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Hello! I’m Nellie Bowles, the Silicon Valley and tech culture reporter at The Times, now with the privilege of bringing you the last tech newsletter of 2018.
Readers of this letter know all too well what happened in tech news this year. We had some good times (crypto!), but mostly the headlines from Silicon Valley were dire revelations about corporate power, violations of consumer trust and platform-led disinformation.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, even finished the year with a product mishap: It accidentally released horizontal scrolling to horrified users, Sandra E. Garcia and Niraj Chokshi reported.
I’m not going to pretend 2019 will be free of Facebook news, but a new set of stories are going hit this newsletter.
The year looks as if it’s going to be a Silicon Valley I.P.O.-palooza.
Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, Palantir and Pinterest are all angling to go public in 2019, despite the recent stock market swoon. Cash, locked up in stock options, is about to flood the region, and fleets of new millionaires will be roving.
It’ll be a boom, except San Francisco never really had a bust. So it’ll just be more. The housing market will be strained. More. Restaurants will open. Or reopen. And the city will have another chance to funnel these gains into infrastructure.
Finally, this generation of start-ups, some still losing large amounts of money, will see how they can fare under the scrutiny of public markets. Will public investors be less forgiving than the venture-investing counterparts of unprofitable companies?
We’ll be there to cover all of it.
Now for the week’s stories:
■ Vindu Goel told how Amazon and Walmart might find themselves under strict new Indian laws against offering discounts, exclusive products or products supplied by affiliated companies on their Indian shopping sites.
■ The Federal Trade Commission is looking into how Facebook handles personal information, my colleague Natasha Singer reported. In 2011, the commission accused the company of deceptive privacy practices. And in light of the past year’s near-constant news about Facebook’s betraying consumer privacy, it looks as if it might be back in hot water.
■ I wrote about how the online payments platform Patreon is working to enforce its rules against hate speech, causing a small revolt among its user base. And I followed up on my blockchain reporting from earlier this year with a somber foray into Crypto Winter.
■ The artificial intelligence that became better at chess than any human or computer has ever been has now been thoroughly studied. Scientists have concluded that it did indeed show an intellect humans hadn’t seen before, wrote Steven Strogatz, a mathematics professor at Cornell. And in his beautiful essay, he explored what that means.
■ Brian X. Chen managed to find two tech products that got better in 2018. Which ones? Smartphone parental controls like screen time limits and the privacy-focused browser Firefox.
■ And Daniel Victor brought us back to our brief moments of communal joy and laughter with five fun 2018 memes. Did you know Yanny vs. Laurel was this year? (I literally have gone gray since then.)
■ Finally, the investigative reporter Matt Apuzzo wrote about his personal tech use. He travels with burner laptops and for the really sensitive interviews will never type the notes digitally anywhere. He has also been off Twitter for two years, he added, leaving us with the week’s best kicker.
“I’m still there as @mattapuzzo, though, because a colleague told me that if I deleted the account it would be taken over by sex bots. And nobody wants that.”
See you all in 2019. May none of your accounts be overtaken by sex bots.
Nellie Bowles writes about Silicon Valley and tech culture for The New York Times in The Times’s bureau in her hometown, San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter here: @NellieBowles.
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