Google CEO Sundar Pichai faces trial, tough questions, is the future bleak for big tech firms?
The scheduled hearing for Google CEO Sundar Pichai before the House Judiciary Committee lasted for around three and a half hours, and seemed to indicate that things are only going to get tougher for tech firms like Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon in the days to come.
It covered a range of issues like privacy, data protection and digital monopolies. On user privacy for instance, Rep. Ted Poe asked while waving his device, “I’ve got an iPhone. Can Google track me when I move?” Pichai answered that it would not happen by default, and the true answer was “complicated” even as Ted wanted a yes/no response. Both Democrats and Republicans wanted to know if Google was rigging search results. President Donald Trump has accused the company of this.
Regulatory authorities in Europe have also accused Google of gaining unfair advantage over other e-commerce sites and fined it a sum of US$ 2.8 billion, for which Google has filed an appeal. Google is also accused of being biased and largely left-leaning, though with Democrats emerging as the majority party now, this could soon change.
Discourse could now shift to misinformation by foreign entities especially Russia in the coming months. Lawmakers also asked Google about the censored search engine in China, for which Pichai could only say that the company has no plans to launch it for now.
This is a larger sign of the unease within governments across the globe about the power that large tech companies hold today and the potential for its misuse. Most dramatically, they could be broken down into smaller entities like John Rockfeller’s Standard Oil.
Government appoints former Secretary as RBI Chief, populist measures on the cards?
After Urijit Patel’s untimely exit from the RBI, the finely drawn lines between Government and RBI seem to be blurring further. In the latest development, Shaktikanta Das, member of the fifteenth finance commission and former Secretary, Economic Affairs has been appointed the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
Incidentally, Das was Secretary of Department of Economic Affairs at the time of the controversial Demonetisation decision, which the government still has trouble explaining off.
Das will look to mend fences between the Government and RBI while also addressing confusion in financial markets with respect to the RBI’s policy direction. Deputy governor Viral Acharya could be a major challenge, as he was the first to openly declare a war of sorts with the government through his speech in October.
Acharya had explained why the “risks of undermining the central bank’s independence are potentially catastrophic, a “self-goal” of sorts, as it can trigger a crisis of confidence in capital markets that are tapped by governments (and others in the economy) to run their finances”. Das’ appointment has been cleared for three years.
Coupled with the recent drubbing for BJP in the assembly elections, the appointment of Das has raised fears that some highly populist moves could be on the cards to give a short term push to the economy, particularly to improve bank capitalisation and also give a long rope to erring corporate debtors.
Besides this, there are serious repercussions for the independence of the RBI as well, which Das’ appointment will certainly not address.
Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy says all’s well, and Amazon is nothing but a copycat!
After the confusing signals emerging from the events in Flipart pertaining to Binny Bansal’s case, senior leadership exits, layoffs and the future of Myntra and Jabong, CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy has attempted to clear the air. In an interview with Mint, he has notably stated on speculations regarding the integration of Myntra, “There’s no such talk of integration…because there is absolutely no integration happening there.
Myntra will be an independent platform for customers for the next 10–20 years. I don’t see that changing. All the functions in Myntra — product, engineering, marketing, operations — will report to the Myntra CEO.”
He added that movements are being done in accordance with business imperatives and skill sets and do not imply that Myntra is being absorbed, and the company wants to retain Jabong too, even though there could be a little bit of cannibalisation.
Moreover, he has again clarified on several reports regarding the resignation of Ananth Narayan, stating that the latter remains the CEO of Myntra. He did not choose to comment on the exit of Binny Bansal, however, but did comment on the competition with Amazon, “As a group, we are at least twice as large as our nearest competitor (Amazon). It is very disappointing that there is nothing inspiring that the competitor does which we can take away.
The last 10 years, we’ve innovated and people have just copied.”
Byju’s raises US$ 400 million, becomes 4th most valued startup in India
Online education firm Byju’s, which is owned by Think and Learn Pvt Ltd has raised US$ 400 million in its latest funding round that also makes it the fourth most valuable start-up in India after Paytm (One97 Communications Pvt. Ltd), Ola and Oyo Rooms.
Investors in this round included Canada-based CPP Investment Board, Naspers Ventures, General Atlantic and some of the start-up’s existing investors. The valuation of Byju’s in this round reached US$ 4 billion. Vinod Murali, managing partner, Alteria Capital comments, “A direct investment of a big pension fund into the Indian venture ecosystem is a positive sign and opens up international markets for Byju’s.”
In November, another online tutoring startup Vedantu secured US$ 11 million in a round that was led by Omidyar Network and Unacademy has received US$ 21 million in its Series C, led by Sequoia India and SAIF Partners.
Helmed by Founder Byju Raveendran, Byju’s has received US$ 240 million so far since inception in 2008, and achieved unicorn status in its previous finding round. While it started offline, the move towards becoming an online education platform has been positive for the company, as its monthly revenue has reached Rs 100 crore with a target of Rs 1,400 crore in revenue for the current year. It has two separate learning apps, one for classes 4–5 and another for classes 6–12.
Zomato gets three bites full of embarrassment
Tuesday was a day of severe embarrassment for online food delivery firm Zomato and a rude shock for its customers, when a video of the company’s delivery guy went viral.
The video from Madurai showed this delivery person opening a food pack,eating some food and levelling it so that it looks alright before delivery.
He then repeated the action with two more packs and then packed them. The problem was obviously compounded with the fact that Zomato serves 21 million orders per month on its platform.
So the backlash was huge with serious implications for the trust placed by people in the Zomato brand. Users across the board criticised the company after the video went viral.
Then came the apology and clarification from Zomato, “We take these kinds of reports extremely seriously and upon thorough investigation, we’ve found that the video was shot in Madurai. The person in the video happened to be a delivery partner on our fleet. We have spoken to him at length — and while we understand that this was a human error in judgment, we have taken him off our platform.” Zomato called it a highly unusual and rare case. But after the sacking, there was a different backlash against Zomato for being too harsh with the delivery boy.
The narrative generally went on the lines of the tough work hours for delivery guys and the possibility that hunger must have been beyond his control at that moment.
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