Economist 4/21/16

  1. On April 20th the commission presented Google, one of the brightest stars in the modern tech firmament, with a “statement of objections”, as the charge sheet in European Union (EU) antitrust cases is called. Google, it argues, has followed a strategy to “preserve and strengthen its dominance in internet search” by tying this service and some of its popular apps to Android, its mobile operating system, which powers around 80% of all new smartphones.On the face of it, putting Android at the centre of an antitrust case seems silly. It faces competition from iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. It is also “open-source”, meaning any hardware-maker can adapt the program as needed and install it on its devices for nothing. Yet since Apple doesn’t license its software to other smartphone and tablet brands, they are stuck with Android. And to be able to offer commercially viable products, it helps to pre-install some of Google’s popular apps.
  2. The problem is that these add-ons are not open source and come with strict licensing rules. The commission focuses on three of these: handset-makers that wish to pre-install Google Play must, among other apps, also add Google Search and make it the device’s default search service; if they want to share in Google’s ad revenues they have to exclusively pre-install Google Search; and if they pre-install Google’s apps on any of their models, they must commit to install only Google’s standard version of Android on each and every one of their models.The case hinges on whether such restrictions are deemed legitimate.The licensing terms, the firm argues, also serve to keep Android from fragmenting into incompatible versions and “make sure that people get a great ‘out of the box’ experience with useful apps right there on the home screen”.
  3. THE queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (and more) is celebrating her 90th birthday today, April 21st, and notching up her 23,451st day on the throne in the process. She is high on the list of the world’s most enduring rulers. Only Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been calling the shots for longer.Polling by Ipsos-MORI shows that the older she gets, the less people want her to retire. Belief in the monarchy as an institution remains strong: 76% of British respondents think the country should continue with a king or queen as head of state, up from 65% in 2005. When the explicit alternative is an elected president, 86% think so.Outside Britain the queen is head of state in 15 other countries. There the picture is more mixed. Similar to the British, Australians have warmed to their monarch as she has aged. The governor-general of Jamaica has announced that a constitutional amendment to make the island a republic is on the agenda. The prime minister of Barbados is thinking along the same lines.
  4. Philip Morris International is the world’s biggest tobacco firm, it sold 850 billion cigarettes last year.But it boss, André Calantzoupolos, insists Philip Morris is on the verge of a revolution. He touts “reduced-risk products”: on April 19th the firm said its top offering in this category, iQOS, accounted for one in 30 cigarette sales in Tokyo, a test market.The new product resembles a pen. A user inserts a cigarette-lookalike called a HeatStick; iQOS then warms the stick’s tobacco, but doesn’t burn it. That produces an aerosol that carries a traditional cigarette’s taste but, the company hopes, eliminates much of the nasty stuff that comes with combustion.This is hardly the first time tobacco firms have peddled healthier-seeming goods. Some have dubious benefits. Consumers have long bought “light” cigarettes to lower their risk of disease, despite evidence they do nothing of the kind.Debate rages over whether e-cigarettes help smokers quit. What is more, many smokers simply don’t like them.Their share of the cigarette market remains tiny: 0.4% last year, estimates Euromonitor, a research firm.Its research staff now includes some 300 scientists, many poached from pharmaceutical and medical-device companies. The company has several alternatives to combustible cigarettes, but iQOS is its most prominent.
  5. Whereas in the geriatric West recreational drug use is falling and many night clubs are closing, in Africa’s capitals it appears to be growing, both among the new middle class and the poor. Drug-use surveys are rare in Africa, but governments are worried.The UN estimates that roughly 7.5% of African adults smoke weed in a typical year, almost double the global figure of 3.9%. In Somalia and Ethiopia, many men chew vast amounts of qat, a leaf with mild amphetamine properties.The more recent spread of harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine is driven by the expansion of Africa as a transit route for chemicals on their way to Europe. Cocaine is smuggled from South America to West Africa by boat or small plane. In some small countries, the trade is huge. In Guinea-Bissau, Colombian drug dealers are alleged to have funded the re-election campaign of President João Bernardo Vieira in 2005.In east Africa the more urgent problem is heroin, which is imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan on its way to Europe, but also serves a local market.Corruption makes prohibition even less effective than in the West. Kenya’s government likes to blow up boats carrying contraband in front of journalists. But few traffickers are prosecuted.
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