AT&T to Cap Data Use, Stick ‘Hogs’ With Extra Fees

AT&T is going to start placing caps on data usage for its DSL and U-Verse customers beginning May 2. Users who exceed a 150 GB data cap will be charged US$10 for every additional 50 GB of data consumed.

Most DSL customers use about 18 GB a month, AT&T said, which means only 2 percent of its Internet customers are likely to be impacted by the data cap. U-Verse Internet customers have a 250 GB cap.

AT&T will notify customers when they have exceeded certain thresholds every month: namely, at the 60 percent and 90 percent data allowances, and after they have exceeded their full monthly allowance.

It will also offer tools to monitor customer activities and examples of the types of activities that use up the most data.

AT&T publicly confirmed reports of its plans that appeared in media outlets, but it did not respond to the E-Commerce Times’ request for comment by press time.

Comcast’s Caps

This is not the first time a broadband provider has instituted data caps.

Comcast did so a few years ago, but in a ham-handed fashion and without providing information about how much bandwidth each customer was using.

It also cut off, or throttled, customers’ access to certain P2P services, prompting intervention from the FCC and fueling a Net neutrality tussle that is still playing out in Congress and in the courts.

Today’s Data Hog, Tomorrow’s Everyday Consumer?

AT&T appears to be trying for a more conciliatory approach by portraying the caps as necessary for only a very small percentage of the user base that it characterizes as “data hogs.”

Trouble is, the activities that are now earning the “data hog” label — file-sharing, video conferencing, high-definition movie downloads, constant online video viewing — are likely to become commonplace activities soon.

There’s a good chance AT&T’s moves will be accepted by its customer base, especially as they are couched in terms of necessity and accompanied by tools to help customers keep from going over their caps. More than likely, other providers will follow suit. In the long run, however, the caps may just be a stop-gap mechanism for providers.

“What telecom providers see as high usage today will be average use tomorrow,” said Rick Rotondo, VP of marketing for xG Technology.

The expansion of online content and video services, to name just two drivers, will be the reason, he said. As that happens, it will get harder and harder for telco providers to impose caps.

Besides having to incent high users to exercise restraint, providers will have to build out additional capacity in their networks, Rotondo predicted.

“We are all morphing into hogs, from the operators’ perspective,” Patrick Lopez, CMO of Vantrix, told the E-Commerce Times. “The very fact that the majority of users are stepping up their consumption means that eventually there will not be enough capacity in the network for everyone.”

Also, more consumers are abandoning cable and satellite television services altogether, streaming content over the Internet instead. That introduces another wrinkle for providers that bundle their Internet, TV and telephone services.

“While they are happy to see Internet usage increase, the shift in usage does cause resource management and investment problems for these companies,” said Lopez.

For that reason, the providers will likely find it is not sustainable simply to charge for additional capacity, he continued. Rather, they may choose to invest in intelligent billing and similar solutions that will allow the carriers to better target specific uses with appropriate fees.

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Meta Moves To Back Off Removing Covid Misinformation From Platforms

Meta took a step Tuesday toward abandoning its policy of removing misinformation about Covid from its platforms.

The company, which owns Facebook and Instagram, is asking its Oversight Board for an advisory opinion on whether measures taken to squash dangerous Covid-19 misinformation should continue or be modified.

In an online posting, Meta’s president for global affairs Nick Clegg explained that the company’s harmful information policies were expanded at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 to remove entire categories of false claims on a worldwide scale. Prior to that time, content was removed from Meta’s platforms only if it contributed to a risk of imminent physical harm.

“As a result,” Clegg wrote, “Meta has removed Covid-19 misinformation on an unprecedented scale. Globally, more than 25 million pieces of content have been removed since the start of the pandemic.”

However, Meta is suggesting it may be time for a change in its Covid misinformation policy.

“We are requesting an advisory opinion from the Oversight Board on whether Meta’s current measures to address Covid-19 misinformation under our harmful health misinformation policy continue to be appropriate, or whether we should address this misinformation through other means, like labeling or demoting it either directly or through our third-party fact-checking program,” Clegg noted.

Fading Emergency

Meta’s Covid misinformation policies were adopted during a state of emergency that demanded drastic measures, explained Will Duffield, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank whose vice president, John Samples, is on the Oversight Board. “Now, three years later, the sense of emergency has faded,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“There’s a lot more health information out there,” he said. “If people believe ridiculous things about vaccines or the efficacy of certain cures, that’s more on them now and less a result of a mixed-up information environment where people don’t know what’s true yet.”

“It was an unprecedented step to hand the policy over to global health organizations and local health authorities,” he added. “At some point, some of that had to be clawed back. You can’t have a state of emergency that lasts forever so this is an attempt to begin unwinding the process.”

Global Repercussions

Is the unwinding process beginning too soon?

“In the developed world, vaccinations are almost universal. As a result, while caseloads remain high, the number of serious illness and deaths are quite low,” noted Dan Kennedy, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston.

“But in the rest of the world, where there are countries where Facebook is a bigger deal than it is in the U.S., the emergency isn’t close to being over,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“While many countries are taking steps to return to a more normal life, that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over,” added Beth Hoffman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s school of public health’s department of behavioral and community health sciences.

“A big concern is that removing the current policy will particularly harm areas of the globe with lower vaccination rates and fewer resources to respond to a surge in cases or new variants,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Clegg acknowledged the global ramifications of any policy changes Meta might make. “It is important that any policy Meta implements be appropriate for the full range of circumstances countries find themselves in,” he wrote.

Line in the Sand

Meta wants to draw a line in the sand, maintained Karen Kovacs North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California. “Their point is that there is no imminent physical harm in the same way there was at the beginning of the pandemic,” she told TechNewsWorld.

“They don’t want to set a precedent for taking stringent action if there is no imminent physical harm,” she added.

Clegg noted in his posting that Meta is fundamentally committed to free expression and believes its apps are an important way for people to make their voices heard.

“But resolving the inherent tensions between free expression and safety isn’t easy, especially when confronted with unprecedented and fast-moving challenges, as we have been in the pandemic,” he continued.

“That’s why we are seeking the advice of the Oversight Board in this case,” he wrote. “Its guidance will also help us respond to future public health emergencies.”

Meta says it want to balance free speech with the spread of misinformation so it makes sense that it would revisit its Covid policy, asserted Mike Horning, an associate professor of multimedia journalism at Virginia Tech University.

“While they seem to remain concerned about misinformation, it’s also good to see that they are concerned with how the policy might impact free speech,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Backlash From Content Removal

Pulling back on removing Covid misinformation could improve Meta’s image among some of its users, noted Horning. “The removal policy can be effective in slowing the spread of misinformation, but it also can create new problems,” he said.

“When people have their posts taken down, more conspiracy minded individuals see that as confirmation that Meta is trying to suppress certain information,” he continued. “So while removing content can limit the number of people who see misinformation, it also leads some to see the company as unfair or biased.”

The effectiveness of removing Covid misinformation may also be passing its expiration date. “One study found that when the Covid misinformation controls were first implemented, distribution of misinformation was reduced by 30%,” Duffield said.

“Over time, misinformation peddlers shifted to talking about other conspiracy theories or found coded ways to talk about Covid and Covid skepticism,” he continued. “So initially it had an impact, but that impact waned over time.”

North noted that some methods for controlling misinformation may appear to be weak but can be more effective than removing content. “Removing content can be like whack-a-mole. Content gets removed so people try to post it in a different way to trick the algorithm,” she explained.

“When you de-index it or reduce its exposure,” she continued, “it much harder for a poster to know how much exposure it’s getting so it can be very effective.”

Profiting Off Misinformation

While Meta declares the noblest of motives for changing its Covid misinformation policy, there could be some bottom-line concerns influencing the move, too.

“Content moderation is a burden for these companies,” observed Vincent Raynauld, an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at Emerson College in Boston.

“Whenever you remove content from your platform, there’s a cost associated with that,” he told TechNewsWorld. “When you leave the content up, you’re likely to get more content creation and engagement with that content.”

“There are lots of studies that show misinformation tends to generate a lot of engagement, and for these companies, user engagement is money,” he said.

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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Cryptocurrency Payment Alternative Fosters E-Commerce Partnerships, Convenience

A new partnership between multinational e-commerce platform Shopify and cryptocurrency exchange Crypto.com is making it easier for digital shop owners to cash in by adopting crypto payments.

Crypto.com in May announced that Shopify merchants can enable Crypto.com’s cryptocurrency pay platform on their online storefronts. This agreement lets merchants expand their reach by giving customers the ability to pay with more than 20 tokens, including CRO, ETH, BTC, DOT, and DOGE.

This integration further underscores Crypto.com Pay as a preferred cryptocurrency payment app for online merchants who are keen to accept cryptocurrencies, according to the company’s partnership announcement.

Crypto.com serves over 50 million users globally. Its off-chain service handles consumer transactions in real time via the Crypto.com App.

Crypto.com Pay lets merchants receive cryptocurrencies instantly with no transaction fees. The process includes a 0.5% settlement fee, which represents an 80% savings on fees compared to traditional payment processors. Merchants incur no setup costs, and the integration takes minutes to complete.

The agreement with Crypto.com provides Shopify merchants with an additional fast and convenient way for customers to pay for their online orders, according to John S. Lee, lead of blockchain ecosystem at Shopify.

“Our growing blockchain ecosystem demonstrates our commitment to supporting merchants with alternative payment methods on their storefronts, helping to further expand what is possible in commerce,” he said in making the announcement.

Providing more customers and merchants the ability to engage in commerce using cryptocurrencies is a priority for Crypto.com, added Kris Marszalek, co-founder and CEO of Crypto.com.

Push for Crypto Payment Options

As merchants begin to adopt crypto payments, currency preference will be an important factor. Both customers and merchants have expressed a desire to transact with the highest market cap currencies and stablecoins which are less volatile and offer increased scalability.

A February report from Crypto.com and financial technology solutions firm FIS shows both customers and merchants have a growing desire to transact with crypto.

For instance, within the next year 75% of Crypto.com customers want to purchase goods or services with cryptocurrency; and 60% of Worldpay from FIS merchants are willing to accept cryptocurrency for goods or services.

Customers want parity between online and in-store payment options. Merchants appear to be prioritizing the e-commerce experience, according to the report which is available here with no registration required at the time of this publication.

One major example of consumers’ interest in crypto payment options are Crypto.com’s crypto debit cards. Usage reached double-digit growth for per-user spending in 2021 compared to the previous year as it entered new markets.

A March spending report for cryptocurrency available here (also ungated) highlights these consumer trends:

  • Groceries were the main spending category with 51% of all crypto spent on daily goods.
  • In-store purchases climbed by 11%.
  • Overall, the fashion (clothing and footwear) category saw the strongest spending growth at 50%. Spending on transportation and recreation was second at 46%.

Crypto Partnership Makes Sense

Shopify operates a marketplace model where that gives third-party vendors, software, and service providers the opportunity to get in front of its clients. So this type of third-party application will increase the attractiveness of Shopify itself and also support lock-in effects into their ecosystem, explained Marcel Hollerbach, chief information officer at Productsup.

“Supporting crypto payments itself also is just logical given there is more and more crypto adoption. More payment methods typically lead to higher conversion rates on e-commerce merchants’ sites,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Consumer adoption of crypto payments now mimics internet adoption itself in the mid-1990s, he offered. Crypto adoption is still in very early stages, noted the latest report from Andreesen Horowitz.

“They outlined that crypto adoption is somewhere where internet users were in 1996 if you compare active wallet addresses with active internet users back in the day. So, it is still very early,” he observed.

The use of cryptocurrency is driven by multiple factors. Big banks, and fintech firms e.g., PayPal, have entered the game and provide bitcoin wallets to their users. Countries started adopting bitcoin, and social media giants like Meta are getting into the game of NFTs, where the underlying tech also is based on crypto, said Hollerbach.

Know Thy Provider

For cryptocurrency to become as readily used by consumers as other digital payment forms, the transaction cost needs to come down further. A lot of cryptocurrencies still have scaling issues that are being worked on, for example.

“Crypto prices need to stabilize. At the moment, there is a lot of price volatility which can mean that the shirt you ordered costs $20 on one day and $25 on another,” said Hollerbach.

New crypto users should follow two main cautions, he offered.

First, they should select a trustworthy bank or exchange where they buy their crypto. Coinbase, Kraken, Crypto.com, or PayPal could be good options.

Second, a lot of scammers try to take advantage of inexperienced users. Crypto users must vet the source, or the vendor involved in the transaction. If it looks “phishy,” do not engage.

Smoother International Transactions

Crypto brings native currency to the internet. It is very flexible, noted Hollerbach.

For instance, someone in the U.S. can make a transaction at the same time as a consumer in El Salvador without having any restrictions on currency/exchange rates. Payments with cryptocurrency can be more private as well.

“Cryptocurrencies have no regard for national borders. An individual in one country can send coins to someone in a different country without any added difficulty. With traditional financial services, getting funds across international borders can take a long time and come with hefty fees,” said Hollerbach.

“In some cases, he continued, “doing so might not even be possible due to regulations, sanctions, or tensions between specific countries.”

Given that players like Meta and PayPal are in the game now, crypto is becoming easier to use, he added.

Concerns To Consider

Crypto involves more than just one type of currency. Besides Bitcoin or Ethereum, there are also so-called stablecoins like Circle USDC or Tether USDT.

These stablecoins are technically crypto put represent a one-to-one peg to the dollar. So one is paying with crypto but at the value of a dollar.

“This is very interesting for consumers and merchants as it represents a very stable and plannable way of paying with crypto,” noted Hollerbach.

Merchants could also allow payments with Bitcoin and Ethereum and speculate that they will grow in value. This speculation is risky though, especially in bear markets like right now where the value of cryptocurrencies can also trend massively negative, he cautioned.

Shopify warns users to verify that cryptocurrencies are an acceptable form of payment in their region before accepting them.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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