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The DoJ says Google monopolizes search. Here’s how.

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The Department of Justice and attorney generals from 11 Republican-led states filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google on Tuesday, alleging that the company maintains an illegal monopoly on online search and advertising. 

The lawsuit follows a 16-month investigation, and repeated promises from President Trump to hold big tech to account amid unproven allegations of anti-conservative bias. But reports suggest the department was put under pressure by attorney general William Barr to file the charges before the presidential election in two weeks’ time.

The idea of regulating big tech isn’t itself partisan, however. Earlier this month, House Democrats published a 449-page report looking at all the ways in which Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are monopolistic, and arguing for increased enforcement of antitrust legislation against them. Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, has indicated that seven additional states—including her own—were close to filing their own lawsuit, and might join the DoJ’s action later. 

The case centers on Google’s tactics and market dominance in search. It currently receives 80% of all search queries in the United States, and the DoJ says it uses the tens of billions of dollars of annual profits from search advertising to unfairly suppress its competition.

Here’s a breakdown of how the DoJ alleges that Google has maintained its illegal monopoly: 

Making Google search the default

The suit says Google maintains its advantage through exclusionary agreements worth billions of dollars that make its search engine the default on web browsers, mobile devices, as well as emerging search technologies like voice assistants and Internet of Things devices. Because most users do not change their default settings, the lawsuit adds, it results in “making Google the de facto exclusive general search engine.” 

The lawsuit specifically singles out Google’s behavior on mobile devices, noting that while its Android operating system is free and open source, in reality, it maintains control. Contracts with vendors block forking of Google’s Android software, force the pre-installation of Google apps, and include revenue sharing agreements that are better for companies that play by Google’s rules. 

The lawsuit claims that revenue sharing agreements with Apple, worth between $8-12 billion a year that account for up to 20% of Apple’s worldwide net income, ensure that Google search remains the default search engine on Safari and iPhones, as well as Siri and Spotlight, Apple’s system-wide search feature. 

The exclusionary contracts cover almost 60% of search queries in the US.

High barriers to entry

Google’s dominance is such that building a competing product is prohibitively expensive. Google is one of just three generalized search companies in the US that use web crawlers—software that constantly looks for and indexes publicly available web pages. The others are Bing and DuckDuckGo (Yahoo, which has 3% of the market, actually purchases its search results from Bing.)

The creation and maintenance of such a search index would require an “upfront investment of billions of dollars,” the lawsuit alleges, and hundreds of million dollars in maintenance costs per year, effectively shutting out smaller competitors from entering the market. 

Its alleged monopolization of search also amplifies its ability to maintain a superior product, the lawsuit alleges. It dominates the amount of data collected, and its larger datasets can be used to create more accurate algorithms, which in turn results in better search results targeted to each individual user. According to the DoJ, this cycle reinforces Google’s market dominance, unfairly protecting it from the competition. 

A monopoly on advertising

Google has also monopolized online search advertisements, according to the lawsuit. Itsa monopoly on search gives it access to the largest potential audience for advertisers, making it by far  the most attractive option. The lawsuit specifically cites the attractiveness of text and as shopping ads, both of which appear higher than organic search results. 

The online search advertising industry has ballooned to $50 billion, and of that, advertisers pay roughly $40 billion to Google per year. 

What the DoJ is seeking to do

Despite these allegations, the Department of Justice is not explicitly looking to break up Google or impose specific fines. Rather, it is asking for “structural relief as needed to cure any anticompetitive harm.” In a press event, DoJ representatives noted that investigations into other tech companies were ongoing, and that it also had not ruled out further charges against Google. 

Several hours after the lawsuit was filed, the company called the lawsuit “deeply flawed” in a statement posted to its blog. 

“People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives,” the statement said. “This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use.”

This is neither the first — and probably not the last — time that Google is facing scrutiny from American regulators. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission investigated the company, before ultimately dropping the case without pursuing charges. In Europe, meanwhile, the company has been the target of three separate antitrust lawsuits since 2010, resulting in fines of $9 billion. 

What next? The DOJ lawsuit itself will likely take years to make its way through the courts. A 1970s lawsuit against IBM took 13 years to complete, while a 1997 lawsuit against Microsoft took five years to resolve. In neither case were the companies forced to break up. 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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The UK has granted emergency approval for Pfizer/BioNTech’s covid-19 vaccine

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The news: The UK’s regulator has approved Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, making it the first country in the world to provide emergency authorization for a covid-19 vaccine. The UK had already signed an agreement to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine due to be delivered this year and in 2021, with the first batch set to arrive in the coming days. As the vaccine requires two doses, that is enough for 20 million people. The vaccine will be delivered in stages to each country that has bought it, in order to make sure the doses can be allocated fairly, the two companies said. The US and EU are expected to provide emergency authorizations for vaccines in December too.

The basis for the decision: The UK’s Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) studied Pfizer and BioNTech’s data on a rolling basis as it came in from the trials, including data from the Phase 3 clinical trial, which found the vaccine to be 95% effective. Pfizer said it recorded 170 covid-19 cases (in 44,000 volunteers), with just 162 recorded in the placebo group versus 8 in the vaccine group. Pfizer reported that there were no serious safety concerns related to the vaccine in its study. Side effects included fatigue and headache, but these were not severe and seemed to mostly affect younger participants. “We believe that the rollout of the vaccination program in the UK will reduce the number of people in the high-risk population being hospitalized,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and cofounder of BioNTech. The vaccine is the fastest to ever be developed, taking just 10 months as opposed to the many years development usually requires.

A project like no other: Now the vaccine has been approved, the enormous task of distribution can start. A particular challenge posed by the vaccine is its need to be kept at -70°C. Pfizer and BioNTech have developed containers which use dry ice to keep the vaccine at these ultra-cold temperatures. The UK is on the precipice of the biggest vaccination campaign in its history. Its government has drawn up plans to start immunizing elderly and vulnerable patients within days. It has drafted a priority list which starts with care home residents, people over 80, and health and social care workers. When more stocks become available, the UK will start vaccinating everyone over 50, and younger people with pre-existing conditions. Its National Health System will contact people to invite them for the shot when it is their turn.

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Genesis Therapeutics raises $52M A round for its AI-focused drug discovery mission

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Sifting through the trillions of molecules out there that might have powerful medicinal effects is a daunting task, but the solution biotech has found is to work smarter, not harder. Genesis Therapeutics has a new simulation approach and cross-disciplinary team that has clearly made an impression: the company just raised a $52 million A round.

Genesis competed in the Startup Battlefield at Disrupt last year, impressing judges with its potential, and obviously others saw it as well — in particular Rock Springs Capital, which led the round.

Over the last few years many companies have been formed in the drug discovery space, powered by increased computing and simulation power that lets them determine the potential of molecules in treating certain diseases. At least that’s the theory. The reality is a bit messier, and while these companies can narrow the search, they can’t just say “here, a cure for Parkinson’s.”

Founder Evan Feinberg got into the field when an illness he inherited made traditional lab work, as an intern at a big pharma company, difficult for him. The computational side of the field, however, was more accessible and ended up absorbing him entirely.

He had dabbled in the area before and arrived at what he feels is a breakthrough in how molecules are represented digitally. Machine learning has, of course, accelerated work in many fields, biochemistry among them, but he felt that the potential of the technology had not been tapped.

“I think initially the attempts were to kind of cut and paste deep learning techniques, and represent molecules a lot like images, and classify them — like you’d say, this is a cat picture or this is not a cat picture,” he explained in an interview. “We represent the molecules more naturally: as graphs. A set of nodes or vertices, those are atoms, and things that connect them, those are bonds. But we’re representing them not just as bond or no bond, but with multiple contact types between atoms, spatial distances, more complex features.”

The resulting representation is richer and more complex, a more complete picture of a molecule than you’d get from its chemical formula or a stick diagram showing the different structures and bonds. Because in the world of biochemistry, nothing is as simple as a diagram. Every molecule exists as a complicated, shifting 3D shape or conformation where important aspects like the distance between two carbon formations or bonding sites is subject to many factors. Genesis attempts to model as many of those factors as it can.

“Step one is the representation,” he said, “but the logical next step is, how does one leverage that representation to learn a function that takes an input and outputs a number, like binding affinity or solubility, or a vector that predicts multiple properties at once?”

That’s the work they’ve focused on as a company — not just creating a better model molecule, but being able to put a theoretical molecule into simulation and say, it will do this, it won’t do this, it has this quality but not that one.

Some of this work may be done in partnerships, such as the one Genesis has struck up with Genentech, but the teams could very well find drug candidates independent of those, and for that reason the company is also establishing an internal development process.

The $52M infusion ought to do a lot to push that forward, Feinberg wrote in an email:

“These funds allow us to execute on a number of critical objectives, most importantly further pioneering AI technologies for drug development and advancing our therapeutics pipeline. We will be hiring more top notch AI researchers, software engineers, medicinal chemists and biotech talent, as well as building our own research labs.”

Other companies are doing simulations as well and barking up the same tree, but Feinberg says Genesis has at least two legs up on them, despite the competition raising hundreds of millions and existing for years.

“We’re the only company in the space that’s working at the intersection of modern deep neural network approaches and biophysical simulation — conformational change of ligands and proteins,” he said. “And we’re bringing this super technical platform to experts who have taken FDA-approved drugs to market. We’ve seen tremendous value creation just from that — the chemists inform the AI too.”

The recent breakthrough of AlphaFold, which is performing the complex task of simulation protein folding far faster than any previous system, is as exciting to Feinberg as to everyone else in the field.

“As scientists, we are incredibly excited by recent progress in protein structure prediction. It is an important basic science advance that will ultimately have important downstream benefits to the development of novel therapeutics,” he wrote. “Since our Dynamic PotentialNet technology is unique in how it leverages 3D structural information of proteins, computational protein folding — similar to recent progress in cryo-EM — is a nice complementary tailwind for the Genesis AI Platform. We applaud all efforts to make protein structure more accessible such that therapeutics can be more easily developed for patients of all conditions.”

Also participating in the funding round were T. Rowe Price Associates, Andreessen Horowitz (who led the seed round), Menlo Ventures, and Radical Ventures.

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Bizzabo raises $138M for a platform that helps you build and run virtual conferences

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Conferences have — for better or worse (and if you’ve ever been trapped in a cavernous CES exhibition hall, you might say worse) — become a significant cornerstone of how industries engage with their audiences, whether they are comics superfans, or iOS developers, or insurance brokers. This year has undoubtedly seen a huge shift in how those conferences exist. The Covid-19 health pandemic has drastically curtailed travel and how people spend time in crowded places, decimating the wider event industry, estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion annually before Covid, in its wake.

Today, however, comes news of a significant round of funding for a startup that is showing one way out of the mess. Bizzabo, which provides a platform to plan and run both virtual and in-person conferences, from its earliest stages of conception and handling sponsorships, through to managing interactions between attendees, and provisioning the conference itself, has closed a round of $138 million — funding it will use to drive the growth of its business, said CEO Eran Ben-Shushan (who co-founded the company with Alon Alroy and Boaz Katz) in an interview, after seeing that business boom this year, running conferences for large businesses and event planners. (Its customers include companies like Uber, Gainsight, Github, WeWork, Accenture and actually — disclosure –TechCrunch.)

Revenue has grown 100%, with the number of events organized through Bizzabo up 65%, he said, with the number of attendees registering for events with Bizzabo up 500% and overall usage is up 150x.

“With a vaccine likely and more hybrid events in the future, we anticipate even greater growth,” he added. “Bizzabo has been the category leader, experiencing hyper-growth both pre-pandemic and during the virtual transition, we are excited to continue to lead the market forward by doubling down on product, technology, and user experience, to help organizations unlock the power of hybrid experiences.”

He said that will include the building of more tech to integrate virtual and in-person experiences, and tripling its engineering, product and experience teams, adding two new offices in Europe for the Tel Aviv-New York startup.

This Series E is being led by Insight Partners, the VC known for its big growth investments; previous backers Viola Growth, Next47, and OurCrowd also participated. Viola led Bizzabo’s previous round, a $27 million Series D in April 2019. Ben-Shushan did not disclose the valuation in this round except to say that it has grown by 400% since then. The company has raised some $195 million to date, and for some further context on valuation, recall that Hopin — another platform to help manage events online — last month raised $125 million at a $2 billion+ valuation.

Bizzabo started life in 2011 positioning itself as the “Salesforce for events.” Leaning heavily on cloud architecture and providing integrations into the many productivity and communication tools that an event organizer might use, the idea was to provide a platform to knit all that together and give organizers a way of using apps and online services to extend touch points between and with attendees. That could take the form of registration software to sign people up and collect payments for would-be attendees; chatrooms for people at specific sessions, better ways for exhibitors and sponsors to connect with visitors, and for those visitors to connect with each other during and after the event.

All of that changed this year when key in-person events started to get cancelled. At first these just disappeared into a black hole with virtually nothing to replace them, and then gradually, as the year went on, organisers started to look for virtual alternatives.

“The virtual conference market was almost non-existent” before 2020, said Ben-Shushan. “Pre Covid, a fraction of events were virtual, less than 2% of total events. March 2020 started the ‘virtual transition period’ in which live events were no longer possible in most parts of the world.”

That move dovetailed with a bigger shift in workplace communications: a huge surge of video use spearheaded by the likes of Zoom, Google, Microsoft and many others that had built platforms for people not just to speak to each other over the internet, but to see each other, too. While videoconferencing has been around for years, much of it was based around very costly hardware and software packages used mostly by large corporates. The big innovation was leveraging the growth of faster internet, better basic computers and cameras, and the cloud to make videoconferencing something anyone can use.

Event organisers seized the moment and the bigger events, which had already been offering streams of their live events to those who could not attend in person, started to think of how to shift the whole experience online. That was a whole new set of demands on organisers and those participating in the conferences, but turned out to be just one more thing to add in and consider for the likes of Bizzabo. It hasn’t rebuilt its platform but has just continued to extend what it does within in.

For example, it didn’t offer streaming as a core part of its service, but it’s very much a part of it now, in partnership with Kaltura, which provides live streaming technology as a service.

Interestingly, while a lot of that been in effort to “make up the difference” and has resulted in some interesting approaches to provide new, and sometimes even better, bridges between people, some Bizzabo does not think the live event should be left for dead.

“Our data shows that although there are meaningful advantages to virtual events (higher reach, lower production costs), event organizers and attendees want to go back to live events,” said Ben-Shusan. “2021 will mark a new era in the event industry – the hybrid era that integrates experiences of remote and live participants.”

Hybrid will indeed be the name of the game, it seems, even if we still may have a lot of question marks over how big that game will be after all this is over. Inevitably, some events may never come back.

“COVID-19 has permanently transformed the professional events category,” said Matt Gatto, a Managing Director at Insight Partners, who will join the Bizzabo board of directors, in a statement. “Bizzabo’s impressive growth and momentum began pre-pandemic and accelerated during it as they launched the industry’s first end-to-end event technology solution. Their pedigree in both in-person and virtual events and their impressive execution capabilities have them well-positioned to lead this rapidly evolving space. We are excited to partner with their leadership team and to support them in this new phase of growth.”

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