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Reliance Jio Emerges as Fifth-Strongest Company in Brand Finance Global 500 2021 Report

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By ANI | Updated: 28 January 2021

Telecom giant Jio has emerged as the world’s fifth strongest brand with a brand strength index (BSI) score of 91.7 out of 100 and AAA-plus rating.

Jio said the dominance of its brand is evident from the results from Brand Finance’s original market research.

“Despite only being founded in 2016, Jio has quickly become the largest mobile network operator in India and the third largest mobile network operator in the world with almost 400 million subscribers,” it said in a statement on Thursday.

Jio scored highest in all metrics – consideration conversion, reputation, recommendation, word of mouth, innovation, customer service, and value for money – compared to its telecom competitors in India. The brand has no major weaknesses within the sector.

Unlike other telecom brands globally, Jio said it has broken the mould and enjoys genuine affection from consumers.

Known for its affordable plans, Jio took India by storm through offering 4G to millions of users for free, simultaneously transforming how Indians consume the Internet – known as the ”Jio effect.”

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Science

Mars Perseverance Rover Landing Video, Audio From Red Planet Released by NASA: ‘Stuff of Our Dreams’

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By Associated Press | Updated: 23 February 2021

NASA on Monday released the first high-quality video of a spacecraft landing on Mars, a three-minute trailer showing the enormous orange and white parachute hurtling open and the red dust kicking up as rocket engines lowered the rover to the surface.

The US space agency also released an audio clip from the Red Planet. You can hear a faint sound of crackling wind recorded by the probe.

The footage was so good — and the images so breathtaking — that members of the rover team said they felt like they were riding along.

“It gives me goose bumps every time I see it, just amazing,” said Dave Gruel, head of the entry and descent camera team.

The Perseverance rover landed last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. After spending the weekend binge-watching the descent and landing video, the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared the video at a news conference.

“These videos and these images are the stuff of our dreams,” said Al Chen, who was in charge of the landing team.

Six off-the-shelf colour cameras were devoted to entry, descent, and landing, looking up and down from different perspectives. All but one camera worked. The lone microphone turned on for landing failed, but NASA got some snippets of sound after touchdown: the whirring of the rover’s systems and wind gusts.

Flight controllers were thrilled with the thousands of images beamed back — and also with the remarkably good condition of NASA’s biggest and most capable rover yet. It will spend the next two years exploring the dry river delta and drilling into rocks that may hold evidence of life 3 billion to 4 billion years ago. The core samples will be set aside for return to Earth in a decade.

NASA added 25 cameras to the $3 billion (roughly Rs. 21,710 crores) mission — the most ever sent to Mars. The space agency’s previous rover, 2012’s Curiosity, managed only jerky, grainy stop-motion images, mostly of terrain. Curiosity is still working. So is NASA’s InSight lander, although it’s hampered by dusty solar panels.

They may have company in late spring, when China attempts to land its own rover, which went into orbit around Mars two weeks ago.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace said he was inspired several years ago to film Perseverance’s harrowing descent when his young gymnast daughter wore a camera while performing a backflip.

Some of the spacecraft systems — like the sky crane used to lower the rover onto the Martian surface — could not be tested on Earth.

“So this is the first time we’ve had a chance as engineers to actually see what we designed,” Wallace told reporters.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief, said the video and also the panoramic views following touchdown “are the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.”

The images will help NASA prepare for astronaut flights to Mars in the decades ahead, according to the engineers.

There’s a more immediate benefit.

“I know it’s been a tough year for everybody,” said imaging scientist Justin Maki, “and we’re hoping that maybe these images will help brighten people’s days.”

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Social Networking

After Facebook, Twitter Ban, Donald Trump Fans and Extremists Turn Elsewhere

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 February 2021

Gab instead of Twitter, MeWe over Facebook, Telegram for messaging and Discord for insiders – banned from mainstream platforms, US conspiracy and supremacist movements, many of which support Donald Trump, have shifted to networks that are more confidential, and harder to regulate.

“The most extreme Trump supporters were already on alternative platforms,” said Nick Backovic, a researcher at Logically.AI, a company specialising in digital disinformation.

“The fact that Facebook and Twitter took so long to (ban them) allowed influencers to rebuild conversation and groups almost seamlessly.”

After the deadly January 6 attack in Washington, when hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, the major social networks took action against the organisations involved, such as the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and Proud Boys.

Facebook stepped up its purges of accounts linked to armed movements – nearly 900 accounts in total were shut down. Twitter has permanently banned Trump and shuttered 70,000 accounts affiliated with QAnon, a conspiracy theory that claims the former president is engaged in a battle against a global cult of elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

“Deplatforming works,” said Jim Steyer, president of the organisation Common Sense Media. “Now that you look at Trump not being on Twitter, he lost his big speaker, his amplification microphone to the world.”

Anti-vax
But millions of fervent extremists and conspiracy theorists refuse to back down, according to experts who fear that censorship will unite individuals who are otherwise very different.

“Look at the makeup of your QAnon, you have folks that would traditionally join militias. And you also have some traditional Republicans, you have your health and wellness yoga instructors and soccer moms,” said Alex Goldenberg, an analyst at the research center Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI).

“There was quite a bit of difference between these conspiracy communities and traditional Nazi communities or white supremacist communities. But it seems like in the face of censorship, they’re starting to meld together in the same communities, because that’s really the only place left for them to go,” he said.

Disappointed followers are banding together under other banners, particularly the anti-vaccine movement. On the encrypted messaging platform Telegram, groups of tens of thousands of Trump supporters share false rumors about “depopulation vaccines,” in between insults against President Joe Biden or migrants.

These vehement exchanges in uncharted corners of the Internet could be similar, in the eyes of authorities, to the conversations and rants that occur in bars or around the family table.

But while exclusion from major platforms has limited extremist movements’ large-scale recruitment capacity, embers smolder under the ashes.

At the end of January, for instance, a group of protesters interrupted COVID-19 vaccinations in a Los Angeles stadium, one of the country’s largest dedicated sites.

But the need to regulate alternative platforms comes up hard against moral and practical constraints. The limits of freedom of expression are the subject of heated debate in the United States.

Digital ‘pollution’
Parler, a Twitter alternative favoured by conservatives, found itself booted offline for several weeks, shut out of the internet by Google, Apple, and Amazon because it violated their rules on moderating content that incited violence.

But the platform came back online in mid-February.

Gab and MeWe, which resemble Facebook, saw their popularity explode in the wake of the January 6 attack. According to Goldenberg, the platforms are mostly used by people who need to express their frustration.

“There wasn’t a pandemic in 2020. The flu was weaponised to destroy the economy and steal the election (from Trump),” insisted Gab user ILoveJesusChrist123, commenting on a statement by the former president posted to the platform.

Telegram is more conducive to action, via private groups protected by encryption. Firearm aficionados, on the other hand, interact on the forum MyMilitia.com.

But where Gab’s founders don’t hide their links to QAnon, MeWe, and Telegram say they could go without any association with conspiracy theorists.

Both networks have made efforts to moderate postings, but they lack the necessary resources.

“We have to think of the current movement like pollution. These groups grew in power and influence because they were able to operate freely on Facebook and Twitter,” said Emerson Brooking, a specialist in extremists and disinformation at the Atlantic Council think tank.

He recommends competing social networks find a way to share moderating teams and digital resources.

The government should also intervene, says the NCRI’s John Farmer: “The government has the responsibility… to treat those platforms the way, for example, essential things like water and electricity and broadcast media used to be treated as a public trust, and therefore subject to reasonable regulation.”

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Internet

Alphabet Said to Be in Talks With Spanish Publishers to Bring Google News Back

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 February 2021

Alphabet’s Google is negotiating individual licensing deals with a divided Spanish news industry that could allow the US tech giant’s news service to resume in the country, three sources close to the matter told Reuters.

Google News, which links to third party content, closed in Spain in late 2014 in response to legislation which meant it had to pay a mandatory collective licensing fee to re-publish headlines or snippets of news.

Now the thorny issue is back on the table as Spain prepares to implement the 2019 European Union copyright directive by June. While that requires Google, Facebook, and others to share revenue with publishers, the government could allow the companies to negotiate individual deals with content providers.

Spain’s Culture Ministry said the government was working on a draft bill, but declined to give further details.

Google News will only be back in Spain if publishers have the right to sign individual agreements under a new law, a Google Spain spokeswoman said, adding that a paid licence should not be mandatory.

Facebook faced a backlash from publishers and politicians last week after blocking people in Australia from accessing and sharing news, escalating a dispute with the government there over a planned law that would require it to share revenue with content providers.

The EU rules, however, do not force online platforms to pay for links posted to their news site by publishers, the main grievance for Facebook in Australia, so their implementation could pave the way for a series of deals.

“Google is in talks with Spanish editors about the possibility of taking part in the Google News Showcase programme,” a source familiar with the process said, referring to the proposed new name for the service.

Two other sources said some preliminary agreements had already been reached, pending details of the new legislation.

Status quo

Google recently agreed to pay $76 million (roughly Rs. 550 crores) to a group of 121 French news publishers, infuriating many other local outlets, which deemed the deal unfair and opaque.

Some Spanish publishers represented by the AMI media association, such as El Mundo owner Unidad Editorial, are in favour of maintaining the current system which gives publishers the right to levy licensing fees through a collective management entity.

AMI general director Ramon Alonso said the model allows for a transparent and fair negotiation with Google and others, and prevents the exclusion of some publishers.

But others, including CLABE that represents 162 associates with around a thousand news outlets including leading digital brands such as El Espanol or Eldiario.es, say they can reach a better deal on their own and should be free to choose.

“We are trying to ensure that these agreements benefit as many companies in the sector as possible,” said Juan Zafra, CLABE secretary general.

The Independent Regional Press Association (AIE), a founding member of AMI, said in a letter published in all of its outlets on Monday that it had been “seriously harmed” by the existing model, which brought no income from content and made Spain “a global digital exception”.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and European media groups on Monday urged EU regulators to require online platforms to seek arbitration in disagreements over how to share revenues with news publishers.


© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apps

Apple Users May Spend More on Non-Gaming Mobile Apps by 2024: Sensor Tower

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 February 2021 11:35 IST

Apple’s customers may end up spending more on non-gaming mobile apps by 2024, data analytics firm SensorTower said on Monday, as lockdown lifestyles result in users looking beyond games to apps that help with more essential services.

Downloads of business, education, health, and fitness apps have seen a sharp spike due to the stay-at-home measures during the health crisis.

During the initial days of the pandemic, users spent more on mobile games in the App Store. But as lockdowns got extended, upending work life as well as the ways of communication, their attention shifted to photo and video-sharing, dating, video-conferencing, and instant messaging apps.

Shares of companies such as Zoom Video Communications and Match Group and other stay-at-home companies soared last year.

SensorTower said consumer spending on mobile apps will reach $270 billion (roughly Rs. 19,53,790 crores) in the next five years globally, a more than three-fold increase when compared with 2020.

Apple customers will outspend their Android counterparts with the App Store expected to generate $185 billion (roughly Rs. 13,39,370 crores) in global revenue, the data analytics firm said.

Games revenue will continue to take a relatively higher share on Google Play store than the App Store, with a projected 71 percent share from games in 2025 compared to 42 percent on the App Store, data showed.

The data analytics firm expects Europe to become a key market over the next five years, with revenue growth in the continent likely to outpace that in Asia and North America.

Downloads in Europe are expected to grow to 36.9 billion by 2025, compared with 28.4 billion in 2020, while revenue growth is expected to more than double to $42 billion (roughly Rs. 3,04,070 crores) in the next five years.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Games

Fortnite Maker Epic Games Settles Loot Box Lawsuit With In-Game Currency

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 February 2021

Epic Games put out word it is paying the equivalent of about $8 (roughly Rs. 580) worth of its virtual money to some players to settle a lawsuit over loot boxes.

The Fortnite maker said it would automatically drop 1,000 V-Bucks into accounts of players who bought Loot Llama pinata-style figures containing in-game items, without knowing what was inside until they had already purchased them.

“While some of you enjoyed purchasing random item Loot Llamas and being surprised by the content unlocked, others were disappointed,” Epic said in a blog post.

“So we decided a better experience for players was to be upfront and outline the details of in-game purchases.”

Mystery loot boxes requiring players to take chances on contents have been controversial, equated by some to gambling, and have prompted legal woes for video game makers.

“We’re dropping 1000 V-Bucks into the accounts of all players globally who bought a random item Loot Llama in STW before we stopped offering them,” Epic said in a tweet.

“If you purchased this item you should see the V-Bucks in your account over the next few days.”

The settlement came in a class action case representing people in the United States who has played with a Fortnite or Rocket League account since July of 2015.

Rocket League players who qualify will get 1,000 credits to accounts used to acquire random-item “crate” loot boxes, according to Epic.

“The proposed settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing by Epic Games, and it denies that it violated the law,” the website maintained.

The settlement also provides $26.5 million ((roughly Rs. 190 crores) to resolve claims by US players arising from in-game purchases.

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Internet

Microsoft, EU Publishers Seek Australia-Style News Payments From Big Tech Platforms

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By Associated Press | Updated: 23 February 2021

Microsoft is teaming up with European publishers to push for a system to make big tech platforms pay for news, raising the stakes in the brewing battle led by Australia to get Google and Facebook to pay for journalism.

The Seattle tech giant and four big European Union news industry groups unveiled their plan Monday to work together on a solution to “mandate payments” for use of news content from online “gatekeepers with dominant market power.”

They said they will “take inspiration” from proposed legislation in Australia to force tech platforms to share revenue with news companies and which includes an arbitration system to resolve disputes over a fair price for news.

Facebook last week blocked Australians from accessing and sharing news on its platform, in response to the government’s proposals, but the surprise move sparked a big public backlash and intensified the debate over how much power the social network has. Google, meanwhile, has taken a different tack by cutting payment deals with news organisations, after backing down from its initial threat to shut off its search engine for Australians.

The EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, expressed support for Australia, in the latest sign Facebook’s move has backfired.

“I think it’s very regrettable that a platform takes such decisions to protest against a country’s laws,” Breton told EU lawmakers. “It’s up to the platforms to adapt to regulators, not the other way around,” he said, adding that what’s happening in Australia “highlights an attitude that must change.” Breton is leading the EU’s sweeping overhaul of digital regulations aimed at taming the power of the big tech companies, amid growing concerns their algorithms are eroding democracy.

Microsoft is joining forces with two lobbying groups, the European Publishers Council and News Media Europe, along with two groups representing European newspaper and magazine publishers, which account for thousands of titles. The company has expressed support for Australia’s plans, which could help increase market share of its Bing search engine.

European Union countries are working on adopting by June revamped copyright rules set out by the EU executive that allow news companies and publishers to negotiate payments from digital platforms for online use of their content.

But there are worries about an imbalance of bargaining power between the two sides and the group called for new measures to be added to the upcoming overhaul of digital regulations to address the problem.

Publishers “might not have the economic strength to negotiate fair and balanced agreements with these gatekeeper tech companies, who might otherwise threaten to walk away from negotiations or exit markets entirely,” the group said in a joint statement. Google and Facebook have resisted arbitration because it would give them less control over payment talks.

Facebook did not reply to a request for comment. Google said it already has signed hundreds of partnerships with news publishers across Europe, making it one of journalism’s biggest funders and noted on Twitter that it’s working with publishers and policymakers across the EU as member countries adopt the copyright rules into national legislation.

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