Benedict's Newsletter: No. 339

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✏️ My essays

Solving online events. Link

The future of work: social, pop culture and wood stain. Link

 

🗞 News

US tech investing in Indian mobile operators: following Facebook's minority investment in Jio last month, both Amazon and Google are apparently looking at buying stakes in Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea respectively. The Indian mobile market has been a bloodbath - there was already too much competition, the government levied huge and arbitrary post facto taxes, and Jio started a price war that's taken ARPUs to a dollar. But, that put hundreds of millions of people online for the first time. If you work in M&A / strategy at a big tech company in the USA (or China) you need an India deck, and taking a stake in a bombed-out mobile operator for information, access and what the Russians call 'roof' might look attractive, but when did a cross-industry strategic alliance based on a minority stake ever really work out? Links: Amazon/Bharti AirtelGoogle / Vodafone Idea ($)

Google advertising antitrust is near: there's steady flow of smoke signals that the US DoJ is getting ready to act (the UK CMA is also working on this). Google has around half of the online ad business, and owns a lot of the back-end infrastructure you don't see as well, so attention was inevitable, and it would not be surprising if they found some silly emails as smoking guns (there are always emails). The CMA study last year outlined a range of possible interventions, ranging from regulating terms of trade/access to ad data flows all the way up to structural separation (splitting off parts of the adtech infrastructure). This might end up as a big deal if you work in adtech (or if you're trying to model next years' Alphabet FCF), but I find it harder to see a change in Google's underlying strategic position in the broader tech industry - this is really just about giving it less of a stranglehold on advertising. Politico has a detailed explanation of the issues: Link

Apparently Amazon is looking at buying Zoox. Zoox is one of the last fairly big indie autonomous driving companies; Amazon has also invested in Rivian and Aurora. We're in an autonomy winter, as we discover that ML lets us make AVs that work most of the time but perhaps not AVs that work all of the time (or at least not any time soon). And meanwhile Amazon is now the fourth biggest delivery network in the US, and pushing every possible experiment to get delivery quicker and cheaper. Autonomous trucks that drive to your door? Link ($)  

Electric garbage: Manchester, a major UK provincial city, will replace half its bin lorries ('garbage trucks') with electric vehicles. I suspect this is how both autonomy and electric deployment will happen - 'where and what, not when'. Link

From the time-warp files: the GAIA-X project launched. This is a top-down Franco-German government project to build a 'European' cloud computing system, with every detail and protocol centrally specified, as an alternative to, um, the global technology ecosystem. It's easy to laugh at another chauvinist pork-barrel project (remember Quaero, the 'European Search Engine'?), but more interesting to think about the ways tech has changed to make such a thing a fool's errand - the shift from telcos, large industrials and governments deciding the future to decentralised 'permissionless' innovation by huge numbers of software companies operating all over the stack. Why did the web beat the 'information superhighway' or interactive TV, and why did the iPhone beat telcos and iMode? Also, of course, worth thinking about the mentality that makes this attractive, and where else that might lead. Link

 

🔮 Reading

After cancelling their electric vehicle project, Dyson has now released a whole bunch of material on what they had planned. Nothing technical, but lots of car pictures. Links: Official site, Interviews with juicy details.

Techcrunch analysis of 15 COVID contact tracing apps. Link

The Brookings Institute (influential centrist think tank) on the outlook for US federal privacy laws. Link

The EU has an open public consultation on its plan for laws regulating online content and privacy. Link

Businessweek on Chinese influencers selling things (lots of things) with live streaming. Link

Interesting suggestion that Amazon has stopped including details of your orders in email notifications to stop Gmail and others scraping the data. Link

Fascinating and detailed study of Apple's entry strategy in China. Link

Analysis of UK tech R&D and why it doesn't seem to end up in the right places. Link (PDF)

Pepsi and Kraft Heinz have started selling direct. Link

 

😮 Interesting things

Another great LIDAR archeology discovery: a massive 3,000-year-old Maya ceremonial complex. Link

New fences on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco make it whistle when the wind gets up - whistle so strongly that you can hear it across half the city. Link

 

📊 Stats

Amazon's air cargo fleet now has over 80 aircraft. Link

IAB data on what's happened to online ad rates (clue: down) Link (PDF)

US TV advertising fell 27% in April. Link

 

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