|Day's range||274.81 - 274.81|
(Bloomberg) -- Terms of Trade is a daily newsletter that untangles a world threatened by trade wars. Sign up here. European finance chiefs arrived at a meeting of their global peers in Riyadh demanding the urgent creation of a new global tax system for the 21st century that would capture the profits of tech multinationals. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded: it’s not that simple.New rules for taxing companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. have stirred intense debate at this weekend’s Group of 20 meeting of finance chiefs. Finding a solution this year is key to maintaining a tariff truce the U.S. and Europe struck after France agreed to delay the collection of a national levy.While finance ministers from France and Germany were among those expressing confidence on Saturday that a compromise could be found in time, Mnuchin warned that he is somewhat hamstrung. “Let me emphasize: in the U.S., depending upon what the solutions are, these may require congressional approval,” he said during a discussion, sitting alongside France’s Bruno Le Maire.The pair have held tense discussions since France introduced a 3% levy last year on the digital revenue of companies that make their sales primarily online. The move was supposed to give impetus to international talks to redefine tax rules, and the government has pledged to abolish its national tax if there is agreement on such rules.The U.S. has argued the French measure discriminates against American companies, and threatened tariffs as high as 100% on $2.4 billion of French goods. Donald Trump’s government agreed to hold fire on import duties and France pushed back collecting the digital tax until the end of 2020.“One of the things we’re balancing is sticking with the fundamental issue of taxing based upon where companies are -- the more we change that to broaden this, the more we run into other issues,” Mnuchin said. He indicated Congress as a hurdle before any major changes on taxes can be agreed upon, but added “there’s a tremendous desire to get this done.”Spain, Italy and Austria also want to impose a digital service tax. Turkey, a G-20 member, introduced a 7.5% levy in December, targeting companies from Google and Facebook to Netflix Inc.“It is our collective responsibility to reach a global agreement on this issue by the end of this year,” the finance ministers of the euro area’s four largest economy said in an editorial published in European newspapers. “We now have a unique opportunity to recast the global tax system to make it fairer and more effective.”Sticking PointThe key sticking point is a U.S. proposal to make the new digital tax rules a safe-harbor regime. Doing that, the U.S. has said, would address concerns of taxpayers about mandatory departure from longstanding rules. France and others have contested that could render the rules effectively optional, which would make agreement impossible.In Riyadh, Mnuchin countered this interpretation.“What a safe harbor is -- and there’s lots of safe harbors that exist -- you pay the safe harbor as opposed to paying something else, and you get tax certainty,” he said. “People may pay a little bit more in a safe harbor knowing they have tax certainty.”Le Maire said he welcomed Mnuchin’s clarification.“We are in the process of technically assessing what it really means and what might be the consequences of such a solution,” he said. “It is fair and useful to give all the attention to this U.S. proposal.”To get agreement, Le Maire also said France would be open to a “phased” or “step-by-step” approach.German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said there’s more than a 50% chance that a deal is struck before the end of the year.“Everyone has understood that it would be bad to push the debate into the next year or the year after that,” he told reporters. “We need something that helps protect us against the race to the bottom on taxes.”The framework -- developed under the leadership of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development -- will also include a deal on a global minimum tax, which the group is close to agreeing on, according to Mnuchin.Most countries want any OECD deal to be accepted as a package: the digital service tax along with a global minimum tax. The OECD has said both reforms together could boost government tax revenues by around $100 billion.To contact the reporters on this story: Saleha Mohsin in Washington at email@example.com;William Horobin in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at email@example.com, Jana Randow, Paul AbelskyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc.’s Google has reached a settlement with state attorneys general over the states’ use of consultants in their antitrust investigation of the internet search giant.Google in October went to court to restrict the Texas Attorney General’s office from disclosing sensitive information to consultants who have worked for competitors and other companies such as News Corp. and Microsoft Corp that have complained about Google to regulators.Both sides reached a settlement that places some restrictions on how the experts can access confidential business information, Google said on Friday.Google had raised concerns over Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s hiring of consultants including Cristina Caffarra, an economist with Charles River Associates. She has worked for Google adversaries News Corp. and Microsoft as well as Russia’s Yandex NV, according to court filings.“We remain concerned with the irregular way this investigation is proceeding, including unusual arrangements with advisers who work for our rivals and vocal critics,” Google said in a statement.Paxton later released a statement saying, “With this agreement, experts retained by the state will not be burdened with the unreasonable prohibitions sought by Google. They will be able to lend their important expertise to the state without fear of being frozen out of other employment within their field.”(Updates with Paxton statement, in final paragraph.)To contact the reporters on this story: David McLaughlin in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Ben Brody in Washington, D.C. at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at firstname.lastname@example.org, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department has sought outside legal help to bolster its antitrust investigations of large technology platforms, according to two people familiar with the matter, in a sign that the government may be preparing a lawsuit against one or more of the companies.The department approached at least one law firm about working on the government’s behalf, said the people. That firm -- Kellogg Hansen Todd Figel & Frederick PLLC -- declined to take on the assignment because of a conflict, according to one of the people, who asked not to be named because the investigation is confidential.The agency has opened investigations into Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc., following a July announcement of a broad probe into whether tech platforms are stifling competition. It wasn’t clear which case the department was seeking help for, or whether it will ultimately go through with hiring an outside firm.The move, however, may be a sign the Justice Department is preparing for litigation against the tech companies. Attorney General William Barr said in December that the probe was moving “very quickly” and that he wanted to complete it some time this year.A nationwide coalition of states is also investigating the companies and is working with the Justice Department.The Justice Department declined to comment. Michael Kellogg, one of the founding partners of Kellogg Hansen, where Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch once worked, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.Earlier: DOJ Plans ‘Expeditious’ Antitrust Probe Into Big Tech PracticesWhile the hiring of outside lawyers is rare, it’s not unheard of. The department in the past has turned to private counsel to take on high-profile litigation, most notably when it hired David Boies to spearhead the landmark antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. two decades ago.In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission similarly hired a top Washington litigator, Beth Wilkinson, then a partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to help with its antitrust investigation of Google. The agency ultimately closed that investigation without taking action.An outside firm would enhance the department’s resources if it decided to sue. Litigation against one of the tech giants could be a monumental, years-long undertaking. The Justice Department’s case against Microsoft started in 1998 and ended in 2002, when a court approved a settlement.To contact the reporter on this story: David McLaughlin in Washington at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at firstname.lastname@example.org, Paula DwyerFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Companies such as General Motors Co's Cruise and startup Aurora have said the metric, called disengagements, is not an accurate or relevant way to measure their technical progress, even though it is widely used to do just that. The debate is taking on more importance amid delays in the rollout of self-driving vehicles and concerns over a lack of regulation and the prospects for profitability for the companies that make such vehicles. The focus on disengagements -- when a human driver must take manual control from a self-driving system -- and the backlash from self-driving companies have been growing since the California Department of Motor Vehicles began releasing annual disengagement reports five years ago.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- When it comes to advertising revenue, Alphabet Inc.’s Google continues to dominate Facebook Inc. as the place to spend digital marketing money — except for political campaigns, where Donald Trump’s triumph showed the power of social media. Google still has a dog in the election fight, however. According to a report from Bloomberg News, Trump bought the coveted space atop YouTube’s homepage for the days leading up to his November showdown for a second presidential term, ensuring that he’ll be featured prominently. This isn’t new; Barack Obama did something similar ahead of his election-day battle with Mitt Romney in 2012.Alphabet brought in $135 billion of total ad revenue last year through its Google platforms, almost double Facebook’s $70 billion. That ratio flips when it comes to political advertising. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that Facebook took in $67 million in total ad spending by U.S. presidential candidates, double the $32 million that went to Google as of Nov. 14. Figures published just this month and collated by eMarketer — which also track advertising related to federal, state and local politics, including elections and lobbying — put the digital divide in that broader metric at a 3-to-1 ratio in favor of Facebook. Facebook’s powerful role in politics was highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the consulting firm harvested data from the social media platform and used it for targeted campaign ads, helping Trump win election in 2016. YouTube.com is the world’s second-most popular website behind Google.com, according to rankings from Alex Internet Inc.(1) Yet it accounted for only 9.4% of Alphabet’s revenue last year, with most of the company’s money coming from search-engine advertising. Expect the video platform’s contribution to rise in 2020, however, as candidates take to online video to target voters directly while still holding their attention long enough to watch a video in ways that Facebook cannot. Leading the spending is Michael Bloomberg, who is using his own money to seek the Democratic presidential nomination rather than procuring donations. (Disclaimer: Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.) Bloomberg spent $48 million on Facebook between Jan. 1, 2019, and Feb. 19 this year, almost double the $25 million for Trump during the same period, according to data from the social media company. What’s interesting, though, is that Alphabet isn’t so far behind in drawing presidential campaign dollars. Bloomberg spent $42 million on Google, YouTube and partner properties between May 30, 2018, and Feb. 18, 2020, ahead of Trump, whose campaign teams have spent around $18.1 million, according to data published by Alphabet.(2) This election campaign is shaping up to be the most expensive ever. Presidential candidates have already put together more than $1.18 billion — led by Trump and Bloomberg — with the primary season only just beginning, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, war chests for the 2016 campaign totaled $1.5 billion, with Hillary Clinton and Trump between them accounting for 60%, data from CRP show.While Facebook’s strength, and a key cause of criticism, is the ability for advertisers to dive deep into audience preferences and political leanings, Google’s platform isn’t entirely useless in terms of targeting. For example, the campaign of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is competing for the Democratic nomination, took out ads focused on audiences in 10 specific Nevada zip codes ahead of the state’s primary Saturday, according to Google data for the week of Feb. 15.Senator Bernie Sanders, who ranks second in Democrat spending across the two platforms, deployed ads aimed at specific Iowa zip codes ahead of his neck-and-neck finish with Buttigieg in the Feb. 3 caucus. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is fourth in terms of outlays, and Bloomberg have also targeted ZIP codes. The steady flow of advertising videos uploaded to YouTube by candidates shows that they see value in spending money on Google’s video platform. So while Facebook may have earned top spot for campaign dollars, Trump’s big election day purchase shows that YouTube is still in the race.(1) Alex Internet has been a division of Amazon.com Inc. since 1999(2) I count this spending across two organizations: Trump Make America Great Again Committee ($12.69m) and Donald J. Trump for President Inc. ($5.45m). A third, Conservative Buzz LLC, spent $4.76m mostly to promote TrumpTo contact the author of this story: Tim Culpan at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Patrick McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.orgThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Tim Culpan is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Alphabet and SoftBank's attempts to launch flying cellphone antennas high into the atmosphere have received backing from global telcos, energizing lobbying efforts aimed at driving regulatory approval for the emerging technology. Loon, which was spun out of Google parent Alphabet Inc's business incubator, and HAPSMobile, a unit of SoftBank Group Corp's domestic telco, plan to deliver high speed internet to remote areas by flying network equipment at high altitudes. Lobbying efforts by the two firms, which formed an alliance last year, are being joined by companies including aerospace firm Airbus , network vendors Nokia and Ericsson and telcos China Telecom , Deutsche Telekom , Telefonica and Bharti Airtel .
(Bloomberg) -- In the immediate run up to the U.S. presidential election and on Election Day, the homepage of YouTube is set to advertise just one candidate: Donald Trump.The president’s re-election campaign purchased the coveted advertising space atop the country’s most-visited video website for early November, said two people with knowledge of the transaction. The deal ensures Trump will be featured prominently in the key days when voters across the country prepare to head to the polls Nov. 3.While the bulk of digital ad spending typically focuses on targeting specific messages to certain audiences, the top spot on YouTube is more akin to a Super Bowl TV ad. About three-quarters of U.S. adults say they use YouTube, exceeding the reach of even Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center.Ads on the YouTube masthead—as the video on the top of the homepage is known—generally run for an entire day. The exact duration of Trump’s ad buy and financial details were unclear, but estimates for the space range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million a day.YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, lets advertisers target users based on a variety of factors, though it recently limited those options for political content. The Trump campaign bought the digital real estate nationwide, one of the people familiar with the deal said, both of whom asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.YouTube declined to comment on the deal but said it’s common for political advertisers to purchase masthead ads. After buying an ad, candidates can choose to surrender the space or restrict it to certain regions, a spokeswoman for the company said. “In the past, campaigns, PACs, and other political groups have run various types of ads leading up to Election Day,” she wrote in an email. “All advertisers follow the same process and are welcome to purchase the masthead space as long as their ads comply with our policies.” A spokesman for the Trump campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.The move is likely to reinforce a feeling among many political analysts that Trump’s embrace of digital advertising gives him a distinct advantage over his Democratic rivals. The Trump campaign could spend as much as $500 million on digital ads and strategies, Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, has said.In 2012, President Barack Obama’s campaign bought the YouTube masthead for Election Day before Mitt Romney had even secured the Republican nomination, according to Teddy Goff, Obama’s former digital director. “This gets to a structural problem inherent in having a contested primary against an incumbent,” said Goff, now co-founder of Precision Strategies, a consulting and marketing firm. Trump and Hillary Clinton each ran masthead ads at various times in 2016. Trump spent more money online that year than Clinton and continues to outspend most Democratic rivals now. A major exception is Michael Bloomberg, whose campaign has spent $36.9 million on Google ads, according to statistics released by Google. That’s double what Trump has spent with the company. Both Trump and Bloomberg ran YouTube masthead ads last year. (Bloomberg is the founder and owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)Susan Wojcicki, the chief executive officer of YouTube, said in an interview with “60 Minutes” aired in December that some of Trump’s ads were rejected for violating company policies. The news program reported that more than 300 video ads submitted by the Trump campaign were taken down by Google and YouTube.Many digital ads are bought and sold through automated systems, but that wasn’t an option for Trump’s Election Day purchase. To reserve space this far in advance, advertisers must work directly with Google sales representatives.Online political advertising in the current election cycle will total $1.34 billion, more than double the levels of the last presidential election, according to EMarketer. The research firm estimates that digital spending will account for 19% of all political advertising. Facebook Inc. is the favorite platform of political campaigns, and its lenient policies have been a subject of controversy. The social network allows politicians to make false claims in their ads, whereas Google does not. Facebook offers far more granularity for campaigns to target people who fit a specific profile.After Google limited campaigns’ abilities to use demographic targeting last November, some at the company have debated going further. Google has bristled at repeated accusations of political bias, particularly from Trump and other Republicans. One potential policy discussed inside Google was to disallow masthead ads on Election Day in favor of a nonpartisan banner reminding Americans to vote, said a person with knowledge of the deliberations. Ultimately, Google decided to keep its standard practice in place.(Updates with YouTube CEO’s comments in the 10th paragraph.)To contact the authors of this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at email@example.comJoshua Brustein in New York at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Milian at email@example.com, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday sued Alphabet Inc's Google search engine, alleging that its educational software collects young students' personal information without the required parental consent. Google called the allegations "factually wrong" and did not respond to a request to elaborate. The company sells its Chromebook laptops to schools around the world alongside its free or low-cost G Suite for Education software package, which includes email and writing tools.
(Bloomberg) -- While a wave of employee activism marked by walk-outs and protests has rippled through Silicon Valley the past few years, Oracle Corp. glided along unscathed.Now, a symbol of tech’s old guard is facing the stirrings of a worker uprising as well. People left their desks Thursday at Oracle offices around the world to protest Chairman Larry Ellison’s fundraiser a day earlier for President Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. The protest, called No Ethics/No Work, involved about 300 employees walking out of their offices or stopping work at remote locations at noon local time and devoting the rest of the day to volunteering or civic engagement, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.Ellison drew employee ire that most didn’t know existed at Oracle. News of the fundraiser for Trump’s re-election campaign at Ellison’s home in Rancho Mirage, California, spurred a petition at Change.org from some of the company’s 136,000 employees. The workers argued the chairman’s public support for Trump violated Oracle’s diversity, inclusion and ethics policies, and harmed the image of the world’s second-largest software maker.The petition had more than 8,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, though it was open to the public and anyone could sign it. Organizers demanded that Oracle and Ellison give money to support a humanitarian cause such as climate change, denounce the Trump administration and commit to diversifying the company’s board.Employees at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce.com Inc. started mobilizing more than two years ago over a variety of issues, including law enforcement and military contracts, the gender pay gap and the treatment of contract workers.Thursday’s activism at Oracle, a database stalwart founded in 1977, showed cultural differences from the younger companies like Google. Some Oracle workers who participated in the “log off” used vacation time for the protest, the people said. Many had asked the company’s human resources officials whether they would be targeted for participating and didn’t receive a response before the protest, so they took the precaution of participating on their own time, the people said.Others who supported the action, but were leery about the company’s potential response, chose to donate money to charitable groups that oppose Trump administration policies rather than leave work, the people said.Some employees received a warning Thursday when trying to access the protest organizers’ website from a work computer: “Access to this site may not be permitted by the Oracle Acceptable Use Policy. However, if user is authorized and has legitimate business reason to access the requested site, then click below to access. Your access will be logged.”Oracle, however, said the message was an error that was corrected.“The site was not intentionally blocked by Oracle,” said spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger. “It was temporarily blocked by a ‘false positive’ from our McAfee network security and anti-virus software. Once we were notified by employees of this issue, our security team conducted a review, determined that there was no actual security threat, and then whitelisted the site.”Organizers said the protest participation at Oracle’s headquarters in Redwood City, California, seemed more muted than in other locations, such as New York City and Austin, Texas, which have more young workers.The organizers hope Thursday’s action is the first effort to voice concerns about the company’s policies, and employees will continue to feel motivated to speak out, one of the people said.To contact the reporter on this story: Nico Grant in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at email@example.com, Andrew Pollack, Mark MilianFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Alphabet Inc-owned Google's $2.1 billion bid for fitness trackers company Fitbit could pose privacy risks, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) warned on Thursday, adding its voice to other critics of the deal. Google announced the deal in November last year, as it seeks to compete with Apple and Samsung in the crowded market for fitness trackers and smart watches. Fitbit, whose fitness trackers and other devices monitor users' daily steps, calories burned and distance travelled, would give the U.S. tech giant access to a trove of health data gathered from Fitbit devices.
The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has intervened to raise concerns about Google's plan to scoop up the health and activity data of millions of Fitbit users -- at a time when the company is under intense scrutiny over how extensively it tracks people online and for antitrust concerns. Google confirmed its plan to acquire Fitbit last November, saying it would pay $7.35 per share for the wearable maker in an all-cash deal that valued Fitbit, and therefore the activity, health, sleep and location data it can hold on its more than 28M active users, at ~$2.1 billion. Google, meanwhile, is in the process of dialling up its designs on the health space.
Six months ago or thereabouts, a group of engineers and developers with backgrounds from the National Security Agency, Google and Amazon Web Services had an idea. It's not as niche of a problem as you might think, said Alex Watson, one of the co-founders. "It starts with making data safe to share," Watson said.
(Bloomberg) -- Google should move to limit any privacy and data protection risks before it seeks European Union approval to take over health tracker Fitbit Inc., European privacy authorities warned Thursday.“The possible further combination and accumulation of sensitive personal data regarding people in Europe by a major tech company could entail a high level of risk to privacy and data protection,” the regulators, known as the European Data Protection Board, said in an emailed statement. The companies should “mitigate possible risks to the rights to privacy and data protection before notifying the merger to the European Commission.”Data regulators are “ready to contribute” advice to the EU’s merger authority, according to the statement. National data agencies can fine companies for breaches and privacy violations but don’t have a role in approving deals. The European Commission, which will look at the transaction, usually focuses on the economic effect of combining firms and has never probed how a company’s acquisition of more data might affect privacy rights.Google said it plans “to work constructively with regulators to answer their questions” about the deal and won’t sell personal information to anyone.“Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data,” the company said in an emailed statement.There’s heightened concern in Europe over big tech takeovers that allow already powerful firms move into new areas. Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of the maker of smartwatches and fitness trackers, announced in November, would add wearable devices to the internet giant’s hardware business. It also advances the ambitions of Google parent Alphabet Inc. to expand in the health-care sector by adding data from Fitbit’s more than 28 million users.Regulators have been criticized for being too permissive in allowing tech deals such as Facebook Inc.’s $19 billion takeover of messaging service WhatsApp in 2014 and its $1 billion purchase of photo-sharing service Instagram in 2012.To contact the reporter on this story: Aoife White in Brussels at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at email@example.com, Christopher Elser, Jonathan BrowningFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. is considering giving rival apps more prominence on iPhones and iPads and opening its HomePod speaker to third-party music services after criticism the company provides an unfair advantage to its in-house products.The technology giant is discussing whether to let users choose third-party web browser and mail applications as their default options on Apple’s mobile devices, replacing the company’s Safari browser and Mail app, according to people familiar with the matter. Since launching the App Store in 2008, Apple hasn’t allowed users to replace pre-installed apps such as these with third-party services. That has made it difficult for some developers to compete, and has raised concerns from lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry.The web browser and mail are two of the most-used apps on the iPhone and iPad. To date, rival browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox and mail apps like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook have lacked the status of Apple’s products. For instance, if a user clicks a web link sent to them on an iPhone, it will automatically open in Safari. Similarly, if a user taps an email address -- say, from a text message or a website -- they’ll be sent to the Apple Mail app with no option to switch to another email program.The Cupertino, California-based company also is considering loosening restrictions on third-party music apps, including its top streaming rival Spotify Technology SA, on HomePods, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal company deliberations.Read more: Apple’s Default iPhone Apps Give It Growing Edge Over App Store RivalsApple’s closed system to prohibit users from setting third-party apps as defaults was questioned last year during a hearing of a U.S. House of Representatives antitrust panel. Lawmakers pressed the issue of whether iPhone users can make non-Apple apps their defaults in categories including web browsers, maps, email and music.Being a default app on the world’s best-selling smartphone is valuable because consumers are subtly coaxed and prodded into using this more-established software rather than alternatives. Keeping users tethered to Apple’s services is important to the company as the growth of smartphone demand slows and sales of music, video, cloud storage and other subscriptions make up a greater share of the iPhone maker’s total revenue.An Apple spokesman declined to comment.The company currently pre-installs 38 default apps on iPhones and iPads, Bloomberg News has reported, including the Safari web browser, Maps, Messages and Mail.Last year, Stockholm-based Spotify submitted an antitrust complaint to the European Union, saying Apple squeezes rival services by imposing a 30% cut for subscriptions made via the App Store. Apple responded that Spotify wants the benefits of the App Store without paying for them. As part of its complaint, Spotify singled out the inability to run on the HomePod and become the default music player in Siri, Apple’s voice-activated digital assistant.Now, Apple is working to allow third-party music services to run directly on the HomePod, said the people. Spotify and other third-party music apps can stream from an iPhone or iPad to the HomePod via Apple’s AirPlay technology. That’s a much more cumbersome experience than streaming directly from the speaker.Opening the HomePod to additional music service may be a boon for the product. The speaker has lagged behind rivals like the Amazon Echo in functionality since being introduced in 2018 and owns less than 5% of the smart-speaker market, according to an estimate last week from Strategy Analytics.Also under discussion at Apple is whether to let users set competing music services as the default with Siri on iPhones and iPads, the people said. Currently, Apple Music is the default music app. If the company changes the arrangement, a user would be able to play music from Spotify or Pandora automatically when asking Siri for a song.The potential changes to third-party apps on Apple’s devices and the HomePod are still under discussion or early development, and final decisions haven’t been made, the people said. If Apple chooses to go forward with the moves, they could appear as soon as later this year via the upcoming iOS 14 software update and a corresponding HomePod software update, the people said.Apple typically announces major new iPhone and iPad software versions in June, and releases them in September around the launch of new iPhone models. For this year’s update, Apple is also planning to focus on performance and quality because the current version, iOS 13, has been riddled with bugs that upset some users.To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Gurman in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom Giles at email@example.com, Andrew Pollack, Robin AjelloFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The discovery of an alleged international ring of fraudsters started with a one-line email. In April 2019, a company accountant received an email that appeared to be from the chief executive officer.“Joanna, Can you mail out a check to to a Vendor today? Barbara,” the email said.The email had some hallmarks of a scam that is becoming increasingly common. But it also had a few unique attributes that intrigued cybersecurity experts at the company’s email security provider, Agari Data Inc. Using a fake email account posing as the company accountant, Agari sent back a reply.“Hi Barbara, Yes, of course. Please send me the details for the payment and I will take care of it ASAP. Joanna,” the reply said.Over the next several months, Agari said it was able to unravel what’s known as a business email compromise operation. Agari dubbed the group sending the emails Exaggerated Lion, and said its members were based in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. Between April and August 2019, Exaggerated Lion targeted more than 3,000 people at nearly 2,100 companies, all of them in the U.S., according to an Agari report published Thursday.Similar email attacks are growing problem in the U.S., according to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation report, but one that doesn’t get the headlines of state-sponsored hacks or ransomware attacks. Global losses from business email compromises increased 100% from May 2018 to July 2019, according to the FBI, which recorded 166,349 incidents from June 2016 to July 2019 and $26.2 billion in losses during that period.In one of its simplest forms, a business email compromise operator will send an email posing as the chief executive officer to an accounts payable department with an urgent request to transfer funds or fulfill a fake invoice. In another example, payroll representatives will receive an email appearing to be from an employee requesting to update their direct deposit information -- often to a prepaid card account. Companies often realize something is amiss only when it’s too late to recover the transferred funds.“We think of business email compromise as any attack which claims to be someone you know and trust and is attempting some kind of theft,” said Patrick Peterson, Agari’s founder and chief executive officer, in an online video. “This has been far too successful.”Leveraging its position as an email security provider, Agari can sometimes see email scams that target its customers as they happen. In some cases, the company intervenes to communicate with the fraudster, posing as a clueless employee in order to draw out more details. That’s what happened with Exaggerated Lion, when the operation sent the email to the company, which Agari declined to name, last April.In the months that followed, Agari said it engaged with Exaggerated Lion more than 200 times, and discovered the identity of 28 “mules” used to ferry payments between victims and the group itself. Mules are primarily recruited by Exaggerated Lion under the pretense of romance and likely unaware they are participating in a criminal enterprise, the company said. “These romance-victims-turned-money-mules are told they are helping their romantic partner recover a large inheritance that is tied up with lawyers and is being distributed slowly over time,” according to Agari.In one exchange with a mule included in Agari’s report, a member of Exaggerated Lion wrote, “Okay honey please put the cash in big envelope and seal it before taking to FedEx.”The unnamed mule responded, “Honey, that’s a lot of money to send cash that’s a heck of a liability it could be lost anywhere.”Exaggerated Lion’s representative then wrote, “It can’t honey. As long as you insure it. And I’ve received more than that through cash mailing when my dad was still alive.”Agari declined to say how it obtained the digital conversations.As the fake relationship progresses, mules are asked to launder increasingly larger sums of money, according to Agari. Once an unsuspecting business parts with its cash, through a paper check or wire transfer, Exaggerated Lion’s mules have a variety of ways to get the money back to them. Once a physical check is cashed, the money can be delivered to Exaggerated Lion via traditional money transfer, Bitcoin, or gift cards, according to Agari.Agari said it turned its information on the mules over to financial partners and law enforcement.Exaggerated Lion began operating in 2014 by running check scams on Craigslist and has since become more sophisticated, according to the report. One scam the group allegedly operated for years involved recruiting people to wrap their car with marketing decals for a beverage company in exchange for a fixed amount of money every week.Participants, who responded to an online ad or email, would be sent a fake check, which included the first month’s pay and money for a specialist to place advertisements on the car. Respondents were then instructed to keep the first month’s pay and wire the money to the “specialist,” who was really a money mule or a member of Exaggerated Lion, according to Agari.What makes Exaggerated Lion unique in the world of business email compromise is its preference for physical checks, a payment method the group had “experience and comfort with,” according to Agari. Paper checks may be helpful in evading systems designed to detect fraudulent wire transfers. Exaggerated Lion requests these checks to be sent as fast as possible, through an overnight mail service, according to exchanges contained in the Agari report. But when a victim is hesitant about sending a check, Exaggerated Lion is quick to suggest a bank account to wire money to, according to the report.Exaggerated Lion also used fake invoices, created using a free invoice generator, and W-9s, publicly available on the Internal Revenue Service website, “to inject a sense of authenticity in their attacks,” according to Agari. The group also used Google’s enterprise email service to send more emails, the security company said. “Google doesn’t start charging for G Suite until after the first month,” Agari said in its report. “This means Exaggerated Lion can create a new G Suite account, add compromised credit card information as a payment method, and effectively have at least a 30-day free trial on each domain they set up.”If the credit card doesn’t work, the group “can simply move on to another account,” Agari wrote. With a Google Enterprise account, Exaggerated Lion can send 2,000 emails a day, four times more than a regular gmail account. Google declined to comment.Among the mules identified by Agari was 63-year-old Reuben Alvarez Sr., of Beaumont, Texas, who was arrested in October 2019 and accused of laundering more than $100,000, nearly $70,000 of which came from the United Methodist Church, according to a probable cause affidavit from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The rest came from small-to-medium-sized businesses, such as an insurance company in Ohio and golf courses in Alabama, who were all victims of a business email compromise scam, according to the affidavit. Agari said its researchers discovered 14 messages where Exaggerated Lion directed its targets to send money to Alvarez’s bank accounts.Alvarez’s case is pending and he hasn’t yet entered a plea, according to the district attorney’s office. Neither Alvarez nor his attorney could be located for comment.In an interview with a detective, Alvarez said the money he received came from a woman he believed to be named “Peggy Smith,” who lived in Washington State. Alvarez said he knew Smith from chatting online for three or four years but had never met her in person. Alvarez told the detective that he assumed the money came as part of Smith’s inheritance payments after her parents died. But Alvarez said he knew his activities constituted a crime, according to the affidavit. When the detective drove Alvarez home, he handed over a package he had received the day before: it contained a $25,647 check from a Tennessee health care company.To contact the reporter on this story: William Turton in New York at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Martin at email@example.comFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- As global streaming giants Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co. spend millions of dollars to grab viewers in India, a country that could become their biggest overseas market, a homegrown rival is preparing to defend its turf.Zee5, the top domestic streaming platform set up by India’s biggest television broadcaster, is betting on local content to fend off big-spending rivals, Chief Executive Officer Tarun Katial said in an interview. The over-the-top, or OTT, service is playing to its advantage by adding more local-language shows and lower-price options to gain market share, he said.“International OTTs have neither legacy nor library with depth,” Katial said at his office in Mumbai, adding that Zee5 has produced more than 100 original shows in local languages, at least 10 times more than any rival.“We can win this content battle.”Zee5, which started in 2018, is among dozens of streaming platforms including Amazon.com Inc. locked in a race for Indian users, a market that Boston Consulting Group estimates will reach about $5 billion in 2023. With China closed to foreign streaming services, India has become a battleground for global streaming brands, with an emphasis on delivering films and TV shows to smartphone users expected to number 850 million in two years.After amassing 61 million active monthly users in its first 15 months in India, Katial says Zee5 has little choice but to keep producing new shows at even faster rates. The platform aims to add between 70 and 80 original shows over the coming year, while making 15 direct-to-digital movies for release in 2021.Representatives for Netflix and Disney’s Hotstar platform in India declined to comment.There are 22 official languages in India, creating a broad battlefield for niche audiences.“It’s a strategy to move away from fighting in the fiercely competitive segment of Hindi or English,” Bhupendra Tiwary, an analyst at ICICIdirect, said of Zee5’s local-content push. “Zee is creating its own space in this war zone where it sees more opportunity.”Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., part of the Subhash Chandra-led Essel Group, is increasing its investment in streaming, even though the broadcaster has seen its market value plunge on concern the group’s debt had grown too large. Chandra, who opened India’s first amusement park and brought satellite television to the country, has had to sell his stake in Zee, while staying on as a board member.“We are completely insulated from the financial concern which our parent group went through last year,” Katial said. He declined to say how much the company was planning to spend on growth.Zee Entertainment shares gained 2% as of 2:36 p.m. in Mumbai trading Thursday. Zee5, the streaming platform, is planning its local-language expansion just as some of its global rivals are pushing further into India.Disney PushDisney earlier this month said it will introduce its Disney+ streaming service in India through its Hotstar platform on March 29, at the beginning of the Indian Premier League cricket season. Hotstar, which has said it has 300 million active monthly users, has relied on India’s most popular sport to draw users after spending big to secure the rights.Disney is also re-branding the Hotstar VIP and Premium subscription tiers to Disney+ Hotstar to underline its global brand.Netflix, the world’s largest streaming platform by paid subscribers, has said it intends to sign on 100 million subscribers in India, almost 25 times the customer base it had in the country as of this year. Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings said during a visit to the country in December that Netflix intends to spend 30 billion rupees ($419 million) over 2019 and 2020 to produce more local content.Netflix’s “Sacred Games” series, a local original, has drawn Indian viewers globally, the company has said. “Lust Stories,” a Hindi-language anthology of short films, released in June 2018, also drew attention.Zee5 has said its original “Rangbaaz Phirse” and “The Final Call” series are hits, along with “Auto Shankar,” a Tamil-language show.Price WarAt the same time, competitors are paring fees to draw subscribers in a country used to free services including Google’s YouTube, while paying little for bandwidth via mobile phone plans.Last year, Netflix slashed prices by as much as half in India for subscribers that commit to at least three months. Most of the country’s streaming services, including Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and Disney’s Hotstar have also offered discount deals this year and subscriptions at prices well below those in other markets.Zee5 has begun offering some region-specific packages at 49 rupees a month or 499 rupees a year to attract more viewers, said Katial. That compares with the standard packages at 99 rupees a month or 999 rupees a year.At the same time, Zee5 is planning to add 90-second videos to its platform to meet demand and compete with the likes of Beijing-based ByteDance Inc.’s TikTok, a platform that is growing fast globally among younger users. That effort will start “soon,” Katial said.(Updates with Zee shares in 11th paragraph)\--With assistance from Ragini Saxena.To contact the reporter on this story: P R Sanjai in Mumbai at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sam Nagarajan at email@example.com, Dave McCombsFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject an appeal by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, boosting Oracle Corp.’s bid to collect more than $8 billion in royalties for Google’s use of copyrighted programming code in the Android operating system.The administration weighed in on the high-stakes case on the same day that President Donald Trump attended a re-election campaign fundraiser in California hosted by Oracle’s co-founder, billionaire Larry Ellison.Ellison hosted a golf outing and photos with Trump. The event cost a minimum of $100,000 per couple to attend, with a higher ticket price of $250,000 for those who wanted to participate in a policy roundtable with the president, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.Google is challenging an appeals court ruling that it violated Oracle copyrights when it included some Oracle-owned Java programming code in Android. The dispute has split Silicon Valley, pitting developers of software code against companies that use the code to create programs.Google’s “verbatim copying” of Oracle’s code into a competing product wasn’t necessary to foster innovation, the U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said Wednesday in a filing with the court.Francisco had asked the high court in September, on behalf of the administration, not to hear Google’s appeal. The Supreme Court usually, though not always, takes the solicitor general’s advice about pending appeals. In this case, the justices agreed to take the case and are scheduled to hold oral arguments on March 24.”The Obama Solicitor General Don Verrilli supported Oracle’s position in Oracle v. Google, a position maintained by Trump Solicitor General Noel Francisco,” Oracle spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger said in an email.Google contends the appeals court ruling, if not reversed, will make it harder to develop new applications.“A remarkable range of consumers, developers, computer scientists, and businesses agree that open software interfaces promote innovation and that no single company should be able to monopolize creativity by blocking software tools from working together,” the company said in a statement. “Openness and interoperability have helped developers create a variety of new products that consumers use to communicate, work, and play across different platforms.”Francisco asked the justices to give the government 10 minutes to argue its position in the case. The U.S. has “substantial interest” in issues regarding copyright law and the re-use of computer code at the heart of the dispute, he said in a filing.(Updates with fundraiser details in third paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected spelling on former solicitor general’s name.)\--With assistance from Mark Bergen and Nico Grant.To contact the reporter on this story: Malathi Nayak in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at email@example.com, Peter Blumberg, Joe SchneiderFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Google is planning to move its British users' accounts out of the control of European Union privacy regulators, placing them under U.S. jurisdiction instead, the company confirmed late on Wednesday. The shift, prompted by Britain's exit from the EU, will leave the sensitive personal information of tens of millions with less protection and within easier reach of British law enforcement. Alphabet Inc's Google intends to require its British users to acknowledge new terms of service including the new jurisdiction, according to people familiar with the plans.