A cloud hangs over Amazon

Also in today's edition: Vijay Mallya goes kaput, Unacademy goes shopping, Covid comes for the young

Good morning! SoftBank has decided to back a dog startup, Embark Veterinary. No, this time it isn’t a walking service but one that can effectively elongate the lifespan of our four-legged friends. The Japanese conglomerate has invested $75 million at a valuation of $700 million in the Boston-based company. We hope this one works out.

On to the day’s stories:

  1. Airtel has a plan for Jio. 

  2. Disinformation as a Service or DaaS?

  3. China’s antitrust vehicle spoils the Meituan party.

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China Hijacks Meituan's Order

Another day, another crackdown in China. This time, the food delivery app, Meituan, was at the receiving end. A new notice released by seven agencies said that “online food platforms must respect the rights of delivery staff and ensure that those workers earn at least the local minimum income,” Bloomberg reported. Meituan is also facing an antitrust probe.

Monday’s onslaught follows sweeping actions over the weekend against the ed-tech, real estate, and music industries.

Trust deficit: Investors, particularly foreign ones, were gobsmacked. This is perhaps the first global instance (aside from nationalisations) of equity owners across sectors suffering massive losses because of state action. Sometimes debt investors take heavy losses when countries go bankrupt and default on obligations. Equity is by definition risk capital and there are no sovereign guarantees or investment protection agreements involved here. But stable economies rarely upend their biggest and fastest-growing companies, let alone several of them. China’s action breaks investor trust. Who’s next is anybody’s guess.

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Discrimination Cloud Follows Jassy To Amazon

Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy, already is in the hot seat after the company opened an investigation into allegations regarding the discrimination culture in its cloud-computing unit, Amazon Web Services. 

Allegations: More than 550 employees signed a petition slamming AWS for its "underlying culture of systematic discrimination, harassment, bullying, and bias against women and under-represented groups". According to a Washington Post report, it said Amazon’s method of investigation was not fair, objective, or transparent.

The petition was sent to the current AWS chief executive Adam Selipsky, as well as to Jassy within ten days after he took over from Jeff Bezos.

There are a number of challenges that await Jassy as the CEO of the world’s largest retailer, including court cases in many countries. But anything amiss at AWS could be a direct blow to him because he practically built the now $50 billion business beginning with 57 employees in 2003. The culture and values of an organisation are largely determined by the leadership and the buck clearly stopped with Jassy.

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A Telecom Battle In The Sky

For a while it looked like India’s telecom market would end up with one leader and many distant followers as Reliance Jio pulled away from debt-laden rivals. But India opening up the satellite broadband market to private players could enliven things.

Beaming down: Tata Group and Canadian telecommunications major Telesat are preparing their India strategy. Bharti Global has invested $500 million in UK-based space startup OneWeb. Elon Musk’s Starlink has already started soliciting customers in India and Jeff Bezos’ Project Kuiper too is getting ready.

Terra firma: In 2016, Reliance shook up the market with Jio’s low-cost broadband services, forcing rivals to lower prices and margins. Some, such as Vodafone Idea and state-owned BSNL, are yet to recover from the bruising blows of that fight. Jio continued to unsettle competition with newer offerings and fast Internet even in rural areas. 

The Signal

The real challenger to Jio might be Airtel which will be the only player with infrastructure on earth and in the sky. Both Jio and Airtel will soon launch superfast 5G services. While Jio has Google as a partner, Airtel has tied up with TCS for 5G services. 

Low earth orbiting satellites can deliver fast, low-latency Internet anywhere on earth but they are limited by capacity compared to 5G services. They may, however, successfully wean away high spending customers and users in remote areas where terrestrial connections are unreliable. The key differentiator would likely be price. With their deep pockets, all operators can compete on price but only Airtel will have a whole range of services at different price points and technologies.

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Takeout Takes Out Landfills

The growing concern for hygiene has ramped up sales of plastics like polystyrene. In Taiwan, after the Covid-19 outbreak, online shopping and food deliveries drove up plastic consumption. In the months between January and May, discarded take-out containers disposal increased 85% over the same period in the previous year.

Hygiene first: Taiwan had a Covid-19 community outbreak in April and lockdowns put an end to gatherings and dining out. People relied on take-out instead and containers became an obvious replacement for dine-in cutlery.

Waste galore: In Kerala, the pandemic effectively overturned a single-use plastic ban as hygiene required the use of disposable gloves and bags. Street vendors to wholesalers started handing out plastic bags once again. Turns out, customers also want it.

In north-eastern India, waste from Covid-19 treatment has led to an accumulationof biowaste.

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Disinformation, Danger, Death

If you can’t convince ‘em, confuse ‘em. That good old adage perhaps holds truer now than it ever has in the past. In an era of information overload and warfare, there are agencies offering disinformation-as-a-service.

They largely operate in the political sphere, meddling with elections, carrying out character assassinations, and more. But of late, they’ve found themselves an easy target: Covid-19 vaccinations.

Global influence: Consider, for example, the scores of Indian, Brazilian, and other ‘influencers’ who spread questionable information about the Pfizer vaccine at the behest of a supposedly London-based PR agency. Or that dozens of Indian government-run Twitter accounts have shared posts from India Vs Disinformation, a website and set of social media feeds that purportedly fact-check news stories. In reality, they are the product of a Canadian communications firm called Press Monitor.

The 12: Then of course, there’s the infamous ‘disinformation dozen’, the people responsible for most of the Covid-19 misinformation on the web. As US President Joe Biden said, they’re literally killing people.

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What Else Made The Signal? 

Buying US: Investors from around the world poured in over $900 billion into US mutual funds and exchange traded funds, indicating rising confidence in the economy. 

Young blood: The Covid-19 virus is not sparing anyone. It has claimed the lives of hundreds of children in Indonesia. The mortality rate of youngsters is the highest in the country among all others in the world. 

Low blow: Tata Motors reported a larger than expected INR 44.5 billion loss, mainly because its Jaguar unit was hit by a semiconductor shortage.

US in slow-mo: Goldman Sachs expects US economic recovery to slow down sharply next year as the services sector will remain sluggish due to Covid-19.

Edtech play: Unacademy will buy out all investors in Rheo TV, a platform that lets professional gamers livestream their gameplay and monetise them.

Riches to rags: The self-proclaimed ‘king of good times’, Vijay Mallya, has now been declared a pauper i.e. broke by the London High Court.

Hack the militia: Big tech firms, including Facebook and Microsoft, will expand a shared extremist content database to combat far-right militias and white supremacists spreading such material on mainstream platforms.


Fun Signals

The meat-eater: Meat-eating plants are back in the UK after almost a 150-year hiatus. Sundews or fly papers and bladderworts are insect-trapping carnivorous plants that went locally extinct for a few years until they were reintroduced by the North West Rare Plants Initiative.

Rainbow Olympics: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is historic, not just for taking place during a pandemic, but for having the highest LGBTQ+ representation. At least 163 athletes from the community are participating in the games, more than three times those who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Voice over heels in love: Once upon a time, people fell in love over Facebook chats. Now it’s happening on the new social media rage, Clubhouse. Natasha Grano and Michael Graziano married on June 5 in an intimate ceremony after Granofell for Graziano’s voice in a media and marketing room.

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