Amazon offers concessions to head off EU antitrust cases

Britain’s competition watchdog opened a similar probe into Amazon last week, looking into concerns that the online retailer is abusing its dominance to undermine rivals. (Shutterstock/File)
Britain’s competition watchdog opened a similar probe into Amazon last week, looking into concerns that the online retailer is abusing its dominance to undermine rivals. (Shutterstock/File)
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Updated 15 July 2022

Amazon offers concessions to head off EU antitrust cases

Britain’s competition watchdog opened a similar probe into Amazon last week, looking into concerns that the online retailer is a
  • The US online retail giant, seeking to resolve two European Union antitrust investigations, offered to make a number of commitments to ease competition concerns.

LONDON: Amazon, seeking to resolve two European Union antitrust investigations, has promised to treat third-party merchants on its website fairly, the bloc’s competition watchdog said Thursday.
The US online retail giant offered to make a number of commitments to ease competition concerns, and the European Commission, the 27-nation bloc’s top antitrust enforcer, said it will now seek feedback on them from “interested parties.”
The commission launched an investigation four years ago over concerns Amazon breached EU competition rules by using data from merchants selling products on its platform to gain an unfair advantage over them.
It also opened a separate investigation into whether Amazon favors its own retail business and merchants that use its logistics and delivery system over other sellers.
The investigations are part of the bloc’s wider efforts to curb the power of big technology companies. Amazon also is facing similar scrutiny in the US
Amazon said that while it disagreed with several of the conclusions, it has “engaged constructively with the commission to address their concerns and preserve our ability to serve European customers and the more than 185,000 European small- and medium-sized businesses selling through our stores.”
The company also said it has “serious concerns” about new EU digital regulations, known as the Digital Markets Act, that it said are “unfairly targeting Amazon and a few other US companies.” The act, part of the EU’s overhaul of its digital rulebook, aims to prevent tech giants from becoming dominant by making them treat smaller rivals fairly under threat of hefty fines.
Under the commission’s investigation, Amazon had faced a possible fine of up to 10 percent of its annual worldwide revenue, which could have amounted to billions of dollars.
Britain’s competition watchdog opened a similar probe into Amazon last week, looking into concerns that the online retailer is abusing its dominance to undermine rivals.
The EU commission suspected Amazon of distorting competition by accessing and analyzing real-time data from independent vendors selling goods on its platform to help decide which new products of its own to launch and how to price and market them.
To address the problem, Amazon has promised to refrain from using “non-public data” from the vendors’ activities to compete with them through its own sales of branded goods or “private label” products.
To settle the second investigation, Amazon committed to allowing sellers on its Prime membership service to use any logistics and delivery company of their choosing and to set “non-discriminatory” criteria for who gets chosen to sell on Prime.
The company also promised to give equal treatment to all sellers when ranking their product offers for the site’s “buy box,” which lets shoppers add items directly to their shopping baskets. The box features a single seller’s product even though multiple merchants might offer the item, so Amazon also is promising to show a second, competing offer to give consumers more choice.
If accepted, Amazon’s commitments would remain in force for five years. The commission is receiving feedback on the proposals until Sept. 9.
Amazon’s dominance is also a concern across the Atlantic. In April, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating how the company disclosed some of its business practices, including how it handles seller data.
A month prior, federal lawmakers had asked the Justice Department for a criminal probe into the tech giant’s testimony over its competitive practices. In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the House Judiciary Committee accused Amazon of attempting to “influence, obstruct or impede” a congressional investigation into the company’s market dominance, a charge the company denies.
Simultaneously, federal lawmakers are leading a push to pass bipartisan legislation aiming to rein in anticompetitive practices from Amazon, Google, Meta and Apple.


Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema

Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema
Updated 35 sec ago

Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema

Emerging filmmaker, scientists create cutting-edge AI technology for cinema
  • AI in filmmaking should give the audience conscious experiences that speak to the subconscious, says Al-Hamoud

LONDON: Emerging filmmaker Ahmed Al-Hamoud and artificial intelligence scientist Ahmed Kaky of John Moores University announced on Monday a joint venture to create cutting-edge technology that would revolutionize the cinematic frame.

The project will be executed under the umbrella of Al-Hamoud’s company, Tenet Ai Production, according to a press statement announcing the novel venture.

While the applications of AI in the filmmaking industry are still in their early stages, they have a vast potential to change the industry, Kaky explained, highlighting that incorporating AI in filmmaking can change the game in many ways.

Abdo Sukari, a scientist specializing in innovation and development based in Switzerland, embarked on the venture to add a unique contribution that combines the filmmaker’s creative ideas with the scientist’s technical insight.

He revealed that the team intends to revolutionize screenwriting and filmmaking concepts using several patents.

“I’m (confident) we can develop something that will revolutionize how we think about the cinematic experience,” Sukari said. “The combination of multidisciplinary expertise film techniques, AI and innovation development will birth a unique and first-of-a-kind concept.”

After years of consulting with different outside advisors, Al-Hamoud, known professionally as Hima, sought to build on research in neuroscience, experimental psychology and linguistic theories from prestigious universities and institutes such as MIT and Stanford, laying the groundwork for constructing artificial neural networks in a two-year time frame.

He pointed out that using AI in filmmaking will allow the audience to have conscious experiences that speak to their subconscious.

“I design algorithms for locating hidden configurations in cinematic data sets, sourcing from social media, text mining and dialogue analytics to visual storytelling, and using a combination of machine learning models and deep learning,” Al-Hamoud said.

“The ultimate goals of this technology are to build cutting-edge technology that will create a distinct cinematic experience known as the Hima Cinematic Universe, unlike anything we’ve experienced before,” he added.

“My second goal is to help Hollywood professionals, directors, cinematographers and editors push cinema boundaries as we prepare to open a new lab in Los Angeles over the coming two years. We are working on several patents investing in AI in the film industry.

“For me, each movie scene has its algorithm that stands solidly for the entire film. This technology will create a persistent rhythm for the unique dimensions of my scripts,” Al-Hamoud added.


Senior UK MP warns users off Chinese-run TikTok app

Senior UK MP warns users off Chinese-run TikTok app
Updated 06 February 2023

Senior UK MP warns users off Chinese-run TikTok app

Senior UK MP warns users off Chinese-run TikTok app
  • Kearns said the bigger concern was “data penetration” via Chinese companies, and the way Beijing was using that data to intimidate “those who sought refuge in the UK and around the world”

LONDON: The head of an influential parliamentary committee in Britain on Sunday advised people not to use the Chinese social media app TikTok because of data security concerns.
“There is a reason why China has this app...,” Conservative deputy Alicia Kearns, who chairs parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told Sky News television.
“Our data is a key vulnerability and China is building a tech-totalitarian state on the back of our data. So we have to get far more serious about protecting ourselves.”
Kearns referred in passing to the recent incident in which the US shot down a Chinese ballon off its Atlantic coast. China has denied US allegations that it was being used for espionage purposes.
Kearns said the bigger concern was “data penetration” via Chinese companies, and the way Beijing was using that data to intimidate “those who sought refuge in the UK and around the world.”
Asked if she was saying people should delete TikTok from their phones, she answered: “Without question... It is not worth having that vulnerability on your phone.”
Kearns has been a longterm critic of China’s intelligence activities and what she says is its abuse of technology to that end.
A spokesman for TikTok responded to Kearns’s allegations on Sunday.
“TikTok is enjoyed by millions of people across the UK, and we want to be clear that they can trust us with their data.
“We’re taking steps like storing UK user data in our data center operations in Ireland, starting this year; further reducing employee access to data; and minimizing data flows outside of Europe.”
Relations between London and Beijing have been tense for a number of years.
Points of contention have included China’s crackdown in the former British colony of Hong Kong, and Britain’s refusal to grant a Chinese company Huawei access to its 5G network because of security concerns.
Last October, a British-based Hong Kong pro-democracy activist accused Chinese diplomats of assaulting him during a protest outside China’s consulate in Manchester, northern England.
During the ensuing diplomatic row, six Chinese envoys left Britain and returned to China. Kearns at the time accused them of having “fled the UK like cowards, making clear their guilt.”

 


As Adrian Monck leaves WEF, his legacy of turning it into a ‘global storytelling platform’ lives on

As Adrian Monck leaves WEF, his legacy of turning it into a ‘global storytelling platform’ lives on
Updated 05 February 2023

As Adrian Monck leaves WEF, his legacy of turning it into a ‘global storytelling platform’ lives on

As Adrian Monck leaves WEF, his legacy of turning it into a ‘global storytelling platform’ lives on
  • ‘He was very understanding of the Arab world and successfully advanced the forum’s relations with the regional media,’ says Al Arabiya’s Jamil El-Hage
  • ‘Monck was able to put the important — and often overlooked — stories before world leaders, reminding them of their ultimate mission,’ says The National’s Hassan M. Fattah

LONDON: After over 13 years of leading public and social engagement at the World Economic Forum, Adrian Monck announced on Friday that he is leaving his role as managing director of the international organization for public-private cooperation.

“From creating a global storytelling platform, to putting refugees center stage in Davos, and in helping guide the institution through a global pandemic, I am leaving the forum both fortunate and grateful — especially to all of you,” Monck wrote in a LinkedIn post addressing his colleagues.

The seeds Monck has planted through his work with the WEF will continue to grow and be remembered, namely by former colleagues and media figures acquainted with his endeavors.

“Adrian Monck created a global storytelling platform that was able to put the important — and often overlooked — stories before world leaders, reminding them of their ultimate mission,” Hassan M. Fattah, ex-New York Times correspondent in Iraq and former editor-in-chief of UAE’s The National newspaper, told Arab News.

“He brought passion to his role but also imparted empathy and authenticity amid the noise.

“But many of us know him as a fearless journalist who innovated the storytelling format in broadcast and print and brought out compelling stories.”

Former Editor-in-Chief of The National Hassan Fattah.

Monck has redefined the forum and its annual Davos meeting for the digital age, building the organization’s global media presence, establishing a social media following that exceeds 30 million and spans LinkedIn to TikTok, and reaching about a million email subscribers.

“Arguably, Adrian is the man who gave the word ‘forum’ in World Economic Forum its true meaning during his tenure over the past decade,” said Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News.

“Adrian opened up the deliberately reclusive WEF to more journalists than ever before, including those who were skeptical of it. He also fought for and created its own media operation and digital presence, an investment which paid off handsomely during the pandemic when Davos lived on only because the set up was there to conduct it virtually.”

Monck’s career started as a journalist in 1988, working for CBS News, ITN, where he was the managing editor of Five News, and Sky.

Formative Content head Gay Flashman

“Adrian showed incredible foresight all those years ago, when he created his vision for the publishing platform and quality content juggernaut that the World Economic Forum has become,” said Gay Flashman, who runs Formative Content and has worked with Monck’s team at the forum since 2014.

“As a former news journalist he recognized the power of a strategy that enabled the forum to communicate directly with its audiences in a truly unique way,” she told Arab News.

“From long form thought leadership to short snackable content, this approach to content is ubiquitous today, but was groundbreaking when he started his team.”

Al Arabiya news channel’s head of business section Jamil El-Hage, who manages the channel’s annual coverage and sessions at the WEF, told Arab News that Monck, with whom he had a personal as well as professional relationship, played a key role in advancing the forum’s relations with Middle Eastern media.

He described Monck as “very understanding and caring of the region,” hoping that the next person would maintain these strong relations.

Al Arabiya's Head of Business Jamil El-Hage.

In addition to leading the forum’s media and communications activities, Monck oversees the Foundation of Young Global Leaders and the Global Shapers Community.

Prior to joining the forum in 2009 as head of communications and media, Monck worked in academia, heading City University of London’s Department of Journalism during the period from 2005 to 2009.

He co-authored “Crunch Time: How Everyday Life is Killing the Future” with award-winning journalist Mike Hanley in 2007, and wrote “Can You Trust the Media?” in 2008.

Monck is a supporter of applying British television regulations to the press and online media, advocating “regulation that insists on accuracy, fairness and, crucially, impartiality,” in a Press Gazette piece in July 2004.

Nevertheless, he has been a strong advocate of press freedom, while at the same time encouraging media firms to “avoid misleading ‘both-sides-ism.’”

In a 2022 World Association of News Publishers article, he urged editors and reporters to “push back against politicians and political commentators who bring fringe falsehoods into the mainstream public discourse. After all, neutrality does not mean abandoning fact-based journalism.”

Monck added: “Fact-based journalism is vital to protecting free speech as disinformation often tarnishes forward-thinking debate.”

Monck was also president of Britain’s Media Society during the years 2005 and 2006, and a member of multiple influential bodies, including the British Academy Film Awards and the Royal Television Society.

In his WEF departure message, Monck wrote: “As a child in a remote English coastal town I could never have imagined the people, the places and the projects this remarkable organization would open up for me.

“That opportunity is thanks to Klaus. For everyone at the forum, working here means a chance to continually reimagine and reinvent the organization, helping it to stay relevant and true to its mission. And that’s a wonderful gift.”

Although Monck has not revealed his next endeavor, former colleagues and friends trust that he still has a lot to offer.

“We can all be grateful for the impact he has made on the lives he has touched with his energy, his caring and his tenacity,” Fattah said.

“I look forward to his next undertaking which I’m sure will be no less important.”

Flashman said: “We will miss his wit, dry humor and razor-sharp intellect; his team will miss him for all of those traits, plus his kindness and unswerving support.”

 

The Kingdom vs Captagon
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Pakistan blocks Wikipedia over ‘blasphemous content’

A police officer stands guard as people take part in Friday prayers at a mosque, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
A police officer stands guard as people take part in Friday prayers at a mosque, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
Updated 05 February 2023

Pakistan blocks Wikipedia over ‘blasphemous content’

A police officer stands guard as people take part in Friday prayers at a mosque, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
  • The Wikimedia Foundation — the non-profit fund managing Wikipedia — said the block “denies the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository”

ISLAMABAD: Wikipedia was blocked in Pakistan on Saturday after authorities censored the website for hosting “blasphemous content” in the latest blow to digital rights in the deeply conservative nation.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and social media giants Facebook and YouTube have previously been banned for publishing content deemed sacrilegious.
The online encyclopedia had been blocked across the country on Friday “after it failed to respond to our repeated correspondence over removal of the blasphemous content and meet the deadline,” Malahat Obaid, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, told AFP on Saturday.
The PTA had earlier in the week given Wikipedia a 48 hour ultimatum to remove material, without publically specifying its exact objections.
“They did remove some of the material but not all,” Obaid said. “It will remain blocked until they remove all the objectionable material.”
An AFP reporter in Pakistan was not able to access the site from a mobile phone on Saturday.
The Wikimedia Foundation — the non-profit fund managing Wikipedia — said the block “denies the fifth most populous nation in the world access to the largest free knowledge repository.”
“If it continues, it will also deprive everyone access to Pakistan’s knowledge, history, and culture,” a statement said.
Free speech campaigners have highlighted what they say is a pattern of rising government censorship of Pakistan’s printed and electronic media.
“There’s just been a concerted effort to exert greater control over content on the Internet,” said digital rights activist Usama Khilji.
“The main purpose is to silence any dissent,” he told AFP. “A lot of times blasphemy is weaponized for that purpose.”
Pakistan blocked YouTube from 2012 to 2016 after it carried a film about the Prophet Muhammad that led to violent protests across the Muslim world.
In recent years, the country has also blocked the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok several times over “indecent” and “immoral” content.

 


Tesla’s Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 ‘funding secured’ tweets

Tesla’s Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 ‘funding secured’ tweets
Updated 05 February 2023

Tesla’s Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 ‘funding secured’ tweets

Tesla’s Elon Musk found not liable in trial over 2018 ‘funding secured’ tweets
  • Tesla shareholders claimed Musk misled them when he tweeted on Aug. 7, 2018, that he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share
  • Shares of Tesla rose 1.6 percent in after-hours trading following the verdict and Musk tweeted that "he wisdom of the people has prevailed"

SAN FRANCISCO: A US jury on Friday found Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk and his company were not liable for misleading investors when Musk tweeted in 2018 that he had “funding secured” to take the electric car company private.
Plaintiffs had claimed billions in damages and the decision also had been seen as important for Musk himself, who often takes to Twitter to air his views.
The jury came back with a unanimous verdict roughly two hours after beginning deliberations.
Musk was not present in court when the verdict was read but soon tweeted that he was “deeply appreciative” of the jury’s decision.
“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed,” he said.
Nicholas Porritt, a lawyer for the investors, said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the verdict and are considering next steps.”
Shares of Tesla rose 1.6 percent in after-hours trading following the verdict.
“A dark chapter is now closed for Musk and Tesla,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said. Ives added that some Tesla investors feared Musk might have to sell more Tesla stock if he lost.
The world’s second-richest person has previously created legal and regulatory headaches through his sometimes impulsive use of Twitter, the social media company he bought for $44 billion in October.
Minor Myers, who teaches corporate law at the University of Connecticut and who had previously called the investors’ case strong, called the outcome “astounding.”
The US anti-securities fraud law “has always been thought to be this great bulwark against misstatements and falsehoods,” he said. “This outcome makes you wonder if it is up to the job in modern markets,” he said, adding that Musk himself was likely to “double down” on his communication tactics after the verdict.
Musk’s attention has been divided in recent months between Tesla, his rocket company SpaceX and now Twitter. Tesla investors have expressed concerns that running the social media company has taken up too much of his focus.
’Bad word choice’
Tesla shareholders claimed Musk misled them when he tweeted on Aug. 7, 2018, that he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share, a premium of about 23 percent to the prior day’s close, and had “funding secured.”
They say Musk lied when he tweeted later that day that “investor support is confirmed.”
The stock price soared after the tweets and then fell again after Aug. 17, 2018, as it became clear the buyout would not happen.
Porritt during closing arguments said the billionaire CEO is not above the law, and should be held liable for the tweets.
“This case ultimately is about whether rules that apply to everyone else should also apply to Elon Musk,” he said.
Musk’s lawyer Alex Spiro countered that Musk’s “funding secured” tweet was “technically inaccurate” but that investors only cared that Musk was considering a buyout.
“The whole case is built on bad word choice,” he said. “Who cares about bad word choice?“
“Just because it’s a bad tweet doesn’t make it fraud,” Spiro said during closing arguments.
An economist hired by the shareholders had calculated investor losses as high as $12 billion.
During the three-week trial, Musk spent nearly nine hours on the witness stand, telling jurors he believed the tweets were truthful. 
Musk later testified that he believed he could have sold enough shares of his rocket company SpaceX to fund a buyout, and “felt funding was secured” with SpaceX stock alone.
Musk testified that he made the tweets in order to put small shareholders on the same footing as large investors who knew about the deal. But he acknowledged he lacked formal commitments from potential backers.
The verdict is another victory for Musk and his lawyer Spiro after they won a defamation lawsuit against the billionaire in 2019 over his tweet calling a cave explorer a “pedo guy.”