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Coronavirus pandemic gives consumers a break from robocalls

Michael Leahy

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Coronavirus pandemic gives consumers a break from robocalls

Have you been missing something amid the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders? No, not human contact. Not even toilet paper.

Robocalls.

Industry experts say robocalls are way down — scam calls as well as nagging from your credit-card company to pay your bill. The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted millions of job losses, and scammers have not been immune.

YouMail, which offers a robocall-blocking service, says 2.9 billion robocalls were placed in April in the US, down from 4.1 billion in March and 4.8 billion in February. That’s a daily average of 97 million calls in April, down from 132 million in March and 166 million in April.

The main reason: Many global call centers have closed or are operating with fewer workers, said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici. While it may be odd to think of scams being run out of call centers rather than a dark, creepy basement or a garage, that’s often the case, particularly in countries such as India and the Philippines, experts said.

That means scammers will probably be back in force once the call centers come back online. Stepped-up enforcement from industry groups and the US government could nibble around the edges of those call volumes when the scammers are back, however.

In recent months, federal agencies have focused on going after the small telecom providers that were allowing calls from COVID-19 scammers, citing the urgency of the pandemic.

And free blocking tools that were already in place on many people’s phones help consumers dodge unwanted calls, so it’s not clear how many have noticed the lower numbers of scam and telemarketing calls in the past couple months.

“What we do hear from consumers is call blocking tools are effective in reducing a significant number of robocalls but some unwanted calls are going to slip through,” said Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst with Consumer Reports.

Complaints about unwanted calls to the Federal Trade Commission have been steadily trending down since late 2018, and dropped by more than half in March from the year before, to 240,000. The Federal Communications Commission gets many fewer complaints overall but says those also fell 50 percent in March, to 10,000, and 60 percent in April, to 7,500.

None of which is to say that nuisance calls and phone scams and texts have disappeared.

“While reports of robocalls are way down overall, we’re now hearing about callers invoking the COVID-19 pandemic to pretend to be from the government, or making illegal medical or health care pitches,” an FTC blog post declared in mid-April.

And Mahoney predicts that calls will pick up again, and it won’t just be scammers back in action. With so many people out of work and behind on their bills, debt collectors will be relentlessly badgering them to pay soon enough, she said.

Michael Leahy has worked in various news organizations and now aims to make Report Door one of the best and fastest growing news websites in the U.S. He contributes to the US section. He loves going around different people in the US and loves meeting new people and making new friends.

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Business

Quibi advertisers already wary of streaming service

Michael Leahy

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Quibi advertisers already wary of streaming service

The star power of Sophie Turner didn’t offer enough immunity to protect Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg from the pain of the pandemic.

Large advertisers are seeking to defer payments to Katzenberg’s new video streaming service Quibi — just one month after launch, according to a new report.

Advertisers including PepsiCo, Yum Brands, Taco Bell, Anheuser-Busch and Walmart have asked for changes in how they pay Quibi amid concerns about the service’s low viewership, as well as the impact the virus is having on the their own businesses, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Quibi, which costs $4.99 a month with ads and $7.99 a month without ads, has been installed by users about 4.2 million times, including about 1.5 million users who signed up for a free 90-day trial, The Journal said.

Katzenberg recently blamed the coronavirus for Quibi’s slow start.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Katzenberg told the New York Times earlier this month after falling off the Apple Store’s 50 most downloaded free iPhone apps. “Everything. But we own it.”

Quibi was founded by Katzenberg and former Hewlett Packard boss Meg Whitman — and it has benefited greatly from the duo’s deep connections. In addition to raising $1.75 billion from major movie studios, tech firms and wealthy friends, Quibi has landed big stars like Turner, best known for playing Sansa Stark on the HBO megahit “Game of Thrones.”

Turner stars in “Survive,” one of app’s full-length feature films that’s been chopped up into seven- to 10-minute segments. Quibi’s name is short for “quick bites.”

“We deeply value the commitments our advertising partners have made and are working in close partnership with them to learn and help them be successful on the platform,” Nicole McCormack, Quibi’s head of advertising partnerships, said.

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Google will let workers expense $1,000 worth of office furniture

Michael Leahy

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Google will let workers expense $1,000 worth of office furniture

Google employees who don’t want to return to the office this summer can start shopping for a nice home office.

The search giant said Tuesday that it will begin letting employees come back to the office beginning July 6, and will gradually ramp up its in-person attendance throughout late summer and early fall. Employees who choose to stay home, the company said, will be allowed to expense up to $1,000 for home office needs like standing desks and ergonomic chairs.

Google expects 10 percent of employees to return to the office following the July 4 holiday, CEO Sundar Pichai told employees in a memo, and aims to have 30 percent of its workforce return from remote work by September.

In an interview published in Wired Magazine last week, Pichai said that he doesn’t expect Google to abandon its physical office spaces, which have become famous for the perks they provide employees such as free dry cleaning, meals and work out classes.

“In all scenarios I expect us to need physical spaces to get people together, absolutely. We have a lot of growth planned ahead,” Pichai said. “So even if there is some course correction, I don’t think our existing footprint is going to be the issue.”

Google’s announcement comes days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said half of the social-networking giant’s employees could be working remotely within the next five to 10 years, and that Facebook will begin allowing certain employees to work from home on a full-time basis.

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Burger King debuts giant crowns to encourage social distancing

Michael Leahy

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Burger King debuts giant crowns to encourage social distancing

Burger King has launched giant social distancing crowns to make sure customers keep 6 feet apart.

The fast food chain introduced the creative new way to keep customers socially distant as franchises began to reopen dine-in services in Germany.

Restaurants now reopening their doors after weeks of lockdown are looking for ways to ensure customers maintain their distance.

Burger King tweeted an image of two customers digging into a meal outside the store while using special “social distancing” crowns to stay safe.

The post was captioned: “Distancing, but make it fashion”.

The oversized headgear is meant to extend far enough off the wearer’s head to ensure they are 6 feet from other customers.

When a Twitter user asked where they could get one, Burger King responded that the crowns were available to customers in Germany.

“We wanted to reinforce the rules of high safety and hygiene standards that the BK restaurants are following,” a Burger King spokesperson told Business Insider.

“The do-it-yourself social distance crown was a fun and playful way to remind our guests to practice social distancing while they are enjoying food in the restaurants.”

GETTING CREATIVE

Cafes and restaurants around the world are coming up with inventive ideas post-lockdown.

Some establishments have reduced the amount of seating available, while others opt to paint markings on the floor to keep customers separated.

In Maryland, Fish Tales Bar & Grill transformed inflatable inner tubes into portable tables to keep customers 6 feet apart.

And, in Sweden, a restaurant called Bord för En, or Table for One, is serving a single person every day by delivering food to a table in the middle of a field via a basket on a rope pulley system.

In Thailand, Maison Saigon is using stuffed panda bears to indicate where customers can and cannot sit.

A Chinese national park began handing tourists 3-foot-wide social distancing hats as the country reopens and visitor numbers grow.

The park was inspired by schoolchildren seen wearing similar headgear at the Yangzheng School in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province in east China.

Children donned surgical masks and a “social distancing hat”, which has a 3-foot-long measuring tool jutting out the sides.

A cafe in the German city of Schwerin was seen offering customers hats topped with pool noodles, but was later revealed as a prank.

Jacqueline Rothe, the owner of Cafe Rothe, said the gag showed how difficult it is for restaurateurs to enforce social distancing.

In Italy, Burger King is also selling a “Social Distancing Whopper,” which features three times the amount of raw onions usually found on the burger.

The idea is that people’s onion-induced bad breath will keep them farther away from each other.

“The triple onion Whopper that helps others stay away,” a commercial promoting the burger says.

Back in the UK, Burger King has reopened around 50 restaurants – but only for drive-thru and delivery.

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