Regulators raid Amazon Japan on suspicion of anti-trust violation

March 15, 2018

TOKYO (Reuters) – Amazon Japan said on Thursday it had been raided by the country’s fair trade regulator on suspicion of a possible anti-trust violation.

An Amazon Japan spokesperson told Reuters it was fully cooperating with the Fair Trade Commission but declined to elaborate or comment on details about the suspected violations outlined in earlier local media reports.

Citing sources related to the matter, Kyodo news agency said on Thursday the online retailer is suspected of possibly asking suppliers to shoulder part of the cost incurred from selling their products at a discount on Amazon Japan.

The Asahi daily reported that the firm may have demanded suppliers pay a “collaboration fee,” measured as a percentage of the selling price of the product.

Amazon Japan had come under regulatory scrutiny before. In a previous anti-trust probe, the Fair Trade Commission found the firm had required suppliers that sell their products on multiple platforms to list them on Amazon Japan at the same or lower price.

Amazon Japan agreed to drop the practice and the regulators ended the probe last June.

The Japan Fair Trade Commission declined to comment on the case.

(Reporting by Minami Funakoshi and Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Sam Holmes)

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Samsung Electronics says to start building new China memory chip line this month

March 15, 2018

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd plans to begin building a new memory chip production line in China in late March, a spokesman said on Thursday, as the tech giant ramps up efforts to boost NAND flash technology to meet future demand.

The tech giant said in August last year that it expected to invest $7 billion over the next three years to expand its NAND memory chip production in China’s northwestern city of Xi’an, but had not specified a future schedule.

The rapidly growing data center market, which needs more memory capacity to handle increasing data traffic, is expected to underpin revenue growth and margins for Samsung’s NAND Flash business in 2018, research provider Trendforce said.

Samsung’s revenue from NAND in the fourth quarter of 2017 rose 9.8 percent from the previous quarter to $6.17 billion, Trendforce said, as demand from both smartphone and server markets lifted shipments and average price.

Samsung will formally begin the process near month-end at Xi’an, earmarked for NAND flash production, the spokesman said, but did not give any other details.

Samsung Electronics shares have risen about 13 percent from early March on an improved outlook for the memory chip market, putting to rest concerns that the recent boom might end, analysts said.

“Memory chips are solid. For DRAM chips, server demand is very strong,” said Kwon Sung-ryul, an analyst at DB Investment & Securities.

“NAND flash chip shipments and price movements are moving within expectations, but there’s a chance that supply will become tighter again in the second half of 2018 due to rising demand.”

The expansion is not expected to affect memory chip supply until 2019 at the earliest, analysts said.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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France to sue Google, Apple over developer contracts: minister

March 14, 2018

PARIS (Reuters) – France will take Google and Apple to court over contractual terms imposed by the tech giants on startups and developers, said Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

Speaking on RTL radio, Le Maire said on Wednesday he had become aware that Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple Inc. unilaterally imposed prices and other contractual terms on software developers.

“I will therefore be taking Google and Apple to the Paris commercial court for abusive trade practices,” Le Maire said.

“As powerful as they are, Google and Apple should not be able to treat our startups and our developers the way they currently do.”

Spokespeople for Apple France and Google France did not immediately respond to calls and messages from Reuters seeking comment.

Le Maire also said he expected the European Union to close tax loopholes that benefit Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon by the start of 2019. Brussels is currently examining measures to improve the taxation of overseas tech giants’ online business in European markets.

(Reporting by Laurence Frost and Julie Carriat; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

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Exclusive: G20 financial heads to urge crypto-asset monitoring to safeguard financial stability

March 13, 2018

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The world’s financial leaders will call on international standard-setting bodies on March 20 for stronger monitoring of crypto-assets and to assess the need for a multilateral response as such assets could at some point threaten financial stability.

The call appears in a draft communique prepared for the meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 biggest economies in Buenos Aires on March 19-20, seen by Reuters.

The financial leaders will say the technological innovation behind crypto-currencies has the potential to improve the efficiency and inclusiveness of the financial system.

“Crypto currencies, however, raise issues with respect to consumer and investor protection, tax evasion, money laundering and terrorist financing. At some point they could have financial stability implications,” the draft communique adds.

“We agree that international standard setting bodies strengthen their monitoring of crypto-assets and their risks… and assess whether multilateral responses may be needed.”

Regulators globally have raised the alarm over cryptocurrencies, saying they may aid money laundering and terrorist financing, hurt consumers and undermine trust in the global financial system.

Japan was the first country to adopt a national system to oversee cryptocurrency trading. It carried out checks on several exchanges this year after the theft of $530 million from one exchange, Coincheck Inc, in January.

France and Germany have said they will make joint proposals to regulate the bitcoin cryptocurrency market.

The head of the European Union’s watchdog said a short-term strategy could be to focus on applying anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules, warning consumers of the risk of trading in cryptocurrencies and preventing banks from holding them.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said last week that many online trading platforms for cryptocurrencies should be registered with the regulator and subject to additional rules, in a further sign regulators are cracking down on the digital currency sector.

In a statement, the SEC said these “potentially unlawful” platforms may be giving investors an unearned sense of safety by labeling themselves as “exchanges.” The regulator said these platforms need to register with the SEC as a regulated national securities exchange or as an alternate trading system, or ATS.

Virtual currencies have existed for years but speculation in them has recently ballooned – along with scams promising investors returns of over 1,000 percent in weeks.

In a time of volatile markets, hackers are also active in the sector.

Bitcoin, the best known virtual currency, lost over half its value earlier this year after surging more than 1,300 percent last year.

(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Shanghai government says Tesla talks on track despite Musk outburst

March 13, 2018

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Talks between Telsa Inc and Shanghai authorities over building a local manufacturing plant remain on track, the city government said on Tuesday, easing concerns of a breakdown in negotiations after the electric carmaker’s chief criticized Chinese trade rules last week.

Tesla’s Chief Executive Elon Musk had fired off a series of posts on Twitter railing against an unequal playing field in China, which limits foreign ownership of Chinese ventures and imposes steep tariffs on imported cars.

The outburst raised questions over whether Tesla’s ongoing talks to build a manufacturing facility in China, the world’s largest auto market, had been shelved amid growing trade tensions between the United States and China.

The Shanghai government, however, said communication with Tesla had always been positive and the two sides “had a shared goal” to propel the development of China’s new-energy vehicle market, referring to full-electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

“Both sides will keep looking thoroughly at plans in China. Currently the details are still under discussion, once anything is confirmed we will announce it as quickly as possible,” it said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

“As Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said openly before, Tesla attaches great importance to its development and plans in China.”

Tesla officials in China did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The U.S. firm has been pushing hard to build cars in China, but has hit roadblocks in negotiations with local authorities, in part because Musk is keen to keep full control of any local venture. China currently limits foreign ownership to 50 percent.

Last November Musk said he hoped the plant would be operating within three years, but Tesla and the Chinese authorities have yet to announce any agreement.

Musk’s tweets last week, directed at U.S. President Donald Trump, had said that rules in China were hindering Tesla’s ability to compete in the market. He called on Trump to help get a “fair outcome” in trade agreements.

“The current rules make things very difficult. It’s like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes,” Musk wrote.

The Tesla CEO did, however, soften his tone in a later tweet, saying “China has already shown a willingness to open their markets and I believe they will do the right thing”.

China, which is making a major push towards electric cars, requires foreign automakers to build factories in 50-50 joint ventures with domestic Chinese automakers and does not allow them to establish wholly owned factories.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan and SHANGHAI newsroom; Additional reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu in BEIJING; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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Grab forms venture with Japan’s Credit Saison for lending services

March 13, 2018

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Southeast Asia’s Grab has formed a venture with Japanese credit card company Credit Saison Co Ltd to provide loans and lending services in the region, marking the ride-hailing firm’s biggest expansion into financial services.

It will be part of newly launched Grab Financial, which offers services ranging from payments to rewards and loyalty services, the firms said in a statement on Tuesday.

The joint venture firm, Grab Financial Services Asia, plans to offer micro-financing products. It aims to leverage Grab’s network of millions of consumers and small businesses as well as data on consumer behavior, then marry it with Credit Saison’s expertise in credit analysis and consumer lending.

“Grab Financial Services Asia is building a reliable alternative to traditional credit scoring methods that is customized for the unbanked majority of consumers and small businesses in Southeast Asia,” said Jason Thompson, managing director of Grab Financial.

Grab, which started as a taxi-hailing app firm and competes with Uber [UBER.UL], has been expanding into financial services over the last two years by acquiring companies and forming partnerships to spread usage of its mobile wallet.

The new venture will also look at offering credit scoring services to financial firms who can use the information to provide other services such as virtual credit cards.

Thompson declined to provide financial details of the venture with Credit Saison.

Grab operates in eight countries in Southeast Asia and its app has been downloaded on more than 86 million mobile devices. It offers ride-hailing, on-demand food and delivery services.

Grab also said it had partnered with Chubb Ltd to offer insurance coverage to Grab’s 2.6 million drivers.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and Anshuman Daga; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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Solar Heated Granite Countertops

Using Solar Panels To Heat Granite Countertops

heated granite countertops

Technology is advancing at the speed of light and the home and garden industry keeps getting more and more sophisticated with smart ovens, smart refrigerators, and full home automation systems. There are many innovative technologies hitting the market every day that include smartphone-controlled devices like water heaters and alarm systems. We like to think we are pretty current with our knowledge of the industry, but this latest innovation has really grabbed the attention of our team. An Arizona Granite contractor has developed a new solar heated granite countertop slab for kitchen countertops. The granite countertops are installed with solar heating elements adhered to the bottom of the granite slab. There is a convenient power switch built into the countertops that allow for homeowners to quickly turn the surface into a plate warmer. There are many homes in the Phoenix metro area that are building wood-fired brick ovens into their home’s kitchens for entertainment purposes. The ability to pull a pizza out of a brick oven and place it directly on to a heated slab of granite has many Phoenix homeowners opting in for the solar-powered granite countertops. Ice cream shops like Cold Stone Creamery have used ice gold granite in their franchises to produce a handmade dessert on a frozen granite surface. The granite slabs are cooled and the ice cream and ingredients are added to the granite surface and mixed together before being served. Cold Stone Creamery is located in Scottsdale Arizona and is one of the only ice cream shops in the nation that use an iced granite surface to prepare their desserts. Caterers have also used heated granite for foods prepared and served to guests during catered events. The granite stone can be placed above burning Sterno canisters to heat the surfaces. Then, appetizers can be placed in a decorative manner along the surface of the granite for guests to enjoy.

solar panel installation

The innovative solar powered granite surfaces in Arizona homes has ushered in a new era of convenience for homeowners that find joy in entertaining guests or even keeping food plates warm during family suppers. Adding solar panels to your Arizona home can increase value and you should seek out the advice of a solar broker in Arizona prior to putting your home up for sale. The heated granite countertops are also a value-add when it comes to selling your home. Solar powered home appliances and furnishings continue to decorate the interior of Arizona homes because of the year-round sunshine the state gets. It’s easy to see why people from the East Coast are moving here in droves as the harsh winter conditions continue to have a negative effect on the local residents in the area. If you are planning on moving to Arizona, or if you are currently a homeowner in Arizona and have considered installing solar panels to reduce your footprint on the environment and pave the way for future generations, please consider all the benefits and take action. Solar powered homes save homeowners money in the long run and provide convenient ways to power appliances around the home.

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Amazon video service looking to expand Indian regional content

March 12, 2018

(This March 11 story has been refiled to reflect changed name of Zee Entertainment service in paragraph 8 and fix spelling of Telugu in paragraph 3)

By Sankalp Phartiyal

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc’s video service will look to add more regional content in India, two company executives said, as it competes with a host of global and local players for a bigger share of a fledgling online streaming market.

In little after a year of its launch in India, Amazon’s bet on original Hindi shows and a library of films in five local languages has paid off – India is the fastest growing market for its Prime Video service, Tim Leslie, global Vice President at Amazon Prime Video, told Reuters in an interview late Saturday, on the sidelines of the India Today Conclave 2018 in Mumbai.

Beyond Hindi shows and Bollywood movies, Prime Video has also been broadening its film catalog in southern Indian languages such as Tamil and Telugu, Asia-Pacific content head James Farrell said.

“We want to figure out how do we do more in the South,” Farrell said. “We haven’t announced any originals yet from the South but we are looking to do as much as can be done.”

The duo declined to give subscriber numbers, saying they have tens of millions of Prime customers. Prime is the world’s largest online retailer’s customer loyalty plan that costs an annual 999 rupees ($15) and offers faster deliveries, access to early deals and a subscription to its video and music streaming services.

India is key to Amazon’s global ambitions. Online retail is booming in the South Asian nation and its media and entertainment market is tipped to grow to more than $31 billion in two years, from $22.7 billion in 2017.

Cheap data has spurred the rise of streaming video usage in India, the world’s fastest growing web services market, and turned it into a battleground for content wars between global giants such as Amazon and Netflix as they look for growth beyond a saturated U.S. home market.

Other prominent players include Twenty-First Century Fox-backed Hotstar, which exclusively streams HBO’s hit “Game of Thrones” show in India; Voot, a joint venture between Network18 Media & Investments Ltd and U.S. peer Viacom Inc; SonyLIV from Japan’s Sony Corp; Zee Entertainment’s ZEE5 and production house Balaji’s ALTBalaji.

Asked if Amazon could begin streaming cricket in India, a country of 1.2 billion people famously obsessed with the sport, the executives said they were looking at sports content opportunities globally.

“It’s day one in sports for us and we’re getting involved in it,” Leslie said, adding the company had begun streaming U.S. football games globally and was striking deals for sports such as tennis. Amazon does not stream sports in India currently.

Last year, Star India agreed to pay 163.48 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) for the television and digital rights of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket for five years. Bidders for digital rights included Facebook Inc.

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Internet tycoon challenges Deutsche Telekom to team up on German broadband

March 10, 2018

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The billionaire founder of United Internet has urged internet providers to found a joint company to build out Germany’s high-speed broadband network, challenging market leader Deutsche Telekom to back the venture.

Ralph Dommermuth said industry should take the lead on laying the glass fiber network in Germany, where just 2.5 percent of households are directly hooked up to such ultra-fast connections – less than in other developed nations.

The new government formed by Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to back broadband investments to the tune of 10-12 billion euros over the course of this parliament as part of an effort to create a ‘Gigabit society’ by 2025.

That amount, Dommermuth said in an interview with newspaper Welt am Sonntag, would only cover a fraction of the overall cost of providing nationwide glass-fiber coverage that he estimated at 80 billion euros.

German business groups have already cautioned that under-investment in connectivity threatens to sap its export competitiveness as manufacturing processes become increasingly automated.

“Each telecommunications company that wants to participate in this alliance would contribute capital according to its market share,” Dommermuth said in the interview, released ahead of publication on Sunday.

If companies paid in 10 billion euros and a further 10 billion came in the form of state subsidies, it would be possible to borrow a further 10 billion euros, Dommermuth said, creating an overall investment pot of 30 billion euros.

Deutsche Telekom’s participation would be “decisive” in the venture.

“If it takes part, we will definitely get involved,” he said. United Internet would be willing to contribute 1.4 billion euros – in line with its 14 percent market share – or more.

The combined investment would be enough to provide fiber to 70 percent of households in Germany, he estimated.

It was not clear whether Dommermuth, a self-made businessman with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $6.4 billion, had approached Deutsche Telekom before going public with his proposal.

Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges has come under fire for defending its continued reliance on so-called ‘vectoring’, which uses the old copper telephone network to reach households and has limited potential to be upgraded.

Hoettges has hit back by saying that Deutsche Telekom is investing far more than all of its rivals put together, having spent 5.4 billion euros on broadband in Germany last year.

United Internet, which operates under the 1&1 brand, rents out capacity from Deutsche Telekom, among others, to provide digital subscriber lines to homes and businesses.

Hoettges is concerned that, if the regulator stipulates that access to glass-fiber networks should be open, Telekom’s competitors will end up profiting unfairly from its investments.

Deutsche Telekom did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Dommermuth’s proposal.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; editing by Clelia Oziel)

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China eyes ‘black tech’ to boost security as parliament meets

March 10, 2018

By Pei Li and Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – At a highway check point on the outskirts of Beijing, local police are this week testing out a new security tool: smart glasses that can pick up facial features and car registration plates, and match them in real-time with a database of suspects.

The AI-powered glasses, made by LLVision, scan the faces of vehicle occupants and the plates, flagging with a red box and warning sign to the wearer when any match up with a centralized “blacklist”.

The test – which coincides with the annual meeting of China’s parliament in central Beijing – underscores a major push by China’s leaders to leverage technology to boost security in the country.

That drive has led to growing concerns that China is developing a sophisticated surveillance state that will lead to intensifying crackdowns on dissent.

“(China’s) leadership once felt a degree of trepidation over the advancement of the internet and communication technologies,” said David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project, a media studies research project at the University of Hong Kong.

“It now sees them as absolutely indispensable tools of social and political control.”

Wu Fei, chief executive of LLVision, said people should not be worried about privacy concerns because China’s authorities were using the equipment for “noble causes”, catching suspects and fugitives from the law.

“We trust the government,” he told Reuters at the company’s headquarters in Beijing.

Reuters was able to verify that the glasses were being used in tests by the police to help identify suspect individuals and vehicles in the Beijing area in recent days.

China, under President Xi Jinping, is making a major push to use artificial intelligence, facial recognition and big data technology to track and control behavior that goes against the interests of the ruling Communist Party online and in the wider world.

Xi is expected to cement his power base this weekend as a reform to remove term limits is pushed through. That would in effect allow him to stay in his post indefinitely.

Delegates and visitors entering the Great Hall of the People, the venue for the parliament, the National People’s Congress, have to go through facial scanners. The same happened to those attending the related advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“This year, security at the two sessions has some freshly-baked ‘black tech’ coming online,” wrote the state-run Science and Technology Daily newspaper, using a comic-book term in China for futuristic surveillance gadgets.

The paper said cameras at the event had been upgraded to capture, analyze and compare suspicious faces in around two seconds, powered by a system called “Skynet” – which has a national database of blacklisted individuals.

“The plot of sci-fi film ‘Minority Report’ is now basically becoming a part of daily life,” the newspaper added, referring to the Tom Cruise movie set in a futuristic society where crimes are solved and punished before they even happen.

ROBOTS AND DRONES

China has been deploying a growing arsenal of security technology, fuelling the growth of a domestic industry and worrying civil rights defenders about the growing intrusion on individual privacy.

A key concern is that blacklists could include a wide range of people stretching from lawyers and artists to political dissidents, charity workers, journalists and rights activists.

The new technologies range from police robots for crowd control, to drones to monitor border areas, and artificially intelligent systems to track and censor behavior online. There are also scanners to forcibly read mobile phone data and even police dogs with virtual reality cameras.

A recent Human Rights Watch report said China was also expanding a biometric voice database to boost voice recognition capabilities.

Surveillance measures long-used in restive areas such as Xinjiang in the northwest are also being rolled out more widely around the country, with a planned drive to centralize and standardize powerful but fragmented systems over the next year.

At the meeting of the NPC, most delegates said the increasing use of technology to improve state security was a positive, and that the benefits far outweighed privacy concerns.

“This is a good thing, it means our technology is really leading the world,” said Lu Yaping, a delegate from Jiangsu province in eastern China. “I don’t have any concerns about safety.”

(Reporting by Pei Li and Cate Cadell in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Thomas Sun; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Martin Howell)

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