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Airtel Rides Pandemic-Induced Subscriber Gain to Report Quarterly Profit

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By Reuters | Updated: 3 February 2021

Bharti Airtel swung to a quarterly profit on Wednesday, as the Indian telecom firm added more subscribers and saw higher data usage during the coronavirus-led work-from-home trend.

With the December-quarter profit, India’s second-largest telecom operator has snapped a streak of six loss-making quarters during which the company has seen a growth in market share even as it grappled with a tariff war and demands to pay massive government dues.

Airtel’s subscriber base in India grew to 336.2 million, with the company adding 12.9 million 4G subscribers during the last three months of 2020 to reach 165.6 million.

The telco has been gaining subscribers over the past few months, with analysts pointing out that the firm has also seen gains in some of the key markets of loss-making rival Vodafone Idea..

Average revenue per user for the quarter rose 23 percent to Rs. 166.

Airtel’s consolidated profit for the three months ended Deember 31 came in at Rs. 854 crores from a loss of Rs. 1,035 crores in the year-ago period.

The firm’s consolidated revenue from operations surged 24.2 percent to Rs. 26,500 crores on gains in subscriber base and higher tariffs.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

Apps

Facebook to Invest $50 Million to Build the ‘Metaverse’ in Responsible Manner

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By Reuters | Updated: 28 September 2021

Facebook will invest $50 million (roughly Rs. 370 crores) to partner with organisations to responsibly build the so-called metaverse — a digital world where people can use different devices to move and communicate in a virtual environment.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies. The company has been criticised over its impact on online safety.

The new XR Programs and Research Fund will invest the money globally over two years to ensure metaverse technologies are “built in a way that’s inclusive and empowering,” Facebook said.

The company said it plans to work with researchers across four areas including data privacy and safety, to allow users to get help if something they see in the metaverse makes them uncomfortable.

It will also research how to design technologies that are inclusive and accessible to all users, and also “encourage competition” in the nascent industry, Facebook added in a blog post.

Facebook has faced scrutiny on a wide range of Internet issues, such as the spread of disinformation and social media’s negative impact on teens.

Also on Monday, Facebook said it paused development on Instagram Kids, an app that would have provided age-appropriate content for kids under 13. US lawmakers and advocacy groups have cited safety concerns and urged Facebook to drop the launch plans.

A Facebook executive will testify on Thursday at a US Senate committee hearing on the impact of its Instagram app on young users’ mental health.

Initial partners for Facebook’s new metaverse fund include Howard University in Washington DC, which will research the history of diversity in the information technology industry and how it could shape opportunity in the metaverse.

Seoul National University and the University of Hong Kong will research safety, ethics and responsible design, Facebook said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apps

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Says Failed TikTok Deal ‘Strangest Thing I’ve Worked On’

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By Reuters | Updated: 28 September 2021

Microsoft’s near-acquisition of social media app TikTok last year was the “strangest thing I’ve ever worked on,” Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella said on Monday.

TikTok had been ordered by then-US President Donald Trump to separate its US, version from Chinese parent ByteDance because of national security concerns about the collection of US users’ data. Microsoft in August 2020 began talks on the proposed acquisition but the deal collapsed by September.

Trump’s divestment push ended by the time he left office in January and no potential suitor ending up acquiring TikTok.

Speaking at the Code Conference in Beverly Hills, California, Nadella said he was looking forward to bringing Microsoft’s security, child safety, and cloud expertise to TikTok.

“It’s unbelievable,” Nadella said of the experience during an on-stage interview. “I learned so many things about so much and so many people. First of all, TikTok came to us. We didn’t go to TikTok.”

“TikTok was caught in between a lot of things happening across two capitals,” Nadella continued. “President Trump had a particular point of view of what he was trying to get done there, and then it just dropped off. The [US government] had a particular set of requirements and then it just disappeared.”

Nadella said what attracted ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming to Microsoft was the US company’s services related to content moderation and child safety, developed through products included in Xbox video gaming tools and on business social network LinkedIn.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nadella said he has no idea whether the US is still pushing for a deal under President Joe Biden. The Biden administration has said it is reviewing the national security concerns.

“At this point, I’m happy with what I have,” Nadella said.

He also expressed support for greater government regulation of cryptocurrency rules, which could stifle ransomware attacks since the ransoms often flow through opaque systems.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apps

Instagram Kids App for Children Under 13 Paused After Criticism

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 September 2021

Instagram is pausing work on a version for children younger than 13, called “Instagram Kids”, the Facebook-owned photo sharing app said on Monday.

US lawmakers and advocacy groups have opposed the launch of “Instagram Kids”, urging the social media giant to drop its plans and stating that it had failed to “make meaningful commitments to protecting kids online.”

“We believe building ‘Instagram Kids’ is the right thing to do, but we’re pausing the work,” Instagram said in a blog post, adding it would continue building on its parental supervision tools.

“The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”

A group of 40 state attorney generals in May this year had urged Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to abandon plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13.

“Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account,” the officials said in a letter.

“Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms,” they said.
A Facebook spokesman had said the company had “just started exploring a version of Instagram for kids” and said it was committing “to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13”.

The company had also said it agreed that any version of the photo-sharing app Instagram “must prioritise their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety, and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it”.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Mobiles

Google Slams Antitrust Regulators for Ignoring Apple After Being Fined Over Its Android Dominance

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 September 2021

Alphabet unit Google on Monday criticised EU antitrust regulators for ignoring rival Apple as it launched a bid to get Europe’s second-highest court to annul a record EUR-4.34-billion (roughly Rs. 37,520 crores) fine related to its Android operating system.

Far from holding back rivals and harming users, Android has been a massive success story of competition at work, representatives of Google told a panel of five judges at the General Court in Luxembourg at the start of a five-day hearing.

The European Commission fined Google in 2018, saying that it had used Android since 2011 to thwart rivals and cement its dominance in general internet search.

“The Commission shut its eyes to the real competitive dynamic in this industry, that between Apple and Android,” Google’s lawyer Matthew Pickford told the court.

“By defining markets too narrowly and downplaying the potent constraint imposed by the highly powerful Apple, the Commission has mistakenly found Google to be dominant in mobile operating systems and app stores, when it was in fact a vigorous market disrupter,” he said.

Pickford said Android “is an exceptional success story of the power of competition in action”.

Commission lawyer Nicholas Khan dismissed Apple’s role because of its small market share compared with Android.

“Bringing Apple into the picture doesn’t change things very much. Google and Apple pursue different models,” he told the court.

“Google’s conduct denied any opportunity for competition,” he said, citing agreements which forced phone manufacturers to pre-install Google Search, the Chrome browser and the Google Play app store on their Android devices, and payments to pre-install only Google Search.

Android, free for device makers to use, is found on about 80 percent of the world’s smartphones. The case is the most important of the European Union’s three cases against Google because of Android’s market power. Google has racked up more than 8 billion euros in EU antitrust fines in the last decade.

German phone maker Gigaset Communications GmbH, which is backing Google, said its success was due to Android’s open platform and lamented the negative impact of the Commission’s decision on its business.

“The licence fee for the Play Store that Google now charges as a result of the contested decision represents a significant portion of the price of Gigaset’s smartphones aimed at price-sensitive consumers,” its lawyer Jean-François Bellis told the court.

Lobbying group FairSearch, whose complaint triggered the Commission case, was however scathing about Google’s tactics with phone makers.

“Google adopted a classic bait and switch strategy. It hooked (them) on a supposedly free and open source operating system subsidised by its search monopoly, only to shut that system to competition through the web of restrictions at issue in this case,” its lawyer Thomas Vinje told the court.

A verdict may come next year. The case is T-604/18 Google vs European Commission.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Mobiles

Apple, Tesla Suppliers Suspend Production in China to Comply With Power Usage Norms

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 September 2021

Several Apple and Tesla suppliers have suspended production at some Chinese factories for a number of days to comply with tighter energy consumption policies, putting supply chains at risk in the peak season for electronics goods.

Two major Taiwanese chipmakers, however, said their China facilities are operating as normal.

The development comes as tight coal supplies in China and toughening emissions standards have triggered a contraction in heavy industry in several regions, dragging on the country’s economic growth rate, analysts have said.

Apple supplier Unimicron Technology late on Sunday said three of its China subsidiaries stopped production from midday on September 26 until midnight on September 30 to “comply with the local governments’ electricity limiting policy”.

The Taiwanese maker of printed circuit boards said it did not expect significant impact as other plants would make up production.

Eson Precision, an affiliate of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry (Foxconn), in a statement said it suspended production from Sunday until Friday at facilities in the Chinese city of Kunshan.

Concraft Holding, a supplier of speaker components for Apple’s iPhone and which owns manufacturing plants in Suzhou city, said it would suspend production for five days until noon on Thursday and use inventory to meet demand.

Chipmakers United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co told Reuters there was no impact at their China plants.

“UMC’s Hejian fab in Suzhou is currently running at full capacity utilization of 80,000 plus wafers per month,” said the Taiwanese firm, whose clients include Qualcomm Inc.

Two people familiar with the matter told Reuters that facilities in Kunshan of contract manufacturer Foxconn have seen a “very small” impact on production.

Foxconn had to “adjust” a small part of its capacity there, which includes the manufacture of non-Apple notebook computers, one of the people said, adding that the company has not seen any impact at other major production hubs across China.

The second person said the company had to move some of the Kunshan workers’ shifts in late September to early October.

Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, declined to comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Internet

Google Said to Slash Amount it Keeps from Sales on its Cloud Marketplace

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By Reuters | Updated: 27 September 2021

Google will take a smaller cut when customers buy software from other vendors on its cloud marketplace, CNBC reported on Sunday.

The Google Cloud Platform is cutting its percentage revenue share to 3 percent from 20 percent, CNBC said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

“Our goal is to provide partners with the best platform and most competitive incentives in the industry. We can confirm that a change to our Marketplace fee structure is in the works and we’ll have more to share on this soon,” a Google Cloud spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.

Earlier this year, Google cut the service fee it charges developers on its app store by half on the first $1 million (roughly Rs. 7.3 crores) they earn in revenue in a year. Google had said that it would cut app store fees to 15 percent from 30 percent effective July 1 — a move impacting most of the developers on its app store.

In contrast, Apple in November last year said that it planned to lower its commissions only for developers who make $1 million (roughly Rs. 7.3 crores) or less in proceeds in a year from its app store.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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