The Recorder

Business news in brief

Star Wars toy launch to unveil new ‘Last Jedi’ character

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is still a few months away from hitting theaters, but BB-8-happy fans are about to get a glimpse at a new character as a part of a three-day marketing rollout of toys and products inspired by the film.

The Walt Disney Company said Thursday that the global event, dubbed Force Friday II, will feature an augmented reality treasure hunt called Find the Force. Using the Star Wars app in the 20,000 participating locations in 30 countries, fans can snap photos of the Find the Force symbol to find old favorites, like Admiral Ackbar, and discover a new character from “The Last Jedi” too.

Augmented reality, which superimposes interactive images onto a person’s real-world surroundings using their smartphone or other device, became a sensation with the hit video game “Pokemon Go.”

“Star Wars has always championed new technology, and we are excited that augmented reality will allow fans to experience the universe in a whole new way,” said Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy in a statement.

It’s a departure from the Force Friday blitz in 2015, which featured an 18-hour live-streamed unboxing of the products in promotion of “The Force Awakens.”

Force Friday II runs from Sept. 1 through Sept. 3. There are 15 total AG characters to find across the three days.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” blasts into theaters on Dec. 15.  It is the eighth installment in the core “Star Wars” franchise that follows the force-sensitive Skywalker family.

Apple gets $208M in tax breaks to build Iowa data center

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa has approved a deal to give Apple $208 million in state and local tax benefits to build two data storage centers near Des Moines and the promise to create 50 jobs.

The deal approved Thursday by the Iowa Economic Development Authority includes a refund of $19.6 million in state sale taxes for Apple Inc. and a $188 million break on property taxes from Waukee, a booming suburb bordering Des Moines.

In addition to the promised 50 jobs, Apple has agreed to buy 2,000 acres of land for the $1.4 billion project.

Apple joins Facebook, Microsoft, and Google in building Iowa data centers. They are drawn to the state by its generous tax breaks, wind-generated electricity and relative security from natural disasters that could disrupt service.

Marketing study: Philadelphia soda tax chasing away buyers

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A marketing study says Philadelphia’s 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on soda and other sweetened drinks is chasing customers out of the city.

Philly.com reports that the study by the Florida marketing firm Catalina showed sales of such drinks at nearly 1,000 franchised grocery and drug stores have fallen 55 percent, while sales at stores studied just outside the city’s border rose 38 percent.

Catalina says the study wasn’t paid for by any soft drink companies, but city officials are skeptical of the data. The tax has raised $39.3 million for prekindergarten and other programs, less than the city’s initial projection of $42.6 million.

City spokesman Mike Dunn says that Catalina is exaggerating the tax’s impact and that it doesn’t factor the inconvenience of traveling outside the city to buy the drinks.

Former CIA agent wants to buy Twitter to kick Trump off

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is looking to crowdfund enough money to buy Twitter so President Donald Trump can’t use it.

Wilson launched the fundraiser last week, tweeting: “If @Twitter executives won’t shut down Trump’s violence and hate, then it’s up to us. #BuyTwitter #BanTrump.” The GoFundMe page for the fundraiser says Trump’s tweets “damage the country and put people in harm’s way.”

As of Wednesday morning, she had raised less than $6,000 of her $1 billion goal.

In an emailed statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the low total shows that the American people like the Republican president’s use of Twitter.

“Her ridiculous attempt to shut down his first amendment is the only clear violation and expression of hate and intolerance in this equation,” the statement read.

Wilson wrote on the fundraiser’s GoFundMe page that she hopes to raise enough money to buy a controlling interest of Twitter stock. If she doesn’t have enough to purchase a majority of shares, she said, she will explore options to buy “a significant stake” and champion the proposal at Twitter’s annual shareholder meeting.

Walmart joins forces with Google on voice-activated shopping

NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart is diving into voice-activated shopping. But unlike online leader Amazon, it’s not doing it alone.

The world’s largest retailer said Wednesday it’s working with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of items from laundry detergent to Legos for voice shopping through Google Assistant. The capability will be available in late September.

It’s Google’s biggest retail partnership — and the most personalized shopping experience it offers — as it tries to broaden the reach of its voice-activated assistant Home speaker. And it underscores Walmart’s drive to compete in an area dominated by Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo device.

“Voice shopping is becoming a more important part of everyday shopping behavior,” said Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.

The voice-activated devices are becoming more mainstream as they become more accessible. Even Apple has one coming out this year. Walmart has said Google’s investment in natural language processing and artificial intelligence will help make voice-activated shopping more popular.

And Lore said the personalization of the partnership means people can shout out generic items like milk, bread and cheese, and Google Assistant will know exactly the brands and the size that the user wants.

Google introduced shopping to Home in February, letting people use voice to order essentials from more than 40 retailers like Target and Costco under its Google Express program. But that was far behind the Echo, available since late 2014.