Attention turns to Tesla’s controversial showroom in Xinjiang. Does Elon Musk’s company now act like a state unto itself?
Here’s what you need to know this week:
- Affairs of state: Is it time for Tesla?
- Microsoft’s Xbox world must address sexism issues
- Google was handed a £83 million fine over cookies
- Apple hit a $3 trillion valuation and rewarded its CEO
- Amazon is a lifeline for remote Inuit communities
- Meta platforms were used for fake police accounts
Affairs of state: Is it time for Tesla?
There are more EV makers in China than in the rest of the world combined. All but one are Chinese owned, but the biggest isn’t. The biggest is Tesla, the only foreign manufacturer in China to have 100 per cent ownership of its factories there. And Tesla has now defied global criticism by opening a showroom in Xinjiang despite the incarceration of more than a million Uyghurs there. Is it time to treat it as a tech state?
Tesla certainly makes decisions that encroach on geopolitics. This is a pragmatic one, says Ferdinand Dudenhöffer of the Center for Automotive Research. It weighs the risk of criticism from human rights organisations against the threat to Tesla’s expansion in China of confrontation with the government and public. Sure enough, human rights groups have condemned the opening but Tesla remains widely admired in China.
Ilaria Mazzocco, a China business specialist, says forecasts of steady growth in the Chinese EV market may have driven Tesla to open in Xinjiang, especially as competitors begin to widen the choice available to Chinese buyers.
Tesla dominates the Chinese market in terms of market cap, but China’s Nio and other incumbents like Ford, Mercedes and Toyota could soon begin to eat into Musk’s lead. Eventually the impact of Tesla’s built-in advantages (including being the first foreign manufacturer to enjoy a fully-owned factory in mainland China) could wane.
For now though, Tesla is soaring – in China and elsewhere. Annual deliveries rose five-fold between 2017 and 2020 and are still growing exponentially. It has 70,757 employees. In 2021, it grew by 121 per cent year on year and accounted for 15 per cent of the global EV market.
Tesla is more than Musk, but he’s still worth a close look. The wealth of tech states’ CEOs makes for some interesting comparisons, but Musk’s net worth outstrips them all by a lot.
*Andy Jassy replaced Jeff Bezos as the chief executive of Amazon in July 2021.
From his SpaceX venture (which just unveiled a starship launch-and-catch pad in Texas), to Neuralink’s efforts to implant computer chips in the human brain, Musk is a totemic figure in the landscape of modern science, innovation and meme culture.
Is Tesla a tech state? Let us know your thoughts by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Microsoft: Sexism on stream
The creator of Xbox says it’s past time to tackle sexism and abuse in online gaming. Seamus Blackley, who created the console back in 2001, resurfaced a tweet over the holidays showing a female streamer playing Halo Infinite. In it she says “no woman should have to deal with this” as other users suggest she should expose her breasts or quit the game, and remind her that there’s a reason the game’s main character is male. Blackley has called on Microsoft, gamers, developers and console makers to tackle the misogyny that has been around since the advent of multiplayer online games. He says: “We need Xbox and Microsoft to openly talk about it and address it as a problem. It limits the audience and impacts their profits. It’s morally wrong. And it’s something they can show leadership on by working in good faith.” Whether stronger moderation, more bans and better community management can address a culture of abuse that’s plagued Xbox’s online platform for years remains to be seen.
Google: Breach over cookies
A data privacy watchdog in France has fined Google £125m over online cookies. CNIL, the regulatory body, determined that Google did not make it easy enough for users to turn off tracking cookies that would record information about their activity (and allow advertisers to follow them around online). The fine is one of the largest penalties levied against Google, following a £83m bill in 2020. Google has three months to rectify the situation by making it as easy for users to reject tracking cookies as to accept them. After that it’ll be fined €100,000 per day until it complies. Tracking cookies have monster implications for the world of advertising; allowing users to turn them off more easily is like turning off the ad revenue tap for many online publishers.
Also worth reading: details have emerged of a secretive anti-unionisation operation at Google called “Project Vivian”, which was explicitly intended to convince employees that “unions suck”. Vice reports here.
Apple: Economic boom
Apple’s in the midst of a bonanza. It became the first and only firm in history to reach a market valuation of $3tn, adding the last trillion in growth in just 16 months. The iPhone is still the backbone of its revenue machine, but software, Apple Store purchases and iCloud and other streaming services now make up a growing share of its business. Last week, company filings showed that Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, was well rewarded for his leadership last year. He was paid nearly $100m – 1,447 times the salary of an average employee, even though compared with other tech titans he remains a net worth minnow (see our graphic above). To the founders, the spoils.
Amazon: Remote delivery
Amazon Prime is a lifeline to remote Inuit communities in the Arctic. The delivery subscription costs people in Nunavut, a northern Canadian territory, the same rate as for all Canadians: C$79.99 (£45) per year, despite the fact that each package has to navigate arctic skies and icy roads to the territory’s capital, Iqaluit. Amazon delivered 200,000 parcels there in 2019, many of them essentials like toiletries, baby formula and cereal. The company has drawn criticism and litigation over its de facto monopolisation of online retail in the US and India, and for supposedly driving out smaller businesses. Yet this story paints an intriguing picture of what economies of scale can do for parts of the world typically isolated from consumerism. The Times reported that Sky Panipak, an Inuit teacher in the remote hamlet of Pangnirtung, recently used Amazon to buy a 65-inch TV. Brings new meaning to the bigger picture.
Meta: Policing fraud
Police departments in the US have been using fake social media accounts to conduct investigations. Reporting by Insider last week showed that departments in Ohio and New York state trained officers to create social media accounts and furnish them with fake AI-generated profile pictures from the This Person Does Not Exist tool. Even though Facebook and Instagram state in their terms of services that fake accounts are prohibited, the police training guidance said to ignore any restrictions and do it anyway.
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