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‘Silicon Valley,’ season three, episode seven: Mo’ beta blues

Richard makes another stellar CEO decision, and God View rears its holy head.

John P. Johnson / HBO

Each week, we watch "Silicon Valley" on HBO and then reflect on the ways the show mirrors — or doesn't — the real Silicon Valley. This week, the Pied Pipers release their beta and struggle with ethical issues. To catch up on the recaps, you can see them all here.


The Pied Piper product is humming along toward launch under Richard’s finicky guidance. There are bugs, tons of bugs, and the way to eliminate bugs is to either hire a flotilla of testers (which is what real game companies do) or release a beta for folks to try out and rate.

Initially, Richard balks at the idea of allowing anyone outside the company to try the software. But when Guilfoyle’s girlfriend reveals that she’s enjoying it, he allows a limited beta release. Trouble is, it’s so limited, it mostly only gets seen by other engineers, who love it for the same wonky reasons Richard does.

The only person who sees the beta and doesn’t like it is Monica. But she assures Richard that her opinion isn’t worth much, as she passed on investing in Slack. What is Slack valued at these days, $3.8 billion?

Richard is so thrilled with his fellow geeks’ assessment of the product that he goes from reluctant beta-releaser to enthusiastic mover-upper of the release date, which seems like it’ll be a nice big disaster for the freshly re-minted CEO.

Is this real life?

These disasters caused by inadequate beta testing are rife. Remember when the upgrade to iPhone iOS 8 rendered phones un-phone-able? How about when Apple ditched Google Maps in favor of its own map app, causing rage across the devicesphere that ended with the project lead getting canned? Such good times. In fact, beta-tester blogs say it's very common for engineers to test in an echo chamber and get slapped when the wider world tries to use their product. Richard ought to know better, but ... that's the problem with 26-year-old CEOs.

Meanwhile, back at Hooli, Gavin got wind of Richard’s beta testing by monitoring his workers’ emails. In the real world, Google has struggled mightily with privacy concerns: A TechCrunch reporter accused the company of dipping into his Gmail account to see if he had corresponded with a Google employee, as reported by Liz Gannes:

Arrington wrote late last week: "I have first hand knowledge of this. A few years ago, I’m nearly certain that Google accessed my Gmail account after I broke a major story about Google."The proof, he said, was that a former Google employee — who was his source and was apparently drunk at a party — approached Arrington and said he or she had been "shown an email that proved that they were the source" by people at Google investigating the leak. This email was sent from a non-Google email account to Arrington’s Gmail account, he said.

"The source had corresponded with me from a non Google email account, so the only way Google saw it was by accessing my Gmail account," wrote Arrington. "A little while after that my source was no longer employed by Google."

Before that, Microsoft got dinged for peeking into Hotmail accounts to investigate leaks from the company, which Hotmail users had actually signed off on when signing up for the service. In fact, most companies make it clear that work email isn’t private.

Back on "Silicon Valley," Gavin mocks up a fake email to get a copy of the Pied Piper beta, which Richard and Guilfoyle figure out by looking at the beta software’s God View, a tracking method employed by many companies to the outrage of just about anyone who finds out about it. Again, as reported by Liz Gannes::

Hate to break it to you, but as a journalist who has covered the technology industry for a decade, I can tell you this kind of tracking happens regularly, particularly with early-stage companies. It happens to journalists, and it happens to regular users, too.

It was creepy then, and it’s creepy now. Please stop using God View, Richard.

Next week, I think we can look forward to a complete meltdown as non-engineer users hate the first iteration of Pied Piper. See you then!

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