Spain Calls for Help to Lower Borrowing Rates

BRUSSELS  — Worries about Greece’s electoral turmoil and Spain’s spiraling borrowing costs are piling the pressure on European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Wednesday amid renewed market pressure to keep the region’s debt problems from getting worse. Spain’s prime minister warned that his country can’t continue much longer with its current high borrowing rates […]

Stocks Rally Further in Run-up to EU Summit

MOSCOW — Global stocks enjoyed one of their best days in weeks on Tuesday ahead of a summit of European leaders that’s expected to be dominated by calls to boost economic growth. Europe remains the focus of attention across all financial markets in the run-up to the June 17 Greek election that could go a […]

Eurozone Warned by OECD: ‘Severe Recession’ Looming

(PARIS) — The 17-country eurozone risks falling into a “severe recession,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Tuesday, as it called on governments and Europe’s central bank to act quickly to keep the slowdown from dragging down the global economy. OECD Chief Economist Pier Carlo Padoan warned the eurozone economy could contract […]

Larry Page Spotted Wearing Google Glasses In England!

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There hasn’t been a whole lot of news coming out of the Google Zeitgeist event taking place in a posh hotel on the outskirts of London this week, but Google’s making some other news in England: its CEO Larry Page has been spotted wearing Google Glasses.

The pictures of Page wearing the super-funky augmented reality eyewear are possibly the first — although his Google co-founder Sergey Brin has also been seen wearing them in the wild. Today’s pictures come courtesy of a Google employee, who posted them — where else? — on Google +.

“My life is now complete – met Larry Page today! Thank you for visiting EMEA,” the employee wrote alongside his pictures.

Google Glass has been one of the most talked-about new projects at Google for a long time. It’s one of the company’s first big forays into cutting-edge hardware. Other products it’s been reported to be working on are integrating more Google TV functions into set-top boxes and a home-entertainment system.

With the company closing the acquisition of Motorola today, we are likely to get more visibility on what Google’s plans will be for developing more hardware. That, of course, is a strength at Motorola. Hardware is also something that Page himself highlighted recently in his CEO’s letter.

Stevie Turns Your Social Feeds Into TV Shows

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We spend more and more time on social networks, but sometimes it can feel like work. I mean, scrolling through your news feed isn’t work work, but it’s not quite as easy as vegging out on your couch and watching TV.

That’s where a new startup called Stevie comes in, with a website launching today at Disrupt, along with mobile apps that function as remote controls. Stevie looks at content shared in your social network feeds and elsewhere on the Web, and it assembles that content into TV shows that you can watch, shows with names like The Comedy Strip, Music Non-Stop, and Celeb TV. Naturally, the shows incorporate video content that your friends have shared, but they also include things like Facebook status updates, tweets, shared headlines, and birthdays, running mostly as tickers under the video. Essentially, it’s a way to watch Facebook and Twitter on your TV.

Co-founder and Chief Creative Technologist Gil Rimon argues that this is the right way to do “social TV.” Apps like GetGlue, which offer check ins and other social interactions around existing TV content, aren’t a good fit for how people watch TV now, because they ignore its essentially passive nature. Stevie takes the opposite tack — instead of trying to encourage new types of behavior, it’s introducing new content into the traditional coach potato experience.

Rimon compares the app to Pandora. In the same way that Pandora learns your musical tastes and preferences, automatically delivering music that’s tailored to your tastes, Stevie uses something that the team calls The Stevie Factor to look at your social data (such as Facebook Likes) and automatically stitch together the videos and other content that you’ll probably enjoy.

When Rimon demonstrated Stevie for me, I was particularly impressed by the look and feel. Granted, I don’t watch much TV aside from Game of Thrones and Doctor Who, but the video content struck me as quite bubbly and polished, especially for something that was being algorithmically assembled on-the-fly. Rimon’s experience in TV writing, editing, and presenting probably helps with that. I expect Stevie will become even more appealing when it’s available on connected TV devices.

The company has raised $300,000 in angel funding from investors including Jeff Pulver and Gigi Levy, and it’s participating in the Microsoft Accelerator for Azure program in Tel Aviv. Oh, and if you’re interested in couples who run startups, here’s another one — Rimon is married to his co-founder and CEO Yael Givon.

You can visit the Stevie website here, download the iPhone app here, and download the Android app here. (Again, the apps aren’t standalone experiences, but remote controls for watching on the browser.)

Disrupt Q&A

Q: How do you connect the Internet to the TC?

A: We’re not delivering hardware — it’s a web-based experience, with more devices (starting with iPad) coming soon.

Q: Who is your competition?

A: No direct competition, though of course there are other video discovery companies. But they’re not replicating the TV experiences. The real competitor might be old-fashioned TV channels.

Q: Why hasn’t connected TV taken off?

A: That’s changing — see, for example, the growth of Apple TV.

G-8 Summit: Eurasia Group’s Bremmer Talks a G-Zero World

World leaders have gathered this weekend for the G-8 summit. Here’s a portion of my recent interview with Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and author of “Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World.” Read more: G-8 or G-Zero? Why the West No Longer Sets the Global Agenda

ClarityRay Battles Ad Blockers With $500K In Funding

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Some of you are probably reading this post with ad blocker right now — and to be honest, I don’t blame you. Sure, there’s the occasional amusing or genuinely useful ad, but not terribly often, so why not install a plugin and avoid the whole mess? Of course, those ads make money, so if ad blockers become widespread enough, it could be a real problem for online publishers (who have enough problems already).

Israeli startup ClarityRay says it’s not something looming in the misty future — it’s happening now, and it’s only going to get worse.

In a recent study, the company claims to have looked at “over 100 million impressions across several top-tier publishers in the US and Europe” finding that 9.26 percent of all impressions were blocked. The likelihood that someone is using an ad blocker varies significantly by browser — Firefox users are the most likely to use a blocker, followed by Safari (the desktop version) and then Chrome. The report goes on:

The combined market share of Chrome and Firefox is only increasing. Moreover, the great popularity of ad-blockers points to a strong public need; as awareness increases, a free, widely available solution that is one-click away on every platform is bound to increase its consumer adoption. It is, therefore, our estimate that ad-blocking will double within 20 months.

The company’s logic, at least as presented here, didn’t quite convince me that ad blocking will double, but I’m not debating the larger points. Naturally, ClarityRay is offering a solution.

“We believe ad-blocking today is a lot like how pirate MP3′s were before iTunes: they point to a valid consumer need, but do so in an unsustainable manner business wise,” says co-founder and CEO Ido Yablonka.

In other words, Yablonka wants to provide an alternative that addresses the complaints of the “ad intolerant” while allowing publishers to make money. To that end, the company offers two complementary products — one that bypasses ad blockers, and another that allows publishers to offer subscriptions for an ad-free version of the site. So if you’ve installed and ad blocker and you visit a ClarityRay customer, you’ll still see a single ad, Yablonka says. Don’t want to see it? Then pay.

At the same time, Yablonka acknowledges that each publisher has its own audience and its own needs, and he says ClarityRay customizes the program for customer based on crowd analysis.

Even though the company hasn’t received much coverage from the press, Yablonka says it’s already live with several large publishers, totaling 1 million unique monthly visitors. (I’ve asked him to point me to a customer site that we can see the technology in action, and I’ll update if he does.) ClarityRay has also raised $500,000 in funding from Saar Wilf, who sold his company Fraud Sciences to eBay for $169 million, and is now serving as the company’s chairman.

European Activists Could Force Facebook’s New Privacy Changes To A Worldwide Vote

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Perhaps not the best timing for Facebook, but great timing for those looking for more profile on the whole issue of privacy and how it is approached by Facebook. The European activists “europe-v-facebook.org”, led by a group of Austrian students, say that they have reached the 7,000-comment threshold needed in response to a Facebook privacy proposal that will force the company to take it to a worldwide vote.

Specifically, if you go to Facebook’s English-language Data Use Policy page where it has detailed the new proposals, there are now over 9,000 comments on the post. The proposal, you can see, has some XXX’s at the top: that’s because it is due to close this evening, at 5pm Pacific time (yes, more business as usual at Facebook, despite the fact that it also happens to be going through the biggest IPO ever in tech history).

The signatures are potentially a milestone moment in a campaign that began about a year ago, when the activist group filed 22 complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (Facebook’s international HQ is in Ireland). Those complaints in part led to the DPC issuing a report in December with some suggested changes to its privacy policy — largely aimed at making it more transparent and for users to be able to more clearly access all their data and delete it if they choose — but the activists believe that the changes in fact “worsened many issues and did not comply with the Irish conditions.” The Irish DPC and its German counterpart, the German Data Protection Agency, have put in more suggestions for changes since then.

Europe-v-facebook.org has been trying to drum up support for its campaign and says that after an appearance on a German TV show “Stern TV,” it resulted in a wave of responses — 30,000 on the German version of the privacy proposal page, and over 7,000 on the English page (although if you look at that page you can see  that there are a lot of German comments there, too).

What happens next? It’s an unprecedented situation but Facebook says in its own “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” that it will take any proposed changes to its wider user base, currently at 901 million active users, for a vote, and if 30 percent of them vote in favor or against, their decision will be binding:

If more than 7,000 users comment on the proposed change, we will also give you the opportunity to participate in a vote in which you will be provided alternatives. The vote shall be binding on us if more than 30% of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote.

It’s been a hot topic, but it’s anyone’s guess whether 300 billion people will actually make the effort to weigh in on privacy. And according to europe-v-facebook.org, Facebook is still looking at the comments to decide whether they are applicable to this rule. Indeed, there’s scope for duplicates and fake comments, so that is one vetting that will likely be done first.

We have also reached out to Facebook ourselves for a comment and will update this as we learn more.