I am using it a lot less. Yeah, there is an element of it that feels a little bit like “Hotel California,” it’s just very difficult to check out. Some people have brought up …

KS: Can you sing that please?

LG: Yeah. I know, I’m singing on the other podcast, right?

KS: Yeah, you did.

LG: A couple people, reporters, and I don’t want to give credit to the wrong person, but have brought this idea, too, that just to say, “Oh, well, just delete your Facebook,” in some markets or in some countries, that seems almost impossible.

KS: It’s ridiculous. You should just responsibly run it.

LG: It’s the way people … It’s like the primary way people connect with certain people. It is synonymous with the internet for some people in certain markets.

KS: They also Instagram and WhatsApp, and WhatsApp is an enormous property.

LG: Exactly.

KS: So they’ve got … The overall leadership of this company has to take this privacy seriously. One thing Mark said, I think, that was super interesting was around the mistakes were made section of our interview, which he said, “I made a mistake,” so I appreciated that. The idea that it was built incorrectly at the beginning, which is back in 2007, and especially around privacy. He said he came to realize people did not want their privacy violated, and he just came to realize that.

“Frankly, I think I got it wrong,” he said, in a sentiment that most Silicon Valley moguls are loath to admit. “There was this values tension playing out between the value of data portability, being able to take your data and some social data, the ability to create new experiences on one hand, and privacy on the other hand. I was maybe too idealistic on the side of data portability that would create more good experiences and created some, but I think the clear feedback from our community was that people value privacy a lot more.”

LG: What does that say about the mentality of the people who made Facebook and continue to build Facebook?

KS: Data portability, it means money for them.

LG: Do they just really value this idea of …

KS: No, they don’t.

LG: … openness and data moves freely and things like that.

KS: That’s their word, but you know what? It makes money for them. That’s why. Privacy does not make money for them. Right, Kurt?

Yeah, I think that’s a huge part of it.

KS: Come on.

At that point, a venture-backed business that’s trying to rapidly scale and trying to add as many new users as possible, if you’re the profile, if I’m downloading 10 new apps a month and I’m using my Facebook identity to log into all 10 of those, I’m probably not leaving Facebook. There’s a huge value to them in doing that. I do, though, having spoken — and Kara has talked to more Facebook executives for longer than I have — I do believe that they are drinking the Kool-aid in terms of that mission, though. They truly believe the whole … You don’t think?

KS: No, I think it’s such bullshit. I think they’re lying to themselves.

I think they believe it.

LG: I would say that lying to themselves …

KS: Of course they believe it, they became billionaires.

LG: … and drinking the Kool-aid are kind of the same thing.

KS: Yeah, it is, but I think they believe it because they made money on it.


KS: I think, ultimately they pretend they don’t care about money and then they have giant houses and planes. So, I don’t know. I just feel like …

I’m not trying to say it’s not … I guess what I’m saying is, I think that it can be both. I think that it can be a good business and that they can believe in this broader mission of everyone connecting.

KS: Yes, libertarianism. Yes, it’s in that thematic …

It’s that idealistic idea of, “Oh, well, why would anyone ever use Facebook Live to murder somebody?” right?

KS: Right.

The rest of the world is like, “Yo, the internet sucks, people do stupid stuff on the internet all the time.”

KS: Well, to me, that’s willful ignorance then.


KS: It’s absolute willful ignorance, pretending the inventions do not have consequences in the real world. You know what? Adults know about consequences.


KS: Maybe my 15 year old doesn’t know about consequences, but certainly, Mark Zuckerberg should.

Right. They don’t foresee a lot of them.

KS: Ultimately, after 10 times of this, it’s like, listen, you don’t have kids, but if my kid did it 10 times, I’d be like, “Okay, he means it,” kind of thing. Anyway, I’m giving a little parenting advice to Kurt.

I know, thank you.

KS: I’m such a scold. I am a scold.

LG: Too embarrassed to ask.

KS: Am I too much of a scold?


LG: No.

KS: I don’t think I … I’ve been banging on this drum for a while. With great power comes great responsibility, which was actually written by Voltaire, even though all of the geeks think it’s Spider-man, but no.

LG: I know, you told Sundar Pichai that during your interview with him.

KS: Yeah. He argued and …

LG: Yeah.

KS: Inaccurate.

LG: You were like, “Google that.”

KS: All right, we’re here with Recode’s Kurt Wagner and in a minute, we’re going to get through some questions from our readers and listeners about Facebook. But first, we’re going to take a quick break, a word from our sponsors. Lauren?

LG: Hashtag #Money, that thing that’s driving all of this scandal.

KS: Yeah. Kurt, do you want to say it?

Yeah, sure. What am I saying? #Money.

KS: No, that’s not … Come on.

LG: My stomach is growling.

KS: Do it like a sports tag.


KS: Very nice. I think I’ve found my new #Money person. Anyway, we’ll get back to you.


KS: We’re back with Recode reporter Kurt Wagner, talking about what else Facebook … Kurt has done an astonishing job this week because there’s so much news coming out of Facebook. He’s doing tons of stories, kudos all around, but we’re going to answer some of the questions that our readers and listeners have been asking. Lauren, would you read the first question?

LG: Absolutely. The first question is from Two Lamb Fam, who asks via Twitter, “Why does Facebook even give other apps access to all of that user data? Their targeted ads product doesn’t require other companies to own the data. Advertisers just tell Facebook who they want to reach and Facebook serves ads to that, no need to hand over any data. #TooEmbarrassed.” Kurt, is that true? If so, why the access?

Yeah. Well, this is what we’ve kind of been riffing on this whole conversation so far, is that it was a huge way for Facebook to grow in the early days. If they’re …

KS: Enticements.

Yeah. If they’re bringing in other apps, and Facebook benefited in the way that if I’m logging in through Spotify, maybe I’m posting back to Facebook and saying, “Hey, here’s the song that I’m currently listening to,” right?

KS: It was done to create users.

Create users, create content, create a dependency on Facebook, I’m not going to delete my Facebook account if it’s my login information for every app on my phone. So there’s a lot of different reasons that Facebook saw value in this. I think it’s been more recently, obviously, that they’ve realized, “Oh, maybe this isn’t always the best approach.”

KS: I would agree with that. I think they don’t need to. They needed to grow the company and now, of course, they’ve pulled back because they don’t need them anymore, and so they should control all their data, and then they should protect it. Let’s hope they don’t have a hacking after this.

Right. The question is, how much is already out there, right?

KS: It’s out there. Come on.


KS: Come on. That’s the thing, he was close to saying that.

I know it is out there, I’m saying how much? How many developers have your information, Kara?

KS: I don’t use Facebook that much. What “Likes” do you have? I never “Liked” anything, I hardly put my school in there.

I bet I’d laugh, I haven’t looked at my “Likes” in a long time. I’m pretty sure Rascal Flatts, I “Liked.”

KS: All right.

The show “Friends,” I liked.

KS: That’ll get you fired here at Recode. All right, next question.

LG: Why did the show “Friends” go off the air?

I don’t know, I’m a huge fan.

KS: Such a good show.

LG: Oh my goodness, which “Friends” character do you identify with the most?

Everyone thinks I’m Ross, which is a bummer, because he’s like the worst.

LG: Yeah, but you’re not a Joey.

KS: You’re not a Joey.

LG: Maybe a Chandler.

KS: No, you’re not really a Chandler.

LG: I don’t know. You know what this sounds like? A personality quiz.

Let’s get a BuzzFeed quiz on this, right?

KS: I’m trying to think.

LG: You know what happens with personality quizzes.

KS: You’re not any friend.

LG: Were you going to say he’s a Phoebe?

KS: No, you’re a Phoebe, obviously.

LG: I am a little “Whoo.”

KS: Whatever. I’m sorry, I’m really tired, it’s been a long day, we did a long interview with Mark Zuckerberg, who did a very good job, I thought. This only talks about Facebook, the social network, I wonder what Facebook the company does with intimate and more personal details from Instagram and WhatsApp. I agree, they have other things you may not know they own. Kurt?

Well, they don’t sell it, or they claim they don’t sell it, and I believe them only because I think it’d be very bad business for them to sell your data. They use it, though, to show you targeted ads. Right?

KS: Yeah.

That is the whole point of all of this data that they collect, is that they know that you’re male or female, and you’re in this age group, and you live in this city, and you like “Friends,” or you don’t like “Friends,” or you’re a Joey more than a Chandler. They know that stuff about you, which is why their ad business is so good.

LG: What’s the one ad that you both see consistently on your Instagram?

KS: I don’t go on Facebook.

LG: On your Instagram.

I get a ton of those ads that follow you around the internet. Right now, I’m getting a lot of golf club ads. I like to golf.

KS: Of course you are. I could guess that about you.

LG: But you already own them, right?

Actually, fun fact, and what a waste of ad money, I looked them up online, I went and bought them in a physical retail store, brick and mortar, and there was no way apparently for the online advertiser to know that I’d already made the purchase. So for the last six weeks I’ve been getting golf club ads, and I just laugh every time because I’m like, “I already made this purchase, man, you’re wasting your dollars on me.” Yes, I do like to golf.

LG: Yes. I get followed by …

Most people at Recode make fun of me for that.

LG: The funny thing is that I don’t even like to … I don’t really like to decorate that much, and I’ve been followed by this Parachute Home ad on Instagram for months now, and everything is the same sort of very, I don’t know, southern California aesthetic.

KS: It’s sheets. Brooke Linen is our sponsor, but okay.

LG: Oh.

KS: Anyway.

LG: Is that the same company?

KS: No, they’re not the same.

LG: I don’t know, I just get followed by home décor ads a lot. I must have “Liked” accounts at some point.

KS: You know what I get? I’ll tell you what I get. I read the New York Times every day and I had to finally literally complain to Twitter, and they took it down, I think they went and added a special Kara Swisher squad. I complained to the New York Times CEO, too. It was a shirt company that had a rainbow sort of painted shirt, so that it was like a … It was a really ugly white shirt with gay rainbow splatter, and I was like, “I’m never buying that shirt, stop.”

LG: That was on the New York Times?

KS: Every day. Every five scrolls.

LG: So you think it targeted you?

KS: Some gay thing. Why would I want a rainbow paint-splattered shirt? It was crazy.

So what we’ve learned is you just go complain to Jack Dorsey at Twitter.

KS: I did that, yeah.

Everyone out there, just call up Mark Zuckerberg like Kara would, and tell him that you don’t like the ads you see.

KS: I might go to Sheryl for that.

Okay, call Sheryl.

KS: Yeah. Okay. I’m just saying, they’re irritating. Okay, next one.

LG: Next one is from Fernanda Beltrao, who wrote via email, “My first question is, should we really call it a data breach? No one stole …”

KS: No one calls it that, Fernanda.

LG: She said, “No one stole the data, right? Facebook sold it. Also, is there any way that Facebook can keep control of the data they sell and make sure it’s not used in an ethical way? Or, I don’t know, don’t sell it at all.”

KS: Yes.

LG: Well, we’re kind of talking about this one.

Yeah, there’s a few things here.

KS: Go ahead, Kurt, just take this one. The answer is yes and yes.

Let’s unpack this question.

LG: Yeah.

One, Facebook doesn’t sell your data, we just talked about that. This was not an issue of Facebook selling data. It was also not a breach because, as Fernanda pointed out, there was no technical hacking, there was no breaking through the firewall into the back systems. Facebook gave this data away to a partner that had used its API, that was all above board, by the books. That partner then gave that data away, which was a violation of the rules. So, as we’ve talked about before, Facebook doesn’t sell your data, it gives it away to certain partners.

KS: That’s even worse.

Yeah. Really, there’s no way for them to kind of keep tabs on where it goes after the partner has it, and that’s really what the problem is here.

KS: It’s like the clap. Not that I …

Oh God.

KS: Sorry. Oh Kurt, I’m sorry.

No, that’s good. That just caught me … You know. I was in Facebook data mindset.

KS: It just goes. It’s like if you opened a pillow up and spread the feathers, they’re gone.

Okay, yeah.

KS: You can’t get them back, or not all of them.

It’d be a pain.

KS: You can’t, it’s gone. It’s gone. All right, feather pillow was a much better thing than the clap.

All right, Mike Stehle via email, “Does a Facebook user/account holder essentially have access to all their friends’ data? In other words, if I have a lot of friends or followers, can I access their data? Can I voluntarily pass that data to others such as Cambridge Analytica? Couldn’t any Facebook user with lots of friends who is sympathetic to Trump simply consent to Cambridge Analytica accessing the data for their friends?” I don’t know that. Kurt?

LG: That’s interesting.

Yeah. I read this before and I went and tried to do a little looking. Obviously, if you are friends with someone you have certain information that they share with their friends, right?

KS: Yeah.

I would probably share my location, name, school, all of that stuff, with the people I’ve agreed to be friends with. I guess there’s nothing stopping you from going to all of your friend profiles individually, tracking all of that information …

KS: That’s crazy.

Collecting it and then sending it to someone. It seems like a huge hassle and I don’t think any …

KS: You can.

It’s not scalable in the way that any advertiser would want it.

KS: It’s an interesting question. Then, “We know from the recent indictments that 13 Russian individuals/companies set up Facebook accounts, posing as U.S. citizens or groups. Did that give the Russians access to the data of those individuals that followed or friended those fake individuals/groups?” Yeah, I suppose they did. “If so, is there a way for FB to trace to see if those people — the unwitting friends of the Russians — were then targeted in the manner described by Cambridge Analytica?” By the way, I did see a New York Times piece about when they found out they were going to Russian events, they were like, “Yeah, that’s okay.” Like they went to some of the people who got duped-

LG: Who went?

KS: New York Times went to some of the people that got duped into going to events the Russians put together. They’re like, “Well, so what? I still agree.”

LG: Oh geez.

KS: Yeah, exactly. All right, were targeted in the manner … So, what about that?

This question is basically asking, if you’re a page or a publisher, can you get all of the data from the people who follow your page or “Like” your page, in the way that you would get friends’ data. I have a professional Facebook page, Lauren, you do as well, I read this question, so I went onto my professional Facebook page and I tried to see, can I get all the data from my followers?

What I was able to do was see aggregated data. So I could see, for example, that I had 10 followers from Seattle, Washington, or I could see that I had 20 followers in the 18-to-24 age bracket, but I wasn’t able, unless I just missed it, which is possible, but I wasn’t able to go in and look at individual profiles, or collect all of that personal granular data. All I could get was big-picture stuff.

LG: Yeah, but even aggregate data sets have been shown through data science, you could work into it backwards and find out, at least who people are.

The value of that is, if we’re Recode, which we are, and we go to an advertiser and we say, “Hey, we want to give you a …” What is the kind of ad now? “Native ad, native content, or whatever. Here’s the demographics of our followers.”

LG: Yeah, I have 10 followers in Seattle.

Yeah, they might say, “Oh great, just the person we wanted to reach, we’re going to pay you money for something.” So there is value to it, but I don’t think it’s the same as having the individual granular data of all these users, which is what we’re talking about here with the Cambridge Analytica situation.

KS: Yeah, 100 percent. Just to be clear, we’re here at Vox tonight and we have … I tweeted out the other day Vox sells data, too, but it keeps it anonymized, it’s quite conservative, and we don’t give it out to third parties in the same way. Anyway, you can go read it. I tweeted it out, I’ll retweet it again. All publishers do this, but not in this massive amount and with this much information. We don’t have people’s “Likes,” we don’t have people’s behaviors, we don’t have … Just read the story, essentially.

LG: It’d be a good if 2.2 billion people were subscribed to Vox content.

KS: Yeah, that would be great. I sure would have a lot more value … Everybody must wear pink or something like that, I declare it. Okay, so we’re going to take a quick break, one more word from our sponsors, more questions after this. Lauren?

LG: I thought it was Kurt’s turn.

KS: No.

LG: #Money.

KS: Part?

LG: Part two.

KS: Kurt, do that again, please?


LG: Oh my God, you little …

Is that good? That was different. That was part two.

LG: Move over, [Michael] Buble.

That was more country music than I intended.

KS: I liked it. I like it, Kurt, you’re hired. When we get back we’ll ask more questions.


KS: We’re back with Kurt Wagner of Recode who covers Facebook. We just finished a 20-minute interview with Mark Zuckerberg about mistakes were made. Would you call it that, mistakes were made?

Mistakes were made.

KS: Uh-oh, uh-oh, a little bit of uh-oh.

I’m sorry, whoops.

KS: So sorry. Whoops.

My responsibility.

KS: Yeah, that kind of stuff. Yeah. He was very thoughtful about a lot of stuff.

I thought he was. He actually answered all the questions.

KS: He did.

And I thought he didn’t really dodge.

KS: He didn’t.

I know he didn’t fully say yes to the …

KS: He didn’t agree with me on every issue.

He didn’t agree, but I thought he actually answered the questions pretty appropriately.

KS: He did. We’re going to put the whole transcript up. I have a different thought about it, he doesn’t agree with everything …

Right. Right.

KS: … and us, but that’s okay, he made his case.

LG: Did you ask him about what the possible fallout would be from all of this?

KS: Yes.

LG: What did he say?

KS: Not good. Right?

Yeah. That was at the very end, he was running to an all-hands meeting with staff. Which was kind of cool, he was literally on the cellphone as he was walking to the all-hands meeting.

KS: Yeah, he could have hung up on us.

You kind of said, “Hey, is this a big deal for Facebook’s legacy?”

KS: How bad?

He was pretty much like, “Uh, yeah, people seem pretty upset about it.”

KS: He gets it.

He wasn’t being naïve about the fact that this is a big story.

KS: Yeah, exactly. He was good. Look, people are still furious. Right now, on Twitter, I’m looking at people just really hating Facebook right now.

LG: What are they saying?

KS: That they stole our stuff, how dare he, he should be in jail, a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff that’s not nice. I feel your pain. I feel your pain, I agree.

LG: Well, yeah, and those are the users. They matter.

KS: They did not responsibly run that platform the way they should have. There’s no two ways about it.

All right, next question, EF something: “What’s the difference between how prior campaigns used Facebook data, especially Obama, and what Cambridge Analytica did?” Kurt?

This is a really good question, so I tried to … I wasn’t actually covering Facebook back when Obama was having his 2012 campaign, but what I gathered, because it’s now been brought back up to the surface in the last couple days, is that they also did something very similar. The difference is that they claim they used their own app. So, whereas Cambridge Analytica got a lot of this information from that professor that we talked about at the very beginning, which violated Facebook’s rules, the Obama campaign is saying, “Well, we actually just created our own app, people opted in, and as a result we were able to gather the information about them and their friend networks to do targeting.”

LG: Was this in 2008 or 2012? I would imagine 2012?

2012 is my understanding, which would have still been before they made the changes, so it makes sense. It doesn’t sound like there was a huge difference in terms of the data that each group had, it just was how the data was collected. So, not saying that Cambridge Analytica necessarily did anything different than Obama did, but they got their data in a different way.

LG: So what you’re saying is that the Obama campaign also knew you “Liked” “Friends.”

They knew I “Liked” “Friends” and Red Robin and Rascal Flatts.

KS: What? What is Red Robin?

These are the things I probably “Liked” on my Facebook profile.

LG: Are the days of innocent … You know what? I don’t even know if campaigns were ever innocent.

KS: We’ve been using data forever.

LG: I was just going to say, data’s been used and manipulated in elections for as long as …

KS: They went to Facebook because it was like, “Why do you rob banks?” “Because that’s where the money is.” Facebook’s where the people are.

LG: I guess my question is, does this really change anything now that we …

KS: It gets worse and worse. It gets worse and worse, as long as these companies don’t take this seriously. There may be a point where they just can’t sell the political … Again, they’ll find a way to get at this data. This is a treasure trove. AI, for example, needs huge data sets to be effective and they have the biggest data sets, them, Google, Amazon, these data sets are valuable beyond their … They’re just money in the bank, so to say.

KS: All right, next question, Lauren, why don’t you read it.

LG: Next question is from Swaroop Satheesh.

KS: Oh, that’s a great name.

LG: “With Facebook scandal and Uber autonomous car getting into a fatal accident” — it was a terrible story — “do you think we’re going to see a paradigm shift in the way tech companies treat data?”

KS: I don’t know if they have anything to do with each other?

LG: Yeah. Data and …

KS: Look, autonomous cars are going to … This is a tragic event, but you’re going to see this happening, hundreds of people die in car accidents every day, they’re all tragic, every one of them. So you’re going to see this as autonomous cars roll out, it’s going to be a lot of … Over the years, any technology has its price. In this case, it was tragic. I don’t know if it has to do with data. That had to do with sensors and the pedestrian.

I think it’s more to do with responsibility, right?

KS: Yeah. Yeah. Good point, Kurt.

It’s less specific to data, more about how we hold these companies accountable. Clearly, Facebook’s going through that now. I haven’t, believe it or not, even been following the Uber thing as much, just because Facebook has been so crazy the last couple days, but I’m sure that Uber will have to hold itself accountable and people will hold it accountable.

KS: Yep, a hundred percent. All right, next question is from Diego Siles, “The president of Bolivia is going for unconstitutional reelection”— that’s his opinion, I don’t know much about Bolivia and politics — “next year and plans to have a social media team.” I’m surprised he doesn’t have one already. “Will Facebook be controlling this for things outside the U.S. considering it’s a market not particularly interesting to them?” That’s an issue, because Facebook has a lot of impact in countries in Indonesia and others, they’ve affected things by fake news.

LG: The Philippines.

KS: They have impact everywhere, and the massive impact they have in these other countries where people rely on them is really … They’ve got a business that’s super complex and super prone to controversy, I think.

LG: Right.

KS: That’s a nice way of putting it.

LG: It’s not only about people in certain markets getting their news entirely from Facebook, but it’s the way that certain governments are able to manipulate Facebook data and the messages that are being shown to people in a very undemocratic way. It’s of concern.

I only have one point on this, which is that — I believe it was almost a year ago, right before the French presidential election, Facebook came out and said they banned like 30,000 fake accounts or bot accounts, that they were afraid could try and sway that election. I realize that France is perhaps different than Bolivia, but at the same time, I think Facebook does not want to be a manipulative service in any country or for any election. Obviously, we’ve talked primarily about the U.S. presidential election for the last 18 months or so, but I can guarantee that they’re focused and thinking about stuff that’s happening in other parts of the world, as well.

KS: Right. Absolutely. Next question, Lauren?

LG: Michael Pacholik, “How do I become …”

KS: These names are so good today.

LG: Everyone, Kara likes your name. “How do I become a ghost on Facebook without deactivating my account? Convincing my friends to abandon it with me is a losing battle and we as a group use it to organize events.” So he wants to ghost, but he still kind of wants to use it.

It’s actually not that hard.

KS: It’s not.

You have your account and you don’t post.

LG: And you don’t “Like” things.

Yeah. You can participate in a group conversation without posting publicly. Even if you do want to post, you can change … I think there’s just so many little details about Facebook in terms of privacy that people just aren’t aware of. So, every time you post you can set who can see that post, you can show it to everybody on Facebook, you could show it just to your friends, you could actually eliminate your ex-girlfriend or boyfriend from seeing it. There’s a ton of controls that you have, it’s just a matter of understanding them, knowing where to find them.

If you want to be on Facebook but you don’t want people to really know you’re on Facebook, you can create an account, give them the bare minimum information they would need from you, which is probably just the name and an email, and participate in things like private groups and that’s about it.

KS: Yeah.

LG: There you go.

KS: Yep. Question from Alan Hui? Okay. “What’s the chances of Mark become POTUS now that this storm happened?” I’m not so sure he was going to be POTUS. I never went with that one, I don’t think even Kurt …

Yeah. I wasn’t a believer.

KS: It’s not good, but here we have Trump, so …

Yeah, I was going to say, people seem to forget things pretty quickly.

LG: Yeah, especially when it comes to business deals and interactions.

KS: Yeah.


KS: I don’t know, we’ve got a porn star and a former Playboy model suing the president, so I don’t know. I feel like the data breach should be …

Yeah, I wouldn’t say there’s anything that disqualifies you from being president now.

KS: The data was still …


KS: I don’t know, that’s a good question. I don’t think he’s running. It’s not good. It’s not good. It’s not good for him. He did point this out, he said he’s made mistakes before and he’s going to make them again.

Oh yeah. Honestly, five days ago, six days ago, when this first broke, I was like, “Well, you know, this is certainly a notable story …”

LG: Another Facebook scandal.

“But you know, this’ll be over in 48 hours.” I’ve been pretty blown away by the reaction. You can just tell people are fed up.

KS: The timing. People are tired.

Yeah, people are fed up.

KS: People are fed up, and because of the election, the political part of it, even the idea that they may have even slightly impacted the election — and people will debate how much or how little — that’s really disturbing.

LG: Yeah.

KS: If you need to focus on someone, rather than the Russians, you focus on Facebook.

LG: Well, a lot of times, in any relationship, whether that’s with a product or service or in real life, it’s not the thing that seems to … What’s the saying? The straw that broke the camel’s back?

KS: Yeah.

LG: It might not be the biggest thing, but it might be a buildup of things that have betrayed people’s trust.

KS: You know I’ve been hammering on this, it’s people are getting a very lizard sense that technology might not be for the good. Like self-driving cars, automation, robotics, all these things, AI, I think people understand very clearly in the back of their minds that these things are going to have real consequences.

LG: What you’re describing, too, are also very … Those are technology, and I think what’s happening here is there’s this confluence of events where the culture of technology is meeting with the products and services in a way that people aren’t comfortable with.

KS: It’s the political part.

LG: It’s not just whatever’s going on with Uber, it’s the Uber culture that we’ve heard a lot about, and the evasiveness, and that whole “move fast and break things, and ask for forgiveness later” kind of ethos. When that starts to butt up against the actual … It starts to feel very real to people, when they’re not just reading about those stories in the newspaper, but when it actually impacts the products and services they use every day. When they can see that and it’s a very tangible thing, I think that’s when you have this perfect storm of events.

I would say the last point is that this is a very personal thing for potentially every Facebook user, right?

KS: Yeah.

All the dilemmas and drama and issues we’ve dealt with so far have been pretty big-picture, honestly. Like, fake news, was it used by the Russians to whatever? A lot of that, first of all, apparently half the people don’t care or don’t believe about it, a lot of people aren’t in the U.S. so they don’t care, they don’t believe about it. This is like every single Facebook user has data within Facebook.

LG: Right, or has connected to some third-party app.


LG: Yeah.

So, this is a problem that does not just affect people who are disgruntled about the 2016 presidential election.

KS: No.

This is something that could theoretically impact two billion people who use the service, so I think that’s why we’re seeing even more …

KS: And it’s the political …

I think there’s a political spin, too.

LG: Do you remember when there were websites you could click on where it would tell you if you had read something that was made by some type of fake news/Russian bot, if you went and clicked on it, it would say, “No.” Like in my case, it said, “No, don’t worry, you didn’t read anything that actually came from one of those sources.” You kind of feel like, “It’s okay, I think have sense on the platform.”


LG: When it comes to … I, at one point, you mentioned Words With Friends earlier.


LG: I connected my account with something that does this data scraping. It really does open it up to so many people.

Right. Well, and not just if you did it, but now we know …

LG: And my friends.

… friends do it.

LG: Right, prior to 2014.

Words with Friends probably got my data.

KS: Yep, a hundred percent. All right, last question, Lauren?

LG: This is via email from Liz Weeks, one of our most loyal listeners, who sent a lot more questions than this, but we’re going to read a couple. “First and foremost, I have a rudimentary understanding of what it means to ‘delete’ data, I just assume even if it’s deleted by me or even a company, it’s still out there somewhere in the ether.” Good point, Liz. “When Facebook promises to delete data once and for all, what precisely do they mean?”

It’s an amazing question because I don’t know if anyone has a super, super strong answer for that. Basically, traditionally, it means if you’re deleting it, you’re wiping it off of a company’s servers. They have these servers where they store messages and posts and videos, so that when you open the app and you say, “Oh, I want to look at that vacation photo I haven’t looked at for two years,” it’s stored somewhere on their server so that you’re able to look it up. If it’s deleted, that means it’s wiped completely off that.

I think the issue here that Liz is getting at is that once the data leaves Facebook’s servers, and once they share it with Words With Friends or Spotify or with Airbnb or whoever it may be, it’s now living in two places. Facebook can only delete it on the servers that it controls. It has to rely on these third parties to also treat it responsibly, take care of it, protect it, and that’s where we’re running into the issue: How many tens of thousands of developers that created an app that was cool for three weeks and then disappeared, how do we know that they were practicing safe user privacy regulation?

LG: Yeah, that’s the issue.

KS: That’s the issue, they didn’t monitor it. It’s monitoring, monitoring, monitoring.

So you should assume that perhaps most of the things you’ve given Facebook probably do exist somewhere out there, even if they’ve deleted it.

LG: Fun. Another question from Liz, “What role does Joseph Chancellor play? I would like to understand if he’s a psychiatrist for Facebook or if he was simply given access to Facebook data. What checks does Facebook have on researchers using that data for non-academic purposes and B) do they have any conflicts of interest provisions?”

I tried to look into this a little bit. Joseph Chancellor is the former Cambridge Analytica employee who is now employed by Facebook. I do not know much. My understanding from what I’ve read is that Facebook is now exploring … He’s still there, he’s still employed there, I believe, and Facebook’s now looking into whether there was any wrongdoing from him, was there a connection of some kind, was he helping?

I think it’s very much an innocent-until-proven-guilty kind of thing, because I think this guy could very well have just been an employee there and he’s now an employee at Facebook. That’s pretty much what I know. I assume, especially given the gravity of the situation, that Facebook is looking into that very closely.

KS: Yeah, absolutely. Overall, this is the last question, Kurt, what’s the next story?

I think the big, big story that’s going to be important and also might not happen right away, is what impact all of this has on Facebook’s executive team.

KS: Right. The cohesive team, they always brag about their cohesion.

Yeah. Kara and I have talked about this a ton. Facebook’s executive team is very close, they’ve almost all been there for 10 years or more, a lot of them were the original crew that helped build Facebook from Palo Alto.

KS: You’d say OG.

LG: Who are some of those people?

OG? Yeah.

KS: Not these people.

Yeah, I wouldn’t call them OG.

KS: Original geeks.

What? Say what?

LG: Who are some of these people?

Like Andrew Bosworth, who goes by Bos, Naomi Gleit.

KS: Shrep.

Mike Schroepfer, Sheryl Sandberg.

KS: Dan Rose.

Dan Rose is a good one. I think he’s been there 12 years.

KS: Chris Cox.

Chris Cox.

KS: It’s more than a dozen years.

Chris Cox is head of product at Facebook, he’s literally like Zuckerberg’s best friend, they travel together, there was like paparazzi photos of them in Hawaii.

KS: It’s a very cohesive … Elliot Schrage is there.

I think the issue is, we just found out this week that their chief security officer is leaving over some disagreements about how to handle all of this stuff.

KS: He wanted more transparency.

I can’t believe he’s …

LG: The whole team, Nicole Perlroth reported that

KS: Great job on that, New York Times.

LG: Yeah.

Yes, awesome story. I can’t imagine he’s the only one who’s had a disagreement about this internally. I can’t imagine that there aren’t people who … Obviously, Mark is responsible, Sheryl is responsible, but there have got to be other people who have been there a long time who are responsible for what’s going on here.

So, are there going to be more exits? Are there going to be people who are asked to leave because, “Thank you for your service but you’ve screwed up”? Then are there going to be people like Alex Stamos, who say, “Well, we disagree with how things have gone,” or, “This is just too much for us and we’re going to leave.”

LG: How’s the board reacting?

The board gave a statement in support of Mark and Sheryl just a few hours ago, and I actually thought that was really interesting because Mark and Sheryl are both on the board and Mark basically controls the whole …

KS: Controls the board. It’s like a Russian election.

People were making a big deal, they were like, “Oh, the board came out with a statement in support,” and I was like …

KS: Well, he’s won by 76 percent.


KS: What a surprise.

LG: I call a board meeting.


KS: Mark is not like that, but the fact of the matter is, he controls the board, period.


KS: Period, period, period, end of story. If he didn’t … By the way, boards are like … Come on, look at what the Uber board did. This guy practically killed a puppy in front of them, he would have had to do that, I don’t know what he could have done and … He didn’t kill a puppy.

Facebook in particular has been around for a long time. Marc Andreessen is not going to come out and publicly chastise Mark Zuckerberg.

KS: Marc Andreessen is not going to slap around Mark Zuckerberg. Never. Then Peter Thiel, this is not a group of people that are going to object, they’re going to stick together. That’s the issue is the wagon, whatever you do with wagons.

LG: No, what do you do with wagons?

KS: You circle them.

LG: That’s right, okay.

KS: You circle them. So, circling wagons is what Silicon Valley does.

LG: I didn’t know if you were going to say like, the wheels are coming off. I was really wondering where you were going with that.

KS: No, the wheels are coming off some of the wagons, and wobbly wheels, but they’re never going to do this, not Mark Zuckerberg, not. He’s like, no, he’s the top top, do you know what I mean?

LG: Mm-hmm.

KS: Nobody’s going to mess with him. The question is, are they going to do their job? These boards, none of these boards in Silicon Valley — and by the way, across the country, really, come on — I just don’t expect any kind of courage from any of them. As it’s shown over and over again, the Yahoo board, the … Just every … It’s just not going to happen, right?

Yeah, I agree.

KS: They’re going to support him.

I saw the statement and I thought, “Of course.”

KS: I’d like to see one board member saying, “This sucks.”

It would have been way, way, way, way more interesting if they had not shown support for Mark and Sheryl.

KS: Yeah. Getting to what Kurt was talking about, and we will finish on this, is this cohesion. I had a back and forth with Elliot Schrage, who’s the head of policy and comms essentially, he came from Google with Sheryl. I put my hand up, and he’s like, “Oh no.” And I said, “You guys brag about your cohesion, that you all get along.” I said, “Is that a problem? Because there’s nobody, an irritant, in the room.”

LG: Right, it’s a bunch of yes people. Well, not …

KS: Not yes people, that’s too easy. It’s a very different kind of thing, it’s a cohesive mentality of these people that agree …

They believe in their mission you were talking about earlier.

KS: They’re in agreement. They’re in violent agreement. They don’t want to get angry at each other, they’re very cohesive, they’re incredibly smart and everything else. So, there’s nobody like … I was joking with Marc Andreessen and I was texting with him, and I was like, “Put me on the board, that’ll be …” He didn’t respond, but it was really interesting. It’s like, you need irritants in these companies to say, “No,” and that doesn’t happen. Anyway, we’ll see. There’s lots to come, right Kurt?

A lot more.

KS: Get some sleep, Kurt.

I would like to.

KS: Get up early.

I’m doing CNN International at 10 pm tonight.

KS: Fantastic. I’m going to pass you a lot more.


KS: Okay. All right. Thank you, Kurt.

Thanks for having me, guys.

LG: Thank you Kurt. It was really good chatting with you.

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