Amazon Music Offers Free Podcasts, Develops New Programs

Amazon Music now offers 70,000+ free podcasts and is also developing new podcast programming, making it the latest streaming music service to dive into the genre. Although the field is dominated by Apple Podcasts and Spotify, Amazon executives believe its offering will be competitive because it will be able to bring in new podcast listeners, especially via its Echo home speakers. Amazon’s free podcasts are available for all of its Music tiers and debuted first in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. Continue reading Amazon Music Offers Free Podcasts, Develops New Programs

Amazon’s Small Hub Plan Threatens UPS, U.S. Postal Service

As the holiday season looms, Amazon plans to launch 1,000 small delivery hubs throughout the U.S., according to sources. With COVID-19, online orders soared, and Amazon was not capable of meeting its two-day delivery pledge. The company hired 175,000 new workers, which has helped clear the delivery pipeline, but wants to ensure that Amazon Prime subscribers can get as many products as possible on the same day. Its rivals Walmart and Target are able to speed deliveries due to their thousands of well-located stores. Continue reading Amazon’s Small Hub Plan Threatens UPS, U.S. Postal Service

AT&T to Launch Ad-Supported HBO Max and Mobile Service

AT&T plans to introduce a lower-cost, ad-supported version of HBO Max in the spring, said chief executive John Stankey, who added that it would be a “light ad load.” Some shows, however, would only be available to subscribers who pay for the full-price version. With the move, HBO Max is joining Hulu and NBC’s Peacock that also offer a free or lower-price version that comes with commercials. Stankey also revealed the company is considering ad-supported wireless phone plans as soon as a year from now. Continue reading AT&T to Launch Ad-Supported HBO Max and Mobile Service

TikTok-Oracle Deal Rests on Data Security, Ownership Details

In its deal with Oracle, ByteDance is angling for majority ownership of TikTok. “Conceptually, I can tell you I don’t like that,” responded President Donald Trump, who is still in favor of U.S. majority ownership of the app’s operations. Although Trump admitted he hadn’t been briefed on the specifics of the deal, Senate Republicans and others are concerned that it falls short of the original goal. A source stated that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin aims to ensure that U.S. ownership is “well over 50 percent.” Meanwhile, the Commerce Department, at President Trump’s direction, announced this morning that TikTok and WeChat will be banned from app stores in the U.S. beginning on Sunday. Continue reading TikTok-Oracle Deal Rests on Data Security, Ownership Details

Facebook Debuts Oculus Quest 2, Readies New Smartglasses

Facebook released Oculus Quest 2, a customizable VR headset priced at $299 — $100 less than its predecessor. Improved hardware includes a fast-switching LCDs with 1832×1920 resolution per eye and 50 percent more pixels than the first version. Although it doesn’t have the same black levels as the original Quest’s OLED screens, it offers support for an (eventual) 90Hz refresh rate; Quest 2 launches with a 72Hz refresh rate. In partnership with Ray-Ban, Facebook also plans to debut a pair of smartglasses in 2021. Continue reading Facebook Debuts Oculus Quest 2, Readies New Smartglasses

CBS All Access Will Be Rebranded Paramount+ Early in 2021

ViacomCBS plans to roll out Paramount+, a new version of its flagship streamer CBS All Access, that will take advantage of a larger program catalog created by last year’s merger of CBS and Viacom. Among the original shows exclusive to Paramount+ are “Lioness” from “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan and “The Offer,” a scripted series about the making of “The Godfather” saga. CBS All Access costs $5.99 per month with ads and $9.99 per month without them, but ViacomCBS didn’t release pricing for Paramount+. Continue reading CBS All Access Will Be Rebranded Paramount+ Early in 2021

Government Considering Lawsuits Against Facebook, Google

According to sources, the Federal Trade Commission — after investigating concerns about Facebook’s efforts to stifle competition — may be readying an antitrust lawsuit by the end of the year. The same sources said, however, that the FTC doesn’t always bring a case after making preparations to do so and that no final decision has been made. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators has put Google in the crosshairs regarding its dominance in the chain of technologies connecting digital publishers with advertisers. Continue reading Government Considering Lawsuits Against Facebook, Google

Apple Releases iOS 14, Bundles, Watch Series 6, New iPads

Apple’s fall event was all about bundling, with discounts for customers who sign up for multiple plans with recurring payments. The new Fitness+ package, for example, offers workouts that tie in to “all of your Apple equipment” and an Apple One subscription bundles Arcade, Music, TV+ and iCloud. There was no new iPhone or mention of AR, but the Silicon Valley company did unveil iOS 14, a new Watch, a new iPad, and an upgraded entry-level iPad. Apple is also experimenting with an Express store for product pick-ups. Continue reading Apple Releases iOS 14, Bundles, Watch Series 6, New iPads

Amazon and Microsoft Boosting Cloud Services With Startups

San Francisco-based startup Abnormal Security is moving its AI-driven email security software to Microsoft’s Azure Marketplace, in exchange for Microsoft’s promise to sell Abnormal’s services to its enterprise clients. This is the first such deal for Microsoft, which is battling Amazon for cloud computing dominance. Amazon has already inked similar deals; in a January agreement, cloud-cost management software company Apptio expanded its use of Amazon Web Services in exchange for Amazon’s help to sell Apptio’s services to its clients. Continue reading Amazon and Microsoft Boosting Cloud Services With Startups

Facebook Rolls Out New Messenger Feature, Watch Together

Facebook launched Watch Together, a feature for Messenger and videoconferencing platform Messenger Rooms, to allow users to watch videos in real time with family and friends on Apple and Android mobile devices. Users choose videos to view through Facebook’s video hub, Facebook Watch. The push to promote yet more video comes at a time when, due largely to COVID-19, more people than ever are at home watching content. Facebook Messenger allows up to eight people on a video call, and Messenger Rooms tops out at 50 people. Continue reading Facebook Rolls Out New Messenger Feature, Watch Together

Ex-Facebook Scientist Reveals Slow Action on Fake Accounts

A recently fired Facebook data scientist, Sophie Zhang, sent a 6,600-word memo giving specific examples of how the social media company ignored or was slow to act on solid information on fake accounts undermining global politics and elections. That included her proof that, in Azerbaijan and Honduras, government leaders and political parties used fake accounts to shift public opinion. She found similar evidence of coordinated campaigns to impact candidates or elections in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Spain and Ukraine. Continue reading Ex-Facebook Scientist Reveals Slow Action on Fake Accounts

Nvidia Acquisition of SoftBank’s Arm Brings Rewards, Risks

Nvidia agreed to pay $40 billion — $21.5 billion in stock, $12 billion in cash — for SoftBank’s Arm division, a chip designer based in the United Kingdom. Nvidia will pay $2 billion on signing, and SoftBank will also receive $5 billion in cash or stock should Arm’s performance meet specific standards. Arm employees will receive $1.5 billion in Nvidia stock. This will be the biggest semiconductor industry deal since SoftBank paid $31.4+ billion to purchase Arm in 2016. The deal will also increase competition between Nvidia and Intel. Continue reading Nvidia Acquisition of SoftBank’s Arm Brings Rewards, Risks

More Details on Oracle’s Bid to Be TikTok’s Trusted Partner

Although Microsoft and Walmart’s joint bid was considered the leader to become the “trusted partner” of the U.S. operations of ByteDance’s social video app TikTok, cloud and platform services company Oracle has come out on top. The structure of the Oracle deal is still unknown, but one source said it will not be an “outright sale.” The White House and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) still have to approve the proposal. President Trump stated he would ban TikTok if it isn’t sold by September 20. TikTok has about 100 million monthly users in the U.S. Continue reading More Details on Oracle’s Bid to Be TikTok’s Trusted Partner

Apple Reveals a Number of Changes to Its App Store Rules

In response to complaints from developers, Apple tweaked rules surrounding in-app purchases for iPhone and iPad games that stream directly from the Internet. The company is not changing the 15 to 30 percent fees for app downloads, in-app purchases and subscriptions — a major bone of contention for many developers — but is applying the fees to fewer situations. This change and several others, however, does not impact the existing legal battle between Apple and Epic Games, and Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney criticized Apple’s latest move. Continue reading Apple Reveals a Number of Changes to Its App Store Rules

Social Media Platforms Prep for Flood of False Election Info

As the 2020 U.S. presidential election looms, social media platforms are launching strategies to combat false claims and misinformation. Internet companies anticipate a tsunami of this type of content in the lead-up to the election. Google, for example, said it would block some autocomplete search suggestions in an effort to combat misinformation, and Twitter said it would more aggressively label or remove tweets that undermine confidence in the election or promote disputed information. Twitter and Facebook plan to ban new political ads the week leading up to the election. Facebook, meanwhile, is also working to prevent climate misinformation. Continue reading Social Media Platforms Prep for Flood of False Election Info