If it feels like your Amazon search results have been overwhelmed with promotions for their private-label brands, like Amazon Basics, Mama Bear or Daily Ritual, that may be changing. As lawmakers pay more attention to the most powerful tech companies, Amazon has begun quietly removing some of the more obvious promotions, including banner ads, for its private-label products, reports CNBC, which spoke to Amazon sellers and consultants.
Amazon’s aggressive marketing of its own private brands, with ads that often appear in search results above listings for competing items from third-party sellers, have raised antitrust concerns. The company’s increasingly strong gripe on the U.S. retail market has been under scrutiny for years, but pressure intensified last month when Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential primary candidate Elizabeth Warren announced that breaking up tech giants Amazon, Google and Facebook (and other companies with an annual global revenue above $25 billion that provide marketplace, exchange or third-party connectivity as “platform utilitilies”) in order to reduce their economic dominance will be a major part of her platform. This means that Amazon Marketplace and Basics would be split apart, and acquisitions including Whole Foods and Zappos would be spun out.
Amazon’s private brands quickly became a major threat to third-party sellers on its platform, increasing from about a dozen brands in 2016, when some of its products began taking the lead in key categories like batteries, speakers and baby wipes, to a current roster of more than 135 private label brands and 330 brands exclusive to Amazon, according to TJI Research.
While Amazon benefits from higher margins, cost-savings from a more efficient supply chain and new data, third-party sellers often suffer. For example, they may have to cut prices to stay competitive, and even lower prices may not be enough attract customers away from Amazon’s promotions for its own items, which show up in many search results.
Other recent measures Amazon has taken to ward off antitrust scrutiny include reportedly getting rid of its price parity requirement for third-party sellers, which meant they were not allowed to sell the same products on other sites for lower prices.
TechCrunch has contacted Amazon for comment.
Apple Q1 2022 winners & losers: iPhone up, iPad down in bumper holiday
Apple has released the earnings report for its first fiscal quarter of 2022, announcing yet another all-time record with revenue hitting $123.9 billion. The company credits a “very strong customer response” toward its latest and greatest products for the growth, noting its earnings ultimately jumped 11-percent compared to the previous year.
Apple’s most recent fiscal quarter ended on December 25, 2021, raking in growth across the services, wearables, Mac, and iPhone products lines. The iPad was the only notable exception to the records, with the overall trend hinting at a bright future despite pandemic-related disruptions.
The company hasn’t provided forward guidance since the start of the pandemic and the most recent quarterly earnings report is no exception. Despite that, Apple CEO Tim Cook did offer some insight into the company’s expectations for the next quarter in a statement to CNBC, revealing Apple expects to see “solid year-over-year revenue growth” during its March quarter.
As with many other companies in the industry, Apple has been hit hard by supply chain disruptions. Though this issue won’t disappear overnight, Cook said Apple expects these “constraints” to be less of a problem in its next quarter compared to the December quarter.
Apple introduced its iPhone 13 series in September 2021, paving the way for typically high sales over the holiday period. As of October, the company warned that supply shortages may end up hitting the iPhone and iPad lines, potentially impacting holiday sales. This reality was reflected in consumers’ struggle to find the iPhone 13 Pro, at least in their desired configurations, for weeks after its launch.
Though the December quarter ended up exceeding analysts’ expectations, the struggle isn’t quite over. Cook explained that Apple’s “biggest issue” involves supply chain constraints related to legacy nodes, a problem we’ve heard before. However, Apple’s CEO did reveal the company is “doing okay” when it comes to acquiring leading-edge chips, which refers to the powerful hardware powering many of the smart devices used in everyday life.
The constraints aside, Cook also mentioned Apple’s ongoing environmental and social efforts as part of the company’s earnings announcement, stating:
We are gratified to see the response from customers around the world at a time when staying connected has never been more important. We are doing all we can to help build a better world — making progress toward our goal of becoming carbon neutral across our supply chain and products by 2030, and pushing forward with our work in education and racial equity and justice.
Facebook Messenger will tell you if someone screenshots your disappearing message
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a major new feature for Facebook Messenger, one that will significantly improve privacy on the platform: Notifications when someone screenshots your disappearing messages in a Secret Conversation secured with end-to-end encryption.
“New update for end-to-end encrypted Messenger chats so you get a notification if someone screenshots a disappearing message,” Zuckerberg wrote on January 27, 2022. “We’re also adding GIFs, stickers, and reactions to encrypted chats too.”
Facebook first introduced disappearing messages in November 2020, in both Messenger and Instagram. The move was part of a larger effort to provide additional protection across the company’s messaging platforms, with WhatsApp receiving a similar feature just weeks before.
From the very beginning, Messenger would notify users when someone took a screenshot of a disappearing message, making this latest announcement seem redundant. There’s one very important difference, however.
Facebook’s end-to-end encryption push
Facebook has been working to roll out end-to-end encryption (E2EE) across its messaging platforms. E2EE is a significant upgrade from server-side encryption and is considered the gold standard of privacy and security. In the case of server-side encryption, the service provider has the key that can be used to decrypt your data. As a result, you can never truly be sure who is accessing your data and messages.
With E2EE, however, your data is encrypted in such a way that only you and the person you’re communicating with can read your message. Not even the provider, whose service you’re using, can intercept and read your messages. Needless to say, while E2EE offers unrivaled security, it can be more difficult to add features that are commonplace in non-E2EE services.
That distinction is what makes Zuckerberg’s latest announcement different. Facebook is now providing screenshot notifications within E2EE chats, adding an additional layer of privacy and security to such messages. The addition of reactions, GIFs, and stickers to these chats, meanwhile, will make private conversations a bit more exciting. The new features are rolling out now.
Your iPhone could accept contactless payments in the future
Apple is working on a service that will let you accept payments directly through your iPhone, according to a new report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg. Gurman’s sources say that the tech giant has been working on the feature since 2020, when it purchased Mobeewave, the Canadian startup behind new tech for smartphones that lets them accept contactless payments from credit cards.
Gurman reports that the payment system will probably rely on the iPhone’s near field communications chip (NFC). The iPhone already uses the NFC chip to process payments using Apple Pay, so it would make sense to build off of that usage with the new service.
Currently, users accepting payments via their iPhone have to rely on third-party hardware from companies like Square. With this new tech, though, businesses would be able to accept card payments by simply letting the customer tap their card against their iPhone. It’s an interesting concept, and one that could turn the world of handheld sales on its head depending on how Apple pushes it.
Apple could announce a new iPhone SE, too
While Apple hasn’t shared any real details about the plan, or indeed any official news at all, it is something to keep an eye on. Additionally, Gurman says that the tech may debut later this year, alongside some other announcements that people are expecting from Apple. Chief among these other announcements is a new iPhone SE model, as well as an iPad Air that offers 5G connectivity. Gurman says those devices are expected to debut in March or April, and we’ve already seen previous reports about a new Mac that uses Apple’s custom-built processors, too.
Apple pushing towards accepting payments directly on its devices isn’t exactly a surprise. The company has slowly been expanding its payment options in the past, with the launch of the Apple Card, as well as a push to get Apple Pay in more stores around the world. The company also launched the Apple Cash Card, which allows you to send payments directly peer-to-peer, similarly to services like PayPal or Venmo. All we need to do now is wait and see how Apple pushes this new service, and exactly what it means for current payment providers like Square.
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