Google-Temasek study sees $240 billion Southeast Asia internet economy by 2025

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Southeast Asia’s internet economy is expected to exceed $240 billion by 2025, a joint study by Google and Temasek Holdings showed, a fifth more than previously estimated, as more consumers use their smartphones to go online.

People use their mobile phones at a university in Semenyih, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 3, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

The study, first published in 2016, encompasses ride-hailing, e-commerce, online travel and online media. The latest report released on Monday adds new sectors such as online food delivery, as well as subscription music and video on demand.

It estimated that the gross merchandise value (GMV) of the region’s internet economy has reached $72 billion in 2018, rising 37 percent from the year earlier.

The GMV of e-commerce in the region will exceed $23 billion in 2018, the report said, and rise more than four times to exceed $100 billion by 2025, helped by increased consumer trust.

It credited e-commerce companies – Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Lazada, Sea Ltd’s Shopee, and Indonesia’s Tokopedia – for helping develop the sector.

The report estimated that the GMV of the competitive ride hailing sector, with the addition of online food delivery, has reached $7.7 billion in 2018.

“Powered by the ambitions of Go-Jek and Grab to become Southeast Asia’s ‘everyday apps’, we project that ride hailing will reach almost $30 billion by 2025,” the Google-Temasek study said.

Both Alphabet Inc’s Google and Singapore state investor Temasek [TEM.UL] have invested in Go-Jek. Temasek-backed Vertex Ventures is an early investor in Grab.

The Indonesian internet economy is forecast to grow to $100 billion by 2025, accounting for $4 of every $10 spent in the region, the report said.

It added that 2018 was on track to be a record year for fundraising for the region’s internet economy companies, with $9.1 billion raised in the first half of the year, nearly as much as in all of 2017.

The research covers Southeast Asia’s six largest economies – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The growth is being boosted by the world’s most engaged internet users, of whom more than 90 percent connect to the web through their smartphones, it said.

The report said the increasing availability of affordable smartphones and the rollout of faster and more reliable mobile telecommunication services were supporting Southeast Asia’s growing internet user base.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

What BlackBerry’s Acquisition of Cylance Means for the Cybersecurity Business

BlackBerry is making its biggest acquisition ever.

The once-dominant smartphone maker known for producing mobile devices so addictive people used to call them “crackberries” said Friday it is plunking down $1.4 billion in cash to buy Cylance, a cybersecurity firm that specializes in machine learning-enabled threat detection. Pending regulatory approval, expected by February, the purchase will deplete more than half of BlackBerry’s cash pile.

The acquisition reflects BlackBerry CEO John Chen’s multiyear imperative: a shift from selling phones to enterprise software and services. He first laid out the strategy shortly after becoming CEO in 2013. (BlackBerry stopped making its own phones two years ago, though it continues to license its brand.)

Chen said in a statement that the addition of Cylance would “immediately complement our entire portfolio.” In particular, he said the business, set to run as an independent unit, would bolster BlackBerry’s “unified endpoint management” software, which helps businesses manage devices and applications, and QNX, an operating system used inside power plants and cars.

With Cylance, BlackBerry is seeking a greater slice of businesses’ information security spend, which market researcher Gartner estimates will exceed $114 billion this year. That BlackBerry is putting up triple the amount it paid for ex-rival Good Technology, its last biggest acquisition, made in 2015, demonstrates that it is fully committed to the pursuit of this new business model—best exemplified by BlackBerry Spark, a platform it is pitching as the secure, connective tissue for all sorts of connected devices.

If the deal goes through, BlackBerry’s purchase of Cylance will be the latest in a recent series of cybersecurity acquisitions including Cisco buying Duo for $2.4 billion and private equity firm Thoma Bravo taking over Veracode for $950 million. (Rumors are swirling, meanwhile, that Facebook, beset by propagandists, trolls, and privacy breaches, has been poking around for a major cybersecurity acquisition as well.)

Even as Cylance exits the “unicorn” club, a collection of startups privately valued at $1 billion or more, another company has stepped up to take its place. Earlier this week I broke the news that Netskope, a cloud security startup, had earned its unicorn horn after raising a new round of funding worth $170 million. But these mythical beasts are fleeing the stable quicker than their stock can be replenished.

Market consolidation will continue. Businesses are going to be spending more money on cybersecurity in the years to come, but it’s going to be with fewer vendors.

BlackBerry sure hopes it will be one of them.

How Did the 'Freedom From Facebook' Campaign Get Its Start?

In July, executives from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter testified before Congress about their company’s content moderation practices. While Facebook’s head of global policy Monika Bickert spoke, protesters from a group called Freedom From Facebook, seated just behind her, held signs depicting Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg’s heads atop an octopus whose tentacles reached around the planet.

Freedom From Facebook has garnered renewed attention this week, after The New York Times revealed that Facebook employed an opposition firm called Definers to fight the group. Definers reportedly urged journalists to find links between Freedom From Facebook and billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a frequent target of far-right, anti-semitic conspiracy theories. That direct connection didn’t materialize. But where Freedom From Facebook did come from—and how Facebook countered it—does illustrate how seemingly grassroots movements in Washington aren’t always what they first appear.

The point here isn’t to question Freedom From Facebook’s intentions. Their efforts seem to stem from genuine concern over Facebook’s outsized role in the world. But the labyrinthine relationships and shadowy catalysts of the efforts on all sides of that debate show just how little involvement actual Facebook users have in the fight over reining the company in.

Since the 2016 presidential election, Facebook has confronted an onslaught of scandals, many of which drew scrutiny from federal lawmakers. First, Russian propagandists exploited the social network, using duplicitously bought ads to sway US voters. This March, journalists revealed data firm Cambridge Analytica had siphoned off information belonging to tens of millions of users. In the wake of this second controversy, Freedom From Facebook was born.

The initiative wasn’t formed by everyday Facebook users. It’s instead the product of progressive groups with established records of opposing tech companies, whose own relationships illustrate just how tangled these connections can be.

Specifically, Freedom From Facebook is an offshoot of the Open Markets Institute, a think tank that operated under the auspices of the New America Foundation until OMI head Barry Lynn publicly applauded antitrust fines levied against Google in Europe. Google is a major New America donor; Lynn’s entire team studying tech market dominance and monopolies got the ax, and spun out Open Markets as an independent body.

Earlier this year, former hedge fund executive David Magerman approached Lynn’s group with the idea to start to start a campaign in opposition to Facebook. Magerman poured over $400,000 into what became Freedom From Facebook, according to Axios. His involvement wasn’t known until Thursday. The connected between Freedom From Facebook and OMI was also not entirely explicit.

Freedom From Facebook has done more than stage protests on Capitol Hill. During Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting in May, the group chartered an airplane to fly overhead with a banner that read “YOU BROKE DEMOCRACY.” When Sandberg spoke at MIT in June, Freedom From Facebook took out a full-page advertisement in the student newspaper calling for the social network to be broken up. On Thursday, the group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate a Facebook breach disclosed in September that affected 30 million user accounts.

Freedom From Facebook also formed a coalition with a diverse set of progressive organizations, like Jewish Voice For Peace, which promotes peace in Israel and Palestine, and the Communications Workers of America, a labor union that represents media workers. The coalition now comprises 12 groups, who “all organize around this fundamental principle that Facebook is too powerful,” says Sarah Miller, the deputy director of Open Markets Institute. Confusingly, according to Freedom From Facebook’s website, the coalition also includes Citizens Against Monopoly, a nonprofit Miller says was set up by Open Markets itself.

Eddie Vale, a progressive public affairs consultant, also confirmed in an email that Open Markets hired him to work on the Freedom For Facebook Initiative. He led the protest in July featuring the octopus signs.

Definers began lobbying journalists, including those from WIRED, to look into Freedom From Facebook’s financial ties this past summer. The effort was led by Tim Miller, a former spokesperson for Jeb Bush and an independent public affairs consultant, according to The New York Times. “It matters because people should know whether FFF is a grassroots group as they claimed or something being run by professional Facebook critics,” Miller wrote in a blog post published Friday. He added that he believes the push to connect the group to Soros does not amount to anti-semitism, especially if it contains a modicum of truth. Facebook itself asserted much the same in a statement it released Thursday.

The extent of the Soros relationship seems to be that the billionaire philanthropist does provide funding to both Open Markets and some of the progressive groups who constitute the Freedom From Facebook coalition. There’s no indication, though, that he has any direct involvement with the initiative. Open Markets’ Miller says the think tank wasn’t aware Facebook was paying an opposition firm to ask journalists to look into its work. “I just think knowing Facebook as we do, I don’t know that I would say that we were surprised, but I do think the Soros angle was surprising,” she says.

After The Times published its report Wednesday evening, Facebook severed its ties with Definers. “This type of firm might be normal in Washington, but it’s not the sort of thing I want Facebook associated with,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a call with reporters Thursday. Both Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg claim they didn’t know Facebook was working with Definers until the The Times published its story. This is not the first time Facebook has employed an opposition research firm. In 2011, the social network hired a public relations firm to plant unflattering stories about Google’s user privacy practices.

By distancing itself from Definers, Zuckerberg and Sandberg are putting space between themselves and how the sausage gets made in Washington. As they have grown more powerful, tech organizations including Facebook, but also Google, Amazon, and others, have poured millions into lobbying on Capitol Hill. Those efforts include fighting back against well-funded and sometimes secretive campaigns, like Freedom From Facebook. Meanwhile, the social network’s over two billion users mostly sit on the sidelines, watching the high-stakes battle unfold.


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Facebook Moves to Limit Hate Speech as ‘Times’ Scandal Swirls

Mark Zuckerberg would like you to know that despite a scathing report in The New York Times, which depicts Facebook as a ruthless, self-concerned corporate behemoth, things are getting better—at least, the way he sees it.

In a lengthy call with reporters Thursday, and an equally lengthy “note” published on Facebook, the company’s CEO laid out a litany of changes Facebook is making, designed to curb toxic content on the platform and provide more transparency into the decisions Facebook makes on content. But perhaps the most consequential update is that the Facebook News Feed algorithm will now try to limit the spread of sensationalist content on the platform, which represents a major change from how the company has traditionally approached moderation. All of it is in service of restoring trust in a company whose public reputation—and the reputation of its leaders—have taken near constant body blows over the past two years.

“When you have setbacks like we’ve had this year that’s a big issue, and it does erode trust, and it takes time to build that back,” Zuckerberg said on the call. “Certainly our job is not only to have this stuff at a good level and to continually improve, but to be ahead of new issues. I think over the last couple of years that’s been one of the areas where we’ve been most behind, especially around the election issues.”

Zuckerberg’s words come a day after the Times published a damning report that portrays Facebook as not merely behind on issues of election interference, as Zuckerberg suggests, but actively working to downplay what it knew about that interference. It suggests that Facebook’s executives, wary of picking sides in a partisan battle over Russian interference in the 2016 election, aimed to minimize Russia’s role in spreading propaganda on the platform. The story states that Facebook’s former head of cybersecurity, Alex Stamos, was chastised by the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, for investigating Russian actions without the company’s approval and berated again for divulging too much information about it to members of Facebook’s board.

In his remarks, Zuckerberg flatly denied this allegation. “We’ve certainly stumbled along the way, but to suggest that we weren’t interested in knowing the truth or that we wanted to hide what we knew or that we tried to prevent investigations is simply untrue,” he said. (Stamos, for his part, tweeted earlier on Thursday that he was “never told by Mark, Sheryl or any other executives not to investigate.”)

The Times story also alleges that Facebook waged a smear campaign against its competitors through an opposition research firm called Definers Public Relations. The firm repeatedly worked to tie Facebook’s detractors, including groups like the Open Markets Institute and Freedom from Facebook, to billionaire George Soros. Critics say that in doing so, Facebook engaged with the same anti-Semitic tropes that have been used by white nationalists and other hate groups that regularly villainize Soros.

Zuckerberg denied having any personal knowledge of Definers’ work with Facebook, and said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, only heard about the relationship yesterday. That’s despite the fact that Definers often coordinated large-scale calls with the press on behalf of Facebook and its employees and, in at least one case, sat in on meetings between Facebook and the media.

After Zuckerberg read the story in the Times, he says Facebook promptly ended its relationship with the firm. “This type of firm might be normal in Washington, but it’s not the type of thing I want Facebook associated with, which is why we’re no longer going to be working with them.”

But while Zuckerberg said he had no knowledge of Definers’ work or its messaging, he defended Facebook’s criticism of activist groups like Freedom from Facebook. He said the intention was not to attack Soros, for whom Zuckerberg said he has “tremendous respect,” but show that Freedom from Facebook “was not a spontaneous grassroots effort.”

Zuckerberg declined to assign blame for the tactics allegedly employed by Definers, or to comment on broader personnel issues within Facebook itself. He said only that Sandberg, who has been overseeing Facebook’s lobbying efforts and who is portrayed unfavorably throughout the Times story, is “doing great work for the company.” “She’s been an important partner to me and continues to be and will continue to be,” Zuckerberg said. (Sandberg was not on the call.)

For the umpteenth time this year, Zuckerberg found himself working overtime to clean up Facebook’s mess, even as he wanted desperately to tout the progress the company’s been making. And it has made important progress. In Myanmar, where fake news on Facebook has animated a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya people, the company has hired 100 Burmese speakers to moderate content there and is now automatically identifying 63 percent of the hate speech it takes down, up from just 13 percent at the end of last year. Facebook has expanded its safety and security team to 30,000 people globally, more than the 20,000 people the company initially set out to hire this year. It’s also changed its content takedown process, allowing people to appeal the company’s decisions about content they post or report. On Thursday, Facebook announced that within the next year, it will create an independent oversight body to handle content appeals.

But by far the biggest news to come out of Thursday’s announcements is the change coming to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm. Zuckerberg acknowledged what most observers already know to be one of Facebook’s most fundamental problems: That sensationalist, provocative content, even content that doesn’t explicitly violate Facebook’s policies, tends to get the most engagement on the platform. “As content gets closer to the line of what is prohibited by our community standards, we see people tend to engage with it more,” he said. “This seems to be true regardless of where we set our policy lines.”

This issue is arguably what undergirds most of Facebook’s problems the past few years. It’s why divisive political propaganda was so successful during the 2016 campaign and why fake news has been able to flourish. Until now, Facebook has operated in a black-and-white environment, where content either violates the rules or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, it’s free to amass millions of clicks, even if the poster’s intention is to mislead and stoke outrage. Now Facebook is saying that even content that doesn’t explicitly violate Facebook’s rules might see its reach reduced. According to Zuckerberg’s post, that includes, among other things, “photos close to the line of nudity” and “posts that don’t come within our definition of hate speech but are still offensive.”

Zuckerberg called the shift “a big part of the solution for making sure polarizing or sensational content isn’t spreading in the system, and we’re having a positive effect on the world.”

With this move, Facebook is taking a risk. Curbing engagement on the most popular content will likely cost the company money. And such a dramatic change no doubt opens Facebook up to even more accusations of censorship, at a time when the company is fending off constant criticism from all angles.

But Facebook is betting big on the upside. If outrage is no longer rewarded with ever more clicks, the thinking goes, maybe people will be better behaved. That Facebook is prepared to take such a chance says a lot about the public pressure that’s been placed on the company these last two years. After all of that, what does Facebook have to lose?


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U.S. lawmaker says Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate itself

FILE PHOTO: The entrance sign to Facebook headquarters is seen in Menlo Park, California, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. Representative David Cicilline, expected to become the next chairman of House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, said on Wednesday that Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate itself and Congress should take action.

Cicilline, citing a report in the New York Times on Facebook’s conduct, said on Twitter: “This staggering report makes clear that @Facebook executives will always put their massive profits ahead of the interests of their customers.”

Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

Cisco beats as network gear demand rises, new bets pay off

(Reuters) – Cisco Systems Inc beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly revenue and profit on Wednesday, as the network gear maker benefited from demand for its routers and switches and growth in its newer focus areas such as software.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Cisco is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

Shares of the company, which also forecast second-quarter revenue largely above expectations, rose 4 percent in extended trading, putting them on track to add to the nearly 16 percent gain for the year.

Cisco pivoted to software and cyber security to cushion the impact from slowing demand for its routers and switches from companies increasingly shifting to cloud services offered by Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc instead of building their own networks.

Revenue in its application software businesses rose 18 percent to $1.42 billion, beating analysts’ average estimate of $1.37 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Sales in its security business, which offers firewall protection and breach detection systems, rose 11 percent to $651 million. That fell short of IBES estimate of $656.4 million, but beat research firm FactSet’s estimate of $648.1 million.

Deals such as the $2.35 billion purchase of cyber security provider Duo Security in August have played an important part in driving growth in Cisco’s newer business.

Acquisitions provided an 80 basis point boost to the company’s first-quarter results year-over-year, Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kramer said on a post-earnings call with analysts.

Revenue in its infrastructure platform unit, which houses the switches and routers business, rose about 9 percent to $7.64 billion, topping expectation of $7.39 billion.

Subscriptions, which provide a more steady revenue flow, accounted for 57 percent of total software revenue in the first quarter, the company said. The share was 56 percent in the preceding quarter.

“Cisco is executing on its plan to move its business model to software and subscriptions while benefiting from a strong IT spending environment,” said Mark Cash, an analyst with Morningstar.

Cisco said tariffs were immaterial for the reported quarter, but added that the impending 25 percent duties could weigh on third-quarter results.

The company said it expects second-quarter revenue growth of between 5 percent and 7 percent from a year earlier. This implies a range of between $12.48 billion and $12.72 billion, while analysts were expecting $12.53 billion.

For its first quarter ended Oct. 27, the company reported an adjusted profit of 75 cents per share, above the average estimate of 72 cents.

Total revenue rose 7.7 percent to $13.07 billion, topping estimate of $12.87 billion. However, the company said deferred revenue fell 9.4 percent to $16.81 billion.

Reporting by Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila

Advertisers Are Giving People With 1,000 Instagram Followers Endorsement Deals

Want to shill yoga pants on Instagram like your favorite Kardashian but only have 1/100,000 of her reach? According to a new report from the New York Times, you might be in luck.

Business reporter Sapna Maheshwari writes that brands are now reaching out to nanoinfluencers, a term “used by companies to describe people who have as few as 1,000 followers and are willing to advertise products on social media”, to proliferate their social stream with #ads.

According to the Association of National Advertisers, as many as 75 percent of national advertisers currently partake in influencer marketing and 43 percent of those companies are planning to expand their influencer budget in the next year.

And nanoinfluencers don’t come with a Kardashian price tag.

While WWD reports that Kylie Kardashian yields $1 million per Instagram post to her 119 million followers, and Digiday estimates that microinfluencers charge approximately $1,000 per 100,000 followers, Maheshwari writes, “For most nanoinfluencers, money isn’t part of the deal. Free products are viewed as fair compensation for the ads they post outside their day jobs.”

Although many nanoinfluencers aren’t old enough for day jobs.

Last February, skincare brand Clean & Clear reached out to teens with under 500 followers to post about its product. As Simon Geraghty, U.S. acne portfolio lead for Johnson & Johnson, told Ad Age, the brand was “trying influencers who weren’t famous per se but [are] doing things that other kids responded to authentically, letting them tell their story and building the products and brands from there.”

And authenticity is everything.

Principal analyst at Altimeter Group Brian Solis told PR News Online that 70 percent of consumers say that they’re influenced by friends and family members online, while only 32 percent claimed to be influenced technical “influencers.”

So get ready for a lot more #sponcon on your feed.

Spotify Is Rolling Out Its Official Apple Watch App This Week

Spotify is delivering on its promise to release a music-streaming app for the Apple Watch after testing a beta version of the app earlier this month.

With the new app, Spotify users can use an Apple Watch to control music, favorite songs playing on a connected iPhone, and choose which device to play songs on. Some features are still missing, however, such as downloading songs to play offline. And Apple Watches with built-in 4G LTE can’t stream music to wireless headphones, a feature that would appeal to music-loving runners.

Part of the appeal Apple imagined the Watch having was to avoid having to pull a smartphone out of a pocket to control an app’s functions. Streaming music is tailor-made for such a device, as listeners frequently want to change volume, switch tracks, or move around playlists.

“With this new app, users can enjoy an improved experience with better control and the ability to seamlessly connect to your speakers or devices,” Spotify said in a statement announcing the app. “The new integration with Apple Watch makes accessing your recently played songs simple, even with your phone in your pocket.”

Spotify is the most popular music app, with more than 190 million users. Apple Music has been growing quickly, however, having a user base of more than 50 million users. Releasing a Spotify app for the Apple Watch may strengthen the music service’s appeal among Apple’s loyal customers.

Spotify said it will be rolling out the new app to Apple Watch owners during the coming week. Spotify users will need to install the latest iPhone version of Spotify from the App Store.

The US Is the Only Country Where There Are More Guns Than People

Americans could be forgiven for becoming numb to the swarm of stories reporting gun massacres. In the last five years, ordinary Americans have been murdered in mass shootings in a synagogue, in churches, at elementary and high schools, at a nightclub, at a bar, at a music festival, at a center for people with developmental disabilities, among countless others. After a shooting in Isla Vista, California, in 2014, The Onion wrote, “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

The Onion got it right—at least for the “only nation” bit. The US is the only country where this keeps happening. And the US also claims the dubious distinction of being the only rich nation to see so many deaths from firearms, as the chart below shows. (We kill ourselves even more than we kill each other: Worldwide, the US ranks second only to Greenland in the rate of suicides by firearm; when you remove suicides from the equation, the US falls to number 28 worldwide for deaths from firearms, both from violent acts and accidents. But even subtracting suicides, the US’s death rate from guns remains far ahead of every single European nation and nearly every Asian one.)

Most countries that see high rates of gun violence are also economically depressed; El Salvador, for example, which claims the world’s highest rate of deaths from gun violence, has a per capita GDP of around $4,000—roughly 7 percent of the earnings per citizen in the US. The chart below shows that, generally, it’s the poorer countries that see high rates of violence, while rich countries—Luxembourg tops the list—tend to lose very few residents to gunfire. The US, again, stands alone for having a relatively high GDP per capita (number 8 worldwide) and a high level of gun violence (number 12 worldwide).

Rich countries that see virtually no deaths from firearms include Japan, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and South Korea, according to data from the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease survey.

Unsurprisingly, firearm deaths are correlated with firearm proliferation. American companies manufacture millions of guns each year and import many more. Domestic firearm manufacturing increased dramatically during President Barack Obama’s first term, in part because of fears that, after eight years of a Republican White House, a pro-gun-control president would take away citizens’ weapons.

That didn’t happen. By 2017 the number of handguns, shotguns, and rifles available in the United States was nearly three times higher than it was two decades earlier, according to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Today, the US boasts more firearms than residents.

Canada, for its part, may have a lot of guns as well, as the chart below shows, but its citizens don’t often die from gunfire; the country ranks 72nd in the world for deaths from firearms. Despite having one firearm per every three Canadians, the country’s death rate from gun violence is about one-tenth that of the US (though still four times that of the UK). While mass shootings have been on the rise in Canada, only 223 Canadians died from firearm violence in 2016, compared with more than 14,000 in the US. Prospective gun buyers in Canada must pass a reference check, background check, and a gun-safety course before receiving a firearm license; the country also imposes a 28-day waiting period for new gun licensees. The AR-15 rifle—which was used to kill high school students in Parkland, Florida, moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, and worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, among many others—is a “restricted” firearm in Canada, meaning owners must pass an additional test and obtain a special license.

If Barack Obama had succeeded in passing stronger gun laws, would it have helped save lives? Maybe. On a state-by-state basis, there’s a general correlation between stronger gun laws and lower rates of firearm deaths. A May 2018 paper in JAMA Internal Medicine that sought to evaluate whether strong gun laws resulted in fewer deaths concluded, “Strengthening state firearm policies may prevent firearm suicide and homicide, with benefits that may extend beyond state lines.” Still, a February 2018 analysis by The New York Times found that most weapons used in mass shootings had been obtained legally.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives the states of Alaska and Louisiana a failing grade for their gun-safety laws; those states also claim the nation’s highest per capita rate of deaths from firearms. Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey all receive higher marks for their laws and have comparatively lower death rates from guns.

But as long as it’s easy for firearms to be transported from, say, a gun-friendly state (like Nevada) to a state with strong gun laws (like California), as long as lawmakers fail to enact strong policies to restrict sales to people with mental illnesses or a history of violence, as long politicians continue to take money from the gun industry, as long as the gun lobby continues to pressure medical doctors to stop advocating for their patients with bullet wounds, and as long as a box of ammunition for an AR-15 rifle costs $20 for 50 rounds, the shootings will no doubt continue.


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How Amazon's Marketplace Supercharged Its Private Label Growth

In 2009, Amazon launched its first private label brand AmazonBasic. Today, Amazon has 100+ private label brands that offer over 4,600 products. That explosive growth has been supported by rich data that Amazon mines from its marketplace. The modern monopoly’s control over search results on its website, mobile app, and Alexa voice queries further exacerbates the problem by giving its own brands premium listing space (or in the case of some voice searches, the only listing).

Reinventing the private label game

To be clear, Amazon is a late comer to the private label game. For decades large retailers such as Walmart, BJ’s, and CVS have placed private labels on their shelves at a cheaper price than other brands.

In the decades before the rise of online marketplaces, retailers stocked their shelves by making deals with big manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble or Nestlé. Those big consumer good conglomerates wielded the power to shove out smaller brands, demand premium shelf space, and trade for other perks as part of their deals with big retailers like Walmart. Consequently, Walmart could, and did, use the data it gathered in its stores to build its own private label brands.

On its face, Amazon’s approach looks no different – that is, it gathers data on products sold of the website and builds out a private label strategy with that data. However, Amazon’s platform business and market share gives it advantages that brick-and-mortar retailers could only ever dream of.

Predatory pricing in Amazon’s private label brands

The proliferation of Amazon’s private label brands has consumer good sellers squirming. Because Amazon prioritizes growth over profits, the tech giant has been able to move quickly across many product categories from electronics to fashion to home and kitchen, pet products, cosmetics, health and beyond. Like the private label brands of traditional retailers, Amazon’s products often sell for cheaper than other brands on its own market, and often (though not always) at a loss.

As Lina M. Khan wrote in the Yale Law Review in an article discussing antitrust issues with Amazon, “The economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational.”

Amazon’s multi-channel revenue, including the revenue it makes from third-party sellers on its marketplaces, subsidizes its private label experimentation and dominance. But Amazon’s platform has done more than provide financial cover for Amazon’s private label brands, it has also provided the right data.

Data richness and search results

Amazon’s marketplace catalog dwarfs even the largest traditional retailers, such as Walmart’s catalog (especially pre-marketplace). Amazon democratized access to the consumer for sellers. Soon small brands and living room product startups could open shop on a marketplace that commanded over half of online sales.

That boon cut both ways. Amazon gained access to all the data for itself, and the quality of the data is much richer and more granular than any data collected by traditional retailers at their stores.

The combination of granular data and the democratization of access has quickly benefited Amazon in a matter of years. Consider Anker, a smaller brand of portable battery packs, speakers, and other electronic goods. Before 2017 they were sold almost exclusively on Amazon’s marketplace. Compare and contrast Anker’s portable bluetooth speaker with Amazon. Anker’s is $40 and Amazon’s is $20.

Both even come in black, blue, and red! Notice Amazon is out of stock of its blue speaker. Most of its private label brands carry a limited stock of each item to test their performance.

In addition to hyper specific data mining, Amazon also accounts for 49% of online product searches, while another 36% of product searches start on Google and point to Amazon first (according to research firm Survata). Amazon can, and does, list its items before competitors. In the case of voice shopping via Alexa using generic product terms such as ‘batteries’, the smart speaker chooses an Amazon brand for the consumer (a practice that, among others, is inviting antitrust scrutiny).

How manufacturers and resellers should respond

Given Amazon’s monopolistic advantage, what can product sellers do? In the short term, pulling your product from Amazon simply isn’t practical. Amazon accounts for over half of all online sales. They have the consumer goods retail market by the wallet.

Rather than just hoping that antitrust regulation is successfully brought against Amazon, product vendors should build or acquire a marketplace of their own. Listing stock on competing marketplaces is a good idea, but it isn’t enough. The publishing industry tried that approach with books, and it found little success. By building or buying a competing marketplace, product companies can scale niche, specialized marketplaces that can serve as a competitive moat against Amazon.

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