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December 20, 2018

Stay Tuned: Does Silicon Valley Have A Conscience? (with Kara Swisher)

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Kara Swisher is the editor-at-large at Recode, the host of the Recode Decode podcast, and a contributing opinion columnist at the New York Times. She has been called “Silicon Valley’s most feared and well-liked journalist.” Swisher talks to Preet about Facebook’s current crisis, whether Google will return to China, and what would happen if Twitter deleted the president’s account.

Plus: Preet’s thoughts on the delay of Michael Flynn’s sentencing.

Do you have a question for Preet? Tweet them to @PreetBharara with the hashtag #askpreet, email [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 and leave a voicemail.

Does Silicon Valley Have a Conscience? (with Kara Swisher)

Air date: 12/20/18

Preet Bharara:

Kara Swisher, thanks for being on the show.

Kara Swisher:

You’re welcome.

Preet Bharara:

So, we have a lot of things to talk about.

Kara Swisher:

We do.

Preet Bharara:

The timing is great, but first I want to ask you a question about you.

Kara Swisher:

Sure.

Preet Bharara:

Which is…

Kara Swisher:

Who the hell am I?

Preet Bharara:

Who the hell are you, Kara? Will the real Kara Swisher, please stand up. Well no, look, so I’m going to ask this question by reference to a movie.

Kara Swisher:

Okay.

Preet Bharara:

I think it’s A Bronx Tale.

Kara Swisher:

Right. Great. Great movie.

Preet Bharara:

Great film. And the main character gets to ask the question, and he’s a mobster. And he gets to ask the question, “Would you rather be loved or be feared?” And he says, “I’d rather be feared.”

Kara Swisher:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Feared.

Preet Bharara:

Feared.

Kara Swisher:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Right. That’s my Bronx.

Kara Swisher:

It is the Bronx. Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

It’s my Indian-Bronx accent. And the reason I ask that question is, one of the most interesting things written about you in New York Magazine was that you were the most feared and most well-liked tech reporter in Silicon Valley.

Kara Swisher:

How does she do that?

Preet Bharara:

So, are you doing something right or something wrong?

Kara Swisher:

Here’s why I think I’m liked, because I think they see me coming. I’m not really unfair and sneaky, I think that’s what it is, is I think I’m very clear with the people I’m covering. And so, I can have long dialogues with them and I don’t disrespect them unless they really are disrespectful essentially. So, I think I treat people with respect and at the same time don’t back down. So, I think they’re scared of what I might know, and then at the same time, I’m not rude. I mean, people always are surprised that I’m pretty charming.

Preet Bharara:

You seem very charming.

Kara Swisher:

I am charming.

Preet Bharara:

Already. Even just two minutes into the interview.

Kara Swisher:

And funny. I think I’m very funny. I think I’m somewhat disarming with the people I cover, and so I just do.

Preet Bharara:

If you don’t say so yourself.

Kara Swisher:

Right. If I do say, well I will say so myself, but it’s like, look, Joan Didion said it best that reporters always are manipulative people and charming is not manipulative and I don’t mean in a negative sense. I mean in a positive sense is that, you’re a lawyer, you know you have to charm juries, you have to charm judges, you have to charm clients, et cetera, et cetera.

Preet Bharara:

Guests.

Kara Swisher:

Guests. Right, exactly. So, you have to have an arsenal of qualities. And I actually happen to like the people I cover. I find them interesting.

Preet Bharara:

Are they right to fear you?

Kara Swisher:

Yeah, I think so. In some cases, not everybody. I think they should fear people who ask them straight up questions about what they’re doing. I think a lot of Silicon Valley, like a lot of industries gets by on a lot of hype and PR. And I think when people go, “Well, I don’t really understand that,” or ask more pointed questions, I think they get nervous. So, yes.

Preet Bharara:

So, let’s talk about Facebook because as we sit here in the studio on Wednesday, December 19th, big story in the New York Times about Facebook, you’ve written about Facebook and some of the other big social media tech companies. And the New York Times reports, that unbeknownst to people previously, Facebook has been sharing personal information of a gazillion, I don’t know what the official number is.

Kara Swisher:

Gazillion, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

But a gazillion people with other companies and seems to be getting away with it by suggesting, as Mark Zuckerberg has, “Well, we never sold personal information.”

Kara Swisher:

Right, directly.

Preet Bharara:

They just shared it.

Kara Swisher:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

How big a deal is that?

Kara Swisher:

Well, it’s just more of the drip, drip, drip of what they’ve been doing and how they’ve been conducting the data that they’ve been entrusted with, how they’ve been managing it. And badly, I think, is probably a very nice way to put it. Look, they’ve been in this data business forever and everyone understands it and the question is now people are starting to drop a dime on Facebook and saying, “Here’s how they actually shared.”

Kara Swisher:

And the question is, it’s so interesting because when I put this up, I said what’s really interesting to me and striking about the latest New York Times, which there have been all kinds of people we’ve been warning about their privacy issues for years and their lack of care around the privacy. And we have been quizzing Mark Zuckerberg about this for 10 years, is how badly they manage the privacy they’ve been entrusted with and how loose they are with it.

Kara Swisher:

And I think that’s really at the heart of what’s going on here is that these are advertising businesses. So, data is going to be attached to them, but they have enormous amounts of data on people, and how they manage it is pretty sloppy.

Preet Bharara:

But why? Why has it been so sloppy? Why is it so bad? Why is it that this company that is so profitable, has so many so-called geniuses who run it, this is central to their business model and to their reputation, why are they screwing it up so badly?

Kara Swisher:

Well, I mean there’s no two ways about it. You are the product of these people, they’re selling your information. They’re not just doing that. What’s really interesting and very canny by Mark Zuckerberg when he was in Congress was he was like, “We don’t sell data, Congressman, we don’t sell Senator.”

Kara Swisher:

They don’t sell data. What they do is they take data and they manipulate and mash it up and combine it with other data and then sell insights into the data to everybody. Or, they share it with partners that they want to be part of the Facebook platform for whatever advantage Facebook is looking for. So, in the case of Bing, they may have some deal where they trade data back and forth, for example, or information. Same thing with Netflix or Spotify. Sometimes it’s just an advertising relationship.

Kara Swisher:

But the fact matter is they’re taking your data and doing things with it in order to monetize it in some way. And the way they’ve been doing it has been, it’s just been sloppily managed. And sometimes it has massive repercussions in terms of how they manage their platforms such as in Myanmar or India where they didn’t have rules or ability to monitor some of the things that were going on in the platform. So, it’s sloppy to me all over the place with very disturbing repercussions.

Preet Bharara:

So, when you say sloppy, some might say you’re letting them a little bit off the hook by suggesting they just didn’t get it right, there was some incompetence, there was negligence, rather than they’re intentionally manipulating your data, they’re intentionally telling Congress what they want to hear, and they’re intentionally telling the users something that would not make them freak out.

Kara Swisher:

I think what they’ve done is that they’ve been very loose in deciding what the rules they agreed to with you are in terms of whether… I think the fault actually lies with Congress and other regulatory agencies that have never put into place laws, what they can do and what they can’t do. And so, what they’ve done is they built a Wild West where anything goes and then they say anything goes. And I think that’s the issue is that we’ve created this situation to allow these platforms through a series of legislative things, including section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives these, and you know about immunity.

Kara Swisher:

These companies have broad immunity. What do you think they’re going to do? You think they’re going to be good citizens or you think they’re going to make the most money possible? And at the same time, when they get in these enormous washes of data that flood their system, they can’t manage them. To say they’re doing it intentionally, of course they’re doing it intentionally, but they’re allowed to do it intentionally. And the question is, are there going to be laws in place to stop them from doing it?

Preet Bharara:

Is Congress too dumb to do that? And by that I don’t mean IQ, but not experienced enough. I mean, we all, not all of us, but many of us witnessed Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in Congress and the talk about it was not what his testimony was, but how absurd and Luddite the questions were.

Kara Swisher:

Well, because they were fixated on things like whether conservatives get to speak, whether diamond and sail get to be on Facebook properly. Or what are the terms of service? As if that was the biggest problem of our nation’s national security. Look, Congress has regulated the telecom industry before, they have regulated Microsoft, they have regulated all kinds of companies, oil companies, finance companies, things like that. They will be able to do it if they… And there are laws already in place. It’s not like there isn’t earlier stuff that’s going on in California. There’s a privacy law in California that’s really interesting. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s going on in Europe.

Kara Swisher:

It’s not like they can’t follow the dots in terms of what should happen. And the question is if they have the political will to do so and to understand how much data is washing around the system and who’s taking advantage of it.

Preet Bharara:

So, before we get to maybe more specifics about how Congress might regulate entities like Facebook, let me first ask you what the business future is. Lots of people are upset after the Cambridge Analytica story and I’m sure more people will be upset after this story. And so, some people are taking matters into their own hands. Somebody who is a longtime business partner of yours and a mentor of yours, Walt Mossberg deleted his Facebook account.

Kara Swisher:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

And there are reports that some percentages of people who have been avid users of Facebook are deleting their account.

Kara Swisher:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

Is that a good idea? Should I delete my Facebook account?

Kara Swisher:

You have to be understand what information they have. I don’t use Facebook that much, I find it a very… I don’t use it because I don’t like the product. I think it’s lugubrious and big and bloated and stuff like that.

Preet Bharara:

What does lugubrious mean?

Kara Swisher:

Just slow-moving. I don’t find any use to it. I don’t find it-

Preet Bharara:

I was asking for a friend.

Kara Swisher:

No problem. Walt did this because Walt’s very, he has very strong opinions about privacy and the uses of privacy. And I think through its history, Facebook has shown either cynically or sloppily that they have not been able to manage data properly. And their first inclination is to steal information or to take information and manipulate it. And I think years ago Walt called Mark Zuckerberg an information thief to me and I was always struck by that. Whatever he can take, he takes, and he grabs. And the question is, what is he grabbing it for and for what reason?

Kara Swisher:

In his mind he is helping create this great information place for people to share and be part of a community and stuff like that. And the trade-off you make by giving that information is worth it. Other people don’t think so. I think the issue for Facebook is whether they can make products in the future that… I mean, I don’t think it matters that Walt Mossberg comes off of it. I think it matters if the next generation of users thinks Facebook is a worthwhile product. And that’s where the rubber will hit the road with these companies.

Kara Swisher:

It’s not going to be suddenly everyone deletes them. Everyone didn’t delete Uber after all the shenanigans there. Talk about malevolent shenanigans, right? They didn’t. What they did is they got new people in the place.

Preet Bharara:

That’s because, I heard people say this publicly, and I take no position on Uber versus Lyft, but there are people who said, “I don’t want to use Uber,” and then they wanted to get from point A to point B and they tried Lyft and they couldn’t get a Lyft car to come and they went back to the service that actually works.

Kara Swisher:

So, convenience matters more over morals, I suppose. I mean, the question is, and of course they changed their CEO and things happen. There was a lot of pressure from the media and other places around what happened at Uber. But the question is not so much is whether Facebook will do… is it such a good business without its ability to rapaciously grab data and use it to their liking? And if they’re hindered, is that such a good business? I think that’s one of the issues. Again, is the product good? Will other products they have like Instagram and WhatsApp and Oculus be enough to lift them into the future? That’s another question.

Preet Bharara:

You referenced Uber and the change in leadership from Travis to a new person. Do you think Mark Zuckerberg and/or Sheryl Sandberg should go?

Kara Swisher:

I think a lot of the focus has been on Sheryl, because Sheryl is the one that can be fired. Mark can’t be fired. I wrote a column, he’s unfireable, you cannot fire. He’s like a zombie. You cannot kill him. He’s Wolverine. He’s Deadpool.

Preet Bharara:

Not even a stake through the-

Kara Swisher:

You can’t. He controls 60% of the shareholder voting stock and he effectively controls the company. He’s the chairman, he’s the CEO, he’s the founder. Very hard in Silicon Valley to get rid of someone like that.

Preet Bharara:

But should he go?

Kara Swisher:

I think he’s not capable of running that company. Absolutely. He either should get help and get some really serious management in there, but I don’t think he’s actually capable of understanding the massive amounts of societal impact that his company has. He’s one person in charge of the most important communication system in the world, in world history. One person who didn’t finish college, who doesn’t take humanities courses, he’s incapable of doing… maybe nobody’s capable of doing it, but he certainly isn’t.

Preet Bharara:

So, should we be afraid?

Kara Swisher:

Nervous. I definitely think.

Preet Bharara:

Uneasy.

Kara Swisher:

Uneasy. Uneasy that one person controls such a vast information vehicle on this planet. At this point, yes, I would be nervous.

Preet Bharara:

How do you describe what Facebook is? At some point, I think earlier on in its existence, Mark Zuckerberg likened it to a utility.

Kara Swisher:

Yeah, he did that to me. I wrote about that. Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Right. So, is that fair?

Kara Swisher:

Well, if it’s utility, maybe it should be regulated.

Preet Bharara:

Yes.

Kara Swisher:

Right?

Preet Bharara:

That’s what we do with utilities.

Kara Swisher:

Right. That’s what we do. So, maybe that’s not such a bad… I mean, I think it’s a media company of some sort, a weird amalgam of a media company, a communications vehicle. We’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s the biggest experiment in history of people being able to do and say whatever they want and to remove gatekeepers. And as much as you can insult gatekeepers, they did keep things clean, right? They did keep things gated and certain things didn’t get out there.

Kara Swisher:

And the question is, can you control these platforms given that they are designed? I mean, one of the things I pointed out in the column this week is the reason the Russians were able to abuse these platforms so much, this wasn’t hacking, this wasn’t some secret nefarious Russian plot to sneak into Facebook and glom itself onto its servers, they were customers of Facebook, they were customers of Twitter, they were customers of YouTube. They used the systems as they were designed. So question is, are these systems designed in the wrong way?

Preet Bharara:

Do you think Facebook in its current form or close to its current form will be a booming, living company in 10 years?

Kara Swisher:

No. My first book was about AOL. Remember how big AOL was and then it wasn’t?

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. What’s AOL?

Kara Swisher:

Well, they just changed it. They just got rid of the name and they’re calling it why or Verizon Media Services?

Preet Bharara:

So, is it the life cycle of these kinds of companies that they won’t be in the same form 10 years from now? Now, Amazon started some 20 something odd years ago and now is one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable company in the world. Why do you think Facebook won’t be like Amazon?

Kara Swisher:

Amazon’s a very different company. Amazon is providing something that people need constantly, which is things, right? And so, that’s a very different business. And they’ve managed to create moat after moat around a business of delivery and then they’ve added to their offerings as time goes on. They’ve added entertainment, they’ve added delivery, they’ve added convenience, they’ve added quickness and stuff like that. So, that’s a very different business than Facebook.

Kara Swisher:

Facebook is a fad business in a lot of ways. People do need to communicate and find a way to communicate and this is just the latest version of it. I’m not sure if there’s anything to replace it is the issue. And the question is whether Facebook can innovate enough to serve the purpose that it’s supposed to serve, which is to connect people around the globe in a convenient way.

Preet Bharara:

Is one of the biggest risks you talk about it being a fad business is that Facebook is already becoming passe? I mean, do young kids, don’t use it.

Kara Swisher:

Amongst young kids don’t use it. No, my kids don’t use it. They use Instagram, but my son just called Instagram a museum, which I thought was funny, which he was right. It’s a performative display mechanism for people to show off their vacations and food, things they’re eating or how happy their family is. If you ever spent any time in Instagram you feel terrible at the end of it because it’s just-

Preet Bharara:

Well, not as terrible as I feel after spending some time on Twitter, which we’ll get to.

Kara Swisher:

See, I like Twitter. I’m against… All right.

Preet Bharara:

We’re going to talk about the toxicity of Twitter.

Kara Swisher:

Okay. All right. I think it’s very different. So anyway, they own Instagram. So Instagram is growing and people do like it. They do have WhatsApp, which is a very fast-growing communication system around the world. It’s encrypted, obviously there’s issues around that. And of course, WhatsApp’s been in trouble, has been implicated in Indian and other places because of the nature of the way they built it for virality.

Kara Swisher:

And so the question is, we always think of it in terms of just this country, what’s happening globally is much more dangerous, what’s happening in, say, the Philippines. I just interviewed Maria Ressa, who’s on the cover of Time Magazine. She’s a journalist there. Facebook is the way everybody gets all their information. 97% of the Philippines is on Facebook. This is effectively CBS, ABC, NBC, New York Times, Washington Post in one big group without the controls that those media organizations have.

Preet Bharara:

So, I wonder about these platforms now, for those people, if Facebook went belly up tomorrow and ceased operations, not going to happen, but if they did, what happens to the consumers of news in the Philippines?

Kara Swisher:

I don’t know. That’s a good question.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t know what happened today. We just don’t know.

Kara Swisher:

Preet, what would happen if Twitter removed-

Preet Bharara:

ICAST.

Kara Swisher:

… Donald Trump from Twitter? What would happen?

Preet Bharara:

The world would be a better place.

Kara Swisher:

Well, okay, but they haven’t. I’m just saying that they’re not going to. It’s not going to happen.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I mean, I guess part of the reason I asked that question is, does that inform my earlier question that Facebook is too big and important to some people in their lives and in other countries that there are enough forces to prop it up [crosstalk 00:31:49]?

Kara Swisher:

Oh, of course it will. I mean, before they used to get information through what? Radio, through TV, through newspapers and things like that. Well, those businesses have been decimated by, guess what? Facebook, right? Not just Facebook, but Google and Facebook essentially.

Preet Bharara:

And the other problem for people who have their own media businesses and even other small businesses is they rely on the Facebook algorithm for consumers to find them. And when, remember this happened some months ago, maybe it was a year or two ago, Facebook on its own just decides to change-

Kara Swisher:

As does Google.

Preet Bharara:

… which of the algorithm, Google also, what shows up in people’s feeds and people’s businesses are decimated because they’re relying on this platform that is not regulated very well. It’s not a utility and not regulated as a utility. And so, people are left a little bit at risk because you have this monolithic thing.

Kara Swisher:

It’s not regulated at all. Let’s just be clear, there are no laws that regulate them. None. They have none. Media companies have them, telco companies have them, Wall Street firms, whether they’re worse or not.

Preet Bharara:

So pass a law. So, wave your magic wand as I sometimes ask on the show, one law that’s clear and understandable that can be enforced to regulate something like Facebook.

Kara Swisher:

I would remove immunity from the platforms, that they are responsible for what’s on their platforms in some way?

Preet Bharara:

Completely?

Kara Swisher:

No, no. Right. You have to think clearly about what they need to be responsible for, but the lack of any responsibility means lack of any responsibility. I think that would be something. I think a privacy bill that had some teeth to it where you had to… Just even the basic thing is when you hack… like Facebook also had announced a hacking earlier that you forgot about that because there was the Senate report about how the Russians manipulated the platform, then there was this, and then there was a hacking this week.

Kara Swisher:

So for example, in a hacking, they should tell people immediately about a hacking and reset passwords and stuff like that. Things like that, that require them to do it without taking six months or six, three months or whatever month.

Preet Bharara:

Is there a way that we should think about changing the economic model? Maybe it’s not possible. And the reason I ask that is in the Times’ article today that we’ve been talking about, about Facebook, there’s this very compelling sentence that says, “Personal data is the oil of the 21st century, resource worth billions.” Is that right?

Kara Swisher:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Is that how it should be? That personal data is that valuable?

Kara Swisher:

Well, you can target people in the most astonishing way. You spend every day of your life with a cell phone in your pocket, right?

Preet Bharara:

It’s mostly in my hand.

Kara Swisher:

Right. It’s in your hand and you’re staring at it and you’re walking down the street not talking to other human beings.

Preet Bharara:

Not right now, I’m talking to you.

Kara Swisher:

But it is full of information. The old days you used to sit at your computer and you go from website to website to website, right? They could track you and understand you. But this one, it goes with you, it says where you’re going, where you moved, what you did there, what you bought there, who you called. It has so much info. You were literally put a sensor on your body that is constantly communicating information about what you’re doing in the most incredibly rich way. Think about it, there’s never been able to track people in this way in history. And so, that makes a lot of money. It’s worth money.

Preet Bharara:

I’m terrified now.

Kara Swisher:

You should be. I mean, you should be. I have all kinds of things that you may think, but I give into it too.

Preet Bharara:

You’ve said this also expanding beyond Facebook, “Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the digital arms dealers of the modern age.” Arms dealers?

Kara Swisher:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Explain that.

Kara Swisher:

They were mad when I said that.

Preet Bharara:

All of them together were mad?

Kara Swisher:

Because they are selling information. Information is power, right? So, they control all the information, and so therefore they can either sell it to marketers or they can sell it to Russians. It doesn’t matter. Anyone can enveil themselves to these tools and platforms to do things. Just the fact that the Russians were able to go on these platforms and abuse it in such a way without any controls should say to you that these people are sloppy and they’re not running their platforms correctly or they’ve designed these platforms so that this is exactly what would occur.

Kara Swisher:

They’ve designed them for virality, engagement and speed. And when you design something for virality, engagement and speed, guess what you’re going to get? You’re going to get fake news, you’re going to get trolls, you’re going to get malevolent players, you’re going to get a leakage of information. This is the way it was designed from the start. This is how these platforms are designed from the start to be open flatworms where anybody can do anything. And when anyone can do anything, anyone will do anything.

Preet Bharara:

But isn’t that arguably the fault of the people, they’re getting what they want?

Kara Swisher:

Sure.

Preet Bharara:

And so, we have all this discussion about privacy and data and people selling it, and a lot of people are up in arms and people are on television and you and I are talking about this, but the mass of people do not freak out and take to the streets.

Kara Swisher:

No.

Preet Bharara:

When there’s the most massive surveillance of 2.2 billion customers that Facebook has, they actually don’t freak out so much.

Kara Swisher:

They don’t freak out because they don’t understand quite how much [crosstalk 00:36:24].

Preet Bharara:

They don’t see direct harm to them.

Kara Swisher:

Right. Because they’re getting stuff. They’re getting stuff, right? They’re getting a cool service, they get to whatever your mom’s group that you’re talking about, whatever, or my kid has a lacrosse team and they coordinate on that. You get a lot of stuff. And so, I think what it is, is you’d understand how this all knits together and how these tech companies, not just beyond just surveillance. And believe me, it’s worse in China because they allow facial recognition and things like that. When it starts to get into some really dicey stuff and the ability to put sensors everywhere, and on you, and in you, and stuff like that, that’s when we have to really start wondering what we’re doing.

Preet Bharara:

I take your point to be that by then it’ll be too late, and so people have to freak out now like climate change.

Kara Swisher:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

We can still inhabit the earth today, but the signs are that it’s not going to be good in the future. And a similar thing, if it’s fair and you tell me, is happening with respect to data privacy and our personal information.

Kara Swisher:

Right. This is an information war going on, for your information. And sometimes it could be used just to sell you something from Proctor and Gamble, which may seem benign. Okay. So, I get toilet paper or I get whatever. Or it could be used to impact elections or it could be used to say, “What if the point is you could change video and make it seem like you, Preet, said something you didn’t say? How would you stop that? I mean, who’s running those systems and how do you end it?”

Kara Swisher:

It creates a propaganda machine of untold power and it depends on whose hands this power resides. I just want people to think about it. It’s just a very basic thing. Years ago, one of the founders of Google, I can’t remember, I always confuse the two of them. I was really hard on them because they were trying to take over Yahoo search. And in that case they would have controlled 97% of the search in this country. In this country and besides not even getting globally.

Kara Swisher:

I said, at least Microsoft knew they were thugs when they were trying to monopolize things. And one of them called me, I think might have been Eric Schmidt or I can’t remember. And they said, “Why do you think we’re bad? Why do you think we won’t run these things?” And I said, “Well, you know what?” “I’m a nice person. We’re good people.” That’s what they always say.

Kara Swisher:

And I was like, “You know what? What if Hitler got his hands on this? Wow, that would be a lot of power to have all that information. What if a bad man got in charge of it?” And by the way, bad men will get in charge of it and they do in the Philippines, what’s happening with Duterte and the use of Facebook and other social media platforms to target enemies and things like that. I just imagine a world where this amount of information could be put in the wrong hands and I would like people to think about it.

Preet Bharara:

Well, speaking of Google and China, Google does not operate in China at the moment.

Kara Swisher:

Right. They were there. They were pretty big.

Preet Bharara:

They were there.

Kara Swisher:

They were pretty big there.

Preet Bharara:

And then they’re out and now you have said, I think correctly, that something that people aren’t focusing on enough, separate apart from these other issues we’ve been talking about, is that Google is flirting with the idea of going into China.

Kara Swisher:

Yeah. Many. Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Why is that so bad, given that all sorts of American companies operate in China, get free market in the world, they’re private companies, they’re not charities? Why cut themselves off from a gigantic market?

Kara Swisher:

I’m not saying I just want to know what they’re doing. They’re going to create a censored search engine. So, let’s just talk about that.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah.

Kara Swisher:

Let’s talk about a U.S company creating a censored search engine. And if they want to do it, they need to pay the price for what that costs, and that’s all. I want them to talk about it transparently and understand what they’re doing to the Chinese citizens that they’re monitoring and things like that. And I think they want to go back into China. They’ve regretted leaving China. They did that in a huff because they were being monitored by, what a surprise, the Chinese government is abusive and its monitoring of citizens. What a shock.

Kara Swisher:

And now they want to go back because they do need to be part of that big market. And they’re already there, by the way. Google does a lot of advertising and things like that in China already. Its advertising services are there. And so, the question is how do they go back in and how should we think about that? That’s all. I just want to understand transparently.

Preet Bharara:

How powerful is Google? This is the way I think about it. Maybe this is an absurd question, but I’m going to ask it anyway because it’s a podcast and I can.

Kara Swisher:

Sure. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Preet Bharara:

There are I guess something like 195 sovereign nations on earth.

Kara Swisher:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

If Google were a country, where would you rank it in terms of power?

Kara Swisher:

Very powerful. Up at the top. I think these companies are nation states. I do. I think of them as nation states. And it’s not just Google, it’s YouTube. Just think about YouTube. And that’s another sloppily… all those videos that take you down a rabbit hole of right wing or left wing or whatever wing you want to go to. But the way that’s designed is it’s not designed to have a clean platform.

Kara Swisher:

And by the way, Google search is very clean. When you search for, I don’t know, ADL, Anti-Defamation League, you find information about the Anti-Defamation League. When you go on YouTube a couple of months ago or about six months ago when I was looking at it, you found antisemitic stuff. Why would you find antisemitic videos when you search for ADL? Why is that what comes up?

Kara Swisher:

Now, they’ve tried to fix that, but the fact of the matter is they let anybody at all upload information onto the platform without any monitoring of what goes on there. And then they reap the rewards and the negative parts of that. So yeah, they’re very powerful.

Preet Bharara:

Twitter?

Kara Swisher:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

You said that you like being on Twitter?

Kara Swisher:

I do.

Preet Bharara:

I do sometimes also.

Kara Swisher:

You’re good at it, Preet.

Preet Bharara:

Well thank you, but there’s a lot of anger.

Kara Swisher:

You like it. I can tell.

Preet Bharara:

It’s like I also-

Kara Swisher:

I can see you sitting there thumbing, like, “Oh, I got a good one.”

Preet Bharara:

I also like Doritos very much.

Kara Swisher:

Yes, that’s true. They’re delicious.

Preet Bharara:

But then you eat a bag of Doritos and you’re like, “That’s gross.”

Kara Swisher:

So why are you on there so much?

Preet Bharara:

I don’t know.

Kara Swisher:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

I’ve had other guests.

Kara Swisher:

I like it for the information. I like the news. I think it’s a really great news… In its best form, Twitter’s a great place to find out about news and when things are happening, right?

Preet Bharara:

Typically breaking news.

Kara Swisher:

And it’s also a great platform to get clever people like you. Your take on the news is interesting to me too, what your commentary and stuff like that, it’s great. I enjoy it. I think the problem is, is when it becomes bullying or when it becomes a vehicle for abuse. And I think that’s the problem you have.

Preet Bharara:

You once said something about Twitter, you said “Rules won’t save Twitter, values will.”

Kara Swisher:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Preet Bharara:

What does that mean?

Kara Swisher:

Well, that they decide what is allowed and what is not allowed on there. And I think one of the things Twitter is, of all the companies are the most free speech-ey of the internet companies, free speech-ey.

Preet Bharara:

You say that as a negative thing.

Kara Swisher:

Well, you know what I mean.

Preet Bharara:

It’s in the first amendment.

Kara Swisher:

The only reason why is because they do it in this way that they act like freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequence. Right? They act like, “Hey, free speech.” That’s it. That’s the end of the argument. As you know, as a lawyer, it’s a really complicated argument of what free speech is and what people should be able to say, whether people should be able to say false things or difficult things.

Kara Swisher:

And so, I think they stop at the, anyone can say anything. And that’s kind of like, to me, the toddler version of free speech, right? Anyone can scream on the corner. Okay, and then what? How do we conduct the society where we’re going to do that? And so, the minute you say, “Well, maybe we should think about Alex Jones. Maybe we should think about whether we should do this.”

Kara Swisher:

And by the way, these are not government entities. That’s what they always act like, that they’re the federal government. It’s just Twitter. And they just make money, and they can make rules around what’s allowed and what’s not allowed in their platform. And so, I think some of their values should be, if they’re going to have values around anti-bullying or whatever they pick, they have to be strict in doing them and create rules that are understandable for people to follow. People do understand a stop sign, right? I mean, when you are driving, you get-

Preet Bharara:

You mean slow down, right?

Kara Swisher:

Yes, no. It means stop, pause, look both ways. Whatever. Yes. In New York it means something different, but people do understand street signs. They do understand rules. They do understand all kinds of things. We’re able to do that and the question is, you can’t just scream, “Do whatever you want,” and not expect to reap the consequences of that particular mentality.

Preet Bharara:

There’s a debate about bias, whether in Google searches or on YouTube.

Kara Swisher:

Oh yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Is that nonsense or is that true?

Kara Swisher:

It’s nonsense.

Preet Bharara:

On either side it’s nonsense?

Kara Swisher:

Yes, it’s nonsense, whatever. It’s just non-

Preet Bharara:

Do you want to say anything more to debunk it?

Kara Swisher:

It’s just nonsense. It’s just nonsense. Has Donald Trump not been able to say what he thinks? I feel like we’ve had plenty of Donald Trump and his friends and all the right wing. They get to do whatever they want. And in fact, what’s interesting is, for years, and I do agree with this, that the right side of this country, the more conservative side was kept out of media. Media is and has been pretty liberal for most of its history, or centrist, I would say. I wouldn’t say too liberal because they like to keep control of… they’re not down Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez’s Avenue.

Preet Bharara:

They’re profit-making conglomerates.

Kara Swisher:

But they’re profit-making conglomerates, but they’re relatively liberal group of people who mostly live in the upper Aston east side of New York. So, they’ve been relatively liberal, and conservatives have been aced out of that. Now, with Fox News, they got a voice and they started to get that. But conservative voices have been using digital means for years now going way, way back. And so, it’s been a place where people who weren’t able to be heard were able to be heard.

Kara Swisher:

And so, they’ve created websites and all kinds of stuff on Reddit or wherever. And so, there’s lots of voices. And so, when they say they don’t have voices, I’m like, “You have voices.” You can create a website. You wouldn’t have had Alex Jones had you not had digital means to be able to communicate his views, whatever you think of those views, which they’re awful.

Preet Bharara:

So, these digital means, are they worth the price?

Kara Swisher:

Well, I don’t know. That’s what you get. Before, Alex Jones never would have been able to be anywhere. Right? Where would you have seen him? He’d be down in his dirty little hole for, you know what I mean? And now he can communicate his views to the public. And the fact that they say they don’t have an ability to communicate their views is just ridiculous. It’s a persecuted mentality. That’s insane.

Preet Bharara:

And we also get cat videos.

Kara Swisher:

Right. We get cat videos too.

Preet Bharara:

That’s very nice.

Kara Swisher:

Anything. But I’m just saying these people have plenty of tools at their disposal. It just might be that these are private companies that can make rules about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed on these platforms.

Preet Bharara:

What about the effect on democracy? Facebook and these other companies overall good for democracy or bad for democracy?

Kara Swisher:

No. Not good. I think we’re in the knot, they could be good. The idea that everybody has a voice and people who are disenfranchised having a voice. What a great idea. Right?

Preet Bharara:

So, how do we get further towards that ideal as opposed to all the toxic-

Kara Swisher:

We have to be civil. We have to have a civil society, right?

Preet Bharara:

You can’t legislate that.

Kara Swisher:

Right, you can’t. That’s the thing is, of course, we have a president who’s not civil in any way and has taken it to 11 on how to be toxic. And so. the brakes are off, right? Everybody just does whatever they want now. And so, I don’t know how you put that back in the… I’m going to see the play Network on Broadway. If you remember watching Network, all the things that were in it seemed crazy at the time. Now, every single thing in Network is present on cable for sure, some cable show, a psychic show or whatever, just not execution. It’s not live executions.

Preet Bharara:

Right. But everyone’s mad as hell.

Kara Swisher:

And not going to take it anymore. And so, now they have a vehicle to do it. And so, the question is, can humanity pull itself back from its behaviors? The part that we aren’t talking about is that these screens are addictive. They’re designed to be addictive. They hire people to make you addicted to them and therefore you’re addicted to them and they appeal to the worst nature in us. So, what do we do about that? Right?

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. Well, so, I mean, not to get too into psychology, but a lot of people are discussing, and my family has been discussing, and it’s something that’s discussed in the schools more now than it ever has been before. There’s a baseline meanness that people are engaging in and you suggested various causes and great behavior is not being modeled by the president, I think-

Kara Swisher:

Or anybody.

Preet Bharara:

… shocking to say, I wouldn’t put so much blame on that person. He doesn’t make it any better. He may make it a little bit worse, but it used to be the case that if you wanted to say something mean to somebody, you did it in the locker room or on the playground. And people would do that, and it happened to me when I was a kid. But it’s much easier both to do it from a device, and then if you’re doing it from a device behind the cloak of anonymity, like for a lot of people in Twitter are. And people just get used to trading insults and telling other people to kill themselves and hurt themselves. How do you stop that? How do you stop that? Is it just the nature-

Kara Swisher:

Well, some of it is actually bot. Some of this is fake. The Russians came in to create discord. It’s very easy. There was a really interesting story I did about bots around Roseanne Barr when she said the stupid thing about Valerie Jarrett. And then I think Samantha Bee said something stupid.

Kara Swisher:

The initial activity around that on Twitter was created by bots creating trouble and making, “Oh this is terrible. This is terrible. This is terrible.” And then it drags in humans when they see that activity. So, there’s ways to control these systems that don’t gin things up initially by getting rid of bots. That’s a very simple thing is like, how do we remove bots from the system so that these manipulators get taken out? That could take the temperature down by several degrees. Right?

Preet Bharara:

So, Twitter’s made some headway there with the bots.

Kara Swisher:

Trying. Trying, but still it’s still a platform where they don’t really monitor the people that are on it and people get to do whatever they want.

Preet Bharara:

Somebody last night tweeted at me, “Delete your face.” Do you think that was a bot?

Kara Swisher:

To you?

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. That must have been a bot, right?

Kara Swisher:

I have to look.

Preet Bharara:

Because that’s kind of mean.

Kara Swisher:

Yeah. Yeah. But why did you look at it? Just ignore it.

Preet Bharara:

I did.

Kara Swisher:

You did.

Preet Bharara:

I did. I’m very-

Kara Swisher:

You said, “I’m not going to delete my face.” Whoa.

Preet Bharara:

I did. I responded.

Kara Swisher:

Did you?

Preet Bharara:

Not today. Not today.

Kara Swisher:

There was a New York Times reporter who was responding to a bunch of things and I was like, “You’re talking to a bot. Stop. Don’t do it.” It’s hard not to. It’s hard not to have someone says, “In your face.” You go with back in their face. Right?

Preet Bharara:

I just said not today.

Kara Swisher:

Not today.

Preet Bharara:

So, I now have decided to just think of anybody who says anything critical, whether it’s intelligently critical that must be a bot, even in real life.

Kara Swisher:

Not always.

Preet Bharara:

If someone says something that I don’t like, obviously it’s a droid.

Kara Swisher:

Right. Yeah, sometimes it is, but all I’m saying is that these things are designed not to have the best of human nature in their hearts. So, how you build things is how things matter. If you design things for, like I said, virality, speed and engagement, you’re going to get a crappy outcome. You just are. You’re going to get noise, you’re going to get fake news. If you design them for community, and contextuality, and facts, you get a very different outcome. It’s like anything you build.

Kara Swisher:

So, the question is, can we build these systems in ways that are much more careful? They were built with growth in mind, and the thing that grows is fear and loathing. Niceness also is a good thing too. That also turns out to be something that works really well online. So the question is, can you start to design these things in different ways or have we gone too far and we’re so used to it and we’re like Doritos? We like Doritos. By the way, there’s carrots. Can we get people who like carrots over Doritos? I don’t know. Can we?

Preet Bharara:

No.

Kara Swisher:

Sure.

Preet Bharara:

No.

Kara Swisher:

Maybe.

Preet Bharara:

No.

Kara Swisher:

Right? I’m just saying it’s a similar thing to nutrition or anything else.

Preet Bharara:

I would feel less bad about myself if I ate more carrots tonight.

Kara Swisher:

But I’m saying, or are we going to have a giant obese population that is just going to die of a heart attack every five seconds?

Preet Bharara:

Engaging in cyber-crime from their parents’ basement.

Kara Swisher:

It’s not unsimilar to nutrition. It’s a lot the same. If we’re going to flood the zone with sugar-processed products, we’re going to get a bad population. If we think about it, we could also get a good population because these tools are great.

Preet Bharara:

Can I ask you a few more questions?

Kara Swisher:

Sure.

Preet Bharara:

I could go on for an hour.

Kara Swisher:

Sure. Sure.

Preet Bharara:

What is the best run tech company today?

Kara Swisher:

Oh, everyone’s got their problems. I think Apple, I think is really interesting. I mean, they’ve got their issues on how they manufacture things. Every single company’s got issues, but I do like dealing with Tim Cook. I think he was one of the first to sound these alarms. Even though it was in his interest to sound the alarms around privacy. I did an interview with him in March where he talked about this, that these business plans are going to create these problems.

Kara Swisher:

I think they run that really well. The question is, can they keep making great products? That’s going to be their issue. Can they make a product that you’ll want to keep buying and using an Apple product? I like Airbnb a lot, although some other bits is disorganized, they’ve got some issues around regulation and things like that. I do like, I think their product is really interesting. Amazon is obviously… I try really hard not to use Amazon, but it really is good. He’s really good.

Preet Bharara:

It’s fast.

Kara Swisher:

It’s fast, it’s good, it gets you what you want. The customer service is great. The question is, do we want one single company really decimating retail? Although if retail is bad, should it continue to live? I mean, Amazon’s really-

Preet Bharara:

They’re trade-offs.

Kara Swisher:

Yes, there’s tradeoffs. I think Amazon’s a great, well-run company.

Preet Bharara:

Who, if anyone, is the conscience of Silicon Valley?

Kara Swisher:

Nobody. Nobody. I don’t know. I mean, Marc Benioff has been interesting around pushing around homelessness.

Preet Bharara:

Do we need someone to be that?

Kara Swisher:

Well, there hasn’t been someone. There’s a lot of people that say Just a Second. I say Just a Second. A lot of reporters do. The New York Times is doing a great job. I think the media in general has been doing pretty good jobs, but at the same time you don’t want to be that… I always use this example. You don’t want to be the person sitting on the beach and Kitty Hawk going, “Okay, they just got two feet off the ground and they said three.” Right?

Kara Swisher:

They flew. Missing the point that there’s all these really amazing innovations that could help humanity around healthcare, around how we live, how we connect with each other. There’s so much goodness in this technology. How can we get to that? And that’s the question. And there’s so much amazing… No one would say we shouldn’t have flight, right? We shouldn’t have made planes.

Kara Swisher:

Maybe someone would, someone say, “Why do we have planes?” But no one says we shouldn’t have cars, right? Cars have been a great boon, but they’ve also been a negative thing. And so, the question is, how do we design these things for maximum goodness for humanity if we’re going to use these technology? Or we can go into this dystopian view of every single science fiction movie where we end up in a tiny little square foot of space where our door is talking to us and we’re having relationships with holograms. I mean, maybe that’s where we’re going.

Preet Bharara:

Should we be afraid of robots?

Kara Swisher:

I think robots should be afraid of us, but I’m always fascinated by these robots. Trying to get robots to be human. Why don’t we get humans to be more robotic? Why don’t we add those skills?

Preet Bharara:

Why would we do that? Oh, I see.

Kara Swisher:

Because we could add ectoskeleton.

Preet Bharara:

I see. I see.

Kara Swisher:

We could add more strength. We could add better eyesight. One of the things that I thought was really interesting, speaking of which on Twitter, which is, I wouldn’t have found it anywhere else. Someone said, “The thing that tech companies should do is sit down whenever they’re making a product, think, ‘What is the Black Mirror episode of this product? What is the worst case scenario that this could…'” I thought that was brilliant. Just even doing that would create better products.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. No, that’s great.

Kara Swisher:

Isn’t it? Think about it.

Preet Bharara:

Black Mirror should advertise.

Kara Swisher:

Yes. What does the Black Mirror-

Preet Bharara:

And Doritos.

Kara Swisher:

… Doritos. You love Doritos. Doritos are delicious.

Preet Bharara:

There’s a lot of free product placement.

Kara Swisher:

They are delicious, they are full of chemicals, great. They are designed to make you fat. Just so you know.

Preet Bharara:

Are you going to run for mayor of San Francisco?

Kara Swisher:

No, not now. No, not right now because there’s a mayor. We just got a new mayor because our mayor died.

Preet Bharara:

But the next time. Are you going to run the next time?

Kara Swisher:

I think I could be too old by then, but we’ll see how this mayor does. You have to give this mayor a chance.

Preet Bharara:

Too old? Everyone running for president is like a hundred and five.

Kara Swisher:

Here’s why I would like to be mayor of San Francisco, because look, here’s a city that is struggling mightily with issues around homelessness, around haves and have nots, around issues of just basic functioning city functions. Could there be a city that is the example of how you design cities in the future and shouldn’t it be San Francisco? That’s the only thing is, what if you decided, what if the mayor decided, “No more cars in San Francisco. And we’re just going to do it by 2020 whatever,” whatever the date you want to have.

Kara Swisher:

Whoever the mayor of any city is, can start to say is, how are we going to design cities going forward to create livable and yet… where is the future going? Given everyone’s moving into cities. And so, that’s the reason I was very interested in… How could you create on a very local level, a city where you don’t create the situation where you have these rich tech companies and poor people on the streets? And how do you solve those problems together as a civic group? I just think it would be a really interesting experiment. And then you could iterate it around the globe.

Preet Bharara:

What do you think about Amazon moving an office to New York?

Kara Swisher:

What a surprise. They didn’t locate places where they thought they might. It’s interesting that the giveaways that people give to the richest people in the world, I thought it was an interesting contrast with Apple just moved into Austin and didn’t ask for anything. They just moved in and that was it. They didn’t make a show of it. They didn’t make a story. I thought that was a ridiculous circus. It was ridiculous.

Preet Bharara:

[crosstalk 00:55:44]?

Kara Swisher:

Yeah. You knew where they were going to end up. They were going to end up in D.C and New York. That’s where they were going to end up.

Preet Bharara:

Is it a good deal for anyone other than Amazon?

Kara Swisher:

No, but neither are stadiums, neither are anything. So, I think, no. I mean, they’ll provide great jobs, but you already have great jobs here. Right?

Preet Bharara:

We could always use more.

Kara Swisher:

Yeah, but I think the question is why give away money to these wealthy corporations that are making money? I don’t understand. I don’t even begin to understand that competition. It doesn’t make any sense.

Preet Bharara:

Right. But there’s a little bit of fear of missing out, the FOMO issue. Right?

Kara Swisher:

No, it’s a lot of things.

Preet Bharara:

Nobody wants to lose the thing to New Jersey or somewhere else.

Kara Swisher:

Well, or the thing of anything. Look, I was just talking about Theranos the other day with someone and when Walgreens took Theranos in and they didn’t do any due diligence on the product, the reason they did it, they were worried CVS was going to get it.

Preet Bharara:

Massive frauds have been committed on that basis.

Kara Swisher:

You know this.

Preet Bharara:

I had John Kerry on the show.

Kara Swisher:

He’s great.

Preet Bharara:

On the podcast to talk about his book about Theranos, and you think to yourselves, “Why do very, very smart people get taken in?” The same with people who are victims of Bernie Madoff and others they think, “Well, my friend invests his or her money with this guy and he’s so exclusive. I don’t want to wake up five years from now and see my portfolio smaller than my friend’s portfolio.” And the same with these pharmacy companies.

Kara Swisher:

The only thing I would say is when Amazon moves into somewhere, look, you want to be cooperate with the government. Say, if you’re moving in a big area, you want to say, okay, you’re going to improve public transport, are you committed to housing? Are you committed? You want to be interested in that stuff. But giveaways to these companies makes almost no sense, special giveaways.

Preet Bharara:

So, when you’re mayor of San Francisco.

Kara Swisher:

No, there will be no special giveaways.

Preet Bharara:

No special giveaways?

Kara Swisher:

No, I will shake them down for the money they owe people. I think good creative shaking down.

Preet Bharara:

Don’t use that rhetoric.

Kara Swisher:

Oh, I’m not allowed because I’ll get arrested by some-

Preet Bharara:

No, no, no, no.

Kara Swisher:

… prosecutor or something like that? No, but I mean like-

Preet Bharara:

Are you a bot?

Kara Swisher:

No, I’m not a bot, but here’s the deal. Companies have a civic responsibility to the cities they live in. And it used to be like that, didn’t it? It used to be they would fund the opera, or the theater, or the whatever. And so, I think companies should have a civic responsibility, and they should be glad to do it, by the way, because it’s better for their employees. And so, that’s how I would run a city. I’d say, “Listen, you’re rich, give me some of your money and I promise I will…” And the thing that’s responsible for government is to use it in a responsible way to improve the city. And that’s the deal that has been broken many times obviously.

Preet Bharara:

Kara Swisher, thanks for being on the show. I really appreciate it.

Kara Swisher:

Thank you for having me.

Preet Bharara:

I look forward to reading you every week.

Kara Swisher:

Thank you.

STAY TUNED WITH PREET

Stay Tuned: Does Silicon Valley Have A Conscience? (with Kara Swisher)

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