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GOOGLE LAUNCHES A PODCAST APP FOR ANDROID WITH PERSONALIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

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Google today is introducing a new standalone podcast app for Android. The app, called simply Google Podcasts, will use Google’s recommendation algorithms in an effort to connect people with shows they might enjoy based on their listening habits. While podcasts have previously been available on Android through Google Play Music and third-party apps, Google says the company expects Podcasts to bring the form to hundreds of millions of new listeners around the world. (Google Listen, an early effort to build what was then called a “podcatcher” for Android, was killed off in 2012.)

“There’s still tons of room for growth when it comes to podcast listening,” said Zack Reneau-Wedeen, product manager on the app. Creating a native first-party Android app for podcasts “could as much as double worldwide listenership of podcasts overall,” he said.

Google Podcasts will look familiar to anyone who has used a podcast app before. It lets you search for new podcasts, download them, and play them at your convenience. More than 2 million podcasts will be available on the app on launch day, Google says, including “all of the ones you’ve heard of.”

Open the app, and a section called “For you” shows you new episodes of shows you’ve subscribed to, episodes you’ve been listening to but haven’t finished, and a list of your downloaded episodes. Scroll down, and you’ll see top and trending podcasts, both in general and by category. The podcast player has fewer fine-grained controls than you might be used to from apps like Overcast. You can’t customize the skip buttons or create playlists of podcasts to listen to, for example.

The Podcasts app is integrated with Google Assistant, meaning you can search for and play podcasts wherever you have Assistant enabled. The company will sync your place in a podcast across all Google products, so if you listen to half a podcast on your way home from work, you can resume it on your Google Home once you’re back at the house.

In the coming months, Google plans to add a suite of features to Podcasts that are powered by artificial intelligence. One feature will add closed captions to your podcast, so you can read along as you listen. It’s a feature that could be useful to people who are hard of hearing or for anyone who is listening in a noisy environment. (I usually miss a few minutes of the podcasts I listen to every day, thanks to a noisy subway ride.)

Closed captions also mean that you’ll be able to skip ahead to see what’s coming up later in a show. Eventually, you’ll be able to read real-time live transcriptions in the language of your choice, letting you “listen” to a podcast even if you don’t speak the same tongue as the host.

Google also wants to expand the number of people making podcasts. The company’s research showed that only one-quarter of podcast hosts are female, and even fewer are people of color. In an effort to diversify the field, Google formed an independent advisory board that will consider ways to promote podcast production outside of the handful of major metropolitan areas in the United States that currently dominate the field.

Google will not pay any creators to make podcasts directly, the company said, but it will likely explore ways of giving podcasts from underrepresented creators extra promotion. It’s also examining ways to make recording equipment more accessible to people who can’t afford it.

If you already listen to podcasts on Google Play Music, nothing will change today. But the company made it clear that it plans to focus its future efforts around podcasting in the standalone app.

The Android app can be downloaded here. There are currently no plans for an iOS app.

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Industry

THE FINTECH REVOLUTION IN INSURANCE

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Advancing technology has collided with longstanding customer issues to create a series of deep, lasting, systemic challenges for insurance. How will these trends impact insurers’ businesses and the industry overall?

The rise of fintech, changing consumer behavior, and advanced technologies are disrupting the insurance industry. Additionally, Insurtechs and technology startups continue to redefine customer experience through innovations such as risk-free underwriting, on-the-spot purchasing, activation, and claims processing.

The report from Deloitte Global examines forces that are disrupting the insurance industry and presents four possible scenarios for the future. We explore:

  • Changing the channel: Partnerships with product makers and distributors, and embedding insurance into other products and services may enable customers to select products that best fit their lifestyle.
  • Underwriting by machine: Technology advancements including AI innovations and algorithms will likely individualize risk selection and pricing, and customers can select products based on a wider range of price points.
  • Rise of the flexible product: Time-flexible, event-driven, modular and adjustable coverage may evolve to accommodate life stage, lifestyle, and wellness changes among consumers.
  • E-Z life insurance: Given the growth and shopping patterns in emerging markets, insurers who introduce flexible term products, and master digital distribution without compromising underwriting are likely to win in the marketplace.

Read the report to understand what the future holds for the insurance industry.

Key Contact

Neal Baumann

Neal Baumann

Global Insurance Leader

Neal leads Deloitte’s Global Insurance practice and is the US insurance consulting leader. He has 20 years of experience advising financial services and insurance company clients on corporate and comp… More

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GOOGLE NEVER REALLY LEFT CHINA: A LOOK AT THE CHINESE WEBSITE GOOGLE’S BEEN QUIETLY RUNNING

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More information is leaking out about just how Google is planning to re-enter the Chinese market with a mobile search engine application that complies to the country’s censorship laws.

The Intercept first broke this story when a whistleblower provided them documentation detailing the secret censored search project (codenamed Dragonfly). According to them, an overlooked Google acquisition from 2008 — 265.com — has been quietly laying down the foundation for the endeavor.

In order to run a business in China, tech companies are required to obtain a Internet Content Provider license from the Chinese government. As it’s difficult for foreign businesses to obtain this license, Google has long partnered with Chinese IT company Ganji.com. Back in the early years of Google.cn, Google actually operated directly off of Ganji.com’s license, even claiming the Chinese company was temporarily running its search engine. Facing intense scrutiny from the Chinese government and the media over this license arrangement, in 2007 Google formed a legitimate joint venture company with Ganji.com — the Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co.

Because of the necessity of that license, Google has maintained that joint venture and has been operating in China under the name Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co. ever since. Even after the shut down of Google.cn, Google’s Chinese advertising enterprise has been operating under the joint venture company as well as, low and behold, 265.com. A whois search of the 265.com domain name, which provides a record of the current domain registrant information, pulls up Beijing Guxiang Information and Technology Co. as the registrant organization.

A significant number of Google employees are reportedly none too happy about Google’s project complying with Chinese censorship laws. This most recent news, that the company has long been collecting data for a moment just like this, surely won’t make morale among these workers any better.

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WHISTLEBLOWER REVEALS GOOGLE’S PLANS FOR CENSORED SEARCH IN CHINA

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Google is reportedly planning to relaunch its search engine in China, complete with censored results to meet the demands of the Chinese government. The company originally shut down its Chinese search engine in 2010, citing government attempts to “limit free speech on the web.” But according to a report from The Interceptthe US tech giant now wants to return to the world’s biggest single market for internet users.

According to internal documents provided to The Intercept by a whistleblower, Google has been developing a censored version of its search engine under the codename “Dragonfly” since the beginning of 2017. The search engine is being built as an Android mobile app and will reportedly “blacklist sensitive queries” and filter out all websites blocked by China’s web censors (including Wikipedia and BBC News). The censorship will extend to Google’s image search, spell check, and suggested search features.

The web is heavily censored in China, with the country’s so-called Great Firewall stopping citizens from accessing many sites. Information on topics like religion, police brutality, freedom of speech, and democracy are heavily filtered, while specific search topics (like the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and Taiwanese independence) are censored completely. Advocacy groups report that censorship in the country has increased under President Xi Jinping, extending beyond the web to social media and chat apps.

The whistleblower who spoke to The Intercept said they did so because they were “against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people.” They also suggested that “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”

Patrick Poon, a researcher with Amnesty International, agreed with this assessment. Poon told The Intercept that if Google launches a censored version of its search engine in China it will “set a terrible precedent” for other companies. “The biggest search engine in the world obeying the censorship in China is a victory for the Chinese government — it sends a signal that nobody will bother to challenge the censorship any more,” said Poon.

In a statement given to The Verge, a spokesperson said: “We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”

According to The Intercept, Google faces a number of substantial barriers before it can launch its new search app in China, including approval from officials in Beijing and “confidence within Google” that the app will be better than its main rival in China, Baidu.

Google previously offered a censored version of its search engine in China between 2006 and 2010, before pulling out of the country after facing criticism in the US. (Politicians said the company was acting as a “functionary of the Chinese government.”) In recent months, though, the company has been attempting to reintegrate itself into the Chinese commercial market. It launched an AI research lab in Beijing last December, a mobile file management app in January, and an AI-powered doodle game just last month.

Although this suggests Google is eager to get a slice of China’s huge market of some 750 million web users, ambitions to relaunch its search engine may yet go nowhere. Reports in past years of plans to bring the Google Play mobile store to China, for example, have so far come to nothing, and Google regularly plans out projects it ultimately rejects.

Notably, relations between China and the US have worsened in recent weeks due to trade tariffs imposed by President Trump. The Interceptreports that despite this Google staff have been told to be ready to launch the app at short notice. The company’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, reportedly told employees last month that they must be prepared in case “suddenly the world changes or [President Trump] decides his new best friend is Xi Jinping.”

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