By Reuters | Updated: 21 January 2022
Facebook parent Meta Platforms removed a network of fake accounts that originated in Iran and targeted Instagram users in Scotland with content supporting Scottish independence, the company’s investigators said on Thursday.
The network used fake accounts to pose as locals in England and Scotland, posting photos and memes about current events and criticism of the United Kingdom’s government, Meta said.
The accounts organised their content around common hashtags promoting the cause, though they at times misspelled them, the company said. The accounts also posted about football and UK cities, likely to make the fictitious personas seem more authentic.
Some of the fake accounts used profile pictures likely created through AI techniques, while others used photos of media personalities and celebrities from the UK and Iraq as profile pictures, Meta said.
In a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, Scots voted 55 percent-45 percent to remain in the United Kingdom, but both Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for independence among Scots and demands for a second vote.
Meta said its investigation found links to individuals in Iran, including people with a background in teaching English as a foreign language.
It said the operation had some connections with a small Iran-based network it previously removed in December 2020, which mostly targeted Arabic, French, and English-speaking audiences using fake accounts, but did not provide further details on who might be behind the activity.
“We’ve seen a range of operations coming from Iran over the last few years,” said Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, in a press briefing. “It’s not a monolithic environment.”
The social media company said it had removed eight Facebook accounts and 126 Instagram accounts as part of this latest network in December for violating its rules against coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Meta also said in December it removed a network that originated primarily in Mexico and targeted audiences in countries including Honduras, Ecuador and El Salvador, and a network that originated in Turkey and targeted people in Libya.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Google Rejects Tinder Parent Match’s Monopoly Suit a Day After It Was Filed in US Court
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 May 2022
Google on Tuesday rejected an app store monopoly suit filed by Tinder parent Match Group, saying it is a “self-interested” campaign putting money ahead of user safety.
Google’s response came a day after Match filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco accusing the tech titan of abusing control of the Play Store that sells digital content for Android-powered phones.
“This is just a continuation of Match Group’s self-interested campaign to avoid paying for the significant value they receive from the mobile platforms they’ve built their business on,” a Google spokesperson told AFP.
The litigation comes as part of an ongoing battle by Match, Epic Games and others to force Google parent Alphabet and iPhone maker Apple to loosen their grips on their respective app stores.
Match’s filing came after Google modified Play Store rules to require its family of apps to use the Internet giant’s payment system, which collects fees of up to 30 percent on transactions, court paperwork said.
Google has made it clear that it will remove Match apps from the Play Store if they do not comply with the rule, Match said in the filing, which described such punishment as a “death knell.”
“This is a case about the strategic manipulation of markets, broken promises, and abuse of power,” Match said in the suit.
Google countered that Match is free to make its apps available elsewhere online, including on its own website.
While the App Store is the only gateway for content to get onto Apple mobile devices, users of Android-powered smartphones or tablets can download apps at their own risk from online venues other than Google’s Play Store.
Match’s lawsuit contends that despite having options, users get content for Android devices from the Play Store more than 90 percent of the time.
Match apps offered in the Play Store qualify to pay fees of just 15 percent on subscriptions, according to the Google spokesperson.
“Like any business, we charge for our services, and like any responsible platform, we protect users against fraud and abuse in apps,” the spokesperson said.
“Match Group is currently attracting regulator concerns over things like deceptive subscription practices, and with this filing they continue to put money ahead of user protection.”
Match called on the court to order Google to let it sidestep the Play Store billing system while keeping its apps on the virtual shelves.
Match — whose apps include OkCupid, PlentyofFish, and Tinder —is also asking for unspecified monetary damages and legal fees.
BharatPe Initiates Action Against Former Founder After Governance Review, Introduces New Code of Conduct
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 10 May 2022
BharatPe on Tuesday said it has initiated necessary action against a former founder to claw back his restricted shares following a governance review.
In a statement, the firm said it will take all steps to enforce its right under the law.
In January 2022, the board of BharatPe initiated the corporate governance review of the company.
The company had appointed Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), a global professional services firm notable for its work in turnaround management and performance improvement, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co (SAM), India’s leading law firm, to help the board and management with its governance review and PwC, a leading consulting entity, to determine wilful misconduct and gross negligence by a former founder.
“After a detailed review of the above report over the last two months, the board of BharatPe has recommended several decisive measures that are being implemented,” the statement said.
These include a new code of conduct for senior management and employees, a new and comprehensive Vendor Procurement Policy, blocking of vendors involved in malpractices, and regular internal audits.
“BharatPe has also terminated the services of several employees in departments who were directly involved with these blocked vendors. If required, the Company will be filing criminal cases against some of these employees for the misconduct and act of cheating committed by them against the company,” it said.
BharatPe said it has registered the strongest quarter in its history (Q4 FY22) with 4x growth in overall revenue.
“On a sequential-quarter basis, the growth has been 30 percent, despite the third wave of COVID-19. Comparing month-on-month, all our metrics have grown at the fastest pace, i.e. merchant Total payments value, i.e., TPV (17 percent), consumer TPV (39 percent), loans facilitated in partnership with RBI registered NBFCs (31 percent), and revenue (21 percent) in March 2022 over February 2022.
“Going forward, we are tracking well to break even on our merchant business and further strengthen our consumer business,” the statement said.
Tinder Owner Match Sues Google to Avoid Being Removed From the Play Store
By Reuters | Updated: 10 May 2022
Dating apps maker Match Group Inc sued Alphabet Inc’s Google on Monday, calling the action a “last resort” to prevent Tinder and its other apps from being booted off the Play store for refusing to share up to 30 percent of their sales.
Match’s lawsuit follows ongoing cases brought by Fortnite maker Epic Games, dozens of US state attorneys general and others in targeting Google’s allegedly anticompetitive conduct with the Play store.
Google said Match was attempting to dodge paying for the significant value it receives.
“Like any business, we charge for our services, and like any responsible platform, we protect users against fraud,” Google said. It has said its payment tool helps deter scams.
Match’s lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in California, accuses Google of violating federal and state antitrust laws and seeks to bar such behavior.
It is notable because some of Match’s apps have been exempted from Google policies for about the past decade. Now, Google says it will block downloads of those apps by June 1 unless they solely offer its payment system and share revenue, the lawsuit states.
“This lawsuit is a measure of last resort,” Match Chief Executive Shar Dubey said. “We tried, in good faith, to resolve these concerns with Google, but their insistence and threats has left us no choice.”
At stake for Match is what it describes as hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that would have to be paid to Google.
The majority of users on Match’s most popular app, Tinder, prefer its payment system, which allows for installment plans, bank transfers and other features not provided by Google, according to the lawsuit.
Google said that developers can bypass the Play store and that it has lowered fees and created other programs to address concerns.
Dubey said that going around Play was unviable.
“It’s like saying, ‘you don’t have to take the elevator to get to the 60th floor of a building, you can always scale the outside wall,'” she said.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Uber Said to Cut Marketing Costs, Slow Down Hiring: Report
By Reuters | Updated: 9 May 2022
Uber will scale back hiring and reduce expenditure on its marketing and incentive activities, CNBC reported on Monday, citing a letter from Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi.
The ride-hailing company becomes the latest to rein in costs to have a lean investment model, after Facebook-owner Meta said last week it would slow down the growth of its workforce.
Khosrowshahi said Uber’s change in strategy was a necessary response to the “seismic shift” in investor sentiment, according to the CNBC report.
“The least efficient marketing and incentive spend will be pulled back. We will treat hiring as a privilege and be deliberate about when and where we add headcount,” the report quoted Khosrowshahi as saying.
Uber said last week its driver base is at a post-pandemic high, and the company expects this to continue without significant incentive investments, a sharp contrast to rival Lyft which has said it needs to spend more for labor.
The company will now focus on achieving profitability on a free cash flow basis, rather than adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, according to the CNBC report.
The ride hailing giant expects to generate “meaningful positive cash flows” for the full year, according to its latest earnings report.
Khosrowshahi added in his letter that Uber’s food delivery and freight businesses need to grow faster, the CNBC report added.
Uber did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Oyo Says It Has Acquired Europe-Based Direct Booker Valued at $5.5 Million
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 9 May 2022
Travel and hospitality technology platform Oyo on Monday said it has concluded the acquisition of Europe-based company ‘Direct Booker’ with the transaction valuing the latter at around $5.5 million (roughly Rs. 40 crore). Direct Booker has over 3,200 homes and serviced 20 lakh customers so far, Oyo said in a statement.
This acquisition will strengthen Oyo’s presence in Europe broadly and Croatia specifically where it already has nearly 1,800 vacation homes on its Belvilla platform and over 7,000 homes on its Traum Ferienwohnungen platform, it added. The inventory of Direct Booker will be available on Belvilla.com (Belvilla by Oyo) and over time on its other platforms, the company said.
Commenting on the acquisition, Oyo Global Chief Business Officer, Ankit Tandon said, homes continue to be an important strategic segment for Oyo and its cutting edge technology, distribution systems and data sciences will add more value to Direct Booker’s current 3,200 homes and enhance collective growth in Europe.
“We continue to focus on going deep in Europe and delivering the best Vacation Home experiences to our customers,” added Tandon, who led the acquisition. Oyo had in the recent past declared its intent of actively scouting for ‘tuck-in’ acquisitions, especially in the European market as a strategic growth lever. It already has a strong footprint in the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Austria.
Direct Booker CEO & Co-Founder Nino Dubretic said, “We strongly believe that by merging our technologies and expertise, this partnership will positively impact the Croatian tourism economy, further driving demand through Oyo’s existing platforms spread across Europe.” Being a part of Oyo’s network will also increase visibility for the homes listed on Direct Booker platform, especially across Scandinavian, Benelux and surrounding countries, Dubretic added.
Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey’s Block Beats Operating Profit Estimates for Q1 2022
By Reuters | Updated: 6 May 2022
Block, the fintech firm led by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, said on Thursday it had not seen a decline in overall consumer spending through April, after reporting a first-quarter operating profit that topped Wall Street targets.
Block’s shares rose 10 percent in extended trading even though the company, formerly known as Square, reported a lower-than-anticipated adjusted profit as demand for bitcoin weakened due to a decline in cryptocurrency prices.
The company, which offers merchant payment services and an app that lets people trade the cryptocurrency, closed its $29 billion (roughly Rs. 2,22,270 crore) acquisition of Australian buy-now-pay-later pioneer Afterpay Ltd during the quarter.
The deal created a transaction giant that competes with banks and tech firms in the financial sector’s fastest-growing business.
Afterpay contributed $92 million (roughly Rs. 705 crore) to the first quarter’s gross profit, which was recorded under the Square and Cash app units. That helped Cash App — a service that lets individuals send payments including in bitcoin — post a 26 percent jump in gross profit.
“We expect Cash App and Square to sequentially grow gross profit each quarter throughout the year, even excluding Afterpay, assuming the macroeconomic environment remains stable,” Chief Financial Officer Amrita Ahuja said.
“Through April, we have not yet seen a deterioration in overall consumer spending,” she said, adding that Afterpay’s gross merchandise value — the value of all goods sold — was expected to rise 15 percent in April.
Block posted operating earnings, known as adjusted EBITDA, of $195 million (roughly Rs. 1,495 crore), ahead of the Wall Street average expectation of $136 million (roughly Rs. 1,042 crore), according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
In the three months ended March 31, revenue fell 22 percent to $3.96 billion (roughly Rs. 30,356 crore). The company earned an adjusted profit of 18 cents per share, below analysts’ estimates of 21 cents.
The company’s bitcoin revenue halved to $1.73 billion (roughly Rs. 13,261 crore), hit by a drop in interest from retail traders as prices of the cryptocurrency retreated after a sharp rally last year that was fueled by its rising acceptance in the mainstream.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
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