Intel to close its AppUp online app store

The app store was first set up to support users of netbook computers

January 30, 2014
(IDG News Service)

Intel is closing down its AppUp online application store as it sees a shift in the market and consumer needs.

Designed originally for netbook computers, the Intel AppUp center was first unveiled in a beta program in 2010, with plans to expand its scope to smartphones, TVs and other consumer devices that use Intel processors.

The application store aimed to help develop the market for the products, attract developers to the platform and support customers. Intel Capital, the company’s venture capital arm, announced in 2011 a $100 million AppUp fund to invest in companies developing applications and digital content for PCs and mobile devices.

But the needs of consumers have since changed and so also the market environment, an Intel spokeswoman said late Wednesday. The company is realigning to focus on cloud services for enterprises, developers and operators, she added.

Some of Intel’s partners like Microsoft also offer applications for download from vastly popular online stores.

The Intel AppUp center will close March 11 as the company focuses “on developing new and exciting PC innovations that will continue to shape your world,” Intel said in a brief message on its website.

In a FAQ posted to its website, Intel said that after March 11, no new content or apps will be available for download from the store. Applications will not be updated or receive notifications through AppUp after that date.

“Some of the apps in the store use a special technology which protects the app from being pirated/duplicated,” Intel said. These apps will work until May 15th, 2015, as long as users have the latest AppUp client installed.

Intel is also refunding users for paid applications for the actual transaction price. The refund process will be available from Jan 28 through Dec. 19 this year.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John’s e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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Ellison: Facebook is the new model for business applications

Social networking is the new backbone of business applications, the Oracle CEO says

January 29, 2014
(IDG News Service)

Modern business applications need a social network at their core and should be so easy to use that even a CEO can figure them out.

So said Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, in a pitch for his company’s software and cloud services in San Francisco on Wednesday.

“Our user interface is modeled after Facebook, something that doesn’t require learning,” Ellison said of Oracle’s newest cloud software.

His point, made by others before him, is that in an age of Facebook, Twitter and Google, workers won’t put up with stodgy enterprise software.

“The interfaces Oracle and SAP built 10 years ago aren’t appropriate in the age of Facebook and Twitter,” Ellison said.

It’s a problem big organizations have wrestled with for years: they buy expensive software for things like HR and salesforce automation, then half the employees don’t use it.

It’s often easier to get people working on reception to use the software than top managers, Ellison said.

“The system has to be that easy to use that even a CEO can use it — and that’s a very low or high bar depending on how you’re looking at it,” he said.

Business applications need a social component at their core, he said, so that employees are connected to each other and to the organization.

“The social network is the new paradigm of the application; it’s the interface of the application,” Ellison said.

“Connected employees know what’s going on in the company and they can help others do their job,” he said.

He declared that customer service and human capital management applications are the two most important business apps of the 21st Century.

Companies win or lose based on the people they hire and how they treat their customers, Ellison said.

He was speaking at Oracle’s CloudWorld conference in San Francisco, where he also declared that IBM and SAP are no longer Oracle’s main rivals.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James’s e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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Facebook sees apps in its future … lots of apps

CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on the company’s plans for more standalone apps

January 29, 2014
(IDG News Service)

Imagine using a separate Facebook app just for sharing status updates with your closest friends, or maybe co-workers. In the next few years, such an app could exist.

Facebook, in an effort to divvy up its service, is looking to develop a range of new standalone apps to let people connect with others and share content, perhaps in new ways beyond how they do already.

Facebook App iPhone Hand Shot
Facebook’s mobile app.

That, in a nutshell, is what CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent a fair amount of time discussing during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday. It’s an ambitious effort, but it could be a very good thing for the massive social network, which now claims to have more than 1.2 billion monthly active users.

The project, Zuckerberg said, would address the various ways people take to the Internet today to share content — whether it be photos, events, locations or games — and interact with each other. Zuckerberg said a handful of new apps, or “experiences,” might be developed over the next few years to give people new ways to share content.

“If you think about the overall space of sharing and communicating, there’s not just one thing people are doing,” Zuckerberg said. “People want to share any type of content with any audience.”

The strategy, if it works, could help Facebook keep people inside its ecosystem, attract new users, and allow marketers to serve up ever more targeted ads.

Right now, Facebook operates two mobile apps outside of its core site: Instagram, for photo and video sharing; and Messenger, for peer-to-peer mobile messaging. In some cases, these apps give active Facebook users an alternative service to connect with each other. But they could also serve as standalone mobile hubs for people who are not as active on Facebook.

“Instagram is a different kind of community than Facebook,” Zuckerberg said, perhaps referring to the type of person who wants to see what his or her friends are up to, but without all the other stuff.

One recent tweak to Facebook’s Messenger app shows the company wants to weave more people into its apps: This past November the service was updated to let people message each other even if they aren’t Facebook friends, as long as the sender has the recipient’s phone number. With that change, Facebook sought to better compete against popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat and WeChat. The change may have worked too — Facebook reported on Wednesday that it had seen a 70 percent rise over the past few months in the number of people using Messenger.

To provide an example of one type of new app Facebook might be thinking about, Zuckerberg cited a surprising metric during the earnings call: Roughly 500 million people — nearly half of Facebook’s total monthly users — are now using Facebook Groups, a service for setting up customized spaces for interactions and sharing, every month.

Zuckerberg did not say that Groups would be spun off into its own mobile app, but a look at what the service does helps to illuminate Facebook’s thinking in the area of standalone apps. “By creating a group for each of the important parts of your life — family, teammates, coworkers — you decide who sees what you share,” the product’s landing page proclaims.

“Giving experiences like that room to breathe and be their own brand is a really valuable thing,” Zuckerberg said.

Mobile is a critical component of Facebook’s business, given consumers’ shift away from desktop PCs in favor of smartphones and tablets. The company now describes itself as being “mobile first,” and its latest earnings results show that to be true, if you base it on advertising dollars.

For the first time, Facebook reported on Wednesday that more than half of its total advertising revenue came from mobile devices.

It would make sense, therefore, for Facebook to further monetize its service using a new suite of mobile apps, but first it would have to show advertisers that people are actually using them.

Karsten Weide, an industry analyst with IDC, said that developing more standalone mobile apps might provide consumers with a way into Facebook’s services, without the friction. The amount of content and functions the Internet company has released over the years has grown so much it’s almost become unwieldy, he said.

“It would make sense to branch out to let users access their services more directly,” he said. Plus, some of Facebook’s competitors, like Google and Yahoo, already offer a range of their own mobile apps for performing different functions.

Facebook is still growing the number of its users on mobile. In terms of monthly active users on those devices, the company reported a nearly 40 percent rise on Wednesday.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach’s e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Facebook asserts its success on mobile with another strong quarter

About 53 percent of the company’s ad sales came from mobile devices

January 29, 2014
(IDG News Service)

More than half of Facebook’s ad sales came from mobile devices in the fourth quarter, showing continued strength in the site’s ability to monetize its service on smaller screens.

Total revenue for the quarter ended Dec. 31 was US$2.59 billion, a 63 percent increase from the same period the previous year, the company reported Wednesday. Facebook’s sales beat analysts’ expectations of $2.33 billion, as polled by Thomson Reuters.

Net income for the social media company was $523 million, a more than 700 percent increase from the fourth quarter in 2012. Earnings per share was $0.20. Excluding share-based compensation expenses and related payroll tax expenses and adjustments, earnings per share was $0.31, topping analyst expectations of $0.27.

Facebook generated sales of $2.34 billion from advertising, a 76 percent increase from the previous year. Of its total ad sales, 53 percent came from ads placed on mobile devices, the company reported. During the same period in 2012, only 23 percent of the company’s advertising revenue was derived from mobile.

“It was a great end to the year for Facebook,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement.

Facebook makes the majority of its money from advertising and the company has been pressured to raise its ad revenues specifically on mobile devices as more people migrate away from desktop PCs in favor of devices like smartphones and tablets.

Over the past year, Facebook has made considerable progress in chasing mobile ad dollars. In the previous quarter Facebook said roughly 49 percent of its ad sales came from mobile; Wednesday’s results mark the first time the company has crossed the 50 percent mark.

The company has several different products for monetizing on mobile, including mobile app install ads, which direct users out of Facebook and into Apple or Google’s app stores.

One potential issue hanging over Facebook’s business is the extent to which young people — teens specifically — might be growing tired of it. During the company’s previous earnings call in October, executives reported that Facebook was seeing a decline in the number of daily users among younger teenagers. The concern is that while younger people may not be leaving Facebook outright in droves, they could prefer rival services like Snapchat or Twitter for certain activities. Such a scenario could weaken Facebook’s ability to attract advertisers.

Facebook did not address that issue in its announcement, though it is likely to face questions on the matter later in the day when Zuckerberg and other executives take questions from investors and financial analysts. Facebook could also be asked to clarify which types of ad products specifically on mobile helped to generate the bulk of its revenue there and whether the gains came from more ads, or improved ads.

The company did grow its monthly active users overall by 16 percent to 1.23 billion. The company also grew its daily active users by 22 percent, but it did not break them down by age.

For the full year, Facebook’s revenue was $7.87 billion, a 55 percent increase from its sales in 2012.

Facebook’s stock was trading at $53.53 after the market closed, down slightly from closing at $55.14 on Tuesday.

Facebook earnings
Facebook’s financial results from Q4 ’12 to Q4 ’13

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach’s e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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How to ruin the Internet of things: Tie up with a carrier

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Credit: VLADGRIN

The tech industry is going gaga over the Internet of things, a nebulous set of technologies that make everything from refrigerators to body sensors and wearables communicate with each other and with apps on your smartphone, tablet, PC, and Internet services. One example of the Internet of things mania is Cisco Systems chairman John Chambers’ declaration that the market will be worth $19 trillion, a figure larger than the entire U.S. gross domestic product.

But if you look past the hype, there is a lot of exciting, useful technology — much of it mobile — being developed under the “Internet of things” rubric. What scares me is that if the crazy hype doesn’t kill the Internet of things in its tracks, the cellular carriers might do it in.

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The cellular carriers are salivating over the Internet of things, as they see it creating huge demand for cellular data services over their 3G and 4G networks, as devices all try to talk to each other for reasons both smart and stupid. Of course, they want to own as much as that service as possible. In fact, the carriers have been eyeing this market for years, preparing to own as much of it as possible.

So you have, for example, Audi and Tesla both agreeing to make their future cars run their embedded computing systems over AT&T’s U.S. cellular network. You have alarm companies tying up with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon to provide communication between alarm systems and the monitoring office over cellular, as landline phones continue to disappear from homes. AT&T and General Electric are also looking at ways to embed machine-to-machine (M2M) cellular radios in industrial equipment, transmitting through the AT&T network, of course.

Any buyer in their right mind should recoil in horror at the thought. Any device or service provider should too.

Imagine your car being tied to a specific carrier for its lifespan, which these days is easily a decade. Now think about the inconsistencies in your carrier’s cellular coverage: It’s great here, terrible there. That coverage quality changes over time even in the same location. At my house, for example, the Verizon voice service that has worked reasonably well for a decade no longer can keep a call active for more than five minutes, and Verizon has no clue why that changed, much less what to do about it.

Do you really want your car, refrigerator, alarm system, and so on to be stuck with a single provider, no matter where you live or drive? It’s bad enough with smartphones and tablets, but imagine that situation with something you can’t easily replace.

Some neighbors experienced this issue firsthand with their alarm service, which was tied to T-Mobile. Problem is, T-Mobile’s signal in the central part of San Francisco where I live ranges from poor to nonexistent. At my neighbor’s house, it is nonexistent, so my neighbor’s alarm can’t connect with the monitoring service. The alarm company of course can’t swap out the radio or SIM card to change carrier — its deal is with T-Mobile, and T-Mobile only. As a result, my neighbors had to pay for a landline they otherwise don’t need, on top of several hundred dollars more for the replacement equipment and service to connect the alarm to it.

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FTC takes action against alleged Obamacare spammer

The company sent email messages trying to trick people into signing up for insurance before the deadline, the agency says

January 24, 2014
(IDG News Service)

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against a website operator that allegedly sent spam intended to trick consumers into signing up for health insurance in advance of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

The FTC alleges that Kobeni and its president, Yair Shalev, sent unsolicited email telling consumers they would be violating the health-care law if they did not immediately click a link to enroll in health insurance.

A representative for Kobeni wasn’t available for comment. The company’s website wasn’t accessible Friday afternoon.

Between May and August, the company sent email messages with statements such as, “Today is the deadline to make your election or be in violation of federal law,” and effective Aug. 5, “health coverage is required by law,” the FTC said Friday.

Under the ACA, often called Obamacare, uninsured U.S. residents have until March 31 to sign up for health insurance or face a tax penalty.

The FTC has asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida for a permanent injunction against the defendants.

Links in the email messages allegedly sent by the company led to websites with advertisements for insurance. The websites’ operators paid the defendants when consumers clicked links contained in the ads, but insurance companies whose ads appeared on the websites did not authorize the email messages, the FTC said in a press release.

The company violated the FTC Act prohibiting unfair business practices by falsely representing that consumers would violate federal law if they did not select health insurance by the dates that appeared in its email messages, the FTC said.

The defendants also violated the antispam CAN-SPAM Act by not providing consumers who received the spam email messages with a clear and conspicuous notice that they had the right to opt out of receiving future commercial email messages, and by sending commercial email messages that did not include the sender’s physical postal address, the agency said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant’s email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Online movie streaming can be profitable as TV, disc sales

New report also shows that revenue from DVD and Blu-ray sales will likely decrease by 38% over the next four years

January 23, 2014
(Computerworld)

If movie producers charged a $15 monthly fee to just 45% of the world’s online subscribers, they could rake in just as much cash as they currently do through TV downloads and disc sales, a report released today showed.

According to the report from U.K.-based Generator Research, movie producers this year are expected to earn $29.4 billion from TV and home video sales.

“Movie producers have little to fear from online distribution in the long term,” the report states. “It is the distribution part of the movie business that should be worried because online distribution will replace a sizable portion of their current industry.

“For those operating in developed Internet markets, this will mean that corporate strategies must change,” the report added.

The report’s theoretical model for ISPs points to a future where internet users pay a fixed fee for movie content on services such as Netflix, just like many users do today for music content.

revenue
Revenue from movie distribution formats

The Generator Research model assumes stagnant online movie distribution. However, online movie revenue is expected to increase by 260% from $3.5 billion this year to $12.7 billion in 2018, the report adds.

Forty-five percent of the world’s broadband subscribers equates to 348 million people.

According to the report’s hypothetical model, the $15 fee would offer open access to all movie content – meaning instant online access to all movies that have been ever produced, “along with new releases as they come out.”

“And they would get access to all of this from all of their connected devices,” the report stated.

Box office revenues, according to the report, are also expected to increase over the next four years by 22%, from $33.2 billion in this year to $40.5 billion in 2018.

Revenue from television downloads and rentals are also expected to increase, Generator Research said, from $11.7 billion in 2014 to $14.3 billion in 2018, a 22% hike.

Conversely, DVD and Blu-ray revenues will fall because consumer demand is falling and competition from so-called “virtual formats” is increasing. Revenue from DVD and Blu-ray sales will decrease by 38% from $14.3 billion in 2014 to $8.9 billion in 2018, the report showed.

“We think that movies represent a sustainable entertainment proposition: there is no evidence that consumers are growing bored with movies and when all channels are taken into account demand for great movies today is actually stronger today than at any time in the past,” Generator Research stated.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas’s RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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Oracle thinks global with its social media analysis software

Oracle’s tools can now analyze social content in more languages

January 6, 2014
(IDG News Service)

Oracle has broadened the number of languages its social media analysis software supports, in a bid to appeal to enterprises with operations and customers across the world.

The vendor’s Social Relationship Management software now has support for English, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Korean and Japanese, according to Monday’s announcement.

SRM is part of the company’s broader suite of “customer experience” software that spans sales automation, customer service, marketing and support. It competes in this area not only with frequent rival SAP but also Adobe and IBM, companies that have largely eschewed the enterprise applications market but see an opportunity in technologies that cater to digital business.

Oracle’s SRM software includes semantic text analysis capabilities that “go well beyond keyword and Boolean to reveal actionable insights like consumer intent, product likes/dislikes, and customer service issues,” according to Monday’s announcement.

Other new features include a dashboard that gives users the ability “to see where conversations are happening globally, and allocate workload accordingly,” Oracle said.

There are two main categories of social media monitoring tools, said analyst Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research: “Those that can help an individual brand monitor and respond to content related to them, and then tools that can analyze larger sets of data, such as shopping patterns on holidays.”

One of the most important functions is accurately matching a person posting on social media to actual customer records that show their buying or support history, Lepofksy added.

Oracle’s acquisitions of RightNow, Vitrue, Collective Intellect, Evolver, Eloqua and Responsys are an attempt to give it a portfolio that can help companies connect with customers through the entire buying cycle, Lepofsky said.

Many companies could now be ready to invest in social media analysis tools.

“I think most organizations are past the ‘thinking about social media’ stage in terms of sales, marketing and support,” Lepofsky said. “Social media as a channel is influencing many organizations to combine their digital strategy across multiple departments that used to operate more independently.”

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris’ email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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Facebook made of Teflon when it comes to privacy

Social network sued for allegedly scanning users’ private messages

January 3, 2014
(Computerworld)

Facebook is being sued for allegedly intercepting users’ private messages, following links and sharing the information with advertisers and marketers.

But analysts are doubtful that such accusations will be enough to make users abandon the social networking site.

Facebook scans users’ private messages, follows any links in the messages to third-party Web sites and uses the information to build user profiles that are then shared with third parties, according to the suit brought by Facebook users Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley on Dec. 30 in federal court in San Jose. The suit also seeks to be certified as a class action on behalf of all Facebook users in the U.S. who have sent or received private Facebook messages that included a URL in the content of the message.

“The right of privacy is a personal and fundamental right in California and the United States,” the complaint states. “An individual’s privacy is directly implicated by the collection, use, and dissemination of personal information. Defendant Facebook, Inc. has systematically violated consumers’ privacy by reading its users’ personal, private Facebook messages without their consent.”

The complaint further states that contrary to Facebook’s claims of offering users the ability to send and receive private messages, those messages are intercepted to cull information about the users’ communications, not to facilitate communications but to make money off users’ messages.

Independent security researchers looked into Facebook’s practices, according to the plaintiffs. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against Facebook’s practices and either $100 a day for each day of alleged violation or $10,000, for each user affected.

“The complaint is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” said a Facebook spokeswoman in an email to Computerworld.

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, noted that if the allegations are upheld in court, it will be another instance of Facebook disregarding users’ privacy.

“This is yet another slap in the face to customers,” said Kagan. “Previous slaps have not cost them anything. Will this? I don’t think so. However at some point, some day, they will cross over the line and when they do, they will start losing customers quickly.”

Today, though, is not likely to be that day, he added.

Privacy is dead, Kagan said, and it’s largely because users don’t read the multi-page and often confusing terms of use agreements before signing up to any site or service.

“Users leave themselves open to this kind of abuse,” he said. “That’s the problem. The marketplace complains, but doesn’t go away. So with no real price to pay, Facebook keeps misbehaving. Who’s fault is it? Theirs for doing it and ours for letting them get away with it.”

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said users should be aware that free services aren’t really free. If people aren’t paying out of their pocket, they’ll pay another way.

“Ad-funded companies need to generate revenue, and they do so by mining the content they have access to,” Enderle said. “In exchange, you get access to the product for free. Once you know this is going on, you can either decide not to use the service or to moderate what you share with them. This hurts because most folks don’t really understand what they signed up for and feel violated as a result. Sometimes you do need to read the fine print.”

Consumers need to remember that with services like Facebook, the real customers are the advertisers, not the users, he said.

Enderle, like Kagan, said users aren’t going to leave Facebook for this kind of infraction. They haven’t in the past and it’s unclear what privacy infraction would force users, who connect with family and friends on the world’s largest social network, to ditch it for another site.

This article, Facebook made of Teflon when it comes to privacy, analysts say, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon’s RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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Snapchat, feeling heat from hack, to let users opt out of compromised feature

New controls will let people stop themselves from being searchable based on their phone numbers

January 3, 2014
(IDG News Service)

Snapchat, reeling from a recent hack that exposed millions of user names and partially redacted phone numbers of its members, will now let users back out of the feature that hackers abused.


   Snapchat App
Snapchat’s app on iOS.


The company also said it would improve some mechanisms, including a tool known as “rate limiting,” to combat future attempts to abuse its service.

In August, security research group Gibson Security warned Snapchat of a flaw in its “Find Friends” feature that could allow account details such as user names and phone numbers to be leaked. Last week, the group published proof-of-concept code showing how Snapchat’s API (application programming interface) could be abused to expose that information. Then, on New Year’s Day, a group of hackers paired the phone numbers with the user names of more than 4.6 million Snapchat users and posted them online. The hackers said that they could complete the partially redacted phone numbers if people asked them to.

The “Find Friends” feature gives people the option of giving Snapchat their phone numbers so other users can find them, if they’re in their friends’ address books.

In a blog post on Thursday, Snapchat said it would update its app to let users get out of the Find Friends feature so they could no longer be found through their phone numbers. Snapchat did not say when the change would be coming, and could not immediately be reached for further comment. Snapchat also did not say what it would do with the phone numbers of the people who subsequently opted out.

In its latest blog post, the company seemed to distance itself from a previous statement that took a more casual tone toward the incident, instead sounding more serious around its security.

“We want to make sure security experts can get a hold of us when they discover new ways to abuse our service so that we can respond quickly to address those concerns,” Snapchat said. Last week, the company acknowledged the concerns, but characterized them as being more theoretical, given other safeguards put in place over last year.

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