China’s Internet Antitrust Push Leads to Corporate Clashes

China’s internet companies have also become accustomed to turning to the government. Their data and networks help the government surveil the public. They follow the official censorship guidelines diligently and help the state media blare propaganda. They have become an integral part of the Communist Party’s social control machine. Tencent and Baidu declined to comment, and Alibaba did not respond to a request for comment.

With the government waving the antitrust baton, they could become even more servile.

Last week, Tencent announced a $7.7 billion fund dedicated to what it called “sustainable social value innovations.” It would fund projects involving education, carbon neutrality and the revitalization of rural villages, many of which are pet topics of the party. Online, some commenters praised Tencent for its adroit politicking. One Weibo commenter quipped that Tencent was paying its antitrust fine in advance.

Alibaba used to be the most defiant in its dealings with the regulators, which once looked the other way as the e-commerce giant bullied its smaller competitors and vendors. As late as November 2019, an Alibaba executive defended its exclusionary practices in a meeting with the antitrust regulator. “There are always some competitors who speculate maliciously about the exclusive cooperation business model,” she said.

In October, Jack Ma, the Alibaba co-founder, publicly accused Chinese regulators of being too obsessed with containing financial risk. Days later, the authorities called off the initial public offering of Ant Group, Alibaba’s financial affiliate.

Alibaba’s attitude now couldn’t be more different. After the regulator imposed the $2.8 billion antitrust fine, the company said it “accepts the penalty with sincerity and will ensure our compliance with determination.” Mr. Ma has kept a low profile since October.

Still, talk is cheap, and the platforms have done little to show they are opening up. Tencent and Alibaba, for example, could start by allowing each other’s payment apps on their services. That would benefit consumers and show they are serious about following the law. That could also get the government off their backs.

But so far, none of these companies have announced substantial moves to correct anticompetitive practices. Instead, they are clashing and maneuvering through the halls of power.

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Facebook nearly doubles its profit and revenue rises 48 percent, as tech booms.

Facebook said on Wednesday that revenue rose 48 percent to $26.2 billion in the first three months of the year, while profits nearly doubled to $9.5 billion, underlining how the social network has continued to benefit during the pandemic.

Advertising revenue, which makes up the bulk of Facebook’s income, rose 46 percent to $25.4 billion. Nearly 3.5 billion people now use one of Facebook’s apps every month, up 15 percent from a year earlier.

The results followed a blockbuster financial performance in 2020, as the pandemic pushed people indoors toward their computers and other devices — and onto the social network and its associated apps like Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger — in ever-increasing numbers. Facebook recorded highs in users and revenues and its services were in such demand that engineers at times struggled to “keep the lights on.”

Yet Wall Street is now expected to scrutinize Facebook’s advertising business closely. On Monday, Apple rolled out an update of its mobile software with a new feature that asks people if they wish to opt out of being tracked by advertisers outside of apps like Facebook. If people choose not to be tracked, that could hurt Facebook’s business, which relies on user data to target advertising.

Facebook cut off Mr. Trump from the platform after the riot, though a final decision about whether to keep him off the site indefinitely has not been made.

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Apple AirTag Review: A Humble Tracker With Next-Generation Tech

On the outside, Apple’s new AirTag looks like a ho-hum product that we have all seen before. It’s a disc-shaped tracking gadget that can be attached to items like house keys to help you find them.

But inside, the story gets far more interesting.

The AirTag, which Apple introduced last week, is one of the first consumer electronics to support a new wireless technology, ultrawideband, which lets you detect precise proximity between objects. Using ultrawideband, your iPhone can sense whether an AirTag is an inch or dozens of feet away from it. It’s so accurate that its app will even show an arrow pointing you in the direction of the AirTag.

That’s far better than other trackers that rely on Bluetooth, an older wireless technology that can only roughly guess an item’s proximity. (More on how this all works later.)

Using ultrawideband to find lost items is just one early example of what the technology can do. Because of its pinpoint-precise ability to transfer data quickly between devices, ultrawideband could become the next wireless standard that succeeds Bluetooth. It could lead to better wireless earphones, keyboards, video game controllers — you name it.

Spark Microsystems, a Montreal firm that is developing ultrawideband technology, said of trackers like the AirTag. “It sends its data really, really fast.”

I tested Apple’s $29 AirTag, which will be released on Friday, for about a week. I used the tracker to find house keys, locate my dogs and track a backpack. I also ran similar tests with Tile, a $25 tracker that relies on Bluetooth and that has been around for about eight years.

Last week, Tile complained in an antitrust hearing that Apple had copied its product while putting smaller companies at a disadvantage. From my tests comparing AirTag and Tile, I found that ultrawideband was far superior to Bluetooth for finding items. What’s more, the AirTag demonstrated that ultrawideband is next-generation tech that is worth getting excited about.

Here’s what you need to know.

Ultrawideband has been in development for more than 15 years, but it was built into chips for iPhones and other smartphones only in the last two years.

When you use ultrawideband to find a tracker, it works similarly to sonar, which detects objects underwater. You send a ping to the tag, and the tag bounces a ping back to your phone. The amount of time it takes for the ping to come back is used to calculate the distance between the two objects.

announced that it would soon release a plan for other companies to take advantage of the ultrawideband technology inside Apple devices.

I’m happy to wait for those products using this neat wireless technology.

Because of its greater efficiency at transmitting data, ultrawideband could make future wireless devices immensely better, Mr. Nabki said. As an example, he cited cord-free earphones that connect instantly, use very little battery and sound as good as wired ones.

That sounds much cooler than finding house keys.

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How Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s C.E.O. Became Foes

“It really spoke to the power of Apple controlling the operating system,” said Brian Wieser, president of business intelligence at GroupM, an advertising industry firm. “Facebook isn’t in control of its own destiny.”

At Facebook, Apple’s privacy moves were viewed as hypocritical, said three current and former Facebook employees. Apple has long had a lucrative arrangement with Google to plug Google’s data-hungry search engine into Apple products, for instance. Facebook executives also noted that Apple was entrenched in China, where the government surveils its citizens.

Privately, Mr. Zuckerberg told his lieutenants that Facebook “needed to inflict pain” upon Apple and Mr. Cook, said a person with knowledge of the discussions. The Wall Street Journal previously reported Mr. Zuckerberg’s comment.

Behind the scenes, that work had already begun. In 2017, Facebook had expanded its work with Definers Public Affairs, a Washington firm that specialized in opposition research against its clients’ political foes. Definers employees distributed research about Apple’s compromises in China to reporters, and a website affiliated with Definers published articles criticizing Mr. Cook, according to documents and former Definers employees.

Definers also began an “astroturfing” campaign to draft Mr. Cook as a 2020 presidential candidate, presumably to put him in President Trump’s cross hairs, The New York Times reported in 2018. A website, “Draft Tim Cook 2020,” featured a lofty quote from the chief executive and a model campaign platform for him. Data behind the website linked it to Definers.

(Definers’ work against Apple was also funded by Qualcomm, another Apple rival, according to a Definers employee. Facebook fired Definers after The Times reported on its activity.)

Apple and Facebook have also started competing in other areas, including messaging, mobile gaming and “mixed-reality” headsets, which are essentially eyeglasses that mix digital images into a person’s view of the world.

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To Be Tracked or Not? Apple Is Now Giving Us the Choice.

If we had a choice, would any of us want to be tracked online for the sake of seeing more relevant digital ads?

We are about to find out.

On Monday, Apple plans to release iOS 14.5, one of its most anticipated software updates for iPhones and iPads in years. It includes a new privacy tool, called App Tracking Transparency, which could give us more control over how our data is shared.

Here’s how it works: When an app wants to follow our activities to share information with third parties such as advertisers, a window will show up on our Apple device to ask for our permission to do so. If we say no, the app must stop monitoring and sharing our data.

harmful to small businesses.

fingerprinting. This involves looking at seemingly innocuous characteristics of your device — like the screen resolution, operating system version and model — and combining them to determine your identity and track you across different apps.

studied user experience design and data privacy. In the past, iPhone owners could restrict advertisers from tracking them, but the tools to do so were buried in settings where most people wouldn’t look.

“The option was available before, but really, was it?” Ms. Nguyen said. “That’s a big shift — making it visible.”

As of this week, all apps with tracking behavior must include the App Tracking Transparency pop-up in their next software updates. That means we initially will probably see a small number of apps requesting permission to track us, with the number growing over time as more apps get updated.

Apple’s new software also includes two other interesting new features: the ability to use Siri to play audio with a third-party app like Spotify and the option to quickly unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask.

favoring its own apps.

To make Siri work with other audio services, you won’t have to change any settings. If you normally listen to music with a third-party app, such as Spotify, Siri will simply learn over time that you prefer that app and react accordingly. (Audio app developers need to program their apps to support Siri, so if they haven’t done so yet, this won’t work.) That means if you always use Spotify to play music, you will be able to say “Hey Siri, play The Beatles” to start playing a Beatles playlist on Spotify.

The other new feature helps solve a pandemic issue. For more than a year, wearing a mask has been extra annoying for owners of newer iPhones that have face scanners to unlock the device. That’s because the iPhone camera has not been able to recognize our covered mugs. Apple’s iOS 14.5 finally delivers a mechanism to unlock the phone while masked, though it requires wearing an Apple Watch.

Here’s how that works: When you scan your face and the phone determines it can’t recognize you because your mouth and nose are obstructed, it will check to see if your Apple Watch is unlocked and nearby. The Apple Watch, in effect, acts as proof to verify that you are the one trying to unlock your phone.

To make this work, update the software on your iPhone and Apple Watch, then open the Settings app on your iPhone. Scroll down to “Face ID & Passcode.” In this menu, go to “Unlock with Apple Watch” and toggle on the option to use your Apple Watch to unlock when the image scanner detects your face with a mask.

Next time you are at the grocery store and look at your phone, your watch will vibrate once and unlock your phone. Sweet relief.

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Newer Planes Are Providing Airlines a Trove of Useful Data

This article is part of our new series, Currents, which examines how rapid advances in technology are transforming our lives.

With few flights and even fewer passengers, the coronavirus pandemic unleashed a wave of challenges for airlines. Some have gone out of business and others are barely surviving as global passenger volume hovers at around 50 percent of 2019 levels.

Without passengers to fill them, airlines have been retiring their older aircraft faster than normal. The more than 1,400 planes airplanes parked in 2020 that might not return to service is more than twice as many aircraft as would customarily be retired in a single year, according to a 10-year aviation forecast by the business consulting firm, Oliver Wyman. The result will a more modern fleet, the report states.

In a glass-is-half-full observation, David Marty, head of digital solutions marketing at Airbus, noted that planes remaining in airlines’ fleets are younger, more fuel-efficient aircraft, with lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Boeing 737 Max flights to capture any anomalies for analysis. This is in response to the nearly two-year grounding of the Max following two deadly crashes. The Max returned to service at the end of 2020. (Some of the planes were grounded again this month because of a potential electrical problem.)

To show how fast change has come, Kevin Michaels, the managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace consultancy, points to the newest Airbus airliner, the A350. It typically records 800 megabytes of data per flight. The Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, which began operation in 2007, can provide only half of that.

“There’s a lot more data available and better algorithms,” Mr. Michaels said.

At Delta Air Lines, new technology has led the airline to create apps pilots use on a tablet like Flight Weather Viewer to avoid flying through turbulence. It was first launched in 2016 and updated over the years as new capabilities became available.

Its Flight Family Communication app, started in 2018, lets all employees working on a specific flight communicate among themselves, from ground crews to flight crews. John Laughter, the airline’s chief of operations, says one of the best uses of the new data is predicting when parts will fail so maintenance can be done proactively.

“I’ve been at Delta since 1993 and almost everything we did then was looking backwards,” he said. “We’d have a failure and we’d ask, ‘How do we fix it?’”

Today, Mr. Laughter says “data scientists are looking at the data” so they can schedule what would previously have been an unscheduled and potentially disruptive repair.

Executives at Malaysia’s AirAsia say preventing delays is critical because their business model depends on planes spending no more than 25 minutes at the airport gate. Since 10 different entities have a hand in dispatching a flight, anything that slows the progress of one of those people can trigger a cascade of delays.

By applying artificial intelligence to the data it collects, AirAsia has also been able to find small reductions in fuel and labor costs that add up, said Javed Malik, the airline’s group chief operations officer. “At the end of the year, that can save millions.”

Still, many airlines have found it challenging to keep up with the volume of information.

“Airlines and aircraft are like oil rigs in the ocean,” said Yann Cabaret, vice president of strategy, product and marketing at SITA, an airline industry-owned technology nonprofit. “And their data is like crude oil. They can’t do much with it. They need people and technology to refine that data so they can get value from it.”

It’s not that airlines haven’t embraced new technology in the past, they have.

Computer reservation systems, for example, were state of the art when they began in the 1960s. But six decades later, airlines are still trying to create a way to sell tickets and other products with the pizazz that web-savvy shoppers have come to expect. The rapid pace of change can create hurdles.

“We’re locked into old systems for which our IT vendors have designed particular applications,” said Frederic Sutter, head of a data sharing platform called Skywise offered by Airbus. “When you had to mix the different data from different systems, the industry was not equipped to do so.”

To solve that problem, in 2017, Airbus started selling to customers access to Skywise’s cloud-based platform where they could share with other airlines information about their planes, suppliers and components.

One hundred and thirty airlines, including AirAsia upload their de-identified data to the platform “so they can compare themselves with the entire fleet,” Mr. Sutter said.

Even Airbus is a beneficiary. “The data collected and shared enables us to validate our design and prepare for the next generation of aircraft,” he said. Should reports from the fleet show unanticipated issues, the company can begin planning design changes if needed.

Global companies like Airbus, Google, and IBM have found a potentially lucrative market selling tech services to airlines because the carriers, some of which have been around for a century, are locked into what Vik Krishnan, a partner with McKinsey & Company specializing in the travel sector, calls “antiquated” systems.

Newer airlines, like AirAsia, aren’t trapped by that history. It was just 5-years-old when its present owners bought it in 2001. After adding a long-haul carrier and acquiring a handful of affiliate regional airlines, the company decided to merge its disparate data and create what Mr. Malik calls a “connected ecosystem.”

The airline wanted all its information accessible under one roof and visibility across departments so that, for example, a passenger’s biometric information — fingerprints or facial recognition, for example — could be used for security and boarding at the airport but also for purchasing products on AirAsia’s e-commerce platforms. This use of technology could create privacy issues that governments may need to address.

“Those are separate, different technologies; payment and biometrics that need to work seamlessly in the background so the customer gets a great experience,” Mr. Malik said.

In 2018, AirAsia partnered with Google to become one of the first airlines to move its data to the cloud, and more airlines have followed. Delta and IBM announced a deal earlier this year to move both customer and in-house apps to the public cloud while they work on strategies for handling increasing amounts of aircraft information.

“Airlines have a greater capacity to use the data or process it or deploy artificial intelligence as they sift through and glean the information they need,” said Dee Waddell, IBM’s global managing director for travel and transportation industries.

But as they fly farther into the digital age, airlines are also learning that being part of big data is not without its downsides, the burden of managing it all being one of them.

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Apple’s New Devices Target Markets Led by Smaller Rivals

“We think it is entirely appropriate for Congress to take a closer look at Apple’s business practices,” Mr. Prober said.

Apple has faced scrutiny in recent years for its strict control over its App Store, including Apple’s practice of forcing apps to use its payment system, which allows it to collect a commission of up to 30 percent on many app sales.

That policy has fueled a multibillion-dollar business, but also brought Apple regulatory headaches, including Wednesday’s hearing and legislative fights in several states. Next month, Apple is set to face off in a trial against Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, which is suing Apple over its App Store policies.

As part of its announcements on Tuesday, Apple said it was redesigning its podcast app, which now offers millions of shows, up from 3,000 when Apple introduced the service 16 years ago. Starting next month, creators can sell subscriptions to their podcasts, Apple said. It was unclear if Apple would take a cut of those sales, but that has been its approach when pushing into new industries, including in apps, music and news.

The subscription service will put Apple in even more direct competition with Spotify, which has been working on its own podcast subscriptions. Spotify has been a leading critic of Apple in recent years. The music service’s business depends up reaching listeners through iPhones, putting the company at Apple’s whim. Spotify has filed antitrust complaints against Apple in Europe and has complained about the company to American regulators.

Apple also showed off a series of slimmer, faster and more colorful iMacs. The desktop computers, which have 24-inch screens, range in price from $1,300 to $1,700. Apple also unveiled its new iPad Pro, its top-of-the-line tablet, with a sharper screen, faster speeds and the ability to connect to 5G wireless networks. The iPad will cost between $800 and $1,100.

Apple’s other announcements on Tuesday included an update to its branded credit card that would allow spouses to build credit together, and improvements to its Apple TV devices, such as a new remote and faster processor that will make video play more smoothly.

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Apple shows off new devices and sets release date for disputed iPhone software.

Apple unveiled a series of new products on Tuesday that showed how it continues to center its marketing pitch around consumer privacy, at the potential expense of other companies, while muscling into new markets pioneered by much smaller competitors.

Apple showed off a new high-end iPad and iMac desktop computer based on new computer processors Apple now makes itself. Apple said it was redesigning its podcast app to enable podcast creators to charge for their shows. And it released a new device called AirTags, a $29 disc that attaches to a key ring or wallet to help find them.

Apple also made some other news on Tuesday that was not mentioned in its glitzy, hourlong infomercial. The company said in a subsequent news release that it planned to release its highly anticipated iPhone software next week that will come with a privacy feature that has many digital-advertising companies worried, most notably Facebook.

The feature will require apps to get explicit permission from users before tracking them across other apps. As a result, when opening many apps next week, owners of iPhones will be greeted with pop-up windows that ask them whether to allow the app to track them. Companies are expected to gather less data about users as people decline that tracking.

locked in a war of words over the change, with Facebook arguing that it would hurt the digital-advertising industry that helps fund free internet services. Apple has said it is merely giving consumers the right to choose whether to be tracked.

Separately on Tuesday, Apple’s AirTags immediately drew criticism from Tile, a company that for years has made similar devices for finding lost items. “We welcome competition, as long as it is fair competition. Unfortunately, given Apple’s well-documented history of using its platform advantage to unfairly limit competition for its products, we’re skeptical,” said CJ Prober, Tile’s chief executive.

Tile’s general counsel, along with executives from Apple, Google, Spotify and Match Group, are set to testify to Congress on Wednesday at a hearing on Apple and Google’s market power and control over mobile apps. “We think it is entirely appropriate for Congress to take a closer look at Apple’s business practices,” Mr. Prober said.

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