Tag Archives: After

ZTE Corp controlling shareholder plans 3 percent stake sale after stock rebound
March 13, 2019 3:43 am|Comments (0)

FILE PHOTO: People walk past a ZTE logo outside its booth at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 25, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE Corp’s controlling shareholder plans to reduce its stake by as much as 3 percent after the stock more than doubled in value since surviving a U.S. sanction last year, showed regulatory filings late on Tuesday.

The stock slumped as much as 7.6 percent in Shenzhen on Wednesday following the news. Its Hong Kong-listed shares dropped as much as 5.6 percent.

The Chinese firm was crippled early last year after breaking U.S. sanctions and was only able to resume business in July after paying $ 1.4 billion in penalties to lift a U.S. supplier ban. The stock has since risen around 150 percent in Shenzhen.

ZTE in the filings said state-owned controlling shareholder Zhongxingxin Telecom plans to sell up to 2 percent in ZTE A-shares via block trades within 90 days. Zhongxingxin has also proposed to use not more than 41.9 million ZTE A-shares, or 1 percent of the company’s total share capital, to subscribe for units in the ICBCCS SHSZ 300 exchange-traded fund.

Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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Sonos’ Stock Falls as Much as 15% After Announcing Its CFO Will Depart
February 7, 2019 12:48 am|Comments (0)

Sonos’ stock fell as much as 15% late Wednesday after the company said that its chief financial officer, Mike Giannetto, will leave the company later this year.

The announcement came as Sonos reported revenue and earnings that were above analyst expectations. Sonos said that revenue in its most-recent quarter rose 5.8% to $ 496.4 million and net income of 55 cents a share. Analysts had been forecasting revenue of $ 490.7 million and earnings of 40 cents a share.

Giannetto, who has worked at Sonos for more than seven years, is leaving Sonos once a replacement can be named. The company said it hired an executive search firm to find a new CFO.

The company also warned that revenue in the current quarter could come in lower than expectations. “Reduced sell-through velocity toward the end of Q1 FY2019 created higher channel inventory levels than we would have liked,” Sonos’ letter to shareholders said. “This elevated channel inventory and our production schedule with IKEA starting in Q3 FY2019 instead of Q2 FY2019 will impact Q2 revenue.”

Sonos didn’t offer guidance for this quarter’s revenue, but indicated that overall guidance for 2019 remains close to analyst expectations. Sonos is expecting revenue to rise between 10% and 12% this year to between $ 1.25 billion and $ 1.28 billion. Analysts had been forecasting 2019 revenue of $ 1.26 billion.

Sonos’ stock, which declined 6% during official trading Wednesday, fell as much as 15% to $ 10.42 a share in after-hours trading on the announcement.

Earlier this week, Sonos saw its stock rise following a research note from JPMorgan that said the home-speaker company would be a good fit with Apple.

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Amazon.com starts direct sales of merchandise in Brazil after delays
January 22, 2019 6:01 am|Comments (0)

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is launching its long-awaited in-house fulfillment and delivery network in Brazil after months of delays caused by complicated logistics and a highly complex tax system in the largest Latin American economy.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the web service Amazon is pictured in this June 8, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Illustration/File Photo

Amazon, which some rivals had expected to kick off direct sales of items beyond books as soon as the Christmas selling season, said it will directly sell 11 categories of merchandise from over 800 suppliers from L’Oreal to Black & Decker as of Tuesday.

Its shift to stocking and delivering goods itself from acting mostly as a marketplace is expected to intensify competition for fast delivery of goods in Latin America’s largest economy as it exits a painful recession.

“We are launching (our direct sales platform) with 320,000 different products in stock, including 200,000 books… Our obsession is always to increase this catalog and to have everything Brazilian consumers seek and want to buy on the internet”, Amazon’s Brazilian country manager Alex Szapiro told Reuters.

In November, Reuters reported that Amazon’s attempt to advance with its so-called Fulfillment by Amazon program in Brazil had run into difficulties such as the nations’s tangled tax system, complicated logistics and testy relations with some prominent vendors.

“As in every negotiation, you take a seat at a table and you want to agree on the best possible terms”, said Szapiro when asked on the tone of conversations with suppliers, without entering in details.

Amazon entered Brazil quietly in 2012, selling e-readers, books and then streaming movies in the fast-growing Brazilian market. The company made its first big move into merchandise in October 2017, when it began offering the use of its Brazilian website to third-party merchants to sell electronics.

The company does not reveal the number of sellers in its marketplace, which it has slowly expanded over the past year, adding new categories while laying the ground for a direct sales platform.

As part of the fulfillment program, Amazon leased a 47,000 square-meter (505,904-square-foot) warehouse just outside of Sao Paulo, as first reported by Reuters almost a year ago.

Szapiro, who previously worked as Brazil country manager for Apple Inc, declined to say how much the company is spending on the new distribution center or how many people it is hiring, but said Amazon employs directly and indirectly over 1,400 people in Brazil.

In a report published on Monday, analysts at investment bank BTG Pactual said the expected direct sales launch signaled the company was ready “to strengthen investments, potentially via more partnerships with fulfillment operators and last-mile carriers.”

Even though the bank predicted Amazon would take a “gradual approach” and was likely to vye for a “low double-digit market share,” shares of Brazilian retailers reacted negatively to BTG’s report, with B2W, Magazine Luiza e Lojas Americanas among the biggest losers in Monday’s session.

Reporting by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Sandra Maler

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Earn after reading: China news app lures with clickbait and cash
December 4, 2018 12:01 am|Comments (0)

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Cai Li, a janitor in Shanghai, developed a serious addiction to news app Qutoutiao, lured by gossipy articles about celebrities and the cash she gets from reading them.

A red packet giving out free cash for new users is seen on the news aggregator app Qutoutiao, on a mobile phone next to a Qutoutiao logo in this illustration picture taken November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration

Logging on during breaks at work and sometimes at night when she can’t sleep, the 63-year old has earned a few hundred yuan ($ 30-$ 40) over several months, which she says is useful to supplement her income.

With its unusual pay-your-user strategy, Tencent-backed Qutoutiao Inc (QTT.O) – pronounced “chew-tow-ti-ow” – has drawn in 20 million daily readers. A leaderboard shows the top-earning user has raked in more than $ 50,000.

Digital gold coins are earned by playing games that involve reading stories or by convincing others to join up. The current exchange rate is 1,600 coins for 1 yuan, with strong players receiving the title of ‘master’.

The payments are an extreme example of financial incentives from discounts to coupons employed by a new generation of Chinese internet firms as they seek to establish themselves in a market dominated by much bigger players.

“Acquiring new users if you’re competing with Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and traditional mobile players, you need to come up with something new,” said Zhang Chenhao, Shanghai-based managing partner at technology-focused Prometheus Fund.

On one hand, it has worked. The news aggregator, which listed in the United States in September, tripled its number of daily users over the last year. Third-quarter revenue – nearly all of it from advertising – jumped more than six times from the same period a year earlier to just under 1 billion yuan ($ 145 million).

THE EYEBALL ECONOMY

But the strategy doesn’t come cheap, even if individual amounts paid to users are ‘trivial’ – a word it used to describe the payments in its IPO prospectus.

Qutoutiao spent over 1 billion yuan on marketing in the last quarter – more than its revenue, nearly the amount of its net loss and over seven times what it spent in the same period a year ago.

“It is getting more and more expensive to get traffic,” Chief Financial Officer Wang Jingbo told Reuters in an interview, but said the cash giveaways were a key hook and a long-term strategy.

“It’s the eyeball economy. Previously, people had to spend money to see content, but with the changing internet they no longer have to pay…Not only are they not paying – users now need to earn something as well.”

Since surging on its trading debut, its shares have lost three-quarters of their market value, hurt by a wider economic chill that has hit Chinese stocks and disappointing earnings. It is now worth around $ 1.3 billion.

Industry experts question how long firms like Qutoutiao can sustain cash-burning habits and how they will become profitable.

“It’s very messy. If you lower the amount of money, users will lose interest. But if you raise it, the cost is too high,” said Wei Wuhui, an academic and managing partner at tech-focused venture capital fund SkyChee Ventures.

More broadly, concerns are growing about how some Chinese tech firms, including household names, are generously using discounts and other means to subsidize customers while also taking on other costs in the pursuit of market share.

Meituan Dianping (3690.HK) – a ‘super-app’ whose services include food delivery, restaurant reservations and ride-hailing – saw its stock plunge last month after quarterly operating losses tripled amid a bruising price war with its main rival.

Prometheus Fund’s Zhang noted venture capital funding was tightening due to the slowing economy, pressuring a key funding channel for tech firms.

“This (stage) is purely cash-burning to create a foundation. But in the end you have to deliver value and be profitable. If you don’t make profits, no-one will subsidize you and finance you forever.”

COPYCAT BELIEVERS

Qutoutiao – whose name means “fun headlines” – targets smaller cities and rural areas with content that ranges from cooking tips to videos on how to dance.

CFO Wang said he hopes to have 200 million monthly users at some point, getting towards the estimated 250 million currently commanded by rival news aggregator Jinri Toutiao. Qutoutiao had 49 million monthly active users as of July.

Bytedance-owned Jinri Toutiao recently launched a lite version of its app targeting rural markets and users with smaller phones that includes cash games, a sign it’s taking Qutoutiao’s threat seriously. It even offers 25 yuan for persuading another user to join, trumping Qutoutiao’s 8 yuan.

Several Qutoutiao users said their main interest in the app was the money, but complained it was becoming harder to earn.

Zhai Liyun, 45, a temp worker who lives on the outskirts of Beijing, said she read “clickbait” stories before bed but so far had only earned 20 yuan because most of her friends were already on the platform.

Cai, the janitor, said she was cutting back after her eyesight suffered and she lost weight from going on the app too much – prompting an intervention from her husband and daughter.

“I’ll play in the evening if I can’t sleep but I won’t lose sleep over Qutoutiao. I try not to think about it too much now,” she said.

($ 1 = 6.9437 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Pei Li in Bejing and Adam Jourdan in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom, Sankalp Phartiyal and Euan Rocha in Mumbai; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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Feeling Down After the Holidays? Here's How to Perk Up
November 23, 2018 12:09 pm|Comments (0)

The holidays can bring enormous joy–after all, most of us get some time off work, there’s great conversation with loved ones, and you get to stuff your piehole with plenty of edible treats. Somewhere between the turkey and the drive home, though, letdown–that horrible, disappointment-laden feeling that the best is over–can creep in. To keep your productivity and health up, you have to wage war on this negative mindset.

Why you feel so yucky, according to science and psychology

Beating holiday letdown means understanding that the holidays are very similar to other goals you might have in your life. Your brain anticipates them, associating them with all kinds of positive rewards. And as your anticipation grows, your body releases chemicals like dopamine that help you feel happy. But once the holiday you’ve looked forward to is over and done, you’re not anticipating anymore, and the chemical reward systems in the brain put on the brakes. You lose your buzz.

On top of this sequence, psychologically, we can get a sense that our connections are breaking, simply because we have to distance ourselves from loved ones again for a while. That feeling can connect to all kinds of deep fears of not having anyone to comfort and protect us. And even the basic understanding that we’re leaving something that feels better can awaken a powerful sense of injustice in us. We can feel sad at the world for daring to drive us back to routine and hard effort and creative or recreational confinement.

5 ways to perk yourself up

1. Schedule in lots of small events you like. Each of these give you something else to look forward to, engaging the brain’s reward system. Staying busy also gives you less time to ruminate on the loss or disappointment the post-holiday season can usher in.

2. Do something new. Novelty is like candy to the brain, getting dopamine flowing. This is the perfect time to find a hobby, take a few extra vacation days to a place you’ve never been, or even just take a different route home.

3. Schedule in some conversation. Part of the reason we can feel like connections are precarious after the holidays is that we tend to let interactions with loved ones we’ve just visited drop off a cliff. (After all, responsibilities, right?) Instead of parting ways with cookie-cutter comments about how everyone should write or call or video chat, set up appointments! Know for sure that there’s a commitment, that you have a “when”. Anticipating these conversations engages your reward mechanisms, too!

4. Keep the buffet going. This isn’t an excuse to expand your waistline and slip into another turkey coma. But because our senses are so interconnected, exposure to your favorite tastes and smells can help you retrieve happy memories you associate with the foods. In fact, this is a huge reason why Thanksgiving and Christmas are such emotionally charged holidays. Think outside the usual holiday fare and make some other dish that’s been handed down. If you make sure that the recipes have a healthy base, the nutrients and vitamins can make it easier to maintain mood stability, as well.

5. Volunteer. People need help year round, but the holidays can be especially painful for those going through trauma, financial trouble or other problems. They need to feel connected as much as you do. Get out into the community wherever you can and do some good for others, whether that’s at the local soup kitchen, your kid’s school or offering to snowblow your neighbor’s driveway. As you work for others, you’ll reaffirm your sense of purpose.

Post-holiday blahs are normal, but they’re totally controllable. Let these tactics be a bridge to the next season, and then tackle your new year like the lion(ess) you are.

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Intel says more women, blacks in workforce after diversity push
October 30, 2018 12:00 am|Comments (0)

FILE PHOTO: The Intel logo is shown at E3, the world’s largest video game industry convention in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Intel Corp has increased the ratio of women and African-Americans in its workforce after three years of a high-profile effort to improve diversity, the U.S. microchip maker said in a report released on Monday.

Intel still lags behind several large U.S. technology companies in terms of women and ahead of many for African Americans and Hispanics, the report showed. Chronic underrepresentation of minorities has been a source of concern for years at tech companies.

Overall, women comprised 26.8 percent of Intel’s U.S. workforce in 2018, up from 24.7 percent in 2015. Women in leadership positions grew to 20.7 percent from 17.7 percent.

The percentage of African Americans at Intel has risen to nearly 5 percent from 3.5 percent in 2015 and Hispanics rose to 9.2 percent from 8.3 percent.

“Although we are among the leaders in African American representation in the tech industry, we are still not satisfied,” Barbara Whye, Intel’s chief diversity and inclusion officer said by email. The company will continue to work with historically black colleges and the Oakland Unified School District in California, she added.

Without providing figures, Intel said it had reached “full representation” two years ahead of its goal based on skilled minorities in the available workforce.

In 2015, Intel established a $ 300 million fund to be used by 2020 to improve diversity. Whites make up 46.2 percent of the workforce at the company, and Asians 38.9 percent, according to Intel.

Intel’s African American 2018 representation was better than at Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc, and Microsoft Corp, according to the companies’ latest data.

But its female representation was behind Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc , and only ahead of Microsoft.

Reporting By Jane Lanhee Lee; Editing by Richard Chang

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Exclusive: Russian high tech project flounders after U.S. sanctions
October 17, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions targeting Russia’s nascent high tech industry have caused a Russian microchip company significant financial woes and delayed the launch of an initiative meant to produce substitutes for Western products, the firm’s owner said.

FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits a plant of Russian microchip company Angstrem-T in Zelenograd near Moscow, Russia August 3, 2016. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS

President Vladimir Putin has stressed the need to develop Russia’s domestic tech industry to make it less dependent on Western equipment. But Moscow’s efforts to manufacture Russian microchips and other high tech products have been thwarted by U.S. sanctions against a string of Russian tech companies.

Angstrem-T, which makes semi-conductors, has accumulated significant debts and is set to be taken over by state development bank VEB after failing to reimburse an 815-million-euro ($ 944.75 million) loan dating back to 2008, said Leonid Reiman, chairman of the company’s board of directors.

Reiman, Russia’s former minister of communications and information technologies, said the company’s inability to reimburse its debt was in part tied to U.S. restrictions on the import of dual-use technologies and its addition to U.S. Treasury sanctions in 2016.

The U.S. moves were prompted by Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. It has imposed further sanctions against Russia since 2016 over other issues.

Prior to the sanctions Angstrem-T purchased most of its equipment from U.S. multinational firm Advanced Micro Devices and bought a license from IBM to produce chips.

The company is heavily reliant on U.S. products, but the sanctions now bar it from doing business with U.S. firms.

“Although we initially received the (U.S.) State Department’s consent for this project and the delivery of the technology here, the sanctions caused the deadlines for its completion to be drawn out,” Reiman told Reuters.

“The factory is working, the products are being produced, but the question of procurement remains.”

FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits a plant of Russian microchip company Angstrem-T in Zelenograd near Moscow, Russia August 3, 2016. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS

VEB, which Reiman said could become the majority owner of Angstrem-T by the end of the year, declined to comment.

IMPORT SUBSTITUTION

When Angstrem-T began producing its first chips in 2016 after nearly a decade of false starts and delays, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev depicted the initiative as a way Russia could surmount already existing U.S. sanctions.

“It’s good that we are starting to produce these ourselves,” Medvedev said at the factory’s opening, a month before Angstrem-T itself was targeted by the U.S. sanctions. “It’s a question of import substitution.”

Reiman would not disclose the magnitude of Angstrem-T’s debt. According to a Russian database that aggregates company data, the firm had 87.4 billion roubles ($ 1.34 billion) in debt last year. During the same period it recorded revenues of 101 million roubles.

A source in the field of microelectronics in Russia said the sanctions and repeated delays in the project had caused Angstrem-T’s products to become outdated.

The market for the 90 and 130-nanometre microchips it produces has significantly shrunk in recent years, according to the source.

A draft Russian government roadmap for the development of the microchip industry seen by Reuters says that once VEB’s takeover is complete, Angstrem-T should shift its production to the more modern 28-nanometre chips.

Such chips are used in products made by companies like Apple, Samsung and Sony.

The ministry has for several years lobbied for Russia to build a modern microchip plant, but to no avail.

Reporting by Maria Kolomychenko; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Gareth Jones

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After Troubles in Myanmar, Facebook Charges Ahead in Africa
October 7, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

Over the past year, Facebook has faced a reckoning over the way its plan to connect the next billion users to the internet has sown division, including spreading hate speech that incited ethnic violence in Myanmar and disseminating propaganda for a violent dictator in the Philippines. But even as the company admits that it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar and makes promises to be more proactive about policing content “where false news has had life or death consequences,” Facebook’s efforts in the developing world appear to be speeding up rather than pausing to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

In mid-August, Facebook said it was making progress in Myanmar by adding more Burmese speakers and changing its content-moderation policies to make it easier to report bad conduct and root out hate speech. By the end of this year, Facebook says, it expects to hire 100 Burmese speakers to review content. The changes come more than two years after Facebook pushed into Myanmar. During that time civil-society groups have repeatedly asked the company to do a better job patrolling hate speech, and UN investigators said Facebook had played a “determining role” in the killing of Rohingya Muslims.

But Facebook’s lack of preparedness in Myanmar has not halted its efforts to expand access to the internet—and to Facebook—in the Global South. A couple of weeks after touting its progress in Myanmar, Facebook quietly celebrated plans to expand Wi-Fi access in India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania through partnerships with companies that sell Wi-Fi hardware. In Tanzania, for example, the World Bank estimates that only 13 percent of people use the internet, roughly the same internet penetration in Myanmar in November 2015.

From Free Basics to Express Wi-Fi

Facebook’s efforts to connect the next billion fall under internet.org, which the company describes as an effort to get 4.5 billion unconnected people on the internet. Initially, Facebook’s preferred vehicle to spread connectivity was Free Basics, an app that provided free access to a limited number of websites. Amid criticism of that approach in India and elsewhere, Facebook in the past year has instead promoted a program called Express Wi-Fi, where local merchants or business owners offer affordable access to Wi-Fi hot spots, using Facebook’s Express software as a platform for billing and managing accounts.

Express Wi-Fi has raised fewer red flags because, unlike Free Basics, users can access the full internet. Facebook provides financial support to set up the hot spots, but the company says Express Wi-Fi is not supposed to be a profit center. Rather, Facebook wants partners to get enough financial return to keep expanding connectivity efforts.

Facebook would not disclose how many Express Wi-Fi hot spots there are or how the program has grown, but it is clearly part of Facebook’s larger push into Africa. Three of the five countries where Express Wi-Fi has launched are in Africa. In March, Facebook launched an Express Wi-Fi app in the Google Play store in Kenya and Indonesia. Facebook’s ISP partner in Kenya, Surf, says it has 1,100 Express Wi-Fi hot spots in the country, up from 100 in February 2017. In September, Facebook announced a partnership with The Internet Society, an American nonprofit, to improve internet connections throughout Africa.

Digital rights advocates in Africa say Facebook has evolved its approach after the problems in Myanmar. Facebook is working more closely with civil society groups, sending more delegations, recruiting native language speakers, planning for contentious elections, and hosting digital literacy efforts.

Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, a digital program officer at the East Africa office for Article 19, a nonprofit that defends freedom of expression, says Facebook’s decision to hire more Africans, especially from civil society groups, has made it easier for concerns to be heard, if not always addressed. During the 2017 presidential election in Kenya, for example, Facebook responded when advocates reported hate speech or fake news, but the company did not always protect female journalists who became targets for harassment on the platform after writing critical stories about politicians. “They’re trying to get there, but they need to do better.”

Still, some of the civil society groups say Facebook’s efforts often fall short. Advocates say it’s hard to get straight answers from Facebook about its content-moderation process, plans for hiring native language speakers, meetings with the government, or the goal of its connectivity efforts, leaving some to suspect that Facebook’s recent overtures are more of a public relations campaign. As governments elsewhere crack down on Facebook and Free Basics, they worry Facebook is targeting Africa because there are fewer protections for user privacy and freedom of online expression. (Kenyanito says only about half of the 50 countries in the African Union have data protection and privacy laws.) What’s more, some critics also suspect that Express Wi-Fi is just a way for Facebook to rebrand its connectivity efforts as something less controversial.

Julie Owono, executive director of Internet Without Borders, says Facebook is facing the same explosive ingredients in Africa that it encountered in Myanmar, including unstable regimes, ethnic tensions, and a flood of new users. She fears that Facebook’s reliance “on algorithms to solve complex issues” means that the brunt of preventing abuse may once again fall on nonprofits. Facebook has pledged to hire 20,000 content moderators in 2018, but will not disclose where those people will be located, partly to protect them.

The need for real transparency became clear during Facebook’s recent activities in Cameroon, which holds elections on Sunday. In September, Facebook helped sponsor a symposium on digital rights and election safety in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital. Facebook’s presence shows that the company is “a bit more humble than a few years ago, when they thought they had the solutions to every problem,” Owono says. But just one month earlier, civil society groups were blindsided by news that Facebook met with government officials about fighting fake news during the election. Activists feared Facebook might be planning to censor accounts at the government’s behest. Although concerns were eventually assuaged, Facebook’s initial scripted statements only fueled confusion.

Negotiating with the government becomes fraught in repressive regimes where political parties can manipulate Facebook’s platforms—and may shut down internet access during elections or to silence dissent. “During political moments, the same political actors are the ones fueling misinformation and memes,” says Grace Bomu, a tech policy advocate based in Kenya.

Facebook says it has met with a range of stakeholders in Cameroon, including civil society groups and human rights activists, and made no agreements with the government.

In a statement to WIRED, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We know we were initially too idealistic” about connecting people worldwide, “and didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse or thinking through all the ways people could use the tools on the Facebook platform to do harm. That’s why we have invested in people and technology to build better safeguards. This includes the roll out of third party fact-checking, better detection of bad content, improved enforcement of our policies, and deeper support for digital literacy efforts. There is always more to do, and that’s why we have a dedicated team of product, policy, and partnerships experts who are focused on helping to keep the platform safe.”

But Tessa Wandia, who works at iHub, a hackerspace for technologists and entrepreneurs in Kenya, says Facebook’s connectivity efforts steer users toward choosing Facebook. In Africa, for instance, the Express Wi-Fi app can feature a prominent link to Free Basics, with the tagline “See popular websites for free,” a tempting offer for users in a region where data plans can be relatively expensive. Wandia believes Facebook may be using Express Wi-Fi “to make people quiet down” about Free Basics, and “convince us that they really do have a philanthropic angle.” Facebook says it offers partners the option of including Free Basics in Express Wi-Fi, but it’s not required.

Concerns about social media’s influence are not theoretical. In March, for example, Cambridge Analytica executives were caught on tape bragging about influencing Kenya’s presidential elections in 2017 and 2013. The controversial political consultancy reportedly experimented in Africa in part because of lax privacy rules and access to government data from willing politicians. A case study on Cambridge Analytica’s website says polling data was used to target social media ads to youth voters. Wandia says she reported some inflammatory ads that spread on social media, which contained misinformation and were used to psychologically manipulate citizens. “We have to be worried about how Kenyans are influenced, how they are making decisions,” she says.

To be sure, many of these worries stem from Facebook’s staggering popularity, and would likely exist even without efforts like Express Wi-Fi or Free Basics. Telecom operators in Africa, for instance, often include free use of WhatsApp or Facebook as part of a data bundle to entice users who want to use those services.

Unintended Consequences

But Facebook’s continued push to connect the globe raises questions about who bears responsibility for unintended consequences, which have disproportionately affected people in the Global South. After the violence in Myanmar, we now know how Facebook’s promises to help the developing world can play out.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that a former government official in Sri Lanka had been warning Facebook about abuse on its platform by the Sri Lankan government since 2014. Facebook began to address concerns after the government shut down access, but won’t disclose how many content moderators it has hired.

Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to connect the next billion has been greeted with suspicion since it was announced in 2015, but tensions boiled over when Facebook tried to push Free Basics in India as a philanthropic act. “This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests—there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics,” Zuckerberg wrote in an op-ed in the Times of India. Eventually, the Indian government banned programs like Free Basics, which favored some content over others.

Some of the skepticism towards Express Wi-Fi is residual distrust from those days. For example, Zuckerberg said Free Basics was for people who had never accessed the Internet before and all content providers were welcome to apply. But a study of Free Basics published by Global Voices, a media organization of advocates and journalists from 170 countries, in August 2017, found that it was often marketed to urban millennials, who used it as a way to access Facebook for free. Within the app, users may have a harder time identifying fake news. The report found that the only local news sites prominently displayed in Kenya and Ghana had either faced pressure to fire journalists or were “known for sensational coverage” and questionable standards.

Facebook says the report reflects the experience of Global Voices volunteers in a limited number of countries, not the people benefitting from the program.

Facebook says it does not track whether expanding Express Wi-Fi has led to more Free Basics users because the programs are separate. But Mark Summer, CEO of Surf the Kenyan ISP working with Facebook, says Free Basics is “very popular,” with Surf’s Express Wi-Fi users. Although Express Wi-Fi is billed as a way to connect communities with limited access, Surf has placed hot spots in major towns and focused on lower-class to middle-class users, who typically already have other, more expensive options, Summer says. “It’s not super low-end users like slum areas or refugee camps and very much not the high end areas where upper class to high income people,” he says. “We provide it in the neighborhoods where the people go and work and shop, where they go on and buy food and go to restaurants and cafes where people sit out and congregate.”

Ellery Biddle, advocacy director of Global Voices, says the availability of Free Basics through Express Wi-Fi can influence users’ media choices. “If you have the one thing that is cheaper than everyone else, it makes it really easy to spread a lot of information quickly,” he says. Facebook successfully neutralized many internet.org critics by positioning its work as a choice between bringing affordable internet access to the neediest members of society or elite concerns about the purity of internet access. But Nikhil Pahwa, founder of news site MediaNama and a key voice during the fight over Free Basics in India, says Facebook does not have to play a central role in expanding access. Fostering competition can lower data prices. Since regulators passed a net neutrality rule in India, he says prices have dropped roughly 90 percent. “There is no need for Free Basics lately,” he says.


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Sears Stock Rallies After Amazon Deal Gives Its Stores a Surprise Boost
August 30, 2018 12:00 am|Comments (0)

The summer of 2018 has been another tough period for Sears, but there’s one thing that has reliably helped lift the retailer’s share price: Amazon.

On Tuesday, Sears Holdings announced that it’s expanding a pilot program with Amazon to install and balance automobile tires that consumers buy through Amazon. Under the partnership, Amazon shoppers who buy tires, including the Die-Hard brand made by Sears, can ship the tires to a nearby Sears Auto Center for installation.

Amazon also offers similar ship-to-store programs with, for example, local bike shops. In May, when Sears announced it would service tires bought on Amazon, its shares shot up 38% during the following week.

Sears’ stock more than gave up those gains in June, however, after the company said sales fell 31% in its most-recent quarter and announced it would close 72 more stores. That was on top of hundreds of stores that Sears had closed in the previous couple of years. Last week, Sears said it would close yet another 46 stores, dragging its share price down even further to a record low of $ 1.08 a share.

News that Amazon and Sears were expanding the ship-to-store program from 47 initial stores to all Sears Auto Centers in the U.S. offered Sears a reprieve from the weeks of a declining share price. Sears shares surged as much as 23% to $ 1.37 a share Tuesday. While Sears’ stock price drifted down Wednesday, they were trading about 3% higher in afterhours trading at $ 1.26 a share.

Sears has been undergoing a long, painful restructuring for several years, with the stock now down 96% from its high point in 2013. Sears, K-Mart, and other onetime powerful retail brands have been struggling in the era of Amazon retailing. Amazon, meanwhile, has been working with brick-and-mortar retailers, including partnerships with Sears and Kohl’s and the purchase of Whole Foods Market.

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Japan's Sharp ditches $2 billion share issue plan after investor backlash
June 29, 2018 6:23 am|Comments (0)

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Sharp Corp scrapped a plan to issue up to $ 2 billion in new shares, changing its mind in a matter of weeks after the initial announcement prompted investors to dump its shares on fears of earnings per share dilution.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Sharp Corp is pictured at the CEATEC JAPAN 2017 (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

In a statement on Friday, Sharp cited worries about trade frictions between the United States and China. “Due to increasing market uncertainties, the company decided that carrying on with the plan to issue new shares would not yield maximum benefit for shareholders,” it said.

Sharp shares rose 17 percent by early afternoon as investors cheered the about-face. The plans to issue new shares, announced on June 5, had sparked a sell-off on the market as they would have eroded Sharp’s earnings per share by about 20 percent.

“The shares fell after the announcement, so they decided to quit. It’s that simple,” said Masayuki Otani, chief market analyst at Securities Japan.

“To announce a new share issue, and then say ‘we changed our mind’ because the shares fell… that’s not common but not unprecedented.”

Sharp had previously said it would use funds from the new shares to buy back preferred shares that were issued to banks in return for a financial bailout in 2015. The plan was finalised just a week ago.

FILE PHOTO – A logo of Sharp Corp is pictured at CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) JAPAN 2016 at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

The company had tried to persuade investors that the issuance would benefit them in the long run, saying dilution would be more if the preferred shares were converted into regular stock.

Sharp’s shares sank 21 percent since the June 5 announcement until Friday’s open, compared with a 1 percent fall in the broader Tokyo stock market over the same period.

The company said it would continue to discuss with the banks to dissolve the preferred shares.

Sharp has been showing signs of recovery under Taiwan’s Foxconn, the world’s biggest contract manufacturer which is formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd.

It recently posted its first annual net profit in four years, helped in large part by cost cuts but also by Foxconn’s sales network in China. It has also said it will buy Toshiba Corp’s personal computer business for $ 36 million.

Some analysts said the Osaka-based electronics maker had become more decisive and responsive to shareholders since it was taken over by Foxconn two years ago.

“My impression is that Sharp has really changed as a company,” said Hajime Nakajima, chief strategist at investment advisory firm AsLink, adding the management’s decision on the matter was a speedy one.

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Shinichi Saoshiro and Yoshiyuki Osada; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Richard Pullin and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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