March 29, 2020

Bits Blog: New Android Smartphone Is Said to Favor Facebook

Facebook has been putting increasing focus on its mobile products for over two years.Valentin Flauraud/Reuters Facebook has been putting increasing focus on its mobile products for over two years.

12:53 p.m. | Updated Added background on Facebook’s mobile business strategy.

Facebook will introduce a special version of Google’s Android software system next week that is modified to put the social network front and center on a smartphone. The software will debut on a handset made by HTC, according to a Facebook employee and another person who were briefed on the announcement.

Facebook sent invitations on Thursday evening to members of the media for an event on April 4 at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. The Facebook employee, who asked not be named because he was not authorized to talk about the company’s plans, said the company would introduce a version of Android that makes Facebook’s software more prominent.

For instance, when the device is turned on, it will immediately display a Facebook user’s home screen, the source said, a fact reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal. Facebook’s camera and messaging apps will be the default apps for the core functions of the phone, the Facebook employee also said.

Derick Mains, a Facebook spokesman, declined to comment on what would be unveiled at the event. But he said it would be a “significant mobile-focused announcement.”

Mobile is a crucial part of Facebook’s future. People are now spending more time using Facebook through mobile apps than on computers. Facebook’s business strategy is to get people to hang around its social network as much as possible to eventually see more ads. A phone with a strong Facebook focus would prompt customers to use Facebook more than competing apps and services.

The Facebook employee said that the company’s portfolio of mobile apps had been the vanguard of the Android-based Facebook operating system. Over the past two and a half years, Facebook has been creating standalone mobile applications. For example, this year the company introduced Poke, a private messaging service as a standalone app. Last year, it released a camera app that specialized in tagging and uploading photos to Facebook. And in 2011, it introduced Messenger, an app for free text messaging, which was later expanded to include free voice calls.

Amazon has also modified Android for its Kindle Fire tablets.

Facebook has been exploring making its own smartphone for the last two years, but the project, which was codenamed “Buffy,” kept stalling internally as the company could not determine whether to make its own hardware or partner with a phone maker.

Facebook has recruited engineers who specialized in mobile phone development, including former Apple engineers who worked on the development of the iPhone.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/facebook-to-introduce-its-own-flavor-of-android-for-smartphones/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Grading the Digital School: Idaho Teachers Fight a Reliance on Computers

Last year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.

To help pay for these programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.

This change is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved.

“Teachers don’t object to the use of technology,” said Sabrina Laine, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, which has studied the views of the nation’s teachers using grants from organizations like the Gates and Ford Foundations. “They object to being given a resource with strings attached, and without the needed support to use it effectively to improve student learning.”

In Idaho, teachers have been in open revolt. They marched on the capital last spring, when the legislation was under consideration. They complain that lawmakers listened less to them than to heavy lobbying by technology companies, including Intel and Apple. Teacher and parent groups gathered 75,000 verified signatures, more than was needed, to put a referendum on the ballot next November that could overturn the law.

“This technology is being thrown on us. It’s being thrown on parents and thrown on kids,” said Ms. Rosenbaum, 32, who has written letters to the governor and schools superintendent. In her letters she tells them she is a Republican and a Marine, because, she says, it has become fashionable around the country to dismiss complaining teachers as union-happy liberals.

“I fought for my country,” she said. “Now I’m fighting for my kids.”

Gov. C. L. Otter, known as Butch, and Tom Luna, the schools superintendent, who have championed the plan, said teachers had been misled by their union into believing the changes were a step toward replacing them with computers. Mr. Luna said the teachers’ anger was intensified by other legislation, also passed last spring, that eliminated protections for teachers with seniority and replaced it with a pay-for-performance system.

Some teachers have also expressed concern that teaching positions could be eliminated and their raises reduced to help offset the cost of the technology.

Mr. Luna acknowledged that many teachers in the state were conservative Republicans like him — making Idaho’s politics less black and white than in states like Wisconsin and New Jersey, where union-backed teachers have been at odds with politicians.

Mr. Luna said he understood that technological change could be scary, particularly because teachers would need to adapt to new ways of working.

“The role of the teacher definitely does change in the 21st century. There’s no doubt,” Mr. Luna said. “The teacher does become the guide and the coach and the educator in the room helping students to move at their own pace.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ad6308c42d78d8cc73d6e82831de8374

The Media Equation: At Time Inc., a Leader to Help It Fit the New Digital Order

But all of that is pretty small beer compared with last week’s news that Time Inc., the largest magazine publisher in the United States, would be run by Laura Lang, who was the chief executive of the digital advertising agency Digitas. Talk about your loud and clear knock on the door. That digital future we are always talking about is here.

It’s a bold hire and Ms. Lang has an excellent reputation, but it’s a bracing moment for the print romantics among us. Time Inc., the home of Olympian brands like Time, People and Fortune, will be run by an executive who would not know a print run from a can of green beans.

As recently as, well, the day before Ms. Lang was hired, it would have been unthinkable that a large consumer magazine group would be run by someone with plenty of experience buying ads for clients, but with no experience selling them. But Ms. Lang knows other things that could come in handy, including how to use multimedia and social media to increase reader engagement in a way magazines rarely achieve.

As the head of Digitas, a unit of the Publicis Groupe, she was at the vanguard of a movement to direct advertising dollars toward specific audiences and away from big advertising buys adjacent to articles — in other words, away from businesses like Time Inc.

As far back as five years ago she articulated the shift.

“We’re seeing clients shift dollars into channels that can get a direct engagement, that can get a direct, accountable experience” she said in an interview with Direct, a marketing industry publication.

That doesn’t sound like a two-page ad spread in Fortune to me.

Traditional media has historically done well by selling inefficiency. In order to reach those among People magazine’s 3.5 million readers who were interested in buying a car or a coffeepot, you had to buy an ad that everyone else flipped past. As a serious practitioner of the science of audience-and-data-driven buys, Ms. Lang helped clients erase those inefficiencies through targeted buys, allowing them to get the milk without having to buy the whole cow.

A good magazine will do many things for a brand, including bestowing luster and creating awareness by osmosis. What magazines have not been able to do is to provide reliable measures of effectiveness. Part of the reason that magazine companies have so eagerly hopped on the iPad and other tablets is that those products will finally be able to provide data showing a return on the investment of advertising dollars. It isn’t a reach to bet that Ms. Lang will help magazine publishers be a part of a media age built on metrics.

In an e-mail on Friday, Ms. Lang said Time Inc.’s publications could be a great fit in a digital era.

“This role at Time Inc. affords me a significant opportunity to influence our industry from a different lens,” she said, “specifically content, brands, publishing, editorial, the consumer and the web that connects these five elements together.”

She added: “I still believe that data-driven ad purchasing has clear and tangible benefits,” but “I also believe that the ‘inventory’ must be compelling, surprising and offer customers and clients benefits that are sustainable and scalable.” She thinks that Time Inc.’s magazines more than meet these criteria.

By inventory, I take it to mean the likes of People, InStyle and Time. Maybe the time really has arrived for someone like her, a leader who is less captivated by the luster of the brands and is more attuned to explaining what they can deliver in actual results.

When a publication moves onto the iPad, it loses the shackles of the print medium. A magazine really is more than a magazine when you add video, links to advertisers, and other editorial content. That should mean that a brand like Sports Illustrated can become companion media during the Final Four, and People magazine could host a red carpet warm-up for the Oscars. Instead of covering seminal events after the fact, magazines can get right in the middle of them in real time.

E-mail: carr@nytimes.com;

Twitter.com/carr2n

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d7b6efe9cd3aeef8d315f7a2c42fa802

Bucks Blog: Pimco, Yoda and Some Big Retirement Savings Questions

The Jedi master Yoda in the 2005 film Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.Lucasfilm/20th Century FoxThe Jedi master Yoda in the 2005 film “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.”

In this weekend’s Your Money column, I look at Pimco’s fledgling effort to break into the target-date fund segment of the mutual funds industry, an area dominated by Vanguard, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price, which sell these funds to administrators of 401(k) and similar workplace retirement plans.

Pimco’s RealRetirement funds are a different breed. Its managers are skeptical about stocks, so they don’t put as much money in them. They buy hedges of various sorts against large losses, which competitors mostly don’t do. And they have leeway to adjust the allocation of the assets a fair bit depending on market conditions.

Oh, and Pimco thinks you ought to be saving 20 percent of your income to give yourself a decent chance at replacing even half of your salary once you retire. (And a happy weekend to you, too!)

As Yoda put it (and as Pimco quotes him), “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Or must you? Two big questions arise from all of this:

1. Are these folks running a hedge fund disguised as a target-date fund?
2. Who among you is managing to put away 20 percent of your earnings toward retirement savings?

Please discuss amongst yourselves.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fda7ab4a58a6931ccd97a39302226dfe

Your Money: Turning a Lens on Ameriprise Financial

If you’re a company trying to persuade Americans to trust you with their money, the last thing you want is former employees accusing you of cheating them out of theirs.

But that is the odd position Ameriprise Financial, the largest employer of certified financial planners in the United States, finds itself in at the moment. Late last month, six people, including one current employee, sued the company, accusing it of stuffing its 401(k) plan with expensive, underperforming mutual funds that came from the company’s own investment management arm.

The law firm behind the suit, Schlichter, Bogard Denton, in St. Louis, now inspires fear and dread in employee benefits circles, since the suit is one of several it has filed against a variety of companies. Ameriprise was quick to dismiss this suit as a copycat.

But this is the first time that the law firm has gone after an employer that is a financial services company. It has to be frustrating for Ameriprise to see its menu of mutual funds splayed out for all of the world to see, complete with details on poor performance and a handy chart showing fees that are three to five times what they are at Vanguard.

If you are in search of financial planning, however, the suit is a test of sorts. If it turns out that Ameriprise didn’t even get its own 401(k) right, why would you put your financial future in the company’s hands?

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Ameriprise has been around in one form or another since 1894. It eventually came to be known as Investors Diversified Services, or I.D.S. for short. American Express bought the company in 1984, then spun it off in 2005, at which point it assumed its current name.

To their credit, Ameriprise representatives, many of whom are independent franchisees, generally begin their relationships with customers by creating a financial plan. Traditional brokers don’t always do this and often worry only about investments, which is sort of like prescribing drugs without first taking a full medical history.

Once the plan is complete, however, things have sometimes gone awry over the years. There have been garden-variety problems, things that many brokerage firms have gotten into trouble for, like improper mutual fund trading, lost laptops packed with private customer data and the steering of customers to investments that provided extra commission to Ameriprise advisers.

But then there are the more unusual episodes. In at least three states, regulators fined the company because some Ameriprise advisers were forging client signatures. In New Hampshire, company representatives referred to their brief absences from the office, when they were supposedly rounding up signatures, as “taking a 10-minute trip to Kennebunkport.”

Then there is the Medical Capital fiasco, in which brokers at Securities America, an Ameriprise unit at the time, sold hundreds of millions of dollars in supposed medical bill receivables in what later turned out to be essentially a Ponzi scheme. Medical Capital had no audited financial statements and senior Securities America executives expressed concern about this, but the brokers sold the notes anyway, according to documents Massachusetts securities regulators released. In a statement, Securities America noted that audited financial statements were not a legal requirement in this instance.

Medical Capital used the money it received to buy a yacht and invest in a company that produced pornography sites for people who like bisexuals, bondage and gay Asians, according to Jeffrey R. Sonn, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney who represented Medical Capital investors. In April, Ameriprise paid about $150 million to settle the matter. As always with these sorts of things, the company neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. Ameriprise recently sold Securities America.

In a perfect world, customers would never come close to ending up in these kinds of situations. This is how things are supposed to work at Ameriprise: You meet an adviser, you pay for a financial plan and then the adviser helps you carry it out. Ideally, any advisers in this situation, no matter where they work, then select the best investments and insurance on earth to put you in.

Here’s where it starts to get murky, though. Ameriprise’s combined revenue from its in-house insurance, annuities and mutual funds are much higher than what it earns from financial planning. So while advisers aren’t paid more to push the company’s own products than they are to sell somebody else’s, the company’s success depends in no small part on them doing that anyway.

“Can people work in that environment and give good advice?” said Dan Candura, a 20-year veteran of Ameriprise’s predecessor companies who ran an adviser quality initiative there. “They can. But they are not going to set sales records, and it’s easier to sell the bad stuff than the good stuff.”

In the J. D. Power Associates 2011 ranking of full-service brokerage firms, Ameriprise ranked a bit above average. It did better than Merrill Lynch but worse then Fidelity and Charles Schwab. Ameriprise says it has a 93 percent annual client retention rate, though it’s not clear how many of those people stick around because the terms of their insurance products make it uneconomic for them to switch.

The biggest potential red flag for Ameriprise customers, however, is adviser compensation. The representatives have a fair bit of leeway in how they charge, as the company’s own securities filing makes clear. It notes that compensation is “determined by a schedule that takes into account the type of service or products provided, the type of branded adviser affiliation and other criteria.”

So you have to ask for a “schedule” to figure out what’s going on here. And keep in mind that advisers may earn any number of fees from mutual fund companies whose funds they sell and commissions from Ameriprise’s own insurance and annuity offerings, though the company has recently opened its variable annuity platform up to a few other providers.

And about those annuities — again, from the company’s filings: “Variable annuities provide us with fee-based revenue in the form of mortality and expense risk fees, marketing support and administrative fees, fees charged for optional features elected by the contractholder and other contract charges.” And that’s before you pay fees related to any underlying investments.

Twitter.com/ronlieber

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=db8caf3b30ac1e5984eb30a842d1d16b

Bucks Blog: Vanguard Aims at Small Companies With Low-Cost 401(k)s

Vanguard says it will begin offering low-cost 401(k) packages for smaller companies later this year.

Vanguard says the packages will target plans with assets of less than $20 million and will include record keeping, participant education and call-center support. The offerings will emphasize low-cost index funds, including the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds. The plans will be administered by Ascensus, a retirement-plan servicer.

The move is likely to be welcomed by smaller companies, where employees often face difficulty getting good, low-cost retirement plan options.

The move by Vanguard may be partly defensive because demand for lower-cost options based on index and exchange-traded funds has been growing and more companies are entering the market.

Earlier this year, Charles Schwab announced it would begin marketing a 401(k) package that included only index funds, which would be in place for 2012. And next year, Schwab also plans to offer 401(k) plans comprising only exchanged-traded funds.

Schwab’s move follows offerings from players like ING Direct’s ShareBuilder 401K, which was an early adopter of plans offering index funds and E.T.F.’s.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1f47e6622bb51374c57379e0b2ce6544

Another Downgrade by S.&P. Adds to Unease Over Greece

Standard Poor’s downgraded Greece’s debt once again, and Moody’s Investors Service put its rating on review for downgrade, compounding pressure on the government as it seeks to come up with a solution shy of a debt restructuring, including privatizing state enterprises, though there is resistance to that step.

Analysts and investors said they did not see how Greece could get its debt under control when output is slumping and there is little sign that efforts to restructure the economy are bearing fruit.

“Austerity is fine, but what you really need is investment and growth, and we just don’t see that,” said Jonathan Lemco, a sovereign credit analyst at Vanguard, the mutual fund company.

S. P. lowered its rating to B from BB –, reducing Greece to the same creditworthiness as Belarus, the lowest-rated countries in Europe. In a statement, S. P. noted increasing sentiment among governments in favor of giving Greece more time to repay 80 billion euros ($115 billion) in loans from the European Commission. But the commission would probably insist that private bondholders also accept slower repayment, S. P. said.

Even if creditors eventually get all of their money back, S. P. said, “such an extension of maturities is generally viewed to be less favorable to commercial creditors than repayment according to the original terms of the debt.”

The Greek government accused S. P. of responding to market and news media speculation.

“There have been no new negative developments or decisions since the last rating action by the agency just over a month ago,” the Ministry of Finance said in a statement. The downgrade “therefore is not justified.”

European political leaders as well as the European Central Bank have ruled out any kind of restructuring of Greek debt, saying it would undermine confidence in other countries like Portugal and Ireland and potentially create panic in financial markets. The strategy so far has been to play for time, in hopes that the economies of Greece, Portugal and Ireland will recover and make it easier for them to cope with their debts.

In Greece, the government is under pressure from its foreign creditors to raise money by privatizing state enterprises, but it is facing fierce opposition from powerful labor unions and critics within the governing Socialist party itself.

A program that is expected to go before Parliament next week is ambitious. It would authorize the selling of stakes in three utilities, the Greek railway, the racetrack and the national lottery. Also up for sale or lease are assets like disused facilities built for the 2004 Olympic Games and the site of the capital’s former airport, which the government of Qatar has expressed an interest in developing.

In all, the government hopes to raise 50 billion euros ($72 billion) by 2015 to help avert a default, although many analysts consider that figure to be overly optimistic. By pressing ahead, the government is seeking to demonstrate its resolve in meeting the terms of its bailout.

Indeed, representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the European Union are back in Athens to decide whether to release the next installment of the emergency loan package, estimated to be 12 billion euros. The fact that the Greek budget deficit for 2010 was revised upward, to 10.5 percent of gross domestic product from an estimated 9.5 percent, suggests that inspectors will be particularly strict this time.

Greek officials acknowledge in private that they may miss fiscal targets set by the I.M.F. because of a deeper-than-expected economic slump. In 2013, Greece will be required to raise as much as 30 billion euros ($43 billion) from the debt markets.

The government insists the privatizations will not be derailed.

“Commentators have doubted the Greek government’s resolve at every juncture of the crisis, and in each case the government has proven them wrong,” George Petalotis, a spokesman for the government, said in a statement.

The Greek labor unions, however, are determined to stop the sales, fearing that private ownership will lead to job cuts. They are lining up a barrage of protests, starting with a one-day general strike on Wednesday.

At the front line is Genop, the union representing workers at the Public Power Corporation, the state electricity company. Genop has threatened rolling strikes that could cause prolonged power reductions across the country just as the summer tourist season begins.

Niki Kitsantonis reported from Athens, and Jack Ewing from Frankfurt.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=458c3c0f43da806492deb4e1b2586463