US lawmakers want to look at private emails from tech execs

Scrutiny of the US tech giants has been taken up another level after members of the US House Judiciary Committee have demanded they expose their internal workings.

The move has been widely reported in the US, including by the Washington Post. It seems there is already a congressional antitrust investigation underway into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, which is presumably related to the actions taken against Google and Facebook earlier this week. They want to know whether the companies have abused their dominant positions to corrupt markets for digital products and services in their favour.

One of the fun things about getting legislators and lawyers involved in scrutinizing the activities of companies is that they have the power to demand access to a bunch of information that would normally be kept locked in a dark cellar, to which only the CEO has a key. The stuff this committee would like financial data about includes their products and services, and private discussions about potential merger targets, we’re told.

Having said that the letters sent apparently don’t have any legal weight behind them right now, so the companies could theoretically refuse. This is a dangerous game to play, however, as they would have to refuse in a way that didn’t imply they had something to hide. Perhaps they could just chuck over some light-hearted Friday afternoon email banter while whistling nonchalantly.

What seems unavoidable is that the state machinery in the US and elsewhere has the tech giants in its sights and seems to have decided the lot of them have far too much power by half. Since they are undeniably dominant their execs and legal departments would be well advised to buckle in for the long haul. They could also do worse than speak to grizzled campaigners from companies like Microsoft and Intel to get some top tips.

FTC Chair kicks off race to tackle big tech before it’s too late

A race seems to be heating up in the US. On one side, government officials are looking to tackle the influence of big tech, and on the other, Silicon Valley is trying to make it as difficult as possible.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Chairman of the FTC Joseph Simons has stated he believes efforts from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to more intrinsically integrate the different platforms could seriously complicate his own investigation. Back in July, it was unveiled the FTC was conducting a probe to understand whether competition has been negatively impacted by the social media giant.

However, Facebook has gone on the offensive and Simons is clearly not thrilled about it.

“If they’re maintaining separate business structures and infrastructure, it’s much easier to have a divestiture in that circumstance than in where they’re completely enmeshed, and all the eggs are scrambled,” said Simons.

This is the issue which the FTC is facing; Facebook is more closely integrating the separate brands. From a commercial perspective, this will allow the social media giant to cross-pollinate the platforms, potentially increasing revenues and enhancing the data-analytics machine, though it will also make divestments much more difficult to enforce.

Looking across the big names in Silicon Valley, this is a common business practice. The commercial benefits are of course very obvious, but it could be viewed as a defensive strategy in preparation for any snooping from government agencies.

At Google, with the benefit of hindsight, some regulators and politicians might have wanted to have block the acquisitions of Android, YouTube or artificial intelligence firm DeepMind. These acquisitions have led Google to become one of the most influential companies on the planet, though it does appear regulators at the time did not have the vision to understand the long-term impact. Now the services are so deeply embedded and inter-twined it is perhaps unfeasible to consider divestments.

Amazon is another company some of these politicians would love to tackle, but how do you go about breaking-up such a complex business, where the moving parts are becoming increasingly reliant on each-other?

Going back almost two decades, this is not the first-time regulators have attempted to tackle an overly influential player. Thanks to dominance in the PC arena, Microsoft was deemed to be negatively influencing competition when it came to software and applications. Despite Microsoft being forced to settle the case with the Department of Justice in 2001, the concessions stopped far short of a company break-up.

As part of the settlement, Microsoft agreed to make it easier competitors to get their software more closely integrated with the Windows OS, by breaking the company into two separate units, one to produce the operating system, and one to produce other software components. This was a tough pill for Microsoft to swallow, but it was a favourable outcome for the internet giant.

One view on this outcome is that Microsoft managed to structure its business in such a way it became almost impossible to split-up. If the technology giants of today can learn some lessons from Microsoft, they might well be able to circumnavigate any aggression from the US government.

Although the FTC is stealing the headlines here, it is not the only party looking to tackle the influence of Silicon Valley.

The House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee that deals with antitrust has already summoned Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google to testify. This investigation is also looking at the potential negative impact these monstrously large companies are having on competition. A couple of weeks later, the Department of Justice also opened its own probe.

Of course, there are also posturing politicians who are aiming to plug for PR points by slamming Silicon Valley. This is a very popular strategy, with the likes of Virginia Senator Mark Warner and Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren taking a firm stance. President Trump has rarely been a friend of Silicon Valley either.

Another interest element to consider are the lawyers. Reports have emerged this morning to suggest as many as 20 State Attorney Generals will also be launching their own investigation. The threat of legal action could be very worrying for Silicon Valley, with a number of the lawyers already suggesting they do not like the way the digital economy is evolving, with the concentration of power one of the biggest problems.

The US has generally tolerated monopolies or an unreasonable concentration of power in economic verticals to a point, generally until infrastructure has been sorted, though the pain threshold might be getting to close. This has been seen with a break-up of Standard Oil’s monopoly, as well as splitting the Bell System, a corporation which was a monopoly in some regions for more than a century, into the Baby Bells across North America in the 1980s.

The internet giants will never publicly state they are participating in strategies which in-effect act as a hindrance to government agencies, but it must be a pleasant by-product. First and foremost, the internet giants will want to integrate different products and services for commercial reasons, operational efficiencies or increased revenues for example, however one eye will be cast on these investigations.

It does appear there is an arms race emerging. Government agencies and ambitious politicians are collecting ammunition for an assault on Silicon Valley, and the internet giants are shoring up defences to ensure a continuation of the status quo. This is a battle for power, and its one the US Government could very feasibly lose.

Amazon has managed to bottle fear, but recognition debate remains

While facial recognition technologies are becoming increasingly controversial, it is always worth paying homage to innovation in this field and the real-world applications, when deployed responsibly.

We suspect people aren’t necessarily objecting to the concept of facial recognition technologies, but more to the application and lack of public consultation. You only have to look at some of world’s less appetizing governments to see the negative implications to privacy and human rights, but there are of course some significant benefits should it be applied in an ethically sound and transparent manner.

Over in the AWS labs, engineers have managed to do something quite remarkable; they have managed to bottle the concept of fear and teach its AI programmes to recognise it.

“Amazon Rekognition provides a comprehensive set of face detection, analysis, and recognition features for image and video analysis,” the company stated on its blog. “Today, we are launching accuracy and functionality improvements to our face analysis features.

“With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification. In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: Happy, Sad, Angry, Surprised, Disgusted, Calm and Confused) and added a new emotion: Fear.”

When applied correctly, these technologies have an incredibly power to help society. You only have to think about some of the atrocities which have plagued major cities, but also the on-going problems. Human eyes can only see so much, with police and security forces often relying on reports from the general public. With cameras able to recognise emotions such as fear, crimes could be identified while they are taking process, allowing speedier reactions from the relevant parties.

However, there are of course significant risks with the application of this technology. We have seen in China such programmes are being used to track certain individuals and races, while certain forces and agencies in the US are constantly rumoured to be considering the implementation of AI for facial recognition, profiling and tracking of individuals. Some of these projects are incredibly worrying, and a violation of privacy rights granted to the general public.

This is where governments are betraying the promise they have made to the general public. Rules and regulations have not been written for such technologies, therefore the agencies and forces involved are acting in a monstrously large grey area. There of course need to be rules in place to govern surveillance practices, but a public conversation should be considered imperative.

Any time the right to privacy is being compromised, irrelevant as to whether there are noble goals in mind, the public should be consulted. The voters should choose whether they are happy to sacrifice certain privacy rights and freedoms in the pursuit of safety. This is what transparency means and this is exactly what has been disregarded to date.

Third-parties are next battleground in video streaming war

Securing a partnership with the likes of Netflix and Amazon might be the golden-ticket for the telcos, but no-one should forget they have as much negotiating power as the OTTs.

For the telcos, convergence is an oasis of profit in the barren desert of the connectivity industry. As traditional means of generating cash are either destroyed (SMS and voice tariffs) or increasingly squeezed (CAPEX investments for 5G), many telcos are searching for differentiation to charge more and prove they can add value beyond the utilitised connectivity column. Content is a very popular route for many to take.

Aside from attempting to create content platforms, more telcos are seeking third-party relationships to move into the aggregator business model. This is a very sensible approach to business, the telcos can add a lot of value to the OTTs and securing a partnership with one of the more prominent streaming players is a key cog to their own ambitions. However, despite the desperation of the telcos, they should consider themselves on equal terms to the OTTs.

“Every telco is fighting to become an aggregator, but there is also a battle between the streaming OTTs to gain visibility,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

As Pescatore notes, outside of the two major players in the streaming world (Amazon Prime and Netflix), achieving visibility and scale can be very difficult. This is and will continue to be an incredibly congested field, therefore the relationship between telcos and OTTs could add an edge for any challenger.

Looking at the growth opportunities for the OTTs, there is plenty of cheddar left on the table, though in the developed markets, there are only crumbs left. Take the US for example, here Netflix subscriber growth has slowed, suggesting the glass ceiling for direct customer acquisition has been reached, or will be in the near future. The question is how these final customers can be engaged? Third-party relationships are key here.

At IBC last year, Maria Ferreras, VP of EMEA Business Development at Netflix highlighted that partnerships with telcos were an important cog as the streaming giant continues to evolve. At the time, the discussion was primarily from a billing relationship, though there are plenty of other opportunities.

Partners with their own content platform offer Netflix and Amazon something incredibly important; real-estate. Whoever can secure the most prominent position on the content platform will gain additional visibility and engagement with customers. It is evidence the OTTs are buying into the convergence strategies employed by the telcos, but also the value of the telco relationship with the customer.

Looking around the world, these partnerships are becoming much more common. Netflix has been embedded in the Sky platform in the UK, while Amazon Prime has been integrated into the Virgin Media platform. Mexico’s Totalplay has become the first operator in LATAM to add Amazon Prime to its TV service, while Vodafone Spain has secured partnerships with Netflix, HBO Spain and Amazon Prime.

There are of course numerous ways in which these partnerships can develop. Some are simply billing relationships, allowing the streaming service to be added onto the monthly bill, while some can have the OTT experience embedded into the content platform offered by the partner. What is clear, however, is this is an arms race from the OTTs.

The more partnerships which are in place, the more opportunity there is to engage potential customers and increase subscriptions. These partnerships are not only about securing visibility or accessing billing systems, but also leaning on another brands credibility to engage customers who wouldn’t have been previously accessible.

Interestingly enough, there aren’t many telcos or content providers who have relationships with more than one of the streaming giants. This might be a coincidence, or there might well be a desire from the OTTs to secure exclusivity through the platform of choice, even if it is not made official or public.

The challenge which many will face is going toe-to-toe with Amazon and Netflix. If these partners are securing the best relationships with the telcos, they will gain the most eyeballs on their services. Disney is company which will certainly want to lean on relationships with third-parties, but it will have to move sharpish to ensure it is not shut out.

Although Disney is one of the most prominent brands on the planet, it is almost unknown in the content world. This will present a challenge in two ways. Firstly, cutting through the background noise to educate the user on its offering, and secondly, the billing relationship.

For both of these challenges, third-party relationships with telcos and content platform owners can help. A direct line of communication is already in place, visibility can be offered through apps, billing relationships already exist, and third-parties are looking for partners to help build bundling options.

If Disney is going to be successful in its pursuit of streaming fortunes, it will need more than engaging content. It already has the content, and the ambitions for original content creation do look promising. The challenges will be in terms of securing visibility and credibility in the eyes of the consumer.

Telcos should realise sooner rather than later that they are an equal partner to the OTTs in this context, as they are just as desperate to secure favourable partnerships as the telcos. This is the next battleground in the streaming race; partners mean prizes.

Apple and Google suspend some of their eavesdropping

Two of the world’s leading voice assistant makers pulled the plug on their respective analytics programmes of Siri and Google Assistant after private information including confidential conversations were leaked.

Apple decided to suspend its outsourced programme to “grade” Siri, by which it assesses the voice assistant’s response accuracy, following reports that private conversations are being listened to by its contractors without the users’ explicit consent. The company committed to add an opt-out option for users in a future update of Siri. It also promised that the programme would not be restarted until it had completed a thorough review.

“We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy. While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally,” the Cupertino-based iPhone maker told The Guardian. “Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading.”

This is in response to the leak that was first reported by the British broadsheet, which received tipoff from whistle-blowers. The paper learned that contractors regularly hear private conversations ranging from dialogues between patients and doctors, to communications between drug dealers and buyers, with everything is between. These could include cases when Siri has triggered unintentionally without the users’ awareness.

The biggest problem with Apple’s analytics programme is that it does not explicitly disclose to consumers that some of Siri recordings are shared with contractors in different parts of the world who will listen to the anonymous content, as a means to improve Siri’s accuracy. By not being upfront, Apple does not provide users with the option to opt out either.

Shortly before Apple’s decision to call a halt to Siri grading, Google also pulled the plug on its own human analysis of Google Assistant in the European Union, reported Associated Press. The company promised to the office of Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s commissioner for data protection and Germany’s lead regulator of Google on privacy issues, that the suspension will last at least three months.

The decision was made after Google admitted that one of the language reviewers it partners with, who are supposed to assess Google Assistant’s response accuracy, “has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data.” Over 1,000 private conversations in Flemish, some of which included private data, were sent to the Belgian news outlet VRT. Though the messages are supposed to be anonymised, staff at VRT were able to identify the users through private information like home addresses.

At that time Google promised “we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”

These are not the first cases where private conversations are leaked over voice assistants. Last year an Alexa-equipped Amazon Echo recorded a conversation between a couple in Portland, Oregan, and sent it to a friend, which was another recent case that rang the alarm bell of private data security.

It should not surprise those in the tech world that AI powered natural language processing software still has a long way to go before it can get all the intricacies right. Before that it needs human input to continuously improve the accuracy. The problems that bedevilled Google and Apple today, and Amazon in the past, and Microsoft (Cortana) which fortunately has not suffered high profile embarrassment recently, are down to the lack of stringent oversight of the role humans play, the lack of clear communication to consumers that their interactions with voice assistants may be used for data analysis purposes, and the failure to give consumers the choice to opt out.

There is also the controversy of data sovereignty, as well as the question of whether private data should be allowed to be stored in the cloud or should be kept on device. Apple’s leak case is not geographically specified, but Google’s case is a clear violation of GDPR.  According to the AP report, Germany has already started proceedings against Google.

Facebook is reading minds while Amazon perfects text-to-speech

A Facebook-funded study has achieved a breakthrough in decoding speech directly from brain signals at the same time as AWS has made automated speech more realistic.

The study funded by the creepily-named Facebook Reality Labs was conducted by San Francisco University. Its findings were published yesterday under the heading ‘Real-time decoding of question-and-answer speech dialogue using human cortical activity’. It claims to have achieved breakthroughs in the accuracy of identifying speech from the electrical impulses in people’s brains.

The clever bit doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual reading of these impulses, but in using algorithms and context to narrow down the range of possible sounds attributable to a given piece of brain activity. This helps distinguish between words comprised of similar sets of sounds and thus improve accuracy, with a key piece of context being the question asked. Thus this breakthrough is as much about AI and machine learning as anything else.

At the same time Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced a new feature of its Polly text-to-speech managed service. The specific announcement is relatively minor – the ability to give the resulting speech a newsreader style of delivery – but it marks a milestone in the journey to make machine-generated speech as realistic as possible.

When you combine the potential of these two developments, two eventualities spring to mind. The first is an effected cure for muteness without the need for interfaces such as keyboards, which would be amazing. The second is somewhat more ominous, which is a world in which we can no longer be sure we’re communicating with an actual human being unless we’re face-to-face with them.

The AWS post makes joking reference to HAL 9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but thanks in part to its own efforts and those funded by Facebook, that sort of thing is looking less like science fiction and more like science fact with every passing day.

 

Do you have some clear ideas about how the edge computing sector is developing? Then please complete the short survey being run by our colleagues at the Edge Computing Congress and Telecoms.com Intelligence. Click here to see the questions.

Amazon becomes the latest giant to face Europe’s antitrust wrath

The European Commission has formally opened an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s dual role as a retailer and marketplace and how it uses data derived from independent retailers.

Europe has a track-record of taking on the industry’s biggest players on the grounds of antitrust and Amazon is next in-line. The case which the European Commission will attempt to prove is that Amazon abused its position of power as a leading eCommerce platform, using this position to aid it in selling its own products.

“European consumers are increasingly shopping online,” said Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner for competition policy. “eCommerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices.

“We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behaviour. I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

This investigation is based around two points which the European Commission hopes to prove are anticompetitive. Firstly, Amazon collects marketplace data from its third-party partners to inform its own sales strategies. Secondly, with a ‘buy box’ only available to certain partners, and the Commission wants to understand what impact this differentiation has on competition.

On the first point, as the overarching platform owner, Amazon is privy to sensitive marketplace information from independent retailers who sell products through the platform. Using this insight to create more effective sales strategies is very likely to fall foul of Europe’s competition rules, should Vestager be able to prove a competitive advantage.

On the subject of Vestager, perhaps this is not the last we will hear from the bureaucrat. Vestager has worked up a reputation over the last few years for taking on some of the US’ most influential, and sometimes slippery, technology companies. With Vestager’s tenure at the European Commission ending in October, perhaps she will be aiming to make a bigger splash.

This is also not the first time Amazon has found itself on the bad-side of Vestager either. In 2017, Amazon was forced to pay €250 million in back taxes to Luxembourg, after the relief which was offered to the internet giant between 2003 and 2016 was deemed illegal.

The second point focuses on the ‘buy box’. This feature allows customers to add items from some retailers directly to their shopping carts. As not all retailers are able to access the feature, the European Commission would like to understand how this impacts competition. It is also not entirely clear why some retailers are able to access this feature and others are not.

Unfortunately for Amazon, this difficult situation is not one which will be resolved quickly. In such cases, due to the complexity of digital businesses and the vast amount of information involved, the European Commission has not set itself a deadline to conduct the investigation.

Another element to consider is the criticism faced by Amazon in the US. Not only has the eCommerce platform found itself as an enemy of the White House, the other aisle is poking. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat candidate for the 2020 Presidential campaign, wants to ban companies from operating and selling on a platform simultaneously.

With an antitrust case in Europe, potential enemies on both sides of the Presidential campaign, various Congressional committees investigating big tech, Germany’s anti-trust authority sniffing at the front door and its fulfilment centres never too far away from controversy, Amazon is not in the most comfortable of positions.

Amazon takes one small step for satellite connectivity

Amazon has submitted its application to the FCC to deliver home broadband services to rural communities in the US through its Kuiper Systems satellite programme.

In a filing with the FCC, Kuiper Systems, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com, plans to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband services to consumers, businesses, and other customers worldwide through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in 98 orbital planes at altitudes of 590 km, 610 km, and 630 km, us Ka-band radio frequencies.

Aside from providing broadband solutions to rural and hard-to-reach communities, the plan is also to enable MNOs to expand wireless services to unserved and underserved mobile customers and provide high-throughput mobile broadband connectivity services for aircraft, maritime vessels, and land vehicles.

While Amazon has plugged its bank account to entice the FCC, it is also leaning on its existing operations as a means to support the new venture. It has stated it has the ‘global terrestrial networking and compute infrastructure required for the Kuiper System’, as well as the ‘customer operations capabilities’ acquired through its various businesses from eCommerce through to AWS cloud computing.

It’s a comprehensive filing from Amazon, and we suspect it peak some interest at the offices of the FCC.

“The Kuiper System will deliver satellite broadband communications services to tens of millions of unserved and underserved consumers and businesses in the United States and around the globe,” the application states.

“According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, 21.3 million Americans lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband with benchmark download and upload speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, and more than 33 million Americans do not have access to mobile LTE broadband speeds of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps. Amazon will help close this digital divide by offering fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas.”

Once the ugly duckling of the communications family, the satellite segment has been given a new lease of life in recent months. Amazon and Tesla are two companies which are attracting the lion’s share of headlines, but there are several firms, such as OneWeb, Telesat and LeoSat Technologies, with grand plans to launch constellations over the next few years to bridge the connectivity gap.

And it isn’t just satellites which might be filling the skies over the next few years. Google’s Loon is another business attempting to break the mould when it comes to connectivity. Last week, Google finally received the relevant permissions to start testing its balloons to deliver connectivity, with commercial services set to launch over the coming months.

Even internally the telco industry is seeking to disrupt the status quo. Fixed wireless access for broadband solutions are becoming increasingly popular as a means to deliver connectivity over ‘the last mile’. AT&T and Verizon are charging ahead in the US, with companies like Starry challenging, while numerous telcos have announced their own ambitions in Europe, including Vodafone and Three in the UK.

Although there are still ambitions to deliver the full-fibre dream, the commercial realities seem to be getting in the way. It is incredibly expensive to deliver home broadband through wires, especially when you go to regions such as the US, where the geography is so diverse and vast, or Africa, where ARPU remains a problem in justifying ROI. The digital divide is present everywhere, to varying extremes, and it seems the traditional approach to home broadband is not going to be able to meet demands.

That said, some territories are even out of the reach of Bezos. In the application, Amazon has requested a waiver from delivering connectivity to Alaska, as it would be too far north for the constellation. It perhaps undermines the validation Amazon has put forward, delivering connectivity where it is too difficult for others, though whether this has any material impact remains to be seen.

Although progress is clearly being made here, what is absent from the application are any details on the design of the satellites or timetables for launches. Should permission be granted, we suspect Amazon would move forward very quickly however, Bezos is a space-buff after all.

Interestingly enough, Bezos’ side venture Blue Origin could be in the running to launch the satellites, though Amazon would have to be very careful here. As a publicly-traded company, this could be viewed as a conflict of interest.

The OTTs have constantly been a threat to the delivery of connectivity, a segment owned by the telcos to date, and have faced numerous complications is staging a coup (see Google Fiber). Using satellites might just be a way to carve a niche. It will be an expensive job, but these are companies which have the funds, the desire and the culture to make such a dream a reality.

OTTs Telcos
Cash Cash rich organizations, with incredibly profitable core business models to fuel expansion Incredibly constrained thanks to disruptions to profit-machines such as voice and SMS. Already committed to expensive business of traditional connectivity leaving limited funds for cash-intensive R&D outside bread and butter operations
Desire Constantly searching for new ideas to fuel growth on the spreadsheets. Expectations are high with shareholders and core models will slow down at some point. Do not have the same limitations placed on them (legacy business models and technologies) as the telcos Seem to be fighting too many short-term fires to cast an eye on the horizon. 5G and fibre are taking up so much attention, there seems to be little desire to disrupt themselves. Focusing on protecting what they have
Culture Cultivated a culture of exploration and fail-fast. Willing to fuel ideas without immediate commercial gains if there is potential for profits. More of a big-picture mentality to business Traditional businesses, with traditional leadership and traditional employees. Rarely search beyond the norm for profitability

The threat of Amazon is forcing supermarkets into drastic changes

UK supermarket giant Tesco is undergoing trials with Israeli AI surveillance business Trigo Vision to trial the concept of cashier-less stores, supposedly due to pressure from Amazon.

When Amazon first emerged, few could have imagined the revolution which would have been thrust upon the retailing industry. Even now, more than two decades after Amazon was founded, there are businesses which are still struggling to adapt to life in the digital epoch. The writing has been on the wall for a long-time in retail, and now it seems Tesco is attempting to get ahead of trends for the supermarket segment.

According to The Telegraph, Tesco is currently in trials with Trigo Vision to create a cashier-less store, a concept which Amazon has been playing with in the US for years. Don’t be fooled by the absurdity of the vision, it will soon enough be a presence on the High Street and once the benefits can be seen by all, it will become much more common place.

Take self-checkout tills as an example. When these first emerged everyone hated them, and in some regions, they still do. But you cannot walk into a Tesco or Sainsbury’s in an urban environment anymore without seeing them. And most importantly, no-one really cares anymore. The idea took some time to bed in, but once the bugs were worked out and people saw how much more efficient the system was, they accepted it. The same trend will most likely occur with cashier-less stores.

What is worth noting is that Tesco is not alone in pursuing the future. Sainsbury’s has also announced it is toying with the cashier-less idea, opening its first store in Holborn, Central London, in April this year.

Trigo Vision, the provider of the underlying technology, was founded in 2017 and has been through one round of funding thus far, attracting $7 million from Hetz Ventures and Vertex Ventures Israel. The team already has a partnership with Shufersal, Israel’s largest supermarket chain, to roll-out its automated retail platform in over 272 stores across the country.

The firm supplies both high-resolution RGB cameras, installed on ceilings and an on-premises processing unit that runs machine learning-powered tracking software. The algorithms are continuously honed by Trigo Vision through the data collected at various sites and the team can also help develop customisable apps and kiosks to improve experience.

The technology makes use of artificial intelligence and a dense series of surveillance cameras to track what items are being placed into a customer’s shopping trolley. Customers will be prompted to download an app and enter payment details, or an alternative for sceptics could be using a screen at the exit to complete the purchases.

As it stands, Amazon Go, the eCommerce’s cashier-less business, has launched in several cities across the US and has plans to open its first store in the UK at Oxford Circus in London. This will act as the flagship store for the UK though Amazon is reportedly on the hunt for more sites, 3,000 to 5,000 square feet in size, to expand the footprint.

The stores have been hailed as a success in the US and Amazon is reportedly targeting 3,000 locations within three years. Although this is far from proof the idea is profitable right now, the internet giants tend to run with unprofitable ideas they know will change the world, it should be viewed as a massive red flag for traditional supermarkets.

And while the bookstore segment did little until it was too late, Tesco is at least attempting to get ahead of trends. Another example of this is the ‘Scan Pay Go’ initiative. Here, customers can download an app and carry around a scanner to register products themselves as they wander the aisles, helping keep an eye on spending while also speeding up the check-out process at the end of the trip.

Many companies will state they want to disrupt themselves before being disrupted, though there is little evidence of this. The majority of the time there is an outside influence, a threat from a new player, to alter the status quo. This seems to be the case here, as Amazon is forcing the hand of Tesco, though future success of the Amazon Go business will depend on the ability of the traditional players to scale quickly.

HMD moves Nokia phone user data storage to Finland

HMD Global, the maker of Nokia-branded smartphones, announced that it is moving the storage of user data to Google Cloud servers located in Finland, to ease concerns about data security.

The phone maker announced the move in the context of its new partnership with CGI, a consulting firm that specialises in data collection and analytics, and Google Cloud, which will provide HMD Global with its machine learning technologies. The new models, Nokia 4.2, Nokia 3.2 and the Nokia 2.2, will be the first ones to have the user data stored in the Google Cloud servers in Hamina, southern Finland. Older models that will be eligible for upgrading to Android Q will move the storage to Finland at the upgrade, expected to take place from late 2019 to early 2020. HMD Global commits to two years’ OS upgrades and three years’ security upgrades to its products.

HMD Global claims the move will support its target to be the first Android OEMs to bring OS updates to its users, and to improve its compliance with European security measures and legislation, including GDPR. “We want to remain open and transparent about how we collect and store device activation data and want to ensure people understand why and how it improves their phone experience,” said Juho Sarvikas, HMD Global’s Chief Product Officer. “This change aims to further reinforce our promise to our fans for a pure, secure and up to date Android, with an emphasis on security and privacy through our data servers in Finland.”

Sarvikas denied to the Finnish news outlet Ilta-Sanomat that the move was a direct response to privacy concerns triggered by the controversy earlier this year when Nokia-branded phones sold in Norway were sending activation data to servers in China. At that time HMD Global told Telecoms.com that user data of phones purchased outside of China is stored in AWS servers in Singapore, which, the company said, “follows very strict privacy laws.” However, according to GDPR, to take user data outside of the EU, the company would have had to obtain explicit consent from its EU-based users.

Sarvikas claimed that the latest decision to move storage to Finland has been a year in the making and is part of the company’s overall cloud service vendor swap from Amazon to Google. “Staying true to our Finnish heritage, we’ve decided to partner with CGI and Google Cloud platform for our growing data storage needs and increasing investment in our European home,” Sarvikas added in the press release.

Francisco Jeronimo, Associate VP at IDC, saw this move a positive action by HMD Global, calling it a good move “to address concerns about data privacy” on Twitter.