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Alphabet Roundup: Waymo, Discover, Lens, Employees

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Alphabet (GOOGL - Free Report) has a ton of problems related to privacy, anticompetitive behavior and now, employee unrest. While the company gives the impression that employee-related concerns are under control, it remains a problem trend worth watching. Amidst these concerns is the good news that Waymo is closer to commercialization, mobile search is getting a new interface through “Discover” and pictures are getting easier to understand through “Lens.” Here are a few details-

Waymo Closer to Commercialization

The company appears well ahead of other players in the space including General motors (GM - Free Report) and Apple (AAPL - Free Report) based on the 7 billion simulated test miles and 10 million miles its cars have actually ridden on public roads. The company is currently adding around a million miles every month.

The large number of miles along with the relatively small number of mishaps its vehicles have been involved in are perhaps the reasons it has become the first of around 60 companies testing the technology in California to receive a permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to test driverless vehicles without a backup driver in the front seat.

Waymo is moving toward the commercialization of the ride hailing service built around its self-driving cars. The company has indicated in the past that its commercialization efforts would begin by the year’s end and on the last earnings call it was confirmed that the process has kicked off. So some of the early riders that were testing the service for free within a limited area in Phoenix are now helping the company decide on a pricing model. Testing continues in other cities like Mountain View, California and Austin.

Last month, Waymo CEO John Krafcik told Roadshow that the Waymo trips would eventually cost as much as an equivalent Uber or Lyft ride but that the company was looking at other ways to make the service more attractive. "Businesses are saying to some of the users 'Hey, we'll pay Waymo to bring you to the mall, or to this destination, or to the hotel.'" Krafcik told Roadshow. "I think this is a really interesting future business possibility for Waymo," he said. in a recent interview with Condé Nast Traveler he said, “It will enable more people to try the technology more quickly when you can buy just a little slice of transportation for $6.” 

ARK has estimated that robo-taxis might cost 35 cents per mile, include 5 cents to cover the cost of remote operators who monitor the vehicles and intervene when something goes wrong, the Financial Times reports.

Google Discover

The Google Home page on mobile has just become a place that you can use to discover new stuff related to your interests without so much as typing a word. It’s essentially a Google feed of the things you’re accustomed to searching online and is proof of how well Google knows you and the level of your knowledge on any topic.

Its blog post from September says for instance that “Discover can predict your level of expertise on a topic and help you further develop those interests. If you’re learning to play guitar, for example, you might see beginner content about learning chords. If you’re already a skilled musician, you may see a video on more advanced techniques.”

If you aren’t freaked out already and want to give Google even more information about yourself, you can further customize the feed to show more or less of the things it surfaces.

If you are freaked out, you can disable the service. But for the record, Google says there are already 800 million people using it every month.

Google Lens

Integrated with Google Photos, Google Assistant and the native Android camera app, Google Lens uses artificial intelligence to tell you more about the images in Google Photos. It can recognize items in a picture that you may want to buy, or tell you about a book or record that you have a picture of, or about monuments and other points of interest when you’re on travel, or even translate text that you photograph into a language you understand. All you need to do is circle the item you want information about and/or touch the dots on it after tapping the lens icon.

Needless to say, Lens will get better over time, as it gathers more information about people, places and things.

The feature was first launched in the U.S. for Pixel phones in the English language, then expanded to all phones using Photos and Google says it will soon be rolled out to other languages and geographies.

Ethos Investment

In a funding round led by Accel Partners in Google Ventures-backed life insurance application processor Ethos, the startup raised $35 million. The company, which says it can process applications in about 10 minutes instead of the usual 10 weeks, while eliminating the need for a medical exam or blood test, has now raised $46 million, taking its total valuation to a $100 million.

Following the investment, Accel Partner Nate Niparko will join the firm's board of directors, while Google Ventures General Partner Tyson Clark will act as an advisor to the board. Sequoia Capital and VC Arrive also participated.

The company says it saw a 400% jump in revenue, customers and applications in the last four months.

Employee Activism

The #metoo movement that doesn’t require anyone to prove anything legally but allows complete liberty to women to accuse men of sexual misconduct is catching on. Unfortunately, the first company in Silicon Valley to be hit was Google, despite the fact that it has always given its employees a lot of voice and liberties.

What sparked the unrest involving around 20,000 employees across the world was a New York Times article that blamed the company for paying the father of Android Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package while knowing there were reasons to believe that he had engaged in sexual misconduct. Rubin denied the charge while also claiming that the NYT number that Google hasn’t refuted was a gross exaggeration.

CEO Pichai has since said that the company was taking an increasingly hard line on such accusations and had fired 48 people, including 13 senior managers, in the last two years while denying them their exit packages. He has also said that Google is considering constructive ideas from employees to improve its hiring and management processes.

One of these is likely the mandatory arbitration clause that is included in company policies to reduce cost, force quick settlement and keep the whole thing quiet. Google and other tech companies are doing away with this clause, which will help employees go to court and also appeal verdicts.

It’s quite an alarming trend when a company can deny you promised pay based on accusations that haven’t been proved in court and it’s hard to say where this will lead. At any rate it’s a new flavor of arm twisting in an industry that has seen only a limited amount of trade unionism for tamer things like better pay and benefits.

India

During the Money20/20 financial-technology conference in Las Vegas, payments general manager and head of its “next billion users” initiative Caesar Sengupta said that Google Pay has more than 30 million monthly active users in India, generating payment volume at a $40 billion annual run rate.

The Indian version of Google Pay is built on the country’s Unified Payments Interface, a government-approved payment technology that uses email addresses for identity verification rather than traditional bank-account information.

Google Pay is a much better option than PayPal (PYPL - Free Report) in the country where most phones run on Android and use a plethora of payments services, many of which are local.

Recommendation

Alphabet shares carry a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). For safer bets, check out the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

 

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