Monthly Archives: January 2011

Here it is … the future … Welcome to ISIS

For the first time, three of the largest U.S. wireless service providers — AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless — have united to build a nationwide mobile commerce network utilizing smartphone and near-field communication (NFC) technology.

By bringing together merchants and consumers, the Isis mobile commerce network will provide an enhanced, more convenient, and more personal shopping experience.

via Welcome to ISIS.

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Mobile Payments Startups Zong And Boku Launch Billing Partnerships With Verizon

After announcing direct relationships with AT&T, Zong, Boku are announcing direct relationships with Verizon through mobile payments operator BillToMobile.

So why is this important? Historically, mobile payments companies face the challenge of lofty carrier rates. Wireless carriers have charged roughly 30% to 40% to process transactions made via mobile phone accounts, making it very difficult for mobile payment companies like Boku to scale beyond virtual goods. These transactions costs are passed down to developers using Boku and Zong, which are then passed to the consumer. To avoid these costs, Boku and Zong have been negotiating direct relationships with carriers as a way of possibly avoiding these costs.

While these mobile payments companies have had direct relationships with international carriers for some time, deals with U.S. carriers have taken more time in terms of negotiations. Last fall, Zong and Boku both announced direct relationships with AT&T. BillToMobile has had a relationship with Verizon since May 2010.

And today, both companies are revealing that they have formed direct billing relationships with Verizon. Ron Hirson, Boku’s co-founder, says that in end, the consumer wins with these negotiations. We hear that fees for these mobile payments have been brought down to credit card fee levels. Zong tells us: “Verizon fees are in line with our AT&T fees, and we’re optimistic about increased acceleration of carriers worldwide dropping their fees to enable Zong to address more markets.”

In case you aren’t familiar how services like Zong and Boku work, here’s a quick tutorial. When a user wants to purchase a virtual item, he can enters his cell phone number on a site, the site sends a text message to the phone, the user confirms the transaction with a short reply, and all the charges show up on his phone bill. This entire transaction is powered by Zong or Boku.

It’s good news for mobile payments startups that U.S. carriers are starting to jump on the badnwagon and lower fees. Boku is reportedly a possible acquisition target for both Google and Apple, and direct carrier relationships reinforce the fact that there is consumer demand for this method of mobile payments.

via Mobile Payments Startups Zong And Boku Launch Billing Partnerships With Verizon.

Your Facebook ‘Likes’ are now paid ads

Continuing to fulfill its unspoken agreement with users to regularly provide them with new things to protest, Facebook is testing a new advertising program in which the things you “Like” are turned into advertisements in your friends’ feeds.�Same goes for locations where you check in.

Oh, and you can’t opt out.

It’s not everything you “Like,” of course — just the items with commercial potential.�Say you give Starbucks the “thumbs up” or check-in to Starbucks on Facebook Places. (That’s the example AdAge uses in its report on the new ad system, because hey, everybody goes to Starbucks.)

If Starbucks is participating in the “sponsored story” ad program, your friends receive double-notification of your fandom: An update in your friend’s newsfeed (because hey, everybody loves spam) and a “sponsored story” ad with your name, and possibly your comment, in the “Meet hot singles in your area,” section of their Facebook page.

What can you do about it? Not a whole lot.

If you “Like” something branded, your friends may very well hear about it. As before,�you do have the option of controlling which Facebook friends show up in your newsfeed. So if you’ve got someone who “Likes” or checks in to brands to an annoying degree, there’s that. �

Oh, and you can also be “inappropriate” — not that you should.

“The way that the product is today, a check-in post will show up in the ad feed exactly as the user wrote it,” AdAge points out. “So if a user checks into Starbucks with, ‘I hate this place, but it’s the only coffee around’ then that’s exactly what the ‘ad’ turns out to be.”

Once Internet pranksters wrap their hive mind around this potential, “I hate this place,” will be the least of Starbuck’s worries. That’s why advertisers also have the option of only allowing “Likes” without comments on the “sponsored stories.”

via Technolog – Your Facebook ‘Likes’ are now paid ads.

Washington State Joins Movement For Public Banking by Ellen Brown

Bills were introduced on January 18 in both the House and Senate of the Washington State Legislature that add Washington to the growing number of states now actively moving to create public banking facilities.

The bills, House Bill 1320 and Senate Bill 5238, propose creation of a Washington Investment Trust (WIT) to “promote agriculture, education, community development, economic development, housing, and industry” by using “the resources of the people of Washington State within the state.”

Currently, all the state’s funds are deposited with Bank of America. HB 1320 proposes that, in the future, “all state funds be deposited in the Washington Investment Trust and be guaranteed by the state and used to promote the common good and public benefit of all the people and their businesses within [the] state.”

The legislation is similar to that now being studied or proposed in states including Illinois, Virginia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, Michigan, Oregon, California and others.

The effort in Washington state draws heavily on the success of the 92-year-old Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the only state-wide publicly owned U.S. bank. The BND has helped North Dakota escape the looming budgetary disaster facing other states. In 2009, North Dakota sported the largest budget surplus it had ever had.

The Wall Street Credit Crisis Is Crippling State and Municipal Governments

That state budget deficits are reaching crisis proportions was underscored in a January 19 New York Times article:

[A]lmost everywhere the fiscal crisis of states has grown more acute. Rainy day funds are drained, cities and towns have laid off more than 200,000 people, and Arizona even has leased out its state office building…

“It’s the time of the once unthinkable,” noted Lori Grange, deputy director of the Pew Center on the States. “Whether there are tax increases or dramatic cuts to education and vital services, the crisis is bad.”

via Washington State Joins Movement For Public Banking by Ellen Brown.

Chinas Moves To Acquire U.S. Based Banks – WSJ.com

CHICAGO—Chinas biggest bank signed an agreement that would make it the first Beijing-controlled financial institution to acquire retail bank branches in the U.S., though regulators could still block the deal.View Full ImageXinhua/ZUMA PressChinas Hu Jintao visited a Chicago school Friday.Under the deal, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., by some measures the worlds largest bank, agreed to acquire a majority stake in Bank of East Asia Ltd.s U.S. subsidiary. ICBC will pay $140 million for an 80% stake. Bank of East Asia, which is a publicly traded company based in Hong Kong, has a total of 13 branches in New York and California. ICBC and Bank of East Asia have talked to U.S. regulators about the deal, these people said. Chinas largest bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., is the first Chinese bank to acquire a U.S. deposit-taking bank. Ken Brown explains why it could be the start of big expansions by Chinese financial institutions in the U.S.The move represents what could be the start of big expansions by Chinese financial institutions in the U.S.

via Chinas ICBC Moves – WSJ.com.

Facebook Credits Now Mandatory … reports Techcrunch

From Techcrunch … Facebook Credits now mandatory …

Facebook is about to ruffle some feathers. We’re hearing from one source that the social network is reaching out to game developers to inform them that it is making its own, official Facebook Credits currency mandatory. Our understanding is that it will be the exclusive currency as well.

It’s a move that’s been a long time coming — there has been speculation that Facebook would do this for a year now, spurring plenty of angst in the developer community. But Facebook has taken things slowly.

Despite telling the community that it was still early for the Credits platform and that it was considering various options, Facebook also spent the last year working out deals with the biggest developers — like Zynga, Playdom, Playfish, and CrowdStar — to make sure they were on board with its Credits system. Now that the developers with serious leverage are taken care of, it’s time for everyone else to make the change.

Facebook’s argument is that Credits are good for users and developers alike. There’s a higher barrier to entry if a user has to pull out their wallet to buy a different currency every time they play a new game — using the same currency lowers this bar. It also means there’s less of a lock-in factor, and Facebook can do its part to educate and promote the use of Credits to get everyone used to paying real money for virtual goods.

Of course, Facebook gets something out of it: they take an industry-standard 30% cut whenever users purchase anything with Facebook Credits. That can add up to a lot of money — we’ve heard elsewhere that Zynga is paying Facebook around $30 million a month for its Credits tax.

This is about more than purple cows and gold coins, too — in the long run, Facebook has a strong incentive to maximize the number of users who are signed up for Credits. Right now the vast majority of Credits are spent on gaming, but it’s very likely that Facebook will eventually begin allowing third-party websites to offer a ‘Pay With Facebook’ option, and that may include everything from digital content to physical goods. The more credit cards Facebook has in its system, the more appealing this option will become, and the more publishers and retailers will be willing to pay that 30% fee.