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Big tech companies abused their market position – US antitrust subcommittee report

Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook effectively monopolized key market segments

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Last year, the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary initiated an investigation into the supposed monopoly of “big tech” companies. These big tech companies include Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. The investigation reached a climax this year, with CEOs of these companies attending highly-publicized hearings regarding their companies’ market standing.

Now, the investigation has wrapped up. The Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law recently released a report detailing the investigation. In the report, the subcommittee found out that big tech companies abused their market position through monopolies and aggressive market expansion.

SEE ALSO: Everything you need to know about the congressional big tech hearing, Part 1 | Part 2

Key takeaways

The subcommittee report revealed key problems regarding big tech’s common business practices. All companies were found to be acting as an “exclusive gatekeeper” on “key channel of distribution”. That is, these companies acted as monopolies on market segments of their own products. Furthermore, these companies “charged exorbitant fees, imposed oppressive contract terms, and extracted valuable data” from individuals and businesses.

The subcommittee also found on its investigation that companies used their monopolies to maintain market position. Practices identified to maintain dominance include identifying key rivals, buying them, or copying their selling features.

The report also stated that these big tech companies are able to maintain further dominance by abusing their intermediary position. It even named the ways how the abuse was carried out: through “self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or exclusionary conduct”.

Further details about how each big tech companies abused their position were also included.

Facebook

Internal communications obtained by the subcommittee reveals that Facebook used acquisitions to cut off potential startups and business threats. The report’s finding suggests that the company’s growing monopoly towards social networking created further internal divisions. In an obtained memo, it was revealed that the company is more concerned with the “rivalry” between its platforms, specifically Instagram.

In the end, the report noted that Facebook’s monopoly led to the deterioration of its platform over time. This led to the neglect of privacy protections and the eventual rise of misinformation, the report added.

Google

For Google, its rise to dominance in search happened through a string of anti-competitive practices. Documents obtained by the subcommittee revealed that the company misappropriated content from third-party providers. When it became a monopoly, it injected search results with its own ads and content, effectively blurring the distinction between organic results and its own.

Other tactics used by the company to maintain dominance are exclusive contracts and diversification. For the former, the report noted how Google forced Android manufacturers to bundle their own apps and services as the default for users. For the latter, the company exploited market segments such as web browsers (Chrome), navigation (Maps), and internet-of-things (Cloud).

Lastly, it was concluded that Google used massive amounts of data from users to reinforce market dominance and capitalize further on its advertising revenue.

Amazon

For Amazon, the report noted that the company is now the dominant leader in the US for online shopping. Amazon’s dominance meant that small and medium businesses have no other alternatives for reaching out to online consumers. Over the years, the company also brought competitors to cut off any alternative online shopping outlets.

Worse, the subcommittee found that the company engaged in anti-competitive practices with its third-party sellers. Obtained internal documents showed how Amazon treated its partners as internal competitors. The company exploited its seller’s data to improve its own line of products — Amazon Basics.

The subcommittee further noted that Amazon has the potential for abusing the market segments where Alexa (voice assistance) and Amazon Web Services (cloud computing) operates.

Apple

The subcommittee concluded its overview of findings with a look at Apple’s tactics over the mobile market. The company exerts dominance over the mobile market and services, owing to the huge popularity of iOS and iPads. This dominance, the report notes, is apparent with the company’s leverage of the App Store in enforcing barriers and cutting off competition.

The maturation of hardware sales also moved Apple to increase sales of its own apps and services. This even compelled them to raise commissions and fees on the App Store, the report noted. Combined with absolute control over the App Store, the company effectively harmed consumers and businesses and reduced app innovation.

Moving forward

All of the big tech companies have individually put out a response in the wake of the findings. Unsurprisingly, all of the responses denied the report’s allegation.

Finally, the report also gave some recommendations moving forward. These recommendations are: addressing anti-competitive practices in the digital market; strengthening the enforcement of anti-trust laws and regulations; and finally, improving anti-trust regulations through other mechanisms.

These recommendations, however, do not recommend any concrete actions. It will be interesting to see how the US government responds in general to these recommendations. Perhaps, it could affect any future proceedings on anti-trust cases like the one facing Apple now.

Source: US House Committee on the Judiciary

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Acer has an In-Game Live AI Translator on their own esports platform

It’s called SigridWave and the platform is Planet9

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SigridWave

Acer introduces SigridWave — an In-Game Live AI Translator for Planet9 which is the company’s next-generation esports platform. There’s a lot to unpack here so try to digest the information slowly.

SigridWave: In-Game Live AI Translator

SigridWave aims to break language barriers and facilitate communication among gamers around the world. It leverages deep learning tech and is especially trained in gaming jargon.

When in-game, SigridWave employs Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology to recognize utterances and convert them into strings of text. This text is then run through a Neural Machine Translation (NMT) technology. The NMT Tech has so far been trained with over 10 million bilingual sentence pairs, enabling it to understand the terminology associated with specific games (such as “ADS” or “camping”) and learn how players express themselves.

If your nose is bleeding after reading all of that, don’t worry. Same.

Intended specifically for gaming, SigridWave’s AI has so far been trained with over 1,000 hours of game-centric speech (voice + transcript), enabling it to accurately relay detected messages back to users in a language that they can understand.

Being game-centric is key. Acer points out that the biggest hurdle in machine translation is context. Many words can carry multiple meanings and computers struggle to discern the most suitable translation for the situation, that’s why being focused on gaming is essential.

SigridWave will have a closed beta in Q4 2020, during which time it will be available for two-way translation between English and Mandarin in a number of major FPS titles such as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.

Planet9 — Acer’s next gen esports platform

SigridWave will work in tandem with Planet9 — a next gen esports platform. The AI Translator is booted up while in a game lobby on Planet9’s desktop client. It’ll appear as a customizable in-game overlay.

The platform itself is meant to be partly competitive and partly social. It’s designed to provide an open community for casual and amateur players who want to improve their skills and take steps towards going pro.

The platform helps players connect with others via teams and social clubs; to improve their skills, via in-depth feedback on gameplay in the form of statistics and coaching; and to experience organized gameplay, via casual or ranked scrimmages and competitive tournaments for most games.

In-game overlays will be supported for League of Legends on launch in late 2020 or early 2021, and support will be made available for additional titles in the future.

Teams

Planet9 strives to help gamers connect with others who have similar skill levels and aspirations. From there, players can create a team to be registered on the website or search for one to join.

Planet9 will also help recruiting teams to fill their rosters, considering factors such as game played, rank, region and language in order to identify potential teammates.

Once a team is established, a private team page is created on the platform to function as a central hub for all involved. In addition to keeping track of match history and statistics for later review and discussion, the team hub includes a number of features to help keep everything organized: a board for discussion and polls, a group calendar for scheduling scrimmages, a tab to keep track of team funding and a directory with basic stats on all members.

Clubs

Planet9’s Club feature is intended to help players keep up with groups they like or admire, whether they’re major names in the industry or a local university team. Clubs consist of two parts, a public “home” page for followers and a private “lounge” for members.

The home page is a place to share content (posts, polls, videos, etc) in order to engage with the community, whereas the lounge is a place to relax and discuss club-related content with a smaller circle of more dedicated members.

Businesses, influencers and public figures are also capable of forming a club on Planet9, creating a unique new touchpoint for brands that wish to connect with gamers. Whether professional or amateur, each club is granted access to a variety of tools to host tournaments in order to grow their own community.

Planet9 recently partnered with Currys PC World to feature Planet9 in its stores in order to enhance esports initiatives in the UK and Ireland. This includes an in-house designed arena to give players a chance to see what it’s like being part of a local gaming club, practicing with teammates and learning from coaches.

These in-house arenas will launch soon with a rapid expansion to 30 stores throughout 2021. Each of the stores will open its own club on Planet9 to grow its gamer community as well as to host tournaments, creating a pipeline for players to show off their talent.

Tournaments

Planet9 includes a significant amount of infrastructure designed to make the process of organizing and hosting tournaments as seamless as possible.

An extensive UI ensures that a successful tournament can be put together even by those with no experience, while a number of automation features (registration, bracket mastering, etc.) enable experienced hosts to minimize time spent on tedious activities and focus on providing as enjoyable an event as possible.

Tournaments are highly customizable, featuring a number of preset brackets and privacy modes, opportunities for sponsored branding and club-determined rewards. Come game day, an all-in-one “Bracket Master” console makes it easy for judges and organizers to communicate, configure matches, broadcast to an audience and more.

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Yahoo Groups is shutting down this December

Another Yahoo service bites the dust

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For a long time, Yahoo was the behemoth in email and online communication. However, the company is gradually fading to irrelevance with most of its services being shut down in recent years. The latest service to be shattered is Yahoo Groups, which will cease operation come December 15, 2020.

Verizon — Yahoo’s current owner — recently announced the shutdown of the service through a message posted on its website and emails sent to users. The company cited the decline in usage of Yahoo Groups over the recent years as the primary factor in shutting it down.

Actually, the company started phasing out the service last year. The phase-out began last October 2019. On October 21, Verizon effectively removed the user’s ability to create new content on groups. As such, users lost the ability to create new discussions. However, users were still able to create new groups and mass-email conversations with all members despite the initial phase-out.

Fast forward to October 2020, and Yahoo Groups is all but gone. Starting today, users won’t have the ability to create new discussion groups anymore. Mass-email capabilities will remain until December. After that, all of Yahoo Groups will be shut down for good.

Verizon also encourages all users to switch to alternative services to continue any group discussions.

Perhaps, it’s goodbye now for Yahoo Groups, which was once the most popular discussion board site on the Internet. The service first began operating in 2001, lasting for mere 19 years before its shutdown this year. Today, sites like Reddit have provided most of the functionality originally provided by the service.

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Imaging Edge Webcam lets you use Sony cameras for video calls, live streams

Adapting to the new normal

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If you’ve been working from home, chances are you’ve attended more than your fair share of video calls. If you have a Sony camera, you can elevate the quality of your video with the new Imaging Edge Webcam app.

Considering we’re months into being quarantined already, Sony sure took their time in launching this product. That said, it should still be a welcome addition for anyone who might possibly need it.

It currently only supports Windows 10 64bit so you might have to wait a while if you’re using a Mac.

When the feature first launched in August 20, 2020, it only supported Windows 10 64bit. Now, it also supports macOS 10.13-10.15. You may download the desktop app here.

The Sony cameras supported are: Alpha 9 II, Alpha 9, Alpha 7R IV, Alpha 7R III, Alpha 7R II, Alpha 7S II, Alpha 7S, Alpha 7 III,
Alpha 7 II, Alpha 6600, Alpha 6400, Alpha 6100, RX100 VII, RX100 VI, RX0 II, RX0, ZV-1.

There are more cameras supported and we’ll update this article once we have the full list.

Quick note for anyone who will use it: The aspect ratio is automatically set to 16:9. It will remain set to 16:9 after using Imaging Edge Webcam, so set it to the previous value if necessary.

SEE ALSO: The Sony A7S III is a low light video beast

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