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Anthony Levandowski, the star self-driving car engineer who was at the center of a trade secrets lawsuit, has filed a motion to compel Uber into arbitration in the hopes that his former employee will have to shoulder the cost of at least part of the $179 million judgment against him. The motion to compel arbitration filed this week is part of Levandowski's bankruptcy proceedings. It's the latest chapter in a long and winding legal saga that has entangled Uber and Waymo, the former Google self-driving project that is now a business under Alphabet.
YouTube has been criticized for continuing to host coronavirus disinformation on its video sharing platform during a global health emergency. Two US advocacy groups which campaign for online safety undertook an 18-day investigation of the video sharing platform in March -- finding what they say were "dozens" of examples of dubious videos, including videos touting bogus vaccines the sellers claimed would protect buyers from COVID-19. Google said last month that it would temporarily take down ads for masks from its ad network but sellers looking to exploit the coronavirus crisis appear to be circumventing the ban by using YouTube's video sharing platform as an alternative digital shop window to lure buyers.
(Bloomberg) -- A star Silicon Valley engineer who defected from Google to Uber Technologies Inc. -- only to be fired, tagged as the villain in a trade-secret theft dispute and driven into bankruptcy -- says the ride-sharing company owes him more than $180 million for travails and lost time.Anthony Levandowski, hailed by both companies as a prodigy of driverless car technology, contends Uber didn’t keep its promise to cover his legal bills when it aggressively recruited him in 2016. Google later accused Levandowski of poaching its engineers in violation of his contract and clawed back a $120 million bonus it had paid him, plus about $60 million in interest and attorneys fees.In his arbitration demand against Uber, Levandowski says he was warned by none other than Larry Page that he’d face “negative consequences” if he left to compete with Google. But he was reassured by Uber’s agreement to indemnify him against Google’s anticipated retribution, and Uber paid for his defense for almost three years.Until, that is, Google won. Levandowski says that in April 2018, days before the final hearing in Google’s arbitration, Uber told him it wanted to be repaid.“After it was clear that Mr. Levandowski could be liable for a substantial judgment, Uber reneged on its deal and refused to pay the expenses, including any potential judgment, as required by the indemnification agreement,” according to the engineer’s filing. Levandowski says Uber’s position is that it was “fraudulently induced” to indemnify him.“Uber insisted on controlling his defense as part of its duty to indemnify him. Then, when Uber didn’t like the outcome, it suddenly changed its mind,” Levandowski’s lawyer, Neel Chatterjee, said in an email. “What Uber did is wrong, and Anthony has to protect his rights as a result.”As bad as the outcome of the Google arbitration was, it only got worse for Levandowski. Last year, he was criminally indicted for stealing trade secrets from Google. He agreed last month to plead guilty to one count and faces as long as 30 months in prison when he’s sentenced in August. Also in March, the engineer filed for bankruptcy.Uber, standing by a regulatory disclosure it previously made about Google’s arbitration, said in a statement that whether Uber is ultimately responsible indemnifying Levandowski “is subject to a dispute” between him and the company.For 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) -- In August 2019, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association built a 16-foot pyramid of jugs in its main entrance in Phoenix. The goal was to show residents of this desert region how much water they each use a day—120 gallons—and to encourage conservation. “We must continue to do our part every day,” executive director Warren Tenney wrote in a blog post. “Some of us are still high-end water users who could look for more ways to use water a bit more wisely.”A few weeks earlier in nearby Mesa, Google was finalizing plans for a giant data center among the cacti and tumbleweeds. The town is a founding member of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, but water conservation took a back seat in the deal it struck with the largest U.S. internet company. Google is guaranteed 1 million gallons a day to cool the data center, and up to 4 million gallons a day if it hits project milestones. If that was a pyramid of water jugs, it would tower thousands of feet into Arizona’s cloudless sky.Alphabet Inc.’s Google is building more data centers across the U.S. to power online searches, web advertising and cloud services. The company has boasted for years that these huge computer-filled warehouses are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. But there’s a cost that the company tries to keep secret. These facilities use billions of gallons of water, sometimes in dry areas that are struggling to conserve this limited public resource.“Data centers are expanding, they’re going everywhere. They need to be built in a way that ensures they are not taking critical resources away from water-scarce communities,” said Gary Cook, global climate campaigns director at Stand.earth, an environmental advocacy group.Google considers its water use a proprietary trade secret and bars even public officials from disclosing the company’s consumption. But information has leaked out, sometimes through legal battles with local utilities and conservation groups. In 2019 alone, Google requested, or was granted, more than 2.3 billion gallons of water for data centers in three different states, according to public records posted online and legal filings. Clashes over the company’s water use may increase as it chases Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. in the booming cloud-computing market. Google has 21 data center locations currently. After pumping $13 billion into offices and data centers in 2019, it plans to spend another $10 billion across the U.S. this year.“The race for data centers to keep up with it all is pretty frantic,” said Kevin Kent, chief executive officer of consulting firm Critical Facilities Efficiency Solutions. “They can’t always make the most environmentally best choices.”Google often puts data centers close to large population hubs to help its web services respond quickly. Sometimes that means building in hot and dry regions. The processing units inside heat up easily and water is needed to cool them down.“We strive to build sustainability into everything we do,” said Gary Demasi, senior director of energy and location operations at Google. “We’re proud that our data centers are some of the most efficient in the world, and we have worked to reduce their environmental impact even as demand for our products has dramatically risen.” In Red Oak, Texas, a town about 20 miles south of Dallas, Google wants as much as 1.46 billion gallons of water a year for a new data center by 2021, according to a legal filing. Ellis County, which includes Red Oak and roughly 20 other towns, will need almost 15 billion gallons this year for everything from irrigation to residential use, data from the Texas Water Development Board show.Many parts of Texas are already seeing high water demand, according to Venki Uddameri, director of the water resources center at Texas Tech University. “With climate change, we are expected to have more prolonged droughts,” he said. “These kinds of water-intensive operations add to the local stress.” Water-scarce cities have to make trade-offs between conservation and economic development, and cash-rich Google is a big draw. “It’s a constant battle in Texas because of wanting both,” said Uddameri. In August, Google filed a petition with the Public Utility Commission of Texas to strip a local utility in Red Oak, Rockett Special Utility District, of its federal right to be the sole water supplier to the property. Google said it filed the petition after Rockett confirmed it doesn’t have the capacity to meet the company’s demands. If approved, the petition would let Google get water from another provider. Rockett contested this in a legal response and said Google provided little information on how the water will be used, both in its application to the utility and in “vague” conversations involving company representatives. Despite that, Google made “incessant” requests for the utility to assess if it can meet the company’s water needs, Rockett said in legal filings.Rockett brought a case against Texas’ public utility commissioners for refusing to dismiss Google’s petition despite being aware of the utility’s rights. Rockett has a loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, giving it special federal protection — part of a long-running program to support rural water providers. When a Google entity, Alamo Mission LLC, found out about this, it ignored the protections and “intensified its efforts to diminish and alter the territory” that Rockett serves, the utility said in the legal filing. Alamo Misson is named as a defendant in the case. Lawyers for Rockett declined to comment on the ongoing case.The planned data center in Red Oak would be Google’s second in Texas. It struck a deal with the city in July 2019. Red Oak officials told residents about Google’s plans ahead of time, according to Todd Fuller, the city manager. There wasn’t much concern about the impact the data center could have on local resources including water, according to Fuller. “Our water system is pretty robust,” he said, adding that the city doesn’t use its full water capacity.Red Oak isn’t so laid back about water use on its website, though. On a page dedicated to water conservation, the city says it gets half its water supply from Dallas and encourages residents to reduce water use because Dallas’ six reservoirs are 18% depleted. Mandatory water restrictions will kick in if those sources become 35% depleted. Fuller did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.Google said it doesn’t use all the water it requests, but the company must make sure enough is available for periods of high demand, or when the weather’s particularly hot. That’s necessary to keep internet services reliable, according to the company.Google’s data center water use became a subject of controversy last year in Berkeley County, South Carolina. An environmental group opposed the company’s request for 1.5 million gallons of groundwater a day from what it said was a “historically threatened” source. The company has also worked with Berkeley County Water & Sanitation to get 5 million gallons a day from the Charleston Water system. Google said its share of this supply is far less than 5 million gallons a day, with the rest available for the broader community.Google has been trying to secure the 1.5 million gallons—triple the daily amount it’s currently allowed in Berkeley County—since 2016. The Coastal Conservation League took issue with Google’s refusal to share information on how it will be using the extra water. Despite the opposition, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control granted Google’s request, triggering a backlash from some residents.The conservation league called out the DHEC for giving Google so much water while asking a local public utility, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, to reduce its withdrawal from the aquifer by 57% over the next four years. The utility exceeded its previous peak use demand by 25% in May 2019, one of the driest months last year in Berkeley County, according to Clay Duffie, general manager of Mount Pleasant Waterworks.“It’s unfair that the DHEC is asking us to reduce our water withdrawal while someone like Google can come in and ask for three times more than their original permit and get it,” Duffie said.Google eventually backed off its groundwater request and reached an agreement with the league to only use it as a last resort. The deal still lets the company withdraw groundwater if there’s a shortfall, when conducting maintenance, or when demand exceeds available potable or storm water supplies during peak user activity.The Arizona town of Mesa, where Google plans a 750,000 square-foot data center, gets half its water from the drought-prone Colorado River. A contingency plan was signed into law last year requiring states dependent on the river to take voluntary conservation measures. Still, Mesa officials say they remain confident about future supply while continuing to remind residents to limit their water consumption. “We do not have any immediate concerns,” said Kathy Macdonald, a water resources planning adviser with the city. In 2019, Mesa used 28 billion gallons of water, according to Macdonald. City officials expect that to reach 60 billion gallons a year by 2040, a demand Mesa is capable of meeting, she said.Big companies like Google wouldn’t locate to the city if it couldn’t meet their water demands, Macdonald said. Mesa passed an ordinance in 2019 to ensure sustainable water use by large operations and fine them if they exceed their allowance.Google has toiled for years to reduce the carbon footprint of data centers. Today, the facilities churn out a lot more computer power for every watt of energy used. In its 2019 environmental report, the company argued that reducing its energy use also makes it more water-efficient. “Generating electricity requires water, so the less energy we use to power our data centers, the less water we use as well,” it said.However, data center experts say there’s usually a trade-off between water and energy use. “If the water consumption goes down, energy consumption goes up and vice versa,” said Otto Van Geet, a principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.Google relies on “evaporative cooling,” which evaporates water to cool the air around the processing units stacked inside data centers, according to its environmental report. The most common systems, known as computer room air conditioners, are energy intensive. Evaporative cooling uses less energy, but the process requires more water. Operators will often embrace the thirstier approach because it’s less expensive, said Cook from Stand.earth.“Water’s cheap. In many places, the energy costs are much higher” he added. In a data center application the company filed in Henderson, Nevada, in 2018, Google’s considerations included utility and real estate costs, tax incentives and availability of qualified workers.Google has paid more attention to water use in recent years. It relies on recycled water or seawater where it can to avoid using drinking water or draining local supplies. Google also says it saves water by recirculating it through cooling systems multiple times. In Mesa, the company is working with authorities on a water credits program, but said it’s too early to share more details.From 2007 to 2012, Google used regular drinking water to cool its data center in Douglas County, just outside Atlanta. After realizing the water “didn’t need to be clean enough to drink,” the company shifted to recycled water to help conserve the nearby Chattahoochee River. It’s difficult to use similar approaches for other data center locations because the required technology isn’t always available, according to the company.“The Chattahoochee provides drinking water, public greenspace and recreational activities for millions of people,” the company said in a blog post at the time. “We’re glad to do our part in creating an environmentally sustainable economy along the shores of the Hooch.” For 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 Opinion) -- Coronavirus self-isolation is fostering a growing dependency on Amazon.com Inc. But it’s also refocusing attention on the human cost of having the entire stock of the “Everything Store” merely a click and a day away from your front doorstep.Amazon workers at a fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York are on strike, saying the company has not been responsive to safety concerns and demanding that the facility be closed for two weeks and sanitized. In Italy, Amazon reached an agreement with workers last week to provide additional virus containment measures and end an 11-day strike. Elsewhere, France’s labor minister has demanded an improvement to the working environment for the firm’s employees, saying that “protection conditions are insufficient.”The comments came a week after Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos outlined many of the company’s efforts to blunt the effects of coronavirus in an open letter posted on Instagram, including boosting worker pay in the U.S.Demand for Amazon delivery services has, meanwhile, given its stock better protection than its tech peers from the recent market pummeling. The shares are down 9.4% since Feb. 19, compared with the average 22% decline of Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc.The logical conclusion is that Amazon should be doing a lot more to protect its workers. It can afford to: It’s sitting on $55 billion in cash and is expected to generate another $34 billion of free cash flow this year.But the stark reality is that Amazon’s e-commerce business isn’t very profitable. Its cloud computing operations are the money-printing machine. That unit will enjoy a 28% operating margin on sales of some $46 billion this year, helped by the surge in internet usage caused by people logging on from home for longer, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jitendra Waral estimates. The company’s other $288 billion of revenue will generate operating profit of as little as $3 billion.That razor-thin profitability hints at the strict cost control upon which Amazon relies to ensure goods are delivered cheaply and quickly. Unfortunately, cost control is often a euphemism for low wages, ungenerous benefits and a squeeze on suppliers. A 2018 analysis by the Economist found that after Amazon opens a storage depot, local wages for warehouse workers fall by an average of 3%. Nor does that inspire much confidence in Amazon’s latest moves: The recently announced $2 per hour pay bump will hold only until April, while the doubling of overtime pay will expire in May — for now, at least.What’s more, workers’ negotiating power is likely to be eroded by the coronavirus crisis. The peak of U.S. labor exploitation came during the Great Depression, when everyone was scrambling for jobs, which in turn ultimately turbocharged labor organization. The number of jobseekers today is now at the highest in a half-century: A record 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week of March 21, compared with 211,000 just two weeks earlier.Bezos explicitly targeted those newly unemployed in his Instagram letter, explaining that the company would hire 100,000 additional employees to cope with increased demand. So the fact that only 100 people from a workforce of 4,000 at the Staten Island site are striking is either indicative of minimal discontent or a fear of retributive job losses (the only unionized Amazon employees in the U.S. are in its film and TV productions). As if to underscore the point, Amazon fired the worker leading the strike on Monday, ostensibly for “violating social distancing guidelines.” According to Amazon, only 15 people ultimately demonstrated in the strike, of whom just nine were actual employees.The working conditions at Amazon are partly our fault as consumers. The company has groomed us to rely on next-day deliveries at no extra cost, at least if we have a subscription to its Prime service. We probably don’t ask what it takes to make that work. For all of its Kiva warehousing robots and efforts with drone distribution, Amazon still depends on hundreds of thousands of human workers around the world. You know when you receive a massive box containing just a small parcel? That’s not because of some algorithmic misstep; it’s a person in a warehouse making a quick decision on how best to deliver your package.Amazon can for sure afford to lessen the load on its workers with better pay and working conditions, but only because of the massive success of its cloud business. It's harder for rivals to do so and still turn a profit. The dilemma is accentuated by, but not peculiar to, the current crisis. If that’s to change, we as customers must also be prepared to pay higher prices — and that’s as true in good times as it is in bad.(Updates with Amazon details on size of strike.)This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.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.
(Bloomberg) -- Federal regulators plan to open a new airwaves swath to Wi-Fi devices in a win for Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. that see the spectrum as a fast, ubiquitous connection to the internet.Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai plans to set the new use of the so-called 6GHz airwaves to a vote by the agency at its April 23 meeting, said two people briefed on his plans who were not authorized to discuss the matter before it becomes public.The FCC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.Utilities use the airwaves to manage sprawling electrical grids, and have said allowing Wi-Fi networks into the swath threatens to create interference that could jeopardize network reliability.The debate comes as the FCC works to open up more airwaves for broadband service, and for forthcoming ultrafast 5G wireless networks. The move “could be a big boost to our nation’s 5G future,” Pai said last year as he proposed the change.(Adds utilities’ concerns in fourth paragraph.)For 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) -- Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google’s YouTube have all removed posts shared by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for including coronavirus misinformation that violates the social media companies’ rules against posting harmful content.Facebook said it took down a video on Monday that had been shared to both Facebook and Instagram, in which Bolsonaro said the anti-malaria prescription drug hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment for Covid-19. Twitter earlier had removed two tweets that also showed video of Bolsonaro praising hydroxychloroquine and encouraging the end of social distancing. On Tuesday morning, YouTube also said it had pulled two videos from Bolsonaro’s official account for violating its policies.Small studies testing the effects of hydroxychloroquine on Covid-19 patients have had mixed results, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says the drug is “currently under investigation in clinical trials” for use as a treatment for the virus. U.S. President Donald Trump has also praised the drug, which was given emergency FDA approval to be prescribed to Covid-19 patients, though scientists have criticized the move as premature.Facebook has a policy against sharing posts that could cause users physical harm, a spokesperson said. Twitter, too, has a policy that requires people to remove tweets that recommend cures or advice that goes against the recommendations of public health authorities.“Twitter recently announced the expansion of its rules to cover content that could be against public health information provided by official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting Covid-19,” a Twitter spokesman said. Bolsonaro declined to comment on the Twitter removal when speaking to journalists earlier Monday.YouTube, like other social media sites, has tried to curb the flow of disinformation about the virus in recent weeks by promoting what it calls “authoritative” videos. But it has rarely taken action against videos from elected officials.“Since early February, we have manually reviewed and removed thousands of videos related to dangerous or misleading coronavirus information,” Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, said in an email. He declined to identify the two videos removed.Twitter and Facebook have also taken a stronger stance on coronavirus misinformation than other types of controversial content, including some political postings. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this month that fighting medical misinformation is easier because companies can follow clear guidance from the World Health Organization on what can be defined as “harmful,” instead of deciding as a company in a way that could be considered biased or restrictive of free speech.“This a very different dynamic than trying to be referee of political speech,” Zuckerberg said at the time.(Updates with details on YouTube’s removal of Bolsonaro videos.)For 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.
The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Alphabet, Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris, Novo Nordisk and Tesla
Facebook (FB) recently announced a $100 million investment for local news organizations hit by loss in ad revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Online instruction has arrived overnight in U.S. schools. And nobody’s ready for it.The problem isn’t just that school systems shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic suddenly face the huge challenge of improvising home-schooling routines on an unimagined scale. Students everywhere lack access to online tools.Many can’t afford them. And even where poverty isn’t the main barrier, few schools have developed a sophisticated digital capability. The promise of a technology revolution that would customize K-12 education to each student’s needs was sidelined early on by efforts to use technology to undermine unions, replace teachers and increase class size, alienating many educators.Training has been spotty and has left teachers and administrators unprepared. Scandals have plagued both for-profit online K-12 schools, which consistently underperform their brick-and-mortar counterparts, and for-profit online colleges. Meanwhile, the idea that universities like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could deliver elite instruction to the masses through the massive open online courses dubbed Moocs was undermined by media hype.Especially for elementary and high schools, where large-scale systematic research on online learning has been sparse, the online-education experiment set off by the coronavirus offers an opportunity — one that won’t be fully realized until the crisis is over — for state and local governments to assess how educators married technology and teaching on the fly. As they invent their virtual classrooms, teachers and districts also have a unique opportunity to document what works and what doesn’t and to seize back the momentum from philanthropy-backed organizations that have sought to redefine public education.As schools and colleges gather students in virtual meetings using Zoom or Google Classroom, one key obstacle to online education has come into sharp focus: The shortage of computer access and internet connections in high-poverty urban centers such as Miami and Los Angeles, where about 15 percent of students lack computers or internet access, and in rural areas, including vast swaths of the South.The Los Angeles Unified School District has enough devices for only about two-thirds of K-12 classes, prompting the superintendent to ask the state for $50 million to supply the remaining students with tablets, and local internet providers for free access for L.A.-area families, about one-quarter of whom have no broadband access. In New York City, an estimated 114,000 children live in unstable housing, including homeless shelters where WiFi is sparse. The education department is expecting to roll out 300,000 internet-enabled iPads, even as some principals emptied their laptop carts so kids could take home devices before schools closed.Colleges also are wrestling with equity and access issues. The City University of New York initially suspended classes for one week to allow faculty to retool courses for distance learning. Another break announced last week was prompted by the need to get laptops and tablets to students who need them, and to forestall the possibility that students without technology access might drop out.At Los Angeles community colleges, the nation’s largest community college district serving 230,000 mostly poor students, classes also have been postponed as schools scramble to purchase and distribute technology to students and faculty. Fewer than half the system’s instructors have had any training in distance learning.Before the crisis, web-based courses and technology platforms such as Blackboard were in use on almost every U.S. college campus. College rankings are based in part on the quality of technology infrastructure and connectivity.Less is known about the scope of technology used in K-12 schools. About 310,000 students are enrolled in virtual schools, and another 420,000 students in brick-and-mortar schools take at least one online course from state-sponsored digital programs. But there’s little research on the vast number of students who use technology in classrooms with a live teacher according to the Aurora Institute, which studies educational innovation.A 2010 study, one of the last to focus on the impact of online education on U.S. high schools, found that while online courses were then widely used to make up for lost academic credits, the quality of these courses was iffy. Students’ lack of self-discipline and command of math and reading skills may be another obstacle. Online courses are more successful when they allow schools to provide courses they otherwise could not.Yet an international comparison of 15-year-olds in 31 countries found that “where it is more common for students to use the internet at school for schoolwork, students’ performance in reading declined.” Earlier online experiments, such as New York City’s Innovation Zone, launched in 2010, demonstrate both the challenges of designing engaging online education programs and why a chief benefit of technology is to expand connections among students, teachers and the outside world.The most successful iZone schools were educator-led efforts reliant on philanthropic funding that used technology as part of a broader strategy to rethink curriculum — in particular to develop interdisciplinary projects in longer time-blocks than the traditional 50-minute class, and to use technology to reach beyond school walls. For example, at Manhattan’s NYC iSchool, one nine-week module had students work on an exhibition for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero. They began by studying the history of conflict between Islamic and Western civilizations. Students then used videoconferences to interview young people around the world about their views of the terrorist attacks.Ultimately, the iZone expanded too rapidly and eventually unraveled — though the best schools continue to pursue innovative education strategies.Fostering person-to-person connections using apps like Zoom and Google Classroom are especially important now. Teachers accustomed to dominating classroom discussions will find that difficult. Instead, with standardized tests suspended and test-prep pressures eased, teachers can assign independent or small-group projects using phone and video for feedback.Tools like Google docs also “have the capacity to significantly improve teacher feedback and interaction with students,” says Nick Siewert, a consultant with Learning Matters. This is a time for educators and districts to document their education-technology experiences. After the crisis, the U.S. should finance systematic research on what worked and what didn’t, and expand its internet-funding programs.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Andrea Gabor, a former editor at Business Week and U.S. News & World Report, is the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York and the author of "After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform."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.
Big U.S. tech firms such as Google and Facebook plan to seek deferment of a new Indian digital tax, which has caught them off-guard as businesses battle the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, three industry sources told Reuters. India announced last week that, from Apr. 1, all foreign billings for digital services provided in the country would attract a 2% tax. Foreign billings are where companies take payment abroad for a service provided to customers in India.
Google on Tuesday defended the impartiality of its search results after users in Japan seeking to corroborate rumors of an imminent state of emergency declaration by the government were met with no results on its website. The government on Monday denied it was preparing to lock down the country on April 1 as rumored earlier. Google users found that using the search term "state of emergency declaration April 2" in Japanese was returning no results - an unusual outcome on the world's top search site and sparking further speculation of censorship by the company.
(Bloomberg) -- London’s Old Vic theater is about to make an unusual offer to the audiences it’s turned away: watch the drama at home instead.It’s allowing people who bought tickets for Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame”, featuring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, to see what they missed over a dedicated video platform. The show -- a bleak, one-act reflection on life and death with occasional sparks of humor -- closed two weeks early because of the coronavirus.It may not replace the live experience, but a remote audience is better than none as long as venues are shut. As the offer is just for ticket holders who don’t demand a refund, it could ease the financial hit to the historic venue from Britain’s national lockdown.The National Theatre nearby on London’s South Bank is also turning to streaming to stay connected with audiences. It’s releasing stage productions of shows including “One Man Two Guvnors” with James Corden and Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of “Treasure Island” free on YouTube in the coming weeks.If these experiments are a success, it may help convince wary stage directors to embrace streaming as a way to reach wider audiences. The National already airs some of its productions live in cinemas for less than the theater ticket price.The Old Vic is using the video production and distribution knowhow of Digital Theatre, a developer of online tools for drama teachers that’s been trying to build a consumer following for theater streaming.Cultural DemocracyMost big stage productions are captured on video in some form for posterity, learning or research purposes, said Digital Theatre Chief Executive Officer Neelay Patel. He’s now trying to get other struggling theater companies on board.“We’ll need to decide which recordings are good enough, as some of the material will not be top standard,” he said.Advocates of theater streaming see it as an exercise in cultural democracy that can bring the stage to new audiences. But it’s a challenge to produce a stage show for a remote audience in a compelling way.Part of the point of live theater is the invisible bond created by the proximity of actor and viewer, and the tension that builds when drama unfolds in a confined space. Efforts to bring theater to TV audiences have often failed over thorny questions of royalties for copyright owners, actors and technicians.The National Theatre sees its YouTube performances as a stopgap while theaters and cinemas are closed, Executive Director Lisa Burger told industry website The Stage.Still, she hopes they will “lift the spirits, bring people together and become something to talk about.”For 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) -- Huawei Technologies Co. is bracing for its most difficult year on record in 2020, when tightening U.S. sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic threaten to slam an already slowing business.Rotating Chairman Eric Xu said he’s aware of the potential for Washington to tighten restrictions on the company, including by stopping Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. from selling chips to Huawei. The Chinese government wouldn’t tolerate such action and it would irrevocably damage the global supply chain, Xu said in some of Huawei’s strongest comments against the Trump administration’s measures so far.“If the Pandora’s box were to be opened, we’ll probably see catastrophic damage to the global supply chain -- and it won’t just be one company, Huawei, destroyed,” Xu told reporters after unveiling 2019 earnings. “I don’t think the Chinese government will just watch and let Huawei be slaughtered on a chopping board. I believe the Chinese government will also take some countermeasures.”China’s biggest tech company remains in Washington’s cross-hairs even as Covid-19 spreads across the globe. The White House is reportedly considering imposing restrictions on the sale of semiconductors to Huawei by global corporations such as TSMC and Samsung Electronics Co., a move that would effectively deprive the Chinese giant of the most advanced chip technology. That would escalate already damaging restrictions on Huawei, which on Tuesday reported net profit grew 5.6% -- the slowest pace of bottom line growth in three years.“Why can’t China ban the use of American 5G chips, base stations, smartphones and other smart devices based on the same network security reasons?” Xu said, adding he couldn’t confirm reports about curbs on TSMC.Huawei had previously reported sales growth of about 19%, to 859 billion yuan ($123 billion) in 2019, roughly the same as in the previous year. And the Shenzhen-based company’s profit improved to 62.7 billion yuan. But Xu said 2019 was its most difficult year yet, when it was forced to transform its business after expansive scrutiny and sanctions from the U.S. The effort to contain Huawei -- and by extension, China -- forced the company to turn inward.The Trump administration’s campaign to get allies such as Japan and Australia to shut out Huawei gear and phones helped drive sales in the Asia-Pacific down 13.9%, though that was more than offset by a surge at home in China.In the fourth quarter alone, which was most impacted by the U.S. prohibition on Huawei selling Android phones with Google’s mobile services, the company shipped roughly 55 million devices, calculated from the difference between its September shipments update and the year’s total. Of the 240 million Huawei and Honor phones shipped, 6.9 million had fifth-generation wireless networking, an area where the company remains a tech leader.Pelosi Joins Trump in Warning Europe of Huawei’s 5G ThreatContrary to warnings from American lawmakers and diplomats, numerous European countries like the U.K. and Switzerland have opted to use Huawei’s technology in building out their 5G networks. The U.K. and Germany have both echoed U.S. concerns about how far Huawei can be trusted with key infrastructure of the future, but those have not extended to the severity of an outright ban.Huawei faces tremendous pressure in overseas smartphone markets, where the U.S. ban on its use of Google Mobile Services severely undercuts the appeal of its devices. Without the Google Play Store and third-party app ecosystem, Huawei phones simply can’t compete with similarly capable alternatives from the likes of Samsung Electronics Co. and OnePlus. The company reported flat revenue in Europe, the Middle East and Africa alongside the drop in the Asia-Pacific. Those regions were two of its major growth engines in 2018, whereas now 59% of its sales are at home in China.China’s ambitious 5G network construction projects, which started in the second half of last year, also helped Huawei weather the international storm and sustain its core businesses.Huawei Makes End-Run Around U.S. Ban by Using Its Own ChipsFounder Ren Zhengfei initially estimated that Huawei’s May 2019 blacklisting by the U.S. could wipe $30 billion off annual revenues and threaten his company’s very survival, though he has tempered that outlook more recently. Huawei mobilized a massive effort to develop in-house alternatives to American software and circuitry, while U.S. suppliers like Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. found ways to continue supplying Huawei vital components it needed to make its products. Huawei is also selling base stations free of American technology in another effort to bypass the U.S. ban.With no relief from U.S. sanctions in sight and the coronavirus pandemic stifling business across all industries, Huawei anticipates its most difficult year yet. Chinese smartphone sales, which the company is now particularly sensitive to, are already hurting. And its global 5G installations, for which Huawei has secured more than 90 contracts worldwide, are hitting the brakes with many countries implementing lockdowns and the global economy at a standstill.(Updates with top executive’s comments from the second paragraph)For 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 Opinion) -- There are no atheists in foxholes, and no tech regulators in a coronavirus lockdown.What was once thunderously described as “surveillance capitalism” is now a pandemic necessity. Twitch is where our children go to school; Twitter where epidemiological models are debated; and WhatsApp where we have drinks with friends. Some 40% of the world’s population is living under lockdown, according to AFP, creating exactly the kind of bored and isolated citizens whose fingers linger over their Facebook app button, as my colleague Alex Webb notes. Our personal information is hoovered up as before, but data privacy is now gone from our hierarchy of needs.Likewise, the market power that made Big Tech look so dangerous makes it look vital and dependable now. Amazon.com Inc., which has always wanted to be the Everything Store, is now the Only Store in cities like Paris or San Francisco, where it’s an essential lifeline for a myriad of household goods (with some restrictions) that can’t always be found in the grocery stores or drugstores that are still operating. The iniquities of the gig economy are still as outrageous as ever — as complaints by Amazon’s workers show — but there’s no mistaking the message sent by the company’s pledge to hire 100,000 more people: A firm once under fire for killing the economy now is the economy.Where does that leave the “techlash,” the drumbeat of outrage against data-extracting, competition-killing platforms banged on by consumers, small firms and government regulators? At first glance, as Wired magazine recently surmised, it’s dead — or at least in hibernation — as the focus shifts from constraining Big Tech to supporting it to ensure it can reach all of us in this time of need.In fact, we may already be seeing the contours of a new, post-virus grand bargain between Big Tech and Big State.It says something that the most high-profile move from the European Union in recent weeks has been to ask the bosses of Netflix Inc., and Alphabet Inc.’s Google and YouTube to throttle streaming quality to reduce Internet congestion. The EU’s technocrats in Brussels, the land of sweeping data-privacy laws, are now eying the use of smartphone geolocation metadata — anonymized, of course — to monitor the outbreak. Digital rules designed to boost the EU’s technological sovereignty are being re-thought, the FT reports.What the current crisis has emphasized is how much of what the tech industry’s billionaire-run corporations provide resemble essential public, or quasi-public, goods and services. As the virus has shut schools, libraries and public parks in some cities, those spaces have moved online. Information, education, and health care in these times are overwhelmingly reliant on the Internet — and by extension dependent on the FAANG firms (and Microsoft Corp.), which as of last year accounted for more than 40% of all traffic. It’s hard to imagine the genie will be put back in the bottle. Even once countries lift lockdowns, Big Tech will retain its power.Which is why, when we emerge from self-isolation to rebuild the post-Covid-19 society, we can’t just return to the earlier status quo. The virus has already prompted governments across the world to re-think where the fire hose of financial stimulus should be aimed in an emergency, with trillions in aid going to support workers, hospitals and the unemployed, not just big business. A similar re-think is due for tech platforms. If they’re going to provide essential public goods, they need to be held to a higher standard.If social media firms are our sidewalks and parks, they should be kept clean — virtually speaking — of misinformation and bad actors. If e-commerce platforms are delivering vital medical equipment for the authorities, they shouldn’t traffic in fakes or quack cures. If online marketplaces are infrastructure for small firms and gig workers, they must be run fairly. And if collecting and processing our personal data helps the greater good of healthcare, more benefits should accrue to the public by ensuring that what’s being collected, and how it’s handled, isn’t harmful. Oceans of data generated by what Stephen Roberts of the London School of Economics calls the “digital turn” of health surveillance will require new rules and explicit terms of engagement to limit abuse.The message is starting to get through to the companies themselves, which have tended to drag their feet in the past. Facebook Inc. is taking down harmful misinformation related to the new coronavirus and redirecting users to public health authorities. Amazon has banned more than one million products that falsely promised to cure the coronavirus. Google is banning promotional ads for medical masks so they aren’t hoarded by panic-buyers. A new Covid-19 data partnership between Britain’s National Health Service and tech firms, including Google and Palantir Technologies Inc., has explicitly promised to abide by EU data-privacy principles and destroy its data store after the pandemic. It will take regulatory pressure to make sure this isn’t all just for show.In return for responding more proactively to the prodding of watchdogs, Big Tech will probably find itself in less political hot water in the future, and justifiably so. The current pandemic has focused our minds on the common good and decreased polarization in several countries — in the U.S., for example, Republicans’ and Democrats’ views toward coronavirus concerns are gradually converging. If online platforms that have historically tended toward some toxic behaviors can themselves undergo a similar refresh, it will be one step in the right direction.If there is the risk of another techlash appearing on the horizon, however, it’s that we don’t know what the long-term effects will be of Big Tech making peace with Big Brother — namely, a state that has also expanded its emergency powers, surveillance capabilities and size during the crisis. The mix could prove toxic in the long run, even if for now, it’s helping the common good. We’ll have to keep our eyes open.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Brussels. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.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.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The U.S. is finally starting to take a sensible and proactive approach toward the Covid-19 pandemic. After a disastrous initial failure, coronavirus testing has now risen to levels similar to or higher than South Korea. Meanwhile, although he almost succumbed to the temptation to reopen the economy before shutdowns had time to quell the epidemic, President Donald Trump has wisely decided to recommend that social distancing continue through the end of April. And Congress, showing rare unanimity and boldness, passed a huge relief package that will sustain most households and many businesses throughout the next couple of months.But these are all simply holding actions, temporary measures to stop the virus from spreading out of control. Even the harshest lockdown will never eliminate the virus, and if restrictions are lifted without a regime in place to suppress new outbreaks, the epidemic will simply come roaring back. Meanwhile, every day the economy remains shutdown generates more losses and creates a larger backlog of un-serviced debt. That won’t work forever; an escape plan is urgently needed.A team of experts at the American Enterprise Institute has come up with exactly such a plan, and it looks like a good one. Those experts include Scott Gottlieb and Mark McClellan, both former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration; Lauren Silvis, who previously held several high positions at the FDA; and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security professors Caitlin Rivers and Crystal Watson.The first and most essential part of the AEI plan is to create a system that can suppress coronavirus outbreaks without lockdowns. This will require extensive testing; the plan’s authors estimate about 750,000 tests per week. Fortunately, that sort of number is now possible:Meanwhile, new rapid tests like the one from Abbott Laboratories will reduce turnaround times so that that cases can be identified in minutes instead of days. People who test positive can immediately isolate themselves.But testing and isolating isn’t enough to halt the virus because Covid-19 becomes contagious before many infected people start showing symptoms. To really halt the spread, therefore, public health authorities will need to use an approach called contact tracing. This means finding out who an infected person has had contact with in the past few days and notifying those people that they need to get tested even if they don't show symptoms.Traditionally, as in the fight against HIV/AIDS, contact tracing was done by hand. Coronavirus moves so quickly, however, that technological solutions may be needed to speed things up. Singapore, for example, has recently made its own contact-tracing app publicly available. This app relies on Bluetooth signals to tell who has been in close physical proximity to whom.Of course, that raises privacy concerns. That has tech leaders working on alternate solutions that do contact tracing while preserving anonymity. It’s possible that Apple and Google already have the data to do this. Meanwhile, any contact-tracing app will also have to quickly notify people that they’ve been in contact with an infected person, and (ideally) route them to the nearest testing center. Those who test positive can immediately quarantine themselves at home to prevent spreading the disease.Establishing robust test-and-trace systems can start at the local and state level. However, implementing these systems will take both money and wise policy changes. The federal government should provide generous funding to help local and state governments implement test-and-trace systems. Local governments and public-health authorities, meanwhile, must loosen their testing criteria to allow for people to be tested before they show symptoms. The AEI authors also call for a national surveillance system to tie local systems together and enable contact tracing throughout the country, as well as to help infected people quarantine themselves quickly and safely.In addition to the test-and-trace approach, governments can use antibody tests to identify individuals who have already had the virus, and thus may be able to return to work safely. Germany is already experimenting with this approach.After test-and-trace systems are in place, and new cases have fallen for 14 days or more in a row, the AEI team suggest lifting shutdowns -- but not all at once. They recommend a phased reopening of businesses, with telework, distance learning and personal social distancing continuing as much as possible, while maintaining indefinite bans on gatherings of more than 50 people. Only once a vaccine against COVID-19 is developed -- probably in mid-2021 -- can all restrictions be lifted. And if outbreaks do spiral out of control in a city or state, the AEI team recommends a swift but temporary return to shutdown.The battle against coronavirus will thus be a long one. But in a few weeks the tide may turn. The AEI plan provides a great road map for coming out of hiding and going on the offensive.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Noah Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.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.
Microsoft (MSFT) is well poised to gain from robust adoption of Teams, on improving capabilities of the platform to aid users work from home amid coronavirus crisis.