Start up: Apple’s $8bn tax bill?, the tech funding squeeze, Friends Liquidated, Samsung ‘Live Photos’+ more


At least you knew that the advert might be seen by real people. No such assurances in the online world. Photo by University of Pittsburgh Libraries on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why you should never consider a travel planning startup » Tnooz

Nadav Gur, principal at NG Vanguard Enterprises:

First, you need to acquire users. Guess what — if they’re not planning a trip, they’re not interested in travel planners. They don’t even acknowledge their existence.

People are bombarded by new websites/apps/brands all the time, and they filter for what’s relevant.

That’s what you see GEICO ads on TV all the time – cause the only way to get your attention those 1–2 times a year when you give a damn about insurance, is to be in front of you all the time.
No matter how much press/word-of-mouth/viral exposure you’re getting, it only registers if/when it happens to be relevant.

Inevitably this means that you too have to advertise a lot. And no, free user acquisition schemes like SEO do not work in 2015 at scale in established markets.

The Priceline Group spends over $2bn per year on Google Ads alone. Guess why?

Not so easily disrupted. And that’s before you get to the question of how many people spend enough on travel for any affiliate amounts to be worthwhile.
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Tech faces hour of reckoning as fundraising drops, layoffs rise » USA Today

Jon Swartz:

Is tech in for a rude awakening this year after a magic carpet ride the past few years?

The numbers, and recent actions by once-highflying start-ups, would seem to suggest so.

Consider: Mega-rounds, defined as funding of more than $100 million for venture capitalist-backed companies, are in free fall. The rate of private start-ups attaining unicorn status — a valuation of at least $1 billion — are grinding to a crawl. Friday layoffs at tech start-ups, deemed Black Fridays, are increasing. Bellwether tech stocks such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have been taking it on the chin.

“It’s a time to re-calibrate — so many companies can’t burn extraordinary amounts of money forever,” says Sunil Panel, co-founder of Sidecar, a pioneer in the crowded ride-sharing space that shuttered operations on Dec. 31.

Last year, Silicon Valley projected unbridled swagger. Today, “there is definitely an era of reckoning,” says Chris Sacca, a venture investor with stakes in Uber and Twitter. “Reality is setting in.”

Not sure about “grinding to a crawl” (note to USA Today subs: things grind to a halt, or slow to a crawl), but the slowdown in stupid ideas is palpable.
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European antitrust chief takes swipe at privacy issue » The New York Times

Mark Scott on the EC’s Margrethe Vestager’s speech at the DLD conference:

“If a few companies control the data you need to cut costs, then you give them the power to drive others out of the market,” Ms. Vestager said at the DLD conference, a gathering of digital executives and policy makers.

She said that “it’s hard to know” how much data is given up when using an online messaging service.

“But it’s a business transaction, not a free giveaway,” she continued. “As consumers, we need to be treated fairly.”

Ms. Vestager’s warning shot in the often-rancorous privacy debate comes ahead of a Jan. 31 deadline for Europe and the United States to reach a new data-sharing agreement…

…A number of European executives echoed Ms. Vestager’s fears about how a small number of American tech companies could use their large-scale data collection to favor their own services over those of rivals. Among them was Oliver Samwer, the German entrepreneur who co-founded Rocket Internet, one of the region’s most high-profile tech companies.

“If someone like Google or Facebook has all of the data, then that’s not good,” Mr. Samwer said here on Sunday.

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Whatsapp goes free, says it won’t introduce ads » Mashable

Whatsapp readily acknowledges that killing its only source of income will raise questions about introducing third-party ads. But the company has a different idea.

“Starting this year, we will test tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organizations that you want to hear from. That could mean communicating with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent, or with an airline about a delayed flight,” the post reads.

We reckon Whatsapp will charge organizations and business for establishing channels with their users through the service, though no details were announced. The idea is by no means new; a Bloomberg report in May 2015 claimed Whatsapp might foray into B2C messaging in the “longer term.”

Perfectly sensible business idea, and could also turn it into a platform like WeChat (whose capabilities and inclusions dwarf those of any western app).
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Friends Reunited website to close down » BBC News

Zoe Kleinman:

Friends Reunited launched in the year 2000 and was bought by broadcaster ITV for £175m ($250m) in 2005.

However, it failed to keep pace with other social networks.

It was sold to comic publisher DC Thompson for only £25m in 2009 and Mr Pankhurst wrote in a blog post that the company had offered it back to him a couple of years ago.

Pankhurst and business partner Jason Porter agreed to take on the site for a trial period to see if they could revitalise it.

“It became clear that most of the actual users coming to the site were using it purely as a messageboard,” wrote Mr Pankhurst.

“And I also realised that of the more than 10 million users registered, a lot had done so over a decade ago and hence their contact details were out of date. But importantly – it hasn’t covered its costs and like any business this can’t continue indefinitely. Therefore, whilst it’s sad, I believe it’s time to move on and put Friends Reunited to bed.”

Quite why ITV or DC Thompson bought it is one of those mysteries of business; it was never remotely a fit with either. So after ruining many marriages (of people who looked up old school flames), it’s handing that particular torch over to Facebook, where people can do exactly the same…
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Pakistan lifts ban on Youtube after launch of own version » Reuters

Tommy Wilkes:

Pakistan said on Monday it had removed a three-year ban on YouTube after the Google-owned video-sharing website launched a local version that allows the government to remove material it considers offensive.

Pakistan banned access to YouTube in September 2012 after an anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims”, was uploaded to the site, sparking violent protests across major cities in the Muslim-majority country of 190 million people.

The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom said in a statement that under the new version of YouTube, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority can ask for access to offending material to be blocked.

“On the recommendation of PTA, Government of Pakistan has allowed access to recently launched country version of YouTube for Internet users in Pakistan,” the ministry said.

“Google has provided an online web process through which requests for blocking access of the offending material can be made by PTA to Google directly and Google/YouTube will accordingly restrict access to the said offending material for users within Pakistan.”

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November 2013: Bitcoin under pressure » The Economist

The Economist doesn’t name writers, but I happen to know this is by Glenn Fleishman, writing back in 2013:

Server farms with endless racks of ASIC cards have already sprung up. But as part of Bitcoin’s design, the reward for mining a block halves every 210,000 blocks, or roughly every four years. Sometime in 2017, at the current rate, it will drop to 12.5 Bitcoins. If the returns from mining decline, who will verify the integrity of the block chain?

To head off this problem, a market-based mechanism is in the works which will raise the current voluntary fees paid by users (around five cents per transaction) in return for verification. “Nodes in the peer-to-peer network will try to estimate the minimum fee needed to get the transaction confirmed,” says Mr Hearn.

Bitcoin’s growing popularity is having other ripple effects. Every participant in the system must keep a copy of the block chain, which now exceeds 11 gigabytes in size and continues to grow steadily. This alone deters casual use. Bitcoin’s designer proposed a method of pruning the chain to include only unspent amounts, but it has not been implemented.

As the rate of transactions increases, squeezing all financial activity into the preset size limit for each block has started to become problematic. The protocol may need to be tweaked to allow more transactions per block, among other changes. A further problem relates to the volunteer machines, or nodes, that allow Bitcoin to function. These nodes relay transactions and transmit updates to the block chain. But, says Matthew Green, a security researcher at Johns Hopkins University, the ecosystem provides no compensation for maintaining these nodes—only for mining. The rising cost of operating nodes could jeopardise Bitcoin’s ability to scale.

Following Mike Hearn’s farewell the other day, I think Fleishman is allowed to say “told you so”.
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“Bitcoin Boulevard” no longer booming » Marketplace.org

Elizabeth Miller:

It’s been almost two years since a group of businesses in a Cleveland suburb started accepting digital currency bitcoin as a form of payment. The response at first was huge.  Visitors from around the world stopped at what became known as “Bitcoin Boulevard.” But now, the bitcoin hype has subsided. 

Along a lane of small retail stores, restaurants and bars, nine independent Cleveland Heights businesses banded together to form Bitcoin Boulevard in May 2014. But today, two of those businesses have closed, one is not actively accepting bitcoin, and a wine shop ceased most of its bitcoin transactions after the Ohio Division of Liquor Control banned alcohol purchases with the digital currency.

Mitchell’s Fine Chocolates is one of the original nine businesses. Owner Bill Mitchell says he started seeing a drop in bitcoin payment when its value dwindled at the beginning of 2015.

“Since the latter part of the winter of this year going through the end of October, it’s been deader than a doornail,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell isn’t the only one seeing a drop in bitcoin business. Shawn Paul Salon says it has only had six bitcoin transactions in the past 18 months. That’s a lot less exciting than everyone had hoped.

Reality check.
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The problem with Adgorithms’ prospectus » Investors Chronicle

Alex Newman, on the AIM-listed ad tech company whose shares have plummeted by 80% from their IPO:

So what went wrong? This is what the company said in its first profit warning, on 9 October, explaining a “significant” and indefinite impact on revenue:

“In recent weeks, the online advertising market has experienced severe disruption, resulting in a loss of supply for major online advertising exchanges and a drop in demand from major media buyers.”

In fact, this disruption had begun several months before, even prior to Adgorithms’ listing. In April, media trading platform news site adexchanger.com reported that AppNexus – which, together with fellow ad exchange Adap.TV related to the majority of Adgorithms’ 2014 revenues – had started screening out unverifiable media inventory. AppNexus’ chief executive, who followed several other ad exchanges when he launched the clean-up in November 2014, later acknowledged that more than half of the impressions flowing through his platform were failing the test. This has had the dual effect of suppressing Adgorithms’ revenues and – according to Peel Hunt analyst Alex DeGroote – increasing the cost of digital media.

Adgorithms certainly should have known about AppNexus’ clean-up plans before listing, and was aware that at least one of its peers had been hit by the broader changes. In April, fellow Israeli ad tech group Matomy Media (MTMY) issued a profit warning, citing the “implementation by one of the leading media trading platforms [this was AppNexus] of a new media verification and screening tool that resulted in an immediate decrease in the amount of digital media available for purchase”.

“Unverifiable” inventory is what can also be called “fraudulent” ads – shown to bots on sites that humans never visit. It’s worth visiting the AdExchanger link (“screening out unverifiable…”) which points to just how much junk and fraud there may be going on.

Seriously, online ads have ended the age of “half of what I spend on advertising is wasted”. Now you have no idea what proportion it may be if you’re using an ad network.
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Samsung to launch Live Photos rival called Vivid Photo with Galaxy S7 » Android Geeks

Marius Maria:

Back in September, Apple launched the iPhone 6S which comes with Live Photos, a feature which captures 1.5 seconds of video before and after a picture is taken. HTC’s Zoe Capture was capable of doing the same thing long before Live Photos, but this gimmick only became cool now because Apple has it on its phones.

But Samsung wants to jump into the Live Photos bandwagon, too. According to one of our sources the software engineers of the South Korean phone maker are testing a Live Photos-like feature that is supposed to debut with the Galaxy S7 later this year.

Not sure about the “But” beginning that second paragraph. All sorts of words fit better: “Now”, “Predictably”, “Unsurprisingly”. Cold comfort for HTC.
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App economy jobs in the United States (Part 1) » Progressive Policy Institute

Michael Mandel:

Is 1.66 million a reasonable figure for US App Economy employment? This figure is based on our estimate of roughly 550,000 core app economy workers. That’s out of roughly 5 million people employed in computer and mathematical occupations or as computer and information systems managers. In effect, core app economy workers make up roughly 11% of the tech workforce.

Informal discussions with tech executives suggest that it’s reasonable to attribute roughly 11 percent of the tech workforce to the App Economy in the United States. Large portions of software development involve backend systems, such as financial and operation databases, which are not mobile specific. On the other hand, software development focused on online consumer or individual interactions must necessarily involve apps, because Americans increasingly access the Internet via their smartphone or other mobile devices. Going forward, mobile is likely to become more important rather than less, further pushing up the number of App Economy jobs.

We can do another comparison. In 2007, before the introduction of the iPhone, there were roughly 3.9 million people employed in computer and mathematical occupations or as computer and information systems managers. Since then tech employment has risen by 1.1 million, suggesting roughly half the net gain in tech occupational employment since 2007 has come from the App Economy.

For the job breakdown, it puts iOS at 1.4m (87%), Android at 1.1m (70%), BlackBerry at 107,000 (6%) and Windows Phone/Mobile at 45,000 (3%). Adds up to 166% because some people (two-thirds?) work on multiple ecosystems. (Via Horace Dediu.)
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Apple may be on hook for $8bn in taxes in Europe probe » Bloomberg Business

Adam Satariano:

The European Commission contends that Apple’s corporate arrangement in Ireland allows it to calculate profits using more favorable accounting methods. Apple calculates its tax bill using low operating costs, a move that dramatically decreases what the company pays to the Irish government. While Apple generates about 55% of its revenue outside the US, its foreign tax rate is about 1.8%. If the Commission decides to enforce a tougher accounting standard, Apple may owe taxes at a 12.5% rate, on $64.1bn in profit generated from 2004 to 2012, according to Larson, a litigation analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

Apple is perhaps the highest-profile case of US companies facing scrutiny from officials in Europe. Starbucks, Amazon and McDonalds also have had its tax policies questioned.

Several senators came to the defense of US companies on Friday. In a letter to US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, bipartisan members of the Senate Finance Committee asked the administration to make sure that European regulators won’t impose retroactive penalties like those that would hit Apple.

Odd if Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter aren’t also in this.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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