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Facebook wants you to pay for links on Instagram

Digital T-shirts, real-time ads, Apple headphones and other patents from Big Tech.

Facebook wants you to pay for links on Instagram

At $2 a pop, it seems pretty pricey.

Image: USPTO and Facebook

It has been quite a week, so I'd suggest taking your mind off of things by reading about the wild and wonderful patents that Big Tech was awarded this week. Alphabet wants to suck your blood and inject you at the same time; Amazon wants to turn your living room into a light show; Apple is working on headphones; Facebook wants to finally give us links in Instagram comments (for a price!); and Microsoft wants our T-shirts to tell time. The future is going to be amazing.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Alphabet

Generating ads in real time

When a sports team wins a tournament, it only takes a few minutes before you start seeing ads for that team's merchandise, celebrating the win. Those tend to be made in advance with versions made for both teams winning. But what if they could be made in real time, for any event or outcome, like a movie winning an Oscar for best picture? Google is thinking about how templates, fed with live data from events, could be used to construct and sell ads the moment an event happens. Because heaven forbid you have to wait a bit after something happens to start selling against it.

One device to draw blood and inject medicine

This is a level of convenience I never knew I wanted. If you're like me and don't enjoy getting blood drawn or injections, and especially don't like doctor's appointments that require both, then this new concept from Verily might be for you. It's a device with a single needle that can extract blood and inject you in one go, using separate chambers inside the cartridge area for what's going in and what's coming out.

Amazon

Changing smart light colors through music

If you've ever seen Pink Floyd perform, you'll know that having a light show to go with the concert can be pretty neat. Amazon apparently wants to re-create that effect at home. Using information from what you're watching and listening to on your smart TV (or, presumably, your Fire device), a system could send signals to your smart lights to match their colors to what's on the screen. For example, if there are green trees and blue skies onscreen, the lights could change to match those colors in real time, turning your living room into a mini live venue. Who needs to go back outside?

Picking items up when the store is closed

With the world the way it is these days, you've probably done a fair amount of online shopping, either for delivery or pickup outside stores. And there have likely been times where you've left to go pick something up, thinking you had enough time to get there before the store closed, only to get stuck in traffic. Amazon wants to solve this by guessing your ETA based on when you leave. If its systems think you'll arrive after the store closes, it would offer you alternatives for getting your item, such as picking one up at another location that's still open, scheduling a delivery, or just canceling the thing if you really can't be bothered. This could definitely cut down on some wasted gas mileage.

Apple

Apple headphones

Apple is hosting an event Tuesday, and one of the new devices we're expecting to see is a pair of Apple-branded over-the-ear headphones. The company bought Beats back in 2014 and has had its Apple AirPods line since 2016, but it hasn't had wireless headphones of its own. This patent seems to suggest that they're likely very nearly here.

Autodrying gadgets

The Apple Watch has a water-resistant mode that expels any water trapped in the watch when you turn off that mode. Two new patents from Apple this week suggest it's looking at ways to do more than just expel the water: These patents look at ways to heat up recesses in devices, like microphone and speaker holes, as well as surfaces like glass, to keep them as dry as possible in wet environments. It'd be like a tiny, built-in hand dryer, but for the internals of your Apple gadgets.

Facebook

Links in Instagram captions

One of the single most annoying limitations of Instagram is that you can't put links in photo captions. If you're verified, or if you have at least 10,000 followers, you can add links to your Stories, though. There are workarounds for us normals, like writing "link in bio" or using URL shorteners (which I do on my amazing food blog), but none of them is as simple as a link in the caption would be. It seems that Instagram is toying around with adding that feature — for a price. This patent outlines a payments function where when you to put a URL in a caption, a pop-up appears asking if you'd like to pay $2 for the ability to activate the link. That sounds like it could get very costly if you'd want to add links to every post, but this is probably welcome news to Facebook investors.

Microsoft

Electronic yarn

Combining the best of the 21st century AD with the best of the 5th millennium BCE, Microsoft is apparently working on making yarn (which was, you guessed it, first invented thousands of years ago), by combining traditional fibers with electrical ones. The end result of eons of human technological evolution? Putting the time on your T-shirt:



Watching esports in VR

If you've ever tried to watch an esports match where more than one thing is happening at once (like any multiplayer shooting game or strategy games like StarCraft), it can get a little … confusing. One solution Microsoft is looking into is using VR as a way to see the entire world of the game while it's happening. The patent outlines ways to overlay information on the game in real time, as well as live chat functions, which will definitely never be abused by 12-year-olds.

Joining meetings on Xbox

This is a patent about figuring out how to let trusted users join business meetings on the device of their choosing, which is not particularly world-changing. But I do like that one of the examples in the patent is to join using an Xbox. Given we're all stuck at home, it'd be pretty easy to sneak in a few rounds of Fortnite between your team status calls:

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
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