National News

Why did Rite Aid and CVS block Apple Pay?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-27 11:00

Need to pick up a prescription? How about some shampoo or Tic Tacs?

Last week, consumers with the newest iPhones could have used the Apple Pay system to make payments with their devices at their local Rite Aid and CVS.

But no more; those two chains have pulled the plug on Apple Pay, saying only that they’re still evaluating payment options for their customers.

The reversal was poorly executed and a bad idea for CVS and Rite Aid, says Deborah Baxley, a payments consultant with CapGemini.

“It’s already having an effect because the Twitterverse is exploding with disgruntled Apple Pay customers,” she explains. “So I think these merchants are effectively shooting themselves in the foot.”

But she says the impact will likely be more reputational, less bottom-line.

“[The stores are] saying, 'We control the terminal,'” says Mary Monahan, the head of mobile at Javelin Strategy & Research. “'We control the customer relationship and if you don’t listen to us, then we’re just not going to turn on these terminals.'”

Monahan expects Apple Pay to be successful in the next few years, but says the company will likely need to reach out to merchants.

“Apple Pay doesn’t offer loyalty [programs], doesn’t give the merchant anything to bring the customer back into the store,” she explains. “So Apple’s going to need to add that to really sweeten the pot for these merchants to turn on Apple Pay.”

“Given that we are still in the process of evaluating our mobile payment options, Rite Aid does not currently accept ApplePay,” spokeswoman Ashley Flower wrote in an emailed statement. “We are continually evaluating various forms of mobile payment technologies, and are committed to offering convenient, reliable and secure payment methods that meet the needs of our customers.”

CVS also said only that it’s still evaluating different mobile payment technologies.

But the stores are also part of the Merchant Customer Exchange, which is developing its own payment system called CurrentC. Many analysts believe these stores are blocking Apple Pay to wait for that launch in 2015.

“The best thing you can do if you’re waiting for your system to come online and be a competitor is to make sure that there’s as much hesitation on part of consumers to adopt that new standard as possible, to buy yourself time so that you can actually compete,” says Pai-Ling Yin, a researcher at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

She says while this was a bad move for Rite Aid and CVS, it might be the right move for CurrentC.

The Ebola fight's HR problem

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-27 11:00

The federal government and the states are still figuring out just what they should do with health workers who return from treating Ebola patients in West Africa.

And while that question is part logistics and part politics, there is a pretty big human resources question in there, too. How do groups like Doctors Without Borders recruit healthcare workers who are urgently needed to contain the outbreak? 

“From the beginning of the outbreak until now, it’s been difficult to find people who have the experience, the willingness and the flexibility. It’s not an easy ask,” says United Nations spokesperson Nyka Alexander.

The U.S. and Britain both plan to build Ebola treatment centers in West Africa. Countries and individuals like Paul Allen along with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan and Bill and Melinda Gates are pledging millions in aid. And Cuba, China and Ethiopia are among the other nations who are sending teams to West Africa.

But still the World Health Organization says several hundred more foreign medical workers are needed. Guinea, with the highest proportion of doctors among the three affected West African nations, has just 10 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 240 in the United States.

Everyone agrees the way to keep the American public safe is to beat this virus over there. But no one agrees who should travel across the Atlantic to fight it. Most healthcare workers in the U.S aren’t going. Some may worry about getting sick, or wonder whether they have the right skills or think they’ll be treated like a pariah when they come back.

Those like Johns Hopkins bioethicist Zackary Berger are sympathetic to the cause. But he questions how much value he would bring, compared to the risks involved.

“I have obligations to my patients. I have obligations to my family. I think I would do most good here,” Berger says.

Berger, who is also an epidemiologist, is more qualified than the average healthcare worker to volunteer. Intellectually he gets it; if not him, then whom?

Boston University’s Dr. Nahid Bhadelia understands convincing people to do something like this is tricky. Her approach is simple. She tells stories about her 12 days in Sierra Leone, including one about an old man who was so ill he could barely speak.

“I went back in to see if there was somebody to help me move him,” she recalls. “And the minute I walked into the ward, this mother walked up to me with her six month old and said, this baby is not feeling well can you help me. And by the time I was done taking care of the child, the old man was already dead."

Bhadelia believes these anecdotes wash away over-dramatized images of people with “blood pouring out of every orifice,” and instead capture the daunting reality on the front lines. More than the fear of contacting Ebola, which she experienced, Bhadelia remembers the feeling of helplessness.

When Bhadelia urges people to volunteer, which she does every chance she gets, she doesn’t talk about “boots on the ground.” Instead, she talks about hands – the lack of hands to help.

That message came through to Dr. Berger at Hopkins. After I mentioned the anecdote about the old man, Dr. Berger said, “it’s stories like that that make people shift how they see their obligations,” he says, suggesting that he might like to get in touch with Bhadelia.

Bhadelia says perhaps what health workers fear the most about volunteering in Guinea or Liberia is the unknown, whether they really could help stop the spread of Ebola.

She says when she goes around trying to recruit people to join the fight she reminds people that the survival rate is over 50 percent if you catch the virus in time.

You just need enough hands to do it.

The invisible labor that keeps Facebook clean

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-27 10:24

Social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube have a problem. In a way, it's a good one to have. 

The grandma problem.

As social networking has gone mainstream – in other words, "even Grandma is on Facebook" – the seedier side of the web becomes a bigger and bigger problem. Say Grandma logs in to check out new family photos or videos, and then she's bombarded with everything from violent car crashes to the most vile kinds of pornography? Not a good user retention strategy. 

Enter the content moderator. She makes sure the really icky stuff the Internet has to offer doesn't show up next to photos of the grand kids. She is part of a massive workforce, which one expert estimates at over 100,000 around the world. Or, 14 times the size of Facebook. 

Adrian Chen wrote about content moderators for the November issue of Wired. His reporting took him to the Philippines, where outsourcing firms pay content moderators as little as $300 per month. 

"What the companies told me was that people in the Philippines, because of the cultural connection to the U.S., were better-equipped to screen content for American and Western audiences," Chen said. 

But no content moderator is well-equipped for the volume of vile content that the screening process entails. 

"People get a darker view of humanity," Chen said, adding, "seeing all this abnormal stuff all day gives you a twisted view of what's really going on out there."

The full article, including accounts of some of the terrifying content that moderators see, is at Wired.com.

CVS Pulls Apple Pay, And Many See A Fight Over Mobile Wallets

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 10:23

Rite Aid took the same step, leading many observers to note that the two companies are part of a group of retailers that's developing its own payment system, called CurrentC.

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The numbers for October 27, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-27 09:43

With the euro-zone teetering on the edge of another recession, all but 25 of the continent's major banks passed stress tests conducted by the Central Bank. Thirteen of those must make up a 9.5 million euro shortfall.

Italy was the country that fared the worst, with nine of its banks failing the test. The Wall Street Journal picks up the country-by-country breakdown. Overall the report is meant to quell fears about the beleaguered European economy.

This week is heavy with tech earnings again. Twitter reports after the closing bell today and Facebook, tomorrow. In the mean time, here's what we're reading - and the numbers we're watching - Monday.

34

That's the number of retailers listed on Apple's website as supporting the company's mobile payment system, which launched a week ago. As the Verge points out, while main banks back the service, eight of the participating retailers are Foot Locker brands and one is Apple itself. Meanwhile, several big stores like CVS, Wal-Mart and Best Buy aren't supporting Apple Pay because they are part of a competing mobile payment system set to launch next year.

68 percent

The GOP's chances of taking over the senate in the upcoming midterm elections. The Washington Post reports that Democrats have scooped up quite a few newspaper endorsements, and while that might not be enough to hold the Senate, those nods can still have an impact on the results. 

$20/hour

That's how much fast food employees make in Denmark, nearly two and a half times what they make in the U.S., the New York Times reported. Some have pointed to the unionized Danish fast food workforce as an example for how American workers should be treated, while others say it's impossible to fairly compare the two countries. The Times cites one study that says half of all fast food workers are on some type of public assistance.

Gladiator Gatorade? Ancient Athletes Had A Recovery Drink, Too

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 09:07

Gladiators guzzled a drink made from plant ash to help their bodies recover after a hard day of sword fighting, according to Roman accounts. New tests of old bones back up that idea.

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Disabled Vermont Woman Who Led Class-Action Suit Sues Medicare Again

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 08:56

A legally blind woman who has led a fight to make Medicare pay for care even when patients' medical conditions don't improve is in court to get Medicare payment for her own home care.

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U.N. Ambassador In Sierra Leone For Closer Look At Ebola Crisis

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 08:35

Samantha Power, the U.S. envoy to the U.N., is on a multi-nation swing through West Africa to see how the global response to the deadly virus is faring.

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Chiquita Fruit Company Is Bought By Two Brazilian Firms

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 07:29

The Charlotte, N.C.-based company traces its roots to the 1870s, when American entrepreneurs brought bananas to U.S. consumers from the Caribbean.

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Ronnie Milsap Joins Country Music's Hall Of Fame

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 06:51

Milsap's career ranged from playing on the 1960s Elvis hit "Kentucky Rain" to his own solo success in the '70s and '80s. One of his biggest hits was 1980's "Smoky Mountain Rain."

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Death Penalty Reportedly Sought For Captain In Korean Ferry Disaster

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 06:48

Lee Joon-seok, master of the Sewol, is accused of abandoning his passengers when the vessel went down in April. More than 300 people died.

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The Red Cross Is Using Text Messaging To Take Down Ebola

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 05:55

Working with the government, the Red Cross sends 2 million texts a month to people in Sierra Leone, reminding them to wash their hands, take their temperature and protect themselves from Ebola.

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N.J. Says Quarantined Nurse Will Be Discharged, Allowed To Leave

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 05:53

Kaci Hickox, the nurse who spent the weekend in mandatory quarantine after arriving in New Jersey from West Africa, will be discharged from the hospital and allowed to leave the state, officials say.

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'Welcome Back, Kotter' Actress Marcia Strassman Dies At 66

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 04:55

She also had roles in M*A*S*H and the 1989 Rick Moranis comedy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

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Town In Hawaii Prepares For Possible Evacuation Ahead Of Lava Flow

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 03:53

On the state's Big Island, the town of Pahoa is packing up to leave if the flow from Mount Kilauea continues its advance.

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Pro-Western Parties Sweep Ukraine's Parliamentary Elections

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 03:01

Exit polls show parties allied with President Petro Poroshenko have won a clear majority, but the results are likely to further anger Russia.

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PODCAST: Saving leftover food

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-27 03:00

Pay for stuff by waving a mobile phone at a cash register: Apple's version of that was unveiled with much fanfare this month. But there may be a problem, and that problem is not a technical one but a business one. More on that. And later today, we'll hear how Twitter did last quarter. So, how much time does the company have to find a way to make money? Plus, the United Nations reports  1.3 billion tons of food gets thrown out every year. And now, figuring out how to keep perfectly good produce and leftovers out of landfills has become fertile ground for tech innovators. 

Attacker Made Video Of Himself Before Shooting, Canadian Police Say

NPR News - Mon, 2014-10-27 02:23

Police say they have "persuasive evidence" the shooting at a war memorial and Parliament building was ideologically and politically driven. The video, under analysis, will not be released for now.

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Drugstore chains take a bite out of Apple Pay

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-27 02:00

After rolling out Apple Pay with much fanfare on October 20, Apple has now hit a snag with its new mobile-payments system. And it’s not a technical problem. Rather, several major retailers don’t want to play ball and aren’t enabling mobile payments using Apple Pay in their stores. They include Wal-mart and Best Buy, and as of this week, CVS and Rite Aid.

The drugstore chains, which have not commented publicly on their recent decisions to shut down trials of Apple Pay in their stores, apparently favor a rival mobile-payment system that is in development now, and will be rolled out next year by a group of major retailers—including Wal-mart, Target, Lowes, Best Buy, Gap and others. That system, named CurrentC from the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), will bypass credit card companies. The payments will be made on a customer’s debit card, accessing their bank account, says technology analyst Ben Schachter at Macquarie Securities.

“It certainly feels like they’re going to push to disintermediate not only Apple and Google, but also the credit card companies,” said Schachter. “They clearly don’t like paying those credit card fees.”

Schachter expects Google to launch a mobile-payments system for Android smartphones soon, piggybacking on the near-field communication technology that Apple Pay uses to send payment information between a smartphone and a retail checkout terminal.

Consumers may not embrace CurrentC when it is launched, says IT and marketing professor Anindya Ghose at NYU's Stern School of Business. He said Apple Pay—which requires a smartphone wave and a fingerprint—offers a high level of financial security.

“Your credit card number is never revealed in any way to the merchant or anyone else in the system,” said Ghose. “It’s encrypted completely and secured. So the chances of a fraud are dramatically reduced.”

Apple Pay also keeps customers’ purchasing data more private. The rival store chains want that data to push coupons and special deals to customers via their smartphones.

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