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Business January 18, 2023

China Snaps Up Golden Shares In Tencent And Alibaba



China Snaps Up Golden Shares In Tencent And Alibaba
Shenzen Bay Startup Plaza, where Alibaba and Tencent have offices.

China has reportedly acquired minority stakes in the country’s big tech firms Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group as it plans to tighten its oversight on online content.

This comes after the government previously snapped up shares from TikTok’s owner ByteDance.

A report by Financial Times citing sources close to the transactions, reveals Chinese government is buying a small equity stake called ‘golden shares’ in the big tech firms. According to the report, this translates to 1% stake in each of the tech companies’ key subsidiaries.

Also read: Metaverse Tokens See Price Spike with MANA Soaring More than 100%

The report says an investment fund connected to China’s regulator took a stake in one of Alibaba’s subsidiaries, Guangzhou Lujiao Information Technology, in a deal finalized on January 4.

A similar deal is currently in the works at Tencent, which is the parent company for WeChat – China’s biggest social media platform.

Golden shares tactic

FASTCOMPANY says the deals are a sign that Xi might soon relax the iron crackdown that has constrained China’s private companies over the past few years, in an effort to resuscitate a stifled economy.

The ‘golden shares’ tactic would allow state to stay close to the levers of power within these companies as their businesses roar back to life.

According to FASTCOMPANY, the term ‘golden share’ was devised to describe the practice of state investment funds taking up small but powerful stakes in private internet companies like ByteDance and Weibo.

This will allow Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to appoint board directors and exert influence over business decisions.

In April 2021, when state groups took a golden share in ByteDance, they won the right to nominate one of the company’s three board directors. The position was taken by Wu Shugang, a hawkish CCP official.

Within the board, Shugang holds unilateral control over content that goes out of ByteDance’s two major platforms – Douyin, TikTok’s sister app and Jinni Toutiao, a news app. He is sometimes referred to as ByteDance’s “editor-in-chief.”

China resolute to have hand in techs cookie jar

Financial Times also says the move allows the government to remain involved in the businesses.

They cite people close to the matter who said the government could buy shareholding in one of Tencent Holdings’ main operating subsidiary in that country, that is Tencent Music Entertainment (TME).

TME operates a number of streaming services including QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music.

Another source close to Tencent also told Financial Times that the company was pushing for a government entity from Shenzhen to buy the shares as opposed to having a Beijing based state investment fund as an investor. That investor supposedly bought shares in Alibaba and Bytedance as well as China’s version of Twitter – Weibo.

According to Statista, TME was the dominant player in China’s music streaming space in 2021, topping the country’s Mobile’s Migu, NetEase Cloud Music and Xiaomi’s MIUI Music. The company had 85.3 million paying music users during the third quarter of 2022, representing a 19.8% growth year on year.

It achieved a $3.43 billion revenue for the three months to September 30, 2022 on solid music subscriptions.

Bilibili, a video sharing platform often referred to as China’s version of Netflix is also pushing for a government entity in Shanghai to acquire shares in one of its subsidiaries, according to two sources that spoke to Financial Times.

This follows Beijing’s move to take a slice of ByteDance, according to reports in 2021 and 2022.

In August last year, The Information also reported that the government acquired a 1% stake and took a board seat in ByteDance unit Beinjing ByteDance Technology.

The Standard reported two months ago that China-owned media firms bought stakes in TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin and its rival Kuaishou, which is backed by Tencent.

China’s internet watchdog also took 1% slice in a unit of Alibaba, Guangshou Lujiao Information Technology earlier this month. The move was meant to tighten control over the company’s streaming video unit Youku and web browser UCWeb, according to two sources close to the deal, as cited by the Financial Times.

Changes bleed the sector

The developments come as the Chinese government is wrapping up its two-year crackdown on the tech sector.

An official from China’s central bank – Guo Shuqing told Xinhua News Agency in an interview earlier this month that government has finished its campaign to rectify 14 internet platforms with “a few remaining problems being resolved promptly.”

The country’s crackdown on the sector has resulted in changes in the industry. For example, it led to Alibaba founder Jack Ma giving up control over the company’s fintech affiliate Ant Group. This also led to a record fine on Alibaba over its dominance in the tech sector while Tencent shut down its video game streaming platform – Penguin Esports.

The music industry was not spared neither. TME and rival NetEase Cloud Music gave up exclusive deals with global labels in China. Cloud Music was also forced to halt its Hong Kong Initial Public Offering (IPO) plan in 2021 due to government’s tight oversight.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.


Quest 3 Headset Will Have Better Mixed Reality Tech



Quest 3 Headset Will Have Better Mixed Reality Tech, says Zuckerberg
Artist's rendering.

Meta, keen to be a Metaverse giant, plans to launch virtual reality headset Quest 3 later this year, with better mixed reality technology, said CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Meta confirmed that the release should be called Meta Quest 3. It’s expected to cost between US$300 and US$500, which is about a third of the Quest Pro (the Quest Pro is currently priced at $1,499.99).

Also read: Meta Employees Undermine Zuckerberg’s Metaverse Strategy

The new headset will provide support for Meta Reality, which is technology that enables virtual reality headsets to also be used for augmented reality. This technology allows devices to create mixed reality experiences.

Meta Reality in Next-Gen Consumer Headset

The mixed reality ecosystem is relatively new, but Zuckerberg thinks it’s going to grow a lot in the next few years.

“Later this year, we’re going to launch our next generation consumer headset, which will feature Meta Reality as well, and I expect that this is going to establish this technology as the baseline for all headsets going forward, and eventually of course for AR glasses as well,” said Zuckerberg.

Beyond MR, the broader VR ecosystem continues growing. There are now over 200 apps on Meta’s VR devices that have made more than $1 million in revenue, Zuckerberg said.

How Meta Reality will look in more affordable headsets is yet to be clear.

Meta’s Reported Win over FTC will be Crucial

Meta has reportedly won court approval earlier this week to acquire VR fitness app Supernatural’s maker, Within, which will be a huge boost for Zuckerberg’s ambitious metaverse project.

Meta’s plan was to acquire Within and Supernatural back in October 2021, but it was blocked by the FTC’s complaint file to stop the deal. The FTC’s complaint was justified by saying Meta already owns a “virtual reality empire.”

Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest 2 is arguably the best VR headset, even after a massive hike in its price last year.

“There is a lot of work there that we haven’t actually shipped the product yet. VR, which is starting to ramp, right, Quest 2, I think, did quite well. We have multiple product lines there with the Quest Pro,” said Zuckerberg about Quest 3.

When Meta shipped Quest Pro at the end of last year, it was something their CEO was “really proud of” and believed it was the first mainstream mixed reality device to set the standard for the industry with Meta Reality.

“As always, the reason why we’re focused on building these platforms is to deliver better social experiences than what’s possible today on phones,” said Zuckerberg.

The possible benefit could be expected in Quest 3 through the acquisition of Within.


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Microsoft Warns Employees Not to Share Sensitive Data with ChatGPT



Microsoft Warns Employees Not to Share Sensitive Data with ChatGPT

Microsoft has warned its employees not to share sensitive data with an artificially intelligent (AI) chatbot, ChatGPT from OpenAI. Employees of American multinational tech giants had asked in an internal forum whether ChatGPT or any other AI tools from OpenAI were appropriate to use at their work, Business Insider reported.

Also read: 30% of College Students Use ChatGPT

In response to that inquiry, a senior engineer from Microsoft’s CTO office allowed to use ChatGPT but couldn’t share confidential information with the AI chatbot.

“Please don’t send sensitive data to an OpenAI endpoint, as they may use it for training future models,” the senior engineer wrote in an internal post, per Insider.

ChatGPT, here only for two months, is already raising concerns in the academic sector. Microsoft has become a partner of OpenAI, the parent company of ChatGPT, and has confirmed an investment of ten billion dollars.

Microsoft is planning to integrate OpenAI’s technology into its products, including the Bing search engine and other software, to enhance their capabilities, as reported previously.

The major concern of Microsoft regarding “sensitive information” may include sharing internal software code and seeking checks and advice from the chatbot.

Amazon’s Same Concern

ChatGPT has continuously made headlines since its launch last November but has also faced bans, especially in the academic sector as it became the cheating partner for students’ schoolwork. Recently, the tech giants have also raised their concerns over its use.

Amazon warned its employees to beware of ChatGPT last week, as reported by Insider. Insider claims that an Amazon lawyer has urged employees not to share code with ChatGPT via an internal communication form.

“This is important because your inputs may be used as training data for a further iteration of ChatGPT, and we wouldn’t want its output to include or resemble our confidential information (and I’ve already seen instances where its output closely matches existing material),” the lawyer wrote.

The lawyer placed more emphasis on requesting that employees not share “any Amazon confidential information” (including Amazon code they are working on) with ChatGPT via Slack.

Personal Data Concern

As concerns about data privacy grow among large corporations, an OpenAI representative has directed questions about the company’s data and privacy policy to ChatGPT’s FAQ page. The terms of service of OpenAI grant the company the right to use all input and output generated by ChatGPT users, with the stipulation that personally identifiable information (PII) is removed from the used data.

However, it’s quite impossible for OpenAI to identify and remove all the personal information from the data provided to ChatGPT, says Emily Bender, who teaches computational linguistics at the University of Washington.

“OpenAI is far from transparent about how they use the data, but if it’s being folded into training data, I would expect corporations to wonder: After a few months of widespread use of ChatGPT, will it become possible to extract private corporate information with cleverly crafted prompts?” said Bender.

Vincent Conitzer, a computer science professor and director of an AI lab at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “All of us together are going to have to figure out what should be expected of everyone in these situations. Is the responsibility on employees to not share sensitive information, or is the responsibility on OpenAI to use information carefully, or some combination?”

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China Catches Up On Quantum Computers, Makes 1st Delivery



China Catches Up On Quantum Computers, Makes 1st Delivery

China has officially caught up with Canada and USA in the race to deliver a complete quantum computer system to a customer according to a state media report.

Chinese quantum computing company, Origin Quantum Computing Technology developed a 24-qubit Wuyuan system before delivery to an unknown user more than a year ago, the science ministry’s Science and Technology Daily reported.

Also read: How AI Can Accelerate Metaverse Development

According to Origin Quantum, they are the only Chinese company in the quantum computing industry that can deliver real quantum computers as well as full-stack development and follow up services.

According to a statement sent to the Global Times on Monday by East China’s Anhui Province based Quantum Computing Research Centre, the group developed the computer and successfully delivered it to a user.

“More than 100 quantum computing companies in the world have put enormous investment into quantum research and development. Canada’s quantum computing company sold its first quantum computer in 2011, followed by IBM of the US in 2019.

“Chinese Origin Quantum delivered a quantum computer in 2021,” Zhang Hui, director of the Anhui Quantum Computing Engineering Research Center was quoted as saying.

Eyebrow raising announcement

The announcement by Chinese state media has raised eyebrows among skeptics questioning its timing.

Weifeng Zhong, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va told TechNewsWorld that this could be a gimmick to just show China as a tech giant with a transparent administration.

“Quantum technology has a high priority for national security in China. If this were something very important, I doubt it would be disclosed like this in a transparent way by Chinese authorities,” explained Zhong.

“The fact that it was delayed for a year suggests that they realize now that it’s not important to national security, so they’re trying to use it to build China’s image as a technology leader at a time when they’re trying to open up their economy to the rest of the world,” added Zhong.

But what is quantum computing?

A quantum computer is a type of computer that uses quantum mechanics to store and process data, as opposed to classical computers that use classical mechanics. Quantum computers use quantum bits (qubits), which can exist in multiple states at once, to perform computations that are not possible on classical computers, making them particularly well-suited for certain types of complex calculations.

The  24-qubit Wuyuan quantum computer based on superconducting technology developed by the same company  becomes the third to be delivered to customers after Canada in 2011 and USA’s IBM in 2019.

Superconducting technology is currently one of the most mature and well-developed implementations of quantum computing, and many companies and research organizations are working to develop and commercialize superconducting quantum computers. Superconducting technology is one of the main implementations of quantum computing.

In superconducting quantum computers, quantum bits (qubits) are made from tiny electrical circuits that are cooled to very low temperatures, close to absolute zero, in order to minimize the amount of thermal energy and increase their coherence time, which is the time during which a qubit can maintain its quantum state.

What does China offer in its quantum computers

Speed: Quantum computers can perform certain operations much faster than classical computers, which can greatly speed up complex computations.

Parallel processing: Quantum computers can perform multiple calculations simultaneously, which allows for more efficient processing of large amounts of data.

Simulating complex systems: Quantum computers can be used to simulate complex systems, such as molecules and materials, which can lead to new discoveries in fields such as chemistry and materials science.

Cryptography: Quantum computers can be used to break certain encryption algorithms, which makes them useful for developing new, more secure encryption methods.

Optimization problems: Quantum computers can be used to solve complex optimization problems, such as logistics and scheduling problems, which have many potential real-world applications.

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