GUANGZHOU, China — Chinese technology giants are looking to make changes to their business models and working practices in order to preempt moves by regulators as authorities crackdown on the once free-wheeling sector.
In the past year, regulators have introduced new rules in areas from anti-monopoly for internet companies to data security, targeting large tech firms.
And punishment has come swiftly. Ant Group’s record-breaking initial public offering was pulled by regulators in November, while Alibaba was slapped with a $2.8 billion fine as a result of an anti-monopoly probe.
Ride-hailing giant Didi meanwhile, became the subject of a cybersecurity review days after its massive U.S. IPO. And China’s top cyberspace regulator ordered app stores this month to suspend Didi from being downloaded.
With regulators breathing down tech companies’ necks, corporations have looked to make moves to appease authorities.
Tencent this month has looked to tighten up its patrol of minors playing games. According to Chinese regulations, minors are banned from playing online games between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Tencent, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, said there are cases of kids using adult accounts to play games.
To counter that, the company will require the gamer to do a facial recognition scan on their phone to verify if they are an adult.
Over the past few years, China’s government has been concerned about video game addiction and how it could damage children’s health. In 2018, regulators froze video game approvals in China over concerns of violence in some titles as well as potential addiction and rising cases of myopia. Games in China need to be approved by censors in order to be released and monetized.
Tencent appears to be getting ahead of any further regulatory action with its latest moves.
In February, regulators released anti-monopoly rules for internet platforms. Beijing is concerned about the size and power of China’s technology companies which have grown into some of the world’s largest, broadly unencumbered by regulation.
The focus of the Alibaba probe, which concluded in April and resulted in a $2.8 billion fine, was a practice that forces merchants to choose one of two platforms to sell their goods on.
Alibaba and Tencent have both effectively built up walls around their products. For example users can’t use Tencent’s WeChat Pay service on Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce site.
But it appears both Tencent and Alibaba could be looking to get ahead of potential further antitrust action.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Alibaba and Tencent are looking to loosen up some of these blocks on each others’ products. This could include allowing WeChat Pay as an option on Alibaba’s shopping services.
“Such measures of self-regulation would be ahead of the regulation curve, as Tencent often is – and Alibaba hasn’t been,” Neil Campling, head of technology, media and telecoms research at Mirabaud Securities Limited, said in a note on Wednesday.
996 work culture
Technology companies are also trying to make changes to the long-standing practice of grueling work hours known as 996.
This refers to employees working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, six days a week. Alibaba founder Jack Ma once called the 996 culture a “huge blessing,” but it has faced intense criticism.
On Tuesday, Ling Zhenguo, a member of China’s top political advisory body known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, wrote an op-ed in the entity’s official newspaper, apparently criticizing the 996 culture.
The internet economy should put “people at the center” shouldn’t link “every profit made with every hard working minute of employees,” according to a CNBC translation of the Mandarin article.
“We must be clearly aware that it’s in contrast to the market economy with Chinese characteristics to regard people’s legs as wheels and hands as robots,” Ling added, effectively saying that humans should be treated as humans.
Ling’s article highlights how 996 work culture could be targeted next by Beijing.
But technology companies have already begun to tweak their practices.
Last week, TikTok-owner ByteDance said that from Aug. 1, it was ending the practice of “big week, small week.” This is where workers would work every other Sunday and get paid. Short-video app Kuaishou also canceled this policy last month, according to local media.
Nvidia briefly surpasses $2 trillion in market cap during intraday trading
Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City on Nov. 29, 2023.
Slaven Vlasic | Getty Images
After rising earlier in the day, shares of Nvidia were down about 1% at 11 a.m. ET. Nvidia stock closed up 16% Thursday.
Nvidia posted $22.10 billion in revenue for its fiscal fourth quarter, a 265% increase from a year ago and above the $20.62 billion expected by analysts polled by LSEG, formerly known as Refinitiv. Nvidia reported $12.29 billion in net income during the quarter, up a staggering 769% from $1.41 billion last year.
The company has benefited from the tech sector’s insatiable demand for artificial intelligence capabilities over the past year. Nvidia makes the pricey graphics processors for the servers that power large AI models.
Nvidia said it expects $24.0 billion in sales in the current quarter, surpassing the $22.17 billion expected by analysts.
“Fundamentally, the conditions are excellent for continued growth,” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said during the company’s quarterly call with investors Wednesday.
— CNBC’s Kif Leswing contributed to this report.
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AI can ‘disproportionately’ help defend against cybersecurity threats, Google CEO Sundar Pichai says
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks in conversation with Emily Chang during the APEC CEO Summit at Moscone West on November 16, 2023 in San Francisco, California. The APEC summit is being held in San Francisco and runs through November 17.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Munich, GERMANY — Rapid developments in artificial intelligence could help strengthen defenses against security threats in cyber space, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Amid growing concerns about the potentially nefarious uses of AI, Pichai said that the intelligence tools could help governments and companies speed up the detection of — and response to — threats from hostile actors.
“We are right to be worried about the impact on cybersecurity. But AI, I think actually, counterintuitively, strengthens our defense on cybersecurity,” Pichai told delegates at Munich Security Conference at the end of last week.
Cybersecurity attacks have been growing in volume and sophistication as malicious actors increasingly use them as a way to exert power and extort money.
Cyberattacks cost the global economy an estimated $8 trillion in 2023 — a sum that is set to rise to $10.5 trillion by 2025, according to cyber research firm Cybersecurity Ventures.
A January report from Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre — part of GCHQ, the country’s intelligence agency — said that AI would only increase those threats, lowering the barriers to entry for cyber hackers and enabling more malicious cyber activity, including ransomware attacks.
“AI disproportionately helps the people defending because you’re getting a tool which can impact it at scale.
CEO at Google
However, Pichai said that AI was also lowering the time needed for defenders to detect attacks and react against them. He said this would reduce what’s known as a the defenders’ dilemma, whereby cyberhackers have to be successful just once to a system whereas a defender has to be successful every time in order to protect it.
“AI disproportionately helps the people defending because you’re getting a tool which can impact it at scale versus the people who are trying to exploit,” he said.
“So, in some ways, we are winning the race,” he added.
Google last week announced a new initiative offering AI tools and infrastructure investments designed to boost online security. A free, open-source tool dubbed Magika aims to help users detect malware — malicious software — the company said in a statement, while a white paper proposes measures and research and creates guardrails around AI.
Pichai said the tools were already being put to use in the company’s products, such as Google Chrome and Gmail, as well as its internal systems.
“AI is at a definitive crossroads — one where policymakers, security professionals and civil society have the chance to finally tilt the cybersecurity balance from attackers to cyber defenders.
The release coincided with the signing of a pact by major companies at MSC to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent AI tools from being used to disrupt democratic votes in 2024’s bumper election year and beyond.
Adobe, Amazon, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, TikTok and X, formerly Twitter, were among the signatories to the new agreement, which includes a framework for how companies must respond to AI-generated “deepfakes” designed to deceive voters.
It comes as the internet becomes an increasingly important sphere of influence for both individuals and state-backed malicious actors.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday described cyberspace as “a new battlefield.”
“The technology arms race has just gone up another notch with generative AI,” she said in Munich.
“If you can run a little bit faster than your adversary, you’re going to do better. That’s what AI is really giving us defensively.
president of security at DXC
A report published last week by Microsoft found that state-backed hackers from Russia, China, and Iran have been using its OpenAI large language model (LLM) to enhance their efforts to trick targets.
Russian military intelligence, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and the Chinese and North Korean governments were all said to have relied on the tools.
Mark Hughes, president of security at IT services and consulting firm DXC, told CNBC that bad actors were increasingly relying on a ChatGPT-inspired hacking tool called WormGPT to conduct tasks like reverse engineering code.
However, he said that he was also seeing “significant gains” from similar tools which help engineers to detect and reserve engineer attacks at speed.
“It gives us the ability to speed up,” Hughes said last week. “Most of the time in cyber, what you have is the time that the attackers have in advantage against you. That’s often the case in any conflict situation.
“If you can run a little bit faster than your adversary, you’re going to do better. That’s what AI is really giving us defensively at the moment,” he added.
Ride-hailing giant Grab posts first profitable quarter, announces $500 million share buyback
A attendee walks past a banner with a Grab logo before a bell-ringing ceremony as Grab begins trading on the Nasdaq, in Singapore, on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.
Ore Huiying | Bloomberg | Getty Images
This compares with a $391 million loss recorded in the same period a year ago. The boost was “primarily due to the improvement in Group adjusted EBITDA, fair value changes in investments, and lowered share-based compensation expenses,” the company said.
Revenue for the quarter hit $653 million, exceeding LSEG analysts’ estimates of $634.86 million.
Losses for full year 2023 came to $485 million, down 72% from $1.74 billion a year ago.
In addition to ride-hailing, the company also provides financial services like payments and insurance, as well as deliveries for food, groceries and packages.
“We exited [2023 with] mobility exceeding pre-Covid levels. We are seeing a very strong demand in the mobility space,” Grab CFO Peter Oey told CNBC in an exclusive interview on Friday, adding that tourism is “growing very much.”
“If you look at the deliveries business, we have another record 13% year-over-year growth. We have now more users on our platform also at the same time. So we have really strong momentum,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”
Grab announced Thursday it would be repurchasing up to $500 million worth of class A ordinary shares for the first time.
Grab was largely unprofitable during its years of operation, having amassed billions of dollars in losses since its inception in 2012.
In the initial years of business, tech startups tend to prioritize growth over profitability, which usually means burning a lot of cash. But with global macro uncertainties slowing growth, they have been forced to renew their focus on profitability and be more prudent with costs.
During the fourth quarter, total incentives — which include partner and consumer incentives — were further reduced to 7.3% of total value of goods sold, Grab said in its report. That’s compared to 8.2% in the same period a year ago “as we continued to improve the health of our marketplace.”
Grab had been doling out incentives to attract drivers and passengers to its platform but that’s tapering now as the company moves to drive up profitability.
On whether Grab would reach a time where it wouldn’t need to incentivize people to stay on the platform, Oey said incentives will “always be a lever” for the business.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a world where there’s no incentive whatsoever,” he told CNBC, adding that incentives help “to make sure we have enough supply” of drivers and attract price-sensitive customers.
For 2024, Grab expects revenue to come in between $2.70 billion and $2.75 billion, lower than LSEG analysts’ consensus of $2.8 billion.
Grab’s shares closed 8.41% lower on Thursday. Its share price has plummeted 75.8% from its $13.06 opening price in December 2021, when the firm first listed on the Nasdaq.
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