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Far-Right Platform Gab Has Been Hacked—Including Private Data

March 1, 2021 No Comments

The transparency group DDoSecrets says it will make the 70GB of passwords, private posts, and more available to researchers, journalists, and social scientists.
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The SolarWinds Body Count Now Includes NASA and the FAA

February 27, 2021 No Comments

Plus: Firefox blocks more tracking, how to fight a robodog, and more of the week’s top security news.
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Orca wants to give boating navigation its ‘iPhone moment’

February 25, 2021 No Comments

Boating is a hobby steeped in history and tradition — and so is the industry and those that support it. With worldwide connectivity, electric boats, and other technological changes dragging the sector out of old habits, Orca aims to replace the outdated interfaces by which people navigate with a hardware-software combo as slick as any other modern consumer tech.

If you’re a boater, and I know at least some of you are, you’re probably familiar with two different ways of chart-plotting, or tracking your location and route: the one attached to your boat and the one in your pocket.

The one on your boat is clunky and old-fashioned, like the GPS interface on a years-old budget sedan. The one in your pocket is better and faster — but the phone isn’t exactly seaworthy and the app drains your battery with a quickness.

Orca is a Norwegian startup from veterans of the boating and chart-plotters that leapfrogs existing products with a built-from-scratch modern interface.

“The industry hasn’t changed in the last 20 years — you have three players who own 80 percent of the business,” said co-founder and CEO Jorge Sevillano. “For them, it’s very hard to think of how software creates value. All these devices are built on a user interface that’s 10-15 years old; think about a Tomtom, lots of menus, lots of clicks. This business hasn’t had its iPhone moment, where it had to rethink its entire design. So we thought: let’s start with a blank slate and build a new experience.”

CTO and co-founder Kristian Fallro started working on something like this years ago, and his company was acquired by Navico, one of the big players Sevillano refers to. But they didn’t seem to want to move forward with the ideas, and so he and the others formed Orca to pursue them. Their first complete product opened up for pre-orders this week.

“The challenge up until now has been that you need a combination of hardware and software, so the barrier to entry was very, very high,” Fallro explained. “It’s a very protected industry — and it’s too small for Apple and Google and the big boys.”

But now with a combination of the right hardware and a totally rebuilt software stack, they think they can steal a march on the dominant companies and be ready for the inevitable new generation of boaters who can’t stand to use the old tech any more. Shuttling an SD card to and from the in-boat system and your computer to update charts? Inputting destinations via directional pad? Using a separate mobile app to check weather and tides that might bear on your route? Not exactly cutting edge.

The Orca system comprises a ruggedized industrial tablet sourced from Samsung, an off the shelf marine quality mounting arm, a custom-designed interface for quick attachment and charging, and a computing base unit that connects to the boat’s own sensors like sonar and GPS over the NMEA 2000 protocol. It’s all made to be as good or better than anything you’d find on a boat today.

So far, so similar to many solutions out there. But Orca has rebuilt everything from the ground up as a modern mobile app with all the conveniences and connections you’d expect. Routing is instantaneous and accurate, on maps that are clear and readable as those on Google and Apple Maps but clearly still of the nautical variety. Weather and tide reports are integrated, as is marine traffic. It all runs on Android or iOS, so you can also use your phone, send routes or places of interest to the main unit, and vice versa.

Several devices showing the Orca chart-plotting interface.

Image Credits: Orca

“We can build new services that chart plotters can’t even dream of including,” said Sevillano. “With the latest tide report and wind, or if there’s a commercial ship going in your way, we can update your range and route. We do updates every week with new features and bug fixes. We can iterate and adapt to user feedback faster than anyone else.”

These improvements to the most central system of the boat mean the company has ambitions for coming years beyond simply replacing the ageing gadgets at the helm.

Information collected from the boat itself is also used to update the maps in near real time — depending on what your craft is monitoring, it could be used for alerting others or authorities, for example if you encounter major waves or dangerous levels of chemicals, or detect an obstacle where none is recorded. “The Waze of the seas,” they suggested. “Our goal is to become the marine data company. The opportunities for boaters, industries related to the sea, and society are immense.”

Being flexible about the placement and features means they hope to integrate directly with boats, becoming the built-in OS for new models. That’s especially important for the up-and-coming category of electric boats, which sort of by definition buck the old traditions and tend to attract tech-savvy early adopters.

“We’re seeing people take what works on land taking it to sea. They all have the same challenge though, the biggest problem is range anxiety — and it’s even worse on the water,” said Fallro. “We’ve been talking to a lot of these manufacturers and we’re finding that building a boat is hard but building that navigation experience is even harder.”

Whether that’s entirely true probably depends on your boat-building expertise, but it’s certainly the case that figuring out an electric boat’s effective range is a devilishly difficult problem. Even after building a new boat from starting principles and advanced physical simulations to be efficient and predictable, such as Zin Boats did, the laws of physics and how watercraft work mean even the best estimate has to be completely revised every few seconds.

“Figuring out range at sea is very hard, and we think we’re one of the best out there. So we want to provide boat manufacturers a software stack with integrated navigation that helps them solve the range anxiety problem their users have,” said Fallro.

Indeed, it seems likely that prospective purchasers of such a craft would be more tempted to close the deal if they knew there was a modern and responsive OS that not only accurately tracked range but provided easy, real-time access to potential charge points and other resources. Sure, you could use your phone — and many do these days because the old chart plotters attached to their boats are so limited. But the point is that with Orca you won’t be tempted to.

The full device combo of computing core, mount, and tablet costs €1,449, with the core alone selling for €449, with a considerable discount for early bird pre-orders. (For people buying new boats, these numbers may as well be rounding errors.)

Fallro said Orca is operating with funding (of an unspecified amount) from Atomico and Nordic VC firm Skyfall Ventures, as well as angel investors including Kahoot co-founder Johan Brand. The company has its work cut out for it simply in fulfilling the orders it has collected (they are doing a brisk trade, Fallro intimated) before moving on to adding features and updating regularly as promised.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Rode’s Wireless Go II delivers key upgrades to the best mobile mic for creators

February 24, 2021 No Comments

Rode Microphones has a new and improved version of its much-loved Go portable mic, the Wireless Go II, which uses the same form factor as the original but adds a list of new and improved features. Most notably, the Go II offers two transmitter packs that can simultaneously talk to a single receiver, letting you record two individual speakers to the same camera or connected device.

Basics

The Rode Wireless Go II ($ 299) ships with everything you need to begin recording high-quality audio to a camera or anything else that can connect to a 3.5mm jack. The transmitter packs — there are two of them in the box — have built-in microphones that offer great sound on their own, or you can use them with any 3.5mm-equipped lavalier mic, depending on your needs.

The receiver pack can output to 3.5mm TRS, but it can also transmit using USB Type-C (which is also for charging). This is new for this generation, and Rode also sells USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to Lightning cables so you can use them with modern Android devices, iPhones, iPads, Macs and PCs.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Each of the three packs has a built-in rechargeable battery that can provide up to seven hours of operating time on a single charge. You can independently adjust the gain on each of the transmitters, and mute each individually or both from the receiver pack. You also can swap between mono recording with each transmitter as a channel, and stereo recording modes.

The transmitters can operate at a range of 200 meters (roughly 650 feet) from the receiver, provided they have line-of-sight, and the receiver has a display to show you input levels, battery status, connectivity and more. The transmitters each have two LEDs that provide visual feedback for connectivity and gain. Each also automatically records locally, with the ability to store more than 24 hours of audio on built-in storage in case of dropouts in connectivity.

Design and performance

With this update, it really feels like Rode has thought of everything. You can get started immediately, for one, since the transmitter packs and receiver come pre-paired and assigned to left and right channels by default. They’re incredibly user-friendly, and while Rode has introduced a new Windows and Mac app for centralized control of them called Rode Central, you don’t actually need any additional software to get started recording with them.

This updated version also uses a new RF transmission tech that has 128-bit encryption built in, with a much farther line-of-site range for their use. This is designed to make them much more reliable in areas where there’s a lot of RF traffic happening already — like a busy shopping mall (once COVID times are behind us), conference halls or other public areas with lots of people and smartphones around.

The onboard memory is also new, and means you’ll never have to worry about any potential dropped connections because you’ll always have a local file on which to rely on the transmitter packs themselves. A similar peace-of-mind feature is a safety channel that records a back-up track at -20db, so that if you encounter any overloud sounds that cause peaking in your primary recording, you’ll have another option. Both of these features have to be turned on proactively in the Rode Central app, which Rode will also use to deliver future firmware updates for the Go II, but they’re very welcome additions.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Meanwhile, the best new feature might be that you get all these improvements in the same great package. Rode’s original Go was remarkable in large part because it came in such a small, portable package, with transmitters that featured built-in mics as well as being great body packs. The size here is exactly the same, and these use the same integrated clips that make them compatible with all of Rode’s existing Go accessories.

Bottom line

There’s a concept of “lapping” in racing, where you’re so far ahead of a competitor that you overtake them again. That’s basically what Rode has done with the Go II, which pads the lead for the best mobile video/field podcasting mic on the market, with smart features that address the few downsides of the original.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


This Week in Apps: Sneak peek at TikTok shopping, new iOS and Android betas, kids’ app Prodigy hit with FTC complaint

February 22, 2021 No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $ 143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $ 544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $ 73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’ve got a first look at one of TikTok’s early e-commerce tests, which involves a program for sellers involving product anchors on videos and the option for affiliate sales. We’re also digging into the new iOS and Android betas, the FTC complaint against math app Prodigy and more.

Top Stories

TikTok tests a new e-commerce experience in Indonesia

The Financial Times recently reported TikTok was preparing to launch a range of new e-commerce experiences in 2021, including the ability for creators to share links to products, support for affiliate sales, and even livestreamed shopping. Now, we’ve got a first look at some of the live tests around e-commerce that TikTok has in progress.

The company recently launched a “Seller University” website aimed at its Indonesian audience, where it details how brands can advertise their products on video. Here, TikTok explains brands have two ways to advertise, either by making their own videos or by working with affiliates.

“If you choose to sell through your personal page, you can then display products via livestreaming or short videos, with product anchors embedded in your content. When customers view your content, they can be redirected to the corresponding product detail page by clicking on the product anchor,” the site explains.

The Seller University also details other information, like how to sign up to be a TikTok seller and what sort of products are prohibited, along with other rules and guidelines.

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok Sellers have to provide their contact information, including location, phone, email, shop and warehouse location, and other required documentation to be approved. They can then set up a Seller profile, where they can manage other users associated with their account. Once live as a Seller on the app, they’ll have a “TikTok Shop” on the second tab on their profile, which users can view when they visit the page.

When their videos showing their products are viewed, there are “product anchors” embedded in the content. Clicking on these anchors will redirect the viewer to the product detail page where they can transact. In addition, brands can collaborate with TikTok influencers to promote their products through a new “TikTok Affiliate” program.

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok told TechCrunch the program is a test of its e-commerce solutions in Indonesia, and one of several product tests in the area of e-commerce.

Consumer advocacy groups file FTC complaint against edtech app Prodigy

A coalition of 20 consumer advocacy groups, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, have filed an FTC complaint against the popular edtech app Prodigy, which offers a math learning app for web and mobile. The app is designed much like modern-day freemium games, with math “battles” designed to improve math skills, grades and test scores.

The complaint alleges a variety of abuses, including how it aggressively pushes kids using the free version provided to schools to nag parents for the paid $ 59 annual subscription, which includes a richer gaming experience.

The groups also take issue with the app’s in-app rewards and badges — some of which are only available to paid users, including fancier loot boxes — saying these features cause division between those who pay and those who can’t. And it alleges that Prodigy’s claims about educational improvements don’t hold merit.

In response, Prodigy says it takes the concerns seriously, but over 95% of users play the game for free and the business model involving the paid membership is how free access is provided.

“Without this model, we would be required to put all of our educational content behind a paywall, which contradicts our mission of providing full access to fun and engaging math learning,” a company spokesperson said. “The alternative would be to generate revenue via advertising, which is not a model we believe best benefits or protects our users. We never show third-party ads on our platform, nor do we sell or lease any other user information to third parties,” they noted.

The FTC has stepped up its enforcement over how apps targeting children can behave, with a focus on data collection practices and COPPA violations, which has resulted in fines for apps like TikTok and YouTube. This complaint, however, is not about children’s privacy, but rather how they’re being marketed to via edtech.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple rolls out iOS 14.5, beta 2. The update includes a new Apple Music interface with the ability to share lyrics on social and use new swipe gestures; new Shortcuts actions for taking screenshots, setting screen orientation switching between cellular data modes, and more; expanded support for iPad privacy features (in relation to shutting off the microphone); and more than 200 new emoji.

The most notable new emoji include the heart on fire, exhaling face, face in clouds, gender options for people with beards and an updated syringe that removes the blood, making it more useful for conversations about the COVID vaccine.

Apple welcomed the teams from 13 app companies in its inaugural cohort for Apple’s Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders and Developers. The program focuses on building technical skills and designing a great user experience through sessions, hands-on labs, one-on-ones with Apple experts and engineers, and more. VC firm Harlem Capital will also offer mentorship.

Participants include fitness app B3am, news app Black, music app Bar Exam, 3D photos app Film3D, MIDI Controller app FormKey, healthcare app Health Auto Export, gardening app Hologarden, remote learning solution Hubli (beta testing), game Justice Royale, sneaker enthusiast app Kickstroid, nail art app Nailstry, social app Peek: Movies & TV Shows and music app TuneBend.

Platforms: Google

Google launches the first developer preview of Android 12. The update includes new privacy controls; pre-set password complexity levels of high, medium and low; other improved user experience tools and app compatibility improvements; the ability to transcode media into higher-quality formats like the AV1 image format; transitions and animations for notifications, plus the ability to decorate notifications with custom content; enrollment-specific IDs for employee-owned devices; streamlined credential management for unmanaged devices; an improved screenshot editor; better support for multi-channel audio; Project Mainline improvements; and more.

Google’s Play Store adds support for Nearby Sharing. The feature allows users to share apps and updates with nearby Android devices.

Google suspended the Trump 2020 app from the Play Store for non-functionality. The app would either hang upon first launch or immediately reported a server error. Google says the app was in violation of its policies around non-functional apps, but the app can return if it’s fixed.

E-commerce

YouTube says it’s now beta testing a new e-commerce shopping experience in the app that allows creators to market products to fans, who can then buy directly on YouTube. The feature, which aims to compete with TikTok’s growing shopping ambitions, will expand later in 2021 beyond the initial group of creators.

Image Credits: YouTube

Fintech

Robinhood’s CEO Vlad Tenev testified before Congress this week over the GameStop frenzy. Tenev denied helping hedge funds and asked for the SEC to modify trading rules. AOC pointed out that Robinhood isn’t truly free, it’s just hiding the cost from retail investors by subsidizing free trades with payment for order flow. (A percentage of its revenue Tenev ridiculously claimed he couldn’t recall, saying only “it’s over 50%.”)

From the hearing, via CSPAN

Social

TikTok parent ByteDance is exploring a sale of its TikTok operations in India to Bangalore-headquartered Glance, a mobile content platform founded by InMobi founder Naveen Tewari. Glance operates a TikTok rival Roposo, which has seen massive growth since TikTok was banned in India over national security concerns. The two companies — ByteDance and Glance parent InMobi Pte — share an investor with SoftBank, which initiated the talks, per a Bloomberg report.

Instagram is fixing the iMessage bug. Some suspected the issue was related to Apple and Facebook’s ongoing public battles, but Instagram said the problem where Instagram links in iMessage wouldn’t show a preview was just a bug. The company noted a fix will arrive soon.

TikTok inks a multi-year deal with UFC which includes livestreams of pre- and post-fight content, and other behind-the-scenes footage. The content will stream on UFC TikTok accounts including @UFC, @UFCRussia, @UFCBrasil and @UFCEurope.

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, now has 550 million users for its in-app Search feature alone. The app last reported in September it had 600 million daily users, indicating an even larger base of MAUs.

Right-wing social network Parler announced it’s back online for existing users and will re-open to new users next week. The company also has a new interim CEO, Mark Meckler, who previously co-founded the Tea Party Patriots.

Triller is mired in controversy over its MAUs. A Billboard report says the company misrepresented the number of monthly active users it had — 25 million instead of the 50 million it claimed. Triller CEO Mike Lu had said the discrepancies didn’t matter because there’s “no legal definition” for an MAU. After the report came out, Lu denied the company was inflating its numbers. We happen to recall that Triller immediately threatened to sue over a report that it had inflated its downloads last year.

Photos

YouTube star David Dobrik’s photo-sharing app Dispo, backed by a $ 4 million seed, launched into private beta to a ton of buzz. The app quickly maxed out TestFlight’s 10,000-person limit, instead of being the low-key beta debut the team had expected. Dispo’s gimmick is that users have to wait 24 hours to see the photos they snap.

Messaging

 

Image Credits: WhatsApp

WhatsApp will roll out an in-app banner in an attempt to better explain its new privacy policy. When clicked, users will be directed toward policy information they can review at their leisure ahead of the May 15 deadline to accept the changes.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: App Annie

Clubhouse has topped 8 million global downloads, 2.6 million of which were in the U.S., according to a new report from App Annie. The report also highlighted the broader impact Clubhouse is having on social audio, as local audio apps are gaining new installs, too.

Global mobile users streamed 935 billion hours of video in 2020, up 40% YoY, says App Annie. The pandemic impacts were clear — users went from 146 billion hours in Q1 2019 to 240 billion in Q4 2020, a 65% rise in two years.

Cameo, the app that connects customers with celebs for paid personalized messages, is said to be raising $ 100 million, valuing its business at $ 1 billion, reports Bloomberg Quint. Not coincidentally, Facebook just began testing its Cameo clone, Super.

YouTube reveals its 2021 plans. In a blog post from Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan, YouTube gave a look at coming updates across its suite of apps:

  • YouTube to redesign its YouTube VR app homepage to improve navigation, accessibility and search functionality.
  • YouTube says it will expand its video chapters feature to add chapters automatically and update the watch experience to be more intuitive, including on the tablet.
  • YouTube TV, now with 3 million-plus users, will introduce a paid add-on that will support 4K streaming, DVR for off-line playback and unlimited simultaneous in-home streams.
  • YouTube Kids will add a feature that allows parents to specify the channels and videos their kids are allowed to watch.
  • YouTube will expand its Applause tipping feature to more creators in 2021.
  • YouTube Music will improve playlist creation and make those playlists more discoverable.
  • And as noted above, YouTube is testing an e-commerce feature that lets users check out on the app.
  • YouTube Shorts, an in-app TikTok rival of sorts, will come to the U.S. in March, following its tests in India.

Gaming

Microsoft xCloud, the game streaming service that lets users play Xbox games on Android tablets and phones, has begun testing a web version. In a review by The Verge, the experience is described as similar to the mobile version, with a simple launcher, recommendations, access to cloud games through Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and the ability to resume recently played games.

Apple demanded sensitive data from Valve to aid in its legal battle with Epic Games. The request included things like total yearly sales of apps and in-app products; annual ad revenues from Steam; annual revenues from Steam; annual earnings gross or net from Steam; and more. Apple also wanted the names of all Steam apps, price and IAP, and date range available. Valve, not surprisingly, did not agree to this. PCGamer has the full report.

Epic Games expands its legal fight with Apple to the EU. The Fortnite owner filed a formal antitrust complaint with the European Commission, alleging Apple’s anti-competitive restrictions that have “eliminated competition in app distribution and payments.” Epic Games is also fighting Apple in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

Stadia layoffs shocked team. Google Stadia, the game streaming service available via Chromecast Ultra, the Chrome browser, ChromeOS tablets and the Stadia mobile app for Android, recently shut down its in-house game development studio, Stadia Games and Entertainment. A report from Kotaku this week indicates how much of a surprise this was to team, as just days before the mass layoffs, leadership was praising staff for their “great progress.”

Health & Fitness

Apple tells developers that only apps submitted by recognized public health authorities will be able to publish “health pass” apps to the App Store. These apps are designed to show someone’s COVID-19 testing and vaccination status. Apple says it will accept apps from government, medical and other credentialed institutions, healthcare providers, laboratories and test kit manufacturers.

Apple promotes iOS health apps to Apple Card holders. In honor of American Heart Month, Apple emailed Apple Card users savings on iOS health apps including Strava, Ten Percent Happier, Sleep Cycle and Lifesum.

U.S. health & fitness apps saw over 405 million installs in 2020, up 22% year-over-year, reports Sensor Tower. The apps, which benefited from gym closures amid COVID, saw $ 838 million in consumer spend, up 42% YoY. The average age of users also continued climb, demonstrating better retention with older users.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

A second report from the firm indicated U.S. pharmacy app installs were up 47% as the COVID-19 vaccine began to roll out.

Productivity

Microsoft launched a unified app for iPad that combines Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote into one single app. The app is a free download with in-app subscriptions, starting at $ 6.99/month. A $ 69.99/year subscription is also available. Microsoft previously launched unified apps for the iPhone and Android.

Government & Policy

TikTok faces a new series of regulatory complaints in Europe, including unfair terms over its virtual currency, whose exchange rate can be modified by TikTok; unfair terms in relation to copyright, related to TikTok’s ability to redistribute users’ videos without paying them (e.g. for ads); child safety concerns over suggestive content and “hidden marketing” of its branded Hashtag Challenges; and other accusations of misleading data processing and privacy practices.

North Dakota’s Senate votes down the App Store bill that would have forced Apple to allow users to sideload apps on their mobile devices. The bill was funded by the advocacy group Coalition for App Fairness, which includes Epic Games, Spotify, Match Group, Tile and others with a beef against Apple over its commission structure. Similar bills are under consideration in Arizona and Georgia.

Adtech

The Post-IDFA Alliance, which consists of Liftoff, Fyber, Chartboost, InMobi, Vungle and Singular, launched a new “No IDFA? No Problem” resource that aims to help publishers and advertisers navigate the iOS 14 transition.

Security

File sharing app SHAREit, one of the world’s most popular apps, is found to have several security flaws, researchers reported. The vulnerabilities could be abused to leak sensitive user data and “execute arbitrary code” with app permissions.

Funding and M&A

✨ Robinhood rival Public.com raised $ 220 million just months after its $ 65 million Series C, as previously reported by TechCrunch. Prior investors returned, including Greycroft, Accel, Tiger Global, Inspired Capital, and others, valuing the business at $ 1.2 billion.

✨ Robinhood rival Webull raised $ 150 million in a new round that values the business at over $ 1 billion. The brokerage was founded by Alibaba alum Wang Anquan and, like Public.com, has benefitted from the exodus of disgruntled Robinhood users, who left over the GameStop debacle.

✨ Math learning app Photomath raised $ 23 million in Series B funding in a round led by Menlo Ventures. The app, now with 220 million downloads, lets you point your phone at a math problem and it explains the solution.

✨ Live video shopping startup Talkshoplive raised $ 3 million from Spero Ventures for its live video shopping platform that lets users watch its videos on the web and mobile web — or anywhere else they’re embedded.

✨ Event networking app Grip raised a $ 13 million Series A, despite the pandemic. The app pivoted last year to support virtual, hybrid and live events, instead of just in-person events.

✨ Mobile gaming startup Artie raised $ 10 million for its gaming platform that lets users play mobile games without installing an app, from the browser or anywhere links can be shared online. Investors included Zynga founder Mark Pincus, Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman’s Thirty Five Ventures, Scooter Braun’s Raised In Space, Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, Googler Manuel Bronstein and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley.

✨ Low-code app development service OutSystems raised $ 150 million in a round led by Abdiel Capital and Tiger Global, valuing the business at $ 9.5 billion.

✨ Cross-border neobanking app Zolve raised $ 15 million in a seed round led by Accel and Lightspeed. The app was founded by the Raghunandan G, the founder of ride-hailing firm TaxiForSure, which exited to Ola. It’s aimed at people moving from India to the U.S. or vice versa.

✨ Dating app Jigsaw raised $ 3.7 million for its app that hides daters’ faces with puzzle pieces in an effort to push users to engage and get to know each other before the reveal. While “face reveals” are popular on social media, a dating app that does this lends itself to objectifying people by not showing the face, as users focus on the daters’ body instead.

Downloads

Outfit

Image Credits: Outfit

TechCrunch this week covered DIY home renovation startup Outfit, which leverages consumers’ mobile devices to help them with their home projects. After submitting information, including dimensions and photos, Outfit’s app offers the customer a step-by-step guide for completing the project, including documenting their space, getting items and tools delivered, a custom to-do list and receiving support while the project is underway.

Hush

Image Credits: Hush

Hush, a recently launched Safari ad blocker for Mac, iPhone and iPad, does more than just block ads. The app also works to block other invasive trackers and those annoying cookie warnings that now pop up everywhere due to GDPR laws. (it actually doesn’t consent or deny the “accept cookies?” requests — it just blocks the scripts and elements on the website. It doesn’t interact with the site or click any buttons.

Unlike some blockers, Hush doesn’t collect your data. It doesn’t log your browser habits or passwords or even collect crash reports. It’s also free, but you can sponsor the developer on GitHub.

Zillow’s update

The updated version of Zillow’s 3D Home app introduced new technology that combines into one interface 3D Home tours, listing photos and AI-generated floor plans. To create the floor plans and home tour, the app uses computer vision and machine learning on panoramic photos the agent or photographer captured using the app and a 360-degree camera. The app also leverages AI to predict things like room dimensions and square footage. Both the home tour and floor plan can then be automatically uploaded to the lists and added to a website, MLS or shared on email/social media.

Due to the pandemic, Zillow 3D Home tours published on for-sale listings increased 255% during 2020 as customers used it as a safer way to tour properties, the company also noted.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Sites Have a Sneaky New Way to Track You Across the Web

February 20, 2021 No Comments

Plus: A LastPass rate change, Clubhouse concerns, and more of the week’s top security news.
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SESO Labor is providing a way for migrant farmworkers to get legally protected work status in the US

February 19, 2021 No Comments

As the Biden administration works to bring legislation to Congress to address the endemic problem of immigration reform in America, on the other side of the nation a small California startup called SESO Labor has raised $ 4.5 million to ensure that farms can have access to legal migrant labor.

SESO’s founder Mike Guirguis raised the round over the summer from investors including Founders Fund and NFX. Pete Flint, a founder of Trulia, joined the company’s board. The company has 12 farms it’s working with and is negotiating contracts with another 46. The company’s other co-founder, Jordan Taylor, was the first product hire at Farmer’s Business Network and previously of Dropbox.

Working within the existing regulatory framework that has existed since 1986, SESO has created a service that streamlines and manages the process of getting H-2A visas, which allow migrant agricultural workers to reside temporarily in the U.S. with legal protections.

At this point, SESO is automating the visa process, getting the paperwork in place for workers and smoothing the application process. The company charges about $ 1,000 per worker, but eventually as it begins offering more services to workers themselves, Guirguis envisions several robust lines of revenue. Eventually, the company would like to offer integrated services for both farm owners and farm workers, Guirguis said.

SESO is currently expecting to bring in 1,000 workers over the course of 2021 and the company is, as of now, pre-revenue. The largest industry player handling worker visas today currently brings in 6,000 workers per year, so the competition, for SESO, is market share, Guirguis said.

America’s complicated history of immigration and agricultural labor

The H-2A program was set up to allow agricultural employers who anticipate shortages of domestic workers to bring to the U.S. non-immigrant foreign workers to work on farms temporarily or seasonally. The workers are covered by U.S. wage laws, workers’ compensation and other standards, including access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

Employers who use the visa program to hire workers are required to pay inbound and outbound transportation, provide free or rental housing and provide meals for workers (they’re allowed to deduct the costs from salaries).

H-2 visas were first created in 1952 as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which reinforced the national origins quota system that restricted immigration primarily to Northern Europe, but opened America’s borders to Asian immigrants for the first time since immigration laws were first codified in 1924. While immigration regulations were further opened in the sixties, the last major immigration reform package in 1986 served to restrict immigration and made it illegal for businesses to hire undocumented workers. It also created the H-2A visas as a way for farms to hire migrant workers without incurring the penalties associated with using illegal labor.

For some migrant workers, the H-2A visa represents a golden ticket, according to Guirguis, an honors graduate of Stanford who wrote his graduate thesis on labor policy.

“We are providing a staffing solution for farms and agribusiness and we want to be Gusto for agriculture and upsell farms on a comprehensive human resources solution,” says Guirguis of the company’s ultimate mission, referencing payroll provider Gusto.

As Guirguis notes, most workers in agriculture are undocumented. “These are people who have been taken advantage of [and] the H-2A is a visa to bring workers in legally. We’re able to help employers maintain workforce [and] we’re building software to help farmers maintain the farms.”

Opening borders even as they remain closed

Farms need the help, if the latest numbers on labor shortages are believable, but it’s not necessarily a lack of H-2A visas that’s to blame, according to an article in Reuters.

In fact, the number of H-2A visas granted for agriculture equipment operators rose to 10,798 from October through March, according to the Reuters report. That’s up 49% from a year ago, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor cited by Reuters.

Instead of an inability to acquire the H-2A visa, it was an inability to travel to the U.S. that’s been causing problems. Tighter border controls, the persistent global pandemic and travel restrictions that were imposed to combat it have all played a role in keeping migrant workers in their home countries.

Still, Guirguis believes that with the right tools, more farms would be willing to use the H-2A visa, cutting down on illegal immigration and boosting the available labor pool for the tough farm jobs that American workers don’t seem to want.

Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

David Misener, the owner of an Oklahoma-based harvesting company called Green Acres Enterprises, is one employer who has struggled to find suitable replacements for the migrant workers he typically hires.

“They could not fathom doing it and making it work,” Misener told Reuters, speaking about the American workers he’d tried to hire.

“With H-2A, migrant workers make 10 times more than they would get paid at home,” said Guirguis. “They’re taking home the equivalent of $ 40 an hour. The H-2A is coveted.”

Guirguis thinks that with the right incentives and an easier onramp for farmers to manage the application and approval process, the number of employers that use H-2A visas could grow to be 30% to 50% of the farm workforce in the country. That means growing the number of potential jobs from 300,000 to 1.5 million for migrants who would be under many of the same legal protections that citizens enjoy while they’re working on the visa.

Protecting agricultural workers through better paperwork

Interest in the farm labor nexus and issues surrounding it came to the first-time founder through Guirguis’ experience helping his cousin start her own farm. Spending several weekends a month helping her grow the farm with her husband, Guirguis heard his stories about coming to the U.S. as an undocumented worker.

Employers using the program avoid the liability associated with being caught employing illegal labor, something that crackdowns under the Trump administration made more common.

Still, it’s hard to deny the program’s roots in the darker past of America’s immigration policy. And some immigration advocates argue that the H-2A system suffers from the same kinds of structural problems that plague the corollary H-1B visas for tech workers.

“The H-2A visa is a short-term temporary visa program that employers use to import workers into the agricultural fields … It’s part of a very antiquated immigration system that needs to change. The 11.5 million people who are here need to be given citizenship,” said Saket Soni, the founder of an organization called Resilience Force, which advocates for immigrant labor. “And then workers who come from other countries, if we need them, they have to be able to stay … H-2A workers don’t have a pathway to citizenship. Workers come to us afraid of blowing the whistle on labor issues. As much as the H-2A is a welcome gift for a worker it can also be abused.”

Soni said the precarity of a worker’s situation — and their dependence on a single employer for their ability to remain in the country legally — means they are less likely to speak up about problems at work, since there’s nowhere for them to go if they are fired.

“We are big proponents that if you need people’s labor you have to welcome them as human beings,” Soni said. “Where there’s a labor shortage as people come, they should be allowed to stay … H-2A is an example of an outdated immigration tool.”

Guirguis clearly disagrees and said a platform like SESO’s will ultimately create more conveniences and better services for the workers who come in on these visas.

“We’re trying to put more money in the hands of these workers at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re going to be setting up remittance and banking services. Everything we do should be mutually beneficial for the employer and the worker who is trying to get into this program and know that they’re not getting taken advantage of.”


Startups – TechCrunch


Hasselblad X1D II 50C: out of the studio and into the streets

February 17, 2021 No Comments

We crawled into an abandoned school bus, trespassed through dilapidated hallways, dodged fleeting thunderstorms, and wandered the empty streets of Chinatown late into the evening. For two summery weeks, I couldn’t have been happier.

New York City was in lockdown. I’d been quarantined in my dinky apartment, disheartened and restless. I was anxious to do something creative. Thankfully, the Hasselblad X1D II 50C arrived for review, along with approval from the studio heads for socially-distanced, outdoor shoots.

Taking pictures of the mundane (flowers, buildings, and such) would’ve been a disservice to a $ 10,000 camera kit, so instead, my friends and I collaborated on a fun, little project: we shot portraits inspired by our favorite films.

Hasselblad X1D II shotlist

Image Credits: Veanne Cao

Equipped with masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer, we put the X1D II 50C and 80mm F/1.9 lens (ideal for close-ups without actually having to be close up) through its paces in some of NYC’s less familiar backdrops.

Before I get into any trouble for the last photo – Alex and Jason are professional stuntmen and that’s a rubber prop gun. They were reenacting the penultimate scene from Infernal Affairs – a brilliant piece of Hong Kong cinema (much better than the Scorsese remake).

While the camera is slightly more approachable in terms of cost and ease of use with a few upgrades (larger, more responsive rear screen, a cleaned-up menu, tethering capabilities, faster startup time and shutter release), the X1D II is essentially the same as its predecessor. So I skipped the standard review. Hasselblad X1D II 50C Hasselblad X1D II 50C

Image Credits: Veanne Cao

What it is, what it isn’t

The most common complaint about the X1D was its slow autofocus, slow shutter release and short battery life. The X1D II improved on these features, though not by much. Rather than seeing the lag as a hindrance, I was forced to slow down and re-wire my brain for a more thoughtful shooting style (a pleasant side effect).

As I mentioned in my X1D review, Apple and other smartphone manufacturers have made shooting great pictures effortless. As such, the accessibility has created a culture of excessively capturing everyday banalities. You shoot far more than you’ll ever need. It’s something I’m guilty of. Pretty sure 90% of the images on my iPhone camera roll are throwaways. (The other 10% are of my dog and he’s spectacularly photogenic.)

The X1D II, however, is not an easy camera. It’s frustrating at times. If you’re a beginner, you may have to learn the fundamentals (ISO, f-stops, when to click the shutter), but the payoff is worth it. There’s an overwhelming sense of gratification when you get that one shot. And at 50 megapixels, it’s packed with details and worthy of hanging on your wall. Shelling out a ton of money for the X1D II won’t instantly make you a better photographer, but it ought to encourage you to become one.

Without the contrived studio lights and set design, our outdoor shoots became an exercise in improvisation:  we wandered through the boroughs finding practicals (street lights, neon lights… the sun), discovering locations, and switching spots when things didn’t pan out.

We explored, we had purpose.

My takeaway from the two weeks with this camera:  pause and be meaningful in your actions.

Reviewed kit runs $ 10,595, pre-taxed:
Hasselblad X1D II 50C Mirrorless Camera – $ 5,750
Hasselblad 80mm F/1.9 XCD Lens – $ 4,845

Gadgets – TechCrunch


This Week in Apps: Bumble’s IPO, Google’s missing privacy labels, a developer crusades against scams

February 15, 2021 No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $ 143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $ 544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $ 73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re taking a look at the Bumble IPO, app store subscription revenue and talk to a developer on a crusade against the fake ratings plaguing the App Store. We’re also checking in on the missing Google privacy labels…with a spreadsheet of all 100 apps.

This Week in Apps will soon be a newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters.

Top Stories

Bumble IPO

Bumble, the dating app positioned as one of Tinder’s biggest rivals, began trading on public markets on Thursday. The company priced its shares at $ 43, above its earlier target range of $ 37 to $ 39. But once live, BMBL began trading up nearly 77% at $ 76 per share on Nasdaq, closing the day with a market cap of $ 7.7 billion and the stock at $ 70.55.

The app itself was founded in 2014 by early Tinder exec Whitney Wolfe Herd, who now, at 31, is the youngest woman founder to take a U.S. company public and, thanks to the IPO, the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire, as well, said Fortune.

Wolfe Herd successfully leveraged her knowledge of the online dating market, then combined that with an understanding of how to position a dating app to make it more appealing to women.

On Bumble, women message first, for example, and the company often touts features and updates designed to protect women from bad actors. A lot of what Bumble does is just marketing and spin overlaid on the Tinder model. Like other dating apps, Bumble uses a similar format to connect potential matches: a swipeable “people catalog,” where users look at photos, primarily, to determine interest. Bumble, like others, also makes money by charging for extra features that give users a better shot or more efficient experience.

But all this works because users believe Bumble to be different. They believe Bumble is also capable of delivering higher-quality matches than Tinder, which has increasingly re-embraced its persona as a hook-up app.

The IPO’s success also sends a signal that investors are expecting in-person dating to rebound post-pandemic, and getting in early on the next big mass market dating app is an easy win.

Developer crusades against scammy subscription apps

Developer Kosta Eleftheriou, a Fleskly co-founder, has been on a crusade against the scammy and spammy apps overrunning the App Store, as well as Apple’s failure to do much about it.

Earlier this month, Kosta complained that copycat apps were undermining his current business, as the developer of an Apple Watch keyboard app, FlickType. Shady clones boosted by fake ratings and reviews promised the same features as his legit app, but then locked their customers into exorbitant subscriptions, earning the scammers hundreds of thousands per month.

In his eyes, the problem wasn’t just that clones existed, but that Apple’s lack of attention to fake reviews made those apps appear to be the better choice.

Although Apple finally removed most of his fraudulent competitors after his rants gained press attention, he’s frustrated that the system was so broken in the first place.

This week, Kosta returned with another Twitter thread detailing the multimillion-dollar scams that pretend to be the best Roku remote control app. One app, “Roku Remote Control – Roki,” for example, had a 4.5 stars across 15K+ ratings. The app was a free download, but immediately tries to lock users into a $ 4.99/week subscription or a lifetime payment of $ 19.99. However, the app offers a “buggy, ad-infested, poorly designed” experience, Kosta says.

He then used AppFigures to see only those reviews of the Roki app that also had text. When displayed like this, it was revealed that “Roki” was really just a 1.7-star app, based on consumers who took the time to write a review.

What’s worse, Kosta has also argued, that even when Apple reacts by removing a bad actor’s app, it will sometimes allow the developer to continue to run other, even more profitable scams.

Kosta says he decided to spearhead a campaign about App Store scams to “get the word out about how all these scams manage to sustain themselves through a singular common flaw in the App Store — one that has been broken for years.”

He also notes that although Apple responded to him, he believes the company is hoping for the story to blow over.

“The way Apple tried to communicate with me also didn’t help ease my concern — they either don’t get it, or are actively trying to let the story fizzle out through some token gestures. But what they need to do first and foremost, is acknowledge the issue and protect their customers,” Kosta told TechCrunch.

One potential argument here is that because Apple financially benefits from successful subscription app scams, it’s not motivated to prioritize work that focuses on cleaning up the App Store or fake ratings and reviews. But Kosta believes Apple isn’t being intentionally malicious in an effort to grow the subscription business, it’s just that fake App Store reviews have become “a can that’s been perpetually kicked down the road.” Plus, since Apple touts the App Store as a place users can trust, it’s hard for them to admit fault on this front, he says.

Since the crusade began, Kosta has heard from others developers who have sent him examples “dozens and dozens of scams.”

“I will just keep exposing them until Apple acknowledges the problem,” he says.

Top subscription apps grew 34% to $ 13B in 2020

Apps saw record downloads and consumer spending in 2020, globally reaching somewhere around $ 111 billion to $ 112 billion, according to various estimates. But a growing part of that spend was subscription payments, a report from Sensor Tower indicates. Last year, global subscription app revenue from the top 100 subscription apps (excluding games), climbed 34% year-over-year to $ 13 billion, up from $ 9.7 billion in 2019.

The App Store, not surprisingly, accounted for a sizable chunk of this subscription revenue, given it has historically outpaced the Play Store on consumer spending. In 2020, the top 100 subscription apps worldwide generated $ 10.3 billion on the App Store, up 32% over 2019, compared with $ 2.7 billion on Google Play, which grew 42% from $ 1.9 billion in 2019. (Read more here.)

Google-Apple Privacy Label war drags on

Google said it would update its iOS apps with privacy labels weeks ago. While it did roll out some, it has yet to update top apps with Apple’s new labels, including key apps like the Google search app, Google Pay, Google Assistant, Google One, Google Meet, Google Photos, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google News, Google Drive, Gmail and others. (Keep track of this with me here. Want to help? Email me.)

Overall, the majority of Google’s apps don’t have labels. While Google probably needed some time (and a lot of lawyers) to look this over, it’s now super late to put its labels out there. At this point, its iOS apps are out of date — which Google accidentally alerted users to earlier this week. This is awful optics for a company users already don’t trust, and a win for Apple as a result. (Which, of course, means we need to know for sure that Apple isn’t delaying Google’s submissions here…)

Still, Google had time to get this done. Its December code freeze is long over, and everyone else, for the most part, has gotten on board with the new labels. Why can’t Google?

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

Apple may soon allow users to set a different default music service. The company already opened up the ability to choose a different default browser and email app, but now a new feature in the iOS 14.5 beta indicates it may allow users to set another service, like Spotify, as the default option when asking Siri to play tunes. This, however, could be an integration with HomePod and Siri voice control support in mind, rather than something as universal as switching from Mail app to Gmail.

Apple Maps to gain Waze-like features for reporting accidents, hazards and speed traps. Another new feature in the iOS 14.5 beta will allow drivers to report road issues and incidents by using Siri on their iPhone or through Apple’s CarPlay. For example, during navigation, they’ll be able to tell Siri things like “there’s a crash up head,” “there’s something on the road,” or “there’s a speed trap here.”

Apple tests a new advertising slot on the App Store. Users of Apple’s new iOS 14.5 beta have reported seeing a new sponsored ad slot that appears on the Search tab of the App Store, under the “Suggested” heading (the screen that shows before you do a search). The ad slot is also labeled “Ad” and is a slightly color to differentiate it from the search results. It’s unclear at this time if Apple is planning to launch the ad slot or is just testing it.

The App Store announces price changes for Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Germany and the Republic of Korea.

Apple alerts developers to Push Notification service server certificate update, taking place on March 29, 2021.

Platforms: Google

Image Credits: XDA Developers

Alleged Android 12 screenshots snagged from an early draft document by XDA Developers show Google could be borrowing some ideas from Apple’s iOS for its next update. One feature may put colored dots in the status bar to indicate when the camera or microphone are being accessing, for example. Users may also be able to toggle off their camera, microphone or location access entirely. Google may also add a “conversations” widget to show recent messages, calls and activity statuses, among other things.

Google bans data broker Predicio that was selling user data collected from a Muslim prayer app to Venntel, a government contractor that sells location data from smartphones to ICE, CBP and the FBI, following a Motherboard investigation. Google alerted developers they had a week to remove the SDK from their apps or they’d be removed from Google Play.

Google updated its instructor-led curriculum for Android Development with Kotlin, a major update for the course materials that were first released in 2018. The new materials are designed for either in-person or virtual learning, where educators combine lectures and codelabs.

Google briefly notified users that their Google iOS apps were “out of date”an embarrassing mistake that was later corrected server-side. The bug arrived at a time when Google has yet to have updated its privacy labels for many of its largest apps, including Google, Gmail, Assistant, Maps, Photos and others.

Augmented Reality

Apple released a new iOS app, For All Mankind: Time Capsule, to promote its Apple TV+ series, “For All Mankind.” The app was built using Apple’s ARKit framework, offering a new narrative experience told in AR format featuring the show’s star. In the app, users join Danny as he examines keepsakes that connect to stories about impacting events in the lives of his parents, Gordo and Tracy Stevens, in the alternative world of the TV show.

E-commerce

✨ TikTok is expanding its e-commerce efforts. The company told marketers it’s planning a push into livestreamed e-commerce, and will also allow creators to share affiliate links to products, giving them a way to earn commissions from their videos. The company also recently announced a partnership with global ad agency WPP that will give WPP agencies and clients early access to TikTok ad products. It will also connect top creators with WPP for brand deals.

The Single Day Shopping festival drove high mobile usage. Consumers spent 2.3 billion hours in Android shopping apps during week of November 8-15, 2020, reports App Annie.

Social

CULVER CITY, CA - OCTOBER 13: General view of the TikTok headquarters on October 13, 2020 in Culver City, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Image Credits: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

✨ TikTok’s sale of its U.S. operations to Oracle and Walmart is shelved. The Biden administration undertook a review of Trump’s efforts to address security risks from Chinese tech firms, including the forced sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations. The Trump administration claimed TikTok was a national security threat, and ordered TikTok owner ByteDance to divest its U.S. operations if it wanted to continue to operate in the country. Several large tech companies stepped up to the plate to take on the potential windfall. But Biden’s review of the agency action puts Trump’s plan on an indefinite pause. As a result, the U.S. government will delay its appeal of of federal district court judge’s December 2020 injunction against the TikTok ban. Discussions between U.S. national security officials and ByteDance are continuing, however.

✨ Facebook is said to be building its own Clubhouse rival. Mark Zuckerberg made a brief appearance on Clubhouse earlier this month, which now seems more like a reconnaissance mission, if The NYT’s report is true. Facebook will have to tread lightly, given its still under regulatory scrutiny for anticompetitive practices, which included cloning and acquiring its competition.

✨ Microsoft reportedly approached Pinterest about an acquisition of the $ 51 billion social media platform, but those talks are no longer active.

TikTok partnered with recipe app Whisk to add a way for users to save recipes featured in TikTok videos. The feature is currently in pilot testing with select creators.

Mark Cuban is co-founding a new podcast app, Fireside. The Shark Tank star and investor has teamed up with Falon Fatemi, who sold customer intelligence startup Node to SugarCRM last year. Fireside, which arrives at a time when people are asking Clubhouse to offer an export feature, is a next-gen podcast app with the ability to export live conversations as podcasts.

TikTok expands its Universal Music Group deal just days after UMG pulled its song catalog from Triller, saying the app was withholding artist payments.

Indian firm ShareChat will integrate Snapchat’s Camera Kit technology into its Moj app to enable AR features. The move will give Snap a foothold in a key emerging market.

Instagram said it will impose stricter penalties against those who send abusive messages, including account bans, and develop new controls to reduce the abuse people see in their DMs. The announcement followed a recent bout of racist abuse targeted at footballers in the U.K. A joint statement from Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City condemned the abuse, saying “there is no room for racism, hate or any form of discrimination in our beautiful game.”

Instagram tells creators that it won’t promote their recycled TikToks. The company announced via its @creators account a set of best practices for Reels, noting that those featuring a watermark or logo (which TikTok smartly attaches to its content), won’t be recommended frequently on Instagram’s platform. Of course, TikTok creators are already circulating videos with tips about how to cut out the logo from TikTok videos by first exporting the video as a Live Photo, then going to their iOS Photos app, clicking on the Live Photo and choosing “Save as Video.” Problem solved.

Photos

Image Credits: Google

Google Photos for Android adds previously Pixel-only features — but only if users subscribe to Google One. The paywalled features include machine learning-powered editing tools like Portrait Blur, Portrait Light and Color Pop. There’s also a new video editor on iOS with an Android update planned. The editor now lets you crop, change perspective, add filters, apply granular edits (including brightness, contrast, saturation and warmth) and more.

Adobe adds collaboration and asynchronous editing to Photoshop, Illustrator and Fresco. The update will be supported across platforms, including desktop, iPad and iPhone.

Streaming and Entertainment

Waze adds Audible to its list of in-app audio players. The integration allows you to easily play your audiobooks while driving. Waze already supported in-app music integrations, like YouTube Music and Spotify, thanks to developer integrations with the Waze Audio Kit.

HBO Max is going international. The app will be expanded to 39 Latin American and Caribbean territories in June, replacing the existing HBO GO app.

Picture-in-picture mode returned to YouTube on iOS with the launch of the iOS 14.5 beta.

Messaging

Facebook Messenger added a new feature that makes it easier to block and mass-delete Message Requests from people you don’t know. It also said it’s working on new ways to report abuse and providing better feedback on the status of those reports.

The Biden administration pauses the Trump ban on WeChat. The administration asked a federal appeals court to place a hold on proceedings over the WeChat a day after it asked for a similar delay over the TikTok case, saying it needed time to review the previous administration’s efforts, which are now in the appeals stage.

Health & Fitness

NHS Covid-tracing app has prevented 600,000 infections in England and Wales, researchers estimated in one of the first studies of smartphone-based tracing. The app used the tracing system built by Apple and Google.

Fintech

The Robinhood backlash hasn’t stopped the downloads. Many users downrated the app after it halted meme stock trading earlier this month — a move that’s now under Congressional investigation and has prompted multiple lawsuits. But the app continues to receive downloads. The day after it halted trades was its second-largest by downloads ever, and downloads remained high in the days that followed. In January 2021, the app was installed 3.7 million times in the U.S., or 4x the installs of January 2020.

Government & Policy

Image credits: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

The Chinese government blocked Clubhouse, which had been rapidly gaining attention in the country. The app itself had only briefly been made available in Apple’s China App Store last fall, but those had it installed could access its audio chat rooms without a VPN. Prior to the ban, a group discussing the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protest reached 5,000 participants — the max number of participants Clubhouse supports.

A new North Dakota Senate bill proposes to ban app stores like Apple and Google from requiring developers to exclusively use their store and payment mechanisms to distribute apps, and would prevent them from retaliating, at the risk of fines. Apple’s Chief Privacy Engineer Erik Neuenschwander said the bill “threatens to destroy the iPhone as you know it,” and that Apple succeeds because it “works hard to keep the bad apps out of the App Store.”

The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) announced that Meghan DiMuzio has now joined as its first executive director. The advocacy group fighting against app store anticompetitive behavior is made up of over 50 members, including Spotify, Tile, Basecamp, Epic Games and others.

Security & Privacy

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce has asked Apple to improve the credibility of App Store privacy labels, so consumers aren’t harmed. The request was made after an investigation by The Washington Post revealed that many labels were false, leading to questions as to whether the labels could be trusted at all.

Apple will begin to proxy Google’s “Safe Browsing” service used by Safari through its own servers starting with iOS 14.5. Safari on iPhone and iPad includes a “Fraudulent Website Warning” feature that warns users if they’re visiting a possible phishing site. The feature leverages Google’s “Safe Browsing” database and blocklist. Before, Google may have collected user’s IP address during its interaction with Safari, when the browser would check the website URL against Google’s list. Now, Apple will proxy the feature through Apple’s own servers to limit the risk of information leaks. The change was reported by The 8-bit, MacRumors and others, after a Reddit sighting, and confirmed by Apple’s head of Engineering for WebKit.

A generically named app “Barcode Scanner” on the Google Play Store had been operating as a legit app for years before turning into malware. Users of the app, which had over 10 million installs, began to experience ads that would open their browser out of nowhere. The malware was traced to the app and Google removed it from the Play Store. Unfortunately, users review-bombed a different, innocent app as a result, leaving it 1-star reviews and accusing it of being malware.

Google Chrome’s iOS app is testing a feature that would lock your Incognito tabs with either Touch ID or Face ID to add more security to the browser app.

Google Fi VPN for Android exits beta and expands to iPhone. The VPN app, designed for Google Fi users, is meant to encrypt connections when on public Wi-Fi networks or when using sites that don’t encrypt data. Users, however, question the privacy offered by VPN from Google.

Twitter said the iOS 14 privacy update will have a “modest impact” on its revenue. The companies joins others, including Facebook and Snap, in saying that Apple is impacting their business’s monetization.

Funding and M&A

💰 Quilt, a “Clubhouse” focused self-care, raised $ 3.5 million seed round led by Mayfield Fund. The app has a similar format to audio social network, Clubhouse, but rooms are dedicated less to hustle culture and more to wellness, personal development, spirituality, meditation, astrology and more.

🤝  Match Group, owner of dating apps like Match and Tinder, will buy Korean social media company Hyperconnect for $ 1.73 billion. The company runs two apps, Azar and Hakuna Live, both which focus on video, including video chats and live broadcasts.

🤝 Electronic Arts buys Glu Mobile, maker of the “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” mobile game in a $ 2.4 billion deal. The all-cash deal will also bring other games, like “Diner Dash” and “MLB Tap Sports Baseball” to EA, which said it made the acquisition because mobile is the “fastest-growing platform on the planet.”

💰 French startup Powder raised $ 12 million for its social app for sharing clips from your favorite games, and follow others with the same interests. The app can capture video content from both desktop and mobile games.

💰 Reddit’s valuation doubled to $ 6 billion after raising $ 250 million in a late-stage funding round led by Vy Capital, following the r/WallStreetBets and GameStop frenzy. The company was previously valued at $ 3 billion, and is also backed by Andreessen Horowitz and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

💰 SplashLearn raised $ 18 million for its game-based edtech platform. The startup offers math and reading courses for Pre-K through 5th grade, and over 4,000 games and interactive activities.

💰 Goody raised $ 4 million for its mobile app that lets you send gifts to friends, family and other loved ones over a text message. The other user can then personalize the gift and share their address, if you don’t have that information.

💰 VerSe Innovation, the Bangalore-based parent firm of news and entertainment app Dailyhunt and short video app Josh, a TikTok rival, raised over $ 100 million in Series H round led by Qatar Investment Authority and Glade Brook Capital Partners. The round turns the company into a unicorn.

💰 Tickr, an app that lets U.K. consumers make financial investments based on their impact to society and the environment, raised $ 3.4 million in a round led by Ada Ventures, a VC firm focused on impact startups.

📈 Huuuge Inc., a developer of free-to-play mobile casino games, raised $ 445 million in its IPO in Warsaw, becoming Poland’s largest-ever gaming industry listing.

💰 Uptime, an educational app that offers 5-minute bits of insight from top books and courses, raised a $ 16 million “seed” round led by Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy; entrepreneur and chairman of N Brown, David Alliance; and members of private equity firm Thomas H Lee.

💰 Modern Health, a mental health services provider for businesses to offer to their employees, raised $ 74 million, valuing its business at $ 1.17 billion. The Modern Health mobile app assesses each employee’s need and then provide care options.

💰 Scalarr raised $ 7.5 million to fight mobile ad fraud. The company offers products to detect ad fraud before an advertiser bids and other tools used by ad exchanges, demand-side platforms, and supply-side platforms.

💰 Dublin-based food ordering app Flipdish, a Deliveroo rival, raised €40 million from global investment firm Tiger Global Management. The app offers a lower commission than other delivery rivals and is even testing drone delivery with startup Manna Aero.

💰 Jackpocket, an NYC-based lottery ticket app, raised $ 50 million Series C. The app allows users to play the lottery games in nine different states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Washington, D.C.

Downloads

Insight’s iOS web browser supports “extensions”

Image Credits: Insight

A new startup called Insight is bringing web browser extensions to the iPhone, with the goal of delivering a better web browsing experience by blocking ads and trackers, flagging fake reviews on Amazon, offering SEO-free search experiences or even calling out media bias and misinformation, among other things. These features are made available by way of the browser’s “extensions,” which work by way of a “sub-tab” workflow where you navigate using swiping gestures. For example, when online shopping, you could view the product you’re interested in, then swipe over to see the available coupons, the trusted product reviews or to comparison shop across other sites.

The app is a free download on iOS.

App Annie Pulse

Image Credits: App Annie

App Annie’s new app Pulse is aimed not at the more advanced analyst or marketer immersed in data, but rather at the executive who wants a “more elevated, top-down view” of the app ecosystem, TechCrunch reported. The app offers easy access to the app stores’ top charts, plus tools for tracking apps, and a news feed highlighting recent trends. Another feature, the App Annie Performance score, which aims to distill user acquisition, engagement, monetization and sentiment into a single benchmark.

The app is currently iOS-only.

Mobile – TechCrunch


There is infinite money for stock-trading startups

February 14, 2021 No Comments

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Earlier this week TechCrunch broke the news that Public, a consumer stock trading service, was in the process of raising more money. Business Insider quickly filled in details surrounding the round, that it could be around $ 200 million at a valuation of $ 1.2 billion. Tiger could lead.

Public wants to be the anti-Robinhood. With a focus on social, and a recent move away from generating payment for order flow (PFOF) revenues that have driven Robinhood’s business model, and attracted criticism, Public has laid its bets. And investors, in the wake of its rival’s troubles, are ready to make it a unicorn.

Of course, the Public round comes on the heels of Robinhood’s epic $ 3.4 billion raise, a deal that was shocking for both its scale and speed. The trading service’s investors came in force to ensure it had the capital it needed to continue supporting consumer trades. Thanks to Robinhood’s strong Q4 2020 results, and implied growth in Q1 2021, the boosted investment made sense.

As does the Public money, provided that 1) The company is seeing lots of user growth, and 2) That it figures out its forever business model in time. We cannot comment on the second, but we can say a bit about the first point.

Thanks not to Public, really, but M1 Finance, a Midwest-based consumer fintech that has a stock-buying function amongst its other services (more on it here). It told TechCrunch that it saw a quadrupling of signups in January as compared to December. And in the last two weeks, it saw six times as many signups as the preceding two weeks.

Given that M1 doesn’t allow for trading — something that its team repeatedly stressed in notes to TechCrunch — we can’t draw a perfect line between M1 and Public and Robinhood, but we can infer that there is huge consumer interest in investing of late. Which helps explain why Public, which is hunting up a way to generate long-term incomes, can raise another round just months after it closed a different investment.

Our notes last year on how savings and investing were the new thing last year are accidentally becoming even more true than we expected.

Market Notes

As the week came to a close, Coupang filed to go public. You can read our first look here, but it’s going to be big news. Also on the IPO beat, Matterport is going out via a SPAC, I chatted with Metromile CEO Dan Preston about his insurtech public offering this week that also came via a SPAC, and so on.

Oscar Health filed, and it doesn’t look super strong. So its impending valuation is going to test public traders. That’s not a problem that Bumble had when it priced above-range this week and then skyrocketed after it started to trade. Natasha and I (she’s on Equity, as well) have some notes from Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd that we’ll get to you early next week. (Also I chatted about the IPO with the BBC a few times, which was neat, the first of which you can check out here if you’d like.)

Roblox’s impending public debut was also back in the news this week. The company was a bit bigger than it thought last year (cool), but may delay its direct listing to March (not cool).

Near to the IPO beat, Carta started to allow its own shares to trade recently, on the back of news that its revenues have scaled to around $ 150 million. Not bad Carta, but how about a real IPO instead of staying private? The company’s valuation more than doubled during the secondary transitions.

And then there were so very many cool venture capital rounds that I couldn’t get to this week. This Koa Health round, for example. And whatever this Slync.io news is. (If you want some earlier-stage stuff, check out recent rounds from Treinta, Level, Ramp and Monte Carlo.

And to close, a small callout to Ontic, which provides “protective intelligence software” and said that its revenue grew 177% last year. I appreciate the sharing of the numbers, so wanted to highlight the figure.

Various and Sundry

Wrapping this week, I have a final bit for you to chew on from Mark Mader, the CEO of Smartsheet, a public company — former startup, it’s worth noting — that plays in the no-code, automation and collaboration markets. That’s a rough summary. Anyhoo, I asked Mader about no-code trends in 2021, as I have my eyes on the space. Here’s what he wrote for us:

If you thought the sudden shift to remote work sped up corporate America’s shift to digital, you haven’t seen anything yet. Digital transformation is going to accelerate even more rapidly in 2021. Last year, the workforce was exposed to many different types of technology all at once. For example, a company may have deployed Zoom or DocuSign for the first time. But much of this shift involved taking analog processes like meetings or document signing and approval and bringing them online. Things like this are merely a first step. 2021 is the year the companies will begin to connect large-scale digital events to infrastructure that can make them automated and repeatable. It’s the difference between one person signing a document and hundreds of people signing hundreds of documents, with different rules for each one. And that’s just one example. Another use case could involve linking HR software to project management software for automated, real-time resource allocation that allows a company to get more out of both platforms, as well as its people. The businesses that can automate and simplify complex workflows like these will see dramatically improved efficiency and return on their technology investments, putting them on the path to true transformation and improved profitability.

We shall see!

Alex

 


Startups – TechCrunch