- How Visa Plans To Dominate Mobile Payments, Create The Digital Wallet And More
- With Google, There Will Be Bad Blood
- Eric Schmidt’s Commerce Fantasy
- OMG/JK: An Argument Over Microsoft’s And Google’s Argument Over Patents
- YC-Funded Interview Street Streamlines The Search For Great Programmers
- Invite Your Friends To Google+ With New, Tweetable Link
- Welcome To The Panopticon
- Gillmor Gang 8.6.11 (TCTV)
Posted: 07 Aug 2011 06:50 AM PDT
It’s no secret that credit card companies are shelling out big bucks and aggressively forming partnerships and deals to start cashing in on the mobile and digital payments innovations currently taking place. American Express, which recently debuted its own digital payments product Serve, has been particularly aggressive on the partnerships front, striking recent deals with both Foursquare and Facebook. Mastercard has bet on NFC with a partnership with Google for Google Wallet and bought online payments gateway DataCash for $520 million last fall. And Visa has made a number of major movies in the mobile and digital payments space of late; including making an investment (and taking on an advisory role) in disruptive startup Square, buying virtual goods payments platform PlaySpan for $190 million, and acquiring mobile payments company Fundamo for $110 million. We sat down with Visa’s Global Head of Mobile Product Bill Gadja and the company’s Head of Global Product Strategy, Innovation and eCommerce Jennifer Schulz to discuss how the financial company is planning to compete in both mobile and digital payments.
Gadja explains that there are three prongs to Visa’s mobile payments strategy. One of these is NFC, and focuses on payments using a mobile phone at a physical store. For background, NFC (near field communications) enables people to make transactions, exchange digital content and connect electronic devices with a simple touch. As we've seen with Google Wallet, Android phones such as the Nexus S are being built with NFC chips, making your cell phone a mobile wallet. Visa recently joined the ISIS network, a NFC mobile payment network that is a joint venture formed by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. ISIS will soon launch in a number of markets, including Utah and Texas.
Gadja explains that Visa is licensing mobile payments applications PayWave for integration with the ISIS wallet and the company is actively looking for other ways to integrate with NFC into the company’s mobile payments structure.
Of course, some aren’t so bullish on NFC, notably eBay (who owns PayPal) CEO John Donohoe, who in a recent earnings call said merchants refer NFC “not for commerce.” And odd statement considering PayPal just dipped its toes in the NFC pool with support for Android.
Gadja tells is, “I think for some people NFC will replace the actual physical credit card but it will be a long time before NFC replaces all payments.” He believes that we are going to start seeing more traction by end of this year but says the capability of “taking credit cards and putting them on mobile phones will represent the long tail” in payments. But he adds, “the pieces are in place for NFC to take off.”
The second part of the Visa’s mobile strategy involves the digital wallet and the mobile web. Gadja says that as e-commerce ramps up on mobile phones, there is a need for one-click, simple username and password checkout experience in a transaction being made on a mobile device. That’s an area where PayPal has been working hard to dominate in but Visa sees room for other players. Should we expect a PayPal-like, one-click mobile payments technology coming from Visa soon? Perhaps, the company hasn’t been afraid to enter PayPal’s territory in the past, launching a peer to peer payments service earlier this year.
In May, Visa announced its plans for the digital wallet. We’ll explain this initiative later in the post, but part of this platform would allow you to access your loyalty points, credit cards and more from your mobile phone at the point of sale. And the third pillar of Visa’s mobile strategy is incorporating value-added services like real-time alerts, contextual services, and offers at point of shopping based on where you are.
Visa actually tested a partnership with retailer The Gap earlier this year which alerted customers via SMS of discounts in stores near them. Gadja tells us Visa is working with a number of other retailers and banks on similar deals which will be announced soon.
Gadja says there are a number of other factors at play in the mobile payments place that need to be highlighted when talking about mobile payments. International is a huge growth area in mobile payments. He tells is that outside the U.S., there are a large number of people who have mobile phones but don’t have banking relationship or credit card. In fact, he says there are 2 billion people in world that have phone, but don’t have a bank account or credit card.
In these markets, Visa’s goal is to bring prepaid accounts, purchasing power and other financial services to basic phones. These could include topping up a mobile phone with airtime, buying transit tickets, peer to peer payments. And this goal was the mean reason behind the purchase of behind the $110 million purchase of Fundamo. The company’s platform delivers mobile financial services to unbanked and under-banked consumers around the world, including person-to-person payments, airtime top-up, bill payment and branchless banking services.
Connecting with the small business world that don’t yet use credit cards or are new to the system is another area where Visa feels there is strong potential, especially with mobile payments. That’s why the company invested in disruptive mobile payments company Square and took an advisory role in the company. Gadja says that the power of Square is that it is enabling small businesses and independent workers such as doctors, designer and other merchants to start using credit cards and grow their businesses. It would make sense for Square and Visa would somehow work to harness the power of their partnership (As of April roughly two-thirds of transactions using Square's payments service were through Visa credit cards.), but it’s unclear what the two companies will reveal any new co-produced products soon.
Gadja tells us that the biggest challenge of mobile payments in the current market the massive amount of fragmentation in the mobile industry. He explains that with all of the various mobile operating systems, specific manufactured phones, applications and more, keeping up with pace of innovation on the development side is a major challenge for Visa.
But he says that there is still so much room for innovation around how we pay with mobile phones. “With the rise of smartphone usage, we are already seeing a lot of innovation around commerce,” he explains. “It’s inevitable that this will extend to the payments around the sales in mobile commerce.”
Visa’s digital payments guru Schulz outlined her strategy for digital payments at the company, which centralizes around the creation of the digital wallet. Schulz says that because of the fat that e-commerce is being more easy and convenient with customers, especially with m-commerce, the underlying payments infrastructure has to evolve.
And Visa’s answer to this is a new digital wallet initiative. Here’s how it works. Users will have an account, and they can add their credit card numbers (and cards from other credit card companies such as American Express and Mastercard). Visa is partnering with a number of financial institutions to offer this product to their customers.
Users can also load their loyalty points and rewards cards, as well as organize their shopping lists. Schulz describes it as a “wallet in the cloud.” But she says the key to the success of the wallet is a seamless, one-click payments experience for the consumers. So Visa has partnered with a number of large-scale retailers (which will be announced soon) to integrate what Schulz refers to as a ‘new acceptance mark’ on a merchant payments page.
So there will be a button you can click on, which will prompt you to sign-on and then will sync your digital wallet with the purchase in your shopping cart. So for example, imagine you had a camera in your cart, and Visa offered a 20 percent off at camera’s purchased at BestBuy, the wallet would sync and show the discount in your cart. The same works for loyalty points and more.
Schulz explains that the idea behind the wallet is that consumers want control over their wallet and want to have payment information and access available to them at all times. She believes that the digital wallet will click to buy incorporated on retailers’ sites is essential to the future of e-commerce in both the U.S. and emerging markets.
She compares the digital wallet offering to “two-hand clapping.” ” You can have a digital wallet,” Schulz explains, “but you need a merchant solution of click to buy, and Visa’s going to transform that experience.” And Schulz highlights another recent acquisition, Playspan, has helping drive a simplified commerce experience, a.k.a. click to buy, within game or within app.
Of course adding another checkout experience to online retailers’ sites can be a complicated and time-consuming process. But that’s where Visa’s $2 billion acquisition of CyberSource comes in. CyberSource is said to process about 25 percent of all e-commerce dollars transacted in the United States, and operates e-commerce for hundreds of thousands of retailers. Schulz says this relationship has helped speed up the pace of implementation.
Creating the digital wallet, both on the mobile and web platforms, is no easy task. Visa has a name for itself in the credit card industry but the fact is that the brand still has to attach innovation to itself in order for people to take these products seriously. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Google’s Mobile Wallet news created waves, even though NFC technology is in its early stages.
Visa competitor American Express is also working hard to innovate both at the large retailer level, as well as among smaller retailers, with GoSocial.
While Visa, American Express and others are looking to capitalize on the changes taking place in the payments industry, it is a challenging effort. Local commerce is a big part of this, and everyone is trying to find a way to close the redemption loop. But e-commerce, amongst larger retailers, is also a multi-billion dollar market that Visa hopes to continue to play in with products like a digital wallet. And in-store payments, whether that be through NFC, Square or others, represent another market.
I’ve been talking to a number of executives of payments companies and founders of innovative payments startups, and while their objectives are different, they all seem to agree on one thing. It’s early and there is still much more innovation were going to see in the next few years in the online and mobile payments space.
Posted: 06 Aug 2011 07:47 PM PDT
“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.”
I’m reminded of Daniel Plainview’s admission in There Will Be Blood when thinking about Google.
While the company is still largely beloved by the public, sentiment seems to have turned against them amongst their peers, and even amongst many of the startups around Silicon Valley. While these tensions have been building for months — and even years, in some cases — we’re seeing this on display more clearly than ever now thanks to the patent issue(s).
But why? Why is Google now a villain to many in the industry? I don’t believe it’s because they’re evil, I believe it simply relates to the Plainview quote. Increasingly, Google is trying to do everything. And they have the arrogance to think that they can. And it’s pissing people off.
“Microsoft and Apple have always been at each other's throats, so when they get into bed together you have to start wondering what’s going on,” Google Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, wrote this week when accusing those two companies of trying to destroy Android. And he’s right. After decade of being bitter rivals, Apple and Microsoft now seem to have aligned interests. But you don’t have to wonder what’s going on, it’s very apparent: they both hate Google.
The two recently teamed up to screw Google out of the Nortel patents, spending billions to make that happen. And before that, they attempted to do the same with the Novell patents (though the DoJ blunted some of that attack). Next up for the dynamic duo: the InterDigital patents. Apple is definitely exploring acquiring them, and don’t be surprised if Microsoft is right there to help once again, to ensure Google doesn’t get them.
All of this is even more interesting when you consider that it was once Apple and Google who were closely aligned. And it was a common vision that brought them together as well — appropriately, the end of the Microsoft-dominated computing world.
The two got so close, that Google then-CEO Eric Schmidt even joined Apple’s board of directors. And Google was instrumental in helping create some of the early applications for the iPhone (Maps, YouTube, etc). It seemed like the two would team up to take down the carriers next.
Then things got very complicated when it became clear that Android and the iPhone would soon become very direct competitors. The rest has been history.
But while Apple and Microsoft have been the two highest profile Google combatants in recent months, they’re far from the only ones.
At least just as big of a Google antagonist (and perhaps even more so) is Oracle. While the Apple and Microsoft lawsuits against Android threaten to disrupt the platform and/or make it more expensive, Oracle’s lawsuit threatens to destroy it. Oracle is suing Google over the unlicensed use of Java in Android — its core.
If one of two damning emails are allowed to be used as evidence, it sure looks like Google could be in some serious trouble. Those emails appear to extend the idea of Google’s arrogance. As Android chief Andy Rubin wrote in a 2005 email, “If Sun doesn’t want to work with us, we have two options: 1) Abandon our work and adopt MSFT CLR VM and C# language – or – 2) Do Java anyway and defend our decision, perhaps making enemies along the way.”
They obviously chose the latter. And while Sun is no more, Oracle now controls the rights to Java. A very big enemy has been made along the way.
The list continues from there.
Facebook and Google have long been at odds with one another. Now, with Google+ giving Google a significant presence in Facebook’s social game for the first time, tensions are higher than they’ve ever been. While the two sides have been fighting publicly, behind the scenes, it’s worse. This is true even though many of Facebook’s employees are former Google employees. Facebook’s alliances with Microsoft can’t help matters either.
For a long time, Yahoo was Google’s most direct rival. You might think that after Google quickly dominated them in search, there would be peace now. Nope. Yahoo also has no love for Google still to this day. When Microsoft was attempting to buy Yahoo a few years ago, Google was seen as one potential savior. And they almost were, until the DoJ began looking into a potential Yahoo/Google search partnership and Google had to back out. Instead, Yahoo was forced to tie up with Microsoft.
These days, you’ll hear Yahoos complain behind the scenes that Google often just takes ideas they implemented first but never caught on because Google is the dominant player in the space.
Amazon and Google are also increasingly at odds with one another. Amazon is about to enter the tablet space in a big way later this year — and they’ll be doing so with their own flavor of Android. They also have a competing Android app store. And while this may seem like Amazon entering Google’s space, remember that Google went after Amazon first. While Google hasn’t really be able to compete in the cloud storage and services businesses so far, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
Out of any of the larger entities in the space these days, is seems like Twitter and Google should have interests that align the most. Like Facebook, many of Twitter’s employees are ex-Google. And while a search deal a couple years ago seemed to pull the two close together, that deal has since expired, and there is no sign it’s going to ever be renewed.
Google has tried to buy Twitter a few times, and Twitter has backed away each time, most recently leaving billions on the table. And while both sides say fairly complimentary things about each other in public still, behind the scenes, again, it’s not good. Many Twitter employees flat out don’t trust Google. And Google+ has exacerbated that situation.
Speaking of failed Google acquisitions, after Google tried and failed to buy Yelp and Groupon, they moved forward on products that competed directly with them. In the process, Yelp has felt Google was actively screwing them in search results. Bad blood galore now.
On the smaller startup side of things, both Color and Path turned down massive acquisition offers from Google. Part of it was because the startups wanted to remain independent, but a large part was also that neither groups of employees wanted to work for Google. Naturally, Google has since been working on products that compete with both — not only Google+, but also mobile apps created through Google’s Slide division.
The list goes on and on. At this point, it would be easier to list tech companies that are completely friendly with Google — because there aren’t many. Again, most won’t speak out publicly about this — partially because Google is still one of the largest acquirers out there and not everyone is Twitter, Color, Path, Groupon, or Yelp, that will turn down hundreds of millions or billions — but if you talk to individuals that work at other companies, it becomes very clear very quickly that there is not a lot of love for Google out there anymore.
In my view, this stems from Google’s desire to do everything — which could threaten the company for other reasons. Once just a search company, they now actively compete with Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Yelp, Groupon, Color, Path — again, just to rattle off a few.
Obviously, it’s Google’s right to do what they think is best for the company. And certainly they have the money to take on all of these different projects. But the alienation of other companies — many of which were former allies — isn’t helping them. And if any of these Android lawsuits — bullshit or not — go through, or if they fail to eventually obtain the patents necessary to protect themselves, Google could find themselves in serious trouble. And if that happens, will anyone be around to lend them a hand?
At this point, I think there will be more companies waiting to kick them when they’re down.
Increasingly, this is the reality bubbling just under the surface: others in the space look at Google and see nothing worth liking. They see an enemy. As Plainview says to his own son at one point, “this makes you my… competitor.”
Posted: 06 Aug 2011 06:52 PM PDT
A conversation with friend yesterday (in which he was trying to figure out how he would hypothetically accept payments for a pizza he delivered via mini-drone helicopter) was indicative of how dinky our current mobile payment options are; Should he attach a iPhone and Square dongle to the delivery box? Make customers sign up for Venmo? Set up a PayPal account and/or only deliver to people who have a Nexus S?
The conversation highlighted the fact that, with Google Wallet coming out this summer, mobile payments are at the precipice of massive change. It reminded me of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s vision of the future of mobile commerce, which he related to press while at Sun Valley’s Allen & Co conference last month.
In Schmidt’s “Commerce Fantasy” you’re driving down the street, and somehow your phone knows you need new pants. Roll with me here … The phone somehow realizes there's a pants store on the left and a pants store on the right and knows that through Google Offers the store on the right has the cheapest pants deal. Your GPS says,"Turn right for your pants.” When you walk in the store, its system understands it’s you and that you need new pants and so the salesperson comes out with your pants, of course. You tap your phone to pay, and boom, pants.
While the reporters at the briefing giggled at the audacity of Schmidt’s vision, the reality is that current mobile payments technology is aching to displace the archaic tyranny of credit cards and cash registers, and will, eventually, win. Come fall buying pants will never be the same.
Posted: 06 Aug 2011 02:03 PM PDT
This week’s episode of OMG/JK is a bit top-heavy. There simply wasn’t a ton of news this week beyond the one giant fight that broke out between Google and Microsoft over the patent issue. Channeling that spirit, Jason and I get into an argument about the argument.
Is Google right? Is Microsoft right? Do they both look like huge asses?
Then we move on to talk a bit about the new Gmail Labs functionality that adds a third viewing pane to Google’s online email service. On this we mainly agree: it needs a lot of work.
Watch the episode above and find some relevant links to what we talk about below. And yes, I have a giant beard.
Posted: 06 Aug 2011 12:23 PM PDT
Talk to any tech company and they’ll tell you that hiring quality programmers is an incredibly difficult task — the smaller companies often have a hard time getting in front of the best candidates, and the large and ‘hot’ companies are inundated with applications, many of them sub par.
Interview Street is a new Y Combinator-funded startup that’s setting out to fix both of these problems — and to save everyone involved a whole lot of time. The service, which comes out of beta today, makes it easy for tech companies to test applicants’ skills using puzzles (and it makes it easy for potential applicants to figure out who’s hiring).
Head to the site and you’ll see that it’s broken into two sections: one for ‘Challenges’, and another for ‘Recruit’. The first is catering to engineers looking to land jobs at companies like Dropbox, Facebook, or Airbnb. Sign in and you’ll be able to take one of three coding challenges, which you’ll complete using a web-based IDE (you can copy and paste your code into the app if you’d like). The web-based code checker supports C, C++, C#, Java, PHP, Python, Ruby, Haskell, MySQL, and Bash, and generates results immediately.
Click the second tab and you’ll be in the half of the site that’s geared toward recruiters. Here, companies can create their own tests, and they can manage their dashboard of applicants.
Right now the coding puzzles on Interview Street are pretty standard, but cofounder Vivek Ravisankar says that in the future, the company wants to offer more ‘real-world’ tests — things like deploying an application to AWS, or integrating functions from Twitter’s API into an iPhone app. Ravisankar explains that the programming puzzles prospective engineers take as part of their application process often don’t apply directly to the roles they’d be filling, and Interview Street wants to change that.
At launch Interview Street is offering three puzzles to solve, and it will be adding more in the coming weeks . The site will also soon be allowing companies to upload their own puzzles (so, for example, Facebook could upload its own puzzle and test cases that all prospective applicants would have to complete).
Of course, many tech companies already offer puzzles to potential applicants. But Ravisankar says that the typical submission process for these is clunky, with applicants sending attachments that have to be manually tested by an engineer. Interview Street automates this process. So far the service is in use by major companies including Facebook and a bevy of Y Combinator alums like Dropbox, Airbnb, and Justin.tv.
The service offers a 30 day free trial. After that plans begin at $99 a month, with pricing scaling upward depending on how many tests applicants are taking (the higher-end plans also let you take advantage of a ‘live playback’ mode, so you can see an applicant’s thought/coding process, and a white labeling feature).
Posted: 06 Aug 2011 11:52 AM PDT
Google just made it easier for you to invite friends to its new social network, Google+, by providing a short link you can post on the web or share with others over instant messaging. In order to get the link, says Google product manager Shimrit Ben-Yair, you simply click the "invite friends" button on the right-hand side of the stream – the same place invites were found before.
This news was announced yesterday by Google engineer Balaji Srinivasan, but the functionality didn’t go live until last night.
With the new feature, you have the ability to invite 150 more people to the network.
Smart thinking, Google. Use Twitter to get more sign-ups! I like it.
I remember wasting hours on Twitter last month, handing out invites by manually (and painfully!) copying and pasting email addresses sent to me through @ replies or direct messages into the Google Plus invite form. This is so much easier. I can just tweet out a link and be done with it! I think I’ll do that right now, actually. And it looks like I’m not the only one, if this Twitter search is any indication.
There is one minor problem with the link, though – you have to shorten it yourself if you post to Twitter or you’ll end up with a mess like this. Why didn’t Google provide an automatically shortened link using its own URL shortening service Goo.gl? You know, the one it called the “stablest, most secure and fastest” URL shortener on the web? That seems like a missed opportunity indeed.
Posted: 06 Aug 2011 10:01 AM PDT
And so it begins. Carnegie Mellon researchers recently combined Facebook profile pictures and PittPatt‘s facial recognition software to identify supposedly-anonymous pictures from a dating site. Now they’re planning to demo a smartphone app that identifies faces by tapping into cloud-based image databases and recognition software. What’s next?
That’s a question I’ve been thinking about for some time. Facial recognition via cloud computing is a major plot point in my novel Invisible Armies, which I wrote some seven years ago. When I got mugged in Mexico City a few years back, I promptly started musing about the benefits of a surveillance society. Which is on the way, make no mistake—if it isn’t here today.
There are cameras everywhere already. I don’t just mean the nearly 5 million CCTVs monitoring Britain, or the similar system planned for New York: I mean the world’s hundreds of millions of phone cameras, all of which will soon automatically upload every picture they take to cloud repositories. Charles Stross has suggested, and I agree, that police will soon wear always-on cameras while on duty, for legal reasons. Meanwhile, Moore’s Law keeps ticking along nicely, making facial recognition software ever faster, more powerful, and more accessible; cameras get ever better, cheaper, and more innocuous; and drones start taking to our skies as well as Afghanistan’s. Add it all up, and we’ll soon spend much of our lives in sight of cameras that can and will identify us by our faces in near-real-time.
A comment on my recent Google Plus proposal said: “When I go out in public, nobody knows my name unless I tell them. If one were to demand that this be changed, that everyone be forced to wear an ID badge with key facts at all times, one would be denounced as a totalitarian.” Well, soon enough that’s pretty much going to be the case—at least in France, where covering one’s face in public was banned earlier this year, and maybe in Australia and the UK too. There won’t be any point in disabling Facebook’s auto-tagging: a single correctly labelled picture of your face anywhere on the public Internet will be all that is required to cross-reference all other pictures of you ever.
I don’t mean to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Most of this would all still happen without any government initiatives or ban-happy mobs. The death of public anonymity is a natural side effect of improving and increasingly ubiquitous technology. That’s why the ongoing brouhaha about “real names” on Google Plus, and their apparent insistence on digging to China even after realizing they’re in a hole, is actually important. Soon enough, pseudonymity and anonymity will only exist online; in the real world, barring plastic surgery, they’ll be more or less extinct.
Which is bad news for everyone. Pseudonymity shelters whistleblowers, dissidents, and the vulnerable along with trolls. Everyone assumes that real names make conversations more polite, but I’m not so sure. Here at TechCrunch, we stooped to using Facebook Comments in part for that reason; and it worked at first; but—
(Feel free to prove him right!)
“There are myriad reasons why individuals may wish to use a name other than the one they were born with,” says the EFF. Over at My Name Is Me, many are cited. Danah Boyd says, “The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power.” Ivor Tossell argues, “It’s a given in our system of government that staff need to stay neutral, and never, ever criticize their elected bosses in public … They’re but one group for whom the Internet offers an anonymous outlet. For every anonymous weasel in a political forum, there’s a considerate citizen with an opinion that needs shelter to be voiced.”
But my favorite citation is this one: “Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the Internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely—they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don't want people to know about,” according to, believe it or not, Google’s Directory of Privacy, back in February. Unidentified, pseudonymous, identified: “We believe all three modes have a home at Google.” Boy, a lot can change in six months, eh?
Image credit: Jesus Ruiz Fuentes, Artelista.
Posted: 06 Aug 2011 10:00 AM PDT
The Gillmor Gang — Robert Scoble, Danny Sullivan, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — talked patents and PR, Spotify, and everything except Google+ for the first time in weeks. It’s not that G+ has jumped the shark; in fact, it is the shark on which realtime video streaming will emerge when YouTube finally goes live. It’s a race with iCloud to get there, with AirPlay-enabled Spotify stoking the fire in the near term.
Social signals are gaining value as feature sets and hardware mature, as we harvest our laboriously-created investments in individual and virtual spheres of influence. For the Gang’s part, we’re going to begin broadcasting live from and to the iPad as events warrant it, starting with a trip to the heart of the emerging Social Enterprise at EvolutionCRM in New York next week.
@Mention Cloud: @stevegillmor @scobleizer @dannysullivan @kevinmarks @jtaschek @borthwick
Steve Gillmor is a technology commentator, editor, and producer in the enterprise technology space. He is Head of Technical Media Strategy at salesforce.com and a TechCrunch contributing editor. Gillmor previously...
Robert Scoble is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. He is best known for his popular blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical...
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