News You Can Use: EU tech regulations, JP Morgan goes crypto, Amazon withdraws the rose

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When you log on to your social platform of choice these days, you may find yourself struck by a familiar sensation: You’re drowning in headlines. There’s so much news — and current events are coming at you so quickly — it’s hard to make sense of it all.

Fear not, friend, because News You Can Use is here to help. It’s your biweekly digest of the latest headlines in technology and marketing, where we break down the most important current events and explain what they might mean for your business.

And if you’re a returning reader, you already know that we’re not big on throat-clearing around here — let’s get to the news.

1) EU takes aim at Google with new tech regulations (Reuters)

After months of deliberation, the EU has resolved to formally adopt a new set of regulations around online platforms and app stores. Under the new Platform-to-Business (P2B) laws, limits will be placed on the ability of companies like Google and Amazon to promote their own services on their own platforms.

The move is seen as a direct challenge to the dominance of the top tech firms, and is intended to stem what EU legislators deem are unfair practices around online advertising and e-commerce.

“Our target is to outlaw some of the most unfair practices and create a benchmark for transparency, at the same time safeguarding the great advantages of online platforms both for consumers and for businesses,” EU digital chief Andrus Ansip said.

The tech industry should be largely pleased with the EU’s light-touch approach, which — contrary to analysts’ fears — does not try to force a one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme onto an entire continent. Businesses should also brace themselves for other countries to begin following the EU’s lead, as we’re now seeing with Japan.

2) J.P. Morgan announces bank-backed blockchain initiative, pegged to US dollar (J.P. Morgan)

Blockchain, long considered an investment gimmick, may finally be hitting the mainstream. The investment bank J.P. Morgan has announced the launch of the ‘JPM Coin’, a digital currency that they say can be used by clients for wholesale payments.

This trial represents the first real-world use of a digital currency by a US bank, and represents a sharp reversal from previous comments by J.P. Morgan chief Jamie Dimon, who blasted cryptocurrency as a “fraud” investment.

“The applications are frankly quite endless; anything where you have a distributed ledger which involves corporations or institutions can use this,” said Umar Farooq, head of J.P. Morgan’s blockchain initiative.

For now at least, it remains to be seen whether J.P. Morgan’s initiative will be just an interesting experiment, or the starting gun for other financial institutions to begin taking cryptocurrency seriously.

3) Amazon to offer user-created smart device customizations for ‘Alexa Blueprints’ (TechCrunch)

Last year, Amazon released their much-touted Alexa Blueprints customization program, which allows users to create their own customized vocal triggers and responses for Alexa-enabled smart devices. Now, users will be able to share their Alexa customizations on the US Alexa Skills Store.

This rollout appears to be aimed specifically at bloggers and content creators — many of the featured blueprints on the new Skills Store are for integrations with content-publishing platforms, such as WordPress.

We’re big believers in the marketing potential of this new wave of AI-powered assistant tech. This latest offering from Amazon is just one more example of how AI and smart devices will be fundamental to the future of marketing.

4) Despite ‘record year’ and best-ever profits, Activision-Blizzard lays off 800 employees (Kotaku)

2018 was another consecutive year of record-setting sales for Activision-Blizzard, the storied publishing giant behind juggernaut videogame franchises like Call of Duty and Overwatch. But despite a massive revenue windfall, the company announced that it would be restructuring due to missed sales targets in 2018 and lowered expectations for 2019.

The layoffs amounted to more than 8 percent of the company’s workforce — some 800 out of the nearly 10,000 total employees. And though they had been rumored for months, analysts were still taken aback by the scope of the cuts.

The layoffs are also a testament to the brutal calculus of the videogame industry. 2018 was a banner year for Activision’s stock price, and its top executives have announced more than $1.5 billion in buybacks. But investors still weren’t satisfied at the rate of growth, and demanded steep personnel cuts to further boost the bottom line.

In the wake of this news, tech and software investors must ask themselves: If a massively successful company like Activision-Blizzard isn’t profitable enough, then what is?

5) Amazon withdraws plans for HQ2 in NYC after pushback from local activists (CNBC)

Amazon has announced that it will not build one-half of its ‘HQ2’ project in NYC, citing opposition from local activists and politicians. The company had originally planned to build part of its second headquarters in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens.

“A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City,” Amazon said in a statement. Rather than choose a different city for the second half of HQ2, it will boost staffing at its planned facilities in Arlington, VA, and Nashville, TN.

For his part, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a defiant response: “You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity.”

While Amazon’s proverbial rose ceremony makes for amusing pageantry, they had already won big before they even broke ground on HQ2. Each and every major city in the US has already handed Amazon a massive trove of their proprietary data: Demographics, growth targets, revenue projections, infrastructure plans, political messaging, the list goes on and on.

Well played, Bezos. Well played.

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