BTS breaks another record

Also in this edition: Crypto legislation in the works, A bank just for teenagers, Mind tickling unicorn.

Good morning! Mark Zuckerberg isn’t as popular among his own employees anymore. His approval rating has now dropped him out of Glassdoor's top 100 CEOs. Small sample size disclaimer apart, Zuckerberg had held on to a spot in the top 100 since 2013.

Anyway, on to the day’s stories.

  1. Biden chooses Big Tech baiter to guard consumer rights.

  2. Greenshoots in the economy. Feels like 2007 again.

  3. Meet Professor Zoom.

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The Bitter Sugar Pill

Sugar prices may crash soon. Good for all the bakeries, bad for everyone else. Here’s how it breaks down. The world has started to shift to greener alternatives to fossil fuel for vehicles — electricity. This has started to reflect in Brazil as well, the world’s largest consumer of ethanol which is made from sugarcane.

In the 1970s, Brazil had started using ethanol as fuel. It burns cleaner and makes vehicles more fuel-efficient. The demand for ethanol soared in the 2000s.

Things are changing, however. According to Bloomberg, demand for ethanol is estimated to drop to 40% of the current levels by 2035-2040. That means cane producers are likely to produce more sugar than ethanol. Hence a crash in prices.

Back home: India, meanwhile, is targeting to have 20% ethanol mixed gasoline by 2025. It plans to increase production of the biofuel, at least half of it from non-sugarcane sources, to achieve the goal.


Zoom Will Age Well

Last year, NYU’s celebrity professor Scott Galloway had predicted the post-pandemic future of education and Zoom. He had said that partnerships between large tech companies and elite universities will allow the latter to expand their enrollment “dramatically”. That is exactly what has happened. According to a Bloomberg report, business schools are going to continue using Zoom long after the pandemic ends.

What the future looks like:

Hybrid classrooms: Participants with caring commitments can opt for Zoom classes, making education accessible to more people.

Ways of learning: From delivering the study materials asynchronously to dividing classes into smaller groups, teaching methods are changing.

Zoom’s major advantage is access. It has made fostering alumni connections easier, facilitated more guest lectures from industry achievers, and helped graduates return to take elective courses. The days of looking down on distance education are over.


No One Wants To Miss The Festivals

A flurry of activity in various sectors seemingly foretells a V-shaped economic recovery. With the second wave of Covid-19 infections subsiding companies are tidying up showrooms and beefing up inventories in anticipation of a demand swell. Meanwhile, the Monster Employment Index for May showed a growth of 1% compared to the previous month. About 45% of the industries reportedly displayed an intent to hire.

Open for business: Automakers that had shut factories are putting in place new production schedules and more than 20,000 of 25,000 retail outlets have reopened. They say customers are back and order cancellations have dropped significantly. Grocery shops have begun restocking their shelves and reports suggest stores are at two-thirds of the stocking level seen before the pandemic. It was less than a third of that in May.

Ad-ding up: Companies are also fortifying ad budgets for big campaigns from July with an eye on the festival season starting August and going up to the New Year. The Economic Times reports ad spending will likely go up 20% over that of 2019 and will be led by the consumer electronics, telecom, FMCG, auto, and e-commerce sectors.

The Signal

The second wave of the pandemic that eclipsed the economy for the past couple of months may be waning but it is not yet time to drop our guard. Social gatherings and shopping rush before the majority of the population is vaccinated could revitalize the virus again. The spectre of inflation will be another worry. Fuel price inflation is feeding price rise across the board. Rising food prices have begun to pinch household budgets. While a small minority may have seen its incomes grow, the rest of the population has suffered income erosion or complete loss. 

The economic revival in the short term would almost solely depend on the spending power of this small minority. That has to revive the engines that would create more jobs and, hence, incomes which can push the larger economy into a virtuous cycle of growth. RBI governor Shaktikanta Das remarked on June 4, “We will continue to think and act out of the box, planning for the worst and hoping for the best”. That’s all we can do at the moment.


Big Tech’s Looking Small

Yesterday, known Big Tech-critic, Lina Khan, was appointed as the US Federal Trade Commissioner — the youngest ever. This could spell more trouble for big technology companies which have been in the Biden administration’s crosshairs in relation to anticompetitive practices. The appointment came hours before the US President’s meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Russia too has been cracking down on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter. It has introduced new legislation surrounding content and local storage of user data. Many platforms have taken down posts and videos on the directive of the government, and those failing to comply have been heavily fined and had their connectivity choked.

Europe is also getting heavy on Big Tech with antitrust measures and rules to curb fake news. In the latest development, the top European court ruled that Facebook and others would have to comply with the EU-wide privacy orders.

Meanwhile in India: Twitter may have lost its legal status as a “social media intermediary”, meaning it could now be liable for content on its site under the Indian Penal Code and the IT Act. An FIR has been filed in UP against Twitter, its India unit, and seven others in connection with a viral video of an attack on an elderly person in Ghaziabad.


The ARMY Watches On

There's no stopping the K-pop wave. Korean band BTS reportedly earned a cool 80 billion KRW ($71.6 million) during its two-day virtual fan event ‘BTS 2021 MUSTER SOWOOZOO’.

The event was held to celebrate its eight-year anniversary and amassed 1.33 million viewers. This number is impressive, even more so when you realise that the event was behind a paywall. Fans from 195 countries watched the event.

If you're new to BTS' success, you may remember our previous coverage of their single 'Butter'. The single broke their own record for most YouTube views in the first 24 hours of release. That's not all the BTS fandom, dubbed 'ARMY', is consuming though. The band's collaboration with McDonald’s has resulted in an unprecedented demand for the new BTS-themed meals.


What Else Made The Signal?

Clause by clause: The Indian government is reportedly reviewing a crypto legislation which was listed for introduction in the budget session of Parliament, but never made it. It’s unlikely that it will be introduced in the upcoming monsoon session, since every clause is being reviewed.

When in Geneva: US President Joe Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday at a much-awaited summit. They agreed that the two nations will start consultations on cyber security.

For the kids: Neobank FamPay, which caters exclusively to teenagers, has raised $38 million from Elevation and Sequoia Capital. It is one of the largest Series A funding rounds in a long, long time.

Another week, another unicorn: SaaS startup MindTickle is set to become the newest member of the billion-dollar valuation club, with a $100 million investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund.

Spoti-live: Swedish audio streaming giant Spotify has launched its live interactive audio offering, Greenroom, which will compete against Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and others.

Forty thieves: A software developer managed to scrape 1.1 billion pieces of data from Alibaba Group’s Taobao shopping website over eight months, as per a court verdict.

Red card: In case you’ve missed it there’s another international football tournament in progress, the Copa America in Brazil. Unfortunately, the host is still in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, 52 people involved with the tournament have caught the virus.

Fun Signals

Thank you, Frank: A bunch of dirty dishes led to penicillin’s discovery. A slab of melted chocolate is why we have microwaves, and this 11-year-old who forgot his drink on a porch on a freezing winter night is why we get to enjoy our beloved popsicles. Next time you devour your favourite ice lolly, don’t forget to thank Frank Epperson. He’s responsible for all the summer treats that make your childhood memories.

What’s fresh? Durian, a creamy custard-like fruit with the foulest of smells, is a South Asian delicacy and exists in over 30 different varieties. At a Chinese retail festival, Malaysian durians have been making some big waves. They’ve topped fruit and vegetable presales at the fest, exceeding those of peaches and ice cream.

Annie, are you ok? This one’s for the ages. It begins with the death of a young, beautiful woman in 19th century Paris and ends with how she became the face of a life-saving technique called the CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation). We don’t want to give away too many details. Read the story in this Twitter thread by Umme H. Faisal and don’t miss the replies. Two trivia gems are hiding there.

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