Facebook’s in the middle of a fight again

Also in this edition: Another stimulus package, Twitter and co. in trouble, Heat waves everywhere.

Good morning! Krafton, the publisher of PUBG, and a clutch of investors have infused capital worth $9 million in streaming gaming platform company, Loco. The founders of the company also run the YouTube to Netflix show FilterCopy. Crazy.

Anyway, on to the day’s stories.

  1. Crypto is on shaky ground in the UK but hot in India. 

  2. Covishield may not cut it for EU travel. 

  3. 14% homes in Japan are empty.

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Indian Vaccine Not Enough For EU Travel

Covishield-vaccinated Indians hoping to travel to Europe may have to wait. European Union is opening up to foreign tourists and will start issuing Green Pass — a digital document certifying travellers’ vaccinated status — from July 1 but it has kept Covaxin and Covishield out of it.

AZ in, Serum out: The certificate, an EU-wide Covid-19 pass, will include vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The agency has so far approved four vaccines — Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech), Moderna, Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). While the Green Pass includes the AstraZeneca vaccine, it does not include Covishield because its Pune-based producer Serum Institute of India hasn’t yet applied to EMA for approval. There is no mention of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin either. 

Troubleshoot: Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted that he has “taken this up at the highest levels and hope to resolve this matter soon, both with regulators and at a diplomatic level with countries”. A stitch in time could have saved nine.

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The Publishers Versus Big Tech Saga Continues

The latest round of the never-ending clash between publishers and big technology companies has begun. This time, in Denmark. Almost 30 media companies there (including startups) have taken a more collective approach to negotiating with Big Tech for payments for news. This, publishers argue, will help them shield against the “divide and conquer” tactic used by big technology companies to strike licensing agreements with individual publishers.

Meanwhile, Down Under: Australia has, over the last year, emerged as the ground zero for this battle, both literally and figuratively. It will look into claims by a publication, The Conversation, that Facebook allegedly declined to negotiate a licensing deal with the company, “without giving a reason”.

Big deal: This is significant, given the stringent online content law passed by Australia this year. The law would require a government-appointed arbitrator to step in, should Facebook and Google “refuse to negotiate licensing fees with publishers”.

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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Indians are flocking to cryptocurrencies. A Chainalysis report indicates that Indians’ crypto holding has ballooned from $200 million to $40 billion in the past year. There are also signs that many now view tokens such as Bitcoin — dubbed the ‘digital gold’ due to its fixed supply — as an alternative to gold.

Though there is no ban on cryptocurrencies, the RBI and the banking system maintain a negative outlook. The government is now considering regulating it. Others, however, are hammering down.

B for bans: The UK became the latest country to crack down on cryptocurrencies by banning Binance, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges, from operating in its region. China’s crackdown on cryptocurrencies and their mining has seen the world’s largest Bitcoin mining rig vendor, Bitmain, suspend its sales.

S for scams: Last week, two South African brothers disappeared with $3.6 billion from the cryptocurrency exchange, Africrypt. Elsewhere, billionaire and Shark Tank shark, Mark Cuban burnt his fingers on the token “Titan” which crashed from $60 to 0 in a matter of hours.

Titan represented a decentralised finance (DeFi) project, seen as one of crypto’s biggest use cases. But, perhaps as a result of such scams, even they have lost momentum.

The Signal

What cryptocurrencies are depends on how you view them: as currencies or as assets. A risky opportunity knocks if it’s the latter. Most tokens have plummeted to half or less of their peak value a couple of months ago, but that’s still up 1000x from last year. If it's the currency you’re looking for, you’ll have to wait or head to El Salvador. Apparently, among Indians, the top coins purchased are Bitcoin, Ether, and Dogecoin. One of them, most certainly, is an impostor.

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India Is Stirring Back To Life

Here’s some good-ish news: The Indian economy appears to be gradually coming out of its Covid-19 lull. Automobile sales, retail activity and road congestion, all of which were slow until May, are showing a revival.

Breath of fresh air: Despite the dismal situation of the broader economy this year so far, the start-up scene has been buzzing with activity. The pandemic has fuelled investors’ appetite for digital tech, retail and fintech companies. Venture funds have poured in $8.1 billion between January and May, or 93% of investments clocked for the whole of last year.

Going digital: The pandemic has forced people to stay at home for long periods which has also brought them closer to living a digital life. The India story perhaps is taking a definite digital turn and multinational giants such as Google and Amazon and large conglomerates such as the Tatas and Reliance Industries are pivoting towards catering to the digital Indian consumer.

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Moving Into Ghost Towns

Japan is facing a problem of “ghost villages”. A report says about 14% of homes are vacant across the country, the highest among 37 countries surveyed. Over 16% of houses in rural Japan are abandoned. In some places, one out of five homes has nobody living in it.

Empty villages: It's a phenomenon in many countries. Mayors of Italian small towns have symbolically given away abandoned houses for 1 euro. Closer to home, the hills of Uttarakhand are dotted with ghost villages. Last year, many abandoned houses were turned into quarantine centers.

Turning tide: Ghost villages are usually a result of poor economic activity, population decline and often water scarcity. Disasters like droughts and flooding can also push people out of their homes. Yet, there’s a new trend in the making: with remote working now an option, ghost towns are finding takers. To some, the appeal of living close to nature is undeniable. Others take to government incentives that want to revive small-town activity. Whatever the appeal, some ghost towns are slowly getting populated.

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What Else Made The Signal?

Stimulus: Facing pressure from industry, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman today unveiled another economic package that largely comprised loan guarantees and some incentives to boost exports, public healthcare and farming, among others.

Free visas: Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said India would issue free visas to tourists until March 2022. The scheme is available to the first 500,000 visitors.

Summoned: The parliamentary standing committee on information technology has summoned Facebook and Google to hear their views on “safeguarding citizen’s rights” and “prevention of misuse of social online news media platforms”.

Sale, Sale, Sale: Airfares for August-October have dropped by ~50%, compared to June-July. With the number of Covid-19 cases going down, carriers are expecting a rise in demand for air travel.

Record-breaking: A British Columbia village reached a temperature of 46.1 Celsius on Sunday. This is Canada’s highest temperature on record. A heat wave is sweeping through the Pacific north-west scorching US cities such as Seattle and Portland too.

Twitter in trouble, again: Dharmendra Chatur, Twitter’s interim resident grievance officer for India, has stepped down leaving the micro-blogging site without one, as mandated by the new IT rules. Twitter, for now, has given no reason behind Chatur’s decision to quit.

A little cash: Self proclaimed “truly Indian payments app” MobiKwik, which has equity holdings from South African payments company, Net1, has raised capital worth $20 million from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.


Fun Signals

Yabba Dabba Yay: Florence Fang, the owner of a Flintstone-themed house in Hillsborough, San Francisco has settled a lawsuit with the town which had declared her landscaping changes and the dinosaur sculptures in her backyard a nuisance. The settlement stipulates that Fang apply for building permits and drop the lawsuit. The town will pay Fang $125,000.

Kim’s (in)convenience? North Koreans are inconsolable over their respected comrade general, Kim Jong Un’s sudden weight loss. In a recent public appearance, a lean Kim issued a rare warning about the country’s food situation and talked about the struggling economy. Is Kim so worried about his people he’s losing weight? Or is it the usual propaganda apparatus at work?

Hard at work: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took a quick break from his other duties to deliver a few UberEats orders to customers himself and earned ~$100. Twitter folks asked him for the trip details and some even called it a PR move.

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