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Google Self-Driving Spinoff Waymo Begins Testing With Public in San Francisco

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 August 2021

Alphabet’s Waymo has started taking a few San Franciscans on rides in its self-driving sport utility vehicles and hopes to open the robotaxis to anyone in the city in less than the three years it took to launch in its only other market.

Waymo’s announcement on Tuesday of its status and plans in San Francisco, a small peninsula of hills, trolleys, bicycles, and narrow streets, shows the length that remains before driverless transport becomes commonplace.

The company’s all-electric Jaguar I-PACE SUVs initially are serving the more residential western and southern portions of the city, including Richmond and Bernal Heights. Operators are in driver’s seats with hands on their knees – but prepared to steer in an emergency.

Anybody can sign up for Waymo’s ride-hailing app, though the company is hand-selecting who it picks up with the list expected to grow gradually to hundreds of people. Waymo bars them from publicly discussing rides.

Sam Kansara, senior product manager at Waymo, acknowledged that autonomous vehicles are rolling out slower than Waymo and its many rivals had originally envisioned.

“There’s a lot that remains to be done,” Kansara said. “This is a step about starting to now get more information so that we can inform our roadmap.”

The company wants feedback from people with differing backgrounds and commuting needs. It expects many riders to weigh in on challenges with hopping on and off because of San Francisco’s limited curb space and rampant double parking.

Employees riding in the city since February gave the company confidence to expand to the public, Kansara said.

Waymo last October in a first-of-its-kind deployment in the United States for the industry started allowing anyone to buy rides in its fully driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans in some Phoenix, Arizona, suburbs.

The launch followed three years of testing, but Kansara said he hopes lessons learned from that experience will bring about swifter progress in San Francisco.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

Internet

Paytm Said to Have Secured SEBI’s Approval for India’s Biggest IPO

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 23 October 2021

Digital financial services firm Paytm has received market regulator SEBI’s approval for its Rs 16,600 crores initial public offer, a source involved in the process said on Friday. The company expects to hit the bourses by the end of this month and is planning to skip the pre-IPO share sale rounds to fast-track listing.

“SEBI has given approval for Paytm IPO,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

The company’s plan of shelving the pre-IPO raise is not related to any valuation differences, the source added.

The proposed IPO, if successful, would be the largest such offer. Coal India’s Rs 15,200-crores initial public offer (IPO) in 2010 is the country’s largest one till date.

Paytm is looking at a valuation of Rs 1.47-1.78 lakh crores.

US-based valuation expert Aswath Damodaran, who is a professor specialising in finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has valued the unlisted shares of the firm at Rs 2,950 apiece.

The proposed IPO, if successful, would be the largest such offer. Coal India’s Rs 15,200-crores initial public offer (IPO) in 2010 is the country’s largest one till date.

Paytm is looking at a valuation of Rs 1.47-1.78 lakh crores.

US-based valuation expert Aswath Damodaran, who is a professor specialising in finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has valued the unlisted shares of the firm at Rs 2,950 apiece.

According to the draft IPO documents, the company plans to raise Rs 8,300 crores through fresh issue of equity shares and another Rs 8,300 crores through the offer-for-sale route.

Paytm founder, managing director and chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Alibaba Group firms will dilute some of their stake in the proposed offer-for-sale.

Alibaba group firm Antfin (Netherlands) Holding BV is expected to sell at least 5 percent stake to bring its shareholding below 25 percent to comply with regulatory requirements, according to a source.

As per the documents, investors selling stake include Antfin (Netherlands) Holding BV (which has a 29.6 percent stake), Alibaba.com Singapore E-Commerce (7.2 percent) and Elevation Capital V FII Holdings (0.7 percent).

Moreover, Elevation Capital V (which has a 0.6 percent stake), SAIF III Mauritius Company (12.1 percent), SAIF Partners India IV (5.1 percent), SVF Panther (Cayman) (1.3 percent) and BH International Holdings (2.8 percent) will also sell stake.

The company has proposed to use Rs 4,300 crores for growing and strengthening the Paytm ecosystem, including through acquisition of consumers and merchants and providing them with greater access to technology and financial services.

Paytm plans to earmark Rs 2,000 crores for business initiatives, acquisitions and strategic partnerships and up to 25 percent of the total fund raised through the IPO for general corporate purposes.

According to the documents, Paytm’s merchant base grew to 2.11 crores as on March 31, 2021 from 1.12 crores in March 2019, and gross merchandise value (GMV) almost doubled to over Rs 4 lakh crores in the financial year (FY) from Rs 2.29 lakh crores in FY 2019.

The company has reported a narrowing of its loss to Rs 1,704 crores in FY21, from Rs 2,943.3 crore in FY20 and Rs 4,235.5 crores in FY19.

Total income declined to Rs 3,186.8 crores in FY21, from Rs 3,540.7 crores in FY20.

Paytm has reported negative cash flow of Rs 222.1 crores in FY21 primarily due to operating losses and additional working capital requirement.

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Tencent Says ‘Loophole’ Allowed WeChat Searches on Google, Bing

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2021

Tencent’s WeChat has fixed a glitch that allowed some of its content to be searchable by external search engines, the owner of China’s most popular messaging app said on Friday, raising questions over regulators’ latest attempt to crackdown on the internet sector.

Some of WeChat’s content, including articles on its public accounts page, was briefly searchable in the last few days on Alphabet-owned Google and Microsoft’s Bing, but not on China’s dominant search engine Baidu, Reuters checks showed.

The change had prompted speculation that Tencent was heeding a call by Chinese authorities for its tech giants to tear down “walled gardens” in the country’s cyberspace which has come amid a wide ranging crackdown on the sector.

“Due to recent technological upgrades, the official accounts’ robots protocol had loopholes, which caused the external crawlers to scrape part of the official accounts’ content,” Tencent said in a statement in Chinese.

“The loopholes have since been fixed.”

Google, Microsoft, and Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Google is not available in China.

The ability to find WeChat content on Google and Bing was initially raised by users on developer forums. China’s internet sector has been long dominated by a handful of technology giants who have historically blocked rivals’ links as well as their search crawlers, a practice is often referred to as ‘walled gardens’.

In recent months, this practice has been targeted by Chinese authorities as part of a sweeping regulatory crackdown.

Last month, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) ordered companies to stop blocking links, which they said has affected users’ experience and damaged consumer rights.

The MIIT has also been studying plans and conducting research to make WeChat content available on external search engines, according to a person with direct knowledge.

MIIT did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Some users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform expressed dismay over Tencent’s comments.

“This should be an important attempt of creating an open internet space, how can you call it a bug,” said one user.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apps

Snap Shares Plunge 25 percent as Apple Privacy Changes Hit Advertising Business

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2021

Shares of Snap plummeted 25 percent on Thursday after the owner of photo messaging app Snapchat said privacy changes implemented by Apple Inc on iOS devices hurt the company’s ability to target and measure its digital advertising.

The Santa Monica, California-based company, which earns the vast majority of its revenue from selling digital advertising on the app, said the issue was compounded by global supply chain disruptions and labor shortages and caused brands to pull back on their advertising spending.

The results for Snap, which is the first of the major social media companies to report earnings, cast a shadow over Facebook and Twitter, which release third quarter results next week..

Snap’s results also knocked Facebook shares down 6 percent, Twitter down 7 percent and Alphabet fell 3 percent on Thursday.

The Apple privacy updates were rolled out broadly in June and prevent digital advertisers from tracking iPhone users without their consent.

A new ad measurement tool provided by Apple hampered the ability for companies to measure the performance of their ads, upending many of the ways advertisers have been accustomed to doing business for decades, said Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel during a conference call with analysts.

“This has definitely been a frustrating setback for us,” he said.

Snap added it expects the Apple privacy changes and global supply chain disruptions to linger through the fourth quarter, which is typically the highest-earning period for social media companies when brands ramp up marketing for the holiday season.

Many of the advertisers who place ads on Snapchat are in the beauty, fashion and consumer goods industries.

Snap said the supply chain disruptions affected a wide variety of advertisers across industries and regions.

Revenue for the third quarter ended September 30 was $1.07 billion, missing consensus estimates of $1.1 billion (roughly Rs. 8,000 crore), according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Daily active users, a metric watched closely by advertisers and investors, rose 23 percent year-over-year to 306 million, beating analyst estimates of 301.9 million.

Snapchat has worked to attract and retain users by building new features like the ability to discover restaurants and stores through a map feature, or play virtual games with friends.

The net loss during the quarter was $72 million (roughly Rs. 540 crore), or 5 cents (roughly Rs. 4) per share, narrowing from $199.9 million (roughly Rs. 1,495 crore), or 14 cents (roughly Rs. 10) per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Snap forecast fourth quarter revenue between $1.16 billion (roughly Rs. 8,670 crore) to $1.2 billion (roughly Rs. 8,970 crore), and daily active users between 316 million to 318 million.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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PayPal Said to Be in $45-Billion Bid for Pinterest

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2021

PayPal has offered to buy Pinterest for $45 billion (roughly Rs. 3,36,770 crore), people familiar with the matter said, a combination that could herald more financial technology and social media tie-ups in e-ecommerce.

It would be the biggest acquisition of a social media company, surpassing Microsoft’s $26.2 billion (roughly Rs. 1,95,990 crore) purchase of LinkedIn in 2016.

The deal talks come as internet shoppers increasingly buy items they see on social media, often following “influencers” on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. Acquiring Pinterest would allow PayPal to capture more of that e-commerce growth and diversify its income though advertising revenue.

PayPal has offered $70 (roughly Rs. 5,200) per share, mostly in stock, for Pinterest, one of the sources said. The online payments provider hopes to successfully negotiate and announce a deal by the time it reports quarterly earnings on November 8, the source added.

The sources cautioned that no deal was certain and terms could change. They asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

PayPal and Pinterest did not respond to requests for comment. Bloomberg News first reported on the companies’ talks on Wednesday.

PayPal shares fell 4.9 percent to close at $258.36 (roughly Rs. 19,330), while Pinterest shares jumped 12.8 percent to $62.68 (roughly Rs. 4,690).

“(The) combination would be a significant positive for PayPal’s ongoing monetisation initiatives on both sides of its merchant and consumer platforms, especially if Pinterest’s social commerce platform gets integrated with Honey’s AI into PayPal’s destination app,” Wedbush analysts wrote in a note.

The payments behemoth was among the big winners of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people used its services to shop online and pay bills to avoid stepping out. Its shares have risen about 36 percent in the last 12 months, giving it a market capitalisation of nearly $320 billion (roughly Rs. 23,94,100 crore).

Pinterest was valued at about $13 billion (roughly Rs. 97,275 crore) when it went public in 2019. It also saw a huge spike in users looking for crafts and DIY project ideas, as lockdown curbs kept people at home.

As lockdowns eased, Pinterest has warned about slowing user growth, especially in the United States, its largest market. It has said it expects revenue growth mainly through deeper engagement with existing users rather than signing up new ones.

The market has valued Pinterest shares more cheaply than those of some younger social media platforms such as Snap but higher than more mature companies such as Twitter, according to Refinitiv Eikon valuation metrics.

PayPal’s offer represents a 26 percent premium to Pinterest’s closing price of $55.58 (roughly Rs. 4,160) on Tuesday and it is equivalent to 62 times the social media company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation over the last 12 months, according to Eikon.

By that metric, Microsoft paid 79 times LinkedIn’s earnings when it acquired it in all-cash deal. Pinterest, however, would be giving its shareholders some of PayPal’s stock, in a bet that this currency would appreciate over time over time as the combined company reaps revenue and cost synergies.

Pinterest is at a crossroads after co-founder Evan Sharp announced last week he would step down as chief creative officer to join LoveFrom, a firm led by Jony Ive, the designer of many Apple products.

Sharp founded the online scrapbook and photo-sharing platform in 2010 with Ben Silbermann, who is the San Francisco, California-based company’s chief executive officer, and Paul Sciarra, who left in 2012.

PayPal had been looking to boost its e-commerce offerings in recent years through acquisitions. It bought online coupon finder Honey Science in 2019 for $4 billion (roughly Rs. 29,920 crore) and Japanese buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) firm Paidy for $2.7 billion (20,195 crore) earlier this year. It acquired return-service provider Happy Returns in May.

Social media-driven commerce

Social media platforms that have not pursued mergers with fintech firms have been working on ways to allow consumers to buy directly from their platforms.

TikTok, for example, is testing a way for users to buy products directly on its short video app. It has partnered with ecommerce giant Shopify and in August began allowing retail brands to link their product catalogs to the app.

Analysts said the PayPal-Pinterest deal talks highlight the potential for other social media and fintech companies to join forces to capture swaths of the e-commerce market.

“Social/interactive commerce is growing in the United States and no one has won it yet. So rather than going against Amazon, PayPal is making a bet on a different kind of shopping model,” said Marketplace Pulse e-commerce analyst Joe Kaziukėnas.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Games

Among Us Coming to PlayStation, Xbox in December; Will Also Be Featured on Xbox Game Pass Alongside

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By ANI | Updated: 22 October 2021

The popular social deduction game, Among Us’, is arriving on Xbox and PlayStation on December 14. It will also launch on Xbox Game Pass on the same day and be available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S / X, PS4, and PS5 consoles.

According to The Verge, this announcement comes months after Sony confirmed Among Us was coming to its PlayStation consoles this year. Just like on other platforms, the game will support crossplay and online multiplayer across mobile, PC, and now consoles.

The only difference between the two console versions is PlayStation players will get access to exclusive Ratchet and Clank-themed cosmetics. There”s a skin and hat to make your character look like Ratchet and a pet that looks like Clank.

Among Us was a huge hit during the early stages of the pandemic, becoming 2020’s most downloaded mobile game. Innersloth has been gradually improving the game over the past year, revealing plans to add a hide and seek mode, visor cosmetics, and a fifth map earlier this year.

As per The Verge, physical editions of the game will also be arriving in Europe on December 14, with a US release due in January.

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WeChat Makes Content Searchable on Google and Bing

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2021

Tencent’s WeChat has made its content searchable on some foreign search engines such as Alphabet-owned Google and Microsoft’s Bing, Reuters checks showed, in the latest tearing down of “walled gardens” in China’s internet sector.

Content from China’s most popular messaging app WeChat, including articles and videos on its popular public accounts page, a function similar to a news portal, has opened to external search engines, other than Tencent’s own Sogou search engine, in recent days.

Tencent, Google, and Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Google is not available in China.

China’s Internet sector has been long dominated by a handful of technology giants who have historically blocked each others rivals’ links as well as their search crawlers. The practice is often referred to as ‘walled gardens’.

In recent months, this practice has been targeted by Chinese authorities as part of a sweeping regulatory crackdown.

Last month, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) ordered companies to stop blocking links, which they said has affected users’ experience and damaged consumer rights.

The MIIT has been studying plans and conducting research to make WeChat content available on external search engines, according to a person with direct knowledge.

MIIT and Tencent did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

WeChat content however, is not yet searchable on Baidu, China’s dominant search engine, according to Reuters checks. Baidu didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Citi analysts said in a Tuesday note that the potential “opening up of the social ecosystem to search engine” was a positive development for Baidu, as its “leading search gateway position has been weakened and diluted by the growth and dominance of super apps.”

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