4 reasons you must embrace push notifications to increase revenue – Best in Australia

Photo: Cristian Dina, Pexels.

You think of expanding your business, suddenly one idea sparks in your mind and that is none other than the mobile app technology and you want to adapt it since you want your business to excel and you don’t want a single stone to remain unturned for the sake of your success. 

But after getting a mobile app you realize that it is turning out to be a hard task for you to retain users.

When the question of app’s success comes the very segment which describes the success of a mobile app is the number of active users on your mobile app, and something which takes this journey one step ahead is the app retention on your mobile app. 

Push notifications can be a tool for the user retention, but only if you decided to proceed with certain tactics, which are mentioned herewith in this blog. Let’s read ahead and experience the difference

App retention is one of the greatest concerns every app has to deal with and needs to find out the best ways out of it in order to make your app survive the app chaos elegantly. 

Indeed there are certain aspects which must be integrated into the app during the app development process, so the app can fit in the requirements of the business and falls as an absolute fit for the users’ expectations as well.

But with so many features, functionalities, it gets more confusing for the app owners to pick the right strategy for the mobile app, which can help the mobile app from getting doomed, so to avoid the cloud of confusion, we have brought this post today, which clearly speaks that how a simple feature in your app, can help your mobile app to survive the game of the app retention…this feature is none other than the Push Notification.

Motivates users to buy products

When a customer plans to buy something from your app, but adds them in the cart and forgets to buy the product, in such scenario when you send a push notification reminder to your targeted audience so they can complete their purchase.

So with a help of simple push notification, you trigger your audience and help them to stay hooked to your services only.

Offers personalized notification

Your users have a different choices, and the different demand from the users, often lead the users to visit the competitor’s mobile app, since they feel the existing app doesn’t have anything new to serve them, so with a push notification you can easily eradicate this possibility by continuously updating your users, about any new feature or the new update which would suit their taste.

With this, you would help your users to stay engaged with your mobile app only and you can experience a much-engaging user experience.

Works on users’ psychology

When you wake up in the morning, and find a notification on your mobile app, telling you the weather forecast, you would definitely feel touched and would start to notice the app. 

This same strategy is integrated by the Facebook as well, wherein on opening the app or the web page in the morning, you are notified by a beautiful message, which states, Hi XXX, today weather will remain clear in Australia, you can enjoy the sunshine!!!, these small notifications which stay on top of your mobile app, keep reminding the users to about your app.

Now the question comes, that how to make the push notification a successful strategy???

Unfortunately push notification can be a deal-breaker or the maker for your app if you skip following the rules. The rules are quite simple and state:

Keep the content simple

When you decide to proceed further with the push notification then you must remember that your users don’t have much time to understand and act on your notification, so the very first strategy suggests, that more your content would be simple, more it would be preferred by the users. So keep the notification content simple yet engaging with some magic words, like ‘ Grab the deal’ or ‘ (name) you should not miss this deal’, by integrating the words like this, you would allow your users to use your app.

Push platform

The selection of the right platform to send the push platform is also mandatory for the successful push notification strategy. There are many push platforms in the market, such as PushWoosh and Parse to name a few, but you need to pick the most appropriate option as per your business needs.

Notifications must have the frequency

You need to understand a very common and most significant fact, that every user has a personal life as well, and you cannot disturb it with your push messages, so you need to understand that your push notification must not turn out to be an irritating factor for your mobile app, so by keeping this in mind you must set a frequency of your push messages.

Switch on/off option

When it comes to push notification, the more you allow your users to use it as per their convenience they would prefer to use it further. To make this happen, you must let the On/Off option in your mobile app, which would allow the users to set the notification-receiving as per their convenience.

Indeed push-notifications can help your mobile app to retain the users, but only if it is planned and managed with the right strategies to yield the best result out of it and can help you to make your app development a cherishing experience for your business goals.

Also, one another fact which equally matters in the success of a mobile app, and cannot be given a miss at any given cost, is the selection of the right mobile app development company for your app.

I know there are many app development companies in the app development market, and which keep on confusing you further, but you need to be sure of picking a right app development partner, which has the impressive technical experience and the technical exposure to handle your app requirements effortlessly.

If you are finding it hard to find such company for your app concept, then you must get in touch with experienced app builder such as Techugo, which has every bit of these requirements coupled with the renowned clientele list, and help your app to grow immensely.

Jason is a senior Android developer in Australia. He holds great expertise in latest and advanced Android technologies, and ensures to integrate his skills into the mobile app development process.

What do you think about it?

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Goldman Sachs is making it easier to plug its services into other tech platforms like Amazon or Apple’s iPhone, and an industry consultant says it shows how the bank is leading a `fundamental change’ in retail banking.

  • Goldman Sachs is in talks with Amazon about providing small-business loans to merchants who sell products on Amazon’s retail platform, according to a person with knowledge of them. The talks were first reported by the Financial Times on Monday. 
  • The partnership would be the second inked by Goldman with a large technology firm that can provide the scale and distribution for Goldman’s products that it can’t get itself. 
  • The partnership, and another one with Apple, is an example of banking-as-a-service, though some insiders have taken to calling it Goldman Sachs-as-a-service. 
  • “If Goldman can pull off an embedded banking deal somewhere else besides Apple Pay … that’s a leading indicator of a fundamental change in retail banking,” according to independent consultant Richard Crone.

Goldman Sachs is close to inking a second high-profile deal to offer banking services in partnership with a large tech company, and it’s a sign of what may be a fundamental change in retail banking. 

Goldman is in talks with Amazon to offer small business loans to merchants who sell products on Amazon, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion. The Financial Times first reported the talks on Monday. Goldman’s small business loans may feature the bank’s name and begin as soon as March, the newspaper said. 

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment. 

If the deal is signed, it would become the second Big Tech partnership for Goldman Sachs after it launched a credit card last year with Apple last year. Goldman CEO David Solomon has called the Apple Card the most successful credit card launch of all time, without providing details to back up the claim. 

But it would also be a sign of something much more ambitious: Goldman Sachs moving quickly and aggressively to leverage those characteristics that make it uniquely a bank, with a license that allows it to offer banking products and a balance sheet where it can fund loans cheaply being just two prominent examples. 

The company has been sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into building out its technology capabilities, including APIs (application programming interfaces), to make it as easy and seamless to plug such services into the technology platforms of others, whether that’s Apple’s mobile devices, as with the Apple Card, or Amazon’s retail platform. 

At an investor day last week, execs referred to it as banking-as-a-service, but some insiders have taken to calling it Goldman Sachs-as-a-service. 

Stephanie Cohen, Goldman’s chief strategy officer, appeared on stage last week at the bank’s investor day alongside Marco Argenti, the co-chief information officer who recently joined the bank after several years as a senior exec at Amazon Web Services.

Cohen said the bank is looking for ways to use technology to embed the types of things that Goldman can do well, such as risk management, or loan underwriting.

Cohen cited the Apple Card, which is a Goldman-designed product delivered on Apple’s devices, as one such example. 

“That last capability is the consumer version of our platform strategy,” Cohen said. “It allows us to take products and services that we build for our own clients and then give it to other clients so that they can embed financial products into their ecosystem. This strategy will drive top-line growth, and it will create scale efficiencies.”

Goldman isn’t the only large bank that’s working with Big Tech companies. In November, Google announced a partnership with Citigroup to provide checking accounts to the tech firm’s customers. 

And yet, Goldman is probably doing it better than anyone because it has developed a suite of APIs that it can take off the shelf and plug into other platforms, according to Richard Crone, an independent consultant. 

“Goldman Sachs, when they write the history books, will be noted as the one who invented or perfected embedded banking, where you embed your financial services through the user interface, or at the edge, of someone else’s network,” Crone said. “If Goldman can get this right with Amazon, I would expect them to go to Facebook next or any other online platform of substance that provides them a large distribution channel.”

Goldman is leaning on many of the lessons it learned in its partnership with Apple, known as an incredibly demanding partner, Crone said. Most notably, the ability to offer instant issuance to a set of customers that have already been pre-validated, multi-factor authenticated, Know-Your-Customer credentialed by the large tech firms. 

“They already know the customer, but they have met the regulatory requirement in advance before they hand it over,” he said. 

The product will likely look similar to what small merchants are getting from Square Cash or PayPal Working Capital. 

Goldman has bigger ambitions. At last week’s investor day, the bank presented a slide that showed a product called Marcus Pay, which talked about point-of-sale solutions for merchants based on its digital consumer bank. 

This is just another example of how embedded banking is here to stay, which can be hard for a lot of bankers to understand because they want to service customers through their own app, Crone said.

But “no financial institution can reach the scale that’s required to compete electronically” with the large platforms if they only do it through their own app, he said.  

“If Goldman can pull off an embedded banking deal somewhere else besides Apple Pay, or if Citigroup can pull off Google Cache, that’s a leading indicator of a fundamental change in retail banking.”

See also: Goldman Sachs just unveiled hundreds of slides laying out the future of the company. Here are the 10 crucial slides that show how it plans to transform into a bank for everyone.

See also: Inside Goldman Sachs’ first investor day, where avocado toast and crab apples were served with tech talk, 3-year plans, and a surprising trading mea culpa

NOW WATCH: WeWork went from a $47 billion valuation to a failed IPO. Here’s how the company makes money.

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Nats double down on commitment to coal, Joyce rants against wind and solar | RenewEconomy

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If there were any questions over the National Party’s commitment to the coal sector after the loss of Matt Canavan from the resources portfolio, they were quickly answered by new deputy leader David Littleproud who reasserted his party’s commitment to a new coal generator in Queensland on his first day in the job.

In an interview with ABC’s RN Breakfast program on Wednesday, Littleproud trotted out the three consistent assertions of the coal lobby; that you can reduce emissions using more coal, that more coal generation is necessary to lower electricity prices and that baseload power is a necessary feature of the future energy system.

Each of these three assertions have been repeatedly debunked, but it confirms that it’s business as usual in a Morrison cabinet that will continue to face internal divisions over a need to act on climate change and the fossil fuel advocates within its ranks.

It is understood that Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt is the front runner to take over Canavan’s former positions as the minister for resources and Northern Australia when new ministerial appointments are announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday.

Pitt himself has been an outspoken advocate for a new coal-fired power station in Queensland, so while Canavan – who liked to describe himself as “Mr Coal” – has exited the federal cabinet, the pressure to push forward with the Collinsville project is likely to continue.

Pitt has also been a strong supporter of a nuclear industry in Australia, and will have the backing of failed Nationals leadership candidate Barnaby Joyce, who again argued for nuclear power to be considered as part of Australia’s efforts to reduce emissions as part of a bizarre Facebook rant against renewable energy.

“We have to recognise that the public acceptance of wind towers on the hill in front of their veranda is gone, and the public dissonance on that issue is as strong as any other environmental subject,” Joyce said.

“If zero emissions are the goal then surely nuclear energy should be supported, but it is not. If wind towers are a moral good and environmentally inoffensive, why can’t we have them just off the beach at Bondi so we can feel good about ourselves while going for a surf? It would cause a riot.”

“Do you want a 3,000ha solar farm next door to you? Lots of glass and aluminium neatly in rows pointing at the sun. I am not sure others will want to buy that view off you when you go to sell your house.”

The coal industry might have lost its most enthusiastic advocate from the federal cabinet, but the Nationals were quick to show that it won’t lead to any changes on the party’s energy and climate change policies.

In his interview, Littleproud, who is also tipped to take on the now vacant agriculture portfolio, told the ABC that investments in new coal generators would help lower emissions and lower electricity prices.

“You need to make sure that you create an environment in the marketplace with a mix of renewables and coal-fired power stations, and if you can improve the emissions of coal fired power stations, you should make that investment if it means that we hit our targets and we reduce energy prices,” Littleproud claimed.

It has been well established for some time that the cheapest source of new electricity generation capacity are renewable sources like wind and solar.

A recent update to the CSIRO’s GenCost assessment of the costs of different generation technologies re-confirmed that new wind and solar are, by far, the cheapest sources of electricity generation. Even when additional storage is accounted for, prices of firmed renewables are competitive with fossil fuel generators when the costs of carbon emissions are considered.

Renewables are already helping to drive down electricity prices.

This week, the ACT, which has recently achieved its 100 per cent renewable electricity target, is also set to see an almost 7 per cent fall in its electricity prices this year, as the territory’s investments in wind and solar projects have helped deliver lower electricity prices for Canberra households, ensuring they continue to pay some of Australia’s lowest electricity prices.

But this also didn’t stop Littleproud asserting that it is possible to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while still embracing coal.

“You can invest in clean coal technology in and reduce emissions,” Littleproud said.

“I’m not disputing the science, what I’m saying is I’m not gifted academically to have that science background myself.” – @D_LittleproudMP when asked about his recent statement that he didn’t know if climate change was man made. #abc730 @leighsales #auspol pic.twitter.com/sFh44eNP2a

— abc730 (@abc730) February 4, 2020

Again, there are fundamental limits to how much emissions from coal-fired power stations can be improved. Even with a complete transition to the Coalition’s favoured high-efficiency low-emissions (HELE) coal power station technologies, the most generous estimates put the amount of emissions reductions at 20 per cent.

In his review of the National Electricity Market, chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel compared the emissions intensity of different generation technologies, showing that the HELE coal-fired power stations promoted by the Nationals will still produce 0.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced, and is only slightly below the NEM’s current average emissions intensity.

When the science, and the international commitments made under the Paris Agreement, are calling for governments to achieve zero net emissions by 2050, a 20 per cent cut in coal power station emissions is going to be grossly insufficient.

It’s a position that leaves the Nationals at odds with science, but also the business community which is undergoing an accelerating exit from the coal industry. This includes BlackRock, which manages USD$7 trillion (A$10.15 trillion) in investments, which announced in January that it was divesting its portfolios from thermal coal companies.

Littleproud argued for the need for “baseload” power, suggesting that coal-fired power stations are necessary, as Australia currently lacks sufficient levels of battery storage.

“We’ve still got to have baseload, the thing is that we don’t have battery storage to the capacity that we need to be able to keep the lights on,” Littleproud said.

With the emergence of new energy management technologies, a growing market for energy storage that is outpacing growth in coal generation in Australia, demand response platforms and the falling prices of renewables, the concept of baseload is quickly becoming outdated.

With system planners recognising the crucial role that a ‘flexible’ energy system will have into the future, pushing new inflexible baseload power stations, like a new coal generator, into the energy system will only be counterproductive.

Chair of the Energy Security Board, which has been tasked with redesigning Australia’s energy market in response to the widescale transformation underway in the energy sector, labelled Australia’s existing “baseload” generators as “dinosaurs”, singling out coal-fired generators Bayswater and Liddell saying that their inflexibility made them poorly suited to a future energy system.

There has been a surge of installations of large-scale battery storage systems, and new investments continue to be made in deploying storage projects, while coal-fired generators are readying to exit the market.

The renewed push from the Nationals for a new coal generator appears to have been bolstered by the findings of a $10 million feasibility study into a potential new coal-fired power station in Collinsville. The feasibility study was funded as part of the government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments initiative and has yet to be released publicly.

“Collinsville, there’s a there’s now a report that’s come back to say that that business case should advance and then obviously, that will be backed by the economics of it,” Littleproud told ABC’s RN Breakfast.

The saga of the Collinsville power station has been a source of tension within the Coalition party room. Outgoing resources minister Matt Canavan had been desperate to get the project off the ground, and confronted prime minister Scott Morrison when he thought progress on the proposal was progressing too slowly.

Those tensions continue to play out in the party room, with a fiery confrontation occurring during the first coalition party room meeting of the year, and after a summer dominated by bushfires and calls for stronger climate action.

Several Nationals members shouted down calls from moderate Liberal MPs, who called for the Morrison government to demonstrate that it was taking climate change seriously.

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In the ground and off the page: why we’re banning ads from fossil fuels extractors | Membership | The Guardian

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In a bid to reduce our carbon footprint, confront greenwashing and increase our focus on the climate crisis, the Guardian this week announced it will no longer run ads from fossil fuel extractors alongside any of its content in print or online. The move will come into immediate effect, and follows the announcement in October last year that we intend to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2030.

Once upon a time, a newspaper was a rather straightforward business. You generated enough material of interest to attract a significant number of readers. You then ‘sold’ those readers to advertisers happy to pay to get their ideas, products or brands in front of consumers with cash to spend.

Of course, digital disruption over the past 20 years has upended that model, but advertising remains an important part of the media business ecosystem. At the Guardian, it is still responsible for about two-fifths of our income.

But what happens when the readers don’t like the adverts? What do you do when the message that advertisers want to spread jars awkwardly with the work your journalists are doing?

What if your journalists are some of the best in the world at revealing and investigating the deepening climate catastrophe and the disaster that is fossil fuel growth, while some of your advertisers are the very people digging the stuff out of the ground?

This contradiction has bothered us – and some of you – for some time. We came up with a rather bold answer this week: turn away the money and double down on the journalism.

“It’s something we thought about for a long time,” says Anna Bateson, the interim chief executive officer of Guardian Media Group, the Guardian’s parent company. “We always felt it was in line with our editorial values but were cautious for commercial reasons.”

She said it was the logical next step after the Guardian committed last year to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and was certified as a B Corp – a company that puts purpose before profit. But she added that the move had to be weighed carefully, given the fact that the Guardian only recently returned to breakeven after years in the red.

“You have to be careful you are not making cavalier decisions,” she said. “ We are still having to fight for our financial future. But because of the support we get from our readers, it is less of a risk.”

On the advertising side of our business, Adam Foley said there were no complaints at all that potential customers were suddenly off-limits, adding that staff felt that “being part of a company that shares their values” was the biggest motivation for his teams.

“A statement like this reaffirms to all of us that we’re contributing to a business that really lives those values – to the extent where it is prepared to sacrifice profit for purpose.”

The response from the wider world has been a pleasant surprise. Hundreds of you have written in, pledging your support, and in some cases, one-off contributions to start making up the shortfall. (EDS: See below – I’m going to append the best responses below. In print you can use as the panel)

The environmental movement was instantly appreciative, with activists quickly urging our peers to follow suit. “The Guardian will no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies,” Greta Thunberg tweeted. “A good start, who will take this further?” Greenpeace called it “a huge moment in the battle against oil and gas for all of us.”

Some readers have been calling for the Guardian to go the whole hog and forsake advertising from any company with a substantial carbon footprint. Bateson said that was not realistic, adding that such a move would result in less money for journalism. She said the fossil fuel extractors were specifically targeted because of their efforts to skew the climate change debate through their lobbying effort.

“We are committed to advertising,” she said. “It will continue to be part of our future. We want advertisers who want to be appear alongside our high quality journalism.”

And how will we know if this has worked?
“We will listen to our readers, we will listen to our advertisers. The response so far has been gratifying. If we continue to hear positive noises from our readers and supporters, then it will have been a success.”




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Responses from our supporters

That is such a brilliant decision and it will be tough, but it is the correct one and I am very proud of The Guardian. Barbara Syer

Following the Guardian’s decision to ban ads from fossil fuel companies I’m making a monthly contribution to support its fearless journalism: reader support is essential for independent scrutiny of the powerful in business, finance and politics. Titus Alexander, Hertfordshire, England

I live at present in Canada, home to the Alberta Tar Sands: another name for ecological devastation resulting from fossil fuel extraction. I fully support The Guardian’s action in ceasing to be a vehicle for advertising by fossil fuel extractive companies, and I’m proud to be a supporter. My monthly donation is small, but when I can I will make it much greater. Rosemary Delnavine, Canada

Congratulations. At this time it may be a bold step, indeed, within this industry, but true leaders have to take bold steps for the betterment of the quality of life, and more importantly for the life of future generations. I applaud this decision, and will spread the word. Raphael Sulkovitz, Boston MA

What a bravery! This is what the life on earth needs, thank you. Karri Kuikka, Finland (EDS: please leave her wonderful Finglish intact!)

Keep it up. Here in Canada, we’re still trying to have it both ways — sell the product internationally but discourage buying domestically. As I recall, it was the same with tobacco. Eventually, it took a change in public opinion to solve the problem. As a news source, your efforts are part of this solution. Robert Shotton, Ottawa

I applaud your decision to”walk the talk.” I will therefore continue to contribute to The Guardian. Bob Wagenseil

Bravo yr decision to eschew $ from the FFI. Please do continue to hold to the fire(s) the feet of the deniers and the willfully ignorant. Sydney Alonso, Vermont, US

I am very happy to hear that good news. It’s quite courageous on your part, and I’m happy to support you! Have a great year ahead, you’ll have my continuous support! Julien Psomas

I completely support your plan to refuse ads from fossils, despite the
financial hit to the Guardian. I have made a donation to help out. David Thompson

A very commendable decision, very much in keeping with the Guardian’s position as leader of green issues to leave a better planet for following generations. Richard Vernon, Oxford

Yay! I’m so proud of the Guardian! We can no longer support or fund in any manner the fossil fuel industry if we have any chance of survival as a civilization on this planet. You’ve taken a courageous and moral step that will hopefully embolden others to join you. Good on you! Best, Carol Ross, Missouri, US

Good decision. I’ll support you as much as I can, which unfortunately is not much as I live on age pension only. Keep up the good work, we need it desperately! Ursula Brandt, South Australia

I am absolutely delighted by this decision. So many people pledge to do something about Climate Change, but few actually are willing to get uncomfortable and DO it. I am very proud of you as my favourite source of Information and this only makes a case for me to donate next time to you again. Christiane Gross

It was great reading what The Guardian is doing re the climate. As a Guardian on-line reader from The Netherlands I’m going to contribute monthly now instead of ‘now and again’. The amount will be relatively small as I do not have a great income. I really hope more of your supporters will do so, because it is really great what you are doing.
With kind regards, Aleida Oostendorp, Netherlands

I congratulate you and your team on taking this step regarding fossil fuel companies. The Guardian’s stance on the environment and its excellent coverage of related stories and events is the major reason for my support. Well done, and good luck in the future. Deirdre Moore

Love your new policy about accepting money from fossil fuels. Will contribute more to help make up for the shortfall. Todd Misk

I live on a fixed income with a strict budget so my continuing support of your excellent news organisation represents my commitment to the fight to address climate change. Every step counts. Barbara Hirsch, Texas, US

Only when we speak truth to power can change take place. thank yo for your courageous and expensive decision. Nancy Shepherd, Vermont, US

Love your journalism, especially your investigative work and the climate change topic. And with the bold statement about not receiving any more sponsorship from the fossil extracting companies? Well, the already great newspapers became even more impressive now. Keep up the good work. Miroslav Řezníček, Czech Republic

Thank you for taking the bold step of refusing advertising from fossil fuel extractive companies. I think it is the right thing to do & hope many more companies do the same. We must all work together if we want to save our planet. It is one of the most important issues of our times. Ginger Comstock, New York, US

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Details of Facebook, NCC meeting emerges – Daily Post Nigeria

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Top Management staff of Facebook paid a visit to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), on Thursday, to explore opportunities for collaboration and partnership for infrastructure deployment to strengthen connectivity, enhance businesses and bolster citizens’ embrace of digital culture.

Ibrahima Ba, Network Investment Lead at Facebook Office in the United States, who led the delegation to NCC, stated that robust infrastructure was the bedrock of the massive connectivity that signposts Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Facebook had successfully undertaken two connectivity projects in Edo and Ogun involving a total of 800 kilometres of fibre connecting institutions and operators towers.

He said that considering the connectivity gap that still exists in the country, there was a need for further expansion of infrastructure as increased penetration of services will require further deployment of infrastructure.

Ba, who declared that Nigeria was important to Facebook being Africa’s most populous country, emphasised that his company looked forward to seeing opportunities for partnerships manifest to ensure infrastructure expansion in fibre connectivity.

Ba advised the NCC to facilitate additional liberalisation of partnership and collaboration processes with stakeholders, a proposition Jerry Ugwu, Deputy Director Legal and Regulatory Services at NCC, assured that the NCC will explore.

Edoyemi Ogoh, Deputy Director Technical Standards and Network Integrity at NCC, who led the team that received the Facebook delegation on behalf of the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive (EVC/CE) of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, commended the group’s interest in the Nigerian market.

He affirmed that NCC was aware of the importance of central infrastructure to the expansion of telecom services, and added that the realisation explained NCC’s adoption of the Open Access Model (OAM) and the licensing of infrastructure companies (Infracos) to cascade fibre to the hinterland of Nigeria.

Ogoh noted that President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent re-designation of NCC’s supervising ministry as Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy was a conformation of Federal Government’s commitment to encouraging more citizens to embrace digital culture.

Stressing that the NCC is central to these processes, the official added that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, has continued to demonstrate his commitment to tackling bottlenecks to infrastructure expansion.

He cited the recent meetings between the Minister, the EVC and Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) which focused on streamlining and standardization Right of Way (RoW) charges.

Ogoh disclosed that the Commission was finalising processes to institute the ‘Dig Once Policy’ that will encourage operators and other key players in infrastructure segment to have greater strategic collaboration in the laying of fibre especially in the context of the upcoming National Broadband Plan 2020-2025.

On Ba’s delegation were Erik Schmidt, Network Strategy Manager, Facebook Infrastructure; Adaora Ikenze, Head West Africa (Public Policy); Imran Abass, Partner Manager, Sub Saharan Africa; and Fargani Tambeayuk, Africa Public Policy Manager (Connectivity).

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Facebook Accelerator Startups in Nigeria raises over $500,000 in investments – The Eagle Online

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Startups participating in the second season of the Facebook Accelerator Programme have recorded significant achievements, including raising over $500,000 in committed investments and grants in just three months (halfway through the programme).
Within the same period, they have also made significant product pivots, sealed key partnerships and made progress towards creating unique products with world-class business processes.
These results were recently revealed by Facebook and CcHUB, following its 2019 programmes and training, which took place to support and empower students and entrepreneurs to build locally relevant solutions using advanced technologies at NG_Hub, Facebook’s flagship Community Hub space in partnership with CcHUB.
So far in the programme, the startups have been introduced to multiple venture capitalists and corporate executives and also matched with advisors within the CcHUB Global Advisory network.
These advisors include c-suite executives and experts from companies like Dell, Oracle, IHS Towers, Stanbic IBTC, Cellulant, Old Mutual, Axa Mansard, among others.
Six of the startups contributed to the $500,000 total raised so far, with highlights including:
Chekkit, the only African company to be accepted into a global accelerator, cementing a key partnership for their organisation. They also sealed a partnership with the Fantom foundation for their blockchain product and received a grant from Umdasch Challenge at World Summit Awards 2020.
Haulr emerged second place in the recently concluded Zenith Bank’s hackathon securing N6 million.
Simbi interactives sealed key partnerships and have so far received $35,000+ in investments and grants.
Student team, Vinsighte has completed its prototype that reads books to the visually impaired using computer vision.
AirSynq, completed its balloon satellite prototype and has enterprise clients on the waiting list for its product launch in February.
Gradely launched the beta version of its product, and received its first set of customers, whilst increasing the number of schools they are present in by 200 per cent.
These startups and many more will be showcasing their products and solutions aimed at tackling problems across multiple sectors to corporate executives, multinationals and other potential partners during the annual Facebook Accelerator Programme Innovation Showcase week in February 2020.
Speaking on the development, Adaora Ikenze, Head of Public Policy for Anglophone West Africa at Facebook, said: “The numbers speak for themselves, and further reinforces that the work and investments we are undertaking here in Nigeria are having real impact. At Facebook, we are passionate about helping developers and entrepreneurs to grow. We believe in empowering small businesses through our platforms to help more people launch and grow their businesses, which translates to real impact for their communities and local economies.”
Also speaking, Bosun Tijani, Chief Executive Officer, CcHUB, said: “This is yet another extremely brilliant cohort of startups from the Facebook acceleration programme which we are deeply proud of. This goes to further highlight the readiness of innovators across Africa to leapfrog development on the continent with technological innovation. We are delighted to be part of this journey with Facebook in its desire to inspire African entrepreneurs to be among the best in the world.”
With three months remaining, the cohort of season two of the Facebook Accelerator Programme will be undertaking workshop sessions, faculty one-on-ones, growth planning, Industry Advisor Sessions and mock pitches, rounded off with a demo day in April, the end of the programme.
For more information on the Facebook Accelerator Programme Innovation Showcase, visit www.bit.ly/isw-2020.

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Facebook Appoints Derya Matraş as Regional Director For Africa

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Social media giant, Facebook has appointed Derya Matraş as its Regional Director for the Africa, Middle East and Turkey.

This new appointment comes quite early in 2020 and according to Facebook, Derya will be charged with leading the platform to serve Facebook’s businesses and communities in the region.

@Facebook Middle East has just appointed their new Regional Director, Derya Matras. https://t.co/WYYL0Gjh8E

— CommunicateOnline (@CommunicateME)

This is because the regions, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, are an important market for Facebook and it is important that the company’s impact on the region increases.

The fast-growing Middle East, Africa and Turkey region is an important market for Facebook. Derya’s wealth of experience in emerging markets and her pioneering spirit will help us further drive impact and value in this uniquely diverse region, while maintaining our mission of bringing people together and building communities.

Derya holds a BsC in Electronics Engineering from Bogazici University, Instanbul, Turkey as well as an MBA from Columbia Business School. Prior to this recent appointment, Derya was the Country Director for Facebook in Turkey charged with the role of driving growth for brands, agencies and the digital ecosystem.

Facebook Appoints Derya Matraş as Regional Director For Africa, Middle East and Turkey
Derya Matraş, the New Regional Director for Facebook

Before Facebook, she has worked in executive roles at various companies. One of them is McKinsey and Company where she served as an management consultant. She was also vice president of the largest media conglomerate in Turkey, Dogan Media Group.

She’s expected to bring her wealth of experience to her new role as Regional Director where she will lead the company’s charge to grow its economic and social impact across the regions.

Speaking on her appointment, Derya Matraş reiterated Facebook’s commitment to supporting the millions of businesses in the region that rely on its services.

“As a woman leader, I am very proud to be appointed to this region where diversity is of crucial importance, and I am looking forward to continuing to drive our significant economic and social value contribution,” she says.

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Death, Diarrhea and Late Night Sackings: The Inside Story of an Unfolding Staff Nightmare at UBA and Dangote

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Last November, thousands of Lagosians including hundreds of UBA Bank employees attended what was billed as the ‘party of the year’ at the Lekki Special Events Centre on Admiralty Way.

The UBA RedTV Rave had everyone from Wizkid to Olamide to Jidenna to Burna Boy thrilling the festive crowd as UBA chairman Tony Elumelu and CEO Kennedy Uzoka mingled with the artists and guests.

On the surface, this was the best of times, as a bank that was clearly in rude health celebrated a successful year with thousands of employees, friends and family. The bank had also recently concluded a recruitment exercise that would add nearly 4,000 new employees to its staff strength, so the year ahead looked to be a promising one for most employees present. 

Unknown to them, while senior executives danced with Wizkid in the VIP area, one of the most brutal staff layoffs in Nigerian banking history was just around the corner. They partied well into the night and then showed up for work the following week as usual. A week went by. Two weeks. Four weeks. Then right at the start of the new year – a shocker.

Closed at 5.30PM, Terminated at 10.30PM

Ifunanya (name has been changed) was asked to wait behind at work on Friday January 3. As a 12-year UBA veteran including a long stint in her role as a Branch Operations Manager at a branch in Ojodu, Lagos, this was not an unusual request to receive. She was even used to working weekends so that the ATMs could remain functional and she could troubleshoot other onsite customer-facing issues. This time however, was different. 

Along with other staff members at the branch, she was asked to wait for a board meeting. By 10.30PM, the assembled staff were informed that their services were no longer required. They were then told verbally to write out their resignation letters on the spot and leave voluntarily or be forced out. At this point, her security pass was taken, and along with the other affected staff, her profile was unceremoniously deactivated from the bank’s internal system. She was reminded to drop her work ID on the way out, and thus ended a 12-year association with the bank.

When a relative of hers reached out to tell the story, he was keen to make the point that she was not an agency employee, but a full UBA employee on a monthly salary of N153,000. He could not understand why the bank would treat her that way. I heard similar stories from two other sources who insisted that they were coerced into resigning after being told that their services were no longer required right at the start of the new year.

Shocking and callous as these stories may have sounded, one of the first things you are taught in any professional journalism program is to always balance the story. So I sought an alternate account of what transpired, with the goal of putting the picture together to tell a complete story. There were conflicting accounts of the events of January 3 flying around, with some accounts describing a recruitment and promotion exercise without mentioning any firings, while others reported a purported “restructuring” at UBA, which is a well-known euphemism for “mass sack.”

I managed to establish contact with a current senior employee at UBA who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak about such matters. This was his account of what happened at UBA bank at the start of this year:

“Usually when anyone joins UBA with a Bachelor’s degree, they are put on a GT1 level (N80,000). After one year, they are promoted to GT2 (N100,000), then after another year ET1 (N140,000) which is where a lot of people get stuck on. If you are lucky, you get to ET2 (N165,000). So what UBA did was to meld those 4 levels into one (ET) so any one who was on GT1 and GT2 gets automatically promoted to ET2. Those that were on ET1 and ET2 got promoted to SET (Senior Executive Trainee). 

So it was a promotion of sorts, but honestly it was long overdue because compared to other banks, N80,000 for entry level staff is quite low. About the layoffs: I only know 4 people personally who got affected. The people affected were on manager grades and worked at the head office, they all reportedly got 6 months arrears.”

According to this source, he was not personally aware of the fate of any branch staff or what he termed ‘OND staff.’ He did however say that in his opinion, the bank handled the situation poorly and that Nigeria does need stronger labour laws to protect young graduates fresh out of school from exploitation for cheap labor at the hands of corporates like UBA. He also mentioned that he knows current UBA staff have not had a salary increase in ten years – a remarkable situation for workers in a country whose currency has declined 195 percent over the same period.

As it later emerged, more than 2,000 staff were affected by the shocking late-night cull at UBA. It also became increasingly clear that the firings had nothing to do with a harsh operating environment or decreased profitability. The bank which had brought together Nigeria’s most expensive music stars to perform at its end of year shindig was anything but struggling – it actually hired more people than if fired. What the sackings did though, was clear out a number of people in roles that the bank considered obsolete, particularly within branch operations.

It can definitely be argued that such restructuring is inevitable in the face of rapidly changing technology, which is hardly a terrible thing. What is also true however, is that the bank that paid huge sums of money to bring Burna Boy and Jidenna to an annual vanity event that adds nothing to its bottom line could also afford to retrain its redundant staff to fit into new roles –  instead of just sacking them and instantly bringing in thousands of readymade replacements.

Yet again, the actions of a Nigerian corporate made the point that Nigerian labour law, in addition to be being poorly enforced is also woefully inadequate and unfit for purpose. If after 12 years of useful service to a bank, Ifunanya could be dumped out onto the street without even a few hours of notice – and no regulatory action was forthcoming – then clearly, Nigerian employees working for Nigerian companies have a problem on their hands.

As much as the UBA situation made that point, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to unearth about another Nigerian corporate behemoth.

Diarrhea in India, Death in Ibeju-Lekki: The Unbelievable Story of Dangote Refinery

While senior executives at UBA House were going over the finer points of their plan to log 2,000 employees out of their work systems and force them to resign on the spot, a different level of labour exploitation was entering its fourth year about 73KM east of the Marina. There, at the site of the Dangote Refinery at the Free Trade Zone in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, the refinery was taking delivery of the world’s largest crude oil refining tower.

While this was predictably being celebrated across local and foreign media as the start of a glorious new chapter in Nigeria’s industrial history, I was speaking to a whistleblower with close and detailed knowledge of the project. What he had to say about the refinery project, the Indian project managers, the company’s internal culture and its much-publicised trainee program left me absolutely floored. Naturally I reached out to Dangote Group for a comment, but at press time I have received no response or acknowledgment.

My source, whom I shall call “Mukhtar” worked in and around the refinery project between 2016 and 2018, and what I found most distressing amidst everything he said was the revelation that deaths due to onsite accidents are not just known to happen at the refinery site, but are effectively covered up by Dangote. This he said, is because the people who die are mostly site labourers who are hired through staffing agencies instead of directly. When they die, it becomes the staffing company’s problem and the Dangote brand distances itself from it – even though the site owner is legally responsible for all safety-related incidents onsite.

Something else that struck me was that he implied that – contrary to all its public posturing – the company actually has no intention of using Nigerian engineers to run the refinery anytime soon. The trainee program that sent dozens of Engineering graduates for a one-year training program in India? “Strictly PR,” he said.

Accidents
The first batch of Dangote Refinery trainees head off to India in March 2016

For full effect, I have decided to reproduce the full and unredacted transcript of our conversation instead of using quotes and reported speech. Here is the conversation below:

ME: When we started this conversation, you mentioned that Dangote Refinery is exempt from Nigerian labour laws. What were you referencing?

Mukhtar: Because the refinery is in the FTZ, it is not subject to certain laws like local content laws. As such, even mundane jobs are given to non-Nigerian companies. Even the refinery’s fence wall was handled by a Chinese company. This didn’t stop long stretches of the fence from collapsing sometime in 2017. The FTZ affects Labour laws too. The company is not really under any obligation to employ Nigerians. They do so mostly for PR. All key decision makers are Indians (say 98%).

ME: There have been several horror stories about Indian-run businesses in Nigeria. Was this one of them?

Mukhtar: Yes, the Indians are quite racist. Some even demand to be referred to as “master”. To be fair, when this is reported, the HR unit makes a show of cautioning them. But I dont think anyone has ever been dismissed for it or seriously punished. Most of workers who meet their death on site are labourers. So their names might be known to many staff. I’ll see what I can get. It happens. It’s kept under wraps but it happens.

ME: Now you mentioned onsite deaths earlier. I want to know all about this. Why haven’t we heard anything about this?

Mukhtar: The refinery site is not really the best place to work. Mortality rate on site is quite high. People falling from heights or getting crushed by heavy vehicles/machines is quite common. These numbers are not reported because most staff are contract staff (or outsourced) so the company gets to wash its hands off such cases. But safety on site is the ultimate responsibility of the owner of the project. The construction site has a board that is supposed to display the safety statistics but it is never displays the truth. According to that board, there has never been a fatality on site. But in reality, I think 2018 had about 5 fatalities between January and March. If I were to guess, I’d say there have been over 25 fatalities since construction started in 2016/17.

ME: Now you said earlier that the trainee program was a washout and a disappointment. Fill me in on that.

Mukhtar: I was one of the first batch of engineers sent to India for training in 2016. In my opinion, the whole scheme was either poorly thought out or the company was somehow compelled to do it, and did so for PR. Our salaries were being paid into our accounts in Nigeria, so we were using our debit cards to access our Nigerian accounts for expenses over there) Around July 2016 when the naira went from around 160 per dollar to nearly double that number, our spending power was effectively halved.

ME: I also remember that there was a forex shortage crisis in 2016 and Nigerian bank cards stopped working outside the country.

Mukhtar: So when the banks eventually stopped all cards from functioning abroad, we were stranded. The company resorted to selling us dollars or rupees at the black market rate.They deducted the money from our salaries. We had accommodation (two adults per room) and feeding (Indian food which many of us did not like). Some of had to buy intercontinental dishes regularly, because Indian food is really not nice if you’re not into many smelly spices. It was crazy. Meanwhile we were told categorically that we would have Nigerian food and Nigerian cooks. It was a blatant lie by the Indian HR director.

Also, no arrangement was made for our medical care. Those who fell ill had to treat themselves from their pockets. During the currency crisis, those who fell ill had to rely on the rest of us to put together our spare change to pay for their treatment. The company promised to refund medical expenses, but this shouldn’t have been the situation in the first place.

ME: Tell me about the training program. What was the course content and the experience like? Was it what you were expecting?

Mukhtar: The training itself was a mess too. We were supposed to be trained to operate the refinery (at the time, it was said that it will be completed by mid 2017), but we were sent to a design company. These (designing a refinery and operating it) are two very, very different things. The trainers did not want us there in the first place. It was not a part of their initial contract with Dangote. Plus, they didn’t know what to teach us because designers are not operators. They were confused, several times, they asked us what we wanted to learn. But we could not know what we wanted to learn cos we knew nothing about the entire business. In the end, they reluctantly settled for teaching us design (skills we were/are unlikely to use cos the refinery was already 90% designed). 

ME: If you say that the refinery was “already 90% designed,” and you were learning design in India, that sounds like your presence was superfluous. Was the company really serious about sending you to learn skills to run a refinery?

Mukhtar: Indians will run the refinery. It will take many many many years before that refinery will be populated by just Nigerians. It was strictly PR. Anyways, the training with that design company was suddenly terminated on December 31st. Apparently, Dangote had not paid them a dime for all the months were were being taught design. They didn’t want to send us back to Nigeria so they moved us to the Dangote office in India. The office housed the Indian engineers (around 150 – 200 in number) who were supervising the design work being done by the design company. Now, it is interesting that these guys were working and earning as expatriates within their own country.

But realising that the “training” was a blunder, the company sent back some engineers to train in an actual refinery. So what was supposed to be a 1 year training became 2 years.

ME: Since returning to Nigeria, is there anything else you have noticed about the project that worries or disturbs you?

Mukhtar: Yes. So we have only the refinery at the FTZ, but the company gets to import things meant for other branches of the company duty-free. As a matter of fact, with the Dangote jetty in place and a customs office right there, the company no longer needs to clear stuff at Apapa. Dangote empire effectively has its own customs and port, because we cannot assume that the custom officers stationed at Dangote’s jetty/FTZ are extremely meticulous in checking what comes in and goes out. Personally, I find this disturbing. No non-military entity should be able to import stuff that easily into any country. This is bigger than just skipping custom duty payment.

–Ends–

Between bank staff being fired at 10.30PM and refinery site labourers being killed by workplace accidents without accountability, the sheer grimness of the picture facing Nigerian workers comes into stark relief. It is afterall, an employer’s market, with several thousand qualified people jostling for every job opening, which creates the possibility and incentive to treat staff like battery animals.

Whether the Labour Ministry is willing or able to do anything about such blatant labour exploitation is anybody’s guess. Nigeria’s government is increasingly weak and unable to impose its will on the country even territorially. In the event that the government did take interest, there is a valid fear that it would go to the other extreme and adopt a lazy anti-business Hugo Chavez approach, as it so often does. The real solution if there is to be one, must come from Nigerian labour having a stronger bargaining position through an improved economy. Anything else as it stands, is little more than a sticking plaster.

As Mukhtar mentioned, even inside the ridiculous situation of being financially stranded in a foreign country at the behest of an irresponsible and insincere Nigerian corporate, the vast majority of the group chose to suffer in silence. They did so because spending a year abroad learning useless information, suffering deprivation and experiencing diarrhea after being forced to eat unfamiliar food was still preferable to whatever alternative was at home.

Ultimately, that is the biggest problem facing Nigerian labour. 

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The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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Facebook keeps policy protecting political ads | ABS-CBN News

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Facebook logos are seen on a screen in this picture illustration taken Dec. 2, 2019. Johanna Geron, Reuters/file

SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.

The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.

“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”

Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.

“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.

The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Donald Trump’s campaign that attacked Joe Biden’s record on Ukraine.

“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”

But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.

On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit micro-targeting, but still thought the policy fell short.

“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.

Other groups, however, said Facebook had been more thoughtful about political ads than its industry peers.

“Facebook opted against limiting ad targeting, because doing so would have unnecessarily restricted a valuable tool that campaigns of all sizes rely on for fundraising, registering voters, building crowds and organizing volunteers,” said Tara McGowan, chief executive of Acronym, a non-profit group that works on voter organization and progressive causes.

Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the reelection of Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

Criticism seemed to stiffen Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Trump.

But Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Trump’s reelection, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”

2020 The New York Times Company

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