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Chinese AI startup SenseTime raises $600 million from Alibaba, others

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma waits on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York on September 19, 2014.

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma waits on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York on September 19, 2014.

SenseTime is a little-known AI firm with a valuation reportedly higher than $3 million. The firm provides facial-recognition technology that can be used for things like bank card verification and counts state-owned telecommunications giant China Mobile, phone maker Huawei and U.S. chipmaker Nvidia among its clients.

The latest round of investment followed a $410 million capital injection SenseTime received in July last year. Its Series C round, the third stage of funding for a company, was also backed by Chinese retailer Suning.com and Singaporean state wealth fund Temasek.

SenseTime has partnered with Honda on autonomous driving and Qualcomm on algorithms and smart technology. Qualcomm has also backed SenseTime in a funding round last year, although the size of the investment has not been disclosed.

SenseTime said it will use the raised capital to expand its AI platform, advance its technological innovation and open up new business opportunities.

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Germany’s Angela Merkel remains popular around the world

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Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s federal parliament, or Bundestag, back in 2015.

Adam Berry | Getty Images News | Getty Images

As Germany’s long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, prepares to leave office after 16 years in power, global popular opinion of her remains overwhelmingly positive — a feat not often achieved by departing global leaders.

Polls of over 17,000 people in 16 advanced economies around the world from North America to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that public confidence in Merkel is high. In the surveys, 77% of respondents expressed confidence in Merkel to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” while 79% overall had a favorable view of Germany.

“Majorities in nearly every public surveyed have confidence in Merkel to do the right thing in world affairs, including nine-in-ten in the Netherlands and Sweden,” Pew’s Janell Fetterolf and Shannon Schumacher said on the findings, which were based on surveys conducted from Feb. to May.

“Merkel has enjoyed generally high ratings in a number of countries since she first took office, with confidence growing as more people became familiar with her over time. In most places surveyed, trust in the German chancellor has never been higher,” they added.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the then-US President Barack Obama on November 18, 2016 in Berlin.

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Merkel currently enjoys the highest confidence ratings of the five world leaders asked about in the survey. She receives considerably higher marks than Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Merkel also fares well compared with French President Emmanuel Macron and, in many places, U.S. President Joe Biden.

Positive views of Germany, mostly

The Pew polls, which did not include any data from Germany, show that the majority of people in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region have very positive views of Germany, opinions only bolstered by the country’s apparently calm and collected approach to the Covid-19 crisis.

A median of 79% across 16 publics have a favorable opinion of Germany, while only 16% have an unfavorable one. Germany is also viewed more positively than the U.S. and China in most countries surveyed too.

In several of the European countries polled, Pew has gauged the level of favorable (or unfavorable) opinion toward Germany prior to Merkel taking office in 2006. It noted that in some countries like the U.K., Spain and France, views of Germany have not changed much over the past two decades.

“Roughly seven-in-ten or more have expressed a positive opinion of Germany in Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, France and the U.K. in each year this question has been asked,” Pew noted.

In the last year or so, however, favorable views of Germany and Merkel have been influenced, at least in part, by perceptions of how Germany handled the coronavirus outbreak, it noted.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets the crowds in Frankfurt, Germany.

Thomas Lohnes | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A median of 66% say Germany did a good job dealing with the outbreak, and again, Germany fares well in comparison with other countries and institutions.

“Germany’s coronavirus response is generally viewed more positively than the responses of the World Health Organization, China, the EU or the U.S. And people who think Germany has handled the outbreak well are much more likely to have a favorable view of Germany and confidence in Merkel in every public surveyed.’

No love from Greece

While Merkel has helped to steer Europe through several crises, from the euro zone’s financial crisis around a decade ago to the migration crisis of 2015 and more recently, the Covid pandemic, she is not universally liked.

Merkel has been accused by critics of ducking some tough decisions. such as the need to tackle climate change and the need for infrastructure spending in Germany, and she has also been accused of prioritizing Germany’s economic wellbeing at the expense of others in the euro zone.

Her pragmatic approach to global affairs, particularly those concerning finances, has not always won her friends.

This was no more obvious than in Pew’s findings in Greece, where only 30% of respondents had confidence in Merkel to do the right thing in global affairs and where only 32% had a favorable view of Germany.

Protesters demonstrate against the visit of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens, Greece.

Milos Bicanski | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Public dislike for Merkel is strong in Greece since the country’s sovereign debt crisis a decade ago, as Germany advocated that strict austerity measures should be imposed on Athens as a condition of international bailouts.

“On nearly every assessment, Greece stands out for its particularly negative views of both Germany and Merkel. Only around a third of Greeks have confidence in the German chancellor or a favorable view of Germany, though a majority give it good marks for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak,” Pew’s report noted.

Compared with other countries in Europe, more people in Greece said Germany has too much influence in the EU (86%) too.

Pew noted that negative views of Germany in Greece have been evident since it started surveying there in 2012, just after Greece received a second bailout in response to the European debt crisis and while tensions between the two countries were high.

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UK to accept UAE-vaccinated travelers after months on red list

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Businessman walk past an Emirates Airbus A380 during the Dubai Airshow on November 18, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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The U.K. will accept travelers vaccinated in the United Arab Emirates beginning Oct. 4, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Wednesday, reopening a popular travel route after months of deterring people coming from the UAE with costly and strict hotel quarantine requirements.   

“We will be accepting UAE vaccination certificates from 4th Oct following updates to their vaccination app,” Shapps said in a Twitter post. “As a major transport hub which is home to many British expats, this is great news for reopening international travel, boosting business & reuniting families.” 

The news comes as a relief to many in the expatriate-majority desert sheikhdom of 10 million, of which at least 150,000 are British citizens who were unable to visit their families since the U.K. put the UAE on a red list for travel last January. 

“I’m well chuffed about the idea of visiting my family and poorly grandad hassle free,” Amy Saraireh, a British national living in Dubai, told CNBC in response to the news.

The red list designation meant that travelers from the UAE — including British citizens and those who had been vaccinated in the UAE — had to quarantine for 10 days in a U.K.-government-designated hotel at a personal cost of nearly £2,000 if they wanted to enter the country.  

By spring, tens of thousands of people living in the UAE had signed a petition demanding the U.K. government change the travel designation, citing high Covid vaccination rates in the country. But the U.K. government resisted making changes, citing the UAE’s status as a popular travel hub as a risk, despite cases of the delta variant sweeping the U.K. at the time.

Dubai International Airport was ranked as the busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic in 2019, and the Dubai-London route was one of the most popular for Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates Airline. 

The UAE has one of the world’s highest rates of vaccination against the coronavirus. The country’s vaccine drive has relied heavily on the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, amid questions about the effectiveness of the shot compared to those made elsewhere. At the same time, breakthrough cases have surged among people vaccinated by American and European-made shots as well. 

It is unclear whether Sinpoharm-vaccinated travelers will fall into the same category as those vaccinated with U.K.-approved shots like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-Astrazeneca.  

The change to the travel rules will come just after the start of Dubai’s flagship Expo 2020 event, which begins Oct. 1 and was postponed for a year due to the pandemic. It will carry on for six months, and the emirate hopes to attract 25 million visitors to the event, a year-and-a-half after Covid brought global mobility to a standstill. 

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NFT startups Dapper Labs and Sorare raise over $900 million

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LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Phoenix Suns during the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 3, 2021.

Adam Pantozzi | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Two start-ups in the red-hot NFT market raised a combined $930 million this week, highlighting continued appetite from investors for cryptocurrency companies as the industry experiences massive growth.

Dapper Labs, which makes virtual basketball trading cards, said Wednesday it has raised $250 million in a funding round led by Coatue. Bond, the investment firm run by former Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker, and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC also backed the round.

The new round values the Vancouver, Canada-based firm at $7.6 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter who preferred to remain anonymous as the information is not public.

Sorare, a French fantasy soccer game that incorporates NFTs, also announced Tuesday that it bagged $680 million in a bumper cash injection led by SoftBank. Venture capital companies Atomico, Bessemer Ventures and IVP also invested, along with investment firms D1 Capital and Eurazeo.

French soccer star Antoine Griezmann and former English player Rio Ferdinand are also investors in Sorare.

The investment gives Sorare a valuation of $4.3 billion, the company said, making it by far the most valuable private tech firm in France and one of the largest start-ups in Europe.

What are NFTs?

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a new but fast-growing phenomenon in the crypto industry. They are digital tokens that represent ownership of a virtual item, such as a work of art. Ownership is tracked on the blockchain, a digital ledger of transactions.

Unlike bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, NFTs aren’t fungible. This means they cannot be exchanged with one another like dollars or gold. Each NFT is unique and acts as a collector’s item that can’t be duplicated — however, the underlying media can still be viewed by someone else on the internet.

“When we think about the collectibles in the physical world, most of them have no utility value,” Nicolas Julia, CEO and cop-founder of Sorare, explained. “You put them in an album and that’s nice but it’s kind of limiting.”

“When you translate it to NFTs in the digital world, there’s many more things which you can do, like using them in a game for instance. But you also have provable scarcity, which is very appealing to collectors.”

Prices of NFTs spiked earlier this year, with sales reaching a record $2.5 billion in the first half of 2021. High-profile transactions include a record $69 million artwork sold by digital artist Beeple at a Christie’s auction and the $2.9 million sale of the first-ever tweet by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

The huge sums of money flowing into firms like Dapper Labs and Sorare highlights how investors are chasing the next big thing in crypto.

Crypto and blockchain start-ups have received about $19 billion in venture funding so far this year, almost triple the $6.4 billion raised by the sector in 2020, according to figures shared with CNBC by data firm Pitchbook.

However, like other assets in the fledgling crypto industry, NFTs have proven vulnerable to abuse by bad actors. Last week, digital collectibles marketplace OpenSea disclosed that insider trading had occurred on its platform.

NFTs enter the world of sport

Several sports organizations are turning to NFTs and other crypto assets as a way of making additional revenue.

English Premier League club Manchester City, for example, has launched two collections of NFTs. Meanwhile, a number of soccer clubs have launched “fan tokens” that allow holders to vote on mostly minor club decisions and receive certain perks.

Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot platform lets users trade and collect basketball match highlights in the form of NFTs. The highlights, or “moments,” are licensed by the NBA, which receives royalties on each transaction.

Dapper Labs also developed its own blockchain designed for NFTs, called Flow. It had previously used Ethereum but shifted away from that network after its popular digital pet game CryptoKitties in 2017 led to slower transaction processing. It’s currently in the process of migrating CryptoKitties to Flow.

In addition to announcing its latest funding Wednesday, Dapper Labs unveiled a partnership with LaLiga, Spain’s top soccer league, to introduce a similar experience to NBA Top Shot for soccer fans. Dapper Labs says it plans to invest part of the fresh cash into new experiences, like paid trips to big games.

“Part of this funding will go toward expanding functionality on NBA Top shot, developing a mobile product, and connecting the digital collecting experience with the experience of a fan showing up to a live game, or even supporting their team on social media,” Roham Gharegozlou, Dapper Labs’ CEO, told CNBC.

It comes a week after LaLiga announced a separate partnership with Sorare to add digital player cards from the league. 

Sorare is also upping its rivalry with Dapper Labs, planning to expand into the U.S. with a new office on the ground. Sorare has been approached by a number of U.S. sports organizations, its CEO told CNBC.

Sorare also plans to launch a mobile app and have all of the top 20 soccer leagues signed up by the end of 2022. Both Dapper Labs and Sorare indicated they hope to take advantage of sports stars’ huge social media followings to get the word out about their platforms.

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