The company filed for the sale on Tuesday, with the company seemingly trying to take advantage of its soaring stock price, which is up 650% so far this year. Its stock dropped on the news though, down around 2% as of 9.45 a.m. ET.
A former software engineer for Netflix was sentenced to two years in prison for taking part in an insider trading ring that generated more than $3 million, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington announced Friday.
Former engineer Sung Mo Jun worked for Netflix between July 2016 and February 2017, using insider information about subscriber growth to tip off his co-conspirator, Junwoo Chon, and his brother, Joon Jun, when to buy stock. After leaving the streaming company, he obtained more insider information about Netflix subscriber data from software engineer Ayden Lee. Jun and Chon were tried in the U.S. District Court in Seattle.
At his hearing in August where he plead guilty, Jun told the court, “What I did was foolish, wrong, illegal…. I have no excuse. I disappointed many people.”
Along with Jun's prison time, he received a $15,000 fine. Chon was sentenced to 14 months in prison with a fine of $10,000. Following their sentences, both men will have a year of supervised release and must complete 50 hours of community service.
Jun will forfeit nearly $500,000 and Chon is to give up close to $1.6 million to the U.S. Joon Jun and Lee will be tried next year, with their illicit profits totaling $1.1 million and $453,000, respectively.
Parag Agrawal, Twitter's newly-minted chief executive, will restructure the company's leadership team, shifting to a "general manager" model for its consumer, revenue and core tech teams. As part of the shakeup, Michael Montano, Twitter's engineering lead, and Dantley Davis, the company's design and research lead, will exit at the end of the year.
Kayvon Beykpour, head of Consumer Product, will manage the consumer team, Bruce Falck, revenue product lead, will lead its Revenue team and Nick Caldwell, vice president of Engineering, will take over the core tech team, the company said in a filing with the SEC on Friday. Lindsey Iannucci, Twitter's senior director of Strategy and Operations, also joined the leadership team as chief of staff and vice president of Operations.
Twitter said in the filing that the changes are meant to "drive increased accountability, speed, and operational efficiency."
Sara Beykpour, the company's senior director of Product Management, also announced Friday that she will be stepping down from her role. In a Twitter thread announcing her departure, she said it was "a coincidence with this week's news," referencing Agrawal taking on the role of CEO.
"I’ve now served under 4 CEOs at Twitter, and each of these eras was unique and necessary in its own way," she said in the thread. "I have strong faith in Parag's version of the next chapter of this company."
Sony is planning its own competitor to Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, according to a report from Bloomberg. Sony intends to merge the service, codenamed Spartacus, with its PlayStation Plus membership program and its PlayStation Now cloud service.
According to the report, Sony intends to launch the service this spring both for its PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 consoles. The service will have three tiers. The first tier is expected to be similar to the existing $60 per year PlayStation Plus, which Sony has operated for many years as a way to charge consumers for online gaming capabilities and the opportunity to download a handful of free games every month.
The second tier would include a more robust library of free games, including both PS4 and PS5 titles, with a structure similar to Microsoft's all-you-can-play Xbox Game Pass, which currently features more than 150 games and also includes every new first-party release the company puts out. The third tier would include the game streaming benefits of Sony's PlayStation Now platform, which is similar to Xbox Cloud Gaming and Google Stadia, while also including classic games from the PS1, PS2, PS3 and Sony handheld libraries.
It's not clear how much Sony plans to charge for its service or whether Sony would include its first-party titles on the same day they launch at retail, which is arguably the most attractive benefit of Xbox Game Pass. Sony's strategy for console gaming relies on selling PlayStation-exclusive games for between $60 and $70. Many of Sony's recent hits have sold upwards of 10 to 15 million units, and 2018's God of War hit a rare milestone of more than 19.5 million units sold this fall. A subscription service that included those games immediately upon launch might eat into the company's sales, unless Sony could make it attractive enough with perks or pricing to attract a substantial subscriber base.
Microsoft has 18 million Xbox Game Pass subscribers as of January 2021, the last time the company made public data about the platform. But recent financial filings from October indicated the growth of Game Pass has slowed in recent months and the platform is no longer adding subscribers at the rate Microsoft previously forecast.
Still, Sony's plans to build its own Game Pass competitor underscores the importance of subscription services in the game industry and how Netflix-style content bundling is likely to become a major force driving the industry in the years ahead. Many game developers and publishers, including Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, have launched subscription services of their own, while many traditional companies in the subscription media business, such as Amazon and Netflix, have now shown interest in gaming.
Sony, which throughout its history has been both a traditional media and gaming business, is also in dire need of new subscription products after the poor adoption of its PlayStation Now service and the discontinuation of its pay-TV product PlayStation Vue.
The phones of U.S. State Department officials were hacked using NSO Group software, Reuters reported Friday. Sources told Reuters that the cyberattacks hit officials with ties to Uganda. The hackers have not yet been identified.
According to Reuters, an NSO spokesperson responded with a written statement that "if our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO's tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place."
But NSO Group software has a long history of being used for malicious purposes. The Israeli-based firm developed the Pegasus software that has been used to hack the phones of business executives, journalists and activists worldwide. Earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department blacklisted the spyware firm for for supplying spyware and trafficking cyber tools.
Victims of the latest cyberattack were alerted directly by Apple, and sources told Reuters the NSO software was able to exploit a flaw in Apple's graphics processor. Apple sued NSO Group last week for allegedly helping customers break into Apple phones. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also cleared the way for Meta's lawsuit against NSO Group early last month for infecting hundreds mobile devices via WhatsApp.
A senior Biden official told Reuters that the administration is focused on pursuing companies like NSO Group, and the Israeli embassy also released a statement that the attacks would be a breach of their export licensing rules if true.
Chinese ride-hailing firm DiDi Chuxing will begin the process of de-listing from the New York Stock Exchange as it plans to go public on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the company announced late Thursday.
The exit comes less than six months after the company raised $4.4 billion in its IPO, giving it a valuation of $69 billion. Bloomberg reported last week that Chinese regulators asked the company to create a plan to de-list from the U.S. market due to concerns over sensitive data leakage.
If Beijing hadn’t acted, Washington might have eventually forced DiDi to de-list. American and Chinese authorities have been fighting for nearly a decade and a half over the issue of audit oversight for Chinese companies that list their shares in the U.S. The SEC finalized a rule Thursday that would require such companies to make their audits available for inspection to U.S. regulators, though it would not take effect immediately.
DiDi said in its announcement that its shares would be “convertible into freely tradable shares” on the other stock exchange.
The company previously upset Chinese regulators when it forged ahead with its U.S. public offering without being fully cleared by the country’s Cyberspace Administration. The administration suspended DiDi from the country’s app stores in July after it was found to be illegally collecting users’ personal data. DiDi also received harsh penalties for not reporting past mergers and acquisitions prior to completing an antitrust review.
With nearly 500 million monthly active users, DiDi is the largest ride-hailing app in China. Uber sold its Chinese business to DiDi in 2016, giving it a large stake in the company.
Mortgage startup Better.com shed at least 10% of its workforce on Thursday, firing 900 in the U.S. and India.
In a webinar lasting roughly three minutes, one former employee told the Daily Beast, CEO Vishal Garg delivered a short speech informing the company’s U.S.-based employees that they were being fired.
“The market changed, as you know, and we have to move with it in order to survive, so that hopefully we can continue to thrive and deliver on our mission,” Garg said on the call. “This isn’t news that you’re going to want to hear. But ultimately it was my decision and I wanted you to hear from me.”
Garg claimed on the call that the layoffs were due to efficiency, performance and productivity. Once the meeting ended, multiple sources told the Daily Beast that their computers automatically shut down. The company’s entire diversity, equity and inclusion team was reportedly among those let go.
The layoffs come as the company received a $750 million cash injection from its biggest backer, Softbank, ahead of its plans to go public through a SPAC merger with Aurora Acquisition Corp., giving it $1 billion in cash on its balance sheet.
Google is pushing back its return-to-office date again.
Jan. 10 was the date when Google had expected to start calling employees back to the office three days a week.
Although more than 90% of Google’s offices have already reopened, the company said Thursday that it would allow for continued remote work pending “local conditions” of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company hasn't set a new return date, but said it would notify employees "when there's more to share on timelines."
“We’re giving employees who welcome the chance to come into the office the option to do that wherever we can, while allowing those who aren’t ready to keep working from home,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Google wouldn't say whether the new COVID-19 omicron variant was the cause for the delay.
There's been more interest in returning to the office lately, Google said. Almost 40% of Googlers have gone into the office in the last few weeks.
A number of tech companies have pegged January as the date they’ll call employees back to the office, including Amazon, Meta, Salesforce and Uber.
Meta spokesperson Chloe Meyere told Protocol on Wednesday that the parent company of Facebook had not changed its January return date. On Thursday, Dell Technologies told employees that it would reopen all of its remaining sites on Jan. 4 “for those who need or want to work on-site.”
In another blow to Nvidia's planned $40 billion acquisition of Arm, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Thursday it had launched a lawsuit to block the deal.
The commission voted unanimously in favor of the administrative complaint, which is set to go to trial May 10, 2022. During its investigation of the deal, the FTC noted that it cooperated closely with regulators in the European Union, U.K., Japan, and South Korea.
The FTC said it takes issue with the deal because a combined Nvidia-Arm would grant a single company control over the technology that dozens of rivals rely on to design competing products. Choking off access to Arm’s designs would hurt innovation, and make it more difficult to develop new technologies found in data centers and assisted driving technology used in cars, the FTC said.
“Tomorrow’s technologies depend on preserving today’s competitive, cutting-edge chip markets,” FTC Competition Bureau director Holly Vedova said in a statement. "This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals."
An Nvidia spokesperson said that the company will continue to work to demonstrate the deal will benefit the industry and promote competition. Nvidia plans to invest further in Arm’s research and development, and is committed to preserving Arm’s open licensing model, which ensures its designs are available to all interested customers now and in the future.
The FTC’s complaint alleges that the deal would hurt competition in advanced driver assistance systems, data center networking products and Arm-based cloud computing. The deal would also theoretically give Nvidia access to information about its rivals, and lessen Arm’s incentives to pursue innovation that may conflict with Nvidia’s businesses.
The proposed deal has also run into headwinds in the U.K., where competition regulators are conducting a six-month investigation into the potential impact of the transaction.
Nvidia stock has advanced more than 3% in Thursday trading.
Looks like Google wants in on smartwatches.
According to Insider, Google is working on a smartwatch within its Pixel brand, which it aims to launch next year. As expected, the watch will include fitness-related features such as step counting and heart rate monitoring. It would be the first watch that Google designs in-house.
The watch is expected to have a higher price tag than a Fitbit, a source told The Verge. Google acquired Fitbit for $2.1 billion in January.Google previously sold smartwatches under the LG brand. At the time Rick Osterloh, Google's senior vice president of devices and services, said they “didn’t look like what belonged in the Pixel family,” according to a 2019 Insider report.
CEOs and insiders at major companies have sold off more than $69 billion in shares so far in 2021.
Stock sales by executives and insiders are up 30% year-over-year, CNBC reported, with tech figureheads like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk making up the majority of the sales. Musk and Bezos have cashed out on nearly $10 billion each in shares of their companies, while Satya Nadella sold half of his shares in Microsoft on Monday, valued around $285 million.
The sales come as stock prices for these companies skyrocket. Tesla stock has jumped in recent months, reaching a peak of nearly $1,230 in early November. Microsoft, Meta and Amazon have also seen steady increases and high peaks in 2021.
Executives also benefit from cashing out by avoiding impending tax hikes. Starting in the new year, Washington state will impose a 7% tax on capital gains over $250,000; Nadella and Bezos will save millions by selling shares now.
The Department of Justice arrested a former Ubiquiti employee on Wednesday, claiming he stole confidential files and then extorted his company for almost $2 million. The saga continued as the employee, Nickolas Sharp, told news outlets that the company mishandled the leak, the DOJ reported, leading to a significant drop in share prices. The DOJ never names Ubiquiti, but the details in the indictment match the wireless tech company's security breach in January.
Ubiquiti alerted customers of the breach on Jan. 11, telling them an unauthorized person had access to some of its "information technology systems hosted by a third party cloud provider." The hijacker accessed servers that had data such as users' names, email addresses and passwords. In March, a supposed whistleblower inside the company told Brian Krebs the leak was "catastrophically worse than reported." According to the whistleblower, the hacker gained access to Ubiquiti's databases on AWS and the company lost control of its credentials. After the report, Ubiquiti's stock fell from $376.78 on March 29 to $298.30 on March 31.
The DOJ says in the indictment that the company's shares fell approximately 20% between March 30 and March 31. And it says the company is a New York-based tech company, matching Ubiquiti's description. According to the DOJ, Sharp was employed at the company from August 2018 through March 2021, matching up with a LinkedIn profile that appears to be Sharp.
The indictment reports that Sharp used administrative access in December 2020 to download confidential data, using a VPN to hide his IP address while he pulled from the company's AWS and GitHub databases. In January, he posed as an anonymous hacker and sent a ransom note for 50 bitcoin, at the time equivalent to around $1.9 million. In return, he promised the confidential information and knowledge of a vulnerable hole in the company's systems. When it refused, Sharp published some of the stolen data publicly.
Sharp was discovered due to a brief internet outage in his home that caused his VPN to stop working, which revealed his IP address. The FBI searched his home, according to the DOJ, where he claimed innocence and said someone else must have bought the VPN from his PayPal account. Apparently, Sharp circulated false news reports as a whistleblower after the FBI visited his home and seized his devices.
The DOJ arrested Sharp in Portland, Oregon and charged him in four counts: intentionally damaging a computer program, transmitting an interstate threat, wire fraud and lying to the FBI. If the DOJ proves its case, it remains to be seen why Sharp pursued such an intense vendetta, and what Ubiquiti will do to prevent inside attacks in the future.
Timnit Gebru, who was fired by Google after raising concerns about the tech giant's AI work, has launched a new nonprofit organization called the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute. DAIR is a continuation of Gebru's activism against misuse of AI, and aims to be a home for "community-rooted AI research free from Big Tech's pervasive influence," according to a press release on DAIR's website.
The institute is supported by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Kapor Center and the Open Society Foundation. “I’ve been frustrated for a long time about the incentive structures that we have in place and how none of them seem to be appropriate for the kind of work I want to do,” Gebru told the Washington Post.
Gebru, formerly the co-lead of Google's Ethical AI group, was fired over a paper on the ethical dilemmas of natural language processing. Protocol interviewed Gebru earlier this year about her experiences as a whistleblower. The announcement lands on the one-year anniversary of Gebru's firing.
“AI needs to be brought back down to earth,” said Gebru in the press release. “It has been elevated to a superhuman level that leads us to believe it is both inevitable and beyond our control. When AI research, development and deployment is rooted in people and communities from the start, we can get in front of these harms and create a future that values equity and humanity.”
Microsoft released some new data on Thursday on the number of video game players accessing games via the cloud on just their smartphones with no controller attached. The company said 20% of Xbox Cloud Gaming users rely on built-in touch controls to access games on its cloud service, and that implementing native touch controls is a fast way for developers to boost play time.
"Touch Controls with Xbox Cloud Gaming enable players to enjoy games wherever they are by removing the need for a console, PC, or controller," Monty Hernandez, a senior program manager at Xbox, wrote in a blog post. "We have seen a tangible increase in usage and user sentiment across different genres for games that have implemented touch controls."
Hernandez said the Xbox Cloud Gaming team sees a twofold increase in usage for games that have touch controls rather than those that rely on an attached controller via Bluetooth or USB. For some games, like Supergiant's indie roguelike hit Hades and Microsoft's own Minecraft Dungeons, Hernandez said more than 30% of players exclusively play the game on their smartphone screens with touch controls. In October, Microsoft said that more than 100 games on its Xbox Game Pass platform now support touch controls.
Microsoft releasing this data is partly a strategic move. The company wants to incentivize developers both to join Xbox Game Pass and to make their game available to stream through the company's cloud gaming service on all types of devices, including smaller smartphone screens where players might want to play using touch controls. Implementing touch controls isn't a terribly time-consuming process in most cases, but it does involve some initiative from the developer to work with Microsoft and its tools to pull it off.
By releasing these stats that show just how large of the Xbox Cloud Gaming player base is interested in mobile-first gaming, Microsoft might convince a few more developers to put the time and effort in. And supporting these players also makes Xbox Game Pass more attractive, as growing that subscription service is Microsoft's primary strategy for expanding the Xbox platform going forward.
The Meta Oversight Board is in the process of reviewing cross-check, Meta's controversial system of vetting posts by high-profile users. On Thursday, the Oversight Board opened that review up to public comments.
The cross-check program came to light as part of The Wall Street Journal's Facebook Files project, which was based on disclosures from whistleblower Frances Haugen. The Journal's reporting uncovered a two-tier system of policy enforcement at Facebook, through which celebrities, journalists, politicians and other prominent users are often afforded slower or more lenient enforcement for content that violates Facebook's rules.
Following public outcry, Meta asked the Oversight Board for help reviewing the process, and the board accepted the request. Now, the board is asking the public to chime in on questions including how Meta should balance the need for fairness with the need for flexibility in the application of its rules, how Meta could improve transparency of the system or whether a system like this is even needed.
The board is accepting comments until Jan. 14, 2022 and will issue an advisory opinion some time after that.
Meta has partnered with a U.K. nonprofit to launch a tool that allows people to create unique identifiers — known as hashes — of sexually explicit or nude photos and submit those hashes to a nonprofit database. Tech platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, can then use that database to detect whether that specific photo has been posted or shared.
The tool — called StopNCII.org — is intended for people over the age of 18 who suspect an image of them may have been posted on a social platform without consent, in a practice commonly referred to as nonconsensual intimate imagery (NCII) or revenge porn. It's launching with Facebook and Instagram as participating partners, with plans to expand to other platforms.
Facebook's previous efforts to create a system for revenge porn reporting drew widespread condemnation. A 2017 pilot asked users to submit sexually explicit photos of themselves to Messenger so that they could proactively be tagged as images shared without consent. But users were wary of trusting Facebook with the same photos they were trying to prevent from being shared in the first place.
The new tool, operated by the U.K. Revenge Porn Helpline rather than Meta, instead relies on technology that allows people to create the hashes directly on their phones in order to avoid the same problem as the 2017 pilot. "While participating companies use the hash they receive from StopNCII.org to identify images that someone has shared or is trying to share on their platforms, the original image never leaves the person’s device. Only hashes, not the images themselves, are shared with StopNCII.org and participating tech platforms.
"This feature prevents further circulation of that content and keeps those images securely in the possession of the owner," Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of Safety, wrote in the announcement.
Major tech companies already access another database of hashed photos that are identified as child sexual abuse material in order to try to prevent their proliferation on the internet. Apple has also faced criticism from privacy advocates for its plan to scan personal iCloud accounts for photos that have been hashed for CSAM, though it delayed the planned rollout in September following backlash regarding how the the plan could violate people's privacy and have unintended consequences.
Facebook Protect, a program to protect groups that hackers are more likely to target, will expand to include more categories of users, Meta, the social network's parent company, said Thursday.
Meta will require users in these groups, such as activists, journalists and government officials, to enroll in the program to continue using Facebook. The company said it will give users access to stronger security protections such as two-factor authentication and monitoring for hacking threats.
Users in the specified categories will be prompted to enroll in Facebook Protect, and the company plans to “carefully expand” this requirement in the coming months.
“These people are at the center of critical communities for public debate,” the company said in a blog post. “Unfortunately this also means that they are highly targeted by bad actors.”
Amid ongoing calls for more transparency from tech platforms, Meta announced Wednesday that it will begin opening up an archive of content it has removed to researchers around the world. The archive, which was built with CrowdTangle, will include posts removed under the company's policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior, a policy that was created largely in response to the propaganda campaign engineered by Russia's Internet Research Agency leading up to the 2016 election.
"We already have a number of researchers onboarded to this beta program, and have been sharing our [coordinated inauthentic behavior] takedown data for some time. In the months ahead, we hope to onboard many more," Facebook's Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher tweeted Wednesday.
Until now, Facebook has mostly reported on these sorts of phony influence campaigns on its own, doling out examples of content that governments and other groups have used to try to sway or mislead people on Facebook and Instagram. Some research groups have at times gotten special access to posts the company removes, which they've reported on independently. But this archive stands to substantially broaden the pool of research on these ongoing influence operations.
Facebook's relationship with researchers has been strained recently. Earlier this year, the company cut a team of researchers at New York University off from the platform and a high-profile effort to share data with outside researchers was thwarted by the discovery that the data the company shared was flawed.
The effort to open up this new database of takedowns was a years-long process, according to Brandon Silverman, the recently departed head of CrowdTangle. "This initiative was a 3+ year cross-company effort to be able to archive those removed networks in CrowdTangle and use the [CrowdTangle] platform to share the content of those networks with researchers. It's not perfect but it's a big step forward," Silverman tweeted.
The company began piloting the program with a small group of researchers in 2020 and has since uploaded content from 100 of these influence campaigns.
Along with the announcement of the archive, Facebook announced a slew of takedowns from operations originating in China, Palestine, Poland and Belarus, underscoring the need for further analysis of these efforts as they continue to grow and evolve.
Since Amazon launched its AWS machine learning platform SageMaker four years ago, the company has banked on the idea that more and more businesses will want to develop ML-based systems without having to get their hands too dirty. In its quest to create tools that make ML easier to build and deploy — even for business users who aren’t engineers or data scientists — Amazon unveiled a slew of new features in its SageMaker suite during this week’s annual re:Invent show.
“We need to lower the bar for adopting of ML,” said Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of Amazon AI, during a keynote talk Wednesday morning.
The new products and features intend to make that happen in a variety of ways such as through a visual interface that facilitates machine learning development without coding, as well as tools that simplify or speed up some of the in-the-weeds data work required to develop ML models such as labeling data and compiling training code.
The company said its no-code SageMaker Canvas tool, which uses a drag-and-drop interface to walk people through an ML workflow, is now widely available. The tool promises to help even data novices choose training data and pick the most appropriate ML models without writing any code. The system also provides reports and explanations of how the models work.
Another service aimed at putting machine learning in the hands of non-practitioners and students is SageMaker Studio Lab, a tool that enables free access to AWS compute resources so people can experiment with ML models and store projects to come back to later.
Amazon also aims to ease and speed up some of the tedious backend work required to prepare data used to train machine learning algorithms. But unlike its other automated offerings, its Ground Truth Plus service does require human intervention in a hybrid process. The company’s human “expert labelers” categorize information in datasets, then at some point as its ML systems learn from that labeled data, their automated processes take over to “pre-label” data like images. Several services have provided often low-paid data labeling labor for years.
In addition, Amazon pushed out new features that automatically compile training code to maximize compute and memory usage, help ML engineers choose the most appropriate instances to test models and enable unification of data processing and machine learning workloads for easier collaboration among data engineers and data scientists.
Payments company Square has changed its corporate name to Block in an indication of its potential to go all-in on cryptocurrencies.
The move, complete with a redesign of the company's website, comes just days after CEO Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving his position as CEO of Twitter.
Square said in a tweet that it made the move to give the Square name to its Seller merchant services unit. But it also said that "Block" represents many things: "Not to get all meta on you… but we’re going to! Block references the neighborhood blocks where we find our sellers, a blockchain, block parties full of music, obstacles to overcome, a section of code, building blocks, and of course, tungsten cubes."
Square Crypto has also rebranded as Spiral, according to the company's website. Dorsey has been saying for some time that his biggest interest now is bitcoin and his leaving Twitter while it has many reasons could be attributed at least in part to his fixation with bitcoin.
The company is still legally known as Square Inc., but will formally change its name around Dec. 10, according to a note on its new corporate website. While the company says that its purpose, vision and structure are not changing, the company has been changing for some time. It now has semi-autonomous units: Square (previously Seller), Tidal, Spiral (previously Square Crypto), Cash App and TBD.
The question is whether the name Block describes more of a company of separate building blocks all fitting together somehow, or whether it just means block as in the atomic unit of blockchains and the singular focus that that would imply. With TBD, Square has been pushing further into industry-wide crypto technologies that would seek to make it a leader in the crypto industry. And of course, there's the .xyz in the Block's new URL which gives strong crypto street cred.
Square's rebranding as Block follows Google's renaming as Alphabet in 2015 and Facebook's rebranding as Meta in October. Like Square, those companies sought to indicate the breadth of their business portfolios with a new name. However, Dorsey, who has often sparred online with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, mocked Facebook's new corporate name.
Capital One is dropping overdraft fees for consumer banking customers, the bank said Wednesday.
Big banks have been cutting back consumer fees as they face pressure from both startup neobanks as well as Washington regulators.
Neobanks have touted their fee-free accounts as a selling point over traditional banks. Meanwhile regulators have been looking closely at the fees, which some consumer advocates say unfairly target those who can't afford them.
The move would reportedly cost about $150 million per year for the bank.
Some traditional banks such as Ally have dropped these fees, but Capital One is the biggest yet to do so.
The CFPB recently said in a report that overdraft fees generated $15.47 billion in revenue in 2019 for banks — a profitable trend that continued even during the pandemic.
TikTok is rolling out new features to help creators make money, according to a company blog post published Wednesday. The newly announced Creator Next program expands the way creators can be compensated for their work, allowing viewers to send gifts and tips to their favorite creators.
TikTok is introducing live gifts, video gifts and tips. Live gifts allow viewers to send virtual goods called "Diamonds" to creators during live videos. These Diamonds can then be redeemed for money. In order to send Diamonds, viewers have to first purchase virtual coins. Video gifts operate in the same way, but are only for videos that aren't live. TikTok's new tips feature will allow viewers to directly give cash, processed via fintech company Stripe.
In the announcement, TikTok also noted that the number of live gifts sent to a creator will be used as a metric to assess popularity. These features build on existing programs, including TikTok's Creator Fund, which pays creators who meet minimum follower and view thresholds, as well as the Creator Marketplace, which is the hub for brand collaborations.
TikTok's Creator Next program is part of a wave of social media platforms building new features to help creators monetize their work. YouTube's Partner Program, for example, includes "Super Chat & Super Stickers," through which viewers can pay to have their messages at the top of chat feeds. And Twitch lets viewers send Bits, virtual goods that reflect support or approval and are worth $0.01 each. Facebook, meanwhile, offers subscription features for pages and lets fans buy "stars," which creators exchange for money. All of it is a way for platforms to compete with one another for top creators, who, in turn, help those platforms grow.
Correction: 12/1/21 3:52 pm ET An earlier version of this story reported that the Creator Fund and Creator Marketplace were part of Wednesday's announcement. They were already active prior to Wednesday's announcement.
SpaceX, the high-flying launch company that broke a $100 billion valuation just months ago, could be in big financial trouble, according to its top executive.
In an email to SpaceX employees, founder and CEO Elon Musk said that the company could face a “genuine risk of bankruptcy” if it isn’t able to fly Starship, its largest launch vehicle currently in development, once every two weeks in the upcoming year, Space Explored reports. SpaceX is struggling with slow production of its Raptor engine, and Musk in his staff email called the engine’s production issues a “crisis."
“As we have dug into the issues following the exiting of prior senior management, they have unfortunately turned out to be far more severe than was reported,” Musk said in the email. “There is no way to sugarcoat this.”
Without enough reliable engines, Musk said, the company won’t be able to fly Starship or the projects it was meant to deploy, including the Starlink v2.0 satellite, a larger version of its original Starlink broadband satellites. Musk called the Starlink V1 satellites “financially weak,” as the company previously stated it lost $1,000 per customer in the process of building its user terminals alone.
When asked by one Twitter user about the production rate of the Raptor engines, Musk replied simply, “it's getting fixed.”
Epic is making its hit game Fortnite less about firearms and more about self-expression and socializing. It launched a new game format that looks like it inches Epic closer to the sought-after metaverse so many tech and gaming firms keep going on about.
The new experiences, called Party Worlds, are player-created spaces with strict rules around violence and combat. Epic's guidelines say, "Party Worlds should not be threatening. They shouldn’t center on combat or damage." Epic also says these virtual spaces "should have a high focus on self-expression through emotes, sprays, outfit changes, or other mechanics," and that they should "encourage social interaction, giving people a way to make new friends or team up with existing friends in new ways."
The new examples Epic is leading with are two worlds created in partnership with players. One is an amusement park called Walnut World, and the other is a self-described "after-hours adventure" called Late Night Lounge for making new friends and hanging out with existing ones.
Since its release in 2017, Fortnite has been primarily about dropping out of an aircraft onto an isolated island and battling up to 99 other players to be the last one standing. These days, that battle royale component is just one of many different flavors of Fortnite, as Epic has put significant effort into transforming the game into a large-scale social platform. In many ways, Epic wants Fortnite to more closely resemble Roblox, the now publicly traded game platform where players can create their own experiences and even monetize them.
Fortnite is still, of course, a competitive shooting game, and much of its sustained appeal comes from a mix of that core experience with its limited-time events, ever-evolving in-game narrative and crossovers with popular media like the anime Naruto and a 20th anniversary exhibition for Radiohead's "Kid A." But Epic has clear ambitions to turn Fortnite into the metaverse, or at least an approximation of what the tech and gaming industries think that this next-generation internet should look like. And that is proving hard to define: a kind of nebulous combination of social networks, gaming and commerce with new computing platforms like virtual and augmented reality.
Fortnite, Roblox and Meta (formerly Facebook) all have varying ideas of what this might look like. But for now, it's about small steps away from the video game's primary mode of interaction, shooting guns, and more toward the types of activities we might realistically want to do in the metaverse when it does eventually materialize, like meeting up with friends in a virtual hangout.
Reddit is allowing users to see when others are typing, commenting and reading their posts in real time, the company announced Wednesday.
The real-time features include animations where users can see interactions like voting and commenting as they happen, as well as typing and reading indicators. The new features are aimed at making the service feel “lively and in-the-moment,” Reddit said in its announcement.
The features are available on Reddit’s iOS and Android apps, as well as its desktop site. The vote and comment count animation features are optional and can be turned off.
Reddit is the latest company hopping on the real-time bandwagon. Originating in messaging apps that displayed indicators when the other party was typing, real-time features are seen as a way to boost engagement and skip the tiresome need to refresh a browser or pull down an app page. Companies like Slack and Snapchat have long allowed users to see as-they-happen interactions on messages. Even music-streaming app Spotify launched a real-time lyrics feature in 2020, which it rolled out globally last month.
The barrage of robocalls is about to get worse with a new frontier of attack: social media accounts. As if social media didn't have enough problems, a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule has gone into effect that allows debt collectors to reach out to people on Twitter, Instagram or wherever else they have online social accounts, as long as the DMs are private.
The new rules prohibit these companies from posting publicly on timelines, and they also have to identify themselves as debt collectors and provide an opt-out option.
The CFPB called the new rules a clarification of the 1977 standards. "1977. Bell-bottoms were popular fashion, Elvis passed away, the very first Star Wars movie was released, Jimmy Carter became president, and Steve Jobs introduced the world to the idea of the personal computer with the launch of the Apple II. We can all agree that a lot has changed since then," then-CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger wrote in an October 2020 statement announcing the creation of the rules.
"We are finally leaving 1977 behind and developing a debt collection system that works for consumers and industry in the modern world," she wrote.