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Pichai, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Cook take heat during US Congress grilling of big tech CEOs

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New York, July 30 : Four big tech CEOs — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai of Google and Tim Cook of Apple — pushed back against accusations during a US Congress panel hearing capping a yearlong investigation into big tech’s market domination online.

Amidst intense grilling on issues that centred on market power derived from uninhibited collection and access to data, all four CEOs focused their attention on the value of their innovations and services to consumers. They testified via video link to lawmakers in Washington, DC.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai struggled to deflect accusations of anti-conservative bias and retreated multiple times to a “Happy to engage with you” answer in response to questions that went deep into the working of the company’s mighty algorithms.

Pichai squirmed when asked whether he signed off on the company’s 2007 acquisition of adtech platform DoubleClick which allows it to link internet users’ browsing data via the DoubleClick cookie to Google accounts and effectively destroy users’ anonymity on the internet.

“I reviewed at a high level all the important decisions we make,” Pichai said. He talked up how Google “cares” about privacy and security of users and noted that Google no longer uses data from Gmail for ad targeting, a relatively recent change

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos repeatedly offered “I don’t remember” or “We are looking into it” as an answer to lawmaker concerns about how the company might be killing off small businesses, poaching ideas from competitors or employee testimony that there is “nobody enforcing” policies in a company that has become a “candy shop” of seller data.

For years, Amazon has been dogged by allegations that it uses its dominance to identify and enter into new product categories using its unique lens into inside information on third party seller data.

Pushed on this question by Pramila Jayapal, who represents the district in which Amazon is headquartered, Bezos sidestepped saying he could not answer yes or no. “I can tell you we have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private label business but I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.”

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg faced fire over the company’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, a pervasive strategy of copying competitors’ features, selling user data to third parties and the forest fire analogy of how fake news spreads on the mighty platform

In his responses, Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook has “certainly adapted features that others have led in” but countered that the company’s moves were not anti-competitive.

“I’ve always been clear that we viewed Instagram as both a competitor and as a complement to our services,” Zuckerberg said.

The Facebook’s CEO used his time during opening remarks to knock competitors. “In many areas, we are behind our competitors”, he said. “The most popular messaging service in the US is iMessage. The fastest growing app is TikTok. The most popular app for video is YouTube. The fastest growing ads platform is Amazon. The largest ads platform is Google.”

“Apple CEO Tim Cook contended that his company does not have a dominant market share “in any market where we do business” and prioritises the quality of product versus scale.

Apple, whose iPhone is the world’s third-largest selling phone in the world, is facing EU investigations over fees charged by its App Store and technical limitations that allegedly shut out competitors to Apple Pay.

Cook said, “In the more than a decade since the App Store debuted, we have never raised the commission or added a single fee. In fact, we have reduced them for subscriptions and exempted additional categories of apps. The App Store evolves with the times, and every change we have made has been in the direction of providing a better experience for our users and a compelling business opportunity for developers.”

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Dogfight: Airlines unleash deep discounts to dominate the sky

IndiGo’s Chief Strategy and Revenue Officer Sanjay Kumar said: “Low fares always helps stimulate the demand for the travel period far out and works as a part of airline strategy.”

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New Delhi, Jan 19 : Fare wars induced deep discounting has reappeared in India’s aviation sector, as airlines seek to augment cash reserves, consolidate market share and bring back more capacity.

The first shot in this war of extremely low prices was fired recently with most airlines commencing their sales offers.

The development comes around a year since Covid-19 lockdown devastated the sector.

Industry insiders, however, now believe that the roll-out of anti-Covid-19 vaccination programme will give a boost to air travel.

Besides, some of the travel period offered under these schemes are beyond the current expiry of the fare cap imposed by the Centre.

IndiGo’s Chief Strategy and Revenue Officer Sanjay Kumar said: “Low fares always helps stimulate the demand for the travel period far out and works as a part of airline strategy.”

“These sales stimulate traffic among extremely price sensitive customers and helps airlines meet overall objectives.”

The latest passenger traffic data from the sector regulator DGCA indicate that the growth in passenger volumes is not yet adequate enough for a revival in the airline sector.

The aggregate passenger traffic in December 2020 at 73.27 lakh was still 43.7 per cent lower on a year-on-year basis.

“Lack of adequate demand in the post festive season along with higher available capacity has therefore, led a drop in passenger load factor for some of the airlines in December 2020 on a sequential basis vis-a-vis Nov 2020,” said Suman Chowdhury, Chief Analytical Officer at Acuite Ratings & Research.

“Such a scenario is possibly leading to a deep discounting strategy from airline companies. This involves sale of seats over the next few months through an attractive discount or add ons to ensure higher PLF over the next 1-2 quarters.”

Nevertheless, deep discounts are expected to hurt the already fragile financial condition of the sector.

“It will have an impact on the profitability of airline operations which has already been under losses in the last few quarters. In our opinion, however, passenger demand will witness a significant improvement in the next few months with the tapering of the Covid infection rate as well as the progress on the vaccination,” Chowdhury said.

Apart from ensuring a minimum PLF in the coming months, experts contend that deep discounts will trigger liquidity enhancement for airlines.

“Low airfares this month indicate the expected dip in travel post holiday season in December. Airfares in Jan across key routes have decreased 15-20 per cent MoM,” said Rajnish Kumar, Co-founder & CTO, ixigo.

“Heavy discounts being rolled out by major domestic and international airlines will definitely woo travellers who are planning vacations this year. With government caps ending on March 31, the discounts will attract flyers to plan their trips in advance and accelerate recovery in bookings to pre-Covid levels this year.”

On the other hand, the government has till now permitted the industry players to operate at 80 per cent of their pre-Covid capacity.

The operational capacity deployment level is expected to reach pre-Covid mark by the end of calendar year’s first quarter.

“In the current scenario of impact on demand due to the pandemic, while some aircraft continue to be grounded, the passenger load factors (PLFs) of airlines have also been impacted despite the lower capacity,” said Kinjal Shah, Vice President, ICRA.

“Thus, airlines have to take a calculated call on fares and its impact on demand.”

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at [email protected])

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Azim Premji and Dr Devi Shetty chosen for PCB awards

Besides them 25 senior journalists have been selected for the ‘Press Club Annual Awards’, a release said.

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Bengaluru, Jan 19: The chairman of Wipro Limited Azim Premji and the founder chairman of Narayana Health Dr Devi Prasad Shetty are among those who have been selected for the annual awards given by the Press Club of Bangalore.

Premji has been chosen for ‘Press Club Person of the Year’, while Dr Shetty and actor-Director Sudeep Sanjeev have been selected for the ‘Press Club Special Award.’

Besides them 25 senior journalists have been selected for the ‘Press Club Annual Awards’, a release said.

Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa will facilitate the awardees at a function scheduled for the third week of February, it said.

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Healthcare sector revenues likely to grow by 20% in FY22: ICRA

he risks to the recovery could be in the form of additional regulatory measures, protracted restrictions on international travel and jump in Covid-19 cases”.

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New Delhi, Jan 19: Even as the healthcare sector witnessed squeezing of revenues due to the Covid-19 pandemic, its long-term outlook remains stable on the back of swift rebound in occupancy as well as structural factors, ICRA said on Monday.

The rating agency expects the occupancy of companies in the sector to bounce back substantially to 60 per cent in FY22, from the estimated occupancy of 52 per cent in FY21, and the revenue growth to be at 20 per cent in FY22, against an estimated contraction of 19 per cent in FY21, aided by a lower base as well.

There has been significant sequential improvement in occupancy every month after the sharp fall in April and the pent-up demand is also likely to support the performance, as elective procedures cannot be delayed indefinitely by domestic as well as international patients, the report noted.

Due to the high operating leverage, the EBITDA margin is likely to rise to 13 per cent in FY22, against an estimated EBITDA margin of 9 per cent in FY21. The capital expansion was already slowing down, even pre-Covid, and is likely to remain modest in FY22 as the players have adequate capacity to grow over the medium term and the near-term focus is on better utilisation of the existing facilities rather than expansion of the network.

Consequently, the capex as well as startup costs of new hospitals are likely to be much lower going forward, which will also aid profitability. The net debt is expected to stay largely range-bound, but the debt protection metrics is likely to improve significantly due to a sharp rise in accruals, ICRA said.

According to Kapil Banga, Assistant Vice President, ICRA: “The credit risk profile of entities in the sector had been on improving the trajectory over the last two years and notwithstanding the near-term disruption due to the pandemic, as well as given the essential nature of the services, ICRA believes the sector will resume on its growth trajectory in FY22. The risks to the recovery could be in the form of additional regulatory measures, protracted restrictions on international travel and jump in Covid-19 cases”.

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