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Alphabet Roundup: Gmail, Regulatory, Nest, Auto, Market Share

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Alphabet (GOOGL - Free Report) management has admitted that it allows developers of Gmail applications to share data with third parties as long as there is proper disclosure. This and other matters have increasingly become of concern for regulators across the world. However, the company remains as innovative as ever, pursuing growth in new markets and acquiring companies along the way. Here are the details-

Your Gmail Belongs To Google, Now You Know

In case you didn’t know already, Google is okay with third party app developers accessing and sharing the details of your Gmail with marketers and others, as long as they disclose that fact somewhere in their “terms of service” agreements.

The company has its back covered however, with an elaborate process to check whether that disclosure is made. That process includes manual review of privacy policies and computer tools to detect any significant changes in the behavior of the apps.

But it’s important to note that the manual access is necessary until an AI system can be trained to take on the job. Google itself for instance doesn’t read user emails manually any longer.

Moreover, some of the apps accessing data such as names, subject lines, message text and email signatures, offer useful services such as price comparison, travel planning and market research.

Also, if you are still uncomfortable with the arrangement, there’s a simple enough procedure you can use to block access. Just log in to your Gmail and head over to myaccount.google.com/security.checkup/3; click “Show others” to see the apps linked to your Google account; the “i” here will display the apps accessing your Gmail; so simply click “remove access” and you’re done.

The only problem is, no one knows how long these third party apps intend to read your Gmail, and Google itself says nothing about how many apps it has caught in the past violating its rules.

Google’s letter dates back to July and the details were recently disclosed by the WSJ, likely as a precursor to the government's grilling yesterday.

Regulatory

Google’s Sundar Pichai has denied that the company tweaked its search results to offset the impact of President Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim majority countries for a brief period, citing national security concerns.

This was in response to a WSJ report that pointed to emails showing brainstorming within the company to do just that. The WSJ did however clarify, similar to Pichai’s statement that the company didn’t ultimately go through with the plan.  

In an email to Google employees Pichai wrote: "It's important to me that our internal culture continues to reinforce our mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Recent news stories reference an internal email to suggest that we would compromise the integrity of our search results for a political end." It went on to say that such an assumption was "absolutely false".

Separately, Bloomberg News obtained a draft executive order instructing federal antitrust and law enforcement agencies to open probes into the business practices followed by social media companies like Alphabet’s Google and Facebook (FB - Free Report) .

Accordingly, U.S. antitrust authorities are being instructed to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws” while other government agencies are being called upon to recommend within a month after the order is signed, actions that could “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”

The news site quoted a Pew Research report stating that 72% of Americans, and 85% of Republicans, think it’s likely that social media companies intentionally censor political viewpoints considered objectionable by their own standards. But many have misgivings about a probe by the Trump administration because it could amount to “interference with editorial judgment” as prohibited by the First Amendment.

Google was also fined $15 million for violating competition laws with its mobile software sales and given six months to make the necessary changes in order to "reinstill effective competition in the market and end the violation".

China

At a private event in San Francisco, former CEO Eric Schmidt said in response to a question from Tyler Cowen that the next 10-15 years would see the splitting of the Internet into two, with one part led by China and the other, the U.S.

He lauded the phenomenal growth and depth of the digital economy in China, the services being built and used, as well as efforts by the country to increase its influence in the world (with special reference to the belt and road initiative. This, he felt was likely to see some smaller countries giving up some freedom to use the infrastructure China provided.

He cautioned entrepreneurs about building merely addictive products and driving short term revenue for shareholders instead of those that were actually good for users, society and the long-term health of their companies.

Human resources got employees to delete an internal memo, written by a Google engineer that indicated that Google was considerably further along in its China search launch plans than Pichai let on earlier. It appears that employees were told to get the program in "launch-ready state" while the company got the final approvals from Beijing. Pichai said earlier: "We are not close to launching a search product in China and whether we would do so or could do so is all very unclear."

India

Google plugged a hole in its Google Pay service agreement that previously said it could "collect, store, use and/or disclose" personal data and "any communications made through Google Pay". Google dropped the word disclose from the statement, saying that these were regular changes that the company makes from time to time. It also updated the statement to the effect that National Payments Corporation of India’s (NPCI's) Unified Payments Interface (UPI) transaction data could be used for monetization purposes only by the platform itself (it isn’t doing this yet).

But it’s worth noting that China's Alibaba and Japan's SoftBank backed payments company Paytm had issued a letter to the NPCI, dated Sept. 13, wherein it complained that Google Pay's privacy policy amounted to "clear disregard for a consumer's need for privacy". Paytim is the market leader with 95 million monthly active users while Google Pay is far behind with just 22 million.

India’s digital payments market is projected to grow five-fold to $1 trillion by 2023, so there’s a big race on to capture market share.

Nest In Healthcare

GeekWire has ascertained that Google’s Nest acquired health monitoring start-up Senosis Health in the summer of 2017, although at the time, the company took great pains to ascertain that it wasn’t linked to the home automation unit best known for its thermostats.

But since Senosis was a University of Washington spin-out, GeekWire found it relatively easy to obtain public documents supporting its claim.

The reason this is significant is that Google is likely taking a different approach to healthcare than other tech companies by developing monitoring devices that don’t have to be strapped on. A CNBC report says that it has already been in conversation with homes for the aged that might buy devices that might allow the elderly to stay independent as long as possible.

In the words of co-founder Shwetak Patel n a letter dated June 2017, "It turns out Nest is much more secretive than the rest of Google or Alphabet. They seem to be particularly sensitive in this situation since they don't want people to know they are getting into a whole new line of business, digital health, until they are ready to publicly announce."

Auto Market Progress

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi car-making alliance has chosen the Android OS in an effort to access its applications and services (including Maps) and the voice-commanded Google Assistant.

This is a landmark win for Google, which has until now largely steered clear of these kinds of partnerships because of the fear of losing control over customer relationships, data and the resultant revenue that such connected services might provide in the future.

This could be just the breaking of the ice, with more car makers following suit in order to not get left behind.

Trucking technology startup Convoy has raised $185 million in a Series C funding round led by CapitalG, Alphabet’s growth equity fund, valuing the company at a billion dollars. CapitalG partner David Lawee will join Convoy’s board.

The company offers a platform to connect shippers to truckers much the way Uber or Lyft connect riders to drivers with the goal of increasing cost efficiencies for both.  Convoy has more than 500 customers, including consumer giants Unilever NV and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA.

Early backers of the company include Bill Gates, Amazon (AMZN - Free Report) founder Jeff Bezos, Salesforce (CRM - Free Report) CEO Marc Benioff, KKR co-CEO Henry Kravis and IAC/InterActiveCorp. Chairman Barry Diller, as well as Uber co-founder Garrett Camp and current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Investments

Alphabet Inc.’s GV, Iconiq Capital and Khosla Ventures joined a funding round that raised $100 million for GitHub competitor GitLab, valuing the company at a billion dollars. Intel (INTC - Free Report) , Alibaba (BABA - Free Report) , Nasdaq and others have become GitLab customers after Microsoft’s (MSFT - Free Report) surprise acquisition of GitHib for $7.5 billion.

Google’s Founders Fund, the new Google Assistant investment program, was also among investors that committed a million dollars to back a tiny tailoring startup called Epytom. Its app, called Maison Me, will charge $15 to design a piece of clothing based on customer clues or details, after which it will be stitched up according to customer measurements by a human tailor in the U.S. and delivered in 15 days. The company’s chatbot already helps people make up their minds about what they want to wear. The tailoring service app will launch in November.

Google Ventures is also leading a Series B funding round to raise $20 million for Mabl, a Boston-based startup developing software that will automate the testing of corporate software code for web applications (currently in beta). Mabl raised its $10 million Series A in February from CRV and Amplify Partners. The series B funding will help improve the newly-launched enterprise version of its software and build an enterprise sales and marketing team.

Market Share

According to data from market research firm Canalys, smart speakers from Google, Amazon, Alibaba and Xiaomi were the dominant ones in the second quarter of 2018. Google Home and Google Home Mini were the leading devices for the second straight quarter while a surging domestic market helped the Chinese players get into the top 4. Google sales grew 449% for a 32.3% market share, Amazon sales declined 14% for a 24.5% share. Alibaba and Xiaomi took 17.7% and 12.2% share, respectively. Other players grew more than 4000% to generate the 187% increase in total sales of 16.8 million units. The research firm predicted earlier that the smart speaker market would grow from 50 million units in 2008 to 100 million units in 2018, more than doubling to 225 million units by 2020.

Market researcher Magna Global, which estimates that the overall U.S. advertising market will touch a record $207 billion this year, says that online advertising in the U.S. will increase 16% to $106.6 billion, crossing $100 billion and the 50% mark for the first time. It also estimates that ad revenue from web searches, where Google leads, grew 18% in the second quarter, while ad sales on social networks, led by Facebook grew 36%.

Recommendation

Alphabet shares carry a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell). For smart picks, see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

 

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