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What’s the deal with Texas suing Google?

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So what happened? 

Texas and nine other Republican-led states have filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company has monopolized digital advertising—including through anti-competitive agreements with Facebook. 

Google, the suit alleges,  not only connects ad buyers and sellers, it operates the exchange and manipulates the rules and algorithms to favor its own results. This makes Google “the pitcher, catcher, batter and umpire, all at the same time,” the Texas attorney general claimed in his announcement

How does the lawsuit claim Google and Facebook conspired? 

The lawsuit describes backroom agreements between Google and Facebook, codenamed after Star Wars characters, to manipulate ad auctions in a way that would benefit the two rivals. (The code name itself was redacted, though the Wall Street Journal has since revealed it as “Jedi Blue”.)

“Any collaboration between two competitors of such magnitude should have set off the loudest alarm bells in terms of antitrust compliance,” the lawsuit states. “Apparently, it did not.”

As well as allegedly conspiring with Facebook, the attorneys general claim that Google also manipulated smaller, less threatening publishers, and deceived them about auctions to ensure its dominance. 

Is is true that Google can read my WhatsApp messages?

A lot of attention has been focused on a heavily redacted section of the lawsuit, in which the states allege an exclusive agreement between Google and Facebook, signed shortly after Facebook’s WhatsApp acquisition, “granting Google access to millions of Americans’ end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp messages, photos, videos, and audio files.” 

Because of redactions it is unclear what evidence there is for this claim, although it  may refer to a WhatsApp-Google Drive integration that allowed WhatsApp users to more easily back up their accounts to Drive. The allegaation was made as part of Texas’s argument that Google only cared about user privacy when it was convenient and good publicity for the search giant.

Wasn’t there another lawsuit against Google recently? 

The Texas lawsuit follows on an October complaint by the Department of Justice and 11 Republican states, including Texas. It also precedes an expected complaint by Colorado and Nevada, which could be filed as soon as Thursday. 

These are the result of a joint investigation on Google launched in September 2019 involving 48 states, as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico. 

It’s a “divide and conquer strategy,” says Sally Hubbard, the director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, an organization that advocates against corporate monopolies, “with different enforcers focusing on different aspects of Google’s monopolization due to resource constraints.” 

The DoJ’s complaint was more narrowly focused on Google’s agreements with mobile device creators and browsers to make its search engine the default, while Thursday’s complaint is expected to focus on how Google changed its design to give it an advantage over more specialized search engines, like Yelp, as Politico reported earlier this week. 

Google’s search practices have drawn complaints from competitors and the occasional attention of regulators for years, since its 2008 purchase of adtech company DoubleClick led to its “fundamental shift” as a middleman—and eventual monopolist, the suit alleges— for online advertising. 

Attention, however, has not always led to legal action

This has shifted considerably as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as consumer advocacy organizations, have increasingly criticized big tech’s outsized influence on American life.  

What happens next

The flurry of lawsuits—including more that target other aspects of Google’s business— may eventually be consolidated with the DoJ complaints. 

For its part, Google denies wrongdoing and called Texas’ claims “meritless.”

“We’ve invested in state-of-the-art ad tech services that help businesses and benefit consumers,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We will strongly defend ourselves from his baseless claims in court.”

It will be quite the fight. Texas says it is seeking to “restore free and fair competition to the markets” as well as “structural, behavioral, and monetary relief”—in other words, a break-up of the search giant.

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

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Elon Musk is donating $100M to find the best carbon capture technology

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Elon Musk said Thursday via a tweet that he will donate $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon capture technology.

Musk, who recently surpassed Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person, didn’t provide any more details except to add in an accompanying tweet the “details will come next week.” It’s unclear if this is a contribution to another organization that is putting together a prize such as the Xprize or if this is another Musk-led production.

The broad definition of carbon capture and storage is as the name implies. Waste carbon dioxide emitted at a refinery or factory is captured at the source and then stored in an aim to remove the potential harmful byproduct from the environment and mitigate climate change. It’s not a new pursuit and numerous companies have popped up over the past two decades with varying means of achieving the same end goal.

The high upfront cost to carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS) has been a primary hurdle for the technology. However, there are companies that have found promise in carbon capture and utilization — a cousin to CCS in which the collected emissions are then converted to other more valuable uses.

For instance, LanzaTech has developed technology that captures waste gas emissions and uses bacteria to turn it into useable ethanol fuel. A bioreactor is used to convert into liquids captured and compressed waste emissions from a steel mill or factory or any other emissions-producing enterprises. The core technology of LanzaTech is a bacteria that likes to eat these dirty gas streams. As the bacteria eats the emissions it essentially ferments them and emits ethanol. The ethanol can then be turned into various products. LanzaTech is spinning off businesses that specialize in a different product. The company has created a spin-off called LanzaJet and is working on other possible products such as converting ethanol to ethylene, which is used to make polyethylene for bottles and PEP for fibers used to make clothes.

Other examples include Climeworks and Carbon Engineering.

Climeworks, a Swiss startup, specializes in direct air capture. Direct air capture uses filters to grab carbon dioxide from the air. The emissions are then either stored or sold for other uses, including fertilizer or even to add bubbles found in soda-type drinks. Carbon Engineering is a Canadian company that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and processes it for use in enhanced oil recovery or even to create new synthetic fuels.

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Chinese esports player VSPN closes $60M Series B+ round to boost its international strategy

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eSports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International, and Nan Fung Group.

VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s eSports tournaments.

The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.

This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.

Dino Ying, Founder, and CEO of VSPN said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”

Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”

Xuan Zhao, Head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”

Meng Gao, Managing Director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s Office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”

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Google’s parent firm is shutting down Loon connectivity project

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Google’s parent firm Alphabet is done exploring with the idea of using giant balloons to beam high-speed internet in remote parts of the world.

The firm said on Thursday evening that it was winding down Loon after failing to find a sustainable business model and willing partners. The demise of Loon comes a year after Android-maker ended Google Station, its other major connectivity effort. Through Station, Google provided internet connectivity at over 400 railway stations in India and sought to replicate the model in other public places in more nations.

That said, Alphabet’s move is still surprising. Just last year, Loon had secured approval from the government of Kenya to launch first balloons to provide commercial connectivity services in Kenya — something it did successfully achieve months later, giving an impression that things were moving in the right direction.

Perhaps the growing interest of SpaceX and Amazon in this space influenced Alphabet’s decision — otherwise, the two firms are going to have to answer some difficult feasibility questions of their own in the future.

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users,” said Alastair Westgarth, chief executive of Loon, in a blog post.

“The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people. While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”

The blog post, which makes no mention of what will happen to Loon’s existing operations in Kenya, characterised Loon’s connectivity effort as successful. “The Loon team is proud to have catalyzed an ecosystem of organizations working on providing connectivity from the stratosphere. The world needs a layered approach to connectivity — terrestrial, stratospheric, and space-based — because each layer is suited to different parts of the problem. In this area, Loon has made a number of important technical contributions,” wrote Westgarth.

More to follow…

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