TIME Regulation

Google Refunding Parents At Least $19 Million for Kids’ Unwanted Purchases

Holiday Shoppers Visit A Google Winter Wonderlab
A shopper plays the Riptide 2 GP video game on a Google Inc. Nexus 7 tablet computer at the Winter Wonderlab inside the Roseville Galleria mall in Roseville, California, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Apple made a similar settlement and Amazon may do so as well

Google is the latest tech company to be dinged by federal regulators for making it too easy for kids to rack up unwanted in-app charges on their parents’ phones. The tech giant has agreed to a settlement of at least $19 million with the Federal Trade Commission to refund parents for their children’s unauthorized charges.

According to the FTC complaint, Google in 2011 did not require any password authorization to confirm in-app charges in its Google Play Store, then called the Android Market. The feature was added later, but inputting a password opened up a 30-minute window in which purchases could be made without a password confirmation. These issues led some parents to complain that their kids managed to rack up hundreds of dollars in charges buying virtual goods in games and other apps, according to the FTC. Seemingly harmless children’s mobile games can sometimes have individual items or features priced at as much as $200.

In addition to the refunds, Google will be required to get express consent from consumers when charging for in-app purchases in the future.

The Google settlement is the latest action in an ongoing campaign by the FTC to force tech companies to make their mobile payment systems more transparent. The Commission reached a $32.5 million settlement with Apple over the same issue in January, and is currently suing Amazon to seek similar refunds for customers whose kids placed unwanted charges.

TIME stocks

Apple Stock Slips Ahead of New iPhone Unveiling

Apple Hosts Its Worldwide Developers Conference
Attendees gather at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

After Samsung rolled out new phones Wednesday

Apple stock dipped more than 4% on Wednesday, just a few days before a Sept. 9 event where the company is widely expected to unveil the iPhone 6. The tech giant’s shares closed at $98.94, finishing the day below $100 for the first time since August 18.

There could be a number of culprits for the Apple slide. The company’s iCloud service is at the center of a widely publicized hacking scandal in which nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities were stolen from Apple accounts and posted on the Internet (Apple says the incident was a “very targeted attack” and its services were not compromised). Samsung also announced its latest set of large-screen smartphones Wednesday, including the newest iteration in the Galaxy Note Line and a new phone with a curved screen. The iPhone 6 is expected to have a much larger screen than older iPhone models as a response to the success of Samsung’s bigger phones.

Apple had been in the midst of a long rally in share price since it beat expectations in its July quarterly earnings report and announced a 7-to-1 stock split. In addition to the virtually assured iPhone 6 unveiling, the company is rumored to be debuting a smartwatch and a mobile payments system next week as well.

TIME Gadgets

Samsung and Oculus Teamed Up to Make This Virtual Reality Headset

Samsung

In another bet on the future of technology

In another bet that wearables are the future of tech, Samsung announced Wednesday a new virtual reality headset called the Samsung Gear VR. The new device will use the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s 5.-7 inch screen as its display, while using technology developed by Oculus VR, a virtual reality company purchased by Facebook for $2 billion earlier this year.

The Samsung Gear VR will come with new virtual reality software developed by Oculus, including a virtual movie theater called Oculus Cinema and programs that let users play back panoramic photos and videos in a virtual reality environment. Oculus has been working on the Samsung project for at least a year, well before the Facebook purchase.

For now the Gear VR is only being released as a beta version, which means it’s aimed at developers and VR enthusiasts and not the general public just yet (just like the Oculus Rift). The headset launches in the fall, but Samsung hasn’t yet disclosed its price.

TIME Companies

Amazon’s CFO Is Stepping Down Next Summer

Customers Collect Online Orders From An Amazon.com Inc. Locker
The Amazon logo sits on an Amazon.com Inc. pickup and collect locker as a customer collects an online purchase at Newbury Park railway station in Newbury Park, U.K., on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

After more than 12 years on the job

Amazon’s chief financial officer is retiring after more than 12 years on the job, the company said Wednesday. Thomas Szkutak, who took over as CFO in October 2002, will retire from the online retailer in June 2015. He will be succeeded by Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s current vice president of finance for the company’s global consumer business. Prior to joining Amazon in 2002, Olsavsky worked as an executive at General Electric.

With Szkutak at the financial helm, Amazon has vastly increased its revenues as it has offered more products for sale and expanded the appeal of its Prime membership with perks like streaming movies and music. But the company has also been racking up losses in recent quarters as its ambitions have outstripped its sales. The company posted a net loss of $126 million in the most recent quarter, up from a $7 million loss a year prior. Amazon’s stock has sagged this year as investors search for proof that CEO Jeff Bezos can one day turn his vast business into a profitable one.

TIME Economy

Happy Birthday, U.S. Treasury

Exterior of the US Treasury building.  (
The U.S. Treasury building in 1937 Carl Mydans — The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

You still look like a million bucks

It was 225 years ago today that the still-nascent United States finally decided to get its financial house in order. The Department of the Treasury was established on Sept. 2, 1789, during an early session of the 1st United States Congress. The Department’s duties, according to the founding law, are:

“…to digest and prepare plans for the improvement and management of the revenue…to prepare and report estimates of the public revenue, and the public expenditures; to superintend the collection of revenue; to decide on the forms of keeping and stating accounts and making returns, and to grant under the limitations herein established, or to be hereafter provided, all warrants for monies to be issued from the Treasury, in pursuance of appropriations by law.”

Or, in layman’s terms, the Treasury Department issues savings bonds, prints cash, mints coins, collects taxes through the IRS and enforces laws related to alcohol and tobacco. People often conflate the duties of the Treasury with those of the Federal Reserve, but the two are actually separate organizations. The Treasury is a department of the executive branch and is generally concerned with properly maintaining the day-to-day activities of the government. The Federal Reserve is an independent body that sets long-term fiscal policy in an effort to control borrowing and inflation rates.

Our first Secretary of the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton, a key figure in the development of early American fiscal policy who advocated heavily for a central banking system and the federal assumption of state debts following the Revolutionary War (and no, he didn’t put himself on the $10 bill — he wasn’t added to the currency until the 1920s). The current secretary is Jack Lew, appointed by President Obama in 2013.

In addition to the Treasury’s birthday, we also just passed another significant fiscal anniversary. In August 1971, the U.S. stopped converting dollars held by foreign governments to gold at a value of $35 per ounce. The policy, called the Bretton Woods system, had been put in place following World War II to convince rebuilding countries like Germany and Japan to invest in American dollars. But by the 1960s, the system was placing strain on the U.S. economy as the number of dollars held by foreign countries outpaced the amount of gold the U.S. had on hand. Following a secret meeting at Camp David with this top advisers, President Richard Nixon announced on August 15 a suspension of the policy, transforming the dollar into a floating currency not pegged to any particular exchange rate. Nixon also announced a 90-day freeze on prices and wages in the U.S. and an additional 10% tariff on imports.

Nixon's Economic Gamble
The Aug. 30, 1971, cover of TIME

Collectively known as the “Nixon Shock,” the measures surprised people both at home and abroad. Reporting in the days following the announcement, TIME wrote of foreign leaders abandoning their summer vacations to react to the announcement amid worries that the dollar, no longer tied to a fixed rate, would plummet in value. In the years that followed, countries in Europe and Asia also allowed their currencies to float, making exchange rates more volatile than they had been in the past.

Read TIME’s original 1971 report on Nixon’s controversial decision to abandon gold: The Dollar: A Power Play Unfolds

TIME Fast Food

Fast Food Workers Plan Another Strike in 150 Cities

Workers are planning another set of one-day walkouts on Thursday

Fast food workers around the country are planning another set of one-day walkouts this Thursday, according to Fast Food Forward, an organizing group for the protests. The strikes will take place in 150 cities at restaurants such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and KFC. Fast-food workers have spent almost two years using such walkouts as part of an ongoing campaign to demand pay of $15 an hour—what they call a living wage—and the right to unionize. The average hourly wage for restaurant workers was $8.74 as of May 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The efforts began with 200 fast-food workers in New York City in November 2012 and have since become a regular occurrence across the country every three or four months. In their attempts to reach their stated goals, the workers’ efforts have so far yielded modest results. In May Daisha Mims, a McDonadl’s employee who has participated in walkouts, told TIME she’d received 35 cents in raises since the strikes began. “I still feel as though I need a second job,” she said at the time. Organizers pointed to similarly sized gains for a small number of individuals across the country.

But there have been larger shifts in the labor landscape that seem clearly influenced by the fast food workers’ actions. Thirteen states increased their minimum wages at the start of the year by an average of 28¢, according to the National Employment Law Project, and the city of Seattle has approved a $15 minimum wage. More recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in July that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for wage and labor violations that are enacted by its franchise owners. Previously, McDonald’s and other fast food corporations have argued that franchisees are solely responsible for determining the wages and working conditions for their restaurants. McDonald’s has said it will appeal the decision.

The strikes are largely being funded by the Service Employees International Union with a media strategy devised by the PR firm Berlin Rosen.

TIME Video Games

The Head of the Company Behind Angry Birds Is Flying the Coop

CHINA-FINLAND-INTERNET-GAMES-PARK
A visitor walks through Shanghai's first Angry Birds Activity Park at Tongji University in Shanghai on October 31, 2012. Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

The CEO of Rovio, the video game developer behind the mobile megahit Angry Birds, will step down at the end of the year, the company announced Friday. Mikael Hed, who has led the Finland-based Rovio since Angry Birds first hooked millions of smartphone users in 2009, will hand the reins over to Pekka Rantala, currently the CEO of Finnish beverage maker Hartwall.

Rantala will take over a company in the midst of a tough transition in the mobile environment: Freemium games like Candy Crush Saga, wherein users are pushed to make lots of in-game purchases, have come to dominate the mobile landscape, and Rovio has yet to develop another hit with anything close to the impact of Angry Birds. The company’s profit dipped by more than 50% last year to around $35 million, and its overall revenue in 2013 increased only slightly from the previous year, to around $206 million. About half the company’s revenue now comes from merchandise licensing rather than games.

Despite its challenges, Rovio is continuing to get a lot of mileage out of the Angry Birds brand. The games in the series have racked up more than 2 billion downloads collectively, and the characters are featured in a currently-running animated series and a feature film planned for a 2016 release.

TIME Music

Here Are 4 Things We Want in YouTube’s New Music Streaming Service

Google Holds Event For Creators At YouTube Tokyo Space
Google Inc.'s YouTube logo is displayed on a wall as video creators participate in a workshop as part of the YouTube Partner Program at the company's YouTube Space studio in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, March 30, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It seems that YouTube’s oft-delayed subscription music streaming service may soon see the light of day. The service was slated to launch by the end of the summer, the Financial Times reported in June, and Android Police recently leaked images purported to be from the new platform, which it said is currently called YouTube Music Key. The streaming service was originally expected to launch late last year, but has faced roadblocks involving royalty negotiations with independent labels, among other snags.

So far, Google has been tight-lipped about exactly what features will differentiate vanilla YouTube, this new paid service (expected to cost $9.99 per month) and Google’s other music subscription service, Google Play Music All Access. All we know for sure is that, as with most other streaming services, the paid version of YouTube will be stripped of ads. If the new service takes advantage of the reasons people already love YouTube, though, it could outshine current streaming heavyweights like Spotify and Beats Music.

Here’s what we’d like to see from YouTube’s foray into paid streaming:

Access to Covers, Remixes and Mixtapes

YouTube’s biggest advantage over other music-listening platforms is its sheer size. People upload 100 hours worth of content to the website each minute, and the vast majority of its most popular videos relate to music. YouTube Music Key is expected to take advantage of this scale by pulling in covers, remixes, parodies and unofficial singles and mixtapes to complement the record label-approved content that populates other streaming services. That means an up-and-coming artist like Chance the Rapper, who has released two acclaimed independent mixtapes you can’t access on Spotify, could be easier to discover on YouTube’s new service.

Quality Playlists

Playlists are a given function of any streaming service, but they can vary widely in quality. YouTube already has a playlist function called YouTube Mix, which automatically generates a playlist to follow any popular video based on what other users clicked after watching it. That’s a nice start, but we’d also like to see lists picked by experts, like with Beats, or organized around specific times of day or activities, like with Songza.

A Strong Social Component

One of the highlights of Spotify is its integration with Facebook, which allows users to track their friends’ listening habits and build collaborative playlists with them. Google, with its wide array of services that are linked by universal company accounts, has a similar ability to connect friends seamlessly.

Tight Integration with Google’s Other Music Services

YouTube Music Key will actually be Google’s third subscription music service, following in the footsteps of Google Play Music All Access and the recently-acquired Songza. It’s still not clear why Google needs three of these things, but they might as well let users to enjoy the benefits of all of them under a single subscription. In particular, Play Music All Access’s uploading feature, which allows people to save songs from their personal libraries in the cloud and then access them from any device, would be a killer way to make the YouTube music service catalogue essentially limitless.

TIME Companies

Apple Confirms Sept. 9 Event, Likely to Debut iPhone 6

"We wish we could say more"

Apple has confirmed that it is holding a press event on Sept. 9, most likely to unveil new products. The company is widely expected to debut a new version of the iPhone, and the company will reportedly offer at least one model with a larger 5.5-inch screen.

Reports also indicate that Apple may show off the long-awaited iWatch, a wearable device that would likely run on iOS.

The event will take place in the company’s hometown of Cupertino, California at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

Here’s a look at the invite:


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TIME Companies

IFTTT Has Big Plans For the Internet of Things

It just pulled in $30 million in venture funding

A tech startup focused on helping users make sense of all their separate online accounts has just pulled in $30 million in venture funding, the New York Times reports.

IFTTT (an acronym for “If This, Then That”) allows people to automatically link the actions of different types of online services. Users can be alerted via text when they are tagged in a photo on Facebook, for instance, or have each photo they add to Instagram automatically be uploaded to their Dropbox account. IFTTT connects all of those services, as well as Twitter, Gmail and more than 100 others.

The simple-but-useful concept has gained the company its largest-ever funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Norwest Venture Partners. With the additional cash, the company is looking to expand its service to the physical world by tapping into Internet-connected devices and the so-called Internet of Things. Future IFTTT software could be used to program lights or air conditioners to turn off in a home at a certain time of day, for example — indeed, some IFTTT users are already using Yo-based recipes to do just that.

The company is likely to face competition from giants like Google, which is expanding into the connected home through acquisitions like smoke alarm manufacturer Nest, and Apple, which is bringing its iOS platform to automobiles and is rumored to be working on “Smart Home” products as well.

[NYT]

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