- Google said it will soon make its video chatting service, Google Meet, free for all users, a move many see as an attempt to rival Zoom.
- Google Meet emphasized its focus on privacy and security, areas where Zoom has fallen short, noting that it does not allow anonymous users to join meetings and gives hosts control of admitting and denying entry.
- It also won’t enforce 60-minute time caps on its free tier until Sept 30, while Zoom’s free tier limits calls to 40 minutes.
- Zoom saw a 7% dip in shares after the announcement, but many feel its name recognition will help it maintain its place as the top teleconferencing service.
Free Version of Google Meet
Google said Wednesday that it was making its video chatting service, Google Meet, free to consumers, a move that could make it a tougher competitor against the widely-used teleconferencing service, Zoom.
Google Meet was previously only available to paying customers of G Suite, the company’s line of apps including Gmail, Drive, and Docs. Anyone was able to join a video meeting through the service by clicking a shared link, but the meeting had to be created by a user with a G Suite membership.
But soon, a free version of the product will available for all consumers. In a blog post, G Suite president Javier Soltero wrote, “Starting in early May, anyone with an email address can sign up for Meet and enjoy many of the same features available to our business and education users, such as simple scheduling and screen sharing, real-time captions, and layouts that adapt to your preference, including an expanded tiled view.”
Competitor to Zoom
Video chatting has become more and more crucial as the coronavirus pandemic forces non-essential services all over the world to remain closed. Virtual gatherings have not only allowed for social connections with friends and family, but they’ve also been essential for schools and businesses to keep their operations running remotely.
On Tuesday, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said Google Meet is adding 3 million new users a day during the pandemic, up from 2 million new users a day earlier this month. Pichai also said the service has 100 million meeting participants a day.
But despite Google Meet’s success, Zoom has absolutely dominated the video chatting industry. It made a huge leap from 10 million daily users in December to 300 daily users as of now.
Still, Zoom hasn’t been without criticism. The service has been met with complaints regarding its privacy and dating-sharing policies, on top of frustrations over “Zoombombing,” when uninvited guests crash a video session.
It seems like Google may have taken a shot a Zoom about those concerns in its announcement by emphasizing its focus on security. “We’ve invested years in making Meet a secure and reliable video conferencing solution that’s trusted by schools, governments and enterprises around the world,” the company said early on in its blog post.
It stressed that the service was “designed, built and operated to be secure at scale,” with some of its key features including the ability to admit or denying users into conferences and not allowing anonymous users into meetings, among other measures. These features seem to hit exactly the places where Zoom has admitted it’s fallen short.
On top of that, Zoom’s free tier offers free video meetings of up to 100 people, but they’re capped at 40 minutes. Google Meet, by contrast, allows for the same number of people to join a call and limits meeting to 60 minutes; however, the company says it won’t even enforce that rule until after Sept. 30.
Google isn’t the only company striving to reach and surpass Zoom’s success. Last week, Facebook announced Messenger Rooms, a feature that allows video chatting with people though Messenger even if they don’t have a Facebook. Microsoft is also pushing its own video chatting app, Teams.
After Google’s announcement, Zoom reportedly saw a drop in shares by 7% on Wednesday, according to MarketWatch. However, some think that Zoom carries too much name recognition at this point to be booted out of its position at the top of the teleconferencing industry.
According to The New York Times, Google business chief Philipp Schindler was on a video call with thousands of employees last month when someone on the call asked about Zoom’s success. As Schindler replied, his young son reportedly barged into the room and asked if Schindler was on a Zoom call with his workers.
“Mr. Schindler tried correcting him, but the boy went on to say how much he and his friends loved using Zoom,” the newspaper reported.
See what others are saying: (Market Watch) (CNET) (CNN)
Hundreds of Businesses and Celebrities Join Growing Fight Against Restrictive Voting Efforts
- In a letter published Wednesday, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities banded together “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
- The list of signatories includes companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon; celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, and Samuel L. Jackson; and billionaire investor Warren Buffet, among others.
- Though the letter does not address any specific voting legislation, it was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Fraizer, who also organized a letter late last month in which more than 70 Black executives urged companies to take a stand against GOP-led restrictive voting proposals being floated in dozens of states.
Hundreds of Companies Oppose Restrictive Voting
The number of companies speaking out against a series of GOP-led voting proposals is growing, despite calls from notable Republicans for boycotts against companies doing so.
In a letter published Wednesday morning, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities united behind what journalist David Gelles described as “the biggest show of solidarity to date.”
The letter itself doesn’t specifically call out Republican voting efforts. Instead, the statement reads, “We stand for democracy,” with the signatories also vowing “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
Still, the letter comes in the middle of an ongoing battle between corporate America and the GOP, which is backing dozens of state proposals that many have condemned as restrictive and discriminatory against poorer individuals and people of color.
The slew of companies that signed Wednesday’s letter includes Target, Netflix, Bank of America, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Mastercard, American Airlines, United Airlines, and others.
The letter also boasts star-power from celebrities like Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney, and Samuel L. Jackson, among others. Notably, billionaire investor Warren Buffet also added his name to this list.
Companies Debate Taking Action Against States That Pass Restrictive Voting Measures
Wednesday’s letter was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Frazier, who late last month also organized a similar letter from a group of more than 70 Black executives. That message, which urged companies to speak out against the GOP-led proposals, has largely been credited with helping to catalyze the fight between the GOP and corporate America.
This past weekend, the two also partially led a Zoom call that featured over 120 CEOs and business leaders.
During that call, participating executives considered a number of possible steps, including pulling donations to politicians who support restrictive voting measures, refusing to move business or jobs to states that pass such laws, and even relocating events; however, no hard plans were actually set into motion.
Still, some groups have already gone forward with various forms of protests against such laws. Last week, Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star game out of Georgia, which recently passed a series of restrictive voting measures. On Monday, actor Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua also announced that they no longer plan to film their runaway slave thriller “Emancipation” in the state.
Some Companies Didn’t Speak Out in Wednesday’s Letter
Both federal and state Republicans have been very vocal as businesses have continued to lob criticism at their proposed laws.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned businesses to “stay out of politics,” though he later walked back that statement.
Two weeks ago, the Georgia state House voted to strip Delta Airlines of its tax breaks after the company spoke out against the state’s new voting laws. In fact, that reprimand might explain why it and other Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola were absent from Wednesday’s letter.
According to The New York Times, people involved in the process of organizing this letter said those companies feared more blowback and also did not feel the need to speak up again.
Connected to that, The Times reported that some companies originally tried to have the line of “oppos[ing] any discriminatory legislation” removed, but they later signed anyway after Chenault and Frazier insisted the line was crucial.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Hollywood Reporter)
Nike To Clean and Resell Used Sneakers at a Discounted Price
- At least 15 Nike retail locations in the U.S. are participating in a new program the company calls “Nike Refurbish,” which is aimed at reducing waste.
- As part of it, Nike will restore shoes with manufacturing flaws, as well as donated or returned shoes, and resell them at a discounted price.
- Shoes at the end of their wear will be recycled into Nike Grind materials that are used to construct running tracks, gym floors, playgrounds, other Nike products, and more.
Nike announced a new program on Monday called “Nike Refurbish” that will help boost sustainability and reduce waste.
As part of the program, the brand will take donated and returned shoes that are like new or gently used, as well as shoes with cosmetic manufacturing flaws, then clean and restore them to resell at a discounted price. Returned shoes must have been brought back within Nike’s 60-day return period in order for them to be resold.
All the refurbished shoes will have labeling on the box with information about their condition grade. Plus, they are also covered under Nike’s 60-day return policy.
Nike’s Recycling Efforts
Nike didn’t say what it previously did with returned sneakers in its announcement, but the new plan is part of its wider attempts to recycle materials.
On its website, it markets the initiative as a way for customers to “help keep shoes out of landfills.” and join Nike’s efforts towards, “Zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport.”
Shoes that are truly at the end of their wear will be recycled into Nike Grind materials that are then used for tons of other projects, including running tracks, gym floors, playgrounds, outdoor courts, as well as other Nike apparel and footwear.
So far, 15 Nike retail locations across the U.S. are confirmed to be participating in this model, but there are plans in place to expand this list over the course of 2021.
See what others are saying: (FOX Business) (Footwear News) (Miami Herald)
Uber Sees Record Ride Demand But Doesn’t Have Enough Drivers Available
- Demand for Ubers outpaced driver availability in March, according to a Monday statement from Uber.
- On top of seeing its best-performing month since the beginning of pandemic closures, the company also received more bookings last month than any other month in its entire history.
- In an attempt to attract more drivers, Uber announced a $250 million, one-time stimulus payment last week to “boost” driver earnings.
- While Uber said it believes it will turn a profit for 2021, the company could be set back more than $500 million because of a U.K. Supreme Court ruling that gives the country’s drivers minimum wage, holiday pay, and pension.
Uber Posts Record-Setting Growth
Uber announced Monday that its ride requests for the month of March were the highest it has ever recorded in its 12-year history.
According to a filing with the SEC, last month, the company crossed “a $30 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate.” Alongside that, average daily Gross Bookings grew 9% from the previous month.
Notably, this also marked the company’s best month since March of last year, when pandemic closures began in the U.S.
On top of that, Uber said its delivery business crossed “a $52 billion annualized Gross Bookings run-rate in March, growing more than 150% year-over-year.”
In fact, that demand over the past month was so high that Uber didn’t have enough drivers to meet it.
“As vaccination rates increase in the United States, we are observing that consumer demand for Mobility is recovering faster than driver availability, and consumer demand for Delivery continues to exceed courier availability,” the company said.
$250 Million Driver Stimulus
Monday’s filing is in line with another announcement from Uber, which said last week that it is opening up a $250 million driver stimulus to “boost” earnings for drivers.
“In 2021, there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available to give them—making it a great time to be a driver,” the company said at the time. “We want drivers to take advantage of higher earnings now because this is likely a temporary situation.”
“As the recovery continues, we expect more drivers will be hitting the road, which means that over time earnings will come back to pre-Covid levels.”
Can Uber Become Profitable?
In February, Uber reported $6.8 billion in losses for 2020, and for years, many have questioned if its business model is even profitable at all; however, in this latest filing, Uber said it believes it’ll become profitable by the end of 2021.
That said, last month, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed drivers a major win by ruling that they need to be reclassified as “workers,” guaranteeing them minimum wage, holiday pay, and pension.
While big news, the U.K. classifies “workers” and “employees” separately. As a result, U.K. drivers still aren’t granted full benefits.
The decision will also likely be a setback for Uber, as Bank of America has estimated that it could cost the company more than $500 million.
Uber’s Vaccine Access Fund
In other Uber news, the company — along with PayPal and Walgreens — has launched a “Vaccine Access Fund.”
Through that fund, customers can donate money that will be used to help people who normally lack transportation get to their vaccination appointment.
Notably, all three companies have said they’ll donate a joint $11 million.
That’s on top of the $5 million PayPal previously donated, as well as the 10 million free and discounted rides Uber promised to give in December.
Uber users are able to donate in-app, and PayPal has launched a donation page on its website.