September 27, 2012

McDonald's asks, TV with that? New channel on menu

LOS ANGELES - The question of the moment at 700 pioneering McDonald's restaurants: You want TV with those fries?
Not just any television, but the custom-made M Channel, formulated and tested with the same attention to detail that made Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets cultural icons.

Read more:

Voice navigation killed Apple-Google maps talks | Fox News

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said Apple should have continued to use Google’s mapping application in iOS 6 instead of swapping it out for its poorly received home-brewed replacement, and given the sour reception Apple’s Maps app has been given, he may have been right.
But multiple sources familiar with Apple’s thinking say the company felt it had no choice but to replace Google Maps with its own, because of a disagreement over a key feature: Voice-guided turn-by-turn driving directions.

Read more: Voice navigation killed Apple-Google maps talks | Fox News

September 20, 2012

Tablets for tots, retro offerings big on Toys R Us annual "hot toy" list - CBS News

(AP) NEW YORK — It's still technically summer, but for some it's not too soon to think about what the kiddies will want for the holidays.
Toys R Us has come out with its annual "hot toy" list that includes tablets for kids, fashion dolls in the likeness of boy-band sensation One Direction, and even retro hits like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Furby.

Knowing early what will be popular during the holiday shopping season is crucial to retailers seeking to have the right mix of toys at the right prices. The holiday season can account for about 40 percent of a toy seller's annual profit.

Read more: Tablets for tots, retro offerings big on Toys R Us annual "hot toy" list - CBS News

September 17, 2012

Tax on Amazon purchases in Calif. begins Saturday –

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Online retailer has tried to become all things to all consumers, but in California, it is about to take on a role it has fought against for years: tax collector.

The change, which takes effect this weekend, comes after years of bitter back and forth between the world's largest online mall and the California Legislature over whether Internet retailers should have to charge sales tax. The two sides reached a deal in 2011 that included a one-year grace period set to end Saturday.

The deadline has spurred at least some consumers into impulse-buying mode, making big-ticket purchases and stocking up on essentials before the tax collection kicks in.

"Even the mailroom is laughing at me," said Derek Daniels, 37, who has had Amazon packages delivered to his Los Angeles office every day this week. He's loading up on household supplies like trash bags and collecting birthday and Christmas presents for his Superman-loving 2 year-old.

"We are hoping he won't fall in love with Batman by the time November rolls around," Daniels said.

The looming deadline prompted San Diego artist John Purlia to finally buy that Samsung flat-screen television that had been sitting in his Amazon shopping cart for months. He also picked up four CDs, an external hard drive and an oddly decorated $17.99 kitchen cutting-board -- a gag gift for his sister.

"The TV was the motivating factor and the other stuff came along for the ride," said Purlia, 52. "I know I'm going to be back at Amazon before Saturday looking to take advantage of this. It's like the final days of a sale."

Technically, Purlia and Daniels owe taxes on all of this: California residents are supposed to calculate their obligation and send it directly to the state. But fewer than 1 percent do, according to the Franchise Tax Board.

Lawmakers have long complained that the increasingly popular e-retailer was depriving the state of millions of dollars by refusing to charge taxes at checkout. But Amazon said it was shielded by a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits states from forcing businesses without a physical presence in the area to collect sales tax.

The e-commerce giant said it did not have a physical presence in California because it does not have warehouses or other buildings here.

Similar fights have played out in other states, with Amazon sometimes shuttering distribution centers and canceling contracts to be able to continue selling tax-free goods.

Now Amazon is making treaties across the country, paving the way to start opening warehouses and offering faster shipping in areas where tax disputes had previously prevented it from putting down roots. The company now collects sales taxes on orders shipped to seven states, including New York and Texas, and has agreed to start imposing levies in six more.

The resolution of Amazon's tax fight in California has allowed the company to start building a network of distribution centers. Soon, customers in the nation's most populous state will receive shipments from warehouses in San Bernardino, which is near Los Angeles, and Patterson, near the San Francisco Bay Area รข?? instead of from Reno, Nev. or Phoenix. Each new center is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to California, where the unemployment rate is the third highest in the nation.

The new warehouses will shrink delivery times and may one day enable Amazon to offer some customers here same-day shipping, as it does in 10 U.S. cities, including Boston and Seattle.

That is the Holy Grail for hardcore online shoppers like San Francisco product manager Reid Butler.

"For me, most my friends and family, same-day delivery could be a big blow to our retailers down the street," said Butler, 32.

As the tax deadline nears, Butler is stocking up on enough soap, printer ink and baby formula to last until the day he can scan a barcode in the morning and receive his toilet paper that afternoon.

The brick-and-mortar stores that pushed for the "Amazon tax" to level the business playing field hope the changes will end the dispiriting practice of "showrooming," when people browse electronics or books in a store but make their purchases online.

"It will remove one incentive for not buying local," California Retailers Association president Bill Dombrowski said. "Retailers are looking forward to it, but we don't go out and buy champagne on September 15."

Colin Sebastian, an analyst with Baird Equity Research, predicts Amazon will be able to make up for the loss in sales tax advantage by carpeting the state with distribution centers.

"The irony in this is the closer Amazon gets to its customers, the more success it seems to have," he said.

Amazon spokesman Scott Stanzel said the company will continue to offer lower prices, even without the sales tax advantage, and is not worried about losing business. He would not say whether the tax deadline has affected sales.

More change may be on the way. Amazon is lobbying Congress to cut through the web of state-specific rules and devise a national policy for Internet taxation.

Sales tax rates in California reach 9.75 percent and are among the highest in the country. The new rules, which may affect more than 200 out-of-state businesses, are expected to bring in more than $200 million annually, with at least $80 million coming from Amazon alone.

California's tax authority is preparing to hire 30 specialists to make sure the state collects the revenue it is due. Jerome Horton, chairman of the state Board of Equalization, said the change will allow out of state companies to "contribute their fair share" toward schools and other public services.

Amazon has been tax-free for nearly two decades; an adult lifetime for some customers.

Amateur photographer Joe Chin, 27, saved more than a hundred dollars last week when he used Amazon to buy a $1,400 Fujifilm digital camera. A world without tax-free shopping will be an adjustment, he said.

"It's kind of like going back to how it was when I was a kid," he said.

by USA Today Sep 14, 2012

Tax on Amazon purchases in Calif. begins Saturday –

Social media's clout worries legal system

Four weeks ago, truck driver Michael Jakscht was found guilty of manslaughter and aggravated assault for a 2010 accident in which he drove his truck over nine motorcyclists, killing four. After the accident, he tested positive for methamphetamine.

It was his second trial -- the first ended in a mistrial -- and both were tense. The courtroom was full of victims and families of the dead who were angry at their loss.

That anger made its way on to Facebook, on a page titled "Oops, You Didn't See Me."

There, the victims posted their impressions of the trial. More than one referred to Jakscht by an obscenity.

"(Jakscht) did not have a dollar in the bank," one victim posted. "He spent all his welfare money on methamphetamine."

Jakscht's defense attorneys discovered the Facebook page before the verdict was delivered and worried they would have to get Jakscht out of state for his safety if he was acquitted. They also worried jurors would see the page and be prejudiced.

Social media, which have become a familiar part of people's lives, increasingly are making themselves felt in the criminal-justice system, and attorneys and judges are concerned. In a traditionally closed system in which information is carefully meted out to ensure a fair process, social media can be disruptive.

Victims' and defendants' families are creating Facebook pages about cases. Attorneys have researched potential jurors on social-media sites. Gangsters are menacing witnesses with social-media postings. Journalists are texting and tweeting from the courtroom.

Jurors have used search engines during trials to look up information related to the case.

Rosalind Greene, a Tucson attorney and jury consultant who writes about social media and the courts, pointed to a Thomson Reuters study that found that at least 90 verdicts were appealed from 1999 to 2010 across the country because of Internet or social-media gaffes and that 28 were overturned. Half of the appeals occurred in 2009 and 2010.

As a result, courts are working to update policies on how to deal with the technology. In Arizona, a committee appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court and composed of lawyers, judges, academics and press officers is drafting rules for use of smartphones, laptops and social media in courtrooms.

Determining those rules isn't easy.

"Where do you draw the line between the First Amendment rights of the press and the viewers and the fair-trial rights of the defendants?" asked Genelle Belmas, a communications professor at California State University-Fullerton who teaches First Amendment law.

The Internet has become a part of the criminal-justice system, whether it's court records posted online or attorneys marketing themselves on Web pages.

But social-media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter go further: They enable anyone to publish thoughts and information to large audiences. This exponentially increases the risks of jury tainting, witness tampering and ethical lapses on the part of judges and attorneys.

Some of the biggest concerns relate to juries.

Traditionally, court trials are self-contained, and juries are meant to make decisions based only on information a judge allows attorneys to present. Social media, even Web searches, open juries up to leaks. That has led Arizona state courts to look at rewording juror admonitions.

Jurors have been told for years not to read newspapers or watch TV news about the trial they are sitting on. Now, they must be told not to do their own research on a case online and not to post anything on Facebook or Twitter, as it might reveal their opinion or prompt responses.

"There's so much information out there which may not be true, and they (the outside sources) don't get cross-examined," said Greene, the jury consultant. "The problem is the court can't rein in the social-media part."

"Jurors are curious," she added. "They're no longer satisfied with just what they get in the courtroom."

The Thomson Reuters research included a three-week monitoring of Twitter in 2010 for tweets about jury duty. Tweets from people who identified themselves as sitting or prospective jurors took place every three minutes, Reuters reported.

The Arizona Supreme Court's Committee on the Impact of Wireless Mobile Technologies and Social Media is considering issuing cards to jurors to remind them of what they can't do. They also are considering jury-room posters emblazoned with the Facebook "F" and Internet Explorer "E" in red circles with bars across them. "Do not send or read messages about this case," the suggested wording says, "because your verdict must be based on evidence presented in court."

State Supreme Court Justice Robert Brutinel, who chairs the committee and is a Twitter user, said that when someone asks him whether social media belong in the courtroom, "I keep asking, 'Why not?' "

Still, he recognizes the risks. "Clearly, the use of social media is affecting courts across the country," he said.

Several judges and attorneys in Arizona said they knew of no instances in which a jury case was compromised or a lawyer disciplined because of social-media use.

But incidents in other states and countries have raised alarms:

A juror in Britain in 2008 polled her social-media "friends," asking if she should find a defendant guilty or not guilty.

In Baltimore, five jury members friended each other on Facebook during a 2009 political- corruption trial and discussed details of the case. It resulted in a mistrial.

Also in 2009, a New York state judge was disciplined for friending lawyers on social media.

A juror in Michigan in 2010 posted a preview of a verdict on her Facebook page, writing, "Gonna be fun to tell the defendant they're GUILTY."

Last year, a federal judge in New Jersey went on Facebook to check out a witness whose testimony she doubted. She was discovered when she mentioned it in a footnote to a ruling.

Jennifer Willmott, one of the attorneys for Jakscht, said if jurors had stumbled upon victims' comments on Facebook, their impartiality might have been compromised.

"It (the set of posts) riles everybody up, and for somebody who hasn't been to trial, it can certainly prejudice any of the jurors," Willmot said.

Other Facebook pages created for Arizona cases include one called "Mark Goudeau Innocent," referring to the "Baseline Killer"; one decrying Elizabeth Johnson, whose baby, Gabriel, disappeared; and several about Jodi Arias, who is accused of killing her ex-boyfriend. Johnson and Arias face trial this fall.

The case of Casey Anthony, a young Florida mother acquitted of murdering her toddler, led to Facebook pages with names like "America Hates Casey Anthony."

Social-media use also can affect criminal investigations.

Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Vince Goddard said gang prosecutors have been bedeviled by the speed with which criminals and their friends transmit information about informants and witnesses via social media. As a result, it becomes harder to get people to testify in court.

"The nature of gang cases is they tend to be interconnected anyway, and everyone under age 30 is on Facebook," Goddard said. "Word gets out before we even know who the witnesses are. Witnesses are literally getting people driving by their houses."

Court policies vary on social media depending on the jurisdiction.

Photography is heavily restricted in state courts, and news media may take pictures only with advance permission from a judge under strict rules. Using handheld cameras, including smartphones, is forbidden. Officials don't want photos of jurors or victims being tweeted or posted.

Texting and tweeting are allowed in Arizona state courts and have grown in popularity. The ethics hearings of former County Attorney Andrew Thomas were tweeted live to thousands.

In U.S. District Court in Arizona, however, judges often prohibit any Internet transmission.

For all the fears of disruptions, social media can help prosecutors and law enforcement.

Last month, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that prosecutors could use information gathered on social media to secure convictions. The case involved a gangster partially identified by his nickname and gang affiliations on his MySpace page.

Social-media technology will continue to evolve, forcing courts to continue to adapt.

"We asked, 'Could we forbid this?' " Brutinel said of his committee. "And the answer was, 'We couldn't.' "

by Michael Kiefer - Sept. 12, 2012 The Republic |

Social media's clout worries legal system

Building a Social Media Fan Base From Scratch | Mortgage News | Daily National and State Headlines

The mere act of putting up a social media page does not guarantee traffic. You can create a killer business page on Facebook, post every day and even get some comments—only to find that after months of effort, fewer than 50 people “Like” your page, which has yet to drive any measurable new business. What we stress to our clients is that it is important to build a strong base of followers as quickly as possible, incentivize them to get more people involved and actively engage with them long-term.

Remember, most people are not typing in “30-year fixed mortgage rates” on Facebook or using the hashtag “#homeloan” when they tweet. With social media, you are investing in awareness, much like real estate agents blanket a community with door tags, special events, direct mail and other promotional methods. Here are 10 proactive strategies to build your fan base from scratch.

1. Keep it fresh, relevant, authentic and relatively non-promotional
The biggest mistake made by mortgage professionals who delve into social media is the lack of a content strategy. The solution is a marketing calendar, a spreadsheet with your social media networks and what kind of content you plan to post for the week or month. The industry rule of thumb is 80 percent of social media-related content should provide value for your followers and 20 percent can be self-promotional. So, what can you post when you’re not talking about your business?

►Industry tips, information or advice (add your own commentary)
►Photos, videos and links to sites that support your message
►Questions to engage your fans and responses to start a dialogue
►Photo profiles of your offices or employees (with permission)
►An occasional (tasteful and non-offensive) joke, funny story or quote

Be very careful in giving financial advice or specific rates online. Even though it’s on social media, your content still must conform to mortgage industry compliance regulations.

2. Invite your existing business connections to join your social networks
A mortgage professional’s contact list should be the first tool used to attract followers. An e-mail blast announcing your business is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, etc. with hyperlinks to those accounts, is a good way to start. Try to offer some incentive to connect.

For example, to encourage Facebook “Likes” by the 200-plus employees of one of our clients Bay Equity, we conducted a “BE All In!” contest. Employees could enter their e-mail and the words “I’m all in!” once every 24 hours to increase their chances of winning a $100 gas card—which kept them coming back for three weeks straight!

3. Integrate social networks with all your marketing efforts
If you just paid to have a business logo designed, one of the first things you would do is slap it on your business card, Web site and in your e-mail signature. The same strategy should apply to your social media icons—make it as easy as possible for people to find you in the social sphere. If you really want to show your tech savvy, print business cards with a QR code on the back that takes people to your Facebook page.

4. Leverage existing social networks
If you already have a strong following on LinkedIn, use it to promote your Twitter stream or Facebook page. Do this repeatedly—though not annoyingly—and give people a reason to check out your other platforms. A similar strategy can work for online forums or membership sites. If you are an active participant, use a signature with your social media links. Stand out from the crowd by posting frequent tips or comments, and they’ll be more likely to follow you elsewhere.

5. Develop relationships with similar businesses
If you develop relationships with similar businesses on Facebook, they may provide information and useful links, or even refer people to your business and help promote it. A mortgage professional might not want to “Friend” the competition, but what about local real estate agents or brokers? Any business involved in home-building could prove a lucrative connection: Home builders, architects, interior designers, title companies or wholesale mortgage lenders.

How do you find these companies? We did this for a client of ours, Trumark Homes, by mining the an bases of similar companies, vendors and business partners, as well as trade publications. After you connect with all of those networks—and interacted with them over time—your industry contacts, along with their fan bases, will grow exponentially!

6. Pay it forward with the 3 R’s: Recognition, Referrals and Recommendations
Listen and engage with your followers. Like, Share or Comment on their posts in a meaningful way. If someone you know “Likes” your page, thank them personally. It’s good to show appreciation and it will reflect positively on your reputation. If you haven’t already, gather testimonials from your existing customers. The best kinds are short video recommendations that can be shot with a smartphone and posted directly to your page, but written testimonials also are powerful. Share them across all channels. Here’s another tip: Instead of asking for recommendations or referrals, give them freely to business contacts who are most likely to reciprocate.

7. Use tags (sparingly) in your posts
One of the most popular features on Facebook is Tagging, which allows you to reference people, pages or places in status updates and other posts. Friends you tag get a notification and a post, which might prompt them to visit your profile to see what they were Tagged in and perhaps leave a comment. This will help increase your Edge Rank status and make it more likely you will show up in your fans’ News Feeds.

Take the case of another of our clients, Wood Partners, a multifamily developer with active communities across the country. By using Tags, Shares, Likes and Comments through the corporate social media platforms, we help make their properties more visible and build search engine ranking. Note that businesses cannot Tag people, only other businesses. Also, if a business has set their page up as a personal profile page, you won’t be able to Tag them.

8. Don’t be shy … ask for Likes and Shares
To encourage engagement, which is critical to a healthy social network, don’t post passive comments that simply state your opinion or share a bit of news. Ask your followers to respond or Share their thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with ending a post by saying “Click ‘Like’ if you agree” or “Please help spread the news by clicking on the ‘Share” button right next to this message.” Posing a related question also tends to solicit comments.

9. Sponsor a Facebook campaign
While following these tips will result in an initial surge of Fans and Followers, the growth may eventually flatten. You’ll need a way to discover people who have little or no degree of connection with you or your business. How do you do that?
One of the best ways to attract new fans is a contest on Twitter or Facebook. There is an endless variety of campaigns from which to choose including sweepstakes, treasure hunts, and photo or video contests. The three basis rules we stress are:

►Keep it simple
►Provide an incentive
►Include a required Facebook or Twitter interaction such as “Like,” a “Follow” or an online vote.

To jumpstart a new Facebook Fan Page by Brandywine Homes, our firm created a month-long online sweepstakes that resulted in almost 1,200 new “Likes” for the SoCal homebuilder. Best of all, most of these Fans were local because we intentionally offered a prize that appealed only to people who lived nearby—two VIP tickets to the Taste of Orange County.

10. What About Facebook ads and Sponsored Stories?
There are many different opinions of the effectiveness of Facebook ads, but a new strategy called Sponsored Stories apparently has backfired terribly. This service allowed businesses to create an ad using the name and photo of anyone who “Liked” them with being informed or compensated. Facebook recently paid $20 million to settle a class-action lawsuit against this practice and now must allow users to opt-out of Sponsored Stories.

Facebook ads, on the other hand, have been around for years. The ability to target ads to people based on very specific criteria and cap your ad spend at a daily amount of your choosing makes for a very cost-effective way to reach consumers, especially for smaller businesses.

The beauty of social media is that it doesn’t take much money to be successful, but it does take time and we are all busy professionals. It helps to remember that social networks are just another way of building relationships with real people, and just as important to your business as connecting face-to-face. If properly nurtured, these relationships will yield a long-term payoff both online and in the real world.

by Genevieve Anton National Mortgage Professional Sep 17, 2012

Building a Social Media Fan Base From Scratch | Mortgage News | Daily National and State Headlines

September 15, 2012

Kickstarter projects generating millions -

NEW YORK — NEW YORK A funny thing happens on Kickstarter, the website where people ask for money to finance their projects. Sometimes, they get more money than they ask for.


Since launching in 2009, Kickstarter has raised $250 million for projects. Starting a project is free, but Kickstarter takes 5 percent of contributions if a project is funded, and takes another 3 to 5 percent for processing the payments.

Sometimes, they get millions more.

In April, three-person startup Pebble Technology sought to raise $100,000 to make 1,000 wristwatches that can be programmed with different clock faces. Donors on Kickstarter showered them with more than 100 times that amount: $10.3 million. It would have gone higher had Pebble not put a cap on contributions and ended the fundraising early.

"We had tried raising money through the normal routes, and it didn't really work," said Eric Migicovsky, the 25-year-old founder of Pebble.

Kickstarter is the largest of dozens of sites devoted to crowdfunding, in which donors contribute small sums of money to get a project off the ground.

Online support

Inventors, artists and entrepreneurs post their projects on a Kickstarter page, usually with a video presentation. They set a fixed duration for their fundraising, from one to 60 days, and a dollar goal for contributions. Anyone can contribute. If the goal isn't reached by the deadline, the money goes back to the contributors and the project is cancelled.

Usually, the contributors get something beyond the satisfaction of knowing they helped turn a dream into reality -- like a ticket to a theater production, or in the case of Pebble, a programmable watch.

Designer Casey Hopkins asked for $75,000 to make a luxury iPhone dock out of solid aluminum. He got $1.4 million. When that happened, in February, his was the first Kickstarter project to surpass $1 million. There have been six more since then. Artist Rich Burlew asked for $57,750 to put his comic books back in print, and ended up with $1.3million.

Crowdfunding started as a way to fund band tours and albums. Kickstarter wasn't the first site of its kind. It is, however, the most successful. Co-founder Perry Chen has said that the site was born out of his frustration at being unable to organize a concert. But it's becoming a potent launchpad for tangible products as well.

Venture capital

There's a time-worn route for entrepreneurs: They come up with an idea, find funding, make a product, sell it, then pay back the funders -- with interest or an equity stake . Under that model, funders look for a big payoff on their early investment.

For contributors to take part in a Kickstarter project, all they have to do is ask themselves: Do I want that?

In that sense, Kickstarter is a great way to sell things that don't yet exist. In effect, Pebble sold 85,000 watches, and artist Rich Burlew sold 94,000 books. Now, they just have to make these things.

Migicovsky, the Pebble founder, is based in Silicon Valley, where venture capital runs in rivers. He got some funding from "angel investors" early on and produced a small run of watches last year. But to realize his vision of a programmable watch that only needs to be charged once a week, he needed more money. The venture capitalists, who generally invest bigger sums than angels, didn't bite.

Inventors' bonanza

So Migicovsky went to Kickstarter, figuring he'd raise enough money for a production run of 1,000 watches. But the project got attention from technology blogs, and the orders started pouring in. Over 37 days, he sold one watch every 38 seconds. Frantically trying to satisfy the orders, he hired six people in two weeks, tripling Pebble's staff.

The watches will be ready this fall -- without the help of venture capital.

"You want to spend your time talking to customers. You don't really want to spend your time talking to venture capitalists. Because at the end of the day, they're just guys with money," Migicovsky says.

David Tisch, the founder of "startup accelerator" firm TechStars, says posting a product on Kickstarter is a great way to gauge demand.

"For the first time, there's a way to get customer feedback with money attached to it," he said.

Not meant for startups

Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler has said the site wasn't intended to be an engine of commerce or a route to riches.

"There is this greater idea of helping people out and that art still has value in the world," he told board-game blog Purple Pawn. "We generally don't like Kickstarter to be used to, say, start a business."

Of course, several Kickstarter projects have turned into businesses, like ElevationLab, the Portland Ore.-based startup that makes the Elevation iPhone docking station and Touchfire, a company in Redmond, Wash., that created a keyboard for the iPad.

The majority of Kickstarter projects are non-commercial ventures like photo books and amateur musicals.

Marketing is crucial

Burlew says it was crucial to have a core base of fans. His "Dungeons & Dragons"-themed Web comic has been running for eight years, and has supported Burlew and his family for most of that run.

Once fans got it started, Burlew's Kickstarter project turned into a self-propelled marketing tool. As contributions rose, the project drew attention from comics and publishing blogs, driving more contributions, Burlew says.

By Peter Svensson, Associated Press Aug 18, 2012

Kickstarter projects generating millions -

September 13, 2012

Google agrees to record $22.5M fine on privacy - Yahoo! Finance

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google is paying a record $22.5 million fine to settle allegations that it broke a privacy promise by secretly tracking millions of Web surfers who use Apple's Safari browser.

The penalty announced Thursday by the Federal Trade Commission matches the figure that The Associated Press and other media outlets had reported last month. It's the largest fine that the FTC has imposed against a company for violating a previous agreement with the agency.

by Associated Press Aug 9, 2012

Google agrees to record $22.5M fine on privacy - Yahoo! Finance

Small business owners face more mobile payment options –

If all goes as planned, customers of family-owned Ben White Florist in Austin can start buying flowers this month by swiping a smartphone at checkout.

Representatives working for Isis, the mobile-payment company behind the technology, have been working with the shop's owner, Michael Martinez, to prepare for a new mobile payment system that can accept most credit cards, including American Express and Discover. That the system is free for now — subsidized by Isis — helped persuade Martinez to give it a try.

Square technology

Martinez concedes that customers with smartphones sophisticated enough to use the technology will initially be a tiny group. "But Austin is a tech-savvy city. Customers don't want to do business with companies that look outdated. And it makes us seem like we're on top of things," he says.

As the retail world increasingly turns mobile, Martinez echoes the sentiment of thousands of small-business merchants drawn to mobile payments as a marketing boost and a salvation from the shackles of expensive point-of-sale terminals and magnetic-stripe card readers.

Small merchants are considered ideal testing grounds for new payment products because the businesses are nimbler in experimenting with new ideas and seeking customers in settings beyond bricks-and-mortar stores.

"We're seeing a huge explosion in small business," says Ebrahim Keshavarz, vice president of small-business product management at AT&T. The company is working with mobile payment developers that want to use its wireless network.

Eyeing the growing number of customers who rely on their "digital wallets" — credit card numbers stored on a phone app — small business owners are scrambling to find efficient means of accommodating these early adopters without too much cost to their operations or the need to overhaul existing payment systems.

Apps for tablets and smartphones that can scan credit cards have been offered as early answers. In February, about half the retailers polled by the National Retail Federation say they will use a mobile device as a cash register within a year to 18 months, compared with 6% that use them now.

Meanwhile, mobility solutions also are being developed for on-the-go merchants who derive sales from county fairs, trade shows and farmers' markets.

Because the technology is still in its infancy, "mobile payment" is something of an umbrella term that refers to a wide variety of approaches, including paying with: a smartphone equipped with a special chip; a credit card number stored in a phone app; or a key-fob-size device that turns a phone or tablet into a credit card processor.

Worldwide mobile payment transactions will total $171.5 billion in 2012, a 62% increase from $105.9 billion last year, and could reach $617 billion by 2016, according to research firm Gartner.

Consumers are still wary of sharing stored financial information, concerned about privacy, fraudulent charges, personal information being distributed to third parties, or of losing devices that contain that information.

Small-business owners are skeptical about spending money on yet another piece of hardware. With so many options available, consumer confusion is inevitable.

Still, a confluence of recent developments suggests that the payment revolution engendered by mobile devices will forge ahead.

Innovation from start-ups

Small businesses are looking to shave costs wherever they can, so companies such as Square and PayPal are wooing shop owners to ditch their expensive point-of-sale equipment by offering per-transaction fees, simple loyalty programs and sales analysis.

A traditional retail payment system — including a cash register, credit card scanner, product scanner and software — can cost as much as $1,000 to $3,000. Credit card processors also often ask for long-term contracts, a monthly fee, a percentage of sales and an early-termination fee.

Square, a San Francisco company, has made huge gains in grabbing market share from traditional checkout operators. Shop owners who buy Square's small, white plastic scanner dongle and sign up can plug it into a smartphone or tablet and quickly process credit cards, while generating reports about sales volumes and patterns. Square charges 2.75% of each transaction.

Its growth has exceeded its own internal estimates. About 2 million merchants use Square, and about $6 billion in transactions have been processed since Square's debut in 2010.

Andy Nguyen, who with his wife, Uyen operates a Vietnamese-sandwich food truck called Lemongrass in the Washington, D.C.-area, considered several other wireless credit card payment processors but chose Square for its size and convenience.

With Square's dongle in his iPad, he can revise his menu and prices while keeping track of which items sell more than others, he says. "I don't have that much space here," he says, adding that about half his customers use credit cards. "I could go all-cash, but I didn't want to alienate anyone."

Wireless carriers — which stand to make money from all purchase-transaction data traffic carried on their networks — also are aggressively pushing the mobile-payment effort.

YiShaun Yang, owner of children's book publisher AdoraPet in Manhattan, was in search of ways to accept credit card payments at book shows when she walked into a Verizon store and saw Intuit GoPayment on display. A competitor to Square, GoPayment also is a phone dongle for scanning credit cards.

While she had considered other wireless payment systems, she was turned off by fees and long contracts, she says.

"It's hard when you have a small business, because you don't know how long you're going to be in the business," she says. "I wanted something that fits my small business. Not (a product) that imposed its bigger business model onto my small business."

Unlike Square, Intuit either charges a per-transaction fee of 2.7%, or, for merchants with high volume, a plan with a monthly fee of $12.75 and a 1.7% per-transaction fee.

VeriFone, a payment systems maker, and online payment stalwart PayPal also have recently introduced competing products that turn a phone or tablet into a card scanner. VeriFone's Sail and PayPal Here both charge 2.7% per transaction. VeriFone also offers the option of paying $9.95 per month for a lower 1.95% per-transaction charge.

LevelUp, another mobile payment start-up, is hoping to stand out from the pack with a greater focus on points redemption.

Customers who store their credit card information on its app receive a designated QR (Quick Response) code that's read at the merchant checkout. Customers who spend $50 get a $5 credit.

LevelUp makes money by charging merchants 40 cents per $1 of credit used by customers. For a $25 monthly fee, LevelUp waives merchants' customary per-transaction fees.

LevelUp's loyalty program and its no-per-transaction fee policy persuaded Kirk Francis, owner of Captain Cookie and the Milk Man, a food truck in Washington, D.C., to experiment even as he was told LevelUp still had a small number of users in the area.

"My upfront cost was zero. There is no commission fee. That was attractive," he says. "It's the new kid on the block."

Francis is still not fully convinced he'll keep it. He sees only "one or two" LevelUp users a week, and the $25 monthly fee "is a lot," he says. "It's a trial a phase for me. I don't get a great deal at this point."

Still, Francis, also a Square customer, says he can't imagine operating without mobile payments. "It makes vendors like me look more legitimate, rather than my customers seeing me dealing with cash out of a bucket," he says.

Interest by technology giants

Meanwhile, the biggest names in technology are muscling into mobile payments, hoping to snuff out smaller competitors that are developing "digital wallets."

Google Wallet, which was released last year with a partnership with just one bank, said last week it's now compatible with all domestic credit cards. Users must input their card information into the Google Wallet app, and waive the phone at a contactless (called near field communication, or NFC) reader pad, such as the ones branded by MasterCard's PayPass and Visa's payWave.

For now, Google Wallet works only on six phone models issued by Sprint or Virgin Mobile, limiting further adoption.

Eager for a slice of the burgeoning market, a consortium of wireless carriers —Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile — is launching Isis as a competitor to Google Wallet.

Also a digital wallet in your phone, Isis is swiped at retailers' contactless terminals. Isis will likely launch this month in Salt Lake City and Austin with national large retail chains and smaller merchants such as Martinez of Ben White Florist.

Don't expect consumers to flock to contactless phone payments soon, says Thomas Husson, an analyst at Forrester Research. Google Wallet and Isis work only on smartphones that are equipped with an NFC chip. While more NFC phones will be sold in coming years, they're still hard to find.

Still, the likely slow adoption of digital wallets hasn't waned Martinez's enthusiasm for the technology.

"The easier you can make it for people to spend money, the more likely they'll spend," he says.

By Roger Yu, USA TODAY Aug 6, 2012

Small business owners face more mobile payment options –

Apple wins lawsuit against Samsung, as jury awards $1B for patent infringement | Fox News

SAN JOSE, Calif. – After a year of scorched-earth litigation, a jury decided Friday that Samsung ripped off the innovative technology used by Apple to create its revolutionary iPhone and iPad.

The jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple $1.05 billion. An appeal is expected.

Apple Inc. filed its patent infringement lawsuit in April 2011 and engaged legions of the country's highest-paid patent lawyers to demand $2.5 billion from its top smartphone competitor. Samsung Electronics Co. fired back with its own lawsuit seeking $399 million.

But verdict, however, belonged to Apple, as the jury rejected all Samsung's claim against Apple. Jurors also decided against some of Apple's claims involving the two dozen Samsung devices at issue, declining to award the full $2.5 billion Apple demanded.

However, the jury found that several Samsung products illegally used such Apple creations as the "bounce-back" feature when a user scrolls to an end image, and the ability to zoom text with a finger tap.
Breaking down the verdict

As part of its lawsuit, Apple also demanded that Samsung pull its most popular cellphones and computer tablets from the U.S. market. A judge was expected to make that ruling at a later time.

During closing arguments at the trial, Apple attorney Harold McElhinny claimed Samsung was having a "crisis of design" after the 2007 launch of the iPhone, and executives with the South Korean company were determined to illegally cash in on the success of the revolutionary device.

Samsung's lawyers countered that it was simply and legally giving consumers what they want: Smart phones with big screens. They said Samsung didn't violate any of Apple's patents and further alleged innovations claimed by Apple were actually created by other companies.

Samsung has emerged as one of Apple's biggest rivals and has overtaken Apple as the leading smartphone maker.

Samsung's Galaxy line of phones run on Android, a mobile operating system that Google Inc. has given out for free to Samsung and other phone makers.

Samsung conceded that Apple makes great products but said it doesn't have a monopoly on the design of rectangle phones with rounded corners that it claimed it created.

Google entered the smartphone market while its then-CEO Eric Schmidt was on Apple's board, infuriating Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who considered Android to be a blatant rip off of the iPhone's innovations.

After shoving Schmidt off Apple's board, Jobs vowed that Apple would resort to "thermonuclear war" to destroy Android and its allies.

The Apple-Samsung trial in San Jose came after each side filed a blizzard of legal motions and refused advisories by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to settle the dispute out of court. Deliberations by the jury of seven men and two women began Wednesday.

Samsung has sold 22.7 million smartphones and tablets that Apple claimed uses its technology. McElhinny said those devices accounted for $8.16 billion in sales since June 2010.

Apple and Samsung combined account for more than half of global smartphone sales.

From the beginning, legal experts and Wall Street analysts viewed Samsung as the underdog in the case. Apple's headquarters is a mere 10 miles from the courthouse, and jurors were picked from the heart of Silicon Valley where Apple's late founder Steve Jobs is a revered technological pioneer.

While the legal and technological issues were complex, patent expert Alexander I. Poltorak previously said the case would likely boil down to whether jurors believed Samsung's products look and feel almost identical to Apple's iPhone and iPad.

To overcome that challenge at trial, Samsung's lawyers argued that many of Apple's claims of innovation were either obvious concepts or ideas stolen from Sony Corp. and others. Experts called that line of argument a high-risk strategy because of Apple's reputation as an innovator.

Apple's lawyers argued there is almost no difference between Samsung products and those of Apple, and presented internal Samsung documents they said showed it copied Apple designs. Samsung lawyers insisted that several other companies and inventors had previously developed much of the Apple technology at issue.

The U.S. trial is just the latest skirmish between the two tech giants over product designs. Apple and Samsung have filed similar lawsuits in eight other countries, including South Korea, Germany, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, France and Australia.

Samsung won a home court ruling Friday in the global patent battle against Apple.

Judges in Seoul said Samsung didn't copy the look and feel of the iPhone and ruled that Apple infringed on Samsung's wireless technology.

However, the judges also said Samsung violated Apple's technology behind the feature that causes a screen to bounce back when a user scrolls to an end image. Both sides were ordered to pay limited damages.

The Seoul ruling was a rare victory for Samsung in its fight with Apple. Those arguments previously have been shot down by courts in Europe, where judges have ruled that they are part of industry standards that must be licensed under fair terms to competitors.

The U.S. case is one of some 50 lawsuits among myriad telecommunications companies jockeying for position in the burgeoning $219 billion market for smartphones and computer tablets.

by Associated Press Aug 24, 2012

Apple wins lawsuit against Samsung, as jury awards $1B for patent infringement | Fox News

Does Apple hide billions in profit with phantom taxes? - Tech Talk - CBS News

(AP) Apple is set to report financial results for the second quarter on Tuesday. Analysts are expecting net income of $9.8 billion. But whatever figure Apple reports won't reflect its true profit, because the company hides some of it with an unusual tax maneuver.

Apple Inc., already the world's most valuable company, understates its profits compared with other multinationals. It's building up an overlooked asset in the form of billions of dollars, tucked away for tax bills it may never pay.

Tax experts say the company could easily eliminate these phantom tax obligations. That would boost Apple's profits for the past three years by as much $10.5 billion, according to calculations by The Associated Press.

While investors might rejoice if Apple suddenly added $10.5 billion to its profits, unilaterally erasing a massive U.S. tax obligation could tarnish its reputation as a relatively responsible payer of U.S. taxes. Instead, the company is lobbying to change U.S. law so that it can erase its liabilities in a less conspicuous fashion. The issue has become part of the presidential campaign.

Like other companies, Apple typically keeps profits on overseas sales in overseas accounts. When someone buys an iPad in Paris or Sydney, for instance, the profit stays outside the United States.

Apple may pay some corporate income taxes on that profit to the country where it sells the iPad, but it minimizes these by using various accounting moves to shift profits to countries with low tax rates. For example the strategy known as "Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich," routes profits through Irish and Dutch subsidiaries and then to the Caribbean.

When it comes to using creative tax techniques, Apple is no different from other multinational corporations, says Robert Willens, an independent accounting expert.

And just like other corporations, Apple leaves cash overseas. If it brought it home to the U.S., it would have to pay federal income taxes on the money (though it would get a credit for foreign taxes already paid). In Apple's case, those overseas accounts have grown to a staggering $74 billion - equal to the market value of Citigroup Inc.

The money is accumulating overseas because corporations are counting on lower U.S. tax rates in the future. At 35 percent, the U.S. corporate tax rate is among the highest for developed countries. In 2004, Congress enacted a one-year "tax holiday" for overseas earnings, and multinationals are hoping for a repeat of that. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants to permanently eliminate federal taxes on overseas profits. President Barack Obama attacked that idea last week, saying it won't create U.S. jobs, like the Romney campaign contends.

Where Apple does differ from other companies is that it sets aside a portion of these overseas profits, marking them as subject to U.S. taxes sometime in the future. Essentially, it's saying "this is money that we'll likely have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on" because we intend to repatriate it, says Willens.

But because Apple doesn't actually bring the profits into U.S. accounts, it doesn't pay the taxes. Instead, it records a tax liability. When Apple reports quarterly results, it subtracts these liabilities from its profits, even though it hasn't actually paid the taxes.

The liabilities accumulate, and as Apple's profits grow, they're piling up faster and faster.

"When you capitalize that into the future, it might be tens of billions of dollars," said Martin Sullivan, an economist with Tax Analysts, a nonprofit publisher.

The company had a net $6 billion of tax liabilities at the end of September, the last reported figure. It's had two blow-out quarters since then and is expected to report another one Tuesday. Based on reported and expected profits for the last three quarters, the liabilities can be estimated at around $10.5 billion.

Apple declined to comment on the specifics of its tax strategies or why it records tax liabilities that other multinationals avoid.

"Apple has conducted all of its business with the highest of ethical standards, complying with applicable laws and accounting rules," the Cupertino, Calif., company said in a statement.

Yet Apple has made clear that it has no intention of repatriating its profits from overseas at the current U.S. tax rate. When CEO Tim Cook announced that the company would start paying a dividend this summer, he said the board determined the size of the dividend solely by looking at the amount of cash the company has in U.S. accounts.

"We do not want to incur the tax cost to repatriate the foreign cash at this time," Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer told investors in March.

Apple's net tax liabilities started building three years ago, when its sales started rocketing because of the iPhone. In that time, the company has reported a total of $69 billion in net income. If it had applied the same accounting practices as other multinational technology companies, and not marked some overseas profits as subject to U.S. taxes, its profits would have been about $78 billion, or 13 percent higher.

The boost to net income could mean a boost to the stock, since companies are usually valued on their earnings. If investors were to value Apple based on the last 12 months of earnings, with the tax liabilities added to earnings, the stock might be 13 percent higher.

Willens and Sullivan say that Apple could erase its liabilities by considering the profits "permanently reinvested" overseas, acknowledging that they will never be brought home. That would erase the tax liability, but it could make Apple look like a less responsible corporate citizen.

"I doubt they're going to do that on their own, because they don't want to be set up for criticism," said Willens.

Groups such as Citizens for Tax Justice compile lists of the tax rates corporations report. Apple looks like a relatively good taxpayer on such lists, with a 24 percent rate. But Apple doesn't actually pay the 24 percent, since it isn't repatriating its overseas profits. The actual taxes Apple pays are 13 percent of profits, as computed by Sullivan. That's a relatively low rate compared with other multinationals.

But keeping the money overseas limits what Apple can do with it. It means, for instance, that Apple can't use it to buy another U.S. company, or give it to shareholders.

To get the money home without paying full U.S. taxes on it, the company advocates a change in U.S. tax law. It's a member of Working to Invest Now in America, or WinAmerica. The coalition is lobbying for two congressional bills that would temporarily reduce the tax rate on such earnings to 5.25 percent. That would encourage the repatriation of some of the $1.4 trillion in cash that U.S. companies have sitting in overseas accounts, the group says.

The temporary tax amnesty enacted in 2004, resulted in hundreds of billions being brought home to the U.S. But according to the Congressional Research Service, it didn't create jobs or stimulate the economy, as had been hoped.

Google Inc., Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. are also members of WinAmerica, but none of them stand to gain as much as Apple from a tax amnesty, because they have less cash overseas.

by Tech Talk Jul 23, 2012

Does Apple hide billions in profit with phantom taxes? - Tech Talk - CBS News


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