The action came as the administration declassified an intelligence finding that the F.S.B., one of Russia’s leading intelligence agencies, was responsible for the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny.
Convicts in the isolation unit at Penal Colony No. 2 are forced to stand for hours with their hands clasped behind their backs, forbidden to make eye contact with the guards.
As trade disputes pile up, the blame game evident in the early months of the split suits domestic political needs on both sides.
Countries eager to augment the troubled E.U. buying program are eyeing offers from each other, from Russia and China, and from private brokers, some of whom are fraudsters.
A little less than three years ago at the Computer Science Museum in Mountain View, Calif. the founders of a young company hailing from Cambridge, England addressed a crowd of celebrities, investors and entrepreneurs at Y Combinator’s August Demo Day promising a revolution in food science.
Over the years, the event has become a relatively low-tech, low-budget showcase for a group of tech investors and billionaire industry insiders to take a look at early stage businesses that could be their next billion-dollar opportunity.
Sharing the stage with other innovation-minded budding entrepreneurs the Cambridge scientists boasted of a technology could produce a sweetener that would mimic not just the taste of sugar, but the caramelization and stickiness that makes sugar the go-to additive for the bulk of roughly 74% of packaged foods that are made with some form of sweetener. Their company, Cambridge Glycoscience could claim a huge slice of a market worth at least a $100 billion market, they said.
Now, the company has a new name, Supplant, and $24 million in venture capital financing to start commercializing its low-cost sugar substitute made from the waste materials of other plants.
The bitter history of the sweetest ingredient
Sugar came into the human diet roughly 10,000 years ago as sugarcane, which is native to New Guinea and parts of Taiwan and China. Over the next 2,000 years the crop spread from those regions to Madagascar and eventually took root in India, where it was first refined in about 500 BC.
From there, the sweetener spread across the known world. By the first century AD Greek and Roman scholars were referencing its medicinal properties and, after the Crusades, sugar consumption traveled across Europe through the Middle Ages.
It was a welcome replacement from Europe’s mainstay, honey, and the early artificial sweeteners used by the Romans, which contained near-lethal doses of lead.
The cold climates of Northern Europe proved mostly inhospitable to sugarcane cultivation so the root took root in the more temperate South and the islands off of Europe’s southern coast.
Those regions also became home to the first European experiments with agricultural slavery — a byproduct of the sugar trade, and one that would plant the seeds for the international exploitation of indigenous American and African labor for centuries as the industrial growth of sugar production spread to the New World.
First, European indentured servants and enslaved indigenous people’s powered the production of sugar in the Americas. But as native populations died off due to the introduction of European diseases, genocidal attacks, and back-breaking labor, African slaves were brought to the new colonies to work the fields and mills to make refined sugar.
The horrors of slavery may be the most damning legacy of industrial sugar, but it’s far from the only problem caused by the human craving for sweeteners.
As climate change becomes more of a threat, fears of increasing deforestation to meet the world’s demand — or to provide cover for other industrialization of virgin forests — have arisen thanks to new policies in Brazil.
“Conventional cane sugar is heavily heavily water intensive,” said Supplant co-founder Tom Simmons in an interview. That’s another problem for the environment as water becomes the next resource to be stressed by the currents of climate change. And species extinction presents another huge problem too.
“The WWF number one source for biodiversity lost globally is cane sugar plantations,” Simmons said. “Sugar is a massive consumer of water and in contrast, there’s big sustainability pitch for what we do.. the raw materials are products of the current agricultural industry.”
And the quest for sugar substitutes in the U.S. has come with related health costs as high fructose corn syrup has made its way into tons of American products. Invented in 1957, corn syrup is one of the most common sweeteners used to replace sugar — and one that’s thought to have incredibly disastrous effects on the health of consumers worldwide.
The use of corn syrup has been linked to an increasing prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, in the world’s population.
Looking For A Healthier Substitute
As Supplant and its investors look to take the crown as the reigning replacement for sugar, they join a long line of would-be occupants to sugar’s throne.
The first viable, non-toxic chemically derived sugar substitute was discovered in the late 18th century by a German chemist. Called saccharine it was popularized initially during sugar shortages caused by the first World War and gained traction during the health crazes of the sixties and seventies.
Saccharin, still available in pink Sweet n’ Low packets and a host of products, was succeeded by aspartame (known commercially as Equal and present as the sugar substitute in beverages like Diet Coke), which was supplanted by sucralose (known as Splenda).
These chemically derived sweeteners have been the standard on the market for decades now, but with a growing push for natural — rather than chemical — substitutes for sugar and their failures to act as a replacement for all of the things that sugar can do as a food ingredient, the demand for a better sugar has never been higher.
Supplanting the competition
“Not everything that we back is going to change the world. This, at scale, does that.” said Aydin Senkut, the founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, the venture firm that’s one of Supplant’s biggest backers.
Part of what convinced Senkut is the fact that Supplant’s sweetener has already received preliminary approvals in the European Union by the region’s regulatory equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration. That approval not only covers the sale of Supplant’s product as a sweetener, but also as a probiotic with tangible health benefits he said.
So not only is the Supplant product arguably a better and more direct sugar replacement, as the founders claim, it also has health benefits through providing increased fiber in consumers who use it regularly, Senkut said.
“The European FDA is even stricter than the U.S. FDA,” Senkut said. “[And] they got pre-approval for this.”
Senkut and Felicis invested in Cambridge Glycosciences almost immediately after seeing the company’s presentation at Y Combinator.
“We became the largest investors at seed,” Senkut said.
Its selling points were the products extremely low glycemic index and its ability to be manufactured from waste plant fibers, which means that it ultimately can be produced at a lower cost, according to Senkut.
What’s the difference?
Supplant differs from its competition in a number of other key ways, according to company co-founder Tom Simmons.
While companies like the Israeli startup DouxMatok or Colorado’s MycoTechnology and Wisconsin’s Sensient work on developing additives from fungus or tree roots or bark that can enhance the sweetness of sugars, Supplant uses alternative sugars to create its sweetener, Simmons said.
“The core difference is they’re working with cane sugar,” according to Simmons. “Our pitch is we make sugars from fiber so you don’t need to use cane sugar.”
Simmons said that these other startups have been approaching the problem from the wrong direction. “The problem that their technology addresses isn’t the problem the industry has,” Simmons said. “It’s about texture, bulking, caramelization and crystallization… We have a technology that’s going to give you the same sweetness gram for gram.”
There are six different types of calorific sugar, Simmons explained. There’s lactose, which is the sugar in milk; sucrose, which comes from sugarcane and sugar beets; maltose, found in grains like wheat and barley; fructose, the sugar in fruits and honey; glucose, which is in nearly everything, but especially carbohydrate-laden vegetables, fruits, and grains; and galactose, a simple sugar that derives from the breakdown of lactose.
Simmons said that his company’s sugar substitute isn’t based on one compound, but is derived from a range of things that come from fiber. The use of fibers means that the body recognizes the compounds as fibrous and treats them the same way in the digestive tract, but the products taste and act like sugar in food, he said. “Fiber derived sugars are in the category of sugars, but are not the calorific sugars,” said Simmons.
Trust the process?
Supplant’s technology uses enzymes to break down and fragment various fibers. “As you start breaking it down, it starts looking molecularly like sucrose — like cane sugar — so it starts behaving in a similar way,” said Simmons.
This is all the result of years of research that Simmons began at Cambridge University, he said. “I arrived at Cambridge intending to be a professor. I did not arrive in Cambridge intending to start a business. I was interested in doing science, making inventions and stuff that would reach the wider world. I always imagined the right way for me to do that was to be a professor.”
In time, after receiving his doctorate and beginning his post-doctoral work into the research that would eventually turn into Supplant, Simmons realized that he had to start a company. “To try and do something impactful I was going to have leave the university,” he said.
In some ways, Supplant operates at the intersection of all of Simmons’ interests in health, nutrition, and sustainability. And he said the company has plans to apply the processing technology across a range of consumer products eventually, but for now the company remains focused on the $100 billion sugar substitute market.
“There’s a handful of different core underlying scientific approaches in different spaces,” he said. The sort of things that go into personal care and homecare. Those chemicals. A big drive in the industry is for both less harsh and harsh chemicals in shampoos but also to do so in a way that’s sustainable. That’s made form a sustainable source but also biodegradable.”
With the money that the company has now raised from investors including Bonfire Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Felicis, Soma Capital, and Y Combinator, Supplant is now going to prove its products in a few very targeted test runs.* The first is a big launch with a celebrity chef, which Simmons teased, but did not elaborate on.
Senkut said that the company’s roll out would be similar to the ways in which Impossible Foods went to market. Beginning with a few trial runs in higher end restaurants and foodstuffs before trying to make a run at a mass consumer market.
The feedstocks for Supplant’s sugar substitute come from sugar cane bagasse, wheat and rice husks, and the processing equipment comes from the brewing industry. That’s going to be a benefit as the company looks to build out an office in the U.S. as it establishes a foothold for a larger manufacturing presence down the line.
“We’re taking known science and applying it in the food industry where we know that it has value,” Simmons said. “We’re not inventing any brand new enzymes and each part of the process — none of it on their own are new. The discovery that these sugars work well and can replace cane sugar. That’s someone that no one has done before. Most sugars don’t behave like cane sugar in food. They’re too dry, they’re too wet, they’re too hard, they’re too soft.”
Ultimately the consumer products mission resonates highly for Simmons and his twenty person team. “We’re going to use these hugely abundant renewable resources produced all around the world,” he said.
*This story was updated to include Bonfire Ventures and Khosla Ventures as investors in Supplant.
Nord Stream 2, a direct pipeline from Russia to Germany, isn’t going away. Neither is the clamor to cancel it.
In its first hiring drive in over a decade, the continent’s space agency is looking to recruit disabled people and more women.
Countries are again rushing to limit travel. That’s become a standard measure in the face of Covid threats, raising questions about whether a pillar of European Union integration can survive.
Already pushed to the breaking point by the pandemic, designers, manufacturers and retailers claim the newly-negotiated Brexit deal is a disaster.
Epic Games, maker of Fortnite, is loading up a new map in its ongoing fight against Apple as it files an antitrust complaint against the mobile phone maker in the European Union.
Epic alleges in its complaint that Apple uses its sole control over iOS apps to block competitors and benefit itself at developers’ expense in violation of European competition law, the company said today.
“What’s at stake here is the very future of mobile platforms,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said in a written statement. “We will not stand idly by and allow Apple to use its platform dominance to control what should be a level digital playing field. It’s bad for consumers, who are paying inflated prices due to the complete lack of competition among stores and in-app payment processing. And it’s bad for developers, whose very livelihoods often hinge on Apple’s complete discretion as to who to allow on the iOS platform, and on which terms.”
Hungary became the first European Union country to administer Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, and will soon start with one from China — posing a challenge to the bloc’s joint vaccination strategy.
With Britain out of the European Union, companies that trade with the continent are contending with expensive disruptions to their businesses and a plunge in exports.
Europe’s collective vaccine purchase is an experiment in deeper integration. Despite a rocky start, many countries still stand to benefit, but it’s the most powerful who have least to gain.
Buoyed by Britain’s vaccination procurement and rollout success, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is threatening to reverse a deal signed with the bloc over the territory’s trading arrangements.
Mario Draghi has broad support as he tries to form a new government and restore Italy’s credibility and clout in Brussels. But Italian politics is a dangerous place for an enigmatic technocrat.
It should have been a success. What went wrong?
The sudden ascent of the man credited with helping save the euro was a pipe dream for Italians frustrated with a coalition paralyzed by ideological schisms and incompetence.
A double-dip recession in the European Union appears likely after the trade bloc reported a decline in economic output in the last quarter of 2020.
Yesterday, China flipped the switch on a nationwide carbon trading market, in what could be one of the most significant steps taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 — if the markets can work effectively.
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and its share of the world’s emissions output continues to climb.
As the Chinese government works to curb its environmental impact, policies like a carbon trading system could spur the adoption of new technologies, increasing demand for goods and services from domestic startups and tech companies around the world.
Carbon markets, implemented in some parts of the U.S. and widely across Europe, put a price on industrial emissions and force companies to offset those emissions by investing in projects that would remove an equivalent portion of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
They’re a key component of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but they’re also a controversial one. That’s because if they’re not implemented properly and managed effectively they can be a “massive loophole” for emitters, as Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer at Carbon Markets Watch, told Time last year.
This is especially true of China. Corruption in China is endemic and the country has long sacrificed environmental policy and stewardship at the altar of economic growth. China’s not alone in making that calculus, but the decisions have happened at a scale orders of magnitude larger than almost any other nation (with the exception of the U.S.)
The efficacy of the policy is also effected by the hierarchies that exist within the bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party. As ChinaDialogue noted, the measures were issued by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which carry lower legal authority than if they came from the NDRC, the leading governing body for macroeconomic policy across China and the overseer of the nation’s major economic initiatives.
That said, no country as large as China, which accounts for 28% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, has ever implemented a national carbon emissions trading market.
China first started testing regional emissions trading systems back in 2011 in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong, Tianjin, Hubei, Chongqing and Fujian. Using a system that instituted caps on emissions based on carbon intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) rather than an absolute emissions cap, the Chinese government began rolling out these pilots across its power sector and to other industries.
After a restructuring in 2018, the plan, which was initially drafted under the auspices of the National Development and Reform Commission was kicked down to the Ministry of Ecology and the Environment. The devolution of China’s cap and trade emissions program came as the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement amid an abdication of climate regulation or initiatives under the Presidency of Donald Trump.
For now, the emissions trading system covers China’s power industry and roughly 2,000 energy generation facilities. That alone represents 30% of the nation’s total emissions and over time the trading system will encompass heavy industry like cement, steel, aluminum, chemicals and oil and gas, according to ChinaDialogue.
Initially, the government is allocating emissions allowances for free and will begin auctioning allowances “at the appropriate time according to the situation.”
That kind of language, and concerns raised by state-owned enterprises and financial services firms flagging the effect carbon pricing could have on profitability and lending risk shows that the government in Beijing is still putting more weight on the economic benefits rather than environmental costs of much of its industrial growth.
That said, a survey of market participants cited by ChinaDialogue indicated that prices are expected to start at 41 yuan (US$6.3) per ton of CO2 and rise to 66 yuan per ton in 2025. The price of carbon in China is expected to hit 77 yuan by 2030.
Meanwhile, a commission on carbon prices formed in 2017 and helmed by the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Nicholas Stern indicated that carbon needed to be priced at somewhere between $40 and $80 by 2020 and somewhere in the $50 to $100 range by 2030 if the markets and prices were to have any impact on behavior.
No nation has actually hit those price targets, although the European Union has come the closest — and seen the most reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as a result.
Still, the plan from the Chinese government does include public reporting requirements for verified company-level emissions. And the existence of a market, if the government decides to put real prices in place and consequences for flouting the system, could be a huge boon for the monitoring and management equipment startups that are developing tech to track emissions.
As the analysts at ChinaDialogue note:
“The hardest part of carbon pricing is often getting it started. The moment that the Chinese government decides to increase ambition with the national ETS, it can. The mechanism is now in place, and it can be ramped up if the momentum and political will provided by President Xi’s climate ambition continues. In the coming years, this could see an absolute and decreasing cap, more sectors covered, more transparent data provision and more effective cross-government coordination. This is especially so with energy and industrial regulators who will need to see the ETS not as a threat to their turf, but as a measure with significant co-benefits for their own policy objectives.”
Ursula von der Leyen has largely stayed away from the limelight while driving the handling of a crisis and letting subordinates take the blame.
Already criticized for a slow rollout for its 27 members, Brussels retreated on export controls linked to Ireland and Brexit.
In a “very agreeable call,” the French president told his American counterpart that Europe wanted “strategic autonomy.” In an interview with foreign media, he also reflected on the pandemic and threats to democracy.
The decision by Frontex comes after Hungary disregarded a ruling by the E.U.’s top court that the way the country handles asylum seekers violated the bloc’s law.
Serious efforts to address global warming might mean big changes for America’s trade, foreign relations and even defense strategy.
As vaccine production falls behind schedule, and the European Union lags in inoculating people, Brussels and London are lobbing threats and accusations at each other.
British ports expected gridlock after post-Brexit trade rules began on Jan. 1. Instead, some are nearly empty as truckers stay away, reluctant to spend hours waiting for newly required export documents.
Lacking a strong domestic battery industry, Britain may be left behind by the shift to electric cars.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.
Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.
Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.
Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.
Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.
The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.
The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.
TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record
We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.
This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.
Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.
On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.
Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.
Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.
- Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
- A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
- New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”
- Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
- Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.
- Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
- Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.
- Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
- Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.
- The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
- Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
- YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
- Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.
- WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.
- Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
- Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
- New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay.
- Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.
- Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
- Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
- Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
- TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.
Health & Fitness
- Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.
Government & Policy
- Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
- Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
- German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.
- Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.
- Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.
Funding and M&A
- Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
- Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
- On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
- Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
- Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
- Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
- London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
- Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.
A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.
Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.
Just weeks into its official break from the bloc, Britain is refusing to grant the bloc’s ambassador the same status as other top diplomats.
Ironhack, a company offering programming bootcamps across Europe and North and South America, has raised $20 million in its latest round of funding.
The Miami-based company with locations in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, Paris and Sao Paulo said it will use the money to build out more virtual offerings to compliment the company’s campuses.
Over the next five years, 13 million jobs will be added to the tech industry in the U.S., according to Ironhack co-founder Ariel Quiñones. That’s in addition to another 20 million jobs that Quiñones expects to come from the growth of the technology sector in the EU.
Ironhack isn’t the only bootcamp to benefit from this growth. Last year, Lambda School raised $74 million for its coding education program.
Ironhack’s raised its latest round from Endeavor Catalyst, a fund that invests in entrepreneurs from emerging and underserved markets; Lumos Capital, which was formed by investors with a long history in education technology; Creas Capital, a Spanish impact investment firm; and Brighteye, a European edtech investor.
Prices for the company’s classes vary by country. In the U.S. an Ironhack bootcamp costs $12,000, while that figure is more like $3,000 for classes in Mexico City.
The company offers classes in subjects ranging from web development to UX/UI design and data analytics to cybersecurity, according to a statement.
“We believe that practical skills training, a supportive global community and career development programs can give everyone, regardless of their education or employment history, the ability to write their stories through technology,” said Ariel Quiñones, co-founder of Ironhack.
Since its launch in 2013, the company has graduated more than 8,000 students, with a job placement rate of 89%, according to data collected as of July 2020. Companies who have employed Ironhack graudates include Capgemini, Siemens, and Santander, the company said.
The European Union is eager for “a political climate change” and cooperation, but if the new president is consumed with domestic problems, it won’t put its own agenda on hold.
Chemical companies, facing costly new regulations and extra tariffs, are looking to the continent.
Chemical companies, facing costly new regulations and extra tariffs, are looking to the continent.
Last week’s events showcased not only a crisis of U.S. democracy, but also a crisis of U.S. power.
Pushed by German Chancellor Merkel of Germany near the end of her tenure, the trade deal may complicate agreement on an effective trans-Atlantic policy toward China.
Xi Jinping has been making trade agreements in Asia and now Europe, hoping to head off the incoming president’s efforts to rally a united front against China.
My grandparents, who fled Nazi Germany for Britain, would be heartbroken to see the country today.
Starting the new rules on a holiday helped, with some predicting more confusion and backups in the days ahead.
Spain and the European Union will share oversight over the flow of goods and people to the British territory, which worried about being left isolated and economically pinched outside the bloc.
Both sides lost in Britain’s departure, but the European Union has been galvanized. And the Biden administration will encounter European allies bent on their own “strategic autonomy.”
Britain put millions more people under severe virus restrictions and approved a new vaccine, while Parliament approved a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless after the powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked central Croatia, killing seven and injuring dozens.
The agreement, which would roll back restrictions on investment, faces some opposition in Europe and objections from the Biden camp.
Legislators were hurriedly reading through the more than 1,200-page agreement and were expected to vote in favor on Wednesday afternoon.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to replace the E.U.-wide Erasmus program with a national version, but former participants and university officials say the decision is shortsighted.
From orbit, satellites send tragic evidence of climate change’s destructive power. This film covers 10 days, Sept. 7-16, 2020, a period of intense fires activity in North and South America.
An ambitious plan to inoculate more than 450 million people comes at a precarious moment for the continent, with many countries struggling with their worst outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.
Britain is finally departing from the European Union, but its formal exit is only the beginning of a high-stakes experiment to unstitch commercial relations across an integrated continent.
Conservatives are united for now over the British prime minister’s trade deal, but as details emerge, he could face challenges from hard-liners and business groups.
As Covid inoculations begin, the economic downturn stands to be reversed, but developing countries are at risk of being left behind.