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July 18, 2018
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Google gets slapped $5BN by EU for Android antitrust abuse

in Advertising Tech/Android/antitrust/Apps/competition commission/Delhi/eu/Europe/fairsearch/Google/Government/India/Margrethe Vestager/mobile/Politics/TC by

Google has been fined a record breaking €4.34 billion (~$5BN) by European antitrust regulators for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system.

Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has tweeted to confirm the penalty ahead of a press conference about to take place. Stay tuned for more details as we get them.

In a longer statement about the decision, Vestager said: “Today, mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic. It has changed the lives of millions of Europeans. Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine. In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.”

In particular, the EC has decided that Google:

  • has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
  • made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
  • has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).

The decision also concludes that Google is dominant in the markets for general internet search services; licensable smart mobile operating systems; and app stores for the Android mobile operating system.

Google has tweeted an initial reaction to the decision, claiming Android has created “a vibrant ecosystem, rapid innovation and lower prices”.

A company spokesperson also confirmed to us it will appeal the Commission’s decision.

This story is developing… refresh for updates… 

The fine is the second major penalty for the ad tech giant for breaching EU competition rules in just over a year — and the highest ever issued by the Commission for abuse of a dominant market position.

In June 2017 Google was hit with a then-record €2.4BN (~$2.7BN) antitrust penalty related to another of its products, search comparison service, Google Shopping. The company has since made changes to how it displays search results for products in Europe.

According to the bloc’s rules, companies can be fined 10 per cent of their global revenue if they are deemed to have breached European competition law.

Google’s parent entity Alphabet reported full year revenue of $110.9 billion in 2017. So the $5BN fine is around half of what the company could have been on the hook for if EU regulators had levied the maximum penalty possible.

The Commission said the size of the fine takes into account “the duration and gravity of the infringement”. It also specified it had been calculated on the basis of the value of Google’s revenue from search advertising services on Android devices in the European Economic Area (per its own guidelines on fines).

Google will have three months to pay the fine but is likely to appeal — and legal wrangling could drag the process out for many years. (Although if it does not pay the fine within that timeframe penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of the company can be applied.)

Prior to the Commission’s record pair of fines for Google products, its next highest antitrust penalty is a €1.06BN antitrust fine for chipmaker Intel all the way back in 2009.

Yet only last year Europe’s top court ruled that the case against Intel — which focused on it offering rebates to high-volume buyers — should be sent back to a lower court to be re-examined, nearly a decade after the original antitrust decision. So Google’s lawyers are likely to have a spring in their step going into this next European antitrust battle.

The latest EU fine for Android has been on the cards for more than two years, given the Commission’s preliminary findings and consistently prescriptive remarks from Vestager during the course of what has been a multi-year investigation process.

And, indeed, given multiple EU antitrust investigations into Google businesses and business practices (the EU has also been probing Google’s AdSense advertising service).

The Commission’s prior finding that Google is a dominant company in Internet search — a judgement reached at the culmination of its Google Shopping investigation last year — is also important, making the final judgement in the Android case more likely because the status places the onus on Google not to abuse its dominant position in other markets, adjacent or otherwise.

Announcing the Google Shopping penality last summer, Vestager made a point of emphasizing that dominant companies “need to be more vigilant” — saying they have a “special responsibility” to ensure they are not in breach of antitrust rules, and also specifying this applies “in the market where it’s dominant” and “in any other market”. So that means — as here in the Android case — in mobile services too.

While a one-off financial penalty — even one that runs to so many billions of dollars — cannot cause lasting damage to a company as wealthy as Alphabet, of greater risk to its business are changes the regulators can require to how it operates Android which could have a sustained impact on Google if they end up reshaping the competitive landscape for mobile services.

At least that’s the Commission’s intention: To reset what has been judged an unfair competitive advantage for Google via Android, and foster competitive innovation because rival products get a fairer chance to impress consumers.

However the popularity and profile of Google services suggests that even if Android users are offered a choice as a result of an EU antirust remedy — such as of which search engine, maps service, mobile browser or even app store to use — most will likely pick the Google-branded offering they’re most familiar with.

That said, an antitrust remedy could have the chance to shift consumers’ habits over time — if, for instance, OEMs start offering Android devices that come preloaded with alternative mobile services, thereby raising the visibility of non-Google apps and services.

Interestingly, Google has been striking deals with Chinese OEMs in recent months — to brings its ARCore technology to markets where its core services are censored and its Play Store is restricted. And its strategy to workaround regional restrictions in China by working more closely with device makers may also be part of a plan to hedge against fresh regulatory restrictions being placed on Android elsewhere. 

Although complainants in the EU’s earlier Google Shopping antitrust case continue to express displeasure with the outcome on that front. And in a statement responding to news that another EU antitrust penalty was incoming for Android, Shivaun Raff, CEO of Foundem, the lead complainant in Google Shopping case, said: “Fines make headlines. Effective remedies make a difference.”

So the devil will be in the detail of the remedies.

 

Android as an antitrust ‘Trojan horse’

The European Commission announced its formal in-depth probe of Android in April 2015, saying then that it was investigating complaints Google was “requiring and incentivizing” OEMs to exclusively install its own services on devices on Android devices, and also examining whether Google was hindering the ability of smartphone and tablet makers to use and develop other OS versions of Android (i.e. by forking the open source platform).

Rivals — banding together under the banner ‘FairSearch‘ — complained Google was essentially using the platform as a ‘Trojan horse’ to unfairly dominate the mobile web. The lobby group’s listing on the EU’s transparency register describes its intent as promoting “innovation and choice across the Internet ecosystem by fostering and defending competition in online and mobile search within the European Union”, and names its member organizations as: Buscapé, Cepic, Foundem, Naspers, Nokia, Oracle, TripAdvisor and Yroo.

On average, Android has around a 70-75% smartphone marketshare across Europe. But in some European countries the OS accounts for an even higher proportion of usage. In Spain, for example, Android took an 86.1% marketshare as of March, according to market data collected by Kantar Worldpanel.

In recent years Android has carved an even greater market share in some European countries, while Google’s Internet search product also has around a 90% share of the European market, and competition concerns about its mobile OS have been sounded for years.

Last year Google reached a $7.8M settlement with Russian antitrust authorities over Android — which required the company to no longer demand exclusivity of its applications on Android devices in Russia; could not restrict the pre-installation of any competing search engines and apps, including on the home screen; could no longer require Google Search to be the only general search engine pre-installed.

Google also agreed with Russian antitrust authorities that it would no longer enforce its prior agreements where handset makers had agreed to any of these terms. Additionally, as part of the settlement, Google was required to allow third parties to include their own search engines into a choice window, and to allowing users to pick their preferred default search engine from a choice window displayed in Google’s Chrome browser. The company was also required to develop a new Chrome widget for Android devices already being used in Russia, to replace the standard Google search widget on the home screen so they would be offered a choice when it launched.

A year after Vestager’s public announcement of the EU’s antitrust probe of Android, she issued a formal Statement of Objections, saying the Commission believed Google has “implemented a strategy on mobile devices to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general Internet search”; and flagging as problematic the difficulty for Android users whose devices come pre-loaded with the Google Play store to use other app stores (which cannot be downloaded from Google Play).

She also raised concerns over Google providing financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile carriers on condition that Google search be pre-installed as the exclusive search provider. “In our opinion, as we see it right now, it is preventing competition from happening because of the strength of the financial incentive,” Vestager said in April 2016.

Google was given several months to respond officially to the antitrust charges against Android — which it finally did in November 2016, having been granted an extension to the Commission’s original deadline.

In its rebuttal then, Google argued that, contrary to antitrust complaints, Android had created a thriving and competitive mobile app ecosystem. It further claimed the EU was ignoring relevant competition in the form of Apple’s rival iOS platform — although iOS does not hold a dominant marketshare in Europe, nor Apple have a status as a dominant company in any EU markets.

Google also argued that its “voluntary compatibility agreements” for Android OEMs are a necessary mechanism for avoiding platform fragmentation — which it said would make life harder for app developers — as well as saying its requirement for Android OEMs to use Google search by default is effectively its payment for providing the suite for free to device makers (given there is no formal licensing fee for Android).

It also couched “free distribution is an efficient solution for everyone” — arguing it lowers prices for phone makers and consumers, while “still letting us sustain our substantial investment in Android and Play”.

In addition, Google sought to characterize open source platforms as “fragile” — arguing the Commission’s approach risked upsetting the “balance of needs” between users and developers, and suggesting their action could signal they favor “closed over open platforms”.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Instagram is building non-SMS 2-factor auth to thwart SIM hackers

in Apps/Delhi/India/instagram/mobile/Politics/Security/Social/two factor authentication by

Hackers can steal your phone number by reassigning it to a different SIM card, use it to reset your passwords, steal your Instagram and other accounts, and sell them for Bitcoin. As detailed in a harrowing Motherboard article today, Instagram accounts are especially vulnerable because the app only offers two-factor authentication through SMS that delivers a password reset or login code via text message.

But now Instagram has confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s building non-SMS two-factor authentication system that works with security apps like Google Authenticator or Duo. They generate a special code that you need to login that can’t be generated on a different phone in case your number is ported to a hacker’s SIM card.

Buried in the Instagram Android app’s APK code is a prototype of the upgraded 2FA feature, discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Her work has led to confirmed TechCrunch scoops on Instagram Video Calling, Usage Insights, soundtracks for Stories, and more.

When presented with the screenshots, an Instagram spokesperson told TechCrunch that yes, it is working on the non-SMS 2FA feature, saying “We’re continuing to improve the security of Instagram accounts, including strengthening 2-factor authentication.”

Instagram actually lacked any two-factor protection until 2016 when it already had 400 million users. In November 2015, I wrote a story titled “Seriously. Instagram needs two-factor authentication.” A friend and star Instagram stop-motion animation creator Rachel Ryle had been hacked, costing up a lucrative sponsorship deal. The company listened. Three months later, the app began rolling out basic SMS-based 2FA.

But since then, SIM porting has become a much more common problem. Hackers typically call a mobile carrier and use social engineering tactics to convince them they’re you, or bribe an employee to help, and then change your number to a SIM card they control. Whether they’re hoping to steal intimate photos, empty cryptocurrency wallets, or sell desireable social media handles that like @t or @Rainbow as Motherboard reported, there are plenty of incentives to try a SIM porting attack. This article outlines how you can take steps to protect your phone number.

Hopefully as knowledge of this hacking technique becomes more well known, more apps will introduce non-SMS 2FA, mobile providers will make it tougher to port numbers, and users will take more steps to safeguard their accounts. As our identities and assets increasingly go digital, its pin codes and authenticator apps, not just deadbolts and home security systems, that must become a part of our everyday lives.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Sharecuts is creating a community for sharing Siri Shortcuts

in Apple/Apps/Delhi/India/mobile/Politics/siri/siri shortcuts/voice/voice assistants/voice computing by

With the upcoming release of iOS 12, Apple is introducing a new app called Shortcuts that will allow users to build custom voice commands for Siri that can be used to kick off a variety of actions in apps. While some apps will directly prompt users to add a Shortcut to Siri, the new Shortcuts app will offer more shortcut suggestions to try, plus the ability to create your own shortcuts and workflows. Now, there’s a new resource for shortcut fans, too – Sharecuts, a directory of shortcuts created and shared by the community.

The site is still very much in the early stages.

Plus, iOS 12 is still in beta testing itself, and the Shortcuts app can only be installed by developers who request access via an invite.

But by the time iOS 12 releases to the public later this fall, Sharecuts’ directory will be filled out and a lot more functional.

The premise, explains Sharecuts’ creator Guilherme Rambo, was to make an easily accessible place where people could share their shortcuts with one another, discover those others have shared, and suggest improvements to existing shortcuts.

“I was talking to a friend [Patrick Balestra] about how cool shortcuts are, and how it should be easier for people to share and discover shortcuts,” says Guilherme. “He mentioned he wanted to build a website for that  – he even had the idea for the name Sharecuts – but he was on vacation without a good internet connection so I decided to just build it myself in one day,” he says.

The site is currently a bare bones, black-and-white page with cards for each shortcut, but an update will bring a more colorful style (see below) and features that will allow users to filter the shortcuts by tags, vote on favorites, among other things.

Above: current site

Guilherme says while the backend is being built to support a larger number of users, only a few people have been invited to upload for the time being. But in the upcoming release, the site will offer a “featured” selection of shortcuts chosen by some well-known members of the Apple community who will serve as curators.

The uploads to the site will also be moderated in the future, to prevent malicious shortcuts and spam from being included in the directory.

The site itself isn’t a new business or startup, Guilherme says, just a side project for now.

It’s written in Swift and open-sourced on GitHub so others can contribute. The page already has a list of ideas for improvements to the Sharecuts site, including the new design, plus more ways to refine, sort, and organize the shortcuts.

It remains to be seen how popular Siri Shortcuts will be with the mainstream iPhone user base.

With iOS 12, Apple is turning its iPhone into an “A.I. phone,” but I believe the Shortcuts app and workflows will remain a power user feature for some time. Mainstream users will gradually warm up to the idea of customizing their Siri interactions by getting prompted to create voice commands by their favorite apps. (E.g. Your coffee shop’s mobile ordering app may push you to add a “Coffee time!” shortcut to Siri.)

Over time, that may lead them to iOS 12’s Shortcuts app to do even more.

But in the near-term, power users will be busy taking advantage of the new Shortcuts app and Siri features to test the powers of Shortcuts. And with Sharecuts, all the other shortcuts enthusiasts can benefit from their enthusiasm and activity, too.

If you already have the beta Shortcuts app installed, you can try out some of the shortcuts featured on Sharecuts today. A couple of the interesting picks include the Siri News Reader which will read you headlines from an RSS feed, the Bitcoin Price checkers, and an always useful tip calculator.

Above: The news reader shortcut, from Federico Viticci

Those interested in contributing to Sharecuts in the future can register here for an invite.

News Source = techcrunch.com

An app that uses AI to help you improve your basketball shot just raised $4 million

in Apps/Delhi/Fundings & Exits/India/mobile/overtime/Politics by

Let’s be real: you are most certainly never going to be as good as Steve Nash, Chris Paul, James Harden — or really any professional NBA player. But it probably won’t stop you from trying to practice or model your game around your favorite players, and spend hours upon hours figuring out how to get better.

And while there are going to be plenty of attempts to smash image recognition and AI into that problem, a company called NEX Team is hoping to soften the blow a bit by helping casual players figure out their game, rather than trying to be as good as a professional NBA player. Using phone cameras and image recognition on the back end, its primary app HomeCourt will measure a variety of variables like shot trajectory, jump height, and body position, and help understand how to improve a player’s shooting form. It’s not designed to help that player shoot like Ray Allen, but at least start hitting those mid-range jumpers. The company said it’s raised $4 million from Charmides Capital and Mandra Capital, as well as Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Sam “Trust The Process” Hinkie (sigh), Mark Cuban and Dani Reiss.

“We don’t call ourselves a basketball company, we think of ourselves as a mobile AI company,” CEO and co-founder David Lee said. “It happens that basketball is the first sport where we’re applying our tech. When you think about digitizing sports, as a runner or cyclist, you’ve had access to a feedback loop for a while [on treadmills and other tools]. But for basketball and other sports like basketball, that loop didn’t exist. We believed with computer vision, you can digitize a lot of different sports, one of which is basketball. We’re not just building an app for the professional basketball athletes, we’re focused on building an app where value can be generated across the basketball community.”

The app starts off with an iPhone. Players can boot up their camera and begin recording their shots, and the app will go back and track what worked and what didn’t work with that shot, as well as where the player is making and missing those shots.It’s not tracking every single motion of the player, but once a player makes a shot, it will track that trajectory and shooting form, like where his or her feet are planted. That kind of feedback can help players understand the kinds of small tweaks they can make to improve their shooting percentage over time, such as release speed or jump hight. And while it’s not designed to be hugely robust like the kinds of advanced tracking technology that show up in advanced training facilities at some larger sports franchises, it aims to be a plug-and-play way of getting feedback on a player’s game right away.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily stop the app from showing up in slightly more professional situations, like recruiting or in athletic centers on college campuses, Lee said. Each college is looking for the next DeAndre Ayton or Ben Simmons, as well as new ways to try to find those recruits. While not every college will end up with the top recruits in the country and get bounced in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, it offers an additional way for younger players to refine their game to the point they potentially get the attention of those universities — or the NBA, should the one-and-done rule that requires athletes to play a year in college end up disappearing.

“A lot of these coaches are looking at a lot of evaluation tools,” Lee said. “If Alex is waking up at 5 a.m. to put in work, it’s not just about makes and misses, it’s about work ethic. It’s harder to evaluate and digitize a sport. Only [a fraction] of the basketball happens in their practice facilities. How do they help their players evaluate their workout sessions when they’re in those situations? That opens up the doors to do that as well.”

In order to appeal to those broader audiences, the startup is rolling out bite-sized challenges as a way to try to attract the more casual consumers that want to dip their toes into HomeCourt. You see these kinds of challenge-based activities in apps like Strava as a way to try to attract users or keep them engaged in a lighter and more competitive way without having to go into a full-on event like a race or a tournament. It’s one way to try to wrangle the competitive elements of sports like basketball without a ton of competitive pressure as users get more and more comfortable with the way they play and their shooting style.

That bite-sized style of activity also serves pretty well when it comes to creating content, as has been proven popular by apps like Overtime that specialize in highlights of certain players. HomeCourt hopes to add a social layer on top of that to, once again, increase that kind of stickiness and build a community around what would otherwise be a purely technical tool — and one that might scare off more casual players with a very sabermetrics-feeling approach.

Lee also said he hopes the app will eventually broaden into other sports, like Golf or Tennis, where tracking the ball might be more complicated or the motions considerably different from basketball. That’s based on building technology that tracks the movement of the player, and not just the ball, in order to determine the trajectory or success of that specific shots. The hope is that basketball is a first step in terms of achieving that.

“For golf, seeing your whole form as going into your swing is more important — that’s the input in terms of getting where the ball goes,” Lee said. “We’re trying to think about how to reduce as much friction as possible. Imagine being able to use the app to track makes or misses, but also tracking your player movement and form, measuring it, and comparing it to another player’s backswing. We’re hoping to do that in basketball [first].”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Netflix is falling off a cliff

in Apps/Comcast/Delhi/Disney/India/mobile/Netflix/Politics by

Netflix didn’t add as many subscribers as expected by a bunch of people on Wall Street who, on a quarterly basis, govern whether or not it’ll be more valuable than Comcast — and that is probably a bad thing, as it’s one of the primary indicators of its future potential for said finance folk.

While it’s still adding subscribers (a lot of them), it fell below the forecasts it set for itself during the second quarter. That’s shaved off more than $10 billion in its market capitalization this afternoon. This comes amid a spending spree by the company, which is looking to create a ton of original content in order to attract a wider audience and lock them into that Netflix ecosystem. That could include shows like GLOWJessica Jones3% or even feature films. But it’s still a tricky situation because it needs to be able to convert shows from that kind of crazy spend schedule into actual subscribers.

Here’s the main chart for its subscription growth.:

So it’s basically down across the board compared to what it set for itself. And here’s the stock chart:

CEOs and executives will normally say they’re focused on delivering long-term value to shareholders, or some variation of that wording, but Netflix is a company that’s been on an absolute tear over the course of the past year. It’s more than doubled in value, overtaking said previously mentioned cable company and signaling that it, too, could be a media consumption empire that will take a decade to unseat like its predecessor. (Though, to be sure, Comcast is going to bundle in Netflix, so this whole situation is kind of weird.)

Of course, all of this is certainly not great for the company. The obvious case is that Netflix has to attract a good amount of talent, and that means offering generous compensation packages — which can include a lot of stock as part of it. But Netflix is also a company that looks to raise a lot of debt to fund the aforementioned spending spree in order to pick up additional subscribers. That’s going to require some assurance that it’ll be a pretty valuable company in the future (and still around, of course), so it may make those negotiations a little more difficult.

Everything else was pretty much in-line, but in the end, it’s that subscriber number that didn’t go as well as planned.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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