Twitter is purging accounts that were trying to evade prior suspensions

Twitter announced this afternoon it will begin booting accounts off its service from those who have tried to evade their account suspension. The company says that the accounts in question are users who have been previously suspended on Twitter for their abusive behavior, or for trying to evade a prior suspension. These bad actors have been able to work around Twitter’s attempt to remove them by setting up another account, it seems.

The company says the new wave of suspensions will hit this week and will continue in the weeks ahead, as it’s able to identify others who are “attempting to Tweet following an account suspension.” 

Twitter’s announcement on the matter – which came in the form of a tweet – was light on details. We asked the company for more information. It’s unclear, for example, how Twitter was able to identify the same persons had returned to Twitter, how many users will be affected by this new ban, or what impact this will have on Twitter’s currently stagnant user numbers.

Twitter has not responded to our questions.

The company has been more recently focused on aggressively suspending accounts, as part of the effort to stem the flow of disinformation, bots, and abuse on its service. The Washington Post, for example, said last month that Twitter had suspended as many as 70 million accounts between the months of May and June, and was continuing in July at the same pace. The removal of these accounts didn’t affect the company’s user metrics, Twitter’s CFO later clarified.

Even though they weren’t a factor, Twitter’s user base is shrinking. The company actually lost a million monthly active users in Q2, with 335 million overall users and 68 million in the U.S. In part, Twitter may be challenged in growing its audience because it’s not been able to get a handle on the rampant abuse on its platform, and because it makes poor enforcement decisions with regard to its existing policies.

For instance, Twitter is under fire right now for the way it chooses who to suspend, as it’s one of the few remaining platforms that hasn’t taken action against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

The Outline even hilariously (???) suggested today that we all abandon Twitter and return to Tumblr. (Disclosure: Oath owns Tumblr and TC. I don’t support The Outline’s plan. Twitter should just fix itself, even if that requires new leadership.)

In any event, today’s news isn’t about a change in how Twitter will implement its rules, but rather in how it will enforce the bans it’s already chosen to enact.

In many cases, banned users would simply create a new account using a new email address and then continue to tweet. Twitter’s means of identifying returning users has been fairly simplistic in the past. To make sure banned users didn’t come back, it used information like the email, phone and IP address to identify them.

For it to now be going after a whole new lot of banned accounts who have been attempting to avoid their suspensions, Twitter may be using the recently acquired technology from anti-abuse firm Smyte. At the time of the deal, Twitter had praised Smyte’s proactive anti-abuse systems, and said it would soon put them to work.

This system may pick up false positives, of course – and that could be why Twitter noted that some accounts could be banned in error in the weeks ahead.

More to come…

Group FaceTime isn’t arriving in September

Group FaceTime’s launch is going to be delayed. The feature, which supports up to 32 people in a single audio or video call, was pulled from the latest iOS 12 and macOS Mojave betas released on Monday, and will be held until a later date, says Apple. According to the company’s Release Notes for both operating system updates, Group FaceTime will “ship in a future update later this fall.”

The feature was introduced at this year’s WWDC, with the goal of capitalizing on the growing popularity of larger group video chat sessions – especially among younger people. Today, apps like Houseparty, Instagram, and Snapchat, among others, cater to this audience with group video calling support of their own. But they don’t offer support for up to 32 people – a feature that requires a lot of technical overhead, and apparently, more time to prep than Apple had planned.

Apple didn’t offer any official explanation for the delay, but early beta testers have said the feature has been working well so far. Of course, it’s one thing to go from supporting some 4 million beta testers, to supporting everyone who installs the iOS 12 and macOS Mojave updates.

It’s not unusual for Apple to hold back features from its September OS releases. With iOS 11, Apple held back AirPlay 2, Messages in iCloud, and Apple Pay Cash, for example.

 

 

Twitter Lite expands to 21 more countries, adds push notifications

Twitter announced today its Twitter Lite app is expanding to 21 more countries, which makes the data-saving app available to more than 45 countries in total. The app was introduced last year with the goal of bringing in more users from emerging markets to Twitter. Similar to other data-saving apps, like Facebook Lite or YouTube Go, Twitter Lite is designed to load faster on slower network connections, like 2G and 3G, and also has a smaller footprint, so it takes up less space on the phone.

The app was first launched as a test in the Philippines in September, before rolling out to a couple dozen more countries in November.

Twitter’s hope is that by addressing the needs of those low-bandwith users in international markets, the company could help increase its overall user base, which has remained fairly stagnant.

Today, the company is making the app available to 21 countries, including:  Argentina, Belarus, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Morocco, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Romania, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

These join the other markets where Twitter Lite has been available, such as: Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Malaysia, Nigeria, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Serbia, El Salvador, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, Tanzania and Venezuela, in addition to the Philippines.

The app offers a variety of features for those on slower or unreliable networks. For example, Lite users can turn on a Data saver mode that allows them to control which images or video load when browsing the network. Once enabled, you can load this content by tapping “Load Image” or “Load video,” as needed.

The app is also under 3MB in size, so it will load more quickly on slower networks.

And like Twitter, the app includes features like Bookmarks, a darker “Night mode” theme, threads, and starting today, push notifications.

The company in November claimed Twitter Lite led to a greater than 50% increase in tweets, and noted that 80% of its then 330 million monthly users were outside the U.S. That percentage remains roughly the same – as of July, Twitter had a total of 335 million users, with 68 million of those in the U.S.

However, the company isn’t growing that quickly outside the U.S., despite Twitter Lite. Also as of July 2018, we noted the company’s international audience had only grown by a modest 3.5% over the past year.

An expansion of the Twitter Lite app will certainly open up Twitter to more people, but it’s not clear there’s much demand.

The app is available as a free download on Google Play.

Netflix CFO David Wells to step down

Netflix announced this morning its Chief Financial Officer David Wells would be stepping down from his role after helping the streaming service choose his successor. The company says it will be considering both internal and external candidates to fill the position. Wells has been with Netflix for fourteen years, and has served as CFO since 2010.

“It’s been 14 wonderful years at Netflix, and I’m very proud of everything we’ve accomplished,” Wells said, in a statement about his plans. “After discussing my desire to make a change with Reed, we agreed that with Netflix’s strong financial position and exciting growth plans, this is the right time for us to help identify the next financial leader for the company. Personally, I intend my next chapter to focus more on philanthropy and I like big challenges but I’m not sure yet what that looks like.”

Wells has seen Netflix grow from a U.S.-only streaming service to an international streaming giant, capitalizing on consumers’ desire for on-demand, subscription programming delivered over the internet. Today the service has over 130 million members across over 190 countries, but it’s more recently been challenged by a host of competitors not only in on-demand – like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and HBO – but also from streaming TV services that are attracting subscribers who want access to cable TV-like programming and sports.

During its last earnings, Netflix fell short of subscriber forecasts, which panicked Wall Street sending the stock crashing. It could be that the years of rapid growth are now behind it, and the company needs to focus on what gives its service long-term staying power: its original content. Netflix may spend up to $8 billion this year on 700 original series, in fact.

“David has been a valuable partner to Netflix and to me. He skillfully managed our finances during a phase of dramatic growth that has allowed us to create and bring amazing entertainment to our members all over the world while also delivering outstanding returns to our investors,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO in a statement about Wells’ departure. “I look forward to working with him during the transition as we identify a new CFO who will help us continue to pursue our ambitious goals.”

Twitch is closing its Communities

Say goodbye to Twitch’s Communities. The game-streaming service says it’s soon killing off this still relatively new addition to its site in favor of implementing a tagging system instead. With the changes, users will be able to filter streams by tags within a directory or across different games on the Browse page, in order to better find the sort of streams they want to watch.

The closure of Communities and addition of tags is being planned for mid-September, says Twitch.

Twitch launched Communities just last year, with the goal of better catering to users’ unique interests. For example, different types of gaming, like retro, or different activities, like speedrunning, could then have their own community. There are also communities centered around titles like Fortnite Battle Royale, PUBG, League of Legends and others, as well as those focused on creative endeavors like music, drawing, cooking, cosplay and more.

But the system has become less helpful as Twitch itself, the number of streamers and the number of communities grew. Today, there’s a lot of overlap between different Communities or between Communities and games, says Twitch.

This is attributable, in part, to the open nature of Communities — there are many with similar names, and no good way to tell what makes them different from one another at first glance.

“Communities were one solution for giving viewers information to help them decide what to watch, but viewers weren’t able to see that information while browsing within a directory they were interested in,” the company noted in an announcement.

It also found that Communities weren’t driving viewers to watch streams — in fact less than 3 percent of Twitch viewership was from users who found streams through the Communities feature. That points to a pretty broad failure of Communities serving as a discovery feature.

Twitch now hopes that the implementation of tags will make things better on that front.

The company says it will add tags to the site in mid-September, and these will be used to identify a stream across Twitch’s directory pages, the homepage, search, channel pages and everywhere else. The main Directory pages and the Browse page will also be able to be filtered by these tags, some of which will be auto-generated.

Twitch says it will automatically add tags like game genres, and some in-game features it can auto-detect — another project it now has in the works. But most of the tags will be selected by the streamer — not user-generated, to be clear, but selected.

Streamers will be able to suggest new tags, however.

The tags will appear alongside the video thumbnail, stream title and the game or category being streamed.

The change is one that speaks to the limitations of portal-like interfaces being used to access a large amount of information — that is, browsing to a particular section to find things you like, then scrolling through those results takes too much time. It isn’t that helpful in the long run. Tagging lets users filter information, paring down, in this case, a large number of Twitch streams to find just those you like.

That being said, not all Twitch users are happy about the changes. But some are happy about it and others are cautiously optimistic about tagging.

Twitch says tagging will first launch on the web, and the company will then listen to feedback about missing tags before launching the feature on mobile.

The mid-September launch date could change, but is the target for now.

Facebook now requiring Pages with large US audiences to go through additional authorization

Facebook today announced it’s implementing a new measure to secure Facebook Pages with large U.S. followings in order to make it harder for people to administer a Page using a “fake or compromised account.” Beginning with those that have large U.S. followings, some Facebook Pages will now have to go through a “Page Publishing Authorization” process. This will require the Page managers to secure their accounts and verity their location.

Facebook says the process only takes a few minutes to complete. If a Page requires this authorization, the Page admins will receive a notice at the top of their News Feed directing them to begin the process.

If they choose not to submit to Authorization, they will no longer be able to post to their Pages, the company says. Enforcement will begin this month.

When the Page owners click through, a message informs them why this is being done and what steps they have to take. To secure their account, Facebook is asking the Page manager to secure their account using two-factor authentication. This makes it more difficult for their account to be hijacked by a third-party, and is a best practice that all Facebook users – not just Page admins – should follow.

Separately, the Facebook Page managers will need to verify their location. This will then be set as the Page’s primary country and display in the new Page Info tab Facebook introduced in June.

Here, Facebook will also show a list of countries of the people who manage the Page, and how many managers hail from each country in that list.

In addition, under Page History, Facebook will show when a Page has merged with another.

The company says this new policy will initially roll out to Pages with large U.S. audiences, and Instagram will soon do something similar. Specifically, Instagram will allow people to see more information about accounts with large audiences.

“Our goal is to prevent organizations and individuals from creating accounts that mislead people about who they are or what they’re doing,” reads a Facebook announcement about the new process. “These updates are part of our continued efforts to increase authenticity and transparency of Pages on our platform.”

The changes follow the recent news that Facebook had found evidence of possible Russia-linked influence campaigns on its network, whose goal was to influence the U.S. midterms. The company removed 8 Facebook Pages, 17 Facebook profiles, and 7 Instagram accounts as a result of its findings.

New policies to make Facebook Pages that reach a sizable number of Americans more secure, and their management more transparent, seems like a good first step on Facebook’s part. Though it’s still possible that those aiming to disrupt democracy and seed division will eventually find workarounds for these measures at some point in the future.

Workona helps web workers finally close all those tabs

A new startup, Workona, this week launched software designed for those who primarily do their work in a browser. The company’s goal is to become the OS for web work – and to also save web workers from the hell that is a million open tabs. To accomplish this, Workona offers smart browser windows you set up as workspaces, allowing you a place to save your open tabs, as well as collaborate with team members, search across your tabs, and even sync your workspace to different devices.

The Palo Alto-based company was founded in fall 2017 by Quinn Morgan (CEO), previously the founding product manager at Lucidpress, and Alma Madsen (CTO), previously the first employee and Director of Engineering at Lucid Software, the makers of Lucidpress.

“Last year, Alma and I decided we wanted to build something together again, and initially began working on a different startup idea,” explains Morgan, as to how Workona began. “As a remote team at the time, we were using cloud apps like Google Docs, Asana, Slack, and Zoom to stay connected. Both of us were wearing multiple hats and juggling ten different projects at once.”

“One late night, with ten windows open for each project, the idea just struck us: ‘Why doesn’t the browser – the tool that we actually do most of our work in – not have a good way to manage all of our projects, meetings, and workflows?'”

Of course, there are already browser add-ons that can help with taming the tab chaos, like OneTab, toby, Session Buddy, The Great Suspender, TooManyTabs and others.

But the co-founders didn’t want just another tab manager; they wanted a smart browser window that would save the work you do, automatically. That way, you wouldn’t have to keep all the tabs open all the time, which can make you stressed and less focused. And you wouldn’t have to remember to press a button to save your tabs, either.

With Workona, the software guides users to create workspaces for each of the projects, meetings, and workflows they’re currently working on. (Working on…Workona…get it?).

You can also take a browser window that represents one project and save it as a workspace.

These workspaces function like a folder, but instead of holding a set of files, they can save anything on the web – cloud documents, task lists, open websites, CRM records, Slack sessions, calendars, Trello boards, and more. In each workspace, you can save a set of tabs that should reappear when that workspace is re-opened, as well as set of “saved tabs” you may need to use later.

After creating a workspace, you can use Workona to re-open it at any time. What that means is you can close the browser window, and later easily pick up where you left off without losing data.

A list of workspaces will also appear in the left-side navigation in the Workona browser tab. Within this tab, you can click to open a workspace, switch between workspaces in the same browser window, search for tabs or workspaces from the included search bar, or open workspaces from their URL.

In a shared workspace, you can also collaborate with others on things the team is working on – like everything needed for a project or meeting.

“Our vision is to build the missing OS for work on the web and workspaces are just the start,” says Morgan.

The company is currently working on making the workspaces and its search features more powerful, he adds.

Workona will be sold as a freemium product, with a free tier always available for moderate use. Pro accounts will be introduced in the future, removing the limit of 10 workspaces found in the free version.

The company has been beta testing with users from tech companies like Twitter, Salesforce and Amazon, as well as NASA.

The company is still pre-seed stage, with funding from K9 Ventures.

Traditional OS’s spent a lot of time and effort in designing the ‘desktop experience’ and switching between applications. But in a browser, all we have is tabs,” said K9 Ventures’ Manu Kumar, as to why he invested. “There are tab managers but none of them really solved my problem well enough, and none of them allowed me to maintain a shared context with other people that I’m collaborating with,” he added.

Workona is available for Chrome as a plugin you download from its website.

Disney may offer a discounted bundle of Hulu, ESPN+ and its new streaming service

Disney may offer its customers the option to purchase a discounted bundle of its three streaming apps – Hulu, Disney’s upcoming streaming service, and ESPN+ – according to comments made by Disney CEO Bob Iger during the company’s’ earnings call this week. He said Disney would rather keep the three properties separate, rather than trying to combine them into a more robust “aggregation play,” so as to better address cord cutters’ desire to pick-and-choose the services they want.

The company will own 60 percent of Hulu, when its $71.3 billion deal to acquire 21st Century Fox closes. It already owns ESPN, which now offers a streaming service called ESPN+, and is launching its own Disney-branded streaming service in 2019 that will feature Pixar, Marvel, Disney, Lucasfilm (Star Wars), and eventually, it now says, National Geographic content.

While Disney’s service is meant to be more family-friendly, Hulu will cater to a more adult market. And the plan is to keep those two separate.

Iger had previously said the idea that a bundle could exist in the future wasn’t out of the question, but had not been definite about Disney’s plans in that area.

Now, he’s making it more clear that Disney believes there’s value in offering a discounted bundle of its services, rather than combining all their content all under one roof.

“So rather than one, let’s call it, gigantic aggregated play, we’re going to bring to the market what we’ve already brought to market [with the] sports play. I’ll call it Disney Play, which is more family-oriented. And then, of course, there’s Hulu. And they will basically be designed to attract different tastes and different segment or audience demographics,” Iger explained, in response to a question about whether or not it would ever build an aggregated streaming app instead of pursuing the different market segments.

“If a consumer wants all three, ultimately, we see an opportunity to package them from a pricing perspective,” Iger continued. “But it could be that a consumer just wants sports or just wants family or just wants the Hulu offering, and we want to be able to offer that kind of flexibility to consumers…” he said.

In addition to this potential bundling deal, the company took the opportunity to divulge a few more details about Disney’s streaming service this week.

It noted, for example, that it will have less content that its rival Netflix, but its price point will also reflect that – meaning, it will cost less than Netflix.

“We will be launching the Disney app into the market probably in about a year – sometime the end of calendar 2019,” Iger had told investors. “We’re going to walk before we run, as it relates to volume of content, because it takes time to build the kind of content library that ultimately we intend to build,” he said.

“We feel that it does not have to have anything close to the volume of what Netflix…And the price, by the way, will also reflect a lower volume of product,” said Iger.

He also re-confirmed the service’s lineup will initially include a 10-episode, live-action Star Wars series from director Jon Favreau that cost $100 million; new episodes of Star Wars: Clone Wars; new series based on existing IP like Disney Channel’s “High School Musical,” and Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.”

Plus, the service will stream Disney’s upcoming slate of films like Marvel’s “Captain Marvel,” “Avengers 4,” Star Wars: Episode IX,” and the live-action remakes of “Dumbo,” Lady and the Tramp,” “The Lion King,” and “The Sword in the Store.”

“Ultimately, National Geographic will be a contributor,” Iger noted at one point.

According to an NYT profile of Ricky Strauss, the Disney exec charged with programming the new service, it will also include an original film, “Timmy Failure,” which is based on the best-selling book series about a “comically self-confident boy detective.”

The report said that at least nine movies are in production or advanced development, with budgets ranging from $20 million to $60 million.

This includes a period adventure story about a sled dog called “Togo;” a remake of “Three Men and a Baby;” “The Paper Magician,” which takes places at a school for magic; “Noelle,” starring Anna Kendrick as Santa’s daughter; “Stargirl,” based on a young adult novel; and a version of “Don Quixote,” The NYT additionally reported.

There will “probably” be a new Muppets show and Marvel-themed shows, too, it said.

Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile video startup NewTV closes on $1 billion

Jeffrey Katzenberg’s new mobile video startup NewTV, now headed by CEO Meg Whitman, has closed on a billion in new funding in round led by Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the company has confirmed. WndrCo, Katzenberg’s tech and media holding company, officially announced the round’s close on Tuesday, following last month’s report from CNN which had first leaked the news of the billion-dollar investment.

CNN’s report had attributed the funding to investors like Disney, 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros, Entertainment One and other media companies, noting they had put in a combined $200 million.

The company has now confirmed the investor lineup includes Hollywood studios 21st Century Fox, Disney, Entertainment One, ITV, Lionsgate, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Viacom, and Warner Media. On the technology side, it say Alibaba is invested.

In addition, the round was led by strategic partners The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Liberty Global, and VC firm Madrone Capital.

“More so than ever, people want easy access to the highest quality entertainment that fits perfectly into their busy, on-the-go lifestyles,” said Meg Whitman, CEO of NewTV, in a statement. “With NewTV, we’ll give consumers a user-friendly platform, built for mobile, that delivers the best stories, created by the world’s top talent, allowing users to make the most of every moment of their day.”

NewTV had not shared much detail about its ambitions ahead of this fundraise, beyond its bigger goal of reinventing TV for the mobile era. Specifically, it’s interested in taking the sort of quality programming you’d find on a service like Netflix, broken up into smaller, bite-sized videos of 10 minutes or less – designed specifically for mobile viewing.

In an interview with Variety, the company has now disclosed that NewTV will launch later in 2019 with a premium lineup of original, short-form series where each episode is 10 minutes long. The service will include both an ad-supported tier and an commercial-free plan, similar to Hulu.

Its original content will include both scripted and unscripted shows, like sitcoms, dramas, reality shows, and documentaries, but not live TV like you’d find on Sling TV or YouTube TV, for example. NewTV will partner with producers to license their programming, but it won’t own or produce shows itself.

Katzenberg also positioned NewTV – which the company says is only the “working title” for now – as something that’s not a direct competitor with Netflix, Hulu, or HBO, but is rather “a different use case.”

As he told Variety, the difference isn’t just the length of the content, but that the NewTV platform itself will be built from scratch for the mobile viewing experience.

In terms of distribution, NewTV will look to telco partnerships.

This could be attractive to some players, who are concerned by the implications of the AT&T / Time Warner merger – after all, AT&T is already leveraging its new asset to run not one, but two streaming TV services. Meanwhile, Verizon, TC’s parent company by way of Oath, could also be looking for a better entry into the market following the closure of its own new-fangled mobile video service, go90, whose failure cost it $658 million.

That being said, NewTV – however clever the format or the app it runs in – will still have to compete for viewers’ time – and a lot of that time today is spent watching streaming services’ programming, even if NewTV doesn’t think of them as rivals. In addition, younger people also stream YouTube videos, which are often short-form, original programs, too. And while they may not be of “HBO quality,” that doesn’t seem to matter to the audience.

WndrCo has raised $750 million prior to this round, much of which had also been invested in NewTV. The company has additionally backed other tech and media startups, including  MixcloudAxiosNodeFlowspace, Whistle Sports, and TYT Network.

 

 

Amazon launches grocery pickup at select Whole Foods

Amazon today is continuing to make good on its Whole Foods acquisition by introducing a new grocery pickup service at select Whole Foods locations in the U.S. The service, which is available only to Prime members, will initially be available at stores in Sacramento and Virginia Beach, but will expand to more cities through the year. Customers will be able to place their orders using Amazon’s Prime Now app or on the web via PrimeNow.com, then pick up in as little as 30 minutes, Amazon says.

Customers will be able to shop Whole Foods’ fresh and organic produce, bakery, dairy, meat and seafood, floral, and other staples, then pick up their order in an hour from their local Whole Foods Market.

This is the same selection of the thousands of items that customers can order for delivery. The majority of in-store items are available across both pickup and delivery services, we understand.

For orders over $35, the grocery pickup service is free. Under $35, the pickup fee is $1.99.

If customers want to get their order more quickly, they have the option of pay an additional $4.99 for a 30-minute pickup instead.

Once they arrive at the store, customers will park in a designated spot and a Prime Now shopper will then bring the groceries out to their car – the customer can stay in their vehicle. The Prime Now app also has a feature that lets the customer alert the store they’re on the way, so the order will be sure to be ready when they arrive.

The pickup service, like Whole Foods delivery, will be offered from 8 AM to 10 PM.

“Pickup from Whole Foods Market is a perfect option for customers who want to grab healthy and organic groceries at their convenience, all without leaving their car,” said Stephenie Landry, Worldwide Vice President of Prime Now, AmazonFresh and Amazon Restaurants, in a statement about the launch.

Amazon already offers grocery delivery from Whole Foods Market across dozens of cities, but this is the first time it has offered grocery pickup.

The move is a direct challenge to rival Walmart, which has been steadily rolling out a grocery pickup service of its own for years. Today, that service is available at 1,800 Walmart locations in the U.S., with plans to reach 2,200 by year-end, Walmart confirmed to us.

Walmart’s grocery pickup service offers shoppers the same general value proposition as Amazon’s. That is, you can shop online for your groceries, drive to the store, then have someone bring them out to you.  Walmart’s service has been especially well-received by parents with small children, who don’t like the hassle of bringing them into the store for grocery shopping, as well as by others who just don’t have a lot of time to grocery shop.

The service has made sense for Walmart’s more value-minded customers, too. With grocery pickup, shopping can be more affordable because there’s not the overhead of running a delivery service – as with Instacart and Target-owned Shipt, where it’s costlier to use the app than to shop yourself. (Plus, you have to tip).

In addition to not marking up the grocery prices, Amazon notes that Prime members can also receive the same 10 percent off sale items they would otherwise get if shopping in the store, and they’ll enjoy the deeper discounts on select items. These savings are available in-store, or when using grocery pickup or delivery.

Alongside this launch, Amazon is also adding a new way to use Alexa for voice shopping from Whole Foods.

Prime members in supported regions can add Whole Foods Market groceries to their Prime Now cart with simple voice commands. For example: “Alexa, add eggs to my Whole Foods cart.”

Alexa will pick the best available match for your request, considering users’ order history and purchasing behavior of other customers when it adds an item to the cart.

But customers will review these cart additions when they go online later to complete their order and checkout. It’s easy to swap the item in the cart for another one at that time.

A report released this week by The Information claimed that few Alexa owners were actively voice shopping using their Alexa devices, but this data seemed to overlook Alexa’s list-making capabilities. That is, people are more likely using Alexa to add items to an in-app shopping list, which they later revisit when they’re back on their phone or computer to complete the purchase. This behavior feels more natural, as shopping often requires a visual confirmation of the product being ordered and its current pricing.

It’s not surprising that people aren’t using Alexa to transact directly through the voice platform, but it is a bit far-fetched to claim that Alexa isn’t providing a lift to Amazon’s bottom line. In addition to list-making, Alexa also helps to upsell customers on Prime memberships, and its other subscription services, including Prime Music Unlimited, the number 3 music service behind Spotify and Apple Music, as well as Audible subscriptions.

Plus, Alexa controls the smart home, and Amazon has acquired smart home device makers and sells its own smart home hardware. It also offers installation services. Those sales, like music or audiobooks, also aren’t directly flowing through Alexa, but Alexa’s existence helps to boost them.

Amazon’s new Whole Foods/Alexa integration will also capitalize on the more common behavior of list-making, rather than direct check out and purchase.

Amazon declined to say which other markets would receive Whole Foods grocery pickup next, how many it expects to support by year-end, or what factors it’s considering as to where to roll out next. It would only say that it will reach more customers this year.

However, as the grocery pickup and delivery services expand, customers can find out if it’s arrived in their area by saying, “Alexa, shop Whole Foods Market.”