The French Spotify competitor Deezer, which recently launched in the U.S., has bought the on-demand internet radio and podcast service Stitcher. There’s no public price tag on the deal and, according to the Stitcher blog post on Friday, the acquisition wouldn’t affect its existing services. “You will still be able to use Stitcher the way you always have – on mobile phones, tablets, and in cars,” the San Francisco-based team wrote. Speaking of cars, Stitcher’s 35,000+ shows can be found in more than 50 models, it said in the post. Deezer has around 16 million monthly listeners, versus Spotify’s 40 million active users, but Deezer has greater reach, being available in 180 countries to Spotify’s 58.
The Google-owned artificial intelligence outfit DeepMind has revealed a partnership with Oxford University that involves a “substantial donation” to set up a research relationship with the venerable institution’s computer science and engineering departments, and the acquisition of two Oxford spin-off startups. One, Dark Blue Labs, is working on deep learning techniques for understanding natural language; it was founded earlier this year by professors Nando de Freitas and Phil Blunsom, and doctors Edward Grefenstette and Karl Moritz Hermann. The other, Vision Factory, was founded by Dr Karen Simonyan, Max Jaderberg and Prof Andrew Zisserman to work on visual object and text recognition, again using deep learning. According to a Thursday post by DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis, the three professors will continue working part-time at Oxford.
German publishers who recently accused Google of blackmail for threatening to stop listing their stories in Google News – after they tried for years to wrangle copyright cash out of Google for using their snippets and thumbnails – have relented, for now at least. On Wednesday, their collection agency, VG Media, said it was giving Google “revocable” consent to freely reproduce this content in Google News. VG Media said (PDF) the publishers were “forced to take this extraordinary step, given the overwhelming market power of Google.” True, Google has the vast majority of the German search market, but even German web portals have stopped listing snippets from the publishers, including Axel Springer, because of their copyright threats.
The Norwegian printed electronics firm Thin Film – which we recently covered for its smart label partnership with Cisco-backed Evrythng – has taken a healthy $23 million in investment from local conglomerate Ferd. Thin Film CEO Davor Sutija said in a statement that the investment, for a 7.3 percent stake, “fully funds” the firm’s current product roadmap. Printed electronics are generally pretty cheap to implement, and Thin Film (an entry on our Mobile 15 list a couple years back) wants to add electronic functionality to items such as perishable food packaging, disposable goods, single-use medical products and so on.
Telefónica will cut 1,600 jobs in Germany following the merger of O2 Deutschland with E-Plus, to get rid of duplicate roles. The jobs will be phased out by 2018, the firm said Friday, noting that positions would go from both O2 and E-Plus. It also stressed that E-Plus’s Düsseldorf office would retain an important role in the combined operation, alongside Telefónica Deutschland’s Munich headquarters and Hamburg office. Telefónica completed its purchase of E-Plus from Dutch telecoms group KPN at the beginning of October following European Commission approval in late August, in the process becoming Germany’s biggest mobile operator.
Uber keeps getting disrupted by European laws. On top of those recent Dutch driver arrests, the U.S. quasi-taxi outfit has now been fined €100,000 ($128,000) in France for falsely marketing its paid-for UberPop (a.k.a. UberX) offering as a carpooling service, and told by the Parisian court to warn its drivers that they face “criminal conviction.” Meanwhile, in the U.K. transport authorities have referred Uber to the tax authorities for, unlike other taxi firms, not paying any tax in the U.K. (Revenues go to a Dutch subsidiary that’s owned by a Bermuda subsidiary.) Indian authorities are also on the firm’s case over tax, so at least it’s not just Europe.
A majority of Russians supports the censorship of the internet, according to a poll carried out late September and published this week by the independent Levada Center (as spotted by the Moscow Times). The research outfit found that 54 percent of the 1,630 respondents, spread across Russia, agreed that there was a need for web censorship. However, that was down from 63 percent a couple years before – and the percentage of respondents opposed to online censorship was up from 19 to 31. Unsurprisingly, those in favor of online censorship were more likely to be people who don’t use the internet, like a third of Russians. A recent law allows Russian authorities to censor the output of bloggers as they do with broadcast journalists.
Swiss/U.S. infrastructure-as-a-service provider CloudSigma has joined the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in gaining Ubuntu certification — a move that should make it more attractive for those looking to deploy the much-used guest operating system. Ubuntu certification means CloudSigma, which pitches itself as a more highly configurable alternative to its rivals, is now integrated with Canonical’s repositories, so that the Ubuntu server images in CloudSigma’s marketplace are optimized and updated on a near-daily basis. Because CloudSigma now also has local mirrors of the Ubuntu archive, it’s also promising faster installation and patching than before, and of course, the Ubuntu tie-in means apps can be deployed into its cloud using JuJu.
Dutch hosting providers are complaining about law enforcement calls for them to take down jihadist material that isn’t necessarily illegal. Michiel Steltman, director of the Dutch Hosting Provider Association, told Het Financieele Dagblad on Tuesday that public prosecutors are increasingly asking for content to be removed on the basis of criminal suspicion, but with no judicial review. He cited the recent example of a video of men celebrating around a campfire, accompanied by Arabic text, where it was unclear that they were definitely celebrating jihadist activity. “The government has a perfectly legal tool to remove content, but chooses not to use it [regarding] jihadism,” Leaseweb legal chief Alex de Joode added in the article.
Four Uber drivers were arrested in Amsterdam on Sunday for flouting a ban on unlicensed taxi services. According to local reports, they may be fined up to €4,200 ($5,329) or more if they break the law again. Bloomberg reported Uber as saying the crackdown was “unjustified and disproportional.” One report suggested the firm might pay drivers’ fines in some cases. In Berlin, where Uber has frequently come up against similar laws, the company has now cut its UberPop/UberX fares to such a low point that the services count as ride-sharing rather than profit-making taxi services, thus bypassing taxi licensing regulations – but destroying any incentive for people to drive for it.
Remember that crazy Russian law forcing any web service that handles Russians’ personal data to store it in Russian data centers? The one that’s annoyed the U.S. and may lead to Twitter, Facebook and Google being blocked in Russia? So that’s still happening, but an even crazier law, which would have brought forward the implementation date for this local storage mandate from 2016 to a few months from now, may have been derailed. According to an RBC TV report on Thursday, this bill has been postponed and may be entirely shelved – apparently the Russian aviation sector in particular freaked out at the impossible deadline for shifting its reservation systems, complaining that suitable infrastructure just doesn’t exist in Russia yet.