Amazon reportedly knows its Prime sign-up process is bad. It doesn't care. – Protocol

Amazon reportedly knows its Prime sign-up process is bad. It doesn't care. – Protocol

Amazon has caught the attention of the FTC for its misleading and confusing tactics.
Amazon has caught flack for its confusing Prime sign-up and cancellation process.
Some Amazon customers have complained that they’ve been tricked into signing up for Amazon Prime. For Amazon, that’s a feature, not a bug, according to documents obtained by Insider.
The documents show that Amazon has been aware of complaints that the sign-up language for its Prime membership, which now costs $139 per year, has been confusing since 2017, despite internal concerns and discussions about clarifying it. No changes have been made due to the company’s worries that subscription sign-up rates would drop if the sign-up and cancellation processes were more clear.
Amazon is using a design tactic known as “dark patterns,” which manipulate customers into signing up for things they may not want using misleading and vague offers. Those patterns include fine print, oversized “accept” buttons and, yes, Amazon’s “Get FREE Two-Day Delivery with Prime” button. That button automatically enrolls users in a free Prime trial, which later converts to a paid one.

Though Amazon considered changes to address these issues, Insider reported that those changes resulted in a drop in subscription growth when tested, so the changes were nixed by executives.
Some Amazon employees were concerned about catching the eye of the Federal Trade Commission, which has looked into Amazon’s Prime subscriptions in recent years. The agency has reportedly investigated the deceptive patterns Amazon uses in its subscription sign-ups, as well as whether or not Amazon leadership is involved, but it is unclear whether or not the investigation is ongoing, Insider reported.
“Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us,” Jamil Ghani, VP of Amazon Prime, said in a statement to Protocol. “By design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience.”
Amazon has also caught flack for its confusing cancellation process, with several groups filing complaints with the FTC about it last year. Internal documents found that the cancellation maze was actually intentional: In a project called “Iliad” in 2017, Amazon added multiple questions and offers that users needed to go through before actually getting to cancel their subscriptions, according to Insider.
“Digital deception should not be a viable business model, and the FTC has a responsibility to curb unfair or deceptive practices deployed to subvert and confuse consumers who intend to terminate an online service,” a complaint on the matter filed by nonprofit Public Citizen last year reads.
Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.
Apple and Epic Games are back at it: This time, Apple is urging a federal appeals court to uphold the company’s victory against the gaming company. Epic is appealing the original decision, which for the most part sided with Apple, claiming that the iPhone maker’s App Store is a monopoly. Apple on Thursday said that claim is “unfounded.”
Apple and Epic have been at war over the former’s App Store commission model since 2020, when Epic launched a third-party app store and began offering Fortnite players discounts to use the direct-payment workaround as a way to avoid Apple’s 30% cut of in-app purchases. That legal battle mostly ended in Apple’s favor last September, with one caveat: A judge decided that Apple’s ban on links to third-party payment options in iOS apps was anticompetitive. The company won a stay on that ruling and has not yet been forced to allow developers to link out to alternative payment platforms.

The battle has on several occasions left the courtroom and entered the public forum. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney called for a singular app store that would work on all operating systems in November, for example, arguing that “Apple must be stopped.” Other companies, including Spotify, Tile and Match, have also accused Apple of anticompetitive behavior.
Epic also took aim at Google over its Play Store policies, but Google this week announced plans to pilot third-party payment options on Android, starting with Spotify.
In the Netherlands, where Apple is now being forced to allow alternative payments, the company is levying a 27% fee on developers who choose to use third-party billing. Those developers are also required to create new versions of their apps for approval in the iOS App Store. The company has been fined multiple times for what Dutch authorities say is noncompliance with antitrust laws, but it doesn’t seem to care much.
In Europe, where regulators just agreed on rules that would force tech giants to open up their ecosystems, Apple may be required to allow third-party billing options, along with the ability to side-load apps outside of the iOS App Store. When the Digital Markets Act takes effect, which is expected to happen in 2023, Apple will also have to start opening up iMessage to work with other messaging apps. If those rules inspire U.S. lawmakers to enact similarly strict legislation, Epic Games will be the least of Apple’s worries.
In the meantime, the Apple v. Epic appeals process is expected to continue into next year. According to the Wall Street Journal, 35 state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department have filed briefs in support of Epic’s appeal.
It’s payday for a lucky group of Apple engineers. Bloomberg reported on Friday that Apple is paying what some are calling six-figure “special retention grants” intended to keep a small number of hardware and software engineers from leaving the company.
The bonuses, anonymous sources told Bloomberg, are worth between $100,000 and more than $200,000 in restricted stock units that vest over several years, providing another incentive for engineers to stay at Apple. Apple couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Apple gave out a larger round of stock bonuses of up to $180,000 in December, according to Bloomberg. The beneficiaries reportedly included hardware engineers working on virtual and augmented reality headsets. Others were in Apple’s custom chip design group, which has reportedly seen some turnover as Meta has staffed up for engineers to work on metaverse projects.
The bonuses show the level of insecurity that some of the top-paying companies in the industry feel in this tight market for tech talent. (Even Google employees are feeling unhappy with their compensation.)

With inflation and employee angst about having to return to the office — which Apple employees will need to do three days a week starting by May — Apple and other tech giants are throwing more and more money at employees to retain them.
In the last few months, Alphabet has adopted a new cash bonus plan that allows employee bonuses “of nearly any size for nearly any reason,” The Wall Street Journal reported last month, and Amazon has raised its cash-pay cap from $160,000 to $350,000, according to The New York Times.
Workers at BDS Connected Solutions, a contractor for Alphabet’s Google Fiber internet service, have successfully unionized, the National Labor Relations Board announced on Friday. The contractors, who won union rights with a 9-1 vote, are the first Google Fiber workers to successfully unionize, as well as the Alphabet Workers Union’s first recognized bargaining unit.
The win follows a months-long effort and “a continuous union-busting effort from management,” according to the NLRB. The unit will be represented by Alphabet Workers Union-CWA local 1400, part of Communications Workers of America, and covers retail workers at several Google Fiber retail locations in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Our campaign faced many efforts to discourage us from exercising our right to a collective voice on the job,” Eris Derickson, a retail employee of BDS Connected Solutions and Google Fiber, said in a statement.Yet it was always clear to all of us that together we can positively shape our working conditions to ensure we all have access to the quality pay, benefits and protections we have earned.”

The group first sought union recognition in early January, filing a petition that sought to negotiate for rights with both BDS Connected Solutions and Alphabet. The group claimed that Alphabet is a “joint employer,” as it oversees the employees enough to be liable for their treatment. The win provides leverage to these workers to bargain for the same rights and treatment that Google’s full-time employees receive.
The Alphabet Workers Union was founded in early 2021, and hadn’t previously sought formal recognition. The win forces Alphabet to recognize the 800-member workers union, and could represent the first step for Google to be recognized as a joint employer for the vast amount of contract and temporary workers that are part of its workforce.
“It has been incredible to watch AWU-CWA continue to strengthen their ranks by strengthening the organizing partnership between both full time and temporary, vendor and contract workers at Google,” Don Trementozzi, president of Communications Workers of America local 1400, said in a statement. “We are honored to welcome these workers into our union as they continue to transform the landscape for temporary, vendor, contractor and full time workers at Google.”
Google responded to the unionization vote on Friday: “We have many contracts with both unionized and non-union suppliers, and respect their employees’ right to choose whether or not to join a union,” a spokesperson told Protocol. “The decision of these contractors to join the Communications Workers of America is a matter between the workers and their employer, BDS Solutions Group.”
WhatsApp and Telegram are two of the last social media apps remaining in Russia. And while the odds that the Kremlin cracks down on them are unlikely, it’s not impossible.
After Facebook parent company Meta said it would allow posts calling for violence against Russian soldiers, the country blocked access to both Facebook and Instagram. A Russian court later declared Meta guilty of “extremist” activities. Twitter has also been soft blocked in the country. Now, WhatsApp and Telegram are two of the last apps standing.
As of August 2021, around 38 million Russians were using Telegram, while close to 77 million Russians were on WhatsApp, according to data from Statista. Those numbers are presumably much higher in the wake of Instagram and Facebook’s ban. WhatsApp likely hasn’t been banned yet due to its popularity: It’s the most widely-used messaging app in the country, and Russians don’t really have an alternative to the platform (although the country is reportedly trying to make ICQ messenger a thing again). Russia more notably doesn’t seem too concerned about people using WhatsApp for mass communication or information gathering. When a Russian court declared Meta “extremist,” it said: “The decision does not apply to the activities of Meta’s messenger WhatsApp, due to its lack of functionality for the public dissemination of information.”

Russia’s intention to block platforms used for mass communication means that WhatsApp is pretty much at the bottom of the priority list for a potential ban, according to Eva Galperin, the director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. If Russia did decide to ban another platform, Telegram would likely be first on the chopping block. It’s gotten way more internet traffic than WhatsApp in recent weeks (although more people use WhatsApp overall), and it offers public-facing channels that allow for mass communication. But Galperin said a ban on Telegram probably won’t happen either, because it’s being used by Kremlin-backed accounts.
“This is just not very high on Russia’s list of priorities; they’ve got a whole bunch of other stuff to block first,” Galperin said, pointing to Twitter and censorship circumvention technologies.
Telegram’s complicated history with the Russian government is another reason why it’s likely to stick around. Russia banned Telegram in 2018 after the platform refused to hand over its encryption keys, which the country argued were needed to monitor potential terrorist activity. It took Telegram to court over the issue, but the ban was lifted two years later after Telegram expressed “willingness” to help the country fight terrorism and extremism.
“There are all kinds of speculations and rumors circulating about Telegram cooperating with the Russian government and giving them data,” said Natalia Krapiva, a tech-legal counsel at civil rights nonprofit Access Now. The group published an open letter to Telegram in December calling on the platform to create better safety measures, like implementing end-to-end encryption by default to protect human rights leaders.
“And that’s why Telegram will not be touched,” Krapiva said. She added that Telegram’s chats also aren’t end-to-end encrypted by default, which has led to speculation that the Russian government could press Telegram to hand over available user information.

With Telegram being widely used by Russian citizens, government officials and news organizations alike, there could be more room for a platform like WhatsApp to slide under the radar for users to speak out against the Russian government, Krapiva said. Take Lebanon as an example: When the country approved a tax hike on the platform in 2019, one protester noted that WhatsApp is their only way to “vent our frustrations.” In Sudan, the platform emerged as a way for people to voice their dissent against their government.
The Russian government doesn’t like that kind of resistance, and it’s arresting anyone who tries to pick a fight. A law in Russia that went into effect earlier this month made independent war reporting and protests against the war illegal. Thousands of people in Russia have been arrested for anti-war actions, according to OVD-Info.
If Russian officials pick up on the fact that people are using WhatsApp to speak out against the country, Krapiva said that could also lead the country to cut off access to the platform. But again, that’s unlikely to happen because Russians mostly use WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family and seek privacy — not to organize uprisings.
“That public organizing has now been largely extinguished, so you cannot really openly call people for protests,” Krapiva said. “Now, we are seeing more and more informal organizing happening. If the government sees more evidence of those kinds of organizing activities happening quietly on these platforms, that might give them a reason to go after [WhatsApp].”
Russia could always choose to ban both WhatsApp and Telegram, regardless of its current reasons for allowing them. The country is moving toward a so-called “splinternet,” which refers to Russia’s increased digital distance from the rest of the world, faster than ever. Alena Epifanova, a research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said Russia would only do away with more platforms if the war escalates.
“I can imagine they will shut off everything that they can’t control,” Epifanova told Protocol.

Under the European Union’s new Digital Markets Act proposal, Apple and Google face far-reaching competition regulations that are designed to remake how they operate. The companies are, as you might expect, not pleased.
Apple said the DMA “will create unnecessary privacy and security vulnerabilities for our users,” according to the Financial Times, while Google said the new “rules could reduce innovation and the choice available to Europeans.”
The DMA, which was revealed on Thursday, is poised to force Apple to open up iMessage, its locked-down messaging platform, to receive texts and files from smaller rivals in the messaging space. The new rules would also force Apple to allow side-loading of iPhone apps outside of the iOS App Store and to allow developers to accept payments outside of it. The new rules extend beyond Apple: The EU will also force Google to ensure that customers can choose rival search engines, browsers and digital assistants, and the measure targets Amazon and Meta as well. Meta’s messaging platform, WhatsApp, will also have to become interoperable with other messaging apps. Companies found to be violating the rules after they go into effect could face fines of up to 20% of their global revenue.

Needless to say, the tech giants are not happy about the legislation, which has been in development for more than a year, and fought fiercely against it. The pushback echoed companies’ earlier criticisms of would-be antitrust reforms and lawsuits, particularly in the U.S.
Apple, for instance, has said that keeping other app stores off the iPhone helps protect users from malicious apps, and that its billing system allows it to take a commission that rewards its investments. It’s made the arguments in litigation against Epic Games, and in response to U.S. Senate bills.
The DMA still requires final passage, but approval from the European government is viewed as a formality.
Moderating content on social media platforms is key to mitigating the spread of everything from conspiracy theories to horrific photos and videos of mass violence. Companies like Facebook use a combination of tools to search out and remove posts that violate their rules, including AI and human content moderators.
TikTok, like Facebook, employs humans to view and take down problematic posts. On Thursday, two former content moderators filed a federal lawsuit against the company for negligence and a lack of protection for workers against emotional trauma. They are seeking class-action status.
The two women behind the suit, Ashley Velez and Reece Young, both worked as TikTok moderators on contract through third-party companies, but claimed TikTok controlled the rules of their work day-to-day. They also alleged that the videos and photos they were forced to review, combined with strict schedules, consistent 12-hour days and aggressive quotas, left them traumatized.
The allegations echo claims in a lawsuit that Facebook (now Meta) settled for $52 million in May 2020. In that case, 11,250 moderators accused the company of similar abuses. The experiences these workers describe sound ghastly: One of the women suing TikTok recalled watching videos of children being abused, for example. Moderators in the Facebook suit referenced watching videos of suicide.

But relying solely on AI to censor content is also an imperfect solution. AI models are more likely to censor tweets authored by Black people, one study showed. Indigenous activists say they’ve been censored by racially biased algorithms, too. The known potential for bias also allows content-moderating algorithms to be more easily politicized, inflamed by national polarization so that different social media platforms become known as left- or right-wing. TikTok creators complain of getting their content removed for the wrong reasons so often, entire how-to videos and articles are dedicated to learning ways to appeal the decision.
TikTok is known for providing its content moderators better pay and benefits than many of its competitors, and has been on a hiring spree to bring content moderation in-house. The lawsuit filed by contractors indicates that perhaps that move was a good one. But TikTok must both figure out how to better protect its content moderators and keep its moderation strategy agile, proactive and accurate to succeed.
Sony has been quietly working on its own version of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription platform, and now the PlayStation-maker may launch it as soon as next week, according to a new report from Bloomberg.
The service, codenamed Project Spartacus, has been in the works for an undetermined amount of time, and we know only of its existence from a separate Bloomberg story from December outlining how Sony intends to combine its PlayStation Plus membership program with its PlayStation Now cloud gaming platform. The combined offering, which will be available in various pricing tiers, will contain an assortment of games and, at the highest tier, the ability to stream those games on non-PlayStation devices.
Sony’s willingness to expand its subscription offerings is evidence of the changing tides in the game industry, which is transitioning away from prioritizing unit sales of games and shifting toward live service gaming that monetizes software over months and years through microtransactions. Subscriptions and live service gaming are now proving to be fast-growing pillars of the ever-changing game market, and Sony’s primary competitor Microsoft is leading the charge.

While narrative single-player games and indie titles remain popular, Microsoft has outlined a bold vision for how to package and sell those games more effectively as a subscription platform, similar in many ways to Netflix. Additionally, Microsoft is now combining that offering with its cloud gaming platform to let players access games on mobile devices, laptops and tablets instead of just through a TV or computer monitor. Sony is now feeling pressure to compete lest it risk falling behind, and it intends to do so with Spartacus.
One thing reports have made clear in the past few months is that Sony does not intend to try to match Xbox Game Pass on first-party releases. Microsoft has grown its subscription platform to more than 25 million subscribers due to both the quantity of games available on the service and the fact that brand-new $60 and $70 titles made by Microsoft’s various studios release on Game Pass the same day they’re made available at retail. That makes Game Pass, which ranges in price from $10 to $15 per month, an extremely appealing offering if a consumer wants to play, for instance, the newest Halo game or Forza Horizon title.
Sony reportedly doesn’t plan to do the same with existing new releases like Horizon Forbidden West, which released last month, or upcoming ones like God of War Ragnarök, according to Bloomberg, likely out of fear that releasing those games onto its subscription platform might hurt long-term retail sales. That may put it at a severe disadvantage when competing with Game Pass.
The U.K. is doubling down on electric vehicle charging stations. Well, more than doubling down. The country plans to up the number of charge points to 300,000 by the end of the decade as part of its $2.1 billion strategy to bring EV infrastructure to the masses.
The latest push to add EV charging stations builds on a previously announced fund that set aside $1.25 billion for building out a network on England’s motorways by 2035. At the end of February, just over 400,000 EVs were on the roads in the U.K., while only about 29,600 charge points were available.
With extra funding, the U.K. plans to build more charger hubs and on-street chargers. Some of the new funding will help install these charging points, while a smaller portion will be used to upskill and hire staff who can maintain the growing network. The U.K.’s new objective will also help prepare it for 2030, when it’s set to ban the sale of cars with gas and diesel engines.

“No matter where you live, be that a city center or rural village, the north, south, east or west of the country, we’re powering up the switch to electric and ensuring no one gets left behind in the process,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.
The Department for Transport doesn’t seem too concerned about rising EV prices. Tesla, Rivian and other EV manufacturers have needed to increase the prices of their vehicles in recent weeks as the price of nickel — a key material for producing EV batteries — soared. Tesla also said it needed to bump prices across its entire range between 5% and 10% due to inflation. Despite that, the cost of ownership of an EV works out in the long run for drivers, according to the department.
“EVs still benefit from lower fuel, running and maintenance costs than their petrol and diesel equivalents and the strategy hopes to encourage drivers across the nation to make the switch,” the department said in a statement, adding that it expects production costs to drop eventually.
The U.K. isn’t alone in its EV charging network ambitions. The U.S. has set a goal of installing 500,000 charging stations by 2030. The Biden administration set aside $5 billion for every state, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., earlier this year to build an EV charging network that would ensure no one was ever more than 50 miles from a station. The aim is to reduce anxiety around finding chargers and speed up EV adoption. We’ll know more about what states want to do with that money in August, when governments need to submit a plan.
Some companies are also getting into the EV charging network game. Starbucks (yes, Starbucks) is working with Volvo to create an EV charging network, and Porsche is building its own exclusive charging network. And a public charging network could be on the way soon in the U.S., complete with charging stations you may actually want to spend time at.
U.S. and EU leaders announced Friday morning they’ve come to “an agreement in principle on a new framework” that would seek to give companies moving data between two continents comfort that they’re complying with divergent approaches to privacy.
Details on the plan are sparse, and a key privacy advocate is already threatening to challenge the new framework in court, but tech companies are nonetheless celebrating the announcement because of the anxieties they’ve had since Europe’s top court struck down the prior framework in 2020. That decision invalidated the so-called Privacy Shield framework, as the court held that it did not sufficiently protect users in Europe from far-reaching U.S. surveillance law. The ruling set off a scramble by thousands of companies, which suddenly had to deal with concerns that data flows representing vast sums of commerce rested on a shaky legal foundation.
President Joe Biden and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the agreement together, but did not give specifics on it.

“This will enable predictable and trustworthy data flows between the EU and U.S., safeguarding privacy and civil liberties,” von der Leyen said, adding only that the agreement would “balance security and the right to privacy and data protection.”
Biden said the framework would “help facilitate $7.1 trillion in economic relationships” between the U.S. and EU.
The deal would actually represent the third attempt to smooth the differences in data-protection rights between the U.S. and Europe. European courts nullified both of the prior two agreements — Safe Harbor, which held from 2000 to 2015, and Privacy Shield, which began in 2016 — over concerns that U.S. government surveillance meant the deals could not protect the data of EU citizens sufficiently to comply with the bloc’s laws.
Max Schrems, the privacy campaigner whose lawsuits eventually led to the demise of the previous two deals, said in a tweet that the newest agreement would likely “fail again.” He added in a written statement that his group could get the new framework back in front of the EU’s top court “within a matter of months.”
European regulators on Thursday revealed their plan to rein in the anti-competitive practices of Big Tech and fundamentally remake how some of the world’s most powerful companies do business. The rules, which target tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Meta and Google, are far-reaching and would have huge ramification for those companies’ software and services.
The Digital Markets Act, which on Thursday was agreed to by European Union authorities, establishes new rules to govern the behavior of tech’s “gatekeepers” — most of them U.S. companies — through measures like forcing the largest messaging apps to exchange texts, video or files with smaller players. Apple’s iMessage and Meta’s WhatsApp in particular would have to open their long-closed ecosystems, making them interoperable with other messaging apps.
The agreement also signals huge headaches for Google in its prohibition on “combining personal data for targeted advertising” without explicit consent, and the DMA’s reported bans on platforms giving a leg up to their own offerings could force major changes at Amazon. Many companies get hit by multiple provisions: Apple, for instance, will also need to contend with a reported requirement to allow side-loading of apps outside of its App Store, something it’s spent years fighting internationally.

The changes may not be limited to Europe either. The bloc has a history of moving first and most aggressively on tech regulation, as it did on privacy with GDPR. Other jurisdictions have often followed and, even when they didn’t, companies discovered it was easier to roll out many of their new business practices across the globe.
“The agreement ushers in a new era of tech regulation worldwide,” Andreas Schwab, a member of the European Parliament who helped lead the negotiations between the EU’s various bodies, said in an announcement of the agreement. He said the DMA “puts an end to the ever-increasing dominance of Big Tech companies.”
The tech giants in turn have dismissed the rules, which have been in development for more than a year, as an attack on U.S. companies that tips the scales toward less innovative rivals.
The measure still needs a final vote from the European Parliament and Council, but their approval is all but assured. The agreement applies to services that existing case-by-case competition enforcement have found are “most prone to unfair business practices, such as social networks or search engines,” as well as browsers and messengers. It focuses on companies worth over about $83 billion (75 billion euros).
First-time offenses can result in fines of 10% of global turnover; for repeated infringements, the penalties can be twice that.
SAN FRANCISCO — Josh Wardle never set out to make a viral game. In fact, he doesn’t really consider his creation that much of a game at all, or himself a game developer. Speaking at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the software engineer and artist reiterated that he made Wordle for his partner as a private exercise they could engage with together every day during the pandemic, based in part on crosswords and The New York Times’ Spelling Bee and drawing direct inspiration from the classic Mastermind board game.
“In fact, I don’t think of myself as a game developer at all,” Wardle, whose other famous viral sensation includes Reddit’s The Button and Place social experiments, told the crowd. “When you think about like viral, exciting games, you don’t think about word games, which is kind of sad to me. I love words, I love language.”
Wardle’s online handle, and the name of his personal website on which Wordle was hosted before it was acquired by The New York Times, is “powerlanguage.” Despite his humble intentions, Wordle has become one of the biggest games of the year, reviving the word game genre and spawning countless spinoffs in the process.

Wardle told the story of the game’s origin, which traces back to 2013 when he was experimenting with word games and Android app development. The original Wordle featured endless play and a much larger word bank encompassing the English language’s roughly 13,000 five-letter word list. But as he workshopped the experience with his partner, for whom he originally set out to make the game, he decided to whittle down the list. And then he dropped the idea, he said, for six whole years.
He picked the game back up during the pandemic and polished it up, deciding to make a number of counterintuitive choices — not deliberately, he insisted — that ultimately led to its organic, viral success. The first is that he decided the game would only let you play once a day. Wardle said the entire Wordle game exists as a 63KB JavaScript file that loaded in entirety every time you visited the webpage, meaning players could see the whole word bank and even forecast what words would be chosen every day for the next five years.
The other unorthodox choices he made were making it a website instead of a mobile app — a decision he said was because he knew web development but sucked at making mobile apps — and giving it a hard-to-remember URL. He also chose not to monetize it any way.
“My partner and I played this together for about six months,” Wardle said. “So it was on my personal website from January to June, and it was public website but no one was playing. I hadn’t told anyone about it.”
Everything began to change when the game expanded to Wardle’s family members, friends and eventually far-flung locations like New Zealand. Soon, the game was picking up steam. Wardle recounted the sheer absurdity of its meteoric rise, with celebrities picking it up and scores of alternative versions, Wordle clones on mobile app stores and all manner of news stories about the game being played all over the planet.

Eventually, Wardle said he began to feel immense pressure about managing the game and what to do with it in the future, so he sold it The New York Times.
“I made this game, but I had no interest in running a game business. Basically, I think of myself as an artist, I really enjoy creating things. Running a gaming business is not interesting to me,” he said. “And I think I think that for some people, it [would have been] different. But for me, this was really clear.” Wardle added that he thinks The New York Times will be a good steward for the game going forward.
Wardle said that beyond all the game development faux pas and unintended quaintness that led to Wordle’s success, he feels that it was the social connections it has powered among family and friends that made it such a sensation.
“What really struck me is that right now we are more connected than ever, but people want for connection,” he said. “Wordle became this really lightweight way to check in with friends and family and tell them you love them without using big heavy words like, ‘I love you.’”
Netflix continues to staff up for its expansion into gaming: The company announced Thursday that it has acquired Boss Fight Entertainment, a game studio led by former Zynga executives. Boss Fight reportedly employs 130 people, and Netflix said that the studio will continue to operate out of its offices in Dallas, Austin and Seattle. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Boss Fight was founded in 2013 and has since published just one mobile game, Dungeon Boss. The studio is being led by three former Zynga executives who all worked on the casual game giant’s CastleVille title.
Oil and gas giant Exxon is taking tentative steps in a new direction. No, it’s not winding down fossil fuel extraction, which needs to be done, fast. Rather, the company is reportedly piloting a project to divert methane gas that would be flared and using it to mine cryptocurrency.
According to Bloomberg, Exxon has inked an agreement with Crusoe Energy Systems to use gas flared at some of a North Dakota oil drilling site to power mobile generators that keep servers mining bitcoin running. The pilot project launched in January 2021 and was expanded last July. Exxon is reportedly considering launching similar pilot projects in Alaska, Nigeria, Argentina, Guyana and Germany.
The entire mission of Crusoe is to “align the future of computation with the future of the climate,” by avoiding wasted methane gas inherent to routine flaring. It is backed by tech investor stalwarts like Bain Capital, the Winklevoss twins and Valor Equity Partners; the latter was the first institutional investor in Tesla.

The 18 million cubic feet of gas per month that the project utilizes otherwise would have been flared, i.e. burned off and sent straight into the atmosphere with no real use. This waste gas is comprised mainly of methane, a super-polluting greenhouse gas that’s about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Crusoe has 20 portable engines permitted in North Dakota, per the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.
To be clear, the methane gas is still burned. It’s just powering a crypto mining operation instead of getting dumped straight into the atmosphere. That’s at least putting it to use, though whether it’s being put to good use is another matter. While I suppose any sort of use case is better than nothing, I would be a lot happier if we could stop devoting energy — in huge quantities — to something so utterly absent from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Bitcoin mining could also be a fossil fuel industry lifeline, providing a new source of revenue that can keep oil and gas flowing at a time when, as I have already pointed out, we absolutely should not be keeping the oil and gas flowing if we value a habitable climate.
While Exxon would not confirm the project’s existence on the record, spokeswoman Sarah Nordin said in an email to Bloomberg that the company continuously explores “emerging technologies aimed at reducing flaring volumes.” Of course, the best emerging technologies we have to reduce flaring are wind turbines, solar panels and other zero-carbon forms of energy. You know, technologies that would help ensure we no longer extract fossil fuels in the first place.
Searching for high-quality reviews of a product you want to buy — a phone, for instance, or a mattress — requires wading through a minefield of useless content. Some review sites forego actually testing out products in favor of aggregating Amazon user reviews or using other low-quality methodology to get some Google juice.
Well, that’s about to end. Google is changing up which kinds of product reviews show up in search results, announcing Wednesday that product reviews will have to meet certain criteria to be pushed higher up in search.
The criteria for product reviews to be prioritized in search results is strict. Google software engineer Perry Liu said in a blog post that reviews need to include in-depth details (such as pros and cons of specific products), be written by people who actually have used the product, include information “beyond what the manufacturer provides” (i.e. videos or photos) and cover products like it to explain what sets it apart.

“Our work to improve product reviews will continue, including expanding these updates to more languages beyond English,” Liu said in the announcement. “Ultimately, our goal is to help people find trustworthy, reliable advice when they come to Search — no matter what they’re looking for.”
Google has been working on prioritizing better product reviews for a while now. The search update builds on a process that begun last April, when the company started improving its ranking system to “better reward” good product reviews. The company also released a December update to up-rank reviews with evidence that the writer had used the product and links to multiple sellers of the product.
The updates will begin to roll out over the next few weeks, Google said in a separate announcement. The update “may impact the rankings of English-language product reviews across many sites,” the company said.
Surging gas prices have sent ripple effects throughout the U.S. economy. Companies including Uber and Lyft are bumping rates to offset prices for drivers, while government officials are pushing through relief packages to help struggling Americans.
If you want to get an electric vehicle to avoid pain at the pump, you’re not alone. But the EV industry can’t catch a break either. Inflation and the cost of materials are sending prices skyrocketing, and many customers who want an EV are being put on a waitlist.
Bikes are still an option as is public transit if you’re stuck playing the EV waiting game and sick of coughing up tons of money at the pump. But there are a few other climate tech solutions to help fight soaring gas prices. Here’s everything you should know about why gas prices are high, why EV costs are up and what in the world we can do about it.

Gas prices have reached astronomical heights. Though the average dipped slightly to $4.24 per gallon for regular unleaded gas from its record high of $4.33, it is still around 70% higher than it was a year ago.
Rising gas prices are generally tied to geopolitical events (i.e. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine). The U.S. banned imports of Russian oil, as well as liquefied natural gas and coal, on March 8. Though most of Russia’s oil goes to Europe and Asia, oil is priced through a global market. The total supply of oil has diminished amid sanctions against Russia, but demand has stayed the same, leading to gas costing upwards of $7 at some stations in Los Angeles.
Gas prices aren’t going down any time soon. Energy Intelligence research director Abhi Rajendran predicts they may decrease by the third quarter of this year if “there is some pathway to resolution in the Russia/Ukraine situation, plus an Iran nuclear deal.”
“The other factor that could push prices down is [if] the world tipped into a recession that ultimately pulls oil prices down,” Rajendran said.
But in order to really decrease prices, there needs to be more supply to meet the demand, which Rajendran said is “unlikely to happen materially in 2022, and more possible in 2023.” That would also not be great, given that the only way to mitigate climate change is to reduce dependence on oil and gas, not increase supply. (And recent research shows we need to reduce production ASAP.)
In the next few weeks, gas prices will likely remain the same or slightly higher, and could reach a national average of $4.50 per gallon in the coming months, Rajendran said.
Gas isn’t the only thing that’s gotten pricey. The EV industry is having a hard time with inflation and the cost of materials.
For Tesla, inflation is the main issue. Tesla has upped its prices — twice. The company most recently bumped up prices across its entire range of EVs between 5% and 10%, which brought up the price of its cheapest car from $44,990 to $46,990. “Tesla & SpaceX are seeing significant recent inflation pressure in raw materials & logistics,” Elon Musk tweeted recently.

Rivian has needed to increase prices too, which hasn’t sat well with customers. The company raised prices by more than a whopping $12,000 — then quickly reversed course, at least for reservation holders, after a wave of customer backlash. Rivian executives said they needed to increase prices because of inflation and the cost of materials.
One of those materials is nickel, which is key for producing EV batteries and has been on a rollercoaster ride this month. Sanctions on Russia, which is a massive supplier of nickel, are to blame for the immediate spike in prices, but the issue has also been a long time coming. The move toward renewables and clean energy tech is also causing a supply crunch.
Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing and delivery services are trying to make it easier for drivers to pay for gas by adding fees to rides and offering cash back to drivers. The response from drivers has been decidedly mixed.
Uber and Lyft added surcharges for car rides that will go straight to the drivers’ wallets, and Uber specifically is encouraging drivers to switch to EVs (as if it were that easy). Instacart followed shortly after, tacking on an additional 40 cents to each order. Separately, Lyft and DoorDash are providing drivers with cards that offer cash back on gas.
Some workers don’t think the surcharges are enough. A petition on coworker.org is urging the delivery companies to charge customers even more for rides and for companies to pocket less money from fares. “Gas prices are driving us out of the rideshare industry. We need a rate increase!” the petition states.
Meanwhile, Amazon Flex drivers want the company to do something, anything to offset gas prices. The drivers — who are independent contractors who work for Amazon through an app — rallied last week to ask Amazon to follow Uber, Lyft and others in helping them pay for gas.
In California, where gas prices have topped $7 per gallon in some places, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed a relief package that includes $9 billion in direct payments to car owners — including those who drive EVs — as well as $750 million for free or reduced public transit grants. As part of the gas price relief program, car owners would receive a $400 rebate per registered vehicle (up to two cars per person) as soon as July.

Nationally, House Democrats have suggested financial relief for struggling Americans, but the proposals have reportedly gone nowhere in Congress and it’s unlikely a program similar to California’s would pass.
Meanwhile, President Biden is reportedly considering a variety of ways to reduce gas prices at the pump, including a gas tax holiday and rebates for consumers.
“The president and our national security team and our economic team are working overtime right now to evaluate and examine a range of domestic options,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week.
The best way to beat high gas prices is to use less — or none — in the first place. These solutions are going to sound awfully familiar if you’ve been thinking about how to address the climate crisis (and really, who isn’t these days?). The good news is the world has a lot of the technology we need to stop wasting money on gas. The bad news is not all of them are an easy flip of the switch. And some are becoming more expensive due to supply chain issues.
For most of us, filling up at the pump is the most obvious pain point. So it follows that electric vehicles are among the most effective means to deal with high gas prices, with hybrids being a close second. The catch is that EVs have become a hot ticket, and the aforementioned price spikes. Not ideal! If only there were some proposal, some policy that included tax credits to make EVs more affordable that Congress could pass …

In its quest to diversify its revenue beyond the iPhone, Apple has overhauled its Mac lineup, expanded into wearables and doubled down on subscriptions for services like iCloud, Apple TV+ and Apple Music. The strategy is working: If Apple spun out its services business into a separate company, it would be a multibillion-dollar business.
But the iPhone is still the company’s biggest moneymaker by a significant margin. So when Bloomberg reported Thursday that Apple is working on a hardware subscription service akin to its software offerings, it wasn’t a surprise. The subscription would have iPhone users pay for their phones and other hardware on a monthly basis, just like they would a streaming service, according to people with inside knowledge. Apple has not responded to requests for comment.
Apple launched the iPhone Upgrade Program in 2015 as a way for buyers to spread out the cost of a new iPhone with AppleCare+ over 24 months. The program also lets buyers upgrade to a new iPhone every 12 months. Wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon offer similar installment plans.

The iPhone subscription would reportedly differ in that the monthly fee wouldn’t be the cost of an iPhone divided into 24 payments. It’s unclear how much the subscription would cost, but Apple is reportedly considering bundling it with AppleCare+ and possibly an Apple One subscription. Apple One subscribers pay one monthly fee for iCloud storage, Apple TV+, Apple News+, Apple Music, Apple Arcade and Fitness+. The subscription may also extend to Apple’s other devices, including iPads and Macs.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is also considering the possibility of allowing subscribers upgrade to new hardware annually, like they can under the iPhone Upgrade Program. The subscription service would also make it easier for buyers to stomach upgrading their hardware. People are hanging onto their phones longer, and the right to repair movement has forced Apple to make concessions to allow buyers to fix their devices at home (though its Self Service Program has yet to launch). If buyers had the option to rent hardware rather than plunk down hundreds (or thousands) of dollars outright, they might be convinced to upgrade more often.
Investors think the hardware subscription is a good idea: AAPL stock jumped 1.6% in an hour after the news leaked. The service is currently expected to launch at the end of this year, but Bloomberg noted it could be pushed to 2023 or canceled altogether.
Two alleged masterminds of the Frosties NFT scam have been arrested, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Ethan Nguyen, who officials say used several handles including “Frostie,” and Andre Llacuna, identified in the charges as “heyandre,” face wire fraud and money-laundering conspiracy charges for defrauding thousands who bought the Frostie NFTs in what became this year’s first major “rug pull.”
Nguyen and Llacuna, who were arrested in Los Angeles, are accused of launching the digital collection of colorful ice-cream-scoop characters and promising buyers a host of money-making features, such as staking and breeding. But the NFT project abruptly shut down hours after the Frosties sold out in January. The accused rug-pullers then transferred $1.1 million in crypto proceeds out of the Frosties wallet, the DOJ said.
Nguyen and Llacuna had started to advertise a new NFT project, Embers, at the time of their arrest, the DOJ said. The project, which was expected to generate $1.5 million in crypto proceeds, was set to launch around March 26. Its website is still online.

“The trending market and demand for NFT investments has not only drawn the attention of real artists, but scam artists as well,” Ricky Patel of Homeland Security Investigations in New York said in a statement.
Mike Fasanello, who helped investigate the rug pull earlier this year when he worked as a director at Blockchain Intelligence Group, said the arrests underlined how financial crimes on blockchain networks are often easier to track.
“This is not the financial crime of old, where investigations took months or years,” Fasanello, who is now chief compliance officer of LVL, a banking and crypto-trading company, told Protocol. “The digital assets space is proving to be a more transparent system than fiat could ever hope to be.”
Battery range is among the top concerns for most people buying an electric car. For one, having to stop for a charge more often than you stop to fill up a gas tank is incredibly annoying. Then there’s the problem of waiting, at a minimum, 30 minutes to get a charge at current speeds.
That’s why comfortable charging stations with seating and shade just make sense. And soon, that’s exactly what we’ll have. On Thursday, Volkswagen announced that one of its subsidiaries is rolling out luxe, multicharger stations in major cities across the country.
The public charging stations will be operated by Electrify America, which came into existence in the wake of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal. Most of the company’s charging stations are located in parking lots and other locations that are hardly where you’d want to spend your time waiting to get your EV battery topped up. Electrify America’s so-called “flagship” charging stations will be coming to Santa Barbara, San Francisco, San Diego and Beverly Hills, as well as Manhattan and Brooklyn, between now and 2023.

The new charging stations, though, will host comfy seating and much, much more. There will be dedicated event spaces; there will be valet options; and there will even be curbside delivery — a subtle acknowledgment that, yes, it can still take longer to charge a Volkswagen ID.4 or other comparable EV than it does to receive a food delivery order through Uber Eats. Porsche — which is owned by Volkswagen — announced the rollout of similar, exclusive stations internationally last week — but now us plebs will have our own lounge-like charging stations, too.
A rendering of an Electrify America charging station. Looks like a chill place to spend a few minutes.Photo: Electrify America
The most important part of today’s announcement, however, is that Volkswagen will be installing 400 to 500 more solar awnings at 100 charging stations nationwide. Only two of their current charging stations have solar charging capabilities, both in California. The rest use traditional electricity sources based on the station’s location — and given that America’s electric grid is still not powered by renewables, that means a lot of that power still comes from natural gas and coal. Pumping energy from the sun directly into your EV while you get to chill in a comfy charging station sure sounds like living the dream.
Notably, neither last week’s Porsche announcement nor today’s announcement from Volkswagen makes any comment about food options or bathrooms — and if you’ve been to a gas station literally ever, you know that’s something drivers expect to find when they make a pit stop. We’re going to have to assume Volkswagen has a plan for that, though. Right?
Using blockchain for voting could be risky, as the technology could introduce “new vulnerabilities” to elections, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.
While some organizations have argued that blockchain-based systems would make elections more secure and easier to audit, “there might be added points of attack that could compromise elections,” the report said.
“We talked to a number of experts who all indicated that they did not believe blockchain was the magic bullet answer for making voting systems more secure,” Karen Howard, the GAO’s director of Science, Technology Assessment and Analytics, told Protocol.
The GAO report, titled “Blockchain: Emerging Technology Offers Benefits for Some Applications but Faces Challenges,” examined the potential of the technology, including in the public sector. Overall, the report “found that blockchain is useful for some applications but limited or even problematic for others.”
“For example, because of its tamper resistance, it may be useful for applications involving many participants who do not necessarily trust each other,” the report said. “But it may be overly complex for a few trusted users, where traditional spreadsheets and databases may be more helpful.”

One area where blockchain shows some promise is in supply chain management, Howard said.
“The federal government is a major purchaser and supply chain tracking is a major function,” she said. The GAO found that blockchain technology could potentially be used “to replace or make more efficient” certain processes such as supply chain tracking and recording contracts, Howard said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the source of the report. This story was updated on March 24, 2022.

Google is insisting its pay is competitive, even as employees question whether their compensation is fair.
At an all-hands meeting, Google CEO Sundar Pichai read a question submitted by an employee aloud: “Compensation-related questions showed the biggest decrease from last year: What is your understanding of why that is?” The question refers to a recent internal survey that found issues like compensation and promotions were top concerns for workers. The percentage of workers who felt their pay was competitive dropped from the previous year.
Bret Hill, who leads the company’s compensation and stock packages, blamed “macro economic trends.” “It’s a very competitive market, and you’re probably hearing anecdotal stories of colleagues getting better offers at other companies,” he said at the meeting, which CNBC reported.
Hill added that workers are “dealing with location changes and the effects there.” Execs at Google and other large tech companies have said they’d cut pay for workers who move to a city with lower cost of living. According to a recent Alphabet Workers Union petition, some of those locations include Durham, North Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; and Houston, Texas.

“We know that our employees have many choices about where they work, so we ensure they are very well compensated,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “That’s why we’ve always provided top of market compensation across salary, equity, leave and a suite of benefits.”
Workers submitted several other questions about pay. One question asked what — if anything — Google plans to do after Amazon doubled its maximum base salary and Apple gave some workers stock bonuses. Another asked: “If Google aims to hire the top 1% of talent, why doesn’t Google aim to pay the 1% of salaries, rather than being top 5%-10% of the market?” Hill said Google has been able to “hire the best people everywhere” by staying in that market range.
It’s unsurprising that employees would be worked up about compensation. Before the survey results were published, Google told workers it wouldn’t raise pay to match inflation.
Execs and workers agreed on the issue of performance reviews, which employees raised as a concern in the survey. Leaders said the company is making changes to the performance review process, which is often lengthy.
It doesn’t seem like Malaysia’s communications and finance ministers talk much. Just a few days after the deputy minister of Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Ministry said crypto should be legal tender in the country, the deputy finance minister said it’s not going to happen.
“Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are not suitable for use as a payment instrument due to various limitations,” Deputy Finance Minister Mohd Shahar Abdullah said in Parliament, citing volatility and crypto’s potential for cyber attacks. His boss, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, never liked the idea of crypto as legal tender either. “[It’s not a] good store of value and a medium of exchange,” he said earlier this month.
The Ministry of Finance crypto ice bath comes just days after Zahidi Zainul Abidin, the deputy minister of Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Ministry, told Malaysia’s Parliament that crypto as legal tender would be good for the kids. “We hope the government can allow this,” he said on Monday. “We are trying to see how we can legalize this so that we can develop youth participation in crypto and assist them.”

None of this is to say the crypto for the kids (or adults, for that matter) dream is dead in Malaysia. The country is involved with Project Dunbar, which is testing the use of central bank digital currencies there and in a handful of other countries. “The growing technology and payment landscape have prompted the Bank Negara Malaysia to actively assess the potential of banks’ digital currency central or the central bank’s digital currency,” Mohd Shahar said.
Maybe Zahidi just wanted to put some public pressure on crypto plans, or maybe the Communications and Multimedia Ministry simply doesn’t, uh, communicate with the Ministry of Finance. The latter would be responsible for greenlighting and regulating any crypto plans in the first place, which Zahidi pointed out during his remarks earlier this week. It was unclear how Zahidi would even be involved in rolling out crypto plans, except for maybe, you know, talking to the public about it.
At least we know that Malaysia is not going to follow El Salvador in making crypto legal tender for the foreseeable future; instead, it appears to be following in the footsteps of other countries like Ukraine and the U.S. Given how El Salvador’s bitcoin experiment is turning out, not adopting crypto as legal tender for the youth may not be the worst choice.
Riders will soon be able to hail a cab in New York City through the Uber app. The company will list taxis in NYC on its app later this spring, marking Uber’s first partnership with taxi operators in the United States, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
As part of the deal, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s software will merge with Uber’s ride-hailing software. Uber X rides will be about the same price as a taxi ride, and cab drivers who take Uber passengers can still be paid according to the time and distance they drive, just as taxis usually operate. Uber and the TLC will take some commission from each ride, but they declined to say the terms (although Uber takes a global average of around 20%, the Journal reported).
“It’s bigger and bolder than anything we’ve done,” Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s global mobility chief, told the Journal.

Surging gas prices and the ongoing pandemic have pushed many Uber and Lyft drivers to quit. Uber tried luring them back last summer with incentives, like a driver stimulus, but the recent hike in gas prices sent drivers back home again. The ride-hailing driver shortage was good for taxis, which had struggled since the rise of Uber and Lyft but rebounded even more than app-based rides in the spring of 2021.

The deal has been in the works for some time. Uber began considering a partnership with taxis back in November, when Uber’s Josh Gold reportedly talked with the Taxi and Limousine Commission about “the potential for a yellow taxi dispatch.” Uber had also approached the head of Creative Mobile Technologies, which has a taxi-hailing app in the city, about running ads on the roof of its taxis last year.
The company has created similar deals with cities overseas, such as Hong Kong, and in countries such as Austria and Spain. Individual cab drivers in U.S. cities can also choose to list their taxis through Uber.
Snap has added another company to its acquisition list as it continues its investment into AR technology. On Wednesday, the company announced that it has acquired NextMind, a Paris-based neurotech company.
NextMind develops headbands that let the wearer interact with an on-screen interface using thoughts — sort of. The technology works by monitoring “neural activity to understand your intent,” Snap said.
The startup will help Snap in its “long-term augmented reality research efforts,” the company said, with its tech working to solve a problem that many companies face developing mixed-reality headsets: how to control technology without using your hands to touch a screen or keyboard. NextMind sold kits to develop these headbands, which retail for $399, but will discontinue them, according to The Verge.
“This technology does not ‘read’ thoughts or send any signals towards the brain,” Snap said in its announcement.
NextMind’s team of 20 employees will join Snap Labs and continue to operate out of Paris. The financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the company has $4.6 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

NextMind’s tech could eventually become part of Snap’s Spectacles, a pair of video-recording augmented reality glasses first launched in 2016. The acquisition isn’t Snap’s first in the AR space: The company bought WaveOptics, which supplies the Spectacles’ AR displays, last May for $500 million. In January, it acquired Compound Photonics, a company that makes display tech, for an unknown amount.
Snap has long been working on augmented reality, but is now competing with other tech major companies as hype around the metaverse grows. Meta, which at one point wanted to acquire Snap, is one major competitor. The company has committed its resources to metaverse technologies, though its first glasses, a pair of video-recording Ray-Bans called Stories, failed to impress.
Google announced Wednesday that it will partner with Spotify to test out third-party billing options for app developers.
The move is a response to the international pressure over fees that Android and Apple collect on transactions in apps on their mobile platforms — pressure that Spotify itself has helped to amp up.
Google, which already launched additional billing systems in South Korea last year in response to the country’s landmark app store legislation, said it would be “exploring user choice billing in other select countries” with Spotify and “a small number of participating developers.” Spotify users are expected to get access to the options later this year, according to TechCrunch.
“Users who’ve downloaded Spotify from the Google Play Store will be presented with a choice to pay with either Spotify’s payment system or with Google Play Billing,” Spotify said in a blog post announcing the news. “For the first time, these two options will live side by side in the app. This will give everyone the freedom to subscribe and make purchases using the payment option of their choice directly in the Spotify app.”

By routing app transactions through its own systems, Google is able to extract commissions that sometimes range as high as 30%. Anger about the costs on both iOS and Android has prompted lawsuits, including by Epic Games against Google, and another against Apple. It’s also spawned legislative proposals in states, Congress and around the world.
Spotify, Epic and other companies were key to pushing for many of the measures, and the companies used blue ribbon hires and a keen eye on the vogue for antitrust scrutiny to go up against the major mobile operating system providers. The move by Google could now tamp down on that pressure.
Users who opt for an alternate billing option will presumably have access to lower-commission payments processing, though there’s likely to be ongoing costs for other systems. In the Netherlands, for instance, Apple is charging a 27% fee to developers who want to put in place alternate payment options, although government authorities have fined the company for what they say is noncompliance with the law.
On Monday, Google noted that it would demand any alternative system “meet similarly high safety standards in protecting users’ personal data and sensitive financial information” to Google’s own.
Instacart will now start offering software services to all grocery stores, moving beyond the company’s primary focus on food delivery through gig work.
The Instacart Platform will offer software management services for ecommerce, fulfillment, ads, insights and other data for any grocery store, not just those that partner with Instacart for delivery services. Fidji Simo, the company’s CEO, said in a press release that the new software platform is based on insights the company has gathered through partnering with grocers on delivery and building custom digital stores.
Gig work companies have generally struggled to make profits since their inception, and delivery companies specifically have landed in an increasingly tight race to improve delivery speeds in cities, oftentimes as low as fifteen minutes. Offering a new SaaS model could create room for more profits for Instacart and increase investor confidence ahead of a potential IPO later this year.

“At Instacart, we’re focusing on the tech,” Simo wrote at the end of her statement. The company recently acquired SaaS company Foodstorm.

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