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Amazon Academy announced for India as part of education push

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with Amazon India Chief Amit Agarwal during the Amazon’s annual Smbhav event at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, on January 16, 2020 in New Delhi, India.

Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images

Amazon is pushing deeper into education with a new learning platform that’s designed to help students in India get into prestigious engineering colleges.

The so-called Amazon Academy, announced Wednesday, will be available through a new Android app and a website. It’s designed to help students prepare for the Joint Entrance Examination, which is an assessment conducted for admission to certain engineering colleges in India.

Amazon said Amazon Academy will include curated learning material, live lectures and assessments in math, physics and chemistry. The platform will also feature live mock tests that are designed to mimic the JEE exam experience. 

“Amazon Academy aims to bring high quality, affordable education to all, starting with those preparing for engineering entrance examinations,” said Amol Gurwara, director of education at Amazon India, in a statement.

“Our mission is to help students achieve their outcomes while also empowering educators and content partners reach millions of students. Our primary focus has been on content quality, deep learning analytics and student experience. This launch will help engineering aspirants prepare better and achieve the winning edge in JEE.”

Amazon said the content is currently available for free and “will continue to be for the next few months,” suggesting that it will eventually start charging students.

Amazon has a number of other education platforms and initiatives including AWS Educate, which is designed to help people get to grips with Amazon’s cloud platform, Amazon Web Services. There’s also Amazon Ignite, which connects educational content creators to Amazon customers and helps them sell things like lesson plans and classroom games as digital downloads.

Fellow U.S. tech giants Google and Apple have their own education offerings. Google for Education, for example, provides customizable versions of several Google products, while Apple offers discounts to students and teachers on its hardware.

Amazon in India

Home too over 1.3 billion people, India is a huge market. Amazon has been scaling up its operations over the last few years in the country, which still has a relatively nascent e-commerce market compared to its neighbor China and countries in the West.

Reports suggest that Amazon now employs over 65,000 people in the country although Amazon declined to comment when CNBC tried to confirm the figure. Last May, Amazon said it needed to hire 50,000 more temporary workers in India order to meet demand from Covid.

The Seattle-headquartered tech giant opened a vast new office with space for over 15,000 workers in Hyderabad in December 2019 that is reportedly the company’s single-largest building in the world.

Amazon’s online careers portal shows that the company is looking for software development engineers and front-end engineers in India to work on Amazon Pay, which is an online payments processing service owned by Amazon.

“We are seeking Sr. Engineers to build a payment platform that will offer new payment mechanisms for our millions of customers and enable the ‘cash to digital” economy,’ one job ad reads.

It continues: “Amazon India Payments has a bold vision to become the most trusted, widely accepted payment solution on and off Amazon, for both online and offline transactions. To execute on this vision, Amazon India is systematically investing in local product innovation in areas of payment experience, payment processing, innovative payment instruments and merchant solutions.”


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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says platform will halt political suggestions | Facebook

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Facebook will halt algorithm-driven recommendations of political Facebook groups around the world and is looking into reducing political content in its News Feed, according to chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg.

“People don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on the platform,” Zuckerberg told investors. “We’re going to focus even more on being a force for bringing people closer together,” he added.

Zuckerberg’s remarks came on the quarterly earnings call for the platform. Facebook on Wednesday beat analyst predictions in the October-December quarter, with a revenue of $28bn, or $3.88 a share

The earnings announced Wednesday cover only the end of 2020 and thus do not reflect the market’s reaction to revelations about the role of social media in the 6 January insurrection and Facebook’s decision to ban Donald Trump in the subsequent days.

Facebook had announced ahead of the 2020 elections it would stop recommendations of partisan groups to users in the US, but a report from the Markup showed users were still regularly funneled into political groups through the platform’s algorithms as recently as early January.

Following the report, Democratic senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to Facebook demanding answers as to why it did not fulfill its promises. “Facebook’s system of recommending political groups poses grave threats to American democracy and public safety,” Markey said.

The 33% year-over-year growth announced on Facebook’s earnings report came despite a difficult year marked by an advertiser boycott, rumblings of antitrust actions, and content moderation concerns surrounding the 2020 presidential election.

“For now, Facebook seems untouchable,” said Tamara Littleton, analyst and chief executive officer at social media agency The Social Element. “But the fact remains: Facebook has damaged its reputation through consistently putting profit before anything else.”

In a statement accompanying the report, Facebook’s chief financial officer said the company benefited from the ongoing shift amid the pandemic to online commerce, as well as the shift in consumer demand “towards products and away from services”.

He also stated Facebook continues to face difficulties, including the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic as well as “the evolving regulatory landscape”.

Facebook and other tech giants have been subject to antitrust probes and other regulation in 2020, a trend that is expected continue or accelerate in 2021. “We continue to face significant uncertainty as we manage through a number of cross currents in 2021,” the statement said.

Authorities filed a flurry of lawsuits against big tech firms in 2020, including long-anticipated suits filed against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 states accusing the social media giant of abusing its power in social networking to squash smaller competitors, and sought remedies that could include a forced spinoff of Instagram and WhatsApp.

This, and actions against Google, have been declared the biggest antitrust action since the 1970s. Enforcement from the Biden administration is likely to differ from the government’s approach under Trump, who appeared to have a personal vendetta against the platforms over perceived censorship. Still, Biden has promised to take action to restrain big tech.

In the call with investors on Wednesday, Zuckerberg also took shots at competitor Apple, arguing Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp is “superior” to Apple’s iMessage in terms of privacy.

Zuckerberg also criticized iOS14, a new Apple system update that will require apps to get permission to track user behavior, saying it will impact Facebook’s advertising business – by far the bulk of its revenue – as users will be able to opt out of data collection.

“Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own impact,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook’s stocks fell as much as 6% in after-hours trading as the market on the whole experienced its worst day since October 2020.


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Apple records most profitable quarter ever as sales soar amid pandemic | Apple

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Apple finished 2020 with its most profitable quarter ever as sales of its high end iPhones, tablets and laptops soared amid the pandemic.

The company announced that sales for the three months ending on 26 December 2020 totalled $111.4bn and it had made a profit of $28.7bn, 29% higher than the same period last year.

The holiday period is a crucial time for Apple, accounting for 30% of its sales, and 2020’s bumper quarter was boosted by strong sales of its latest iPhone.

The blowout results, stronger than Wall Street had expected, were fueled in large part by sales of the company’s latest iPhones. iPhone revenues were $65.6bn for the quarter, up 17% year-over-year.

“We’re gratified by the enthusiastic customer response to the unmatched line of cutting-edge products that we delivered across a historic holiday season,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said in a statement.

The quarterly report was Apple’s first following the launch of its iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

But the company performed strongly across the board with its services division, which includes its App Store and licensing deals, delivering revenues of $15.76bn, up 24% year-over-year. Other products’ revenues, including the Apple Watch and home products, were up 29% at $12.97bn and Mac sales were up 21% at $8.68bn.

Cook said that the results could have been even better if not for the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced Apple to temporarily close some of its stores around the world.

“Taking the stores out of the equation, particularly for iPhones and wearables, there’s a drag on sales,” Cook told CNBC.

Apple’s record results followed record results from Microsoft on Monday, which recorded $40bn in sales for the last quarter. Facebook, too, announced better than expected results on Tuesday, with revenues of $28bn for the last quarter.

“Our December quarter business performance was fueled by double-digit growth in each product category, which drove all-time revenue records in each of our geographic segments and an all-time high for our installed base of active devices,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer.

Apple’s shares fell 2% in after-hours trading but have risen 84% over the past 12 months.


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Huawei Q4 smartphone shipments plunge 41% as U.S. sanctions bite

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Customers at a Huawei licensed experience store shop for devices on October 30, 2020 in Suzhou, China.

Fred Lee | Getty Images News | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Huawei’s smartphone shipments have continued to plunge as a result of U.S. sanctions, sending the once No. 1 vendor in the world tumbling below rivals like Apple.

The Chinese technology giant shipped 33 million smartphones globally in the fourth quarter of 2020, a 41% year-on-year decline, putting its market share at 8%, according to data released by Counterpoint Research on Thursday.

That made Huawei the sixth biggest smartphone maker in the December quarter, behind Chinese rivals like Oppo and Vivo and far behind Apple and Samsung.

Data released Thursday by Canalys showed Huawei shipped 32 million smartphones in the fourth quarter, down nearly 43% from last year. It’s the first time Huawei has slipped out of the top five in six years, Canalys said.

“Huawei dramatically receded in most markets as the result of the US sanctions,” Amber Liu, analyst at Canalys Research, said in a report.

The latest figures mark a sharp fall for Huawei versus the second quarter of 2020 when it was No. 1 in the world by shipments.

For the entire 2020 year, Huawei was the third-largest by smartphone shipments, according to the research firms. Huawei responded to the latest numbers noting its third place position.

“Huawei has always been committed to innovation and devoted to creating more value for consumers with better products. Over the last year, our smartphone business has developed robustly, and tablet, PC and wearable have seen a significant growth. We remain confident about the future,” the company said in a statement.

Huawei’s woes come as Apple shipped 90.1 million phones during the fourth quarter, the largest number ever shipped by any vendor in the history of the smartphones, according to IDC. Apple also posted a record quarter of revenues in China.

Indeed, U.S. sanctions are taking their toll on Huawei’s smartphone business. In 2019, Huawei was put on a U.S. blacklist called the Entity List which restricted American firms from exporting key components and software to the company.

The biggest effect of that was cutting Huawei off from Google’s Android operating system. That’s not a big deal in China where Google services such a Gmail and search are blocked. But in international markets, it has been key to Huawei’s growth as consumers are used to these services.


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