Alibaba group set to enter Pakistan; signs first MoU

APP

Pakistan on Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Alibaba Group Holdings Limited to promote country’s worldwide exports by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through e-commerce.

The agreement between Alibaba and Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) was signed by Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir and Michael Evans, President of Alibaba Group, and Douglas Feagin, Senior Vice President of Global Business of Ant Financial, on behalf of Alibaba, during the visit of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to the headquarters of the company.

Alibaba Group’s Executive Chairman, Jack Ma and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif witnessed the signing ceremony.

Under the terms of the MoU, Alibaba, Ant Financial, and TDAP agreed to foster growth of worldwide exports of products by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Pakistan through e-commerce.

Online and offline training programs for the SMEs would also be conducted by Alibaba in a bid to assist SMEs with on-boarding on to Alibaba’s platforms and optimizing exports through e-commerce.

TDAP will help identify suitable SMEs to participate in the training programs while Alibaba will be responsible for providing industry analysis to TDAP to assist them in their selection process.

In addition, Alibaba, Ant Financial and TDAP have agreed to promote the growth of financial services in Pakistan in areas such as mobile and online payment services.

The parties have also agreed to adopt cloud computing services to support the online and mobile e-commerce businesses of SMEs in Pakistan.

DAWN.com

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Large asteroid to pass close to Earth on Wednesday: Nasa

Reuters

An asteroid more than 400 metres wide will pass close to Earth on Wednesday, zooming by at a distance of just over 1.8 million kilometres, but with no chance of impact, according to Nasa scientists.

Smaller asteroids routinely make closer passes to Earth, but 2014 J025, discovered in May 2014, will be the largest asteroid to come this near to the planet since 2004, flying by at only about 4.6 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, 1.8m km.

“We know the time that the object is going to be closest within seconds, and the distance is known within hundreds of kilometres,” Davide Farnocchia, a mathematician at Nasa’s Near-Earth Object program, said by telephone on Tuesday.

Having several years of data on the asteroid’s trajectory gives scientists the ability to predict its path very confidently, he added.

The asteroid, estimated to be between 600-1,400 metres wide and twice as reflective as the Moon, won’t be visible to the naked eye, but sky watchers should be able to view it with home telescopes for one or two nights starting on Wednesday.

The approach of J025 will be the asteroid’s closest for at least the next 500 years.

In 2004, the 5km wide asteroid Toutatis passed about four lunar distances, or just under 1.6m km from Earth.

Amateur astronomers may be watching J025’s journey, but Farnocchia said he and his colleagues have moved on to tracking even closer encounters, such as asteroid 1999 AN10, an 800m wide rock predicted to pass only 380,000km from Earth, or slightly less than the distance to the Moon, in 2027.

Facebook wants to augment your reality

AP

Facebook wants you to sit in your bedroom wearing a headset and take a virtual vacation with faraway friends and family. Or use your smartphone’s camera to spruce up your dinky apartment, at least virtually.

The promise of augmented and virtual reality was a big focus of Facebook’s annual conference for developers on Tuesday.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the gathering of programmers and other tech folks by talking about augmented reality tools he envisions on Facebook.

Augmented reality involves the overlay of computer-generated images into real-world surroundings.

Zuckerberg said new phone-based applications might let you create a three-dimensional scene from a single two-dimensional photo or splatter the walls of your house with colorful digital art. (You’d see the digital additions by looking “through” your phone at the augmented physical world.)

Making chores more interesting

Facebook executives stressed that the technology is still in its early stages, and that the “journey to the future of augmented reality is just 1 per cent finished,” as Deb Liu, vice president of platform and marketplaces, put it.

Zuckerberg envisions the marriage of augmented reality and Facebook’s camera feature enabling people to make even mundane chores, like doing the dishes, look entertaining with digital effects.

Of course, it could also result in people staring into their smartphones even more intently as they marvel at an alternate reality instead of their actual surroundings.

An attendee waits to try the newly announced Facebook Spaces virtual reality platform during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California. ─ Reuters
An attendee waits to try the newly announced Facebook Spaces virtual reality platform during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California. ─ Reuters

“Over time, I think this is going to be a really important technology that changes how we use our phones,” Zuckerberg predicted.

Facebook also launched a virtual world, called Facebook Spaces, designed to let users of its Oculus Rift VR headset hang out with avatar versions of their friends in a virtual world.

It’s the first time the company has connected the Rift to its social network in a meaningful way, though it’s a development Zuckerberg hinted at when the company bought Oculus back in 2014 for $2 billion.

Coming your way… eventually

While the new tools and features are impressive, analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research cautioned that that “most of them won’t be in users’ hands anytime soon.” That’s especially true for the Spaces app, since relatively few of Facebook’s 1.9 billion members are using Oculus’s VR headset, which sells for about $500 and requires an expensive computer to make it work.

But Facebook could still have the edge on rivals such as Snapchat, which also launched some augmented reality features on Tuesday, likely to coincide with Facebook’s news. “Facebook has the resources to move fast in this area and the audience to spread those features much more widely than Snapchat,” Dawson wrote in a brief research note.

Snap representatives did not immediately respond to an email for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Facebook’s focus on smartphones over high-tech glasses or headsets makes sense given how familiar they are, said Gartner analyst Brian Blau. “People already have cameras and are used to having fun and being creative with them,” he said.

“This will give people a chance to experience augmented reality in a way that isn’t so scary or off-putting.”

Until the past year or so, it seemed like it would be at least another decade before augmented reality would have a chance to become a widely used technology, said Ficus Kirkpatrick, Facebook’s director of engineering. But advances in image and object recognition, along with the ubiquity of smartphone cameras, “has put us on the course to bring augmented reality,” Kirkpatrick said in an interview.

Chatting with companies

Facebook also announced a bevy of updates to Messenger, its increasingly independent messaging app.

Messenger head David Marcus claims the app has become the de facto “white pages” of messaging, since people can find and chat with friends without knowing their phone number. Now, Messenger wants to do the same for businesses, creating a “yellow pages” of sorts that let companies communicate with their customers.

Messenger will also let people chat with outside businesses as a group.

That would, for instance, allow groups of friends to share Spotify playlists or to make a restaurant reservation through OpenTable that keeps everyone on the same page. The idea is simplify what might otherwise require a flurry of texts and sharing of links.

Cleveland murder

Zuckerberg also briefly addressed a tragedy that took place Monday, when a man posted video of a murder on Facebook. That raised questions about Facebook’s ability to monitor gruesome material on its site.

The Facebook founder said his company has “a lot of work” to do on this front.

DAWN.com

Samsung Electronics says Galaxy S8 pre-orders exceeded S7

Reuters

Pre-orders for Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s flagship Galaxy S8 smartphone have exceeded those of its predecessor S7, mobile business chief Koh Dong-jin said on Thursday, suggesting many consumers were unfazed by last year’s Galaxy Note 7 fires.

The S8, which began sales in South Korea, the United States and Canada on April 21, will be central to the South Korean firm’s recovery from the swift withdrawal of the Note 7 phablet.

The new device has been well-received, and some investors and analysts said it could set a first-year sales record for the smartphone giant.

“It’s still a bit early, but initial response to the pre-orders that have begun at various places across the world have been better than expected,” Koh said at a media briefing.

The S8 will be the safest Galaxy smartphone to date due to safety measures implemented to avoid the battery failures that caused some Note 7s to spontaneously combust, he said.

Analysts expect Samsung to record its best-ever quarterly profit in April-June, buoyed by strong S8 sales and a memory chip market boom that is widely expected to deliver record revenue for the industry this year.

The new device, equipped with either 5.8-inch or 6.2-inch curved screens, sports the largest screens to date among all of Samsung’s flagship phones due to a redesign.

Koh also said the firm plans to use the S8 to try to recover in China, where Samsung has been out of the top five vendors in recent years due to heightened competition from local rivals such as Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

He said Samsung will aim to regain market share in China even if it takes time, without elaborating on specific strategies.

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‘Pakistan to be the first country in South Asia to test 5G services’

Aamir Yaseen

RAWALPINDI: Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman on Tuesday said Pakistan would be the first country in South Asia to test 5th generation cellular services for fast connectivity.

Speaking at the In­for­ma­tion Communication Tech­no­­logy (ICT) awards ceremony, organised by the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), Ms Rehman said: “Pakistan recently won the GSMA award and ranked third in the list of mobile telecom operator groups.”

The government was working on a project to provide at least one mobile tower per 100 users in every village by 2030, she added.

Pakistan Telecom­muni­ca­­tion Authority Chairman Ismail Shah, RCCI Presi­dent Raja Amer Iqbal, officials of the Pakistan Software Export Board and officials of other leading IT and telecom companies were present on the occasion.

Ms Rehman said information technology was booming in the country and broadband penetration increased from three per cent to 27pc in the last two years. “We are working towards making a digital Pakistan. Digital economy through IT, freelance, start-ups, e-commerce and mobile apps are the future,” she said.

RCCI President Amer said the ICT award initiative was taken to promote a healthy competition among organisations in the IT sector. “The awards aim at giving merit-based recognition to those who have displayed outstanding performance throughout the year.”

He said the ICT sector had a market share of approximately $3 billion in Pakistan but no step was being taken by the government to promote the industry.

Mr Amer said Rawalpindi and Islamabad had a 40pc share of the total ICT business in the country as many multinational companies had established their offices in the twin cities.

DAWN.com

Yahoo accused of mismanaging fund for dissidents in China

AFP

A lawsuit accused Yahoo of breaking a financial promise it made to Chinese dissidents almost a decade ago as penance for helping the Chinese government find and jail other activists.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in a Washington, D.C., federal court by a group of Chinese dissidents, contends that Yahoo mismanaged a $17 million fund set up to provide financial aid to activists.

Embroiled in China

Yahoo created the human rights fund in 2007, days after U.S. legislators roasted the company for providing authorities with information that led to the imprisonment of two Chinese dissidents, Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao.

The complaint alleges that Yahoo allowed Harry Wu, a now-deceased dissident from China, to spend about $13 million of the fund enriching himself and pursuing other projects tied to his interests.

Only $700,000 has been doled out to Chinese dissidents who had been imprisoned for expressing their opinions online, the reason Yahoo bankrolled the fund, according to the lawsuit.

Yahoo declined to comment.

The plaintiffs want Yahoo to replenish the fund and to pay unspecified damages. The suit arrives at a delicate time for Yahoo, which is preparing to sell its online operations to Verizon Communications for $4.5 billion.

Lectured by Congress

The unflattering portrait drawn in the lawsuit represents yet another blotch on Yahoo’s record in China. Yahoo’s role in fingering Wang and Shi subjected the Sunnyvale, California, company to withering criticism that culminated in Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang being grilled during a Congressional hearing.

“While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, told Yang.

Two days later, Yahoo announced the $17 million fund as part of a settlement that ended lawsuits related to its role in the imprisonment of Wang and Shi. “We are committed to making sure our actions match our values around the world,” Yahoo vowed in a November 2017 statement announcing the fund.

Alleged mismanagement

The new lawsuit argues Yahoo instead used the fund as “window dressing” to help shield the company from further ridicule and resolve other lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Yahoo turned a “blind eye” to Wu’s reckless spending, even though company executives had been warned about the abuses as far back as 2010, according to the complaint.

Among other things, the complaint alleges that Wu paid himself and his wife more than $1 million, spent about $4 million buying real estate in Washington and more than $800,000 on his own legal bills, including a case alleging sexual harassment.

Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps, died last year.

Dawn.com

First ‘Silk Road’ train from Britain leaves for China

The first-ever freight train from Britain to China, laden with whisky, soft drinks and baby products, started its mammoth journey on Monday along a modern-day “Silk Road” trade route.

The 32-container train, around 600 metres (yards) long, left from the vast London Gateway container port on the River Thames estuary, bound for Yiwu on the Chinese east coast.

It was seen off on its 18-day, 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) journey with a string quartet, British and Chinese flags, and speeches voicing hope that it will cement a new golden age of trade between the two countries as the UK leaves the European Union.

The first train from China to Britain arrived on January 18, filled with clothes and other retail goods, and Monday’s departure was the first journey in the other direction.

The rail route is cheaper than air freight and faster than sea freight, offering logistics companies a new middle option.

The driver gave a thumbs-up and tooted his horn as he got the wagons rolling at the port in Stanford-le-Hope, east of London.

The train will go through the Channel Tunnel before travelling across France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan before heading into China.

The containers will be taken off and put on different wagons at the Belarus border, as the former Soviet Union countries use a wider rail gauge.

The containers switch back to standard gauge rails at the Chinese border, an operation that typically takes around two hours.

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