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Find out the week’s top mobile stories from around the world.

This week.. Amazon and WhatsApp ‘falling short over privacy’, Visa Takes War on Cash to Restaurants, Apple Opens Data Center in China, Amazon may be giving access to Alexa audio recordings to app developers and much more…

Amazon and WhatsApp ‘falling short over privacy’, says pressure group

The Guardian

Amazon and WhatsApp have been scolded by the privacy campaigning group the Electronic Frontier Foundation over their “disappointing” privacy practices, and told that they can and should be doing better in its yearly review.

The seventh annual Who Has Your Back privacy report analysed the policies and public actions of 26 companies, rating them out of five categories covering industry best practices, privacy policies and their dealing with governments – including two new entries of “promises not to sell out users” and “stands up to National Security Letter (NSL) gag orders”.

While nine companies earned top ratings with five stars, including Adobe, Dropbox, Lyft and Uber, some of the biggest names in technology scored only four, including Apple, Google and Microsoft.

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Visa Takes War on Cash to Restaurants

Fox Business 

Visa Inc. has a new offer for small merchants: take thousands of dollars from the card giant to upgrade their payment technology. In return, the businesses must stop accepting cash.
The company is announcing the initiative this week as part of a broader effort to steer Americans away from using old-fashioned paper money. Visa says it is planning to give $10,000 apiece to up to 50 restaurants and food vendors to pay for their technology and marketing costs, as long as the businesses pledge to start what Visa executive Jack Forestell calls a “journey to cashless.”

“We’re really viewing this as the opening salvo,” said Mr. Forestell, Visa’s global head of merchant solutions, of the potential total $500,000 commitment.

Consumers at those stores would be able to pay for goods or services only with debit or credit cards or with their cellphones.

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Siri usage and engagement dropped since last year, as Alexa and Cortana grew

Tech Crunch

Siri remains the most popular virtual assistant with 41.4 million monthly active users in the U.S., according to a new report from measurement firm Verto Analytics out this morning, but it has seen a 15 percent decline since last year – or 7.3 million monthly users. In addition, the study found that engagement with Siri has also dropped by nearly half during this period, from 21 percent to 11 percent.

Meanwhile, Amazon Alexa usage has been skyrocketing – jumping 325 percent in monthly active users – that is, from 0.8 million to 2.6 million monthly users, as its user engagement also increased from 10 percent to 22 percent during the same time frame.

Cortana has seen an increase as well, growing from 0.2 million monthly users in the U.S. to 0.7 million, or a 350 percent increase. Its user engagement tripled, from 19 percent to 60 percent.

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Amazon may give app developers access to Alexa audio recordings

The Verge

Amazon is considering granting third-party app developers access to transcripts of audio recordings saved by Alexa-powered devices, according to a report from The Informationtoday. The change would be aimed at enticing developers to continue investing in Alexa as a voice assistant platform, by giving those app makers more data that could help improve their software over time. Amazon’s goal, according to The Information, is to stay competitive with more recent entrants in the smart speaker market, like Apple and Google.

Amazon declined to comment on its future plans for Alexa data-sharing policies. However, a company spokesperson told The Verge, “When you use a skill, we provide the developer the information they need to process your request. We do not share customer identifiable information to third-party skills without the customer’s consent. We do not share audio recordings with developers.”

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Smartphone vs laptop survey shows false sense of security


It’s hard to turn on the television or read another article about corporate data breaches. With that kind of coverage, one would think that most Americans are taking their own personal cybersecurity very seriously. Not so.

According to a recent survey from AlertSec, only 45% of Americans know they have anti-virus protection on their laptops.

But despite all the information that is stored on your laptop. Most Americans only really care about whether their phone is encrypted. “While most people work on laptops or desktops for their job. They likely think they’re employer is making sure it is secure. To them, mobile devices are more personal and they are more of an extension of the user,” Says AlertSec CEO Ebba Blitz.

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Stripe strikes global partnerships with China’s Alipay, WeChat Pay


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Silicon Valley startup Stripe has partnered with digital payment providers Alipay and WeChat Pay to enable merchants using its platform globally to accept payments from hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers.

Starting Sunday, the partnerships will allow online merchants using Stripe to integrate the ability for Chinese users to pay with Alipay and WeChat Pay on their websites, the company said.

Stripe hopes the integration will help boost its revenues by allowing clients to tap China’s vast consumer market, where credit cards account for only a fraction of online spending, the company said.

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Google, Amazon Join Online Protest of Net Neutrality Change


How many online activists does it take to save Silicon Valley’s favorite Obama-era regulation?

Organizers of an online protest aimed at derailing a Republican plan to roll back net neutrality rules are hoping the magic number is 70,000. That’s the number of sites and organizations — including, Google, Facebook and even President Donald Trump’s favored medium, Twitter — that have pledged to participate.

On Wednesday, the big commercial sites will join scores of online activists and businesses in telling users about the change planned in Washington — and ask the visitors to contact Congress and the Federal Communications Commission, where Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, commands a majority and is moving toward gutting the rule against interfering with web traffic.

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Sub-Saharan African Will Have 500m Mobile Users By 2020, Already Has Over Half Mobile Money Services


In a sign of how much of a mobile-orientated the continent is, Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have 500m cellphone subscribers by 2020, according to the GSM Association. At the same time, over half of all mobile money services in the world are in the region, which remains the fastest-growing mobile market in the world.

At the end of 2016, there were 420-million mobile users, or 43% of the population, according to the GSMA’s The Mobile Economy: Sub-Saharan Africa 2017 report which was released at the Mobile 360 – Africa conference being held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania this week. This is expected to grow to 535-million, or 50% of the population, by the end of the decade.

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Google, WhatsApp, Facebook prepare India payments

Mobile World Live

Google completed testing of an India-focused payment service and is awaiting approval from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), while separate talks are ongoing with Facebook and WhatsApp, National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) CEO Abhaya Hota confirmed.

Speaking to Business Today India (BTI), Hota said the organisation had passed on details of Google’s application to the RBI for approval and was in discussions on launches by WhatsApp and Facebook for their payment services.

This confirms rumours earlier in the year both Google and WhatsApp were investigating adding financial services to their platforms in India.

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Oculus has a $200 wireless VR headset in the works for 2018


We know that truly wireless VR is the future for Oculus. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision for wireless virtual reality last year, and shortly afterwards we got a brief glimpse at the company’s “Santa Cruz” prototype headset. But it’s been unclear just how long it would take Oculus to deliver a truly cord-free VR experience. Turns out, we might not have to wait too long: Oculus is apparently developing a $200 wireless VR headset for release next year, Bloomberg reports.

The device, codenamed “Pacific,” won’t just be an empty shell for your smartphone, like the Gear VR and DayDream View, it’ll pack in all of the hardware it needs for VR experiences.

Based on the price, it sounds like Oculus is basically developing a headset powered by mobile hardware, similar to what you’d find in a modern smartphone. Pacific is reportedly lighter than Samsung’s Gear VR (we assume when it actually has a phone plugged in), sources say. It’ll also have a wireless remote, similar to what Samsung’s headset now includes.

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