TechSummit Rewind 179

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Google fined €2.42B for EU antitrust violations over shopping searches

Google_web_search

The European Commission has fined Google €2.42 billion for antitrust violations on its Shopping search comparison service – in what’s considered the most significant antitrust ruling in Europe since the 2004 Microsoft decision.

For context, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) reported full year revenue of roughly $90 billion (€79.7 billion) in 2016.

The European Union’s investigation into Google Shopping complaints dates back over six years, although a formal Statement of Objections was only issued in April 2015 and extended last July with further objections based on the company’s AdSense platform. A third investigation is ongoing on Android.

The bloc’s law puts a special obligation on dominant companies to not abuse their power and harm existing competitors or block new entrants. Google Search fits the bill here, accounting for over 90 percent of the market.

The complainants in the Google Shopping case accuse the company of demoting rival vertical search engines in its general search results, therefore depriving their businesses of scale and market access.

The original complaint to the EC that Google manipulated search results was made by shopping comparison site Foundem in 2009, who said that the service effectively vanished from Google search results weeks after its launch in 2006 and was not reindexed until years later.

European Commission Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who’s in charge of competition policy, said in a statement that Google Shopping’s strategy “wasn’t just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.”

“It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.”

-Margrethe Vestager, European Commission commissioner

Meanwhile, Google expressed their disagreement with the decision in a blog post posted by company SVP and general counsel Kent Walker:

“When you use Google to search for products, we try to give you what you’re looking for. Our ability to do that well isn’t favoring ourselves, or any particular site or seller – it’s the result of hard work and constant innovation, based on user feedback.

“Given the evidence, we respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today. We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.”

-Kent Walker, Google SVP and general counsel

Facebook hits 2B monthly users

Facebook-News-Feed

Facebook has now reached two billion monthly active users, 13 years after launching and less than five years after hitting 1 billion.

To compare, YouTube has 1.5 billion users, WeChat has 889 million, and Twitter has 328 million.

The rapid growth over the last half decade has been fueled by developing markets. As the company has optimized its app for cheap Android smartphones and low-bandwidth connections, it’s added 746 million users in Asia and the Rest of World region since hitting a billion users total. Meanwhile, only 41 million users were added in the US and Canada.

Despite Facebook’s mature status, its 17 percent user growth is as fast or faster than any years since 2012. Meanwhile, 66 percent of the company’s monthly users return daily compared to 55 percent when it hit a billion.

“We’re getting to a size where it’s worth really taking a careful look at what are all the things that we can do to make social media the most positive force for good possible.

“I live with the constant goal of understanding, for every single thing that we do, how do we maximize all that goodness and curtail any way that it can be misused or turned into something sad.”

-Chris Cox, Facebook chief product officer

Pandora stopping service in Australia, New Zealand

pandorapremium-100713102-orig

Pandora is ending its operations in Australia and New Zealand, according to Billboard.

This comes as company co-founder Tim Westergren steps down as its CEO.

Australia and New Zealand were Pandora’s only international markets, meaning that Pandora will become US-only only operations discontinue in the next few weeks.

Uber now lets you request a ride for someone else

Uber

Uber will now let you request a ride for someone else in your phone’s contact book. While it was always possible to hail a ride and set another pickup point, this now allows for riders and drivers to contact one another directly while ensuring that the requester picks up the tab.

The app simply adds a step when you set a pickup point that isn’t your phone’s geotagged one, with a request dialog that asks whether the ride is for you or “Someone Else.” In the case of someone else, your address book will be opened to let you pick the contact and set the destination for the ride and send the request.

It uses your contact book info to connect the driver and rider, with the rider getting a text message that gives their driver’s name, a link to track their progress on a map, and a contact number to directly reach them. The driver will see the rider’s name and also be able to contact them directly, though the contact’s phone number isn’t shared directly.

“We’re focused on making Uber accessible to everyone in the family, and on making people’s lives easier around the world. What we’ve learned through research is that at a macro level, people want an easy way to request a ride for a loved one. This was in particular a big request for riders internationally, whose loved ones maybe don’t have smartphones or good connectivity, with also a specific emphasis on seniors.”

-Kyle Miller, Uber product manager

The feature is rolling out now in the US and 30 other countries, including India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and more, with additional markets getting the update soon.

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