Kia Kokalitcheva

Hot in Silicon Valley: Postmates backs off mandatory arbitration

Candice Choi / AP

Postmates finally lets drivers opt out of arbitration: The delivery company has updated its driver agreement to allow contractors to opt out of the previously mandatory arbitration, as TechCrunch reported. While the company denies the connection, it's currently still battling a case against the National Labor Relations Board over its classification of drivers as contractors instead employees and its arbitration mandate.

Why it matters: Postmates and other so-called "on-demand" companies have been under fire for their employment practices, namely forcing contractors to go through arbitration, which many argue is illegal.

'Silicon Valley' is back for a fourth season: HBO has released the teaser trailer for its hit show about a startup in the heart of Silicon Valley will soon be back for a new season. What we know so far: Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks wants to strike out on his own and build "a new Internet." Never short of real-world references, the show's next season is sure to continue exploring common Silicon Valley experiences.


Uber CEO responds to claims of workplace sexism

Jeff Chiu / AP

Another tale of sexism and unacceptable workplace behavior in Silicon Valley company has emerged. This time it's at Uber, according to an explosive blog post published on Sunday by a former company engineer named Susan Fowler Riggetti.

Riggetti was a site reliability engineer with Uber between November 2015 and December 2016, and now accuses the ride-share company's HR department of ignoring multiple complaints of sexual harassment, and of being denied opportunities to transfer or move up in her job. Worse: Her attempts to use emails (i.e., evidence) to document bad behavior were turned against her, she says.

Reached for comment, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said:

"I have just read Susan Fowler's blog. What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It's the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber -- and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired."

Why this matters: Despite having several women among its top ranks, this isn't the first time Uber has been accused of sexism or ignoring ethics in favor of business growth. Moreover, this is far from the first time a woman at a high-profile tech company has shared such experiences — it's a rampant problem in the tech industry — which likely explains why Fowler's blog post is spreading like wildfire via Silicon Valley social media this evening.

Update: Uber board member Arianna Huffington has tweeted the following: "Just talked w/ Travis & as a representative of Uber's Board I will work w/Liane to conduct a full independent investigation starting now."


Landlord company sues Airbnb


A property owner and management company is suing Airbnb, claiming the home-sharing company "deliberately promotes and profits from deliberate breaches of our leases," according to a statement from Apartment Investment & Management Company. The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.

The company has filed lawsuits in California and Florida state courts seeking monetary damages and that the courts prohibit Airbnb from allowing AIMCO's tenants to use its service.

"This attack on the middle class by powerful interests is wholly without merit," an Airbnb spokesperson told Axios.

Between the lines: Although AIMCO's concerns over not being able to vet Airbnb guests and make sure they don't damage its properties or bother other tenants are valid, the financial interest is hard to miss. While Airbnb hosts and the company are making money from home-sharing, none of it makes it to the landlords. So to appease landlords and building owners, Airbnb unveiled last year a program that lets them get data about their tenants' home-sharing activity and a cut of the earnings in exchange for officially permitting tenants to use the service.


GM, Lyft to roll out self-driving cars in 2018

The General Motors-Lyft self-driving car partnership could finally be seeing the light of day in 2018, according to a report from Reuters citing anonymous sources. The companies will roll out the fleets in several states.

In January 2016, GM announced a $500M investment in Lyft as well as a partnership to work together on self-driving cars. Shortly after, GM acquired self-driving car startup Cruise for close to $1 billion, which is also planning its own test program with Lyft later this year.


Used car marketplace Beepi goes bust

Beepi, an online used car marketplace that had raised $150 million in VC funding, is no more. Not officially bankrupt, but out of business and selling off remaining assets to pay creditors. In short: Too high a burn rate married to an inability to raise enough new funding.

Investors who backed the company at a $564 million post-money valuation in mid-2015 are expected to get nothing. That includes SAIC Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Foundation Capital, DST, D.E. Shaw, Sherpa Capital and IDG Ventures USA.


The part Zuck didn't publish: monitoring private messages

On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a lengthy manifesto detailing his view of the world and important global shifts. However, the final version omitted a mention found in a previous draft about monitoring private messages, according to Mashable:

The long term promise of AI is that in addition to identifying risks more quickly and accurately than would have already happened, it may also identify risks that nobody would have flagged at all — including terrorists planning attacks using private channels, people bullying someone too afraid to report it themselves, and other issues both local and global. It will take many years to develop these systems.

Why it matters: As Mashable points out, it's ironic that Zuckerberg praised Facebook-owned WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption in the very same letter while originally also mentioning monitoring messages. But this original passages should also raise questions given growing concerns that the massive data Facebook has about its nearly 2 billion users could turn it into Big Brother if in the wrong hands.


Theranos has little cash left and is still facing lawsuits


Theranos had only $200 million of its funding left as of the end of 2016, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources. The company previously raised nearly $900 million from investors.

During a conference call with investors last month, the company also disclosed that it didn't generate any material revenue over the last two years, and that it hasn't set aside funds to cover liabilities, according to the report.

Why it matters: The company is facing several lawsuits and investigations, so at the very least will face large legal bills, if not fines and settlements. Theranos investor Partner Fund Management and former retail partner Walgreens are suing the company, seeking to recover a total of $240 million, though Theranos has said that the lawsuits are without merit.

What's next: The company recently laid off 41% of its remaining workforce, just a few months after laying off nearly half of its employees and getting out of the lab business. The current team is focused on developing a new device it plans to sell to other clinics, though it's still awaiting regulatory approval.


Plouffe fined for illegal Uber lobbying in Chicago

David Plouffe, an Uber board member and former executive, has been fined $90,000 by the Chicago Board of Ethics for illegally lobbying Mayor Rahm Emanuel, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The board voted 5-0 in funding that the former Obama campaign manager violated the law when he did not register as a lobbyist after talking to the mayor about helping Uber with airport regulations.

The communication was revealed in December when Emmanuel, under pressure from two lawsuits over open records, released emails from his personal account.

Why it matters: Uber has long been criticized for its approach to regulations, often flouting rules and aggressively pushing its agenda.

Update: "We work hard to ensure our registrations are accurate and up to date. We regret that in this instance we made a mistake and we will comply with the board's assessment," Uber responds


Hot in Silicon Valley: Twitter's "long way to go"

Eric Risberg / AP

Twitter's CEO admits the company still has work to do: Speaking at the Goldman Technology Conference in San Francisco, CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter still has "a long way to go" as far as making the service easier for its users. He added that in the U.S., the company is seeing patterns similar to those it saw during the Arab Spring in 2011 around political activism and discussion. The company disappointed investors last week with its earnings, proving that even Trump and politics aren't enough to energize the company's growth.

Elon Musks deletes critical immigration tweets: The entrepreneur, who still sits on Trump's economic advisory council, quickly posted and deleted tweets that called the president's immigration order "not right." He later said that these were "earlier drafts" of tweets and mirror what he's already said on the topic.

Why it matters: Musk, himself an immigrant, has so far defended his decision to remain on the council, arguing that it gives him an opportunity to influence Trump on such topics.


Snap reportedly sets an IPO valuation

Snapchat's parent company has reportedly set its valuation at $19.5 billion to $22.2 billion, which would mean a share price of $14 to $16, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources. This would put the company at the low end of its rumored target of $20 billion to $25 billion in valuation.

At this price, Snap's valuation could be near that of Alibaba, which was initially worth $21.8 billion when it went public in 2014 before underwriters exercised additional options, pushing it to $25 billion. Alibaba is still the biggest IPO in U.S. history.

What's next: The company is expected to disclose its preliminary valuation on Thursday in an updated SEC filing, according to the Journal. The company could price its shares as soon as March 1 and begin trading the next day. There are also still questions as to whether investors will be content with Snap's user numbers and growth enough to justify its valuation.