GOOG - Alphabet Inc.

NasdaqGS - NasdaqGS Real-time price. Currency in USD
1,300.91
-2.14 (-0.16%)
As of 1:10PM EST. Market open.
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Previous close1,303.05
Open1,301.48
Bid1,298.52 x 1100
Ask1,298.86 x 1000
Day's range1,293.01 - 1,302.64
52-week range970.11 - 1,335.53
Volume432,318
Avg. volume1,280,155
Market cap896.81B
Beta (3Y monthly)1.01
PE ratio (TTM)27.92
EPS (TTM)46.60
Earnings dateN/A
Forward dividend & yieldN/A (N/A)
Ex-dividend dateN/A
1y target est1,487.52
  • Google Launches Stadia Gaming Service
    Bloomberg

    Google Launches Stadia Gaming Service

    Nov.19 -- Google's streaming game platform Stadia is now live. Access to games will start at just under $10 a month. Kenny Rosenblatt, Arkadium president, appears on "Bloomberg Technology."

  • Google Scoops Up Chunk of Vodafone in Battle With Microsoft and Amazon
    Bloomberg

    Google Scoops Up Chunk of Vodafone in Battle With Microsoft and Amazon

    Nov.19 -- Google is taking over a chunk of Vodafone Group Plc’s data operations to help make the phone company's operations more efficient. Google is vying with Amazon and Microsoft for dominance in the data center and cloud computing business. Bloomberg's Alistair Barr reports on "Bloomberg Technology."

  • Why Sonos paid almost $40 million for an AI startup
    Yahoo Finance

    Why Sonos paid almost $40 million for an AI startup

    Sonos CEO Patrick Spence speaks with Yahoo Finance fresh off the company's first-ever acquisition as a public company.

  • Bloomberg

    Google’s Micro-Targeting Ban Won’t Improve Political Ads

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Google says it will limit the targeting of political ads to make it harder to sneak misinformation to impressionable voters. That puts the company ahead of the pack when it comes to making the political business of big internet platforms look less threatening. But the efficiency of political micro-targeting is questionable, and Google is responding to a moral panic rather than any real danger to democracy.Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the public has become aware of techniques that allow advertisers to aim their messages at narrow groups of people, sliced not just by place of residence, age and sex, but also by consumer and political preferences, browsing histories, voting records and other kinds of personal data. This culminated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, when news reports showed that the U.K.-based micro-targeting firm had improperly harvested lots of private user data from Facebook. The platforms were on the spot to do something. Twitter has banned political ads entirely, but then it didn’t sell many, anyway, serving instead as a free platform for political messages. In an op-ed in the Washington Post following Twitter’s announcement, Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Election Commission, called for an end to political micro-targeting instead of an ad ban. “It is easy to single out susceptible groups and direct political misinformation to them with little accountability, because the public at large never sees the ad,” she argued.That was a controversial proposal. Writing in the same newspaper, Chris Wilson, who had been responsible for digital strategy in Senator Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign (which was the first in that election to hire Cambridge Analytica), countered that micro-targeting has helped increase voter turnout and drive down advertising costs for campaigns. His suggestion was to make the targeting more transparent.Google, however, found it more expedient to go along with Weintraub’s proposal than to fight an uphill battle using Wilson’s arguments. In a blog post on Wednesday, the company said it would no longer let advertisers target messages “based on public voter records and general political affiliations (left-leaning, right-leaning, and independent).” Only basic targeting by age, gender and postal code would be allowed.This, is course, is no more than Russian trolls would have required in 2016 — as Wilson pointed out in his Washington Post op-ed. Their propaganda campaign was largely geographically targeted. There’s still no proof that micro-targeting is more effective than other forms of advertising. Academic work on the subject has tended to be rather theoretical, while experimental evidence is scarce. In a paper published this year, German researcher Lennart Krotzek concluded after an experiment matching ads to personality profiles that “candidate messages are more effective in improving a voter’s feeling toward a candidate when the messages are congruent with the voter’s personality profile, but they do not result in a higher propensity to vote for the advertised candidate.”Internet platforms have done little to further the study of political targeting.Google offers a transparency report on political ads placed on its various properties — search pages, YouTube, the sites of media partners. It says that the biggest U.S. advertiser in the last 12 months is the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which has spent $8.5 million. The report discloses that the pro-Trump group has targeted its most recent ads at all people older than 18 throughout the U.S., but offers no clues as to whether any more precise targeting was used. That’s the case with the rest of the advertisers, too.Facebook’s transparency report is just as opaque when it comes to the precise targeting of ads by voters’ interests and political leanings.  It’s easier for Google than for Facebook to abandon precise targeting, because one of its key strengths is being able to link ads to search words. That’s a form of rather precise targeting not affected by Google’s policy change. Slicing and dicing the audience is at the heart of Facebook’s offering to advertisers, so it’s understandably hesitant to disable the feature, thought it, too, has been mulling some targeting curbs.But Facebook doesn’t have to make the sacrifice. It would make more sense to reveal exactly how each political ad is targeted — and to cooperate with researchers interested in evaluating the ads’ efficiency. Facebook has the means to deliver messages from such researchers to the target audiences, which would help them recruit subjects for experiments. Google should have done the same instead of introducing drastic curbs that probably won’t do much to raise the level of political discourse, anyway. Policymakers need data, not hype, to make informed decisions on how to regulate modern advertising.To contact the author of this story: Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion's Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Inside Apple’s iPhone Software Shakeup After Buggy iOS 13 Debut
    Bloomberg

    Inside Apple’s iPhone Software Shakeup After Buggy iOS 13 Debut

    (Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. is overhauling how it tests software after a swarm of bugs marred the latest iPhone and iPad operating systems, according to people familiar with the shift.Software chief Craig Federighi and lieutenants including Stacey Lysik announced the changes at a recent internal “kickoff” meeting with the company’s software developers. The new approach calls for Apple's development teams to ensure that test versions, known as “daily builds,” of future software updates disable unfinished or buggy features by default. Testers will then have the option to selectively enable those features, via a new internal process and settings menu dubbed Flags, allowing them to isolate the impact of each individual addition on the system.When the company’s iOS 13 was released alongside the iPhone 11 in September, iPhone owners and app developers were confronted with a litany of software glitches. Apps crashed or launched slowly. Cellular signal was inconsistent. There were user interface errors in apps like Messages, system-wide search issues and problems loading emails. Some new features, such as sharing file folders over iCloud and streaming music to multiple sets of AirPods, were either delayed or are still missing. This amounted to one of the most troubled and unpolished operating system updates in Apple’s history.“iOS 13 continues to destroy my morale,” Marco Arment, a well known developer, wrote on Twitter. “Same,” replied Jason Marr, co-creator of grocery list app AnyList. “Apple's really shown a lack of respect for both its developers and its customers with iOS 13.” The issues show how complex iPhones have become and how easily users can be disappointed by a company known for the smooth integration of hardware and software. Annual software updates timed for release with the latest iPhones are a critical way for Apple to add new capabilities and keep users from defecting to archrival Android. Refreshed operating systems also give developers more tools for app creation, catalyzing more revenue for Apple from its App Store. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment.The new development process will help early internal iOS versions to be more usable, or “livable,” in Apple parlance. Prior to iOS 14’s development, some teams would add features every day that weren’t fully tested, while other teams would contribute changes weekly. “Daily builds were like a recipe with lots of cooks adding ingredients,” a person with knowledge of the process said. Test software got so crammed with changes at different stages of development that the devices often became difficult to use. Because of this, some “testers would go days without a livable build, so they wouldn’t really have a handle on what’s working and not working,” the person said. This defeated the main goal of the testing process as Apple engineers struggled to check how the operating system was reacting to many of the new features, leading to some of iOS 13’s problems.Apple measures and ranks the quality of its software using a scale of 1 to 100 that’s based on what’s known internally as a “white glove” test. Buggy releases might get a score in the low 60s whereas more stable software would be above 80. iOS 13 scored lower on that scale than the more polished iOS 12 that preceded it. Apple teams also assign green, yellow and red color codes to features to indicate their quality during development. A priority scale of 0 through 5, with 0 being a critical issue and 5 being minor, is used to determine the gravity of individual bugs.The new strategy is already being applied to the development of  iOS 14, codenamed “Azul” internally, ahead of its debut next year. Apple has also considered delaying some iOS 14 features until 2021 — in an update called “Azul +1” internally that will likely become known as iOS 15 externally — to give the company more time to focus on performance. Still, iOS 14 is expected to rival iOS 13 in the breadth of its new capabilities, the people familiar with Apple’s plans said.The testing shift will apply to all of Apple’s operating systems, including iPadOS, watchOS, macOS and tvOS. The latest Mac computer operating system, macOS Catalina, has also manifested bugs such as incompatibility with many apps and missing messages in Mail. Some HomePod speakers, which run an iOS-based operating system, stopped working after a recent iOS 13 update, leading Apple to temporarily pull the upgrade. The latest Apple Watch and Apple TV updates, on the other hand, have gone more smoothly. Apple executives hope that the overhauled testing approach will improve the quality of the company’s software over the long term. But this isn’t the first time that Apple engineers have heard this from management.Last year, Apple delayed several iOS 12 features — including redesigns for CarPlay and the iPad home screen — specifically so it could focus on reliability and performance. At an all-hands meeting in January 2018, Federighi said the company had prioritized new features too much and should return to giving consumers the quality and stability that they wanted first.Apple then established so-called Tiger Teams to address performance issues in specific parts of iOS. The company reassigned engineers from across the software division to focus on tasks such as speeding up app launch times, improving network connectivity and boosting battery life. When iOS 12 came out in the fall of 2018, it was a stable release that required just two updates in the first two months.That success didn’t carry over to this year. The initial version of iOS 13 was so buggy that Apple has had to rush out several patches. In the first two months of iOS 13, there have been eight updates, the most since 2012 when Federighi took over Apple’s iOS software engineering group. The company is currently testing another new version, iOS 13.3, and there’s already a follow-up in the works for the spring.About a month before Apple’s 2019 Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the company’s software engineers started to realize that iOS 13, then known internally as “Yukon,” wasn’t performing as well as previous versions. Some people who worked on the project said development was a “mess.”By August, realizing that the initial iOS 13.0 set to ship with new iPhones a few weeks later wouldn’t hit quality standards, Apple engineers decided to mostly abandon that work and focus on improving iOS 13.1, the first update. Apple privately considered iOS 13.1 the “actual public release” with a quality level matching iOS 12. The company expected only die-hard Apple fans to load iOS 13.0 onto their phones.The timing of the iOS 13.1 update was moved up by a week to Sept. 24, compressing the time that iOS 13.0 was Apple’s flagship OS release. New iPhones are so tightly integrated with Apple software that it would have been technically impossible to launch the iPhone 11 with iOS 12, and since 13.1 wasn’t ready in time, Apple’s only choice was to ship with 13.0 and update everyone to 13.1 as quickly as it could.While the iOS 13 issues did upset iPhone owners, they still updated fairly quickly. As of mid-October, half of all Apple device users were running a version of iOS 13, according to Apple. That upgrade pace is still far ahead of Google’s Android.Once iOS 13.1 was released, Apple’s software engineering division pivoted to iOS 13.2 with a quality goal of being better than iOS 12. This update has had fewer complaints than its predecessors in the iOS 13 family but did introduce a short-lived bug around apps closing in the background when they shouldn’t.“iOS 13 has felt like a super-messy release, something we haven't seen this bad since iOS 8 or so,” Steve Troughton-Smith, a veteran developer of Apple apps, wrote on Twitter.To contact the author of this story: Mark Gurman in Los Angeles at mgurman1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Alistair Barr at abarr18@bloomberg.net, Vlad SavovFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Sony in Talks to Buy Stake in Ambani’s TV Network
    Bloomberg

    Sony in Talks to Buy Stake in Ambani’s TV Network

    (Bloomberg) -- Sony Corp. is in talks to acquire a stake in the Indian television network controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, as the Japanese giant seeks to tap booming demand for content in the South Asian nation, according to people familiar with the matter.The Tokyo-based company is currently conducting due diligence on Ambani’s Network18 Media & Investments Ltd. before any possible offer, the people said, asking not to be named as the information is not public. Sony is considering several potential deal structures, including a bid for the company or a merger of its own Indian business with Network18’s entertainment channels, one of the people said.Talks are at a preliminary stage and may not result in a transaction, the people said. Shares of Network18 surged as much as 19% in Mumbai on Thursday, while unit TV18 Broadcast Ltd. jumped 9.7%.While a successful deal may help Sony bolster its local offerings and take on upstart rivals such as Netflix Inc., it will give Ambani access to international content. The Indian tycoon’s wireless carrier, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., has spent almost $50 billion in the past few years on its network to disrupt India’s telecommunications industry and has been luring users by offering local and overseas programming.“Our company evaluates various opportunities on an ongoing basis,” a spokesman for Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd., said in an email, declining to comment further. Representatives for Sony in India and Japan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments.The talks come at a time when competition is heating up for paying viewers in a potentially lucrative market with more than half a billion smartphone users. Streaming companies such as Netflix to Amazon.com Inc. Prime are increasingly offering programs created locally to lure subscribers. Ambani’s Jio, while having the technology platform, is limited by the paucity of content it can stream, making such a deal with Sony crucial.“India is a massive OTT market, and any international OTT play will need to bolster its local strategy,” said Utkarsh Sinha, managing director at Bexley Advisors, a boutique firm in Mumbai, referring to over-the-top or streaming media services. “More partnerships or strategic alliances like this are likely in the next year or so.”Inside the Most Watched YouTube Channel in the WorldReliance Industries, the oil-to-petrochemicals conglomerate, unveiled plans last month to set up a digital-services holding company to fulfill the mogul’s ambitions for an e-commerce platform aimed at taking on the likes of Amazon.com and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart Online Services Pvt.Sony operates in the South Asian country through Sony Pictures Networks India, which has a bouquet of channels including Sony Entertainment Television, reaching over 700 million viewers in India.TV18 Broadcast owns and operates 56 channels in India spanning news and entertainment. It also caters to the global Indian diaspora through 16 international channels.(Updates with analyst’s comment in seventh paragraph)To contact the reporters on this story: Baiju Kalesh in Mumbai at bkalesh@bloomberg.net;Anto Antony in Mumbai at aantony1@bloomberg.net;P R Sanjai in Mumbai at psanjai@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Fion Li at fli59@bloomberg.net, ;Sam Nagarajan at samnagarajan@bloomberg.net, Arijit GhoshFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Financial Times

    Tories risk new backlash over spoof Labour website

    Timed to coincide with the launch of the Labour election manifesto in Birmingham on Thursday morning, the Tories’ website attacked the UK’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party’s policies on Brexit and taxation. Although the site states clearly that it is “a website by the Conservative party” it is branded in the Labour party’s red colours and uses the web address www.labourmanifesto.co.uk.

  • Singapore ‘Repatriates’ Hongkonger Who Held Political Meeting
    Bloomberg

    Singapore ‘Repatriates’ Hongkonger Who Held Political Meeting

    (Bloomberg) -- A Hong Kong resident living in Singapore has been “repatriated” home after organizing an illegal gathering of mostly ethnic Chinese last month to talk about the ongoing protests, according to local media reports.Restaurant owner Alex Yeung, along with a 55-year-old former Hong Kong resident, were issued a “stern warning” over what was said to be a gathering of about 10 people sharing their views of the escalating protests, which is an offense under the Public Order Act. Yeung, who has a Youtube channel of largely pro-Beijing content was further instructed he would not be allowed to enter Singapore again without permission from the authorities.“Singapore has always been clear that foreigners should not advocate their political causes in Singapore, through public assemblies, and other prohibited means,” the Singapore Police Force told Channel News Asia late on Wednesday.Speaking from Singapore’s Changi Airport on Thursday morning ahead of his flight, Yeung said he was now free to go where he pleased and thanked Singapore for upholding the rule of law.Illegal Gatherings“The Singapore Police Force has made no indictment against me. I am warned to refrain from any criminal conduct in the future under their discretion,” he said in a video posted to YouTube. “Singapore is a very civilized country with very good security.”In 2017, Singapore revoked the permanent residency of prominent academic and China expert Huang Jing after he allegedly used his position to covertly advance the agenda of an unnamed foreign country at Singapore’s expense.Hong Kong has been gripped for days by the standoff at the city’s Polytechnic University, where hard-core protesters remain surrounded by police. The unrest began in June with largely peaceful marches against legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China and have since mushroomed into a broader push for demands including an independent probe into police violence and the ability to nominate and elect city leaders.Speaking to reporters on Monday, Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing warned a similar situation could “easily happen” in his country if the government is complacent. Under restrictive laws, cause-related gatherings are illegal without a police permit and participants are subject to fines without it.\--With assistance from Chester Yung.To contact the reporter on this story: Philip J. Heijmans in Singapore at pheijmans1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Muneeza NaqviFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Financial Times

    Google curbs targeted political advertising

    Google has said that political advertisers will no longer be able to narrowly target users through their characteristics such as interests or email addresses, ahead of next year’s US election. Alphabet’s search platform said in a blog post on Wednesday that political advertisers will now only be able to target audiences by age, gender and general location at the postcode level. Until the changes, advertisers could target commercials in Google searches, sites using its ads technology and on its video platform YouTube based on email lists that they had collected, or by broad interests, such as fandom of a particular sport.

  • Google, Facebook at Center of Rising Political-Ad Tensions
    Bloomberg

    Google, Facebook at Center of Rising Political-Ad Tensions

    (Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. and Google were drawn into an escalating battle of wills Wednesday over the use of political advertising on social media.Trump campaign officials pressured Facebook to maintain its permissive political advertising rules, while Alphabet Inc.’s Google announced an overhaul of how campaigns may target their messages across the world’s largest search engine.The ability of candidates to show different messages to people based on their physical location, age, or other characteristic, referred to as micro-targeting, has become an increasing focus of the broader debate about political advertising online. Last month, Twitter Inc. said it will ban political ads on its platform altogether, and is restricting targeting for other ads related to some politically charged issues, like climate change.Google on Wednesday said it will ban candidates from targeting election ads based on people’s political affiliation, though the messages can be tailored based on gender, age and geography. The company also is eliminating a feature called Customer Match for political advertisers. The tool lets marketers upload their own lists of email addresses or phone numbers, and target ads specifically at those people.Facebook, the largest platform for online political advertising, has been under pressure to follow suit. Several prominent Democrats have attacked the company for refusing to fact-check political ads. Facebook has rebuffed those calls, saying it doesn’t want to police political speech. In October, hundreds of Facebook employees sent a letter to the company’s executives calling for new limits on ad targeting for political campaigns. The letter became public after it was obtained by the New York Times.Carolyn Everson, a Facebook vice president, said Monday at a Recode conference that the social-media company wasn’t considering changes to its targeted advertising options for political ads. Later that day, however, she told Axios, the news website, that Facebook hadn’t ruled out any specific changes, raising the prospect the company may change course and limit targeting in some way.The Trump campaign reacted directly to Everson’s comments. It sees Facebook as an essential tool for speaking directly to voters, instead of relying on critical media outlets that the president says treat him unfairly.Gary Coby, the Trump campaign’s digital director, argued on Twitter Wednesday that stopping campaigns from pairing in-house data with Facebook’s advertising tools would suppress voter engagement. “This would unevenly hurt the little guy, smaller voices, & issues the public is not aware of OR news is NOT covering,” Coby tweeted, saying it was very “dangerous” and a “huge blow to speech.”Tim Cameron, chief executive officer at FlexPoint Media, a Republican media strategy firm, said the Trump campaign is likely concerned that new restrictions could result in Facebook deciding to begin fact-checking political ads. “I think the Trump campaign is looking down the road beyond this decision and are actually more afraid of subsequent decisions that Facebook may make,” he said.Facebook hasn’t announced any changes to its policies. “For over a year, we’ve provided unprecedented transparency into all U.S. federal and state campaigns -- and we prohibit voter suppression in all ads,” a company spokesman said. “As we’ve said, we are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”During the 2016 election, the Trump campaign ran 5.9 million different versions of ads, constantly testing them against different groups to increase engagement, according to internal Facebook documents reviewed by Bloomberg in 2018. It spent $44 million on Facebook in the six months before the 2016 election. So far in 2019, the Trump campaign has spent more than $15 million in ads, and is the largest political spender on the platform, according to Facebook’s political ad library.Before Google announced its changes, the company touted its ability to target voters based on political affiliations, like “right-leaning,” as a major selling point. “They were all heartily selling us this for years as the coolest thing since sliced bread,” said Will Ritter, the founder of Poolhouse, a political advertising firm.Google’s new restrictions mean campaigns may have to spend more after losing the ability to hit key voters, Ritter added. For instance, a candidate could identify frequent Republican voters in Democratic-heavy areas of the country, and reach them with ads on search and YouTube. Now they can’t.“It’s just going to increase costs because there’s going to be so much waste,” Ritter said.Irene Knapp, a former Google employee who now works for Tech Inquiry, a political advocacy group focused on ethical issues related to technology, said the ability to target makes online advertising particularly susceptible to abuse. Campaigns can test messages on certain audiences, find which ones resonate, then use tools provided by Facebook or Google to target those people with new ads while also reaching people with similar characteristics. Misleading messaging can be directed at specific audiences without drawing widespread attention.“You can be seeing one message that seems fine, and your next-door neighbor can be seeing some misinformation that is cleverly targeted to produce a very different response or action,” Knapp said.Knapp said Google’s Customer Match tool could be used to target racial groups, or engage in other behavior that violates the policies of the platforms. The equivalent tool on Facebook, “Custom Audiences,” still exists.(Updates with details on Google rules in the fourth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Alistair Barr.To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Newcomer in San Francisco at enewcomer@bloomberg.net;Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at kwagner71@bloomberg.net;Mark Bergen in San Francisco at mbergen10@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Andrew PollackFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Google Limits Political Ad Targeting, Bans Misleading Info
    Bloomberg

    Google Limits Political Ad Targeting, Bans Misleading Info

    (Bloomberg) -- Google is severely limiting how political advertisers can target people online, a decision made after weeks of furious debate over how online platforms handle campaign messages.The Alphabet Inc. unit said in a blog post on Wednesday it will no longer allow election ads to be targeted based on political affiliation on Google Search, YouTube and across the web. The company is also restricting misinformation and banning doctored media known as deepfakes in ads following criticism that Google and rival Facebook Inc. ran ads from U.S. President Donald Trump that were intentionally misleading.Google’s steps could curtail campaigns just as they are escalating spending for the 2020 U.S. presidential elections. The internet search giant also said it is removing access to a valuable tool called Customer Match for political ads. This technology lets advertisers combine their own data, such as email lists, with Google’s massive corpus of digital information, to target audiences even more accurately.Still, Google isn’t limiting political targeting altogether. Election ads will still be able to target users based on age, gender and location by postal code. Nonprofits that register as political advertisers will be affected by the new policies, a Google spokeswoman said.Additionally, Google said it’s updating its overall ads policy to prohibit “misleading claims about the census process, and ads or destinations making demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.”Online platforms’ handling of political ad spending has become a lightning rod in recent weeks. Twitter Inc.’s decision to ban campaign advertising in October was met with both praise and scorn from politicians and advocacy groups. Facebook has taken a different stance, with top executives repeating several times that the social network won’t fact-check ads from politicians, saying it’s not the place of technology companies to become arbiters of truth.Google has reported just over $127 million in revenue from U.S. political ads since June 2018, representing a small sliver of the company’s overall sales.To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at mbergen10@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Alistair BarrFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Streaming Cools Off and Gaming Warms Up
    Zacks

    Streaming Cools Off and Gaming Warms Up

    Let's review. Disney+ is killing it and the video game field is about to get more muddy. We've made some smart moves, let's predict the future.

  • Markets May Welcome Capitalism-Friendly Buttigieg Presidency, Cowen Says
    Bloomberg

    Markets May Welcome Capitalism-Friendly Buttigieg Presidency, Cowen Says

    (Bloomberg) -- Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg may be well received by markets due to his pragmatic approach to governing and his “appreciation for the benefits of capitalism,” according to Cowen. Buttigieg is due to take the debate stage on Wednesday night as the emerging front-runner in Iowa.The Indiana mayor is probably one of the better Democratic candidates for financial and housing stocks, analyst Jaret Seiberg wrote in a note. Buttigieg’s “experience is solving problems rather than partisan brawling,” while he hasn’t endorsed “some of the more radical policy plans that other Democrats are advocating,” Seiberg said.Seiberg noted that though Buttigieg hasn’t articulated many views on financial firms while campaigning, he’s “Harvard and Oxford educated and worked for McKinsey on economic stabilization in war-torn areas.” He also presents himself as a “Democratic Capitalist,” and has touted his business experience. Seiberg pointed as well to national policy adviser Sonal Shah, formerly with Goldman Sachs and Google, who “sounds like another progressive pragmatist.”Buttigieg is probably likely to pick a Federal Reserve chairman who’s similar to Janet Yellen, Seiberg added, as he may understand the “importance of an independent central bank that can put the long-term interests of economy ahead of short-term political gains.” Buttigieg is unlikely to choose a central banker who endorses modern monetary theory, Seiberg said.Seiberg highlighted Buttigieg’s known policy views on financials and housing:Buttigieg has been vocal about ensuring consumers can sue credit card companies rather than having to use arbitration.He would restore corporate tax rates to 35% to pay for his health care plan, which means that higher taxes aren’t a separate priority, reducing risk.He has endorsed a transaction tax, possibly aimed at high frequency trading rather than traditional trading.He supports higher estate and top individual tax rates.Buttigieg may be good for housing as he wants to create a federal program to provide downpayment assistance for 1 million families.Buttigieg’s discussion of using affordable housing trust funds to finance two million units of affordable housing may be an “implicit endorsement” of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.Cowen hasn’t heard Buttigieg discuss bank regulation, noting that the candidate hasn’t weighed in on breaking up banks or objected to plans to reduce reliance on leverage ratios in the Federal Reserve’s stress test.Like most of Democratic candidates, Buttigieg favors legalizing cannabis.U.S. futures fell on Wednesday amid tensions with China. Big banks slipped in pre-market trading, with Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., and JPMorgan Chase and Co. all down about 0.7%.To contact the reporter on this story: Felice Maranz in New York at fmaranz@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Catherine Larkin at clarkin4@bloomberg.net, Steven Fromm, Will DaleyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    Google CEO Opens New Japan Campus in Tokyo’s Trendy Shibuya District

    (Bloomberg) -- Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai was in Tokyo Tuesday to inaugurate the relocation of the company’s Japanese head office to an expansive new complex in the trendy district of Shibuya.Taking up the majority of the gleaming new 35-floor Shibuya Stream skyscraper, Google has put its name on the building and dedicated two floors to a newly launched Google for Startups Campus, which is its seventh in the world and second in Asia after Seoul.Agnieszka Hryniewicz-Bieniek, the director of Google for Startups, said that the company will run an accelerator program early next year that will select 12 startups looking to scale up their work on artificial intelligence and machine learning, both critical aspects of Google’s current and future operations. She also stressed the importance of inclusiveness at an event where the Wi-Fi password was BuildInclusiveTeams.“We would like Campus Tokyo to support women founders,” she said, and that Google is proud that 37% of its Campus participants are female entrepreneurs, a higher proportion than the wider startup ecosystem. “So when they go to the next stage of growth, we’re behind them, we’re supporting them.”The Campus initiative extends Google’s effort to combine education and training for startups with evangelism for the use of its cloud and business services. Co-location with Google’s main office will make it easy for experts from Google’s developer relations and web marketing teams to make themselves available to help budding entrepreneurs, Google said.Joined by Japan’s Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi on stage, Pichai said he had toured some of the venues for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, which Google will be supporting through its various services like Google Maps and Translate. “Ultimately, we want to make sure the legacy of technology innovation extends far beyond 2020. This Google for Startups Campus is one part of that,” he said at the opening.AI has been topical in Japan recently, with SoftBank Group Corp. announcing plans to combine its Yahoo Japan internet business with Naver Corp.’s Line messaging service in an effort to create an AI tech leader capable of rivaling U.S. juggernauts like Google and Facebook Inc. On Monday, Peter Thiel visited Tokyo to introduce Palantir Technologies Japan Co., which will use AI to make sense of large volumes of unwieldy data in the fields of health and cybersecurity.Google has said the move to Shibuya Stream will double its employee headcount in Japan to beyond 2,000. The company’s first office outside the U.S. was in Tokyo, opening in 2001. It said it has “invested heavily” in Japan over the years and earlier in 2019 committed to training 10 million people in digital skills by 2022. Its so-called Grow with Google program is the Campus equivalent for individual job-seekers and students.“At Google, we are deeply committed to fostering Japanese startups,” Pichai said.(Updates with details of accelerator from second paragraph)To contact the reporter on this story: Vlad Savov in Tokyo at vsavov5@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Edwin Chan at echan273@bloomberg.net, Vlad Savov, Colum MurphyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Fatal Self-Driving Uber Crash Prompts Call for Tighter Oversight
    Bloomberg

    Fatal Self-Driving Uber Crash Prompts Call for Tighter Oversight

    (Bloomberg) -- The National Transportation Safety Board concluded its first investigation of a fatal crash involving an autonomous test vehicle by issuing several recommendations aimed at tightening the limited oversight of companies that test self-driving cars on public roads.Among other things, the board called for developers of autonomous vehicles to be required to assess their safety procedures and not test cars on the road until regulators sign off on the document.“We feel that we’ve identified certain gaps and these gaps need to be filled, especially when we’re out testing vehicles on public roadways,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said after a board meeting on the March 2018 crash involving an Uber Technologies Inc. self-driving test vehicle and a pedestrian.The case had been closely watched in the emerging autonomous vehicle industry, which has attracted billions of dollars in investment from companies such as General Motors Co. and Alphabet Inc. in an attempt to transform transportation.“Ultimately, it will be the public that accepts or rejects automated driving systems and the testing of such systems on public roads,” Sumwalt said. “Any company’s crash affects the public confidence. Anybody’s crash is everybody’s crash.”The NTSB detailed a litany of failings by Uber that contributed to the death of Elaine Herzberg, 49, who was hit by an Uber self-driving SUV as she walked her bicycle across a road at night in Tempe, Arizona.Uber halted self-driving car tests after the accident. Information released since then highlighted a series of lapses -- both technological and human -- that the board cited as having contributed to the crash.Uber resumed self-driving testing late last year in Pittsburgh.The “immediate cause” of the crash was the backup safety driver’s failure to monitor the road ahead because she was distracted by her mobile device, the board found. A lax safety program at Uber contributed to the accident, the NTSB found.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would review the NTSB’s report and recommendations. “While the technology is rapidly developing, it’s important for the public to note that all vehicles on the road today require a fully attentive operator at all times,” the agency said in a statement.In a statement, Uber said it regrets the fatal crash and is committed to improving the safety of its self-driving program, and implementing the NTSB’s recommendations. “Over the last 20 months, we have provided the NTSB with complete access to information about our technology and the developments we have made since the crash,” Nat Beuse, head of safety for Uber’s self-driving car operation, said in a statement. “While we are proud of our progress, we will never lose sight of what brought us here or our responsibility to continue raising the bar on safety.”The Uber vehicle’s radar sensors first observed Herzberg about 5.6 seconds prior to impact before she entered the vehicle’s lane of travel and initially classified her as a vehicle. The self-driving computers changed its classification of her as different types of objects several times and failed to predict that her path would cross the lane of self-driving test SUV, according to the NTSB.The modified Volvo SUV being tested by Uber wasn’t programmed to recognize and respond to pedestrians walking outside of marked crosswalks, nor did the system allow the vehicle to automatically brake before an imminent collision. The responsibility to avoid accidents fell to the lone safety driver monitoring the vehicle’s automation system. Other companies place a second human in the vehicle for added safety.The safety driver was streaming a television show on her phone in the moments before the crash, despite company policy prohibiting drivers from using mobile devices, according to police. The NTSB has also said that Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group that was testing self-driving cars on public streets in Tempe didn’t have a standalone safety division, a formal safety plan, standard operating procedures or a manager focused on preventing accidents.“The inappropriate actions of both the automatic driving system as implemented and the vehicle’s human operator were symptoms of a deeper problem, the ineffective safety culture that existed at the time,” Sumwalt said at the opening of the hearing.Uber made extensive changes to its self-driving system after several reviews of its operation and findings by NTSB investigators. The board pointed out that Uber had been very cooperative with its inquiry. The company told the NTSB that the new software would have been able to correctly identify Herzberg and triggered controlled braking to avoid her more than 4 seconds before the original impact, the NTSB has said.To contact the reporters on this story: Ryan Beene in Washington at rbeene@bloomberg.net;Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net, John Harney, Elizabeth WassermanFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Conoco's 2020s Plan Is to Embrace the FUD
    Bloomberg

    Conoco's 2020s Plan Is to Embrace the FUD

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- ConocoPhillips knows how to please a crowd, even one as shrunken and beaten-down as energy investors. By Tuesday lunchtime, as Conoco’s analyst day was wrapping up in Houston, it was the only big U.S. oil and gas stock flashing green, what with oil prices slipping almost 3%.This says a lot about why Conoco’s message resonates: It comes with a hefty dollop of FUD.“Fear, uncertainty, doubt” is what bears thrive on, but Conoco has refined it into something useful. CEO Ryan Lance set the tone with an opening slide called “Two Charts We Can’t Ignore,” showing how oil had dropped from its pre-2015 triple-digit level to the “new normal of lower, more volatile prices” and how the sector’s weighting in the S&P 500 had slumped from 12% in 2012 to today’s 4%. The subtitle of that slide could have been “but Lord knows the industry has tried to ignore them anyway,” which is how it ended up at that 4% weighting.Hence, Conoco continues to beat a different drum. The common thread running through Tuesday’s 152 slides is that oil and gas production is a mature business with a bad track record on capital management and a future clouded by climate change. There is no room for banking on higher commodity prices, and investors have given up paying for the oil option in E&P equities anyway.So forget exuberance and focus on resilience. Conoco’s message can be boiled down to cutting its breakeven cost per barrel and returning a lot of cash to shareholders. It plans on generating $12 billion a year of cash from operations, on average, through the 2020s, of which 60% goes to capital expenditure and 40% to buybacks and dividends. The latter equate to about 80% of the current market cap and are split themselves 60/40 in favor of buybacks, reflecting the reality of the cycle.Conoco bases its math on a $50 real oil price and expects production would grow by roughly a third over the next decade — or, factoring in the buybacks, significantly more than doubling on a per-share basis. Altogether, a projected average return made up of 8% free cash flow yield plus 3% growth is tailor-made for today’s energy investor, in contrast to the old, failed paradigm of a 10%-plus return owing everything to growth and nothing to payouts. Needless to say, Conoco was at pains to emphasize its cautious view on potential acquisitions, fear of which has weighed on the stock this year as fracker valuations have collapsed.None of this makes Conoco immune to oil’s vicissitudes, of course. Free cash flow tilts toward the back end of the decade, and the company would effectively borrow to fund some of its buybacks through 2025, at $50 oil. That said, having cut net debt by two-thirds since the end of 2016, Conoco doesn’t envisage leverage rising to even one times Ebitda in 2025. Under a stress-test scenario, where oil prices average $40 a barrel between 2023-25, the company doesn’t see leverage breaching two times Ebitda.Let’s just step back here in 2019 and acknowledge that, looking back at everything that’s unfolded in oil over the past decade, any 10-year projection should be treated less like a Google map and more like asking someone on the street for directions. Indeed, for me, the most important slide in Conoco’s deck looked back rather than forward(1). Here, COO Matt Fox talked through lessons learned from prior investment programs, chief of which is to stop committing the industry’s original sin: pro-cyclicality. In other words, don’t base your spending on how much spending power you have at any given moment. Rather, by targeting low breakeven costs, which factor in wherever the industry happens to be in the cycle, you smooth out investment and minimize spending when cost inflation is high and bringing on new production just as commodity prices turn down.This spend high/sell low approach pretty much sums up what the industry did over the past 10 years, vaporizing capital in the process. The chart below uses the U.S. onshore rig count as a proxy for industry capex, and you can see how it surged in the early years on the back of high oil prices, with much of the subsequent growth in production arriving after prices crashed. Even though frackers made real gains in efficiency in that time, the performance of the sector ETF tells you what this did to returns:This is especially important in the context of the new mantra being preached by many E&P companies today: namely, that they will live within their means. Conoco’s message is that just ensuring you don’t spend more than you make in a given year isn’t the cure for the sector’s ills. Rather, it’s about smoothing spending, production — and thereby payouts — over time in order to escape the boom and bust cycle. It is the latter that has eroded confidence in the industry’s earnings and, hence, led to lower and lower multiples being put on those earnings.Fear and doubt will always attach to oil prices, but companies can do something about uncertainty.(1) Slide 32 if you download the deck.To contact the author of this story: Liam Denning at ldenning1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy, mining and commodities. He previously was editor of the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column and wrote for the Financial Times' Lex column. He was also an investment banker.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple Push Back on House Tech Concerns
    Bloomberg

    Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple Push Back on House Tech Concerns

    (Bloomberg) -- Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple defended their business practices in responses to detailed questions by lawmakers conducting an inquiry into antitrust issues in the tech sector.The answers, released Tuesday by the House subcommittee overseeing the probe, come as antitrust scrutiny of the companies has escalated rapidly, with federal and state enforcers opening formal investigations into Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.The four companies received the questions from Democratic Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who chairs the panel, in September. Separately, the whole committee issued requests for extensive records on the firms’ business practices, acquisitions, executive communications and other issues. The companies also are in the process of responding to those requests.Here’s what the four firms said:GoogleDisputed the idea that it controls too much of the search market and the digital ad ecosystem.Downplayed suggestions that it prioritizes its own services.Denied that advertisers can only use Google Display & Video 360 ad service to purchase advertising inventory on its YouTube video platform, saying certain partners can buy ads directly from Google’s sales team.Denied that its search ranking system considers whether a publisher has adopted use of its Accelerated Mobile Pages -- a format that hosts web content directly inside search results. Google has said that the new format significantly accelerated loading times on websites.FacebookDefended policies that restricted some third-party app developers from using its platform, insisting it has never tied access to its data to spending on advertising even though documents from a lawsuit have told a different story.Said its changes to WhatsApp’s privacy policy were consistent with its promises not to alter the chat platform’s sharing practices.Explained that it restricted video app Vine from its platform in 2013 because it “considered Vine to be an app that replicated Facebook’s core News Feed functionality.”AmazonPushed back against criticism that it unfairly competes with third-party sellers in its marketplace with its own products, saying its decision-making for how third-party sellers are treated is driven by a desire to give consumers wide selection, low prices and convenient delivery.Defended its private-label line known as AmazonBasics, saying private-label products are a “common retail practice.” It said it “generally does not distinguish the treatment of brands” based on the brand owner.Said its algorithm for listing shopping results doesn’t consider whether a merchant uses its Fulfillment by Amazon logistics service or whether a product is Amazon’s private label.Said it prohibits its private-label business from using individual sellers’ data to make decisions about product introductions, pricing or inventory.ApplePointed out that there are many apps that compete with its own services such as web browsing, maps, music and video.Said that users cannot uninstall its Safari web browser from the iPhone or switch to another default because Safari is “an essential part of iPhone’s functionality” as an operating system app.Explained that it’s not possible to reliably repair some products “because it is not feasible to split products into its component parts without significant risk of damage to those components.”\--With assistance from Naomi Nix, Gerrit De Vynck, Joe Light, David McLaughlin and Mark Gurman.To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Brody in Washington, D.C. at btenerellabr@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Sara Forden at sforden@bloomberg.net, Mark NiquetteFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Bloomberg

    ‘Hipster Antitrust’ Might End the Megamerger Party

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- A few months ago, a group of Democratic senators, several of them presidential candidates and all members of the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee(1), wrote a letter to Joseph Simons, the Republican chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, to criticize two monster pharma deals under regulatory review: the $63 billion Allergan PLC-AbbVie Inc. merger, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s $74 billion purchase of Celgene Corp.Consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry, the senators wrote,is occurring against a backdrop of ever-rising prescription drug spending….It is more important than ever that the FTC take appropriate action to protect consumers. The Federal Trade Commission must carefully consider whether the proposed transactions may lessen competition, stifle innovation, or harm consumers.“The proposed AbbVie/Allergan and Bristol-Myers Squibb/Celgene transactions,” they added, “raise significant antitrust issues.”The FTC has not yet ruled on the Allergan-AbbVie deal, which was only announced in June, and which the companies hope to complete in early 2020.But on Friday, Simons and the two other Republican commissioners on the five-member FTC brushed aside the concerns of the Democrats and approved the Bristol-Myers Squibb deal with Celgene. Its only condition was that Celgene sell Otezla, its blockbuster psoriasis drug, apparently because Bristol-Myers Squibb has a promising psoriasis drug of its own in a phase 3 trial. The FTC has historically frowned on merged drug companies keeping overlapping drugs, fearing excessive market control.The FTC’s two Democratic commissioners, Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, dissented, something Chopra in particular has made a habit of doing since he joined the FTC in 2018. During the Obama administration, Chopra was the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he attempted to spur competition in student lending.  At the FTC, he quickly gained a reputation for being in the vanguard of what’s sometimes called “hipster antitrust” — the effort to infuse new thinking into the antitrust arena.Much of this new thinking has been spurred by the rise of the big three tech giants, Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, and Amazon.com Inc. Chopra has criticized the fines the FTC has levied against Facebook and YouTube (which is owned by Google), saying that “when a company can pay a fine from its ill-gotten gains, that’s not a penalty — that’s an incentive.”  He seeks remedies that will diminish their market power and permanently alter their behavior.But Chopra isn’t just focused on Big Tech. He believes that in industry after industry, concentration has gone too far. The result, he concludes, has been less innovation, higher barriers to entry for new market entrants and higher prices for consumers. And because the FTC must approve mergers in a variety of sectors — chemical companies, agricultural concerns and, yes, pharmaceuticals — he is in a position to do something about it. Or rather, he may be soon, depending on the result of the 2020 election.Which is also why his dissents are worth noting. They offer an insight into how a Democratic administration might tackle market power and industry consolidation at a time when the status quo no longer seems acceptable.At the FTC, there has long been a bipartisan consensus that so long as two drug companies didn’t have overlapping products — or if they were willing to divest them — the merger would be approved. This long-standing practice, Chopra wrote in his dissent, is no longer good enough: “Some evidence shows that these mergers have choked off innovation, creating harms that are immeasurable for those waiting for a cure.”  He then lays out all the elements of Bristol-Myers Squibb merger with Celgene that he believes the FTC should have considered:This massive $74 billion merger between Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) and Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) may have significant implications for patients and inventors, so we must be especially vigilant. In my view, this transaction appears to be heavily motivated by financial engineering and tax considerations (as opposed to a genuine drive for greater discovery of lifesaving medications), without clear benefits to patients or the public….In addition, there are also concerns about a history of anticompetitive conduct.(2)Expansive investigation for mergers like these is time well spent.He then goes on to list the questions he believes the FTC should have tried to answer—questions that go well beyond overlapping drugs:Will the merger facilitate a capital structure that magnifies incentives to engage in anticompetitive conduct or abuse of intellectual property? Will the merger deter formation of biotechnology firms that fuel much of the industry’s innovation? How can we know the effects on competition if we do not rigorously study or investigate these and other critical questions? Given our approach, I am not confident that the Commission has sufficient information to determine the full scope of potential harms to competition of this massive merger.Here is something else Chopra believes: The FTC has plenty of statutory authority to bring antitrust actions — or block mergers on antitrust grounds. It’s just that it has rarely used that authority, preferring instead to take the same laissez faire approach as the Justice Department and the courts. “What we’re advocating is not radical,” Chopra told me recently. “It’s a restoration. We have to see this as a core part of the economic policy tool kit.”So far in this early phase of the presidential race, corporate executives have tended to focus on, say, Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax. That’s understandable, but a wealth tax will require Congress to pass a bill. So will Medicare For All, and any number of policies the various Democratic candidates hope to implement.But changing the government’s approach to antitrust — getting tougher on mergers and maybe even calling for some companies to be broken up — doesn’t require legislation. When a group of senators (some of whom also happen to be presidential candidates) writes to the FTC calling for greater scrutiny of a big pharma merger — and a leading light of the new antitrust movement is in the vanguard — it’s a pretty good bet that this is one thing that will change if there’s a new administration.Brace yourselves, Corporate America. The merger party may be coming to an end.(1) Its official name is the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights.(2) Chopra’s dissent links to this 2018 NPR article, about the steps Celgene took to keep its multiple myeloma drug, Revlimid, away from generic competition.To contact the author of this story: Joe Nocera at jnocera3@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Joe Nocera is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He has written business columns for Esquire, GQ and the New York Times, and is the former editorial director of Fortune. His latest project is the Bloomberg-Wondery podcast "The Shrink Next Door."For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • U.S. Big Tech Could Learn From Russia's Yandex
    Bloomberg

    U.S. Big Tech Could Learn From Russia's Yandex

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- Yandex NV, Russia’s biggest technology company, has figured out how to avoid nationalization or a foreign ownership ban. Big Tech in the U.S. should pay attention: The governance scheme Yandex appears to have worked out in consultation with the Russian government could be a good solution for companies that are de facto public utilities under private control.Yandex, set up in 2000 to monetize a search engine developed in the 1990s by the team of co-founder Arkady Volozh, is as close as it gets in Russia to a Silicon Valley-style internet giant. For a long time, it mainly aped Google’s services for the Russian market, but it has grown into a conglomerate that developed or bought up other businesses, from marketplaces to delivery projects. It’s not just Russia’s Google but Russia’s Amazon and Russia’s Uber, too (it first outcompeted Uber’s Russian operation, then swallowed it up). In fact, when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a “sovereign internet” law earlier this year, officially meant to keep web services functioning inside Russia should the U.S. cut the country off from the worldwide computer network, many said Yandex would be that “sovereign internet.”Yandex’s size and its ability to match the tech giants have made the company strategic for the Russian government. As early as 2009, Volozh had to protect Yandex from nationalization or from being taken over by one of Putin’s billionaire friends by issuing a “golden share,” which could block the sale of more than 25% of the company’s stock, to state-controlled Sberbank.But the government also could be helpful when Yandex needed it. In 2015, the Russian tech giant filed an antitrust complaint against Google, which had been eating into its market share on mobile, and in 2017 Google had to settle with the Russian antitrust authority, allowing Android smartphone vendors to install Yandex apps. Now, the Russian parliament is considering a bill that would ban the sale of phones and computers without pre-installed Russian software. Yandex would be the  main beneficiary.In Putin’s mind, that kind of protection comes at a price: Yandex must guarantee that it will never fall under foreign control. The previous “golden share” arrangement didn’t quite rule that out. Volozh and top employees control the company’s Class B stock, which gives them 57% of the voting power. If those shares are sold or their owners die, Class B shares will automatically convert to Class A ones, which are traded on stock exchanges, and foreign shareholders will end up with the most voting power.In July, legislator Anton Gorelkin introduced a bill that would limit the foreign ownership of strategically important internet companies to 20%. Yandex opposed it, but the government approved it, and it became clear that the bill would be passed. So Volozh began working feverishly on a solution, which was finally announced on Monday “after many months of discussion,” as Volozh wrote in a letter to employees. The company has set up a special body called the Public Interests Foundation, made up of representatives of Russia’s top math, engineering and business schools (most of them owned by the state) and Russia’s big-business lobby, the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. The foundation will have two seats out of 12 on Yandex’s board of directors, and it will have a veto on all deals involving 10% or more of Yandex stock, big intellectual property sales and any transfer of Russian citizens’ personal data.Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, denied that the Kremlin had taken part in the discussions mentioned in Volozh’s letter, but praised Yandex for appreciating the company’s “special responsibility” and the “special attention” on the part of the state that it enjoys. Immediately after the Yandex announcement, Gorelkin called the solution “elegant” and pulled his bill. All this was immediately reflected in a share price spike.This may read like a distinctively Russian story, in which a group of business founders is trying to avoid a state takeover and the Kremlin prefers not to establish formal control over the national tech champion while keeping a close eye on it. The schools provide a convenient smokescreen both for the government and for investors. But what Yandex has done isn’t only relevant within the context of Putin’s Russia. It could be seen as a template for Big Tech, even though Yandex’s market capitalization, at $13.2 billion, is only a fraction of Alphabet Inc.’s ($910.6 billion) or Facebook Inc.’s ($562.9 billion).These two companies that make up the internet’s advertising duopoly, are often discussed along with Amazon.com Inc. as public services rather than mere businesses by politicians on both the right and the left of the U.S. political spectrum. Last year, Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa proposed treating Google and Facebook as public utilities. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, would break up some of the Big Tech companies and designate some as “platform utilities” that would be banned from sharing user data with third parties and required to treat all users equally.Obviously, the tech firms are opposed to such heavy-handed regulation, but what they do on their own only brings them closer to a confrontation with governments, both in the U.S. and in Europe. Facebook’s refusal to police misleading political advertising and Google’s data-sharing practices scream for some kind of state interference. Like Yandex, the companies could act preemptively to set up governance structures that would veto business ideas viewed as damaging to society’s interests. Vesting veto powers in councils made up of the representatives of top universities and nongovernmental organizations could accomplish that purpose. If such a structure can win approval even from an authoritarian regime such as the Russian one (with the caveat that academic institutions in Russia aren’t as independent as those in the West), it could probably satisfy most Big Tech critics in democracies, too.  The alternative, as in Yandex’s case, could be far more restrictive.To contact the author of this story: Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion's Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Oracle Delays Decision to Replace Mark Hurd
    Bloomberg

    Oracle Delays Decision to Replace Mark Hurd

    (Bloomberg) -- A month after the death of Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd, Oracle Corp.’s succession plan is to leave control in the hands of Chairman Larry Ellison and Hurd’s fellow CEO Safra Catz while an internal successor is groomed, people familiar with the matter said. While Ellison has put forth five candidates, none has emerged quickly as the front-runner to join Catz as CEO, and the company is likely to appoint someone president first—or at least give that executive more time to grow into the role, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the company’s private deliberations. Oracle has considered promoting an executive with product or technical experience, one of the people said.Hurd, Oracle’s chief salesman, died in October after taking a short medical leave. Ellison, 75, and Catz, 57, have said they are splitting Hurd’s duties. In September, Ellison promised to give five names to Oracle’s board of executives who could one day be a “next-gen” CEO. He name-checked Steve Miranda, 50, executive vice president of applications development, and Don Johnson, EVP of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, as leaders who would grow over time. Ellison, who also serves as technology chief, said at that time that the software maker would be in no rush to directly replace Hurd, and Oracle remains committed to taking a slow approach, said the people. The software maker has had only three chief executive officers in its 42-year history. Ellison presided over the company for decades before stepping down in 2014, when he was succeeded by Catz and Hurd. The latter two served as presidents before sharing the top job. Currently, Oracle doesn’t have any presidents. Ellison’s desire to promote from within makes it likely the next person appointed to be CEO will first serve as a president.“We should have people in the company that are capable of being promoted into that position,” Ellison said at a meeting with financial analysts in September. “So when there is this succession, it's not rushing out and doing a search. It's knowing we have these assets that are familiar with the company, familiar with the personnel.”While there’s no current rush in naming a CEO, Oracle could accelerate the appointment should the right candidate emerge, the people said. Ellison may be asked about a successor to Hurd at Tuesday's annual shareholder meeting at Oracle’s headquarters in Redwood City, California.Amid Catz’s aversion to public speaking and media interviews, and Ellison’s limited public appearances, Hurd played a special role in Oracle’s C-suite. The usually outgoing executive oversaw sales and regularly met with big corporate customers who spent tens of millions of dollars on Oracle’s collection of software programs. He frequently outlined the company’s vision in meetings with the press and on television.“Mark Hurd loved sales and he loved the deal,” Pat Walravens, an analyst at JMP Securities, said in an interview. “Because of that, he ended up touching so much of Oracle. That’s what they need in a successor. Safra’s got the operations. You need somebody who loves sales and is really good at it.”The management succession issue comes at an important time for Oracle. Fiscal-year revenue has increased an average of less than 1% annually in the past five years as Oracle has transitioned to cloud-based computing. The company's sales have declined year-over-year for two of the past four quarters and analysts project growth of just 1.4% in fiscal 2020. Still, investors appear satisfied—the company's shares have gained about 25% this year, matching the rise of the S&P 500.Ellison has placed great trust in Oracle’s product executives, describing some of them as “people who are really running the company.” Besides Miranda and Johnson, Ed Screven, 55, Oracle’s chief corporate architect who ensures products are consistent with the company’s strategy; Andy Mendelsohn, the EVP in charge of database server technologies; and Juan Loaiza, EVP of mission-critical database technologies, are senior leaders who are well-regarded by Ellison, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing his thinking. Many of the executives have proven their loyalty to the boss by staying at Oracle for decades, since it was a much smaller business, but they’re seen as lacking Hurd’s panache and charisma, the people added.By contrast, Loïc Le Guisquet, the chairman for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Asia Pacific and Japan, has sales experience and oversees a sprawling portion of the company’s business. Le Guisquet is set to be promoted to a new global role, said one of the people, but his new title couldn't be confirmed. Oracle didn’t respond to a request for comment on its succession plans.Given Ellison’s second title as Oracle’s CTO, and his ownership of a third of the business, he would almost certainly retain veto power over product decisions as long as he remains at the company.Thomas Kurian was seen as an heir to Ellison as the company’s president of product development until he left in September 2018 after an acrimonious split with the billionaire chairman, Bloomberg News has reported. Kurian is now CEO of Alphabet Inc.’s Google Cloud Platform. Rather than replace Kurian directly, Ellison has largely absorbed his responsibilities and now oversees the executives who reported to Kurian.If Oracle seeks a candidate other than Le Guisquet with more of Hurd’s skills, it has other strong options, the people said. David Donatelli, 54, Oracle’s EVP of the cloud business group, leads sales and marketing strategy for the company’s cloud efforts and was one of Hurd’s deputies. Rich Geraffo, 56, the EVP of a multibillion-dollar part of Oracle’s North American sales organization, also used to answer to Hurd.“We think we're in pretty good shape,” Ellison said in September. “We've got quality and quantity in our management team. These people are all slightly younger than I am. So I think hopefully they're going to be around a long time.”\--With assistance from Ashlee Vance.To contact the author of this story: Nico Grant in San Francisco at ngrant20@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Pollack at apollack1@bloomberg.net, Jillian WardMolly SchuetzFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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    Google Wins Vodafone Data Deal in Battle With Amazon, Microsoft

    (Bloomberg) -- Google is taking over a chunk of Vodafone Group Plc’s data operations to help the world’s second-biggest mobile phone company identify cost savings using artificial intelligence.Vodafone will shift data processing and storage from its own premises to Google’s cloud and use Google’s real-time analysis tools to develop new services for business clients and streamline the carrier’s operations in 24 countries, the companies told Bloomberg.It will become “the brains of our business as we transform ourselves into a digital tech company,” said Simon Harris, Vodafone’s head of big data delivery.Alphabet Inc.’s Google is vying with Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. for dominance in data centers and cloud computing. Vodafone has launched an internal platform dubbed “Neuron” to aggregate and crunch the ocean of data from its customers and networks. Chief Technology Officer Johan Wibergh said Vodafone can’t do that without Google’s capabilities.The companies didn’t give the price of the contract.Many phone companies are closing their aging data centers and outsourcing the work to a new generation of huge server farms developed by U.S. tech giants. Telecom Italia SpA has partnered with Google to sell cloud and edge computing services to corporate clients. Britain’s BT Group Plc is shifting from owning its data infrastructure to partnering with tech giants and selling complementary services such as system integration and cybersecurity.The Google deal is much more cost-effective than trying to build the same technological tools in-house, said Wibergh by phone. Vodafone is not selling its own data centers as they are still being used for other things, he added.To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Seal in London at tseal@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Penty at rpenty@bloomberg.net, Thomas Pfeiffer, Jennifer RyanFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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    India Says Law Allows State to Snoop in WhatsApp

    (Bloomberg) -- India’s government said on Tuesday it’s “empowered” to intercept, monitor and decrypt digital information in the public interest as long as its agencies follow the law.Laws allowed federal and state governments to intercept “any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource,” G. Kishan Reddy, junior minister for India’s Ministry of Home Affairs told Parliament in a written reply when asked by an opposition lawmaker whether the government had snooped on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, and Google calls and messages.Information can only be intercepted by “authorized agencies as per due process of law, and subject to safeguards as provided in the rules,” the statement said.Reddy didn’t answer a question on whether the federal government had used the services of NSO Group’s Pegasus software to snoop on calls and messages on WhatsApp Inc’s mobile platform. Indian news reports had earlier this month listed activists and human rights lawyers who had spoken out against government policies as among those whose phones were hacked.Facebook Inc., parent of WhatsApp, informed about 1,400 users that a malware was sent on their devices using the video calling system, the company had said in a statement. Facebook has sued spyware manufacturer NSO, alleging that the Israeli company hacked into the mobile phones of users.The government can monitor digital information “in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above or for investigation of any offence,” Reddy said in his written statement to the parliament. ​No state agency has blanket permission for interception, he added. Each case is reviewed by a committee headed by the cabinet secretary in case of federal government and chief secretary of the state in case of a state government.​Facebook is currently fighting a case in India’s Supreme Court that may decide whether WhatsApp, other messaging services providers, and social media companies can be forced to trace and reveal the identity of the originator of a message. Facebook has invoked users’ right to privacy as part of its defense in the top court.India plans to introduce rules to regulate social media because it can cause “unimaginable disruption” to democracy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said in a legal document filed in the nation’s Supreme Court last month.To contact the reporter on this story: Archana Chaudhary in New Delhi at achaudhary2@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Muneeza NaqviFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.