Google’s smirch engine
Also in today’s edition: Layer'r gets Shot; Kid gloves for Putin; Masks up; Layoffs persist
Good morning! Mahatma Gandhi has got company. In a first, Rabindranath Tagore and APJ Abdul Kalam may soon grace a new series of banknotes besides Gandhi. IIT-Delhi Emeritus Professor Dilip T Shahani has been given the task of presenting the watermark samples before it gets official approval, The New Indian Express reported.
The Market Signal*
Stocks: Red was splashed on stock tickers across the world as rising oil prices hit sentiment last week. Foreign portfolio investors have offloaded Indian equities worth about ₹40,000 crore in May, the eighth month of sell-off in a row. LIC shares declined to their lowest level, down more than 15%, since its listing. The RBI and the ECB will give their interest rate decisions this week. China and the US will report inflation numbers.
Early Asia: The Nifty in Singapore and the Nikkei 225 were trading in the red at 7:35 am India time while the Hang Seng had opened marginally up.
Rape Joke Ad Gets The Rap
…As it should. Body spray brand Layer’r Shot caused a stink over the weekend.
BLUF: Two ads from the brand faced the heat for promoting rape culture. They were taken off television after ad regulator ASCI suspended them. The I&B Ministry took note. Twitter and YouTube have been directed to pull down the ad since, courtesy of the government's Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code.
Go on? Deodorant ads have often missed the mark by resorting to sexism and titillation. Remember Axe, which finally shed its cringeworthy takes? Tech giants promised to comply with the government's new digital rules in 2021, i.e. when content “violates” the local law. In this instance, it outrages the decency and morality of the woman. For once, the government and tech giants are in agreement on a compliance issue.
🎧 Seduction is a recurring theme in perfume and deodorant advertisements in India. They often turn out to be sexist. Here’s a sniff.
The West Is Done With The War
Volodymyr Zelensky must be feeling like a reluctant bar brawler who threw punches because he thought the bouncers were on his side. Now as the bully presses on, they want the Ukraine President to roll over and lose his shirt as well.
The endgame is near not because Ukraine has lost or Russia has won, but because the West is done. US President Joe Biden has broached a negotiated settlement. It could mean Ukraine giving up territory to Russia. Henry Kissinger, the wily fox of global diplomacy, had almost presented it as a fait accompli at Davos recently.
French President Emmaneul Macron said that France wanted to play peacemaker and allow Russian President Vladimir Putin an exit ramp without “humiliating” him. Kissinger too wanted to avoid humiliation. Translation: We want to be able to do business with Putin soon.
Google In Inequality Labs Conundrum
Google’s leadership is facing the heat over the cancellation of an event about caste bias. Business Insider, which obtained an audio recording of an all-hands meet, revealed that the April 2022 event was cancelled for “pulling employees apart”. One employee asked whether future diversity initiatives would be altered so as “not to cause others discomfort”.
Context: Hell broke loose on June 1, when Tanuja Gupta’s seven-page resignation email went public. The senior manager of Google News—who’d invited Equality Labs co-founder and Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan to headline the talk—shared a detailed timeline of doxxing, internal backlash, and Google’s disinclination to see the event through. A day later, The Washington Post reported on the issue.
Sundar Pichai always maintained that Google should consider all kinds of discrimination as part of its DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) initiatives. But the cancellation of a caste discrimination talk, coupled with Gupta’s scathing email—which details how Google has pushed out other women—is a bad look.
Because Silicon Valley (and the US as a whole) has a considerable south Asian workforce, American institutions are recognising caste as a protected category. An Equality Labs report was also cited in the 2020 caste discrimination case against Cisco.
The anti-caste movement in the US is converging with the country’s larger civil rights discourse and activism. Civil rights groups have already petitioned Pichai to reinstate the event. Closer home, Nanded recently hosted the first-ever conference that brought together leaders of the Black Panther Party and the Dalit Panthers.
Another Summer With The Virus
First, the good news. India has approved Biological E’s coronavirus vaccine, Corbevax, as the first mix-and-match booster dose in the country. It will be administered as a booster shot to anyone above 18 years of age.
Not-so-good news: Maharashtra reintroduced compulsory masking in public spaces after a surge in Covid-19 cases. And with 4,270 new infections in a day, India reported the biggest jump in three months. Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has tested positive. Bollywood director Karan Johar’s star-studded birthday bash may have turned into a super-spreader event; Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif are both Covid-positive.
Elsewhere: Hong Kong registered almost 500 new Covid-19 infections. Beijing will lift the restaurant dine-in ban which has been in place since May. It will also allow students to return to school in batches.
🎧 The virus is rearing its head again. Some states have reimposed mask mandates while others are watching with caution. Fortunately, most people have been vaccinated. Here’s our take.
Clouds On The Tech Horizon
The tech landscape across the globe is in dire straits.
Marching orders: Elon Musk announced a 10% cut in Tesla’s salaried workforce but reiterated an increase in total headcount. Though there is no exact number, Clubhouse laid off several employees amid a restructuring plan. BNPL firm Klarna fired 700 employees for the same reason. Email startup Superhuman bid goodbye to 23 staff members, attributing it to the economic downturn. Meta, Snap, Lyft and Microsoft have hit the brakes on hiring to nip costs. Over 127,000 tech workers have lost jobs since 2020.
Sometimes other factors are also responsible. Superhuman chief Rahul Vohra’s tweet announcing the layoff invited a volley from another entrepreneur. The lay-offs are also a reminder of a brand of capitalism championed by corporate leaders such as Jack Welch.
Extra shot: Coffee chain joint-venture Tata Starbucks’ grew its revenue by 76% to ₹636 crore for 2021-22, following the gradual easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Grifty: People have lost more than $1 billion in cryptocurrency-related scams since the start of 2021, nearly 60x of what they were in 2018. The Discord server of the Bored Ape Yacht Club company Yuga Labs was hacked, with NFTs worth 200 ETH ($360,000) stolen.
Baby steps: Elon Musk’s $44 billion bid to acquire Twitter has cleared its first hurdle — the antitrust review period of 30 days lapsed last week. However, a dozen advocacy groups want the deal to be blocked in a campaign called “Stop The Deal”.
Stop button: Google will bar businesses in India from using its Rich Communications Services, after reports of banks and lending companies abusing the feature to spam users.
Gun violence: Five people died and over two dozen were injured in mass shootings in the US over the weekend.
Diplomatic disaster: India has run into a diplomatic quagmire with Arab nations after two ruling Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons ranted—one on TV and the other on social media— against Prophet Mohammed.
No Christmas miracle: The grinch came early this year. Mariah Carey has been slapped with a copyright lawsuit for her festive (or massively-annoying earworm) hit, All I Want For Christmas is You. Andy Stone claims he wrote the song with the same name in 1989. He also accused Carey and Sony Music Entertainment of "knowingly, willfully, and intentionally" infringing upon his work.
Ka-ching: Many came for the music, but are settling for white noise. In fact, it is so popular among Spotify users that the streaming platform's biggest hits remain white noise. Sample this: the sound of falling rain, white noise and deep sleep sounds remain popular. White noise podcasters are even cashing up to $18,000 a month.
Fixers ahoy: New York State has passed a right-to-repair bill. Electronics manufacturers will be required to part with repair information with third parties. Consumers can refurbish their gadgets or service them at low-cost independent repair shops. It is currently waiting for approval from New York Governor Kathy Hochul, after which it will go into effect a year later.
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