Owner of video-sharing app also reports a 93% increase in gross profit to $19bn in 2020
Last modified on Fri 18 Jun 2021 06.55 EDT
ByteDance, the Chinese parent of TikTok, more than doubled its revenues last year as usage of the hugely popular video app boomed.
The company, which last year weathered pressure from Donald Trump to sell its US operation as part of a trade war with China, reported a 111% increase in revenues to $34.3bn (£24.7bn).
ByteDance also reported a 93% increase in gross profit to $19bn, according to an internal memo released to staff.
There has been stratospheric growth in user numbers for ByteDance since TikTok launched worldwide only four years ago, hitting 1.9 billion active monthly users at the end of last year. This includes the Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin, and products such as the news aggregation app Toutiao.
TikTok has proved to be a social media juggernaut, drawing hundreds of millions of users, most of whom are in the advertiser hotspot of 12 to 24 years old, to short videos from creators including the singer Doja Cat, the social media personality Charli D’Amelio and the illusionist Zach King.
Overall, ByteDance reported a net loss of $45bn last year. The company attributed this to a one-off accounting adjustment, and not operational performance. The operating loss was $2.1bn, compared with $684m in profit in 2019, and was mainly down to the cost of share-based compensation for shareholders.
The rapid growth of the company, which is Beijing-based and privately owned, has led to analysts estimating its value at up to $100bn.
The company recently hired the former Xiaomi executive Shou Zi Chew to be its new financial officer, adding to speculation that it may be considering an initial public offering.
The Trump administration branded ByteDance a national security threat and said it could shut down its US operation if it was not sold to a buyer. Suitors including Microsoft and Oracle emerged but the change in administration at the White House put an end to Trump’s plans.
Joe Biden subsequently revoked Trump’s executive order to ban TikTok and the Chinese app WeChat in the US. The order had been mired in legal challenges.
However, on Thursday it was reported that Biden signed an executive order earlier this month that would force some Chinese apps to take tougher measures to protect user data if they want to continue to operate in the US.
In May, ByteDance announced the chief executive and co-founder Zhang Yiming would step down into a new role by the end of the year. He is being succeeded by the fellow co-founder Rubo Liang.
Facebook Antitrust Suit Dismissal Will Be Appealed, States Say
More than 40 state attorneys general on Wednesday said they planned to appeal the dismissal of their antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, setting up a protracted legal fight to rein in the power of the Silicon Valley giant.
The states would be pushing back on a decision made last month by a federal judge who eviscerated their arguments that Facebook had obtained a monopoly through its acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 and had harmed competition. The judge said that the regulators’ attempts to break up the social media company came too many years after the mergers were approved.
“The court is aware of no case, and plaintiffs provide none, where such a long delay in seeking such a consequential remedy has been countenanced in a case brought by a plaintiff other than the federal government,” the judge, James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said.
Mr. Boasberg also dismissed a similar complaint brought by the Federal Trade Commission, criticizing the agency’s claims of monopolization, but he directed the agency to rewrite its lawsuit. The F.T.C. is expected to resubmit its lawsuit to the court by Aug. 19. The states’ notice of plan to appeal did not include new antitrust arguments and was filed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
“We filed this notice of appeal because we disagree with the court’s decision and must hold Facebook accountable for stifling competition, reducing innovation, and cutting privacy protections,” said Letitia James, New York’s attorney general. “We can no longer allow Facebook to profit off of exploiting consumer data.”
Facebook has vociferously refuted the state and federal regulators’ lawsuits, saying most the evidence used against the company now were presented to the F.T.C. when that agency approved the mergers years earlier. The company argues it does not have a monopoly, pointing to competition from Snap, Twitter and messaging applications.
BuzzFeed Is Going Public. Now What for Vox Media, Group Nine and Vice?
The digital media companies that once seemed to have a lock on the future are making plans to get bigger and pay back their investors.
Edmund Lee and
Not so long ago, when newspapers and magazines were going out of business all across the country, BuzzFeed and a few other fast-growing web publications seemed like the future of the news business.
Investors poured billions into Vox Media, Vice Media, Group Nine and other upstart companies that employed writers fully at ease with the new digital culture and the increased velocity of online journalism. Valuations shot skyward, and the companies’ founders did victory laps with each round of funding.
The exuberance was based on what seemed like a surefire business model: Give readers web-native content free of charge and watch the money roll in from advertisers eager to connect with a young audience.
Now things have turned upside down.
The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have flourished, thanks to an emphasis on digital journalism and a strategy of charging readers for online access. A number of leading web journalists have decamped for these century-old institutions, while investors are demanding returns on the money they plowed into the digital companies when they were all the rage.
In an effort to regain their stature and compete against the much larger Facebook and Google, which take huge chunks of online ad revenue, BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Vice Media and Group Nine have gotten bigger in recent years through mergers and acquisitions.
Vox Media bought New York Media, the parent company of New York magazine and its clutch of websites. Vice Media bought Refinery29. Group Nine added PopSugar to a stable that included The Dodo and Thrillist and created a special purpose acquisition company (or SPAC) with the aim of going public. BuzzFeed bought HuffPost and said it would acquire another publisher, Complex, as part of its plan to go public through a SPAC transaction of its own.
Those deals were just the start.
Vice Media, previously on the hook for big payments to one of its investors, the private equity giant TPG, is circling a plan to go public, according to three people with knowledge of Vice Media. Vox Media is considering several offers that would take it public through a SPAC, two people familiar with the business said. And Axios, a news site based in Washington that started in 2017, has had talks with the German publishing giant Axel Springer about a possible merger, according to three people with knowledge of the negotiations.
All eight people spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal matters.
The wheeling and dealing has come as media investors have lost some of their enthusiasm for ad-supported sites filled with free content. Substack, a digital newsletter platform that relies on subscriptions, is now in vogue. Puck, a newsletter founded by a former Vanity Fair editor, recently started up with millions of dollars in funding. News sites with strict paywalls, including The Information and Insider, are growing.
The media industry has turned into a barbell. On one end, there are The Post (3.2 million print and digital news subscribers), The Journal (3.4 million) and The Times (six million) — large news operations that rely on their prestige, breadth and experience to attract subscribers. At the other end are The Information, Insider, Axios and others that provide hyper-focused reporting on subjects of special interest to smaller but intensely loyal audiences.
It gets murky between the two extremes. BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox and Group Nine find themselves in a difficult competition with the legacy publications for general readers and with Facebook and Google for ad dollars.
“You either need huge scale, or niche or specific market dominance,” Jim VandeHei, the chief executive of Axios, said in an email. “The middle has always been the resting place for roadkill.”
Axios, which brings in most of its revenue through sponsorship deals, had an 80 percent jump in ad sales during the first half of this year, according to two people familiar with the company; they estimated that 2021 revenue could top $85 million.
Mr. VandeHei credits the company’s laser focus on what its audience wants, as opposed to an editorial strategy of trying to be all things to all readers.
“The silly companies and ideas washed away, and rightly so,” he said in the email, without referring to any specific businesses, “and it’s now clear the advertising and subscription markets are there AND growing if you deliver a quality product for a specific, identifiable audience.”
Axios has fielded a takeover offer from Axel Springer in a deal that could top $400 million, the two people with knowledge of the company said. Mr. VandeHei and Axel Springer declined to comment on the matter. (The Information reported on the talks.)
SPACs are at the center of many digital companies’ plans to reposition themselves. Also known as “blank check” firms, these are shell corporations that list on a stock exchange with the goal of buying a private business and taking it public without the regulatory hassles that go with an initial public offering.
Digital publishers see this once-arcane Wall Street maneuver as a way to raise money at valuations that could match funding rounds in more buoyant conditions. In the 38-page prospectus published when it announced its SPAC plan, BuzzFeed projected a revenue surge, from $521 million in 2021 to over $1 billion by 2024. BuzzFeed also agreed to cut a quarter of its valuation for the transaction, setting a bad precedent for rivals now seeking to go public.
Blank check deals have become harder to pull off. In April, the Securities and Exchange Commission said it planned to inspect SPAC mergers more closely and could issue new rules, holding these transactions to the same standards of a traditional I.P.O.
Although the S.E.C.’s statement has slowed the financing market for SPACs, Vice Media is working with the blank check firm 7GC, according to the three people with knowledge of the company. Vice and 7GC recently completed the due diligence stage of the deal, the people said, and Vice is reaching out to investors to raise money to complete the transaction.
The deal could come at a huge cost. Like BuzzFeed, Vice might lower its valuation, the people said, adding that it could fall below $3 billion from $5.7 billion.
Vice had been staring down big cash payments to TPG as part of a $450 million investment that the private equity firm made a few years ago. Vice has since renegotiated those terms to principally include stock, two of the people said. A SPAC merger could clean up its ownership structure. Vice declined to comment.
Of all the digital publishers currently pursued by Wall Street, Vox Media could reverse the trend of reducing a company’s value to go public. It anticipates around $400 million in revenue this year, growing at a rate of more than 25 percent, two people with knowledge of the company said.
Perhaps more noteworthy: This year, Vox Media is likely to hit a financial metric known as cash flow positive, the people said. That means the company’s operations have more cash coming in than going out, which makes it easier to expand or even pay dividends to its investors. It also makes going public less urgent.
“For us, it’s a question of ambition and opportunity, and we are ambitious,” said Jim Bankoff, Vox Media’s chief executive. “We are going to evaluate our options, but we’re going to do it from a position of strength.” He would not comment on financial details or any potential deals.
Group Nine had talks with major publishers, including Vox Media, about a possible merger for its own SPAC listing, but so far none have materialized, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. Ben Lerer, the head of Group Nine, said in an interview that the company was “in an enviable position” given its recent sales growth.
“The SPAC obviously allows us to be even more ambitious,” he said.
An option for Group Nine would be a deal with one of its largest backers: Discovery Inc. The media giant recently orchestrated a daring takeover of WarnerMedia in an effort to better compete in streaming. Group Nine’s properties have helped drive hundreds of thousands of new customers to Discovery’s streaming platform through content partnerships, making it an attractive takeover target.
The digital ad market thrived during the pandemic, as people started spending more online; BuzzFeed, Vox Media and Group Nine all benefited. Still, their gains were nothing compared with the amounts brought in by the digital giants.
“Facebook, Google and Amazon’s crumbs are Vox, Group Nine and Buzzfeed’s cake,” said Brian Wieser, the lead analyst at GroupM, the media investing arm of the ad company WPP.
That disparity underlines the need of the ad-driven publishers to keep getting bigger.
BuzzFeed’s entry into the public markets is likely to give it an advantage. In addition to cash, it will be able to use its stock as currency to make another deal along the lines of its HuffPost purchase.
“We’ll have opportunities to pursue more acquisitions, and there are more exciting companies out there that we want to pursue,” Jonah Peretti, a BuzzFeed co-founder and the chief executive, said last month.
When asked if BuzzFeed would consider entering the subscription business, he said in a recent interview: “Sure, we’d consider it. Why not?”
Instagram Introduces Changes to Protect Teenagers on Its Platform
Facebook on Tuesday unveiled changes to Instagram’s advertising and privacy policies that it said would protect teenagers, following years of criticism that the photo-sharing site has not done enough to prevent underage users from sexual predators and bullying.
The social network, which owns Instagram, said it would change its advertising policy to reduce hyper-targeted ads to teens. Advertisers on both Instagram and Facebook, which previously used people’s interests and activity across other websites to target their ads, will now only be able to use age, gender and location to show ads to users under 18.
New Instagram accounts created by those under 16 will also be private by default, meaning the account’s posts can only be viewed by approved followers, the company said. Facebook said its research indicated that 80 percent of young users would remain in the default private setting.
Facebook also said it was also developing technology to stop accounts with “potentially suspicious behavior” from seeing or interacting with people under 18 on Instagram.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called for more online protections for children. A proposed bill with bipartisan support, the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, would ban targeted advertising aimed at children and require user consent to collect information from users younger than 15.
Even so, Facebook continues to move ahead with plans to create an Instagram for children under the age of 13, an expansion that has been opposed by attorneys general for 44 states and jurisdictions as well as an international coalition of 35 children and consumers’ groups. Facebook’s critics cited research showing that social media use has led to an increase in mental distress, body image concerns and suicidal thoughts.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Pavni Diwanji, Facebook’s vice president of youth products, said the company was using artificial intelligence to try to verify users’ ages. Birthday messages directed at a user, for example, can be used to detect their age, in addition to the age someone entered in Instagram and across other Facebook apps.
“This technology isn’t perfect, and we’re always working to improve it, but that’s why it’s important we use it alongside many other signals to understand people’s ages,” Ms. Diwanji wrote.
Jeanette Winterson: ‘The male push is to discard the planet: all the boys are going off into space’
The writer’s new essay collection covers 200 years of women and science, from Mary Shelley to AI. She discusses burning books and the ensuing Twitter storm, the end of her marriage, and why a move into politics could be next
There’s a disconcerting silence outside Jeanette Winterson’s London pied-a-terre. It’s the morning after the night before, when she travelled across London after dinner with her publisher to scenes of football fans setting the city alight with their cup final fervour. “It was uproar,” she says, “We saw cars on fire.” Her flat is in the East End district of Spitalfields in a Georgian house, which she bought 25 years ago, complete with a little shop that she ran for years as an organic grocer and tea room until the rates got too high, and she let it out to an upmarket chocolatier.
It’s as if a scene from Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop has been dropped into a satire about prosperity Britain: the quaint old shopfront is still intact, while outside it a lifesize sculpture of a rowing boat full of people sits surreally in the middle of the street, and a little further along, a herd of large bronze elephants frolics. These public artworks only arrived a few weeks ago, Winterson explains, as part of a grand plan to pedestrianise the area, and make it more buzzy, just at the moment that the sort of well-heeled office workers who bought upmarket chocolates are abandoning it owing to the Covid pandemic.
We’re at a transitional moment in so many ways, she says – a perfect moment to launch a book that reassesses the past while staring the future in the face. 12 Bytes is sub-titled: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next. It’s a series of essays that places women at the centre of the tumultuous 200-year history that stretches back to a wet summer in Italy, when a teenage Mary Shelley conjured the myth of Frankenstein from the embryonic science of electricity. Briskly and breezily, it joins the dots in a neglected narrative of female scientists, visionaries and code-breakers who gave us modernity and could, she insists, deliver a viable future to us if only we’d get better at listening to them.
The book is the result of a pandemic hunkered down alone at her main home in the Cotswolds, reading dispatches from the frontiers of science and economics online and in every publication she could lay her hands on. Her author picture shows her with a robotic eyeplate. Two of the more startling provocations of 12 Bytes are that “transhumanism [a hybrid of human and machine] will be the new mixed-race” – and that, when this future arrives, in questions of “them and us”, Homo sapiens will be the “them”. But all is not lost, she writes. “Our encounter with AI – our self-created nemesis and, I suspect, our last chance – may ensure that human exceptionalism will give way to humility.”
“Look, you know me, I’m an optimist,” she says, when I ask her to unpack these assertions. “So on the one hand, I think this could forcibly shatter so many preconceptions, which have worryingly surged at the moment, like nationalism, faith wars, and conflict over skin colour and gender binaries. All of these things have become raw and hot, so we have to look at them, and I don’t think it need go badly. Because if we do start recognising that we can create, and there are other life forms, that really is going to force us to accept that, as Homo sapiens, we need to band together, because what’s coming is likely to be more powerful, more intelligent, more capable than we are. I see it as a revaluation, and that does make me optimistic. But if we get it wrong – if we stay in our silly old mindset – then it’s likely that the dystopias that we fear will come to pass.”
At 61, Winterson is, as ever, a disarming mix of warm homeliness, dizzying flights of intellectual fancy and simmering belligerence. The homeliness is to the forefront today: we drink Yorkshire tea from a china pot on a table lovingly crafted from a sycamore tree felled in her Cotswolds wood; within seconds of a locksmith arriving to fix the door downstairs, she’s on first name terms with him. Yet a few weeks earlier she caused a social media storm by burning reissues of her own novels on a bonfire because she took exception to their cover blurbs, for turning them into “wimmin’s fiction of the worst kind”. She is quite aware of the dangerous symbolism of book-burning, pointing out that her adoptive mother burned her debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, in which she outed herself as gay. “I wouldn’t even burn a book by Jordan Peterson, though I think the man is repellent, because I respect books, whatever is in them. But if it’s your own, you know, you own them.”
The blurbs were the work of the same publisher that is now working hard to promote her new book. “I did feel embarrassed about ruining their Sunday,” she says. “But there’s a part of me still that can put something up on Twitter and think nothing big will happen. It’s like when I shot and skinned that rabbit.” She’s referring to a previous hullabaloo after she posted pictures of herself preparing a rabbit for the pot beneath the caption “Rabbit ate my parsley. I am eating the rabbit”. Why does she keep on hurling herself into such very public frays? “Because I’m an analogue human,” she replies. “Afterwards, my godchildren said: ‘What is the matter with you? Why didn’t you ring us before you did that?’”
The new book is dedicated to her three godchildren, with whom she remains so close that, two days earlier, she was able to call on one of them to flat-sit at a few hours’ notice after discovering that the lock had been compromised, while she was stuck in the country. The trio are her family now. For more than a decade she was in a relationship with the therapist Susie Orbach, whom she married in 2015, but it ended two years ago, unbeknownst to the wider world.
“I was saying to [my publisher] last night that we have to manage this. We’re very pleased because we’ve kept it quiet. But if we hadn’t parted two years ago, we would have parted during lockdown, which has been interesting to both of us. We looked at each other and said ‘We’d never have got through this’, because Susie is a New York Jew who belongs in the city and I need to be in the country. I need those long spaces, I need the quiet. I need to look out of the window and actually see a tree. We tried so hard to somehow find a way that it would work. And in the end, we were just spending less and less time together.”
In the context of her 2011 memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, their break-up seems particularly poignant. The memoir tracked Winterson’s life from a miserable childhood with the rigid “Mrs Winterson” in the Lancashire town of Accrington, through the liberation of Oxford University and early literary success in London, to the breakdown that brought her to the point of making peace with her own history, as a child who was given up for adoption at just six weeks old by her 17-year-old birth mother. It was Orbach who helped her to track down her mother, who wrestled with the bureaucracy of the adoption register, who suggested to her that, though she knew how to love, she didn’t know how to be loved, and who reassured her that “if we have to part, you will know you were in a good relationship”.
The memoir ended with a cliffhanger: would she or would she not become part of the family into which she was born? “Happy endings are only a pause,” she wrote. “There are three kinds of big endings: revenge, tragedy, forgiveness. Revenge and tragedy often happen together. Forgiveness redeems the past, forgiveness unblocks the future.” So did she or didn’t she? “Love doesn’t just happen and I think the family was very cross, because I just couldn’t pretend that it had,” she says now.
“I think a lot of adopted children feel that they have the moment and it doesn’t work. And you have to accept it and say: ‘I’m glad I went on with this story. I’m glad I found you. I hope you’re glad you found me because, hey, I’m all right. But whatever we’re doing now isn’t love.’ It might be recognition, it might be resolution. It might be all sorts of bits of the story that we needed. And I believe I did need it. But no, it wasn’t love.”
It is our failure to face up to the realities of love that have led us to the parlous state in which we now find ourselves, she suggests in 12 Bytes, and which prevent us from becoming our best selves. “It’s easy to do sex, but it’s not easy to do love in whatever form, she says. “And if you can’t love, you can’t live, no matter how smart you are: things end up being jangly, hollow, and ultimately worthless. The idea that you just go through life, leaving behind wives and mistresses and abandoned children, and doing great art – for me, that can’t be a way to live. Social responsibility starts with the people who are around you, and you can’t endlessly be discarding things.” At the moment, she’s particularly exercised about the Musks and Bransons of this world. “The male push is to actually just discard the planet: all the boys are going off into space. But you know, love is also about cleaning up your mess, staying where you are, working through the issues; it’s not simply romantic love at all.”
Her interest in the potential of a world without the binaries, in a space opened out by new technology, is not new. Her 2000 novel, The Powerbook, posited the romantic and imaginative freedoms of cyberspace against the limitations of “meatspace”; 2007’s The Stone Gods suggested that robot lovers might be part of a future accommodation with a post-apocalyptic world, while 2019’s Frankissstein tells the story of transgender doctor Ry Shelley and Victor Stein, a professor specialising in “accelerated evolution”, who believes that Shelley’s “hybridity” has unlocked the future. “You aligned your physical reality with your mental impression of yourself,” he says. “Wouldn’t it be a good thing if we could all do that?”
But there is a dark side to all this. In Frankissstein, Stein teams up with a sexbot entrepreneur, who hawks lifelike “girls” with vibrating vaginas, “top-grade silicone nipples” and an “extra-wide splayed leg position”. 12 Bytes also includes a chapter on the sexbot problem, which touches on one of the book’s most insistent, and nerdiest, themes: that a benign Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will not come to pass until we have divested the patriarchy of its control over the datasets on which all artificial intelligence is based. This means writing women back into history as active contributors to the modern world, capable of imagining the future, breaking codes and solving the knottiest scientific problems.
“It’s disappointing. It’s so crude, and it’s the place where the investment is going,” says Winterson of the global sexbot industry. “On the one hand, I talk about why an AI companion is a lovely idea, whether it’s a robo pet or just a voice that talks to you. That’s the positive side. But it’s always the same with humans, isn’t it? Then, we have sexbots, which are based on 1950 stereotypes about how a woman should behave: acquiescent, willing, always ready and patient in the home. How can that combo of 50s behaviour and porn-star looks be good for us as Homo sapiens?”
Winterson has her own AI companion – a Peloton exercise bike that accompanied her through the weeks locked down with her dog and two cats in her country cottage. “That was what made me start thinking about 2D relationships. I will never personally know any of those people who I feel I know really well through my Peloton screen every day. I have my favourite trainer, depending on my mood, and I know it’s a relationship even though it isn’t. It’s not even that we’ve been conned or fooled, because you are having a relationship. So yes. I’m deeply there with my Peloton family, as they call it.”
There has always been a proselytising zeal to Winterson’s enthusiasms. Aged 19 she voted for Margaret Thatcher “because she made sense to me. I believe I thought no, you just get out, get educated, and you don’t look back. My dad was part of that war generation who did go cycling around for work, you couldn’t defeat them, they would aways put food on the table somehow.” Today she says, she is “more socialist and much more compassionate than I was as a young person, because not everybody should be self-employed. Not everybody should have to hustle every day.” But she remains a believer in capitalism, because of its “Darwinian flexibility”. If you impose too much on people, they get restive and angry, she says. “I don’t think people want to be passive within a system. But the window has got narrower, and we will have to change that.”
Might this “we” extend to one day venturing into politics herself? “I’d love to – you know, I’m a gospel tent girl. The big tent is my home. I’m happy to get up there and take the questions and the flak, as I have for most of my life,” she says, but she’s at a loss for a party she could believe in. “I just don’t know where to do it, unless it involved some sort of coalition. The whole of the binary system – them/us, head/heart, black/white, male/female – it’s not helping any more. I’ve talked to some of my friends who are all political. And the despair I feel is, how can I mediate? How can I change things?” At the moment, she concludes, “all I can think of doing is what I’ve always done, which is writing my books, at least to start conversations. But would I like to go into politics? Yes, if there was a politics for me.”
12 Bytes by Jeanette Winterson is published by Jonathan Cape on 29 July (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply
China’s Tencent agrees to buy UK video games firm Sumo for more than £900m
Move expands Chinese tech company’s presence in the global video games market
First published on Mon 19 Jul 2021 04.13 EDT
China’s Tencent has agreed to buy the British video games developer Sumo Group at a valuation of more than £900m, further expanding the tech company’s presence in the global video games market.
Sumo’s board has agreed to Tencent’s offer of 513p a share, valuing the London-listed company at £919m, it announced on Monday.
The price represented a premium of about 43% on Sheffield-based Sumo’s closing share price of 358p on Friday, before the deal was announced, and was also much higher than its all-time high of 407p. Shares soared by 40% on Monday, to 499p.
Tencent said it had received pledges to back the takeover from the holders of 27% of Sumo’s shares, plus its own holding of almost 9%.
Tencent is one of the biggest companies in the world, thanks to its control of the Weixin/WeChat social media app, which is used across China for chat and mobile payments, as well as gaming.
It also controls large video game and esports interests, in a market that is expected to grow rapidly after a hiatus in 2021 caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That includes ownership of Riot Games, the developer of the wildly popular League of Legends franchise, plus stakes in other games developers including Epic Games, the maker of the Fortnite series, and Finland’s Supercell, the maker of the mobile game Clash of Clans.
Tencent has already completed another 10 investments in video game companies during 2021 so far, according to analysts led by Katie Cousins at Shore Capital. In a note they said the UK government was unlikely to intervene in the takeover, despite previous concerns with regard to Chinese acquisitions of British businesses such as the semiconductor manufacturer Newport Wafer Fab on national security grounds.
The global market for video games is expected to falter during 2021 after bumper growth in 2020, when locked-down consumers turned to games. Demand was boosted further last year by the release of Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S. Forecasts by Newzoo, a games data company, in May suggested that global games revenues will dip by 1.1% in 2021 to $176bn (£128bn). However, they expect the market to resume its otherwise unbroken annual growth to reach $200bn in sales by 2023.
Sumo was set up in 2003 as a developer for hire, working on parts of other companies’ games. Eventually it took control of developing entire games, with past titles including Sonic the Hedgehog games for Sega, LittleBigPlanet for Sony, and Hitman in collaboration with IO Interactive.
After two private equity-backed buyouts in 2014 and 2016, Sumo listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market in 2017. It employs more than 1,200 people across 14 locations in the UK, Poland, Canada, India and the US. Tencent first bought shares in Sumo in November 2019.
Carl Cavers, Sumo’s chief executive and co-founder, said: “The opportunity to work with Tencent is one we just couldn’t miss. It would bring another dimension to Sumo, presenting opportunities for us to truly stamp our mark on this amazing industry, in ways which have previously been out of reach.”
Cavers and two other co-founders, Paul Porter and Darren Mills, will continue to work in the business if the deal goes through.
The Sumo deal would be the second acquisition worth more than £900m of a British games developer after the US company Electronic Arts bought Codemasters for £945m in February.
50 Years Ago, NASA Put a Car on the Moon
The Great Read
The lunar rovers of Apollo 15, 16 and 17 parked American automotive culture on the lunar surface, and expanded the scientific range of the missions’ astronaut explorers.
Jim Irwin with the lunar roving vehicle on the moon on July 31, 1971. The Apollo 15 astronauts spent 18 and a half hours on the moon’s surface and traveled a distance of about 17 miles using the lunar rover.Credit…NASA
Dave Scott was not about to pass by an interesting rock without stopping. It was July 31, 1971, and he and Jim Irwin, his fellow Apollo 15 astronaut, were the first people to drive on the moon. After a 6-hour inaugural jaunt in the new lunar rover, the two were heading back to their lander, the Falcon, when Mr. Scott made an unscheduled pit stop.
West of a crater called Rhysling, Mr. Scott scrambled out of the rover and quickly picked up a black lava rock, full of holes formed by escaping gas. Mr. Scott and Mr. 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 Mr. Scott made up a story that they stopped the rover because he was fidgeting with his seatbelt. The sample was discovered when the astronauts returned to Earth, Mr. Scott described what he’d done, and “Seatbelt Rock” became one of the most prized geologic finds from Apollo 15.
Like many lunar samples returned to Earth by the final Apollo missions, Seatbelt 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 a new book about the lunar rover, “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,” Mr. 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 in Washington. While the first moon-walkers retrieved samples near their landing sites, scientists had long hoped for a lunar road trip that promised rare rocks. Plans for a lunar rover were finally given the green light just two months before Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans on the moon.
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: tank-like tracked vehicles, flying cars, even a rotund monstrosity shaped, as Mr. 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,” Ms. Muir-Harmony said. “The lunar rover is, in some ways, relatively practical.”
The moon car was also quintessentially American. The rover’s exposed chassis, umbrella-like 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, Ms. 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, Ms. Muir-Harmony said. “There’s a lot to unpack in that picture,” she added.
Mr. Irwin and Mr. Scott helped drum up excitement once they and the rover reached the moon. During the mission’s second day, the astronauts 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!” Mr. Scott shouted. “Look at the glint!” Mr. Irwin said. “Guess what we just found?” Mr. Scott radioed to Earth, as Mr. Irwin laughed with joy. “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, Ms. Muir-Harmony said. “It provided a point of access, even as the exploration of the moon was becoming increasingly complex and complicated to follow.”
Mr. 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 extraterrestrial horseless carriage.
To travel along with the astronauts instead of using a separate rocket, the rover had to weigh less than 500 pounds, but bear twice that in human and geological cargo. On the moon, it had to operate in temperature swings of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit between sunlight and shade; withstand abrasive lunar dust and micro-meteoroids traveling faster than bullets; and cover a sharp, rugged surface that contained mountains, craters, loose gravel and powder. GM and Boeing engineers scrambled to finish their design in time for the final Apollo missions under threats that NASA would cancel the rover program before it ever left the ground.
“If it hadn’t been for a couple of engineers at General Motors, there wouldn’t have been a rover at all,” Mr. Swift said in an interview.
His book also explains that immigrant engineers, including Mieczyslaw Gregory Bekker, raised in Poland, and Ferenc Pavlics, who was born in Hungary, persevered despite large budget overruns, blown deadlines and technical challenges. Though astronauts tend to claim more of the spotlight, engineers played seminal roles in the space program, Mr. Swift said, and some like Mr. Bekker and Mr. Pavlics highlighted the impact that immigrants had on American innovation.
“America’s race to reach the moon, both within NASA and at the aerospace companies that built the hardware, relied on the minds and talents of immigrants — on Americans who happened to start their lives elsewhere,” he wrote.
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: Mr. Irwin said the car rose and fell like “a bucking bronco,” and Mr. Scott said it fishtailed like a speedboat when he tried to turn at the breakneck speed of 6 miles per hour.
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.
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, Md., 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.
She recalled participating in a NASA analogue mission several years ago, where scientists would don spacesuits and carry out experiments in a desert field station as though they were on the moon or Mars. She remembered participants getting ready to collect a sample and being interrupted by mission controllers who wanted to check their vitals.
“We were like, ‘Come on,’” she recalled. “That drove home to me that the geology is not solely in charge. That’s one thing the rover does for you; it enables different science questions to be posed that can be more answerable at specific sites.”
Genesis Rock, a mineral dating to the moon’s earliest days, exemplifies Dr. Cohen’s point. Scientists are still debating — heatedly — how the moon came to be and what conditions were like there, and by extension, here on Earth, for the first billion years.
Dr. Cohen is among several scientists preparing to open untouched samples that have been sealed since they were returned home during the Apollo 17 mission. She will study noble gases in the samples to understand how solar radiation affects moon dust.
Katherine Burgess, a geologist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., will study the pristine samples to measure how radiation from the solar wind affects hydrogen and helium levels inside moon dust. Spacecraft can detect helium on the moon from orbit, but scientists still don’t know how it varies across lunar terrain. “Without those samples to confirm it, it’s still just an open question,” she said.
Future missions might use lunar helium, especially a variant called helium-3, as a fuel source for nuclear reactors. That means a future generation of lunar rovers may be powered by a material the first generation identified the presence of a half-century ago.
Even as scientists study those original samples, many are hoping for a fresh batch, sent home with a new generation of astronauts or collected by rovers descended from the original version. In May, General Motors announced a partnership with Lockheed Martin to build a new rover for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return American astronauts to the Moon this decade.
Although they were built decades apart and by different teams, the lunar rover program informed the first generation of Mars rovers, too, especially Sojourner, the first vehicle on another planet. Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where NASA Mars rovers are built, designed six-wheeled, flexible-framed rovers in a similar vein as early GM designs, Mr. Swift said. “I do think you find an inspirational lineage in that early GM work,” he 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. Ms. Muir-Harmony said the lunar rovers of Apollo, and its modern successors, represent that sense of adventure.
“Science is such an important outcome of Apollo, but it is important to recognize what the public is engaged with. 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,” she said.
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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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures
The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.
Tu celular te espía, ¿seguirás permitiéndolo?
La dimisión de un jerarca católico muestra las consecuencias en el mundo real de las prácticas de las industrias estadounidenses en materia de recolección de datos.
La “privacidad de datos” es uno de esos términos que parecen desprovistos de toda emoción. Es como un refresco sin gas. Al menos hasta que los fracasos de Estados Unidos en la creación de protecciones de privacidad de datos, incluso básicas, tienen repercusiones de carne y hueso.
La semana pasada, un alto jerarca de la Iglesia católica en Estados Unidos dimitió después de que un sitio de noticias reveló que tenía datos de su teléfono móvil que parecían mostrar que el administrador utilizaba la aplicación de citas LGBTQ Grindr y acudía regularmente a bares gay. Los periodistas tuvieron acceso a los datos de los movimientos y huellas digitales de su celular durante parte de tres años y pudieron rastrear los lugares a los que acudía.
Sé que los lectores tendrán sentimientos encontrados al respecto. Algunos creerán que es aceptable utilizar cualquier medio necesario para determinar si un personaje público incumple sus promesas, aunque se trate de un sacerdote que pudo haber roto su voto de celibato.
Sin embargo, para mí, la noticia no se trata de un solo hombre. Se trata de una falla estructural que permite que existan datos en tiempo real sobre los movimientos de los estadounidenses y que se usen sin nuestro conocimiento o verdadero consentimiento. Este caso muestra las consecuencias tangibles de las prácticas de las grandes industrias de recolección de datos que, en gran medida, no están reguladas en Estados Unidos.
La realidad es que en Estados Unidos hay pocas restricciones legales o de otro tipo que impidan a las empresas recopilar las ubicaciones precisas de los lugares por los que pasamos y vender esa información a cualquiera. Esos datos están en manos de empresas con las que tratamos a diario, como Facebook y Google, y también de intermediarios de información por encargo con los que nunca interactuamos de manera directa.
Estos datos suelen estar empaquetados en masa y son anónimos en teoría, pero a menudo pueden ser rastreados hasta los individuos, como lo muestra la historia del jerarca católico. La existencia de esos datos en un volumen tan grande sobre prácticamente todo el mundo genera las condiciones para un uso indebido que puede afectar tanto a los malos como a los buenos.
El Servicio de Impuestos Internos ha comprado los datos de ubicación disponibles comercialmente de los celulares de la gente para cazar (al parecer ineficazmente) a los delincuentes financieros. Los contratistas de defensa y las agencias militares estadounidenses han obtenido datos de localización de aplicaciones que la gente utiliza para rezar o colocar sus repisas. Los acosadores han encontrado a sus víctimas obteniendo información sobre la ubicación de las personas a través de las empresas de telefonía móvil. Cuando los estadounidenses acuden a concentraciones o manifestaciones, las campañas políticas compran información sobre los asistentes para luego enviarles mensajes.
Me exaspera que todavía no existan leyes federales que restrinjan la recolección o el uso de datos de localización. Si hiciera una lista de tareas tecnológicas para el Congreso, esas restricciones estarían en lo más alto de mi agenda. (Me animan algunas de las propuestas del Congreso y la legislación estatal pendiente para restringir aspectos de la recopilación o el uso de datos de localización personal).
La mayoría de los estadounidenses ya saben que los teléfonos rastrean nuestros movimientos, aunque no conozcamos necesariamente todos los detalles escabrosos. Y sé lo fácil que puede ser sentirse resignado y enfadado o simplemente pensar: “¿Y qué?”. Quiero resistirme a ambas reacciones.
La desesperanza no ayuda a nadie, aunque yo también me sienta así con frecuencia. Perder el control de nuestros datos no era inevitable. Fue una elección, o más bien un fracaso, durante años de los individuos, los gobiernos y las corporaciones para pensar en las consecuencias de la era digital. Ahora podemos elegir un camino diferente.
Incluso si crees que tú y tu familia no tienen nada que ocultar, sospecho que muchas personas se sentirían desconcertadas si alguien siguiera a su hijo adolescente o a su pareja a todas partes. Es probable que lo que tenemos ahora sea peor. Posiblemente miles de veces al día, nuestros celulares informan sobre nuestra ubicación y realmente no podemos detenerlos. (Aun así, hay medidas que podemos tomar para atenuar el infierno).
El Comité Editorial de The New York Times escribió en 2019 que, si el gobierno de Estados Unidos hubiera ordenado a los estadounidenses proporcionar información constante sobre sus ubicaciones, el público y los miembros del Congreso probablemente se rebelarían. Sin embargo, poco a poco a lo largo del tiempo, hemos acordado colectiva y tácitamente entregar esos datos de forma voluntaria.
Obtenemos beneficios de ese sistema de localización, como las aplicaciones de tráfico en tiempo real y las tiendas cercanas que nos envían cupones. Pero no deberíamos aceptar a cambio la vigilancia perpetua y cada vez más invasiva de nuestros movimientos.
Shira Ovide escribe el boletín On Tech, una guía sobre el modo en el que la tecnología está remodelando nuestras vidas y el mundo. @ShiraOvide
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