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Uber Relied on Bare-Knuckle Tactics for Frenetic Global Expansion, Joint Media Investigation Alleges

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 July 2022

A leaked cache of confidential files from ride-sharing company Uber illustrates ethically dubious and potentially illegal tactics it used to fuel its frenetic global expansion beginning nearly a decade ago, a joint media investigation showed Sunday.

Dubbed the “Uber Files,” the investigation involving dozens of news organizations found that company officials leveraged the sometimes-violent backlash from the taxi industry against drivers to garner support and evaded regulatory authorities as it looked to conquer new markets early in its history.

Culled from 124,000 documents from 2013-2017 initially obtained by British daily the Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the revelations are the latest hit for a company dogged by controversy as it exploded into a disruptive force in local transportation.

The cache includes unvarnished text and email exchanges between executives, with standouts from co-founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick, who was forced to resign in 2017 following accusations of brutal management practices and multiple episodes of sexual and psychological harassment at the company.

“Violence guarantee(s) success,” Kalanick messaged other company leaders as he pushed for a counter protest amid sometimes heated demonstrations in Paris in 2016 against Uber’s arrival in the market.

Uber’s rapid expansion leaned on subsidized drivers and discounted fares that undercut the taxi industry, and “often without seeking licenses to operate as a taxi and livery service,” reported The Washington Post, one of the media outlets involved in the probe.

Drivers across Europe had faced violent retaliation as taxi drivers felt their livelihoods threatened. The investigation found that “in some instances, when drivers were attacked, Uber executives pivoted quickly to capitalize” to seek public and regulatory support, the Post said.

According to the Guardian, Uber has adopted similar tactics in European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, mobilizing drivers and encouraging them to complain to the police when they were victims of violence, in order to use media coverage to obtain concessions from the authorities.

A spokesperson for Kalanick strongly denied the findings as a “false agenda,” saying he “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety.”

Uber, however, placed the blame Sunday on previously publicized “mistakes” made by leadership under Kalanick.

“We’ve moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including labor unions and taxi companies,” it said, noting that his replacement, Dara Khosrowshahi, “was tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates.”

‘Kill switch’

The investigation also found that Uber worked to evade regulatory probes by leveraging a technological edge, the Post wrote.

It described an instance when Kalanick implemented a “kill switch” to remotely cut off access of devices in an Amsterdam office to Uber’s internal systems during a raid by authorities.

“Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” he wrote in an email to an employee. “Access must be shut down in AMS (Amsterdam).”

Kalanick spokesperson Devon Spurgeon said the former chief executive “never authorized any actions or programs that would obstruct justice in any country.”

Kalanick “did not create, direct or oversee these systems set up by legal and compliance departments and has never been charged in any jurisdiction for obstruction of justice or any related offense,” she said.

But the investigation charged that Uber’s actions flouted laws and that executives were aware, citing one joking that they had become “pirates.”

The reports say the files reveal Uber also lobbied governments to aid its expansion, finding in particular an ally in France’s Emmanuel Macron, who was economy minister from 2014 to 2016 and is now the country’s president.

The company believed Macron would encourage regulators “to be ‘less conservative’ in their interpretation of rules limiting the company’s operations,” the Post said.

Macron was an open supporter of Uber and the idea of turning France into a “start-up nation” in general, but the leaked documents suggest that the minister’s support even sometimes clashed with the leftist government’s policies.

The revelations sparked indignation among leftist politicians, who denounced the Uber-Macron links as against “all our rules, all our social rights and against workers’ rights,” and condemned the “pillage of the country.”

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Microsoft Said to Plan ‘Super App’ to Loosen Grip of Google, Apple on Mobile Search Space

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reportedly pushed for the firm's Bing search engine to work better with Teams and Outlook.
By Reuters | Updated: 7 December 2022

Microsoft recently considered building a “super app” that could include shopping, messaging, news and web search services among others, The Information reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The Windows-maker mulled building the app to loosen the hold of Alphabet’s Google and Apple on the mobile search space, according to the report.

Microsoft executives wanted the app to also boost the company’s multibillion-dollar advertising business and Bing search, as well as draw more users to Teams messaging and other mobile services, The Information reported.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The report added that it isn’t clear whether the company would launch such an app, but Chief Executive Satya Nadella has pushed for the Bing search service to perform better with the Teams and Outlook.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who also owns Twitter, has shown interest in building a super app named “X” that would combine a multitude of services.

A super app, made popular in Asia by Tencent Holdings’ WeChat and South East Asia’s Grab Holdings, has been described as the Swiss army knife of mobile apps, offering a suite of services for users such as messaging, social networking, peer-to-peer payments and e-commerce shopping.

These mega apps are widely used in Asia because mobile is the main form of access to the internet for many people in the region, wrote Scott Galloway, a New York University professor of marketing and co-host of tech podcast “Pivot,” last year.

Chinese super app WeChat has more than 1 billion monthly users, according to one estimate, and is a ubiquitous part of daily life in China. Users can hail a car or taxi, send money to friends and family or make payments at stores.

In 2018, some Chinese cities began testing WeChat for an electronic identification system that would be tied to users’ accounts, according to the South China Morning Post.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Apple Music Sing Karaoke Mode With Real-Time Lyrics, Duet View Announced: All Details

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Apple Music Sing will offer users over 50 dedicated "companion playlists" featuring karaoke-ready songs.

By ANI | Updated: 7 December 2022

Apple Music Sing was announced by the Cupertino company on Tuesday, as a new karaoke experience that will be built right into the company’s Apple Music app. Users will be able to sing along with Apple Music’s real-time lyrics and adjust the volume of the vocals so that their voice is more audible. The karaoke mode will offer users over 50 dedicated “companion playlists” featuring karaoke-ready songs to pick from, along with animated lyrics that are designed to move along with the vocals, according to Apple.

The company has also announced a few more features that make it simpler to sing with others. The service will allow background voices to be animated separately from the lead vocals, allowing users to follow lines that are sung at the same time as the main vocals. Meanwhile, a duet view will be available if a user wishes to sing along with a companion.

Apple says it will offer users over 50 dedicated companion playlists featuring karaoke-ready songs that users can pick from. The feature will also support animated real-time lyrics that are animated and move to the rhythm of the vocals, according to the company.

“Apple Music’s lyrics experience is consistently one of the most popular features on our service,” Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of Apple Music and Beats, said in a press release.

We already know our users all over the world love to follow along to their favourite songs, so we wanted to evolve this offering even further to enable even more engagement around music through singing. It’s really a lot of fun, our customers are going to love it,” he added.

Apple Music Sing will be available to users later this month, according to the company. It will function on “all compatible” iPhone and iPad models. If users want to try the feature on Apple TV, they will need to use the recently launched Apple TV 4K, according to Apple.

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WhatsApp Bans Over 23 Lakh Accounts in India in October, ‘Proactively’ Barred 8.1 Lakh Users

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By ANI | Updated: 1 December 2022

Instant messaging and voice-over-IP service WhatsApp on Wednesday said the firm banned over 23 lakh accounts in the month of October, according to a spokesperson of WhatsApp. In another statement, it said as many as 811,000 of these 23 lakh accounts were proactively banned, before any reports from users.

A WhatsApp spokesperson in a statement said, “WhatsApp is an industry leader in preventing abuse, among end-to-end encrypted messaging services. Over the years, we have consistently invested in Artificial Intelligence and other state-of-the-art technology, data scientists and experts, and in processes, in order to keep our users safe on our platform.”

The spokesperson said, “In accordance with the IT Rules 2021, we’ve published our report for the month of October 2022. This user-safety report contains details of the user complaints received and the corresponding action taken by WhatsApp, as well as WhatsApp’s own preventive actions to combat abuse on our platform.”

As captured in the latest monthly report, WhatsApp banned over 23 lakh million accounts in the month of October, according to the spokesperson.

In a statement released by the firm, 26,85,000 WhatsApp accounts were banned from the instant messaging service between September 1 and 30 this year. As many as 872,000 of these accounts were proactively banned, before any reports from users.

According to the firm’s statement, in addition to responding to and taking action on user complaints through the grievance channel, WhatsApp also deployed tools and resources to prevent harmful behaviour on the platform. It said, “We are particularly focused on prevention because we believe it is much better to stop harmful activity from happening in the first place than to detect it after harm has occurred.”

It said the abuse detection operates at three stages of an account’s lifestyle: At registration, during messaging, and in response to negative feedback, which we receive in the form of user reports and blocks.

The statement from WhatsApp said a team of analysts augments these systems to evaluate edge cases and help improve our effectiveness over time.

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Paytm to Resubmit Application for Authorisation of Payment Aggregator Services

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By ANI | Updated: 26 November 2022

Digital payments and financial services company Paytm has shared an update with the exchanges about its 100 percent subsidiary, Paytm Payments Services.

The fintech company said that it has received a letter from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in response to an application from its subsidiary for the authorisation to provide payment aggregator services for online merchants.

The company can now resubmit the application within 120 calendar days for the payment aggregator services. Ahead of that, the company will seek necessary approval for past downward investment from Paytm into its subsidiary, to comply with foreign direct investment guidelines.

During this process, the company will not onboard new online merchants.

“We can continue to onboard new offline merchants and offer them payment services including All-in-One QR, Soundbox, Card Machines, etc. Similarly, PPSL can continue to do business with existing online merchants, for whom the services will remain unaffected,” said the company in its exchange filing on Saturday.

This essentially means that Paytm’s strong business momentum is likely to continue, with no impact on its profitability target as the company can continue to work with its existing online merchants.

Additionally, Paytm’s growing device deployments base and increasing offline payments base will also not be impacted with this development, as it can continue to onboard new merchants.

The company specifically outlined in its filing that this has no material impact on its business and revenues since the communication from RBI is applicable only to the onboarding of new online merchants.

“We are hopeful of receiving the necessary approvals in a timely manner and resubmitting the application,” said the company in the filing.

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Zoom Annual Revenue Forecast Lowered Amid Decline in Online Business, Rising Inflation

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 November 2022

Zoom Video Communications on Monday lowered its annual revenue forecast, as the video-conferencing platform expects a hit from declining online business. The company’s chief financial officer Kelly Steckelberg said during a post-earnings call that Zoom’s online business would decline nearly 8 percent during the year.

After recording blistering growth during the pandemic, Zoom, which competes with WeChat Work, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, and Slack, is facing a slowdown as red-hot inflation is dampening the spending power of customers.

The easing of pandemic-related restrictions across the world is also weighing on its business as people started spending less time online.

Shares of the San Jose, California-based company, which fell nearly 56 percent this year, were down 5 percent in trading after the bell.

Zoom now expects annual revenue to be between $4.37 billion (roughly Rs. 35,696 crore) and $4.38 billion (roughly Rs. 35,777 crore), compared with an earlier outlook of $4.39 billion (roughly Rs. 35,850 crore) and $4.40 (roughly Rs. 35,932 crore) billion.

“Guidance suggests further weakness in both enterprise and online. It is tough to disaggregate how much of this is macro (especially given slowing down in hiring or layoffs in tech) and how much is competition,” said RBC analyst Rishi Jaluria.

“The focus for Zoom remains on its ability to expand to become a larger platform,” he added.

The company, however, raised its annual adjusted profit per share to between $3.91 (roughly Rs. 320) and $3.94 (roughly Rs. 322), compared with the $3.66 (roughly Rs. 299) to $3.69 (roughly Rs. 301) forecast earlier.

Revenue for the third quarter that ended on October 31 rose 5 percent to $1.1 billion (roughly Rs. 9,000 crore), on the back of a 20 percent increase from high-paying enterprise customers, the company said.

On an adjusted basis, the pandemic winner earned $1.07 (roughly Rs. 87) per share during the quarter, compared with estimates of 84 cents (roughly Rs. 69), according to Refinitiv data.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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WhatsApp Business Chat to Drive Sales Sooner Than the Metaverse, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg Says

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By Reuters | Updated: 18 November 2022

Meta Platforms Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told employees on Thursday that WhatsApp and Messenger would drive the company’s next wave of sales growth, as he sought to assuage concerns about Meta’s finances after its first mass layoffs.

Zuckerberg, addressing pointed questions at a company-wide meeting a week after Meta said it would lay off 11,000 workers, described the pair of messaging apps as being “very early in monetizing” compared to its advertising juggernauts Facebook and Instagram, according to remarks heard by Reuters.

“We talk a lot about the very long-term opportunities like the metaverse, but the reality is that business messaging is probably going to be the next major pillar of our business as we work to monetize WhatsApp and Messenger more,” he said.

Meta enables some consumers to speak and transact with merchants through the chat apps, including a new feature announced Thursday in Brazil.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s internal forum.

Zuckerberg’s comments there reflect a shift in tone and emphasis after focusing heavily on extended reality hardware and software investments since announcing a long-term ambition to build out an immersive metaverse last year.

Investors have questioned the wisdom of that decision as Meta’s core advertising business has struggled this year, more than halving its stock price.

In his remarks to employees, Zuckerberg played down how much the company was spending in Reality Labs, the unit responsible for its metaverse investments.

People were Meta’s biggest expense, followed by capital expenditure, the vast majority of which went to infrastructure to support its suite of social media apps, he said. About 20 percent of Meta’s budget was going to Reality Labs.

Within Reality Labs, the unit was spending over half of its budget on augmented reality (AR), with smart glasses products continuing to emerge “over the next few years” and some “truly great” AR glasses later in the decade, Zuckerberg said.

“This is in some ways is the most challenging work … but I also think it’s the most valuable potential part of the work over time,” he said.

About 40 percent of Reality Labs’ budget went toward virtual reality, while about 10 percent was spent on futuristic social platforms such as the virtual world it calls Horizon.

Chief Technology Officer Andrew Bosworth, who runs Reality Labs, said AR glasses need to be more useful than mobile phones to appeal to potential customers and meet a higher bar for attractiveness.

Bosworth said he was wary of developing “industrial applications” for the devices, describing that as “niche,” and wanted to stay focused on building for a broad audience.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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