1,230.00 -2.65 (-0.21%)
After hours: 7:58PM EDT
|Bid||1,227.05 x 2200|
|Ask||1,233.79 x 1000|
|Day's range||1,216.47 - 1,236.24|
|52-week range||977.66 - 1,296.97|
|Beta (3Y monthly)||0.96|
|PE ratio (TTM)||24.88|
|Earnings date||23 Oct 2019 - 28 Oct 2019|
|Forward dividend & yield||N/A (N/A)|
|1y target est||1,407.05|
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is visiting Washington as the company confronts growing scrutiny over its privacy and marketplace practices.Zuckerberg will “meet with policy makers and talk about future internet regulation,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement.He is scheduled to meet with Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State, according to a person familiar with the plans. Cantwell is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which is weighing privacy legislation.Zuckerberg will also meet with House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California, said another person familiar with the matter, who on Wednesday night declined to say exactly when the meeting would take place or provide additional information.Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, is also working on scheduling a get-together with Zuckerberg, a senior Senate aide said.He is not scheduled to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to a person familiar with the matter. Democrats castigated the company earlier this year after it failed to remove a doctored video of Pelosi. She has snubbed at least two meetings with him, Bloomberg has reported.Zuckerberg’s Washington visit comes as Facebook is battling criticism from lawmakers over its handling of users’ personal information, the proliferation of violent content and election interference by foreign operatives. The company is also facing antitrust investigations of its business practices from federal, congressional and state authorities.On Wednesday, lawmakers from the Senate Commerce Committee grilled executives from Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google over the spread of extremism and violence on digital platforms.Separately, the Federal Trade Commission has opened an antitrust probe of the company, and New York is leading a coalition of states in a wide-ranging investigation of the social media giant. In July, Facebook agreed to pay $5 billion to settle FTC allegations it violated users’ privacy.The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee is also investigating competition issues in the technology industry. Last week, the panel sent a letter to Facebook seeking information about its acquisitions as well as communications from Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, former general counsel Colin Stretch and policy chief Kevin Martin.The company is trying to win over lawmakers threatening to stymie its launch of a new digital currency called Libra that its executives say can lower costs and expand access to the banking system in third-world countries. The project faced bipartisan scorn during congressional hearings in July, even leading to legislative proposals that would kill it.(Updates with Zuckerberg meetings with Schiff and Moran from fourth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Billy House, Joe Light and Ben Brody.To contact the reporters on this story: Naomi Nix in Washington at email@example.com;Rebecca Kern in Arlington 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.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Should investors consider buying Micron (MU) stock with the chipmaker set to report its quarterly financial results on Thursday, September 26?
Huawei [HWT.UL] launches what could be the world's most powerful and feature-packed 5G smartphone on Thursday, but the fate of the device in Europe will hang on whether it can overcome a U.S. ban to give customers the Google software they expect. The Chinese telecoms giant will showcase its Mate 30 range in Munich, Germany, in its first unveiling of an all-new phone since President Donald Trump hit the Shenzhen-based company with an export ban in May. Holding the launch in Europe underlines the importance of the region's 500 million consumers to Huawei.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Singapore is a major Asian refining hub, though it doesn’t have a drop of crude petroleum. Now, the tiny country is punching above its weight in data. The upshot for investors: An asset class that pays 51% in a world where earning even zero is increasingly a luxury.There’s a limit to how many bits and bytes even a busy financial center of 5.6 million people can produce. Yet, measured by power supply, Singapore is now the world’s largest repository for storing and processing data. Facebook Inc. alone is setting up an 11-story facility, its first such custom-built center in Asia. Data-center real-estate investment trusts, or landlords who take money from public shareholders to own and manage server farms for rent-paying tech clients, are now a globally popular investment. Singapore has unique attractions. Some are technical, such as low-latency connectivity. Another is that its investors are wealthy and old. Assured returns today excite them more than uncertain growth tomorrow. If global tech is a gold rush, Singaporeans are happy to pour money into the picks and shovels.Consider two current deals. Keppel DC REIT, which is seeking a combined S$478.2 million ($347.8 milion) from a private sale of shares and a preferential issue, saw the placement fully covered within the first hour of bookbuilding at the top of the price range. Shares have risen 44% over the past year. Including dividends, the returns have been 51%. Keppel DC will use the newly raised funds to expand its portfolio to S$2.58 billion, spread across 17 data centers globally.A world awash in cash helps boost the attractiveness of REIT dividends for small savers who would otherwise have to lunge for risk to earn decent yields. Not surprisingly, Mapletree Industrial Trust increased the size of its private placement to S$400 million after it was covered 6.3 times. The Singapore REIT, which wants to acquire data centers in North America, has handed 30% returns to investors over the past year. Will the good times last? Singapore has its drawbacks. The island became the “Houston of Asia” because it had a deep-water seaport and a large rig-building industry.The oil of the 21st century is a different industry. Data travels along copper wires and gets stored in micro-thin wafers of metal compounds, which have a tendency to heat up. The ideal storage center would be in a place where the electricity consumed in keeping servers cool isn’t as high as in tropical Singapore. Every watt of power that goes into computing as much as 0.78 watts has to be set aside to beat the year-round heat and humidity.Neither does it help that real estate is scarce. Even with land reclaimed from the sea, Singapore remains smaller than Rhode Island.Still, Singapore’s long-term advantage comes from being tiny, especially if Hong Kong founders as a rival.Sprawling data centers in China’s Inner Mongolia, as well as India or Indonesia, will primarily serve domestic digital content and commerce. They’ll also be fraught with politics. Populous countries will insist on being able to trace their citizens’ online behavior in the name of national security. Localization is one price global tech firms will have to pay to access these sizable markets. With New Delhi weighing a law that would make local storage mandatory, mining tycoon Gautam Adani wants to invest $10 billion in server farms in just one state. He’s waiting to sign up the likes of Amazon.com Inc. and Google. Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which has no data centers in China, has been in talks with Tencent Holdings Ltd. and several other Chinese firms to bring in its cloud services. However, in China’s case, an additional complication is the trade war. It’s not clear if Alphabet’s plans to offer Google Drive and Google Docs on the mainland will proceed apace amid increasing scrutiny by a hawkish establishment in Washington.Singapore, run by the same political party since 1959, offers predictable rule of law and infrastructure to give tech companies a comfort level for storing their most valuable resource. On land costs alone, neighboring Malaysia would be cheaper. But when deciding to set up a data center, investors assign a far bigger weight to future risks. And that’s where small, stable Singapore earns its big payoff.To contact the author of this story: Andy Mukherjee 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 the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering industrial companies and financial services. He previously was a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He has also worked for the Straits Times, ET NOW and Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Google is up against a lot of scrutiny from U.S. regulators, which overshadows its legal win in Germany, self-driving prowess and strategic wins at traditional automakers.
(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. and Ireland’s court room clash with the European Commission finally lived up to its billing as the world’s biggest tax case.A two-day hearing into their appeal of the EU’s record 13 billion-euro ($14.4 billion) tax bill heated up on Wednesday as Apple rebutted claims that Irish units at the center of its fight are just “phantoms” and Ireland hit back at regulators for saying the country would willingly forgo one-fifth of its corporate tax takings.Ireland is the victim of "wholly unjustified criticism of its tax system and its approach" from the EU in "the biggest state aid case ever," said Paul Gallagher, the government’s lawyer, in closing arguments of an EU General Court hearing in Luxembourg.EU officials "have not produced to this court a single example of Apple being preferred to anyone else" and Irish tax law didn’t require Apple to pay any more.Apple and Ireland are battling the European Commission’s 2016 order that ruled illegal a tax deal that saw the company channel sales through two Irish units. The iPhone maker is the biggest target of EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s crusade against corporate tax deals that allow big firms to reduce their fiscal burden.Irish BranchesThe five-judge panel homed in on the exact functioning of the Irish branches that allowed Apple revenues to be covered by a national tax deal labeled as illegal by regulators.The EU asserts the units received selective tax treatment that allowed Apple to allocate all sales profits to two companies that “existed only on paper.” Apple attempted to show that each business wasn’t a ghost while saying strategic decisions over products and sales were made elsewhere and profits should also be taxed elsewhere.“This wasn’t some kind of shell company, this was a company doing things in the U.S.,” Apple’s lawyer Daniel Beard responded, citing one of the firms. He said that no critical decisions on intellectual property were made in Ireland.Marc van der Woude, a Dutch judge and the court’s vice-president, had quizzed the EU’s lawyer late Tuesday on what evidence the European Commission had to show whether the Apple units determined strategy or drew up business plans.The business "looks like a phantom company,” he said at one point. Other judges dug into details of how the branches were run and how the Irish government determined that the revenue should be taxed there.The EU’s lawyer Richard Lyal sought to dismiss Apple’s arguments that the revenue at stake should have been taxed in the U.S. where its products are developed."Apple should not now pretend" that its Irish units "make all that money but that only a tiny proportion of it should be attributed to Ireland," he told the court. "All arguments as to tax being paid in the U.S. are completely irrelevant."Amazon, AlphabetA court ruling, likely to take months, could empower or halt Vestager’s tax probes into complicated corporate structures used by many American technology firms. The EU has also scrutinized fiscal deals done by Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc. and may draft new rules to net digital companies’ revenue.The first hints of how the Apple case may turn out will come from a pair of rulings scheduled for Sept. 24.The General Court will rule on whether the EU was right to demand unpaid taxes from Starbucks Corp. and a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV unit. Those judgments could set an important precedent on how far the EU can question tax decisions national governments make on how companies should be treated.To contact the reporters on this story: Aoife White in Luxembourg at firstname.lastname@example.org;Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at firstname.lastname@example.org, Peter Chapman, Molly SchuetzFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell built their careers negotiating contracts for some of the world’s top celebrities. They’re about to ink one of their biggest deals yet -- this time for themselves.The duo and other senior executives have a combined interest in Endeavor Group Holdings Inc. that will be worth at least $1.5 billion if the company lists at the midpoint of its estimated price range. Emanuel and Whitesell are also in line to collect millions in salary and bonuses for years to come.An initial public offering would make Endeavor the biggest publicly traded Hollywood agency, cementing its rise from a four-person talent-management firm to a media giant. The Beverly Hills-based company, with $3.6 billion of revenue last year, runs sports leagues, hosts fashion events and represents clients including YouTube stars and pro athletes. Endeavor posted a $317 million profit for 2018 after four straight years of losses.The IPO could raise as much as $619 million and value the firm at about $7.6 billion, according to details disclosed Monday in a regulatory filing. The two agents and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners LP, which became an investor in 2012, will control the firm through a special class of shares.Read more: Endeavor debt means IPO not for ‘Faint of Heart’Emanuel, 58, founded Endeavor in 1995 with three colleagues from International Creative Management, one of Hollywood’s largest talent shops. Whitesell, 54, joined five years later. They have struck more than 20 deals in the past decade, including merging with the century-old William Morris Agency in 2009 and acquiring Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promoter, for $4 billion in 2016, with backing from Silver Lake, KKR & Co. and Michael Dell’s investment firm.Representing talent such as tennis star Maria Sharapova and celebrity chef Bobby Flay now accounts for less than half of Endeavor’s revenue.“We saw an opportunity to use disruption to our benefit and build a company and a platform for where the world was headed,” Emanuel, who was the inspiration for foul-mouthed and mercurial agent Ari Gold on HBO’s “Entourage,” wrote in the registration statement for the IPO.Endeavor returned $400 million from Saudi Arabia’s investment fund after the government was linked with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.Emanuel and Whitesell’s combined stake is composed of multi-pronged equity interests that are convertible into Class A shares. Most of it is parked in several holding companies that they control. Endeavor didn’t provide details about other executives’ stakes that are also held within those entities.Death BenefitWhitesell and Emanuel each will receive an annual salary of $4 million -- among the highest for chief executive officers at companies in the Russell 3000 Index -- and a life insurance policy with a $4 million death benefit.Whitesell, the executive chairman, is also set to receive annual bonuses with a guaranteed payout of $2 million. Emanuel, the CEO, has a $6 million performance-based target bonus.Emanuel, the brother of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has strong incentives to grow the market value of both Endeavor and its UFC subsidiary. He’s eligible to receive as much as $28 million of stock when Endeavor’s valuation tops $7.53 billion. For the next decade, he’ll get additional payouts of equity, each worth as much as $14 million, if the market value of Endeavor or UFC exceeds certain thresholds.Two years ago, Endeavor repurchased $330 million of equity units from Emanuel and Whitesell.\--With assistance from Sophie Alexander.To contact the reporters on this story: Anders Melin in New York at email@example.com;Tom Maloney in New York at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Pierre Paulden at email@example.com, ;Nick Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org, Peter EichenbaumFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- In 2014, the big U.S. tech companies did something surprising: They told the world how few women they employed. Men comprised 70% of Google’s workforce; Facebook, Apple, and Twitter looked similar. The mix was even more lopsided in more senior leadership and technical roles.Most of the business world has come to believe that workforce diversity is good for the bottom line, and tech companies hoped their new transparency would lead to more equality. It didn’t. But new research suggests that investors were paying attention.In a study released today by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a group of researchers found that share prices jumped when companies reported better-than-expected gender diversity; they fell when firms announced demographics that underwhelmed.The same pattern held when the academics turned their attention to finance companies. A lab experiment demonstrated the same trends, and participants reported a handful of beliefs that explained why they were more likely to invest in companies with more gender diversity.Google was the first to release its figures, and after accounting for other factors, the researchers calculated that the company’s stock fell 0.39 percentage points on the news. They projected that if Google had reported that women made up 31% of its workforce, instead of 30%, it could’ve added $375 million in market value. “This is a huge response,” said Margaret A. Neale, a distinguished professor at Stanford who worked on the study. The group of researchers also included academics from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Northwestern University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.They also used Google as a benchmark to see how the market reacted when firms reported more or less diversity compared with an industry leader. The stock price was “affected strongly” by how companies looked compared to Google, they found. A tech firm whose workforce was 1 percentage point more diverse than Google’s saw shares gain, on average, 1.91% in the short term.After the first year companies released diversity reports, the stocks didn’t react much at all, which Neale attributed to the fact that the demographics hadn’t changed much. “Their bad news has already been priced into the stock,” Neale said.Next, the researchers turned their attention to the banks and financial firms. The researchers used data 50 financial institutions shared with the Financial Times in 2017. The big banks looked more equal than the tech companies: Women made up 54.4% of employees at JPMorgan Chase, according to the report; Bank of America was split about equally. Companies without a retail presence, like Morgan Stanley, are more lopsided.The researchers found companies with greater gender diversity saw shares rise relative to companies that reported having fewer women, the same trend they saw in the tech industry.The initial findings didn’t explain why investors reacted positively to companies with more gender balance, so the researchers devised a third lab study to try to parse the reasons. In it, they simulated the diversity report experiment, giving a dollar to participants to invest in companies based on their diversity announcements. As they’d observed in finance and tech, participants were more willing to invest in companies with more gender equality.When they measured participants’ existing ideas about diversity, they found investors’ interest in companies with more gender equality was based in beliefs that those companies are more likely to innovate, less likely to attract negative regulatory attention and less likely to settle lawsuits, among other beliefs.Considering the market benefits, the researchers conclude that organizations are systematically under-investing in gender diversity. Despite public commitments, these figures haven’t budged since companies started publicly reporting. This year, Google said women made up 31.6% of its company, up just 1.6% from five years ago.“People are not confused. They know the population of women is greater than 30%,” Neale said. “If Google moved up to 40%, there would be champagne toasts.”To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Greenfield in New York at email@example.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Janet Paskin at firstname.lastname@example.orgFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc., which last month said it stopped using humans to review and transcribe users’ voice messages, will resume that practice for some audio collected from its Portal video-calling device.Facebook “paused human review of audio” around August. Bloomberg reported at the time the company hired contractors to transcribe private voice messages sent via its Messenger app. In that case, users had not been alerted to the possibility that their communications might be subject to human review. It was also unclear at the time that some of the clips Facebook had been collecting were coming from Portal.Facebook confirmed Wednesday that it was indeed collecting audio from Portal users who make a request from the device using the command “Hey Portal.” By default, those commands were recorded and stored on Facebook servers, and some of them were transcribed by contractors working with the company to improve the software algorithms used to understand the commands, according to Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of hardware. That practice was paused last month at the same time Messenger stopped using humans to transcribe messages.Facebook Paid Contractors to Transcribe Users’ Audio Chats“We paused human review of the ‘Hey Portal’ voice interactions last month while we worked on a plan that gave people more transparency and control, including a way to turn it off,” Bosworth said in a statement.Portal is now reinstating human audio transcriptions but will offer consumers an option to turn off that service in a new version of its Portal software, which will be distributed to existing devices and its updated Portal lineup shipping in October.The Messenger transcriptions are separate, Bosworth added, and that program is still on pause.“The reason they’re separate isn’t because the back-end systems are separate, it’s because the data is coming in from a different place,” he told Bloomberg in an interview Tuesday. “And therefore you have a different kind of user expectation.”Facebook shares were little changed at $187.49 at 10:34 a.m. in New York.Apple Suspends Listening to Siri Queries Amid Privacy OutcryThe controversial practice of transcribing user audio clips has gotten a lot of attention in recent months because of privacy concerns. Apple Inc. and Google have both suspended similar human transcription programs, and Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon.com Inc. was transcribing some commands from its Alexa voice assistant without people’s knowledge. Amazon now lets users opt out of that human review.Facebook decided to reinstate this practice because it’s important for training the company’s software programs to accurately understand requests, Bosworth says. He’s also aware that the idea of having humans review user audio is unsettling to many people.“The consumer reaction the last several months to these practices, not just at Facebook but other companies, gave us insight into the fact that this was something people weren’t entirely comfortable with or weren’t sure about,” he said when explaining the new privacy setting.Facebook will still collect and transcribe “Hey Portal” commands if users don’t change the default settings. Portal’s data usage policy states that the company does collect “voice queries and commands” after a user wakes the device with “Hey Portal.” The policy does not say that those audio clips may be reviewed by third-party contractors.Facebook Quizzed by Watchdog for Listening to Users’ ChatsThe importance of audio transcriptions and recordings has increased alongside the rise of digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Tech companies improve the accuracy of their software by transcribing millions of clips, which help the machines learn language and speech patterns. The practice has, however, served up a new privacy trade-off: users want the help of smart assistants but not the threat that strangers might be listening to their private conversations or messages.Facebook does not yet have an advanced standalone audio assistant to compete with the other tech giants, though its Portal device can carry out some basic commands after users wake it by saying “Hey Portal.” For more complicated requests, Portal also comes equipped with Amazon’s Alexa software.Bosworth says that while Facebook is working to improve and further develop its “Hey Portal” software, it doesn’t have any plans to completely replace Alexa on Portal devices with its own proprietary software, and Alexa is indeed present on Facebook’s newly announced set of devices.The new Facebook Portal and Portal Mini will open Facebook’s distribution of the video-calling platform beyond the U.S. and into Europe, where higher privacy standards have already saddled the social media giant with increased regulator scrutiny.(Updates with Facebook shares. An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of executive’s name in sixth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Sarah Frier.To contact the reporters on this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at email@example.com;Mark Gurman in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at email@example.com, Vlad Savov, Edwin ChanFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Adobe's (ADBE) fiscal third-quarter results benefit from increasing subscription adoption and solid momentum across Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Experience Cloud.
(Bloomberg) -- Deals for two major London buildings leased mostly to WeWork are on the ropes.Saudi Arabia-based Sidra Capital has pulled out of a 90 million-pound ($112 million) deal as the flexible-office giant’s planned initial public offering got an increasingly rocky reception from investors, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private negotiations.Separately, talks have stalled on the sale of WeWork Waterloo, which the company describes as the largest co-working facility in the world, according to other people with knowledge of the negotiations. Singapore-based Bright Ruby Resources Pte Ltd. had agreed last month to buy it and an adjoining property leased to Royal Dutch Shell Plc for about 850 million pounds. It’s not clear what impact WeWork’s roller-coaster IPO has had on Bright Ruby’s appetite for the deal, the people said.We Co., which owns WeWork, pushed back its IPO this week to buy time to overcome concerns about its governance, slashed valuation and business prospects. The decision sent the company’s bonds plunging and added a sour note to a medley of high-profile, but frequently disappointing, IPOs this year. Shortly after the announcement, WeWork made a small round of job cuts in a New York City unit.Read more: WeWork’s Breakneck Growth Hits Resistance as Banks Get Cold FeetThe delay also comes at a critical time for major backer SoftBank Group Corp., which is trying to raise money for a successor to its Vision Fund. SoftBank’s biggest investors, including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, are reconsidering how much to commit to the new vehicle as the Japanese conglomerate’s bet on WeWork sours.WeWork has lease obligations of $47 billion and continues to burn cash to fund its rapid expansion, putting pressure on the company to raise new capital. But the company’s model of signing long leases, then renting out short-term space to members, as well as its complex relationship with co-founder Adam Neumann, have polarized investors assessing the planned offering.Skate RampWeWork Waterloo, originally known as Two Southbank Place, is fully leased to WeWork and boasts a skate ramp, retro arcade games and a library in its cavernous lobby. Negotiations on a sale, which were first reported by React News in August, are ongoing and there’s no certainty about their outcome, one of the people said.Representatives of Almacantar SA, the developer selling the buildings in London’s Waterloo district, and WeWork declined to comment. A representative for Bright Ruby wasn’t immediately able to comment.Sidra Capital was in talks to buy 70 Wilson Street near London’s financial district from a venture led by Columbia Threadneedle Investments, the people said.Representatives of Sidra Capital, Columbia Threadneedle and WeWork declined to comment.(Adds background in fourth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Lucca de Paoli and Alfred Cang.To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Sidders in London at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Shelley Robinson at email@example.com, Patrick HenryFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Facebook is preparing to challenge Roku in the video streaming device market as the social media giant looks to a future beyond advertising.
(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa has mastered Hindi in just a few years.The voice assistant introduced to India in 2017 gets a major local makeover for one of the largest retail markets. From Wednesday, Amazon launches a version that now speaks Hindi and Hinglish -- a unique blend with English. It can also switch automatically between all three. The new, improved Alexa and Echo speakers hit the market in time for the Diwali shopping season.The voice assistant lets customers to ask for music, get Bollywood news, cricket updates and more in Hindi and Hinglish on its Echo and other voice-controlled smart speakers. It will respond in an unmistakably Indian accent to Hinglish questions such as “Alexa, Bollywood ke hottest gane sunao” and “Volume badhao” (to ask for the latest Bollywood hits and increase the volume, respectively). “Alexa, latest cricket score batao” yields the latest scores.Technology giants from Apple Inc. to Google are targeting this nation of 1.3 billion people by training virtual assistants in the heterogeneity of its languages and subcultures. Alphabet Inc. too has introduced a Hinglish-speaking Google Assistant, while Apple has hired native speakers to evolve and enrich Siri. In Amazon’s case, Alexa may prove key in a battle against Walmart Inc. in one of the world’s fastest-growing e-commerce arenas, a battle the Seattle online retailer has staked at least $5.5 billion on.Until now, Amazon’s virtual assistant had a limited vocabulary of names, places and popular songs in Hindi and a few others of the country’s roughly one dozen official languages.Read more: Amazon Teaches Alexa to Speak Hinglish. Apple’s Siri Is NextUnderstanding Hindi and Hinglish is critical for companies targeting first-time internet users in the countryside, who are coming online rapidly thanks to cheap devices and cut-rate wireless data. The Hindi internet user base will outgrow India’s English internet users by 2021, according to consultancy KPMG. But even Hindi has dozens of dialects and regional variations.“Hindi changes every 100 kilometers or so,” Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s head scientist of Alexa AI, said in an interview. Alexa can handle varied regional accents and dialects. “Alexa has an Indian personality.”Prasad, 43, grew up in Ranchi in India’s Hindi-speaking heartland, hailing from a family of engineers. Computers were still new then and as a teenager, he abandoned cricket games to run home and catch Star Trek episodes on the government-run TV channel. “It was in the realm of science-fiction then but I was endlessly fascinated by computers and humans communicating with each other.”He studied engineering in the same city before heading to the Illinois Institute of Technology, later working in speech recognition at Raytheon before joining Amazon in 2013. “Having grown up in diverse India, it was indelibly etched in my brain that Alexa has to work for everyone, and not just English speakers,” said Prasad, clad in a casual shirt and jeans and seated in a hotel conference room in New Delhi. “It’s a daunting task.”For instance, the virtual assistant was trained to differentiate between the oft-used Hindi word “achcha” or “okay,” which can sound close to its wake word. In many households, a single conversation can have Hindi and English words liberally interspersed. Alexa will be able to respond in either language without the user having to change settings. The AI will keep learning and improving with time, he said. Alexa in Hindi will also be available on Bose smart speakers, and soon in brands like Motorola and Sony.“It took me 20 years to get here,” Prasad said. “There’s a big deep learning wave right now and if I think of something new in conversational AI, I know I have a fighting chance of getting it right.”To contact the reporter on this story: Saritha Rai in Bangalore at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at email@example.com, Colum MurphyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Huawei Technologies Co. is offering up its most valuable 5G secrets and $1.5 billion to software developers, courting the global tech community at a time the U.S. is heightening scrutiny of the Chinese giant.China’s largest technology company aims to ramp up investment in its developer program over the next five years, Deputy Chairman Ken Hu told attendees at an annual conference. That effort is gaining urgency with Huawei in danger of losing access to American circuity and code, including the Google software it needs to run the world’s No. 2 mobile device business.Huawei is accelerating its outreach after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the sale of U.S. technology, encouraging allies to cut ties with a Chinese company it accuses of aiding Beijing in espionage. In response, Huawei offered to sell a license to its vaunted fifth-generation wireless technology -- needed to drive future modern economies -- to create a viable competitor and prove its gear is free of security loopholes.“There are a lot of concerns over Huawei’s 5G solutions. We believe those concerns are groundless,” Hu told reporters in Shanghai. “By allowing others to acquire these technologies via commercial methods, it will help reduce the concerns.”China’s perceived lead in 5G is at the heart of President Donald Trump’s campaign to contain the country’s rise. Already, Huawei has inked more than 60 commercial contracts to build the wireless standard globally, Hu said. China itself is ready to finish the first phase of its 5G rollout by the middle of next year, he added.How Huawei Became a Target for Governments: QuickTakeHuawei executives turned out in force in the country’s financial capital Wednesday, roping in foreign executives -- such as the director-general of interstellar research project Square Kilometre Array -- to showcase the tech giant’s road map for dominating future technologies.It’s developing alternatives to U.S. technology to help safeguard the world’s largest networking business. Part of that involves ensuring a thriving community of partners. Huawei established a developer program to encourage external parties to create apps for Huawei services, including its just-unveiled in-house smartphone platform, HarmonyOS.The company intends to build its base of partner-developers to 5 million eventually, Hu said. That army of firms and individuals could help craft apps optimized to run on Huawei’s Kunpeng and AI chip computing architecture, which will power everything from internet servers to machine learning solutions.“This work has already started and we’ve received very good feedback,” he told an audience of technology executives in Shanghai. “We have implemented this strategy and we’re looking forward to more partners joining us.”Read more: Huawei Tries to Romance a Washington That Spurns Its OverturesHuawei’s rapid advances have, however, raised hackles in Washington, for which the Chinese company symbolizes a geopolitical rival’s growing technological might. Executives sought to tamp down those fears.Hu, one of three main people who run Huawei’s day-to-day operations, reiterated an offer first voiced by billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei to share 5G blueprints. While he was vague on how that would work, Hu said Huawei would be willing to open up its tech vaults for a fee, to help another company catch up on a technology that will drive applications from smart homes to self-driving cars.“Customers and the entire industry will benefit from more competition, which is something that Huawei is willing to see,” Hu said.\--With assistance from Vlad Savov.To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Gao Yuan in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at email@example.com, Colum MurphyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Amazon (AMZN) has underperformed the market in 2019 and has gained just over 18% year-to-date. Comparatively, the S&P; 500 Index is up 20% this year.
(Bloomberg) -- Kizuna Ai, the most popular streamer in Japan, is an anatomically exaggerated, perpetually adolescent girl in frilly thigh-high socks and a pink hair ribbon. She’s also an entirely virtual character, given life by the actions and voice of an invisible actress.In the home of anime and “Ghost in the Shell” futurism, millions now follow Kizuna Ai online, and that success has spawned thousands of copycat acts and a cottage industry catering to so-called virtual YouTubers, or VTubers. Defying the Western streamer blueprint of young male gamers like PewDiePie and Ninja, Japan has invented a new class of streaming star that’s equal parts digital avatar and interactive anime.“What separates VTubers from regular anime characters is that you can believe they actually exist,” said Takeshi Osaka, founder of Activ8 Inc., the Tokyo-based company behind Kizuna Ai. “That presence is an important part of what makes them so appealing.”Sidestepping the labor-intensive and time-consuming process of traditional animation -- ill-suited to the fast-paced world of YouTube content -- Activ8 uses Hollywood-grade motion capture equipment to crank out music videos, skits and game streams just about every day for more than 4 million subscribers.The technology allows Kizuna to interact with fans in real time at exhibitions, give interviews on live TV and perform in concerts. It’s a virtual influencer that can patronize real-world events.While Activ8 doesn’t disclose technical details, its product is an almost seamless combination of lifelike movements, gestures and facial expressions, all of which contribute to the suspension of disbelief.“The innovation here is in how they combine real-time 3D computer graphics, motion capture and video streaming sites like YouTube to create two-way interactions with audiences,” said Eiji Araki, a senior vice president at Gree Inc. who heads a division specializing in VTubers.Kizuna Ai debuted on YouTube in December 2016 and was responsible for coining the term “VTuber.” The technology that opened the door for its many imitators arrived that same year, in the form of the first commercial virtual reality goggles. Designed to do precise head and hand tracking, the VR kits from Facebook Inc.’s Oculus and HTC Corp.’s Vive turned out to be perfect animation rigs for VTuber aspirants on a budget. With free-to-use animation engines and 3-D models from the likes of Unity Technologies, anyone could create a virtual puppet studio for cheap in their living room.Virtual Beings Get Real With First Emmy From HollywoodIt’s no accident that VTubers found fertile ground in Japan. The country has a long history of user-generated content centered on anime, and performances by virtual idols like Hatsune Miku have drawn real-world crowds for more than a decade. While international audiences may prefer more photorealistic characters -- which are more difficult to create and animate -- their Japanese counterparts raised on comic book heroes have no problem with cartoonish looks.The VTuber phenomenon has so far been almost exclusively Japanese, however its underlying technology and formula of combining popular culture with increased interactivity -- and thus believability -- are universal. And Activ8 already has ambitions to expand its VTuber portfolio beyond Japan.While Japan’s global tech leadership may have faded since the days of the Walkman, its trendsetting habits remain strong in the gaming realm. Three out of four gaming consoles sold in the world today are made by Nintendo Co. and Sony Corp., while free-to-play mobile games are taking over the globe with monetization techniques pioneered by Japanese companies. And then there are globally beloved game series like Super Mario, Zelda, Monster Hunter and Pokémon. Anime, another major Japanese cultural export, is a $20 billion industry whose products range from Oscar-winning high-brow works by Hayao Miyazaki to action-packed light entertainment like “Battle Angel Alita,” which recently got a Hollywood remake. VTubers are a cross between these two Japanese pastimes.Market researcher User Local Inc. estimates there are now over 9,000 VTuber channels. The most popular ones are produced by a handful of professional studios like Activ8, each managing dozens of characters. In the space of less than three years, virtual streamers have morphed from an obscure subculture to a big business. Kizuna Ai can now be found in ads for instant cup noodles and eye drops, appearing at local carrier SoftBank Corp.’s launch event and helping the Japan National Tourism Organization’s promo campaigns.“There is no doubt that this will change the future of entertainment,” said Hironao Kunimitsu, the founder of Gumi Inc., an early investor in Activ8 and about 70 other VR startups. He cautions, however, that “for this type of content to resonate outside of Japan, it will have to be adapted to local tastes and sensibilities.”For now, Japanese VTubers are taking the path of least resistance and exporting their characters to China’s large and underserved anime market. Activ8 earlier this year introduced a Chinese version of Kizuna Ai, changing its dress and voice, and now it has close to 820,000 followers on the country’s Bilibili video-sharing service.Ultimate success for Activ8’s chief means making it into Hollywood, which is already a well-trodden path for Japanese gaming franchises like Resident Evil, Pokémon and Sonic the Hedgehog. Given the world’s appetite for Japanese culture, VTubers might not even have to dilute their product very much.“I started this virtual entertainer business because I believe it can be done worldwide,” Osaka said. “Our goal is to become the next-generation Disney.”To contact the reporters on this story: Pavel Alpeyev in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org;Yuki Furukawa in Tokyo at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org, Vlad Savov, Colum MurphyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc., ahead of a congressional hearing on violent content, revealed the charter for an independent oversight board that will make irreversible decisions about what posts stay up and come down, even if the company disagrees.The board, which Facebook started talking about in January and which will begin to hear cases early next year, represents the first real check on Facebook’s power to decide who gets a voice on its site. Its members -- at least 11 people at any given time and fully staffed at 40 -- will be the final word on controversial cases that affect Facebook’s 2.7 billion users. The board’s charter outlines a vision that is easier said than done.The members will “exhibit a broad range of knowledge, competencies, diversity and expertise” with no “actual or perceived” conflicts of interest that would affect their decisions on user content, according to the charter revealed Tuesday. They will “collaborate in decision-making to foster an environment of collegiality, and issue principled decisions and policy recommendations using clearly articulated reasoning.” The committee deciding on cases will include one member from the region of the post in dispute.Facebook spent months deliberating with outside experts to ensure the board acts independently, even though members are paid indirectly by the tech giant. Funding is channeled through a trust and the trustees can’t fire board members if they make bad content decisions, only if their conduct is poor. At stake is the trust of Facebook’s users, who sometimes don’t understand why posts are removed, or why questionable content they report remains online.The company is also dealing with increasingly damaging types of content -- like posts to recruit terrorists or influence elections. On Wednesday, executives from Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Google will testify before a Senate committee on violent content and extremism, after a string of mass shootings, some of which were broadcast live on social media.Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St. John’s University Law School, has been embedded at Facebook to observe the oversight board’s creation, including sitting in on meetings with staff. She described a notable update: The board can provide feedback on Facebook policies, and the company will review that and write a public statement explaining why it did or did not change a policy as a result.“That’s actually kind of a huge deal,” Klonick said. “That’s probably the most accountable we’ve ever seen Facebook.”There are still elements that are unclear, according to Klonick. The charter references “bylaws” -- the “operational procedures of the board” -- and a Code of Conduct outlining the “norms, procedures, and proper practices” expected of board members. Neither exists right now, but both will be important to start the board off in the right direction with the right set of principles, she said.To contact the reporters on this story: Sarah Frier in San Francisco at email@example.com;Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at email@example.com, Alistair Barr, Molly SchuetzFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.