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Big data algorithms can discriminate, and it's not clear what to do about it

8:21AM | Friday, 14 August

  “This program had absolutely nothing to do with race… but multi-variable equations.” That’s what Brett Goldstein, a former policeman for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and current Urban Science Fellow at the University of Chicago’s School for Public Policy, said about a predictive policing algorithm he deployed at the CPD in 2010. His algorithm tells police where to look for criminals based on where people have been arrested previously. It’s a “heat map” of Chicago, and the CPD claims it helps them allocate resources more effectively.   Chicago police also recently collaborated with Miles Wernick, a professor of electrical engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology, to algorithmically generate a “heat list” of 400 individuals it claims have the highest chance of committing a violent crime. In response to criticism, Wernick said the algorithm does not use “any racial, neighborhood, or other such information” and that the approach is “unbiased” and “quantitative.” By deferring decisions to poorly understood algorithms, industry professionals effectively shed accountability for any negative effects of their code.   But do these algorithms discriminate, treating low-income and black neighborhoods and their inhabitants unfairly? It’s the kind of question many researchers are starting to ask as more and more industries use algorithms to make decisions. It’s true that an algorithm itself is quantitative – it boils down to a sequence of arithmetic steps for solving a problem. The danger is that these algorithms, which are trained on data produced by people, may reflect the biases in that data, perpetuating structural racism and negative biases about minority groups.   There are a lot of challenges to figuring out whether an algorithm embodies bias. First and foremost, many practitioners and “computer experts” still don’t publicly admit that algorithms can easily discriminate. More and more evidence supports that not only is this possible, but it’s happening already. The law is unclear on the legality of biased algorithms, and even algorithms researchers don’t precisely understand what it means for an algorithm to discriminate.     Is bias baked in? Justin Ruckman, CC BY   Being quantitative doesn’t protect against bias Both Goldstein and Wernick claim their algorithms are fair by appealing to two things. First, the algorithms aren’t explicitly fed protected characteristics such as race or neighborhood as an attribute. Second, they say the algorithms aren’t biased because they’re “quantitative.” Their argument is an appeal to abstraction. Math isn’t human, and so the use of math can’t be immoral.   Sadly, Goldstein and Wernick are repeating a common misconception about data mining, and mathematics in general, when it’s applied to social problems. The entire purpose of data mining is to discover hidden correlations. So if race is disproportionately (but not explicitly) represented in the data fed to a data-mining algorithm, the algorithm can infer race and use race indirectly to make an ultimate decision.   Here’s a simple example of the way algorithms can result in a biased outcome based on what it learns from the people who use it. Look at how how Google search suggests finishing a query that starts with the phrase “transgenders are”:   Taken from Google.com on 2015-08-10.   Autocomplete features are generally a tally. Count up all the searches you’ve seen and display the most common completions of a given partial query. While most algorithms might be neutral on the face, they’re designed to find trends in the data they’re fed. Carelessly trusting an algorithm allows dominant trends to cause harmful discrimination or at least have distasteful results.   Beyond biased data, such as Google autocompletes, there are other pitfalls, too. Moritz Hardt, a researcher at Google, describes what he calls the sample size disparity. The idea is as follows. If you want to predict, say, whether an individual will click on an ad, most algorithms optimize to reduce error based on the previous activity of users.   But if a small fraction of users consists of a racial minority that tends to behave in a different way from the majority, the algorithm may decide it’s better to be wrong for all the minority users and lump them in the “error” category in order to be more accurate on the majority. So an algorithm with 85% accuracy on US participants could err on the entire black sub-population and still seem very good.   Hardt continues to say it’s hard to determine why data points are erroneously classified. Algorithms rarely come equipped with an explanation for why they behave the way they do, and the easy (and dangerous) course of action is not to ask questions.   Those smiles might not be so broad if they realized they’d be treated differently by the algorithm. Men image via www.shutterstock.com   Extent of the problem While researchers clearly understand the theoretical dangers of algorithmic discrimination, it’s difficult to cleanly measure the scope of the issue in practice. No company or public institution is willing to publicize its data and algorithms for fear of being labeled racist or sexist, or maybe worse, having a great algorithm stolen by a competitor.   Even when the Chicago Police Department was hit with a Freedom of Information Act request, they did not release their algorithms or heat list, claiming a credible threat to police officers and the people on the list. This makes it difficult for researchers to identify problems and potentially provide solutions.   Legal hurdles Existing discrimination law in the United States isn’t helping. At best, it’s unclear on how it applies to algorithms; at worst, it’s a mess. Solon Barocas, a postdoc at Princeton, and Andrew Selbst, a law clerk for the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals, argued together that US hiring law fails to address claims about discriminatory algorithms in hiring.   The crux of the argument is called the “business necessity” defense, in which the employer argues that a practice that has a discriminatory effect is justified by being directly related to job performance. According to Barocas and Selbst, if a company algorithmically decides whom to hire, and that algorithm is blatantly racist but even mildly successful at predicting job performance, this would count as business necessity – and not as illegal discrimination. In other words, the law seems to support using biased algorithms.   What is fairness? Maybe an even deeper problem is that nobody has agreed on what it means for an algorithm to be fair in the first place. Algorithms are mathematical objects, and mathematics is far more precise than law. We can’t hope to design fair algorithms without the ability to precisely demonstrate fairness mathematically. A good mathematical definition of fairness will model biased decision-making in any setting and for any subgroup, not just hiring bias or gender bias.   And fairness seems to have two conflicting aspects when applied to a population versus an individual. For example, say there’s a pool of applicants to fill 10 jobs, and an algorithm decides to hire candidates completely at random. From a population-wide perspective, this is as fair as possible: all races, genders and orientations are equally likely to be selected.   But from an individual level, it’s as unfair as possible, because an extremely talented individual is unlikely to be chosen despite their qualifications. On the other hand, hiring based only on qualifications reinforces hiring gaps. Nobody knows if these two concepts are inherently at odds, or whether there is a way to define fairness that reasonably captures both. Cynthia Dwork, a Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft Research, and her colleagues have been studying the relationship between the two, but even Dwork admits they have just scratched the surface.   To get rid of bias, we need to redesign algorithms with a fresh perspective. Thomas Mukoya/Reuters   Get companies and researchers on the same page There are immense gaps on all sides of the algorithmic fairness issue. When a panel of experts at this year’s Workshop on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning was asked what the low-hanging fruit was, they struggled to find an answer. My opinion is that if we want the greatest progress for the least amount of work, then businesses should start sharing their data with researchers. Even with proposed “fair” algorithms starting to appear in the literature, without well-understood benchmarks we can’t hope to evaluate them fairly. Jeremy Kun is PhD Student in Mathematics at University of Illinois at Chicago. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Snapchat raises more than $700 million

5:30PM | Sunday, 31 May

Snapchat has raised an additional $US537 million in funding from investors, according to The Wall Street Journal.   The round was led by Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding and two hedge funds.   The latest capital injection values Snapchat at $US16 billion, up from $US10 billion in December. Apple buys German augmented reality software startup Apple has purchased a German augmented reality software startup to explore the possibility of integrating the company’s technology with its products.   The terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, Apple gave Reuters its usual one-sentence statement saying it buys smaller technology companies “from time to time” and does not comment.   Metaio specialises in augmented-reality software for the retail and automotive markets and has received investment from serial entrepreneur Carl Westcott and Silicon Valley equity fund Atlantic Bridge. Woolworths leaks customer data in $1 million gift card breach Woolworths has mistakenly emailed customer data along with the redeemable codes for more than 8000 gift cards, forcing the grocery giant to cancel more than $1 million in vouchers.   The company told Fairfax it takes data security and customer concerns “seriously”.   “We experienced a technical fault with an e-voucher offered to customers this week,” the statement read.   “We are working to resolve the issue and are assisting customers.” Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 115.44 points, falling 0.64% yesterday to 18,010.68. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 76.5 US cents.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Uber facing court action for discriminating against the blind

4:34PM | Monday, 20 April

Uber will have to defend itself against a lawsuit which claims the company is discriminating against the blind by refusing to transport guide dogs.   A San Jose court has ruled the plaintiffs in the case can pursue their claims because Uber is a travel service and therefore subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act.   Aaron Zisser, a lawyer for a disability rights group who helped bring the case to court, told Reuters the plaintiffs were pleased with the decision.   “Uber is a very popular service, and it is important for riders with service animals to be able to use it like anyone else,” he said.   Guess who’s back – back again   Nokia is quietly planning to return to the phone market in 2016, Re/code reports.   The Finnish company – which was a household name due to its popular mobile phones during the 90s and early 2000s – is also planning to explore the virtual reality market according to insiders.   Microsoft finalised a takeover of Nokia’s devices and services business in April 2014 worth more than $7 billion.   Nokia is prevented from selling phones under its name until the end of this year.   You can now message someone who doesn’t follow you on Twitter Twitter is now allowing users to private message people who don’t follow them.   “We hope these changes help you connect more easily – and directly – on Twitter with the people, causes and businesses you care about most,” the company says.   “If you do receive a Direct Message from someone you don’t want to privately converse with, you can still take steps to stop them.”   The updates are rolling out worldwide from today and require users to change their settings before strangers are able to message them.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 279.47 points, falling 1.54% to 17,826.30. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78 US cents.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Dutch prosecutors launch criminal investigation into Uber

4:26PM | Sunday, 19 April

Dutch authorities have launched a criminal investigation into Uber because the company is providing an illegal taxi service that violates a court order, according to Reuters.   The investigation is the latest setback for the ridesharing service in Europe. Last month a German court issued a nationwide ban on unlicensed taxi drivers with fines of up to $300,000 for violating the law.   The move saw Uber bowing to pressure and agreeing to pay for transport licences for its UberX drivers.   To date Dutch police have fined 23 Uber drivers more than $2000 for operating without a licence. In Australia, unregistered taxi drivers can attract fines of up to $7500. French senate supports law requiring Google to reveal its algorithm The French senate has supported a law that would require search engines to reveal their algorithms in order to ensure fair and non-discriminatory search results, according to TechCrunch.   The chamber’s amendments to a draft economy bill could also see search engines forced to include a minimum of three rivals on the first page of search results. Google, which owns an overwhelming chunk of the search engine market, has always kept its search algorithm top secret.   The draft legislation comes at a time when Google is coming under tough scrutiny in Europe for allegedly abusing its dominance of the internet to the detriment of competitors.   The French upper house will vote on the legislation and its amendments next month before it has the opportunity to be passed into law. WhatsApp reaches 800 million users worldwide Messaging platform WhatsApp has reached 800 million monthly users.   The company’s current rate of growth puts it on track to reach one billion users by the end of the year, according to The Wall Street Journal. The messaging app has grown by 100 million active monthly users every four months since August 2014.   Facebook purchased WhatsApp last year for just over $28 billion. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 279.47 points, falling 1.54% to 17,826.30. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78 US cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Uber bows down to regulators in Germany

3:28PM | Sunday, 29 March

Taxi-hailing service Uber has bowed down to regulators in Germany and will instead pay for the transport licences of its UberX drivers, according to Reuters.   The move follows a decision by a German court earlier this month to issue a nationwide ban on unlicensed UberX drivers.   Drivers operating in Germany without proper accreditation can face fines of more than $300,000 per violation of the law. The country is Europe’s largest economy. Pebble Time wraps up record-breaking $US20 million Kickstarter campaign Pebble Time, the smartwatch with up to seven days of battery life, has wrapped up its record-breaking crowdfunding campaign overnight – scooping up $US20,338,986 in funding from more than 78,000 backers.   The campaign is the most-funded Kickstarter project of all time.   Pebble Technology’s founders said in a joint statement on their Kickstarter page that the past month had been an “amazing” experience.   “We will be spending the coming months hard at work polishing every last detail of Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel, finishing Pebble timeline, and ramping up the production process,” they said.   “Expect updates as we progress.” Mobile payments platform raises $US5 million Mobile payments startup MyCheck has raised $5 million in Series B funding in order to spearhead its growth into Europe and America.   The round was led by existing investors as well as the Spanish venture capital fund Santander Innoventures.   The chief executive of MyCheck, Shlomit Kugler, told TechCrunch the investment will help with marketing as well as hiring business development professionals in key growth markets.   “Merchants today are struggling to succeed and are looking for higher tickets, more traffic, cut expenses, and more effectively market themselves,” he said.   “Customers are looking for an ‘Uber-like experience’ – to use their smartphone to receive great offers, be able to pay and leave at will whilst leaving their wallet at home.” Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 34.43 points, rising 0.19% to 17,712.66. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.4 US cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter facing gender discrimination lawsuit from former employee

3:38PM | Sunday, 22 March

A former software engineer has filed a class action lawsuit against Twitter, alleging the company unfairly favours men.   Tina Huang filed the law suit in San Francisco last week according to Reuters, saying the promotion process at Twitter involved a “shoulder tap” policy that meant few women were brought into top-level positions.   The news follows a lawsuit by Chi Hong, a former Facebook employee who is suing the company for alleged sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Uber’s future in China at risk Uber’s future in China is at risk thanks to the merger of two popular taxi apps Kuaidi and Didi which claim to process book up to 6 million rides a day.   In comparison, Uber hit 1 million daily users late last year according to Forbes.   Together Did and Kuaidi control more than 99% of the Chinese market, with more than 150 million people in China using their smartphones to book taxis. iiNet on the back foot with shareholders over TPG deal iiNet’s management will hold a teleconference with investors today to defend the proposed takeover deal by rival TPG Telecom.   The proposed buyout has enraged some shareholders according to Fairfax, with one major shareholder saying the deal was “appallingly incompetent”.   TPG announced its $1.4 billion acquisition plan earlier this month. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 168.62 points, rising 0.94% overnight to 18,127.65. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.83 US cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Trust may be important, but is it enough to rescue journalism from the internet?

3:38AM | Wednesday, 18 March

Last week, prominent tech site Gigaom ceased operations with the terse note “Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time”. Started in 2006 by Om Malik, the site had raised about $40 million over that period to create a technology news site, an IT analysis business and another business running IT events. None of them could make enough money to cover the $400,000 a month needed to keep the business going.   For a site that covered the future of journalism and media in detail, it turned out that it had little insight into how to succeed in a landscape that is setting legacy media and digital media alike, in a continuous struggle to survive.   The shutdown of Gigaom follows on the heels of AOL’s shutting down of two tech sites earlier this year. TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) and Joystiq were both closed by AOL as part of its process of “simplifying the portfolio of brands”.   The problem that digital media sites face is that, unlike traditional print where their markets are protected geographically, websites largely compete on a level playing field, albeit one that is determined in part by Google’s (and others) ranking of sites in its search engine. Every tech story that is released gets rapidly echoed by literally hundreds of sites. Recycled tech news   Take a recent article about Microsoft’s decision to release its personal assistant technology Cortana, across multiple platforms. A search in Google News brings up 290 versions of the same story.   The ultimate irony is that the originating “exclusive” for this story from Reuters actually comes 15th in the list of news sorted by Google in order of “relevance”.   As the majority of these sites make money from advertising, the inclusion of stories on any given site is motivated not by journalism, good or bad, but by the need to fill the site with constantly refreshing content. In fact, the job of journalism becomes solely one of copy editing, adjusting an already published story for style, format and length, for an individual site.   The danger with this for those employed in this sector (or perhaps a blessing to finally convince them to do something else more worthwhile), is that computers are getting very much better at being able to generate this type of content. Algorithms will be able to take a press release, newswire story, or simply any other story circulating on the Internet and generate a new one with the right mix of specific language tied to brands, advertising, and possibly reader interest. Recycled news   This state of affairs is not simply related to technology news. Taking any random headline from the NY Times; for example a story about CIA funds falling into the hands of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan gives 83 articles all repeating the same story as reported by the NY Times. At least in this case, the NY Times appears top of the list in the Google News search.   The Senior Director of News and Social Products at Google, Richard Gingras and Sally Lehrman, a fellow of the Markulla Center for Appled Ethics, have suggested that the current situation has eroded the public’s [trust] of journalism in general. They quote reports from the Pew Research Center showing that “55 percent of Americans said they simply did not expect a fair, full and accurate account of the days’ events and issues. As many as 26 percent said they did not trust the news to get facts right.” The Trust Project   Gingras and Lehrman’s solution to this lack of trust in journalism is the aptly titled, “The Trust Project”, a new effort led by the authors and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. This project proposes that all journalists should disclose their expertise and any conflicts of interest and engage in rigorous citation in their writing. The sites that they write for should also have a published code of ethics.   Whilst these aims are highly laudable and should be common practice (The Conversation implements all of these principles), it is not clear that it will solve the ultimate problem that the vast majority of content on media sites on the Internet is derivative. One estimate by journalist Nick Davies claims that only 12% of stories featured in the UK’s quality press were original, the rest were what is often called “churnalism”. On the Internet that number will be higher just by the nature of the sheer volume of content that is produced every day.   Journalism academic Jeff Jarvis has suggested additional recommendations to the Trust Project that involve Google News ranking derivative stories below the original sources in their search results. Judging the ultimate quality of articles in this way might prove difficult to do algorithmically.   Gigaom’s passing will largely go unnoticed. There is an endless supply of other sites filling the void, although a vanishingly small number of them will be paying journalists or operating as a business making a profit.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.

THE NEWS WRAP: Apple ordered to pay more than $500 million in damages

2:31PM | Wednesday, 25 February

Apple has been ordered to pay $US532.9 million ($A670m) after a federal jury found its iTunes software infringed the rights of patent licensing company Smartflash.   The Texas jury deliberated for eight hours and determined Apple had used Smartflash’s patents wilfully and without permission, according to Reuters.   Smartflash had originally been asking for $US852 million in damages.   “We refused to pay off this company for the ideas our employees spent years innovating and unfortunately we have been left with no choice but to take this fight up through the court system,” an Apple spokesperson told Reuters.   The news follows the announcement of Apple’s first quarter results, which last month saw the company post a record net profit of $18 billion. Pebble crowdfunding campaign set to break $10 million mark US-based startup Pebble has smashed its latest crowdfunding target, breaking the $US9 million mark with more than 30 days to go.   The crowdfunding campaign, which aims to jumpstart the production of the company’s Pebble Time smartwatch, is already the third most-funded project on Kickstarter.   The startup was originally asking for half a million dollars, but now only needs to raise another $US4 million in order to become the most-funded project on the crowdfunding platform.   The company previously raised more than $US10 million in 2012 from more than 68,000 backers. US photography startup raises $50 million to explore virtual reality Photography startup Lytro has raised $US50 million in order to explore virtual reality technology, according to Re/code.   The US-based company, founded in 2006, uses light field technology in order to capture the entire light field – which means users can focus a picture and change its perspective after the photo is taken.   Chief executive Jason Rosenthal told Re/code the strategic shift would not be without “some cuts” to staff.   “Fifty million dollars is a nice big number, but it is not unlimited. We had to make some pretty tough decisions.” Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.04%, rising 7.61 points to 18,216.80. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at 78.89 US cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: War of words breaks out between Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Apple's Tim Cook

12:35PM | Sunday, 7 December

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has responded to comments by his counterpart at Apple, Tim Cook, who recently stated that “when online service is free, you’re not the customer”.   In an interview with Time, Zuckerberg responded by saying he was increasingly frustrated that “a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers”.   “I think it’s the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper!” Zuckerberg said. Uber driver faces rape allegations Police in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have arrested an Uber cab driver accused of raping a customer, with authorities saying they will take action against the US ridesharing startup for failing to run background checks on the man.   Reuters reports a 26-year-old woman has accused the driver of sexually assaulting and beating her after using the service during a trip home from a work function.   “Every violation by Uber will be evaluated and we will go for legal recourse,” Delhi police deputy commissioner Madhur Verma said. Amazon to continue iterating the Fire Phone Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has said the online retail giant will continue making new smartphones, despite the company making $US170 million in writedowns on its Fire Phone, Recode reports.   “I have made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.com … literally. You might remember Pets.com or Kozmo,” Bezos said.   “None of those things are fun. They also don’t matter. Companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, eventually get [desperate and] make a Hail Mary bet at the end of their corporate existence.” Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 58.69 points to 17958.8. The Aussie dollar is down to US83 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Stripe raises $70 million, Twitter tackles online trolls

12:49PM | Tuesday, 2 December

Global payments platform Stripe has raised a $70 million investment and is now valued at $3.5 billion, according to Re/Code.   The $3.5 billion figure is double the last valuation Stripe received after raising $80 million in January this year.   The startup has partnerships with Apple, Twitter and Facebook – allowing businesses to accept local and international payments from customers without a complicated matrix of bank accounts or third-party software.   Stripe launched in Australia in July, with the head of Stripe in Australia and New Zealand, Susan Wu, telling StartupSmart the platform was the “best thing since Vegemite”.   Twitter tackles online trolls Twitter is improving its harassment reporting processes and has promised faster response times for people who flag abusive tweets.   A number of new controls and features will mean users can view which accounts they have blocked from their setting menu. In addition, people who block users will be able to rest easy knowing that the accounts in question will not be able to view their profile.   In an online statement, the social media giant said its users can expect to see further improvements to reporting abusive accounts in coming days.   “We’ll continue to work hard on these changes in order to improve the experience of people who encounter abuse on Twitter,” the company said.   The updates are currently available to a small group of users but will be rolled out to all Twitter users in the coming weeks.   US businesses warned of more cyber attacks following Sony hacking   The FBI has warned businesses that hackers have used malicious software to launch cyber attacks in the United States, according to Reuters.   The FBI did not say how many companies have been affected.   Last week, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer systems were hacked – resulting in several unreleased movies being leaked online and employee data being breached. The attack is being described as the “first major destructive cyber attack” on US soil.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 92.42 points to 17,869.22. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 84 US cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Microsoft splashes $US200 million on email startup

12:24PM | Monday, 1 December

Microsoft is believed to have spent over $US20 million to a startup called Acompli, which makes an email app for Android smartphones and iPhones.   The news was reported by Re/Code, with Microsoft later confirming the deal in an official blog post from the company’s corporate vice president for Outlook and Office 365, Rajesh Jha.   The email client was developed by veterans from Zimbra and VMWare, and supports both Microsoft and Google email services.   US retailers concerned about Chinese online marketplace Alibaba   A number of leading US retailers have called on Congress to end special tax treatment for online retailers, citing fears Chinese marketplace Alibaba could “decimate” their businesses.   According to Reuters, claims were made in a series of TV and radio ads by a lobby group called Alliance for Main Street Fairness, which includes major US retail chains such as Best Buy, Target and JC Penney.   While Alibaba has not yet launched in the US market, the retailers are concerned the company could use some of the money raised through its recent IPO on a US expansion.   Google Fiber signups in Texas   Google Fiber has opened up signups in the US city of Austin, Texas, according to The Verge.   The fibre-to-the-premises internet service costs $US70 per month for data only, with 1 terabyte of cloud storage and TV setting consumers back $US130 per month, and a slower 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload service available for a once-off $US300 fee.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 43.45 points to 17784.8. The Aussie dollar is down to US85.04 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter now monitors which other apps you have installed

11:27PM | Sunday, 30 November

Twitter has added a new feature called “app graph”, which collects a list of all the other apps you have installed on your smartphone.   “To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in,” Twitter states on its website.   The social media giant claims the list will “help build a more tailored experience for you on Twitter” and that it does not collect information stored within third party apps, just which apps you have installed.   To switch off the feature, Twitter advises users to switch off the “Tailor Twitter based on my apps” option in Settings, with the option appearing under “Other” in the Android version of the Twitter app or “Privacy” on the iPhone version. Uber suspends operations in Nevada Uber has suspended its operations in the US state of Nevada following a court injunction.   Reuters reports the Washoe County District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the ridesharing startup conducting its services in the state.   Uber claims the injunction will cost nearly 1000 jobs. Sony blames North Korea for hack attack Sony is investigating whether the North Korean government is to blame for an attack that has seen Sony Pictures employees locked out of their work computers.   A group named “Guardians of Peace,” or #GOP, is claiming credit for the attack, with the media conglomerate and its outside security consultants investigating whether the attack was carried out by hackers in China on North Korea’s behalf.   According to Re/Code, the attack comes ahead of the release of an upcoming film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, titled The Interview, in which a pair of journalists are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.49 points to 17828.2. The Aussie dollar is down to US84.70 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: VC Marc Andreesen warns big-spending startups could get caught “swimming without trunks on”

9:19PM | Sunday, 28 September

Prominent venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has warned that startups with high cash rates will burn out should the market turn, The New York Times reports.   Andreessen took to Twitter on the weekend to warn against excessive spending by startups that have attracted capital from investors.   He says new founders from the last 10 years have only been operating in an environment where money has been easy to raise at higher valuations, a circumstance that will not last. When that change occurs, he says “we will find out who has been swimming without trunks on”.   Alibaba purchases stake in hospitality tech company   E-commerce giant Alibaba has purchased 15% of Chinese hospitality technology provider Beijing Shiji Information Technology Co Ltd, for $US458.66 million ($A523.73 million), Reuters reports.   The transaction is the company’s first big investment since raising $US25 billion in its record-breaking initial public offering recently.   The deal is expected to allow the company to develop its Taobao travel business alongside Beijing Shiji, including back-office services, while helping to migrate customers to Alibaba’s website.   Secret unveils Ping   The startup behind the anonymous secret-sharing app Secret, has unveiled another app, Ping, Re/code reports.   Ping works by allowing users to select topics they wish to follow like “trending on twitter” and then sends notifications when new things pop up from that specific category.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 167.35 to 17,113.15. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US88 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Microsoft set to unveil $2.5 billion bid for Minecraft developer

9:24PM | Sunday, 14 September

Microsoft will unveil a $2.5 billion bid to buy Mojang, the Swedish developer of Minecraft, Monday morning US time, sources have told Reuters.   Minecraft has over 100 million players and the deal is aimed at pulling users onto Microsoft’s mobile platform, as opposed to its PC systems, or Xbox console.   Minecraft is the top paid app on both the iOS and Android. After launching five years ago on PC, about 40% of copies are now downloaded onto phones and tablets.   Product Hunt raises $6 million   Aggregations site Product Hunt, which helps surface new tech products and startups, has raised $6 million in Series A funding, TechCrunch reports.   According to the report, the round was led by Andreessen Horowitz at a valuation of $22 million although sources were unsure whether that valuation was pre or post money.   The startup raised $1 million in seed funding in August.   Before $100 million raise, Square was in talks with Apple   Mobile payments platform Square has raised another $100 million in capital, according to a filing obtained by VCExperts, TechCrunch reports.   Multiple sources have told TechCrunch that Square and Apple were in acquisition talks recently, but Square walked away, the sticking point being price – Apple wanted to buy Square for less than half of the $6 billion valuation it would eventually raise at.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 61.49 to 16,987.51. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US90 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Amazon unveils plans to launch local services marketplace

6:33PM | Tuesday, 10 June

Amazon plans to launch a marketplace for local services – a term which encompasses anything from babysitters to tradespeople, according to a Reuters report.   The e-commerce giant will gauge demand and test logistics before beginning the expansion of the service, much like the way it launched its grocery delivery service Amazon Fresh, which was initially tested in Seattle before expanding to San Francisco and Los Angeles.   Google acquires Skybox Imaging Google has paid $500 million in cash for Skybox Imaging, a company that provides high-resolution photos using satellites.   In a statement announcing the acquisition, Google says Skybox’s satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery.   “Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve internet access and disaster relief – areas Google has long been interested in,” the statement says.   About.me raises $11 million About.me, the startup that enables its users to create a simple page where you can find information about them online, has announced it has raised $11 million.   The company says it will use the money to invest in new features and to make its platform easier to use.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 2.82 to 16,945.92. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Government bullish about free trade agreement with Japan, but beef remains a bone of contention

4:27PM | Sunday, 6 April

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he remains cautiously optimistic about Australia securing a free trade agreement with Japan, although tariffs on Australian beef exports remain a key point of contention between the two nations.   Currently, Japan has a 38.5% tariff on Australian beef, which they are considering halving to 19.35%, although that might not be enough to secure an agreement.   “Under the free trade agreement, about which we are optimistic, we are hopeful not just of getting more Australian produce sold in Japan, more Japanese products sold in Australia, but we want to have more investment, more two-way investment and more opportunities for Australian companies to flourish here in Japan,” Abbott says.   TPG Capital close to investing in Airbnb   Private equity firm TPG Capital is close to investing in Airbnb at a $US10 billion valuation, with the online accommodation marketplace set to raise $US500 million in its current financing round.   The service, launched in 2008, allows users to rent out a couch, bedroom or house, and claims listing in over 34,000 cities.   Neither TPG Capital nor Airbnb are currently commenting publicly about the negotiations.   US economy grows 192,000 jobs, unemployment remains steady   The US economy gained 190,000 jobs during March, while the unemployment rate remained steady at a near five-year low of 6.7%, according to new official figures.   The US Labor Department figures also show employers increased the number of hours offered to employees, interpreted by analysts as a sign of growing confidence in the economy.   “It is strong enough to indicate the economy is back on track, but not so robust that the Federal Reserve would have to start thinking about actually raising rates," Joel Naroff, head of Naroff Economic Advisers, told Reuters.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down to 16412.7. The Aussie dollar is down to US92.87 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Hockey warns business on taxpayer handouts

1:23PM | Tuesday, 14 January

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has warned that taxpayer subsidies won’t be paid to companies that fail to fix their problems, The Australian reports.   He told the newspaper that taxpayer funds won’t be used to shore up dividends or to continue poor industrial practices.   “The government should not be subsidising poor workplace practices,” he said.   “It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to prop up unprofitable companies.”   ANZ eyes acquisitions and divestments in Asia   ANZ bank could consider divesting some assets while on the lookout for acquisitions in Asia.   The Australian reports ANZ chief executive Mike Smith indicating he was open to acquisitions and divestment of its stakes in Asian banks.   “I have always been patient. Something will happen at some stage,” he said.   “I still believe that some of the European bank assets will have to be sold off.”   US data suggest strong economic growth   US retail sales rose in December in a sign the economy gathered steam at the end of last year and is poised from stronger growth, Reuters reports.   The Commerce Department said retail sales gained 0.2% last month.   "The surge in sales in December means the momentum will continue into the first quarter of the new year. 2014 is shaping up to be pretty good from where we sit," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in New York.   Markets   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.71% at 16,373.86 points, while the Australian dollar is buying US89.6 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: ACMA warning after Telstra overcharges 260,000 customers

9:23PM | Monday, 16 September

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has issued a warning to Telstra, accusing the telco giant of overcharging at least 260,000 customers a total of $30 million in international roaming charges.   “While they had a very small number of complaints, they didn't try to look to see whether there was a systemic problem,” says ACMA full-time member Chris Cheah.   “The circumstances were quite particular, and that was because Telstra itself had received incorrect information from its overseas correspondent carriers.”   Westfield cashes in on US shopping centres   Shopping centre giant Westfield has announced the sale of seven of its shopping centres in the US to private equity firm Starwood for $US1.64 billion ($1.75 billion).   The sale comes on top of previous deals which saw Westfield offload $US2.6 billion worth of malls to the private equity firm during the past two years, with the global shopping centre giant continuing to own and operate 40 properties in the US.   “We are focused on redeploying our capital into superior retail destinations in major cities through divesting non-core assets and introducing joint venture partners into our high-quality portfolio of assets,” says Westfield’s joint managing director Peter Lowy.   Summers announcement leads to Wall Street rally   US shares rallied after former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers withdrew his bid to become the next Federal Reserve chairman, with Summers seen as being more likely to wind back stimulus than rival candidate and Fed vice chairwoman Janet Yellen.   However, the news was subdued by President Barack Obama’s warning that he will not negotiate with Republicans over an extension of the US debt ceiling.   “We are still riding positively on the Summers announcement, however with the debt ceiling deadline less than a couple of weeks away, there will be heightened sensitivity to it," Janlyn Capital managing director Andre Bakhos told Reuters.   "We are still up and the market is still riding a wave higher and until there is something tangible to create a sense of fear, the trend remains solid."   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up to 15494.78. The Aussie dollar is level at US93.23 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: APRA’s bad loan warning

9:23PM | Wednesday, 11 September

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has issued a report warning lenders about a spike in the number of high-risk loans, with the number of borrowers mortgaging more than 90% of a property’s value spiking during the June quarter.   “It is important for [authorised deposit-taking institutions] to ensure that new borrowers are able to service debt and afford higher repayments when interest rates rise from current record low levels,” APRA says in the report.   “While the business non-performing loan ratio has gradually declined over the past few years, it remains elevated relative to pre-crisis levels.   “This reflects weaknesses in a number of industries, particularly the commercial property industry and those industries impacted by a high exchange rate and subdued consumer spending.”   Dick Smith surges towards an IPO   Electronics retailer Dick Smith has appointed Macquarie Bank and Goldman Sachs to explore the possibility of an initial public offering worth around $500 million.   The IPO would see private equity company Anchorage Capital, which purchased the chain from Woolworths in November of last year, sell the company for more than five times the amount it purchased it for.   Apple’s share price dives after iPhone unveiling   Apple’s share price slid by 6% after the company unveiled its new iPhone 5C and 5S smartphones, with leading analysts criticising the lack of new hardware innovation in the devices.   “Investors were put off that Apple's price point didn't go low enough to attract a new market. It doesn't have the same range in price that Apple's competitors have," Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia, told Reuters.   "Also, there was nothing transformational announced. It has the fingerprint scan and new colours, but bigger features, like different screen sizes, don't seem to be at the ready. This was less than expected from a company that has a reputation for surprising with a killer product or strategy.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up to 15326.6. The Aussie dollar is down to US 93.26 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Wesfarmers reports $2.26 billion profit, defends Coles fuel dockets

8:25PM | Thursday, 15 August

Coles’ parent company, Wesfarmers, has reported a full year profit of $2.26 billion for the year to June, with chief executive Richard Goyder defending fuel dockets in the face of an ACCC investigation.   Coles reported a 13.1% increase in earnings before interest and tax to $1.53 billion, with revenues up 4.8% to $35.78 billion.   Goyder also defends the use of shopper docket discounts on fuel in the face of criticism the practice harms smaller retailers.   “We try to give our customers what they want, and clearly they have a strong desire for these dockets at a time when they are under significant cost pressures in their daily lives,” Goyder says.   Packer hopes Japan will be the next jewel in the Crown   Crown executive chairman James Packer has expressed interest in bidding for a gaming licence in Japan if Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party goes ahead with granting licences for a Singapore-style casino resort.   “If Japan comes on it will be the second-biggest gaming market in the world. It has 100 million people who are all mad gamblers but they are all doing it through horse racing and pachinko. Japan is looking at the Singapore story," Packer says.   "Japan is two to three years before it all gets serious, which is perfect for us because we will have Macau Studio City open and the Philippines open.   "Crown Perth will be finished and Crown Sydney should be well underway, approvals pending. It is just going through the political process at the moment in Japan."   Dell reports 72% drop in quarterly earnings as PC sales crash   Dell has reported net income for the second quarter of $US204 million, down a massive 72% from $US732 million year-on-year.   “It was predictably bad. It's not a big surprise that margins compressed to the degree that they did, when they're prioritizing sales volume over profitability," Morningstar analyst Carr Lanphier told Reuters.   The news comes as founder Michael Dell battles prominent investor Carl Icahn over the company’s future, with Dell hoping to take the company he founded private.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 1.47% to 15112.2. The Aussie dollar is up to US91.41 cents.

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