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Google Says Will Block US Election Ads After November 3

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2020

Alphabet’s Google will block election ads on its platform after the US election on November 3, a company spokeswoman said on Friday.

Axios, which first reported the news, said Google mailed advertisers saying they will not be able to run ads “referencing candidates, the election, or its outcome, given that an unprecedented amount of votes will be counted after election day this year.”

Social media companies have been facing growing pressure to stop carrying ads that spread false information and could steer election results.

Facebook also said it would stop accepting new political ads in the week before the election and would reject ads that seek to claim victory before the results of the election are declared.

Twitter banned political ads last year, while Google has previously limited the ways election advertisers could micro-target voters.

Google’s new policy will target ads that are explicitly election-related as well as any other types of ads that reference federal or state elections, or ads that run based on targeting election-related search queries, the Axios report said.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google’s Legal Woes Far From Over if Biden Wins: Antitrust Experts

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2020

The US Justice Department’s nascent antitrust case against Google will get the attention it needs to succeed if Democrat Joe Biden wins the US presidency next month, antitrust experts said.

William Kovacic, an antitrust professor at George Washington University Law School, said he expects a Biden Justice Department would do one of two things: support the case all the way as it is, or amend the complaint to add new claims.

“What they will not do is drop this case,” Kovacic predicted.

The Justice Department asked a court on Tuesday to find that Alphabet’s Google had broken antitrust law to maintain its dominance in search and search advertising. Google has denied wrongdoing.

While the Biden campaign declined comment on the lawsuit, spokesman Bill Russo said a Biden administration would work closely on Big Tech issues with Rep. David Cicilline, whose House panel produced a report that accused Google of using aggressive business tactics to thwart its search competitors.

Russo added a Biden administration would be committed to doing “far more to ensure that excessive market power anywhere … is not hurting America’s families and workers.”

In May, Biden told the Associated Press that breaking up Big Tech “is something we should take a really hard look at.”

Herbert Hovenkamp, who teaches antitrust at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, said he expects the federal lawsuit, which is narrowly focused on Google’s dominance in online search and search advertising, would be expanded under Biden, saying: “The prudent thing to do is to bring as many counts as you can bring plausibly.”

A case aiming to hold a company to account for several anticompetitive acts would enable prosecutors to ask for a more significant remedy with a bigger impact on Google.

A Biden administration would not need to look far on how to expand its suit. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a veteran of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, heads a bipartisan group of states looking at “the full scope of Google’s activity,” according to a source familiar with the probe.

This means that Colorado could be looking at other aspects of Google’s business, such as allegations that Google uses its popular search function to favour big advertisers and its products, like YouTube.

Weiser and other state attorneys general lauded Tuesday the “good working relationship with the DOJ on these serious issues” and said their probe would end “in coming weeks.”

“If we decide to file a complaint, we would file a motion to consolidate our case with the DOJ’s,” they said. The group includes Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

To be sure, it’s also possible that the Biden team would be willing to consider settling with Google, something that there is no sign that the Trump administration tried to do, but only if they are able to get tough remedies.

“I’m not predicting settlement, but I’m saying that settlement becomes much more possible,” said Seth Bloom of Bloom Strategic Counsel.

President Donald Trump and other conservatives have sharply criticised some tech companies for allegedly stifling conservative voices, a concern that Biden’s team would not share.

Settlement options might include Google agreeing to non-discrimination in search or ending insistence that Google products like Chrome be pre-installed in Android smartphones in exchange for access to Google’s Play Store.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Amazon Announces $100 Million Logistics Investment in Mexico

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2020

Amazon said on Thursday it has invested $100 million (roughly Rs. 736 crores) in opening new warehouses in Mexico, including its first shipping centers outside the populous capital area, in a bid to offer faster deliveries.

The new sites include two so-called fulfillment centers, one near the northern city of Monterrey and another near the central city of Guadalajara, as well as a support building in the State of Mexico, just outside Mexico City.

Amazon also opened 12 delivery stations, bringing its total to 27 across the country, it said.

“The construction of a solid infrastructure network allows the company to stay closer than ever to clients, and thanks to that, it’s possible to offer fast deliveries,” Amazon said in a statement.

Monterrey and Guadalajara are the two biggest metropolitan zones of the country after the sprawling Mexico City area.

The new facilities represent 69,000 square metres (742,710 sq ft) altogether and create 1,500 direct and indirect jobs, Amazon said.

Amazon in total now runs five fulfillment centers, two support buildings and two classification centers in Mexico, where it launched its marketplace in 2015.

Enrique Alfaro, the governor of Jalisco state that is home to Guadalajara, said the new local warehouse would help more small and medium sized businesses ship their products faster and at lower costs.

Amazon is also striving to make inroads in Brazil, where it recently opened its fifth and biggest fulfillment centre in the country, with 100,000 square metres (1,076,391 sq ft).

In both countries, which are the biggest economies in Latin America, Amazon is vying with local rivals for shopper loyalty, despite its ranking as the world’s biggest online retailer.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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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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Google’s ‘Free’ Business Model Put to Test in US Antitrust Suit

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 22 October 2020

Google’s long-running business model based on free services and advertising will be put to the test in the landmark antitrust lawsuit filed this week by the US Justice Department.

But the government is likely to face challenges proving monopoly allegations against the tech firm which grew into one of the world’s most successful companies by leveraging its powerful search engine for a network of services such as maps, email, shopping and travel that feed its data-driven digital advertising.

Legal experts point to the fact that it may be difficult to show Google’s conduct was illegal under the longstanding “consumer welfare” standard in monopoly cases because its services are largely free.

Avery Gardiner, a former US antitrust enforcement lawyer who researches competition for the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the government appears to be skirting the question of whether Google benefits consumers by offering free services.

The lawsuit “basically ignores price and focuses on quality and innovation,” she said.

While not entirely a new strategy, “the antitrust agencies in the past have been reluctant to move forward without evidence of price effects,” Gardiner added.

Data provided by the Justice Department showed Google controls 88 percent of US search queries, with the share in the mobile market at 94 percent, and argued that Google reinforces it monopoly with its “exclusionary” deals.

With a market value over $1 trillion (roughly Rs. 73,72,250 crores), Google generated $161 billion (roughly Rs. 11,86,892 crores) in revenue last year, the bulk of which comes from digital advertising including messages linked to people’s search queries.
‘Not truly free’

Christopher Sagers, a Cleveland State University law professor, said Google’s use of free services is unlikely to be a serious hurdle for the government.

Sagers said that Google’s search “is arguably not truly free, since every search can be conceived as a transaction in which the consumer gives their attention to advertisements in exchange for search results.”

A key element of the case will be Internet advertising which “is a product that Google definitely does not give away for free,” Sagers said.

Maurice Stucke, a University of Tennessee law professor specialising in antitrust, said the case appears based not on prices but “the harm to privacy, data protection and the use of consumer data.”

This takes a broader view of antitrust by examining the competitive harms to the marketplace and not just prices to consumers, Stucke said.

He said government lawyers have evoked the Microsoft case from two decades earlier which, despite the failure to break up the company, resulted in a more open technology landscape.

“The perception is that the Microsoft case unleashed significant innovation, because competitors no longer operated in the shadow of Microsoft,” Stucke said.

The case joined by 11 states, all of which have Republican attorneys general, could take years to play out and comes against a backdrop of a fierce political backlash against Big Tech giants which have extended their dominance in recent years.

The Justice Department argues that Google has cemented its monopoly position using deals with device makers to ensure its apps and services are prominently displayed, and sometimes can’t be deleted.

Any settlement, whether imposed by the court or agreed to by Google, could involve changes to business practices or “a structural” remedy, the code word for a breakup of the California titan.
Finding alternatives

Google called the lawsuit “deeply flawed.”

“People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives,” Google general counsel Kent Walker said in a blog post.

Asheesh Agarwal of the activist think tank TechFreedom said it would be wrong to use the Microsoft case as a precedent for the Google probe.

“Today, consumers can easily use a variety of other sites and apps to search generally and especially to search for specific goods and services,” said Agarwal. “This isn’t the 1990s, when consumers had to go to the store and pay $100 (roughly Rs. 7,300) to try an alternative to Microsoft Office.”

Independent technology analyst Richard Windsor said the case against Google appears strong but that “the most likely remedy is not a break-up of the company but measures that enforce fairer competition.”

This could include allowing non-Google services and apps more prominence on the Google Play Store.

“To be fair to Google, its digital ecosystem services are the best available in many categories,” Windsor said in a blog post. “However, Google forces handset makers to put them front and center on their devices and to set them by default.”

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Amazon Extends Work From Home Option Till June 30 for Employees Globally

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 October 2020

Amazon on Tuesday told employees whose work can be done from home that they can do so until June, extending the timeline on a return to office due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Employees who work in a role that can effectively be done from home are welcome to do so until June 30, 2021”, an Amazon spokeswoman said in an emailed statement on Tuesday, adding the guidance is applicable globally.

Amazon had earlier allowed that option until January.

The development comes less than three weeks after the world’s largest online retailer said more than 19,000 of its US frontline workers contracted the coronavirus this year.

Some staff, elected officials and unions in recent months have said that Amazon put employees’ health at risk by keeping warehouses open during the pandemic.

“We have invested significant funds and resources to keep those who choose to come to the office safe through physical distancing, deep cleaning, temperature checks, and by providing face coverings and hand sanitizer,” the Amazon spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

In May, Twitter became the first major tech company to allow employees who can work remotely to do so indefinitely.

Other tech giants have extended the work from home option for their employees with Microsoft saying earlier this month it will let most employees work remotely for up to half their weekly working hours.

Facebook had said it would allow its employees to work from home till July next year, while Google had extended the remote working period for employees who do not need to be in the office till June.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Google Faces Antitrust Lawsuit From US Justice Department, Could Lead to Company Breakup

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 October 2020

The US sued Google on Tuesday, accusing the $1 trillion (roughly R. 73,40,500 crores) company of illegally using its market muscle to hobble rivals in the biggest challenge to the power and influence of Big Tech in decades.

The Justice Department lawsuit could lead to the break-up of an iconic company that has become all but synonymous with the internet and assumed a central role in the day-to-day lives of billions of people around the globe.

Such an outcome is far from assured, however, and the case is likely to take years to resolve.

The lawsuit marks the first time the US has cracked down on a major tech company since it sued Microsoft for anti-competitive practices in 1998. A settlement left the company intact, though the government’s prior foray into Big Tech anti-trust, the 1974 case against AT&T, led to the breakup of the Bell System.

The federal government’s complaint against Alphabet, which alleges that Google acted unlawfully to maintain its position in search and search advertising on the Internet, was joined by 11 states. “Absent a court order, Google will continue executing its anticompetitive strategy, crippling the competitive process, reducing consumer choice, and stifling innovation,” the lawsuit states.

The government said Google has nearly 90 percent of all general search engine queries in the United States and almost 95 percent of searches on mobile.

Attorney General Bill Barr said his investigators had found Google does not compete on the quality of its search results but instead bought its success through payments to mobile phone makers and others.

“The end result is that no one can feasibly challenge Google’s dominance in search and search advertising,” Barr said.

When asked on a conference call if the department was seeking a breakup or another remedy, Ryan Shores, a Justice Department official, said, “Nothing is off the table, but a question of remedies is best addressed by the court after it’s had a chance to hear all the evidence.”

In its complaint, the Justice Department said that Americans were hurt by Google’s actions. In its “request for relief,” it said it was seeking “structural relief as needed to cure any anti-competitive harm.” “Structural relief” in antitrust matters generally means the sale of an asset.

“Ultimately it is consumers and advertisers that suffer from less choice, less innovation and less competitive advertising prices,” the lawsuit states. “So we are asking the court to break Google’s grip on search distribution so the competition and innovation can take hold.”

Google called the lawsuit “deeply flawed,” adding that people “use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

Investors seemed to shrug off news of the lawsuit, sending shares Alphabet up 1.9 percent to $1,563.51 (roughly Rs. 1,14,700) on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s like locking the proverbial door after the horse has bolted,” said Neil Campling, head of tech media and telecom research at Mirabaud Securities in London, who added Google has already invested billions of dollars in infrastructure, technologies and talent. “You can’t simply unwind a decade of significant progress.”
Political element

Tuesday’s federal lawsuit marks a rare moment of agreement between the Trump administration and progressive Democrats. US Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on September 10, using the hash tag #BreakUpBigTech, that she wanted “swift, aggressive action.”

Still, coming just days before the US presidential election, the filing’s timing could be seen as a political gesture since it fulfills a promise made by President Donald Trump to his supporters to hold certain companies to account for allegedly stifling conservative voices.

Republicans often complain that social media companies including Google take action to reduce the spread of conservative viewpoints on their platforms. Lawmakers have sought, without explaining how, to use antitrust laws to compel Big Tech to stop these alleged limitations.

The complaint pointed to the billions of dollars that Google pays to smartphone makers such as Apple, Samsung and others to make Google’s search engine the default on their devices.

This means that rival search engines never get the scale they need to improve their algorithms, and grow, the complaint said.

“General search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising require complex algorithms that are constantly learning which organic results and ads best respond to user queries,” the government said in its complaint. “By using distribution agreements to lock up scale for itself and deny it to others, Google unlawfully maintains its monopolies.”

Google has been successful at protecting its profit derived from the Android mobile operating system, which is officially open source but companies that change it are barred from lucrative revenue-sharing agreements.

Justice Department investigators found an internal Google analysis of restrictive agreements determined that just 1 percent of Google’s worldwide Android search revenue was at risk of being lost to competitors.

“This analysis noted that the growth in Google’s search advertising revenue from Android distribution was ‘driven by increased platform protection efforts and agreements,'” the complaint found.
Other challenges

The 11 states that joined the lawsuit all have Republican attorneys general.

More lawsuits could be in the offing since probes by state attorneys general into Google’s broader businesses are under way, as well as an investigation of its broader digital advertising businesses. Attorneys general led by Texas are expected to file a separate lawsuit focused on digital advertising as soon as November, while a group led by Colorado is contemplating a more expansive lawsuit against Google.

The lawsuit comes more than a year after the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission began antitrust investigations into four big tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Seven years ago, the FTC settled an antitrust probe into Google over alleged bias in its search function to favor its products, among other issues. The settlement came over the objections of some FTC staff attorneys.

Google has faced similar legal challenges overseas.

The European Union fined Google $1.7 billion (roughly Rs. 12,478 crores) in 2019 for stopping websites from using Google’s rivals to find advertisers, $2.6 billion (roughly Rs. 19,090 crores) in 2017 for favoring its own shopping business in search, and $4.9 billion (roughly Rs. 35,977 crores) in 2018 for blocking rivals on its wireless Android operating system.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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