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Pied Piper's founders. Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

HBO’s “Silicon Valley” kicked off its fifth season last night and already, a clear theme emerges: survival. It also has to contend for the first time without Erlich Bachman, an early investor in protagonist startup Pied Piper, but whose actor, T.J. Miller, quit the show.

Our take: Similarly to previous seasons, the show promises to fuse storylines that can be universally entertaining, along with details and references that denizens of the real Valley will appreciate.

Setup: After securing new funding to build a “decentralized internet,” Pied Piper needs to hire more engineers, but CEO Richard Hendricks finds out that it’s harder than it seems, resorting to creative acquisition deals to poach engineers. Meanwhile, Gavin Belson, recently returned CEO of tech giant Hooli, begins to worry that his company is focused on old technology that will soon become obsolete.

Real Valley references: As usual, the show doesn’t lack nods to the real tech industry and its culture. A few:

  • Facebook's Russia link: In the opening credits, Facebook's sign flips from English to Russian in a nod to the use of the social network (among others) to meddle in U.S. elections, as Adam Best points out.
  • “Openly alt-right guy:” The industry is still trying to reckon with a more visible minority of workers who are on the right-wing of politics, and how that squares with its efforts of being more inclusive. In this episode, Pied Piper needs to hire fast, but of course wants to avoid this candidate, among others.
  • On-demand delivery math: Sliceline, a new startup Pied Piper encounters, is ordering pizzas from Domino’s and selling them for a lower price — a wink at the dubious, unprofitable economics of many delivery startups. Moreover, Hendricks takes a page from the dirtiest tactics alleged in ride-hailing competition and orders hundreds of pizzas from Sliceline at once.

Go deeper

Biden administration makes first move on data privacy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Biden administration is launching its first big effort on privacy policy by looking at how data privacy issues affect civil rights.

Why it matters: An administration perspective on privacy policy could be key in developing a long-awaited national privacy law by putting the White House stamp on how to regulate privacy.

Axios Investigates

Exclusive: Airbnb hosts Xinjiang rentals on land owned by sanctioned group

Data: Axios research, Airbnb, Australia Strategic Policy Institute's International Cyber Policy Centre; Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Airbnb has more than a dozen homes available for rent in China's Xinjiang region on land owned by an organization sanctioned by the U.S. government for complicity in genocide and forced labor, an Axios investigation has found.

Why it matters: The listings expose Airbnb to regulatory risk under U.S. law. They also land yet another American tech company in the crossfire between the U.S. and China.

For CEOs, social media has lost its fun

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

CEO Jack Dorsey's departure from Twitter shows that, in Silicon Valley today, social media is becoming a field to flee.

Why it matters: Coming on the heels of Facebook's name change and new metaverse focus, Dorsey's resignation is another sign that the industry now views the massive social networks it built over the last two decades as buggy "legacy applications" mired in annoying social problems.