Alexei Oreskovic Alexei Oreskovic's Profile Tue, 07 Apr 2015 04:30:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Groups urge U.S. FTC to investigate YouTube kids video app Tue, 07 Apr 2015 04:04:03 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A coalition of consumer and children advocacy groups plans to urge federal regulators to investigate a YouTube video app aimed at children that the groups say disregards long-established safeguards limiting advertising to young audiences.

The YouTube Kids app, which was released in February, blends video programming and ads in ways that deceive children and parents, according to the groups, which include the Center for Digital Democracy, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Consumers Union.

The groups will send a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday asking it to examine whether the app violates rules prohibiting unfair and deceptive marketing practices.

“The videos provided to children on YouTube Kids intermix commercial and other content in ways that are deceptive and unfair to children and would not be permitted to be shown on broadcast or cable television,” reads the letter.

Google Inc-owned YouTube, the world’s most popular video website, launched the app earlier this year to provide families with a version of its service that it said was safer and easier for kids to use. The selection of videos features in the app is limited to content that is appropriate for younger audiences, and the app features parental control settings that can restrict viewing time and Web search capabilities.

The critics’ letter said that YouTube’s Kids app, which it said is listed on the Apple iTunes store for children aged 5 and under, features several “branded channels” for companies such as fast-food company McDonald’s Corp and toymaker Mattel Inc’s Fisher-Price brand.

Those channels mix programing, such as a cartoon about a children’s character, with ads for toys based on the same character, a practice the groups said is not permitted on television.

While YouTube promised not to include food and beverage commercials in the app, the letter cites examples such as 30-second television ads for McDonald’s Happy Meals that is included among the videos on the fast-food company’s special “channel.”

The letter also said that YouTube does not make clear when the “user-generated videos” featured on the app, such as videos of children excitedly un-wrapping new toys, are in fact paid endorsements in which the creators of the video were compensated by toy companies or media companies.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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Silicon Valley start-up targets atypical market: the elderly Thu, 02 Apr 2015 13:04:03 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Young consumers are often the first audience that technology companies target with new gadgets and mobile apps. Now a Silicon Valley company, backed by a few big names on the Internet, is aiming at the elderly.

The Honor online service, which is being unveiled on Thursday, aims to make it easier for older people to get professional in-home care to help with everything from taking a bath to picking up groceries, according to the company.

Among the backers of Honor, which has raised $20 million in funding, are venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and investors such as Yelp Inc CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, former Apple Inc retail chief Ron Johnson and former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey.

“Silicon Valley traditionally doesn’t do much for seniors,” said Honor co-founder and Chief Executive Seth Sternberg, who sold the previous company he founded, social media service Meebo, to Google Inc in 2012.

“There’s a pervasive belief that anything tech for seniors will fail because seniors can’t use technology,” Sternberg said, noting that he believed such a view was a mistake.

Honor said its service matches customers with professional caregivers based on criteria such as languages spoken, specialized training and even allergies to cats.

An Honor smartphone app gives family members updates about the care a relative is receiving, such as when the caregiver arrived and left, and what activities they did. Elderly customers, meanwhile, get a small electronic appliance that displays information such as what time their caregiver is arriving each day. They can also use the device to provide feedback.

Unlike existing elderly homecare services, which typically require a 3-hour-a-day minimum of in-home care, Honor will allow customers to receive as little as 1 hour a day. And the professional caregivers on its service will be paid a minimum of $15 an hour, said Sternberg, adding that it was higher than the average pay most professional caregivers receive today.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Ted Botha)

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Yahoo, Microsoft extend search partnership talks for 30 days Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:33:33 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO, March 27 (Reuters) – Yahoo Inc and
Microsoft Corp agreed to extend by 30 days the deadline
to re-negotiate a ten year search deal, as the two Internet
companies attempt to revamp a thorny partnership crafted by
former chief executives.

The search partnership, which took effect in 2010, allowed
the companies to negotiate changes or to terminate the
arrangement entirely after five years. Under the terms of the
deal, the companies had 30 days to make changes following Feb.

According to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission on Friday, Yahoo and Microsoft mutually agreed to
extend that deadline to a 60-day period following Feb. 23.

“We value our partnership with Microsoft and continue
discussions about plans for the future. We have nothing further
to announce at this time,” Yahoo said in a statement.

Microsoft declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear if the extension signaled
progress or lack of consensus between Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

The announcement to extend the talks comes a few days after
Nadella’s mother passed away in Hyderabad, India, according to a
report in The Economic Times.

Yahoo and Microsoft began a 10-year search partnership in
2010, in a deal crafted by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
and former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. The two companies hoped their
combined efforts could mount a more competitive challenge to
Google Inc, the world’s No. 1 search engine.

The partnership has not lived up to expectations. Google
still controls roughly two-thirds of the U.S. search market,
while Microsoft and Yahoo’s combined share of the market is
essentially unchanged at roughly 30 percent.

Yahoo’s Mayer, who joined Yahoo in 2012 and who has been
critical of the deal in the past, tried to hold off on adopting
Microsoft search technology in certain markets in 2013. A court
ruled at the time that Yahoo must use Microsoft’s search

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Chris Reese)

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Facebook talks up need for virtual reality, big tech bets Thu, 26 Mar 2015 22:11:29 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Virtual reality, artificial intelligence and drones will enable Facebook Inc to create a more lifelike and useful social network, the company said in its clearest explanation so far for technology projects that have puzzled some investors and analysts.

Facebook executives made the case on Thursday, at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, that initiatives such as its $2 billion purchase of virtual reality headset maker Oculus last year, and the hiring of aerospace experts make sense for the 1.4-billion member social network.

While virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift suggest video games and entertainment, the gadgets could transform how people communicate on Facebook, they said.

Events such as a birthday party or a child’s first bike ride could be shared on Facebook so that users in different parts of the world felt as if they were taking part.

Facebook said the Oculus headset will be released “before long,” but did not provide a time frame.

“After thousands of demos we know we are just on the cusp, just getting there to get that sense of presence where for a moment your conscious brain is overruled by the subconscious that says, ‘You are not where you think you are,'” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said during his on-stage talk on the second day of the 2-day conference.

Facebook had never made clear its virtual reality plans, Vlada Bortnik, the founder of app-maker Happy Bits, said at the conference. “Their mission is to connect the world and VR teleports people into a different place.”

Facebook said it had recently conducted the first test flight of a solar-powered drone prototype. It is building drones that will fly at an altitude of up to 90,000 feet to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

Facebook and Google Inc are building Internet-beaming satellites and drones to connect billions of people who lack Internet access, as the companies compete to become the go-to online hub for consumers and marketers.

Facebook’s artificial intelligence group is already planning for the flood of new users by developing technology to help them cope with the surge in messages and photos on the social network.

“If we achieve our first goal, get everyone on the Internet, build services at scale for the entire planet, we create this new problem: so much information you can’t consume the stuff that’s important to you,” CTO Schroepfer said.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang)

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Facebook brings apps, businesses to Messenger service Wed, 25 Mar 2015 21:58:06 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) on Wednesday opened up its Messenger service for developers to create apps and for shoppers to communicate directly with retailers, as the Internet company seeks to expand its reach.

The new features mark Facebook’s latest effort to transform its mobile messaging service into a full-featured platform with the same pull with consumers and businesses as its flagship 1.4-billion user social network.

Facebook unveiled the new features at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, for the first time allowing developers to create apps that function inside the Messenger service used by more than 600 million people.

Messenger will feature more than 40 different apps in the next few days, allowing users to send each other sports clips, animations and other items, Facebook said. Among the first apps will be those from ESPN and The Weather Channel.

“This is just the first step toward creating better sharing experiences across this whole family of apps,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on stage at the conference.

Facebook has amassed a collection of mobile apps in recent years, including photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired for $19 billion in 2014. But the spotlight was on Messenger during the first day of the two-day event.

Facebook hopes to turn its messaging service into one that operates independently of the company’s social media network as it faces intensifying competition from Twitter Inc (TWTR.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Google Inc (GOOGL.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), as well as fast-growing messaging apps such as Snapchat and WeChat.

Facebook partnered with online retailers Zulily and Everlane to let consumers contact them directly on Messenger to change online orders, such as the color of a shirt, for example, and be notified when a purchase has shipped. The service will be available in a few weeks.

David Marcus, Facebook’s head of messaging products, said in an interview the service was likely to expand to businesses besides retailers.

Purchases can be made by sending a message, provided the store has the consumer’s payment information, Marcus said. But he declined to say whether Facebook might eventually process such retail purchases directly in Messenger.

The new Messenger apps are meant to improve conversations between users, Marcus said. The ESPN app offers short animated sports clips that fans can send to friends.

Facebook must pre-approve apps that seek to be integrated into its Messenger service, rather than downloaded separately. But any developer is free to add basic features that will make portions of their apps compatible with Messenger.

Marcus said the new features were not offered on its WhatsApp messaging service because that was accessed on a wide variety of mobile phones, including low-end devices which are not well suited for the new functions.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang)

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Google poaches Morgan Stanley’s CFO Tue, 24 Mar 2015 17:12:17 +0000 By Alexei Oreskovic and Lauren Tara LaCapra

(Reuters) – Google Inc said it hired Ruth Porat, chief financial officer at Morgan Stanley, as its own finance chief, a move signaling that the search engine company may be looking to bear down on fast growing expenses.

Google’s costs have jumped as the company embarked on an increasing number of ambitious projects including self-driving cars and internet-connected eyeglasses. Last year, the company’s revenue grew 19 percent, while total expenses rose 23.4 percent, a trend that alarmed some analysts.

“You want someone to come in there and push back against the free spenders,” said Colin Gillis, an equity research analyst at BGC Partners, a brokerage, adding that investors hope Porat will be that person. Google’s shares rose as much as 2.5 percent on Tuesday.

Porat has helped execute a sweeping cost-cutting strategy across several business lines at Morgan Stanley. Her efforts are expected to bear fruit in the coming years, and are already showing signs of success: the bank cut its expenses, excluding compensation, to 29 percent of its revenue last year, down from 34 percent in 2012.

Porat is the latest among a string of Wall Street executives to leave an industry that is increasingly regulated to move into the more free-wheeling technology sector, where fortunes can be built fast but businesses can also become irrelevant overnight.

Total compensation to Google’s departing CFO was twice as much as Porat’s for the three years through 2013 – $62.2 million vs $29.6 million, according to public filings by the companies. Google has not disclosed how much it expects to pay Porat.

She joined Morgan Stanley in 1987, and led Morgan Stanley’s investment banking business for tech companies during the Internet boom, working with Inc and eBay Inc, among others.

Later she ran the investment banking business for financial companies including banks, and during the financial crisis she became Morgan Stanley’s point person with regulators and other government officials in Washington.

Porat, 57, was considered a potential candidate to become chief executive whenever current CEO James Gorman steps down.

But several high-level Morgan Stanley sources who have spoken to Reuters about succession planning over the past two years said she was not seen as a top contender. Instead, they pointed to two other executives – Gregory Fleming, 52, who runs wealth management and asset management, and Colm Kelleher, 57, who runs investment banking and trading – as more likely contenders.

Some observers saw gender bias at play, given her qualifications and Wall Street’s history as a male-dominated industry. At an event last year, Porat criticized the lack of female leadership in corporate America as “an embarrassment.”

“If a woman ‘leans in,’ but is leaning against a door that is nailed shut, no amount of leaning will bust down the door,” she said. “So I think we must hold our organizations accountable where they control the doors by demanding clarity and transparency around succession planning.”

Critics have also accused Silicon Valley’s culture of being hostile to women. Ellen Pao, a former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is suing her firm for discrimination. The trial heads into final arguments on Tuesday.


In a blog post, Google said Porat will join the company on May 26. ( She will be at Morgan Stanley until the end of April, Gorman said in a memo to employees.

Porat joins an array of bankers, analysts, and other executives that have left Wall Street as strict post-crisis regulations have made the business safer and stodgier. Some of these executives have headed into the technology sector, including Anthony Noto, once an investment banker at Goldman Sachs Group Inc, who last year became CFO at Twitter Inc. In 2010, Mary Meeker, a widely followed tech analyst at Morgan Stanley, left the bank to join Kleiner Perkins.

Porat has ties to Silicon Valley, having spent much of her childhood in California and attended Stanford University, where she serves on the board of trustees.

She has spent time building her connections with Washington. During the financial crisis, she led the Morgan Stanley teams advising the U.S. Treasury on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the New York Federal Reserve Bank on American International Group Inc.

Those ties to Washington could have translated into a government post – she was widely reported to have been a candidate to be the Treasury deputy secretary, but said she was not interested.

Porat will replace Patrick Pichette at Google, who said on March 10 that he planned to retire.

At Morgan Stanley, Jonathan Pruzan, co-head of the bank’s global financial institutions group in investment banking, will become CFO. Pruzan, 46, joined Morgan Stanley in 1994.

“He understands the current regulatory environment, having shepherded clients through the Fed’s stress test …” Gorman said in a memo to staff.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco and Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York; Additional reporting by Amrutha Gayathri and Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Wilchins, Kirti Pandey and Grant McCool)

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Nearly 40 percent of iPhone owners interested in Apple Watch: poll Wed, 18 Mar 2015 18:40:11 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – About 40 percent of adult Apple iPhone owners in the United States are interested in buying the company’s new Apple Watch, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The high-tech smartwatch, which will range in price from $350 to $17,000 for an 18-karat gold model, is Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) first major new product in five years and consumer demand for the device is being closely watched by competitors and investors.

Owners of the iPhone are a particularly important market for Apple as it launches the new watch, which goes on sale April 24. Because the watch needs an iPhone to work fully, analysts say the most likely pool of initial buyers will already have an Apple smartphone in their pockets.

BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said that with more than 100 million active iPhone users in the United States and closer to half a billion globally, the survey was “pretty encouraging” for a product that has not been seen in shops, even if was unclear how much of the interest would translate into purchases.

Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andrew Hargreaves said it was not clear how many people wanted or needed a smartwatch. But he expected Apple’s cache and marketing might to deliver strong initial sales of the Apple Watch.

“Winning Apple customers is more realistic at this point,” said Hargreaves.

The watch allows users to check email, listen to music and make phone calls.

Ipsos surveyed 2,469 Americans aged 18 and older online between March 9 and March 17 and found that 24 percent expressed an interest in purchasing the Apple Watch, including 10 percent of those describing themselves as “very interested.” The data was weighted to reflect the U.S. population and has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Among the iPhone owners, 39 percent were interested in purchasing the Apple watch, including 17 percent describing themselves as very interested. There were 788 iPhone owners in the survey with a credibility interval of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Discussions about the watch have flooded online social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook since Apple held a splashy event in San Francisco on March 9 to showcase the watch.

Social media chatter about the Apple watch was 15 percent positive and 5 percent negative in the week following Apple’s event, according to an analysis that the firm Networked Insights conducted for Reuters. The remaining 80 percent was neutral. By contrast, the social conversation for Apple’s iPhone 6 during the same week was 5 percent positive and 0 percent negative, according to the analysis.

Among the conversations relating to the Apple watch during the one-week period, 5.8 percent of the comments showed an intent to purchase, according to Networked Insights, which analyzes tweets, public Facebook posts and other sources. Social comments about the iPhone 6, which has been on sale since September, showed a 2.9 percent purchase intent during the same week.

Apple is among several large tech companies looking to jumpstart a new market for “wearable” electronic devices. Samsung Electronics(005930.KS: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Sony Corp(6758.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and LG Electronics (066570.KS: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) have all released their own smartwatches, many of them powered by software developed by Internet company Google Inc (GOOGL.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).

More than half of iPhone users in the Reuters/Ipsos survey believe that a smartwatch in the near future will be an essential gadget that’s as common as the smartphone, whereas 44 percent a broader poll of U.S. adults felt that way.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic, editing by Peter Henderson and Bernard Orr)

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Google X boss says company should have curbed Glass hype Tue, 17 Mar 2015 20:46:04 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO, March 17 (Reuters) – Google Inc
was wrong to let expectations about its Glass wearable
gadget get overheated, the head of the Google X research lab
said on Tuesday.

The Internet company did not do enough to make clear that
the $1,500 computer that mounts to a pair of eyeglasses was
merely a prototype and not a finished product, Google’s Astro
Teller said during a talk at the South by Southwest Interactive
conference in Austin.

“We allowed and sometimes even encouraged too much attention
for the program,” said Teller, whose official title at Google is
Captain of Moonshots, during a talk that focused on how his
group has learned from some of its failures.

Google stopped selling Glass to consumers earlier this year,
noting that it was time for a “pause” and a strategy “reset.”
The company still sells Glass to businesses.

The device was greeted with enthusiasm among tech
aficionados when it was first unveiled in 2012. But Glass, which
allows users to access e-mail messages on its eye-level screen
and to record video with a tiny camera, quickly ran into
problems. Some mocked its awkward appearance, while others
expressed concern it could be used to make video recordings

Teller said the “bumps and scrapes” the company experienced
with Glass were “absolutely critical for informing the future of
Glass and wearables in general.”

He also discussed the learning benefits of setbacks in other
high-profile projects at the five-year-old Google X division,
including drones, solar-powered balloons and self-driving cars.

Google initially designed its autonomous cars so that human
drivers could take the controls when necessary but abruptly
changed course when the company concluded that such a set-up was
not safe enough, Teller said. Google’s current self-driving car
prototypes eliminate the steering wheel and brake pedal
entirely, putting the machine always in control.

The decision to make such a change was not easy, he said,
noting that the initial version of the company’s self-driving
modified Lexus SUVs had advanced to the point where the vehicles
could handle highway driving extremely well.

“We probably could have made a lot of money selling those,”
Teller said.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Google app store gets more oversight Tue, 17 Mar 2015 13:00:00 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO, March 17 (Reuters) – Google Inc
is tightening supervision of its freewheeling Play
store, forming a special team to screen new apps for malware and
sexually explicit material, and strengthening its age-based
rating system.

The change brings Google Play, a bazaar for digital games,
social media apps and entertainment software, closer to Apple
Inc’s tightly controlled App Store. But Google is not
adopting Apple’s practice of only approving apps that meet its
stringent quality standards.

The change underscores the growing importance of apps in the
success of the companies’ rival mobile gadgets. Google, whose
Android software runs most of the world’s smartphones, and the
iPhone and iPad maker each manage online hubs with more than one
million apps ranging from calendars to video games.

Google said in its official blog on Tuesday that its expert
team will screen each app submitted by developers to spot
earlier anything that runs afoul of its rules. Google had only
used automated technology for screening at the time of

The new process will not create bottlenecks, Google said in
a post, promising that approved apps will become available on
Google Play within “a matter of hours” after submission.

Apple does not disclose its app review period, but the
website puts the average wait time at seven
days for Apple’s App Store.

Developers must answer special questionnaires about their
apps to help independent ratings organizations assign age-based
ratings, Google said.

“We know that people in different countries have different
ideas about what content is appropriate for kids, teens and
adults, so today’s announcement will help developers better
label their apps for the right audience,” Google said in the
blog post.

As of May, apps submitted without the questionnaire will not
be published in Google Play, and existing apps that do not seek
a rating could be blocked in certain markets or for certain
users, Google said. Until now, Google has let developers rate
their own apps using a system created by Google.

Google, whose Android software runs most of the world’s
smartphones, and Apple each manage online hubs with more than
one million apps ranging from calendars to video games.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang)

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Facebook clarifies rules on banned content Mon, 16 Mar 2015 17:30:36 +0000 By Alexei Oreskovic

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc clarified its rules banning certain content from its social network, as the Internet company strives to curb controversial posts such as support for violent militant groups and nudity without damaging its status as a global hub for users to share information.

The 1.39 billion-member social network updated its “community standards” late Sunday, providing specific examples of content prohibited under its general rules against direct threats, hate speech and criminal activity.

While Facebook has long forbidden groups it deems to be terrorist organizations from posting content on its service, the company specified that it will remove content that expresses support for such groups or praises their leaders.

Facebook also made clear that images “shared in revenge or without permission,” often referred to as “revenge porn,” are forbidden. But photos of women breastfeeding, post-mastectomy scarring and images of paintings and sculptures with nude figures are permissible.

The clarification comes as social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter Inc grapple with self-regulating technology that is as easily used for harassment and online bullying as it is for sharing sports videos and news articles.

“Having a voice is not some absolute state. It’s not the case that you either have a voice or you don’t,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on his Facebook page on Sunday.

Zuckerberg said Facebook was not actually changing any of its policies or standards, but merely providing more guidance.

“People rightfully want to know what content we will take down, what controversial content we’ll leave up, and why,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Images of graphic violence and nudity have long been problematic for Facebook.

In 2013, Facebook said it would use a broader set of criteria to determine when gory videos are permitted on the site after a video of a masked man beheading a woman in Mexico prompted an outcry. The company has also been criticized for allowing pages that glorify violence against women.

Militant groups such as Islamic State have increasingly used social media to spread their message.

Facebook also said on Sunday that it recorded a slight increase in government requests for account data in the second half of 2014.

Requests for account data increased to 35,051 in the second half of 2014 from 34,946 in the first half, with requests from countries such as India rising and those from others, including the United States and Germany, falling. (

(Additional reporting by Shivam Srivastava and Supriya Kurane in Bengaluru; Editing by Anupama Dwivedi and Jonathan Oatis)

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