WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US tech sector is getting some relief from a trade truce with China signed this week, but the deal leaves many of the industry’s concerns unresolved.
The “phase one” agreement signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday canceled $160 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, which could have impacted electronics like cell phones and computers and been especially painful to US consumers, but leaves many new tariffs in place.
The pact also provides some improved patent protections for US technology.
Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank which often aligns with the tech industry, said the deal only partly resolves some of the issues around technology between the two powers.
The deal “represents good progress toward curbing the systemic problems of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers in China,” Atkinson said in a statement.
“But some of the thorniest issues confronting innovation-driven industries are still on the table, including the lavish industrial subsidies China showers on its companies, including its state-owned enterprises.”
Atkinson added that it remains unclear how the phase one agreement will be enforced, noting that “China has shown itself to be a master of obfuscation when it comes to living up to its agreements.”
Undoing the damage
Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, said the deal will not undo the damage from the tariffs already imposed by the president.
“Tariffs are taxes on Americans — not the Chinese,” Shapiro said.
“The postponement of tariffs is a temporary reprieve on many of Americans’ favorite tech products. But market uncertainty remains until we see permanent tariff removal — or return the billions of dollars our nation has paid because of these tariffs.”
According to the association, which represents some 2,000 large and small tech firms, tariffs have added about $19.2 billion to the cost of tech product imports through November 2019, including nearly $1.7 billion for products critical to 5G deployment.
Chris Mitchell of IPC, an association representing the electronics manufacturing industry, welcomed the agreement as a “pathway” to resolution of broader issues.
But he added: “The deal leaves many issues unaddressed including cybersecurity, structural economic reforms, and the high level of tariffs that are still in place on many products that are traded in our industry.”
Peter Navarro, a White House trade official, said the deal signed in Washington addresses a key issue for the tech sector on theft of trade secrets, or intellectual property.
“They’ll steal things, it’s very destructive to our businesses. They promised back in 2015 to stop doing it. They didn’t stop doing it,” Navarro told CNBC television.
“We got a great start on these structural issues.”
Tougher questions ahead
The trade agreement “is just the first stage of what will be a protracted process, but it looks likely that a working relationship will be established,” said Richard Windsor, an analyst following the tech sector and who writes the Radio Free Mobile blog.
Windsor said the two governments are still battling over the question of leadership of the global tech sector, and must resolve questions around Huawei, which Washington has accused of supporting Chinese espionage.
“While tensions appear to be thawing on trade, the rivalry over technology standards is heating up and I continue to see many other countries being forced to make a choice between two separate supply chains,” the analyst said.
Susan Aronson, a George Washington University professor who specializes in international trade, called the pact “mediocre” and said it fails to deal with fundamental issues.
Aronson said the deal does nothing about the “Great Firewall” which China uses to control its online ecosystem nor does it address the rise of Chinese tech giants which operate under a different set of rules governing data protection.
“China wants to set the standard for governance of data, and we are moving into an economy where more firms use personal data to improve their products and services,” she said.
The deal also is flawed because it is “discriminatory toward other nations,” according to Aronson.
“The US should join the EU and Japan and other like-minded nations and say China should become a free-market economy with a transparent set of rules,” she said.
HK Leaks doxes activists’ data
HONG KONG (AFP) — A dubious website called HK Leaks has so far posted the personal details of more than 2,000 people it deems guilty of various “misdeeds” in Hong Kong.
Hiding behind a Russian server with the intent to evade outing its operators’ identities, HK Leaks uses a “bulletproof” anonymous hosting also favored by white supremacist-linked sites such as 8kun.
In an update since last year, the site now features a pop-up window saying “rioters have ruined the rule of law and order of society in Hong Kong”, and claims more than 2,000 police and pro-China individuals have themselves been doxed by activists.
How’s that for tit for tat.
Prominent pro-democracy leaders Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, co-founders of the disbanded Demosisto party, are on the site under a subsection named “Hong Kong independence rioter,” while media mogul Jimmy Lai is also listed.
Constantly shifting domain, HK Leaks’ online traffic has increased to about 230,000 annual unique page views, according to SiteWorthTraffic.
Among the 14 alleged national security law offenders to have been doxed are well-known activists Tony Chung, Nathan Law and Ray Wong.
Chung in July became the first political figure to be arrested under the law over allegations he had promoted Hong Kong independence through Studentlocalism, a group he co-founded in 2016.
Law, former chairman of Demosisto, fled to Britain after the national security law was passed.
Ray Wong, who was granted political refugee status in Germany in May 2018, told AFP he suspects he has been targeted as part of a harassment campaign by Hong Kong authorities.
“I am not surprised at all,” he said. “The Hong Kong government said they would try to arrest me by any means.”
Online archives suggest HK Leaks migrated to its latest Pakistani domain address in November 2019.
The site moved its domain multiple times last year, apparently in an attempt to avoid detection, said an analysis by AFP.
Injecting technology into the commute
For those whose jobs necessitate a return to the office in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will undoubtedly face a “new normal.”
Concerns over infection have severely limited the operating capacity of buses, trains, and jeeps, all of which are staples for commuters just trying to get from point A to point B.
As a result, the Philippine government has appealed to the private sector to provide transportation like shuttle services to their employees. So what are the options for these companies?
Seeing the dire situation their employees on the road face each morning, many companies have started to offer company shuttles.
Though well-intentioned, there are a host of logistical problems that can crop up: How do you balance heavy traffic with the need to pick up all workers? How do you decide which routes to take? How do you make sure no unnecessary detours are taken?
There are also potential problems in planning for shift workers, such as having to accommodate all of the different schedules. If they have split shifts, assigning vehicles becomes arduous.
Running a company shuttle can also become exceedingly expensive if executed incorrectly: Failing to figure out the best routes to pick up employees can lead to being stuck in traffic for hours on end.
Not only does it create whopping expenses in the form of gas and vehicle maintenance, but the impact on productivity is also costly.
After all, it’s estimated that businesses in the Philippines lose an average of P4 trillion a year no thanks to traffic — money that could have been spent on programs to encourage business growth.
Here is where a company like SWAT Mobility can provide a solution by providing vehicle-routing technology that efficiently solves complex logistical issues at a reasonable cost.
How these partnerships work is that a company gives authorized employees access to the SWAT Mobility app, where they can book rides for an entire month (ideal for employees on a fixed, regular schedule) or on-demand (for employees whose shift schedules change often).
Their fleet picks employees up close to their door and gives a much better experience than public transport, while still being noticeably cheaper than a private car.
Users of SWAT Mobility in the Philippines have overwhelmingly reported increased safety, convenience and drastically reduced commute times.
There are still those who still stand opposed to the digitization of dispatching, intimidated by the complexity of the technology behind it. There are even arguments that too much technology would be distracting to a driver.
Yet there are many counterarguments against this.
In the case of SWAT Mobility, technology is used as a tool to assist the driver and improve the journey. If it gets informed of a road closure beforehand, its algorithm would take that into account and reroute accordingly.
Drivers are also asked to report any roadblocks they see and report it to our system. These roadblocks will be indicated on our navigation feature.
Routes for all vehicles would also automatically reroute immediately taking into account any road closures.
Through the use of these route optimization features, both riders and drivers can rest assured that their journey will always be as pleasant and short as possible.
The incredibly contagious nature of COVID-19 makes social distancing a necessity. As much as people want to adhere to it, however, it can be difficult to comply at all times, especially in crowded megacities.
Thus, nudges are helpful in reminding people of the need for social distancing.
In jeepneys, plastic screens are used to separate passengers from one another.
On the MRT and LRT, there are seat markers asking people not to sit close to one another. SWAT Mobility works with the Department of Transportation to set vehicle capacity controls and even keep records of each ride in case they’re needed for contract tracing.
PS5, Xbox dilemma
The latest Playstation 5 and Xbox Series S have started preselling with variants that have optical drives and cheaper digital, upload-only versions.
The problem with digital-only systems is that they are limited by their storage capacity — meaning you can only have as many games as your hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD) can accommodate.
And games today are data-intensive, thus the Xbox Series S, the cheapest at $299 in the next-generation gaming platforms, may only carry five to 10 games in its faster 512GB SSD. That’s actually being optimistic.
Even the 1TB version of the PS5 and the Xbox will only hold twice as much and here we are assuming that the SSD or HDD storage capacities are not clipped by operating system data.
An example cited by Engadget was the digital version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare which presently takes up a whopping 185GB on a PS4 or Xbox One.
“The much-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077, meanwhile, is expected to be an 80GB download. That’s already more than 250GB,” Engadget said.
“There will be smaller games, of course, and some titles, like Rare’s Sea of Thieves, have been cleverly shrunk post-release,” it added.
If there’s a silver lining, a lead developer of PS4, Mark Cerny, told the tech website that games could get smaller in sizes with the use of the faster SSD versus HDD.
He said that commonly-requested game elements like cars zipping by may no longer need to be duplicated on SSD because it runs faster than HDD thus it can retrieve data faster.
“In theory, this means the same game could have a smaller file size on the next set of consoles. Microsoft, meanwhile, has confirmed that some game installs will be slightly smaller on the Xbox Series S compared to the Series X. That’s because the former won’t need to download 4K assets from the Xbox Store,” Cerny told Engadget.
Engadget said Microsoft and Sony have seen this storage problem, thus they have come up with expandable storage at added cost to buyers of course, thereby begging the question why not buy the versions with Blu Ray-based optical drives?
6 indicted over Amazon bribery
WASHINGTON (AFP) — US prosecutors on Friday said six people have been indicted on criminal charges for bribing Amazon workers to restock blocked goods or help beat competitors in its online marketplace.
Those charged in the case served as consultants for third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace, paying employees and contractors at the e-commerce giant for favors or intelligence in a scheme dating back to at least 2017, according to the Department of Justice.
“Realizing they could not compete on a level playing field, the subjects turned to bribery and fraud in order to gain the upper hand,” FBI Seattle bureau special agent in charge Raymond Duda said in a release.
“What’s equally concerning, not only did they attempt to increase sales of their own products, but sought to damage and discredit their competitors.”
Advantages gained by paying bribes included extra shelf space in distribution centers; inside data they could use against rivals; and reinstatement of accounts blocked or suspended for rule breaking, according to the indictment.
Reinstated products included dietary supplements suspended because of safety complaints; household electronics that had been flagged as flammable, and consumer goods removed for intellectual-property violations, prosecutors said.
“Corrupted” employees at Amazon did things such as manually reinstate product listings and approve baseless merchant appeals, according to the indictment.
Fraudulently reinstated products and merchants went on to generate more than $100 million in sales in total revenue, prosecutors said.
“Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior by sellers or employees, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activity,” the e-commerce giant said in reply to an AFP inquiry.
Alibaba Cloud unveils pandemic-easing ecosystem
Alibaba Cloud, the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, has launched a new digital ecosystem strategy in the Philippines during the Apsara Conference 2020.
The strategy is expected to help Filipino businesses adapt and assimilate into the post-COVID-19, cloud-native era.
It translates to what Alibaba described as a “hyper-localized grassroots approach” in supporting small and medium enterprises through partners like Kaisa, Crayon and Microgenesis.
By working with global partners such as Temenos and Vertica, Alibaba Cloud can better help Filipino businesses of all sizes — from blue-chip companies to SME — to go digital.
“Businesses now see digitalization as an essential need rather than a plus point, and they want to transform as quickly as they can after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lancelot Guo, President of Ecosystem and Sales Operations, Alibaba Cloud intelligence.
“A successful adoption of cloud is only possible when the ecosystem is brought together to support customers’ needs. Therefore, we want to work with world-class partners such as Temenos and Vertica in the transformation process, leveraging their expertise to help our customers grow,” he added.
Temenos Transact, a next-generation core banking product, is now certified on Alibaba Cloud to run mission-critical applications for scalability, cost and operational efficiencies.
Vertica’s Analytics Platform, on the other hand, is a fast and massively scalable analytics and machine learning tapping the largest data volumes for insights.
“We’re experiencing increasing demand from customers around the globe to adopt Vertica for their most demanding analytical workloads, particularly in Asia,” said Colin Mahony, Vertica SVP and general manager.
For his part, Philip Barnett, director for strategic growth of Temenos, said: “We are delighted to extend our leadership in the cloud and be the first to certify with Alibaba Cloud, a tech giant and a source of innovation widely recognized for its leadership in e-commerce and mobile payments.”
“Philippine customers will benefit more from small and medium partners, who have a better affinity and intuition of what they need, especially post the pandemic where digitalization needs to take place rapidly,” said Allen Guo, General Manager for the Philippines, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
Who let the dogs out?
Oh boy, are they like cats and dogs over there at Facebook?
The social media giant this week issued an edict to its employees to stop bickering about politics, racial justice or the pandemic on its company message board.
The schism at FB had become so severe that its founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to blow the whistle for everyone to cool down and tone down the rhetoric.
“What we’ve heard from our employees is that they want the option to join debates on social and political issues rather than see them unexpectedly in their work feed,” a Facebook spokesman said in a response to AFP.
“We’re updating our employee policies and work tools to ensure our culture remains respectful and inclusive.”
FB has been employing through the years a battery of moderators to remove offensive content in its platform, thus the report of workplace fights had amused a lot of people in the tech world.
It said it wants civil, open debates that focus on work, admonishing some employees for not being professional in expressing personal opinions.
“While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not,” read FB’s new guideline to employees.
“Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.”
With Agence France-Pressse
Western Union leverages Fintech
Western Union, a leader in cross-border, cross-currency money movement and payments, announces a collaboration between its business division, Western Union (WU) Business Solutions, and Isabel Group, the leading provider of multi-bank services for both businesses and consumers and largest Fintech in Belgium.
As part of its partnership, WU will provide worldwide connectivity to Isabel Group’s multi-banking platform that enables organizations to manage their banking online and perform quick and easy payments.
The Isabel 6 platform serves 70,000 professional user clients, and now collectively may access WU’s global payment network across over 200 countries and territories in more than 130 currencies around the world.
Western Union said its extensive global network, combined with knowledge of local markets, will help enable Isabel platform users to manage international payments simply, effectively, and efficiently.
The expertise of Western Union Business Solutions’ foreign exchange specialists on currency fluctuation and foreign exchange markets will assist clients in managing international payments and foreign exchange risk through a wide range of hedging product offering, it said.
The Belgian fintech Isabel 6 has an extensive network of partners and is one of the three companies in Belgium (source: AMPG) to meet the requirements of the ISO/IEC 20000-1 2011 standard and to have obtained the certification corresponding to this standard.
Marijuana app wins Disrupt 2020
Puff then hold your breath.
The winner — drumroll, please — of the Startup Battlefield in Disrupt 2020 is Canix for its resource planning platform that helps marijuana growers increase margins through improved labor costs control.
What Canix does is to reduce the time it takes cannabis growers to input data integrated into a common bookkeeping software and the industry-wide regulatory platform Metrc.
While cannabis may still not be legal in the Philippines, it is now widely used as medicine.
Disrupt 2020’s Startup Battlefield arena had been fought online or virtual with the startups all hand-picked to present in front of tech leaders serving as judges for the top prize of $100,000 and the valued Disrupt Cup.
Tech Crunch editors chose the five finalists, namely, Canix, Firehawk Aerospace, HacWare, Jefa and Matidor.
The runner-up was Matidor with a platform for keeping track of projects and geospatial data in a single dashboard in the field of energy and environmental services.
Mondelez provides 3 schools 150 laptops
Mondelez Philippines said yesterday that it will continue to support its adopted schools even during the suspension of face-to-face classes by the Department of Education due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Through its Joy Schools project now running for nine years, Mondelez has been supporting public elementary schools to ensure that proper nutrition is available for their students.
The 300 adopted students will also participate in a nine-month feeding program, wherein families will receive vegetable packs good for a week’s worth of meals. About 150 laptops will also be donated among the three schools.
In all, Mondelez has adopted 16 schools through the years, with its three currently adopted learning institutions being the Don Galo Elementary School and Marcelo Green Elementary School in Parañaque, and the Balara Elementary School in Quezon City.
Together with the Philippine Business for Social Progress, Mondelez will be giving away learning kits to the students. Each kit contains materials that can help students to keep up with their class activities, even remotely.