India’s Reliance partners with Google, Facebook for digital payment network bid: ET

India’s conglomerate Reliance Industries has partnered with Facebook Inc, Google and fintech player Infibeam to set up a national digital payment network, Economic Times newspaper reported on Saturday, citing unnamed sources.

Last year, India’s central bank invited companies to forge new umbrella entities (NUEs) to create a payments network that would rival the system operated by the National Payments Council of India (NPCI), as it seeks to reduce concentration risks in the space.

Set up in 2008, NPCI is a not-for-profit company, which as of March 2019 counted dozens of banks as its shareholders, including the State Bank of India, Citibank and HSBC. It processes billions of dollars in payments daily via services that include inter-bank fund transfers, ATM transactions and digital payments.

Citing three unnamed sources, India’s leading business daily Economic Times said that the group led by Reliance and Infibeam was in the advanced stages of submitting their proposal to the Reserve Bank of India.

A spokesperson for Infibeam declined comment on the report, saying the company was bound by the confidentiality of process, while Reliance, Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Digital payments in India could rise to $135.2 billion in 2023, according to an Assocham-PWC India study in 2019.

Facebook and Google are already partnered with Reliance and own stakes in Jio Platforms – the unit which houses Reliance’s music, movie apps and telecoms venture.

The RBI this week extended the deadline for all parties to submit NUE applications until March 31 from February 26.

The report said RBI is expected to take another six months to study all the proposals being submitted and that it is not expected to give more than two new “for-profit” NUE licences.

The RBI did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier media reports have said other parties in the fray include a group led by Amazon and ICICI Bank; another combination led by the country’s salt-to-software conglomerate Tata Group and private lender HDFC Bank; and a venture involving India’s largest mobile payment platform, Paytm, domestic ride-sharing company Ola and IndusInd Bank.

Australia passes law to make Google and Facebook pay for news

Australia has passed a world-first law aimed at making Google and Facebook pay for news content on their platforms.

The news code legislation had been fiercely opposed by the US tech giants. 

Last week Facebook blocked all news content to Australians over the row, but reversed its decision this week after negotiations with the government.

Following those talks, the law passed with new amendments which make it possible for Facebook and Google not to be subject to the code.

However, both companies have now committed to paying lucrative sums to some big Australian publishers outside of the code. These deals have been widely viewed as a compromise by the tech giants.

Australia’s law has been seen as a possible test case for similar regulation in other countries to get payment from digital platforms for news.

The amended legislation was passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday, after earlier going through the Senate.

Facebook and Google argued it “fundamentally” misunderstands how the internet works.

What does the law do?

The law incentivises tech giants and news organisations to negotiate payment deals between themselves. If such talks fail, digital platforms could be dragged into independent arbitrations.

The government argues this prescribes a “fairer” negotiation process between the parties, as it gives news organisations more leverage.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – a market regulator – says publishers have had little negotiating power until now because they are so reliant on tech monopolies like Google and Facebook.

Scott Morrison speaking in parliament
image captionPrime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was not intimidated by the tech firms’ threats

Any dispute over the value of news content would be settled by the arbitrator – something analysts say benefits the news groups.

The code also forces tech platforms to give notice to news publishers of changes to their algorithms.

However, the amended law now requires the government to consider a platform’s existing contributions to journalism – such as commercial deals with publishers – before applying the code to them. 

This means Facebook and Google could escape the arbitration process entirely.

The government also has to give the platform a month’s notice if it is considering applying the code to them.

What do Google and Facebook say?

The tech firms argue they already help news publishers by driving traffic back to news sites from their platforms.

Facebook and Google simply help people find news content in the first place, the platforms say.

Both tech companies lobbied the Australian government to amend the law, while also pursuing contracts with local news companies. 

Google had threatened to withdraw its primary search engine from Australia, but the company recently agreed deals with local media companies including Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media worth an estimated A$60m ($47m; £34m) in total. 

It has also signed a deal for an undisclosed sum with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

In a statement on Tuesday, Facebook promised to reverse its ban on news content, though Australian news pages remain unavailable.

It has since signed at least one deal – with Seven West Media – and is in talks other Australian news groups.

What happens now?

Facebook’s black-out of Australian news content in past week has triggered harsh criticism, both in Australia and globally. 

The company has admitted it overstepped in also removing over 100 non-news pages, including key health and emergency agencies.

But its powerful action has been interpreted as a warning shot to lawmakers elsewhere – such as in Canada, the UK and the EU – who have expressed interest in Australia’s law. 

As more news readership has shifted online, tech giants have faced calls internationally to pay more for news stories hosted on their platforms.

They have also faced increased scrutiny over their power, including calls for them to do more to combat misinformation and abuse.

Google breached its orders on talks with news publishers – French antitrust investigators

PARIS (Reuters) – French antitrust investigators have accused Google of failing to comply with the state competition authority’s orders on how to conduct negotiations with news publishers over copyright, two sources who read the investigators’ report said.

In the 93-page report, known as a statement of objections, the investigators wrote that Google’s failure to comply was of an exceptionally serious nature, the sources said. The competition authority can impose fines of up to 10% of sales on firms it deems to be in violation of its rules.

A spokeswoman for the competition authority declined to comment.

In response to a Reuters request for comment, Google, owned by Alphabet, Inc, said in a statement: “Our priority is to comply with the law, and to continue to negotiate with publishers in good faith, as evidenced by the agreements we have made with publishers in the past few months.”

“We will now review the statement of objections, and will work closely with the French competition authority,” it said.

In one of the first major deals in Europe to resolve a dispute over how internet giants should share revenue with news publishers, Google agreed to pay $76 million over three years to a group of 121 French publishers, Reuters reported earlier this month.

The deal was presented as a major step forward by both Google and the publishers who signed it, but other French publications that were excluded were furious.

The French report on Google’s negotiating tactics comes at a time when countries around the world are pushing U.S. internet giants such as Google and Facebook to share more revenue with news publishers. The issue gained international attention this week when Facebook banned all news from its services in Australia over a draft law there that would mandate arbitration.

According to the two sources, the French investigators say Google did not comply with requests from the watchdog to start negotiations with the publishers within a three-month deadline, and to provide all data the watchdog felt publishers needed.

The publishers’ lobby that signed the deal with Google, APIG, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. French news agency AFP, and another media lobby group, SEPM — both of which did not sign a deal with Google — did not respond to requests for comment.

Reuters reached its own global deal with Google in January on terms which have not been publicly disclosed.

Google to evaluate executive performance on diversity, inclusion

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google will evaluate the performance of its vice presidents and above on team diversity and inclusion starting this year, the company said on Friday in one of several responses to concerns about its treatment of a Black scientist.

Timnit Gebru, co-leader of Google’s ethical artificial intelligence research team, said in December that Google abruptly fired her after she criticized its diversity efforts and threatened to resign.

Alphabet and Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai ordered a review of the situation. While Google declined to share specific findings, the company announced on Friday it will engage human resources specialists during sensitive employee departures.

Pichai in June said that by 2025, Google aims to have 30% more of its leaders come from underrepresented groups, with a focus on Black, Latinx and Native American leaders in the United States and female technical leaders globally. About 96% of Google’s U.S. leaders at the time were white or Asian, and 73% globally were men.

As a result of the investigation, the company also expanded a commitment announced in June to devote more resources to retaining and promoting existing employees, including by expanding a team addressing disputes among workers and their managers.

The diversity component of executive performance reviews was not previously announced, and the company did not immediately share details about what would be measured and how pay would be affected.

Alphabet for years had rejected proposals from shareholders and employees to set diversity goals and tie executive pay to them.

Irene Knapp, a former Google employee who advocated for one such proposal at a 2018 shareholder meeting, said on Friday, “I am pleased that they met our demand from 2018, which was a bare minimum that should have been easy to do immediately.”

Evaluating managers on diversity goals is becoming more commonplace. McDonald’s Corp on Thursday tied executive bonuses to diversity.

Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs will appear before U.S. House panel on March 25

(Reuters) – The chief executives of Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc and Twitter will testify before a U.S. House panel on March 25 on “misinformation and disinformation plaguing online platforms.”

A pair of House Energy and Commerce subcommittees will hold a fully remote joint hearing including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

“Whether it be falsehoods about the COVID-19 vaccine or debunked claims of election fraud, these online platforms have allowed misinformation to spread, intensifying national crises with real-life, grim consequences for public health and safety,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone and the chairs of the two subcommittees in a joint statement.

News Corp signs news partnership deal with Google

(Reuters) – News Corp said on Wednesday it had signed a three-year partnership with Alphabet Inc’s Google to sell its news products for Google’s curated news platform, Google News Showcase.

News Corp publications joining Google News Showcase include U.S. publications The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, and the New York Post; U.K. publications The Times and The Sunday Times, and The Sun; and Australian publications including The Australian, news.com.au and Sky News.

As part of the agreement, the companies will develop a subscription platform and will share advertising revenue through Google’s ad technology services. The deal includes the development of audio journalism and “meaningful investments in innovative video journalism by YouTube,” according to News Corp.

The deal is the culmination of a long effort by Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch and News Corp Chief Executive Robert Thomson to seek compensation for premium content from platforms such as Google.

Australian media firms squeeze more from Google as new law looms

(Reuters) – Australia claimed an early win in a protracted licencing battle with Google on Wednesday as media companies lined up to announce content deals with the internet giant that were reportedly far more lucrative than their global rivals.

A month after the Alphabet Inc-owned company threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia to avoid what it called “unworkable” content laws, the country’s two largest free-to-air television broadcasters have struck deals collectively worth A$60 million ($47 million) a year, according to media reports.

That dwarfs the $76 million Google will split between 121 publishers in France over three years, which averages $209,000 a year per publisher, as reported by Reuters.

The Australian deals come days before the government plans to pass laws that would allow it to appoint an arbitrator to set Google’s content fees if it can’t strike a deal privately, a factor that government and media figures held up as a turning point for negotiations which stalled a year earlier.

“I don’t think that they would have been able to get that sort of money if they had to follow the normal sort of negotiations with a company that’s so powerful,” said Paul Budde, an independent internet analyst, referring to the Australian media companies.

Google and Nine declined to comment on unsourced reports in Nine’s newspapers on Wednesday that said the companies had reached an agreement. Seven and Google said two days earlier they had struck a deal, without giving financials.

Though the individual deals mean Google avoids a government-appointed arbitrator with those companies, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he would still press ahead with the law.

The local arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which has led a years-long campaign to make internet giants pay for content that drives traffic to their platforms, is yet to sign a Google deal. News Corp, owner of two-thirds of Australia’s major city newspapers, did not respond to requests for comment.

“None of these deals would be happening if we didn’t have the legislation before the Parliament,” Frydenberg told reporters.

Australian antitrust commissioner Rod Sims, who drafted the media laws, declined to comment but a spokesman directed Reuters to an earlier statement in which Sims called the law a “back-up” that prevented internet platforms forcing “terms on a take-it-or-leave-it basis”.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Though specifics of the Australian deals have not been disclosed, smaller outlets that inked Google deals last year ahead of their larger rivals said they were approached individually by the U.S. company and asked to present their own valuation methods for content that would appear on Google’s “Showcase” news platform.

That contrasts with the French negotiations, which were conducted on behalf of publishers by the Alliance de la presse d’information generale (APIG), a lobby group representing most major French publishers.

Unlike the Australian law, through which the government could intervene if the parties cannot reach a deal, the French rules, enacted under a recent European Union law, require only that Big Tech platforms open talks with publishers seeking payment.

“The context of the (Australian) bargaining was very much one in which the government legislation was putting pressure on the digital platforms to come to the table, and that has strengthened the hand of publishers and contributed to these outcomes,” said Misha Ketchell, editor of The Conversation, an academic-focused website that signed a Google deal last year.

Separately, the Reuters news agency, a division of Thomson Reuters Corp, struck a deal with Google in January, becoming the first global news provider to Google News Showcase.

($1 = 1.2903 Australian dollars)

Google moves away from diet of ‘cookies’ to track users

Last month, Google unveiled the results of tests showing an alternative to the longstanding tracking practice, claiming it could improve online privacy while still enabling advertisers to serve up relevant messages.

Google is weaning itself off user-tracking “cookies” which allow the web giant to deliver personalized ads but which also have raised the hackles of privacy defenders.

Last month, Google unveiled the results of tests showing an alternative to the longstanding tracking practice, claiming it could improve online privacy while still enabling advertisers to serve up relevant messages.

“This approach effectively hides individuals ‘in the crowd’ and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the browser,” Google product manager Chetna Bindra explained in unveiling the system called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).

“Results indicate that when it comes to generating interest-based audiences, FLoC can provide an effective replacement signal for third-party cookies.”

Google plans to begin testing the FLoC approach with advertisers later this year with its Chrome browser.

“Advertising is essential to keeping the web open for everyone, but the web ecosystem is at risk if privacy practices do not keep up with changing expectations,” Bindra added.

Google has plenty of incentive for the change. The US internet giant has been hammered by critics over user privacy, and is keenly aware of trends for legislation protecting people’s data rights.

Growing fear of cookie-tracking has prompted support for internet rights legislation such as GDPR in Europe and has the internet giant devising a way to effectively target ads without knowing too much about any individual person.

– ‘Privacy nightmare’ – Some kinds of cookies — which are text files stored when a user visits a website — are a convenience for logins and browsing at frequently visited sites.

Anyone who has pulled up a registration page online only to have their name and address automatically entered where required has cookies to thank. But other kinds of cookies are seen by some as nefarious.

“Third-party cookies are a privacy nightmare,” Electronic Frontier Foundation staff technologist Bennet Cyphers told AFP.

“You don’t need to know what everyone has ever done just to serve them an ad.”

He reasoned that advertising based on context can be effective; an example being someone looking at recipes at a cooking website being shown ads for cookware or grocery stores.

Safari and Firefox browsers have already done away with third-party cookies, but they are still used at the world’s most popular browser – Chrome.

Chrome accounted for 63 percent of the global browser market last year, according to StatCounter.

“It’s both a competitive and legal liability for Google to keep using third-party cookies, but they want their ad business to keep humming,” Cyphers said.

Cyphers and others have worries about Google using a secret formula to lump internet users into groups and give them “cohort” badges of sorts that will be used to target marketing messages without knowing exactly who they are.

“There is a chance that it just makes a lot of privacy problems worse,” Cyphers said, suggesting the new system could create “cohort” badges of people who may be targeted with little transparency..

“There is a machine learning black box that is going to take in every bit of everything you have even done in your browser and spit out a label that says you are this kind of person,” Cyphers said.

“Advertisers are going to decode what those labels mean.”

He expected advertisers to eventually deduce which labels include certain ages, genders or races, and which are people prone to extreme political views.

A Marketers for an Open Web business coalition is campaigning against Google’s cohort move, questioning its effectiveness and arguing it will force more advertisers into its “walled garden.”

“Google’s proposals are bad for independent media owners, bad for independent advertising technology and bad for marketers,” coalition director James Rosewell said in a release.

All eyes on Alphabet’s first-ever disclosure of Google Cloud profit

Alphabet Inc will report the cost and operating profit of its Google Cloud business for the first time on Tuesday, disclosures that are expected to overshadow record overall quarterly sales for the internet’s biggest platform for ads.

The transparency marks a milestone after years of aggressive investment and comes as the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing more work, shopping and entertainment online.

That drives the ad business Google dominates over rivals Facebook Inc and Amazon.com Inc, and it also has created a surge in demand for both parts of Google’s cloud business: computing services for retailers and other companies and corporate productivity suites including tools like Gmail.

JPMorgan & Chase Co analysts, among the few to make predictions about Google Cloud, estimate the unit’s 2020 operating margin at 2%. Bank of America analysts estimate an unspecified operating loss.

By comparison, Amazon’s Web Services, the top cloud vendor by sales, posted third-quarter operating margin of 30.5% and $3.5 billion in operating income.

Microsoft’s Azure, the industry No. 2, does not report comparable figures.

Google got serious about the cloud around 2016, five years after Amazon’s unit had become a multibillion-dollar behemoth. But some analysts say Google may be ready to show that its heavy investment in staff and data centers to catch up in the industry is finally paying off.

Alphabet’s costs have been an increasing concern for Wall Street as sales growth from the advertising business flattens out.

The company started disclosing Cloud and YouTube sales a year ago. Alphabet will provide a detailed annual breakdown for Cloud going back three years.

Wall Street analysts forecast fourth-quarter Cloud sales of $3.82 billion for Google, with expectations for the unit to cross $13 billion in annual sales, according to Refinitiv data.

The JPMorgan analysts estimate Google Cloud spent about 40% more in 2020 than Amazon’s cloud unit did in 2016, when it had about $12 billion in sales. Google’s spending reflects higher competition, as well as cloud vendors expanding into newer technologies.

Analysts expect Google’s advertising business will post $42.6 billion in fourth-quarter sales, pushing overall Alphabet quarterly revenue to $53 billion. That would leave Alphabet with 2020 sales of $179 billion and profit of $11 billion.

By: Daniel Kusi

Google to pay $3.8 million to settle pay gap: Hiring bias claims

Alphabet Inc’s Google will pay more than $3.8 million to 5,500 employees and job applicants to settle allegations of pay disparities for women and hiring biases affecting women and Asians, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Monday.

The department said the alleged issues occurred at the company’s California and Washington offices. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.