Data Sheet—Thursday, September 1, 2016
As is often the case when Apple is involved, the sheer size of the European Union’s recent tax decision against the company almost defies the imagination. The EU said this week that Apple has to pay back $14.5 billion worth of tax it avoided as a result of deals it struck with Ireland.
Of course, even such a gargantuan tax bill wouldn’t be a big stretch if Apple decided to pay. It makes about $4.5 billion in profit every month, so it could pay the EU penalty in a little over three months.
But that’s not the point. The point is that the decision, which ruled that Ireland gave Apple favorable tax deals in contravention of European Community regulations, is just the beginning of the EU’s war on global tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. In Apple CEO Tim Cook’s view, it’s “total political crap.”
Poorer countries like Ireland routinely play tax games in order to attract investment from these massive corporations, because they believe the jobs and spin-off effects are worth it.
What the EU is saying is that this is no longer going to fly, and that the interests of the European Community take precedence over any individual country’s needs. And Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has made it clear Google is next on her list of targets.
The EU no doubt sees itself as standing up to big-footed U.S. tech behemoths, but there’s a risk that this strategy could backfire badly, and cause the big four to invest their billions elsewhere. If this is a game of global chicken, it’s not at all clear that the EU is going to win.
BITS AND BYTES
These tech giants hope to infuse ethics into artificial intelligence. Pretty much every software company you can name is racing to use machine learning and other AI approaches for analytics, robotics, and the Internet of things. Five of them are teaming to agree on a standard of ethics: Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft. They haven’t released many details, but they could announce a formal organization by mid-September. (New York Times)
Salesforce outlook spooks investors. The cloud software company recorded a 25% revenue increase for the second quarter to $2.04 billion. But its projections for the current quarter—income of 21 cents to 22 cents per share on revenue of $2.11 billion to $2.21 billion—were lower than anticipated. (Fortune)
SAP is building bias filters into its software. The software giant is betting artificial intelligence can detect language in job descriptions and employee performance reviews that might inadvertently contribute to the gender gap. (Fortune)
AT&T avoids labor showdown. About 40,000 workers in the company’s wireless business approved a revised, four-year benefits contract, averting a further escalation of labor difficulties between the carrier and its largest union. It was the first such contract negotiated after the big Verizon strike last spring. (Fortune)
Big dollars for dialing as call center tech firm buys rival. Software firm Genesys Telecommunications is paying $1.4 billion in cash and debt to acquire Interactive Intelligence. Both companies focus on applications and systems for customer service. Together, their customers include Coca-Cola, PayPal, and Sony. (Reuters)
That Dropbox breach is bigger than we thought. The compromise, which happened back in 2012 and was traced to a lax employee, has affected close to 70 million accounts. The company has approximately 500 million registered users overall. Roughly, 200,000 companies use its fee-based service. (Fortune)
Samsung’s next smartwatch won’t necessarily need a smartphone. The Gear S3, introduced Wednesday and due later this year, can handle texts and track your location without being tethered to another mobile device. That’s something the Apple Watch can’t do yet. (Time, Reuters)
Facebook is working on fancy new 360-degree video. If you’re prone to motion-sickness, you’ll appreciate changes that the social network is making to eliminate shaky footage. (Fortune)
How a startup fronted by an ex-Googler is helping farmers do better business. One might assume that farmers, toiling away in fields far beyond the bright lights of the big city, aren’t a tech-savvy bunch. One would be wrong.
Farming is arguably among the most data-driven and efficiency-minded of professions—and, typically, the people who grow the nation’s food are hell-bent on ensuring they have the most up-to-date business intelligence available. Ag-tech upstart Farmers Business Network, which recently raised another $20 million, is digging into that fertile ground.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
5 Things We Just Learned About the Tesla-SolarCity Deal, by Jen Wieczner
Here’s How Adobe Sources Over Half Its Products From Interns, by Anne Fisher
Instagram Adds Much-Requested Zoom Feature, by Leena Rao
GoPro Wants to Be a Media Company, by Mathew Ingram
Why Facebook’s Oculus Team Had to Rebuild Some of Its Virtual Reality Software, by Jonathan Vanian
ONE MORE THING
This hotel room is straight out of The Jetsons. In this case, it’s OK to talk to the walls. One of the Starwood brands, Aloft Hotels, now features voice-activated guest rooms in Boston and Santa Clara, Calif. Need a midnight snack? Just ask. (Travel+Leisure)