Qualcomm adds security, battery life features to phone chips

December 6, 2017

By Stephen Nellis

(Reuters) – Qualcomm Inc on Wednesday revealed new security and battery life features on its latest Snapdragon 845 mobile phone processor, a chip that customarily powers high-end Android-based phones from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and others.

The chips are increasingly important to Qualcomm’s financial picture while its patent licensing business is under attack from Apple Inc.

Qualcomm’s latest chip features a range of improvements to help it deal with artificial intelligence tasks like recognizing and categorizing images, Keith Kressin, a senior vice president at the company, told Reuters in an interview.

For the first time, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chip also features physically separate processor called a “Secure Processing Unit” for storing information like fingerprints and iris scans, similar to technology found on Apple’s iPhone. Previous Qualcomm chips had a “trusted zone” that was not physically separate from the rest of the processor.

“With biometric identification on the rise, it was important to take (security) to the next level,” Kressin said.

The company tweaked various parts of the chip for so-called machine learning applications. While that includes things consumers might notice like image recognition, it also includes behind-the-scenes improvements. For example, the chip will help ensure that a user’s fingers do not accidentally register as taps when gripping the sides of an edge-to-edge display.

Kressin said the chip will also help phones register touch screen inputs when wet. That is a critical improvement because even though many top phone models from Samsung and others are now water resistant, they are difficult to operate with water on the screen.

The newest Snapdragon also has features aimed at virtual and augmented reality headsets. One feature called “Adreno foveation” will let the edges of a headset screen operate at lower resolutions while the center of the screen is sharper, similar to how human peripheral vision is fuzzier than central vision. The technique can save battery live, Kressin said.

Qualcomm does not disclose revenue figures for its Snapdragon chips. But they are an increasingly important part of its business because its lucrative patent licensing business is under attack in a series of legal actions from Apple.

Qualcomm is also facing a $103 billion takeover bid from Broadcom Ltd, which earlier this week said it would nominate a slate of directors to Qualcomm’s board.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Internet Association asks for U.S. net neutrality vote delay

December 6, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Internet Association, whose more than 40 members include companies like Google and Amazon, urged the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to delay a vote to repeal a 2015 order banning internet providers from blocking or throttling online content.

The FCC is expected to vote on December 14 to scrap landmark 2015 rules approved during the Obama administration to ensure a free and open internet. The proposal is led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican.

In a letter to Pai, Internet Association President Michael Beckerman asked for the vote to be delayed, or for the five commissioners to vote down the measure.

The request followed calls by officials such as New York’s attorney general and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for the vote to be delayed after allegations of fake comments submitted to the FCC on the issue.

“IA and its members will continue our fight to preserve the 2015 Order and its strong, enforceable net neutrality

protections,” Beckerman said in the letter.

Pai and the two Republican commissioners have said they would vote for the measure while the two Democratic FCC commissioners oppose it.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Apple’s Cook optimistic that apps pulled in China will be back

December 6, 2017

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Apple Inc is optimistic that some of its popular apps removed from its China App Store this year to comply with government requests will be reinstated, the U.S. tech giant’s Chief Executive Tim Cook said on Wednesday.

Cook, speaking at the Fortune Forum in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, also stressed that he believes strongly in freedoms, a comment seen by many as a response to a U.S. democratic senator’s remarks on Tuesday that Apple had a moral obligation to promote free expression.

Apple is facing criticism from local users and rights groups for bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators after it decided to remove dozens of apps from its Chinese store this year, including messaging apps and virtual private network (VPN) services, which help users subvert China’s Great Firewall.

“My hope over time is that some of the things, the couple of things that’s been pulled, come back. I have great hope on that and great optimism on that,” Cook said, adding that he always tries to find areas to work together and if he gets criticized for that, so be it.

App stores run by Apple and Alphabet Inc’s Google generate billions of dollars in revenue globally for them and China is a key target market as its users rely heavily on their phones for daily tasks ranging from grocery shopping to booking nail appointments.

Cook said he couldn’t be happier with how the iPhone X is doing in China, Apple’s third-largest region by sales although it has lost market share there in recent years as high-end handsets from local rivals continue to gain traction.

Tencent Holdings, China’s biggest social network and gaming company, was a great partner, Cook said, adding that he thinks very highly of its founder, Pony Ma.

Apple and Tencent had a spat earlier this year after Tencent launched mini programs on its WeChat app, which created an ecosystem of apps within the app and threatened to become an operating system of its own.

The two companies are seen to have made peace recently, with the Apple China App Store starting to accept WeChat payments from late August.

Many of the top games on Apple’s China App Store are made by Tencent, which creates value for both firms.

(Reporting By Sijia Jiang and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

Google pulls YouTube from Amazon devices, escalating spat

December 6, 2017

By Jeffrey Dastin

(Reuters) – A rare public spat in the technology industry escalated on Tuesday when Google said it would block its video streaming application YouTube from two Amazon.com Inc devices and criticized the online retailer for not selling Google hardware.

The feud is the latest in Silicon Valley to put customers in the crossfire of major competitors. Amazon and Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc, square off in many areas, from cloud computing and online search, to selling voice-controlled gadgets like the Google Home and Amazon Echo Show.

The stakes are high: many in the technology industry expect that interacting with computers by voice will become widespread, and it is unclear if Amazon, Google or another company will dominate the space. Amazon’s suite of voice-controlled devices has outsold Google’s so far, according to a study by research firm eMarketer from earlier this year.

In a statement, Google said, “Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make (its) Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of (our sister company) Nest’s latest products.

“Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and Fire TV,” Google said. “We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

Amazon said in a statement, “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website.”

It said it hoped to resolve the issue with Google as soon as possible but customers could access YouTube through the internet – not an app – on the devices in the meantime.

The break has been a long time coming. Amazon kicked the Chromecast, Google’s television player, off its retail website in 2015, along with Apple Inc’s TV player. Amazon had explained the move by saying it wanted to avoid confusing customers who might expect its Prime Video service to be available on devices sold by Amazon.

Amazon and Apple mended ties earlier this year when it was announced Prime Video would come to Apple TV. Not so with Google.

In September, Google cut off YouTube from the Amazon Echo Show, which had displayed videos on its touchscreen without video recommendations, channel subscriptions and other features. Amazon later reintroduced YouTube to the device, but the voice commands it added violated the use terms and on Tuesday Google again removed the service.

The Fire TV loses access to its YouTube app on Jan. 1, Google said. Amazon has sold that device for longer than the Echo Show, meaning more customers may now be affected.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Andrew Hay)

YouTube to expand teams reviewing extremist content

December 5, 2017

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s YouTube said on Monday it plans to add more people next year to identify inappropriate content as the company responds to criticism over extremist, violent and disturbing videos and comments.

YouTube has developed automated software to identify videos linked to extremism and now is aiming to do the same with clips that portray hate speech or are unsuitable for children. Uploaders whose videos are flagged by the software may be ineligible for generating ad revenue.

But amid stepped up enforcement, the company has received complaints from video uploaders that the software is error-prone.

Adding to the thousands of existing content reviewers will give YouTube more data to supply and possibly improve its machine learning software.

The goal is to bring the total number of people across Google working to address content that might violate its policies to over 10,000 in 2018, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in one of a pair of blog posts Monday. http://bit.ly/2km1Dfi

“We need an approach that does a better job determining which channels and videos should be eligible for advertising,” she said. “We’ve heard loud and clear from creators that we have to be more accurate when it comes to reviewing content, so we don’t demonetize videos by mistake.”

In addition, Wojcicki said the company would take “aggressive action on comments, launching new comment moderation tools and in some cases shutting down comments altogether.”

The moves come as advertisers, regulators and advocacy groups express ongoing concern over whether YouTube’s policing of its service is sufficient.

YouTube is reviewing its advertising offerings as part of response and it teased that its next efforts could be further changing requirements to share in ad revenue.

YouTube this year updated its recommendation feature to spotlight videos users are likely to find the most gratifying, brushing aside concerns that such an approach can trap people in bubbles of misinformation and like-minded opinions.

(Reporting by Rishika Chatterjee in Bengaluru and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

Nissan, DeNA schedule public tests of self-driving car service in Japan next year

December 5, 2017

TOKYO (Reuters) – Nissan Motor Co and Japanese gaming software maker DeNA Co said on Tuesday they would begin public tests of their self-driving ride-sharing service in Japan next year.

The two companies join a growing number of global car makers and tech firms leveraging automated driving technology into new mobility services.

Nissan and DeNA said they would hold public tests over a two-week period in Yokohama in March, under which riders can use an app developed by DeNA to summon self-driving versions of Nissan’s Leaf electric cars to travel to pre-mapped destinations and pay fares.

The duo, which have been conducting field tests of their “Easy Ride” system since joining hands earlier this year, said the tests were the first step towards their goal of launching a full-service, self-driving ride-sharing service in the country in the early 2020s.

Global automakers are looking beyond making and selling cars to survive an industry which is being quickly transformed by new services, and a growing number including General Motors Co are applying their expertise in automated driving functions for mass-market cars to develop mobility services.

The fast-growing “pay-per-ride” market is becoming a battleground between automakers, tech firms such as Alphabet Inc and Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and a barrage of start-ups as ride-sharing services threaten to hit demand for car ownership.

While companies continue to pursue development of safe self-driving functions which can ferry riders to their destination of choice, they also face regulatory hurdles, as most global jurisdictions do not expressly authorize vehicles to operate on regular roads without a driver.

In Japan, Nissan and DeNA will face competition from Japanese robotics maker ZMP Inc, which is working with a Tokyo taxi operator to develop a self-driving taxi service it hopes to have up and running during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

DeNA has been trialing self-driving services across the country, including shuttle buses for elderly residents in rural communities which are struggling with fewer bus and taxi services as the country’s population ages and shrinks.

(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

China think tank calls for ‘democratic’ internet governance

December 4, 2017

WUZHEN, China (Reuters) – China ranks fifth among 38 nations globally in standards of cyber governance, a top state-backed internet think tank said on Monday, calling for a ‘democratic’ internet governance system to eradicate inequalities it said marginalized developing nations.

China has pushed strongly for a unified cyber governance regime, but other countries, business groups and firms have criticized its strict stance. Officials have sought a greater role for China in strengthening global internet governance.

China ranks after the United States, Japan, France and Estonia, the Chinese Academy of Cyberspace Studies said in a report released at China’s World Internet Conference in the eastern town of Wuzhen.

“We should promote the establishment of a multinational, democratic and transparent global internet governance system,” it said.

For the third straight year, independent U.S. rights watchdog Freedom House ranked China last in internet freedom this year, however.

China’s internet governance initiatives include strict new censorship and surveillance curbs introduced this year that target news outlets, social media and individuals on the net.

The Cyberspace Administration of China says the new measures, which include the monitoring of private chat apps and censoring tools to block viewing of overseas websites, are designed to maintain social order and protect socialist values.

“(All countries) should give full play to the Internet to spread positive things like justice, kindness, liveliness and goodness in cyberspace,” the report said, without elaborating.

China adopted a new cybersecurity measure this year requiring foreign firms to store data in the country and submit to surveillance checks. Business groups say the law is harsher than comparable policies in Europe and the United States.

The report also ranks China as second in global internet development and innovation behind the United States and 23rd in cybersecurity, and gives insight into how China sees its internet development.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Australia to probe Facebook, Google over media disruption

December 4, 2017

By Jonathan Barrett and Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s competition regulator said on Monday it would investigate whether U.S. online giants Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google has disrupted the news media market to the detriment of publishers and consumers.

Like their rivals globally, Australia’s traditional media companies have been squeezed by online rivals, as advertising dollars have followed eyeballs to digital distributors such as Google, Facebook and Netflix Inc.

The government ordered the probe as part of wider media reforms, amid growing concern for the future of journalism and the quality of news following years of declining profits and newsroom job cuts and the rise of fake news.

“We will examine whether platforms are exercising market power in commercial dealings to the detriment of consumers, media content creators and advertisers,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

The inquiry also would study how Facebook and Google operated to “fully understand their influence in Australia”, he added.

A Google spokesman said, “We look forward to engaging with this process as relevant.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The idea for an ACCC investigation was hatched during media reform negotiations in parliament earlier this year, which resulted in a relaxation of ownership laws to allow the country’s big players to boost their market share to better compete against online disruptors.

Independent media analyst Peter Cox told Reuters it was unclear what measures the competition regulator could recommend to the government even if it found the country’s media sector was increasingly anti-competitive.

“You could see this as a stepping stone towards another type of reform, such as tax,” said Cox.

Jurisdictions around the world, including the European Union, are grappling with how to tax technology giants with global operations.

Currently corporate taxes are paid where firms have a physical presence, which allows digital multinationals to book most of their profits where they have set up headquarters as opposed to where they make their money.

The Australian probe will have power to demand information from businesses and hold hearings. It is due to make its final report in 18 months.

(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christopher Cushing)

China’s Xi says country will not close door to global internet

December 3, 2017

By Cate Cadell

WUZHEN, China (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Sunday the country will not close its door to the global internet, but that cyber sovereignty is key in its vision of internet development.

Xi’s comments were read by Huang Kunming, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s publicity department at the country’s largest public cyber policy forum in the town of Wuzhen in eastern China.

“The development of China’s cyberspace is entering a fast lane…China’s doors will only become more and more open,” said Xi in the note.

Cyber sovereignty is the idea that states should be permitted to manage and contain their own internet without external interference.

China’s Communist Party has tightened cyber regulation in the past year, formalizing new rules that require firms to store data locally and censor tools that allow users to subvert the Great Firewall.

In June, China introduced a new national cybersecurity law that requires foreign firms to store data locally and submit to data surveillance measures.

Cyber regulators say the laws are in line with international rules, and that they are designed to protect personal privacy and counter attacks on core infrastructure. Business groups say the rules unfairly target foreign firms.

China has advocated strongly for a larger role in global internet governance under Xi.

“China stands ready to develop new rules and systems of internet governance to serve all parties and counteract current imbalances,” said Wang Huning, a member of the Communist Party standing committee at the event on Sunday.

The conference, which is overseen by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) invited foreign executives, Apple Inc’s CEO Tim Cook and Google Inc chief Sundar Pichai as well as a Facebook Inc executive.

Google and Facebook are banned in China, along with Twitter Inc and most major western news outlets.

Top executives from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd , Tencent Holdings Ltd <0700.HK> and Baidu Inc also attended the forum.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

Apple’s Tim Cook says developers have earned $17 billion from China App Store

December 3, 2017

WUZHEN, China (Reuters) – Apple Inc’s chief executive Tim Cook said developers using its platform in China number 1.8 million and have earned a total 112 billion yuan ($16.93 billion), representing roughly a quarter of total global App Store earnings.

Cook shared the data on Sunday during a speech at China’s top public cyber policy forum, organized by the Cybersecurity Administration of China (CAC), which oversees internet regulation including censorship.

Earlier this year, Apple said that developers had earned roughly $70 billion in total revenue through the store.

Apple is facing criticism from local users and rights groups for bowing to pressure from Beijing cyber regulators after it decided to remove hundreds of apps from its Chinese store this year, including messaging apps and virtual private network (VPN) services, which help users subvert China’s Great Firewall.

Apple counts China as its third-largest region by sales but it has lost market share in recent years as high-end handsets from local rivals continue to gain traction. The firm is hoping to regain momentum following the release of its iPhone 8 and iPhone X models which shipped in November.

The U.S. tech giant said earlier it had moved its Chinese cloud data onto the servers of a local partner in the Chinese province of Guizhou.

Cook has come to China several times this year, including an October visit where he was among executives that met with President Xi Jinping, who also had prepared remarks read at the conference on Sunday.

Cook’s attendance is conspicuous at the conference, marking the first high-level executive to attend in the event’s four-year history.

Others included Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, who is also attending the conference for the first time.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)