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Alexa tops Apple... Amazon's strategy for its Alexa digital assistant is sharply focused on commerce; if more people use Alexa instead of Siri or Google Assistant, more people can shop by voice command. Already riding high on Echo Dot sales — Amazon's small, budget-priced speaker was its top selling device during the 2017 holiday season — the e-commerce giant has also secured itself a comfy spot atop Apple's own App Store. The Alexa app is used to configure Alexa-enabled devices such as the Echo Dot, and for the first time ever the Alexa app has won the top spot on Apple's U.S. App Store on Christmas, a spot it held through Wednesday, TechCrunch reports. Last year, the Alexa app reached fourth place. The ranking is notable because it represents a fully new audience for Amazon's digital assistant; anyone who already owned an Alexa device likely had the app installed already, and would not have contributed to this year's ranking, the article notes.

Bloomberg News

...but Apple tops everyone else: The smartphone race is, in part, also a mobile wallet race. People who buy iPhones will have access to Apple Pay; people with Samsung handsets could opt for Samsung Pay; and buyers of other Android devices may prefer Android Pay. So it's a pretty big deal for Apple Pay that Apple products were far and away the leader for device activations leading up to the holiday season, according to data from Flurry. Forty-four percent of new phone and tablet activations were Apple products, according to Flurry. This nearly doubles the 26% of Samsung activations and dwarfs the third-place manufacturer, Huawei. Google's Pixel 2 flagship is conspicuously absent, which may be an issue of marketing or limited variety in the Pixel lineup; breaking down iPhone activations, Flurry tracks 10 different products ranging from the iPhone 6 to the new iPhone X.

Big spenders: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday reported that outstanding consumer credit card debt last year had surpassed the peak set during the recession. Credit card debt hit $807 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the 352-page report released by the agency. Consumers held average credit card balances of more than $4,800 at the end of last year, the highest figure the CFPB found in its data, which runs through mid-2017. The report noted that large banks had a return on credit card assets last year that was three times the overall return on assets for commercial banks. The CFPB said the credit card market is largely stable with one key exception: rising interest rates on variable rate accounts. Though the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 generally prohibits credit card issuers from raising interest rates on existing balances, the law allows issuers to raise rates on many cards when an index rate increases. Many issuers have taken advantage of that loophole.

AI on board: In a good sign for digital assistants and in-car payments, Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia have announced plans to install AI assistants in their cars starting in 2019, Engadget reports. The automakers have a goal of every vehicle having some kind of network connectivity by 2025, the article states. To differentiate from other AI assistants, the automakers plan to design their cars to multitask, such as being able to turn on wipers and headlights with a single command, according to Engadget.

From the Web

Europe’s privacy law set to change how personal data is handled around the globe
The Hill | Wed Dec 27, 2017 - Historically, privacy concerns have been a lower priority than convenience and wealth. But over the years, people, organizations and governments have come to realize the negative impact a breach of private information can have consumers. As a result, we have seen an increasing number of privacy laws passed by governments across the globe over time. The European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the latest privacy-based regulation, and its effective date is quickly approaching. Organizations worldwide must be ready to comply with many stringent requirements starting May 25, 2018. It will impact organizations across the globe that handle personal data for EU residents.

China moves to impose order on mobile payments boom
Financial Times | Thu Dec 28, 2017 - China’s central bank has tightened rules on mobile payments made by scanning a barcode, imposing restrictions that could slow the explosive growth for Alibaba’s financial services affiliate and that of its main rival, Tencent. The regulations set daily limits on the amount consumers can spend each day using barcode-based payments. They also forbid “burning money” via subsidies to merchants, which are designed to capture market share from competitors. China leads the world in mobile payments, most of which are executed by scanning a QR code. While some scans use a specialised point-of-sale (POS) terminal, others occur between mobile phones or when the consumer scans a decal posted near the checkout area.

While bitcoin falls, one cryptocurrency jumps 20% after new link to some Japanese credit card companies
CNBC | Wed Dec 27, 2017 - The digital currency rose 20 percent to a record high of $1.43, making it the third-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization at $54 billion, behind bitcoin and ethereum, according to CoinMarketCap. The gains followed news that Tokyo-based financial services company SBI Holdings and its subsidiary SBI Ripple Asia — formed with Ripple in 2016 — announced the establishment of a "consortium" with some Japanese credit card companies to utilize blockchain technology, according to an online translation of a release. "One of the things we all have to remember is the value of a token over the long term is really going to be driven by its utility," Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said on CNBC's "Squawk Alley." "There's no question there's a lot of hype in this system."

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Daniel Wolfe

Daniel Wolfe

Daniel Wolfe is editor in chief at PaymentsSource and a contributing editor at American Banker.