Author: Connie Loizos

Famed investor Roger McNamee once advised Facebook — now he’s certain it’s destroying our democracy

A year ago, renowned investor Roger McNamee had much of Silicon Valley baffled.

McNamee had made his name as a tech investor in the ’80s and ’90s before co-founding the private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, then co-founding the venture capital firm Elevation Partners with singer Bono.

A musician himself, McNamee had taken to spending more and more time playing with his band, Moonalice, and performing in other gigs across the country. Yet suddenly, he was seemingly on every media outlet after writing a 6,000-word piece in Washington Monthly that outlined his growing concern that Facebook’s business model was increasingly dangerous, to both the U.S. economy and our democracy.

Given that McNamee had been an advisor to Mark Zuckerberg early in the company’s life and profited from an early investment in the company, reporters wanted to know exactly what he saw as the problem — and he was happy to tell them. He saw bad actors on Facebook . He saw data being scraped and sold and he saw disinformation campaigns. He was frustrated, he said, and users needed to get frustrated, too. He’d tried to talk privately to both Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg — who he says he helped connect with Zuckerberg years ago — and they treated his concerns not as a legitimate threat to their users but as a PR crisis. When he wrote them again, he was passed along to other executives at Facebook who similarly, politely, gave him the brush-off.

Facebook might have hoped McNamee would disappear after his media tour. Instead, he sat down and began writing a book, “Zucked,” which hits bookshelves, both real and virtual, today. The reason, he told us in a sit-down late last week, is simple. Facebook — and Google — grow more dangerous by the day. And while he might not be the right messenger to convey why, someone has to do it.

“I may be the wrong messenger, but I don’t see a lot of other volunteers at the moment,” he told us, going so far as to say that he thinks the boards of both Google and Facebook have “committed malpractice” by remaining steadfastly quiet while one scandal after another has grabbed the headlines, then dissipated into the background.

For what it’s worth, we read the book and we recommend it to anyone interested in Silicon Valley’s rich history. It also provides the clearest understanding we’ve read to date of why Facebook sprang into existence when it did, and why it has flourished in ways that are unprecedented, economically and politically. “They dominate the public square in every place where they operate, and there has been no election that put them in power,” notes McNamee — and no accountability, either.

The book is a useful reminder, too, that we do have power as users, and that the ways that we’ve begun changing our collective behavior is beginning, and can continue, to impact these companies, the reach of which we’ve never before experienced and are still grappling to understand. In our chat, McNamee further suggested it would be powerful for Facebook employees to organize for once against the company’s policies — or, in many cases, the dearth of them.

You can check out a review of “Zucked” here. You can also get a better understanding of McNamee’s thought process by listening to our interview with him.

Sarah Friar, long the CFO of Square, is leaving to join the social network Nextdoor as its CEO

Square’s CFO Sarah Friar is stepping down to become the CEO of Nextdoor, according to the payment company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey.

In a statement issued a bit ago, he says of Friar that she “steered us through an IPO and helped build a growing ecosystem of businesses that will scale into the future.” Friar “leaves us having established a culture of entrepreneurship and discipline across the entire company. She has been an amazing leader, partner, and friend, and we are grateful for all she’s done for Square.”

Nextdoor has since released its own statement about Friar, who will assume the position in December. Quoting the company’s co-founder and outgoing CEO Nirav Tolia, the statement reads: “Sarah is one of the most highly regarded executives in Silicon Valley with an exceptionally rare mix of proven business skills, and authentic heart and soul. . . From the very beginning of our CEO search, she has been the top choice, and the board of directors and I feel exceptionally fortunate and excited for her to lead Nextdoor moving forward.”

The hire looks like a smart move by Nextdoor, the fast-growing social network that centers around neighborhoods and which, three months ago, announced that Tolia planned to step aside as soon as he found the right person to take Nextdoor “to the next level.”

At the time, Tolia had said in an email to employees that the role of CEO needed to evolve as the company evolves. He also said then that he will remain the company’s board chairman.

San Francisco-based Nextdoor has raised $285 million from investors over its eight-plus years, including from Insight Venture Partners, Benchmark, Shasta Ventures, Tiger Global Management and Kleiner Perkins. The company has soared into unicorn terrain, but it also seemingly needs to generate more revenue before it can be taken public. Toward that end, it began offering paid real estate listings roughly one year ago. The company also sells targeted ads.

Friar, often described as Dorsey’s right-hand woman at Square, grew up in Northern Ireland, the daughter of farmers. She was the first in her family to go to university, studying engineering at Oxford.

After graduating, she joined McKinsey as a business analyst in London, then Johannesburg, before moving to California in 1998 to nab an MBA at Stanford. Friar went on to spend a decade with Goldman Sachs in Silicon Valley, leaving the powerhouse bank as a managing director before spending a year with Salesforce as an SVP, then joining Square in 2012.

In addition to her work with Square, Friar sits on the boards of two powerful companies: Slack and Walmart.

Shares of Square have fallen in after-hours trading on the news.

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