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Alibaba Cloud turns profitable after 11 years

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Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, became profitable for the first time in the December quarter, the company announced in its earnings report.

The firm’s cloud unit achieved positive adjusted EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization) during the quarter, after being in business since 2009. The milestone is in part a result of the “realization of economies of scale,” Alibaba said.

Alibaba Cloud, which incorporates everything from database, storage, big data analytics, security, machine learning to IoT services, has dominated China’s cloud infrastructure market for the past few years and its market share worldwide continues to grow. As of 2019, the cloud behemoth was the third-largest public cloud company (providing infrastructure-as-a-service) in the world with a 9% market, trailing behind Amazon and Microsoft, according to Gartner.

COVID-19 has been a boon to cloud and digital adoption around the world as the virus forces offline activities online. For instance, Alibaba notes in its earnings that demand for digitalization in the restaurant and service industry remains strong in the post-COVID period in China, a trend that benefits its food delivery and on-demand services app, Ele.me. The firm’s cloud revenue grew to $2.47 billion in the December quarter, primarily driven by “robust growth in revenue from customers in the internet and retail industries and the public sector.”

Commerce remained Alibaba’s largest revenue driver in the quarter accounting for nearly 70% of revenue, while cloud contributed 7%.

Tencent’s cloud segment is Alibaba Cloud’s closest rival. As of 2019, it had a 2.8% market globally, according to Gartner. The industry in China still has ample room for growth, as Alibaba executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai pointed out in an analyst call from last August.

“Based on the third-party studies that we’ve seen, the China cloud market is going to be somewhere in the $15 billion to $20 billion total size range, and the U.S. market is about eight times that. So the China market is still at a very early stage,” said Tsai.

“We feel very good, very comfortable to be in the China market and just being an environment of faster digitization and faster growth of usage of cloud from enterprises because we’re growing from such a smaller base, about one-eighth the base of that of the U.S. market.”

A key strategy to grow Alibaba Cloud is the integration of cloud into Alibaba’s enterprise chat app Dingtalk, which the company hopes can drive industries across the board onto cloud services. It’s a relationship that echoes that between Microsoft 365 and Azure, as president of Alibaba Cloud, Zhang Jianfeng, previously suggested in an interview.

“We don’t want to just provide cloud in terms of infrastructure services,” said Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang in the August earnings call. “If we just do it as an infrastructure service, as SaaS services, then price competition is inevitable, and then all the cloud service is more like a commodity business. Today, Alibaba’s cloud is cloud plus intelligence services, and it’s about cloud plus the power of the data usage.”

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

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Facebook will pay $650 million to settle class action suit centered on Illinois privacy law

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Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million Friday for running afoul of an Illinois law designed to protect the state’s residents from invasive privacy practices.

That law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), is a powerful state measure that’s tripped up tech companies in recent years. The suit against Facebook was first filed in 2015, alleging that Facebook’s practice of tagging people in photos using facial recognition without their consent violated state law.

1.6 million Illinois residents will receive at least $345 under the final settlement ruling in California federal court. The final number is $100 higher than the $550 million Facebook proposed in 2020, which a judge deemed inadequate. Facebook disabled the automatic facial recognition tagging features in 2019, making it opt-in instead and addressing some of the privacy criticisms echoed by the Illinois class action suit.

A cluster of lawsuits accused Microsoft, Google and Amazon of breaking the same law last year after Illinois residents’ faces were used to train their facial recognition systems without explicit consent.

The Illinois privacy law has tangled up some of tech’s giants, but BIPA has even more potential to impact smaller companies with questionable privacy practices. The controversial facial recognition software company Clearview AI now faces its own BIPA-based class action lawsuit in the state after the company failed to dodge the suit by pushing it out of state courts.

A $650 million settlement would be enough to crush any normal company, though Facebook can brush it off much like it did with the FTC’s record-setting $5 billion penalty in 2019. But the Illinois law isn’t without teeth. For Clearview, it was enough to make the company pull out of business in the state altogether.

The law can’t punish a behemoth like Facebook in the same way, but it is one piece in a regulatory puzzle that poses an increasing threat to the way tech’s data brokers have done business for years. With regulators at the federal, state and legislative level proposing aggressive measures to rein in tech, the landmark Illinois law provides a compelling framework that other states could copy and paste. And if big tech thinks navigating federal oversight will be a nightmare, a patchwork of aggressive state laws governing how tech companies do business on a state-by-state basis is an alternate regulatory future that could prove even less palatable.

 

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AWS reorganizes DeepRacer League to encourage more newbies

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AWS launched the DeepRacer League in 2018 as a fun way to teach developers machine learning, and it’s been building on the idea ever since. Today, it announced the latest league season with two divisions: Open and Pro.

As Marcia Villalba wrote in a blog post announcing the new league, “AWS DeepRacer is an autonomous 1/18th scale race car designed to test [reinforcement learning] models by racing virtually in the AWS DeepRacer console or physically on a track at AWS and customer events. AWS DeepRacer is for developers of all skill levels, even if you don’t have any ML experience. When learning RL using AWS DeepRacer, you can take part in the AWS DeepRacer League where you get experience with machine learning in a fun and competitive environment.”

While the company started these as in-person races with physical cars, the pandemic has forced them to make it a virtual event over the last year, but the new format seemed to be blocking out newcomers. Since the goal is to teach people about machine learning, getting new people involved is crucial to the company.

That’s why it created the Open League, which as the name suggests is open to anyone. You can test your skills and if you’re good enough, finishing in the top 10%, you can compete in the Pro division. Everyone competes for prizes as well such as vehicle customizations.

The top 16 in the Pro League each month race for a chance to go to the finals at AWS re:Invent in 2021, an event that may or may not be virtual, depending on where we are in the pandemic recovery.

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Free 30-day trial of Extra Crunch included with TC Sessions: Justice tickets

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TC Sessions: Justice is coming up on Wednesday, and we’ve decided to sweeten the deal for what’s included with your event pass. Buy your ticket now and you’ll get a free month of access to Extra Crunch, our membership program focused on founders and startup teams with exclusive articles published daily.

Extra Crunch unlocks access to our weekly investor surveys, private market analysis and in-depth interviews with experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other core startup topics. Get feedback on your pitch deck through Extra Crunch Live, and stay informed with our members-only Extra Crunch newsletter. Other benefits include an improved TechCrunch.com experience and savings on software services from AWS, Crunchbase and more.

Learn more about Extra Crunch benefits here, and buy your TC Sessions: Justice tickets here.  

What is TC Sessions: Justice? 

TC Sessions: Justice is a single-day virtual event that explores diversity, equity and inclusion in tech, the gig worker experience, the justice system and more. We’ll host a series of interviews with key figures in the tech community. 

The event will take place March 3, and we’d love to have you join. 

View the event agenda here, and purchase tickets here

Once you buy your TC Sessions: Justice pass, you will be emailed a link and unique code you can use to claim the free month of Extra Crunch.

Already bought your TC Sessions: Justice ticket?

Existing pass holders will be emailed with information on how to claim the free month of Extra Crunch membership. All new ticket purchases will receive information over email immediately after the purchase is complete.

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We’re happy to extend a free month of access to existing users. Please contact extracrunch@techcrunch.com and mention that you are existing Extra Crunch members who bought a ticket to TC Sessions: Justice. 

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