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Airbnb Hires Former Apple Designer Jony Ive’s Firm LoveFrom for Multi-Year Partnership

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By Gadgets 360 Staff With Inputs From Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2020

Home rental company Airbnb on Wednesday said it was hiring former Apple designer Jony Ive and his firm LoveFrom to design new Airbnb products and services under a multi-year deal. Ive was a close creative collaborator with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Ive spent nearly three decades at Apple, leading the design of the candy-coloured iMacs that helped Apple re-emerge from near death in the 1990s and the design of the iPhone.

He left Apple last year. In a blog announcing the work relationship, Airbnb Chief Executive Brian Chesky said Ive will also help develop the Airbnb internal design team. “Jony and I have been good friends for many years, and he has been gracious enough to provide me with guidance and advice. We share the same belief in the value and importance of creativity and design. We each believe not only in making objects and interfaces, but in crafting services and experiences. We’ve seen how design can facilitate trust and enable more human connection, something people are desperate for during an unprecedented time of loneliness and disconnection,” Chesky said.

Airbnb on Wednesday told employees Chief Design Officer Alex Schleifer would be moving to a part-time role and that the company would be looking for a permanent replacement, according to a source close to the company.

The deal with Ive and his firm, LoveFrom, coincides with Airbnb’s effort to raise around $3 billion (roughly Rs. 22,100 crores) in its upcoming initial public offering, according to sources.

Airbnb is expected to be one of the largest and most anticipated US stock market listings of 2020 which has already been a blockbuster year for IPOs.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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NSE Warned Future Retail of Action Over Disclosures on Amazon Dispute, Emails Reveal

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 November 2020

India’s National Stock Exchange (NSE) privately warned Future Retail it risked regulatory action for not making timely market disclosures about efforts by Amazon.com to block a disputed asset sale, according to e-mails reviewed by Reuters.

Future Retail, one of country’s top retailers, has been locked in a bitter dispute with Amazon over its $3.4 billion (roughly Rs. 25,300 crores) retail assets deal with Reliance. Amazon is a business partner of Future and argues the Indian firm’s asset sale breached some of their pre-existing agreements.

Amazon had complained to stock exchanges, accusing Future of misleading public by making incorrect market disclosures, allegations the Indian group denies.

The complaint came after Amazon on October 25 won an injunction from an arbitrator to halt the Future-Reliance deal.

Previously unreported e-mails exchanged between the NSE and Future show the stock exchange repeatedly requested the company submit more details of the arbitration order, seeking details of possible impact on financials, lenders and the Reliance deal.

On October 27, NSE asked Future why it had not disclosed the commencement of the arbitration proceedings and not shared the impact of the order. Future in response said it believed a disclosure wasn’t required.

NSE’s listing compliance division rejected that argument. It demanded a series of disclosures be made within hours, “failing which appropriate actions may be initiated”, the emails showed.

Future Retail’s Company Secretary, Virendra Samani, answered most of NSE’s queries in a late night e-mail on October 30, saying it was doing so “in the best interest of all stakeholders”, the communications showed.

Many of those responses were made public on directions of the NSE two days later in a six-page exchange filing by Future.

Before that, Future had only submitted a disclosure on October 26 in which it attached a media release saying it would ensure its deal with Reliance proceeded unhindered and that it was reviewing the arbitration order.

The NSE and Future Retail did not respond to requests for comment.

The legal dispute has now reached the Delhi High Court, where Future Retail has urged the court to stop Amazon from writing letters to regulators to block its Reliance deal, which is pending approvals from the market regulator and stock exchanges. The judge is expected to rule on the plea in the coming days.

Amazon had separately asked India’s market regulator to investigate Future for insider trading, saying it disclosed to Reliance price sensitive details of the arbitration order before its exchange filing in late October.

Future has said its communications with Reliance, which is led by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, were for a “legitimate purpose”.

NSE in e-mails at least twice asked Future Retail to provide a copy of the arbitration order to vet the disclosures, and also why it should not be disclosed as material price-sensitive information, emails between October 27 and October 30 showed.

Future’s Samani at first declined the request, stating in an e-mail that the order was “confidential in nature” and sharing further information could be “deterimental” to the company. A copy was provided following NSE’s warning.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Bitcoin Climbs Towards All-Time High After Topping $19,000

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 November 2020

Bitcoin moved to within a whisker of its all-time high on Tuesday, after hitting $19,000 (roughly Rs. 14 lakhs) for the first time in nearly three years.

The world’s most popular cryptocurrency was last up 4.8 percent at $19,225 (roughly Rs. 14.2 lakhs), just shy of its all-time record of $19,666 (roughly Rs. 14.5 lakhs) hit in December 2017. Bitcoin has gained around 25 percent in the last two weeks alone, and is up around 160 percent this year.

Fuelling its rally have been demand for riskier assets amid unprecedented stimulus programmes to counter the COVID-19 hit; hunger for assets perceived as resistant to inflation; and expectations cryptocurrencies will win wider acceptance as a method of payments.

Bitcoin’s 12-year history has been peppered with vertiginous gains and equally sharp drops. Its markets and price discovery is highly opaque compared with traditional assets such as stocks or bonds,

“My base-case scenario is that we will break the 2017 high and hold above it,” said Fawad Razaqzada, an analyst at FX brokerage Think Markets. “But if you get an immediate rejection above the all-time, that would raise the possibility of a correction.”

Smaller digital currencies such as ethereum and XRP – which often move in tandem with bitcoin – took a breather after gaining sharply in recent days.

Crypto markets have matured since bitcoin’s December 2017 peak, attracting a greater number of large investors such as family offices and hedge funds.

Its 2020 gains have prompted some investors to claim the cryptocurrency could more than quintuple in price to as high as $100,000 (roughly Rs. 74 lakhs) in a year, drawing eye rolls from sceptics who say it is a purely speculative asset.

Analysts say bitcoin’s limited supply of 21 million makes it a good hedge against inflation. Some investors think the value of traditional currencies will fall as governments and central banks unleash massive stimulus packages to support economies hit by COVID-19.

Yet bitcoin’s gains have continued even as gold – traditionally a go-to hedge against inflation – has slipped, with a resurgent pandemic making global growth and inflation recovery a more distant prospect.

Gold has shed 3.6 percent this month, versus bitcoin’s 40 percent gain.

Bullish investors cited expectations that bitcoin would achieve mass use as a means of payment, something it has so far failed to do, as a reason for the divergence.

Mainstream companies such as PayPal have embraced cryptocurrencies, sparking hopes bitcoin would become widely used and thus more valuable.

“With BTC one is also long a global currency which is now not just a easily accessible store of value but also a convenient payment mechanism,” said Michael Hall at Nickel Digital Asset Management, a crypto fund in London.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google Faces UK Scrutiny Over New Advertising Data Revamp

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By Associated Press | Updated: 24 November 2020

Google faces fresh regulatory scrutiny in Britain over plans to revamp its ad data system, after an industry lobbying group complained to the competition watchdog that the changes would cement the US tech giant’s online dominance.

Marketers for an Open Web, a coalition of technology and publishing companies, said Monday that it’s urging the UK competition watchdog to step in and force Google to delay the rollout of its “privacy sandbox” scheduled for early next year.

The new technology would remove so-called third party cookies that allow users to be tracked across the internet by storing information on their devices, replaced by tools owned by Google. That means login, advertising and other features would be taken off the open web and placed under Google’s control, the group said.

The Competition and Markets Authority confirmed it received the complaint.

“We take the matters raised in the complaint very seriously, and will assess them carefully with a view to deciding whether to open a formal investigation under the Competition Act,” it said in a statement, adding that if the concerns need urgent attention, it would consider using “interim measures” to stop any suspected anti-competitive conduct pending a full investigation.

The complaint follows up on concerns about Google’s new system that the watchdog raised in a July report about online platforms and digital advertising. The report recommended the British government adopt a new regulatory approach to governing digital giants making big money from online advertisements.

Google said the new technology will increase privacy for users while also supporting publishers.

“The ad-supported web is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations around how data is collected and used,” the company said.

Google’s Chrome is the world’s dominant web browser, and many others like Microsoft’s Edge are based on its Chromium technology. Google controls more than 90 percent of the UK’s GBP 7.3 billion (roughly Rs. 72,000 crores)-search advertising market, the CMA said in its July report.

Third-party cookies allow advertisment buyers to more effectively target their advertisements to web users. Privacy sandbox will deny publishers access to the cookies they use to sell digital advertisements, which will crimp their revenues by up to two-thirds, Marketers for an Open Web said.

The group said Google’s changes will move the digital advertisement business “into the walled garden of its Chrome browser, where it would be beyond the reach of regulators.” It wants a delay until authorities come up with long term remedies to mitigate Google’s dominance over key parts of the web.

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Apple to Extend Fee Waiver for Paid Events Through June 30 Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 24 November 2020

Apple said Monday it would extend through June 30 a waiver on app fees for paid events such as tutoring and fitness classes, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

The move is aimed at helping pandemic-hit instructors and performers to continue using iPhone applications for virtual classes and events at no cost.

Apple had initially agreed to a waiver until December, amid concerns raised by Facebook and others seeking to help people whose in-person classes and events have been canceled due to the global health emergency.

“As the world fights COVID-19, we recognise that adapting experiences from in-person to digital continues to be a top priority,” Apple said on its developer website.

Apple said the move affects the “in-app purchase” requirement for these services, and that it chose to give those affected more time to adapt in light of the pandemic.

Facebook earlier this year asked Apple to skip its usual 30 percent cut of transactions in mobile apps prior to enabling the social platform’s streaming application to be used to create, promote and host paid events from concerts and theatrical performances to yoga classes and cooking lessons.

The move comes amid increasing scrutiny of App Store fees, which are set at 30 percent in most cases, by developers and antitrust enforcers who argue Apple is abusing its dominance of the marketplace.

The iPhone manufacturer said last week that developers who make less than $1 million (roughly Rs. 7 crores) from selling apps on its store will see Apple’s revenue bite cut to 15 percent.

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Google, Facebook, Twitter, More Tech Giants Threaten to Leave Pakistan Over Censorship Rules

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By Associated Press | Updated: 21 November 2020

Internet and technology companies have threatened to leave Pakistan after the government granted blanket powers to authorities to censor digital content, a move critics say was aimed at curtailing freedom of expression in the conservative Islamic nation.

Thursday’s warning from the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents global technology giants including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, comes after the Pakistan government of Prime Minister Imran Khan granted enhanced powers to government media regulators Wednesday.

The coalition said it was “alarmed by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet companies, as well as the government’s opaque process by which these rules were developed.”

Under the new regulations, social media companies or internet service providers face a fine of up to $3.14 million (roughly Rs. 23.28 crores) for failure to curb the sharing of content deemed to be defamatory of Islam, promoting terrorism, hate speech, pornography or any content viewed as endangering national security.

Social media companies are required to provide Pakistan’s designated investigation agency “with any information or data in decrypted, readable and comprehensible format,” according to Pakistan’s DAWN newspaper. Pakistan also wants the social media companies to have their offices in the country.

The coalition said the “draconian data localisation requirements will damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world.” It said the new rules will make it difficult for its members “to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses.”

There was no immediate comment from Khan’s government, which has repeatedly said it was not against freedom of expression.

Khan’s office had previously said the new rules were made after observing a delayed response in the removal of anti-Pakistan, obscene and sectarian-related content by social media sites since 2018, when Khan’s government came into power.

Under the new regulations, social media companies are required to remove or block any unlawful content from their websites within 24 hours after being reported by Pakistani authorities.

The latest development comes weeks after Khan’s government temporarily banned the video-sharing platform TikTok, saying it took the step after receiving complaints of “immoral and indecent” content.

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Reliance-Future’s $3.4-Billion Deal Cleared by CCI Despite Amazon’s Objections

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 November 2020

Antitrust body Competition Commission of India (CCI) on Friday cleared conglomerate Reliance Industries’ $3.4 billion (or Rs. 24,713 crores) deal to buy Future Group’s retail assets, thwarting Amazon.com’s efforts to block the deal.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) announced its decision in a tweet on Friday, with details likely to be made public later.

Amazon had approached the CCI and market regulator SEBI alleging the deal would violate some pre-existing agreements it had with Future Group.

Last month, Amazon won an injunction from a Singapore arbitrator to halt the deal pending arbitration.

Amazon, Future, and Reliance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the deal is yet to receive approval of stock exchanges and market regulator SEBI, the three companies are now embroiled in a legal battle at the Delhi High Court over the transaction.

An antitrust lawyer said the CCI only looks into competition issues around a deal and is not concerned with other disputes between parties.

“It’s (CCI) not a regulator which approves the transaction as such,” the lawyer said.

Amazon says its 2019 deal with a Future Group subsidiary included clauses saying it could not sell its retail assets to certain parties, including Reliance.

Future has argued it entered into the deal with Reliance because its retail business was severely hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and it was critical to protect all its stakeholders.

The dispute has put Amazon at odds not just with Future Retail – one of country’s top retailers – but also with Ambani’s Reliance Group which is fast expanding its e-commerce business and threatening the dominance of the US giant.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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