Fire TV owners can now control Hulu, NBC, CBS and other video apps via their voice


Amazon Fire TV owners will now be able to control more video apps using Alexa and their voice, the company announced today. This feature lets you ask Alexa to “watch,” “play,” “pause,” “rewind,” “fast forward,” and more. It can also take you to an individual show, network, or specific genre of programming.

Before, Alexa could control Amazon’s own video content in this fashion. But now the same voice commands work with third-party apps like Hulu, NBC, Bravo, and others that quietly launched voice support last week, including Showtime, Sony PlayStation Vue, and CBS All Access.

Showtime Anytime will add the functionality soon, Amazon says.

Amazon had originally teased the expanded in-app video skills when it launched the new Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD in September, saying that Alexa would be able to pull up results from select video apps, like Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, Amazon Video and others.

To use the feature, you can say something like “Alexa, watch The Handmaid’s Tale, “Alexa, play The Good Place” or “Alexa, show me comedies on Showtime,” for example.

With the Alexa voice remote, users can navigate through content with commands like “play,” “next episode,” “last episode,” “start over,” “play from the beginning,” and more, or even change the channel using their voice (if supported).

Additionally, Echo owners can pair their Fire TV with their smart speaker to allow Alexa to control the video apps without the need for the voice remote.

The company has been working to make Alexa-powered apps more accessible to video providers for many months now. In June, Amazon announced a tool for developers of cable TV apps, streaming services, and other content providers that would let them add voice control to their apps.

Amazon says this set of partners is the first to debut the functionality, but others are expected to launch their own updated apps in the coming weeks and months.

Google Cloud brings in former Intel exec Diane Bryant as COO


There are now two Dianes running the show at Google Cloud. The company announced that Diane Bryant has been hired as the COO of the division. She joins Diane Greene, who came on board as Senior VP of Google Cloud in November 2015.

Greene appeared to be excited about the prospect of her joining the team. “I can’t think of a person with more relevant experience and talents. She is an engineer with tremendous business focus and an outstanding thirty-year career in technology,” Greene wrote in a company blog post announcing the appointment.

Google would not comment further beyond the blog post on the nature of her role or if Bryant would be reporting to Greene or vice versa.

Bryant, who is also on the Board of United Technologies, most recently ran Intel’s Data Center Group, which itself generated a whopping $17 billion in revenue last year. That experience with data center technology and her great success in generating big bucks at Intel could be one of the reasons Google Cloud brought her in.

The company is working to build its cloud business, which is languishing in fourth place behind IBM and Microsoft and well behind market leader AWS. In fact, two years after Greene joined the company to boost its enterprise credentials, it still has just single digit market share, according to data generated by Synergy Research.

While Google Cloud experienced huge growth in the 75 percent range in Q3 2017. So far, that hasn’t translated into much market share movement with AWS continuing to maintain its massive lead and Microsoft also growing more quickly.

Featured Image: Getty Images

Super Mario takes a sugar odyssey with a new breakfast cereal


The last time Mario had a breakfast cereal, he had to split the billing with Link. I bet that’s what it felt like being in the Beatles at the end. Flying high from a recent string of high profile titles — including Mario Run and Odyssey — the cartoon plumber is finally getting a cereal box to call his own, joining the elite ranks of Steve Urkel and Gizmo from Gremlins.

The Kellogg’s-made foodstuff looks to have a very Lucky Charms-esque vibr, with a mix of power-up marshmallows and cereal stars, flavored with something called a “blast of mixed berry.” All standard sugary breakfast cereal stuff, of course, but there’s a 2017 twist here, in the form of a box that doubles as an Amiibo accessory.

It’s basically on-box cheat code that unlocks gold coins and hearts in Mario’s new Nintendo Switch title. And from the looks of it, if you eat enough of the limited edition cereal, you’ll also unlock a trip to the dentist.

The cereal is set to hit store shelves in the U.S. “as early as” December 11. Meantime, let’s take a moment to appreciate how far video game-based artwork has come in the last 30 years.

GoFundMe drops 5% Platform Fee for U.S. personal campaigns, adds tips


GoFundMe, the popular fundraising juggernaut that now has 50 million users and has raised over $5 billion in funding for causes to date, is making an interesting change today that could see those numbers getting a boost — or at least help it fend off competition from other fundraising platforms like Facebook’s.

GoFundMe is dropping the five percent Platform Fee that it charges to individuals when they launch personal campaigns on the platform (in the U.S. only for now), and it will instead rely on optional tips to generate revenues from these campaigns.

GoFundMe said it is intentionally timing the change with the upcoming holiday season, although there is probably an eye to competition here: Facebook just yesterday announced that it was cutting the fees on its platform for campaigns from organisations, as a way of driving more organisations to using its platform over others for raising money. Personal campaigns, however, are still being charged a fee of between 6.9 percent and 8.8 percent on Facebook.

“The holidays are a time for giving and generosity. GoFundMe is always looking for ways to make fundraising  easier, faster, and more successful, and this time of year made perfect sense for introducing this pricing structure,” said Rob Solomon, GoFundMe CEO, in a statement. “From the beginning, our giving community has been incredibly generous. With this 0% platform fee, we will rely on voluntary tips from our donors to help with the costs associated with providing our best-in-class customer service, trust & safety protections, and social fundraising technology.”

The changes are coming at an interesting time for GoFundMe. As we have written before, the company has been growing by leaps and bounds for the last couple of years, most recently expanding into Europe and adding new features to the platform like video.

But underlying the company’s growth has always been a persistent question: is it  ethical or helpful to charge those in need (the theoretical premise of any GoFundMe campaign) a fee for the profit of GoFundMe itself? Now, in a sense, that question has been answered by GoFundMe removing that fee altogether, instead charging just for the processing that has a cost anyway.

The company has actually been tinkering with its Platform fees for a little while now: for example when the service launched in Europe, it was charging 7.9 percent per donation plus $.30 processing.

GoFundMe says that the donation or voluntary tip will appear in the form of a drop-down menu of percentages, plus the option of entering a custom amount.

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With the drop of the Platform Fee, donations in the U.S. to personal campaigns will still need to pay the standard 2.9 percent fees for payment processing (a charge to cover the costs charged by payment providers). Campaigns started by charities and any international campaigns still pay Platform Fees of five percent.

We asked, and GoFundMe would not specify whether it plans to keep the no-fee structure in place permanently, or just for the holidays; nor would it say whether it plans to expand the scheme outside the U.S.

“We can’t forecast the future, but this pricing structure is something we are excited to offer now,” the spokesperson said. “As always, we will be listening to our community and ensuring we can provide our renowned support, service and technology that makes us the most trusted brand for personal fundraising. We’ll be closely monitoring our community’s success with the new structure and evaluating as needed.”

To date, GoFundMe has not disclosed the total amount it has raised in venture funding, nor its valuation. The company counts Accel, Iconiq, TCV, Stripes and more among its investors.

FCC Commissioner Clyburn takes down Chairman’s net neutrality doom and gloom


Back in 2015, then-Commissioner of the FCC Ajit Pai submitted a lengthy paper detailing his reasons for voting against the incoming net neutrality rules. He made a lot of predictions about harm those rules would cause — predictions that, as fellow Commissioner Clyburn points out today, pretty much all failed to come true.

In a brief but to-the-point document posted to the FCC website, she lists a number of the Chairman’s apocalyptic predictions for how the new rules would allow price regulation, let the FCC tell ISPs what their service offerings should be, and of course eventually be struck down by the courts.

Needless to say, none of that happened. Here are a few examples:

Chairman Pai: Courts will not countenance this unlawful power grab.
False. The D.C. Circuit twice upheld the 2015 Order and rejected all of the statutory interpretation arguments Chairman Pai raised in his dissent (which he raises again in the draft Destroying Internet Freedom Order).

Chairman Pai: If an ISP wants to follow in the footsteps of Google Fiber and enter the market incrementally, the FCC may say no.
False. No broadband entry regulation has been imposed by the FCC.

Chairman Pai: The FCC’s forbearance from multiple provisions of Title II and regulations is temporary.
False. The FCC has not undone any forbearance granted in the Order.

Chairman Pai: There will be new broadband universal service fees assessed.
False. No new broadband universal service fees have been assessed.

Chairman Pai: Decisions about network architecture and design will no longer be in the hands of engineers but bureaucrats and lawyers.
False. Decisions about network architecture and design have remained firmly in the hands of
engineers. No FCC action has ever mandated Internet network design.

Ironically, that last prediction did in fact come true in a way, though not the way he expected. Pai’s own Restoring Internet Freedom order ignored hundreds of engineers who explained on the record that the bureaucrats and lawyers who wrote it fundamentally misunderstand network architecture and design.

You can read the rest of Commissioner Clyburn’s debunkings here, and our interview with her here.

Featured Image: MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Google Assistant can now help you find a plumber and other local services


Google Assistant is about to get a bit more home-savvy. The voice assistant will be gaining local discovery skills that will help you locate home services nearby. The company specifically detailed that Assistant would be gaining insights to help users locate “nearby services like an electrician, plumber, house cleaner and more.”

The blog post focused heavily on home services, though the move fits more broadly into Google’s broader strategy of helping Assistant cater results more locally for users. When it comes to real world stores and services that have yet to be app-disrupted, there’s still a long way for voice assistants to go.

The new functionality will be rolling out to U.S. users this week starting today and results will be screened in certain cities by Google and services like HomeAdvisor and Porch so you hopefully won’t end up with somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Voice assistants on display-less devices like Home fundamentally suck at concisely conveying choices, so Google making the first option the one you want to use is obviously incredibly important.

The updated functionality will be coming to Android phones, Google’s iOS Assistant app and smart devices like Home.

Facebook will temporarily disable a tool that lets advertisers exclude people of color


Facebook has been under fire for its practices and policies that enable advertisers to exclude “multicultural affinity” groups from the audiences they reach via the social network. Now, in light of a ProPublica investigation and pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, Facebook says it’s committed to taking a closer look at its advertising policies, its COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a letter to CBC Chairperson Cedric Richmond.

Until Facebook figures out how to ensure advertisers don’t use its tools in a discriminatory way, Facebook will temporarily disable the option that lets advertisers exclude multicultural affinity groups from their audience. As Sandberg wrote in her letter to the CBC, multicultural affinity groups “are made up of people whose activities on Facebook suggest they may be interested in ads related to the African American, Hispanic American, or Asian American communities.”

Multicultural marketing, Sandberg said in her letter, is common in the ad industry. There are “many legitimate uses for this kind of marketing,” she said, but there are also concerns that advertisers use Facebook to discriminate against people in the areas of housing, employment and credit loans.

“By allowing online advertisers to promote or market a community or home for the purpose of sale to select an ‘ethnic affinity’ as part of their advertising campaign, Facebook is complicit in promoting restrictive housing practices,” members of the CBC said last year.

Facebook said it will also take a look at how advertisers are using exclusion targeting across other “sensitive segments,” like ones that relate to members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.