All posts on June, 2016


ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

In the rough

“Real is rare”, bidders were rarer

“I’VE seen grown men with tears in their eyes” in front of it, an auctioneer from Sotheby’s said as he opened bidding on June 29th on the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona, the biggest diamond to be discovered in over a century. Within minutes the tears were, if anything, of embarrassment. Bidding, which started at $50m, was desultory. A rough stone that Sotheby’s had put in the same league as the 3,107-carat Cullinan diamond, discovered in South Africa in 1905, failed to make its $70m reserve. “I’m a bit disappointed. There were no private buyers and the diamantaires stayed away,” said Lukas Lundin, chairman of Lucara Diamond, a Canadian firm that unearthed the stone in Botswana last year.

It was the latest disappointment to befall an industry that has had little to celebrate. Two days before, William Lamb, Lucara’s chief executive, said he believed the auction would symbolise the allure of diamonds and their promise for African development. He hoped to “dispel the rumour that all diamonds are bad”. That reek of notoriety has clung to the industry in recent years, especially…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Ticking all the boxes

Clicking your rights away

IF A prize were to be awarded for the world’s clunkiest prose, the paragraphs of indecipherable text that make up “terms of use” agreements would surely win. These legal thickets are designed to protect companies from litigious online shoppers and users of web services. Some firms require agreement, as when users are asked to click a box before creating an Apple ID. Other sites explain their policies without seeking customers’ explicit consent. Few consumers read these terms, let alone understand them. Because they involve no negotiation between customer and company, firms often insert language conferring broad protections to lower their risk of liability. But in a new twist, legal disclaimers designed to limit lawsuits are now unleashing litigation.

A surge of lawsuits in America claims that companies’ online agreements violate consumers’ rights. Consumers are banding together in class actions against targets including Apple, Avis, Bed Bath & Beyond, Toys R Us and Facebook. The cases have a tinge of the bizarre, citing a law passed before companies even had websites. And the lawsuits…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusinessBusiness and finance

Window dressing

BROWSERS, pieces of internet software that people probably spend more time with than they do in bed, have long been boring affairs. Save for occasional innovations such as tabs, these programs have remained fundamentally the same since the release of Mosaic, the first mainstream browser, nearly a quarter of a century ago. Just four browsers account for nearly all users: Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox. It is difficult to tell them apart.

New, more interesting browsers have started cropping up. In August internet users will be able to download the first full version of Brave, the brainchild of a co-founder of Mozilla. Mozilla itself is working on a new type of browser which will give users suggestions on where to navigate next. Both are only the latest in a series of such efforts: last year Microsoft unveiled Edge, meant to replace Internet Explorer; March saw the release of Cliqz, a browser developed in Germany; a month later came Vivaldi.

If most browsers are boring and unwieldy, it is because they are expected to do more than ever before: not just surfing the web, but…Continue reading

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ApprovedBusiness and financeFINANCEFinance and economics

The infrastructure of power

AIIB careful with Avicenna

CHINA’s growing global clout can be unsettling for the incumbents who must make room for it. At the same time, China’s recent financial tumult has been unnerving for the investors exposed to it. This combination of vastness and vulnerability has left some people afraid of China and others afraid for it. Both groups have found reason to worry about the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which has just held its initial annual meeting in Beijing and approved its first $509m-worth of projects.

The AIIB reflects China’s new eagerness to institutionalise its official lending abroad, which has been generous but contentious. Another example is the sprawling “one-belt, one-road” initiative, which aims to revivify trade routes across and around the Eurasian landmass (see article). Harking back nostalgically to the Silk Road, it envisages a web of bilateral agreements between China and the beneficiaries of its largesse. The AIIB is…Continue reading

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