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Tech wrap: Google drops 'first click free;' Facebook turns over Russia-linked ads; Roku cuts price (+ video); GM adds electric vehicles

Bulldog

Oct, 2 2017, 1:22 PM

In today's Bulldog wrapup of technology news:

The details:

Google will try to help newspapers and other publishers boost subscriptions by ending a decade-old policy that required them to provide a limited amount of free content before people were asked to pay for it.

The "first click free" policy at the world's biggest search engine was loathed by publishers because while the stories, videos and images appearing on Google have been free for its users, it is expensive to produce.

Publishers had been required to provide at least three free items under the search engine's previous policy.

Publishers will now be allowed to decide how many, if any, free articles they want to offer readers before charging a fee, Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google Inc., wrote Monday in a company blog post.

For people who intentionally sought to skirt paywalls, the policy allowed readers to type a headline into Google and get free access to a story without having it count against a monthly free article limit, said Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson.

In months of testing with Google, reducing those free clicks from three to zero "generally improved" conversion to subscriptions, Wilson said. But he added the Times continues to assess whether to actually reduce the number of free clicks now that it can. He said it was "not simply a mechanical decision" because the Times' mission was in part to make sure its news was available to a wide audience and to set the news agenda.

Among the changes announced by Google:

—Click for free is over. Publishers decide what and if they want to provide for free.

—Google will produce a suite of products and services aimed at broadening the audience for publishers in an attempt to drive subscriptions and revenue.

—Streamline payment methods so that readers can tailor their own experience. That would include access to a publication's digital content with one click. That content could then be accessed anywhere — whether it's on a publisher's website or mobile app, or on Google Newsstand, Google Search or Google News.

Facebook announced Monday that the company is planning more measures to increase transparency in advertising as the company provides Congress with more than 3,000 ads linked to a Russian ad agency.

Joel Kaplan, the company's vice president of global policy, said in a blog post that Facebook is planning to hire more than 1,000 people to staff global ads review teams. Facebook will also update its policies to require better documentation from advertisers who want to run ads related to the U.S. election, including a requirement that the advertisers will have to confirm the business or organization they represent.

The moves come as the company is under pressure from multiple congressional committees that are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Congress has recently focused on the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media, putting pressure on Facebook and other social media companies to turn over more information and release any Russia-linked ads.

Facebook officials are turning over the ads they have discovered to the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. The company already has given similar material to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russian meddling.

Kaplan said in the post that all of the ads violated the company's policies because they come from inauthentic accounts. He said the ads "run counter to Facebook's mission of building community and everything we stand for."

Emboldened by a successful IPO, Roku is reducing the price on the next generation of its best video streaming player in an attempt to fend off competitive threats from Apple and Amazon.

The latest Roku Ultra player announced Monday will sell for $100. That's a 23 percent decrease from the Roku Ultra released last year, a device that had been selling for $130 until a recent clearance sale.

[VIDEO: Watch a Roku update at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0CznjS7_qA ]

Roku is also upgrading an array of other streaming devices, priced from $29 to $70, less than week after completing an initial public offering of stock that raised $219 million for the Los Gatos, California, company. In vote of confidence, Roku's stock has already nearly doubled from its IPO price of $14.

Even with that strong start on Wall Street, Roku still only has a market value of $2.5 billion, making it a relative David battling two Goliaths in Apple ($800 billion market value) and Amazon ($462 billion). Roku also still hasn't turned a profit.

But the price cut on the Roku Ultra could make it tougher for Apple to win over video streaming fans with its just released player featuring super-sharp "4K" video — a step up from standard high definition. The new Apple TV player costs almost $180, up from almost $150 for an earlier model without 4K.

The Roku Ultra also plays 4K video and offers more streaming channels than Apple TV, but it isn't compatible with Apple's own video store or Apple's music subscription service.

General Motors is promising two new electric vehicles on Chevrolet Bolt underpinnings in the next 1 ½ years and more than 20 electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2023.

The company also pledged to start producing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for commercial or military use in 2020, and to convert its entire model lineup to zero-emissions in the future.

The two new electric vehicles likely will be SUVs or maybe a sportier car designed to compete with Tesla's upcoming Model 3.

The company says most of the new vehicles will be based on a new electric architecture with a longer range than the Bolt's 238 miles.

GM made the announcements Monday at its technical center in the Detroit suburb of Warren. Executives offered few specifics on the new vehicles.





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