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(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The stock market with the most to lose from a wider coronavirus outbreak is the one in the U.S.Global markets sold off on Monday and Tuesday on reports that authorities are struggling to contain the virus, which has now spread to more than 30 countries and increasingly threatens the global economy. Until this week, the declines in global stocks seemed to be driven by proximity to the virus’s epicenter in China, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that few markets will escape harm if the virus isn’t contained.What’s not clear is which stock markets would suffer the sharpest declines. That obviously depends on how the crisis unfolds — where the virus spreads, how many people are affected, the impact on regional economies and trading routes, and so forth. But it also depends on the extent to which markets have already digested the potential risks, and by that criterion, the U.S. stock market appears particularly vulnerable. To see stock investors at their most carefree, take a look at the NYSE FANG+ Index. It’s a pantheon of the Great Disruptors – 10 companies that many investors believe are poised to dominate their respective industries. In order of market value, they are Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., NVIDIA Corp., Netflix Inc., Tesla Inc., Baidu Inc. and Twitter Inc. As a group, they are among the most extravagantly priced stocks in history, even for growth stocks.By any measure of price relative to earnings, the FANG index is nearly as expensive as the Russell 1000 Growth Index was at the peak of the dot-com mania two decades ago — or even more so. The price-to-earnings ratio of the FANG index is 34 based on analysts’ estimates of this year’s earnings per share, which is just 6% cheaper than the comparable P/E ratio for the growth index in March 2000. Other measures are even less flattering. Based on last year’s earnings, the FANG index’s P/E ratio jumps to 55, or an 8% premium over the comparable ratio for the growth index. And using an average of inflation-adjusted earnings over the last 10 years, it jumps again to 73, or a 16% premium over the growth index.Investors value the FANG index’s revenue even more than its profits. The price-to-sales ratio of the FANG index is 5.9, or 41% higher than the growth index’s P/S ratio of 4.2 in March 2000. Suffice it to say, when it comes to the FANGs, the market appears to have little concern for the risks around coronavirus or anything else.The reason that’s a potential problem for the U.S. is that eight of the 10 stocks in the FANG index are American companies. Remember that stocks in broad-market gauges such as the S&P 500 Index or Russell 1000 Index are weighted based on their market value. Therefore, as the market value of the stocks in the FANG index has spiked relative to others, so has their weighting in broad-market indexes. Those eight U.S. stocks represent less than 1% of the Russell 1000 by number, but they now account for more than 13% of its market value. That more than anything else explains the wide gap in the valuation between U.S. and foreign stocks. The P/E ratio of the Russell 1000 is 29, based on an average of inflation-adjusted earnings over the last 10 years, which captures the growth of both earnings and stock prices during the decade. By comparison, the P/E ratio of the MSCI ACWI ex USA Index, a gauge of global stocks excluding the U.S., is 19. That’s a premium of 53% for U.S. over foreign stocks, the largest since the data series begins in 1998. If the virus turns out to be a serious and sustained threat to the global economy, markets are likely to rethink stock prices, including those of companies in the FANG index. And the higher the valuation, the greater the potential for downward revision. That may seem unlikely to investors who view the FANGs as the ultimate blue chips, capable of navigating any environment, but no company is an island. Apple, the largest of the FANGs by market value, has already warned that it will miss sales forecasts because of coronavirus-related disruptions in production and demand for its products.More important, blue chips don’t necessarily provide more safety, particularly when valuations are stretched. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, investors piled into U.S. growth stocks, driving up valuations of companies with fat profits, a key measure of quality. In the ensuing sell-off sparked by the 1973 oil crisis, the most profitable 30% of U.S. stocks, weighted by market value, tumbled 48% from January 1973 to September 1974, including dividends, according to numbers compiled by Dartmouth professor Ken French. Meanwhile, the cheapest 30% of U.S. stocks by price-to-book ratio, which are widely viewed as lower quality, declined 28% during the same period.It happened again during the dot-com boom in the late 1990s. Investors’ renewed obsession with growth stocks drove up the valuations of highly profitable companies. In the ensuing bear market sparked by the collapse of internet companies, the most profitable 30% of U.S. stocks fell 32% from April 2000 to September 2002, while the cheapest 30% of U.S. stocks declined just 10%. So there’s a lot riding on whether the U.S. disruptors can navigate the risks around coronavirus, not just for their own investors but also for those betting on the broad U.S. stock market. It makes sense that overseas markets took the first hit, but if the virus isn’t contained soon, don’t be surprised if the U.S. stock market turns out to be hit the hardest.To contact the author of this story: Nir Kaissar at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Niemi at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Nir Kaissar is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the markets. He is the founder of Unison Advisors, an asset management firm. He has worked as a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell and a consultant at Ernst & Young. 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) -- Toyota Motor Corp. invested $400 million in Pony.ai to strengthen its ties with the Chinese provider of driverless-car systems.The investment extends the companies’ partnership formed last year and pushes Pony.ai’s valuation to more than $3 billion, the startup said in a statement. The pact enables a “deeper integration” of Pony.ai’s technology with Toyota’s vehicles.“It will enable us to make the commercialization of autonomous-driving vehicles faster,” Pony.ai Chief Executive Officer James Peng said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “We will put more money into building up the fleet.”Automakers are striking pacts with driverless-system providers to gain expertise and fend off competition from technology companies seeking to enter the transport business. For Pony.ai, a relationship with Toyota is a vote of confidence as it seeks to take on U.S. rivals such as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo.Pony.ai has two testing sites in California and it runs a pilot service with Hyundai Motor Co. in Irvine, Orange County, that provides rides to members of the public. On Wednesday, the company announced a service to City of Fremont employees, offering last-mile rides in its autonomous vehicles between a local transport hub and some of Fremont’s public buildings.Toyota required no exclusive access to the technology and is open to Pony.ai partnering with other automakers, Peng said.Last year, Toyota and Pony.ai announced a pilot project on public roads in Beijing and Shanghai, using Lexus RX vehicles and Pony.ai’s autonomous driving system. The companies now plan to explore further cooperation in mobility services.The coronavirus outbreak has had a “limited” impact on Pony.ai, which has resumed some testing and business operations in China, Peng said.Founded in 2016, Pony.ai’s investors also include Sequoia Capital China and IDG Capital. The total size of the newest funding round was $462 million, with existing investors putting in $62 million.To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Chunying Zhang in Shanghai at firstname.lastname@example.org;Ed Ludlow in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Young-Sam Cho at firstname.lastname@example.org, Ville Heiskanen, Angus WhitleyFor 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) -- U.S. crash investigators faulted Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot system and the driver’s distraction by a mobile device for a fatal accident in 2018 and called on Apple Inc. and other mobile phone makers to do more to keep motorists’ attention on the road.Tesla was heavily criticized for not doing enough to keep drivers from using its driver-assist function inappropriately. American regulators, which have guidelines but no firm rules for the emerging automated driving systems, were also attacked by the safety board.“It’s time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars, because they don’t have driverless cars,” National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.The hearing was a searing critique of how Tesla and other carmakers have introduced new technologies that automate aspects of driving but still require constant human supervision, and of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s light-touch approach to regulating the safety of those systems.Even though the Tesla SUV in the 2018 crash in northern California had previously veered toward a concrete barrier, the driver, an Apple employee, allowed the semi-autonomous system to essentially steer itself as it passed that same location and moved toward a highway barrier, the NTSB concluded. The driver failed to intervene because he was distracted, likely because he was playing a game on a mobile phone provided by his company, which lacked a policy prohibiting employees from using devices while driving, the NTSB found.The NTSB has for years issued warnings about distracted driving and its deadly toll on the roadways. During the hearing, it called on Apple and other mobile phone manufacturers to develop protections to prevent misuse of electronic devices behind the wheel as a default setting.The agency also urged the NHTSA to conduct a fresh evaluation of Autopilot and take enforcement action if necessary if the agency finds defects.“We urge Tesla to continue to work on improving their Autopilot technology and for NHTSA to fulfill its oversight responsibility to ensure that corrective action is taken when necessary,” Sumwalt said.The death of 38-year-old Apple engineer Walter Huang in March 2018 in Silicon Valley prompted the NTSB to issue its strongest findings to date on safety risks posed by automated driving systems and driver distraction by mobile devices.“Limitations within the Autopilot system caused the SUV to veer towards the area with a concrete barrier that it ultimately struck, which the driver didn’t attempt to stop due to distraction,” the board found.NTSB recommended that both mobile device manufacturers such as Apple, Google and Samsung Electronics Co., as well as employers more broadly, do more to combat distracted driving.Mobile phone manufacturers should lock out features on the devices as a default setting, rather than as an optional feature that must be activated manually, the NTSB said. Employers should adopt policies banning non-emergency mobile phone use by employees when behind the wheel.The NTSB posted a document on Monday in its public record on the crash showing Apple didn’t have a policy on distracted driving.“I checked around with various groups and we do not have a policy related to phone use and driving,” wrote an Apple representative in an email response to the NTSB, which was posted to the safety board’s public investigative files on Monday.An Apple spokesman said the company expects its employees to follow the law. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment but has said it has updated Autopilot in part to issue more frequent warnings to inattentive drivers and that its research shows drivers are safer using the system than not. Tesla has also repeatedly stressed that drivers must pay attention while using Autopilot.The combination of growing mobile device use in semi-autonomous cars, in which drivers can take their eyes off the road for long periods, is a combustible mix, said NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg.“What this crash illustrates is not only do we have the old kind of distraction” Lansberg said. Partly-automated driving systems present “yet another kind, which is the automation complacency of the system almost kind of always works, except when it doesn’t.”NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy criticized the NHTSA for issuing a recent statement saying it was trying to limit regulations to make cars more affordable.“What we should not do is lower the bar on safety,” Homendy said. “That shouldn’t even be considered for an agency that has the word safety in its name.”NHTSA said in a statement it was aware of the NTSB’s report and would review it. It also said distracted driving remains a concern and that drivers of every motor vehicle available currently on sale are required to remain in control at all times.It is also conducting more than a dozen of its own investigations into Tesla crashes linked to its semi-autonomous system known as Autopilot. Tesla is one of the leading developers of automated driving technology.Warnings to DriverHuang’s Tesla struck the concrete highway barrier at about 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour. His hands weren’t detected on the steering wheel for about one-third of the drive and the car twice issued automated warnings to him.A protective barrier on the highway designed to reduce the crash impact wasn’t in place, the NTSB found.In addition, Tesla and government agencies haven’t bothered to respond to NTSB’s recommendations related to an earlier, similar crash.Smartphone manufacturers and software developers have taken some steps to address distracted driving. Apple’s iPhone, for example, has a feature to block text message and other notifications when driving that a user can activate in the phone’s settings.“The challenge is that they’re all passive systems. They require you as the owner of the phone to take that action, and many won’t or don’t because they don’t have to,” said Kelly Nantel, vice president of roadway safety at the National Safety Council.While the safety board stopped short of concluding that NHTSA’s lack of actions were part of the cause of the crash, it found that the regulator hadn’t done enough to set safety standards and called its approach to semi-automated vehicles “misguided.”Separately, the NTSB is prepared to cite the highway-safety regulator’s actions in another fatal Tesla crash as a contributing factor.In a March 2019 crash in Delray Beach, Florida, a Tesla drove into the side of a truck without braking, killing the driver. The conclusions of the investigation haven’t been published, but were read by Homendy during Tuesday’s meeting.(Updates with details from hearing, beginning in the fourth paragraph)To contact the reporters on this story: Ryan Beene in Washington at email@example.com;Alan Levin in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at email@example.com, Elizabeth Wasserman, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- When the Internet Accountability Project popped up late last year and joined the growing crusade against Big Tech, the nonprofit group refused to say who was financing it.Turns out, at least one of its benefactors is Oracle Corp.Oracle donated between $25,000 and $99,999 last year to the internet project, according to a new political-giving report Oracle posted on its website. The group calls itself a conservative nonprofit advocating for tougher privacy rules and stronger antitrust enforcement against the internet giants.The IAP financing is just one part of an aggressive, and sometimes secretive, battle Oracle has been waging against its biggest rivals, including Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.Oracle spent years fighting to unseat Amazon as the front-runner for a lucrative Pentagon cloud contract, which was awarded to Microsoft Corp. in October.The Redwood City, California, company has also been locked in a decade-long legal dispute with Google, claiming the search-engine giant violated Oracle copyrights by including some Java programming code in the Android phone. Oracle acquired Java’s developer, Sun Microsystems Inc., in 2010.Earlier this month, IAP filed an amicus brief supporting Oracle’s position in the case. IAP said it wants to “ensure that Google respects the copyrights of Oracle and other innovators.” The U.S. Supreme Court on March 24 will hear oral arguments in the Google v. Oracle America case.The Trump administration on Feb. 19 also urged the Supreme Court to reject Google’s appeal in the case. Its brief appeared the same day that Larry Ellison, Oracle’s co-founder and chairman, hosted a high-dollar fundraiser at his Rancho Mirage estate for President Donald Trump. The event prompted about 300 Oracle employees to stage a protest the next day. The U.S. had previously supported Oracle as the case wound its way through the courts.Oracle’s donations disclosure reveals that it contributed to at least four other groups that filed supportive briefs in the Supreme Court case. Google has also donated money to at least 10 groups that have filed briefs on its behalf in the high court case.Oracle and Amazon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the Oracle disclosure. Google declined to comment.IAP President Mike Davis said in a statement the group doesn’t disclose its financial backers but specified that Oracle didn’t fund its Supreme Court brief.The internet project was launched in September by Davis, a former aide to Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Rachel Bovard, a former aide to Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. The group aims to “lend a conservative voice to the calls for federal and state governments to rein in Big Tech before it is too late,” according to its website.The IAP is a Section 501(c)(4), known as a “social-welfare” organization. That designation means it isn’t required to disclose donors as long as it doesn’t spend more than half of its money on campaign advertisements or activities to sway an election.Among other policies, IAP supports curtailing Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from liability for content that users post on their platforms. The clause saves tech companies from having to review content before it’s published online, and then shields them from lawsuits if that content turns out to be problematic.Earlier: Barr Takes Aim at Legal Shield Enjoyed by Google, FacebookIn interviews and on social media, IAP has supported Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who has proposed that tech companies lose the legal immunity unless they can prove to the Federal Trade Commission that they treat their content in a politically neutral manner.Since September, IAP has tweeted at least 11 times about Hawley’s legislative efforts against Google and other tech companies. Other IAP tweets highlight instances in which Google-funded groups fought on the internet giant’s behalf.“Holy smokes you guys, DC is awash in @Google money,” Bovard tweeted in September.Davis, the group’s president, wrote last week on Townhall.com that Google’s battle with Oracle is “the poster child for what we at IAP call ‘the Great 21st Century Internet Heist.’” He said the company “is anathema to conservatives and everything we stand for,” without disclosing that his group is funded by Oracle.Earlier: It’s the Kochs vs. the Mercers in the Right’s Big Tech BrawlOracle claims Google owes it at least $8.8 billion for using the Java code without a license. Google argues it was fair to use parts of the programming language to help Android communicate more easily with other software.The case has split Silicon Valley by pitting software makers who favor stronger copyright protections against companies that rely on others’ code to produce new innovations.Other CampaignsIAP is far from the only anti-tech group Oracle has funded. It also gave between $25,000 and $99,999 to the Free and Fair Markets Initiative, according to the disclosure.Free and Fair Markets claims it is a grassroots coalition of businesses and advocacy groups fighting for a better economy. In practice, it has focused more on publicizing negative reports about Amazon. The Wall Street Journal reported that Oracle, Walmart Inc. and the Simon Property Group had financed the group.For the last two years, Oracle has also waged a multi-front battle against Amazon over the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, cloud contract. The deal, which could be worth $10 billion over a decade, is designed to transition much of the Pentagon’s data into one commercially operated cloud system.For more: Oracle’s Catz Is Said to Talk Amazon Contract Row With TrumpAmazon was seen as the leading contender because it had already won a major cloud contract with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and had obtained high levels of security clearance. The move to Amazon’s cloud would have threatened Oracle’s legacy database business with the Defense Department.Oracle led a coalition of other tech companies, including Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp., to oppose the Pentagon’s decision to award the contract to a sole bidder. In addition to lobbying Congress and the Trump administration, Oracle also filed -- and lost -- challenges through the Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.Oracle is currently appealing a July ruling that it lacked standing to challenge the contract.(Updates with comment from IAP in paragraph 11)\--With assistance from Greg Stohr.To contact the reporters on this story: Naomi Nix in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Joe Light in Washington at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at firstname.lastname@example.org, Paula DwyerFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The planned digital tax, a new bill that could impact encryption, developments on U.S. Google's antitrust case and Amazon's challenge of the JEDI contract and other news is covered in this article.
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s review of Google’s plan to buy Fitbit Inc. won’t involve privacy regulators, the bloc’s antitrust chief insisted, days after data watchdogs warned about how tech giants could use M&A to access citizens’ private information.A panel of EU data regulators raised the alarm last week, saying that the $2.1 billion takeover of fitness tracker Fitbit could “entail a high risk to privacy and data protection” in an unusual statement.But the group, known as the European Data Protection Board, can’t have a formal role weighing the merger, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in an interview with Bloomberg.“We cannot invite other bodies to participate,” she said. “We are very much aware that in cases there can be a privacy issue. We are just very careful not to see a competition issue where there is a privacy issue because, if that is the case, it’s not for us.”Google’s plan to buy Fitbit is running into a wall of antitrust and privacy worries in the U.S., Europe and Australia, where competition officials are increasingly wary of how internet giants can exert control over data to cement their dominance. The deal adds wearable devices to the internet giant’s hardware business. It also advances the ambitions of Google parent Alphabet Inc. to expand in the health-care sector by adding data from Fitbit’s more than 28 million users.The data regulators said last week that companies should take action to mitigate any risks before seeking formal approval from the European Commission, the bloc’s merger authority. They also said they were “ready to contribute” to a merger review.The EU hasn’t started any formal examination of the deal and must wait for Google to file for approval. The commission is responsible for checking whether a transaction that falls under its remit harms competition in the bloc.Vestager said she would “always welcome people contributing to the case” but cooperation with privacy regulators “would not discuss specific cases because then we would invite people in who may not be privy to” confidential details of a review.EU antitrust regulators may eventually have to deal with how “privacy issues can be used in an anti-competitive manner,” she said. “We will have to stay vigilant to see if that is actually the case.”Google referred to a statement it made last week, saying it plans “to work constructively with regulators to answer their questions” about the deal and won’t sell personal information to anyone.“Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data,” the company said.Extensive ScrutinyGoogle’s businesses have received extensive scrutiny already in Europe, with three EU antitrust probes resulting in more than $9 billion in fines.Vestager said the penalties, of between 4-6% of Google’s revenue “could have been higher,” up to a limit of 10%. Officials found it more urgent to look at companies’ actions to repair damage caused by anti-competitive behavior, she said.Smaller shopping search firms that say they have been hurt by Google’s action in the product search market have criticized Google’s changes as inadequate and have called on Vestager to declare the company as non-compliant with the EU’s order -- which could involve new fines.The EU commissioner is keenly aware of the “very tricky” issue, saying the changes have made Google’s rivals more visible and more merchants have been getting traffic. “But you do not see that rivals themselves are getting traffic.”“It’s difficult to say what is cause and effect here,” she said, pointing to that and Google’s recent changes to Android apps as cases to “see and learn from,” warning that companies that breach antitrust rules must know that fines will be accompanied by orders to change behavior.“If we find illegal behavior, it’s not just stop what you’re doing. It is definitively also, you will have a responsibility to do positive actions to make competition come back,” she said.(Updates with detail on procedure in 7th paragraph.)To contact the reporters on this story: Aoife White in Brussels at email@example.com;Hamza Ali in Brussels at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at email@example.com, Peter Chapman, Molly SchuetzFor 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) -- Before HQ Trivia ran out of money earlier this month and abruptly shut down, the once-promising startup appeared to be on the brink of a dramatic victory. It had an acquisition offer from a media company called Whistle. The deal would have given HQ the cash it desperately needed to keep the lights on. Whistle was still doing its due diligence, but it already knew that HQ Trivia had been declining in popularity in recent months. It was familiar with the company’s history of managerial infighting, and it was aware of the shocking death of its 34-year-old co-founder from a drug overdose.Then, earlier this month, Whistle pulled out unexpectedly. HQ’s board members were blindsided, according to two people close to the company who asked not to be identified discussing private conversations. The company’s chief executive officer, Rus Yusupov, sent an email to its 25 employees on Valentine’s Day, telling them they were losing their jobs.That day, users got a bitter push notification on their phones. “HQ is live,” it read. “Just kidding. We’re off-air indefinitely.”The story of how one of the most promising companies in entertainment got to this point is a singular example of a clever idea derailed by what former employees describe as mismanagement and seething boardroom drama. In 2018, the New Statesman declared that “HQ Trivia—not Netflix—is the real future of television.” This year, by the time it was talking to digital video maker Whistle about a deal, HQ parent Intermedia Labs was on the verge of not being able to pay out promised prize money, people familiar with the company said.In nearly a dozen interviews with former employees, industry experts and others close to the startup, a portrait emerged of a company whose problems ran deeper than has been previously reported. In Silicon Valley, it’s not uncommon for good ideas to be stymied by managerial dysfunction. But HQ displayed a degree of personal animosity between staff and management—and among managers themselves—that’s rare even by tech startup standards. Yusupov, his board members and key employees all declined requests for comment. Most people who agreed to speak requested anonymity in order to protect their relationships, and prospects of getting another job in the industry.Now, the company is fighting for a second chance. On February 18, four days after declaring HQ was over and out of money, Yusupov tweeted that a new buyer had emerged. People familiar with the situation also say that a deal is close, though not finalized, and could become official as soon as early this week. Still, some who worked at the startup remain skeptical that HQ will ever make a comeback.Its most famous former employee, quiz show host Scott Rogowsky, tweeted a post-mortem for the company the day after it shut down. “HQ didn’t die of natural causes,” he wrote. “It was poisoned with a lethal cocktail of incompetence, arrogance, short-sightedness & sociopathic delusion.”On paper, the guys who founded HQ Trivia made a pretty good team. Yusupov and Colin Kroll had previously created Vine, the short looping video company. It became a force on the internet, minting now-famous influencers like viral provocateurs Jake and Logan Paul and musician Shawn Mendes. Vine was acquired by Twitter in 2015 for $30 million.But that integration into Twitter proved to be the first major setback for the promising duo. Kroll and Yusupov were both fired from the company at different times, Recode later reported. And, according to allegations that eventually surfaced in the media, Kroll made some of his female colleagues there uneasy with “creepy” behavior. In a statement to Axios, Kroll would later apologize for “things I said and did that made some feel unappreciated or uncomfortable,” and deny sexually harassing anyone. An investigation conducted by HQ’s board would also find his behavior fell short of harassment. The Twitter tie-up came to an end in October 2016, when the company shut down the service.By that point, though, Kroll and Yusupov had earned a reputation as online video whiz kids, and they found support for their next project, a live video app called Hype. Lightspeed Venture Partners invested $8 million to get the company off the ground, Recode reported. Lightspeed partner Jeremy Liew praised the company in a Medium post partly titled “Founders Matter,” which lauded pioneering social media entrepreneurs. “When these founders move on, they tend to see success again in their next venture,” he wrote. Hype didn’t find an audience. Neither did the company’s other ideas for a DIY game show or a celebrity baby photo-matching game. But before long, Yusupov and Kroll struck internet oil. HQ Trivia launched in August 2017 with a glitchy app, but almost immediately, it was a sensation. The game, an interactive mobile trivia show, was fun to play—and people of all ages found it addictive. When the live broadcast of the show would come on each day thousands of people stopped what they were doing to look at their phones and try to answer the game’s 12 questions correctly for cash prizes. Within months hundreds of thousands of players would tune in for the company’s daily show. But by mid-December of 2017, just months after its launch, trouble was already brewing for the company. HQ was struggling to raise money thanks to a reputation for “womanizing” that Kroll had left behind at Twitter, Liew said in a statement at the time to media outlets including Businessweek. Concerned by investors’ reticence, Liew, who was on the HQ board, launched an investigation into the allegations. He concluded that Kroll hadn’t been popular at Twitter, but that he didn’t harass anyone.As questions percolated about HQ’s management, its trivia app’s growth continued unabated. In February, the company scored a Super Bowl commercial, cementing its position as a staple of popular culture. The month after, the company raised $15 million in a funding round led VC firm Founders Fund. In a statement accompanying the funding announcement, Kroll said he was “let go” by Twitter from his role at Vine for “poor management,” and apologized for past behavior. HQ’s valuation climbed to $100 million.The high point for HQ Trivia came in March 2018, when almost 2.4 million people tuned in to try and win a $250,000 prize sponsored by Warner Bros. to promote its upcoming movie, “Ready Player One.” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made an appearance the next month, reaching a slightly smaller audience, and the game continued to book major sponsors like Nike Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and JPMorgan Chase & Co.Despite the star power, in 2018 HQ Trivia was starting to slip in the App Store rankings. It went from consistently landing in the top five slots in the “games” category in the U.S. App Store at the beginning of the year, to 188th place on July 1, according to App Annie.The key problem was that HQ wasn’t innovating, according to conversations with former employees. As people got bored with the main game, the company had little else to offer them. The stagnation wasn’t necessarily for a lack of ideas. Starting in 2018, the company discussed lots of additional shows including a “Judge Judy”-like program, and one based on “Family Feud,” people familiar with the company said. A dating show idea got far enough along that the company even made a pilot, they said, but it never launched.Yusupov was more interested in building out HQ’s flagship product than launching new ones, former employees said. Several people also said that Yusupov, a talented designer and creative thinker, could be erratic—alternating between bursts of frenetic activity and long periods of inaction. One employee recalled how once, hours before a game was supposed to drop, Yusupov asked to cut the number of winners from 5,000 to 500. Another former staffer remembered Yusupov personally overseeing the details for a game, even as larger issues like cash burn loomed at the company.A representative for Yusupov declined requests for comment. In a conversation with the Wall Street Journal in 2019, he said, “I’ve always welcomed and appreciated candid feedback. I’m evolving as a leader and will continue to do so.”That spring, Kroll contemplated leaving HQ altogether. His relationship with Yusupov had been rocky since the allegations and subsequent fundraising struggles. "I have a lot of ideas left," he said in a text message to a friend reviewed by Bloomberg. "And I don't want to make them w/Rus."At the office, Yusupov and Kroll continued to sit next to each other. But their mutual dislike had become so intense that one person familiar with the dynamic recalled that instead of speaking, they would sometimes Slack employees messages for each other.In August 2018, some members of HQ’s four-person board of directors felt the company needed a change in leadership, Recode reported. Liew and Kroll wanted Kroll to replace Yusupov as CEO. “We’re trying to diversify a bit, and that’s where my skill-set comes in handy,” Kroll would later tell tech site Digiday. Yusupov, however, didn’t want to give up his job, according to people with knowledge of the dynamic at the time.Displacing a CEO, even with another co-founder, is a seismic event for a startup. “Removing the founder more often than not is like ripping out the heart of the company,” Carol Liao, assistant professor of law at the University of British Columbia, wrote in an email. To add to that, investors doing the ousting are also risking becoming known as unfriendly to founders. "If that becomes your reputation, you're in trouble," said Brandy Aven, associate professor of organizational theory, strategy, and entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University.HQ’s board consisted of Liew, Kroll, Yusupov and Founders Fund’s Cyan Banister, who had joined earlier that year in the $15 million funding round. In the standoff between Kroll and Yusupov, Banister didn’t want to pick a side. (Founders Fund boasts on its website that it “has never removed a single founder.”) So she left the board to avoid the decision. That left Yusupov outnumbered 2-to-1. He was demoted. Before Kroll’s ascension to the CEO spot was announced, though, an employee filed a complaint about him to human resources, Recode first reported. The complaint, which accused Kroll of “inappropriate and unprofessional” management, was elevated to the board and leaked to the press. In an indication of the brewing mistrust at the company, Kroll suspected the leak could have come from Yusupov’s camp, according to text messages reviewed by Bloomberg.The complaint did not derail Kroll’s appointment, but the transfer of power solidified the long-gestating enmity between the founders. Yusupov felt betrayed that Kroll and Liew took away his job, people familiar with the situation said. Kroll thought Yusupov had tried to sabotage him in the press. He confided in a friend that he was considering firing his co-founder, and texted, "Feel like I should stop talking to Rus.”Then, just months after Kroll took over, HQ suffered its most shocking setback. In mid-December 2018, the company threw its annual holiday party. Kroll left the event and ordered drugs through an on-demand delivery service in New York City called Mike’s Candyshop, according to reports at the time. After taking the drugs with a girlfriend in his apartment late that night, the next day police found Kroll dead in his bed. The autopsy found heroin, cocaine and fentanyl in his body. Six men were arrested for running the drug service that provided the lethal substances, news reports said.Kroll’s death stunned HQ’s staff—and thrust Yusupov back into the unofficial role of CEO. That unsettled some employees. A few said they feared the company would slip into a state of inaction they believed had characterized Yusupov’s tenure as CEO. So several staffers—including the face of the company, quiz show host Rogowsky—started circulating the idea of drafting a letter demanding that the board replace Yusupov, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. A sizable number of HQ’s employees added their names.Liew was made aware of the letter before he ever received it. A hasty, all-staff meeting was called in February 2019, with Liew and other board members in attendance. At the meeting, the assembled staff was told that the board had hired a search firm to help HQ Trivia find a new leader. In the meantime HQ’s top engineering exec, Ben Sheats, and the company’s head of production, Nick Gallo, would share the CEO role with Yusupov, according to several former employees who were at the meeting. Liew also said that once Yusupov’s replacement was found, he would step down as board member, yielding his seat to his Lightspeed colleague, Merci Grace.But the new CEO never came. HQ spoke to a number of candidates in 2019, and got close on a few, but ultimately failed to hire anyone, according to people familiar with the discussions. Shortly after the February all-hands meeting, Rogowsky, by far HQ’s most visible employee, left for another job.By late summer of last year, it was clear that HQ needed an influx of capital, or new ownership, in order to survive. The number of downloads were down, and the company laid off about 20% of its staff in July, TechCrunch reported. The board hired Watertower Group, a boutique investment and advisory firm, and set out to explore their options, according to two people familiar with the arrangement. Watertower Group did not respond to requests for comment.In November, the company began talks with Whistle, formerly known as Whistle Sports, about an acquisition. Whistle makes digital shows for platforms like YouTube, IGTV, Snapchat Discover and the video section inside Facebook Inc., called Watch. HQ Trivia’s late attempts at new games, including HQ Tunes for music trivia launched in December 2019, had failed to take off. But it wasn’t hard to see how the company's offerings might fit into Whistle’s broader content strategy.HQ’s board expected the deal to close in mid-February, then Whistle pulled the plug, according to people familiar with the startup’s thinking. The botched acquisition meant HQ no longer had the money to sustain operations, Yusupov tweeted. The one-time media darling suddenly, abruptly shuttered.In a statement, a spokeswoman for Whistle confirmed that the company had had conversations with HQ as part of its broader growth strategy. “We will continue to look for the right growth opportunities,” she wrote. HQ’s demise was not exactly surprising. Since the start of this year, HQ Trivia had not cracked the top 1,000 in the rankings of top games in the U.S. App Store, according to App Annie. Still, its closure marked one of the most dramatic tumbles from grace in recent tech history. “With HQ we showed the world the future of TV,” Yusupov tweeted. “Thanks to everyone who helped build this and thanks for playing.”While the game is over for the foreseeable future, the world has likely not heard the last of HQ. The company will be the focus of a new podcast from sports and entertainment outlet, the Ringer. And a group of former employees is currently shopping a documentary-style video series to a number of well-known streaming services, according to people familiar with the discussions. The group includes former host Rogowsky—but not Yusupov—the people said.Meanwhile, HQ is still seeking a reprieve. After the Whistle deal fell through, Yusupov and HQ’s board spent the weekend calling around in search of another buyer, according people familiar with the situation. Now, the people said, a deal is being negotiated and is expected to close in the coming days, but is still not official.The hope is that this new buyer will pay enough for HQ to at least deliver severance for employees and prize money for players, people familiar with the matter said, if not fund a return to glory for the app.Several people with knowledge of the discussions declined to comment on who the new buyer was, citing a fear of upending the deal. But that didn’t stop Yusupov from sharing last week that something is in the works. “We have found a new home for HQ, with a company that wants to keep it running,” he tweeted Tuesday. “Not a done deal yet, but I’m optimistic.”(Updates with context in the 31st paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the month of the app's first launch.)\--With assistance from Sarah McBride.To contact the author of this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Anne VanderMey at email@example.com, Mark MilianAndrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Huawei Technologies Co. reaffirmed its bet that expensive folding smartphones will excite consumers into upgrades, and that Apple Inc.’s iPad Pro is a design worth imitating for a new line of tablet computers. The Chinese company on Monday announced a second-generation version of its Mate X folding phone, which up to now has been sold mostly in its home country. This time Huawei’s bringing it to Europe, and said the product’s more durable than the first version and has a faster processor and 3D graphics.When folded, the Mate Xs has a 6.6-inch display, which is just slightly larger than Apple Inc.’s iPhone 11 Pro Max. But when opened out, Huawei’s device becomes an 8-inch tablet computer. It has three rear-facing Leica Camera AG-branded lenses, which double as selfie cameras when flipping the phone around in its folded form.It’ll cost 2,499 euros ($2,704) when it goes on sale worldwide in March.The market for smartphones is slowing, and manufacturers are trying to find new ways to convince consumers they should upgrade their devices. Bendable products are an increasingly popular strategy being tried out by some of the world’s biggest device makers.Samsung has been selling a foldable smartphone for as many months as Huawei, and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Lenovo Group Ltd. showed off an updated prototype of a folding ThinkPad computer. The Motorola Razr brand is also due to make a comeback later this year, and it too will bend.Huawei also showed off a new line of tablet computers for Europe -- the MatePad Pro 5G -- aimed at the same buyers of products like Apple’s iPad Pro. It’s not without its physical similarities, either.The MatePad Pro has a 10.8-inch display compared to the iPad’s 11 inches; it includes a stylus that, like the Apple Pencil, connects magnetically to the outer edge of the tablet for recharging, and is dubbed the Huawei M-Pencil. The bezel around the screen is slimmer than that of Apple’s, but uses the same rounded screen corners that differentiate the iPad Pro from its cheaper brethren. At a briefing with reporters ahead of the launch on Monday, Huawei championed the MatePad Pro’s use of split-screen multitasking to run apps side-by-side and its optional magnetic keyboard case.It does have innovations of its own, however. The tablet can mirror the display of certain Huawei smartphones if they’re nearby, letting you control the phone virtually -- a bit like using a remote desktop app to use a PC from another computer. The tablet also has fifth-generation 5G wireless -- something no iPhone or iPad offers yet -- and it can be used to wirelessly charge other products, such as phones, headphones or computer mice.Prices will start at 549 euros for a Wi-Fi-only version from April.However, due to the U.S. government blacklisting Huawei -- which it accuses of aiding Beijing in espionage -- last year, the company’s new Mate Xs and MatePad run on versions of Android that’s free and open-source, meaning they don’t have apps such as Google Maps, YouTube or the Google Play Store. Samsung’s Android-powered tablets do not suffer such restrictions.Huawei’s been battling global scrutiny over its telecom equipment, but often overlooked is the company’s rapid growth as a smartphone manufacturer. In 2018, it surpassed Apple to become the world’s second-largest maker of smartphones, according to data from market research firm IDC. (Updates with MatePad Pro pricing)To contact the author of this story: Nate Lanxon in London at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Giles Turner at email@example.comFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Anyone paying attention to finance, markets and the economy doesn't have to look very hard to find complaints that we are on the cusp of a bubble of one type or another.Perhaps the area most often targeted by the bubble believers is tech. I was curious about just how widespread this belief is: “Tech bubble” has doubled on Google Trends this year alone; Google News generates more than 3.6 million hits for the phrase.(1)Defining a bubble isn't too hard and one will do as good as another. “A market phenomenon characterized by surges in asset prices to levels significantly above the fundamental value of that asset. Bubbles are often hard to detect in real time because there is disagreement over the fundamental value of the asset,” Nasdaq says. So let's turn to the pro-bubble argument: It has been a decade since the financial crisis and two decades since the dot-com implosion. That's enough time for people to have forgotten the trauma of that disaster. Since the Great Recession ended, there has been too much capital sloshing around, leading to excessive tech valuations. And not just in public equities, but in private markets, too. Unicorns and other SoftBank Vision Fund debacles have imploded, an early warning sign for publicly traded companies, the argument goes.Central banks have made the bubble worse, providing cheap capital that has artificially inflated profits. The bubble advocates also urge us not to overlook the impact of these low borrowing costs on the surge in share buybacks; reducing the total amount of a public company’s shares outstanding has the effect of making earnings per share look better.Then there are the anecdotes: Tesla’s stock has more than doubled in the past three months, and the company now has a market value of more than $165 billion -- higher than Volkswagen, General Motors and Ford combined. This is to say nothing of the companies valued at more than $1 trillion, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet. But let's also be generous and acknowledge that some things do look overvalued, whether it's Bitcoin (maybe), WeWork (obviously) or Tesla (I'm not getting in the middle of that one).But here's the thing: None of that is proof of a stock-market bubble. Let's look at some themes and issues to demonstrate why this is so:Business models: In the 1990s, the internet captivated the collective imagination of investors, too many of whom indiscriminately threw cash at anything with dot-com attached to it. The 2000 collapse taught investors that it took more than a high-concept idea to make a stock worth buying: growth and future cash flow matter a lot, too. The collapse of WeWork’s initial public offering last year brought this home once again. Investors realized that renting out office space short term while locking the company into long-term, expensive real-estate leases was a terrible business model. Public investors grasped this flaw -- something private investors seemingly failed to understand -- and the market worked the way it's supposed to. Revenue and earnings: Unlike the dot-coms of the '90, today's tech businesses are gigantic cash machines. Apple posted fourth-quarter revenue of $91.8 billion and net income of $22.2 billion. Without much fanfare, Microsoft's revenue grew 14% in the latest quarter, to $36.9 billion, while net income surged 38% to $11.6 billion. Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook all continue to mint revenues and profits. These companies also have accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars in cash. This is not the profitless tech boom of the 1990s.Sentiment: Maybe there is some excessive optimism. But that isn't the same as the full-blown delusion that bubbles produce. Talk of bubbles is offset by chatter about recession: Remember that less a year ago investors were anticipating a downturn and in the fourth quarter of 2018 major market indexes fell 20%, meeting the normal definition of a bear market, however brief. Meanwhile, the American Association of Individual Investors Bullish Readings index is 40.6, which is just a hair above the average reading of 39.5 for the past 25 years.Performance: Broad market performance is robust, but not crazy. Last’s year's 31% gain in the S&P 500 is misleading: most of that simply reflected the rebound from the 2018 fourth-quarter tumble cited above.So let's take a step back and consider the S&P 500 since 2015: It has had annual gains of 11.8%, for a total cumulative five-year return of 75%. Before fintwits howl “Now do the Nasdaq,” here it is: 17.6% annually and cumulative total returns of 125%. Fine, good, but not bubble material.Now compare those figures with the five years before the market peaked in March 2000: The Nasdaq generated annual returns of 60% and a five-year total return of 946% during that period, while the S&P 500 gained 25% annually and 211% for the five years. This is obvious, right?Sure, there are pockets of excessive optimism and foolishness in markets. There always are. But there also are lots of companies that are not participating in this bull-market rally. Those who were around in the 1990s know what a real bubble looks like: This isn't it.(1) Some recent examples:Barron’s:"Tesla’s Manic Rally Isn’t the Only Sign of a Market Bubble. What You Need to Know"CCN:"An Epic Stock Market Crash Is Looming, Analysts Warn"Yahoo:"The stock market is on steroids and it could end up like the dot com bubble"Barron’s (again): "Is the Fed Building Another Stock Bubble?"Bloomberg: “Mom and Pop Are On Epic Stock Buying Spree Fueled by Free Trades”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 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/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Terms of Trade is a daily newsletter that untangles a world threatened by trade wars. Sign up here. European finance chiefs arrived at a meeting of their global peers in Riyadh demanding the urgent creation of a new global tax system for the 21st century that would capture the profits of tech multinationals. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded: it’s not that simple.New rules for taxing companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. have stirred intense debate at this weekend’s Group of 20 meeting of finance chiefs. Finding a solution this year is key to maintaining a tariff truce the U.S. and Europe struck after France agreed to delay the collection of a national levy.While finance ministers from France and Germany were among those expressing confidence on Saturday that a compromise could be found in time, Mnuchin warned that he is somewhat hamstrung. “Let me emphasize: in the U.S., depending upon what the solutions are, these may require congressional approval,” he said during a discussion, sitting alongside France’s Bruno Le Maire.The pair have held tense discussions since France introduced a 3% levy last year on the digital revenue of companies that make their sales primarily online. The move was supposed to give impetus to international talks to redefine tax rules, and the government has pledged to abolish its national tax if there is agreement on such rules.The U.S. has argued the French measure discriminates against American companies, and threatened tariffs as high as 100% on $2.4 billion of French goods. Donald Trump’s government agreed to hold fire on import duties and France pushed back collecting the digital tax until the end of 2020.“One of the things we’re balancing is sticking with the fundamental issue of taxing based upon where companies are -- the more we change that to broaden this, the more we run into other issues,” Mnuchin said. He indicated Congress as a hurdle before any major changes on taxes can be agreed upon, but added “there’s a tremendous desire to get this done.”Spain, Italy and Austria also want to impose a digital service tax. Turkey, a G-20 member, introduced a 7.5% levy in December, targeting companies from Google and Facebook to Netflix Inc.“It is our collective responsibility to reach a global agreement on this issue by the end of this year,” the finance ministers of the euro area’s four largest economy said in an editorial published in European newspapers. “We now have a unique opportunity to recast the global tax system to make it fairer and more effective.”Sticking PointThe key sticking point is a U.S. proposal to make the new digital tax rules a safe-harbor regime. Doing that, the U.S. has said, would address concerns of taxpayers about mandatory departure from longstanding rules. France and others have contested that could render the rules effectively optional, which would make agreement impossible.In Riyadh, Mnuchin countered this interpretation.“What a safe harbor is -- and there’s lots of safe harbors that exist -- you pay the safe harbor as opposed to paying something else, and you get tax certainty,” he said. “People may pay a little bit more in a safe harbor knowing they have tax certainty.”Le Maire said he welcomed Mnuchin’s clarification.“We are in the process of technically assessing what it really means and what might be the consequences of such a solution,” he said. “It is fair and useful to give all the attention to this U.S. proposal.”To get agreement, Le Maire also said France would be open to a “phased” or “step-by-step” approach.German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said there’s more than a 50% chance that a deal is struck before the end of the year.“Everyone has understood that it would be bad to push the debate into the next year or the year after that,” he told reporters. “We need something that helps protect us against the race to the bottom on taxes.”The framework -- developed under the leadership of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development -- will also include a deal on a global minimum tax, which the group is close to agreeing on, according to Mnuchin.Most countries want any OECD deal to be accepted as a package: the digital service tax along with a global minimum tax. The OECD has said both reforms together could boost government tax revenues by around $100 billion.To contact the reporters on this story: Saleha Mohsin in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;William Horobin in Paris at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jana Randow, Paul AbelskyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc.’s Google has reached a settlement with state attorneys general over the states’ use of consultants in their antitrust investigation of the internet search giant.Google in October went to court to restrict the Texas Attorney General’s office from disclosing sensitive information to consultants who have worked for competitors and other companies such as News Corp. and Microsoft Corp that have complained about Google to regulators.Both sides reached a settlement that places some restrictions on how the experts can access confidential business information, Google said on Friday.Google had raised concerns over Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s hiring of consultants including Cristina Caffarra, an economist with Charles River Associates. She has worked for Google adversaries News Corp. and Microsoft as well as Russia’s Yandex NV, according to court filings.“We remain concerned with the irregular way this investigation is proceeding, including unusual arrangements with advisers who work for our rivals and vocal critics,” Google said in a statement.Paxton later released a statement saying, “With this agreement, experts retained by the state will not be burdened with the unreasonable prohibitions sought by Google. They will be able to lend their important expertise to the state without fear of being frozen out of other employment within their field.”(Updates with Paxton statement, in final paragraph.)To contact the reporters on this story: David McLaughlin in Washington at email@example.com;Ben Brody in Washington, D.C. at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at email@example.com, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department has sought outside legal help to bolster its antitrust investigations of large technology platforms, according to two people familiar with the matter, in a sign that the government may be preparing a lawsuit against one or more of the companies.The department approached at least one law firm about working on the government’s behalf, said the people. That firm -- Kellogg Hansen Todd Figel & Frederick PLLC -- declined to take on the assignment because of a conflict, according to one of the people, who asked not to be named because the investigation is confidential.The agency has opened investigations into Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc., following a July announcement of a broad probe into whether tech platforms are stifling competition. It wasn’t clear which case the department was seeking help for, or whether it will ultimately go through with hiring an outside firm.The move, however, may be a sign the Justice Department is preparing for litigation against the tech companies. Attorney General William Barr said in December that the probe was moving “very quickly” and that he wanted to complete it some time this year.A nationwide coalition of states is also investigating the companies and is working with the Justice Department.The Justice Department declined to comment. Michael Kellogg, one of the founding partners of Kellogg Hansen, where Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch once worked, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.Earlier: DOJ Plans ‘Expeditious’ Antitrust Probe Into Big Tech PracticesWhile the hiring of outside lawyers is rare, it’s not unheard of. The department in the past has turned to private counsel to take on high-profile litigation, most notably when it hired David Boies to spearhead the landmark antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. two decades ago.In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission similarly hired a top Washington litigator, Beth Wilkinson, then a partner with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, to help with its antitrust investigation of Google. The agency ultimately closed that investigation without taking action.An outside firm would enhance the department’s resources if it decided to sue. Litigation against one of the tech giants could be a monumental, years-long undertaking. The Justice Department’s case against Microsoft started in 1998 and ended in 2002, when a court approved a settlement.To contact the reporter on this story: David McLaughlin in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at email@example.com, Paula DwyerFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Companies such as General Motors Co's Cruise and startup Aurora have said the metric, called disengagements, is not an accurate or relevant way to measure their technical progress, even though it is widely used to do just that. The debate is taking on more importance amid delays in the rollout of self-driving vehicles and concerns over a lack of regulation and the prospects for profitability for the companies that make such vehicles. The focus on disengagements -- when a human driver must take manual control from a self-driving system -- and the backlash from self-driving companies have been growing since the California Department of Motor Vehicles began releasing annual disengagement reports five years ago.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- When it comes to advertising revenue, Alphabet Inc.’s Google continues to dominate Facebook Inc. as the place to spend digital marketing money — except for political campaigns, where Donald Trump’s triumph showed the power of social media. Google still has a dog in the election fight, however. According to a report from Bloomberg News, Trump bought the coveted space atop YouTube’s homepage for the days leading up to his November showdown for a second presidential term, ensuring that he’ll be featured prominently. This isn’t new; Barack Obama did something similar ahead of his election-day battle with Mitt Romney in 2012.Alphabet brought in $135 billion of total ad revenue last year through its Google platforms, almost double Facebook’s $70 billion. That ratio flips when it comes to political advertising. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that Facebook took in $67 million in total ad spending by U.S. presidential candidates, double the $32 million that went to Google as of Nov. 14. Figures published just this month and collated by eMarketer — which also track advertising related to federal, state and local politics, including elections and lobbying — put the digital divide in that broader metric at a 3-to-1 ratio in favor of Facebook. Facebook’s powerful role in politics was highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the consulting firm harvested data from the social media platform and used it for targeted campaign ads, helping Trump win election in 2016. YouTube.com is the world’s second-most popular website behind Google.com, according to rankings from Alex Internet Inc.(1) Yet it accounted for only 9.4% of Alphabet’s revenue last year, with most of the company’s money coming from search-engine advertising. Expect the video platform’s contribution to rise in 2020, however, as candidates take to online video to target voters directly while still holding their attention long enough to watch a video in ways that Facebook cannot. Leading the spending is Michael Bloomberg, who is using his own money to seek the Democratic presidential nomination rather than procuring donations. (Disclaimer: Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.) Bloomberg spent $48 million on Facebook between Jan. 1, 2019, and Feb. 19 this year, almost double the $25 million for Trump during the same period, according to data from the social media company. What’s interesting, though, is that Alphabet isn’t so far behind in drawing presidential campaign dollars. Bloomberg spent $42 million on Google, YouTube and partner properties between May 30, 2018, and Feb. 18, 2020, ahead of Trump, whose campaign teams have spent around $18.1 million, according to data published by Alphabet.(2) This election campaign is shaping up to be the most expensive ever. Presidential candidates have already put together more than $1.18 billion — led by Trump and Bloomberg — with the primary season only just beginning, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, war chests for the 2016 campaign totaled $1.5 billion, with Hillary Clinton and Trump between them accounting for 60%, data from CRP show.While Facebook’s strength, and a key cause of criticism, is the ability for advertisers to dive deep into audience preferences and political leanings, Google’s platform isn’t entirely useless in terms of targeting. For example, the campaign of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is competing for the Democratic nomination, took out ads focused on audiences in 10 specific Nevada zip codes ahead of the state’s primary Saturday, according to Google data for the week of Feb. 15.Senator Bernie Sanders, who ranks second in Democrat spending across the two platforms, deployed ads aimed at specific Iowa zip codes ahead of his neck-and-neck finish with Buttigieg in the Feb. 3 caucus. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is fourth in terms of outlays, and Bloomberg have also targeted ZIP codes. The steady flow of advertising videos uploaded to YouTube by candidates shows that they see value in spending money on Google’s video platform. So while Facebook may have earned top spot for campaign dollars, Trump’s big election day purchase shows that YouTube is still in the race.(1) Alex Internet has been a division of Amazon.com Inc. since 1999(2) I count this spending across two organizations: Trump Make America Great Again Committee ($12.69m) and Donald J. Trump for President Inc. ($5.45m). A third, Conservative Buzz LLC, spent $4.76m mostly to promote TrumpTo contact the author of this story: Tim Culpan at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Patrick McDowell at email@example.comThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Tim Culpan is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
In a newly released interview, AT&T President and COO John Stankey says he’s “really concerned about the concentration of economic power” in big tech companies and how they approach their “platforms’ influence on society.”
Alphabet and SoftBank's attempts to launch flying cellphone antennas high into the atmosphere have received backing from global telcos, energizing lobbying efforts aimed at driving regulatory approval for the emerging technology. Loon, which was spun out of Google parent Alphabet Inc's business incubator, and HAPSMobile, a unit of SoftBank Group Corp's domestic telco, plan to deliver high speed internet to remote areas by flying network equipment at high altitudes. Lobbying efforts by the two firms, which formed an alliance last year, are being joined by companies including aerospace firm Airbus , network vendors Nokia and Ericsson and telcos China Telecom , Deutsche Telekom , Telefonica and Bharti Airtel .
(Bloomberg) -- In the immediate run up to the U.S. presidential election and on Election Day, the homepage of YouTube is set to advertise just one candidate: Donald Trump.The president’s re-election campaign purchased the coveted advertising space atop the country’s most-visited video website for early November, said two people with knowledge of the transaction. The deal ensures Trump will be featured prominently in the key days when voters across the country prepare to head to the polls Nov. 3.While the bulk of digital ad spending typically focuses on targeting specific messages to certain audiences, the top spot on YouTube is more akin to a Super Bowl TV ad. About three-quarters of U.S. adults say they use YouTube, exceeding the reach of even Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center.Ads on the YouTube masthead—as the video on the top of the homepage is known—generally run for an entire day. The exact duration of Trump’s ad buy and financial details were unclear, but estimates for the space range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million a day.YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, lets advertisers target users based on a variety of factors, though it recently limited those options for political content. The Trump campaign bought the digital real estate nationwide, one of the people familiar with the deal said, both of whom asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.YouTube declined to comment on the deal but said it’s common for political advertisers to purchase masthead ads. After buying an ad, candidates can choose to surrender the space or restrict it to certain regions, a spokeswoman for the company said. “In the past, campaigns, PACs, and other political groups have run various types of ads leading up to Election Day,” she wrote in an email. “All advertisers follow the same process and are welcome to purchase the masthead space as long as their ads comply with our policies.” A spokesman for the Trump campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.The move is likely to reinforce a feeling among many political analysts that Trump’s embrace of digital advertising gives him a distinct advantage over his Democratic rivals. The Trump campaign could spend as much as $500 million on digital ads and strategies, Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, has said.In 2012, President Barack Obama’s campaign bought the YouTube masthead for Election Day before Mitt Romney had even secured the Republican nomination, according to Teddy Goff, Obama’s former digital director. “This gets to a structural problem inherent in having a contested primary against an incumbent,” said Goff, now co-founder of Precision Strategies, a consulting and marketing firm. Trump and Hillary Clinton each ran masthead ads at various times in 2016. Trump spent more money online that year than Clinton and continues to outspend most Democratic rivals now. A major exception is Michael Bloomberg, whose campaign has spent $36.9 million on Google ads, according to statistics released by Google. That’s double what Trump has spent with the company. Both Trump and Bloomberg ran YouTube masthead ads last year. (Bloomberg is the founder and owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)Susan Wojcicki, the chief executive officer of YouTube, said in an interview with “60 Minutes” aired in December that some of Trump’s ads were rejected for violating company policies. The news program reported that more than 300 video ads submitted by the Trump campaign were taken down by Google and YouTube.Many digital ads are bought and sold through automated systems, but that wasn’t an option for Trump’s Election Day purchase. To reserve space this far in advance, advertisers must work directly with Google sales representatives.Online political advertising in the current election cycle will total $1.34 billion, more than double the levels of the last presidential election, according to EMarketer. The research firm estimates that digital spending will account for 19% of all political advertising. Facebook Inc. is the favorite platform of political campaigns, and its lenient policies have been a subject of controversy. The social network allows politicians to make false claims in their ads, whereas Google does not. Facebook offers far more granularity for campaigns to target people who fit a specific profile.After Google limited campaigns’ abilities to use demographic targeting last November, some at the company have debated going further. Google has bristled at repeated accusations of political bias, particularly from Trump and other Republicans. One potential policy discussed inside Google was to disallow masthead ads on Election Day in favor of a nonpartisan banner reminding Americans to vote, said a person with knowledge of the deliberations. Ultimately, Google decided to keep its standard practice in place.(Updates with YouTube CEO’s comments in the 10th paragraph.)To contact the authors of this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgJoshua Brustein in New York at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Milian at firstname.lastname@example.org, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Thursday sued Alphabet Inc's Google search engine, alleging that its educational software collects young students' personal information without the required parental consent. Google called the allegations "factually wrong" and did not respond to a request to elaborate. The company sells its Chromebook laptops to schools around the world alongside its free or low-cost G Suite for Education software package, which includes email and writing tools.
(Bloomberg) -- While a wave of employee activism marked by walk-outs and protests has rippled through Silicon Valley the past few years, Oracle Corp. glided along unscathed.Now, a symbol of tech’s old guard is facing the stirrings of a worker uprising as well. People left their desks Thursday at Oracle offices around the world to protest Chairman Larry Ellison’s fundraiser a day earlier for President Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. The protest, called No Ethics/No Work, involved about 300 employees walking out of their offices or stopping work at remote locations at noon local time and devoting the rest of the day to volunteering or civic engagement, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.Ellison drew employee ire that most didn’t know existed at Oracle. News of the fundraiser for Trump’s re-election campaign at Ellison’s home in Rancho Mirage, California, spurred a petition at Change.org from some of the company’s 136,000 employees. The workers argued the chairman’s public support for Trump violated Oracle’s diversity, inclusion and ethics policies, and harmed the image of the world’s second-largest software maker.The petition had more than 8,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, though it was open to the public and anyone could sign it. Organizers demanded that Oracle and Ellison give money to support a humanitarian cause such as climate change, denounce the Trump administration and commit to diversifying the company’s board.Employees at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce.com Inc. started mobilizing more than two years ago over a variety of issues, including law enforcement and military contracts, the gender pay gap and the treatment of contract workers.Thursday’s activism at Oracle, a database stalwart founded in 1977, showed cultural differences from the younger companies like Google. Some Oracle workers who participated in the “log off” used vacation time for the protest, the people said. Many had asked the company’s human resources officials whether they would be targeted for participating and didn’t receive a response before the protest, so they took the precaution of participating on their own time, the people said.Others who supported the action, but were leery about the company’s potential response, chose to donate money to charitable groups that oppose Trump administration policies rather than leave work, the people said.Some employees received a warning Thursday when trying to access the protest organizers’ website from a work computer: “Access to this site may not be permitted by the Oracle Acceptable Use Policy. However, if user is authorized and has legitimate business reason to access the requested site, then click below to access. Your access will be logged.”Oracle, however, said the message was an error that was corrected.“The site was not intentionally blocked by Oracle,” said spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger. “It was temporarily blocked by a ‘false positive’ from our McAfee network security and anti-virus software. Once we were notified by employees of this issue, our security team conducted a review, determined that there was no actual security threat, and then whitelisted the site.”Organizers said the protest participation at Oracle’s headquarters in Redwood City, California, seemed more muted than in other locations, such as New York City and Austin, Texas, which have more young workers.The organizers hope Thursday’s action is the first effort to voice concerns about the company’s policies, and employees will continue to feel motivated to speak out, one of the people said.To contact the reporter on this story: Nico Grant in San Francisco at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org, Andrew Pollack, Mark MilianFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.