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Now five years old, Google's Next Billion Users initiative has around 300 central employees and works with teams across YouTube, Chrome, and more.
NBU builds new products, and adapts existing Google products, for emerging markets. It was an idea Sundar Pichai first floated when he became CEO in 2015.
Voice, vernacular, and video are the three big themes it's focusing on today, says product lead Josh Woodward.
Some products, like NBU's files app, have gone on to become surprise global hits. There will be more to come.
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When Sundar Pichai was appointed Google's CEO in 2015, one of his early ideas was an initiative to explore how emerging markets were coming online — and how Google's products might not be suitable for many of those users.
The division was named Next Billion Users (NBU) and set out to build products for countries where perhaps Wi-Fi is less available, mobile data costs are higher, or phones lack the mammoth amounts of storage that they often have in the US.
NBU started out looking at India, Indonesia and Brazil, but has since expanded its scope to include Mexico and Nigeria. Today, the division has around 300 central employees and "hundreds" of other members across teams including YouTube, Play, and Chrome, said Josh Woodward, NBU's director of product management, in an interview with Business Insider.
Projects have included Google Go, a stripped-down search app built for lightweight data use. Some of the products have even gone on to become surprise global hits, such as offline Google Maps directions, and Files Go (now named Files by Google) which was, funnily enough, originally built to seek and destroy unwanted memes.
"One of the big problems we were seeing was people forwarding WhatsApp memes to each other, that was filling up a lot of storage [on their phones]," said Woodward.
"So, the team in Mountain View connected with the Google Photos team who had built a lot of interesting computer vision stuff and we were able to train that model to detect these memes."
But the app has boomed well outside of its target market. "The US today is the fourth most popular country for the files app, which is interesting because we never designed it for the US," said Woodward.
NBU's work is split between adapting existing Google products in ways that make sense for other markets, and building entirely new products that are more locally relevant. And as time has moved on and smartphone use has increased, says Woodward, the team has focused more on people who are coming online for the very first time.
"If you were to try to boil down the three big trends happening in NBU today, I would say it's voice, vernacular – which is how people who don't usually speak English are coming online in massive quantities – and then video," said Woodward.
The team has offices and conducts field research in the countries where it's focused, so the pandemic has posed an obvious obstacle to much of its work. "Our whole culture we had built around empathy, either building teams in a country or flying people in for two weeks into NBU studios, we've had to shift entirely," said Woodward.
To compensate for not being in the field, the team has been finding other ways of instilling some level of empathy in a Google engineer for a first-time internet user in Mumbai, said Woodward.
For example, there's a mind-boggling internal game called 'Gorm the Zop,' which NBU employees are made to play to try to understand how confusing smartphones and the internet can be for a first-time user.
"We usually call people up in front of an all-hands meetings and have them play it in front of their peers." said Woodward.
But the new normal has also changed the way NBU is thinking about the future, especially on the themes of employment and digital payments, said Woodward.
"These both feel like areas where we've almost hit a fast-forward button to 2030 and we're seeing the pace of change in these areas really fast," he said.
"For most workers in a lot of countries where we're doing research with right now, they're printing out CVs and dropping them in wooden boxes to try to get jobs," he added. "That world is going to change and become digital." Video calling replacing face-to-face interviews are a big part of that shift that the pandemic is only accelerating.
Meanwhile, the team sees a lot more opportunities to build on its success in digital payments, particularly in India where Google Pay allows merchants to display digital storefronts in the app where users can even browse and order from menus. There's been speculation that Google will bring some of these features to the US, too, where Google Pay has been slower to grow but could be invigorated by a pandemic-driven push toward contactless payments.
Then there's Jio, India's telecom platform giant, into which Google just put a $4.5 billion (7.5%) stake. The two are now working together on a custom version of Android for entry-level phones – a way for Google to get its range of apps and services in the hands of even more people.
"We're still in the early stages of defining the exact specs and products and what not," said Woodward. "[Jio] of course understand India, they have distribution, they have key assets in the country."
NBU has had its failures along the way, too. In February, it shuttered Google Stations, a program which put free Wi-Fi in more than 400 railway stations in India and other parts of the world. It was a project that made much more sense in late 2014, and less so when India's Jio network arrived and data costs plummeted.
Then in May, Neighborly, an app launched in Mumbai for residents to connect with locals, was shuttered after it failed to gain traction.
"If people tended to have an important local question, they might ask it on Neighborly but they had that really important question maybe once a month.... so the frequency of use just wasn't there," said Woodward.
With Alphabet focusing on bringing the internet to other parts of the world via fiber networks or internet balloons, there also may be more opportunities for these teams to work with NBU. Woodward says NBU is less focused on the infrastructure side right now, but said the team worked with Alphabet's Loon for its rollout of internet service in Kenya.
Woodward says the "beating heart" of NBU right now is how Google learns from users who are mobile-only, but the finding could affect Google's broader, global product strategy ahead.
"We used to say in 2015 the future of the internet looks like the next billion users, which was kind of a rallying cry to come and join our team. But actually I would say that future is the present now. These are the users who are determining a lot of the trends we're going to see play out in the US and the rest of the world."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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The case of TikTok in the US gets curiouser and curiouser. Even as the Trump administration gave the Chinese video-sharing app a 45-day ultimatum, Microsoft evinced interest in taking over its operations in the US and elsewhere. Now, Twitter also seems to be in the fray.
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In the five days between July 17 and July 21, accounts tied to Donald Trump's campaign posted 450 separate adverts on Facebook and Instagram lambasting TikTok for spying on users and siphoning data to China.
Facebook's transparency data showed that the campaign spent tens of thousands of dollars on the ads, perhaps as much as $80,000.
The most-viewed ad posted by the Trump campaign is a 30-second video that claims "TikTok is spying on you." It reached at least 400,000 Americans.
TikTok has denied all the allegations made in the ads.
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Donald Trump really hates TikTok. If you didn't get the hint from his multiple threats to ban the video sharing app, then you only need look at your Facebook or Instagram feed.
In the five days from July 17 to July 21, three accounts tied to Trump's campaign — his official Facebook and Instagram pages, his vice president Mike Pence's official pages, and the pages of Team Trump, an organizing committee — posted 450 separate adverts lambasting TikTok, claiming it spies on users and siphons data to China. TikTok has denied all the allegations made in the ads, but declined to comment for this story.
Analysis of transparency data published by Facebook shows that the Trump campaign spent tens of thousands, perhaps as much as $80,000 (Facebook's data gives wide ranges for amounts spent) on the ads. They were seen by up to 5.5 million Americans and were mostly targeted at Trump-voting states, including Texas and Florida.
As of July 22, the most-viewed ad posted by the Trump campaign is a 30-second video that replaces the TikTok logo with an Asian man looking through binoculars. "TikTok is spying on you," the man says. The Trump Make America Great Again Committee paid up to $3,000 to reach at least 400,000 Americans from Trump's Facebook page, the transparency data shows. More than half of viewers were women aged between 18 and 34, the data shows. Other ads targeted men in the same age group.
Tristan Hotham, founder of the Social Media Research Centre, and an expert on Facebook political advertising, says that could reflect Trump's need to attract younger voters. "The older people are already in the bag for Trump. Their campaign is about reaching the under-45s, and that seems who they're trying to target," he says.
Or, the ads might simply reflect Trump's growing hostility towards China, he says. "To go so hard into this either means it's electorally prescient, or Trump just hates TikTok and it feeds into this bigger narrative of China and the second Cold War. I'm not sure which one has more power within that logic. It probably doesn't matter."
On whether the ads ring true, experts are split. Cybersecurity experts have downplayed the idea that TikTok operates differently to other apps. One claim central to the Trump ad campaign, that TikTok was caught copying data from users' cell phone clipboards, is also true of the LinkedIn and Fox News apps.
But Andreas Fulda, a China expert at the University of Nottingham, says the Trump campaign should be "commended for highlighting the potential risks emanating from Chinese apps like TikTok."
"There can not be such a thing as an apolitical Chinese app," he says. "In terms of its functionality TikTok is a very popular app, but from a privacy perspective this Chinese app is highly problematic."
A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider it has removed an unspecified number of the ads "for violating our policies against misrepresenting company branding and depicting features that don't exist on our platforms."
True or not, the claims in Donald Trump's ads carry weight.
Trump's Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, visited the UK on July 22 to press politicians to ramp up pressure on TikTok. Right-wing members of the ruling Conservative party, including former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith, obliged, calling for the app to be banned for unspecified national security reasons.
Whether Trump's claims manage to convert skeptics or not, the ads mark an escalation of a spat between the president and the video-sharing app that began more than two years ago, when the app was called Musical.ly.
Between March and May 2018, Musical.ly's Facebook page spent thousands of dollars on five ads on Facebook and Instagram, seen by around 165,000 Americans.
The message of the ads? "Donald Trump doesn't use musical.ly. Join now."SEE ALSO: Inside the rise of TikTok, the viral video-sharing app that US officials are threatening to ban due to its ties to China
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We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up to the Life newsletter for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.Two in five Brits have spent more time outdoors in the sun during the pandemic, compared to the same time last year. So what impact is this having on our skin?A YouGov survey, commissioned by Cancer Research UK and Nivea Sun, found that while Brits are good at applying sun cream for days out and activities, they aren’t taking steps to protect themselves from the sun when they’re at home.The survey of 2,060 UK adults found more than a third don’t take care in strong sun in their own outside spaces – such as gardens and balconies. This means not using sun cream, wearing sun hats, or sitting in the shade. But when they’re going to the beach, visiting a park, or going on a picnic, they’re more likely to keep their skin protected. Adults aren’t applying sunscreen often enough, either. Only 60% of those who use sunscreen apply it before going out in the sun, the survey found, and 37% take it with them to apply throughout the day. Some respondents (7%) admitted they don’t do anything to protect their skin when the sun is strong. Related...
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Getting sunburnt just once every two years triples the risk of melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. There are two main types of skin cancer: melanoma – which is less common but more serious, as it can spread to other organs in the body – and non-melanoma, the more common type of skin cancer.Statistics published last year showed melanoma skin cancer rates in the UK have soared by 45% over the course of a decade, with young people also developing the disease. Rates have increased by more than a third (35%) for women and 55% for men – and while melanoma is still more common in those over 65, rates for 25 to 49-year-olds have increased by 70% since the 1990s.So if you’re spending more time outdoors during lockdown, it’s really important that you protect your skin. There are easy ways to do this, says Knight. For example, using a gazebo or a beach umbrella for shade in the garden and taking regular breaks inside when the sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm.“When you’re heading out pop on a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses and pack some sunscreen so you can keep it topped up throughout the day,” she says. You should regularly and generously apply sun cream with at least SPF 15 and 4 or more stars, even when it’s cloudy – and remember to do your eyelids too, as these are frequently missed. Experts believe almost nine in 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer could be prevented if people protected their skin with a high factor sun cream.Related...
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Filmmaker Emmai Alaquiva of Pittsburgh wanted to talk to his 8-year-old daughter about the racial climate in the US, but was concerned that at her age, she might not be able to fully grasp the issues.
“I told her the name ‘George Floyd’ and we talked about what Black Lives Matter means,” he says. “I sort of gave her the Cliffs Notes version, to give her some inspiration.”
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The UK cannot “force” the US to extradite the suspected killer of Harry Dunn, the foreign secretary has said, as the teenager’s mother made an emotional plea for government support.The 19-year-old motorcyclist’s mother Charlotte Charles has appealed to Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab to make her son’s case “top priority” during US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s visit to London on Monday.Charles told of her “beyond excruciating” ordeal and feeling abandoned, saying: “It’s so important to feel supported by your own government and unfortunately we just haven’t had that but it’s never too late. So just help us.”Dunn died when his motorbike crashed into a car outside a US military base in Northamptonshire on August 27 last year.Suspect Anne Sacoolas, 43, the wife of a US intelligence official and a reported CIA operative, claimed diplomatic immunity following the crash and was able to return to her home country, sparking an international controversy.Raab told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “It’s heartbreaking, I understand how agonising it’s been, I understand how exhausted they are with this.“There’s a denial of justice here.“There’s an extradition request that’s outstanding, we’ve called on Anne Sacoolas to return and our American partners to facilitate that.“But there’s no measures that we could I think credibly, realistically take which is somehow going to force the US or indeed Anne Sacoolas to comply with this.“I want to be realistic because I don’t want to raise expectations which are then going to be dashed.”He added: “I’ve raised it, we’ve raised it in Washington, the prime minister has raised it with president Trump and we will continue to make clear we’re on the side of the family here, we think that she should return, she must return home, so that justice can be done.”Washington and London have been locked in a diplomatic row over Dunn’s death, with an extradition request submitted by the Home Office rejected by Pompeo in January, a decision the State Department has said is “final”.In a video statement, Charles said: “Mr Raab, Mr Pompeo, Mr Johnson, when you get together next week with all of your families fully intact whilst mine is in complete tatters and my family has been ripped apart, can you please, please discuss Harry?“We’ve been assured he’s high on your list of priorities to discuss amongst all of the other important global issues that you have surrounding you but please, please make him top priority.”She said the anniversary of her son’s death next month will be “beyond painful”, and said she would not wish her anguish on her worst enemy.On Sky News, Dunn family spokesman Radd Seiger added: “What we want now, and I’ve asked this of Mr Raab several times, is a very clear timetabled structured plan to bring Anne Sacoolas back.“It is no longer any good … that they raise it continually. That means nothing to the family.“She needs to come back. Actions have consequences. This is one of the most egregious abuses of human rights America has ever committed on a British citizen, a British family. Where is the special relationship?“We need a clear specific plan. If the US are not going to send her back what is the UK going to do with specificity to make sure this terrible wrong is righted?“This is the United Kingdom’s opportunity, Mr Raab’s opportunity, to show the nation that he is going to fulfil his first duty, which is to safeguard and protect the lives of UK citizens. He needs to stand up to the US now.” Related...
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