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Facebook’s regulation dodge: Let us, or China will

Facebook’s regulation dodge: Let us, or China will

July 17, 2019

Facebook is leaning on fears of China exporting its authoritarian social values to counter arguments that it should be broken up or slowed down. Its top executives have each claimed that if the U.S. limits its size, blocks its acquisitions or bans its cryptocurrency, Chinese company’s absent these restrictions will win abroad, bringing more power and data to their government. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and VP of communications Nick Clegg have all expressed this position.

The latest incarnation of this talking point came in today’s and yesterday’s congressional hearings over Libra, the Facebook-spearheaded digital currency it hopes to launch in the first half of 2020. Facebook’s head of its blockchain subsidiary Calibra, David Marcus, wrote in his prepared remarks to the House Financial Services Committee today that (emphasis added):

I believe that if America does not lead innovation in the digital currency and payments area, others will. If we fail to act, we could soon see a digital currency controlled by others whose values are dramatically different.

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 16: Head of Facebook’s Calibra David Marcus testifies during a hearing before Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee July 16, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing on “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Digital Currency and Data Privacy Considerations.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Marcus also told the Senate Banking Subcommittee yesterday that “I believe if we stay put we’re going to be in a situation in 10, 15 years where half the world is on a blockchain technology that is out of reach of our national-security apparatus.”.

This argument is designed to counter House-drafted “Keep Big Tech Out of Finance” legislation that Reuters reports would declare that companies like Facebook that earn over $25 billion in annual revenue “may not establish, maintain, …

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Blackstone is acquiring mobile ad company Vungle

Blackstone is acquiring mobile ad company Vungle

July 15, 2019

Private equity firm Blackstone just announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire mobile advertising company Vungle.

The companies aren’t disclosing the financial terms, but as part of the transaction, Vungle has also reached a settlement with founder Zain Jaffer, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company earlier this year.

(Update: Multiple sources with knowledge of the deal said that the acquisition price was around — or north of — $750 million. One of those sources also said it was an all-cash transaction.)

“As a best-in-class performance marketing platform, Vungle represents a key growth engine for the mobile app ecosystem,” said Blackstone principal Sachin Bavishi in a statement. “Our investment will help deliver on the company’s tremendous growth potential and we look forward to partnering with management to extend Vungle’s strength across mobile gaming and other performance brands.”

Meanwhile, CEO Rick Tallman said the deal will allow the company to “further accelerate Vungle’s mission to be the trusted guide for growth and engagement, transforming how users discover and experience mobile apps.”

Vungle was founded back in 2011, and, according to the acquisition release, it’s currently working with 60,000 mobile apps worldwide, serving more than 4 billion video views per month and working with publishers like Rovio, Zynga, Pandora, Microsoft and Scopely.

Jaffer led Vungle as CEO until October 2017, when he was arrested on charges including performing a lewd act upon a child and assault with a deadly weapon. The charges were ultimately dropped, with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s office stating that it did “not believe that there was any sexual conduct by Mr. Jaffer that evening,” while “the injuries were the result of Mr. Jaffer being in a state of …

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Facebook’s testimony to Congress: Libra will be regulated by Swiss

Facebook’s testimony to Congress: Libra will be regulated by Swiss

July 15, 2019

The head of Facebook’s blockchain subsidiary Calibra David Marcus has released his prepared testimony before Congress for tomorrow and Wednesday, explaining that the Libra Association will be regulated by the Swiss government because that’s where it’s headquartered. Meanwhile, he says the Libra Association and Facebook’s Calibra wallet intend to comply will all U.S. tax, anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws.

“The Libra Association expects that it will be licensed, regulated, and subject to supervisory oversight. Because the Association is headquartered in Geneva, it will be supervised by the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority (FINMA),” Marcus writes. “We have had preliminary discussions with FINMA and expect to engage with them on an appropriate regulatory framework for the Libra Association. The Association also intends to register with FinCEN [The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] as a money services business.”

Marcus will be defending Libra before the Senate Banking Committee on July 16th and the House Financial Services Committees on July 17th. The House subcomittee’s Rep. Maxine Waters has already issued a letter to Facebook and the Libra Association requesting that it halt development and plans to launch Libra in early 2020 “until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action.”

The big question is whether Congress is savvy enough to understand Libra to the extent that it can coherently regulate it. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonies before Congress last year were rife with lawmakers dispensing clueless or off-topic questions.

Sen. Orin Hatch infamously demanded to know “how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?,” to which Zuckerberg smirked, “Senator, we run ads.” If that concept trips up Congress, it’s hard to imagine it grasping a semi-decentralized stablecoin cryptocurrency …

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Waze now shows road toll prices along your driving route

Waze now shows road toll prices along your driving route

July 15, 2019

Navigation app Waze is making getting to where you’re going even easier — or at least more transparent. A new feature rolling out today will show you any tolls along your route, including the actual amount you’re going to pay, across both the U.S. and Canada.

This is above and beyond what you’ll get in most navigation apps, where you might get a visual or text indicator that there is a toll on one of the roads in your path (and you can opt to avoid them if possible) but you won’t know what you’re actually paying. With Waze, you’ll get the amount — sourced from its community of user-drivers, rather than direct from the official toll road operators — but Waze’s crowd-sourced navigation data often has a leg up on the official source in other cases.

Waze will show you the toll prices up front, too, before the navigation actually gets under way, which is great, because that’s when you actually have the opportunity to do something about it, whether it’s scrounging seat-cushion change or just choosing to drive a different way.

This will be rolling out beginning today, so keep an eye out if you’re trying to get somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.

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The Commerce Department will accept applications from companies that want to supply Huawei, but it remains blacklisted

No technical reason to exclude Huawei as 5G supplier, says UK committee

July 15, 2019

A UK parliamentary committee has concluded there are no technical grounds for excluding Chinese network kit vendor Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

In a letter from the chair of the Science & Technology Committee to the UK’s digital minister Jeremy Wright, the committee says: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers.”

Though the committee does go on to recommend the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks, noting that UK mobile network operators have “mostly” done so already — but on a voluntary basis.

If it places a formal requirement on operators not to use Huawei for core supply the committee urges the government to provide “clear criteria” for the exclusion so that it could be applied to other suppliers in future.

Reached for a response to the recommendations, a government spokesperson told us: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport added: “The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course. We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

In recent years the US administration has been putting pressure on allies around the world to entirely exclude Huawei from 5G networks — claiming the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

Australia announced it was banning Huawei and another Chinese vendor ZTE from providing kit for its 5G networks …

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Facebook answers how Libra taxes & anti-fraud will work

Facebook answers how Libra taxes & anti-fraud will work

July 12, 2019

Facebook provided TechCrunch with new information on how its cryptocurrency will stay legal amidst allegations from President Trump that Libra could facilitate “unlawful behavior.” Facebook and Libra Association executives tell me they expect Libra will incur sales tax and capital gains taxes. They confirmed that Facebook is also in talks with local convenience stores and money exchanges to ensure anti-laundering checks are applied when people cash-in or cash-out Libra for traditional currency, and to let you use a QR code to buy or sell Libra in person.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company wouldn’t respond directly to Trump’s tweets, but noted that the Libra association won’t interact with consumers or operate as a bank, and that Libra is meant to be a complement to the existing financial system.

Trump had tweeted that “Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity. Similarly, Facebook Libra’s ‘virtual currency’ will have little standing or dependability. If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National and International.”

For a primer on how Libra works, watch our explainer video below or read our deep dive into everything you need to know:

In a wide-reaching series of interviews this week, the Libra Association’s head of policy Dante Disparte, Facebook’s head economist for blockchain Christian Catalini and Facebook’s blockchain project subsidiary Calibra’s VP of product Kevin Weil answered questions about regulation of Libra. Here’s what we’ve learned (their answers were trimmed for clarity but not edited):

Would Facebook’s Calibra Wallet launch elsewhere even if it’s banned in the USA by regulators?

Calibra’s Kevin Weil: We believe that creating a financial ecosystem that has significantly broader access where all it …

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How To Implement SEO Tactics Before Your Website Launches

July 11, 2019


The key is in properly optimizing your website for search engine optimization so you can be sure your content gets the attention it deserves. When it comes to implementing SEO, there are a few key things you should do to get the best results and reach success, including:

  • Creating an optimized coming soon page

  • Optimizing for mobile users

  • Increasing site speed

  • Using long-tail keywords

  • Creating an XML sitemap

Here is more on the different ways you can use SEO to your advantage before even officially launching your website. 

Create an optimized coming soon page

Did you know it’s completely possible to build an email list and a loyal following before your website’s official launch? If more marketers knew and took advantage of this, they’d start way ahead of the game before ever making a sale.

If you can decide who your target market is and what interests them enough to hand over their valuable information, you’re already on your way to earning loyal visitors. With this information in hand, you’re able to create an optimized coming soon page that collects email addresses and other details you need to boost your lead generation and engage with your audience. 

Based on your niche and industry, add researched keywords to your coming soon page so Google can crawl your new website and make it easy for your target audience to find you. Use this opportunity to build your brand. To set the right tone, be sure to use the right images and visual content.

How exactly do you go about creating a coming soon page that people are excited to engage with? You could use a handy tool like SeedProd to be the face of your website so that every time someone visits, they see that your site is almost ready for the …

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N26 launches its challenger bank in the US

N26 launches its challenger bank in the US

July 11, 2019

European fintech startup N26 is now accepting customers in the U.S. The company is launching a bank account with a debit card that should provide a better experience compared to traditional retail banks.

If you’re familiar with N26, the product that is going live today won’t surprise you much. Customers in the U.S. can download a mobile app and create a bank account from their phone in just a few minutes. It’s a true bank account with ACH payments, routing and account numbers.

A few days later, you receive a debit card that you can control from the mobile app. Every time you make a transaction, you instantly receive a push notification telling you how much money you just paid. You can set up your PIN code, customize limits, turn on and off online payments, and make ATM withdrawals or payments abroad.

And that’s about all there is to know. But what about fees? Basic N26 accounts are free. There’s no monthly fee and no minimum balance. There’s no fee on transactions in a foreign currency and you get two free ATM withdrawals per month.

N26 is going to progressively roll out signups over the summer as a sort of beta program. If you’ve signed up to the waitlist, you’ll get an invitation over the coming hours, days and weeks. There are currently 100,000 people on the waitlist. N26 will then open signups to everyone later this summer.

When N26 rolls out its final product in a couple of months, the company says that it plans to automatically find and reimburse fees the ATM operators are charging. N26 cards in the U.S. work on the Visa network instead of Mastercard.

Just like Chime, N26 will also try to let you get paid up to two days early if you …

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Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

July 10, 2019

Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.

Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weigh in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.

“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment… kind of embarrassing, I know…”

Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.

And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.

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Cloosiv gives local coffee shops a mobile ordering experience on par with the mega chains

Cloosiv gives local coffee shops a mobile ordering experience on par with the mega chains

July 9, 2019

Starbucks’ mobile ordering app has proven wildly popular for the company, with reports indicating that it had more users than the likes of Apple Pay or Google Pay last year. The convenience is just too alluring. When you’re late for work and forgot to eat, being able to order up a drink and a sandwich with a tap or two and have it ready for pick up by the time you pass the store seems sort of like magic.

But how can smaller coffee shops compete? Building and maintaining an app of your own is a massive endeavor — and that’s before you start trying to convince customers to install yet another app.

Cloosiv is aiming to take that simplified, tap-of-a-button mobile ordering approach and make it work for local coffee shops by bringing them all to one place. It highlights the nearby coffee shops that are part of the service, presents their menus and lets you tweak your drink to your liking before sending your order on its way. Tipping is handled through the app, and there’s a built-in rewards system to encourage people to keep coming back.

Cloosiv’s network of coffee shops isn’t huge yet; it’s up and running at just a couple of locations in San Francisco right now, and a quick glance at the in-app location map pins the nationwide total at a little shy of 200. The more that number grows, though, the more the concept makes sense. It becomes an everyone-versus-the-giant sort of thing.

As with Starbucks’ mobile ordering app, Cloosiv encourages users to pre-load money into a built-in wallet — the idea being that pre-loading means fewer credit card charges, which cuts back on processing fees for everyone. Unlike the big competition, however, users can make a one-off purchase without pre-loading the …

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