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China’s Big Tech firms sign ‘self-discipline’ pledge

Daryn Kara Ali

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An assemblage of China’s biggest tech companies has cooperatively signed on Tuesday an antitrust ‘self-discipline’ agreement with Beijing’s expanding regulatory pressure on Chinese tech firms.

E-commerce platform Alibaba Group, Tencent, and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance are amongst 33 Chinese tech companies that have voluntarily signed an agreement of self-discipline amidst Beijing’s regulation rise on Big Tech companies. 

Some of China’s biggest and most dominant tech companies signed the convention on fair competition, consumer protection and strengthening innovation, as reported by the conference’s organizer in a statement on the Internet Society of China.

In early July, some of China’s major tech firms, involving big names like e-commerce platform Alibaba, and media conglomerate Tencent were fined by anti-monopoly regulators in a recent attempt to intensify control over these industries’ fast development. 

Anti-monopoly regulators fined 22 companies, each for $75,000 for acquiring stakes in different businesses that may have inappropriately raised their market value. 

Regulations were imposed on these companies out of the concern towards Big Tech companies and their expeditious expansion into different fields, such as FinTech, health services, and various sensitive areas. 

The assembly of internet companies, including Chinese telecom giant Huawei, Baidu, JD.com, and artificial intelligence company iFlyTech participated in China’s Internet Conference in Beijing on Tuesday. 

The primal increase in tension between the Chinese government and the e-commerce giant Alibaba was witnessed when the China initiated its regulations on the country’s tech sector. This led to the platform being fined with a huge $2.8 billion fine by regulators under the pretense that the e-commerce platform was aiming to release competitive tactics earlier in April.

Some of the main Tech firms that were directly exposed to these regulations were Big Tech companies that deal with massive private user data, its security, as well as overseas listing.

Despite China’s encouragement of innovative and developed online companies, China’s Premier Li Keqianq made it clear that it is not relevant how large or advanced these companies may be, protecting Chinese technological security will always be the state’s priority.

On Friday, China’s cybersecurity-watchdogs declared the initiation of an on-site investigation on one of the popular ride-hailing apps, Didi. China’s Didi Global Inc. is considered one the world’s major ride-hailing apps. Three-quarters of its 493 million annual active users are based in China. 

Didi had its turn in exposure under China’s cyber-watchdog’s radar as it was suspected of involvement in illegal collection and use of users’ personal data, leading to the demand of excluding it from local app store. This came as a stunning chock to the company’s main supporter, Tencent.

“The Hang Seng Tech Index, whose members include many of China’s biggest tech companies, fell as much as 1.9 percent before paring losses to 0.6 percent, marking its sixth consecutive day of declines. Tencent slid 1.9 percent, among the biggest decliner on the Hang Seng Index. Alibaba dropped 1.7 percent, while Meituan fell 1.3 percent,” Bloomberg explained in a report.

Didi made its debut on the NYSE on June 30, at $14 a share, valuing the company at $68 billion. This made Didi China’s biggest IPO listed on an American exchange. One of the biggest firms to acquire a large IPO over the past decade, is Didi’s rival ride-hailing powerhouse Uber, with a valuation of $75 billion.

China’s watchdog investigation was initiated after two weeks after the regulator announced it will initiate an investigation involving how the ride-hailing company is jeopardizing national security and data security.

In a press release issued by The Global Times, the editorial newspaper said that “Didi has the most detailed personal travel information” of its users amongst some of the largest tech companies.

The internet Platform Operators Anti-Monopoly Self-discipline Convention forbids tech companies from indulging in any type of monopolies, including “picking one out the two.” 

This was triggered by Alibaba’s infamous investigation into alleged monopolistic practices, where online merchants are obliged to choose one e-commerce platform as their exclusive distribution channel in China’s widespread e-commerce market. 

This monopolistic behavior is one of the main indicators as to why these Big Tech companies are exposed now more than ever to China’s antitrust authority and its regulations. 

The convention, that took place in Beijingwas drafted by the tech companies themselves, alongside the Intellectual Property Center of the Chinese Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT). 

Throughout the event, in recognition of their services, Big Tech firms – after signing the pledge to maintain fair competition and prevent abuse of market position – were granted with a plate by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), along with Internet Society of China. 

Back in February, China signaled that anti-monopoly actions will be taken leading to one of the most influential developments in China’s market system. 

Initially, since the original issuance of the plan targeted traditional industries, China’s antitrust guidelines expanded to reach almost all platforms to maintain their user’s security.

Daryn is a technical writer with thorough history and experience in both academic and digital writing fields.

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Didi pushes back on IPO rumors

Daryn Kara Ali

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Famous Beijing-based giant Didi denied any allegations of plans to go private in a bid to satisfy the Chinese government amidst latest regulations concerning users’ data security.  

After the Wall Street Journal released a report discussing the possibility of Didi going private, the ride-hailing app’s shares increased by approximately 50 percent in Thursday’s pre-market trade. 

The company has been targeted by Beijing regulators ever since it made its U.S. market debut about a month ago, followed by several U.S. senators asking its financial markets regulator to launch an investigation concerning the company’s Chinese share listings. 

In a statement that came as a reaction to the report, Didi debunked any allegations of going private as it currently switching it focus to cybersecurity. 

“The rumors about the privatization of Didi are untrue, and the company is currently actively cooperating with cybersecurity reviews,” Didi said on Chinese social media platform Weibo.  

Two days after the Beijing-based firm began trading shares on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Beijing cyberspace supervisory authority ordered Chinese online stores to remove Didi from their app stores under the pretense that it is illegally collecting users’ personal data. 

The Chinese authorities’ move influenced the firm’s market value, leading to a sharp drop by around a third ever since Didi raised its initial public offering (IPO) to $4.4 billion a month ago. 

Since Didi’s released its IPO on NYSE at the end of June, the Chinese driver service broker’s shares fell drastically in value.  

On Thursday, Didi shares finished its U.S. trading day with a rise of 11.3 percent.  

Didi, alongside many Chinese Big Tech companies such as Alibaba and ByteDance have been under the Chinese government’s scrutiny regarding their behavior of monopolizing the market to their benefit.  

This led to some of the firms’ largest share prices slump in the U.S., Hong Kong, and mainland China’s trading market as China puts the industry under tough scrutiny. 

In parallel, Didi follows a comparable business model to its American competitor Ube. The Chinese app had already conquered Uber in a vicious price war in its home market. 

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Google is battling against a $1 billion legal claim

Rim Zrein

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$1 billion

Google is charging people for their digital purchases in its Play Store through an “unfair and excessive” manner, according to a new legal lawsuit filed against the tech giant. 

On behalf of 19.5 million Android phone users in the UK, the legal action is seeking up to $1 billion from Google. 

The lawsuit has been filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London by former Citizens Advice digital policy manager Liz Coll, who’s claiming that the 30 percent cut Google takes from digital purchases on its app store is unjust. 

“Google created the Android app marketplace and controls it with a vice-like grip,” Coll said, explaining that Google has went against UK and European competition law. 

In response, Google defended its case by issuing a statement saying that “Android gives people more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps and app stores they use, in fact most Android phones come preloaded with more than one app store.” 

“We compete vigorously and fairly for developers and consumers,” Google noted, mentioning that 97 percent of developers on Google Play don’t pay any service fee at all, which means their apps are free to consumers.  

“Less than 0.1 percent of developers are subject to a 30 percent service fee and only when they’re earning over one million dollars, that fee is comparable with our competitors and allows us to constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it,” Google highlighted. 

The trillion-dollar tech giant recently decreased its service charge to 15 percent for all app creators making less than $1 million, with only a small group of the most valuable app developers paying 30 percent. 

According to Google, the charge allows the company to “constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it.” 

The $1 billion lawsuit is the latest incident in an ongoing battle with both Apple and Google, as they’re currently under intense scrutiny following Epic Games’ legal action. 

Epic argued that the Play Store and Apple’s app store policies and management were against producing fruitful competition, as the American video game and software developer described the two tech giants as “monopolistic.” 

For the past years, major tech firms have been in hot water over anti-trust and monopoly charges. 

In 2020, ten U.S. states led by Texas, brought legal action against Google over its ad revenue practices, accusing Google with illegally collaborating with the popular social network Facebook. 

“As internal Google documents reveal, Google sought to kill competition and has done so through an array of exclusionary tactics, including an unlawful agreement with Facebook, its largest potential competitive threat,” the lawsuit stated. 

“This Goliath of a company is using its power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm you, the consumer,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said regarding Google through a video released on Twitter. 

The key question many analysts have been asking is to what extent Google should be given the freedom to charge its services as it sees fit, no matter what the cost is to other developers. 

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Rick rolls past a billion views on YouTube

Rim Zrein

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Rick Rolls

When it comes to famous memes from the 2000s, millennials are just never going to give them up. 

Anyone who was active on the internet since 2009 surely stumbled upon Rick Astley’s music hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Almost 12 years later, and the music video has exceeded one billion views on YouTube on Wednesday. 

For the Generation Z who weren’t surfing the web at that time, the video itself started off as an internet meme under the name “Rick Roll,” which is the most famous prank in the internet’s history. 

The prank consisted of luring people to click on a hyperlink that claims to be one thing but turns out to be the red-haired iconic singer’s video “Never Gonna Give You Up.” 

The British singer cannot deny the impact the meme had on his music video. According to YouTube, on April Fool’s Day this year, the “Rick roll” generated 2.3 million views. 

Following Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” A-ha’s “Take on Me,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Rick Astley’s song is the fourth in line to join the 80’s hits on YouTube. 

The 55-year-old singer celebrated the achievement on Twitter, saying in a video “So I’ve just been told that ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ has been streamed a billion times on YouTube. That is mind-blowing. The world is a wonderful and beautiful place, and I am very lucky.” 

To celebrate the huge milestone, 2,500 copies of the 7-inch blue vinyl of Astley’s popular song were released. Exclusively signed by the singer himself, the $17 vinyl completely sold out, according to Astley’s official website. 

In the past, the singer voiced his perspective on the “Rick roll” meme, saying that he’s completely fine with it. 

In a 2008 interview with the L.A. Times, the famous meme figure in every millennial’s childhood said “I think it’s just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it. That’s what’s brilliant about the internet.” 

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