|Day's range||309.45 - 314.20|
Large companies with great balance sheets are looking good right now. Here are three at the top of my list.
The tech giant buys a struggling smart glass maker -- but it won’t necessarily launch a new version of Google Glass anytime soon.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The internet, once a freewheeling global network, is becoming balkanized into national spheres of influence. This could be bad for both cross-cultural communication and U.S. tech companies.China has long protected its local internet, censoring speech behind what has become known as the Great Firewall. The government blocks U.S.-based services such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, and closely monitors the local Chinese versions. Other authoritarian and quasi-authoritarian countries -- Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Vietnam, Ethiopia – do the same. And Russia recently passed a so-called sovereign internet law that makes it much easier for the government to monitor and control online content.Now democracies may be joining in. India just banned 59 of China’s largest internet apps, including social video sharing service TikTok, reflecting rising tensions between the two giant Asian countries. It has also shut off internet to regions experiencing government crackdowns or unrest, such as Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. In Europe, major rules such as the General Data Protection Regulation are forcing internet companies to operate differently in different regions. Though this doesn’t officially ban or censor U.S.-based sites like Facebook, it does present an obstacle that could end up inhibiting the flow of information.This was probably inevitable. Different cultures perceive concepts such as privacy differently. And as U.S. global hegemony gives way to a more multipolar world, countries are going to assert their sovereignty by refusing to play by U.S. rules. Further unrest, like the protests that rocked the world in 2019 or tensions between countries such as China and India, are likely to accelerate the trend towards digital division.This could be tough on U.S. tech companies. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube don’t owe their profitability to superior technology, other than some techniques for managing large amounts of user data. They make money because they have a lot of eyeballs to which they can deliver advertisements.And they have those eyeballs because of network effects. It’s easy to make a Twitter clone -- Gab tried it a while ago, and a new entrant called Parler is trying it now. But it’s incredibly hard to get people to switch, because the first people who make the jump will find themselves mostly alone, with everyone they know and want to read still back on Twitter. Similarly, people use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media services because everyone else does.Captive advertising targets translate into enormous profits. Facebook, Inc., which dominates the social media landscape, has a profit margin that typically ranges between 20% and 40%. Its market cap as of early July was about $647 billion, or 2.6% of the entire S&P 500.Regional balkanization, though, slices through network effects. If services like Facebook are banned in some countries and heavily restricted in others, users will have less company. Most people’s contacts and friends will tend to be in the same country, but not all. And outright bans will cut some services off entirely from huge markets like China, while restrictions like GDPR will force them to invest in expensive localization.This is an unfortunate side effect of nationalism and unrest. But it’s also reason to worry about a technology industry whose profitability stems mostly from network effects, not know-how. Actual innovations, like Intel Corporation’s semiconductor manufacturing processes, Amazon.com, Inc.’s cloud computing systems, or Google LLC’s machine learning algorithms give these companies some clout: if a country decides it doesn’t want to buy Intel’s chips, it will suffer a real economic penalty. But if a country decides to create its own Facebook clone, it will lose little, while Facebook’s American owners and workers will lose a lot.A free and open global internet may one day reemerge. In the meantime, U.S. companies and policy makers should think about how to invest in products whose value isn’t so subject to the whims of foreign authorities.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 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.
(Bloomberg) -- Zoom, one of the few success stories of the Covid-19 pandemic, now faces a new competitor in an app backed by Asia’s wealthiest person Mukesh Ambani.Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd., which has scored billions of dollars of investments from Facebook Inc. to Intel Corp. for its digital businesses, has launched the JioMeet video conferencing app after beta testing. The app has already garnered more than 100,000 downloads on the Google Play Store after becoming available Thursday evening.Like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other services, JioMeet offers unlimited high-definition calls -- but unlike Zoom, it doesn’t impose a 40-minute time limit. Calls can go on as long as 24 hours, and all meetings are encrypted and password-protected, the company said on the JioMeet website.The launch coincided with a nationwide ban on dozens of popular apps from Chinese technology giants including ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s UC Web, on grounds they threatened security and data privacy. JioMeet went viral Friday on social media alongside the hashtag MadeinIndia.The app is one facet of Ambani’s rapidly expanding digital empire, which includes India’s largest telecom operator with nearly 400 million users. On Friday, Reliance announced Intel Capital has invested $253 million into Jio Platforms Ltd., a unit of Ambani’s oil-to-retail conglomerate. The U.S. chipmaker’s arm is the 11th investor in about as many weeks to announce its backing for the digital services platform, which has now raised about 1.2 trillion rupees ($15.7 billion).“JioMeet will be a very credible disruptor in the space,” said Utkarsh Sinha, managing director of boutique consultancy Bexley Advisors. “Just the fact that it has no time limits on calls makes it a serious challenger to Zoom, despite its entrenchment.”Jio Platforms is amassing a wide range of services from music streaming to online retail and payments, fast turning into an ecommerce juggernaut that can take on Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc on its own home turf. Like elsewhere, video conferencing apps have become lifelines for millions of Indians working in cramped homes during Covid-19 lockdowns.JioMeet is also debuting at a time Zoom users have accused the service of security flaws. It’s been accused of siding with China after deactivating accounts of pro-democracy activists in the U.S and Hong Kong, which it said was intended to comply with Chinese law.(Adds total investment in Jio in fifth 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.
Apple last week disclosed features in its forthcoming operating system for iPhones and iPads that will require apps to show a pop-up screen before they enable a form of tracking commonly needed to show personalized ads. Sixteen marketing associations, some of which are backed by Facebook Inc <FB.O> and Alphabet Inc's <GOOGL.O> Google, faulted Apple for not adhering to an ad-industry system for seeking user consent under European privacy rules.
(Bloomberg) -- Google and Temasek Holdings Pte are in negotiations to join a funding round of between $500 million and $1 billion for Indonesian e-commerce giant PT Tokopedia, according to people familiar with the matter.Tokopedia, the online marketplace backed by SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund, has held talks with U.S. internet giants including Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc., the people said. But Google and Temasek have been more active in their negotiations and those talks may conclude in coming weeks, they said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.America’s largest internet corporations have looked increasingly toward Asia as growth in the U.S. and Europe slows, seeking to tap the region’s rapidly growing smartphone-savvy population. Facebook is buying a stake in India’s Jio Platforms, while its WhatsApp unit struck a deal last month to invest in ride-hailing and food delivery giant Gojek. Representatives for Tokopedia and Temasek declined to comment. Google didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.The backing of Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Singaporean state investment firm Temasek would mark a major boost for one of Southeast Asia’s biggest e-commerce operators. Tokopedia co-founder and Chief Executive Officer William Tanuwijaya built the country’s most valuable startup after Gojek after scoring early backing from SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Jack Ma. It now plans to list shares at home as well as in another as-yet-undecided location, Tanuwijaya told Bloomberg News in October.Read more: SoftBank’s Bet on Sharing Economy Backfires With CoronavirusTokopedia came close to finalizing its latest financing this year before news emerged of a recent data theft attempt that may have affected 15 million of its users, one of the people said. It was also held back by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is rapidly changing the online shopping landscape in the world’s fourth most populous nation.E-commerce platforms are now moving quickly to serve the millions of people forced to make their first online purchases during widespread lockdowns. Singapore-based rival Shopee -- a unit of Sea Ltd. -- is catching up, while Alibaba last month appointed a longtime veteran to head up Lazada and “fight harder” as competition heats up.Indonesia has become a key battleground between the regional rivals: The country’s e-commerce market is projected to expand from $21 billion in 2019 to $82 billion by 2025, according to a recent study by Google, Temasek and Bain & Co.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) -- Colin Huang’s ascent is one for the history books: In just six months, his fortune swelled by $25 billion -- one of the biggest gains among the world’s richest people.His Pinduoduo Inc., a Groupon-like shopping app he founded in 2015, has become China’s third-largest e-commerce platform, with a market value of more than $100 billion. In the first quarter, as the coronavirus pandemic caused most of the nation’s economy to grind to a halt, PDD’s active users surged 68% and revenue jumped 44%, the company said in May.Now Huang, who has overseen the firm as its American depositary receipts have more than quadrupled in less than two years, has stepped down as chief executive officer.At one point, his net worth climbed as high as $45 billion, placing him just behind China’s wealthiest people -- Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s Pony Ma and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Jack Ma -- on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That’s even as PDD continued to post losses, primarily because it chases growth with the help of generous subsidies and has been known to spend more on marketing than it earns in sales.“Pinduoduo was perfectly positioned for people being stuck at home,” said Tom Ronk, CEO of Century Pacific Investments in Newport, California.Huang, who controlled 43.3% of PDD shares, has reduced his stake to 29.4%, according to a June 30 regulatory filing. His fortune now stands at $30 billion.That excludes a $2.4 billion charitable holding that he shares with PDD’s founding team, and $7.9 billion that went to Pinduoduo Partnership, of which Huang and newly named CEO Lei Chen are members. The partnership will help fund science research and management incentives, according to a letter following Huang’s resignation. The wealth estimate also excludes $3.9 billion that people familiar with the matter said was transferred to an angel investor.PDD declined to comment on Huang’s holdings or net worth.Facing ChallengesHe will remain chairman and work on the company’s long-term strategy and corporate structure to help drive the future of the e-commerce giant, PDD said.“PDD is still facing some high-level challenges in product supply, relationship with brand merchants, logistics and payments,” said Shawn Yang, an analyst at Blue Lotus Capital Advisors. “Colin may want to focus more on these issues.”PDD’s success hinges on deals, which have become particularly popular with customers looking for bargains as the world’s second-largest economy slows. Most of its users come from smaller Chinese cities, and the app gives them extra discounts when they recommend a product through social networks and get friends to buy the same item.Fen Liu, a homemaker in Quanzhou, a provincial city in Fujian, said she accrued enough coupons with her friends’ help to reduce the price of a suitcase to zero.“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw my suitcase arrive in the mail,” she said. “It’s made me a loyal Pinduoduo user ever since.”‘Bargain Hunters’While PDD’s aggressive price-reduction strategies have helped win over people with lower incomes, they may stifle the company’s efforts to attract wealthier consumers, according to Charlie Chen and Veronica Shen, analysts at China Renaissance Securities in Hong Kong.“PDD’s users are largely bargain hunters reluctant to buy large-ticket items,” they wrote in a June 29 note, adding that the company’s image remains a key obstacle to users spending more. “We believe PDD is working to change its low-price brand image -- but this could be costly.”That may require heavy marketing and hurt margins further despite a strong user-base foundation for future growth, the analysts said. And PDD’s management has offered no clear path to profitability.Last year, the company’s “10 Billion RMB Subsidies” campaign, which is ongoing, led to a $2 billion increase in sales and marketing expenses to $3.9 billion, and those costs have been at 90% to 120% of revenue for the past two quarters, China Renaissance said.For the nation’s June 18 shopping festival, PDD provided a subsidy program with no cap across different product categories to push spending and attract more users. Other fast-growing Chinese startups -- including rival Meituan Dianping, ride-hailing app DiDi Chuxing and Starbucks Corp. competitor Luckin Coffee Inc. -- have also adopted subsidies strategies to maintain customer loyalty.Huang, 40, grew up in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where Alibaba has its headquarters. After receiving a degree at Zhejiang University, he went to the University of Wisconsin for a master’s in computer science. He began his career at Google in 2004 as a software engineer and returned to China in 2006 to help establish its operations in the country.He then became a serial entrepreneur. He started his first company in 2007, an e-commerce website called Ouku.com that he sold three years later after realizing it was too similar to thousands of others. He then launched Leqi, which helped companies market their services on websites like Alibaba’s Taobao or JD.com Inc., and a gaming firm that let users play on Tencent’s messaging app WeChat. Both took off and Huang found himself “financially free,” according to a 2017 interview.After getting an ear infection, he decided to retire in 2013 at age 33. But following a year of pondering what to do with his life -- he contemplated starting a hedge fund and moving to the U.S. -- he came up with the idea of combining e-commerce and social media. At the time, Alibaba dominated the online business, and WeChat became a must-have application on smartphones in China.The tables have turned since. In 2018, Alibaba launched a PDD-style app in an attempt to lure smaller-town users with bargains. It came months before Huang took his company public in New York, raising $1.63 billion in its July 2018 initial public offering. Since then, PDD has surged 389%, while Alibaba has gained just 13%.In 2017, Huang had said he was unlikely to spend the rest of his life at PDD. While he’s still chairman of the company, he now wants to give more responsibility to younger colleagues to keep the entrepreneurial spirit as PDD matures, he wrote in a letter to employees.“We envision Pinduoduo to be an organization that creates value for the public rather than being a showoff trophy for a few or carry too much personal color,” Huang said. “This will allow Pinduoduo to continually evolve with or without us one day.”(Updates PDD, Alibaba moves in 22nd paragraph. A previous version of this story corrected Fen Liu’s location.)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) -- With the U.S. Justice Department nearing a lawsuit against Alphabet Inc.’s Google for antitrust violations, a coalition of states that are conducting a parallel investigation are divided over the best strategy for taking on the internet giant, according to people familiar with the matter.While the multistate investigation into Google’s dominance of the digital advertising market is in its final stages, some state attorneys general are advocating to take more time to investigate Google’s conduct in other markets and potentially bring a broader case against the company, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing a confidential matter.The disagreement could affect whether states join a Justice Department complaint about Google. Like the states, federal antitrust enforcers have been investigating whether Google is thwarting competition in the digital advertising market, where it holds a commanding position.The Justice Department, which is coordinating with the states, wants to move quickly, two of the people said, and is on track to file a complaint this summer, another person said, though it wasn’t clear what conduct the complaint will ultimately target. The department declined to comment.“While we continue to engage with ongoing investigations, our focus is on creating free products that lower costs for small businesses and help Americans every day,” Google said in a statement.State attorneys general can play a pivotal role in enforcement cases against companies when they band together in group investigations. They joined the Justice Department in suing Microsoft Corp. in 1998 for antitrust violations. The case nearly led to the break-up of the company when a judge sided with the government. After an appeals court reversed the ruling, the Justice Department under the George W. Bush administration settled the case.Two people familiar with the states’ investigation said the split among the states reflects normal tension about the best litigation strategy. A broad complaint would cover more conduct but would take more time to complete.Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is leading the investigation into Google’s conduct in the digital advertising market, which was announced in September on the steps of the Supreme Court. Other states, including Utah and Iowa, are focusing on internet search. Google dominates web search in the U.S., and rivals have complained that the company has prioritized its own services, such as travel and restaurant reviews, in results.Texas declined to comment. Representatives from Utah and Iowa didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.The digital advertising part of the probe focuses on Google’s control of the tools that deliver display ads across the web. Google owns much of the technology used by publishers and advertisers to buy and sell advertising space. Google has been accused of using its dominance to siphon advertising dollars from publishers.Earlier: Google Antitrust Road Map Goes to DOJ With U.S. Suit LoomingTexas is in the later stages of its probe in advertising and could join the Justice Department’s case with some states, said two of the people. States are still waiting to get a full look into the federal complaint, one of the people said.The investigations are so complex that few among the enforcers have a sense of what the Justice Department and all the states are doing, two of the people said.The investigation into online search is not advanced as far as Texas’s probe into the digital ad market, and some states are pushing for more time to investigate, said the people. At one point, states were also looking the company’s mobile operating system, Bloomberg reported last year, though it wasn’t clear whether that is an active part of the investigation.The chief executive officer of Google search rival DuckDuckGo Inc. said last month that state and federal enforcers have asked detailed questions about how to limit Google’s power in the search market as recently as the spring.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.
Pinterest (NYSE: PINS) rose as much as 5.5% on Thursday before settling down to close 3.6% higher. The online hobby-posting company continued to benefit from the news that social media behemoth Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) is shuttering Hobbi, its experimental Pinterest-like pinning app. Facebook rolled out Hobbi in February, promising users the ability to "capture and organize your creative process."
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. was accused of systemic discrimination in hiring, compensation and promotion of Black people in a complaint to federal civil rights authorities.Thursday’s complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by a Washington-based operations program manager adds pressure on the social network, which is facing an advertising boycott over its failure to remove violent, divisive, racist and discriminatory posts. Along with other major tech companies, Facebook also has been criticized for its lack of diversity.Oscar Veneszee Jr., a decorated 23-year U.S. Navy veteran hired by the company in 2017 to recruit other workers retired from the armed services, said he filed the complaint after his objections to Facebook managers over treatment of African Americans went nowhere. It was filed as a class action to represent other Black people who’ve experienced discrimination inside the company, as well as those who claim they were unfairly denied jobs with the social network.“The only way to get contributions from Black experience is to have more Black employees at the company,” Veneszee said in an interview. “I think the desire is there, but I don’t think there’s an understanding of what’s required to transition to a company that’s more open, to being diverse, bold.”Facebook said “we take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case.””We believe it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment,” spokesperson Pamela Austin said in an email.Facebook, along with Google and Microsoft Corp., have renewed pledges to prioritize diversity in the wake of nationwide protests and calls to end systemic racism after the police killing of George Floyd. Veneszee said he was motivated to complain to the EEOC in part by recent protests.“We are really as a country talking about getting it right this time,” Veneszee said in the interview. “As I look at our response, I don’t think it has connected to the pain deep enough in order to develop solutions that are going to be better for us as a company.”A recent Bloomberg News analysis of diversity reports published by the world’s biggest tech companies shows little progress has been made transforming them from a predominantly white and male universe, with Black workers remaining mostly absent from management ranks and underrepresented in technical roles.Read More: Zuckerberg Agrees to Meet With Groups Behind Advertising BoycottDespite success at his job and positive feedback from managers, Veneszee said in the complaint, he was denied promotions, stalled by evaluations that said he merely “meets all expectations” as he ran into hostility and discrimination.Veneszee described his frustration as a Black employee of a company where, according to Facebook’s own figures, just 1.5% of employees in technical roles in the U.S. were Black in 2019, and 3.1% were Black among senior leadership. Those percentages have barely budged even as the company has added tens of thousands to a workforce that has grown by 400% over the last five years, according to the complaint.“There’s really no representation of diversity, of Black employees in mind, all the way across the company,” he said in the interview.Veneszee recalled being forced to apologize to a white recruiter after questioning a plan for interns that listed only one of the nation’s more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He was told the question drove the recruiter to tears. After being routinely told that he must use the right “tone,” he said he came to realize the company is tone deaf toward Blacks.“Me asking about HCBU shouldn’t make you feel attacked, it shouldn’t offend you if we’re talking about diversity,” Veneszee said. He said it made him feel as if “the way I say things fell on a different set of ears at Facebook.”An EEOC spokesman said the agency can’t confirm or deny when complaints are filed and said they are handled confidentially.Veneszee’s lawyer, Peter Romer-Friedman of the Gupta Wessler firm, said the alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the complaint should be viewed as an invitation to negotiate.The complaint seeks an independent monitor to determine if Facebook is making progress hiring more Blacks, or if stronger measures are required, he said.“We’re trying to extend an olive branch,” the lawyer said in an interview. “Oscar’s not trying to burn down the company from the inside or outside.”(Updates with company comment in fifth 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.
EU regulators are checking whether Google's purchase of Fitbit might allow it to drive rival makers of wearable devices, app developers and other online service providers out of the market, and boost its dominance in online advertising and search. Healthcare providers are also being asked whether they would see Google as a rival if it is allowed to buy the fitness tracker company in a $2.1 billion deal criticised by privacy and consumer groups, according to EU documents seen by Reuters. The EU queries underscore the importance of Fitbit's <FIT.N> trove of health data generated from its devices, which are used to monitor users' daily steps, calories burned and distance travelled, and how this could further extend Alphabet Inc-owned <GOOGL.O> Google's market power into a fast-growing area.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve a bill aimed at ending the spread of online child sexual abuse material after attempting to address concerns from U.S. tech companies that the proposed law goes too far to weaken privacy protections for ordinary users. Tech companies such as Facebook and Alphabet's Google feared The Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2019, or EARN IT Act, would hurt their ability to offer protections like end-to-end encryption, a technology critical to the privacy of internet users . On Wednesday, Committee Chairman and lead sponsor Senator Lindsey Graham proposed an amendment in an effort to assuage concerns from the industry, which continued to oppose the bill.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has been stealing away Google's most valuable searches over the last several years. More product searches begin on Amazon.com than the search engine owned by Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL). In order to combat the growing popularity of product searches on Amazon, Google's offering brands and retailers free listings on its main search results.
With many people stuck at home during the second quarter due to the coronavirus outbreak, engagement on all manner of streaming platforms has soared. That includes popular video-streaming services, as well as Amazon.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- If you’re concerned about the pervasive role in daily life of technology companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, then its planned $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit Inc. is a worry.Google already owns the biggest search engine, the most popular video-streaming site (YouTube), the biggest mobile operating system (Android) and the dominant e-mail service (Gmail). All of these feed a digital-advertising business that generated $135 billion of sales last year. Do we really want to add Fitbit’s fitness tracking to its armory?A coalition of 20 organizations on Thursday urged antitrust authorities in the European Union, the U.S. and five other jurisdictions to scrutinize the takeover more closely. The EU plans to rule on the deal by July 20, although it may extend the probe if needed.The problem is that Google’s dominance in one market — digital advertising — isn’t necessarily enough, from an antitrust perspective, to block a deal in another sector. Google doesn’t currently make a health tracker or smartwatch. As such, it doesn’t compete with Fitbit. It isn’t trying to consolidate the market or cut the number of rivals. Indeed, a better capitalized Fitbit might improve competition in a smartwatch market dominated by Apple Inc.But this deal isn’t really about hardware sales: Fitbit’s $1 billion in expected 2020 revenue would represent just 0.7% of Alphabet’s total. The value from the acquisition is in the data that Fitbit is accumulating on all of its users. Knowing how far, how often and where people walk, run, cycle or swim every day could help advertisers, health insurers, city planners and plenty more besides. While Google is unlikely to sell that information directly to advertisers, it would help it build more complete advertising profiles of its users. In that sense, the fitness tracker market isn’t discrete from Google’s dominant ad-tech business. It could feed it, extending its dominance.With that in mind, regulators could impose restrictions while still clearing the deal. Aitor Ortiz, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, expects behavioral remedies will be imposed. That could mean Google promising not to merge Fitbit data with other user info without explicit consent. The tech giant takes a similar approach with Nest, a home automation company it acquired in 2014. Last year, it started encouraging users to merge their Nest data with their Google accounts.For those alarmed about Alphabet hoarding even more of our personal data, these promises probably won’t be enough. A stronger remedy would be to prohibit Google from ever extracting fitness information from a user’s devices. That’s how Apple treats fitness data from its Watch. Google insists that it wants Fitbit anyway, even without being able to farm its data. If that’s true, then it shouldn’t have any complaint about such a restriction. The purchase would still give it an entree to the smartwatch market, which will grow to $96 billion by 2027, according to Allied Market Research.Fitbit’s products also need to keep working with Apple’s mobile operating system as well as with Android. Otherwise, they would become a tool to force people to buy Android devices.This is an important test case that will be hard for regulators to get right. Past attempts at imposing behavioral remedies on the tech giants have failed: Facebook Inc. told Brussels back in 2014 that it wasn’t technically possible to merge its data with those of WhatsApp, but then it went ahead and did it anyway, accepting a paltry 110 million-euro ($124 million) fine from the European Commission for breaking its agreement. Google tends to be better behaved than Facebook, but its deep pockets give it a lot of power.Given the risks, the easiest solution might just be to block the Fitbit deal outright. But that would be legally harder to justify.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 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 Opinion) -- If you’re considering making the switch from cable TV to streaming to save money, I have some bad news for you. YouTube TV, a streaming-video service owned by Google’s parent Alphabet Inc., just raised its monthly subscription fee from an already steep $50 to an even steeper $65. To put that into perspective, the $15 rate hike is more than the price of one whole month of Netflix. Tack on the cost of an internet connection, which is needed to stream, and YouTube TV starts to look like not much more than a glorified cable package. It’s emblematic of a broader industry conundrum: a need to raise prices that are already too high from a consumer’s standpoint, yet not high enough for streaming companies to have any hope of turning a profit. YouTube TV has been a favorite among cord-cutters, in part because it tends to have fewer annoying glitches and more content. But $65 may change even some of their minds, especially with the U.S. economy sputtering. The app is in a category known as skinny bundles, which offer a few dozen live channels over the internet (though they’ve gotten chubbier over time as media giants try to stuff in all the channels they can). There’s been a proliferation of services like it in recent years, and yet none has quite been able to replicate cable affordably with the customization that consumers want. They all lose money, according to analysts, YouTube TV included. Sony’s PlayStation Vue — which was also well-liked by those who used it — shut down earlier this year, saying that it was too expensive to compete given the cost of programming.Sony probably won’t be the last company to give up on the streaming wars. Quibi, the startup created by Hollywood veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg — he was the “K” in DreamWorks SKG (the “S” was Steven Spielberg) — looks to be hanging on by a thread. The 90-day free trials that Quibi offered at its launch begin to expire July 5. Will enough consumers be willing to pay $5 a month for its service? It’s not looking likely.Quibi’s $5 may sound cheap compared to YouTube TV’s $65, but you get what you pay for, and the wide range of prices in the streaming industry is indicative of that. For example, even though Disney+ contains high-quality content from its beloved “Star Wars” and Marvel franchises, the app doesn’t have much else, hence it charges just $7 a month. At $13, Netflix still probably offers the best bang for your buck. YouTube TV did say it’s “working to build new flexible models,” which could signal different tiers of pricing in the future. In a dream world, consumers could just choose from a-la-carte menus, but that’s not in the best interest of programmers and distributors. Both sides have turned to megamergers in the last few years — AT&T-Time Warner, Charter-Time Warner Cable, CBS-Viacom, etc. — to regain negotiating power over one another and to stand a chance of taking on tech giants such as Google. Programmers use their scale to force their entire network portfolios onto streaming apps so that their less-popular ones don’t get left out.YouTube TV’s latest price increase comes on the heels of it adding eight of ViacomCBS Inc.’s top networks to its lineup, including BET, MTV and Nickelodeon, with six more niche ones on the way, including MTV Classic and TeenNick. To be fair, though, each of those is relatively inexpensive. What usually makes TV packages so costly is live sports — and that’s true even with most sports off the air this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN+ is reportedly raising its fee by $1, to $6 a month.If YouTube TV can get away with its new rate, then Netflix probably has room to raise its own price some. That prospect drove Netflix shares to a new all-time-high closing price of $485.64 on Wednesday, giving it a mind-boggling valuation of 42 times Ebitda. YouTube TV is the closest you’ll get to a traditional cable package, in that it has lots of live-TV channels, including sports, and common add-on options such as HBO and Showtime. But if you want streaming to look like cable, you’ve got to pay cable prices. Not even Google will eat those losses forever. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Tara Lachapelle is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the business of entertainment and telecommunications, as well as broader deals. She previously wrote an M&A column for Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The owner of the world's top search engine is also leveraging the world's most-visited video platform.
Scooter Braun, Ithaca Holdings Chairman & SB Projects Founder, joins 'Influencers with Andy Serwer' to discuss political division in Washington.
(Bloomberg) -- A top Democratic lawmaker wants to empower the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to take action against Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc., among other technology platforms, if they fail to remove content that violates their terms of service and community standards.Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who chairs a subcommittee on consumer protection, told Bloomberg in an interview that she plans to introduce a bill in the coming days that would clarify that if technology companies fail to fulfill the “assurances” made to users in terms and conditions, community standards, advertising rules and content moderation policies, they could face enforcement from the FTC.The initiative falls into a flurry of measures that aim to limit a much-cherished liability shield for user content under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Many of the initiatives are coming from Republicans, including President Donald Trump, as a way to address their claims that social media sites silence conservative voices.“Irrespective of what Trump is saying, we’re going to move ahead in a bipartisan way to do what we need to do to protect consumers,” Schakowsky said.The FTC already polices businesses under its authority to enforce against “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” Schakowsky’s bill would clarify that Section 230 can’t be used as a defense in those cases.The idea behind the bill would be to treat Facebook’s failure to block a post advocating, say, white supremacy or Google’s inability to stop an ad for medical masks, both of which are banned, the same way the FTC treats broken promises by companies to deliver cures or cybersecurity protection. The agency can seek injunctions, consent decrees and fines for repeat offenders.Facebook and Google have extensive bans on certain kinds of content, including Covid-19 scams, medical misinformation, posts inciting violence, terrorist content, harassment, hate speech, illegal drug sales and violent and graphic content.Facebook and Instagram have also taken action to ban white-nationalist content on their social-media platforms as well, while Google bans counterfeit goods and dangerous products and says that it protects advertisers “from invalid activity and advertising fraud.”A Google representative declined to comment. Facebook representatives could not be reached for comment after business hours on Wednesday.Schakowsky’s concern, which some of her GOP colleagues share, is that technology companies will try to duck any FTC enforcement of their content-moderation policies by invoking Section 230. The provision exempts them from liability for third-party posts, but has been interpreted by courts to free companies from much scrutiny over what content they leave up or take down.“Bottom line, we want to clarify that there is no doubt that 230 is not going to be the escape hatch,” Schakowsky said.By example, Schakowsky pointed to an effort by Airbnb Inc. to escape local regulation of short-term rental listing by invoking the provision, though a federal court rebuffed the effort.An FTC spokesperson didn’t comment on the bill, but said the agency “is committed to robust enforcement of consumer protection and competition laws, including with respect to social media platforms, and consistent with our jurisdictional authority and constitutional limitations.”While the companies have stepped up enforcement in recent years, Schakowsky said that the bill is necessary because of the spread of election misinformation targeting Black voters, scams involving stimulus checks and other content that proliferates despite being banned.Schakowsky’s effort follows a bill from five Republican senators led by tech critic Josh Hawley of Missouri that would expose the platforms to customer lawsuits if they engage in “intentionally selective enforcement” of their terms and standards.And a sweeping proposal by Trump’s Justice Department would clarify that Section 230 doesn’t stop federal civil enforcement. Trump’s May executive order also aimed to expose companies to FTC enforcement, as well as to user lawsuits if the platforms “use their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.”Schakowsky agreed with criticism of the White House order, which came after Twitter Inc. slapped a fact-check on one of Trump’s tweets, as an assault on the platform’s constitutional right. Her bill would focus more narrowly on FTC enforcement, rather than exposing companies to potentially thousands of user lawsuits.Promises, PromisesWhile many tech critics have urged companies to more strongly enforce their terms of service, ad policies, community standards and other documents, some have suggested that the companies might scale those back to avoid making promises they can’t deliver and that could draw FTC scrutiny.Others suggest that the company statements don’t represent promises at all and are merely rules that users must follow.“Proving deception from community standards language is probably pretty difficult because it’s couched in best efforts rather than a promise,” said Neil Chilson, a former FTC official who defends Section 230.Schakowsky said that FTC officials have told her they welcome her attempt to clarify the agency’s authority in an area that remains little-tested. “We need to empower them,” she said.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.
Two days after India blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, Google and Apple have started to comply with New Delhi's order and are preventing users in the world's second-largest internet market from accessing those apps. UC Browser, Shareit, and Club Factory and other apps that India has blocked are no longer listed on Apple's App Store and Google Play Store.
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