Cloudflare deserves higher scrutiny at this time.
I agree. Reading the NYT and several other articles about Sullivan and Uber was disconcerting. It’s not clear how much of the behavior was due to former Uber chief executive Kalanick versus Sullivan. Did he merely not want to rock the boat and just reported the breach to the legal team and then didn’t push the matter or did he actively participate in hushing up the story?
According to NPR, the Uber “bug bounty” of $100,000 normally paid to “white hat” hackers was much larger than the typical cap of $10,000. Also, Uber required the hackers to sign nondisclosure agreements that falsely said that the hackers did not take or store any data.
So far the news doesn’t seem to have made much impact on shareholders’ perceptions. The stock price is down a bit, but so are many other tech companies.
For more context, the Times article emphasized Sullivan’s role in Uber’s culture and mentioned another employee, Anthony Levandowski, who plead guilty to stealing trade secrets.
This reminded me of a past New Yorker article discussing Levandowski and the complexity of evaluating the claims of criminal wrongdoing in technology companies because of the nature of the culture.
Covering up a hacking attempt seems more straightforward than determining if lines of code are trade secrets, but building and explaining a case involving technology to a jury is difficult.
From the New Yorker article:
On the second day of the trial, [judge William] Alsup told Waymo’s legal team, “What you want to hide from the public does not deserve to be hidden.” . . .
The jurors, among them a property manager who spoke limited English and a telephone-line repairman with a high-school diploma, spent much of their time looking bored or bewildered. Occasionally, they fell asleep. . . . “I’m not sure I totally understood what was going on,” one of the jurors told me after a day in court. “I wanted to get a murder trial, but I got this.”
I expect that the case against Sullivan could play out over a long time, and its complexity could minimize the effect on the company’s business and stock price. However, if the case leads to the discovery of something easy to explain and digest, that would be different.
Also from the New Yorker:
Silicon Valley has always been built as much on treachery as on innovation . . . Levandowski seemed constantly ready to abandon his teammates and threaten defection, often while working on an angle to enrich himself. He is a brilliant mercenary, a visionary opportunist, a man seemingly without loyalty. He has helped build a technology that might transform how the world functions, and he seems inclined to personally profit from that transformation as much as possible. In other words, he is an exemplar of Silicon Valley ethics.
In the article, neither Google/Waymo nor Uber come across as having ideal corporate cultures, nor do other Silicon Valley companies. I’m not sure how much is due to the author’s shaping of what he reports versus an accurate description of a competitive and complex culture.
However, Google and others discussed in the article have done well since then, unlike Uber. Whether Sullivan’s charges will be a blip, just as Google’s decision to hire Levandowski (and give him incredible free reign) was to its fortunes or more serious remains to be seen.
All the best,