Longreads, analysis and explanations on what mattered in tech this year.

We learned a lot this year: Amazon could be the next advertising giant, tech workers can push powerful executives into change and, despite all the writing on the Facebook wall, few of its executives are leaving.

As 2018 comes to an end, we’re taking a look at the biggest stories in tech, media and commerce from Recode this year.

Amazon is stuffing its search results pages with ads

by Rani Molla
If it feels as though Amazon’s site is increasingly stuffed with ads, that’s because it is. And it looks like that’s working — at least for brands that are willing to fork over ad dollars as part of their strategy to sell on Amazon. Amazon-sponsored product ads have been around since 2012, but lately they’ve become more aggressive as the company has invested in growing its advertising business.

Facebook is full of could-be CEOs — but no one ever leaves

by Kurt Wagner
This year was the perfect year to leave Facebook. The social giant, which has been under fire over the past 18 months because of Russia or Cambridge Analytica or Myanmar or one of numerous other company oversights, shuffled its executive deck in a major way. A lot of execs got new jobs and new teams were formed, but no one really left.

The new hotness for tech billionaires? Do-gooder investments they can write off on their taxes.

by Theodore Schleifer
Sean Parker crafted a little-known part of the tax code called Opportunity Zones. Now, the men and women who serve as financial aides de camp to Silicon Valley’s billionaires are brimming with phone calls from curious clients.

Google and Facebook can’t help publishers because they’re built to defeat publishers

by Peter Kafka
No matter how hard Google and Facebook try to help publishers, they will do more to hurt them, because that’s the way they’re supposed to work. They’re built to eviscerate publishers.

An Amazon revolt could be brewing as the tech giant exerts more control over brands

by Jason Del Rey
Some companies, like PopSockets, are choosing to end their relationship with Amazon rather than cave to the online retailer’s increasing demands. Amazon is taking more control over where and how product manufacturers can hawk their wares on the most important online store in the U.S.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Drivers don’t trust Uber. This is how it’s trying to win them back.

by Johana Bhuiyan
This year, circumstances forced Uber’s hand. Improving driver relations became more crucial than ever as competition grew and the supply of new drivers Uber could recruit or poach dwindled.

Amazon is dominant online, but local retail still has advantages Jeff Bezos can’t replicate

by Kara Swisher
Amazon has created moats through convenience, data, speed, breadth and flat-out excellent customer service. But Amazon hasn’t yet cracked three things: creativity, human customer service, products that are unique and quirky and nowhere else.

The rise of giant consumer startups that said no to investor money

by Jason Del Rey
A funny thing has happened over the past year: a series of big acquisitions of direct-to-consumer startups that have raised little or no venture capital money. With it, a blueprint for a new path for ambitious direct-to-consumer entrepreneurs has emerged.

HQ Trivia was a blockbuster hit — but internal turmoil and a shrinking audience have pushed its company to the brink

by Kurt Wagner
A boardroom battle and alleged management issues raised new questions about HQ’s future. It also had to deal with a declining audience and the aftermath of a dramatic change of CEOs.

Here’s who owns everything in Big Media today

by Peter Kafka and Rani Molla
The media landscape used to be straightforward: Content companies — studios — made stuff — TV shows and movies — and sold it to pay TV distributors, who sold it to consumers. Now things are up for grabs.

Voice tech like Alexa and Siri hasn’t found its true calling yet: Inside the voice assistant ‘revolution’

by Rani Molla
Amazon announced a $60 voice-activated microwave this year, along with 10 other new products using its Alexa voice assistant. Roll your eyes if you’d like, but it’s the latest example of Amazon’s obsession with making Alexa — which first launched four years ago — ubiquitous, from the kitchen to the car. But until we invent something that wouldn’t be possible without voice, we’re just repurposing online content for our ears.

Amazon employees are outraged by their company’s opposition to a plan to add more diversity to its board

by Jason Del Rey
In a series of internal emails, Amazon employees voiced their displeasure with the company’s recommendation that its board vote against a shareholder proposal that would codify the inclusion of women and people of color in the pool of candidates for board seats. All 10 of Amazon’s board members are white. Amazon later reversed its decision.

A new trove of internal Facebook emails is a stark reminder: You are Facebook’s product

by Kurt Wagner
Access to the personal information of billions of people has put Facebook in a very powerful position. And leaked internal emails show that the company used access to that information as a bargaining chip with potential competitors. While Facebook has always positioned itself as a mission-driven company out to make the world a better place, we’ve learned recently that Facebook is a ruthless business, and your personal data keeps it alive.

Tech companies like Google are giving workers the right to take sexual harassment claims to court — but employees are calling for more

by Shirin Ghaffary
While labor advocates are celebrating the victory of the end of forced arbitration for sexual harassment claims at many big companies, many employee activists are demanding that the protection apply to other cases of workplace grievances, such as discrimination, as well.

Why Silicon Valley investors just can’t quit Saudi money

by Theodore Schleifer
Silicon Valley is beginning to question its ties with Saudi Arabia. But there are many skeptics these days who privately question whether the relationship will actually change. Why? Because in addition to the Saudis giving billions of dollars directly to startups, they are also investors, or limited partners, in a number of elite venture capital funds that do their own deals. Those relationships don’t untangle easily — and are usually legally required to be kept secret.

Inside how a scooter-sharing startup navigates San Francisco

by Johana Bhuiyan
A big part of the value proposition of Lime and its counterparts is that its scooters and bikes can be easily moved around to meet or create demand because they do not have to be tethered to one location. It’s a process called rebalancing. Recode got a first-hand look at how it works.

Fiona Goodall / Getty

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