CIO SA tech news roundup: Mteto Nyati acquires huge stake in BSG, Modus launches sub-Saharan AI and blockchain-focused fund, Vodacom invests heavily in the South African network, while Google agrees to pay millions of dollars in landmark privacy case

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Mteto Nyati buys 40 percent stake in BSG, making him chairman

Mteto Nyati, the former CEO of Altron Group, has purchased a 40 percent stake in business technology consulting firm BSG for an undisclosed sum and will serve as the company’s executive chairman.

Mteto, who previously led MTN and Microsoft South Africa, will collaborate closely with BSG’s executive management team “to scale BSG’s impact and grow market share”. He takes over as executive chairman from BSG founder Greg Reis.

Mteto, who recently joined the boards of Eskom, Telkom, and Nedbank, will help the company expand not only in South Africa, but also internationally.

According to Mteto, this investment is aligned with his goal of leaving a legacy. “I wanted to invest in a business that is concerned with more than just profits, a business that cares, a business that is making a difference and a business that is bringing about positive change in society. BSG ticks all of these boxes,” he says.

Vodacom spends billions on SA network as it contends with loadshedding

Vodacom, South Africa’s largest mobile operator, which has been dealing with power challenges and the effects of rising inflation, says it spent a record R5.8 billion on its local network in the first half of the year, including batteries, in order to ensure a more resilient network for customers.

For the past two years, the company has spent more than R2 billion on batteries alone, and its network spending, along with new products, has helped drive a 4.9 percent increase in revenue to R41.2 billion in its largest market.

However, group headline earnings per share fell 9.5 percent to R4.57 in the six months to September 30, with the company suffering from the launch of mobile services in Ethiopia, as well as higher finance costs as its debt increased.

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom, said that the network investment came “at a time when the country experienced record levels of power outages”, and that measures were put in place to alleviate customer pressures.

“Vodacom has attempted to absorb considerable inflationary costs from the dramatic increase in energy costs as far as possible,” he says.

To mitigate the effects of the country's energy crisis, Vodacom is testing a programme in which it will source electricity from renewable independent power producers and feed it into the national grid.

Battery deployment to towers to support network resilience during loadshedding contributed to a 13 percent increase in total group expenses to R34 billion.

Modus Africa – new AI and blockchain-focused fund for sub-Saharan Africa

According to TechCrunch, the New York-based venture platform, Modus, has launched Modus Africa, a venture capital fund for AI and blockchain startups in sub-Saharan Africa. The fund’s final close is expected in the first quarter of next year.

Modus’s expansion over the last 18 months has included branches in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, and, most recently, Riyadh, with support from institutions such as Mubadala’s Hub71. According to Modus, its expansion into Africa provides “additional market access for Modus portfolio companies while also enabling African startups to scale into the MENA region”.

Modus operates three business units focused on entrepreneurs and startups in the MENA and GCC regions as a “holistic venture platform.” They include the Venture Builder, which works with early-stage MVP companies and ideas. Then there’s Corporate Innovation, a service platform that uses the company’s internal know-how to help corporations and governments. Its Venture Capital arm invests in early and mid-stage startups like staffing platform Ogram.

Several stints working in banking, finance, and Dubai-based family offices pointed Vianney Mathonnet and Andre Jr. Ayotte, the general partners of Modus’s Africa-focused fund, to the emergence of blockchain technology and its outsized opportunity and application in Africa.

“Not long after we launched this project after noticing how massive blockchain and AI could be in Africa, we were approached by Modus Capital because they wanted a Pan-African strategy themselves,” says Andre.

“They were looking for people with the know-how, the network, and experience to do that, so we started discussing how the partnership would work. Ultimately, what happened is that our project became the Modus Africa fund.”

Hefty multi-state settlement for Google

Google agreed to pay $392 million (R6.7 billion) this week to settle a landmark privacy case with 40 US states over allegations that the search engine giant misled users into believing location tracking on their devices was turned off.

The US case began in 2018, when The Associated Press reported that Google tracked users even after they opted out of the practice.

According to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, it was the largest multi-state privacy settlement reached by authorities in US history, and it included a binding commitment by Google to improve customer disclosures about targeting.

Rosenblum went on to say that Google had been “crafty and deceptive” in her announcement of the company’s agreement to pay up to settle the case.

“Consumers believed they had turned off Google’s location tracking features, but the company secretly recorded their movements and used that information for advertisers,” she adds.

The rare joint lawsuit by 40 states arose from frustration with federal authorities’ failure to crack down on big tech amid legislative gridlock in Washington.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on what national rules on online privacy should look like, and tech companies are lobbying hard to limit their potential impact.

This is in stark contrast to Europe, where US tech behemoths have faced strict privacy rules since 2018, with Google, Amazon, and others facing hefty fines for violations.

Google and Meta were fined a record $71 million (R1.2 billion) in South Korea in September for gathering users’ personal information without their consent for tailored ads.

These decisions are in addition to the large antitrust fines that the European Union has imposed on Google, totalling $8.5 billion since 2017.

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