Visible is a digital-only wireless carrier that ditches brick and mortar stores for a smartphone app that lets you “order service from your couch.” Backed by Verizon Wireless, Visible isn’t an MVNO because it’s not buying network access from Verizon. Instead, Visible has direct access to Verizon’s network as if it were its own.
For $40 a month, Visible users get unlimited talk, text, data, and mobile hotspot. That price includes taxes and fees — it’s just $40 a month. There’s a small catch in that your data speeds are limited to just 5Mbps.
At launch, Visible only supported Apple’s iPhone, but starting Thursday, the company is launching Android support in beta with Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus.
Additionally, Visible will also begin selling devices directly to users who can take advantage of free overnight shipping, zero down, and familiar monthly payment plans on 11 iPhone models and the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. Lastly, Visible is launching Visible Protect, a device protection service that costs $10 a month in partnership with Assurant.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone 8 with a Visible SIM card. And, despite my reservations, I have to admit that the 5Mbps speed cap hasn’t been as big of an issue as I expected.
In fact, on one occasion I used the iPhone’s hotspot as my lone internet connection for a morning. I streamed music, watched YouTube videos, and went about a typical day’s worth of work and not once did I feel like I was using a slow connection. Granted, if I needed to manage large files stored in the cloud, the speed cap would have had more of an impact.
But for browsing the web, streaming video and music, and managing my email, the speed was a non-issue.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, I had the chance to talk with Visible CEO Miguel Quiroga and learn more about why Visible exists, how the company plans to tackle customer service, and opening up the service to Android users. Below is the conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
ZDNet: What was the thinking behind Visible?
Quiroga: Over 60 million customers in the US switch carriers on an annual basis. One of the questions the team came up with was, Why do customers do that? Is it is a store experience? Is it the price point? Is it coverage? Maybe it’s the complexity or perhaps the lack of transparency and the hidden costs?
I think that where we arrived was that there’s an opportunity and a premise that all the different complexities don’t have to exist in this particular category, there’s a different way to do business. What we landed on here was that if you have a simple, easy to use, easy to understand offering — something that’s a high-quality product experience, and great customer service — it’s ultimately going to bring a lot of value to a customer. The idea of Visible being an all-digital carrier, that’s easier and simpler and more accessible way to both sign up and manager service from the comfort of your couch, without having any of the kind of complexity that customers often struggle with, such as what exactly is on the bill, and what does it mean — we think that’s pretty compelling. We offer a $40 unlimited data, voice minutes, and hotspot on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.
ZDNet: Can explain why Visible started with iPhone first? Why not Android? It’s the opposite direction that most prepaid carriers go.
Quiroga: For us, it was really about how we were trying to launch the business and focus on the customer experience we wanted to have because the iPhone kind of category of products is much more kind of systemic as versus in the Android environment. While it’s a great ecosystem is also a little more fragmented, there are a lot more manufacturers in play. The iPhone allows us to really put much more attention on the experience. So the thinking was: focus on iOS, which allows us to do the things we need to do in parallel, we’ve been working on the Android experience as well, in addition to the type of testing and device range, and that’s required to do so. So that’s really why we focus on the iOS experience first.
ZDNet: One thing I noticed when reading about Visible is it’s almost as if you go out of your way to make sure to say you’re not an MVNO of Verizon. The exact wording is “Visible is backed by Verizon, but operates independently.” Why is it important for you to make that distinction?
Quiroga: I think a couple of things. So let’s talk about the MVNO topic real quick. From an MVNO perspective, MVNO has a very specific meaning in the industry. It’s really about the wholesale type of relationship that a company will use to buy network access in bulk. Our relationship is completely different. We’re a full facility carrier because we are directly using Verizon’s network. It’s a different offering, it allows us to prepare a type of offering that gives more value to consumers. So the fact we don’t have stores, the fact that we have that type of relationship, it allows us to essentially tap value directly to the consumer. So that’s why we make that distinction. And that’s why we’ve been really kind of focused on differentiating between what an MVNO is versus what we are.
The concept around why we talk about not being an MVNO and that Visible operates independently is because it’s a way that we look at the way we built this company and the business model. I know, it sounds like an obvious thing. But the culture that we’re building here, the types of employees, the fact that our headquarters is actually in Denver is something that’s unique, and we think it’s something that we want to make sure is clear, because the way we operate, the way we approach things with a customer-centric lens is something that’s uniquely Visible.
ZDNet: Visible’s data plans are truly unlimited, right? There’s not an arbitrary cap or slowdown at some point?
Quiroga: That’s correct, our data is unlimited.
ZDNet: Okay, but it’s capped at 5 megabits-per-second?
Quiroga: That’s right. The speed cap of 5MB was based on a lot of the research we did from a network analysis perspective around doing all the traditional things most consumers do, including streaming video, streaming of audio, as well as all the day to day activities from browsing and email. The thinking is that that gives the broad spectrum of customers that type of access they want.
ZDNet: Why launch with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus as the first devices in the Android beta?
Quiroga: With the focus on the S9 and S9 Plus, we wanted to make sure had the right type of device availability that was very popular in the US. The S9 is a very popular phone, it’s a high-quality build, and we felt that the two sizes gave customers the type of choices they’re looking for. It’s where we decided to start the Android offering, but we’ll quickly follow along with additional products that we’ll make available to customers. One of the things we didn’t want to do is wait until we had a vast catalog, then deploy to customers. We said, “You know what? Let’s get this in customers hands right away.”
ZDNet: If I was to take the SIM card and put it in a Note 9, would I be able to do change the API settings, or is there something on the network side that’s going to prevent other Android devices from working?
Quiroga: There is a concept of essentially having device certification against the network, as I’m sure you’re familiar with. So what we have currently have completed testing on for the Samsung family of products is the assignment of time. Plus. It’s not because we don’t want customers to do that. It’s just simply that we wanted to make sure the appropriate testing was done, and it would work seamlessly.
ZDNet How long do you expect the Android part of your service to be in beta? I know the iPhone beta wasn’t just a month or two, it was longer than that. How do you see the Android beta proceeding from here as you certify more devices?
Quiroga: I think it becomes a little bit of our mindset of leadership team here is that beta means different things to different industries. I often talk about the term beta, when it looks like it’s something like Google was taken to the extreme, I think of Google Maps, it was like 12 years or something crazy. We’re not gonna do that. That doesn’t work for us. Beta for us means that it’s consumer available and it works for the consumer. We’re just trying to get customer feedback to essentially improve the product line as we go. We don’t have the exact window of time, but I would say fairly quickly we would move beyond that. But for us, it’s really about focusing the beta as a way to explain to customers, please give us more feedback, because it allows us to continue to improve the product.
ZDNet: One of the biggest differences for Visible, when compared to traditional carriers, is that there’s not a place for me to go if I’m having issues with my phone and get help with it. Customer support is a big part of, I guess, a huge problem you have to solve as an online-only carrier. What kind of approaches are you taking to troubleshooting handset issues and customer support overall?
Quiroga: Our mindset here is just because we’re online doesn’t mean that there aren’t people to help and whether that’s through chat, or if we absolutely need to we can get on the phone and work through an issue. That’s one option. In addition, Visible Protect offers a type of live support, either in an Apple Care environment for iOS or from an Android perspective, there’s a network of stores which will also perform Apple Care-like support.
ZDNet: For the past few weeks I’ve been going back and forth with Google’s Fi service trying to get picture messaging to work on an iPhone XR. The customer service aspect of it has been horrible. It takes several days to get an answer through email and the entire experience just hasn’t been smooth. How does Visible get over this stigma that online-only carriers can’t provide customer support?
Quiroga: I would propose there are two scenarios. You have the online environment and you have the store environment. I’ve had similar issues with a physical store, and the downside of that is now you’re meeting the person — this is their fifth time in here and it’s still not working. To me, this is a standard customer service problem across the industry, and I’ll tell you with Visible what we’re trying to do to make it better.
What we’re trying to do is two things. One, operationally orient ourselves so that those kinds of issues with our ability to resolve, close, or at least address it, more specifically, we’re going to be in a better position. Two, there’s a mindset towards how we close these issues. Chat is one thing, but I’m a huge believer that whenever you have someone on the phone, then fix the problem. You do it, period.
ZDNet I didn’t mean to turn this into a personal thing. For me, it’s just I’ve seen this issue with Mint, and Republic — with all the other carriers that take a similar approach.
Quiroga: Here’s one other little nuance that might be interesting. All the examples you’ve provided are MVNOs, We actually own our own network and that allows us to have a type of level of network focus, intelligent insight, and trouble resolution that is unmatched in this category. That’s why we think we can ultimately solve those challenges for customers and make the type of experience you had be something that is not common.
Facebook’s stock shrugs off bad-news deluge – TechCrunch
After social media company Snap reported earnings last week, the value of its cohort of public companies fell sharply.
Snap shed more than 20% of its value after telling investors that it expects a far smaller fourth quarter than the street anticipates. Privacy changes to technology platforms and weak advertiser demand thanks to supply-chain issues are likely to weigh on Snap’s Q4 top-line expectations.
Facebook stock fell around 5% on the Snap news on Friday.
And then Facebook had a difficult weekend of coverage, a period that flowed into a Monday-morning news dump concerning the company as dozens of media organizations began reporting on a trove of documents released by a whistleblower. Facebook is in the midst of what is perhaps its most damning reporting cycle to date, a bit of a high-water mark given the social company’s history of scandal.
This morning, however, shares of Facebook are essentially flat, trading up or down 0.2% to 0.3%. Investors are shrugging off the reporting, it appears.
It would be easy to make a somewhat cynical comment that public-market investors were more concerned about potentially lackluster business results than they are about, say, the company’s inability to handle misinformation and political manipulation in India. But a good chunk of today’s reporting deals with things that do matter in business terms, like Facebook’s slowly declining grip on younger users. So, what’s going on?
It may be that today’s reporting was priced into Facebook’s stock already; the company, worth just under $326 per share this morning, is far from its all-time high of $384.33 that it set earlier this year, indicating that it has already given up quite a lot of value.
But it may be most fair to say that Facebook investors are simply reacting to new disclosures — like Snap’s bad news — more than historical documents outlining longer-term issues. That would explain why Facebook fell Friday and is flattish today.
Regardless of why Facebook’s shares are holding steady this morning, any gains in the wake of an ocean of negative reporting based on the company’s own descriptions of its problems — leaked documents are powerful for that very reason — must feel like a win inside of Facebook’s halls.
Facebook reports earnings today after the bell.
Cameo buys fan merch platform Represent – TechCrunch
Celeb video site Cameo is making its first acquisition. The company will buy Represent, a marketing and merch company that helps celebrities and brands set up individualized online storefronts. It’s a natural fit for Cameo, which invites fans to pay celebrities of all stripes for short customized videos.
Represent counts Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Kendall Jenner among the members of its pool of partnered talent, so Cameo will be bringing those relationships into the fold through the acquisition.
The company is also bringing Represent’s leadership on board and the acquisition will double the size of Cameo’s team in Europe. Cameo did not disclose the terms of the deal.
Cameo says that its users won’t see changes right away, but in the future they might be able to purchase “gift bundles” that would pair a traditional Cameo video with related merch. The company also hopes that weaving merch into its revenue streams will boost the fundraising efforts that many on-platform celebrities do to raise money for nonprofits.
Most of Cameo’s users visit the celeb video site to procure gifts for friends and loved ones to celebrate birthdays and other occasions. The company said it facilitated more than 1.3 million videos last year, with the company’s top 150 figures earning north of $100,000.
The company has also added a few new products, including Cameo Calls — short one-on-one video calls with celebrities — and Fan Clubs, sort of a VIP section of the site that helps dedicated fans stay in the loop on the talent they follow.
Cameo has raised money from a number of traditional sources like Google Ventures and SoftBank, but also from celebrity investors like Snoop Dogg and Tony Hawk. In March, Cameo raised $100 million Series C, bringing the company’s valuation to upward of $1 billion.
Internal Facebook documents highlight its moderation and misinformation issues – TechCrunch
The Facebook Papers, a vast trove of documents supplied by whistleblower Frances Haugen to a consortium of news organizations has been released. The reporting, by Reuters, Bloomberg, The Washington Post and others, paints a picture of a company that repeatedly sought to prioritize dominance and profit over user safety. This was, however, despite a large number of employees warning that the company’s focus on engagement put users at risk of real-world violence.
The Washington Post, for instance, claims that while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg played down reports that the site amplified hate speech in testimony to Congress, he was aware that the problem was far broader than publicly declared. Internal documents seen by the Post claim that the social network had removed less than five percent of hate speech, and that executives — including Zuckerberg — were well aware that Facebook was polarizing people. The claims have already been rebutted by Facebook, which says that the documents have been misrepresented.
Zuckerberg is also accused of squashing a plan to run a Spanish-language voter-registration drive in the US before the 2020 elections. He said that the plan may have appeared “partisan,” with WhatsApp staffers subsequently offering a watered-down version partnering with outside agencies. The CEO was also reportedly behind the decision not to clamp down on COVID-19 misinformation in the early stages of the pandemic as there may be a “material tradeoff with MSI [Meaningful Social Interaction — an internal Facebook metric] impact.” Facebook has refuted the claim, saying that the documents have been mischaracterized.
Reuters reported that Facebook has serially neglected a number of developing nations, allowing hate speech and extremism to flourish. That includes not hiring enough staffers who can speak the local language, appreciate the cultural context and otherwise effectively moderate. The result is that the company has unjustified faith in its automatic moderation systems which are ineffective in non-English speaking countries. Again, Facebook has refuted the accusation that it is neglecting its users in those territories.
One specific region that is singled out for concern is Myanmar, where Facebook has been held responsible for amplifying local tensions. A 2020 document suggests that the company’s automatic moderation system could not flag problematic terms in (local language) Burmese. (It should be noted that, two years previously, Facebook’s failure to properly act to prevent civil unrest in Myanmar was highlighted in a report from Business for Social Responsibility.)
Similarly, Facebook reportedly did not have the tools in place to detect hate speech in the Ethiopian languages of Oromo or Amharic. Facebook has said that it is working to expand its content moderation team and, in the last two years, has recruited Oromo, Amharic and Burmese speakers (as well as a number of other languages).
The New York Times, reports that Facebook’s internal research was well-aware that the Like and Share functions — core elements of how the platform work — had accelerated the spread of hate speech. A document, titled What Is Collateral Damage, says that Facebook’s failure to remedy these issues will see the company “actively (if not necessarily consciously) promoting these types of activities.” Facebook says that, again, these statements are based on incorrect premises, and that it would be illogical for the company to try and actively harm its users.
Bloomberg, meanwhile, has focused on the supposed collapse in Facebook’s engagement metrics. Young people, a key target market for advertisers, are spending less time on Facebook’s platform, with fewer teens opting to sign up. At the same time, the number of users may be artificially inflated in these age groups, with users choosing to create multiple accounts — “Finstas” — to separate their online personas to cater to different groups. Haugen alleges that Facebook “has misrepresented core metrics to investors and advertisers,” and that duplicate accounts are leading to “extensive fraud” against advertisers. Facebook says that it already notifies advertisers of the risk that purchases will reach duplicate accounts in its Help Center, and lists the issue in its SEC filings.
Over the weekend, Axios reported that Facebook’s Sir Nick Clegg warned that the site should expect “more bad headlines” in the coming weeks. Between the material available in the Facebook Papers, another round of Frances Haugen’s testimony in the UK later today and rumors of more whistleblowers coming forward, it’s likely that Facebook will remain in the headlines for some time.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.
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