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UAE's Etisalat to pay out 40 fils a share as H1-2021 dividend, net profit totals impressive Dh4.7b

Markets|Companies|: Dubai: The UAE telecom giant Etisalat will distribute interim dividends of 40 fils per share for the first-half of this year. This will paid to the shareholders registered at the close of business day on August 8. The company, which had issued a record dividend for full-year 2020, recorded group-wide revenues of Dh26.4 billion, which is a 3.2 per cent year-on-year increase, while consolidated net profit - after the federal royalty payout – was Dh4.7 billion, which is a 3.9 per cent gain. Net profit margin came to an impressive 18 per cent. The Group's subscriber base is now at 156 million. Rating agencies S&P Global and Moodys recently affirmed Etisalat Group’s AA-/Aa3 ratings with a stable outlook. The telco also completed a bond issuance - of one billion euro - to refinance a maturing euro bond tranche. “Etisalat Group’s strong results in the first-half of 2021 is an outcome of our sincere efforts to drive growth and generate efficiencies," said Hatem Dowidar, CEO. [And] "with an unwavering commitment to key strategic priorities to enable a digital future and drive digital innovation across our operations. Despite the challenges in our key markets, our businesses delivered growth in revenue, net profit and operating free cashflow." In the UAE, the subscriber numbers were at 12.1 million, while the aggregate subscriber base was 156.1 million, from a year-on-year increase of 7 per cent. And it is gearing up for more - "With our success in deploying 5G as well as taking the global lead in fibre penetration, we ensured our networks are future-ready for the next generation of mobile networks and technologies," the CEO added. "We will focus on expanding our capabilities, maintaining industry leadership to achieve our long-term goals of enriching customer lives and empowering governments, businesses and societies across our footprint."

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50 years ago, NASA put a car on the moon

David R. Scott was not about to pass by an interesting rock without stopping. It was July 31, 1971, and he and James B. Irwin, his fellow Apollo 15 astronaut, were the first people to drive on the moon. After a six-hour inaugural jaunt in the new lunar rover, the two were heading back to their lander, the Falcon, when Scott made an unscheduled pit stop. West of a crater called Rhysling, Scott scrambled out of the rover and quickly picked up a black lava rock, full of holes formed by escaping gas. Scott and Irwin had been trained in geology and knew the specimen, a vesicular rock, would be valuable to scientists on Earth. They also knew that if they asked for permission to stop and get it, clock-watching mission managers would say no. So Scott made up a story that they stopped the rover because he was fidgeting with his seat belt. The sample was discovered when the astronauts returned to Earth, and "Seat Belt Rock" became one of the most prized geologic finds from Apollo 15. Like many lunar samples returned to Earth by the final Apollo missions, Seat Belt Rock never would have been collected if the astronauts had not brought a car with them. Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 are the NASA lunar missions that tend to be remembered most vividly. But at the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15, which launched on July 26, 1971, some space enthusiasts, historians and authors are giving the lunar rover its due as one of the most enduring symbols of the American moon exploration program. Foldable, durable, battery-powered and built by Boeing and General Motors, the vehicle is seen by some as making the last three missions into the crowning achievement of the Apollo era. "Every mission in the crewed space program, dating back to Alan Shepherd's first flight, had been laying the groundwork for the last three Apollo missions," said Earl Swift, author of "Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings." "You see NASA take all of that collected wisdom, gleaned over the previous decade in space, and apply it," Swift said. "It's a much more swashbuckling kind of science." Once Neil Armstrong's small step satisfied Project Apollo's geopolitical goals, NASA emphasized science, said Teasel Muir-Harmony, curator of the Apollo collections at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. While the first moon-walkers retrieved samples near their landing sites, scientists had hoped for an excursion that promised rare rocks. Plans for a rover were given the green light just two months before Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. The Lunar Roving Vehicle seen on the surface of the moon. Image Credit: NASA Though moon buggies had been imagined for years, driving a car on the moon is more complicated than it sounds. Throughout the 1960s, engineers studied a variety of concepts: tanklike tracked vehicles, flying cars, even a rotund monstrosity shaped, as Swift describes it, "like an overgrown Tootsie Pop, with its spherical cabin up top of a single long leg, which in turn was mounted on a caterpillar-tread foot." Ultimately, a carlike buggy came out on top. "There were other outlandish ideas, like a pogo stick, or a motorcycle - things that I am glad they didn't pursue," Muir-Harmony said. "The lunar rover is, in some ways, relatively practical." The moon car was also quintessentially American. The rover's exposed chassis, umbrellalike antenna and wire wheels meant it looked like no car on Earth, yet its connection to the American auto industry and the nation's love affair with the automobile captivated public attention like nothing since Apollo 11, Muir-Harmony said. Starting with Project Mercury in the 1960s, a Florida car dealer allowed astronauts to lease Chevrolet cars for $1, which were later sold to the public. The Apollo 15 crew chose red, white and blue Corvettes. A photo spread in Life magazine showed the astronauts posing with their iconic American muscle cars alongside the moon buggy, making the lunar rover look cool by association, Muir-Harmony said. "There's a lot to unpack in that picture," she added. Astronauts James Irwin, Alfred Worden and David Scott along with their matching Corvettes, seen here next to the lunar rover that was destined for Apollo 15. Image Credit: Chevrolet During their mission's second day, Irwin and Scott drove to a crater named Spur, where they found a large white crystalline rock, a type of mineral on geologists' wish lists because it might provide clues about the moon's origins. The astronauts could barely contain their glee: "Oh, boy!" Scott shouted. "Look at the glint!" Irwin said. "Guess what we just found?" Scott radioed to Earth, as Irwin laughed. "Guess what we just found! I think we found what we came for." The white rock was later named Genesis Rock, because scientists initially thought it dated to the moon's formation. The astronauts' excitement, and their car, brought the Apollo missions back down to Earth, Muir-Harmony said. "It provided a point of access, even as the exploration of the moon was becoming increasingly complex and complicated to follow." Swift notes that some news reports at the time considered the rover an "inevitable, almost comic product of the most automotive people on Earth," although there was nothing inevitable about this vehicle. Once the rover arrived and astronauts unfolded it on the moon, the experience of driving was also unexpectedly odd. Astronauts compared it to other Earthly conveyances: Irwin said the car rose and fell like "a bucking bronco," and Scott said it fishtailed like a speedboat when he tried to turn at the breakneck speed of 6 mph. Mission managers planned for the rover to travel only as far as the astronauts could walk, in case anything happened and they had to hoof it back to their spacecraft. But Apollo crews covered greater distances with every mission as NASA's confidence grew. When the astronauts left the moon, the rovers were left at the landing sites, where they remain, gathering dust and cosmic rays. Spacecraft orbiting the moon occasionally take their pictures, and in some images, rover tracks are visible. The Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) gets a high-speed workout by astronaut John W. Young in the "Grand Prix" run during the third Apollo 16 extravehicular activity at the Descartes landing site. This view is a frame from motion picture film exposed by a 16mm Maurer camera held by astronaut Charles M. Duke, Jr. While astronauts Young and Duke, lunar module pilot, descended onto the lunar surface to explore the Descartes highlands region of the moon, command module pilot Thomas K. Mattingly remained with the Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit. Image Credit: NASA Astronauts found more interesting rocks, enabling scientists to ask different types of questions, said Barbara Cohen, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who studies the samples. The rover also allowed astronauts to focus on science more than worrying about running out of oxygen or other consumable resources, she said. Science drives today's NASA more than geopolitics, but the space agency still promotes and carries out human space travel for reasons that go beyond rock prospecting. Muir-Harmony said the lunar rovers of Apollo, and its modern successors, represented that sense of adventure. "Science is such an important outcome of Apollo, but it is important to recognize what the public is engaged with," she said. "The appeal of the lunar rover is connected to the appeal of human spaceflight, which is being able to witness their joy and a sense of vicarious participation." Plus, the adventure of driving across the moon, the greatest road trip of all time, is hard to resist. Then and now, "samples and material from the moon are not getting the focus of public attention," she said. "The rover is."

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Google and Facebook to require vaccines for in-office employees, paving the way for rivals to follow

Technology|Business|: Google also followed Apple in pushing back its return to office to mid October from early September, and Twitter announced it was pausing all of its reopening plans indefinitely - moves that could trigger a flurry of copy cats across corporate America. In a note to employees announcing the changes, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company has seen high vaccination rates for Google employees so far, which is why it is comfortable bringing workers back into the office. Currently, there are some early volunteers who are already working at various Google campuses. Workers will have to start reporting back to the office on Oct. 18. "I hope these steps will give everyone greater peace of mind as offices reopen," said Pichai in the message. Any Google employee who doesn't wish to get vaccinated but doesn't have approval to work remote indefinitely will need to contact human resources and discuss their options, the company said. Google will announce expanded temporary work options for people with any special circumstances through the end of the year. In Washington state, where Google has thousands of employees, the company had previously allowed employees who weren't vaccinated or did not want to disclose their vaccination status to come into the office if they wore a mask and got weekly coronavirus tests, according to an internal memo obtained by The Washington Post. Facebook's Vice President of People Lori Goler said in a statement that the company will have a process for anyone who cannot be vaccinated for "medical or other reasons," but did not say if people who chose to be unvaccinated for nonmedical reasons could work remotely indefinitely. Twitter, one of the first tech companies to close its offices at the start of the pandemic, said Wednesday it is shutting down its San Francisco and New York offices immediately. It had been slowly reopening the spaces to some workers while switching to a remote-first policy for anyone who wanted to stay home. The company also said it is pausing all future reopening plans while it monitors the coronavirus situation. The announcements came after a flurry of activity around vaccine requirements, as the seriousness of the delta variant hit home for many including corporate America. On Thursday, President Biden is expected to announce that all federal employees and contractors must be either vaccinated or undergo regular coronavirus testing to continue working. State and local governments are issuing their own similar guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended people who are vaccinated start wearing masks in public indoor places in areas with high virus transmission. Some employees welcomed the move. One Google employee, who declined to be named, said he is happy with the company's announcement. Some of his colleagues had posted vaccine skeptical content on internal message boards, and he was nervous about being forced back into an office with unvaccinated people. "I'd rather not be sharing a buffet with them," the employee said. Google has more than 140,000 full-time employees around the world, as well as over 100,000 contractors. It was one of the first major companies to send employees home as the coronavirus was spreading throughout the U.S. in March 2020. The company has also outlined in detail its plan for returning to the office with a "hybrid model." Unlike some smaller tech companies like Twitter and Slack, Google will require most workers to physically come into offices but only for three days a week. Those who want to stay remote have been told to ask their managers, and will be notified whether they can continue working away from an office permanently in August. The company has said it is rebuilding the interiors of its buildings to accommodate more social distancing and make it easier to interact with colleagues who are still working from home. Outdoor spaces are being converted into work stations and special meeting pods are being built with big monitors to prevent video callers from feeling sidelined from in-person discussions. The company experimented with other ideas like self-inflating balloon walls. Google has a lot at stake. Its entire corporate ethos is built around the idea of pulling together smart people into one place and getting them to come up with ideas together. The company also has billions of dollars in real estate investments that have largely sat empty over the last 18 months. A giant new showpiece building on its Mountain View campus was in the final stages of construction right as the pandemic hit. Tech companies in Silicon Valley were some of the first to close their offices at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, and they are like a bellwether for what corporate America will do next when it comes to return to work policies. In the spring, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon started rolling out their return-to-office plans which largely involved a hybrid approach - three days of work in the office and two at home, starting for most employees in the fall. For the most part, wearing masks was not going to be a requirement for vaccinated in-office workers at most companies, and getting vaccines was not mandated. Now the companies' plans appear to be going through another round of revisions. Apple on Wednesday said it was reintroducing a face mask requirement in its retail stores to be in line with the new CDC guidance. Apple was the first company to change its fall 2021 return-to-office date, announcing in July that workers would not be required back until October instead of the previously announced date in September. It has not yet announced any vaccination policy. Amazon said it will not require its employees to get a vaccine to return to the office, but noted it strongly encourages employees and contractors to get vaccinated as soon as they are able. Like Google, office chat app Slack will have a vaccine requirement for all employees returning to the office, but its rule could have a much smaller impact as the company switches to fully remote work. "We are requiring vaccination to come into the office. Vaccination is not a requirement, nor is coming into the office, to maintain employment," said Brian Elliott, executive lead of Slack's Future Forum. Ride sharing-app Lyft also told employees on Wednesday that it would require proof of vaccination to return to the office. However, workers had more time to get the shots. Lyft said it was setting a new return-to-the-office date of Feb. 2, 2022 - a six month delay from its previous return date.

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Apple beats sales expectations driven by iPhone sales

Companies|Business|: Apple Inc on Tuesday reported quarterly sales and profits that beat analyst expectations as consumers bought premium versions of its 5G iPhones and signed up for the company’s subscription services. Driven by better-than-expected iPhone sales, total revenue hit $81.43 billion (Dh300 billio), a rise of 36.4 per cent that was above analyst expectations of $73.30 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Earnings were $1.30 per share, above estimates of $1.01 per share, according to Refinitiv. The results prompted a mixed reaction from investors, with shares moving higher and dipping slightly in after-market trading, declining -0.4 per cent after investors more than doubled the valuation of the company in about three years. Apple’s strongest sales growth came from China, where Chief Executive Tim Cook told Reuters that customers are buying up accessories such as the Apple Watch to pair with their iPhones. China sales grew 58 per cent to $14.76 billion in the fiscal third quarter ended June 26. “It wasn’t just iPhone. We set a new quarterly record for Mac, for wearables, home and accessories, and for services” in China, Cook told Reuters in an interview. “It was our strongest geography.” Apple also appears so far to have avoided major hit from a global chip shortage. The results come as investors who once worried that Apple was too dependent on sales of its signature computing device, the iPhone, have pushed the company’s value to nearly $2.5 trillion. “Their main challenge now is keeping up the success to justify its +$2 trillion valuation,” said Jesse Cohen, a senior analyst at Investing.com. Apple launched its iPhone 12 models, all of which can connect to faster 5G wireless networks thanks to chips from Qualcomm Inc, later than usual last year. Because that delay pushed some iPhone purchases that would normally happen in the company’s fiscal first quarter into the second, executives had warned investors to expect a steeper drop in iPhone sales than usual in the third quarter as consumers start holding back on purchases in anticipation of a new generation of phones this fall. But impetus to upgrade for 5G appeared to be driving a better buying cycle for iPhones than many analysts expected. Apple said iPhone sales were $39.57 billion, up nearly 50 per cent from a year earlier and above analyst expectations of $34 billion. Cook told Reuters that Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, the premium tier of the device, were strong sellers. That helped pushed gross margins to 43.3 per cent, above estimates of 41.9 per cent, according to Refinitiv. The other major driver of Apple’s results was its services business, which includes paid subscriptions for television and music as well as its App Store. Services revenue reached a record high of $17.49 billion, up by a third from a year earlier and above analyst expectations of $16.33 billion. Cook told Reuters that Apple now has 700 million subscribers on its various platforms, up from 660 million a quarter earlier. Cook said Apple set quarterly sales records in many of its first-party services, including its AppleCare hardware insurance plans, which had slowed somewhat during the pandemic when many of the company’s retail locations were closed. But Apple did have setbacks. Last quarter, Apple had told investors that a global chip shortage could hold back sales by $3 billion to $4 billion, primarily due to shortages of secondary chips made with older technology used in iPads and Macs. Cook told Reuters that Apple was limited in how many Macs and iPads it could sell because of chip shortages but that the hit to Apple’s overall revenue from the shortage was “lower than the low end” of its previously forecasted range. Sales of iPads and Macs were $7.37 billion and $8.24 billion, compared with analyst expectations of $7.15 billion and $8.07 billion, according to Refinitiv data. In the longer term, Apple’s services business faces regulatory risks. The company’s practice of charging commissions of 15 per cent to 30 per cent to developers who sell in its App Store and requiring them to use Apple’s payment system could face scrutiny from regulators in the United States and Europe, where legislators are also proposing laws that could curtail some of Apple’s practices. A ruling is also expected in the coming months in an antitrust lawsuit filed against Apple by “Fortnite” creator Epic Games.

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Google parent Alphabet hits record quarterly revenue, profit

Companies|Business|: Google parent Alphabet Inc’s quarterly revenue and profit surged to record highs, the company reported on Tuesday, powered by a rise in advertising spending as more consumers shopped online. Shares of Alphabet rose 5 per cent in extended trading as it reported results that were a beat in both financial metrics. Shares of Facebook, Google’s rival in web ad sales, which reports its own results on Wednesday, rose 1.3 per cent. The digital ad market is booming, with consumers shifting to shopping largely online because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading companies to rely on data gathered from customers’ orders and online activity to launch new products and know their market better. “Alphabet has benefited from the general return of ad spend to the market and especially the balance of that return, which is more focused on digital channels than pre-pandemic,” said Tom Johnson, Chief Digital Officer at WPP Mindshare. Alphabet said revenue from Google advertising rose nearly 70 per cent to $50.44 billion. Ad revenue for the company’s streaming video platform YouTube jumped 83.7 per cent from the year-ago quarter to $7 billion - nearly as much as Netflix generated in quarterly revenue - as advertisers continued to used the site to reach viewers at home during the pandemic. Results “outperformed our expectations across all three lines of Google’s ad business: search, Google Network, and YouTube,” said Nicole Perrin, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. “YouTube was the fastest-growing segment during the quarter and points to the continued strength of video advertising for both direct response and brand goals.” Total revenue of the internet’s biggest supplier of search and video ads rose 61.6 per cent to $61.88 billion, well above Wall Street estimates of $56.16 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Profit per share of $27.26 beat expectations of $19.34, according to IBES.

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Feline okay? The app that tells you if your cat's happy

Technology|Offbeat|: Cat owners who love to take pictures of their furry friends now have a new excuse to pull out their smartphones and take a snapshot: it may actually help the cat. A Calgary, Alberta, animal health technology company, Sylvester.ai, has developed an app called Tably that uses the phone's camera to tell whether a feline is feeling pain. The app looks at ear and head position, eye-narrowing, muzzle tension, and how whiskers change, to detect distress. A 2019 study published in peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports found that the so-called 'feline grimace scale,' or FGS, is a valid and reliable tool for acute pain assessment in cats. Dr. Liz Ruelle examines a cat at the Wild Rose Cat clinic in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Image Credit: REUTERS "It helps human cat owners know if their cat is in pain or not," said Miche Priest, Sylvester.ai's venture lead. "We were able to train a machine using machine learning and a series of images." The app could help young veterinarians, said Dr. Liz Ruelle of the Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary, where developers trained the algorithm. "I love working with cats, have always grown up with cats," she said. "For other colleagues, new grads, who maybe have not had quite so much experience, it can be very daunting to know - is your patient painful?" An app that learns patterns from images of cat faces can be helpful but cat owners should also look at their pet's whole body, including the tail, for clues about their well-being, said Alice Potter from British animal charity the RSPCA. Miche Priest, venture lead of Alta ML with a cat at the Wild Rose Cat clinic in Calgary, Alberta. Image Credit: REUTERS "Cats that are worried or scared will hold that tail really tight and tense to them. And then aside from that, there's also just thinking about their behavior in terms of are they eating, drinking, toileting, sleeping like they usually do?"

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Those black-and-white QR codes are becoming part of consumer experience – but at a cost

Analysis|Technology|: New York: When people enter Teeth in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood, the bouncer gives them options. They can order food and drinks at the bar, he says, or they can order via a QR code. Each table at Teeth has a card emblazoned with the code, a pixelated black-and-white square. Customers simply scan it with their phone camera to open a website for the online menu. Then they can input their credit card information to pay, all without touching a paper menu or interacting with a server. A scene like this was a rarity 18 months ago, but not anymore. "In 13 years, I've never seen a sea change like this that brought the majority of customers into a new behavior so quickly," said Ben Bleiman, Teeth's owner. But retailers now have access to user patterns, which some argue, gives them ample power over consumer data. Image Credit: Pixabay QR codes - essentially a kind of bar code that allows transactions to be touchless - have emerged as a permanent tech fixture from the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants have adopted them en masse, retailers including CVS and Foot Locker have added them to checkout registers, and marketers have splashed them all over retail packaging, direct mail, billboards and TV advertisements. But the spread of the codes has also let businesses integrate more tools for tracking, targeting and analytics, raising red flags for privacy experts. That's because QR codes can store digital information such as when, where and how often a scan occurs. They can also open an app or a website that then tracks people's personal information or requires them to input it. Building up info As a result, QR codes have allowed some restaurants to build a database of their customers' order histories and contact information. At retail chains, people may soon be confronted by personalized offers and incentives marketed within QR code payment systems. "People don't understand that when you use a QR code, it inserts the entire apparatus of online tracking between you and your meal," said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Suddenly your offline activity of sitting down for a meal has become part of the online advertising empire." But sheer utility should convince consumers that they should not be too finicky about retailers getting to know them better. Image Credit: Shutterstock QR codes may be new to many American shoppers, but they have been popular internationally for years. Invented in 1994 to streamline car manufacturing at a Japanese company, QR codes became widely used in China in recent years after being integrated into the AliPay and WeChat Pay digital payment apps. In the US, the technology was hampered by clumsy marketing, a lack of consumer understanding and the hassle of needing a special app to scan the codes, said Scott Stratten, who wrote the 2013 business book ‘QR Codes Kill Kittens’ with his wife, Alison Stratten. First the iPhone and… That has changed for two reasons, Scott Stratten said. In 2017, he said, Apple made it possible for the cameras in iPhones to recognize QR codes, spreading the technology more widely. Then came the "pandemic, and it's amazing what a pandemic can make us do," he said. Half of all full-service restaurant operators in the US have added QR code menus since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. In May 2020, PayPal introduced QR code payments and has since added them at CVS, Nike, Foot Locker and around 1 million small businesses. Square, another digital payments firm, rolled out a QR code ordering system for restaurants and retailers in September. A habit they want to keep Businesses don't want to give up the benefits that QR codes have brought to their bottom-line, said Sharat Potharaju, CEO of the digital marketing company MobStac. Deals and special offers can be bundled with QR code systems and are easy to get in front of people when they look at their phones, he said. Businesses also can gather data on consumer spending patterns through QR codes. "With traditional media, like a billboard or TV, you can estimate how many people may have seen it, but you don't know how people actually interacted with it," said Sarah Cucchiara, a senior vice-president at BrandMuscle, a marketing firm that introduced a QR code menu product last year. "With QR codes, we can get reporting on those scans." Digital menus also make it easier to persuade people to spend more with offers to add fries or substitute more expensive spirits in a cocktail. Image Credit: Shutterstock Cheqout and Mr. Yum, two startups that sell technology for creating QR code menus at restaurants, also said the codes had brought advantages to businesses. Restaurants that use QR code menus can save 30% to 50% on labor costs by reducing or eliminating the need for servers to take orders and collect payments, said Tom Sharon, a co-founder of Cheqout. Digital menus also make it easier to persuade people to spend more with offers to add fries or substitute more expensive spirits in a cocktail, with photographs of menu items to make them more appealing, said Kim Teo, a Mr. Yum co-founder. Orders placed through the QR code menu also let Mr. Yum inform restaurants what items are selling, so they can add a menu section with the most popular items or highlight dishes they want to sell. These increased digital abilities are what worry privacy experts. Mr. Yum, for instance, uses cookies in the digital menu to track a customer's purchase history and gives restaurants access to that information, tied to the customer's phone number and credit cards. It is piloting software in Australia so restaurants can offer people a "recommended to you" section based on their previous orders, Teo said. Just like Google QR codes "are an important first step toward making your experience in physical space outside of your home feel just like being tracked by Google on your screen," said Lucy Bernholz, director of Stanford University's Digital Civil Society Lab. Teo said that each restaurant's customer data was available only to that establishment and that Mr. Yum did not use the information to reach out to customers. It also does not sell the data to any third-party brokers, she said. Cheqout collects only customers' names, phone numbers and protected payment information, which it does not sell to third-parties, Sharon said. Regardless of customers' feelings, Bleiman said Cheqout's data showed that about half of Teeth's orders - and as much as 65 per cent during televised sports games - were coming through the QR code system. "They may not like it," he said in a text message. "But they're doing it!"

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Upcoming Galaxy foldable devices to carry S-Pen: Samsung

New Delhi: Samsung on Tuesday announced that the upcoming Galaxy Z family will include the first-ever S (Stylus) Pen, a USP of its Note series. "Galaxy Z family will share some foldable surprises -- including the first-ever S Pen designed specifically for foldable phones," said Dr TM Roh, President and Head of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics. The company will hold its next Galaxy Unpacked event on August 11, where the South Korean tech giant is likely to showcase new foldable devices, Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3. "We are also working with Google to enrich our foldable ecosystems with popular apps and services. For our third generation of Galaxy Z phones, we have lined up even more partner apps that make the most of the versatile fold-out format," Koh announced. "From hands-free optimised video calling with Google Duo and watching videos in Flex mode on YouTube to multitasking in Microsoft Teams, our foldable ecosystem will offer a wealth of seamless and optimised experiences," he added. Samsung is expected to unveil latest foldable smartphones with lower price tags compared with its predecessors. The company is also expected to unveil, a Galaxy FE phone, two Galaxy Watches and a set of new Galaxy Buds. The South Korean tech giant is expected to start sales of the Galaxy Z Fold3 at around 1.99 million won ($1,744), which is 17 percent lower than the 2.39 million won set for the previous model, according to the sources. The price of the Galaxy Z Flip3 is also expected to be around 22 percent lower than the predecessor. A recent report said that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 will feature an under-display camera. Its next clamshell foldable Galaxy Z Flip3 is expected to have a bigger outer display. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is expected to feature a larger external display of 1.83 inches. It has a dual-camera system, which reportedly includes a 12MP main snapper and a 12MP ultrawide snapper.

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Facebook and tech giants to target attacker manifestos, far-right militias in database

Americas|Media|: A counterterrorism organisation formed by some of the biggest US tech companies including Facebook and Microsoft is significantly expanding the types of extremist content shared between firms in a key database, aiming to crack down on material from white supremacists and far-right militias, the group told Reuters. Until now, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism's (GIFCT) database has focused on videos and images from terrorist groups on a United Nations list and so has largely consisted of content from Islamist extremist organizations such as Islamic State, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Over the next few months, the group will add attacker manifestos - often shared by sympathizers after white supremacist violence - and other publications and links flagged by UN initiative Tech Against Terrorism. It will use lists from intelligence-sharing group Five Eyes, adding URLs and PDFs from more groups, including the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and neo-Nazis. The firms, which include Twitter and Alphabet Inc's YouTube, share "hashes," unique numerical representations of original pieces of content that have been removed from their services. Other platforms use these to identify the same content on their own sites in order to review or remove it. While the project helps combat extremist content on mainstream platforms, groups can still post violent images and rhetoric on many other sites and parts of the internet. The tech group wants to combat a wider range of threats, said GIFCT's Executive Director Nicholas Rasmussen in an interview with Reuters. "Anyone looking at the terrorism or extremism landscape has to appreciate that there are other parts...that are demanding attention right now," Rasmussen said, citing the threats of far-right or racially motivated violent extremism. The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. The issue of domestic extremism, including white supremacy and militia groups, took on renewed urgency following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol. Fourteen companies can access the GIFCT database, including Reddit, Snapchat-owner Snap, Facebook-owned Instagram, Verizon Media, Microsoft's LinkedIn and file-sharing service Dropbox. GIFCT, which is now an independent organization, was created in 2017 under pressure from US and European governments after a series of deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels. Its database mostly contains digital fingerprints of videos and images related to groups on the UN Security Council's consolidated sanctions list and a few specific live-streamed attacks, such as the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. GIFCT has faced criticism and concerns from some human and digital rights groups over censorship. "Over-achievement in this takes you in the direction of violating someone's rights on the internet to engage in free expression," said Rasmussen. The group wants to continue to broaden its database to include hashes of audio files or certain symbols and grow its membership. It recently added home-rental giant Airbnb and email marketing company Mailchimp as members.

GulfNews Technology

UAE telco du to focus spending on super-speed 5G and fixed-services, says CEO Fahad Al Assawi

Markets|Companies|: Dubai: The excitement and the future might be about super-fast 5G networks – but the UAE telco du is not going to scale down on fixed-line services. In fact, the Dubai’s headquartered telco wants to cover a lot of distance within the UAE with fixed-line infrastructure. “Along with 5G (fifth generation) investments, we will continue with laying out fibre-optic cables for the fixed-line services,” said Fahad Al Assawi, who took over as CEO in June. “Currently, our fixed-line infrastructure covers 15-18 per cent of the country, Laying out the fibre optics selectively is also about supporting our enterprise customers, especially from an IPP point of view.” It’s highly instructive that du thinks fixed-line will remain a key part of its future portfolio. At most telecom operators, the agenda has decisively fixated on 5G and deploying that supporting infrastructure at the earliest possible timeline. “Fixed-line investments will help us strategically and operationally, whether it is to do with customer acquisition, the quality of service on offer, and return on investments,” the CEO said. Mobile numbers show a welcome return to form du’s revenues grew 7 per cent year-on-year to Dh2.85 billion. And this will please the CEO and du stakeholders - mobile revenues “reversed its downward trend” and came in at Dh1.29 billion. Net profit jumped 11.4 per cent to Dh240 million. Fixed revenues continued its growth – up 6.5 per cent year-on-year - for an all-time high of Dh687 million. The enterprise and consumer categories also pitched in, while ‘other revenues’ increased 21.5 per cent to Dh873 million, from higher handset sales as well as higher wholesale revenues. EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) gained 7.3 per cent to Dh1.13 billion as “we continue to implement our cost optimisation programme,” the company said. “The increase in EBITDA was partially offset by higher depreciation and amortisation charges triggered by higher network investments and Dh18 million impairment charges on obsolete fixed assets.” Margins remained stable at 39.6% in spite of higher handset sales. Speed up on 5G With 5G, du is taking a ‘build and they will come’ approach. “Traffic is picking up on the 5G network, but for a full impact on the G eco-system, several things need to be in place: users need to migrate to new handset in greater numbers and we should show ‘enterprise use’ cases that will show potential users how 5G will benefit them. “From our side, we have the 5G handset offers running and on instalments, and there will soon be the numbers to support our continued expansion.” I am very pleased that we stemmed the decline in mobile service revenues. We remain vigilant on our cost base as cost reduction initiatives helped push EBITDA and net profit up 7% and 11% Fahad Al Hassawi of du Full coverage The UAE’s telecom regulator is setting sights on 2025 for every nook and cranny in the country to come under 5G coverage. Al Hassawi is keeping du’s 5G roadmap open – “We will keep making those capital expenditure on 5G as long as it takes.” It was in November last that du signed up for a new operational strategy. Its business divisions were consolidated, and making the company less vulnerable to sudden shifts in market dynamics. The results are starting to be seen, according to the CEO. “The whole objective from that November decision was to address segment needs in a much more focussed way,” the CEO said. “We can see the fruits of that change now in the good movement of these segments, good revenues and customer acquisition. The new structure is showing that it is giving results.” 6.6 m The number of du mobile subscribers du's mobile services are primed for growth - the customer base grew 2.3% to 6.6 million as the economic recovery took shape. Voice traffic rebounded ahead of pre-pandemic levels and compensated for moderate data usage due to wi-fi offloading. Growing interest in 5G devices as well as "attractive" financing solutions for post-paid customers continue to fuel demand for handsets. "Robust" momentum in Fixed services. Consumers are responding to the broadband offerings. During the second quarter, du added 31,000 broadband subscribers - "a step change compared to previous periods".

GulfNews Technology

Dubai’s DIFC invests in UK-based legaltech startup Clara

Markets|Technology|: Dubai: The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has invested in Clara, the UK-based legaltech startup, through its fintech fund. Clara’s platform digitises and automates many of the legal tasks business owners need to perform, including setting up companies in different jurisdictions. With Clara’s new license, the legaltech start-up will now be able to provide its streamlined corporate services platform to DIFC companies. This is the third jurisdiction to license Clara to set up companies. “DIFC continues to be a catalyst for innovation in the region by investing in businesses that can help transform the finance industry,” said Arif Amiri, CEO of DIFC Authority. The $100 million DIFC FinTech Fund that backed the Clara investment was launched in 2017 to help companies seeking access to Middle East, Africa and South Asian markets. “Start-ups are looking for a new approach to help them overcome the pain and complexity of dealing with legal matters,” said Patrick Rogers, CEO of Clara. A team of lawyers and technologists leads Clara. The company’s platform automates many of the tasks currently performed by lawyers for start-ups including forming companies, drafting agreements, building cap tables, structuring data rooms and predictively educating founders on legal concepts. The company has raised $3.5 million in seed financing from institutional investors, including 500 Startups and Techstars.

GulfNews Technology

Abu Dhabi Investment Office goes big on tech industry support

Markets|Technology|: Dubai: The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) has entered partnerships with Callsign, Lyve and Rizek to provide financial and non-financial incentives to companies as part of its Dh2 billion innovation programme. The partnerships focuses on expanding Abu Dhabi’s information and communications technology (ICT) landscape, which has seen a significant boost in 2021. With ADIO’s support, the Arabic music app Anghami, Bespin Global and web streaming platform Starzplay Arabia each established new headquarters in Abu Dhabi, while Amazon Web Services (AWS) will soon launch a cloud infrastructure region in the UAE. In total, ADIO has provided more than Dh865 million in support of seven ICT companies this year to help them innovate. “We are now seeing companies from all over the world pioneering new technologies in Abu Dhabi, as the emirate emerges as a leading advanced technology hub and the region’s HQ of tech HQs,” said Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi, Director-General of ADIO. “We are here to help companies fast-track their progress, while ensuring they are suitably equipped to grow sustainably and make a real impact on the global stage.” ADIO has awarded Callsign, Lyve and Rizek competitive financial incentives, including rebates on highly skilled payroll and capital expenditure support, as well as non-financial incentives, such as support with establishment processes and ecosystem engagement. Homegrown ventures Rizek is an online platform that connects users to a variety of service providers, allowing access to services in healthcare, beauty, cleaning, maintenance, and many other segments at the time and location of their choosing. The company was the first local platform to introduce home-based Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing and the first in the world to facilitate COVID-19 vaccines at home. ADIO’s partnership will aid Rizek in its continued growth as the company expands into new markets, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and develops more segments to broaden its range of services. ADIO innovation programme ADIO’s innovation programme was established under Ghadan 21, Abu Dhabi’s three-year accelerator programme, which is concluding at the end of 2021. It will have made significant progress in driving the development of the emirate’s knowledge economy.

GulfNews Technology

Chatbots are everywhere - so why not have them go multilingual?

Analysis|Trends|: Out of the world's 7.5 billion inhabitants, only 1.5 billion speak English. From the 1.5 billion, only 360 million people have English as their first language. Language can act as a barrier, but at the same time drive opportunities. As globalization is “the ability to move and communicate easily with others all over the world”, this can only be made possible if companies speak the local tongue and make customers feel comfortable.cWith over 24 million ecommerce sites already in play, having an online presence has become a requirement for every business. While your site content cannot change and cater to every single region, here’s what businesses are doing. They’re inching towards implementing multilingual bots and allowing customers to converse in the language they’re familiar with. This in turn would enhance customer experience, improve the CSAT score (the percentage of customers satisfied with a company's product or service), and reduce the churn rate. Bots can do it Implementing a chatbot would not only aid the multilingual factor but also help companies shift away from increased manpower, time and cost that goes into training employees to speak in multiple languages. Making chatbots is the most cost-effective solution to these globalization challenges. A study by Forrester in 2017 found that 57 per cent of marketing firms were using chatbots then. When you look at 2020, we can see chatbots are innovating. Another study analyzed 1.5 million Hinglish (sentences with a mix of English and Hindi) tweets from a 1.9 million sample, which is 1 per cent of all the tweets in 2018. While Twitter is an English dominant medium, the percentage of Hinglish used is anywhere between 1-5 per cent. Platforms such as WhatsApp have a much higher rate of communicating in this language. Mix the languages Sales, marketing, and communication teams across industries in India believe that chatbots should process ‘code-mixed’ languages. These languages typically include an English line with a Hindi word or two and vice-versa. Here the idea is to keep English as a base language as it’s often the only language in which two people who speak a different Indian language would understand the word for something, to an extent. For people, Hinglish adds a sense of pride hinting that the individual is locally grounded because they can talk in Hindi and that they can converse in English as well. Since there’s heavy usage of macaronic sentences (sentences formed by mixing two or more languages), chatbots are being developed in regional dialects while keeping in mind the “mixed” sentences.  One survey found that 69 per cent of consumers prefer chatbots for quick communication with brands. This number shouldn’t be that alarming as people are now more than willing to use a dash of AI in their daily lives. Since chatbots fall under the self-service segment, the need for it arises now more than ever. Speak their dialect Given how the number of users are increasing, chatbots can understand store data and converse in the language the customer is comfortable in. If a chatbot is fluent in six to seven languages, that will still account for 3 billion plus people who would be able to talk to the bot in their native language. That’s a huge win. With the number of customers increasing region-wise, the brand will now be able to set a strong base in the respective country and attract more customers. Also, while communicating with customers, personalization is of utmost importance.  Customer experience can be personalized to a vast extent - developing customer profiles, responding to their queries personally, and most importantly building a great self-service experience. With chatbots accelerating the self-service portal, the ability to converse in the language preferred by the customer acts as a huge differentiator to measure a customer’s experience. Thus, going online or expanding globally requires a business to be able to connect with customers regionally -  multilingual chatbots will help drive a seamless transition. Gaurav Singh The writer is CEO of Verloop.io.

GulfNews Technology

With Gulf's Snapchatters, it is about lots of AR and privacy, says Snap Inc.'s Hussein Freijeh

Markets|Companies|: Dubai: Talk about total control – Snap’s hold on young users’ engagement with the social media platform is showing no signs of waning. Hussein Freijeh, General Manager for the MENA markets at Snap Inc., has the numbers to show anyone who doubts that hold over the young. “In Saudi Arabia, even though we have 19.5 million people who come to Snapchat, Snap is still growing, not just in member but even in the engagement,” he said. “During the month of Ramadan, we had people spend more than 77 minutes - now that’s above the global average. “Where we see the greater engagement is among the local communities. In the UAE, we reach more than 60 per cent of the 13-24 year old demographic. That number touches 90 per cent in Saudi Arabia. Whatever we launched - like Maps or Augmented Reality (AR) - you typically find Saudis of all demographics among one of the most engaged in the world.”Hussein Freijeh of Snap Inc. gives his reasons for why the region's Snapchatters won't be snapping out of that habit. Ahmed Ramzan & Irish Eden R. Belleza/Gulf News Clearly, the transformation of Snap from a short-term messaging platform through Snapchat into something even more consequential is going down well with the core audience. It is also an audience that strays to another platform at the first signs of their current favourite turning a little less cool for their liking. Taking in more According to Freijeh, Snap’s regional numbers are picking up other age groups and demographics – without hurting the core audience. “Whatever demographic you are, you will find a place to engage with Snapchat,” he said. “If you look at our business globally in the last four quarters, our engagement is increasing, our business is really healthy. If you just review our last earnings report, whatever bets we made even four years ago are actually working. “Even though the Camera is the core of our innovation, there is our experience and investments in Snap Map, where we help Snapchatters find content based on geography. The Map is not to find a location but content that’s relevant to people.” Winning business Comparisons inevitably will be drawn to the TikTok, the other visual heavy platform that caters to more or less the same sort of audience. Not just users, the platforms also target brands and businesses that want to reach out to their users. “We invested massively in the ability for businesses to ‘talk’ to our communities and to be able to drive them to their digital touchpoints,” the GM said. “And we gave them the ability to measure, to see the value of the volume of business coming to them, whether offline or online. They are able to measure the dollar-to-dollar success ratio. “Augmented Reality is the core to our users – and businesses are turning those AR experiences into brand experiences. If in the beginning it was for fun, it has become a utility to drive usage and drive more value for Snapchatters. This will be one of the key areas we will invest in.” Privacy first All through the Snapchat evolution, one detail remains non-negotiable – the right to privacy. Snap and Apple have been pushing the boundaries on how far tech is willing to keep user details private and not end up being used for marketers’ needs. It has become quite the touchy issue, but Freijeh says the Snap stance was clear from the out. “The message disappearing in 24 hours and even the way the platform is designed - no share, no public likes – are part of the DNA of the product,” he said. “Privacy is not a feature of Snapchat but a part. Even when launched Spotlight (which calls in users to submit content and be rewarded – we kept the same thing, no likes, no shares. We retained the ability for users to keep things private, even though Spotlight is one of the first time you see us going a little bit social. “But all of which can only be done with user privacy.” For Snapchatters in the region and elsewhere, it's a detail that matters even as they clock in more minutes on the portal.

GulfNews Technology

Data analytics and a hands-on CDO will be what businesses need ahead of next disruption

Analysis|Trends|: If your CDO (chief data officer) is successful when the inevitable next disruption occurs, you will be ready because you have put in place the right tools, empowered all the knowledge workers, and democratized your data for innovation, collaboration and execution. As businesses responded to the pandemic, a digital transformation problem that had been bubbling for some time came to a head. Companies had been on multi-year digital transformation journeys, but suddenly found it was now an imperative. The process encompasses everything from moving to the cloud, installing latest software tools and automation, to fundamentally rethinking your business processes. Last year The World Economic Forum found 84 per cent of business leaders are “accelerating the digitization of work processes,” and another half are accelerating the “automation of tasks”. What the pandemic has done is expose the allowable time for the success of these digital transformation initiatives. Leaving behind the data laggards We are in the midst of one of the greatest business resets. It forced businesses to become more data-aware and to recognize the 'analytic divide' – the difference between organizations that can leverage data-driven insights and best practices to fend off disruption and those that cannot. The latter group will not be able to weather the inevitable next disruption, be it from new competition, rapid technology advancements, economic turmoil, or the next pandemic. If the analytic divide, or prolonged digital transformation, is the problem, one solution is to hire a CDO to drive data democratization and an always-on approach to upskilling. A data team This is forcing businesses to reshape their organizations and empower their knowledge workers. The entire construct of how businesses operate is changing. Instead of large clusters on campuses, knowledge workers have shifted to their homes and spread out across the country and world. There will be some return to offices, but the distributed workforce is here to stay. In response, businesses need to invest in their data teams and data capabilities overall, which starts with the CDO. Forward-thinking companies already have a CDO and empower them to spearhead data democratization across the organization and to lead the digital transformation journey. The CDO should invest in flexible self-service tools, ensure equal access to data and resources and create space for employees to upskill and become knowledge workers to make data analytics equitable within the organization. Data-driven insights will drive better real-time decision-making across all functions within a business – marketing, sales, security, IT, and more – to respond successfully to disruptive events and expedite a company’s overall digital transformation. Another benefit of hiring a CDO to drive a data-driven organization, in addition to fending off the analytic divide, is workforce upskilling. Data-driven businesses can upskill their employees to build an internal pool of talented data workers. A study by McKinsey found only 16 per cent of respondents said their organizations had successfully sourced data and analytics talent through recruitment agencies and search firms. Other approaches, like retraining employees, was most often cited as a more effective method. The goal is to ensure as many people as possible across organizations within a business have access to usable data and can derive insights. This will amplify the strategic output of knowledge workers by an order of magnitude while also offering career development. Set losse the data team So, you have your CDO, you reshaped your organization, all your knowledge workers have the access and ability to leverage organizational data. What’s next? Pick a problem and empower the team to solve it. Say you need advanced salesforce automation because you are having a difficult time predicting the commission expense for your sales team. At the end of the quarter, if you cannot predict what your sales expense is going to be, how can you project your total expenses or operating margins? If you have invested in your team and the right tools, that is an easy problem to solve. The team will be able to pull data from the right sources and supply insights that have not been surfaced before because of the totality and variety of the data. This is one example, but the same thinking can be applied to any organization within a company. All these individual data transformations will ladder up to an overall digital transformation journey. Businesses that do not invest in data and analytics will be left behind, reinforcing the analytic divide.  Building for disruption COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the need for better, faster digital transformation. It has forced companies to address their technology capabilities and grapple more urgently with the analytic divide. But whether Covid has spurred or accelerated your digital transformation journey, your CDO is the key to future-proofing your business. The future of your business will depend on it. If done correctly, there will be no such thing as an unexpected disruption because the systems and teams put in place are both adaptable and resilient. Mark Anderson The writer is CEO of Alteryx.