Google launching artificial intelligence research center in China

December 13, 2017

BEIJING (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Wednesday it is opening an artificial intelligence (AI) research center in China to target the country’s local talent, even as the U.S. search firm’s products remain blocked in the country.

Google said in a statement the research center is the first of its kind in Asia and will comprise a small team operating out of its existing office in Beijing.

Chinese policy makers have voiced strong support for AI research and development in the country, but have imposed increasingly strict rules on foreign firms in the past year, including new censorship restrictions.

Google’s search engine is banned in the Chinese market along with its app store, email and cloud storage services. China’s cyber regulators say restrictions on foreign media and internet platforms are designed to block influences that contravene stability and socialist ideas.

While tightening restrictions are likely to hamper a re-entry to the Chinese market for Google, the firm has increasingly focused on exposing its AI products in China.

This year Google held a Go tournament in cooperation with local authorities in eastern China, pitching its AI against Chinese world champion Go player Ke Jie. The event was highly publicized overseas but local media was muted.

Earlier this month Google CEO Sundar Pichai made an appearance at a conference run by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top cyber regulator, where he steered away from market access issues to discuss the potential of AI.

Google said the new Chinese AI research center will join a list of similar overseas centers operating in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

South Korea considers cryptocurrency tax as regulators grapple with ‘speculative mania’

December 13, 2017

By Christine Kim and Cynthia Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Wednesday it may tax capital gains from cryptocurrency trading as global regulators worried about a bubble, with Australia’s central bank chief warning of a ‘speculative mania” that has seen the digital asset making rip-roaring gains.

As bitcoin futures made their world debut on a U.S. stock exchange this week, policy makers have been forced to contend with cryptocurrencies becoming more of a mainstream play and the need to regulate them.

The world’s biggest and best known cryptocurrency, bitcoin , surged past $17,000 to new all-time highs this week, marking an almost dizzying 20-fold rise this year and feeding fears of a bubble.

Australia’s central bank governor Philip Lowe warned on Wednesday the fascination with the assets felt like a “speculative mania.”

The comments come days after his New Zealand counterpart said bitcoin appeared to be a “classic case” of a bubble, and cast doubt on its future. The chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday warned trading and public offerings in the emerging asset class may be in violation of federal securities law.

Digital currencies are very popular across Asia, with many retail investors giving up their daily jobs to trade them full time in countries such as Japan and South Korea, which together make up for more than half the global trading volumes by some estimates.

But the possibility of major losses if the bubble bursts and wild gyrations of 10-30 percent in a single day have instilled a sense of urgency among policymakers to come up with a regulatory response.

In Seoul, after an emergency meeting on Wednesday, South Korea’s government said it will consider taxing capital gains from trading of virtual coins and will also ban minors from opening accounts on exchanges, according to a statement obtained by Reuters ahead of its official release.

To be eligible, exchanges in South Korea will need to uphold investor protection rules and disclose all bid and offer quotes.

The measures need parliamentary approval. Seoul will maintain a current ban on all financial institutions dealing virtual currencies.

“The regulations in Korea will not have a negative effect,” said Thomas Glucksmann, head of marketing at Hong Kong-based exchange Gatecoin, adding that on the contrary, “licensing brings certainty, which encourages already regulated entities … to get involved in addition to skeptical retail investors.” 

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, the Seoul-based operator of the world’s busiest virtual currency exchange Bithumb, said it will fully comply with potential regulations from the South Korean government and adequately capitalize itself to protect its clients.

Elsewhere in Asia, China in September ordered Beijing-based cryptocurrency exchanges to stop trading and immediately notify users of their closure, in a move aimed at limiting risks in the speculative market. Economists and cryptocurrency advocates say the move was also intended to close an avenue used to evade Beijing’s capital controls.

Japan requires crypto-currency operators to register with the government. The Japanese government in April granted cryptocurrencies legal status as a means of settlement and in September officially recognized 11 digital currencies exchanges.

CRYPTO COINS WEAKEN

Bitcoin dropped to $16,575 on Wednesday, down 0.5 percent on the day, after losing $152 from its previous close. On Bithumb, it was down 2 percent at $17,083. Bitcoin futures maturing in January on the Cboe Global Markets Inc’s Cboe Futures Exchange were $17,700, having opened at $18,010.

Bitcoin-related shares in Seoul slumped in early trade on news of the government’s emergency meeting, before rebounding as the statement did not mention harsh restrictions. Vidente Co Ltd <121800.KQ> and Omnitel Inc <057680.KQ>, which hold stakes of Bithumb, were up 4 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Bitcoin mining-related company JCH Systems Inc <033320.KQ> were up 1 percent.

While crypto trading has attracted anyone from hedge funds and finance professionals to housewives and college students, it is yet to lure institutional asset managers whose mandates require them to make long-term investments which do not chime with highly-volatile digital currencies, whose fundamental values are also difficult to define.

“BlackRock’s view is that this isn’t a financial asset that we would trade in terms of equities or fixed income instruments,” said Belinda Boa, head of active investments for Asia Pacific, BlackRock.

“There are questions around the store of value and the fact that actually for our clients we’re looking at longer term investments.”

(This story has been refiled to fix spelling of cryptocurrency, paragraph one.)

(Reporting by Dahee Kim, Cynthia Kim and Christine Kim in SEOUL and Michelle Chen and Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

U.S. agency prepares to hand over internet oversight to FTC

December 12, 2017

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission plans to turn over oversight of internet service providers to another federal agency as it plans to vote on Thursday to revoke the landmark 2015 “net neutrality” rules.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last month unveiled plans to repeal the rules that prohibit internet service providers from impeding consumer access to web content. The 2015 rules bar broadband providers from blocking or slowing access to web content.

On Monday, the FCC and Federal Trade Commission said they plan to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate efforts under the new rules. The agencies said the proposal will “return jurisdiction to the FTC to police the conduct of ISPs.”

Pai said Monday in a statement the agencies “will work together to take targeted action against bad actors.”

Under Pai’s proposal, the FCC would no longer bar any specific internet provider practice but require companies to disclose if they block, throttle or offer paid prioritization of internet traffic.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said the agreement “is a confusing, lackluster, reactionary afterthought: an attempt to paper over weaknesses in the chairman’s draft proposal repealing the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules.”

The FTC will investigate if internet providers fail to make accurate disclosures or if they engage in deceptive or unfair acts or practices. “The FTC is committed to ensuring that Internet service providers live up to the promises they make to consumers,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said “FTC enforcement would happen long after the fact — many months, if not years, after consumers and businesses have been harmed.”

Chris Lewis, vice president of advocacy group Public Knowledge, said the FCC is “joining forces with the FTC to say it will only act when a broadband provider is deceiving the public. This gives free reign to broadband providers to block or throttle your broadband service as long as they inform you.”

Democrats and net neutrality advocates plan a series of protests ahead of Thursday’s vote. Pai’s proposal has already won the backing of the three Republicans on the five-member commission. The reversal represents a victory for big internet providers such as AT&T Inc , Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc that opposed the 2015 rules.

Pai’s proposal is opposed by large internet companies including Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc .

The new rules are expected to take effect in January and draw court challenges.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Marguerita Choy)

Apple confirms deal to buy music discovery app Shazam

December 11, 2017

SAN FRANSICO (Reuters) – Apple Inc on Monday confirmed it had reached a deal to acquire Shazam Entertainment Ltd, the U.K.-based app that lets users identify songs by pointing a smart phone at the audio source.

Apple did not give a price for the acquisition. Technology news website TechCrunch reported the deal on Friday with a price of as much as $400 million, far short of the most recent $1 billion valuation for privately held Shazam.

Apple said Shazam would be a “natural fit” with its Apple Music streaming service and it would help users discover new songs. Apple Music has 27 million users and competes against Spotify Ltd, which has 60 million users. Apple said Shazam’s team would be joining the Cupertino company.

In a statement, Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said Shazam “is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms. … We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today’s agreement.”

Apple did not elaborate on its plans, but the company will not be able to make any major changes to Shazam until it secures regulatory approval.

Shazam is also available on Android-based devices, but Apple did not say whether it would keep the Android version available. Shazam ended support for a version of its software that runs on Microsoft Corp’s Windows PCs earlier this year.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Phones for urns: Hong Kong turns to virtual reality to honor ancestors

December 9, 2017

(Corrects surname to Yuen from Yau from paragraph 3 in story published on Nov 21)

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A lack of space for cemeteries in crowded Hong Kong clashes with the age-old Chinese tradition of reverence for one’s ancestors.

But one entrepreneur uses virtual reality software to reconcile the two, allowing people to honor Confucian traditions of filial obligation in the territory where it can cost up to $130,000 to store the ashes of loved ones.

Anthony Yuen’s firm, iVeneration.com, offers users the ability to create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park.

Apart from the cost savings, Yuen expects his business model to appeal to more eco-conscious young residents.

“The dead are taking so much more space than those who are still alive, as those buried use that piece of land for many years,” said Yuen, as he manipulated his mobile telephone to correctly position a candle in front of a virtual headstone.

“For those who are still alive, they won’t stay on the same piece of land forever.”

Yuen, who hopes to launch the website to the public in the first quarter of 2018, has already attracted 300 users.

Filial piety, or respect for parents and older people, is a paramount virtue in the Confucian tradition.

“We need to educate the next generation on filial piety, no matter how you show it, as long as it comes from the heart,” Yuen added. “We think the next generation might use these services for their parents.”

Alex Lee, a 46-year-old employee of a technology company, uses iVeneration to pay his respects to his departed grandfather.

“Everyone is aware the lack of land is a problem in Hong Kong and the government has been encouraging green burial,” said Lee, as he leafed through an album of family photographs.

“For me, you don’t have to go to a thing to remember those passed away, it’s all in your heart.”

(Reporting by Pak Yiu; Writing by Christian Schmollinger; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Nokia COO to leave the company

December 11, 2017

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Telecom network equipment maker Nokia said on Monday its Chief Operating Officer Monika Maurer was leaving the company.

Joerg Erlemeier, currently a Senior Vice President for Nokia Transformation, will be the new COO, Nokia added.

“Monika Maurer… will support Erlemeier during a transition period and then leave Nokia to pursue new opportunities outside the company,” Nokia said.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl, editing by Terje Solsvik)

Spotify and Tencent Music to buy stakes in each other

December 8, 2017

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Music streaming company Spotify and the music arm of China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd will buy minority stakes in each other ahead of the Swedish firm’s expected stock market listing next year, the companies said on Friday.

The deal will help Spotify, a music streaming leader in Europe and North America, and China-focused Tencent Music, to increase exposure to each other’s core markets.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing people familiar with the matter, that the firms were in talks to swap stakes of up to 10 percent in each other.

Tencent Music Entertainment Group (TME), a subsidiary of Tencent Holdings, and Spotify will buy new shares representing minority equity stakes in each other for cash, the companies said in a statement.

“This transaction will allow both companies to benefit from the global growth of music streaming,” Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek said.

Tencent Holding will also buy a minority stake in Spotify, the companies said, without giving details.

The size of the stakes was not disclosed in the statement and a Spotify spokeswoman declined to provide further details about the agreement.

Tencent owns a majority stake in TME, which is the dominant player in the Chinese market with music service providers QQ Music, KuGou and Kuwo.

“TME and Spotify will work together to explore collaboration opportunities,” TME Chief Executive Cussion Pang said.

Sources told Reuters in September that Spotify was aiming to file its intention to float with U.S. regulators in order to list in the first half of 2018.

(Reporting by Helena Soderpalm and Olof Swahnberg; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Mark Potter)

NiceHash says attacked probably from non-EU IP address

December 8, 2017

By Marja Novak

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – A Slovenian cryptocurrency mining marketplace, NiceHash, which lost about $64 million worth of bitcoin in a hack on its payment system on Wednesday, said the attack was probably made from a non-EU IP address.

NiceHash matches people looking to sell processing time on computers in exchange for bitcoin.

“It is very probable that the attack was made from an IP address outside the EU,” head of marketing Andrej Skraba told Reuters on Friday.

He declined to give any more details but said NiceHash investors came from “all over the world”.

Head of NiceHash Marko Kobal said in a Facebook video recording, whose authenticity was confirmed to Reuters by the company, that the hack was made by using the credentials of a NiceHash engineer.

The incident highlighted security risks to booming digital currencies.

There have been at least three dozen heists on exchanges that buy and sell digital currencies since 2011, including one that led to the 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin market.

Earlier on Friday Bitcoin fell more than 12 percent on the Bitstamp exchange to about $14,500.

The Slovenian police told Reuters on Friday the investigation into the attack continued, adding no further details could be given at present.

Separately, NiceHash also confirmed to Reuters that its chief technical officer is Matjaz Skorjanc. Skorjanc had been imprisoned in Slovenia for creating the Mariposa virus that infected millions of computers around the world around 2010.

(Reporting By Marja Novak)

SoftBank to invest $300 million in food delivery firm DoorDash: Recode

December 8, 2017

(Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp plans to invest around $300 million into DoorDash, a San Francisco-based food delivery startup, Recode reported.

The investment will be made from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which has raised close to $100 billion to invest in technology companies, Recode also reported. http://bit.ly/2B19QMQ

SoftBank and the on-demand restaurant delivery service were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Parikshit Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

YouTube to launch music subscription service next year: Bloomberg

December 8, 2017

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s YouTube plans to introduce a paid music streaming service in March, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Record label Warner Music Group has already signed on while Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a consortium of independent labels, are in talks with the video streaming website, Bloomberg said.

The service, internally referred to as Remix according to Bloomberg, will compete with similar offerings from Spotify and Apple Inc .

Google, another Alphabet unit, introduced Google Play Music, a streaming service, in 2011. YouTube launched ad-free, subscription-based YouTube Red in 2016 featuring exclusive video content from popular creators such as Lilly Singh Michael Stevens.

YouTube was not available for comment outside regular business hours.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang)