Life Beyond the Cookie

With 3rd-party slowly-but-surely going the way of the dodo, the drive for marketers to develop data strategies that accelerate 1st-party data growth and utilization is fast becoming an existential imperative.

WHY IT’S HOT:  Relationships and Relevance will matter more than ever, as marketers of all shapes and sizes strive to survive and thrive in a fundamentally changed world. (From “nice-to-have” to “mission-critical”)

From Digiday:

‘Re-architecting the entire process’: How Vice is preparing for life after the third-party cookie

Vice Media Group pulls in 57.5 million global unique visitors a month, according to Comscore; Vice itself says it has a global audience of “more than 350 million individuals.” But only a minority of those users are logged in at any time. With third-party cookies soon to be obsolete and Apple clamping down on the free-for-all sharing of mobile IDs, Vice’s first-party data strategy aims to improve its registration process and double down on contextual ads.

In the latest example of bolstering its first-party data offering for advertisers, Vice Media Group is using a new tool from consumer reporting agency Experian and data platform Infosum.

That tool, Experian Match, those companies say, offers publishers more insights on their audiences without needing to use third-party cookies or requiring users to log in. In turn, they can offer advertisers more precision targeting options.

“What interests me the most is that there’s so much bias within data — for example, proxies to get into the definition [of an a target audience on an advertiser brief],” said Ryan Simone, Vice Media director of global audience solutions. “We are looking to eliminate bias in every instance. If a client says ‘this specific … group is what we are looking for,’ we can say on Vice — not through the proxies of third-party data or other interpretation’ that product A [should target] this content, this audience [and that’s] different from product B. It’s a much more sophisticated strategy and re-architecting the entire process.”

Publishers provide a first-party ID, IP address and timestamp data, which is matched with Experian’s own IP address and household-level socio-demographic data. This initial match is used to create the Experian Match mapping file, which is then stored in a decentralized data “bunker.” From here, all matching takes place using InfoSum’s decentralized marketing infrastructure, with publishers creating their own private and secure ”bunkers” and advertisers doing likewise, so individual personal customer data is never shared between publishers and advertisers.

Privacy and security were important considerations before committing to use the product, said Paul Davison, Vice Media Group vice president of agency development, for international in statement. But, he added, “Those concerns are solved instantly as no data has to be moved between companies.”

As for login data, Vice’s user registration process is fairly basic and doesn’t offer users much explanation about the benefits they will receive if they do so. Updating that is a work in progress, said Simone.

“There will be a lot more front-facing strategy” for encouraging sign-ups, he said. “We are looking to create greater value …. for our users.” (The company also collects first-party data through newsletters and experiential events, such as those held —pre-covid, at least — by Refinery29.)

Vice has worked with contextual intelligence platform Grapeshot long before it was acquired by Oracle in 2018. Beyond offering advertisers large audiences around marquee segments like “fashion” or “music,” Vice has begun working more recently to open up more prescriptive subsegments — like “jewelry” for example.

“People are scared to send out smaller audiences — but I’d rather provide something that’s exact. Opening that up provides greater insights,” especially when layered with first-party data sets gleaned through partnerships like Experian and Infosum, said Simone.  Vice might not have a wealth of content around high fashion, for example, but consumers of a particular fashion house might still visit the site to read about politics or tech.

“Contextual has evolved and with the absence of the third-party cookie it’s all the more significant,” said Simone.

Publishers’ biggest differentiating features for advertisers are their audiences and the context within their ads will sit, said Alessandro De Zanche, founder of media consultancy ADZ Strategies.

“If they really want to progress and be more in control, publishers need to go back to the basics: rebuilding trust with the audience, being transparent, educating the audience on why they should give you consent — that’s the very first — then building on top of that,” De Zanche said.

“With all the technical changes and privacy regulations, if a publisher doesn’t rebuild the relationship and interaction with its audience, it will just be like trying to Sellotape their way forward.”

Fornite Channels User Base to Take on Apple and Google

As part of a public fight against Apple and Google, who monopolize phone app sales, Fornite–the super popular battle-royale-style mutli-player game–has created a tournament called the #FreeFortnite Cup. The tournament includes prizes and a new character ‘tart tycoon’, all designed to put pressure on Apple by to change it App store policies.

Apple's Fortnite feud and Microsoft xCloud ban have put the future of  iPhone gaming in jeopardy - The Verge

Why it’s hot: 

Increasing recognition that tech giants have monopolistic power over those who use their platform is not new. But these battles usually play out in court. Epic is making use of a new strategy–leveraging the considerable enthusiasm of its users through marketing and in-game experience to influence the actions of another corporation.

Google Maps tracks forest fires in near-real-time

The Verge:

Type in the name of an ongoing wildfire into Google search, and the site will now bring up a map featuring a near-real-time boundary of the fire. Google revealed the feature today, which was piloted in California last year and will now be available across the US.

Google Maps will also update users with road closures and provide them with directions that help them avoid danger and roadblocks. If someone is looking at an area near a blaze on Google Maps, they’ll get an alert.

Getting accurate information to people near a wildfire can save lives. It’s also a constant challenge for emergency responders because the situation can change rapidly, while hearsay online can quickly drown out reputable sources. Google developed the new mapping feature with input from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) as part of an effort to make important updates easier to find.

The problem came to the attention of Yossi Matias, vice president of engineering at Google, in 2010 during the Mount Carmel fire near Haifa, Israel. Matias was working in Google’s Haifa office when his team saw billowing smoke outside. A Google search failed to turn up anything more helpful than what they could already assess from their windows. “While we did find some details confirming what we already knew—a large fire was taking place outside of our door—we experienced a potentially life-impacting information gap,” Matias wrote in a blog post announcing the new mapping feature today.

Now, the same Google search would result in more curated content. The scare Matias and his team experienced led to the development of Google’s SOS Alerts in 2017. Beneath a red banner labeled “SOS Alert,” the search results offer top stories, followed by official updates for emergency situations. Starting today, searches for wildfires will also include a more detailed map showing the boundaries of an active blaze.

Why it’s hot:

As the climate crisis worsens, how much more will we rely on information services such as this? And what forms will that information take with regards to mass migration, air pollution, heat waves, droughts, floods, etc?

Will our phones help us survive? No doubt those with access to such services will be advantaged.

Covid-19 is no joke on April Fool’s Day

This is the date on which most of us log onto cyberspace searching for roundups of the best April Fool’s Day gags from our favorite brands. It’s usually hit-and-miss but there’s always a handful that capture our imaginations and make us laugh a little.

Not surprisingly, the global Covid-19 pandemic has forced brands to cancel their pranks in 2020 out of respect for the seriousness of the situation.  What *is* surprisingly is the reaction from the very content creators that are usually tasked with coming up with great April Fools ideas: apparently they hate this day. And, they came out of the woodwork to tell us so:


Story on Poynter

Story on AdAge

Story on Slate

Why It’s Hot

It’s interesting to see how much loathing marketers have for the pranks that have become such a brand necessity. Is this the end of April Fool’s Day brand content forever? Or just another way to say “2020 sucks”?

Google and Oxford create ‘The A to Z of AI’ explainer

As machine learning and artificial intelligence usage proliferates in everyday products, there have been many attempts to make it easier to understand. The latest explainer comes from Google and the Oxford Internet Institute with “The A to Z of AI.”

At launch, the “A-Z of AI” covers 26 topics, including bias and how AI is used in climate science, ethics, machine learning, human-in-the-loop, and Generative adversarial networks (GANs).


The AI explainer from Google and Oxford will be “refreshed periodically, as new technologies come into play and existing technologies evolve.”

Why it’s hot:
AI is informing just about every facet of society. But AI is a thorny subject, fraught with complex terminology, contradictory information, and general confusion about what it is at its most fundamental level.

Socializing in the Age of Corona[virus]

Digital dance raves. Streaming soundbaths. Book readings by phone. Now we’ve gotta get creative.

Where once technology was thought to be the death knell of human social interaction, it is now bringing us together under quarantine. The housebound are nimbly pivoting to virtual social gatherings.

They’re holding birthday parties and bar mitzvahs over video chat, broadcasting D.J. sets and streaming concerts (some from the luxurious confines of celebrity homes), and establishing quarantine movie nights on Twitter for “virtual companionship.”

A lot of communal events are taking place on Zoom, a videoconferencing app now being used by many classrooms and businesses (thus transforming it into one of the few companies doing well on the stock market). But it’s not just Zoom.

There are, for example, a small but highly vocal number of people gathering in the digital plazas, pet stores and pizza shops of Club Penguin Online. There are happy hours being held on Google Hangout, and poker games taking place over FaceTime. There are flute meditation sessions on Instagram and thousands of people participating in dance raves that are broadcast on Twitch.

It’s a lot for the internet. On Monday, Discord, the chat app popular with gamers, announced that it would increase its capacity by 20 percent to keep up with demand; it crashed shortly thereafter.

Jeff Baena, a film director, loves organizing social activities; it was at one of his game nights, in fact, that he met his girlfriend, the actress Aubrey Plaza. The couple have been in self-quarantine since March 11, and were feeling extremely antsy.

“Our house is one of those hubs where people are always over and hanging out,” Mr. Baena, 42, said by phone this week. “It’s strange to not be able to do that. I was kind of jonesing.”

So he got people together virtually. At 9 p.m. on March 14, a dozen friends — including the actress Alia Shawkat, who said she left the set of a television series she was working on early, before it had been officially shut down because of the new coronavirus — joined a group chat for a few hours of Quiplash and other games by Jackbox, an internet game company.

In order for remote players to see the game screen, Mr. Baena joined FaceTime from two devices, with one camera aimed at his TV.

Of course, the pandemic loomed large over the course of the night. At one point, someone coughed and a chorus of concerned voices wondered who it was.

“It was me!” said Almitra Corey, 40, who is currently working as the production designer for the final season of the Netflix show “GLOW.” (Filming was paused, as for all other Netflix shows, last Friday.)

“I just smoked weed,” she said. “Relax.”

A Remote Rave for 5,000 Guests

In New York this past Sunday, the city’s hottest nightclub was a virtual day rave. Nine hours of electronic music were streamed from an empty warehouse in Brooklyn to nearly 5,000 guests from around the world, including some in Berlin and Seattle, all of whom were watching on Twitch.

The event, which showcased nine electronic musicians, was put together by Christine McCharen-Tran, a founder of Discwoman, a talent agency in Brooklyn and collective of femme and nonbinary D.J.’s and music producers.

“I texted all the D.J.’s that I know that need support right now,” Ms. McCharen-Tran, 31, said. After gatherings of more than 500 were banned in New York on March 13, she said, “I was seeing so many artists being affected directly.”

So last Friday, she reached out to a lighting designer friend named Michael Potvin, who provided a physical space and a domain name (harrisonplace.nyc). Ms. McCharen-Tran got to work building out the site and booking artists.

By the afternoon, harrisonplace.nyc was live and vibing.

“For all of the talk about tech distancing us, it felt very intimate and joyful,” said Jess Ramsey, 35, in a phone interview. Ms. Ramsey, who works on hardware and gaming partnerships at Spotify, projected the rave onto her living room ceiling.

“We’re the most stressed we’ve probably ever been, and there’s no place to go, but you can dance in your living room,” she said. “It was the first time we had danced in a week, and it felt really special.”

Strict safety and hygiene protocols were in place even in the empty warehouse. All D.J.’s wore latex gloves and had access to disinfectant wipes and soap. The suggested size of gatherings has shrunk daily and rapidly, from 500 people to 50, and most recently to 10. At the time, Ms. McCharen-Tran’s 10-person maximum was out of an abundance of caution; now it would be pushing the limit.

Many other bands are performing in empty concert halls for the digital masses. The metal band Code Orange performed a record-release concert with an elaborate multimedia production to an empty room, for example, streaming to more than 12,000 fans.

In order to help fans support the artists in real time, Ms. McCharen-Tran and other producers of these events display the Venmo user names of artists at the bottom of the screen during their sets.

A Google Hangout Happy Hour

Lauren Ashley Smith, a TV writer from St. Louis who lives in Los Angeles, turned to Google Hangout this past Saturday to host a digital happy hour with a few close friends. That turned into 57 close friends, and then, over 60 once her sisters invited friends of their own.

“I know it seems like I invited a lot of people,” Ms. Smith, 34, said, “but I did carefully curate the people that were invited.”

To fit the criteria, a guest had to be someone Ms. Smith felt “wouldn’t take it too seriously” and who was “more extroverted — or would be willing to talk to a bunch of strangers they didn’t know.”

She knew everybody was just home alone, bored or scared. So, she said, “I made a run of show.”

The activities include a game Ms. Smith invented (“in 30 seconds,” she said) called “Who’s That Girl?” She would hold up photos of celebrities (saved on her phone) to the laptop’s camera, and players earned points by being the first person to correctly type the subject’s first and last name in the chat section of the Hangout window.

The celebrities were “obscure, to some,” Ms. Smith said. (They included Lala Kent from “Vanderpump Rules,” the singer Keke Wyatt, Christine Brown from “Sister Wives” and Esther the Wonder Pig, whom Ms. Smith described as “a pig influencer on Instagram.”)

The winner received a prize of $50 on the cash-sharing app Venmo. It was ultimately donated to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, which provides services to currently and formerly homeless women.

After the hangout, Ms. Smith said she received “a lot of heartfelt messages” from participants thanking her for including them. She “absolutely” intends to do it again.

“It’s really easy,” she said. “Social distancing is for the greater good of everyone. And you can still make it really fun.”

Before the event, it struck her that she and her wife had yet to host a party at their new home. “But now I feel like we have.”
Conspiracy Theories on Club Penguin

There once was an online Disney media platform called Club Penguin, which was a kid-friendly social media hub where users could interact as animated penguins in a virtual world. It was formally discontinued in 2017.

But the internet being the internet, there are still multiple simulacra of Club Penguin around: unlicensed duplications hosted on independent servers, filled with the same population of late-born millennials and first wave Gen Z-ers that flocked to the Disney version by the hundreds of millions.

Last Friday, masses of users assembled in a popular fake iteration of the original pretend world — this one called Club Penguin Online — to share their anxieties, wishes and predictions for the uncertain future, and to ask everyone where they were from. Also, to keep frantically serving one another digital pizza.

There existed eerie similarities between the cartoon penguin world and humanity’s own, under quarantine. The sports stadium was devoid of chatting penguins. The skate park was nearly empty; ditto the dance club.

In other corners of the penguin universe, users delighted in that activity increasingly outlawed by public health officials: congregating in large groups.

Although conversations can be hard to follow on Club Penguin Online — a user’s typed message appears briefly above his or her representative penguin’s head wherever on the screen that penguin happens to be standing (or dancing), before disappearing forever — the pizza shop became, around midday, a kind of political salon.

One penguin asked another penguin that purported to be from Italy if, in real life, the grocery stores were out of pasta. Other flightless birds lamented the quality of their officials’ responses to the crisis.

A penguin in a chef’s hat approached and said, “They aren’t telling anyone anything,” before walking away to take another penguin’s pizza order.

Outside, in the plaza, a navy blue penguin was spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories. This penguin had presented itself as an expert on the novel coronavirus, imploring fellow penguins to pose to it any medical questions.

One penguin wondered how likely it was to become infected; the blue penguin replied confidently: “if ur under 60years old odds are 0,2.”

“Do you think someone created coronavirus?” a coral pink penguin said.

This was the opening the blue penguin had been waiting for. “YES,” it said. “Have u heard of 5g”? It went on to describe (in halting increments, because messages typed in Club Penguin Online have a limit of 64 characters) an online conspiracy theory that attributes virus symptoms to radiation caused by wireless internet.

The penguins in the plaza did not seem convinced.
Relaxing Gatherings

Online social gatherings are also taking meditative forms. Justine Stephens, 27, guided a live flute meditation on her Instagram account last weekend to help about 40 friends and viewers deal with stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

“Needed this and didn’t know it. Super anxious about the start of the week,” read one comment during the livestream. “Thank you for curing my Sunday scaries,” someone else added.

This past Sunday, Mikael Acatl, an energy worker and shaman who uses the pronoun “they,” held a healing session from their Brooklyn apartment, surrounded by plants, burning copal and bathed in golden-hour light.

And Josh Peck, 39, and Eliza Philpott, 31, who operate a retreat space in the Hudson Valley in New York, livestreamed a sound bath for about a hundred digital participants. They used two high-end microphones to funnel dual sources of audio to listeners simultaneously, which created the sensation of being in a three-dimensional space.

Other soothing practices included a reading by the writer Ashley C. Ford, of poems by Pablo Neruda. More than 100 people tuned in to the half-hour broadcast on YouTube.

There was also free “mom” advice dispensed by Mary Laura Philpott, an author in Nashville, who tweeted that she had “Big Mom Energy to spare. (Seriously, my teenagers are over it.)”

“I was like, Who needs the mom to tell you to drink your water, to wash your hands, that it’s going to be OK, to get off the internet?” Ms. Philpott said by phone. (She was surprised that the answer was: lots and lots of people.)

Gamers are getting into it, too. On Twitch, Nick Polom, a streamer with some 400,000 subscribers, took a break from streaming rounds of Apex Legends starting on March 11, to share more timely “Just Chatting” broadcasts.

Each is hours long, with names like “Doomsday cooking stream” (in which he livestreamed his stir fry, grocery rundown, and jokes about frozen chicken tenders) and “Girlfriend and Boyfriend stuck in quarantine!” (in which he livestreamed himself playing virtual reality games with his partner, for a remote audience of thousands).

As the novelist Sarah Schulman put it after a reading of hers was canceled in New York (and she offered her own individual readings by phone): “If all the institutional theaters are closed and all the competitive curated spaces are closed, we’re back to just entertaining each other.”

Online Twelve Step Meetings

Alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery frequently warn each other that isolation is a route to relapse; going to in-person Twelve Step meetings, sharing personal stories and talking with other addicts and alcoholics is a means of connection for many in recovery.

While long-distance Twelve Step recovery has existed since at least World War II, and moved to email and online chat and video with the rise of the internet, much of Twelve Step recovery still relies on in-person meeting.

With the health guidance for people to not congregate in large groups, those who rely on Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups have organized quickly. Many meeting chairs across the country are creating regular meetings on Zoom.

“Many of us have been saying in these online meetings that if we were still drinking and using drugs this would be the perfect environment to self-destruct — fear of the unknown, lack of support, isolation, financial insecurity,” said Nanea, who asked to be identified by only her first name in accordance with recovery guidelines.

She created her own version called the Online Recovery Group. In addition, the central offices of regional Twelve Step groups have jumped in to show what meetings are canceled and which are replaced by chat, video or email.

“We need to have a way to share our experience, strength and hope to new people struggling with addiction and alcoholism,” Nanea said. “I know a lot of people, not just people in recovery, are afraid and feeling isolated right now. I feel very fortunate to have an active community that knows how to support each other.”

On Sunday morning, the Redemption Church in Costa Mesa, Calif., set up its first livestream, in part to broadcast two infants’ dedication ceremonies.

Kristin Castillo, 30, a brand and marketing consultant, and her husband, Nate, 30, had originally planned to gather their family, friends and loving congregation (about 200 members strong) to witness and participate in the religious service, which would officially welcome their newborn son into the church. Afterward, there was to be a celebratory lunch.

“Obviously,” Ms. Castillo said, “that didn’t happen.”

Instead, Kristin and Nate’s in-person guest list was trimmed to one of each of their parents. When the ceremony reached the point where their infant’s “spiritual aunts and uncles” were meant to affirm their support, the family and friends that were asked to accept this duty participated remotely.

“They were texting us in real time: ‘Yes! Yes!’” Ms. Castillo said.

While she found the experience of being on camera “nerve-racking,” she described their baby, nearly 8 months old, as “surprisingly cooperative.”

“Watching a crazy little guy having a good time, hopefully that lifted someone’s spirits,” she said. “And, ironically, by stripping all of the social trappings away, it helped us focus more on the intent of the actual ceremony.

Why it’s hot: The internet has meant a lot of things to many people, it first brought many together far and wide, and then got a bum rap for making us feel like we’re closer to others when we’re actually just voyeurs into other people’s lives. But now, in the time of COVID-19, the internet and social media are enabling a more positive mandatory social distancing experience. From conference calls for work to concerts and raves, games nights and virtual happy hours, to religious celebrations, people are leveraging creative ways to use the internet in a time that could lead to excessive isolation and depression – way to go internet age!

Source: NYTimes

Tool to Help Journalists Spot Doctored Images Is Unveiled by Jigsaw

A doctored, phony image of President Barack Obama shaking hands with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. A real photograph of a Muslim girl at a desk doing her homework with Donald J. Trump looming in the background on television.

It is not always easy to tell the difference between real and fake photographs. But the pressure to get it right has never been more urgent as the amount of false political content online continues to rise.

On Tuesday, Jigsaw, a company that develops cutting-edge tech and is owned by Google’s parent, unveiled a free tool that researchers said could help journalists spot doctored photographs — even ones created with the help of artificial intelligence.

Jigsaw, known as Google Ideas when it was founded, said it was testing the tool, called Assembler, with more than a dozen news and fact-checking organizations around the world. They include Animal Politico in Mexico, Rappler in the Philippines and Agence France-Presse. It does not plan to offer the tool to the public.

We observed an evolution in how disinformation was being used to manipulate elections, wage war and disrupt civil society,” Jared Cohen, Jigsaw’s chief executive, wrote in a blog post about Assembler. “But as the tactics of disinformation were evolving, so too were the technologies used to detect and ultimately stop disinformation.”

The tool is meant to verify the authenticity of images — or show where they may have been altered. Reporters can feed images into Assembler, which has seven “detectors,” each one built to spot a specific type of photo-manipulation technique.

When an image has been manipulated — for instance, two images were merged together or something was deleted from the background — traces of the changes may be left behind. With a computer program that has been trained to learn from being shown example after example of what it should detect, Assembler can analyze an image and highlight where it thinks those traces are.

Source: NY Times

Why it’s Hot

We rely on the integrity of news coverage, but more and more we have to doubt everything we see. This is a good example of a use of technology that can impact society in a positive way, driving clarity among those responsible for informing us with the truth every day.

Google to Buy Fitbit for $2.1 Billion

Google is acquiring Fitbit, the maker of fitness-tracking devices, for $2.1 billion as the world’s largest tech companies expand further into health in pursuit of growth.

The deal represents an aggressive attempt by Google to bolster its lineup of hardware products, which already includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and smart speakers. Fitbit makes a lineup of fitness-tracking devices, but has faced stiff competition from Apple after the introduction of the Apple Watch.

The deal is likely to face scrutiny from government regulators. Google has been the subject of antitrust investigations in Europe and the United States.

In recent years, the biggest tech companies have been expanding into health products and services. With the introduction of Apple Watch in 2014, the company has been adding new services for people to track their health. Amazon has also expanded its offerings in this field, including acquiring the online pharmacy company PillPack.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot:

Seems like a strong data play!

Google Claims a Quantum Breakthrough That Could Change Computing

Google said on Wednesday that it had achieved a long-sought breakthrough called “quantum supremacy,” which could allow new kinds of computers to do calculations at speeds that are inconceivable with today’s technology.

The Silicon Valley giant’s research lab in Santa Barbara, Calif., reached a milestone that scientists had been working toward since the 1980s: Its quantum computer performed a task that isn’t possible with traditional computers, according to a paper published in the science journal Nature.

A quantum machine could one day drive big advances in areas like artificial intelligence and make even the most powerful supercomputers look like toys. The Google device did in 3 minutes 20 seconds a mathematical calculation that supercomputers could not complete in under 10,000 years, the company said in its paper.

Scientists likened Google’s announcement to the Wright brothers’ first plane flight in 1903 — proof that something is really possible even though it may be years before it can fulfill its potential.

Still, some researchers cautioned against getting too excited about Google’s achievement since so much more work needs to be done before quantum computers can migrate out of the research lab. Right now, a single quantum machine costs millions of dollars to build.

Many of the tech industry’s biggest names, including Microsoft, Intel and IBM as well as Google, are jockeying for a position in quantum computing. And venture capitalists have invested more than $450 million into start-ups exploring the technology, according to a recent study.

China is spending $400 million on a national quantum lab and has filed almost twice as many quantum patents as the United States in recent years. The Trump administration followed suit this year with its own National Quantum Initiative, promising to spend $1.2 billion on quantum research, including computers.

A quantum machine, the result of more than a century’s worth of research into a type of physics called quantum mechanics, operates in a completely different manner from regular computers. It relies on the mind-bending ways some objects act at the subatomic level or when exposed to extreme cold, like the metal chilled to nearly 460 degrees below zero inside Google’s machine.

“We have built a new kind of computer based on some of the unusual capabilities of quantum mechanics,” said John Martinis, who oversaw the team that managed the hardware for Google’s quantum supremacy experiment. Noting the computational power, he added, “We are now at the stage of trying to make use of that power.”

On Monday, IBM fired a pre-emptive shot with a blog post disputing Google’s claim that its quantum calculation could not be performed by a traditional computer. The calculation, IBM argued, could theoretically be run on a current computer in less than two and a half days — not 10,000 years.

“This is not about final and absolute dominance over classical computers,” said Dario Gil, who heads the IBM research lab in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., where the company is building its own quantum computers.

Other researchers dismissed the milestone because the calculation was notably esoteric. It generated random numbers using a quantum experiment that can’t necessarily be applied to other things.

As its paper was published, Google responded to IBM’s claims that its quantum calculation could be performed on a classical computer. “We’ve already peeled away from classical computers, onto a totally different trajectory,” a Google spokesman said in a statement. “We welcome proposals to advance simulation techniques, though it’s crucial to test them on an actual supercomputer, as we have.”

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

It’s hard to even fathom what possibilities this opens, but it seems application is still a while away.

Your phone’s camera didn’t capture the moment. It computed it.

The way our cameras process and represent images is changing in a subtle but fundamental way, shifting cameras from ‘capturing the moment’ to creating it with algorithmic computations.

Reporting about the camera on Google’s new Pixel 4 smartphone, Brian Chen of the New York Times writes:

“When you take a digital photo, you’re not actually shooting a photo anymore.

‘Most photos you take these days are not a photo where you click the photo and get one shot,’ said Ren Ng, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. ‘These days it takes a burst of images and computes all of that data into a final photograph.’

Computational photography has been around for years. One of the earliest forms was HDR, for high dynamic range, which involved taking a burst of photos at different exposures and blending the best parts of them into one optimal image.

Over the last few years, more sophisticated computational photography has rapidly improved the photos taken on our phones.”

This technology is evident in Google’s Night Sight, which is capable of capturing low-light photos without a flash.

Why it’s hot: 

In a world where the veracity of photographs and videos is coming into question because of digital manipulation, it’s interesting that alteration is now baked in.

Google Partners with Domino’s to Deliver the Ultimate Unboxing Experience

To showcase the Pixel 4’s hands-free, gesture-based functions, Google wants people to test out the new phones while their hands are occupied holding pizza. So Google partnered with Domino’s to send more than 50 influencers in the U.S. special pizza boxes that have the phone nestled above an actual Domino’s pizza.

The hope, of course, is that recipients record the unboxing and share to YouTube. The box even comes with fun prompts to get them started, such as telling the Google Assistant to play the Genesis song “Invisible Touch” and then swiping above the device to skip to the next track.

A separate “side orders” box serves as a way to prop up the phone for recording, and contains accessories such as a charging cable, case, and guide.

Why It’s Hot

Google knew influencers were already planning to film their Pixel 4 unboxings, but adding pizza ups the social share factor while providing natural ways to start testing the new gesture features.

Source

Amazon crowdsourcing answers to questions posed to Alexa

Crowdsourcing strikes again. Incentivized by the lure of social-capital, users can submit answers to questions posed to Alexa to receive points and status within the network of answer-ers. The public, using the up-and-down vote system will presumably let the best answer float to the top.

Though, “In some cases, human editors as well as algorithms will be involved in quality-control measures,” says Fast Company.

From Fast Company: “Starting today, Amazon is publicly launching a program called Alexa Answers, which lets anyone field questions asked by users for which Alexa doesn’t already have a response—ones such as:

  • What states surround Illinois?
  • What’s the proper amount of sleep?
  • How many instruments does Stevie Wonder play?
  • How much is in a handle of alcohol?

From then on, when people ask a question, Alexa will speak an answer generated through Alexa Answers, noting that the information is ‘according to an Amazon customer.'”

Why it’s hot:

Will value-based questions be answerable? If so, owning the answer to ‘what’s the best burger in Brooklyn?’ would be very lucrative.

Can brands leverage this tech to their advantage? Either by somehow “hacking” this system in playful way, or by replicating such an answer system with their own user base, to plug into an Alexa skill?

On a broader level:

How much do we trust the crowd? Recent history has left many questioning the validity of “the wisdom of the people”.

Civil society runs on a foundation of shared understandings about the world. If we trust answers about our reality to come from the crowd, how will bad actors use such a system to undermine our shared understanding or subtly sway public knowledge to support their agenda? Alexa, does life start at conception?

A New Google Maps Feature Has Potential to Save Lives

In recognition of National Recovery Month, Google has released two new map-related tools aimed at both aiding those in recovery from drug addition and helping to make the life-saving drug Naloxone more accessible.

The centerpiece of the company’s effort is a new website, Recover Together, which seeks to centralize resources for those looking to overcome addiction.

A screenshot of the Naloxone Locator Tool.

The Recovery Locator Tool, as the name would suggest, is a Google Maps page specifically designed to help individuals find recovery resources near them. And the Naloxone Locator Tool is a Google Maps page that aims to assist those looking to acquire Naloxone — a drug that can reverse overdoses.

According to the press release, the initiative was launched based on the insight that people use Google on a daily basis to seek out information on addiction and recovery:

“[In] fact, just last month, we saw an all-time high in search interest for ‘rehab near me,’ ‘addiction treatment near me,’ and ‘how to help an addict.'”

While the aim is to help those searching for this info, Google has taken privacy into account and is assuring that visits to this website would not be associated with any specific users. Page views will be measured, but anonymized and only in the aggregate. What’s more, the company claims it will not use Naloxone-related searches to target ads.

Why It’s Hot

It’s great to see Google using their search data for good, not for profit. Providing these tools for those who are struggling to ask for help and turning to Google for anonymous advice is filling a critical need.

Source

Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone,.

Just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the “Directions” button and then navigate to “Walking,” then tap“Live View” which should appear near the bottom of the screen.

The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk — instead, in provides quick, easy and super-useful orientation by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Seems like a good use of AR for actual utility and building on existing ecosystem.

 

German Staycations Made Possible by Real-Time User Data

72% of Germans travel abroad for their holidays. With that knowledge, German Rail set out to encourage Germans to vacation in their home country by focusing on price and picturesque German locations that mirror famous foreign tourist destinations.

German Rail targeted travel enthusiasts interested in specific destinations on Instagram and Facebook. Then, through geo-tagging technology and Google Search, the audience was served video ads updated with real-time prices, comparing two gorgeous locations (one in Germany and one abroad), detailing the cost of travel from their closest airport to the foreign country and carbon emissions created by travel.

Why it’s hot:

Brands talk about using data all the time but we don’t always see it done in a smart, multi-dimensional way. German Rail successfully tapped into the insight that the record of the holiday (on Instagram & Facebook) is just important as the holiday itself and leveraged real-time user data to influence behavior of the German traveler.

Source: Contagious.io

dr. google fails its boards…

It’s a behavior as old as the internet itself. Or at least as old as WebMD. People Googling symptoms and self-diagnosing themselves. Turns out that unsurprisingly, this is a worldwide phenomenon, and in Romania, 73% of people were doing it. So, to show Romanians they needed to SEE A DOCTOR ALREADY(!!!!!!!!!!1111), the private healthcare provider Regina Maria put Doctor Google to the test, literally. They gave it the same residency exam wannabe Romanian doctors have to pass in order to become certified. In no surprise to anyone, a prominent Romanian journalist Googling answers to the questions got a dismal 36 out of 200 correct – an 18% score.

According to the brand, “Regina Maria also made the test public for the rest of the country to take for themselves online. Those who didn’t pass were presented with a certificate of failure that could be used as a voucher within Regina Maria’s clinics.

To promote the Internet Residency Exam, Regina Maria created Google ads based on the most common symptoms people searched online and encouraged people to ask a real doctor instead.”

Why it’s Hot:

Instead of simply telling people Google isn’t good at helping you fix yourself, it dimensionalized just how poorly it does the job. One might intuitively accept that self-diagnosing and treating based on a Google search isn’t the best approach, but it’s a whole other thing to see how the knowledge you can glean from it compares with the knowledge of a doctor. Showing, not telling, is the most powerful way to make a point and change behavior.

Google Brings Amusement to CES

Taking event content marketing to another level, Google has built an amusement park style ride to promote its virtual assistant. Showing off their storytelling prowess, they have created a full arc with a beginning, middle, point of tension and end.

They built a two-story building right in the middle of the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot, and the ride takes up the entire upper floor. From the pre-ride line experience (complete with animatronic Grandma talking with guests in line), to a holding room that uses clever projections to tell a story (Don’t forget the cake for Grandma’s birthday party! Assistant can help!), to the ride itself… it’s just ridiculous. The work and engineering that went into this — and the quality of what they built for something that’ll only be here for a few days — is seriously absurd.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/video-article/google-built-an-entire-theme-park-ride-in-the-ces-parking-lot-because-they-can/

Why it’s hot: Getting noticed at tradeshows is not easy, especially at CES. Finding a creative, wow-factor solution to promoting an otherwise boring-to-demo product can get you the attention your brand is looking for.

 

this year in search…

If you’ve never seen Google’s annual year in review, let that end now.

There isn’t much to say about this video that it doesn’t say for itself, but each year, Google analyzes what terms spiked that year vs. the previous year, and compiles all the moments/people/content/etc. related to those things into two minutes that help us reflect on the 12 months we just experienced.

This year, Google trends determined that people searched for “good” more than anything else.

Why It’s Hot:

From a human standpoint, it’s an important reminder that in a year with many downs, it was the ups we sought out most. But from a marketing standpoint, it’s a great example of transforming data into emotional storytelling. Data isn’t just numbers, it’s a story waiting to be told.

 

Why people need to know before they go

A new Think with Google article has been published: “Why people need to ‘know before they go‘: Today people can – and do – prepare for every aspect of any experience, big or small. Whether they’re taking a vacation across the globe or dining at a neighborhood café, people have a low tolerance for surprises.”

Here are some of the highlights I found particularly interesting and helpful…

We analyzed search trends and spoke to consumers, identifying three motives that drive them to know before they go. Explore the data to understand how your brand can provide value in these moments.”

Sparking Excitement:

  • Many want a look at what their experience could entail. For example, we’ve seen over 55% growth in mobile searches for “menus” over the past two years.
  • Rising inquiries include…

Building Confidence:

  • People feel a need to prepare for every detail of their experience – from exploring maps to confirming business hours. Consider this: mobile searches for “wait times” have grown 120% over the past two years.
  • Rising inquiries include…

Making the most of a budget:

  • In the past two years, mobile searches for “do you tip in _” have grown over 70%
  • Rising inquiries include…

Why it’s hot / implications for marketers: 

  • Understand intent signals: Whether it’s to get excited, build confidence, or manage their money, people are using search to shape and validate the decisions they make. We should understand this to adapt our messaging accordingly.

  • Build useful tools: People rely on the web to plan the best experience possible. We should provide assistance with tools that cater to these experiences.

Source: Think with Google

When I Tried To find a Locksmith

I was recently having trouble with my front door, neither here nor there, I wasn’t locked out, but I couldn’t lock my door in the morning.

It turns out finding a locksmith is the hardest thing to do in New York City. “Why don’t you just Google it?” you might ask. Because Googling locksmiths is rife with fraud.

“The goal of lead gens is to wrest as much money as possible from every customer, according to lawsuits. The typical approach is for a phone representative to offer an estimate in the range of $35 to $90. On site, the subcontractor demands three or four times that sum, often claiming that the work was more complicated than expected. Most consumers simply blanch and pay up, in part because they are eager to get into their homes or cars.”

Scammers would go as far as adding fake “offices” into google maps so you can’t even use mapping to research. I wound up getting a referral, but I thought about going to a nearby locksmith in person to triple check they were real.

This is not new, the first reports of this problem are from 2011. Maybe you already know about it. So my question is, if this problem is an old problem why are you posting about it. Well, because it’s 2018 and its only just being fixed. In fact google was sued about it just last month.

Google has been sued time and time again.. and the good news is, they’re finally fixing the problem. Enter Google Guaranteed (October of this year).

Image result for google locksmith guarantee

Ok, Lisa this is all old news! But it isn’t old news for my locksmith, Nick, who has  the arduous task of applying to be google guaranteed. Apparently this is a months long process that has some expenses involved. This can be hard for someone trying to start a small business, like Nick.

Why Its Hot?

What happens to businesses if you’re not Googles priority?

“Defendants knowingly and deliberately flood organic search results displayed in response to queries such as “locksmith” (and related terms) with scam locksmith listings they know: 1) do not exist at all, or at least not at the locations indicated, 2) operate for the purpose of defrauding the consumer public, 3) are not licensed in jurisdictions mandating locksmith licensing, 4) are unregistered to do business in jurisdictions (such as DC) requiring business registration.

Defendants flood the market with fictitious listings to dilute Plaintiffs’ and other legitimate locksmiths’ listing in the organic and map results to the point of obscurity, thereby compelling legitimate locksmiths to pay Defendants for paid advertised results merely to be seen by the same prospective customers.”

Google made money off of locksmiths “problem” by creating artificial demand for their ads.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the real life heros spotting locksmith bots check out this article from the NYT. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/business/fake-online-locksmiths-may-be-out-to-pick-your-pocket-too.html

‘er’, ‘mmm-hmm’ – it’s a robot

Duplex, Google’s robot assistant, now makes eerily lifelike phone calls for you.

The unsettling feature, which will be available to the public later this year, is enabled by a technology called Google Duplex, which can carry out “real world” tasks on the phone, without the other person realising they are talking to a machine. The assistant refers to the person’s calendar to find a suitable time slot and then notifies the user when an appointment is scheduled.

During demonstrations, the virtual assistant did not identify itself and instead appeared to deceive the human at the end of the line. However, in the blogpost, the company indicated that might change.

“It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that. We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.”

Why It’s, Ummmm, Hot
Another entry in our ‘is it good, is it bad’ AI collection. Helpful if used ethically? Maybe. Scary if abused? Absolutely.

google’s magical VR doodle…

If you missed it, Google released its first 360-degreee video doodle yesterday – an homage to a French silent filmmaker and artist Georges Méliès, commemorating his film “The Conquest of the Pole”.

Why It’s Hot:

When even Google Doodles start to show up in 360-degree video, you know it’s bleeding mainstream. Storytelling in 2018 isn’t just a passive experience, it’s an interactive one that immerses the viewer in the story. As we approach video projects in the future, we should be designing for the experience, not just a two-dimensional stream.

[Source]

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Since 2014, when the “right to be forgotten” was court ordered by the European Union, there have been 650K requests to Google to remove certain websites from its search results. This week, Google released a research paper that outlines the types of requests that were submitted.

Most of the requests were to remove five or fewer URLs from its search results. In all, Google says it received requests to remove more than 2.43 million URLs since the end of May 2014, and it has removed about 43 percent of them.

In May 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union ordered Google and other search engines operating in the area to allow individuals to ask the sites to delist specific search results tied to a person’s name if the information is “inadequate, irrelevant or excessive”.

Some stats:

  • 89% of requests came from private individuals.
  • Social media sites, directories, news articles and government pages make up the bulk of links being requested for removal.
  • A little more than half of requests came from France, Germany and the UK

The underlying information on a third-party website is not deleted in this instance, but it becomes much more difficult to find if it no longer appears in Google’s search results. The underlying information on a third-party website is not deleted in this instance, but it becomes much more difficult to find if it no longer appears in Google’s search results.

How do they decide whether to delete or not:

“Determining whether content is in the public interest is complex and may mean considering many diverse factors, including—but not limited to—whether the content relates to the requester’s professional life, a past crime, political office, position in public life, or whether the content is self-authored content, consists of government documents, or is journalistic in nature.”

Why it’s hot: 

  • In the end, the responsibility to determine what’s in the public interest is placed on a private company, a burden, but also a huge responsibility.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/28/589411543/google-received-650-000-right-to-be-forgotten-requests-since-2014

google AI predicts heart attacks by scanning your eye…

This week, the geniuses at Google and its “health-tech subsidiary” Verily announced AI that can predict your risk of a major cardiac event with roughly the same accuracy as the currently-accepted method using just a scan of your eye.

They have created an algorithm that analyzes the back of your eye for important predictors of cardiovascular health “including age, blood pressure, and whether or not [you] smoke” to assess your risk.

As explained via The Verge:

“To train the algorithm, Google and Verily’s scientists used machine learning to analyze a medical dataset of nearly 300,000 patients. This information included eye scans as well as general medical data. As with all deep learning analysis, neural networks were then used to mine this information for patterns, learning to associate telltale signs in the eye scans with the metrics needed to predict cardiovascular risk (e.g., age and blood pressure).

When presented with retinal images of two patients, one of whom suffered a cardiovascular event in the following five years, and one of whom did not, Google’s algorithm was able to tell which was which 70 percent of the time. This is only slightly worse than the commonly used SCORE method of predicting cardiovascular risk, which requires a blood test and makes correct predictions in the same test 72 percent of the time.

Why It’s Hot:

This type of application of AI can help doctors quickly know what to look into, and shows how AI could help them spend less time diagnosing, and more time treating. It’s a long way from being completely flawless right now, but in the future, we might see an AI-powered robot instead of a nurse before we see the doctor.

[Source]

YouTube’s Algorithm Helps Spread Lies

Time to re-litigate our favorite Hot Sauce topic! Are social media platforms media platforms or not? Do they have a journalistic responsibility to the public?

Last week YouTube’s quickly algorithm spread a rumor that Parkland HS shooting survivor David Hogg was an actor hired by democrats. It had 200K views shortly after it’s posting, but has since been taken down.

Mashable, the source for this post had a very apt understanding of the problem at hand:

YouTube’s job, as it sees it, is to get as many eyeballs on as many videos as possible. It’s as if a media tycoon founded a newspaper, invited every conspiracy theorist to contribute, and blithely waved away the notion that there should be any ethical responsibility to put forth the verifiable truth — because selling ads was all that mattered.

In a recent Guardian study this recent Guardian study out of 643 of partisan videos  recommended to people watching politics content in 2016, 551 were conspiracy-based content that favored Trump while 92 favored Clinton. This study also notes that “More than 80% of the YouTube-recommended videos about the pope detected by his program described the Catholic leader as “evil”, “satanic”, or “the anti-Christ”.”

The Guardian tells the story of french programmer Guillaume Chaslot founder of https://algotransparency.org/ who was looking to make changes internally at YouTube in 2013 before he was fired (reportedly for performance reasons, but I’ll leave that up to you.) He believes that the YouTube Algorithm was biased towards Trump because it is biased towards divisiveness and conspiracy (things that shock and awe audiences can get more clicks). You can read his full blog post on the subject here.

Why Its Hot?

Let’s continue the conversation about how AI and algorithms shape the way we live, is there a way we can make them more human instead of human pandering.

Google Thinks The Future Of The Web Is Email + A Ghost Story

Google is taking the frustration out of ‘clicking out’ to a web page on accident through a new initiative called AMP for Email.

https://images.fastcompany.net/image/upload/w_596,c_limit,q_auto:best,f_webm,fl_lossy/wp-cms/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/1g-to-google-the-future-of-the-web-is-email.gif

“Instead of an email from Pinterest just kicking you to some in-app browser or an external app as soon as you tap one of its links, a new AMP-infused Pinterest email is the web. So you can pin to your heart’s content, right inside the email window. With AMP for Email, you never need to leave the message itself to browse web content.” Google is making this possible by letting email developers incorporate its Accelerated Mobile Pages standard, and for now, and Gmail is currently the only email client supporting this.

https://images.fastcompany.net/image/upload/w_596,c_limit,q_auto:best,f_webm,fl_lossy/wp-cms/uploads/sites/4/2018/02/2g-to-google-the-future-of-the-web-is-email.gif

“Instead of shuttling the user from an email to the web and back, email is simply becoming the web–a deep, browsable entity”

Why it’s hot: While it might seem minor, this has some strong implications for email CRM form both the user and the brand perspective. For the user, it is a more seamless experience with a branded email. For the brand, it encourages further brand engagement and less fear of ‘linking out’.

Source: Co.Design

BONUS:

PLUS……………….. I highly recommend reading this modern ghost story via twitter….. Is it real? I’ll let you decide. P.S It’s real.

“Also, being a Ghost Influencer is now a thing.” – Amanda Z.

Everybody fall in line!

This incisive tweet from type designer James Edmonson of Oh No Type Co looks like a humorous one-liner but is actually a brilliant piece of criticism. In just five words, he summarizes the pervasive tendency towards a visual uniformity that seems to draw in nearly every major tech brand operating today.

Tech company logos

Consider the macro trend of these brands all visually converging alongside the industry’s current mania for design systems. That juxtaposition suggests that we’re far more interested in implementing ideas than we are in ideas themselves.

Put another way, as practitioners of design we’re most comfortable asking questions like “How do we implement our brand’s design language, propagate and scale it, and make sure it’s consistent?” We’re much less comfortable asking questions like, “What’s the larger context for the brand we’re building?

Source: Subtraction.com

Why it’s hot
This post raises valid questions in the age where digital design in general trends towards uniformity over expression.

Google Flights will now predict airline delays – before the airlines do

Google is rolling out a few new features to its Google Flights search engine to help travelers tackle some of the more frustrating aspects of air travel – delays and the complexities of the cheaper, Basic Economy fares. Google Flights will take advantage of its understanding of historical data and its machine learning algorithms to predict delays that haven’t yet been flagged by airlines themselves.

Explains Google, the combination of data and A.I. technologies means it can predict some delays in advance of any sort of official confirmation. Google says that it won’t actually flag these in the app until it’s at least 80 percent confident in the prediction, though.

It will also provide reasons for the delays, like weather or an aircraft arriving late.

You can track the status of your flight by searching for your flight number or the airline and flight route, notes Google. The delay information will then appear in the search results.

The other new feature added aims to help travelers make sense of what Basic Economy fares include and exclude with their ticket price.Google Flights will now display the restrictions associated with these fares – like restrictions on using overhead space or the ability to select a seat, as well as the fare’s additional baggage fees. It’s initially doing so for American, Delta and United flights worldwide.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Great example of using AI and predictive methods to drive better customer experience, and combat an industry that is less-than-transparent usually. It makes Google’s search solutions more desired and solidifies it as THE place to search everything. Would like to see if the alerts could get actionable, though, as right now they are more anxiety-creators.

 

Google’s Moving Year in Search Video Shows How We Got Through the Hell of 2017

The search giant’s recap of 2017 includes footage of wildfires, hurricanes, gun violence, threats of nuclear war, protests and so much more—pretty much 2017 in a nutshell. Yet, Google managed to make all this uplifting.

Using Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times,” Google’s video shows the perseverance of the human spirit and may even inspire you to make a difference for the people still reeling from the various tragedies we’ve seen this year. It also manages to provide comfort with a “you’re not alone” vibe, reminding you that others are feeling that sense of powerlessness and existential dread, too—and that if we come together, we can let those feelings drive us to change the world.

Google also gathered some of the year’s top searches, and some of them are a real punch to the gut. see more here

Source: AdWeek

Why It’s Hot

Search data provides deep insight into how we operate as a culture.

 

Google’s Express Service Lets Shoppers Place Orders From Costco Without Membership

Stealing your family and friend’s membership cards is now no longer the only way to shop at Costco without a membership. The members-only wholesale retailer has recently partnered with Google’s shopping service, Google Express, to make some of its products available online in select locations where the Express service operates.

While there will be none of the delicious free samples Costco is known for, online shoppers can still purchase many of the retailer’s most popular items, including in-house brands like Kirkland. The service also features items from other major retailers, including Walmart and Target. Shoppers simply place their orders through the Google Express website, app, or Google Assistant-enabled devices like Google Home. Orders are then shipped directly to the customer’s home, and if they spend over a certain minimum, Google will waive the shipping fee entirely.

The only catch is that non-Costco members who make orders through Google Express must pay a $10 “access fee” to purchase Costco products, though this doesn’t apply for Costco members. The service is also only available in select locations, as shoppers in 10 states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming cannot order without a Costco membership at all.

Source: PSFK

Retail brands are scrambling to provide better experiences for customers — via tech, via access, via personalization and more.

By partnering with major retail players like Costco, Walmart and Target, it places Google in a better position to challenge Amazon, which is currently in the process of expanding its footprint into physical retail spaces, namely through its acquisition of Whole Foods earlier this year.