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Tag Archives: jon-russell

Southeast Asia’s Grab plans electric vehicle push

Grab, the ride-hailing company that consumed Uber’s business in Southeast Asia, today made a big push to grow the number of electric vehicles in its fleet after  it partnered with energy supplier Singapore Power . The deal will see Grab add 200 new ‘fast-charging’ EVs to its fleet in Singapore with SP providing “preferential” pricing at the organization’s charging stations. Grab said drivers who opt for an EV — which will be “progressively rolled out” from early 2019 — can expect to increase their earnings by as much as 25 percent over drivers using petrol engines thanks to SP’s ‘mates’ rate.’ The partnership with SP is important to Grab because infrastructure such as charging stations and cost savings are crucial to persuading the most active car drivers to make a move to electric. Ride-sharing drivers certainly rank in the group that can make a difference. SP has committed to operating 500 charging stations by 2020, which would become Singapore’s largest of its kind. An initial 30 are expected to be up and running before the end of this year and, when ready, Grab said they will charge its upcoming EV model in just 40 mins. Each charge would allow 400km of driving, the company added. Grab said it has a number EVs within in its Singapore fleet today — it declined to disclose numbers but claimed it is “the largest electric and hybrid vehicle fleet in Southeast Asia” — but these charging stations and the potential to earn additional income are sure to help boost that number, whatever it may be. This initiative applies to Singapore, but a Grab spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company intends to expand its EV fleet regionally in due time. The company didn’t provide any specifics on that plan, however. Grab operates in seven countries in Southeast Asia, but Singapore is the most advanced in terms of EV infrastructure. The company recently raised $2 billion from Toyota and others .  It acquired Uber’s regional business in March  and today it claims over 100 million downloads with more than two billion rides completed to date. Grab recently claimed its annual revenue run rate has surpassed $1 billion, but it has not provided profit or loss numbers. Outside of electric, Grab has previously forayed into self-driving vehicles through a partnership with Nutonomy

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Binance launches an incubator program to develop early stage blockchain startups

Who needs VCs? The largest companies in the crypto world are continuing to build the ecosystem through aggressive investments of their own, as I forecasted at the start of this year. Binance , the world’s largest exchange, is the latest example. The company is marching beyond  a gargantuan $1 billion fund  it unveiled earlier this year after it  announced an incubator program  that’s focused on nurturing early-stage blockchain startups. The  Binance Labs Incubation Program was teased back in June when the company announced its fund, but now the company has taken off the wraps and provided more details — the venture is very aggressive. The program will take on around 8-10 companies per batch for a 10-week period, Binance Labs CEO Ella Zhang told TechCrunch in an interview, adding that the target is to hold one program per quarter. That frequency is unheard of, even by those who do incubators full-time, but there’s more. Binance Labs will hand out $500,000 to each program participant in exchange for a 10 percent stake in the business. Again, that’s a big effort compared to most other programs, although it is worth noting that Binance hasn’t decided whether that investment will be in fiat, crypto or a combination of both. Beyond money, the company wants to open itself up and allow participants to access the benefits of being the world’s top crypto exchange. That’ll include mentoring, technical advice, access to the Binance network and also support on non-technical organization-building activities like HR, admin and more. The maiden program will be held in San Francisco starting October 9 — applications to take part are open until September 14 . As is commonplace, the program will close with a demo day — the “BUIDLer Day” — which will see startups pitch to an audience of investors, media and other industry figures. Zhang explained that the focus on startups for the program is similar to the Binance fund. That, she said, includes projects focused infrastructure, public chain scalability, security, decentralized exchanges, wallets, custody, payment, coin stability, compliance, decentralized apps, gaming, virtual goods and more. Ideal candidates have not taken any investment yet since Binance is aiming to be the first check, said Zhang — who joined the crypto firm in May and was formerly an investment director with KPCB China

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E-commerce drives Southeast Asia’s Sea to record revenue but big losses remain

Sea , one of Southeast Asia’s largest internet companies, continues to see losses although its growing e-commerce business helped it hit record revenue. The Tencent-backed company went public back in October when it raised around $1 billion through an NYSE listing. Its latest earnings  released today show revenue broke $200 million for the first time ($219.6 million) but losses continue to pile up. Revenue was up 71 percent year-on-year to hit the record figure but Sea’s losses continue to stack up. The company lost $250.8 million in Q2, up significantly from a $92.1 million loss one year previous and $216.2 million negative in the previous quarter. Sea’s main business, its Garena gaming unit, grew 19 percent to reach $116.9 million in revenue, but the firm is placing a lot of emphasis on its Shopee e-commerce service — which is the benefactor of a recent $500 million capital raise — and its growth continues to be promising. Shopee GMV, the total value of all goods sold on the service, grew 171 percent to $2.2 billion. That doesn’t include take-home revenue, but for the first time that figure has been broken: Shopee grossed $58.8 million in sales. That figure is up over 2,000 percent annually, but Sea has only just begun to monetize the service which is reflected in the huge rise. For now, a lot of that revenue looks to be based on aggressive user acquisition as Shopee battles with rivals that include Lazada, the e-commerce service owned by Alibaba that has a large budget to work with . Sea’s cost of marketing across all services — Shopee, Garena and its AirPay service — jumped 131 percent year-on-year to reach $175.2 million in Q2. But, it pointed out that sales and marketing as a percentage of GMV shrunk to 6.2 percent from 6.8 percent and 6.6 percent in the previous two quarters. “Shopee continued to expand rapidly across all markets, strengthening its leadership in the region. Our monetization strategy for Shopee is delivering ahead of expectations, even at this early stage,” said Sea CEO Forrest Li in a statement.

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Stealthy Singapore VC firm Qualgro is raising a $100M fund

Southeast Asia’s venture capital space is booming right now. Openspace Ventures just announced the close of its newest $135 million fund , Golden Gate Ventures hit the first close on its upcoming $100 million vehicle , and a third Singapore-based fund is also raising big right now: Qualgro. Unlike others, Qualgro has operated relatively under the radar to date. That’s been very deliberate, according to managing partner Heang Chhor, who started the firm after leaving McKinsey following a 26-year stint that spanned Europe and Asia. Cambodian by birth, Chhor grew up in France and he rose to become a member of the McKinsey Global Board, whilst also leading the business in Japan. Prior to McKinsey, Chhor started a number of businesses — of which he says he got a modest exit but plenty of experience — and now he is turning his attention to Southeast Asia, where growing internet access among a cumulative base of 650 million consumers is opening up new opportunities for tech and internet businesses. The region’s digital economy is forecast to pass $200 billion by 2020, up from an estimated $50 billion in 2017, according to a much-cited report from Temasek and Google . Qualgro — which stands for ‘quality’ and ‘growth,’ in case you wondered — opened its doors in 2015 with a maiden $50 million fund. Alongside Chhor is Jason Edwards, formerly with PE firm Clearwater Capital and Peter Huynh, who joined from the Singtel Innov8 VC arm. To date, Qualgro has made 19 investments, which include IP and data firm Patsnap , e-commerce startup Shopback , and lending platform Funding Societies . The aim is to super-size that with this new fund, which this week completed a first close of $60 million. The total target is $100 million

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Korea’s Naver backs Southeast Asia-based e-commerce startup iPrice

iPrice , an e-commerce aggregation service in Southeast Asia, has landed a strategic investment from Naver, the Korean internet giant valued at over $21 billion, as part of a follow-on to the startup’s $4 million Series B  from May. There’s actually a strong connection around that recent round. It was led by Line Ventures, the investment arm of messaging app Line, which is owned by Naver . The size of the Naver investment hasn’t been disclosed, but iPrice has raised close to $10 million to date. Its investor base includes Asia Venture Group (AVG), Venturra Capital, Gobi Partners, Cento Ventures, Econa and Starstrike Ventures. Naver is best known for its search engine, gaming business and content portals, but it also operates a shopping and price comparison engine in Korea. That’s something that iPrice can take valuable lessons from, according to a statement from the startup’s CEO David Chmelar. iPrice is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and it operates an e-commerce aggregator service that pulls in prices from a range of services, including Alibaba-owned Lazada and Shopee, the online retail site from U.S.-listed Sea. Founded in 2015 , it covers six countries in Southeast Asia — Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines — and also Hong Kong. The idea is that a one-stop shop offers a better experience to Southeast Asia’s consumers, of which some 330 million are estimated to be online. That’s more than the entire population of the U.S.. While Southeast Asia often sits in the shadows of China and India, the region’s digital economy is tipped to grow five-fold over the next eight years to pass $200 billion by 2020, according to a report co-authored by Google

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Apple cracks down on gambling apps in China

Apple is cracking down on illegal content in China after it removed potentially thousands of apps related to gambling, including ‘lottery’ services. The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. phone-maker purged as many as 25,000 apps — that’s a figure that was first cited by state-owned broadcaster CCTV link in Chinese . Apple didn’t comment on the number of apps removed, but it did confirm that it took action. “Gambling apps are illegal and not allowed on the App Store in China. We have already removed many apps and developers for trying to distribute illegal gambling apps on our App Store, and we are vigilant in our efforts to find these and stop them from being on the App Store,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. Apple offers over 1.5 million apps in China. Greater China — which includes China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — is Apple’s third largest region based on business, grossing $9.6 billion in the most recent quarter. That’s around 18 percent of its total revenue. The removals come weeks after a number of state-media reported  criticism of Apple for failing to prevent issues such a spam, gambling, pornography and more concerning its business in Asia. That criticism has been linked to the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S. — a spat that cost Qualcomm’s its $44 billion acquisition of NXP — but that may be wide of the mark. Apple is not alone in being rebuked by Beijing for content deemed unsuitable, a number of China’s up-and-coming startups have also had their wings clipped. Earlier this year, ambitious new media firm ByteDance — which operates news and video apps and is currently  talking to investors to raise $2.5-$3.5 billion —  was ordered to shutter a parody app it operated in China. Additionally,  four news and content apps were suspended from the App Store and Google Play for offending authorities

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Coinbase now supports buying and selling Ethereum Classic

Coinbase has added a new buying option for its customers after the crypto exchange introduced Ethereum Classic to its collection. The addition was first announced in July but Coinbase took its time to implement its newest addition following criticism over the way it added Bitcoin Cash last year. Allegations of insider trading led  the company to investigate the incident  which saw service outages and wild price fluctuations for Bitcoin Cash right after its addition to the exchange. It later introduced a framework for adding new tokens. Nonetheless, Ethereum Classic’s value spiked 20 percent on last month’s news. Today, though, it is down two percent over the last 24 hours, according to Coinmarketcap.com . Coinbase has taken a conservative approach to adding more crypto. Today’s addition takes it to five tokens — Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash are the others — but that’s likely to change this year. Last month, it announced it is “exploring” the addition of another five tokens while CTO Balaji Srinivasan hinted that the selection would grow further when I interviewed him at the recent TechCrunch blockchain event in Zug. “We hear your requests, and are working hard to make more assets available to more customers around the world,” Dan Romero, who heads Coinbase’s consumer business, said in a blog post  published today. A note on Ethereum Classic — it was created in June 2016 following a major hack on The DAO , a fundraising vehicle for the project

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Chinese Tesla rival Nio files to raise $1.8 billion in US IPO

Tesla may be looking to go private , but Chinese rival Nio is going the other way after it filed to raise $1.8 billion in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Nio was started in 2014, initially as NextCar, by Bin Li, an entrepreneur who founded online automotive services platform Bitauto. The company is backed by Chinese internet giants Baidu and Tencent among others, and it has developed two vehicles so far: the EP9 supercar and ES8. The former is really a concept/racer car — it broke the electric vehicle speed record last year — but the ES8, pictured above, is a car designed for the masses which is priced at 448,000 RMB, or around $65,000. Nio opened sales for the ES8 last year  but it only began shipping in June. Thus, to date, it has fulfilled just 481 orders, although it claims that there are 17,000 customers who put down reservations waiting in the wings. That means that, essentially, it is pre-revenue at this point. The company reported revenue of $6.9 million as of the end of June — so one month of deliveries — with a total loss of $502 million for 2018 to date. Last year, Nio lost $759 million in 2017, that included no revenue and nearly $400 million spent on R&D. Nio may be in the same space as Tesla, but its approach differs from the U.S. firm

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Singapore’s Openspace Ventures closes new $135M fund for Southeast Asia

It seems like everyone is out there raising new funds in Southeast Asia. Weeks after we reported Golden Gate Ventures hit a first close on its third fund aimed at $100 million , so Openspace Ventures — the Singapore-based firm formerly known as NSI — has announced a final close of $135 million for its second fund. Founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Hian Goh and finance exec Shane Chesson, Openspace is best known for being an early backer of Indonesian ride-hailing unicorn Go-Jek. A selection of its other investments includes fintech startup FinAccel, e-commerce player Love Bonito, restaurant booking service Chope, health-focused insurance brokerage CXA Group, and bread maker Rotimatic. Openspace specializes in Series A with a typical check size of $3 million to $5 million, and capital for follow-on deals. Goh told TechCrunch around the time of the first close that the plan is to expand the focus on startups operating marketplaces and/or the e-commerce space to cover emerging verticals such as fintech, health tech and education. Chesson, his partner, said that in areas like healthcare, progress from startups has been “remarkable” while he sees “great opportunities” to develop new kinds of consumer-centric brands in e-commerce, both B2C and B2B. Beyond vertical expansion, the firm may also seek opportunities in new geographies — it invested alongside Go-Jek in Bangladesh-based on-demand service Pathao , for example. It also plans to utilize local teams in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam and perhaps expand its network to more markets, too. The target for the capital is Southeast Asia, a region of more than 650 million consumers where rising internet access is creating new opportunities for tech startups and internet-based businesses. A report co-authored by Google last year forecast the region’s internet economy reaching $200 billion per year by 2025, up from $31 million in 2015. Already, Southeast Asia has more internet users than the U.S

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WeWork China rival Ucommune raises $43.5M more at a $1.8B valuation

Barely weeks after WeWork China raised $500 million , one of its main rivals is refueling its tanks too. Ucommune — the company formerly known as UrWork until a WeWork lawsuit forced a rebrand — announced its $43.5 million Series C round. Beijing-based Ucommune’s new round was led by real estate-focused investment firms Prosperity Holdings and RK Properties. The company said the deal gives its business a $1.8 billion post-money valuation. to date, it has raised around $450 million from investors, according to Crunchbase data . For comparison, WeWork China has pulled in $1 billion overall since being spun out of WeWork’s global business one year ago . Both investors are strategic, according to Ucommune. It said that its p artnership with Prosperity, in particular, will help it expand its presence in Southeast Asia, where it has a presence in Singapore and an investment in Indonesia . While it will work with RK Properties to upgrade its existing office spaces, perhaps in the style of WeWork’s ‘Powered By We’ program . In total, Ucommune claims to manage 160 locations in over 35 cities. That’s primarily China but outside of Asia its reach does include New York, London, Hong Kong and Taiwan, too. News of this new funding comes one day after another Chinese co-working brand, My Dream, raised $120 million . Three big names is nothing though, the field used to be comprised of dozens of players. Some have died out but the market has also seen plenty of consolidation. WeWork bought its closest rival Naked Hub in a deal reportedly worth $400 million.

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Singapore’s Golden Gate Ventures announces a $10M fund for crypto deals

VCs around the world are trying to wrap their head around crypto, and the new investment paradigm it brings. Some have made one-off deals but a few have jumped in off the deep end with dedicated crypto funds, with A16z in the U.S. the most prominent example . Now Singapore has its first from the traditional world after prominent firm Golden Gate Ventures announced a spinoff fund called  LuneX Ventures . The fund is focused on crypto and it is targeting a $10 million raise. Its announcement comes weeks after we reported the first close for Golden Gate’s new $100 million fund , its third to date, which is backed by Naver, Mistletoe and others. Golden Gate already has some exposure to ICOs, having backed the company behind OMG , and plenty of rumors have done the rounds about its plans for a standalone fund considering the surge in ICOs, which have scooped up over $10 billion in investment this year so far . Notably, LuneX will be the first crypto fund from a traditional investor in Southeast Asia, although Wavemaker Partners — which is backed by early Bitcoin proponent Tim Draper —  does have a U.S.-based fund . LuneX will be run by founding partner Kenrick Drijkoningen, who was previously head of growth for Golden Gate, with associate Tushar Aggarwal, who hosts the Decrypt Asia podcast. The two are assembling a small support team which will also be assisted by Golden Gate’s back office team. Drijkoningen told TechCrunch in an interview that he believes the time is right for the fund, even though the price of Bitcoin, Ether and other major tokens is way below the peaks seen in January.

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Apple hints at plan to build a car after all as it rehires ex-Tesla engineering head

If you’re looking for hints that Apple might deliver on its long-rumored plan to develop its own car, a significant one landed this week after it emerged that Doug Field — Apple’s former VP of Mac hardware engineering — has rejoined from the company after a spell with Tesla. John Gruber at Daring Fireball broke the news of Field returning to Apple following five years at Tesla where he oversaw the production of the Model 3. Apple confirmed in a statement to TechCrunch that it has rehired Field, but it declined to give information about this role. Gruber reports, however, that Field will link up with Bob Mansfield, the former colleague he worked with on the Mac hardware business. Mansfield just so happens to be the person who is heading up Apple’s ‘Project Titan’ car project , having been tempted back and out of retirement, so there’s a lot to dig into. There’s been plenty of speculation about the secretive Project Titan, most notably it was reported in 2016 that Apple had abandoned plans to develop a car. Instead, it was said to be focused on autonomous driving technology . While the project remains pretty opaque and tough to gauge, the hiring of the man who oversaw Tesla production — right after Apple poached a Waymo self-driving engineer — is a pretty interesting clue that suggests Apple might be reviving plans to develop a car once again. Ex-Apple employee charged with stealing self-driving car secrets

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Neat is a challenger bank for early-stage startups and SMEs

With the growth in cross-border payment services and ‘challenger’ bank cards for consumers, you’d be forgiven for wondering where the options are for small business — where cash is particularly precious. They do exist . One of the newer options is Neat , which is nested in Hong Kong but open for business worldwide. The startup started off following the same track as the likes of Monzo, Starling and Revolut in Europe, developing a ‘new’ kind of account free of branch-based banking and tedious paperwork. But quickly the team realized that its service was being adopted in large by startups and SMEs as a way to get more flexible financing and perks like install balance/billing. Neat still offers a consumer service in Hong Kong , but it places a heavy focus on developing its business service. Right now, that helps companies who can’t apply for credit cards get a Neat Mastercard which can be used for trivial (but important!) items such as monthly bills for services, flights, hotels and more. There’s no credit involved since the cards and account are debit-based. Beyond the basics,  Neat Business customers can use their account to handle employee payroll, business invoices, receive money and really pay all other bills that would require a credit card without using their personal one, as is so often the case for early-stage startups. More advanced features include expense cards for employees, while detailed company reporting and automated accounts are planned for introduction soon. The company is based in Hong Kong, but Neat’s service can be used overseas, and indeed it already is. Co-founder and CEO David Rosa, a former managing director of Citi Bank Asia Pacific, told TechCrunch that the company has customers in over 100 countries since account holders don’t need to be resident in, or incorporated in Hong Kong, to qualify for the service. That said, a large portion is based in or associated with Hong Kong as it stands today, but Rosa — who started the business in 2015 alongside CTO Igor Wos — said he wants to change that and grow the userbase globally. The fact that Neat is working on introducing multi-currency solutions, as well as accountancy software integrations, is sure to help widen its appeal to those based outside of Hong Kong. (Left to right) Neat co-founders Igor Wos (CTO) and David Rosa (CEO) In a further validation, Neat recently snagged $2 million in funding to develop its tech and increase marketing.

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AI giant SenseTime leads $199M investment in Chinese video tech startup

SenseTime may be best known as the world’s highest-valued AI company — having raised $620 million at a valuation of over $4.5 billion — but it is also an investor, too. The Chinese firm this week led a 1.36 billion RMB ($199 million) Series D funding round for Moviebook , a Beijing-based startup that develops technology to support online video services. Moviebook previously raised a 500 million RMB Series C in 2017, worth around $75 million. SB China Venture Capital (SBCVC) also took part in this new round alongside Qianhai Wutong, PAC Partners, Oriental Pearl, and Lang Sheng Investment. With the investment, SenseTime said it also inked a partnership with Moviebook which will see the two companies collaborate on a range of AI technologies, including augmented reality, with a view to increasing the use of AI in the entertainment industry. The object detection and tracking technology developed by SenseTime Group Ltd. is displayed on a screen at the Artificial Intelligence Exhibition & Conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The AI Expo will run through April 6. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg In a statement in Chinese, SenseTime co-founder Xu Bing said the companies plan to use the vast amounts of video data from broadcasting, TV and internet streams to help unlock commercial opportunities in the future. He also stressed the potential to bring AI and new technologies to the entertainment industry. This isn’t SenseTime’s first strategic investment, but it is likely to be its most significant to date. The company has previously backed startups that include  51VR , Helian Health and  Suning Sports , the spinout from retail giant Suning. SenseTime itself has raised over $1.6 billion from investors, which include Alibaba, Tiger Global, Qualcomm, IDG Capital, Temasek and Silver Lake Partners.

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Facebook has removed 4 Infowars pages — but not because of fake news

There’s yet more Alex Jones/Infowars news. Facebook yanked four of the conspiracy theorist’s videos from its platform last week, and now it has finally taken more stringent action after it removed four Infowars pages from the social network entirely. Over the weekend Spotify , Stitcher and Apple all removed Infowars audio content from their platforms days after  YouTube and then Facebook pulled four videos that were found to violate community standards. A refresher for those who need it: Infowars has  broadcast a range of conspiracy theories which have included claims 9/11 was an inside job and alternate theories to the San Bernardino shootings, while it has encouraged harassment of families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting among other things .  Yet despite much attention on the organization and its use of social media,  Facebook’s efforts to handle Infowars have been confusing . One of the four videos it removed had actually been cleared following a complaint one month ago, while the video purge saw Facebook hand a 30-day ban to Jones’ personal account but the Infowars page — where the content was posted — was able to continue on as normal. That was down to the Facebook system of warnings/accumulated warnings for content violations and nothing to do with peddling fake news. That’s apparently ok. Indeed, the four Infowars pages that have been “unpublished” — the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page — were punished for “repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes” after more videos and content were reported to Facebook by users of the social network. “Upon review, we have taken the pages down for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies,” the company explained in an announcement . Facebook didn’t provide details of exactly which videos violated its policies and how, but it did say explicitly that its action were not related to fake news. “Much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this,” it said in a statement. Facebook has opted to remain news-neutral, in the sense that only issues warnings based on community standards. That’s a controversial stance — it is instead pursuing a policy of fact-checking information and letting users make their own mind — but irrespective of whether you agree with that approach, its actions over the past week are problematic because they don’t scale

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