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Big Tech Antitrust: US Bill Introduced to Stop Amazon, Google, More Firms From Favouring Own Products

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 October 2021

About a dozen US senators from both parties on Monday formally introduced a bill that would bar Big Tech platforms, like Amazon and Alphabet’s Google, from favouring their products and services. The bill follows others introduced with the goal of reining in the outsized market power of tech firms, including industry leaders Facebook and Apple. Thus far none became law, although one, which would increase resources for antitrust enforcers, passed the Senate.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley’s bill would prohibit platforms from requiring companies operating on their sites to purchase the platform’s goods or services and ban them from biasing search results to favour the platform.

A companion has passed the House Judiciary Committee. It must pass both houses of Congress to become law.

Reuters reported on Wednesday, after reviewing thousands of internal Amazon documents, that Amazon’s India operations ran a systematic campaign of creating knock-offs and manipulating search results to boost its own private brands in the country, one of the company’s largest growth markets.

When news of the bill broke last week, both Amazon and Google warned of potential unintended consequences.

Amazon said in a statement that the bill, if it became law, “would harm consumers and the more than 500,000 US small and medium-sized businesses that sell in the Amazon store, and it would put at risk the more than 1 million jobs created by those businesses.”

Google said that the measure would make it more difficult for companies to offer free services – Google’s search and maps are both free – and would make “those services less safe, less private and less secure.”

Facebook, which said that it competes with a range of social media, including TikTok and Twitter, said antitrust laws should “not attempt to dismantle the products and services people depend on.”

Klobuchar chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee while Grassley is the top Republican on the full committee. Co-sponsors include five Democrats and five Republicans.

Companies expressing support for the bill included Spotify, Roku, Match Group and DuckDuckGo, Klobuchar’s office said in a statement.

The bill would not break up the companies or force them to drop services but bars some bad behaviours that affect businesses that rely on their platforms, said Stacy Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance who said that she would prefer a more aggressive bill.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Original Apple Computer Built by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to Be Auctioned

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 9 November 2021

An original Apple computer, hand-built by company founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak 45 years ago, goes under the hammer in the United States on Tuesday.

The functioning Apple-1, the great-great-grandfather of today’s sleek chrome-and-glass Macbooks, is expected to fetch up to $600,000 (roughly Rs. 4.44 crore) at an auction in California.

The so-called “Chaffey College” Apple-1 is one of only 200 made by Jobs and Wozniak at the very start of the company’s odyssey from garage start-up to megalith worth $2 trillion (roughly Rs. 1,48,09,546 crore).

What makes it even rarer is the fact the computer is encased in koa wood — a richly patinated wood native to Hawaii. Only a handful of the original 200 were made in this way.
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Jobs and Wozniak mostly sold Apple-1s as component parts. One computer shop that took a delivery of around 50 units decided to encase some of them in wood, the auction house said.

“This is kind of the holy grail for vintage electronics and computer tech collectors,” Apple-1 expert Corey Cohen told the Los Angeles Times. “That really makes it exciting for a lot of people.”

Auction house John Moran Auctioneers says the device, which comes with a 1986 Panasonic video monitor, has only ever had two owners.

“It was originally purchased by an electronics professor at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, California, who then sold it to his student in 1977,” a listing on the auction house’s website says.

The Los Angeles Times reported the student — who has not been named — paid just $650 (roughly Rs. 48,100) for it at the time.

That student now stands to make a pretty penny: a working Apple-1 that came to the market in 2014 was sold by Bonhams for more than $900,000 (roughly Rs. 6.66 crore).

“A lot of people just want to know what kind of a person collects Apple-1 computers and it’s not just people in the tech industry,” Cohen said.

Apple raced to success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but foundered after the departure of Jobs and Wozniak.

The company was reinvigorated in the late 1990s, and Jobs was brought back into the fold as the chief executive.

He oversaw the launch of the iPod, and later the world-changing iPhone, before his death in 2011.

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Toshiba to Split Business Into Three Amidst Crises, Buyout Offer: Report

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 9 November 2021

Toshiba plans to split into three companies as early as 2023, a report said Tuesday, after a series of crises at the firm including the ouster of the board’s chairman and a contentious buyout offer.

The Nikkei business daily said the three units would focus on infrastructure, devices and semiconductor memory and are expected to be listed, possibly within two years.

Toshiba told AFP the option of splitting its business up was under consideration but said nothing had been decided yet.

The Nikkei, which did not cite sources, said the move could be announced Friday when Toshiba reports earnings and unveils a new mid-term business plan.

“We are drafting a mid-term business plan to enhance our corporate value, and dividing our businesses is one of the options, but there is nothing officially decided at this point,” Toshiba spokesman Tatsuro Oishi told AFP.

“We will swiftly announce if we decide anything that should be disclosed,” he said.

The decision, if confirmed, would cap a period of enormous upheaval for the firm, once a symbol of Japan’s advanced technology and economic power.

In June, shareholders voted to oust the board’s chairman after a series of scandals and losses, in a rare victory for activist investors in corporate Japan.

The move followed the damaging revelations of an independent probe that concluded Toshiba attempted to block shareholders from exercising their proposal and voting rights.

The investigation’s report detailed how the firm had pursued an intervention from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to help sway a board vote.

The revelations came after an unexpected buyout offer in April from a private equity fund associated with then-CEO Nobuaki Kurumatani.

The offer sparked uproar, with allegations it was intended to blunt the influence of activist investors.

Other offers emerged subsequently, and Kurumatani resigned in April, though he insisted it was not related to the buyout controversy.

The decision to split Toshiba’s businesses “is a consequence of listening to activist shareholders”, said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst with Ace Research Institute.

The move would be seen by proponents as maximising the combined market value of Toshiba’s operations.

But he warned there could be downsides.

“While the market value could be maximised… you can’t cover losses in one business with profits in other businesses,” making individual segments of Toshiba’s operation potentially more vulnerable, he said.

The Nikkei noted that splitting up conglomerates had been a successful strategy for some firms in the United States, including Hewlett-Packard.

But for others, such as chemical giant DuPont, which separated into three firms under shareholder pressure, overall market capitalisation is now lower, the daily pointed out.

The move is relatively rare in Japan, and Toshiba would be the first major conglomerate to split into completely independent listed companies, the Nikkei said.

Yasuda said Toshiba faces unique pressure from its shareholders, putting it in a different position to other major Japanese companies.

But, he added, “if (the split) proves to be successful, others would follow suit”.

Toshiba’s stock shares rose more than two percent in opening Tokyo trade but finished the morning in negative territory.

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Microsoft Rolls Out New Tech to Connect Its Cloud to Rivals

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By Reuters | Updated: 3 November 2021

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a new round of technologies aimed at making its cloud computing services work in data centres it does not own – including the cloud data centres of its rivals.

The strategy, Microsoft executives and analysts say, has been key to the company’s rise in the cloud computing infrastructure market, which research firm Gartner estimates hit $64.3 billion (roughly Rs. 4,79,650 crore) and where Microsoft is second only to market leader Amazon’s Amazon Web Services. Microsoft last week said revenue from Azure, its flagship cloud offering, grew 48 percent, results that helped it overtake Apple as the world’s most valuable publicly traded company.

Microsoft’s strategy has involved constructing its most lucrative cloud software services, such as database tools, so that they can run inside its own data centres, those owned by customers or even those of rivals like Amazon.

Microsoft’s cloud and artificial intelligence chief Scott Guthrie told Reuters that the move has persuaded some customers to use its services when they cannot always use Microsoft’s data centres. Royal Bank of Canada, Guthrie said, faces legal requirements to keep some of its computing work in its own data centres and uses a technology called Azure Arc to connect those facilities to Microsoft’s cloud.

“The challenge with higher-level services historically has been the concern of ‘lock in’ – what happens if I can only use them in your data centre?” Guthrie said. “That freedom of movement causes customers to feel much more comfortable using those services.”

Ed Anderson, a vice president distinguished analyst with Gartner, said the approach does open doors for Microsoft with customers, but it also forces the company to compete on the quality of its software services rather than by packaging them with cheap computing power.

“To be honest, that’s a better way to compete,” Anderson said. “Customers are suspicious of rhetoric. They look for evidence of capabilities and are cautious of things where in principle technology is multi-cloud but maybe the software licensing doesn’t support it.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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iMac Pro With M1 Pro, M1 Max Chips to Launch in 2022: Report

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By ANI | Updated: 1 November 2021

The next-generation iMac, which is currently in the works, could possibly be called the iMac Pro.

As per Mac Rumors, the device will feature the same M1 Pro and M1 Max chips that Apple introduced with the MacBook Pro models, and there could possibly be “an added configuration.”

Apple is said to be using the Pro naming to differentiate the upcoming iMac from the 24-inch iMac that was released earlier this year.

As it will use the M1 Pro and Max chips, Apple considers it a Pro device and is calling it the iMac Pro internally.

As per sources, the iMac will feature a 27-inch mini-LED display with ProMotion technology, though some prior rumours have indicated that the next-generation iMac will have a larger display.

Unlike the 24-inch iMac, the iMac Pro will feature dark bezels, and bezel size could be slimmed down.

Design-wise, it could look similar to the 24-inch iMac and the Pro Display XDR, and Apple has apparently tested Face ID for the machine, but this is not a confirmed feature.

The base model iMac will feature 16GB memory and 512GB of storage, and all models will be equipped with an HDMI port, an SD card slot, and several USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, similar to the MacBook Pro. Apple is also said to be including an Ethernet port on the power adapter.

According to sources, the iMac will have a starting price at or over $2,000 (roughly Rs. 1.5 lakh), and it will be launching in the first half of 2022. The upcoming iMac Pro will replace the current Intel-based 27-inch iMac models.

We haven’t heard much about Apple’s larger iMac, but sources have confirmed that such a machine is in the works. Apple reportedly paused work on the bigger iMac to work on the 24-inch model, but now that the 24-inch iMac is out, development can resume.

According to rumours, Apple is working on a new 27-inch iMac with a mini-LED display and ProMotion display technology.

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Bosch to Invest More Than EUR 400 Million in Chip Production in Germany, Malaysia Next Year

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By Reuters | Updated: 29 October 2021

German technology group Robert Bosch has earmarked more than EUR 400 million (roughly Rs. 3,490 crore) for investments in microchip production in Germany and Malaysia next year to ease a global shortage.

A lack of chips for automakers has disrupted vehicle production around the world, with suppliers relying almost exclusively on chips from only a few manufacturers in Asia and the United States.

The largest part of Bosch’s budget will be spent on a faster expansion of its Dresden, Germany factory for 300-millimeter wafers, which the group inaugurated in June, it said in a statement on Friday.

About EUR 50 million (roughly Rs. 436 crore) will be invested at a site in Reutlingen near Stuttgart making 200-millimeter wafers, said the company, which also makes car parts and factory automation systems.

Another project to be funded will be the construction of a semiconductor testing facility in Penang, Malaysia, it added, without specifying the level of investment.

Intel, the biggest maker of processor chips for PCs and data centres, said last month it could invest up to EUR 80 billion (roughly Rs. 698 crore) in Europe over the next decade.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Cloud Computing Providers’ Anti-Competitive Practices Should Be Curbed by EU Tech Rules: Study

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 October 2021

Draft EU rules to curb the power of Amazon, Apple, Alphabet unit Google, and Facebook should also tackle providers of cloud computing services for possible anti-competitive practices, a study said on Tuesday. The report comes amid concerns that some EU lawmakers who are reviewing the Digital Markets Act (DMA) proposed by EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager may be lenient towards cloud computing companies.

Amazon’s Amazon Web Services was the leading provider in the second quarter, followed by Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, market research company Statista found. Others include IBM Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, Salesforce, and Oracle.

Frederic Jenny, chairman of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Competition Committee, put together the study, in his personal capacity, for trade body Cloud Infrastructure Services Providers in Europe (CISPE).

The new EU rules should also cover software licensing, the report said, with respondents citing unfair terms imposed by some of the big software companies to access their cloud infrastructure.

“The DMA does say that cloud infrastructure can come within the ambit of the DMA but it is not obvious that all the suppliers are covered,” Jenny told Reuters in an interview.

“For example, it doesn’t seem that Google Cloud qualifies under the DMA as a gatekeeper or IBM Cloud or Salesforce.”

Potential anti-competitive practices by some companies could include unfair pricing techniques or efforts to make users’ move to a rival technically difficult, he said.

Jenny said the study interviewed some 25 companies that use cloud computing services, some of which cited issues such as unfair licence terms that force customers to pay again to use software they already own when they move to a competitor.

Respondents were also concerned about providers bundling software products with their cloud infrastructure to make rival products either less attractive or more expensive.

Google, Oracle and SAP declined to comment. Microsoft and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

EU lawmakers have to thrash out the draft DMA with EU countries before it becomes law, possibly in 2023.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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