A European collaboration aimed at challenging the cloud dominance of US Big Tech groups is gathering pace, in a move that its advocates hope will give companies on the continent more control over their data.
The proposed network of cloud computing and data services, dubbed Gaia-X, will be protected by EU laws and offer an alternative to US providers.
The impetus behind the development of Gaia-X was concern among lawmakers — notably Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economy minister, and his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire — that Europe’s automotive, healthcare and finance industries were handing over valuable cloud contracts and data to US companies.
“Organising the sharing of data [via the Gaia-X cloud] is of the essence to the future of the European industry,” says Hubert Tardieu, Gaia-X chairman. Siemens, Bosch, Deutsche Telekom and SAP are among the project’s corporate participants.
Rather than being a cloud platform, Gaia-X, which is still in the prototype phase, will function as a federated system: letting companies harness cloud computing and collaborate with partners, without being locked into single vendors.
Yet Gaia-X faces challenges — including the risk of creating a perception of European bias, and worries that the US cloud giants are too far ahead in the quality of their offering to be displaced.
Only 21 per cent of European companies have a broad adoption of cloud services, compared with 33 per cent in North America, according to data from IDC, the market intelligence group. Tardieu attributes this low uptake by European companies partly to fears over matters such as interoperability, portability and data control.
He believes a European-based platform could help financial institutions share data efficiently, which would aid their compliance with anti-money laundering regulations, allow healthcare organisations to share images and data, and improve communication between car manufacturers and suppliers to identify the origin of technical faults.
“Organising data sharing is essential for the future of European industry,” Tardieu says. “No one is willing to go to the cloud if they cannot keep fundamental elements like portability of infrastructure, data and applications. They do not want to reproduce, 30 years after mainframe computers, being locked into US companies [again],” he says.
Tardieu stresses that Gaia-X is not about protectionism by highlighting the involvement of a number of international companies in the initiative — including Amazon Web Services of the US.
The initiative could also enable European companies to harness “edge” computing, which involves the processing of data close to its source, and can have applications in autonomous transport systems, or smart city infrastructures.
“The vast majority of data is now created at the ‘edge’, like stadiums, cars, retail outlets or factories,” says Johannes Koch, head of Hewlett-Packard in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. “It is not efficient to be sending it back and forth [between jurisdictions] and there can be regulatory compliance issues.”
Koch believes data produced locally should also be controlled and capitalised on by the company. “If you are in the shop floor or a factory, that data belongs to the manufacturer or the retailer, but can they use it? Who is monetising all that data?” Koch says that US tech giants “controlled the internet and collected all the data. Who is going to monetise all the new data [from the cloud]?”
Gaia-X could, through the rules and protocols it develops, strengthen Europe’s ability to shape digital regulation trends in cloud computing — much as it has in data privacy through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
But it must also offer compelling use cases to gain traction, especially for companies already working with cloud giants.
“As a developer using a cloud platform, it is very much about the ecosystem — the tools, the development environment and the stack of technologies that sit on top of something like [cloud service] Microsoft Azure,” says Chris Sainsbury, managing director of UX Connections, a UK-based consultancy. “Gaia-X will have to get the user offering right.”
Sainsbury says the offerings from US cloud giants are so compelling that Gaia-X may struggle to displace them. “The entrenchment of the existing tools is a challenge. It will come down to the toolset Gaia-X can offer — and the pricing,” he says.
Others believe European companies have an opportunity to shape the cloud era to be more user-controlled than the internet age.
“What is the alternative? The internet is controlled by maybe five companies and 20 or so data platforms. It is an oligopoly,” says Hewlett-Packard’s Koch. “This is not a European versus a US issue. This is about having a freer and more open internet.”
'Multiple vulnerabilities': India's cyber agency cautions users against WhatsApp use
New Delhi: Country’s cyber security agency has cautioned WhatsApp users about certain vulnerabilities detected in the popular instant messaging app that could lead to breach of sensitive information.
A “high” severity rating advisory issued by the CERT-In or the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team said the vulnerability has been detected in software that has “WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business for Android prior to v18.104.22.168 and WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business for iOS prior to v2.21.32.”
The CERT-In is the national technology arm to combat cyber attacks and guarding the Indian cyber space.
“Multiple vulnerabilities have been reported in WhatsApp applications which could allow a remote attacker to execute arbitrary code or access sensitive information on a targeted system,” the advisory said.
Describing the risk in detail, it said that these vulnerabilities “exist in WhatsApp applications due to a cache configuration issue and missing bounds check within the audio decoding pipeline.”
“Successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities could allow the attacker to execute arbitrary code or access sensitive information on a targeted system,” it said.
The advisory added that users of the app (application) should update the latest version of WhatsApp from Google Play store or iOS App Store to counter the vulnerability threat.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.
Chewy cashed in on pandemic pet boom but now must keep leash on Amazon
While many ecommerce retailers watch anxiously to see if demand will persist after lockdowns end, Sumit Singh, chief of online pet supplies store Chewy, is confident revenues from the recent boom in animal ownership are for life — not just for the pandemic.
“That puppy is going to grow up, eat more food, shred more toys,” he said in a recent interview with the FT.
Over the past year, Americans turned to pets in record numbers, with some 4m households welcoming their first animal, according to estimates from research group Packaged Facts.
Chewy, which sells everything from treats to remote healthcare, has emerged as a big winner. Its revenues for its fiscal year 2020, which ended on January 31 2021, increased 47 per cent on 2019 to $7.2bn, and it recorded its first ever quarterly profit in the period between November to January, at $21m. This week, shares in Chewy were trading at around triple their pre-pandemic price.
Now, as Covid-19 restrictions ease, the company is looking to capitalise on the accelerated rollout of its pet healthcare service; Connect With a Vet has hosted more than 30,000 remote consultations since October, while fending off the growing threat of Amazon and the re-emergence of bricks-and-mortar stores.
Crucial to that initiative is Chewy’s data-driven recommendation engine, which is powered in part by the creation of “pet profiles” for which users upload information about their animals, such as breed and date of birth.
“We have 170m data points,” Singh said. “Imagine the power of this data. We know if ‘Dave’ has a Labrador, and that Lab is six years old, at year seven it might display hip dysplasia, and that allows me to recommend Cosequin as a medical supplement.”
‘A $220 orthopaedic dog bed’
At stake is a bigger slice of the increasingly lucrative US pet market, which is projected to be worth $117bn this year, rising to as much as $155bn by 2025, according to Packaged Facts.
Chewy was founded in 2011, with Singh taking over from Ryan Cohen — who is expected to become chair of video games retailer Gamestop — in 2018. Singh steered the company through a successful IPO the following year, and built out the store’s selection from around 35,000 items to roughly 75,000 today.
“Two years ago on Chewy’s website,” Singh said, “you would have seen one $45 dog bed. And that’s it. Today, you can buy a $220 orthopaedic dog bed from us. Customers love that. I didn’t even know orthopaedic dog beds was a category.”
Chewy’s goods are delivered using a network of 14 dedicated warehouses, with its first “fully automated” facility opening last October. However, the threat from Amazon is growing as it builds out its own pet business, declaring it a priority in 2018 and bringing more pet products into its one-day delivery selection.
Yet Singh argues that Amazon’s core advantage in other product categories — fast delivery — holds less importance in the pet sector. Almost 70 per cent of Chewy’s total sales come via its Autoship programme, where customers sign up for regular deliveries of food or other essentials, often at a discount.
That means fewer costly delivery “surprises”, Singh said, with logistics planned weeks or months in advance. “Customers aren’t waking up and saying: ‘Oh shoot, I need my catheter delivered in the next two hours.’”
Instead, he said, it is Chewy’s expertise in pets that gives it an advantage over Amazon, noting that more than 10 per cent of the calls made to its customer service line are for care advice.
“We’ve been growing at a premium rate with Amazon’s presence in the category, not outside of it,” he said.
Dog eat dog
Analysts say however that Chewy’s future competition could come less from Amazon than from established bricks-and-mortar players adapting to the new era of retail.
Chewy’s former parent company, PetSmart, recently announced a tie-up with delivery app DoorDash, offering essential items with same-day delivery. Walmart and Target, meanwhile, have also been building their online pet strategies, leaning towards more in-person services.
“Being able to come into a retail store and have your pet groomed, or get trained, is something that the online folks largely can’t compete with,” said Steve King, chief executive of the American Pet Products Association. “[And] you’re more likely to identify a new product that meets a particular need by going into your local pet store and getting some advice.”
There is also a degree of worry, he said, around new pet owners suddenly regretting their commitments once workplaces reopen, though he hopes the trend for employers to offer more pet-friendly environments will continue.
“There is concern about the separation anxiety that some animals get when they spent a lot of time with their owners,” he said.
Singh sees ample opportunity to take care further with its tele-health service, Connect With A Vet. Originally set to launch in about three years’ time, the plans were brought forward during the pandemic as veterinary clinics began to reduce their hours or shut their doors completely.
“Veterinarians, traditionally, are great doctors, but they’re not technologists,” said Singh. “So I think there’s an opportunity for us here to drive greater collaboration.”
Standing in his way, however, are rules around remote care for animals, which currently insist on an existing in-person relationship between vet and pet before all but the most basic advice can be offered over the internet. Singh wants to see that change.
“Companies like us, who are doing pioneering work in this category, we believe will provide some tailwind to be able to start unlocking these barriers in the near future,” he said.
But while acknowledging the growth of remote services during Covid-19, Dr Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, cautioned that tele-health had to remain an adjunct to traditional care. “The ability to diagnose accurately is impacted when a veterinarian can’t physically examine the animal,” he said.
Netscape 2.0: Coinbase stock debut rekindles memories of web breakthrough
For cryptocurrency enthusiasts, this week’s blockbuster US stock market listing for Coinbase is the modern equivalent of the Netscape debut that thrust the internet on to the mainstream of finance a quarter of a century ago.
The initial public offering of the web browser — then a Silicon Valley start-up — came well before Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer into its best-selling PC software. It was the moment to get in on the ground floor of a life-changing technology.
Still, the 1995 launch left some fund managers scratching their heads: how do you value this company? Is it really a game-changer?
A similar conversation is taking place across Wall Street today after more than 120m Coinbase shares — worth $43bn — changed hands on Wednesday and Thursday, pushing its valuation to $65bn, just below that of Intercontinental Exchange, the owner of the New York Stock Exchange.
The public-market launch of the company, which holds digital assets for 56m retail customers and operates the largest digital coin exchange in the US, was the latest in a long line of examples of how bitcoin and other digital assets are moving from the fringes to the main stage.
The Netscape IPO “was the moment it was printed on the public psyche: ‘What is the internet? What is the web?’,” said Tom Jessop, the president of Fidelity Digital Assets. “This transaction is probably that significant.”
Several asset managers have filed plans to launch bitcoin exchange traded funds with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Goldman Sachs is restarting a crypto derivatives trading desk as institutional money managers warm to the market. The chief executive of the New York investment bank, which advised Coinbase on its flotation, told investors this week that he wanted to “look for ways to expand our capabilities” in crypto.
A handful of companies, including Tesla and payments group Square, have bought bitcoin to hold on their balance sheets. And this week hedge fund Brevan Howard moved to invest up to 1.5 per cent of its main fund in cryptocurrencies, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Sceptics note that cryptocurrencies have yet to achieve widespread adoption in payments and other core areas of the financial system. Jay Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, on Wednesday called cryptocurrencies “vehicles for speculation”, reflecting a view that is still prevalent among key policymakers around the world.
Cryptocurrencies have also drawn the ire of prosecutors and regulators, concerned over money laundering and risks to the investing public given their high volatility, as well as alarm over the environmental damage caused by bitcoin mining. In 2018, Bank for International Settlements head Agustín Carstens said “cryptocurrencies are, in a nutshell, a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”.
Though the Coinbase debut marks a critical juncture for crypto markets, the company had to put some of its more ambitious plans on hold. A sale of tokens, a type of digital asset that would have formed a class of Coinbase stock, was ultimately cancelled after the company struggled to find a large enough pool of brokers licensed to trade them, according to people involved in the process.
The Coinbase listing, which raised at least $3.4bn for shareholders who sold at the opening trade on Wednesday, does not guarantee a solid trajectory for the exchange or for cryptocurrencies. The rally in bitcoin prices has helped drive investor interest in the digital currency, and a reversal could prove damaging to its prospects. Already, the surge in retail trading that captivated Wall Street and the investing public in January and February has begun to fade.
Bitcoin and other assets have appeared to be on the verge of mainstream adoption before; in one high-profile setback in 2019, the derivatives exchange Cboe pulled the plug on bitcoin futures due to a lack of investor interest.
Still, more crypto listings are in the pipeline. Bakkt, the Intercontinental Exchange-backed provider of crypto wallets, is going public through a merger with a shell company. The chief executive of Kraken, a Coinbase rival, has also laid out his ambitions to go public. Shares in the company have recently changed hands at prices that would give it an implied valuation of $10bn to $15bn, according to people briefed on the trades.
Coinbase has already shown it is profitable, recording net income of at least $730m from about $1.8bn in revenue during the first quarter. That suggests that, compared to the fees that established brokers and exchanges can earn from processing much larger volumes of stocks trades, this is a lucrative business. Coinbase’s regulatory filings, including quarterly and annual reports and investor presentations, will now offer a peek into the business in a way not seen by the public before.
“It’s now a phenomenon traditional institutions cannot ignore,” Jessop said, noting the company’s large user base. “Clearly that’s an attractive pool of revenue.”
For the wider cryptocurrency ecosystem, the Coinbase listing “legitimises the industry in a new way”, said Stephen Wink, a partner at law firm Latham & Watkins, which advised banks on the transaction. “Folks understand that the SEC process for becoming a public company is a rigorous one, and that gives some comfort that what they’re doing is on solid ground. That lends real credence to do all this.”
Automakers Are Going All In on Electric Pickups. Will Anyone Buy Them?
Mitchell Yow’s pickup truck has decals advertising that the vehicle is all-electric, but sometimes people aren’t convinced. “That’s not really electric, is it?” bystanders will ask, often approaching him in grocery store parking lots in Surprise, Arizona, where Yow and his company Torque Trends, which makes gearboxes for converting gasoline vehicles to electric, swapped out the hulking Ford F-150’s V8 engine for an electric motor. The result doesn’t look like any zero-emissions vehicle most people have seen. “Even though they see it, and they read it, they don’t believe it,” says Yow. “They’ve never heard of an electric truck.”
That’s likely about to change. As automakers’ investments in electric vehicles (EVs) ramp up, pickup trucks are fast becoming a new front in the electrification wars. Manufacturers from Tesla to Ford are unveiling electric pickups—just last week, General Motors said it will deliver a 400-mile-range electric Chevrolet Silverado—though they have yet to hit the market. For automakers, the potential rewards are huge, as pickups accounted for one in five new cars sold in the U.S. in 2020. Environmental gains could be big, too. When it comes to typical highway or city driving, pickups are disproportionately wasteful; even the newest models have dismal fuel economy ratings. Getting pickup drivers to switch to more efficient options is essential if the U.S. is to decarbonize its economy, and electric pickups could also help automakers reach fleetwide fuel efficiency targets.
But for now, the possibility of mass conversion to electric pickups seems tenuous at best. Most EV buyers so far have been wealthy coastal dwellers, while pickup buyers tend to live in different areas of the country, often with different values and needs. “We’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” says Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs. “We’re always saying internally, ‘Do you think anybody really wants an EV pickup truck?’”
For one thing, there might not be a huge overlap between people currently interested in EVs and those who buy pickups. Historically, EV adoption has been the highest in liberal-leaning coastal states, especially California and Washington. States where pickups rule the roads, like Texas, Wyoming, and North Dakota, tend toward big skies and conservative values. On an individual basis, survey data have shown EV and hybrid buyers tend to lean Democratic, while pickup drivers lean Republican. One Oct. 2020 Strategic Vision survey showed that more than 50% of heavy-duty pickup buyers identify as Republicans, while less than 10% say they are Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats bought 36% of midsize hybrids and EVs, compared to less than 20% bought by Republicans. Electric pickups’ potential is further limited by the fact that many states with high numbers of pickup drivers tend to have the worst EV charging infrastructure.
There’s also a deeper issue with some of the upcoming vehicles themselves. Auto industry analysts say that many of the new electric pickup trucks set to hit the market, like the Tesla Cybertruck, the Rivian R1T, and GM Hummer EV, appear to be aimed more at wealthy “lifestyle” buyers (coders who go rock climbing on the weekends, for instance) than “traditional” pickup truck buyers (who are more likely to use them for, say, pulling equipment around a farm or hauling building materials). That might mean that, in the near term, electric pickups might cut into sales of luxury EVs like the Tesla Model S rather than reduce demand for internal-combustion pickups.
“There is a bit of cannibalization within the [EV] segment; people will shift to whatever the cool thing is to have at the time, sadly,” says Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds. “You may not necessarily be getting a lot of new buyers.”
But at least some longtime pickup owners are looking to switch. Matt Gehrisch, a 43-year-old information security consultant from northern-central Ohio—and a proud owner of a 2004 Chevy pickup—is excited about the upcoming EV options. “They’re going to have the kind of torque and performance that a diesel has, but without the diesel maintenance costs,” he says. “It’s gonna be really cool.” With no major EV pickups on the market, it remains to be seen how many drivers are similarly excited to switch. For now, it’s rare to find someone carting around building materials on electric power—though some are so impatient for zero-emissions pickups that they’re taking matters into their own hands. Simone Giertz, a YouTuber and inventor, went to the trouble of cutting up a Tesla Model 3 to make her own handicraft electric pickup. “I use her everyday, but she’s not waterproof, the trim is a little bit off, and the tailgate doesn’t work,” Giertz says. “She’s a little bit annoying to drive because it’s like waving a giant flag of ‘Look at me.’”
Automakers like Ford—maker of the F-150, the best-selling pickup in the U.S.—believe other pickup fans are ready to go electric, too; it’s making a big bet on an electric F-150 expected out in 2022. “[Pickup drivers] have to rely on these products for their businesses and the tasks they’re doing, and so they’re very cautious about adopting a new technology, unless they know it is reliable,” says Ford Electric Vehicles general manager Darren Palmer. “They are naturally more cautious, because they need to rely on [their trucks] so much, but they are more open to it than we might have imagined.”
Pickup drivers have adapted to changes before. Some were skeptical, for instance, when Ford released an F-150 with a lighter, mainly aluminum body and smaller engine in 2014, but the change didn’t put a dent in sales. Ford’s new hybrid F-150 Powerboost, meanwhile, has been a hit. In the long run, converting pickup drivers to electric—and getting low-economy older models off the roads—may be less a matter of lifestyle branding or flashy styling than of offering reliable, cost-effective vehicles capable of meeting pickup drivers’ needs. “At the end of the day, I don’t need all the luxury,” says Gehrisch. “I just need a good, solid, reliable truck.”
Apple Music reveals how much it pays when you stream a song
Apple Music told artists it pays a penny per stream in a letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The disclosure, made in a letter to artists delivered Friday via the service’s artist dashboard and sent to labels and publishers, is part of a growing effort by music-streaming services to show they are artist-friendly. For Apple Inc., it can be seen as a riposte to Spotify Technology SA, which last month shared some details of how it pays the music industry for streams on its service.
Apple’s penny-per-stream payment structure—which music-industry experts say can dip lower—is roughly double what Spotify, the world’s largest music-streaming service, pays music-rights holders per stream. Spotify pays an average of about one-third to one-half penny per stream, though its larger user base generates many more streams. Apple’s payments come out of monthly subscription revenue from users.
Artists, managers and lawyers, still reeling from the loss of touring revenue during the pandemic, have been calling for higher payouts from music streaming, which has grown rapidly in the past year. Many fans have joined the push to raise artists’ compensation.
Apple last reported more than 60 million Music subscribers in June 2019. Spotify leads the industry in subscriptions with 155 million, out of 345 million total active users including those who listen for free to the ad-supported tier. Amazon said early last year that its music subscription offerings had 55 million subscribers.
“As the discussion about streaming royalties continues, we believe it is important to share our values,” Apple said in the letter. “We believe in paying every creator the same rate, that a play has a value, and that creators should never have to pay for featuring” music in prime display space on its service.
Artists aren’t paid directly by streaming services, so a single play of a song doesn’t result in a penny going into that artist’s account. Instead, streaming services pay royalties to rights holders, which include labels, publishers and other distributors, which in turn pay artists based on their recording, publishing and distribution agreements. Both Apple and Spotify pay rights holders based on the share of total streams their artists garner on each service.
Yet artists cite the per-stream pay rate as an indicator of their earnings. Major labels say the average monthly streams per user is a better measure of the streaming economy, and growing numbers of streams mean more money coming in for artists. Both Spotify and Apple, they say, are at or near the 1,000 streams per listener per month benchmark that is seen as a success.
In the letter, Apple says it pays 52% of subscription revenue, or 52 cents of every dollar, to record labels. Spotify, which generates revenue both from subscriptions and its free ad-supported tier, says it pays ⅔ of every dollar of revenue to rights holders, with 75% to 80% of that going to labels, which translates to 50 to 53 cents on the dollar, depending on agreements between the service and different labels.
Spotify delivers much more revenue to the music industry than Apple does, since it has many more users. Its average per-stream payout rate is lower, though, because the average Spotify subscriber listens to more music per month than listeners on other services do. Plus, on Spotify’s free tier, ads don’t generate as much revenue as its premium service does. Spotify has said that while its free version generates less income than its paid one, it brings in eventual subscribers.
“We’ve conducted extensive testing that consistently shows that when we take the free service away, those listeners turn to non-revenue-generating alternatives, meaning the collective music industry is missing out on revenue,” the company says in “Loud and Clear,” an online report about payments to artists.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
Facebook’s Oversight Board to rule on Trump ban in ‘coming weeks’
Social media giant Facebook’s new Oversight Board will be taking a decision on the indefinite ban imposed on former US President Donald Trump “in the coming weeks”. The Board had asked for public comments on the case, which was sent to it on January 21. The Board typically makes a decision on cases within 90 days, which would end later this month.
The public comments period for the Trump case was also extended later and the statement said it has received over 9000 responses on the same. “The Board’s commitment to carefully reviewing all comments has extended the case timeline, in line with the Board’s bylaws. We will share more information soon,” the statement added.
The former US President’s accounts were banned from Facebook on January 7, accusing him of breaking the platform’s rules around posts inciting violence. The ban was imposed following violence at the US Capitol building, for which many have blamed Trump and his posts on social media. “Facebook’s decision to suspend Mr. Trump’s access to post on Facebook and Instagram on January 7, 2020 has driven intense global interest. The Oversight Board has been closely following events in the United States (US) and Facebook’s response to them, and the Board is ready to provide a thorough and independent assessment of the company’s decision,” the Board said in a blog post at the time.
The platform had also committed to not restore Trump’s accounts unless the Board directs it to do so. The Board’s decision on the matter is expected to have overarching implications on how Facebook deals with political leaders on its platforms in future. This has been a question raised by many of the company’s employees and users over the past year or so.
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