Coronavirus is Hitting Tech Companies Hard And Could Soon Hurt Your Wallet Too

Street view of Wuhan, Hubei province, China. (Reuters)

Street view of Wuhan, Hubei province, China. (Reuters)

China accounts for 16% of global production output. Coronavirus has forced companies to shut stores and offices with factories and supply chains disrupted.

  • News18
  • Last Updated: February 10, 2020, 1:21 PM IST

By the time the deadly Coronavirus outbreak was finally declared as a global health emergency at the end of last month, the impact on the various sectors of the Chinese economy was already being felt. Tech remains hit badly, with production stalled, supply chains have come to a grinding halt and companies shutting offices in the country to keep employees safe. As time has passed, the impact of what is happening in China because of the Coronavirus is being felt globally too.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that a US$675 million global response plan is needed to fight Coronavirus, even as the global infections have surged past 30,000. The global death toll has also crossed 800 while Chinese authorities have confirmed 3062 new cases and 97 more deaths, which takes the toll to 908 deaths and 40,171 cases in the country. China’s economy accounts for more than 16% of the global production output, and that includes everything from iPhones to copper.

With that as the backdrop, tech companies have over the past few weeks taken the decision to shut down offices and stores in China. Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Tesla, to name a few, took the decision to not reopen offices post the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays last month, or extended the break with the policy to work-from-home. The same is also true for Chinese companies, including Xiaomi, Huawei, Vivo and Oppo. Most companies have also restricted employees from traveling to China. Starbucks has closed 2000 outlets in China, while KFC has also shuttered thousands of outlets in the country after one of their employees was diagnosed with the Coronavirus. Yum China, which operates Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC outlets in more than 1,300 cities in China, has introduced what it calls “contactless food deliveries” to protect their employees. According to reports, videos on the Chinese social media site, Weibo show delivery drivers having their temperature recorded before wearing Hazmat suits and face masks and disinfecting all food packaging while leaving the restaurant.

Factories are also non-operational in China, which is grinding the supply chain to a halt. Electronics manufacturing is disrupted significantly. At the same time, materials and components that may be required by factories located outside China, are also not being shipped. The ripple effect, unprecedented in terms of something we have never seen before. Product shipments will be hit at least in the next couple of quarters. This will also hurt the next set of product launches, because the prototyping, build stages and advance production is not happening as we speak. Perhaps, TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo’s forecast should put things in perspective. “Our latest survey indicates that the iPhone supply is being affected by the coronavirus and, therefore, we cut the iPhone shipment forecasts by 10%,” he said. Foxcon and Pegatron, two of the biggest employeers in China, make almost all of the iPhones, but that’s just one thing they do. The Nikkei Asian Review reported that the Chinese authorities have not allowed Foxcon to reopen its Shenzhen plant over Coronavirus prevention concerns. Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant has also not reopened. Apart from being the largest production base for Apple iPhones, the Foxcon factories also churn out electronics and gadgets for the likes of Google, Amazon, Dell, HP and Huawei, to name a few.

“The local governments do not want to risk the potential virus spreading in such a labor-intensive working environment. No one wants to bear the responsibility of restarting work at this critical moment,” the Nikke Asian Review reported.

Consumer prices in China have already recorded their biggest jump since 2011 as prices rose 5.4% in January as the effects of the Coronavirus disaster became clear, according to numbers by the National Bureau of Statistics, reported by the Financial Times.

Earlier this month, Asus had warned customers that there will be delays in the availability of their popular gaming phone, the ROG Phone II. They also cited the “disruption in supply chain” for the temporary shortage.

Chip maker Qualcomm has already said that the Coronavirus outbreak will cause significant uncertainty regarding supplies needed to produce smartphone processors. This will have a significant impact on the company’s ability to produce these critical components which phone makers will then use in the phones they make.

It is not just global brands who are facing delays and uncertainty. Chinese companies such as Xiaomi, Oppo, Huawei and Lenovo are facing operational delays because of the Coronavirus. “Companies which rely on components from Hubei will be the most impacted, such as Lenovo. For companies like Huawei, whose operations are in Guangdong, the situation is less severe, although no company right now will be able to resume factory operations at 100 percent capacity,” Nicole Peng, mobile analyst at Canalys, told the South China Morning Post. Oppo is relying heavily on production facilities in India and Indonesia to soften the blow.

Xiaomi is already looking at a situation where several of their products are already out of stock. “The planned release of new products has been disrupted and we are making adjustments,” said Lu Weibing, vice-president of Xiaomi in a Weibo post last month. “The smartphone industry will face difficulties this year,” Lu Weibing added.

In the short term globally, there will a gradual reduced availability of a lot of tech products that emerge out of Chinese factories, or rely heavily on components from the region. This will lead to lesser availability of products in the near future, but a lot of that will depend on how long the factories remain shut in China. Eventually, prices of tech products will also see an upward correction, which will directly hit the consumers’ wallets and budget.


TikTok Testing Instagram-Like App Redesign: Facebook to Taste Its Own Medicine?

The new app design puts more emphasis on user bios, and also allows them to add links to better monetise their accounts.


Updated:February 4, 2020, 2:00 PM IST

TikTok Testing Instagram-Like App Redesign: Facebook to Taste Its Own Medicine?
The new app design puts more emphasis on user bios, and also allows them to add links to better monetise their accounts.

Chinese short-video making platform TikTok is testing a user profile redesign similar to Facebook-owned photo and video-sharing platform Instagram. “We are always looking for ways to improve the user experience on TikTok. We are currently testing profile designs and functionality to ultimately give users more ways to personalize and engage with their profiles,” a TikTok spokesperson confirmed to The Verge on Monday.

As per report, the new profile shifts follow count to the left and places more emphasis on user bios. Additionally, TikTok has also begun a limited test of a feature that lets its users to add links to e-commerce sites to their profile bio as well as offer creators the ability to send their viewers to shopping websites effortlessly to monetise its platform. Recently, TikTok reached 1.5 billion downloads worldwide on the App Store as well as Google Play and India leads the chart with 466.8 million or about 31 per cent of all unique installs.

In 2019, the app accumulated 614 million downloads — six per cent more than it had last year, reported mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower. India has been a fast adopter in 2019, driving up 277.6 million downloads so far this year, or roughly 45 per cent of all global installs. Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether the app redesign does to TikTok what Facebook does with its rivals — beckon people over to their own platform by taking a leaf out of others’ books.

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Facebook to Hire 1,000 People This Year in the UK

Facebook will hire 1,000 people in London this year in roles such as product development and safety as it continues to grow its biggest engineering centre outside the United States after Britain leaves the European Union. Over half of the new jobs will be in technology, including software engineering and data science, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Nicola Mendelsohn said in an interview.

Other roles will be in the “community integrity” team, which makes products to detect and remove harmful content from platforms like Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. Mendelsohn said London’s appeal was not only in its technology ecosystem but also the strength of its creative industries. She said that while Facebook’s enthusiasm for London was undimmed, like other tech companies it wanted certainty about Brexit.

“The Johnson government has been very clear about what that looks like, and so we will continue to invest here in London,” she said. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Facebook’s growth was “great news”. “We are committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, alongside being one of the best places for technology companies to be based,” he said.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg will announce the new jobs, which will take its total UK employees to more than 4,000, on Tuesday before travelling to the World Economic Forum in Davos with Mendelsohn, where they will meet global leaders, regulators and other business chiefs. The company is trying to rebuild trust in its platforms after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, in which a British political consulting firm collected data from Facebook for voter profiling and targeting.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s public affairs chief and a former British politician, said on Monday that the company will do a better job of preventing bad actors from manipulating this year’s US presidential election than it did four years ago. Mendelsohn said the trust would take time to rebuild. “We also understand that this is an ongoing important conversation – we want to be part of that conversation,” she said. “We want to be working with policymakers in this area to get to thoughtful policy.”

Facebook has commissioned research to show the economic benefits its platforms bring to businesses in Europe. The study by Copenhagen Economics, which questioned 7,7320 businesses across 15 countries, estimated Facebook apps helped create 208 billion euros ($230 billion) of economic value last year. “When you extrapolate that further, what you see is that has resulted in 3.1 million jobs in Europe as a result of people utilizing our platforms,” Mendelsohn said.


WhatsApp Clocks 5 Billion Downloads on Android; TikTok is The Second Most Downloaded App

Facebook owns four out of the top five most downloaded apps worldwide, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.

Image for Representation (Image altered by News18)
Image for Representation
(Image altered by News18)

Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp for Android has now notched up a staggering five billion downloads, making it only the second non-Google app to achieve this milestone. According to Statista, WhatsApp is most popular global mobile messenger app worldwide with approximately 1.6 billion monthly active users, outranking Facebook Messenger at 1.3 billion and WeChat at 1.1 billion users in 2019. Following Facebook and YouTube, it is the third most popular social network worldwide. As with most Android applications that reach large amounts of installs, this number does not just include downloads from the Play Store, but also pre-installed copies like Samsung and Huawei has bundled the app with some smartphones in the past, AndroidPolice reported.

As for the Google Play store, South Korea was the fastest-growing WhatsApp market, with downloads of the mobile messaging app increasing almost 56 percent in 2019. Additionally, Google for the first time in five years, unseated Facebook as the top publisher of mobile apps. In the last quarter of 2019, Google amassed close to 850 million downloads compared to Facebook‘s nearly 800 million, analytics firm Sensor Tower revealed recently. When it comes to overall downloads for the year, however, Google still trails behind Facebook.

While Google raked in nearly 2.3 billion downloads, Facebook gained almost 3 billion downloads over the past 12 months. Facebook owns four out of the top five most downloaded apps worldwide, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, that does not come as a surprise. ByteDance-owned video sharing app TikTok was the world’s second-most downloaded app in 2019.


Instagram Has Removed the IGTV Button From its App

Although Instagram has removed the IGTV button from the app, the feature will still be available and users can continue to watch the long-form vertical videos.

Instagram Has Removed the IGTV Button From its App
Although Instagram has removed the IGTV button from the app, the feature will still be available and users can continue to watch the long-form vertical videos.

Facebook-owned photo-sharing app Instagram has decided to remove the IGTV button from its interface. According to reports, out of the one billion Instagram users, a maximum of seven million people downloaded the IGTV stand-alone app. This is being done primarily because the usage of this feature is not as expected.

As per a Facebook spokesperson, “As we’ve continued to work on making it easier for people to create and discover IGTV content, we’ve learned that most people are finding IGTV content through previews in Feed, the IGTV channel in Explore, creators’ profiles and the standalone app. Very few are clicking into the IGTV icon in the top right corner of the home screen in the Instagram app. We always aim to keep Instagram as simple as possible, so we’re removing this icon based on these learnings and feedback from our community”.

However, even though the button has been removed the IGTV feature is going to be available. Users can continue to watch the long-form vertical videos as they used to. Apart from watching IGTV videos on Instagram, users can also download the stand-alone IGTV app for watching long-form videos. IGTV was introduced in June last by Facebook as a separate effort to lure video makers away from YouTube, offering ways to make money on the Facebook app.


Good News For WhatsApp Users as Facebook Backs Down on Adverts, But There is a Catch

It seems WhatsApp users have one lesser thing to worry about, at least in the near future. Facebook seems to have decided that it won’t plaster adverts all over your favorite instant messaging app. This spot of good news comes from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that Facebook has disbanded the team that was working on integrating apps into the WhatsApp. It is also believed that the code which this team was in the process of integrating into WhatsApp has also been removed from the app. However, there is usually a catch when it comes to good news. And there is one in this case too. Facebook intends to go ahead with its plan to integrate advertising in the WhatsApp Status.

The plans to integrate advertising within WhatsApp was one of the reasons that led to the fallout between WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton and the Facebook executives, which ultimately saw Koum and Acton exiting the company. They feared advertising would mean a weakening of the end-to-end encryption which the app touts as a major privacy and security feature.

So, here is where things stand at this moment, with regards to Facebook’s plan to monetize the WhatsApp platform. The reported disbanding of the team tasked with injecting advertising into the WhatsApp user experience is clearly a big step back for Facebook. The social media giant always had plans to use the $22 billion acquisition to earn money, and advertising was the simplest method. WhatsApp has recorded unmatched growth since the Facebook acquisition of the instant messaging app back in 2014. The app currently has more than 1.5 billion users globally, and no other rival app comes close.

What perhaps softens the blow is that Facebook intends to go ahead with plans to put advertisements in the WhatsApp Status. WhatsApp Status is a way for users to share photos, videos, text updates or even GIFs to their network, and these disappear after 24 hours. This feature is very similar to Instagram Stories, also an app owned by Facebook. By allowing ads on Statuses, Facebook will let brands connect with customers.

We had reported earlier this month that Facebook has still not given us a timeline as to when Status adverts will roll out on WhatsApp. However, the implementation is expected to work on the fairly simple method that would let users see a quick glimpse at the advertisement that accompanies their status. Users will then have to swipe up to get the details of the advertised product or service.

For a company that has been under fire over the past few years for taking user data privacy a bit too lightly, it will be interesting to see it whether a WhatsApp user’s display picture and how much of a user’s profile data, if at all, will be seen by advertisers.


Google is 2019's Top App Publisher, Overtakes Facebook for the 1st Time in Five Years

Facebook has largely dominated this list thanks to its social media and messaging applications.

Google is 2019's Top App Publisher, Overtakes Facebook for the 1st Time in Five Years
Image for representation.

US-based search engine giant Google has, for the first time in five years, unseated Facebook as the top publisher of mobile apps. In the last quarter of 2019, Google amassed close to 850 million downloads compared to Facebook‘s nearly 800 million, analytics firm Sensor Tower revealed recently. When it comes to overall downloads for the year, however, Google still trails behind Facebook.

While Google raked in nearly 2.3 billion downloads, Facebook gained almost 3 billion downloads over the past 12 months. Facebook owns four out of the top five most downloaded apps worldwide, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, that does not come as a surprise. ByteDance-owned video sharing app TikTok was the world’s second-most downloaded app in 2019.

The figures show that TikTok downloads reached an all-time high in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2019, with nearly 220 million installs, which represented a 24 per cent increase over Q3 2019. Sensor Tower also reports that TikTok’s revenue grew by a massive 540 per cent year-on-year in Q4 2019.

Additionally, Disney+ was downloaded more than 30 million times in Q4 2019 in the US, which is more than double of its next nearest competitor, TikTok. In terms of revenue, Disney+ grossed more than $50 million in its first 30 days, beating out other subscription video on demand (SVOD) rivals, like HBO NOW and Showtime.


Facebook Will Make Donations Towards Australian Bushfires Relief Efforts

The ongoing Australian bushfires have killed more than 25 people and decimated Australia’s wildlife, including 30 per cent of the world’s koala population

Facebook Will Make Donations Towards Australian Bushfires Relief Efforts
Firefighters work to contain a bushfire in Australia. (Image: AP)
Facebook has announced to match up to $1 million (Australian dollars) in donations made to non-profit organisation GlobalGiving and donating $250,000 to the Australian Red Cross towards bushfires relief efforts. Currently, Facebook Disaster Maps in Australia are being used by a range of national and international relief, response, and academic organizations. Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization focused on health and emergency response, is using these tools to analyze evacuation proceedings and has plans to distribute more than 500,000 respiratory masks to the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales.

“They’re proving to be a remarkable tool for responders to the catastrophic Australian bushfires which so far have destroyed more than 15 million acres, more than seven times the acreage of the shocking California fires of 2018 or last year’s Amazon wildfire,” Facebook said in a statement late Wednesday.

At least a billion animals have been killed, wiping out multiple species of native Australian wildlife, including 30 per cent of the world’s koala population. Facebook said donations made through its Crisis Response pages for the bushfires across New South Wales or the bushfires across Victoria and South Australia will be matched up to AU$1 million.

Bushfires in Australia have killed more than 25 people, decimated Australia’s wildlife, and are expected to rack up historically high damage costs of multiple billions of dollars.


Facebook's Nudity Policy Draws Criticism of Censorship from Artists

When is a photograph of nude bodies artistic or titillating? A woman’s exposed nipple a political statement or erotica? A video of childbirth might show genitalia. Should what someone considers a celebration of life be censored? In 1964, US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart declined to define what constitutes obscenity but famously added, “I know it when I see it.” In the 21st century, does Facebook?

The social media behemoth is in a well-publicized struggle to address hate speech, extremism, abuse and misinformation on its services — which together serve nearly 3 billion people worldwide. At the same time, it’s been retooling its policies on nudity. It’s tweaking its original heavy-handed policies to account for modern nuances around gender identity, political speech and self-expression, employing thousands of people and quickly evolving artificial intelligence for the task.

But some of its users — including activists, sex therapists, abuse survivors, artists and sex educators — say policies at Facebook and its Instagram service are still too vague and unevenly enforced. They say their work is being unfairly censored, condemning them to “Facebook jail” with no warning and little, if any recourse.

And it’s no small matter for them. Artists can be suddenly left without their audience, businesses without access to their customers and vulnerable people without a support network. And it means that a company in Silicon Valley, whose online platforms have become not only our town squares but diaries, magazines, art galleries and protest platforms, gets the final say on matters of free speech and self-expression. It’s deciding what “community standards” should be for billions of people around the world.

“Instagram really is the magazine of the world right now. And if artists are being censored on Instagram it’s really dangerous for freedom of speech and openness when it comes to the body and art,” said Spencer Tunick, a photographer known internationally for his shoots assembling masses of nude people.

Tunick says that more recently he’s found his work “shadow-banned” by Instagram, which has become a crucial tool for artists to showcase their work. His posts weren’t removed but aren’t readily visible to users. Of course, there’s near-universal agreement that child exploitation and nonconsensual images don’t belong on social networks. Pornography probably doesn’t either.

Facebook’s monitoring systems do a better job with nudity than with hate speech, extremism and misinformation. After all, a butt is a butt and a nipple is a nipple. But deciding when a nipple is art, porn or protest gets murky even when humans are doing the deciding. Teaching AI software about human sexual desire is a whole other ballgame.

From its start as a college photo directory and social network, Facebook banned nudity. Over the years, as Facebook’s audience grew bigger and more diverse, the ban loosened. The company instituted exceptions for breastfeeding women, for images of post-mastectomy scars. Birthing videos are now allowed, as are photos of post-gender reassignment surgery.

“We had this policy that said no genitals on the platform,” said Kim Malfacini, the Facebook product policy manager who oversees how the company’s community standards are developed. “Until two years ago there were no exceptions to that.”

But the reviewers began seeing photos and videos women shared about their childbirth, she said. Based on the letter of the policy, those had to be removed. Malfacini said she joined Facebook around this time and began speaking with midwives, doulas, birthing photographers and others to carve out an exception for images of childbirth even though they show genitalia. Now, the images come with a warning screen; users can click through to see them.

Most of the photos of unclothed children on Facebook are posted innocently by parents sharing vacation photos on the beach or kids in a bath. Sometimes these parents get a warning. Malfacini sometimes speaks to them.

“They have no idea that those photos could be abused,” she said. With child nudity, Facebook is more conservative. Over the age of 3, girls can’t be topless. Boys can. It may be that the way some bars ask anyone who looks under 40 for ID, Facebook is being extra conservative in setting the line so there won’t be any grey areas. For parents of girls, though, this can feel sexist. Should Facebook ban all photos, then, of children without a shirt? Until what age? How will it verify when the kids turn 18?

“It’s a challenge,” Malfacini said. Even with carefully thought-out policies, enforcement can feel arbitrary and the consequences lasting.

Dawn Robertson started her women-empowerment campaign, “Grab Them by the Ballot,” before the 2018 US midterm elections. She wanted to inspire women to vote, especially in light of the MeToo movement and growing restrictions on abortion. She organized women to pose nude, covered only by strategically placed ballots, props and hashtags.

The photos catch the eye, not just because the women are naked but because we are still unaccustomed to seeing images of flawed, unretouched bodies. These are women with wrinkles and fat and tattoos and unretouched skin, a wheelchair here, pregnant belly there — photos not meant to attract our gaze or sell a product but to defy.

Then, she posted them on Facebook and Instagram. Suddenly, the campaign took off, though much of the attention was from right-wing publications such as Breitbart, Robertson said.

“All of a sudden, it was just insane, the negative feedback we got,” she said. “Facebook banned my personal account.”

Robertson said she’s been banned on and off since starting her campaign. When that happens, she couldn’t delete racist and sexist comments that were posted on her group’s page. She got no warning, or reason why she was banned, though she figured it was for nudity. That is even though Facebook allows nudity in some cases, including for political activism.

Other services are dealing with the issue in their own way — Twitter is generally more freewheeling and Tumblr only recently banned adult content — but none have the heft and size of Facebook’s family of services.

Lori Handler, who works as a “sex and happiness coach,” first found herself in Facebook jail two years ago, when she posted a photo of someone doing naked yoga on her page. She couldn’t comment on anything or send private messages.

“I have four business pages and a personal page,” she said. “And when something goes down and I can’t post, I am out of business for a month.”

Artists have staged protests and pleaded with Facebook. Some have found other platforms to show their work, but they say the company’s sheer dominance in online communications makes it difficult to have the same reach.

“What we are trying to do is open the gate somewhat,” said Svetlana Mintcheva, director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship, which has asked Facebook to reconsider its ban on photographic nudity. “The human body is not this horrible, scary, traumatizing thing. It’s a beautiful thing.”

But beauty has been historically a tricky thing to define. Which means Facebook’s stance on nudity will likely continue to shift.

“No policy is set in stone,” Malfacini said. “On any given policy, we are in some process of revisiting some part of it.”


New Facebook Feature to Notifiy Users About Third-Party Logins

Facebook’s third-party login notifications will help users detect unlicensed access or use of their credentials.

Image for representation. (Image: Reuters)
Image for Representation. (Image: Reuters)

Facebook has added a new login feature that will notify users whenever they log into a third-party app or website using their account. This login notification will alert the user every time a third-party application will access user data and will be sent via mail. “The design and content of the Login Notifications remind users that they have full control over the information they share with third-party apps, with a clear path to edit those settings,” Puxuan Qi, a Software Engineer at Facebook said.

This notification will show what kind of information the Facebook user has shared with the third-party application. After receiving a notification, the user can click on the edit settings button to remove the app’s access to personal information.

The notification will help users detect unlicensed access or use of their credentials, but will also help educate them about the data they’re sharing with these apps. The feature is already live and Qi said Facebook will continue to improve it throughout the year.