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09.12.16 | 12:00 am

Venmo asks Americans to ‘pony up’ in new ad campaign

Nearly three years after being acquired by PayPal, Venmo is launching its first national ad campaign. The campaign comes as banks, credit card, and tech companies are trying to stake claim to peer-to-peer digital payments. 

Starting tonight at 7pm, Venmo's new 30-second ad will debut on Hulu and cable channels. Offline, Venmo's 'pony up' campaign will hit billboards and streets in Austin, Chicago, Portland and Nashville. You can watch the digital-only minute-long version below:

The new "pony up" ad comes two years after its only other marketing attempt, a reviled campaign built around a character named Lucas. In 2014, the company plastered New York City's subway system with pictures of Lucas, captioned with all the things Lucas does, which of course included using Venmo. This new campaign is equally quirky, but perhaps less vague.  

04.27.17 | 12 minutes ago

What YouTube boycott? Alphabet shrugs off Google ad exodus with higher-than-expected revenue in Q1

Last month, it looked like YouTube had a real problem on its hand, what with numerous big-name marketers pulling out due to concerns that their ads were appearing alongside extremist videos. Companies like PepsiCo, Walmart, Starbucks, GM, and Dish Network all pulled out. But it doesn't appear that the advertiser exodus hurt YouTube parent company Alphabets bottom line.

Today, Alphabet released its first-quarter earnings report, just beating analysts' expectations. For the quarter, the company brought in revenues of $24.75 billion, while analysts had predicted $24.19 billion, and earnings per share of $7.73, higher than predictions of $7.40. And Google's ad revenues came in at $21.41 billion, up 18.8% year-over-year

04.27.17 | an hour ago

DJI makes it harder for ISIS to use its drones as weapons in Syria

It's one thing to fight against well-armed troops or military aircraft. It's another thing altogether to have to worry about consumer drones coming out of nowhere bearing grenades or other explosives. And that's something military authorities have been increasingly concerned about tackling as they take on ISIS

But now, according to The Register, drone giant DJI has attempted to help with this problem by updating geofencing software on its drones to make much of Syria a no-fly zone. This is not a fail-safe system, and there are other drone companies. But DJI is far and away the world's largest, so this step could go a long way to keeping drones out of the fight, at least in Syria.

04.27.17 | 12:16 pm

This video game lets you clean virtual plastic from the ocean

Millions of tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year, causing increasing environmental and economic damage. A new video game wants to help clean up some of that garbage, at first virtually and then hopefully in real life. 

The nonprofit group We Are The Oceans (not to be confused with the U.K. band We Are The Ocean) has created a strangely difficult video game where players are challenged to clean a million pounds of plastic out of the ocean in the hopes of saving the endangered Vaquita porpoise and other creatures. Think of it as an underwater Flappy Bird, dodging floating straws and other obstacles in the ocean. It's a fun game with a serious message, as plastics pose a dire threat to the oceans' health. By 2050, there could be more plastic in the water than fish, according to one estimate. To thwart that, play the game and take We Are The Oceans' pledge to curb plastic use.

04.27.17 | 11:38 am

E-books are no longer flying off the e-shelves

Turns out that just because you can read the great works of literature (and all the great business books you can stomach) on an e-reader, doesn't mean everyone wants to.

The Guardian reports that e-book sales in the U.K. have dropped by 17%. They placed the blame on so-called screen fatigue. Basically, people are so tired of staring into screens all day for work, and all night for entertainment, and at all other times in between to check on their Tinder—er, LinkedIn—profiles, that when it comes to reading a book, readers are yearning for good old-fashioned paper. Perhaps Amazon and other e-book distributors should start sending book-scented candles out with each purchase.

"I wouldn't say that the e-book dream is over but people are clearly making decisions on when they want to spend time with their screens," Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, told The Guardian. Don't hold a wake for your Kindle quite yet, though. While the market is slumping, it still raked in £204m ($263 million) from people who don't want anyone on the subway to know what book they're reading.

[Photo: Unsplash user @jamestarbotton]

04.27.17 | 10:55 am

Report: Apple may be developing a Venmo competitor

Apple has big ambitions when it comes to mobile wallets, but the Cupertino, California, company has been off to a slow start. Two and a half years since the launch of Apple Pay in the U.S., for example, less than 1 in 10 iPhone users have tried the service. 

Now Apple is looking for another way in. According to Recode, the company is in talks with payments industry partners to develop a cash-transfer service similar to Venmo. Apple has also considered developing a pre-paid debit card in partnership with Visa, Recode said. Both offerings, in theory, would support broader Apple Pay adoption by giving users more reasons to transact within the Apple ecosystem. 

Peer-to-peer payments has become an increasingly crowded space. Zelle, a P2P network backed by big banks, processed $55 billion in transactions last year, while Venmo processed $17.6 billion. Earlier this month Facebook debuted group payments in Messenger. 

04.27.17 | 10:48 am

In the era of #FakeNews, the U.S. has dropped in press freedom ranking

The United States has fallen in the ranking of press freedom around the world, according to the latest survey released by Reporters Without Borders. The U.S. dropped two spots to number 43 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The drop comes in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who frequently tweets that the New York Times and Washington Post are reporting "fake news," which RSF considers to be an attack on the First Amendment

US press freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered several major obstacles over the past few years, most recently with the election of President Donald Trump. He has declared the press an "enemy of the American people" in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, while attempting to block White House access to multiple media outlets in retaliation for critical reporting.

Perhaps making America great again should start with getting this number up. Read the full report here.

04.27.17 | 10:45 am

Can hacking clouds save the Great Barrier Reef?

By most accounts, the Great Barrier Reef is dying. Warming oceans have bleached over two-thirds of the natural wonder and scientist fear it has reached a critical tipping point from which it cannot come back.  

In a last-ditch effort to save the largest reef in the world, scientists have come up with a plan that involves cloud hacking. This isn't the cloud hacking that resulted in the theft of private photos of Jennifer Lawrence, but hacking actual clouds. Scientists hope that if they can make the clouds over the reef brighter and more reflective, it will allow the water surrounding the reef to cool, reviving the delicate coral community. 

A team of Australian researchers at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science is working on the seemingly farfetched plan and so far believe it just might be possible. The concept, according to The Times, is to spray tiny salt particles, harvested from sea water, at low-lying clouds causing them to increase their density, reflecting the sun's heat back into space. It's a wild idea, but scientists are willing to try it, if it might cool the water temperature even a little. "We wouldn't want to have to do these geo-engineering ideas and deliberately make clouds over the reef if we didn't have to," researcher Daniel Harrison told Australian news outlet ABC. It's a desperate move, but these are desperate times for the warming planet. 

04.27.17 | 9:56 am

Fox News must have an interesting vacation policy

It seems like the best time for a little R&R from the network is when you're smack in the middle of a controversy, after which you may or may not come back. Bill O'Reilly's vacation became permanent last week after the network decided to sever ties with the scandal-ridden host. Now O'Reilly's favorite protégé—ambush reporter Jesse Watters—is reportedly taking some time off after coming under fire for a crude joke about Ivanka Trump. CNN's Brian Stelter reports that Watters announced an abrupt vacation until Monday. That means he'll miss two days of his first week in prime-time and his weekend show, CNN reports. Those are some nice perks.

04.27.17 | 9:01 am

Don’t tell Comcast about the cord-cutting crisis

The Philly cable powerhouse continues to buck the industry trend of customers abandoning linear pay television in favor of streaming services. In its Q1 2017 earnings report this morning, Comcast said it added 42,000 pay TV subscribers in the first three months of the year, most of whom were residential customers. This has been something of a rosy pattern for Comcast. It was the only legacy cable company to end 2016 with a net gain of pay TV customers. According to Leichtman Research, it added 161,000 for the year. Comcast's many customer service woes earned it a certain level of infamy a few years ago. These days, it credits customer gains with its fancy X1 platform, which is now being used by more than half of its residential customers. Read the full report here.

[Photo: iStock]

04.27.17 | 9:00 am

Someone finally beat up Silicon Valley’s robot cop

The egg-head, egg-shaped robot cop that patrols the malls of Mountain View, California, has been brutally assaulted by some drunk dude. Presumably the Geek Squad was immediately called to the scene before the robotic cop was MediEvac-ed to Best Buy for a reboot.

In near-seriousness, the drunk man in question, Jason Sylvain, approached the 300-pound K5 Knightscope while it was patrolling a parking lot. He then brutally knocked it over, requiring someone with arms and opposable thumbs to pick up the K5. It is now back on patrol, while Sylvain has been arrested for "prowling and public intoxication," according to ABC 7 News. No word on whether the robot's feelings were hurt, but we do know that RoboCop would never have tolerated this.

04.27.17 | 7:46 am

Xbox head says the world needs a Netflix of video games

Phil Spencer, the man who heads up Microsoft's Xbox division, says that if the video game sector is to grow both creatively and economically it needs to start thinking along the lines of a video-games-as-a-service subscription model, reports the Guardian:

Spencer feels that, from a creative standpoint, we need new types of narrative experience—but from a business standpoint, it's getting harder and riskier to commit to those games. Is there an answer? Spencer thinks there is—and it comes from watching the success of original content made and distributed on modern TV services. "I've looked at things like Netflix and HBO, where great content has been created because there's this subscription model. Shannon Loftis and I are thinking a lot about, well, could we put story-based games into the Xbox Game Pass business model because you have a subscription going? It would mean you wouldn't have to deliver the whole game in one month; you could develop and deliver the game as it goes."
"We're in a golden age of television right now," says Spencer. "The storytelling ability in TV today is really high, and I think it's because of the business model. I hope as an industry we can think about the same. [Subscription services] might spur new story-based games coming to market because there's a new business model to help support their monetisation."

04.27.17 | 7:31 am

Uber won’t compensate the family of an employee who committed suicide

Uber's insurance provider has refused the benefits claim of the family of Joseph Thomas, a 34-year-old Uber engineer who took his life in August of last year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Thomas had landed the $170,000 role at Uber just five months earlier, but soon became depressed and suffered from extreme stress and anxiety, which he told a doctor and friends was due to the extreme work environment at Uber. As Thomas told a friend on Facebook:

"Man words can't really describe. I'm not dead but I wouldn't describe myself as ok. The sad thing is this place (Uber) has broken me to the point where I don't have the strength to look for another job."

Because Thomas worked for Uber for less than six months, Uber's insurance provider denied the benefits claim of his family—a wife and two children—because under California law workers' compensation usually doesn't cover psychiatric injuries until a person has been employed for at least six months. For this reason, Uber says its insurance company is simply following statutory requirements. Yet there is an exception to that law: "If the psychiatric injury is caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment condition," the six-month limit does not apply.

Thomas's family is now locked in a legal battle because they claim his suicide was a direct result of Uber's hostile work environment. "We think it was stress and harassment induced by his job, between him being one of the few African-Americans there, working around the clock, and the culture of Uber [that caused his suicide]. And he couldn't talk about it to anyone because of nondisclosure agreements," the family's lawyer said.

Update: An Uber spokeswoman reached out with the following statement on behalf of the company: "No family should go through the unspeakable heartbreak the Thomas family has experienced. Our prayers and thoughts are with them."