Monthly Archives: April 2016

Celebrity Cyber Report – Beyonce

beyonce-lemonade-stream-1It’s always big news when Beyonce is involved. The mega star and wife of Jay-Z released her new album, Lemonade, originally thought to be exclusively on Tidal. That didn’t last long.

Lemonade hit the Internet minutes after Beyonce’s HBO special of the same name  aired.  It’s her sixth studio album and first since 2013’s celebrated, Beyonce. Exclusive streaming releases are normally a week long venture for most artists.  The question was; does Tidal have the power to sell her album to her millions of fans?  Let’s not forget that she and hubby own the lion’s share of Tidal. She also had the option of selling it on Beyonce.com or on Tidal’s direct competitor, iTunes.

Well now it seems that the exclusive sales of Lemonade on Tidal is open to all not just Tidal subscribers. Tidal announced the record and the HBO film are now available for download worldwide for $17.99. Those who pick up the album also get 90 days of free streaming from Tidal.  This deal should appeal to Beyonce fans who are understandably hesitant about signing up for Tidal.

However,  according to a  New York Times reports  the album quickly became available on iTunes just 24 hours later. Tidal’s exclusive rights quickly expired but only for the sale of the album. Tidal is still the only place to stream the album. So, back to that question, is Tidal powerful enough to distribute the music of Beyonce exclusively? It does not seem so and Beyonce knows it.

Lets face it; Beyonce is as much a businesswoman as a performer. Tidal’s brief exclusive deal is a direct reflection of the complex, fragmented, tumultuous and generally disliked digital music business.   Beyonce’s power and presence in the music industry is the guide for many in the business. Her decision to offer the release to Tidal makes it possible to satisfy her business interests there and then quickly expand her reach to other fans in the market. It was delicate balancing act but she pulled it off beautifully.

Things are not so smooth at Tidal nor have they ever been. Since Jay-Z acquired the service it has seen numerous departures of top executives, bad business decisions and even lawsuits.  Right now Kanye West, one of Tidal’s biggest stars, is facing a class action lawsuit. A fan launched the suit claiming that a Kanye  tweet deceived millions into buying subscriptions to Tidal.

The rapper and part owner of Tidal tweeted “My album will never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale … You can only get it on Tidal.” The announcement doubled subscriptions to Tidal. But it appears West flipped the script and “The Life Of Pablo” became available on Spotify and Apple Music.

According to the lawsuit West’s tweet tricked millions of users into signing up for Tidal. By signing up for the service users surrendered important personal information including email addresses and credit card details. In addition others paid the $9.99 per month subscription fee to access the album. The lawsuit charges that Tidal unfairly benefited to the tune of  $84 million dollars as a result of the deceptive tweet.

Celebrity Cyber Report – It was Prince vs. The Internet

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Prince Rogers Nelson, June 7th 1958-     April 21st, 2016

Prince Rogers Nelson departed our realm on April 21st, 2016. Departed, yes. Dead, never! We lost something more than an artist. We lost the sound, the theme song, of a generation. He was a relentless artist and warrior for freedom of expression, his expression, which so many embraced but could never copy. Prince was unlike any other and to him I say; “Nothing Compares 2 U!”

But the Prince we loved enjoyed was not one we knew very well. That was his choice and his right. Prince was a business man and he understood the music industry and he hated it.

Prince fought an epic battle with his recording company whom he labeled “slave masters.” His anger was so deep that he wrote the word “Slave” on his face and refused to use the name Prince. He became simply, “The Artist.”

And along came the Internet and the fight was on! Prince did not go to war with Warner Bros., and win, to become a slave to the Internet. It was his music, he owned it and he was not about to give it away to anybody.

“I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else,”  said Prince. “They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”

When it came to his music and the Internet Prince was all business. He once sued 22 fans for $22 million dollars for sharing his music and recordings of his live performances online. The Purple One was not playing around.

Prince’s aggressiveness and penchant for take-down notices earned him a “Lifetime Aggrievement Award” from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for his efforts in “silencing speech.”

But Prince was not the enemy of free speech or technology. Instead he was the protector of his name, his music and his legal ownership of it. He, like many musicians, felt the technology, the Internet in particular, was robbing them of their rightful income and royalties for the music they created. It was the reason that rap mogul Jay-Z founded Tidal music streaming service. Jay-Z re-launched Tidal this year and offers artists a greater slice of the pie for the use of their music. Tidal is only music streaming service that can offer Prince’s music legally.  Prince praised Jay Z for creating Tidal, telling a group of journalists, “We have to show support for artists who are trying to own things for themselves.”

In a 2010 interview Prince boldly declared “the Internet is over!”  But that does not mean he was against technology. His relationship with technology was misunderstood. Prince embraced digital distribution.

Prince set recording industry precedent in 1994 by releasing Interactive, a CD-ROM that contained unreleased music, interviews, a video game, and a virtual tour.  In 1997, Prince released Crystal Ball, a five-CD box set of outtakes and rare cuts exclusively through a website or by calling 1-800-NEW-FUNK. In 2001 Prince unveiled NPG Music Club, a monthly subscription service by which fans could get exclusive Prince content. NPG won Prince a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

Prince was about his music. Many people believed he hated the Internet. That is not completely true. What he hated was the fact that his work, his artistry, was being stolen and the Internet was the tool used to do it. Prince went after bootleggers,  bloggers, YouTube and anyone who dared to use his artwork without fair compensation. It was not a war against technology. It was about getting paid fairly. And he was not alone. There are hundreds of other artists who feel the same and are still fighting to keep their work under their control.

Prince was great beyond music. He understood what technology was doing to musicians and he fought like hell to change things. For himself he won the battle. But the war wages on.

See also – Celebrity Cyber Report, Prince

App of the Week – CreditWise

credit wiaseWe live in a dangerous time. Because of technology and the Internet at any moment your identity and financial life is on the line. Protecting your assets against hackers and data breaches is paramount. That is why CreditWise is the App of the Week.

In March of this year, CapitalOne became the first U.S. bank to offer free credit monitoring through the CreditWise app.  Based in Virginia, CapitalOne launched the free app after the success of CreditTracker, a free credit tracking tool launched in 2014 exclusively for CapitalOne customers. The success of the app caused the company to offer it to everyone else.

You are probably one of many people who are constantly checking their cellphones. This app gives those people access to a weekly credit score update from TransUnion one of the three major credit monitoring companies in the United States.

A 2015 survey revealed that 26 percent of Americans have never checked their credit report. And 40 percent of millennials have never checked their credit report because they had no idea where to obtain it.

CreditWise gives the user the ability to constantly monitor their credit score and become quickly aware of any changes or shenanigans that may be happening. Reacting quickly to suspicious activity can make a huge difference when it comes to fighting credit fraud or identity theft.

“CreditWise gives users so much more than just a score. It helps them understand what makes up their score, what makes it go up, what makes it go down, and focuses on actions they can take to improve it. With CreditWise, we have our customers’ backs when it comes to their credit health,” says Sarah Strauss, Managing Vice President of U.S. Card at Capital One.

Click here to see a video of how the CreditWise app works.

A 2003 amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows Americans a free annual credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies,  Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

CreditWise is free and available for Apple and Android  also on the CapitalOne website.

 

 

Ime Archibong Hooking Up Facebook

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Ime Archibong

Facebook, the world’s biggest and most powerful social network, hooks up people with people.  Ime Archibong hooks up Facebook with the world. As Facebook’s director of product partnerships Archibong has a dual mission, one, making sure Internet access is affordable and two, raising awareness of the benefits of being online.

Mark Zuckerberg launched Internet.org two and half years ago in a Herculean effort to connect everyone in the world to the web. Zuckerberg calculates that nearly 4.9 billion people are not connected. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of these people live in hard-to-reach places completely without access. Another major obstacle is Internet affordability. Many impoverished people simply have a hard enough time eating every day.

Archibong is leading the effort to change this. “If your mission is to create a world where people are more connected and people have the power to share, and you’re aiming to connect everyone, you can’t just stop at the folks that are here in North America or the folks that are on the Internet right now, because we are actually in the minority worldwide,” said Archibong. “The question is how do you get those next 4 billion people, who have never been connected, online and make sure they can get the same benefits, tools and experience that you and I are privy to, as a result of having connectivity.”

Internet.org has a varied strategy to get everyone online. Facebook has cut deals with phone carriers in various countries to make over 300 basic web services available for free; Facebook included. Through a research and development  group called the Connectivity Lab, Facebook is developing futuristic methods to deliver the net, including lasers, drones, and new artificial intelligence enhanced software. The technology, once perfected, will be open source allowing others to commercialize it.

Connectivity Lab’s work is a top priority for Zuckerberg.  Among his plan is to launch a satellite above sub-Saharan Africa by year’s end. Drone testing is also scheduled to begin soon. Facebook’s artificial intelligence mapping software will help determine where people need their phones to work. Facebook has deployed a team of developers to inland villages in an effort to hack together methods for getting people online.

Zuckerberg has been roundly criticized for his effort. Critics have accused him of an attempt to colonize the Internet believing he can do a better job than governments and major corporations of connecting people to the Internet.

Among Archibong’s responsibilities is traveling the world meeting with Facebook’s community of 9,000 developers spread out across 136 companies.

“One of the things we spend a lot of time doing is trying to think about the platforms we can build that ultimately will serve global entrepreneurs and developers, because we do think that they are the ones, they have the context, they understand the nuances, they understand what they should be building that’s going to best serve the local communities,” said Archibong.

“Meeting and talking with a lot of these folks trying to get context about what’s special to them, what’s special about their region … and what we can do from a Facebook perspective to arm them with the tools, the data, with the information to help serve their community a little better.”

Archibong is optimistic about Facebook’s  efforts to give billions more people access to the Internet. “I have this notion that people create special things when they’re able to connect with each other and understand each other,” said Archibong. “Some of these future platforms that we’re leaning into are truly going to unlock that value for people around the world, and change the way that we interact with each other, change the way that we interact with devices and actually change the way that devices connect with devices.”

Ime Archibong was born the child of Nigerian immigrants in Kansas and raised in North Carolina. Both his parents are professors. He graduated from Yale where he played on the basketball team and double majored in electrical engineering and computer science.

Archibong previously worked at IBM as a software engineer.

 

Tax Season 2016 – Who’s Doing Your Taxes?

tax-form-1040-fbIf you are not doing your own taxes you better make damn sure the person you pay to do them knows what they are doing!  The tax payer is ultimately responsible for any false claims, evasion or mistakes and you could be looking at criminal charges. This is serious business.

Finding a good tax professional does not have to be hard. You just have to know who you are looking for and that they are fully qualified. There are plenty of well known and reputable companies.  But according to the Government Accounting Office (GAO) most tax mistakes are the result of hiring a tax professional. According to the GAO, taxes prepared by hired professionals had a higher estimated percent of errors, 60 percent, than those prepared by the the tax payer, 50 percent.

The really dangerous thing is that anybody can claim to be a tax preparer. To declare yourself a tax preparer all you need is $50 to buy a tax identification number from the IRS. You don’t need a CPA license or formal education. No questions asked.

So if you’re going to hire a pro you want to choose wisely and the IRS Preparer Directory is where you want to start. The IRS database of tax pros launched about a year ago and includes a listing of tax preparers who have voluntarily submitted their credentials. The database of enrolled agents complete at least 72 hours of tax education every three years. You can search the database here.

Understanding who is doing your taxes is key. You have several choices besides the enrolled agents.

  • Certified public accountants or CPAs are accountants who have qualified through state exams and met specific education and experience requirements for that title. The IRS also offers a list of certified electronic tax preparers. But keep  in mind that not all CPAs area tax professionals. You need to ask and check their credentials.
  • Tax lawyers and tax preparation companies like H&R Block.  Tax attorneys are best for handling complex tax disputes, corporate matters, and handling the tax returns of enormously wealthy people. Unless you have a few million you should be ok with a tax prep company.

But be warned that tax prep companies like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt and Walmart are designed to complete as many tax returns as quickly as possible. These companies use people who have limited training or are seasonal employees and quality control is suspect. A few years ago when the GAO went undercover to get returns done at these companies, nearly all of the returns were incorrect to some degree. If your tax return is wrong you are still responsible. Some will go with you if you are audited and some will even pay the penalty if there is one. But you are still responsible for any additional taxes or false claims.

One of the safest steps you can take when looking for a tax pro is to interview them. Check their reputation and background with the Better Business Bureau, make sure they have a tax preparer identification number (PTIN) for what it’s worth. Ask;

  • What professional organizations does the preparer belong to?
  • How long have they been doing tax returns?
  • Ask about their educational background.
  • Ask for references and call to find out if the preparer is reliable and professional.
  • Get contact information, address, phone number and email. Get business hours and an after hours contact number if possible. When and how can they be reached is vital. You don’t want someone disappearing with all your tax documents.?
  • Can  they be contacted after April 15th if necessary?
  • What are their rates and how are their fees calculated? For example do they charge by the hour or is there a flat rate per return? Are there additional charges for more complex returns?  You want to make sure you know how much you’ll be paying, including for any phone calls.
  • Do they offer other services such as estate or financial planning?
  • What records and receipts do you need from me? How are they transmitted and secured. Remember your life is in those papers!
  • What happens if my return is audited?
  • Do you offer electronic filing?

Word of mouth is the best advertising so check with friends, relatives, co-workers. Your employer may have a recommended tax preparer. You can find tax professional on places like Yelp, Angie’s List, The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and National Association of Enrolled Agents website.

Other Tax Season 2016 articles from the African-American Cyber Report

IRS “Get Transcript” Got Hammered!

Tax Prep Apps of the Week

Claim Your Refund ASAP!

Hackers Attack IRS

Beware of Tax Scams

Low Income Families To Receive Broadband Subsidy

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe Federal Communications Commission has voted to provide subsidies to low income families for broadband Internet service. 

The decision expands on the 1980’s era Lifeline program that provided a monthly subsidy of $9.25 for voice-only phone service. The FCC plan costs $2.25 billion with a clause attached that states that if the Lifeline program came close to that amount the commission would have to choose whether to increase the funding. Republican members of the commission voted against the expansion believing that limit could easily be exceeded if the FCC either votes to increase it or does nothing. The FCC expects that figure to increase as people take advantage of the new broadband subsidy offer. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are considering a bill to put a cap on the program’s spending. 

Internet and broadband access has become a human right issue. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the Internet a basic human right which enables individuals to “exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

In the United States there is a significant digital divide between the rich and the poor as well as racial groups.  A 2012 Pew Report “Digital Differences,” revealed that only 62 percent of people in households making less than $30,000 a year used the Internet. In contrast households with income of $50,000-74,999 was at 90 percent.

Looking at the issue from a racial perspective showed only 49 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Hispanics have high-speed internet at home. Compare this to  66 percent of Whites.

The digital divide has a definite impact on a family’s economic well being as well as a child’s educational development. A Pew survey of teachers of low income students tended to be less able to use educational technology effectively than their peers in more affluent schools. Of teachers in the highest income areas 70 percent said their schools provided support for incorporating technology into their teaching. Only 50 percent of teachers in low income schools said the same. Teachers in low income schools said that inadequate access to technology is a “major challenge” for using technology as a teaching aid.

Major corporations are also stepping to help bridge the digital divide. Comcast recently announced a pilot program that will bring low-cost Internet service to public housing residents in Miami-Dade County, Nashville, Philadelphia and Seattle. Comcast, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative set up the program to fight the digital divide. As many as 40,000 public housing residents will benefit from the program.

Normally, Comcast’s Internet Essentials package costs $9.95 a month. The service comes with a free Wi-Fi router and families are also offered computers for less than $150. All public housing residents in the four pilot markets are eligible to apply for the service online or by calling 1-855-847-3356.

Comcast reported that since 2011 it had invested $280 million to help fund digital literacy training initiatives and has distributed more than 47,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each.

Another major technology company, Google, says it’s going to give away its high speed Internet service through Google Fiber to thousands of low-income Americans across the country. The program kicks off in its Kansas City market at theWest Bluff Townhomes community in Kansas City, Mo. Ultimately, as many as 1,300 households in Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Kan.

Google Fiber eventually plans to wire “select” public housing buildings in all of the cities where it operates, the company said.

President Obama, the nation’s first cyber president, is also backing a plan to provide as many as 20 million more low-income families to affordable broadband services by 2020. 

Breaking It Down

Ignorance equals poverty. The two intercourse and breed. And that is where a lot of our problems begin. Access to the Internet is a human right because we cannot allow a restriction on information and education to create a bed for poverty and ignorance to lay. We need to accept that all children have a right to rise up from poverty. The FCC is making it clear that we need to help these families and in the long run help ourselves.  This nation and indeed the world came to the conclusion that telephone was a vital instrument. Now we face the same reality with the Internet.

 

 

 

App of the Week -Ipiit

Food allergies suck! Black people with food allergies have to be on constant alert no matter where they are eating. Diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems common in the African-American population can make eating inconvenient and even dangerous. That is why ipitt is the App of the Week.

Depending on your health and the drugs you may be taking keeping track of dietary restrictions can  be a life or death chore. For example some medications react dangerously to a simple grapefruit.

But many food allergens can be hidden and difficult to detect. The ipiit app is an excellent tool to have while browsing supermarket isles. ipiit allows the user to scan the barcode on any product and identify foods that are safe to eat and alert you if there is danger based on your preset preferences.

After downloading the ipiit app the user customizes it to their food allergies and preferences. For users needing to avoid certain foods or ingredients ipiit creates a food profile unique to each user. As you walk through the grocery aisles and find an interesting food you just scan the barcode. The app will show the user symbols that determine whether you have the green light to buy and eat or just leave it on the shelf. 

Product comparison is also available in the app allowing users to analyze the overall nutritional value of the food product and narrow it down to specific dietary restrictions like sodium levels and trans fats. The ipiit app also suggests to the user alternative products that suit their needs.

As we get older our bodies change and our diets must change as well.  It is not unusual to be come intolerant or allergic to something you been eating all your life.  The developers of the ipiit app admit that many health experts warn against eating processed foods labeled with barcodes. However, for most people, eating all fresh foods all the time is an unrealistic goal.

The ipiit also has a social media facet as well and users can become part of the ipiit community. There they can write their own product reviews and read product reviews from other members.

ipiit is free and available for Apple and Android.