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From the U.S. to China, Korea, India and Europe, antitrust action against tech is gaining serious momentum

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After decades of global expansion and consolidation in the tech sector, antitrust is now a headline issue for the industry across the world.

What has been a slow and sputtering series of disparate actions over the past decade has coalesced in just the past few weeks into a rapid and comprehensive series of actions against the industry, with the United States being a notable laggard worldwide.

Nowhere are these actions more prominent than in China, where the competition authorities have — after many years of a reasonably laissez-faire policy to its internet giants — suddenly decided to take sweeping action against its largest tech companies.

That movement started after Chinese regulators thwarted Ant’s record-shattering IPO in early November. Ant is one of China’s most important tech companies, a fintech company that was looking at a valuation north of $300 billion and that has 1.3 billion active users globally centered on China and the overseas Chinese diaspora.

That regulatory action led to a $60 billion dollar immediate drop in Alibaba’s market cap, given Alibaba’s 33% stake in Ant.

The bad news from Beijing has continued for the tech industry though. Earlier this week, market regulators laid out a “rectification” plan for Ant, including tougher lending standards that are expected to deeply impact the high-flying company’s revenues, margins, and growth. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that China also specifically intends to “shrink” Jack Ma’s own influence over his business empire, with the government itself potentially acquiring larger ownership stakes in tech companies.

Furthermore, Beijing seems ready to force Alibaba and Tencent to play nicer with each other and create breathing space for startups outside of their two inter-locking corporate webs. Earlier this month, authorities fined Alibaba a nominal amount and also reviewed a Tencent acquisition, actions that were perceived by analysts as the opening shots in a new round of antitrust intervention. More action is expected in 2021.

It’s not just China though that has been bringing tech companies to heel. Almost exactly a year ago, Germany-based Delivery Hero announced a $4 billion takeover of Seoul-based Baedal Minjok, a popular food delivery app. Yesterday, South Korean competition authorities ordered Delivery Hero to divest its existing local delivery assets to get approval for the acquisition — a demand that undermined one of the reasons for acquiring Baedal Minjok in the first place. Delivery Hero has said that it will sell its unit to complete the transaction.

Meanwhile this month, Europe and soon-to-be-Brexited Britain announced a spate of new policies and regulations designed to heighten competition in the tech sector, including increasing legal liabilities for illegal content, broadening transparency around services, and mandating open competition on major platforms. Those policies have been a long-time coming, but now that they are starting to gain traction, they portend huge changes on how the highest-scale tech companies can operate on the Old Continent.

While many of these global policies are designed to undo the consolidation and scale of the industry, in India, regulators are working to prevent such scale in the first place. Local competition authorities there announced in November a framework that would prevent any company from owning more than 30% of local payments volume, and also mandating financial interoperability standards. That policy appears to be designed to avoid the kind of fintech duopoly seen in China between Alipay and WeChat Pay.

With all this global antitrust action bubbling, the laggard has actually been the United States, perhaps since the largest tech giants are all headquartered domestically. While Congress, the president, and dozens of state attorneys general have become increasingly strident on the scope of companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, action remains very early against the giants.

The largest and most notable action so far has been a massive lawsuit by 46 states against Facebook that was filed earlier this month. As we reported then, the lawsuit “alleges that the company bought competitors ‘illegally’ and in a ‘predatory manner’ in order to grow and preserve its market power. The suit cites Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp as prominent examples.”

Of course, as some of us remember from the 1990s with the U.S. government’s case against Microsoft, antitrust lawsuits often take years to full wend their way through the courts — and often don’t even lead to much if any change in the end anyway.

Whether a Biden administration will dramatically change the course of these actions remains unclear, with the transition offering very limited insight as it prepares to take office next month.

Nonetheless, all of these antitrust actions happening simultaneously across the globe within weeks of each other portends huge regulatory fights for tech in 2021.

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

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Qualcomm veteran to replace Alain Crozier as Microsoft Greater China boss

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Microsoft gets a new leader for its Greater China business. Yang Hou, a former executive at Qualcomm, will take over Alain Crozier as the chairman and chief executive officer for Microsoft Greater China Region, according to a company announcement released Monday.

More to come…

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Autonomous drone maker Skydio raises $170M led by Andreessen Horowitz

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Skydio has raised $170 million in a Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Growth Fund. That pushes it into unicorn territory, with $340 million in total funding and a post-money valuation north of $1 billion. Skydio’s fresh capital comes on the heels of its expansion last year into the enterprise market, and it intends to use the considerable pile of cash to help it expand globally and accelerate product development.

In July of last year, Skydio announced its $100 million Series C financing, and also debuted the X2, its first dedicated enterprise drone. The company also launched a suite of software for commercial and enterprise customers, its first departure from the consumer drone market where it had been focused prior to that raise since its founding in 2014.

Skydio’s debut drone, the R1, received a lot of accolades and praise for its autonomous capabilities. Unlike other consumer drones at the time, including from recreational drone maker DJI, the R1 could track a target and film them while avoiding obstacles without any human intervention required. Skydio then released the Skydio 2 in 2019, its second drone, cutting off more than half the price while improving on it its autonomous tracking and video capabilities.

Late last year, Skydio brought on additional senior talent to help it address enterprise and government customers, including a software development lead who had experience at Tesla and 3D printing company Carbon. Skydio also hired two Samsara executives at the same time to work on product and engineering. Samsara provides a platform for managing cloud-based fleet operations for large enterprises.

The applications of Skydio’s technology for commercial, public sector and enterprise organizations are many and varied. Already, the company works with public utilities, fire departments, construction firms and more to do work including remote inspection, emergency response, urban planning and more. Skydio’s U.S. pedigree also puts it in prime position to capitalize on the growing interest in applications from the defense sector.

a16z previously led Skydio’s Series A round. Other investors who participated in this Series D include Lines Capital, Next47, IVP and UP.Partners.

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Space startup Gitai raises $17.1M to help build the robotic workforce of commercial space

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Japanese space startup Gitai has raised a $17.1 million funding round, a Series B financing for the robotics startup. This new funding will be used for hiring, as well as funding the development and execution of an on-orbit demonstration mission for the company’s robotic technology, which will show its efficacy in performing in-space satellite servicing work. That mission is currently set to take place in 2023.

Gitai will also be staffing up in the U.S., specifically, as it seeks to expand its stateside presence in a bid to attract more business from that market.

“We are proceeding well in the Japanese market, and we’ve already contracted missions from Japanese companies, but we haven’t expanded to the U.S. market yet,” explained Gitai founder and CEO Sho Nakanose in an interview. So we would like to get missions from U.S. commercial space companies, as a subcontractor first. We’re especially interested in on-orbit servicing, and we would like to provide general-purpose robotic solutions for an orbital service provider in the U.S.”

Nakanose told me that Gitai has plenty of experience under its belt developing robots which are specifically able to install hardware on satellites on-orbit, which could potentially be useful for upgrading existing satellites and constellations with new capabilities, for changing out batteries to keep satellites operational beyond their service life, or for repairing satellites if they should malfunction.

Gitai’s focus isn’t exclusively on extra-vehicular activity in the vacuum of space, however. It’s also performing a demonstration mission of its technical capabilities in partnership with Nanoracks using the Bishop Airlock, which is the first permanent commercial addition to the International Space Station. Gitai’s robot, codenamed S1, is an arm–style robot not unlike industrial robots here on Earth, and it’ll be showing off a number of its capabilities, including operating a control panel and changing out cables.

Long-term, Gitai’s goal is to create a robotic workforce that can assist with establishing bases and colonies on the Moon and Mars, as well as in orbit. With NASA’s plans to build a more permanent research presence on orbit at the Moon, as well as on the surface, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars, and private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin looking ahead to more permanent colonies on Mars, as well as large in-space habitats hosting humans as well as commercial activity, Nakanose suggests that there’s going to be ample need for low-cost, efficient robotic labor – particularly in environments that are inhospitable to human life.

Nakanose told me that he actually got started with Gitai after the loss of his mother – an unfortunate passing he said he firmly believes could have been avoided with the aid of robotic intervention. He began developing robots that could expand and augment human capability, and then researched what was likely the most useful and needed application of this technology from a commercial perspective. That research led Nakanose to conclude that space was the best long-term opportunity for a new robotics startup, and Gitai was born.

This funding was led by SPARX Innovation for the Future Co. Ltd, and includes funding form DcI Venture Growth Fund, the Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, and EP-GB (Epson’s venture investment arm).

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