Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the 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 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People now spend three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. 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.
This week, we’re digging into more data about how the App Store commission changes will impact developers, as well as other top stories, like Snapchat’s new Spotlight feed and India’s move to ban more Chinese apps from the country, among other things.
We also have our weekly round-up of news about platforms, services, privacy, trends, and other headlines.
More on App Store Commissions
Last week, App Annie confirmed to TechCrunch around 98% of all iOS developers in 2019 (meaning, unique publisher accounts) fell under the $1 million annual consumer spend threshold that will now move App Store commissions from a reduced 15% to the standard 30%. The firm also found that only 0.5% of developers were making between $800K and $1M; only 1% were in $500K-$800K range; and 87.7% made less than $100K.
According to its findings, of the 2M published apps on the App Store, 376K apps are a paid download, have in-app purchases, or monetize with subscriptions. Those 376K apps are operated by a smaller group of 124.5K developers. Of those developers, only a little under 2% earned more than $1M in 2019. This confirms App Annie’s estimate that 98% of all developers earned under the $1M threshold.
Image Credits: Appfigures
The firm also took a look at companies above the $1M mark, and found that around 53% were games, led by King (of the Candy Crush titles). After a large gap, the next largest categories in 2019 were Health & Fitness, Social Networking, Entertainment, then Photo & Video.
Of the developers making over $1M, the largest percentage — 39% — made between $1M and $2.5M in 2019.
Image Credits: Appfigures
The smallest group (1.5%) of developers making more than $1M is the group making more than $150M. These accounted for 29% of the “over $1M” crowd’s total revenue. And those making between $50M and $150M accounted for 24% of the revenue.
Image Credits: Appfigures
AppFigures also found that of those making less than $1M, most (>97%) fell into the sub $250K category. Some developes were worried about the way Apple’s commission change system was implemented — that is, it immediately upon hitting $1M and only annual reassessments. But there are so few developers operating in the “danger zone” (being near the threshold), this doesn’t seem like a significant problem. Read More.
Snapchat takes on TikTok
After taking on TikTok with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this week launched a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting. Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis. Read More.
India bans more Chinese apps
India, which has already banned at least 220 apps with links to China in recent months, said on Tuesday it was banning an additional 43 Chinese apps, again citing cybersecurity concerns. Newly banned apps include short video service Snack Video, e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, shopping app Taobao Live, business card reader CamCard, and others. There are now no Chinese apps in the top 500 most-used apps in India, as a result. Read More.
Apple’s App Store Connect will now require an Apple ID with 2-step verification enabled.
Apple announces holiday schedule for App Store Connect. New apps and app updates won’t be accepted Dec. 23-27 (Pacific Time).
SKAdNetwork 2.0 adds Source App ID and Conversion Value. The former lets networks identify which app initiated a download from the App Store and the latter lets them know whether users who installed an app through a campaign performed an action in the app, like signing up for a trial or completing a purchase.
Applerounded up developer praise for its App Store commission change. Lending their names to Apple’s list: Little 10 Robot (Tots Letters and Numbers), Broadstreet (Brief), Foundermark (Friended), Shine, Lifesum, Med ART Studios (Sprout Fertility Tracker), RevenueCat, OK Play, SignEasy, Jump Rope, Wine Spectator, Apollo for Reddit, SwingVision Tennis, Cinémoi.
Fortnite adds a $12/mo subscription offering a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle. More money for Apple to miss out on, I guess.
14 U.S. states plus Washington D.C. have now adopted COVID-19 contact tracing apps. CA and other states may release apps soon. Few in the U.S. have downloaded the apps, however, which limits their usefulness.
Samsung’s TV Plus streaming TV servicecomes to more Galaxy phones
Security & Privacy
Apple’s senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, in a letter to the Ranking Digital Rights organization, confirmsApp Tracking Transparency feature will arrive in 2021. The feature will allow users to disable tracking between apps. The letter also slams Facebook for collecting “as much data as possible” on users.
Baidu’s apps banned from Google Play, Baidu Maps and the Baidu App, were leaking sensitive user data, researchers said. The apps had 6M U.S. users and millions more worldwide.
U.S. Brick-and-mortar retail apps saw 27% growth in first three quarters of 2020, or nearly double the growth of online retailer apps (14%), as measured by new installs. Top apps included Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Nike, Walgreens, and The Home Depot.
App Annie forecastestimates shoppers will spend over 110M hours in (Android) mobile shopping apps this holiday season.
PayPal and Square’sCash apphave scored 100% of the newly-issued supply of bitcoins, report says.
All social media companies now look alike, Axois argues, citing Twitter’s Fleets and Snap’s TikTok-like feature as recent examples.
Funding and M&A
CoStar Group, a provider of commercial real estate info and analytics, acquires Homesnap’s platform and app for $250M to move into the residential real estate market.
Remote work appFriday raises $2.1M seed led by Bessemer Venture Partners
Stories-style Q&A appF3raises$3.9M. The team previously founded Ask.fm.
Edtech company Kahoot acquires Drops, a startup whose apps help people learn languages using games, for $50M.
Mobile banking app Current raises $131M Series C, led by Tiger Global Management.
Square buys Credit Karma’s tax unit, Credit Karma Tax, for $50M in cash.
Ride-hailing firms such as Ola and Uber can only draw a fee of up to 20% on ride fares in India, New Delhi said in guidelines on Friday, a new setback for the SoftBank-backed firms already struggling to improve their finances in the key overseas market.
The guidelines, which for the first time bring modern-age app-based ride-hailing firms under a regulatory framework in the country, also put a cap on the so-called surge pricing, the fare Uber and Ola charge during hours when their services see peak demands.
According to the guidelines, Ola and Uber — and any other app-operated, ride-hailing firm — can charge a maximum of 1.5 times of the base fare. They can, however, choose to offer their services at 50% of the base fare as well. The rules also state that drivers will not be permitted to work for more than 12 hours in a day, and that the companies need to provide them insurance cover.
Uber and Ola have not previously publicly shared precisely how much they charge their drivers for each ride, but industry estimates show that a driver partner with either of these firms makes up to 74% of the ride fare, after paying taxes. The new guidelines say drivers should get to keep at least 80% of fares.
The cap on the ride fare and implied insurance costs will raise operating costs in India for Uber and Ola, both of which have eliminated jobs in recent months amid the pandemic to trim costs. The South Asian nation, which has attracted many giant international firms in recent years as they look for their next growth market, in the meantime has entered an unprecedented recession.
But not everything about the guidelines will hurt Uber and Ola, both of which had no comment to share on Friday. The rules will enable the companies to offer pooling (shared car) services on private cars, though there is a daily limit of four intra-city rides on such cars, and two weekly inter-city rides.
Ujjwal Chaudhry, an associate partner at Bangalore-based marketing research consulting firm Redseer, said the guidelines by the government will have a mixed impact.
“While it is positive in terms of formalizing the sector as well as increasing the consumer trust on aggregators through improved safety regulations. But, overall the impact of these guidelines on the ecosystem growth are negative as capping surge and platform fee will ultimately lead to reduced earnings for 5 Lac (500,000) drivers (currently on these platforms) and will also lead to increased prices and higher wait times for the 6-8 crore (60 to 80 million) consumers who use it for their mobility and commute needs,” he said in a statement.
The rules also address a range of other factors surrounding a ride. For instance, under no circumstance can the cancellation fee imposed on a rider or driver be more than 10% of the total fare, and the fee cannot exceed 100 Indian rupees, or $1.35. Also, female passengers looking for a pooled service will have the option to share the cab with only female passengers, the rules say. Cab aggregators are also required to establish a control room with round-the-clock operations.
Ola and Uber dominate the app-based ride-hailing market in India. Both the companies claim to lead the market, though SoftBank, a common investor, said recently that Ola had a slight lead over Uber in India.
“Hi, I’m Rivers from the band, Weezer,” Rivers Cuomo says with a slight smile and a wave. He turns away from the camera for a bit, before launching into his best infomercial pitch. “Imagine you’re on tour, and you’re sitting in your dressing room or your tour bus. You’re backstage. You have stage fright, you’re stressing out. You’re pacing back and forth. And then on top of that, your tour manager is constantly calling you, asking you logistical questions.”
As far as internet pitch videos go, it’s not the most universal. If anything, the three-minute clip loses any hope of populist appeal by the end. In a final shot, the singer in a maroon SpaceX hoodie is the last up the ramp onto a private jet. The plane door closes revealing a Weezer flying “W” logo.
“Download Drivetimes now, on GitHub,” Cuomo adds in voice-over. “This is CS50X.”
It’s not the most polished app pitch video, and Cuomo’s elevator pitch could probably do with a bit of refining before approaching venture capitalists about a seed round. As far as final projects for online programming courses go, however, it’s something to behold. The images alternate between pages of code, Google spreadsheets and POV shots as he takes the stage for a co-headlining tour with the Pixies.
It helped earn Cuomo a 95 in the class.
But while, in its current configuration, the Drivetime tour scheduling tool might have limited appeal, the musician’s final project from Harvard’s follow-up course, CS50W, is immediately apparent for an army of fans who have followed his quarter-century-plus career. This week Cuomo dropped more than 2,400 demos totaling more than 86 hours. Spanning 1976 to 2015, the songs range in quality from tape-recorded sketches to more polished fare. Some would eventually find their way onto Weezer’s 13 albums, or assorted side projects. Others wouldn’t be so lucky.
Available through Cuomo’s “Mr. Rivers’ Neighborhood” site, the tracks are gathered into nine bundles, each available for $9 a piece. “By the way,” Cuomo writers at the bottom of a disclaimer, “this market is my final project for a course I’m taking in web programming.”
For half-a-decade, the platinum-selling rock star has been moonlighting as a computer programming student.
“I was always a spreadsheet guy,” Cuomo tells TechCrunch. “Around 2000, I think I started in Microsoft Access and then Excel. Just keeping track of all my songs and demos and ideas. Spreadsheets got more and more complicated to the point where it was like, ‘Well, I’m kind of almost writing code here in these formulas, except it’s super hard to use. So maybe I should actually do programming instead.’ ”
It would be an odd side hustle for practically any other successful musician. For Cuomo, however, it’s the next logical step. In the wake of the massive success of Weezer’s self-titled debut, he enrolled as a sophomore at Harvard, spending a year living in a dorm. He would ultimately leave school to record the band’s much-loved follow-up, Pinkerton, but two more more enrollments in 1997 and 2004 found the musician ultimately graduating with an English BA in 2006.
CS50 found Cuomo returning to Harvard — at least in spirit. The course is hosted online by the university, a free introduction to computer science.
“I went through some online courses and was looking for something that looked appealing and so I saw the Harvard CS50 was very popular,” Cuomo says. “So I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give this a shot.’ It didn’t take immediately. The first week course was using Scratch. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s like kind of click and drag type of programming, and you’re making a little video game.”
A six-week course stretched out for six months for the musician. That same year, the musician — now a father of two — played dozens of shows and recorded Weezer’s 10th album, the Grammy-nominated White Album.
“When we hit Python halfway through the course,” Cuomo says, “I was just amazed at how powerful it was and intuitive it was for me, and I could just get so much done. Then by the end of the course, I was writing programs that were really helping me manage my day-to-day life as a traveling musician and then also managing my spreadsheets and managing my work as a creative artist.”
For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. The band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. What has seemingly been a bigger issue, however, is organizing those thoughts. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.
The “thousands” of spreadsheets became a database, cataloging Cuomo’s own demos and work he was studying from other artists.
“For years it seemed like kind of a waste of time or an indulgence,” he says. “I should be writing a new song or, or recording a song rather than just cataloging these old ideas, but I’ve found that, years later, I’m able to very efficiently make use of these ancient ideas because I can just tell my Python program, ‘Hey, show me all the ideas I have at 126 BPM in the key of A flat that start with a third degree of the scale and the melody and are in Dorian mode and that my manager has given three stars or more to.’ ”
He admits that the process may be lacking in some of the rock and roll romanticism for which fans of the bands might hope. But in spite of drawing on pages of analytics, Cuomo insists there’s still magic present.
For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. Given his level of productivity, however, organizing all of those thoughts can get tricky. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.
“There’s still plenty of room for spontaneity and inspiration in what we traditionally think of as human creativity,” Cuomo explains. “One of my heroes in this realm is Igor Stravinsky. There’s a collection of his lectures called “The Poetics of Music.” And he had a note in that collection. He said he has no interest in a composer that’s only using one of his faculties, like a composer that says, ‘I am only going to write what pops into my head spontaneously when I’m in some kind of a creative zone. I won’t use any of my other tools.’
“He says, ‘No, I prefer to listen to the music of a composer who’s using every faculty at his disposal, his intuition, but also his intellect and his ability to analyze and categorize and make use of everything he has.’ I find that those ended up being the most wild and unpredictable and creative compositions.”
And there’s been no shortage of compositions. Cuomo says the band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. After decades of feeling beholden to the 18-month major label album release cycle, the singer says that after the Demos project, he has a newfound interest in finding more ways to release music directly to fans.
“I don’t feel like I’m really good at understanding the big-picture marketplace and how to make the biggest impact in the world,” he says. “My manager is so good at that, but I just told them like, ‘Hey, this feels like something here. First of all, it’s really fun. The fans are really happy. It’s super easy for everyone involved.’ The coding part wasn’t easy, but for everyone else, it’s a couple of clicks and you’ve got all this music, and it’s a cheap price, and there’s no middleman. PayPal takes a little bit, but it’s nothing like a major label. So, this could be something. And there’s just something, it feels so good when it’s directly from me to the audience.”
For now, computer science continues to take up a major chunk of his time. Cuomo estimates that he’s been spending around 70% of his work hours on programming projects. On Wednesday nights, he helps out with programming for a meditation site (another decades-long passion), and he plans to take Harvard’s follow-up CS50M course, which centers around developing for mobile apps.
There are, however, no immediate plans to quit his day job.
“I can’t see me getting a job at a startup or something or maintaining somebody’s website,” he says. “But maybe the line between rock star and web developer is getting blurred so that musicians will be making more and more use of technological tools. Besides just the music software, we’ll be making more and more use of means of distribution and organization and creativity that’s coming out in the way we code our connection to the audience.”
Welcome to Techcrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.
Even in a normal year, the holidays can be an anxiety-inducing hellscape. In 2020, though — honestly, it’s hard to say what manner of climactic finale this historically rough year might have on tap. In honor of the one of the most epically rotten years on record, we’ve cobbled together a list of gifts that could go a ways toward helping folks make it triumphantly across the finish line.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag, I admit. Everyone blows off stress differently — some like to play video games, come cook, some go for a run, others meditate. This is an attempt to round up some gadgets and software that can help increase sleep, reduce blood pressure and generally help survive what’s left of 2020 intact.
This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.
I was using Muse’s latest headband quite a bit during CES, back when that show still felt like it was going to be the apex of stress for my year. The device offers a clever kind of gamified approach to meditation — something I, as one of the worst meditators of all-time, have come to appreciate. I recognize that words like “gamify” sound counterproductive when it comes something like meditating, but Muse does a surprisingly good job getting you into the right headspace.
The company also recently added sleep tracking to the wearable. I will say that the Muse S is reasonably comfortable as far as tech headbands go (an admittedly low bar), but even so, sleeping with one on still takes some getting used to.
We can recommend a number of all-purpose, noise-cancelling headphones for help relaxing. The Bose Sleepbuds II aren’t that. These little Bluetooth buds are built for one purpose only: sleep. They’re comfortable, they get good battery life and they’ll stay in place while you sleep. They’re built for noisy environments — whether you’re trying to sneak in a midday nap or sleep next to a snorer.
They’re a bit pricy and not very versatile, only designed to play back Bose’s preloaded sleep sounds. But if someone in your life is having trouble falling — or staying — asleep, they’re a solid investment.
There’s no shortage of meditation apps these days, but Calm has been my go-to for a long time. The app has been tremendously successful over the past couple of years, even landing a star-studded show on HBO Max. With more than 50 million downloads, Calm offers some of the most extensive and best guided meditation courses and tracks to help lull listeners to sleep.
I really dug this thing before my rabbit chewed the cord and rendered the thing effectively useless. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s not an issue most users are going to run into. Withings Sleep is, effectively, a pad that sits under the mattress to detect your sleep progress during the night. Those results are then collected and displayed in Withings’ Health app. I’ve tested a lot of wearable sleep trackers over the year, but if you’re really invested in sleep tracking, this is a good way to go. Among other things, you don’t have to wear a band to sleep.
Withings Sleep goes deep with its tracking, including cycles heart rate tracking and even snore detection. It’s also one of the first of this class of consumer device to offer sleep apnea detection.
Back when we used to do travel gift guides, I included one of Dreamlight’s masks for long flights. Even though we’re all grounded, though, I’ve actually got a fair amount of use out of the thing, dealing with some health struggles this year. Dreamlight Zen is a step up from that model, featuring built-in sleep and meditation aids that can run up to 10 hours on a charge.
Slack shares are up just under 25% at the moment, according to Yahoo Finance data. Slack is worth $36.95 per share as of the time of writing, valuing it at around $20.8 billion. The well-known former unicorn has been worth as little as $15.10 per share inside the last year, and worth as much as $40.07.
Inversely, shares of Salesforce are trading lower on the news, falling around 3.5% as of the time of writing; investors in the San Francisco-based SaaS pioneer were either unimpressed at the combination idea, or perhaps worried about the price that would be required to bring the 2019 IPO into their fold.
Why Salesforce, a massive software company with a strong position in the CRM market, and aspirations of becoming an even larger platform player, would want to buy Slack is not immediately clear though there are possible benefits. This includes the possibility of cross-selling the two companies products’ into each others customer bases, possible unlocking growth for both parties; Slack has wide marketshare inside of fast-growing startups, for example, while Salesforce’s products roost inside a host of mega-corps.
TechCrunch reached out to Salesforce, Slack, and Slack’s CEO for comment on the deal’s possibility. We’ll update this post with whatever we get.
While Salesforce bought Quip for $750 million in 2016, which gave it a kind of document sharing and collaboration, other than that, Salesforce Chatter has been the only social tool in the company’s arsenal. Buying Slack would give the CRM giant solid enterprise chat footing and likely a lot of synergy among customers and tooling.
But Slack has always been more than a mere chat client. It enables companies to embed workflows, and this would fit well in the Salesforce family of products, which spans sales, service, marketing and more. It would allow companies to work both inside and outside the Salesforce ecosystem, building smooth and integrated workflows. While it can theoretically do that now, if the two were combined, you can be sure the integrations would be much tighter.
What’s more, Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says it would give Salesforce a sticky revenue source, something they are constantly searching for keep their revenue engine rumbling along. “Slack could be a good candidate to strengthen its platform, but more importantly account for more usage and ‘stickiness’ of Salesforce products — as collaboration not only matters for CRM, but also for the vendors growing work.com platform,” Mueller said. He added, it would be a way to stick it to former friend turned foe, Microsoft.
That’s because Slack has come under withering fire from Microsoft in recent quarters, as the Redmond-based software giant poured resources into its competing Teams service. Teams challenges Slack’s chat tooling, and Zoom’s video features, and has seen huge customer growth in recent quarters.
Finding Slack a corporate home amongst the larger tech players could ensure that Microsoft doesn’t grind it under the bulk of its enterprise software sales leviathan. And Salesforce, a sometimes Microsoft ally, would not mind adding the faster-growing slack to its own expanding software incomes.
The question at this juncture comes down to price. Slack investors won’t want to sell for less than a good premium on the pre-pop per-share price now feels rather dated.
Unacademy, an online learning platform in India, has added two more marquee investors to its cap table. The Bangalore-based startup, which focuses on K-12 online education, said on Wednesday it has raised new funds from Tiger Global Management and Dragoneer Investment Group.
The funding round, which is between $75 million to $100 million in size (according to a person familiar with the matter; Unacademy has not disclosed the figure), valued the four-and-a-half-year-old startup at $2 billion, up from about $500 million in February this year when Facebook joined its list of backers, and $1.45 billion in September, when SoftBank led the round.
“Our mission from Day One has been to democratise education and make it more affordable and accessible. We have consistently built the most iconic products that deliver high quality education to everyone. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tiger Global and Dragoneer as our partners in the journey. They are both marquee global investors with a history of partnering with innovative companies that are making an impact on people’s lives,” said Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and chief executive of Unacademy, in a statement.
Unacademy helps students prepare for competitive exams to get into a college, as well as those who are pursuing graduate-level courses. On its app, students watch live classes from educators and later engage in sessions to review topics in more detail. In recent months, the startup has held several online interviews of high-profile individuals, such as Indian politician Shashi Tharoor, on a range of topics, which has expanded its appeal beyond its student base.
The platform has amassed over 47,000 educators, who teach students in 5,000 cities in India in over 14 languages. Over 150,000 live classes are conducted on the platform each month and the collective watch time across platforms is over 2 billion minutes per month, the startup said.
“The opportunity to improve lives through online education is enormous because of its sheer accessibility. The Unacademy team has innovated rapidly to build a leading platform that is taking education to the farthest corners of India. We are very excited to partner with Unacademy and look forward to seeing it scale further,” said Scott Shleifer, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.
Pinterest is getting into online events. The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest, while creators use Pinterest’s class boards to organize class materials, notes and other resources, or even connect with attendees through a group chat option. The company confirmed the test of online classes is an experiment now in development, but wouldn’t offer further details about its plans.
The feature itself was discovered on Tuesday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details about the online classes by looking into the app’s code.
Currently, you can visit some of these “demo” profiles directly — like “@pinsmeditation” or “@pinzoom123,” for example — and view their listed Class Communities. However, these communities are empty when you click through. That’s because the feature is still unreleased, Wong says.
When and if the feature is later launched to the public, the communities would include dedicated sections where creators will be able to organize their class materials — like lists of what to bring to class, notes, photos and more. They could also use these communities to offer a class overview and description, connect users to a related shop, group chat feature and more.
Creators are also able to use the communities — which are basically enhanced Pinterest boards — to respond to questions from attendees, share photos from the class and otherwise interact with the participants.
When a user wants to join a class, they can click a “book” button to sign up, and are then emailed a confirmation with the meeting details. Other buttons direct attendees to download Zoom or copy the link to join the class.
It’s not surprising that Pinterest would expand into the online events space, given its platform has become a popular tool for organizing remote learning resources during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers have turned to Pinterest to keep track of lesson plans, get inspiration, share educational activities and more. In the early days of the pandemic, Pinterest reported record usage when the company saw more searches and saves globally in a single March weekend than ever before in its history, as a result of its usefulness as a online organizational tool.
This growth has continued throughout the year. In October, Pinterest’s stock jumped on strong earnings after the company beat on revenue and user growth metrics. The company brought in $443 million in revenue, versus $383.5 million expected, and grew its monthly active users to 442 million, versus the 436.4 million expected. Outside of the coronavirus impacts, much of this growth was due to strong international adoption, increased ad spend from advertisers boycotting Facebook and a surge of interest from users looking for iOS 14 home screen personalization ideas.
Given that the U.S. has failed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, many classes, events and other activities will remain virtual even as we head into 2021. The online events market may continue to grow in the years that follow, too, thanks to the kickstart the pandemic provided the industry as a whole.
“We are experimenting with ways to help creators interact more closely with their audience,” a Pinterest spokesperson said, when asked for more information.
Pinterest wouldn’t confirm additional details about its plans for online events, but did say the feature was in development and the test would help to inform the product’s direction.
A police case has been filed this week against two top executives of the American streaming service in India after a leader of the governing party objected to some scenes in a TV series.
The show, “A Suitable Boy,” is an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Indian author Vikram Seth that follows the life of a young girl. It has a scene in which the protagonist is seeing kissing a Muslim boy at a Hindu temple.
Narottam Mishra, the interior minister of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said a First Information Report (an official police complaint) had been filed against Monika Shergill, VP of Content at Netflix and Ambika Khurana, Director of Public Policies for the firm, over objectionable scenes in the show that hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus.
“I had asked officials to examine the series ‘A Suitable Boy’ being streamed on Netflix to check if kissing scenes in it were filmed in a temple and if it hurt religious sentiments. The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion,” he said.
Gaurav Tiwari, a BJP youth leader who filed the complaint, demanded an apology from Netflix and makers of the series (directed by award-winning filmmaker Mira Nair), and said the film promoted “love jihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that alleges that Muslim men entice Hindi women into converting their religion under the pretext of marriage.
Netflix declined to comment.
In recent days, a number of people have expressed on social media their anger at Netflix over these “objectionable” scenes. Though it is unclear if all of them — if any — are a Netflix subscriber.
The incident comes weeks after an ad from the luxury jewelry brand Tanishq — part of the 152-year-old salt-to-steel conglomerate — which celebrated interfaith marriage received intense backlash in the country.
For Netflix, the timing of this backlash isn’t great. The new incident comes days after the Indian government announced new rules for digital media, under which the nation’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will be regulating online streaming services. Prior to this new rule, India’s IT ministry oversaw streaming services, and according to a top streaming service executive, online services enjoyed a great degree of freedom.
YouTube today confirmed that it has suspended right-wing cable channel One America News Network (OAN or OANN for short). The penalty comes after a violation of YouTube’s stated COVID-19 misinformation guidelines. As a result, the network will be barred from posting new videos for a week, while its existing videos will also be demonetized for that period.
A spokesperson for the Google-owned video service offered the following statement to TechCrunch:
Since early in this pandemic, we’ve worked to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation associated with COVID-19 on YouTube. After careful review, we removed a video from OANN and issued a strike on the channel for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure. Additionally, due to repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policy and other channel monetization policies, we’ve suspended the channel from the YouTube Partner Program and as a result, its monetization on YouTube.
The service has a three-strikes policy in place, with the first two strikes carrying their own policies. In addition to the above actions, the offending video has been pulled from the channel. This is OAN’s first strike. Per the site:
If we find your content doesn’t follow our policies for a second time, you’ll get a strike.
This means you won’t be able to do the following for one week:
Upload videos, live streams, or stories
Create custom thumbnails or Community posts
Created, edit, or add collaborators to playlists
Add or remove playlists from the watch page using the “Save” button
Full privileges will be restored automatically after the 1-week period, but your strike will remain on your channel for 90 days.
A second strike in a 90-day period would result in a two-week suspension. A third strike in a 90-day period would result in the channel’s termination.
OAN has become a personal favorite for Trump and his administration recently, particularly in the wake of fallout between the president and Fox News, after that long-favorite cable network called the recent election for opponent Joe Biden.
One America News also came under fire for videos like “Trump Won,” which falsely reported on the election’s results. YouTube opted not to pull that video over disinformation concerns, instead adding a warning and removing ads from the video, noting, “[w]e will continue to be vigilant in the post-election period.”
Instagram is developing a new product, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), that will allow people to start conversations with businesses or creators’ accounts by tapping on a commonly asked question within a chat. Those who already have the feature available report they’re able to create set of up to four questions which can optionally be displayed at the beginning of a conversation with other users.
The feature could be useful for businesses that are often responding to customer inquiries about their products or services, or for creators who receive a number of inbound requests from fans or brands interested in collaborations, for example.
The product’s introduction highlights the extent that Instagram’s messaging platform now overlaps with Facebook Messenger, following the recent launch of the new Instagram messaging experience. In September, Facebook announced Instagram users would have the option to upgrade to a new inbox that now offers a number of Messenger-inspired features — like the ability to change your chat color, react with any emoji, set messages to disappear, and more. The upgrade also introduced cross-app communication between Instagram and Messenger’s platforms.
With these changes, it appears Facebook is paving a road towards making the Instagram messaging experience more on par with Messenger.
Today, the Messenger app offers a similar FAQ option for Facebook Page owners under the Automated Responses section in Messenger’s settings. Here, Page owners or admins can set up a series of frequently asked questions and their responses to those questions which can be presented at the beginning of conversations with their Page — just like this new Instagram feature offers.
The Instagram FAQ option had been spotted earlier this year while in development, but seemed to be only for Business accounts, according to the app’s code.
Fortnite’s free to play model has no doubt been a big driver in the battle royale title’s stratospheric success. Epic clearly hasn’t had much issue monetizing the game. While revenue slipped last year, it still managed to pull in a massive windfall of $1.8 billion (down from an even more staggering $2.4 billion).
Today, the publisher announced a new model designed to deliver reoccurring payments, in addition to its standard micro transactions — offering up a discount on some of its virtual wares in the process.
The $11.99 monthly Fortnite Crew fee entitles players to a full season battle pass, 1,000 monthly bucks and a Crew Pack featuring an exclusive outfit bundle. The monthly fee adds up — as monthly fees do. It’s certainly significantly pricier than just going in for the standard battle pass, which runs a couple of bucks less and generally lasts a few months or so. Ditto for a 1,000 V-Bucks, which run around $8.
The plan will launch December 2, along Chapter 2, Season 5 of the game. The first pack includes a Galaxia outfit. It’s a space-themed suit that also includes a unicorn-head pickaxe. Content from popular properties like the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” may also be on the horizon, as well. Certainly exclusive access to well-known IP would go a ways toward sweetening the appeal of yet another monthly subscription.
Proxyclick began life by providing an easy way to manage visitors in your building with an iPad-based check-in system. As the pandemic has taken hold, however, customer requirements have changed, and Proxyclick is changing with them. Today the company announced Proxyclick Flow, a new system designed to check in employees during the time of COVID.
“Basically when COVID hit our customers told us that actually our employees are the new visitors. So what you used to ask your visitors, you are now asking your employees — the usual probing question, but also when are you coming and so forth. So we evolved the offering into a wider platform,” Proxyclick co-founder and CEO Gregory Blondeau explained.
That means instead of managing a steady flow of visitors — although it can still do that — the company is focusing on the needs of customers who want to open their offices on a limited basis during the pandemic, based on local regulations. To help adapt the platform for this purpose, the company developed the Provr smartphone app, which employees can use to check in prior to going to the office, complete a health checklist, see who else will be in the office and make sure the building isn’t over capacity.
When the employee arrives at the office, they get a temperature check, and then can use the QR code issued by the Provr app to enter the building via Proxyclick’s check-in system or whatever system they have in place. Beyond the mobile app, the company has designed the system to work with a number of adjacent building management and security systems so that customers can use it in conjunction with existing tooling.
They also beefed up the workflow engine that companies can adapt based on their own unique entrance and exit requirements. The COVID workflow is simply one of those workflows, but Blondeau recognizes not everyone will want to use the exact one they have provided out of the box, so they designed a flexible system.
“So the challenge was technical on one side to integrate all the systems, and afterwards to group workflows on the employee’s smartphone, so that each organization can define its own workflow and present it on the smartphone,” Blondeau said.
Once in the building, the systems registers your presence and the information remains on the system for two weeks for contact tracing purposes should there be an exposure to COVID. You check out when you leave the building, but if you forget, it automatically checks you out at midnight.
U.S. challenger bank Current, which has doubled its member base in less than six months, announced this morning it raised $131 million in Series C funding, led by Tiger Global Management. The additional financing brings Current to over $180 million in total funding to date, and gives the company a valuation of $750 million.
The round also brought in new investors, Sapphire Ventures and Avenir. Existing investors returned for the Series C, as well, including Foundation Capital, Wellington Management Company and QED.
Current had originally began as a teen debit card controlled by parents, but expanded to offer personal checking accounts last year, using the same underlying banking technology. The service today competes with a range of mobile banking apps, offering features like free overdrafts, no minimum balance requirements, faster direct deposits, instant spending notifications, banking insights, check deposits using your phone’s camera, and other now-standard baseline features for challenger banks.
When Current raised its Series B last fall, it had over 500,000 accounts on its service. Today, it touts over 2 million members. Revenue has also grown, increasing by 500% year-over-year, the company noted today.
“We have seen a demonstrated need for access to affordable banking with a best-in-class mobile solution that Current is uniquely suited to provide,” said Current founder and CEO Stuart Sopp, in a statement about the fundraise. “We are committed to building products specifically to improve the financial outcomes of the millions of hard-working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, and whose needs are not being properly served by traditional banks. With this new round of funding we will continue to expand on our mission, growth and innovation to find more ways to get members their money faster, help them spend it smarter and help close the financial inequality gap,” he added.
The additional funds will be used to further develop and expand Current’s mobile banking offerings, the company says.
F3, an anonymous Q&A app targeting Gen Z teens which blends a Tinder-style swipe-to-friend gamification mechanic, Stories-esque rich media responses and eye-wateringly expensive subscriptions to unlock a ‘Plus’ version that actually lets you see who wants to friend you — has raised a $3.9M seed round, including for a planned push on the US market.
The Latvian team behind F3 are not new to the viral teen app game having founded the anonymous teen Q&A app Ask.fm — which faced huge controversy back in 2013 over bullying and safety concerns after being linked to a number of suicides of users who’d received abusive messages. Not that they’ve let that put them off the viral teen app space, clearly.
Investors in F3’s seed round hail from the Russian dating network Mamba (including the latter’s investor, Mail.ru Group) and a co-investor VC firm with a marketing focus, called AdFirst.
Alex Hofmann (former musical.ly president) and Marat Kichikov (GP at Bitfury Capital) are also named as being among those joining the round as angel investors.
F3, which launched its apps in 2018, has 25M registered users at this point — 85% of whom are younger than 25.
The typical user is a (bored) teenager, with the user base being reported as 65% female and 60% Europe / 20% LatAm / 20% Rest of World at this point. (They’re not breaking out any active user metrics but claim 80% of users have been on the app for more than three months at this point.)
On the safety front, F3 is using both automated tools and people for content moderation — with the founders claiming to have learnt lessons from their past experience with Ask.fm (which got acquired by IAC’s Ask.com back in 2014, given them the funds to plough into F3’s development up to now).
“We’ve been solving problem of violating content in our previous company (Ask.fm), and now at F3 we’ve used all our knowledge of solving this problem from day one. Automation tools include text analysis in all major languages with database of 250k+ patterns that is continuously being improved, and AI based image recognition algorithms for detecting violating content in photos and videos,” says the founding team — which includes CEO Ilja Terebin.
“Our 24/7 content moderation team (8 in-house safety experts and 30+ outsourced contractors) manually reviews user reports and items flagged by automation tools,” they add.
However reviews of the app that we saw included complaints from users who said they’ve being pestered by ‘pedophiles’ asking for nudes — so claims of safety risks being “solved” seem riskily overblown.
Why do teens need yet another social discovery/messaging app? On that Terebin & team say the app has been tailored for Gen Z from the get-go — “focusing on their needs to socialize and make new friends online, ‘quick’ content in the form of photos and short videos, which is true and personal”.
“Raw & real” is another of their teen-friendly product market fit claims.
F3 users get a personalized URL that they can share to other social networks to solicit questions from their friends — which can be asked anonymously or not. (F3 users can also choose not to accept anonymous questions if they prefer.)
Instead of plain text answers users snap a photo or grab a short video, add filters, fancy fonts and backgrounds, and so on to reply in a rich-media Stories-style that’s infiltrated all social networking apps (most recently infecting Twitter, where it’s called Fleets).
These rich media responses get made public on their feed — so if an F3 user chooses to answer a question they’re also engaging with the wider community by default (though they can choose not to respond as questions remain private until responded to).
Asked how F3 stands out in a very packed and competitive social media landscape, they argue the app’s “uniqueness” is that the Q&A is photo and video based — “so the format is familiar and close to other social networks (‘stories’ or ‘snaps’) but in a Q&A style back-and-forth communication”, as they put it, adding that for their Gen Z target “the outdated text-based Q&A just was too boring”.
“We compete for eyeballs of Gen Z with Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. Our key strength is that through the Q&A format one can make new friends and truly get to know other people on a personal level through the prism of ‘raw and real’ content, which is not central on any of those platforms,” they also claim.
In terms of most similar competitors, they note Yolo has seen “some traction” and concede there are a bunch of others also offering Q&A. But here they argue F3 is more fully featured than rivals — suggesting the Q&A feature is just the viral hook to get users into a wider community net.
“[F3] is a fully functional social platform, built around visual communication — users have content feed where they can view posts by people they follow, they can create photo/video content using editing tools in the app itself, there’s a messenger functionality for direct chats, follow-ships, content and user discovery. So for us, the anonymous messaging/Q&A format is just an entry point which allows us to grow quickly and get the users on our platform, but then they make new connections and keep engaging with their unique social circle they have only on F3, making it a sustainable stand-alone social network.”
“This whole app is literally just like all the other apps. Just another copy cat that you still have to pay for,” runs one review from July 2020. “Don’t download.”
Like with the previous orders, India cited cybersecurity concerns to block these apps. “This action was taken based on the inputs regarding these apps for engaging in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” said India’s IT Ministry in a statement.
The ministry said it issued the order of blocking these apps “based on the comprehensive reports received from Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Center, Ministry of Home Affairs.”
The apps that have been banned include popular short video service Snack Video, which had surged to the top of the chart in recent months, as well as e-commerce app AliExpress, delivery app Lalamove, and shopping app Taobao Live.
TikTok announced today it is rolling out a new feature that will allow people with photosensitive epilepsy to automatically skip videos that can trigger seizures.
The “Skip All” option will be introduced to all users over the next few weeks and comes a few months after TikTok began automatically warning creators if a video contains effects, like flashing lights or certain visual patterns, that can be harmful to people with photosensitive epilepsy. If they upload those videos, TikTok automatically prefaces them with a warning screen.
Once a user turns on the “Skip All” option, they won’t see any videos TikTok has identified as potential triggers.
TikTok’s warning for videos with content that can trigger epileptic seizures
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, one of several organizations TikTok consulted with, the condition affects about 65 million people worldwide.
While advocates have called on social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, to place warnings before content with potential triggers, the task often falls to individual creators. For example, if a video has flashing lights, they might mention that at the beginning or in its description. But not all creators are aware of photosensitive epilepsy or its triggers.
Furthermore, online trolls have posted harmful content on purpose, sometimes tagging them with keywords related to epilepsy. The Epilepsy Society, another organization that worked with TikTok, has called for malicious posts to be covered by the United Kingdom’s Online Harms bill.
In a statement published with TikTok’s announcement, Nicola Swanborough, the Epilepsy Society’s acting head of external affairs, said “social media can be a lifeline for many people with epilepsy, allowing them to connect with others with the condition from around the world,” and that the organization hopes “other platforms will follow TikTok’s lead in ensuring greater inclusivity.”
After raising $215 million from SoftBank to double down on the surge of interest in online learning, Kahoot has made an acquisition to expand the scope of subjects that it covers. The popular startup, which lets people build and share educational games, has picked up Drops, a startup that helps people learn languages by way of short picture- and word-based games. The plan is to integrate more Kahoot features into Drops’ apps, and to bring some of Drops’ content into the main Kahoot platform.
Kahoot, which trades a part of its shares through Norway’s alternative exchange the Merkur Market and currently has a market cap of over $3 billion, said in an announcement that it would pay $31 million in cash, plus up to $19 million more in cash and shares, based on Drops meeting certain targets between now and 2022. The deal is expected to close this month.
Drops makes three main apps. First in an eponymous freemium app, with free and paid features, that helps adults learn new languages, currently some 42 in all, with a focus on vocabulary, built around five-minute, “snackable” sessions. A second app, Scripts, is aimed at learning to read, write and sign, and it covers four alphabets and four character-based writing systems. A third, Droplets, is aimed specifically at language learning for learners aged between eight and 17. Altogether Drops has clocked up 25 million users.
Notably, one reason it might be off TechCrunch’s (and the startup world’s) radar is that it appears to have been bootstrapped up to now. (We are confirming that detail and will update when/if we learn more.) But it’s had some notable accolades, getting named app of the year by Google in 2018, for one.
The startup was founded in Estonia and has 21 employees and has no “head office” as such, with the team spread across Estonia, US, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. This could be one reason why it’s kept costs low: in 2019 it reported gross revenues of $7.5 million (€6.3 million), with cash conversion of 40%.
For some more context, Kahoot says that in the last 12 months, more than 1 billion participating players in over 200 countries attended over 200 million Kahoot! sessions. That figure includes both educational users of its free services, as well as enterprises, which pay to build and use games (for example related to professional development or business compliance) on the platform.
“We are thrilled to welcome Drops to the expanding Kahoot! family as we advance towards our vision to become the leading learning platform in the world,” said Eilert Hanoa, the CEO of Kahoot, in a statement. “Drops’ offerings and innovative learning model are a perfect match to Kahoot!’s mission of making learning awesome through a simple, game-based approach. Drops and language learning becomes the latest addition to our growing offering of learning apps for learners of all ages and abilities. We will continue to expand in new areas to make Kahoot! the ultimate learning destination, at home, school or work, and to make learning awesome!”
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a bonanza for educational apps, which are collectively seeing a huge rush of usage in the last year.
For students, educators and parents, they have become a way of connecting and teaching at a time when physical schools are either closed, or drastically curtailed in what they can do, in order to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Businesses and other organizations, on the other hand, are leaning on e-learning as a way of keeping connected with staff, engaging them, and training them at a time when many are working from home.
It might seem ironic that at a time when travel has been drastically limited, if not completely halted altogether, for many of us, that language learning has seen an especially big boom.
Maybe it’s about making hay — that is, using the moment to get yourself ready for a time in the future when you might actually get to use your newly acquired foreign language skills. Or maybe it’s just another option for distracting or occupying ourselves in a more constructive way. Whatever might be the motivation or cause, the effect is that language learning is on the up.
Most recently, Duolingo — which incidentally also uses game-based concepts, where you enter a leaderboard for your learning and your daily sessions become winning streaks — raised $35 million on a $2.4 billion valuation, a huge jump for the company.
Kahoot cites figures that predict that digital language learning will be an $8 billion+ market by 2025 as describes Drops as “one of the fastest-growing language platforms in the world.”
“The entire Drops team has spent the last five years building a new way to learn language, and we’re just getting started,” said Daniel Farkas, co-founder and CEO, Drops, in a statement. “We’ve introduced millions of users across the globe to our playful, dynamic approach to language learning. Kahoot! is doing the same for all types of learning. We’re excited to work with such a mission-aligned company to introduce the Drops platform to game-loving learners everywhere.”
Caura, the U.K. startup that wants to take the hassle out of car ownership, is launching car insurance — unveiling its insurtech ambitions.
Dubbed “Caura Protect,” the new insurance product claims to reduce the cost and time taken to insure a car, building on the app’s existing car management features.
Launched earlier this year by Sai Lakshmi, who previously co-founded medication management service Echo, Caura is a mobile app designed to manage all of the vehicle-related admin that car owners endure.
Drivers are on-boarded by entering their vehicle registration number and can manage parking, tolls, MOT, road tax, congestion charges, and now insurance — a “one-stop shop” app in a similar vein to Echo. The idea is that Caura minimises car ownership admin and helps to mitigate associated penalty fines.
Caura is FCA approved to undergo various insurance activities and enables drivers to compare insurers and manage their policy within the app. The startup also says it has redesigned the signup and verification process to significantly reduce the time needed to find the best insurance policy.
“Caura instantly verifies users against official sources like the DVLA, simplifying the experience, and reducing the risk of insurance fraud,” says the company.
The idea is to offer a much more user-friendly insurance search and buying process than is typical of price comparison websites that ask for a multiple page questionnaire to be filled out before sending you — the “prospect” — to the insurer to complete your purchase. Instead, Caura claims that users can research options, select a quote, pay, and be covered to drive in around a minute (if you navigate the app really fast, I’m assuming).
The insurance cover itself is provided by six of the leading U.K. insurers, including Aviva and Markerstudy. In early 2021, Caura users will be able to pay for insurance in monthly instalments.
Asked why no one seems to have made shopping around for car insurance quite so straightforward, Lakshmi tells TechCrunch: “Startups in insurtech have been so busy finding niches that they’ve forgotten to innovate for the mainstream consumer”.
Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.
Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.
In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.
Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.
Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.
Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.
“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.
The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.
Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.
“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.
Starting today, users will be able to send their Snaps to the new Spotlight feed. Viewers will be able to send direct messages to creators with public profiles (Spotlight will also include anonymous content from private accounts), but there will be no public commentary on these videos.
To encourage creators to post to Spotlight, Snapchat says it will be distributing more than $1 million every day who create the top videos on Spotlight.
Google has teamed up with Disney and Lucasfilm to bring the Star Wars streaming series “The Mandalorian” to augmented reality. The company announced this morning the launch of a new Android AR app, “The Mandalorian” AR Experience, which will display iconic moments from the first season of the show in AR, allowing fans to retrace the Mandalorian’s steps, find the Child, harness the Force, and more, according to the app’s Play Store description.
In the app, users will be able to follow the trail of Mando, Din Djarin and the Child, interact with the characters, and create scenes that can be shared with friends.
New AR content will be released for the app on Mondays, starting today Nov. 23 and continuing for nearly a year to wrap on Oct. 31, 2021. That makes this a longer-term promotion than some of the other Star Wars experiences Google has offered in the past.
Image Credits: Google/Lucasfilm
Meanwhile, the app itself takes advantage of Google’s developer platform for building augmented reality experiences, ARCore, in order to create scenes that interact with the user’s surroundings. This more immersive design means fans will be able to unlock additional effects based on their actions. The app also leverages Google’s new ARCore Depth API, which allows the app to enable occlusion. This makes the AR scenes blend more naturally with the environment that’s seen through the smartphone’s camera.
However, because the app is a showcase for Google’s latest AR technologies, it won’t work with all Android devices.
Google says the app will only support “compatible 5G Android devices,” which includes its 5G Google Pixel smartphones and other select 5G Android phones that have the Google Play Services for AR updated. You can check to see if your Android phone is supported on a list provided on the Google Developers website. Other phones may be supported in the future, the company also notes.
While the experience requires a 5G-capable Android device, Google says that you don’t have to be on an active 5G connection to use the app. Instead, the requirement is more about the technologies these devices include and not the signal itself.
Google has teamed up with Lucasfilm many times over the past several years for promotional marketing campaigns. These are not typically considered ads, because they give both companies the opportunity to showcase their services or technologies. For example, Google allowed users to give its apps a Star Wars-themed makeover back in 2015, which benefited its own services like Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Chrome and others. It has also introduced both AR and VR experiences featuring Star Wars content over the past several years.
Friday, an app looking to make remote work more efficient, has announced the close of a $2.1 million seed round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Active Capital, Underscore, El Cap Holdings, TLC Collective, and New York Venture Partners also participated in the round, among others.
Founded by Luke Thomas, Friday sits on top of the tools that teams already use — Github, Trello, Asana, Slack, etc. — to surface information that workers need when they need it and keep them on top of what others in the organization are doing.
The platform offers a Daily Planner feature, so users can roadmap their day and share it with others, as well as a Work Routines feature, giving users the ability to customize and even automate routine updates. For example, weekly updates or daily standups done via Slack or Google Hangouts can be done via Friday app, eliminating the time spent by managers, or others, jotting down these updates or copying that info over from Slack.
Friday also lets users set goals across the organization or team so that users’ daily and weekly work aligns with the broader OKRs of the company.
Plus, Friday users can track their time spent in meetings, as well as team morale and productivity, using the Analytics dashboard of the platform.
Friday has a free forever model, which allows individual users or even organizations to use the app for free for as long as they want. More advanced features like Goals, Analytics and the ability to see past three weeks of history within the app, are paywalled for a price of $6/seat/month.
Thomas says that one of the biggest challenges for Friday is that people automatically assume it’s competing with an Asana or Trello, as opposed to being a layer on top of these products that brings all that information into one place.
“The number one problem is that we’re in a noisy space,” said Thomas. “There are a lot of tools that are saying they’re a remote work tool when they’re really just a layer on top of Zoom or a video conferencing tool. There is certainly increased amount of interest in the space in a good and positive way, but it also means that we have to work harder to cut through the noise.”
The Friday team is small for now — four full-time staff members — and Thomas says that he plans to double the size of the team following the seed round. Thomas declined to share any information around the diversity breakdown of the team.
Following a beta launch at the beginning of 2020, Friday says it is used by employees at organizations such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Quizlet, Red Hat, and EA, among others.
This latest round brings the company’s total funding to $2.5 million.
After taking on TikTok with music-powered features last month, Snapchat this morning is officially launching a dedicated place within its app where users can watch short, entertaining videos in a vertically scrollable, TikTok-like feed. This new feature, called Spotlight, will showcase the community’s creative efforts, including the videos now backed by music, as well as other Snaps users may find interesting.
Snapchat says its algorithms will work to surface the most engaging Snaps to display to each user on a personalized basis.
To do so, it will rank the Snaps in the new feed using a combination of factors, like how many other people found a particular Snap interesting, how long people spent watching it, if it was favorited or shared with friends, and more. The algorithms will also consider negative factors, like if a viewer skipped watching the Snap quickly, for example. Over time, the feed will become tailored to the individual user based on their own interactions, preferences, and favorites. This is a similar system to what TikTok uses for its “For You” feed.
Image Credits: Snap
However, on TikTok, only users with public profiles can have their videos hit the “For You” feed. Spotlight, meanwhile, can feature Snaps from users with both private or public accounts. These Snaps can be sent to Spotlight directly or posted to Our Story. The company says the Snaps from the private accounts will be featured in an unattributed fashion — that is, no name will be attached to the content. There will also be no way to comment on these Snaps or message the creator, Snapchat explains.
Users who are over 18 can opt in to public profiles in order to have their names displayed, which allows them to build a following. But while this allows users to private and directly reply to the creators, there are no public comment mechanisms on Spotlight.
That’s a different setup than on TikTok and gives Snapchat a way to avoid the much larger hassle of handling comment moderation.
The Spotlight feed itself, though, is moderated. The company says all Snaps that appear on the new feed will have to adhere to Snapchat’s Community Guidelines, which prohibit the spread of false information (including conspiracy theories), misleading content, hate speech, explicit or profane content, bullying, harassment, violence, and other toxic content. The Snaps must also adhere to Snapchat’s new Spotlight Guidelines, Terms of Service, and Spotlight Terms.
Image Credits: Snap
The Spotlight Guidelines specify what sort of content Snapchat wants, the format for the Snaps, and other rules. For example, they state the Snaps should be vertical videos with sound up to 60 seconds in length. They should also include a #topic hashtag and should make use of Snapchat’s Creative Tools like Captions, Sounds, Lenses or GIFs, if possible, The Snaps have to be appropriate for a 13+ audience, as well.
Captions are a new feature, designed for use in Spotlight. Also new is a continuous shooting mode for longer Snaps and the ability to trim singular Snaps.
The Snaps can also only use the licensed music from Snapchat’s own Sounds library and must feature original content, not content repurposed from somewhere else on the internet . That could limit accounts that repost internet memes, which tend draw large subscriber bases on rival platforms, like Instagram and TikTok.
In addition, Snaps in Spotlight won’t disappear from being surfaced in the feed unless the creator chooses to delete them.
Users will be alerted to the new Spotlight feature when they return to Snapchat following Monday’s launch. Afterward, they’ll be able to take Snaps as usual then choose whether they want to send them to their friends, to their Story, to Snap Map, or now to Spotlight.
Image Credits: Snap
The feed itself will be accessible through a prominent new fifth tab on the Snapchat home screen’s main navigation, and is designated with a Play icon.
To encourage users to publish to Spotlight, the company will distribute over $1 million USD every day to Snapchat users (16 and up) who create the top Snaps on Spotlight. This will continue through the end of 2020. The earnings will be determined by Snapchat’s proprietary algorithm that rewards users based on the total number of unique views a Snap gets per day (calculated using Pacific Time), as compared with others on the platform.
The company says it expects many users to earn money from this fund each day, but those with the most views will earn more than others. It will also monitor this feed for fraud, it warns.
With the music licensing aspects already ironed out, Snapchat is now looking to leverage the over 4 billion Snaps created by its users every day to power the new Spotlight feed. This move represents Snapchat’s biggest attempt at taking on TikTok to date — and one that it’s willing to kickstart with direct payments, too. That will likely encourage plenty of participation among Snapchat’s young user base, given they’re already using the app on a regular basis. And once posting to Spotlight becomes a habit, Snapchat could have a viable competitor on its hands, at least among the younger demographic that favors its app.
Its biggest disadvantage, of course, is that it has struggled to reach beyond its young user base. That’s something TikTok has done better with, by comparison. The Wall St. Journal last week noted that TikTok teens were often following accounts from senior citizens, for instance, and the AARP had earlier reported TikTok had attracted a middle-aged crowd, as well.
Snapchat says Spotlight is live today on both iOS and Android in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France, with more countries to come soon.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
Apple reduces App Store commissions to 15% for ‘vast majority’ of developers
The changes apply to developers with less than $1 million in revenue.
The changes arrive at a time when Apple has been under increased regulatoryscrutiny over how its App Store operates, which includes antitrust investigations in the U.S. and E.U. It has also waged war with developers throughout the year over in-app purchases, leading the company to revise its already complex rules even further, and spell out how and when it gets to charge its so-called “Apple tax.” And it’s in the middle of a nasty legal battle with Fortnite maker Epic Games, which doesn’t want to be forced to use Apple payments or even, necessarily, the App Store.
The commission changes may help silence some disgruntled voices from the wider app development community, while giving Apple a way to show regulators that it’s enabling fair competition.
However, several of Apple’s largest and harshest critics reacted negatively to the news.
The advocacy group, the Coalition for App Fairness, which includes Epic, Basecamp, Deezer, Match Group, Spotify and many others, said: “developers want a level playing field from Apple, not a symbolic gesture.” They argued that Apple still owns the customer relationship, the threshold of $1M is arbitrary, and they said the majority of developers who “generate livable revenue,” won’t benefit.
Match, Spotify and Epic separately echoed these sentiments in statements of their own.
Apple, though, had claimed the change would benefit the “vast majority” of the App Store development community. Today its App Store hosts 1.8 million apps that reach more than 1.5 billion Apple devices.
Individual developers we spoke to, including those who would qualify for the program, weren’t complaining. And many were fairly surprised by Apple’s move.
“I think it’s fair to say that this change wouldn’t have happened without either the impending antitrust investigations, or the Epic lawsuit. But something can be both a very clever piece of political manoeuvring, and still genuinely welcome and beneficial to the vast majority of developers out there,” said indie developer James Thomson, maker of the PCalc app and others.
“We fall significantly under the million dollar threshold, so we’re looking at roughly a 20% increase in our income under the new system. We’re in a much better position than most businesses under the pandemic, in that our sales are purely digital and people always need calculators (or dice), but we’ve certainly seen a decrease in sales over the last eight months. I can see the current situation taking a good while to resolve, so that extra revenue is appreciated,” he added. “These changes will particularly help the small developers who have traditionally been the heart of the developer community, and I as happy about this, as I am surprised,” Thomson said.
Others also said they were generally happy with the changes. But some expressed reservations about the details of how the program works.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with this new program,” said developer David Smith, maker of Widgetsmith, Watchsmith, Sleep++ and a range of other iOS apps. “It will help countless small developers who can really benefit from that extra margin. I’m excited for all the indie developers who will now be able to focus full time on their apps just that little bit sooner.”
But Smith noted that it was odd that the program isn’t applied in a way that’s similar to a graduated tax rate, where, he explained, “your first $1M is at 15% and the rest at the higher rate.”
“The proposed system creates an awkward differentiation between developers, and one of the things I’ve always appreciated most about the App Store was that it treats developers equally,” Smith continued. “It also creates a strange disincentive for growth for mid-sized businesses who are approaching the threshold.”
We turned to third-party analytics firms to try to better understand the market.
According to App Annie data, around 98% of all iOS developers in 2019 (meaning, unique publisher accounts) fell under the $1 million annual consumer spend threshold. This supports Apple’s claims that the “vast majority” of developers would benefit. This group of developers accounts for 567,000 unique apps, or 93% of all apps generating revenue through in-app purchases.
Combined, their revenues represented just under 8% of the overall App Store revenue share — in other words, it’s money Apple could stand to lose.
Image Credits: App Annie
App Annie also found that the group of mid-range developers who are “nearing” that $1 million threshold is really small. The data indicates roughly 0.5% of developers are making between $800,000 and $1 million. And just over 1% are in the $500,000-$800,000 range.
Most developers have much smaller revenue streams, with 87.7% making less than $100,000 in 2019.
Image Credits: App Annie
Some expressed concern that Apple’s system would unfairly penalize developers who made just $1 over the $1 million threshold, and then trap them at the higher rate (30%).
If you sell $1 over $1M on the @AppStore, you won’t match the income again the next year unless you make *$430K* more. That means making $1 over $1M may lead to having to fire an employee the following year since you’ll now be penalized $150K on the same revenue the next year.
But others suspected that the percentage of developers who were growing “slowly” at over $800,000 in ARR was actually pretty small.
This "dollar over, double the commission" scenario I would imagine dampens the enthusiasm of the cadre that hovers at that number. But I think it's a strong possibility that the percentage of developers "growing ARR slowly at $800,000+" is actually pretty small. https://t.co/2eOXFLSBOD
From the data we’ve collected, it seems that subscription-based apps tend to keep growing fairly quickly once they pass that $1 million threshold. According to data from subscription platform RevenueCat, the apps on its platform grow, on average, at 1.5x year-over-year. So once an app crossed the $1 million threshold, the most likely scenario is that it would make $1.5 million the next year. Plus, the apps that are “nearing” the threshold tend to be growing even faster than the average rate, we understand. And they rarely backslide.
“Apple has made a lot of changes to the App Store over the years, and this is one of the first I’ve seen where there’s really not much to complain about,” said RevenueCat CEO Jacob Eiting. “It’s impactful to the App Store economy broadly and meaningful to individual indie developers. Sure it may have been for PR and they might not have a lot of downside in doing this, but it’s genuinely a great thing for so many developers,” he said.
We’ll have more data on this subject in the weeks ahead.
Parler’s funders revealed…it’s the Mercers; parents warned about the app
The “Free speech” app Parler rising in the charts after Facebook and Twitter increased fact-checks, turns out to be funded by prominent conservative donor and Trump supporter Rebekah Mercer, The WSJ revealed.
Rebekah is the daughter of Robert Mercer, the hedge fund manager and principal investor in Cambridge Analytica — the data analytics firm behind the largest data leak in Facebook history, where 87 million users had their data harvested for the purposes of political advertising. The Mercers have alsobacked Breitbart News, the Heritage Foundation think tank, the Federalist Society, a super PAC that initially backed Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination (before switching to Trump) and Citizens United (which distributed a 2007 anti-Clinton movie and succeeded in a Supreme Court ruling that reversed campaign finance restrictions), among other things.
This week, the nonprofit ParentsTogether issued a warning to parents about Parler, saying that the app’s weak moderation policies and extremist user base put kids at risk of exploitation, abuse and recruitment for racist violence. The organization described Parler as hosting dangerous content, including hate speech, incitements of violence and widespread disinformation.
In addition, the group was concerned that while Apple’s App Store rates the app at 17+, Google Play has it listed as suitable for kids ages 13+.
“All parents of children under age 18 to immediately check their kids’ phones and tablets to ensure that their children have not installed Parler,” the group warned parents, in a statement. “If your child has installed Parler, we strongly recommend that you delete their account and the app.”
Twitter launches Fleets
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin
Twitter this week launched its own version of Stories — aka “Fleets” — to its global user base. The product, which allows users to post ephemeral content that disappears in 24 hours, had already rolled out to select markets, including Brazil, India, Italy, South Korea and, most recently, Japan. The rollout almost immediately ran into some snags, with Fleets suffering performance and stability issues. Twitter said it would pause things while it worked this out. On Thursday, the company announced the feature was globally available.
Reactions to Fleets has been mixed. Some users hate the feature, which is designed to encourage more users to post to Twitter, when they’ve otherwise been too shy to participate — largely because of Twitter’s “cancel culture” vibe where mistakes, bad takes and unpopular opinions are harshly criticized, even when they’re more minor offenses. It’s not clear how a Stories feature resolves this, however, as Fleets are still being published to Twitter’s public social network.
These changes follow the activities by activist investor Elliott Management Group, which took a sizable stake in Twitter earlier this year, along with Silver Lake. The firms did so with a plan to push the company for more innovation and new executive leadership. The companies later struck a deal to spare Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s ousting, gain board seats, and put someone on the board with expertise in technology and artificial intelligence. Dorsey disagreed with the characterization that their involvement had any impact on product development.
Apple’s IDFA is targeted by EU privacy complaints. Apple had already told advertisers they’ll soon have to allow users the option to opt-out of ad tracking, but the new complaints are more about the fact that IDFA was ever created and stored in the first place, and that Apple’s planned changes don’t go far enough as they restrict its use for third parties, but not Apple itself.
Google also reminds Android developers that, starting Augut 2021, Google Play will require all apps to use the Android App Bundle publishing format and make other changes.
Apple now allows developers to market and distribute their subscriptions with offer codes. These one-time, alphanumeric codes can be redeemed either on the App Store or within the app itself, allowing developers to acquire and retain customers or win back lapsed subscribers with special deals. Here are some tips on putting them to work.
Dating app Bumble’s vulnerabilities puts Facebook Likes, locations and pictures of 95 million online daters at risk. Bumble took six months to fix the flaws and says no user data had been compromised.
TikTok expands parental controls to include search, commenting and account privacy. The company launched Family Pairing in April, allowing parents to link their account to their teen’s in order to manage screen time, direct messaging and whether or not the teen’s account would be in “Restricted” mode — a special mode which limits TikTok’s feed to a safer set of more moderated content. This week, it also gave parents the ability to control whether the teen’s Liked Videos are visible to others, control who can comment on the teen’s videos and decide whether the teen is allowed to use TikTok search.
Messaging app Go SMS Pro exposed millions of users’ private photos and files. The app, popular on Android, didn’t respond to security researchers about the problem. Typically, companies are given a 90-day deadline before vulnerabilities are made public.
Epic Games added video chat to Fortnite, via a Houseparty integration. The company bought the video chat app last year. Players use their phone or tablet as the webcam while they play on PCs, PS4 or PS5.
Epic Games sues Apple in Australia too. The Fortnite maker is currently in a legal battle in the U.S. over Apple’s requirement to use Apple Pay and pay commissions on in-app purchases. In an interview this week, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney likened the fight with Apple to a fight for civil rights. (That’s a bit much, we’d say.)
Snap acquired Voisey, a U.K.-based app that lets users create music tracks and videos by overlaying their own vocals. The app had raise $1.88 million to date, but deal terms weren’t immediately available.
Google Maps is updated with more COVID info and adds its Assistant driving mode. The COVID layer in Google Maps on Android and iOS can now show the number of all-time detected cases in an area, links to COVID resources from local governments and how busy transit lines are. The driving mode can read texts and lets you control your music from Maps.
Facebook’s Messenger Kids redesigned to look more like Messenger. The updated app puts chats in a more traditional vertical list, with message and media previews, and bold text and blue dots to indicate their unread status. It also added a new tabbed navigation, which better highlights the separation between apps and games.
YouTube launches 15-second audio ads aimed at users who listen to music or podcasts while the app plays in the background.
Apple’s Shazam passes 200 million monthly active users.
Instagram expands its Guides features and upgrades Search. Guides now allow creators to share tips, resources and other long-form content in a dedicated tab on their profiles. Now, everyone can make guides for Products, Places and Posts. Users can also now search by keywords, instead of just by names, usernames, hashtags and locations.
Instagram also updates its Threads mobile messaging app. The app now adds a tab for easier navigation between stories and statuses. All users should also now have the tabbed inbox where they can see everyone’s stories, not just close friends, and have the option to publish to stories, not just close friends’ stories.
Google launches iOS 14 widgets for Gmail, Drive and Fit. Says Calendar and Chrome widgets will come soon.
State and federal investigators are preparing to bring antitrust charges against Facebook over its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, The Washington Post reports.
Twitter and Facebook sat for another congressional tech hearing that again largely served to give lawmakers a chance to just talk about whatever they wanted, instead of the topic at hand: social media’s role during the election. The CEOs were asked about their apps’ addictiveness, their algorithms, their approaches to misinformation and more.
U.S. mobile strategy game spending surges 22% to $2.8 billion in the first 10 months of 2020,Sensor Tower reports. The top game by player spending during this time was Clash of Clans, which generated close to $262 million in the U.S.
Top home screen widget apps have reached 1 in 7 U.S. iPhones, another Sensor Tower report claims. The five most popular apps — Widgetsmith, Color Widgets, Photo Widget: Simple, WidgetBox and Photo Widget — have collectively seen 13 million iPhone installs since the launch of iOS 14. Globally, they’ve reached 45 million installs to date.
OpenPhone raises $14 million to replace outdated corporate phone systems with an app. Yammer founder David Sacks’ Craft Ventures led the round.
Flipkart acquires AR startup Scapic to build an immersive shopping experience. Deal terms were undisclosed.
Athlete social platform Strava raises $110 million in Series F financing from TCV and Sequoia Capital, with by Dragoneer Investment Group and existing investors including Madrone Capital Partners, Jackson Square Ventures and Go4it Capital.
Yubo raises $47.5 million for its social app offering live-streaming rooms, now used by 40 million users. Existing investors Idinvest Partners, Iris Capital, Alven and Sweet Capital returned, and new investor Gaia Capital Partners joined.
English learning app AllRight raises $5 millionfrom Genesis Investments. The Ukraine startup combines real teachers with AI-powered tutors.
ContextLogic, the maker of the mobile e-commerce app Wish, filed to go public. Wish saw revenues slow in 2019, but has grown more quickly in 2020. In the first nine months of 2019, Wish generated $1.33 billion in revenue compared with $1.75 billion during the same period in 2020, or up 32%.
Amazon this week launched GameOn for Android, an app that lets users record 30-second to five-minute long gameplay clips — including through a “Recall” feature that saves the clip after it happens. Clips are then shared the GameOn social network or elsewhere on social media. The app supports more than 1,000 games at launch, including PUBG Mobile, Crossy Road, Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and Angry Birds 2. A selfie camera lets gamers add their own commentary to the clips. Winners of weekly challenges get special profile badges. The launch follows Amazon’s release of its cloud gaming platform Luna.
Image Credits: Google
Google Pay launched a major redesign of its app on Android and iOS this week with a ton of new features, including a mobile bank account. The company partnered with 11 banks, including Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union, to launch Plex, a mobile banking service where accounts are held at partner banks but Google Pay operates as the front end. Plex users will have no monthly fees, overdraft charges or minimum balances and can pay both businesses and friends from their account. They can also explore offers and rewards to save money while shopping and get spending insights, including from their connected bank accounts outside the app. Another new feature makes it easier to split bills with friends, like restaurant checks, rent or utilities.
RTRO, launched earlier this year, offers a way to record and share vintage-looking photos and video. This week, the app was updated with “Instant Film,” which lets you emulate instant film photos powered by the app’s “analog effects engine.” The resulting photos will give you the feel of a instant camera pic.
Big news for RTRO…now with Instant Film for iPhone. It’s like an instant camera, but on your phone.
We’ve created the first real-time instant film emulation so every photo is unique. No scanning required!
The last time we wrote about JoyRun, it was raising $10 million. Today, the Bay Area startup has some very different news to share, as it becomes part of Walmart as Walmart has purchased select assets in a bid to enhance its supply chain. The mega-retailer announced today that it has acquired “select assets – including the talent, technology platform and IP” from the company, in a bid to incorporate its peer-to-peer food and drink delivery service into its own last-mile logistics.
Walmart EVP Srini Venkatesan notes that the app has amassed a network of 540 third-party merchant partners and north of 30,000 people who have delivered goods with the service since its launch half-a-decade ago. JoyRun’s service is a bit of twist on more standard delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats.
As we described it back in 2017, “The company’s app lets people find out who, nearby, is already heading out to a restaurant that they like, then tack on an order of their own.” It will be interesting to see how Walmart integrates this technology into its existing chain, though from the sound it, Walmart would essentially be relying on non-professionals to delivery goods like groceries.
The system would likely operate in a manner like Amazon Flex — a kind of Uber/Lyft gig economy-style approach to delivery.
“This acquisition allows us to further augment our team and ongoing efforts to explore even more ways to deliver for customers in the future,” Venkatesan adds. “For instance, Runners could complement our SPARK program and 3rd Party delivery providers. Our goal is to deliver as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Walmart expects the deal to close “in the coming weeks,” which will incorporate JoyRun into its Supply Chain Technology team. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Global internet companies Facebook, Google and Twitter and others have banded together and threatened to leave Pakistan after the South Asian nation granted blanket powers to local regulators to censor digital content.
Earlier this week, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan granted the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority the power to remove and block digital content that pose “harms, intimidates or excites disaffection” toward the government or in other ways hurt the “integrity, security, and defence of Pakistan.”
Through a group called the Asia Internet Coalition Asia (AIC), the tech firms said that they were “alarmed” by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting internet firms.” In addition to Facebook, Google, and Twitter, AIC represents Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, SAP, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Airbnb, Grab, Rakuten, Booking.com, Line, and Cloudflare.
If the message sounds familiar, it’s because this is not the first time these tech giants have publicly expressed their concerns over the new law, which was proposed by Khan’s ministry in February this year.
After the Pakistani government made the proposal earlier this year, the group had threatened to leave, a move that made the nation retreat and promise an extensive and broad-based consultation process with civil society and tech companies.
That consultation never happened, AIC said in a statement on Thursday, reiterating that its members will be unable to operate in the country with this law in place.
“The draconian data localization requirements will damage the ability of people to access a free and open internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world. It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression,” the group said in a statement.
“The Rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC Members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses. If Pakistan wants to be an attractive destination for technology investment and realise its goal of digital transformation, we urge the Government to work with industry on practical, clear rules that protect the benefits of the internet and keep people safe from harm.”
Under the new law, tech companies that fail to remove or block the unlawful content from their platforms within 24 hours of notice from Pakistan authorities also face a fine of up to $3.14 million. And like its neighboring nation, India, — which has also proposed a similar regulation with little to no backlash — Pakistan now also requires these companies to have local offices in the country.
The new rules comes as Pakistan has cracked down on what it deems to be inappropriate content on the internet in recent months. Earlier this year, it banned popular mobile game PUBG Mobile and last month it temporarily blocked TikTok.
Countries like Pakistan and India contribute little to the bottomline for tech companies. But India, which has proposed several protectionist laws in recent years, has largely escaped any major protest from global tech companies because of its size. Pakistan has about 75 million internet users.
By contrast, India is the biggest market for Google and Facebook by users. “Silicon Valley companies love to come to India because it’s an MAU (monthly active users) farm,” Kunal Shah, a veteran entrepreneur, said in a conference in 2018.