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Nov.07 -- Mark Okerstrom, Expedia Group Inc. chief executive officer, discusses the company's third-quarter earnings and the outlook for its home-sharing division, Vrbo. He speaks with Bloomberg's Vonnie Quinn and Guy Johnson on "Bloomberg Markets."
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State attorneys general are meeting on Monday in Colorado to discuss their probe into whether Google's business practices break antitrust law, according to two sources knowledgeable about the meeting. The gathering was expected to be similar to one held in New York in October, where state and federal enforcers from the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission discussed their probe of Facebook . The probe of Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc , is being led by the Texas attorney general's office.
The latest Tesla earnings release has driven it into one of the strongest and fastest rallies in the stock's history, and it doesn't seem to be slowing. TLSA could be well on its way to surpassing its all-time high.
Google launched "Project Nightingale" last year with St. Louis-based Ascension, according to the report, citing people familiar with the matter and internal documents. Google and Ascension did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Google launched "Project Nightingale" last year with St. Louis-based Ascension, according to the report, citing people familiar with the matter and internal documents. Google and Ascension did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. The data involved in Project Nightingale includes lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, complete with patient names and dates of birth, the Journal reported.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- How do you take an innovative academic theory and apply it in the world of investing? That was the challenge confronting David Booth, the co-founder of Dimensional Fund Advisors. Booth was a student of University of Chicago economist and future Nobel laureate Gene Fama, whose ideas about efficient markets and factor-based investing revolutionized finance. Booth and Fama discuss their 50-year relationship in our Masters in Business conversation, streamed live from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.Fama discusses how computers eventually led to the efficient-market hypothesis, meaning market incorporate all available information in setting prices; the technology allowed researchers to evaluate how well active managers who pick individual investments were actually performing. Before that, there was no quantitative evidence or data to gauge managers' performance. The new data-crunching technology also let researchers test of Fama’s theories, and for the first time, evaluate investing results after fees. This also led to the identification of factors that drove returns, and ultimately the (various) Fama-French factor models.Booth discusses how taking his first class with Fama changed his life. He eventually started Dimensional Funds out of a spare bedroom in a Brooklyn, New York, apartment. He asked Fama to be on his board of directors, followed by Myron Scholes and Merton Miller, two other University of Chicago economics professors and future Nobel laureates.The full video of the interview is here.You can stream/download the full conversation, including the podcast extras on Apple iTunes, Overcast, Spotify, Google, Bloomberg and Stitcher. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.Next week, we speak with former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, author of 11 books, including most recently, "Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon."To contact the author of this story: Barry Ritholtz at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is chairman and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and was previously chief market strategist at Maxim Group. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Investing.com – Nvidia rose slightly Monday, despite overall tech weakness, after some on Wall Street upgraded their outlook on the chipmaker ahead of its quarterly report due later this week.
Alphabet Inc’s Google is bringing to Brazil the latest version of its Google Nest Mini smart speaker, with plans to start selling it in major online and brick-and-mortar retailers in the country on Tuesday. Google priced its Nest Mini device with Google Virtual Assistant integrated at 349 reais ($85) in Brazil. Local retailers Magazine Luiza, Lojas Americanas and Via Varejo’s Casas Bahia are among the online and brick-and-mortar chains chosen to sell Google’s gadget, as well as Argentina’s MercadoLibre Inc.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The global debate on innovation and regulation is about to take a new turn with a Turkish plan for an all-encompassing digital tax. The tax, which is expected to be approved by parliament this week, will apply not only to electronic marketplaces like eBay and digital-advertising giants like Google and Facebook, but also to e-commerce platforms involved in the sale of digital goods and services, like Spotify and Netflix. This goes beyond the scope of the French digital tax which entered into force a few months ago and the abortive European Union proposal of last year. Turkey’s proposed tax has rekindled the debate on the fairness of globalization and the role of international governance. The severity of the regulatory framework being contemplated is in many ways a by-product of the failure of multilateralism and its inability to redress the grievances of nations that perceive the system as being rigged against their economic interest.National governments have long grappled with the need to tax the digital behemoths. Authorities in Europe and in the emerging world are seeking a formula that would give them tax revenues that reflect the share of business conducted by these global companies on their territory. They’ve tried direct negotiations with companies, with mixed results. In the absence of common taxation rules applicable in all relevant jurisdictions for cross-border digital transactions, there have been several non-replicable, non-transparent individual deals between governments and companies. The companies have failed to achieve their aim of policy and tax predictability, governments have struggled to get the buy-in of companies for easily transposable settlements. You’d think the disparate approach to taxing internet-enabled business models and its impact on the distributional benefits of globalisation would provide an ideal opportunity for multilateral governance to demonstrate its effectiveness. The G-20, in summit declaration at Buenos Aires, has acknowledged the importance of a global deal on digital taxation. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has advanced an agenda for a set of common rules. But multilateralism has so far failed to produce the consensus needed to address ongoing divisions—whether between companies and governments, or between nations like the U.S. and China, that have nurtured large digital companies, and the rest of the world, The failure of the multilateral track has now provided an opening for non-consensual and protectionist digital policies to emerge. What can be witnessed in this area is a race to the bottom. Following the example set by France, Turkey is seeking to tax digital companies at 7.5%, more than double the French rate. What’s more, the tax is to apply regardless of whether the companies are profitable or not. It is not clear whether the proposed measures comply with Turkey’s international obligations under the World Trade Organization, or under its bilateral tax treaties. Even if they are, there are concerns that a digital tax would serve as a disincentive for foreign investment in a booming industry where Turkey had succeeded in creating a dynamic ecosystem. Turkey is home to highly successful mobile-gaming creators, as well as Turkish-language Android and IOS apps.Even so, there’s a good chance the Turkish example will be followed by governments in other emerging nations that believe that the industrialized world—and by extension, the multilateral system—has for too long been unresponsive to their anxieties about the consequences of unfair globalisation. A fragmentation of global regulations affecting the digital economy is afoot.The multilateral institutions may have one last chance to stop the trend. The OECD is holding a stakeholders meeting this week to gather views on its proposed approach to taxing the digital economy. The plan is for a set of proposals to be formally adopted by the G-20 at its meeting in Riyadh next year. But any agreement will be conditional on the Trump administration demonstrating flexibility toward the expectations of the other OECD nations. The hope is that the U.S. will ultimately see that a set of common tax rules, even if it would impact the few American digital giants, would still be a better outcome for the global economy than a grab-bag of divergent approaches to regulating and taxing digital entrepreneurship.To contact the author of this story: Sinan Ulgen at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Bobby Ghosh at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Sinan Ulgen is the executive chairman of Istanbul-based think tank EDAM and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Instagram is willing to pick up the tab for some celebrities’ video production costs. As long as they don’t film anything about politics or elections.Anyone who gets Instagram money to produce content for IGTV, the app’s hub for longer videos, “must not include content about social issues, elections or politics,” according to a contract distributed by the company to creators and agents. Bloomberg News obtained a copy of the document.The clause has alarmed some of the influencers and creators who have been approached about posting clips on IGTV, according to a person familiar with the situation. They asked not to be identified discussing private negotiations.That’s a stark contrast to its parent company Facebook Inc., which has vigorously defended political speech online. Facebook has been under intense criticism for letting politicians lie in advertisements on the social network. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg argued that free speech and political debate are too important to fact check political ads. Instagram’s IGTV contract conflicts with this ethos by restricting political speech along with payment.“In the last few years we’ve offset small production costs for video creators on our platforms and have put certain guidelines in place,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We believe there’s a fundamental difference between allowing political and issue-based content on our platform and funding it ourselves.”The policy is unique to Instagram. On Facebook Watch, the company has deals with content creators too, but partners include news organizations that must talk about politics.Facebook has been under fire for disseminating misinformation and struggling to combat election manipulation on its platforms ever since foreign parties used the company’s social network to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Governments around the world have pressed Facebook to better police political news and ads, while civil rights activists have said Zuckerberg should intervene to stop voter-suppression campaigns on the company’s services.Instagram has received far less scrutiny, but the company’s leadership is still concerned about how the app will be used ahead of the 2020 election. “We are just as big a target as Facebook, if not a larger target,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said in October.IGTV offers a mix sports, entertainment, politics and music. Popular posts on Friday included a deleted scene from the “The Office,” anime clips and videos from the website Barstool Sports. There was also a clip from the TV show “The View” posted by an account named “trump_making_us_great” titled “Hilary is the problem why our Country is divided.” Another video was posted by Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.In these new IGTV deals, Instagram offers thousands of dollars to cover production costs for creators, in exchange for a certain number of posts. It’s made dozens of deals, and plans to make more, according to the person familiar with the situation. The biggest deals have eclipsed $250,000 for more than 20 posts. There are other restrictions, too, according to the contract language. The videos can’t be sponsored by a third party, can’t promote content on another platform like YouTube, and can’t involve a sweepstakes or product giveaway.Instagram’s incentives are small compared with programs from other video services such as Facebook Watch and YouTube. Instagram has a policy of not paying celebrities for their work beyond production costs.IGTV debuted in June 2018 as the app’s answer to YouTube, the most popular video site in the world. While the company figured it could funnel many of Instagram’s 1 billion users into this new hub, the initiative has struggled. Few users watch IGTV, and months after its debut, many of Instagram’s most popular accounts have never posted on the video service.To contact the reporters on this story: Lucas Shaw in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org;Sarah Frier in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org, Alistair Barr, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc.’s Instagram plans to remove the number of “likes” visible on posts for some users in the U.S. to decrease competitive pressure among people on the photo-sharing service.Instagram has been hiding like counts in some markets since April, beginning in Canada, and later expanding to Japan and Brazil. The U.S. is one of Instagram’s largest markets with more than 106 million users, according to data analyst EMarketer.“What we’re hoping to do is depressurize Instagram a little bit, and make it a bit less of a competition,” Instagram boss Adam Mosseri told Bloomberg after announcing the new test at a conference in San Francisco sponsored by Wired magazine. “The idea is to try and reduce anxiety and social comparisons, specifically with an eye towards young people.”Users will still be able to see the likes they receive on their posts if they want, but those metrics won’t be visible to others on Instagram, the company said. Mosseri said the test will begin next week, and will impact just a portion of Instagram’s U.S. user base.Instagram’s follower counts and likes have made it one of the top places online to compare one’s popularity with others, especially among teens and young adults. The company has tried for years to combat the competitive trend by promoting good role models via posts on its @instagram account, hoping to reflect the parts of the app that are about creativity and art as opposed to self-promotion. Still, striving for the metrics was irresistible for its users, contributing to mental health issues and other ills, like users paying for fake likes and followers from bots.Even some of the app’s most prolific celebrities have said a service without likes may be healthier for its users.“It would be really beneficial,” said Kim Kardashian, speaking at the New York Times DealBook conference on Wednesday. Kardashian, who has 151 million Instagram followers and regularly receives more than 1 million likes on her posts, said the Instagram team has been discussing the changes with select users to get feedback, “and that makes me happy.”Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have been at the center of debate around issues like smartphone addiction and online health in recent years. As a result, product “health” has become a priority at the social-media companies, which are trying to balance the need to drive user growth and engagement with the outside perception that they are contributing to problems such as online bullying.Instagram, for example, has also announced a feature where users can limit the amount of time they spend on the app in a given day. Apple Inc. built a similar “time spent” feature into its iPhone software, and Google offers tools like this for Android phones. Twitter has a beta version of its main product that hides engagement metrics, including likes and retweets, from user replies and interactions.(Updates with quote from Mosseri.)\--With assistance from Sarah Frier and Candy Cheng.To contact the reporter on this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org, Andrew Pollack, Alistair BarrFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. employees repeatedly chafed at what they viewed as anti-competitive or unethical practices by the company, internal chats show. But their concerns, voiced in 2012 and 2013, were overruled by senior managers including Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who argued that the survival of the social network was more important.The messages come from a roughly 7,000-page trove of leaked documents that were part of a years-old lawsuit in San Mateo County, California. The interactions are likely to be scrutinized further as Facebook faces ongoing antitrust investigations.In multiple discussions found in the documents, employees, including some top executives, argued against policies that would cut off competitors’ ability to advertise on the platform and access Facebook’s audience and user information, which it provided to non-competing companies.Zuckerberg, in a November 2012 email, justified the decision to not provide services to competitors. Facebook software that helped app developers increase sharing “may be good for the world but it’s not good for us unless people also share back to Facebook and that content increases the value of our network,” Zuckerberg wrote. The company’s ultimate goal should be “to increase sharing back into Facebook,” he added. In later messages, Zuckerberg also argued against giving competing companies access to other Facebook services.Some employees bristled at the decisions. In December 2012, one staffer wrote: “That feels unethical somehow … It just makes me feel like a bad person.”A Facebook spokesman said that the messages paint a misleading portrait of the company. “These old documents have been taken out of context by someone with an agenda against Facebook, and have been distributed publicly with a total disregard for U.S. law,” he said.The documents, published in full by NBC News on Wednesday, show a variety of conversations about actions taken to limit some companies’ use of the platform’s data and services. The messages are surfacing as Facebook faces antitrust probes from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and 47 state attorneys general. The probes are focused in particular on the company’s acquisitions and restrictions on competitors.The internal communications take place mostly in the two years after Facebook’s 2012 initial public offering, a period in which the company’s stock had yet to take off and it was struggling to make revenue off of mobile phones. The documents show how Facebook considered itself to be a perpetual underdog fighting for survival, even after it was already the world’s largest social network, passing 1 billion users at the end of 2012.As it designated which companies it believed to be competitors, Facebook specifically targeted messaging services. The documents show that in the months leading up to Facebook’s $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, executives were fearful that messaging startups would evolve into rival social networks.David Fischer, an advertising executive at the company, said he thought Facebook should continue to allow ads from competitors. In a January 2013 email to Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and other top Facebook executives, Fischer wrote that the company should counterbalance competing ads by showcasing its own products more effectively.“We should be secure enough in the quality of our products to enable them to compete effectively in the open marketplace,” Fischer wrote. “It looks weak to be so defensive.” He also noted it would be a challenge to enforce the policy, because Facebook’s list of competitors would grow over time. Mike Schroepfer, who later became the company’s chief technology officer, agreed with him, as did Mike Vernal, a vice president.Javier Olivan, the company’s head of growth, disagreed. “We will look like complete idiots if we lose our business to these messenger services and help them along the way for a couple of $s!”In an email response to the same group, Zuckerberg gave the final directive. “I think we should block WeChat, Kakao and Line ads,” he said, referring to popular Asian messaging apps. “Those companies are trying to build social networks and replace us. The revenue is immaterial to us compared to any risk. And I agree we should use ads to promote our own products, but I’d still block companies that compete with our core from gaining any advantage from us.” Other emails show Facebook was already blocking Google from advertising some of its products, including rival social network Google+, on the service.After preventing those competitors from advertising, Facebook soon entered the messaging market itself, acquiring WhatsApp in early 2014, and spinning out its own chat service into a separate application.In the documents, Facebook’s employees also spoke up about the company’s policies regarding app developers. Facebook had encouraged outsiders to make apps on top of Facebook, thinking that more people would visit the site if there were more games to play or quizzes to take. But once Facebook saw some rivals gaining traction, it decided to limit advertising opportunities and access to the platform for some of the developers, unless they helped Facebook in turn, with data or advertising spending, according to the documents.Facebook employees communicated mostly using Facebook itself, in online chats. Their hesitation about the strategy is clear.“So the message is, ‘if you’re going to compete with us at all, make sure you don’t integrate with us at all?’” one engineer, Bryan Klimt, said in a chat to Ilya Sukhar, the head of developer products. “I am just dumbfounded.”Eventually, Facebook cut off all developers from access to data on users’ friends. The documents allege that the company whitelisted certain partners, who were all major advertisers, so they could continue to have access despite the policy change.\--With assistance from Kurt Wagner.To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Frier in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org, Anne VanderMey, Alistair BarrFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Google’s moves to cram the top of its search results with more and more advertising is hammering the online travel industry, one of the company’s biggest customers.Expedia Group Inc. fell the most in 14 years on Thursday and TripAdvisor Inc. dropped the most in two years after the companies reported dismal third-quarter results and laid the blame on Google. Booking Holdings Inc.’s shares dropped 8%, too, wiping out a combined market value of more than $13 billion from the three online travel agents.Google dominates the online search market, with at least three quarters of the market. People use the search engine to research trips, so for at least a decade online travel agents have refined their websites with trustworthy content and easy booking tools to show up high in Google results.This search engine optimization, or SEO, worked well until about five years ago. Around that time, Google began placing more ads on the top of search results, pushing down the free listings. The internet giant also built new travel search tools, which were mostly paid listings, too. This means online travel agents now must pay billions of dollars each year to Google to ensure they show up high in search results and get clicks from travel planners.The online travel industry has been concerned about Google’s changes since at least 2016. But the full impact was felt this week.“Google has got more aggressive,” TripAdvisor Chief Executive Officer Stephen Kaufer said during a conference call with analysts late Wednesday. “We’re not predicting that it’s going to turn around.”Free traffic is “shrinking all the time,” Expedia Chief Executive Officer Mark Okerstrom said the same day. “Google does continue to push for more revenue per visitor. And I think it’s just the reality of where the world is.”The industry has been trying other marketing channels, such as social media and more TV advertising. But Google’s search engine is so pervasive that online travel agents have to keep buying ads from the company to keep traffic coming to their sites.D.A. Davidson analysts wrote that Expedia is exploring alternatives to mitigate its “reliance on search/Google,” but they see “no alternatives that will be able to efficiently ‘move the needle’ from a volume perspective anytime soon.”Carnage in the online travel industry comes as antitrust scrutiny of Google is ramping up in the U.S. State, federal and congressional probes are all underway to determine whether the company violates competition law. One area of concern is vertical search, where Google uses its main search engine to promote its own industry-specific products over those of other companies. Travel is one example where this is happening, along with local search, contractor marketplaces like Angie’s List and shopping-comparison services.Google has been a rising risk for the travel industry for a while, but executives have been generally hesitant to blame it for poor results. The search giant is one of the most important sources of traffic and business for online travel agencies, so they have tried to maintain a good relationship. But this quarter, Google’s impact was so painful that industry executives and Wall Street analysts couldn’t avoid it.“We see these Google changes as a potential headwind to OTA profitability,” Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak said in a note to clients. This trend isn’t going away, and people who want to invest in the online travel sector should do it through Google stock, he added.Booking Holdings, the largest online travel agent, was peppered with questions about Google during a conference call with analysts on Thursday.Glenn Fogel, Booking’s chief executive officer, said the company’s future success will rely on reaching people without Google getting in the way.“What we know is most important is for us to get customers to come to us directly,” he said. Building brand strength and retaining customers better means the company “will not be as dependent on other sources of traffic,” he added.\--With assistance from Ryan Vlastelica, Olivia Carville and Ian King.To contact the reporters on this story: Gerrit De Vynck in New York at email@example.com;Kiley Roache in New York at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at email@example.com, Alistair Barr, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Hundreds of thousands of Californians have been forced to flee their homes. Millions have endured power outages. Fire damage could reach billions of dollars. It could have been worse: So far not a single person has died, unlike last year, the deadliest on record. But that’s about as much good luck as one can expect now during California’s fire season. When it comes to planning new construction, this reality needs to sink in.California’s geography and ecology make it naturally prone to wildfires. An aging power system and especially climate change have increased the risk. As a result, fire season is longer and more dangerous than ever. Fully half of the 20 worst blazes in state history occurred in the past four years, and the trend is likely to get worse.California’s wildfires aren’t going away. The question is: Will people keep building, heedless of the danger?Almost 3 million Californians live in very-high-risk fire zones. The greatest danger is in the “wildland-urban interface” — what one expert describes as “that increasingly fiery border where urban sprawl meets a wild or feral landscape.” Wildfires spread especially quickly in these borderlands and are exceptionally difficult to extinguish. For decades, the vast majority of houses destroyed by wildfires have been in that interface.Unfortunately, that’s where California keeps putting new houses. From 1990 to 2010, nearly half of the state’s new housing units were built in the wildland-urban interface. San Diego County recently approved a 1,100-unit development “along a two lane road in an area routinely scorched by wildfire.” Los Angeles County recently approved a 19,000-unit development in an area that’s been set ablaze 31 times in 50 years.Why build homes in a wildfire zone? Thank perverse incentives. Some small California towns, constrained by state law from raising property taxes, turn to new construction to raise money. Meanwhile, homeowners in the state’s largest cities — which are generally easier to defend from fire — are dead set against new housing projects. As low- and middle-income workers increasingly settle in fire zones, the state subsidizes their fire insurance, and the federal government pays to rebuild when their homes inevitably burn. And the cycle begins anew.Late last year, shortly before he retired, California’s top firefighter floated a subversive idea: Officials should consider banning construction in dangerous fire zones. Governor Gavin Newsom is unpersuaded. He favors better fireproofing, and says, “There’s something that is truly Californian about the wilderness and the wild and pioneering spirit.” Californians might be starting to wonder about that. Three-quarters now say there should be limits on building in fire zones, with support crossing demographic and party lines.Of course, restricting development in fire-risk areas would make California’s housing crunch even worse, as critics have noted. That’s why it needs to be paired with a push for new housing elsewhere — particularly in the major cities. California-based technology giants Apple, Facebook and Google have all pledged financial support for new housing programs in the state. They’d be wise to use their money and their influence to push for more housing in safe, high-density areas.There’ll be resistance to that kind of development. Homeowners, fearing for their property values, have so far opposed such plans. But the status quo already costs billions, and the human toll becomes clearer with every wildfire season. Building and rebuilding communities in areas at risk of burning is a truly unnatural disaster.\--Editors: Tracy Walsh, Clive Crook.To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg Opinion’s editorials: David Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org, .Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- If Google is feeling pressure from the government scrutiny bearing down, the company isn’t showing it. Last Friday the search giant announced it was paying $2.1 billion to buy Fitbit, the struggling maker of fitness gadgets. The deal was Google’s second multi-billion dollar acquisition in the last several months, flying in the face of repeated critiques from public officials that large tech companies are stifling competition by buying startups. “By attempting this deal at this moment, Alphabet Inc.’s Google is signaling that it will continue to flex and expand its power in spite of this immense scrutiny,” David Cicilline, the Democratic congressman leading Congress’s investigation into antitrust issues in tech, said in a statement.People close to Google say the decision to move forward with the Fitbit acquisition bears the fingerprints of one of its key leaders: Kent Walker, Google’s chief legal officer. Company lawyers don’t inspire the same public fascination as young tech founders. But Walker has quietly become one of the most influential people within Google over the last four years. By extension, that makes him one of Silicon Valley’s most important players as the industry enters a moment of unprecedented political peril. Unlike Facebook Inc., which has spent much of the last year trying to explain its policies to a skeptical public, Google has kept its head down and conducted its business as usual. In September, when attorneys general from 48 states announced an antitrust investigation into the company, Walker’s department didn’t bother to send an email to staff explaining the situation. “You take it seriously, but don’t overreact,” said Matt Tanielian of the Franklin Square Group, a lobbying firm. “That's a sign of someone like Kent being in charge.” Walker's supporters see his leadership style as a welcome sign of corporate maturity. Other people see a company that hasn’t adjusted its approach to changing circumstances. For the first time in its history, Google has no shortage of political enemies, yet it seems unwilling to engage them, according to Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy. “They’re so used to winning that they don’t necessarily push forward with maximum effort,” she said. “There’s a lack of recognition that they’re not in another time. It’s not 10 years ago. It’s not five years ago. It’s not even two years ago.” Sohn, who has known Walker for years, refers to him as “a lawyer’s lawyer,” a common compliment for those who have worked with him. But Google, whose founders have receded from public view and whose CEO, Sundar Pichai, is unusually reserved for a Silicon Valley CEO, is lacking a charismatic champion at the top. It has a good attorney, when what it might really need is a good politician. Walker, 58, spent his childhood on a series of military bases, before attending Harvard University and Stanford Law School. He spent his early career as a federal prosecutor, and did stints at eBay Inc., Netscape Communications Corp., and AOL before joining Google in 2006. At first, Google’s small legal department was consumed with legal challenges over copyright and privacy. But several years into Walker’s tenure, the company began facing its first challenges with antitrust investigations. Walker’s background is not in antitrust law, and he didn’t oversee Google’s 2013 settlement with U.S. regulators over competition. But he has had ample opportunity to learn the subject. “Kent, frankly, really grew with the company,” said Shirley Tilghman, who served on Google's board from 2005 to 2018. Walker, who declined an interview request, has become a prominent figure within Silicon Valley’s insular circle of top lawyers. His protégés have gone on to lead the legal departments at Twitter Inc., Pinterest Inc., Dropbox Inc. and other Silicon Valley firms; many went into the Obama Administration. He’ also a typical Google executive in many ways. Several friends and former colleagues described him as an eager polymath, an obsessive, hands-on, manager—and a huge science fiction fan. Walker has a reputation of coming to conversations armed with data to back up his arguments, his friends said, and considers the word "thoughtful" to be the highest compliment. “He’s intellectually ambidextrous,” said Adam Kovacevich, who spent 12 years at Google's policy division. “He has always cautioned everyone to take Google’s critics seriously.” Walker’s purview expanded when Google created Alphabet to be its parent company in 2015. When it did so, the company’s co-founders and its longtime legal chief, David Drummond, stepped back from Google’s daily operations. Google’s head of policy, Rachel Whetstone, left for Uber the same year, and Walker took over her policy portfolio. Last summer, he became Google’s chief legal officer and head of global affairs, taking control of oversight of corporate policy, cyber-security and philanthropy. Now, nearly every contentious issue at Google eventually bubbles up to Walker—antitrust controversies in Europe, debates over digital data privacy and artificial intelligence ethics, what to do about China, confrontation with Google’s workforce over sexual harassment and contract workers. Walker also plays a key role in managing relationships with governments, a task normally associated with chief executives. Not every company entrusts its top lawyer with so much power. “For Google, it’s a huge, huge portfolio,” said Doug Melamed, the former general counsel at Intel Corp. “The fact that he has it is testament to the respect he commands with the board and other executives. There are signs of strain, however. Attrition among the legal and policy staff has been bad enough that one former Google official referred to Walker as “the only one left.” To run global affairs, Walker hired Caroline Atkinson, a former Obama official based in Washington, D.C., but she lasted less than two years. Walker spent another year searching for a replacement before hiring Karan Bhatia, a former Bush administration official, last June. This spring, Walker confided to his friend Melamed, the former tech lawyer, that he felt “spread a little thin.” Walker has also become a target in recent years for current and former employees who think Google has sacrificed its idealistic culture in favor of conventional commercialism. Former employees describe how the company’s legal and policy departments once engaged in robust debates over sensitive topics, but say the back-and-forth faded as Walker consolidated power. Meredith Whittaker, a former Google researcher who has become a prominent critic of the company, argued that this is particularly important because of the impact Google’s policies have outside the company. “He's put there to protect the company from liability, which also means protecting Google from being accountable to its workers and to the public,” she said. “In that way, he's doing all of us—those affected by Google's services and the workers there—a great disservice.” Trust between Google’s management and its restive workforce has deteriorated since the revelation that the company was working on Project Maven, a Pentagon program to use computer vision software to analyze drone imagery. Google said last year it would stop working on the project, setting off a round of recriminations in Washington. According to his critics, Walker has shown an inclination to stymie the kind of activism that led Google to back out of Maven. An all-staff memo from Walker, sent earlier this year, reminded employees that accessing certain “need to know” documents was a fireable offense, which some employees interpreted as an attempt to stifle activism. A Google representative said at the time this did not represent a new policy. In August, the company sent out new “community guidelines” to staff warning them not to spend time debating “non-work topics.” Several current employees complained that what they saw as Walker’s desire to tamp down political expressions was an attempt to mollify conservative critics who accuse Google of liberal bias. Walker’s obscurity may be undercutting his influence outside the company. Eric Schmidt, the company’s former chief executive officer and executive chairman, largely served as Google’s public face during his tenure. Schmidt left in 2017, and Sundar Pichai, his successor, cuts a lower profile. Walker now takes many of the high-level meetings that Schmidt did, but he does so without the cachet of being a chief executive. When Walker planned to testify last summer at a Congressional hearing on Russian election interference, the Senate demanded Google send Pichai instead. Google simply didn't show, and committee staff pointedly set out an empty chair where Pichai would have sat.A Democratic staffer in Congress, who asked to not to be identified discussing private matters, said Walker has been much more reluctant to communicate with lawmakers than his counterparts at other tech giants. “Say what you want about Facebook, at least they’re apologetic,” said Sohn. At Google, she continued, “they haven’t admitted to any error. That might be a mistake.” \--With assistance from Ben Brody and Alistair Barr.To contact the author of this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Brustein at firstname.lastname@example.orgFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Alphabet unit Google's proposal to create a level playing field for price comparison shopping rivals to stave off fresh fines has not led to more traffic for its competitors, Europe's antitrust chief said on Thursday. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager two years ago slapped Google with a 2.4-billion-euro fine for favouring its own price comparison shopping service and told it to stop its anti-competitive business practices. The proposal does not seem to be doing the trick, Vestager said.
The acquisition of companies for their data is concerning in general for regulators, Europe's antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said on Thursday, a week after Google bought fitness trackers company Fitbit . Alphabet Inc-owned Google paid $2.1 billion (£1.6 billion) for Fitbit to help it take on Apple and Samsung Electronics in the crowded market for fitness trackers and smart watches. Vestager declined to comment on the deal specifically but said there was general unease among regulators when data-heavy companies are the targets of bids.