By Reuters | Updated: 25 May 2022
Russian internet group VK launched a home-made app store on Wednesday, the latest in a Kremlin-endorsed drive to create a raft of domestic digital services to replace Western rivals.
VK, often dubbed “Russia’s Facebook”, said a beta version of the store, named RuStore, would be available for Android users from Wednesday.
Apple and Alphabet’s Google, the two largest app stores in the world, have limited access for Russian users in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
The Kremlin is pushing for the rapid development of domestic digital alternatives and has accelerated its years-long campaign to exert control over the online space, limiting access to Meta’s Instagram and Facebook, Twitter and Google’s News platform.
VK, which is part-owned by Gazprom Media and owns a host of online services from social media platforms to food delivery, has emerged as a leader in the race to replace Western services.
RuStore was created with the support of Russia’s ministry of digital development, communications and mass media, as well as Russian technology company Yandex, the country’s largest lender Sberbank, and cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab.
“Creating a Russian app store is an essential task, dictated by market conditions” said Maksut Shadaev, minister of communications and media, in a statement announcing the launch.
VK said more than 100 applications were available on the store at launch, including some government services, and that more were being added every day.
“I am sure that RuStore will be in demand among both users and developers. It has everything it needs to become the largest Russian app store,” said VK CEO Vladimir Kiriyenko.
Facing an exodus of IT specialists in the first weeks of what Russia calls it “special military operation” in Ukraine, the Russian government promised income tax breaks and preferential loans for tech companies, and a deferral of military service for employees, in a bid to keep them in Russia.
Politicians are also encouraging users to switch to domestic providers.
© Thomson Reuters 2022
Chinese Internet Giant Baidu Planning to Launch AI Chatbot Similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT in March
By Reuters | Updated: 30 January 2023
Chinese Internet giant Baidu is planning to launch an artificial intelligence chatbot tool similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT in March, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Baidu plans to debut the application by initially embedding it into its main search services, Bloomberg News reported earlier.
ChatGPT’s tech works by learning from vast amounts of data how to answer any prompt by a user in a human-like way, offering the information like a search engine would or prose like an aspiring novelist.
Microsoft has a $1 billion investment in San Francisco-based OpenAI that it has looked at increasing, Reuters has reported. The company has also worked to add OpenAI’s image-generation software to its Bing search engine in a new challenge to Alphabet Inc’s Google.
Last week, the company announced a further multibillion dollar investment in OpenAI, deepening ties with the startup behind the chatbot sensation ChatGPT and setting the stage for more competition with rival Alphabet Inc’s Google.
Microsoft in a blog post announced “the third phase” of its partnership “through a multiyear, multibillion dollar investment” including additional supercomputer development and cloud-computing support for OpenAI.
Both companies will be able to commercialize the AI tech that results, the blog post said.
A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the terms of the latest investment, which some media outlets earlier reported would be $10 billion (roughly Rs. 82,000 crore).
The widely anticipated investment shows how Microsoft is locked in competition with Google, the inventor of key AI research that is planning its own unveil for this spring, a person familiar with the matter previously told Reuters.
Microsoft’s bet came days after it and Alphabet each announced layoffs of 10,000 or more workers. Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft warned of a recession and growing scrutiny of digital spend by customers in its layoff announcement.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
ChatGPT Usage Banned in French University Over Concerns About Fraud, Plagiarism
By Reuters | Updated: 28 January 2023
Sciences Po, one of France’s top universities, has banned the use of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence-based chatbot that can generate coherent prose, to prevent fraud and plagiarism.
ChatGPT is a free programme that generates original text about virtually any subject in response to a prompt, including articles, essays, jokes and even poetry, raising concerns across industries about plagiarism.
The university said on Friday the school had emailed all students and faculty announcing a ban on ChatGPT and all other AI-based tools at Sciences Po.
“Without transparent referencing, students are forbidden to use the software for the production of any written work or presentations, except for specific course purposes, with the supervision of a course leader,” Sciences Po said, though it did not specify how it would track usage.
ChatGPT has already been banned in some public schools in New York City and Seattle, according to US media reports, while several US universities have announced plans to do fewer take-home assessments and more hand-written essays and oral exams.
Sciences Po, whose main campus is in Paris, added that punishment for using the software may go as far as exclusion from the institution, or even from French higher education as a whole.
“The ChatGPT software is raising important questions for educators and researchers all around the world, with regards to fraud in general, and particularly plagiarism,” it said.
Microsoft last week announced a further multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI – the artificial intelligence research lab behind ChatGPT – building on a bet it made on OpenAI nearly four years ago, when it dedicated $1 billion (roughly Rs. 8,200 crore) for the startup co-founded by Tesla’s Elon Musk and investor Sam Altman.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Tiger Global, Accel Mulling $1.5 Billion Stake Sale in Flipkart to Walmart: Report
By Reuters | Updated: 27 January 2023
Private equity firms Accel and Tiger Global, two early backers of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart, are in talks to sell their remaining stake in the company to parent Walmart for about $1.5 billion (roughly Rs. 12,235 crore), the Economic Times reported on Thursday.
The stake, which collectively amounts to about 5 percent, would raise Walmart’s ownership in the e-commerce giant, the newspaper reported citing people familiar with the matter.
“They (Accel and Tiger) want to sell and exit now fully. The discussions are moving ahead and the transaction will close in due time,” a person familiar with the matter told ET.
Accel owns a little over 1 percent of Flipkart, while Tiger Global holds about 4 percent of the company, the report said.
Flipkart, Walmart, and Tiger Global did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Accel could not be immediately reached for a comment.
Walmart acquired a majority stake in Flipkart for about $16 billion (roughly Rs. 1,30,000 crore) in 2018 – its biggest deal ever – and later that year said it could take the company public in four years.
In April last year, Reuters reported that Flipkart had internally raised its IPO valuation target by around a third to $60 billion (roughly Rs. 4,90,000 crore) – $70 billion (roughly Rs. 5,70,00 crore), and plans a US listing in 2023.
Earlier this month, Walmart confirmed that it had already paid the Indian government most of the nearly $1 billion (roughly Rs. 8,300 crore) in tax owed after digital payments company PhonePe, which the US retailer owns through Flipkart, shifted its headquarters from Singapore to India.
Walmart bought a controlling stake in Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart in 2018, giving it ownership of PhonePe. The company said last month it had completed the separation of PhonePe from Flipkart, adding that it would remain a majority stakeholder in both companies.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Government to Hold Discussions With Stakeholders on PIB Fact Checks for Social Media in February: MoS IT
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 25 January 2023
Amid outrage over a plan to give powers to its arm PIB to police fake news on social media, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar on Tuesday said that the government will next month hold discussions with stakeholders before the proposal is implemented.
The minister said that the rules for regulating online gaming are expected to be notified by January 31 after which these will be tabled in Parliament.
“We will hold a separate consultation (on PIB fact check) sometime early next month,” Chandrasekhar said when asked about clarification on the proposed amendment to the IT rules 2021.
Chandrasekhar also said that the consultation on the Digital Personal Data Protection Act is over and it is being processed within the realms of the government for notification.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) last week released a modification to the draft Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which it had previously released for public consultation.
While the consultation is largely going on for framing rules for online gaming, it added a small note in the due diligence section for the removal of content identified as false, fake or misleading by the PIB or any government-authorised agency.
Under the proposed amendment, the due diligence by intermediaries shall include making such efforts to not upload, publish, transmit or share information identified as fake or false by the Fact Check Unit of the Press Information Bureau, which takes cognizance of fake information both suo motu and by way of queries sent by citizens on its portal or through e-mail and WhatsApp and responds with correct information when the same pertains to the government.
The determination of fake news cannot be in the sole hands of the government and will result in the censorship of the press, the Guild said in a statement here, voicing “deep concern” over the draft amendment to the Information Technology (IT) Rules.
An official source, who did not wish to be named, said that the option of fact check by PIB or any other government authorised agency was added in the proposed amendment after discussion with industry.
“Intermediaries, mainly social media companies, asked Meity to provide notified fact check for misinformation. We are entering into a regime where all intermediaries and fact checkers need to have accountability,” the official said.
He said that intermediaries are the ones who have to be regulated and they can’t put in place fact checkers.
Microsoft Says Q4 2022 Sales Slowed, Profits Slumped as Cloud Computing Revenue Sees Growth
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 25 January 2023
Microsoft on Tuesday said sales slowed and profits slumped in the last quarter of 2022 as a darkening economic outlook pushed it to lay off 10,000 workers.
The Washington state-based tech giant — owner of LinkedIn, Xbox and Windows — said overall sales rose just two percent in the October-to-December period, to $52.7 billion (roughly Rs. 4,30,325 crore), the slowest rise in six years.
Net profit landed at $16.4 billion (roughly Rs. 1,33,915 crore) for the quarter, down 12 percent year-on-year, according to its earnings release.
The results however met, or in some segments exceeded, expectations and Microsoft’s share price was up by more than four percent in late trading after the results were announced.
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella last week said he was laying off about five percent of the company’s workforce, just days before pumping several billion dollars into OpenAI, the company behind the controversial chatbot ChatGPT.
The job cuts matched similar culls at other tech giants as companies reversed a major hiring spree during the pandemic when demand for tech products exploded.
Nadella has said that ChatGPT, and other artificial intelligence breakthroughs by the OpenAI research company, would be integrated into Microsoft products that include the Windows operating system, Office and the Bing search engine.
Microsoft is also trying to overcome major regulatory hurdles to complete its buyout of video gaming giant Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion (roughly Rs. 5,64,474 crore).
US and EU regulators are highly skeptical of the purchase and allege it would give an unfair advantage to Microsoft’s Xbox console over rivals like Sony’s PlayStation.
The group’s quarterly results were eagerly awaited by the market for the closer they offer at cloud computing, which is Microsoft’s biggest business and a bellwether for the larger economy.
The company’s “intelligent cloud” business, which brings together its servers and data analytics services, brought in $21.5 billion in the second quarter of its fiscal year, up 18 percent year-on-year.
The growth of its remote computing platform, Azure, slower than usual at 31 percent, carried the activity.
Microsoft 365 Services Down in India, Outage Affecting Services Like Teams, Outlook
By Reuters | Updated: 25 January 2023
Microsoft said on Wednesday it was investigating an issue impacting multiple services including Teams and Outlook, with outage reports saying the platforms were down for thousands of users globally.
Microsoft did not disclose the number of users affected by the disruption, but data from outage tracking website Downdetector showed more than 3,900 incidents in India and over 900 in Japan. Outage reports also spiked in Australia, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.
The Downdetector site tracks outages by collating status reports from sources including user-submitted errors on its platform.
During the outage, most users were unable to exchange messages, join calls or use any features of the Team application. Many users took to Twitter to share updates about the service disruption, with #MicrosoftTeams trending as a hashtag on the social media site.
Microsoft Teams, used by more than 280 million people globally, forms an integral part of daily operations for businesses and schools, which use the service to make calls, schedule meetings and organise their workflow.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
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