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Google pushes back against Australian Government regulations

[BUSINESS NEWS] Google claps back at the Australian government with an open-letter to Australian consumers, opposing the proposed News Media Bargaining Code law.

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Google Australia home page pop-up

Google made a power move by communicating directly to Australian consumers with a pop-up on the Google search home page. The open letter to Aussies is the latest in response to Australia’s push to pass a law that would require Google and Facebook to pay media publications for their news content.

News media companies have suffered in many markets with the fall of print media and rise of online news, affecting the companies’ ability to collect ad revenue. The Australian government says that Australian news outlets have been impacted even more acutely by the coronavirus pandemic, with over one hundred local papers in the country laying off reporters and either stopping printing or closing entirely.

Google’s open letter to Aussies, penned by the Australia Managing Director, Mel Silva, warns that the rule would unfairly advantage big media industries by requiring Google to share data to help them artificially boost their rankings. This would jeopardize the quality of search results and possibly even user data, claiming “There’s no way of knowing if any data handed over would be protected, or how it might be used by news media businesses.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the watchdog that authored the proposed law, says the open letter contains inaccuracies. They claim that Google would not be required to share any additional use data with the media unless it chooses too, and would also not require Google to start charging for its free services like Search and Youtube.

Of course, it is any company’s prerogative to communicate directly with its customers, even its non-paying customers. But if this communication is effective in wielding the power of Google’s millions of Australian civilians to counter the government’s regulations, it behooves Aussies to leverage Google to understand the facts and verify Google’s claims against the text of the regulation.

The decision to highlight bellicose language like “at risk” and “hurting” to describe the effects of the law, without explaining the proposed law itself, is a clear attempt to manipulate an emotional reaction from users by painting the law as a threat to free services, rather than an attempt to protect a healthy democracy.

The spread of misinformation online is threatening democracies around the world, and Google should take a hard look at its role in that.

Google published a more detailed blog post on the matter on May 31, entitled “A fact-based discussion about news online.” The post essentially claims that Google Australia doesn’t gain that much revenue from news searches (only 10 percent!) so how could it possibly be ‘taking’ that money from the media? Furthermore, 2018 Google searches accounted for 3.44 billion visits to Australian news publishers – at no charge to the publishers! That’s a lot of clicks! Can’t you feed your kids with them clicks, Aussie news monsters?

This is not the first time Google has made political noise. In 2018, Google displayed Youtube notices about an EU copyright proposal and in 2014, closed Google News in Spain entirely over a similar dispute as Australia.

In the end, the question remains – in Australia, the US, and elsewhere – whether tech giants like Google and Facebook should hold outsized market control of paid advertising online.

But the lengths Google is currently taking to undermine this governmental action is a testament to just how far this company has come in 22 years. In 1998, Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page published an academic paper from the Stanford computer science department entitled “The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual Web search engine.” Yes, that search engine was named Google.

The paper describes a novel approach to enhance the effectiveness of a large-scale search engine in the early days of the internet. In addition to an apropos search result example for the term “Bill Clinton,” the paper comments on paid advertising.

In Appendix A: Advertising and Mixed Motives, the authors assert that a conflict of interest could arise when a high-quality search result is counter to the goals of a paid advertiser. They conclude that “advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.” In 2019, paid advertising accounted for 70.9 percent of Google’s revenue.

Sure, the internet of 2020 is not the beloved wormhole of yesteryear, when the online world was mostly made of blogs, games, and community forums. Google has grown with the times (or even ahead of them), as any smart tech company should. So perhaps holding 2020 Google to a 1998 standard is unfair.

Nonetheless, I leave you with the authors’ conclusion to the advertising discussion from their original concept: “…we believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.”

Transparency isn’t outdated, is it Google?

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

Business News

This web platform for cannabis is blowing up online distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Dutchie, a website platform for cannabis companies, just octupled in value. Here’s what that means for the online growth of cannabis distribution.

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A small jar of cannabis on a desk with notebooks, sold online in a nicely made jar.

The cannabis industry has, for the most part, blossomed in the past few years, managing to hit only a few major snags along the way. One of those snags is the issue of payment processing, an issue compounded by predominantly cash-only transactions. Dutchie, a Bend, Oregon company, has helped mitigate that issue—and it just raised a ton of money.

Technically, Dutchie is a jack-of-all-trades service that creates and hosts websites for dispensaries, tracks product, processes orders, keeps stock of revenue, and so much more. While it was valued at around $200 million as recently as summer of 2020, a round of series C funding currently puts the company at around $1.7 billion—approximately 8 times its worth a mere 8 months ago.

There are a few reasons behind Dutchie’s newfound momentum. For starters, the pandemic made cannabis products a lot more accessible—and desirable—in states in which the sale of cannabis is legal. The ensuing surge of customers and demand certainly didn’t hurt the platform, especially given that Dutchie is largely responsible for keeping things on track during some of the more chaotic months for dispensaries.

Several states in which the sale of cannabis was illegal also voted to legalize recreational use, giving Dutchie even more stomping ground than they had prior to the lockdown.

Dutchie also recently took on 2 separate companies and their associated employees, effectively doubling their current staff. The companies are Greenbits—a resource planning group—and Leaflogix, which is a point-of-sale platform. With these two additions to their compendium, Dutchie can operate as even more of an all-in-one suite, which absolutely contributes to its value as a company.

Ross Lipson, who is Dutchie’s co-founder and current CEO, is fairly dismissive of investment opportunities for the public at the moment, saying he instead prefers to stay “focused with what’s on our plate” for the time being. However, he also appears open to the possibility of going public via an acquisition company.

“We look at how this decision brings value to the dispensary and the customer,” says Lipson. “If it brings value, we’d embark on that decision.”

For now, Dutchie remains the ipso facto king of cannabis distribution and sales—and they don’t show any plans to slow down any time soon.

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Business News

Ford adopts flexible working from home schedule for over 30k employees

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ford Motor Co. is allowing employees to continue working from home even after the pandemic winds down. Is this the beginning of a trend for auto companies?

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Woman in car working on engineering now allowed a flexible schedule for working from home.

The pandemic has greatly transformed our lives. For the most part, learning is being conducted online. At one point, interacting with others was pretty much non-existent. Working in the office shifted significantly to working remotely, and it seems like working from home might not go away anytime soon.

As things slowly get back to a new “normal”, will things change again? Well, one thing is sure. Working from home will be a permanent thing for some people as more companies opt to continue letting people work remotely.

And, the most recent company on the list to do this is Ford Motor Co. Even after the pandemic winds down, Ford will allow more than 30,000 employees already working from home to continue doing so.

Last week, the automaker giant announced its “flexible hybrid model” schedule to its staff. The new schedule is set to start in the summer, and employees can choose to work remotely and come into the office for tasks that require face-to-face collaborations, such as meetings and group projects.

How much time an employee spends in the office will depend on their responsibilities, and flexible remote hours will need to be approved by an employee’s manager.

“The nature of work drives whether or not you can adopt this model. There are certain jobs that are place-dependent — you need to be in the physical space to do the job,” David Dubensky, chairman and chief executive of Ford Land, told the Washington Post. “Having the flexibility to choose how you work is pretty powerful. … It’s up to the employee to have dialogue and discussion with their people leader to determine what works best.”

Ford’s decision to implement a remote-office work model has to do in part with an employee survey conducted in June 2020. Results from the survey showed that 95% of employees wanted a hybrid schedule. Some employees even reported feeling more productive when working from home.

Ford is the first auto company to allow employees to work from home indefinitely, but it might not be the only one. According to the Post, Toyota and General Motors are looking at flexible options of their own.

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

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