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Europe agrees platform guidelines to deal with unfair enterprise practices

Judhajeet Das

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The European Union’s political establishments have reached settlement over new guidelines designed to spice up transparency round on-line platform companies and curb unfair practices to help merchants and different companies that depend on digital intermediaries for discovery and gross sales.

The European Fee proposed a regulation for equity and transparency in on-line platform buying and selling final April. And late yesterday the European Parliament, Council of the EU and Fee reached a political deal on regulating the enterprise setting of platforms, saying the accord in a press launch at this time.

The political settlement paves the best way for adoption and publication of the regulation, doubtless later this yr. The principles will apply 12 months after that time.

On-line platform intermediaries corresponding to ecommerce marketplaces and search engines like google are coated by the brand new guidelines if they supply providers to companies established within the EU and which supply items or providers to shoppers situated within the EU.

The Fee estimates there are some 7,000 such platforms and marketplaces which shall be coated by the regulation, noting this consists of “world giants in addition to very small begin-ups”.

To be clear, the regulation doesn’t goal each on-line platform. For instance, it doesn’t cowl internet advertising (or b2b advert exchanges), cost providers, search engine optimization providers or providers that don’t intermediate direct transactions between companies and shoppers.

The Fee additionally notes that on-line retailers that promote their very own model merchandise and/or don’t depend on third social gathering sellers on their very own platform are additionally excluded from the regulation, comparable to retailers of manufacturers or supermarkets.

On platforms the place the brand new guidelines do apply, sudden and sudden account suspensions might be banned — with the Fee saying platforms should present “clear causes” for any termination and in addition prospects for attraction.

Phrases and circumstances should even be “simply out there and offered in plain and intelligible language”.

There should even be advance discover of modifications — of no less than 15 days, with longer discover durations making use of for extra complicated modifications.

For serps the main target is on rating transparency. And on that entrance dominant search engine Google has attracted greater than its justifiable share of criticism in Europe from a variety of rivals (not all of whom are European).

In 2017, the search big was additionally slapped with a $2.7BN antitrust advantageous associated to its worth comparability service, Google Buying. The EC discovered Google had systematically given outstanding placement to its personal search comparability service whereas additionally demoting rival providers in search outcomes. (Google rejects the findings and is interesting.)

Provided that historical past, the brand new transparency provisions look meant to make it more durable for a dominant search participant to make use of its market energy towards rivals.

Altering the web market

The significance of legislating for platform equity was additionally flagged by the Fee’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, final summer time — when she handed Google one other very giant advantageous ($5BN) for anti-aggressive conduct associated to its cellular platform Android.

Vestager stated then she wasn’t positive breaking Google up would be an efficient competitors repair, preferring to push for cures to help “extra gamers to have an actual go”, as her Android choice makes an attempt to do. However she additionally confused the significance of “laws that may guarantee that you’ve transparency and equity within the enterprise to platform relationship”.

If companies have authorized means to seek out out why, for instance, their visitors has stopped and what they will do to get it again that may “change the marketplace, and it’ll change the best way we’re protected as shoppers but in addition as companies”, she argued.

Simply such a change is now in sight because of EU political accord on the difficulty.

The regulation represents the primary such guidelines for on-line platforms in Europe and — commissioners’ contend — anyplace on the earth.

“Our goal is to outlaw a few of the most unfair practices and create a benchmark for transparency, on the similar time safeguarding the good benefits of on-line platforms each for shoppers and for companies,” stated Andrus Ansip, VP for the EU’s Digital Single Market initiative in a press release.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner for inner market, business, entrepreneurship, and SMEs, added that the principles are “particularly designed with the hundreds of thousands of SMEs in thoughts”.

“Lots of them would not have the bargaining muscle to enter right into a dispute with an enormous platform, however with these new guidelines they’ve a brand new security internet and can not fear about being randomly kicked off a platform, or intransparent rating in search outcomes,” she stated in one other supporting assertion.

In a factsheet concerning the new guidelines, the Fee specifies they cowl third-social gathering ecommerce market locations (e.g. Amazon Market, eBay, Fnac Market, and so forth.); app shops (e.g. Google Play, Apple App Retailer, Microsoft Retailer and so on.); social media for enterprise (e.g. Fb pages, Instagram utilized by makers/artists and so forth.); and worth comparability instruments (e.g. Skyscanner, Google Purchasing and so on.).

The place transparency is worried, the principles require that marketplaces and serps disclose the primary parameters they use to rank items and providers on their website “to assist sellers perceive methods to optimise their presence” — with the Fee saying the regulation goals to strike a stability of supporting sellers with out permitting gaming of the rating system.

Some platform enterprise practices may even require obligatory disclosure — corresponding to for platforms that not solely present a market for sellers however promote on their platform themselves, as does Amazon for instance.

The ecommerce big’s use of service provider knowledge stays beneath scrutiny within the EU. Vestager revealed a preliminary antitrust probe of Amazon final fall — when she stated her division was gathering info to “attempt to get a full image”.

She stated her concern is twin platforms might achieve an unfair benefit as a consequence of entry to retailers’ knowledge. And, once more, the incoming transparency guidelines look meant to shrink that danger — requiring what the Fee couches as exhaustive disclosure of “any benefit” a platform might give to their very own merchandise over others.

“They need to additionally disclose what knowledge they gather, and the way they use it — and particularly how such knowledge is shared with different enterprise companions they’ve,” it continues, noting additionally that: “The place private knowledge is worried, the principles of the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] apply.”

(GDPR in fact locations additional transparency necessities on platforms by, for instance, empowering people to request any private knowledge held on them, in addition to the the reason why their info is being processed.)

The platform regulation additionally consists of new avenues for dispute decision by requiring platforms arrange an inner grievance-dealing with system to help enterprise customers.

“Solely the smallest platforms when it comes to head rely or turnover shall be exempt from this obligation,” the Fee notes. (The exemption restrict is about at fewer than 50 employees and fewer than €10M income.)

It additionally says: “Platforms should present companies with extra choices to resolve a possible drawback by means of mediators. It will assist resolve extra points out of courtroom, saving companies money and time.”

However, on the similar time, the brand new guidelines permit enterprise associations to take platforms to courtroom to cease any non-compliance — mirroring a provision within the GDPR which additionally permits for collective enforcement and redress of particular person privateness rights (the place Member States undertake it).

“This can assist overcome worry of retaliation, and decrease the price of courtroom instances for particular person companies, when the brand new guidelines are usually not adopted,” the Fee argues.

“As well as, Member States can appoint public authorities with enforcement powers, if they want, and companies can flip to these authorities.”

One element of the regulation that seems to be being left as much as EU Member States to deal with is penalties for non-compliance — with no clear regime of fines set out (as there’s in GDPR). So it’s not clear whether or not the platform regulation won’t have relatively extra bark than chew, at the least initially.

“Member States shall have to take measures which might be sufficiently dissuasive to make sure that the web intermediation platforms and search engines like google adjust to the necessities within the Regulation,” the Fee writes in a piece of its factsheet coping with how to ensure platforms respect the brand new guidelines.

It additionally factors once more to the supply permitting enterprise associations or organisations to take motion in nationwide courts on behalf of members — saying this presents a authorized path to “cease or prohibit non-compliance with a number of of the necessities of the Regulation”. So, er, anticipate lawsuits.

The Fee says the principles will probably be topic to evaluation inside 18 months after they arrive into drive — in a bid to make sure the regulation retains tempo with quick-paced tech developments.

A devoted On-line Platform Observatory has been established within the EU for the aim of “monitoring the evolution of the market and the efficient implementation of the principles”, it provides.

Tech Passionate and Heavy Geek! Into Blogging world since 2014 and never looked back since then :) I am also a YouTube Video Producer and a Aspiring Entrepreneur. Founder, MyDroidDoes

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Opera’s VPN returns to its Android browser

Judhajeet Das

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Opera had a couple of tumultuous years behind it, but it looks like the Norwegian browser maker (now in the hands of a Chinese consortium) is finding its stride again and refocusing its efforts on its flagship mobile and desktop browsers. Before the sale, Opera offered a useful stand-alone and built-in VPN service. Somehow, the built-in VPN stopped working after the acquisition. My understanding is that this had something to do with the company being split into multiple parts, with the VPN service ending up on the wrong side of that divide. Today, it’s officially bringing this service back as part of its Android app.

The promise of the new Opera VPN in Opera for Android 51 is that it will give you more control over your privacy and improve your online security, especially on unsecured public WiFi networks. Opera says it uses 256-bit encryption and doesn’t keep a log or retain any activity data.

Since Opera now has Chinese owners, though, not everybody is going to feel comfortable using this service, though. When I asked the Opera team about this earlier this year at MWC in Barcelona, the company stressed that it is still based in Norway and operates under that country’s privacy laws. The message being that it may be owned by a Chinese consortium but that it’s still very much a Norwegian company.

If you do feel comfortable using the VPN, though, then getting started is pretty easy (I’ve been testing in the beta version of Opera for Android for a while). Simply head to the setting menu, flip the switch, and you are good to go.

“Young people are being very concerned about their online privacy as they increasingly live their lives online, said Wallman. “We want to make VPN adoption easy and user-friendly, especially for those who want to feel more secure on the Web but are not aware on how to do it. This is a free solution for them that works.”

What’s important to note here is that the point of the VPN is to protect your privacy, not to give you a way to route around geo-restrictions (though you can do that, too). That means you can’t choose a specific country as an endpoint, only ‘America,’ ‘Asia,’ and ‘Europe.’

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Razer hooks up with Tencent to focus on mobile gaming

Judhajeet Das

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Razer is summoning a big gun as it bids to develop its mobile gaming strategy. The Hong Kong-listed company — which sells laptops, smartphones and gaming peripherals — said today it is working with Tencent on a raft of initiatives related to smartphone-based games.

The collaboration will cover hardware, software and services. Some of the objectives include optimizing Tencent games — which include megahit PUBG and Fortnite — for Razer’s smartphones, mobile controllers and its Cortex Android launcher app. The duo also said they may “explore additional monetization opportunities for mobile gaming,” which could see Tencent integrate Razer’s services, which include a rewards/loyalty program, in some areas.

The news comes on the same day as Razer’s latest earnings, which saw annual revenue grow 38 percent to reach $712.4 million. Razer recorded a net loss of $97 million for the year, down from $164 million in 2017.

The big-name partnership announcement comes at an opportune time for Razer, which has struggled to convince investors of its business. The company was among a wave of much-championed tech companies to go public in Hong Kong — Razer’s listing raised more than $500 million in late 2017 — but its share price has struggled. Razer currently trades at HK$1.44, which is some way down from a HK$3.88 list price and HK$4.58 at the end of its trading day debut. Razer CEO Min Liang Tan has previously lamented a lack of tech savviness within Hong Kong’s public markets despite a flurry of IPOs, which have included names like local services giant Meituan.

Nabbing Tencent, which is one of (if not the) biggest games companies in the world, is a PR coup, but it remains to be seen just what impact the relationship will have at this stage. Subsequent tie-ins, and potentially an investor, would be notable developments and perhaps positive signals that the market is seeking.

Still, Razer CEO Min Liang Tan is bullish about the company’s prospects on mobile.

The company’s Razer smartphones were never designed to be “iPhone-killers” that sold on volume, but there’s still uncertainty around the unit with recent reports suggesting the third-generation phone may have been canceled following some layoffs. (Tan declined to comment on that.)

Mobile is tough — just ask past giants like LG and HTC about that… and Razer’s phone and gaming-focus was quickly copied by others, including a fairly brazen clone effort from Xiaomi, to make sales particularly challenging. But Liang maintains that, in doing so, Razer created a mobile gaming phone market that didn’t exist before, and ultimately that is more important than shifting its own smartphones.

“Nobody was talking about gaming smartphones [before the Razer phone], without us doing that, the genre would still be perceived as casual gaming,” Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “Even from day one, it was about creating this new category… we don’t see others as competition.”

With that in mind, he said that this year is about focusing on the software side of Razer’s mobile gaming business.

Tan said Razer “will never” publish games as Tencent and others do, instead, he said that the focus is on helping discovery, creating a more immersive experience and tying in other services, which include its Razer Gold loyalty points.

Outside of gaming, Razer is also making a push into payments through a service that operates in Southeast Asia. Fueled by the acquisition of MOL one year ago, Razer has moved from allowing people to buy credit over-the-counter to launch an e-wallet in two countries, Malaysia and Singapore, as it goes after a slice of Southeast Asia’s fintech boom, which has attracted non-traditional players that include AirAsia, Grab and Go-Jek, among others.

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Review: Apple’s new iPad mini continues to be mini

Judhajeet Das

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The iPad mini is super enjoyable to use and is the best-sized tablet for everything but traditional laptop work. It’s very good and I’m glad Apple updated it.

Using Apple Pencil is aces on the smaller mini; don’t worry about the real estate being an issue if you like to scribble notes or make sketches. It’s going to fall behind a larger iPad for a full-time artist, but as a portable scratch pad it’s actually far less unwieldy or cumbersome than an iPad Pro or Air will be.

The only caveat? After using the brilliant new Pencil, the old one feels greasy and slippery by comparison, and lacks that flat edge that helps so much when registering against your finger for shading or sketching out curves.

The actual act of drawing is nice and zippy, and features the same latency and responsiveness as the other Pencil-capable models.

The reasoning behind using the old pencil here is likely a result of a combination of design and cost-saving decisions. No flat edge would require a rethink of the magnetic Pencil charging array from the iPad Pro and it is also apparently prohibitively expensive in a way similar to the smart connector. Hence its lack of inclusion on either Air or mini models.

Touch ID feels old and slow when compared to iPad Pro models, but it’s not that bad in a mini, where you’re almost always going to be touching and holding it rather than setting it down to begin typing. It still feels like you’re being forced to take an awkward, arbitrary additional action to start using the iPad though. It really puts into perspective how fluidly Face ID and the new gestures work together.

The design of the casing remains nearly identical, making for broad compatibility with old cases and keyboards if you use those with it. The camera has changed positions and the buttons have been moved slightly though, so I would say your mileage may vary if you’re bringing old stuff to the table.

The performance of the new mini is absolutely top notch. While it falls behind when compared to the iPad Pro, it is exactly the same (I am told, I do not have one to test yet) as the iPad Air. It’s the same on paper though, so I believe it in general and there is apparently no “detuning” or under-clocking happening. This makes the mini a hugely powerful tiny tablet, clearly obliterating anything else in its size class.

The screen is super solid, with great color, nearly no air gap and only lacking tap-to-wake.

That performance comes at a decently chunky price, $399. If you want the best, you pay for it.

Last year I took the 12.9” iPad Pro on a business trip to Brazil, with no backup machine of any sort. I wanted to see if I could run TechCrunch from it — from planning to events to editorial and various other multi-disciplinary projects. It worked so well that I never went back, and have not opened my MacBook in earnest since. I’ll write up that experience at some point because I think there are some interesting things to talk about there.

I include that context here because, though the iPad Pro is a whole-ass computer and really capable, it is not exactly “fun” to use in non-standard ways. That’s where the iPad mini has always shined and continues to do so.

It really is pocketable in a loose jacket or coat. Because the mini is not heavy, it exercises little of the constant torsion and strain on your wrist that a larger iPad does, making it one-handed.

I could go on, but in the end, all that can be said about the iPad mini being “the small iPad” has already been said ad nauseam over the years, beginning with the first round of reviews back in 2012. This really is one of the most obvious choices Apple has in its current iPad lineup. If you want the cheap one, get the cheap one (excuse me, “most affordable” one). And if you want the small one, get the iPad mini.

The rest of the iPads in Apple’s lineup have much more complicated purchasing flow charts — the mini does indeed sell itself.

Back even before we knew for sure that a mini iPad was coming, I wrote about how Apple could define the then very young small-tablet market. It did. No other small-tablet model has ever made a huge dent on the market, unless you count the swarm of super-crappy Android tablets that people buy in blister packs expecting them to eventually implode as a single hive-mind model.

Here’s how I saw it in 2012:

To put it bluntly, there is no small tablet market…Two years ago we were talking about the tablet market as a contiguous whole. There was talk about whether anyone would buy the iPad and that others had tried to make consumer tablets and failed. Now, the iPad is a massive success that has yet to be duplicated by any other manufacturer or platform.

But the tablet market isn’t a single ocean, it’s a set of interlocking bodies of water that we’re just beginning to see take shape. And the iPad mini isn’t about competing with the wriggling tadpoles already in the ‘small tablet’ pond, it’s about a big fish extending its dominion.

Yeah, that’s about right, still.

One huge difference, of course, is that the iPad mini now has the benefit of an enormous amount of additional apps that have been built for iPad in the interim. Apps that provide real, genuine access to content and services on a tablet — something that was absolutely not guaranteed in 2012. How quickly we forget.

In addition to the consumer segment, the iPad mini is also extremely popular in industrial, commercial and medical applications. From charts and patient records to point-of-sale and job-site reference, the mini is the perfect size for these kinds of customers. These uses were a major factor in Apple deciding to update the mini.

Though still just as pricey (in comparison) as it was when it was introduced, the iPad mini remains a standout device. It’s small, sleek, now incredibly fast and well-provisioned with storage. The smallness is a real advantage in my opinion. It allows the mini to exist as it does without having to take part in the “iPad as a replacement for laptops” debate. It is very clearly not that, while at the same time still feeling more multipurpose and useful than ever. I’m falling in real strong like all over again with the mini, and the addition of Pencil support is the sweetener on top.

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