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Dating app Tinder’s position as an influential brand among young adults can help it withstand competition from Facebook, the firm’s CEO said Thursday.

About a decade ago, when various social networks competed for users, there was a view that one digital community would emerge victorious, and Facebook was considered the favorite, Tinder chief Elie Seidman told CNBC’s “Street Signs. “

“And we’ve seen over the past, call it seven-eight years, that it’s really not the case,” he said. “I’m a big believer that you want to really focus at what you’re good at. Looking at the competition, it’s going to drive you into their thinking, and you really want to have distinct thoughts.”

Seidman added that Tinder has done “extremely well” with its young audience, which is the company’s area of strength.

“I like our position. We’re going to stay very focused on what we’re good at,” he said.

On its website, Tinder says it has more than 2 billion views per day in more than 190 countries, and it also claims to be behind a million dates every week.

For its part, Facebook, which has 2.38 billion monthly active users, rolled out a dating product in multiple countries beginning last year.

To expand on its market share, Tinder, which is already available in more than 190 countries, announced plans for a “lite” version of its app in emerging markets on Wednesday.

The concept of “lite” apps is used by tech companies to reach users who either do not have an advanced, top-of-the-line smartphone or who reside in areas where internet connectivity is slow — mostly in emerging markets. For example, Facebook has an app called Facebook Lite, which requires less storage space on phones and can work with slow mobile internet speeds. Most features from the social networking site are available on that version of the app.

Tinder Lite is set to be available as a separate app and will not require users to sign up for a new account.

Like on many social networking platforms, users may face bullying or harassment on Tinder. When asked about how the company deals with such situations, Seidman said it’s doing everything it can to make the app a safe environment. That includes using algorithms as well as relying on human moderators to weed out unacceptable user behaviors.

“We’ve done everything we possibly can to make you safe,” he said. “We always, of course, caution people and say, look, it’s not an alternate universe … it is the real world and the same caution and thoughtfulness you use in the real world, you should use on any digital community.”

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US’ anti-Russian stance might return during 2020 election

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Given the results of the Mueller investigation, which concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, one could forgive Americans for being wary of the country as the 2020 vote approaches.

Russia is still operating under U.S. (and international) sanctions for its meddling in the U.S. election, as well as its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its role in a military conflict in the east of the country. But there have been signals that the global appetite to continue these sanctions is waning.

Andrey Kostin, president and chairman of Russia’s second largest lender, VTB Bank, told CNBC Wednesday that Russia would like to see a clearer policy regarding Russia from the U.S.

“We should expect some more specific policy on the part of the U.S. Because I think after the results of the Mueller report the anti-Russian stance somehow weakened but it might revive during the election campaign, we don’t know,” Kostin said, speaking to CNBC’s Dan Murphy at the Russia Calling forum in Moscow.

“It’s very unfortunate because we want a good relationship with the United States, our president is always ready to talk to Mr (Donald) Trump and other officials from the administration, but I’m afraid that unless there will be more precise policy on the part of the American administration, and for this he should probably agree with the Senate and Congress,” the relationship might not improve, he said.

Russia was accused of meddling in the 2016 election race and the allegations, which Russia denied, prompted a near two-year long investigation led by Robert Mueller. The probe said that the Russian government interfered in “sweeping and systematic fashion” and had been designed to favor Trump and harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mueller said the inquiry did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference campaign.

Relations between Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, have apparently been cordial against a backdrop of wider hostility toward Russia among U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum, and pressure on Trump to not roll back sanctions.

Asked what the outlook was for U.S.-Russia relations, Kostin said it was better to wait until the result of the 2020 U.S. election.

“My expectation is that we should talk about this maybe only after the elections in the U.S. (in 2020) because now America is going into the new political cycle … And there will be a lot, a lot of fights which we already saw in the last three years since Trump came to power, or did he come to power?,” Kostin joked, adding that Trump appeared to have a good chance of staying in power.

The Russian economy

International sanctions affected certain Russian sectors, including the financial industry, entities and individuals. The sanctions lists have increased each year; global risk management firm The Risk Advisory Group noted in September that the list now consists of more than 500 companies and 300 individuals.

Majority state-owned VTB Bank was placed on a U.S. (and other Western nations’) Ukraine-related sanctions list in 2014.

Kostin was added to a U.S. list of sanctioned individuals in April 2018 as he was deemed to be close to Putin and designated as a government official given the bank’s state-owned status. He told CNBC in May 2018 that the decision to put him on the list was “unfair.”

Nonetheless, Russia embarked on a program of import substitution and has weathered a storm of dramatically low oil prices, which coincided with the imposition of sanctions, leading to a financial crisis in Russia with the ruble tumbling and inflation rocketing.

Russia’s central bank has tamed high inflation in the last few years with a policy of high interest rates (the interest rate was 17% in December 2014) but has since then been gradually lowering the rate as inflation has decreased. In October, the central bank again cut its main interest rate by a surprising 50 basis points to 6.5% and signaled that it could cut the rate again in the coming months because of slowing inflation (which now stands at 3.8%, below its 4% target).

Still, sanctions and geopolitics don’t appear to be putting off all investors with Russian equities among some of the world’s top performers this year amid relatively low valuations and a strengthening currency.

Net returns on the MSCI Russia index are up more than 40% year-to-date as compared to the overall MSCI Emerging Market Index, which is up 10.35% in the same period, data from the MSCI at the end of October showed.

Andrey Kostin, chief executive officer of VTB Group, sits on the plenary panel at the annual VTB Capital ‘Russia Calling’ Forum in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018.

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Stability, but risks

VTB’s Kostin said the key word to describe the Russian economy today was “stability” but conceded there was room for improvement.

“What we lack today is fast economic growth, the forecast is 1.3% only in comparison with last year when it was 2.3%,” he said.

“Of course, Russia is an open economy and what’s happening in the world and the slower economic growth in China, in the world, in Europe, is affecting the Russian economy. But we also have our domestic problems, (such as) the lack of investments and lower domestic demand.”

As the world’s second largest natural gas producer, and third largest oil producer in the world, Russia has been able to lean on its energy exports as sanctions have curtailed other parts of its economy. Oil prices have also risen since late 2016 in no small part due to Russia’s pact with OPEC to curb oil output in order to balance supply and demand.

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House passes Hong Kong rights bill amid Trump China trade talks

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Pro-democracy supporters hold their phone’s flashlight in a rally to show support for students at The Hong Kong Poytechnic University on November 19, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Anthony Kwan | Getty Images

The House passed a pro-Hong Kong rights bill on Wednesday, putting President Donald Trump in a bind as he tries not to roil high-stakes trade talks with China.

The chamber approved a measure that aims to protect human rights in Hong Kong by a 417-1 margin amid efforts to crack down on months of pro-democracy protests. The House passed a second bill to bar the export of certain munitions to Hong Kong police by the same margin.

The Senate unanimously approved both pieces of legislation, so they head to Trump’s desk after House passage. The White House has not yet signaled where the president stands on the bills, but he could face a dilemma.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing “condemns and firmly opposes” the first bill, known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, according to Reuters. Trump aims not to anger the Chinese regime as he pushes for the elusive first piece of a U.S.-China trade agreement.

Congress’ move to pass the bills comes at a tricky time for Trump, who hopes to have a China trade victory to promote on the 2020 campaign trail. Major U.S. stock indexes fell on Wednesday following a Reuters report that the world’s two largest economies may not finish a “phase one” trade deal this year.

Trump did not answer shouted questions from reporters Wednesday about whether he would sign the bills. The legislation passed with near-unanimous support in both chambers, meaning Congress could override a Trump veto.

The government response to months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region, has grown increasingly violent. The demonstrations first started in response to a since scrapped bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China. 

Some members of the Trump administration such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have harshly criticized China’s response to the protests. Trump has said China should handle the situation itself, though he has warned harsh treatment of people in Hong Kong could derail the trade talks. 

One bill passed this week would require Pompeo to say once a year that Hong Kong has enough autonomy to keep special U.S. trading consideration that helps its economy. It would also set up the potential for sanctions on people responsible for human rights abuse in Hong Kong. 

The second measure would bar the sale of items such as tear gas and rubber bullets to Hong Kong police.

Asked about the trade talks earlier Wednesday, Trump said Beijing wants to strike a trade agreement more than he does. He added that he has not made a deal because “I don’t think they’re stepping up to the level that I want.” 

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Autonomous driving ‘hard’ when other factors are in play, Pony.ai CEO

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Aerial view, view from above, drone view, or birds eye view of a highway at night.

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Autonomous driving in a “simple environment” is fairly easy but becomes hard to keep safe when other factors are in play, according to the CEO of self-driving start-up Pony.ai.

Echoing some of the comments he made earlier in the week, James Peng highlighted the challenges faced.

“The reason autonomous driving is so hard is because all of us, right, we are sharing the same road with AI (artificial intelligence) and we are irrational at a lot of times,” Peng, who was speaking on a panel discussion on Tuesday at the East Tech West conference in China, explained.

“So, this is the task: where autonomous driving in a simple environment is fairly easy, it can be easily done, but if you’re adding the irrationality of all the other vehicles, pedestrians, then it becomes very hard to keep it safe,” he added.

Around the world, the last few years have seen a range of tests and developments take place in the autonomous vehicle sector.

At the end of October, for example, the Volkswagen Group announced the creation of a subsidiary called Volkswagen Autonomy (VWAT), with the German car giant saying it planned to “make autonomous driving market-ready.”

With offices in Munich and Wolfsburg, Volkswagen said that VWAT would aim to “bring a self-driving system… to market maturity.” As well as its sites in Germany, Volkswagen said it also planned to establish companies in Silicon Valley and China in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

For its part, Pony.ai, which has offices in the U.S. and China, and Hyundai recently launched BotRide. Pony.ai has described BotRide as “a shared, on-demand, autonomous vehicle service operating on public roads in California.”

On the mass adoption of autonomous vehicles, Pony.ai’s Peng sought to add some perspective to the discussion, emphasizing that tests were already underway.

“I think people tend to be super optimistic at the beginning and suddenly become very pessimistic, but I think that shouldn’t be the case either,” he argued, explaining that his firm had almost 30 vehicles that were being tested in the Nansha area of Guangzhou, even during rush hour.

“You will see the vehicles actually being able to handle complex driving situations, very, very complex driving scenarios.”

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