Dispo launches a test to gauge user interest in selling their photos as NFTs

The photo-sharing app that emulates disposable cameras, Dispo started rolling out a test yesterday that will record user interest in selling photos as NFTs. Some users will now see a sell button on their photos, and when they tap it, they can sign up to be notified when the ability to sell Dispo photos launches.

CEO and co-founder Daniel Liss told TechCrunch that Dispo is still deciding how it will incorporate NFT sales into the app, which is why the platform is piloting a test with its users. Dispo doesn’t know yet what blockchain it would use, if it would partner with an NFT marketplace, or what cut of sales Dispo would take.

“I think it’s safe to say from the test that there will be an experience native to the Dispo app,” Liss said. “There are a number of ways it could look — there could be a native experience within Dispo that then connects through an API to another platform, and in turn, they’re our partner, but to the community, it would look native to the Dispo app.”

Image Credits: Dispo

This marks a new direction for the social media app, which seeks to redefine the photo-sharing experience by only letting users see the photos they took at 9 AM the next morning. From Dispo’s perspective, this gimmick helps users share more authentically, since you take one photo and then you’re done — the app isn’t conducive to taking dozens of selfies and posting the “best” image of yourself. But though it only launched in December 2019, Dispo has already faced both buzzy hype and devastating controversy.

Until about a year ago, the app was called David’s Disposables, named after co-founder and YouTuber David Dobrik. The app was downloaded over a million times in the first week after its release and hit number one on the App Store charts. In March 2021, the app dropped its waitlist and relaunched with social network features, but just weeks later, Insider reported sexual assault allegations against a member of Vlog Squad, Dobrik’s YouTube prank ensemble. In response, Spark Capital severed ties with the company, leading to Dobrik’s departure. Other investors like Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures, who contributed to the company’s $20 million Series A round, announced that they would donate any profits from their investments in Dispo to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault.

Liss told TechCrunch in June, when the company confirmed its Series A, that Dobrik’s role with the company was as a marketing partner — Liss has been CEO since the beginning. In light of the controversy, Liss said the app focused on improving the product itself and took a step back from promotion.

According to data from the app analytics firm SensorTower, Dispo has reached an estimated 4.7 million global installs to date since launch. Though the app saw the most downloads in January 2020, when it was installed over 1 million times, the app’s next best month came in March 2021, when it removed its waitlist — that month, about 616,000 people downloaded Dispo. Between March and the end of August, the app was downloaded around 1.4 million times, which is up 118% year over year compared to the same time frame in 2020 — but it should be expected that this year’s numbers would be higher, since last year, the app’s membership was exclusive.

Image Credits: Dispo

Now, with the announcement that Dispo is pursuing NFTs, Liss hopes that his company won’t just change how people post photos, but what the relationship will be between platforms and the content that users create.

“Why NFTs? The most powerful memories of our lives have value. And they have economic value, because we created them, and the past of social media fails to recognize that,” Liss told TechCrunch. “As a result, the only way that a creator with a big following is compensated is by selling directly to a brand, as opposed to profiting from the content itself.”

Adding NFT sales to the app offers Dispo a way to profit from a cut of user sales, but it stands to question how adding NFT sales could impact the community-focused feel of Dispo.

“I think there is tremendous curiosity and interest,” Liss said. “But these problems and questions are why we need more data.”

#app-store, #apps, #ceo, #co-founder, #computing, #daniel-liss, #david-dobrik, #dispo, #freeware, #instagram, #internet-culture, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #nfts, #operating-systems, #series-a, #social, #social-media, #social-media-app, #software

Chrome Beta to experiment with a more powerful New Tab page, web highlights, and search changes

Google is launching a new version of its Chrome Beta browser today that’s introducing some fairly notable changes to its user interface and design. The browser will introduce an updated New Tab page, which will now include cards directing you back to past web search activities, instead of only a list of shortcuts to favorite websites. Other changes aim to make it easier to navigate search results and to highlight and share quotes from the web.

The New Tab page’s update will be one of the first changes Chrome beta users may notice.

The idea behind this design change is about getting you back quickly to past web activities without a need dive into your browsing history to remember which sites you had been using for things like recipes or shopping. It can also help you to return quickly to your recent documents list in Google Drive, in a handy bit of cross-promotion for Google services.

Image Credits: Google

The page will now feature what Google is calling “cards,” not just links, which could direct you to things like a recently-visited recipe site where you had been browsing for ideas, a Google doc you need to finish editing, or a retailer’s website where you had left your shopping cart filled with things you may like to purchase at a later date. The latter ties into Google’s larger investment in online shopping, which has already seen the search giant trying to grab more marketshare in the space by making product listings free and partnering with e-commerce platforms like Shopify.

Google is rightly concerned about Amazon’s surging advertising business, which is a large part of the retailer’s “Other” category that grew 87% year-over-year to generate $7.9 billion in the second quarter. Now, it’s capitalizing on Chrome’s New Tab real estate to elevate shopping activity in the hopes of pushing users to complete their transactions.

Another change aims to make it easier to do web research. Google says that often, users searching for something on its platform will navigate to multiple web pages to find their answer. The new version of Chrome will experiment with a different way of connecting users to their search results by adding a row beneath the address bar on Chrome for Android that will show the rest of the results so you can navigate to other web pages without needing to hit the back button.

Image Credits: Google

A new “quote cards” experiment, also coming to Chrome Beta on Android, will allow users to create a stylized image for social sharing that features text found on websites. Taking a screengrab of a website’s text is something that’s already a common activity, and particularly for people who want to share a key point from a news article they’re reading with followers on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. With this new feature, you’ll be able to long press text to highlight it, then tap Share and select a template by tapping on the “Create Card” option from the menu.

All features are a part of the Chrome Beta browser. To enable experiments, you can type chrome://flags into the browser’s address bar or click on the Experiments beaker icon, and then enable the flags. The associated flags for these experiments are #ntp-modules flag (New Tab page), #continuous-search (search results changes), and #webnotes-stylize flag (quote cards).

Experiments don’t necessarily become Chrome features that roll out more broadly. Instead, they offer Google a way to capture large-scale user feedback about its new design ideas, so the features can be tweaked and fine-tuned before a public release.

#android, #android-apps, #apps, #chrome, #chrome-beta, #chrome-on-android, #computing, #freeware, #google-apps, #google-search, #google-chrome, #google-docs, #google-drive, #online-shopping, #operating-systems, #recipes, #search, #search-results, #software, #web-search

Roblox acquires Discord competitor Guilded

Roblox is using M&A to bulk up its social infrastructure, announcing Monday morning that they had acquired the team at Guilded which has been building a chat platform for competitive gamers.

The service competes with gaming chat giant Discord, with the team’s founders telling TechCrunch in the past that as Discord’s ambitions had grown beyond the gaming world, its core product was meeting fewer competitive gaming needs. Like Discord, users can have text and voice conversations on the Gulded platform, but Guilded also allowed users to organize communities around events and calendars, with plenty of specific functionality designed around ensuring that tournaments happened seamlessly.

The startup’s product supported hundreds of games, with specific functionality for a handful of titles including League of Legends, Fortnite, CS: GO and, yes, Roblox. Earlier this year, the company launched a bot API designed to help non-technical users build bots that could enrich their gaming communities.

Guilded had raised $10.2 million in venture capital funding to date according to Crunchbase, including a $7 million Series A led by Matrix Partners early last year. The company launched out of Y Combinator in mid-2017.

Terms of the Roblox deal weren’t disclosed. In an announcement post, Roblox detailed that the Guilded team will operate as an independent product group going forward. In a separate blog post, Guilded CEO Eli Brown wrote that existing stakeholders will be able to continue using the product as they have previously.

“Everyone – including communities, partners, and bot developers – will be able to keep using Guilded the same way you are now,” Brown wrote. “Roblox believes in our team and in our mission, and we’re going to continue to operate as an independent product in order to achieve it.”

Roblox has seen profound success and heightened investor attention in recent years as the pandemic has pushed more gamers online and brought more users into the fold, but that success has drawn the attention of competitors. In June, Facebook acquired a small Roblox competitor called Crayta, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing just weeks ago that he planned to transform Facebook into a “metaverse” company, using a term many have come to associate closely with what Roblox has been building. Guilded represents an opportunity for Roblox to bring its user base deeper inside its own suite of products, creating a social infrastructure that keeps users bought in.

#api, #ceo, #core, #discord, #facebook, #freeware, #gaming, #guilded, #league-of-legends, #mark-zuckerberg, #matrix-partners, #metaverse, #online-games, #product, #roblox, #social-infrastructure, #software, #tc, #video-gaming, #y-combinator

Cybersecurity giants NortonLifeLock and Avast merge in $8.1B deal

US cybersecurity firm NortonLifeLock has confirmed it is acquiring British rival Avast in order to create a global consumer security powerhouse.

The agreement, which comes just weeks after both companies confirmed they were in advanced discussions regarding a possible combination of the two brands, will see Avast stockholders receive cash and shares that value the deal at $8.1 billion to $8.6 billion. That makes this merger the third-largest cybersecurity acquisition of all time, following Thoma Bravo‘s $12.3 billion takeover of Proofpoint and Broadcom’s $10.7 billion acquisition of Symantec’s enterprise business. 

NortonLifeLock, formed in 2019 as a spin-off from Symantec following the latter, says the deal will create an industry-leading consumer cyber safety business, unlock approximately $280 million of annual gross cost synergies, and dramatically expand its user numbers thanks to Avast’s 435 million-strong customer base.

“With this combination, we can strengthen our cyber safety platform and make it available to more than 500 million users,” NortonLifeLock CEO Vincent Pilette said in a statement. “This transaction is a huge step forward for consumer cyber safety and will ultimately enable us to achieve our vision to protect and empower people to live their digital lives safely.”

Avast, founded in 1988, focuses on cybersecurity software for consumers and small and medium-sized businesses and describes itself as one of the largest security companies. However, the company has not been without controversy during its near-25-year history; Avast was forced to shut down its marketing technology subsidiary Jumpshot last year after it was found to be peddling web browsing data that could be linked to individual users.

Once NortonLifeLock’s acquisition of the company is complete, Pilette will remain CEO of the new business, while Avast CEO Ondrej Vlcek will become president and join the board, the companies said.

“Our talented teams will have better opportunities to innovate and develop enhanced solutions and services, with improved capabilities from access to superior data insights,” Vlcek said. “Through our well-established brands, greater geographic diversification and access to a larger global user base, the combined businesses will be poised to access the significant growth opportunity that exists worldwide.”

The final name of the merged company has yet to be determined, but NortonLifeLock has confirmed it will be dual headquartered in the Czech Republic and Tempe, Arizona, and will seek to cut its number of employees from 5,000 workers to around 4,000 over the next two years. The combined company will be listed on the Nasdaq, rather than Avast’s current London Stock Exchange home.

The deal, which has been confirmed just weeks after NortonLifeLock bought free antivirus provider Avira for £360 million, is expected to close in mid-2022. 

#arizona, #avast, #avira, #broadcom, #ceo, #computer-security, #czech-republic, #freeware, #jumpshot, #ma, #nortonlifelock, #president, #proofpoint, #security, #software, #symantec, #thoma-bravo, #united-states

Discord acquires augmented reality startup Ubiquity6

After raising tens of millions from investors and executing a pretty substantial pivot earlier this year, augmented reality startup Ubiquity6 and its team have been acquired by gaming chat app giant Discord.

The ambitious AR startup had raised $37.5 million from a series of top investors including Benchmark, First Round, Kleiner Perkins and Google’s Gradient Ventures who were betting on its vision of building a consumer-facing platform for hosting augmented reality content. Its most recent publicly disclosed financing was a $27 million Series B in October of 2018.

Terms of the Discord acquisition weren’t disclosed, though in recent months the startup seemed to abandon most of the products it had spent its first several years building, suggesting that Ubiquity6 had been having some issues finding wide audiences for its products.

Launching back in 2017, Ubiquity6 hoped to build an app that would be the central way mobile phone users would browse augmented reality content. In late 2019, the startup launched a product called Displayland, which aimed to gamify the process of 3D scanning physical environments with a smartphone’s camera.

The company’s efforts to find mass adoption were hampered by a mobile AR market which has largely failed to gain any momentum in recent years despite hefty investment from tech giants including Apple and Google.

In early 2020, CEO Anjney Midha told TechCrunch that the startup had some 65 employees.

In recent months, Ubiquity6 had executed a pretty drastic pivot, leaving augmented reality completely behind in favor of building out a desktop platform that allowed users to play simple online party games together remotely. The beta platform, called Backyard, was designed for pandemic era habits that seem to be on the decline as the US springs back into action. Backyard was discontinued this week as part of the acquisition announcement.

In a Medium post announcing the acquisition, Midha seems to downplay any expectations that Ubiquity6’s augmented reality technology will be living on inside Discord.

“Our mission at Ubiquity6 has always been to unlock new ways for people to connect through shared experiences,” Midha wrote. “Joining Discord today allows us to accelerate that mission — Ubiquity6’s team, Backyard product and multiplayer technology will be integrated into Discord.”

#anjney-midha, #apple, #augment, #augmented-reality, #augmented-reality-technology, #ceo, #discord, #freeware, #google, #kleiner-perkins, #mobile-applications, #smartphone, #software, #tc, #ubiquity6, #united-states

If you love voice messaging, you’ll love Squad

Squad used to be an app that connected people with similar interests for in-person meetups. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. While most social apps thrived under these conditions — people craved digital connection more than ever — Squad couldn’t operate.

Founder Isa Watson didn’t know how long the world would be in shutdown. Instead of waiting for a return to normalcy, she shifted the scope of the app entirely.  

Today, Squad relaunches as an audio-based social app that aims to help users deepen their relationship with their existing circle of close friends. Squad is an audio-only app, but don’t worry — it’s not another Clubhouse wannabe. Instead, it functions as a news feed of voice message updates from your closest friends, which expire after 24 hours.

You can add up to twelve friends to your “squad,” and once you post an update, your squad members can emoji react or send a private voice message in response — these also expire after a day, encouraging users to be more open about what they share. Soon, Squad will support phone calls, but there currently isn’t functionality for group calls or group audio messaging. But, users might be incentivized to talk on the phone via Squad rather than a typical call, since you can add a title to your call. That way, your squad member knows why you’re calling before they pick up. 

Image Credits: Squad

“There’s a big gap in the social landscape, because most of the tools are discovery platforms, broadcast platforms, and personal branding platforms,” Watson said. “There’s a huge opportunity for us to come in and help people maintain stronger connections with the people that they enjoy the most.”

Posting a voice update feels more genuine than a curated Instagram shot or a crafted Facebook status update (and Facebook is decidedly uncool among Gen Z and millennials). As the popularity of apps like Dispo show, young people are responding well to ephemeral, authentic social media experiences. But the audio-only medium could be a hard sell for people who aren’t already sending voice messages on WhatsApp or iMessage. However, while Squad’s initial rollout will be domestic, there’s great potential for an app like this outside of the US, where voice messaging is more popular

“A lot of the conversations that would happen on text message are now happening in an asynchronous audio type of way,” Watson added. “So we expect that to continue to penetrate further into our habits.” 

Watson raised a $3.5 million seed round in 2019, and she was featured on TechCrunch with advice on raising venture capital as a woman of color in Silicon Valley. Despite changing the direction of her app, her investors — which include Michael Dearing (Harrison Metal), Aaron Levie (Box), Katrina Lake (StichFix), Jen Rubio (Away), and Stewart Butterfield (Slack) — remain supportive. Watson secured another million dollars of funding after the seed round, bringing Squad’s funding to a total of $4.5 million to date. 

“One thing [the investors] said to me was, ‘Isa, you’ve been talking about this shift in social for years now, and people told you you were crazy, that social was all figured out and there was nothing that was going to happen,’” Watson said. “Now, people are buying into that change.”

Image Credits: Squad

Even though Squad isn’t a Clubhouse competitor, the rise of audio-only media is a good sign for the app’s ability to crack a saturated social market (so many social apps are trying to compete with Clubhouse, it’s a miracle we don’t yet have audio-only Tinder speed dating). In Squad’s beta test, 87.5% of users completed the onboarding process. Still, Squad falls victim to the same accessibility issues that plague Clubhouse and many of its clones. As of yet, Squad doesn’t support captioning, though Watson says this is something the company has discussed and hopes to implement down the road. Not only could captioning broaden Squad’s audience, but it could also further differentiate the app from messaging giants like iMessage and WhatsApp. 

Still, if you’re someone who loves to send voice messages in your group chats, you might want to get your friends on Squad. Currently, the app is invite-only with a waitlist. Once you’re off the waitlist, you get three invites. If you post for five days straight, you get three more invites, and if someone you invited signs up, you get two more invites as well. This continues until you round out your twelve-member squad.

#aaron-levie, #apps, #computing, #dispo, #facebook, #freeware, #harrison-metal, #imessage, #jen-rubio, #katrina-lake, #michael-dearing, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #united-states, #venture-capital, #whatsapp

Amid controversy, Dispo confirms Series A funding, high-profile advisors, and investors

It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.

Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.

It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”

Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.

In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.

Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures intend to donate profits from the app, they remain listed as investors, while Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.

Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.

Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.

Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.

“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”

But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.

According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.

#advisors, #andre-iguodala, #annie-leibovitz, #app-store, #apps, #brazil, #ceo, #co-founder, #computing, #david-dobrik, #digital-photography, #dispo, #freeware, #germany, #instagram, #internet-culture, #japan, #kevin-durant, #mobile-applications, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #social-media, #software, #spark-capital, #techcrunch, #united-states, #unshackled-ventures, #venture-capital, #world-wide-web

Poparazzi hypes itself to the top of the App Store

If Instagram’s photo tagging feature was spun out into its own app, you’d have the viral sensation Poparazzi, now the No. 1 app on the App Store. The new social networking app, from the same folks behind TTYL and others, lets you create a social profile that only your friends can post photos to — in other words, making your friends your own ‘paparazzi.’ To its credit, the new app has perfectly executed on a series of choices designed to fuel day one growth — from its pre-launch TikTok hype cycle to drive App Store pre-orders to its post-launch social buzz, including favorable tweets by its backers. But the app has also traded user privacy in some cases to amplify network effects in its bid for the Top Charts, which is a risky move in terms of its long-term staying power.

The company positions Poparazzi as a sort of anti-Instagram, rebelling against today’s social feeds filled with edited photos, too many selfies, and “seemingly effortless perfection.” People’s real lives are made up of many unperfect moments that are worthy of being captured and shared, too, a company blog post explains.

This manifesto hits the right notes at the right time. User demand for less performative social media has been steadily growing for years — particularly as younger, Gen Z users wake up to the manipulations by tech giants. We’ve already seen a number of startups try to siphon users away from Instagram using similar rallying cries, including MinutiaeVeroDayflashOggl, and more recently, the once-buzzy Dispo and the under-the-radar Herd.

Even Facebook has woken up to consumer demand on this front, with its plan to roll out new features that allow Facebook and Instagram users to remove the Like counts from their posts and their feeds.

Poparazzi hasn’t necessarily innovated in terms of its core idea — after all, tagging users in photos has existed for years. In fact, it was one of the first viral effects introduced by Facebook in its earlier days.

Instead, Poparazzi hit the top of the charts by carefully executing on growth strategies that ensured a rocket ship-style launch.

@poparazziappcomment it! ##greenscreen ##poparazziapp ##positivity ##foryoupage♬ Milkshake – BBY Kodie

The company began gathering pre-launch buzz by driving demand via TikTok — a platform that’s already helped mint App Store hits like the mobile game High Heels. TikTok’s powers are still often underestimated, even though its potential for to send apps up the Top Charts have successfully boosted downloads for a number of mobile businesses, including TikTok sister app CapCut and e-commerce app Shein, for example.

And Poparazzi didn’t just build demand on TikTok — it actually captured it by pointing users to its App Store pre-orders page via the link in its bio. By the time launch day rolled around, it had a gaggle of Gen Z users ready and willing to give Poparazzi a try.

The app launches with a clever onboarding screen that uses haptics to buzz and vibrate your phone while the intro video plays. This is unusual enough that users will talk and post about how cool it was — another potential means of generating organic growth through word-of-mouth.

After getting you riled up with excitement, Poparazzi eases you into its bigger data grab.

First, it signs up and authenticates users through a phone number. Despite Apple’s App Store policy, which requires it, there is no privacy-focused option to use “Sign In with Apple,” which allows users to protect their identity. That would have limited Poparazzi’s growth potential versus its phone number and address book access approach.

It then presents you with a screen where it asks for permission to access to your Camera (an obvious necessity), Contacts (wait, all of them?), and permission to send you Notifications. This is where things start to get more dicey. The app, like Clubhouse once did, demands a full address book upload. This is unnecessary in terms of an app’s usability, as there are plenty of other ways to add friends on social media — like by scanning each other’s QR code, typing in a username directly, or performing a search.

But gaining access someone’s full Contacts database lets Poparazzi skip having to build out features for the privacy-minded. It can simply match your stored phone numbers with those it has on file from user signups and create an instant friend graph.

As you complete each permission, Poparazzi rewards you with green checkmarks. In fact, even if you deny the permission being asked, the green check appears. This may confuse users as to whether whether they’ve accidently given the app access.

While you can “deny” the Address Book upload — a request met with a tsk tsk of a pop-up message — Poparazzi literally only works with friends, it warns you — you can’t avoid being found by other Poparazzi users who have your phone number stored in their phone.

When users sign up, the app matches their address book to the phone number it has on file and then — boom! — new users are instantly following the existing users. And if any other friends have signed up before you, they’ll be following you as soon as you log in the first time.

In other words, there’s no manual curation of a “friend graph” here. The expectation is that your address book is your friend graph, and Poparazzi is just duplicating it.

Of course, this isn’t always an accurate presentation of reality.

Many younger people, and particularly women, have the phone numbers of abusers, stalkers and exes stored in their phone’s Contacts. By doing so, they can leverage the phone’s built-in tools to block the unwanted calls and texts from that person. But because Poparazzi automatically matches people by phone number, abusers could gain immediate access to the user profiles of the people they’re trying to harass or hurt.

Sure, this is an edge case. But it’s a non-trivial one.

It’s a well-documented problem, too — and one that had plagued Clubhouse, which similarly required full address book uploads during its early growth phase. It’s a terrible strategy to become the norm, and one that does not appear to have created a lasting near-term lock-in for Clubhouse. It’s also not a new tactic. Mobile social network Path tried address book uploads nearly a decade ago and almost everyone at the time agreed this was not a good idea.

As carefully designed as Poparazzi is — (it’s even a blue icon — a color that denotes trustworthiness!) — it’s likely the company intentionally chose the trade off. It’s forgoing some aspects of user privacy and safety in favor of the network effects that come from having an instant friend graph.

The rest of the app then pushes you to grow that friend graph further and engage with other users. Your profile will remain bare unless you can convince someone to upload photos of you. A SnapKit integration lets you beg for photo tags over on Snapchat. And if you can’t get enough of your friends to tag you in photos, then you may find yourself drawn to the setting “Allow Pops from Everyone,” instead of just “People You Approve.”

There’s no world in which letting “everyone” upload photos to a social media profile doesn’t invite abuse at some point, but Poparazzi is clearly hedging its bets here. It likely knows it won’t have to deal with the fallout of these choices until further down the road — after it’s filled out its network with millions of disgruntled Instagram users, that is.

Dozens of other growth hacks are spread throughout the app, too, from multiple pushes to invite friends scattered throughout the app to a very Snapchatt-y “Top Poparazzi” section that will incentivize best friends to keep up their posting streaks.

It’s a clever bag of tricks. And though the app does not offer comments or followers counts, it isn’t being much of an “anti-Instagram” when it comes to chasing clout. The posts — which can turn into looping GIFs if you snap a few in a row — may be more “authentic” and unedited than those on Instagram; but Poparazzi uses react to posts with a range of emojis and how many reactions a post receives is shown publicly.

For beta testers featured on the explore page, reactions can be in the hundreds or thousands — effectively establishing a bar for Pop influence.

Finally, users you follow have permission to post photos, but if you unfollow them — a sure sign that you no longer want them to be in your poparazzi squad — they can still post to your profile. As it turns out, your squad is managed under a separate setting under “Allow Pops From.” That could lead to trouble. At the very least, it would be nice to see the app asking users if they also want to remove the unfollowed account’s permission to post to your profile at the time of the unfollow.

Overall, the app can be fun — especially if you’re in the young, carefree demographic it caters to. Its friend-centric and ironically anti-glam stance is promising as well. But additional privacy controls and the ability to join the service in a way that offers far more granular control of your friend graph in order to boost anti-abuse protections would be welcome additions. 

TechCrunch tried to reach Poparazzi’s team to gain their perspective on the app’s design and growth strategy, but did not hear back. (We understand they’re heads down for the time being.) We understand, per SignalFire’s Josh Constine and our own confirmation, that Floodgate has invested in the startup, as has former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Bonatsos’ Dream Machine and Weekend Fund.

#alexia-bonatsos, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #clubhouse, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #freeware, #instagram, #internet-culture, #josh-constine, #mobile, #mobile-applications, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #startups, #tc, #tiktok

Microsoft’s Edge browser can now start up faster and put your tabs to sleep

At its annual Build conference today, Microsoft announced a couple of new features for version 91 of its Edge browser that, like so much at Build this year, aren’t earth-shattering (developer velocity!) but nice quality-of-life upgrades for its users. Since Microsoft develops Edge in the open, these may also feel familiar to those who keep a close eye on the Edge roadmap – indeed, I think I’ve seen most of these in Edge 90 already…

One new feature is Startup Boost, which allows Edge to start up almost instantly. The way Microsoft does this is pretty straightforward. It simply loads some of the core Edge processes whenever you boot up your Windows machine, so when you task Edge with starting up, there isn’t all that much work left to do. This shouldn’t have too much of an effect on your Windows 10 bootup time, so it’s probably a trade-off worth making, but I also can’t recall anybody complaining about browser startup times in the last couple of years either.

The other new feature is ‘sleeping tabs,’ which does pretty much what you expect it to do. It puts your tabs to sleep so they don’t use up unnecessary memory and CPU cycles.

Microsoft first announced that it was testing this feature back in December and at the time, the Edge team said that it reduces memory usage by 32% and helps improve battery life as well, given that sleeping tabs use 37% less CPU on average compared to non-sleeping tabs.

It’s worth noting that Google’s Chrome browser, which shares many of its underlying technology with Edge, also features tools to limit resource usage, including what Google calls ‘tab freezing,’ as does virtually every other major browser today.

read

#edge, #freeware, #google, #google-chrome, #major, #microsoft, #microsoft-build-2021, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #software, #tab, #tc, #web-browsers, #windows-10

ByteDance’s video editor CapCut is the latest to top the U.S. App Store

From time to time, we see a Chinese app climbing to the top of Google Play and App Store in a host of Western countries. It might be a utility tool like a selfie beautifier or some casual video game, which has universal appeal and require little localization effort. But most of them tend to be a blip on the radar.

The latest Chinese app to top the overseas charts is from TikTok owner ByteDance. Called CapCut, the video editing app allows users to not only add a trove of stickers, filters and effects, it also has a simple-to-use green screen function, a zooming feature that works like a Ken Burns effect, and many more — which make the app like an accessible Final Cut on the go.

Users won’t have to worry about paying for music, as CapCut has a library of licensed sound clips that they can use to spice up their content. Over the past year, TikTok has been beefing up its music arsenal through efforts like scouting for musicians and signing deals with major labels.

Chinese tech giants are adept at attracting a large user base first by offering their services for free, and then exploring monetization models after users become sticky to the products. CapCut appears to have the same playbook.

CapCut’s Chinese sibling Jianying has already had success among Douyin (TikTok for China) users. Now that pattern is repeating outside China, with TikTok users taking advantage of CapCut to make their videos look sleek and professional with a few taps on their phones. 

Since May 21, CapCut has been the No. 1 free app on the U.S. App Store, according to analytics company SensorTower, and it ranks 9th on Google Play in the U.S. as of writing. Across the globe, it comes in first among free iOS apps in 33 countries, according to App Annie.

All told, the app has exceeded 250 million installs globally to date from across the App Store and Google Play, and nearly 9.5 million from U.S. app stores, SensorTower says.

CapCut’s rise is reminiscent of the Chinese photo editor Meitu. The app was so popular that it became synonymous with a selfie beautifier in China, but it also had a solid base of loyal users abroad. The difference is CapCut’s rise is built on its sibling TikTok’s global dominance, whereas Meitu’s early attempt to foster a social network around its photo tool to increase user stickiness never really took off.

CapCut probably won’t be ByteDance’s last viral app. TikTok’s sprawling content empire will spawn more offshoots, whether it’s a video editor or an e-commerce service for creators to make money and for users to buy the products endorsed by their favorite influencers.

#app-store, #asia, #bytedance, #china, #entertainment, #freeware, #major, #meitu, #photo-editor, #social-network, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-editor, #video-hosting

So long, Internet Explorer, and your decades of security bugs

Image Credits: Louis Douvis / Getty Images

Pour one out for Internet Explorer, the long-enduring internet browser that’s been the butt of countless jokes about its speed, reliability, and probably most notable of all, security, which will retire next year after more than 25 years of service.

Microsoft said it will pull the plug on the browser’s life support in June 2022, giving its last remaining half a dozen or so users a solid year to transition to Chrome or Firefox — let’s be honest here — though other respectable browsers are available. There will be some exceptions to the end-of-life plan, such as industrial machines that need the browser to operate.

For years, Microsoft has nudged Internet Explorer users towards its newer Edge browser as a more reliable and secure alternative to the ailing Internet Explorer, often in the most obnoxious ways possible by splashing on-screen ads the second you flirt with using a rival browser. As the wider web’s support for Internet Explorer dwindled, enterprises have also begun phasing out support for the browser.

But in ending support for Internet Explorer, Microsoft is parting ways with one of the most problematic security headaches in its history.

Virtually no other software has been subject to more security bugs than Internet Explorer, in large part due to its longevity. Microsoft has patched Internet Explorer almost every month for the past two decades, trying to stay one step ahead of the hackers who find and exploit vulnerabilities in the browser to drop malware on their victims’ computers. Internet Explorer was hardened over the years, but it lagged behind its competitors, which sped ahead with frequent, almost invisible security updates and tougher sandboxing to prevent malware from running on the user’s computer.

As much as it’s easy to hate on Internet Explorer, it’s been with us for almost three decades since it debuted in Windows 95, and it’s served us well. For many of us who grew up on the internet in our teens and twenties, Internet Explorer was the first — and really the only — browser we used. Most of us signed up for our first Hotmail email address with Internet Explorer. We learned how to code our MySpace page using that browser, and we downloaded a lot — and I mean a lot — of suspicious-looking, malware-packed “games” that slowed the computer down to a crawl but thought nothing of it.

I remember, as a 10-(ish)-year-old child, seeing for the first time the pixelated Internet Explorer icon on that bright, teal wallpapered cathode-ray monitor in a cold attic room in our family home, because, not really knowing what the internet was, I complained to my father: “I don’t want to just explore the internet. I want to see the whole thing.”

Thanks to Internet Explorer, I got to see a large part of it.

#browser-security, #freeware, #google-chrome, #internet-explorer, #microsoft, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-windows, #security, #software, #web-browsers, #windows-95

Chrome now uses Duplex to fix your stolen passwords

Google announced a new feature for its Chrome browser today that alerts you when one of your passwords has been compromised and then helps you automatically change your password with the help of… wait for it… Google’s Duplex technology.

This new feature will start to roll out slowly to Chrome users on Android in the U.S. soon (with other countries following later), assuming they use Chrome’s password-syncing feature.

It’s worth noting that this won’t work for every site just yet. As a Google spokesperson told us, “the feature will initially work on a small number of apps and websites, including Twitter, but will expand to additional sites in the future.”

Now you may remember Duplex as the somewhat controversial service that can call businesses for you to make hairdresser appointments or check opening times. Google introduced Duplex at its 2018 I/O developer conference and launched it to a wider audience in 2019. Since then, the team has chipped away at bringing Duplex to more tasks and brought it the web, too. Now it’s coming to Chrome to change your compromised passwords for you.

Image Credits: Google

“Powered by Duplex on the Web, Assistant takes over the tedious parts of web browsing: scrolling, clicking and filling forms, and allows you to focus on what’s important to you. And now we’re expanding these capabilities even further by letting you quickly create a strong password for certain sites and apps when Chrome determines your credentials have been leaked online,” Patrick Nepper, senior product manager for Chrome, explains in today’s announcement.

In practice, once Chrome detects a compromised password, all you have to do is tap the “change password” button and Duplex will walk through the process of changing your password for you. Google says this won’t work for every site just yet, but “even if a site isn’t supported yet, Chrome’s password manager can always help you create strong and unique passwords for your various accounts.”

It’ll be interesting to see how well this works in the real world. Every site manages passwords a little bit differently, so it would be hard to write a set of basic rules that the browser could use to go through this process. And that’s likely why Google is using Duplex here. Since every site is a little bit different, it takes a system that can understand a bit more about the context of a password change page to successfully navigate it.

In addition to adding this feature, Google is also updating its password manager with a new tool for important passwords from third-party password managers, deeper integration between Chrome and Android and automatic password alerts when a password is compromised in a breach.

#android, #assistant, #chrome, #chrome-os, #freeware, #google, #google-i-o-2021, #google-chrome, #operating-systems, #password, #password-manager, #product-manager, #security, #software, #united-states, #web-browsers, #web-browsing

Twitter said to have held acquisition talks with Clubhouse on potential $4B deal

Twitter held talks with Clubhouse around a potential acquisition of the live drop-in audio networking platform, with a deal value somewhere around $4 billion, according to a report from Bloomberg. TechCrunch has also confirmed the discussions took place from a source familiar with the conversations.

While the talks occurred over the past several months, they’re no longer taking place, though the reason they ended isn’t known according to the report. It’s also worth noting that just a few days ago, Bloomberg reported that Clubhouse was seeking to raise a new round of funding at a valuation of around $4 billion, but the report detailing the potential acquisition talks indicate that the discussions with Twitter collapsed first, leading to a change in strategy to pursue securing additional capital in exchange for equity investment.

Twitter has its own product very similar to Clubhouse — Spaces, a drop-in audio chatroom feature that it has been rolling out gradually to its user base over the past few months. Clubhouse, meanwhile, just launched the first of its monetization efforts, Clubhouse Payments, which lets users send direct payments to other creators on the platform, provided that person has enabled receipt of said payments.

Interestingly, the monetization effort from Clubhouse actually doesn’t provide them with any money; instead, it’s monetization for recipient users who get 100% of the funds directed their way, minus a small cut for processing that goes directly to Stripe, the payment provider Clubhouse is using to enable the virtual tips.

While we aren’t privy to the specifics of these talks between Twitter and Clubhouse, it does seem like an awfully high price tag for the social network to pay for the audio app, especially given its own progress with Spaces. Clubhouse’s early traction has been undeniable, but there are a lot of questions still remaining about its longevity, and it’s also being cloned left and right by other platforms, begging the age-old startup question of whether it’s a feature or a product on its own.

Whatever went down, the timing of this revelation seems likely to prime the pump for Clubhouse’s conversation with potential investors at its target valuation for the round it’s looking to raise. Regardless, it’s exciting to have this kind of activity, buzz and attention paid to a consumer software play after many years of what one could argue has been a relatively lacklustre period for the category.

#apps, #clubhouse, #computing, #freeware, #internet-culture, #ma, #mobile-applications, #monetization, #operating-systems, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #startups, #tc, #twitter, #valuation

Google speeds up its release cycle for Chrome

Google today announced that its Chrome browser is moving to a faster release cycle by shipping a new milestone every four weeks instead of the current six-week cycle (with a bi-weekly security patch). That’s one way to hasten the singularity, I guess, but it’s worth noting that Mozilla also moved to a four-week cycle for Firefox last year.

“As we have improved our testing and release processes for Chrome, and deployed bi-weekly security updates to improve our patch gap, it became clear that we could shorten our release cycle and deliver new features more quickly,” the Chrome team explains in today’s announcement.

Google, however, also acknowledges that not everybody wants to move this quickly — especially in the enterprise. For those users, Google is adding a new Extended Stable option with updates that come every eight weeks. This feature will be available to enterprise admins and Chromium embedders. They will still get security updates on a bi-weekly schedule, but Google notes that “those updates won’t contain new features or all security fixes that the 4 week option will receive.”

The new four-week cycle will start with Chrome 94 in Q3 2021, and at this faster rate, we’ll see Chrome 100 launch into the stable channel by March 29, 2022. I expect there will be cake.

#chrome, #chrome-os, #chromium, #enterprise, #firefox, #freeware, #google, #google-chrome, #microsoft-edge, #operating-systems, #software, #web-browsers

Microsoft Edge now starts up faster and gets vertical tabs

A year ago, Microsoft announced that its Edge browser would get vertical tabs and here we are: Microsoft today announced that vertical tabs in Edge are now generally available.

In addition, the Edge team also announced a few under-the-hood changes that will allow the browser to startup significantly faster (up to 41% faster according to Microsoft’s preliminary tests, to be precise). Since Microsoft can’t speed up your hard drive or significantly shrink Edge, though, the way the team achieves this is by loading the browser in the background when you sign in and then it’ll continue running when you close all browser windows. If that’s not to your liking, you can always turn this feature off, too.

While vertical tabs are available for you to play with now, though, the startup improvements will roll out over the course of this month.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Vertical tabs, of course, are nothing new. Other browsers have long supported them, either as a built-in feature or through extensions. But it’s nice to see them finally becoming a reality in Edge, too.

“Most websites follow a conventional grid that leaves plenty of whitespace on either end of the page,” Microsoft’s Michele McDanel writes in today’s announcement. “As we began working with our users, we realized that this vertical real estate could be a better location for tabs, rather than the traditional horizontal list of tabs at the top. While vertical tabs may not be an entirely new concept, we saw an opportunity to improve the browser experience and tested several prototypes with our users.”

Image Credits: Microsoft

In its research, Microsoft discovered that users who like vertical tabs also like to switch between them and standard horizontal tabs, so it added an always-visible toggle to do so. And since users sometimes want to reclaim all of their screen estate, the team added the ability to collapse the sidebar, too.

For those of you who use Bing, Microsoft is also adding a few nifty new features to its search engine. There’s a new recipe view for when you’re once again out of ideas for what to make for dinner, improved visual search results, and the company has spruced up some of its rich sidebar snippets with a more infographic-like feel. But let’s face it: you’re not using Bing. If perchance you do, you can find more details about the udpates here.

#bing, #computing, #freeware, #microsoft, #microsoft-bing, #microsoft-edge, #real-estate, #search-engine, #software, #tab, #tc, #web-browsers

App stores saw record 218 billion downloads in 2020, consumer spend of $143 billion

Mobile adoption continued to grow in 2020, in part due to the market forces of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to App Annie’s annual “State of Mobile” industry report, mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, consumer spending grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

Consumers also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone, the report found.

In another shift, app usage in the U.S. 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 on their mobile device.

The increase in time spent is a trend that’s not unique to the U.S., but can be seen across several other countries, including both developing mobile markets like Indonesia, Brazil and India, as well as places like China, Japan, South Korea, the U.K., Germany, France and others.

The trend isn’t isolated to any one demographic, either, but is seen across age groups. In the U.S., for example, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X/Baby Boomers spent 16%, 18% and 30% more time in their most-used apps year-over-year, respectively. However, what those favorite apps looked like was very different.

For Gen Z in the U.S., top apps on Android phones included Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok, Roblox and Spotify.

Millennials favored Discord, LinkedIn, PayPal, Pandora and Amazon Music.

And Gen X/Baby Boomers used Ring, Nextdoor, The Weather Channel, Kindle and ColorNote Notepad Notes.

The pandemic didn’t necessarily change how consumers were using apps in 2020, but rather accelerated mobile adoption by two to three years’ time, the report found.

Investors were also eager to fuel mobile businesses as a result, pouring $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year. According to Crunchbase data, 26% of total global funding dollars in 2020 went to businesses that included a mobile solution.

From 2016 to 2020, global funding to mobile technology companies more than doubled compared with the previous five years, and was led by financial services, transportation, commerce and shopping.

Mobile gaming adoption also continued to grow in 2020. Casual games dominated the market in terms of downloads (78%), but Core games accounted for 66% of games’ consumer spend and 55% of the time spent.

With many stuck inside due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines, mobile games that offered social interaction boomed. Among Us, for example, became a breakout game in several markets in 2020, including the U.S.

Other app categories saw sizable increases over the past year, as well.

Time spent in Finance apps in 2020 was up 45% worldwide, outside of China, and participation in the stock market grew 55% on mobile, thanks to apps like Robinhood in the U.S. and others worldwide, that democratized investing and trading.

TikTok had a big year, too.

The app saw incredible 325% year-over-year growth, despite a ban in India, and ranked in the top five apps by time spent. The average monthly time spent per user also grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 65% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K., surpassing Facebook. TikTok is now on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021, App Annie forecasts.

Other video services boomed in 2020, thanks to a combination of new market entrants and a lot of time spent at home. Consumers spent 40% more hours streaming on mobile devices, with time spent in streaming apps peaking in the second quarter in the west as the pandemic forced people inside.

YouTube benefitted from this trend, as it became the No. 1 streaming app by time spent among all markets analyzed except China. The time spent in YouTube is up to 6x that of the next closet app at 38 hours per month.

Of course, another big story for 2020 was the rise of e-commerce amid the pandemic. This made the past year the biggest ever for mobile shopping, with an over 30% increase in time spent in Shopping apps, as measured on Android phones outside of China.

Mobile commerce, however, looked less traditional in 2020.

Social shopping was a big trend, with global downloads of Pinterest and Instagram growing 50% and 20% year-over-year, respectively.

Livestreaming shopping grew, too, led by China. Downloads of live shopping TaoBao Live in China, Grip in South Korea and NTWRK in the U.S. grew 100%, 245% and 85%, respectively. NTWRK doubled in size last year, and now others are entering the space as well — including TikTok, to some extent.

The pandemic also prompted increased usage of mobile ordering apps. In the U.S., Argentina, the U.K., Indonesia and Russia, the app grew by 60%, 65%, 70%, 80% and 105%, respectively, in Q4.

Business apps, like Zoom and Google Meet among others, grew 275% in Q4, for example, as remote work and sometimes school, continued.

The analysis additionally included lists of the top apps by downloads, spending and monthly active users (MAUs).

Although TikTok had been topping year-end charts, Facebook continued to beat it in terms of MAUs. Facebook-owned apps controlled the top charts by MAUs, with Facebook at No. 1 followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram.

TikTok, however, had more downloads than Facebook and ranked No. 2 by consumer spending, behind Tinder.

The full report is available only as an online interactive experience this year, not a download. The report largely uses data from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, except where otherwise noted.

#amazon, #android, #app-annie, #apps, #argentina, #brazil, #china, #computing, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #france, #freeware, #germany, #google, #india, #indonesia, #instagram, #japan, #kindle, #linkedin, #messenger, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-commerce, #mobile-device, #mobile-devices, #mobile-technology, #operating-systems, #pandora, #paypal, #pinterest, #roblox, #russia, #snapchat, #social-media, #software, #south-korea, #spotify, #the-weather-channel, #tiktok, #twitch, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-services

Google calls DOJ’s antitrust lawsuit “deeply flawed” in GIF-laden blog response

Google was clearly anticipating today’s U.S. Department of Justice antitrust complaint filing – the company posted an extensive rebuttal of the lawsuit to its Keyword company blog. The post, penned by SVP of Global Affairs and Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker, suggests that the DOJ’s case is “deeply flawed” and “would do nothing to help consumers,” before going into a platform-by-platform description of why it thinks its position in the market isn’t representative of unfair market dominance that would amount to antitrust.

Google’s blog post is even sprinkled with GIFs – something that’s pretty common for the search giant when it comes to its consumer product launches. These GIFs include step-by-step screen recordings of setting search engines other than Google as your default in Chrome on both mobile and desktop. These processes are both described as “trivially easy” by Walker in the post, but they do look like a bit of an own-goal when you notice just how many steps it takes to get the job done on desktop in particular, including what looks like a momentary hesitation in where to click to drill down further for the “Make Default” command.

Image Credits: Google

Google also reportedly makes reference to companies choosing their search engine as default because of the quality of their service, including both Apple and Mozilla (with a link drop for our own Frederic Lardinois). Ultimately, Google is making the argument that its search engine isn’t dominant because of a lack of viable options fostered by anti-competitive practices, but that instead it’s a result of building a quality product that consumers then opt in to using from among a field of choices.

The DOJ’s full suit dropped this morning, and an initial analysis suggests that this scrutiny is perhaps inopportunely timed in terms of its proximity to the election to actually have any significant teeth. There is some indication that a more broad, bipartisan investigation with support from state level attorney generals on both sides of the aisle could follow later, however, so it’s not necessarily all just going to go away regardless of election outcome.

#apple, #chrome-os, #doj, #freeware, #gif, #google, #google-search, #google-chrome, #kent-walker, #mozilla, #operating-systems, #search-engine, #search-engines, #software, #tc, #web-browsers

Microsoft is building a price comparison engine into its Edge browser

With its Edge browser now stable, Microsoft’s current focus for its Chromium-based browser is to build features that differentiate it from the competition.

With the holiday season coming up fast (though who knows what that will actually look like this year), it’s maybe no surprise that one of the first new features the company is announcing is a price comparison tool as part of its ‘Collections’ bookmarking service. That was always an obvious next step, but it’s nice to see Microsoft add some more functionality here.

Also coming to Edge is the general availability of its integration between Collections and Pinterest, as well as a new screenshot tool for capturing web content, improved PDF support and an update to its Teleparty extension for streaming TV shows in sync with your friends and chat about it in your browser’s sidebar.

In addition, you can now also start free video meetings with your friends and family (or co-workers), right from the browsers through an integration with Microsoft’s Meet Now service. You can have up to 50 people in these video chats, share screens and record these sessions. While this is rolling out in Edge first, it’s also coming to Outlook on the web and the Windows 10 taskbar in the next few weeks.

Image Credits: Microsoft

You can’t say Microsoft held back on new features with this release, but the highlight is surely the new price comparison engine, though.

“We’ve been talking about how collections is a great feature for anyone who wants to do research — whether that’s research in education or work, but a lot of people do research for shopping,” said Divya Kumar, Microsoft’s Director of Product Management for its browser and search tools. “We’ve really started to talk about this rhythm of, ‘okay, if use drop things into Collections, we should be really smart enough to give you the data that you’re looking for.’ This felt like a really natural next step for us to do.”

As long as Edge — through its connection with Microsoft Bing‘s existing price comparison engine — recognizes that you’re saving a product site, maybe from Amazon or Best Buy, it’ll show you the option to compare prices right in the browser tools bar. The next logical step now is for the team to add alerts when prices change and Kumar tells me that this is on the roadmap, together with several other features the team wasn’t ready to discuss yet.

Microsoft says it does not get affiliate fees when you buy through one of the links in Collections.

Talking about shopping, the team is also launching its Bing Rebates cashback program out of beta now (after shutting down a somewhat similar program a while back). The company signed up the likes for Walmart, Expedia, Walgreens and Nvidia for this program (though Nvidia only gives you a whopping 0.5% cashback). Still, it may just get some people to use Bing, though you have to sign up as a Microsoft Rewards member to participate.

“Rebates is a great part of the shopping story that we’re trying to land in terms of enabling smarter shopping experiences in the browser,” said Kumar.

In addition, through its Give with Bing program, you can now use your Microsoft Rewards points to donate to charitable organizations and until the end of the year, Microsoft will match your gift. This is live in the including: U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

As somebody who works on the web and takes screenshots all day, the updated screenshotting tool is also worth a look. Edge could already help you take screenshots, but until now, all you could do was copy what was on your screen. Now, you can also grab content from further down the page and then save it or share it directly from Edge.

Image Credits: Microsoft

If you’re an iOS user and have switched to Edge there — or thought about it — the news here is that you can now select Edge as your default browser there, a feature Apple finally enabled with the launch of iOS 14.

#artificial-intelligence, #bookmark, #chrome-os, #chromium, #computing, #freeware, #google-chrome, #microsoft, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-kin, #pdf, #pinterest, #software, #tc, #web-browsers

Microsoft’s Edge browser is coming to Linux in October

Microsoft’s Edge browser is coming to Linux, starting with the Dev channel. The first of these previews will go live in October.

When Microsoft announced that it would switch its Edge browser to the Chromium engine, it vowed to bring it to every popular platform. At the time, Linux wasn’t part of that list, but by late last year, it became clear that Microsoft was indeed working on a Linux version. Later, at this year’s Build, a Microsoft presenter even used it during a presentation.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Starting in October, Linux users will be able to either download the browser from the Edge Insider website or through their native package managers. Linux users will get the same Edge experience as users on Windows and macOS, as well as access to its built-in privacy and security features. For the most part, I would expect the Linux experience to be on par with that on the other platforms.

Microsoft also today announced that its developers have made over 3,700 commits to the Chromium project so far. Some of this work has been on support for touchscreens, but the team also contributed to areas like accessibility features and developer tools, on top of core browser fundamentals.

Currently, Microsoft Edge is available on Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as
macOS, iOS and Android.

#chromium, #computing, #edge, #freeware, #google-chrome, #linux, #microsoft, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-ignite-2020, #software, #tc, #web-browsers

Discord says user abuse reports have doubled since last year

Discord has published its latest transparency report for the first six months of this year.

The big takeaway is that the number of overall reports has almost doubled, largely because of the massive spike in user growth during the pandemic to over 100 million monthly active users. The messaging and chat platform, popular with gamers and streamers, is now said to be worth around $3.5 billion.

According to the report, Discord said it received 235,000 reports between January and June 2020, compared to 128,000 reports during the last reporting period between June and December 2019.

Discord said it took action in 65% of cases related to spam — resulting in the removal of four million accounts — and just 13% in cases of harassment. Discord said it’s often clearer when someone is spamming, but the subjective nature of harassment makes it the “least actionable” category of reports.

The percent of user reports actioned between January and June 2020. Image Credits: Discord

That said, Discord said it warns more users about harassment than any other reporting category. Discord issues warnings to educate users about some potentially harmful behavior, rather than outright banning users. For the most part, the warnings appear to work. Discord said it bans just 3% of users who were first given a warning about harassment.

Discord also said it banned 162,621 accounts for posting exploitative content, like posting nonconsensual photos of others. That was the largest category of bans apart from spam. Most of this content was removed proactively by Discord, the company said.

Civil rights groups criticized the company’s earlier reports for not disclosing more about proactive removals.

Discord said it also removed over 5,000 servers each for posting exploitative content, hacks and cheats. The company said it removed 700 servers as part of a network sharing nonconsensual images. “Nonconsensual pornography has no place on our platform, and we’ll continue to take swift action against these communities and their members,” the company said.

Unlike other tech companies, Discord does not reveal the number of law enforcement requests it receives.

#discord, #freeware, #marketing, #privacy, #security, #software, #spamming

Azure’s Immersive Reader is now generally available

Microsoft today announced that Immersive Reader, its service for developers who want to add text-to-speech and reading comprehension tools to their applications, is now generally available.

Immersive Reader, which is part of the Azure Cognitive Services suite of AI products, developers get access to a text-to-speech engine, but just as importantly, the service offers tools that help readers improve their reading comprehension, be that through displaying pictures over commonly used words or separating out syllables and parts of speech of a given sentence.

It also offers a distraction-free reading view, similar to what you will find in modern browsers. Indeed, if you use Microsoft’s Edge browser, Immersive Reader is already included there as part of the distraction-free article view, together with its other accessibility features. Microsoft also bundled its translation service with Immersive Reader.

Image Credits: Microsoft

With today’s launch, Microsoft is adding support for fifteen of its neural text-to-speech voices to the service, as well as five new languages (Odia, Kurdish (Northern), Kurdish (Central), Pashto and Dari) from its translation service. In total, Immersive Reader now supports 70 languages.

As Microsoft also announced today, the company has partnered with Code.org and SAFARI Montage to bring Immersive Reader to their learning solutions.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Microsoft to bring Immersive Reader to the Code.org community,” said Hadi Partovi, Founder and CEO of Code.org. “The inclusive capabilities of Immersive Reader to improve reading fluency and comprehension in learners of varied backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles directly aligns with our mission to ensure every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science.”

Microsoft says it saw a 560% increase in use of Immersive Reader from February to May, likely because a lot of people were starting to look for new online education tools as the COVID-19 pandemic started. Today, more than 23 million people use it every month and Microsoft expects that number to go up once again in the fall, as the new school year starts.

#artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #code, #code-org, #computing, #freeware, #hadi-partovi, #microsoft, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-windows, #partner, #reading, #reading-comprehension, #software, #text-to-speech, #windows-10

Investors are browsing for Chromium startups

A few months ago, we declared that “browsers are interesting again,” thanks to increased competition among the major players. Now, as more startups are getting onboard, things are getting downright exciting.

A small but growing number of projects are building web browsers with a more specific type of user in mind. Whether that perceived user is prioritizing improved speed, organization or toolsets aligned with their workflow, entrepreneurs are building these projects with the assumption that Google’s one-size-fits-all approach with Chrome leaves plenty of users with a suboptimal experience.

Building a modern web browser from scratch isn’t the most feasible challenge for a small startup. Luckily open-source projects have enabled developers to build their evolved web browsers on the bones of the apps they aim to compete with. For browsers that are not Safari, Firefox, Chrome or a handful of others, Google’s Chromium open-source project has proven to be an invaluable asset.

Since Google first released Chrome in late 2008, the company has also been updating Chromium. The source code powers the Microsoft Edge and Opera web browsers, but also allows smaller developer teams to harness the power of Chrome when building their own apps.

These upstart browsers have generally sought to compete with the dominant powers on the privacy front, but as Chrome and Safari have begun shipping more features to help users manage how they are tracked online, entrepreneurs are widening their product ambitions to tackle usability upgrades.

Aiding these heightened ambitions is increased attention on custom browsers from investors. Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich’s Brave has continued to scale, announcing last month they had 5 million daily active users of their privacy-centric browser.

Today, Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller spoke with TechCrunch about his project The Browser Company which has raised $5 million from some notable Silicon Valley operators. Other hot upstart efforts include Mighty, a subscription-based, remote-streamed Chrome startup from Mixpanel founder Suhail Doshi, and Blue Link Labs, a recent entrant that’s building a decentralized peer-to-peer browser called Beaker browser.

Mighty

As front-end developers have gotten more ambitious and web applications have gotten more complex, Chrome has earned the reputation of being quite the RAM hog.

#brave, #browsers, #chromium, #ev-williams, #founders-fund, #freeware, #github, #google, #google-chrome, #mighty, #mixpanel, #mozilla, #opera, #slack-fund, #tc, #thrive-capital, #web-browsers, #y-combinator

Apple will let users pick their own default email and browser apps

Apple quietly made a major announcement that will change life for users of mobile Chrome, Gmail or Outlook. The company is shifting its view on app defaults and will be allowing users to set different app defaults for their mail and browser apps.

The company specifically denoted that this feature is coming to iPadOS and iOS 14. This likely means users can designate which browser they’re directed to when they tap a link somewhere. We’ll see whether Apple reserves any functionality for its own services. Rather than highlighting this new feature in the keynote, they snuck it into roundup screens that hovered onscreen for a few seconds. It’s hidden in the bottom center of the screen.

This is a big change for Apple but it’s no surprise they wouldn’t opt to specifically highlight this onstage. Apple has been reluctant to give users the option to use third-party apps as defaults. The big exception to date has been allowing users early on to set Google Maps as the default over Apple Maps.

Email and browsing are huge mobile use cases and it’s surprising that users haven’t had this capability to shift defaults to apps like Chrome or Gmail until this upcoming update. As Apple finds itself at the center of more anti-trust conversations, app defaults has been one area that’s always popped up as a method by which Apple promotes its own services over those from other companies.

Details are scant in terms of what this feature will look like exactly and what services will boast support, but I imagine we’ll hear more as the betas begin rolling out.

#apple-inc, #freeware, #gmail, #google, #google-chrome, #ios, #ipad, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #web-browsers, #webmail, #wwdc-2020

Microsoft moves its Windows 10 Insider Program from rings to release channels

For the last few years, Microsoft has given Windows enthusiasts the ability to opt in to early release ‘rings,’ with the choice to pick between ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ rings, as well as a relatively stable ‘release preview’ option. Today, the company announced a major change to this program as it is moving to release channels, similar to what you’re probably familiar with from most browser manufacturers.

“We are transitioning and converting our current ring model, based on the frequency of builds, to a new channel model that pivots on the quality of builds and better supports parallel coding efforts,” writes Microsoft principal program manager lead Amanda Langowski in a blog post today.

She notes that the result of the ring-based system was that in the middle of 2019, for example, Windows Insiders were running builds from 3 different releases, depending on which ring they chose.

“As we continue to evolve the way we release Windows 10 and the diversity of Insiders we serve is greater than ever, it is critical that Insiders have a flighting option that is tailored to their needs,” she adds. “We believe the best way to do this is to shift focus from frequency to quality.”

Image Credits: Microsoft /

So starting later this month, the ‘fast’ ring will become the Dev Channel, the ‘slow’ ring the Beta Channel and the ‘release preview’ will now be known as the Release Preview Channel.

The Dev Channel is meant for users who want to get very early access to new features, which isn’t all that different from fast rings, but what’s important here is that this channel isn’t tied to any specific release. New features in this channel will make their way into releases once they are ready, whether that’s as part of a major update or a servicing release. Because of its unstable nature, Microsoft says this release is mostly meant for highly technical users.

As for the Beta Channel, the main different here is that it is really the beta version of a specific release and means for early adopters. And the Release Preview is exactly what you would think and meant to test relatively stable builds before they get shipped to the wider Windows 10 user base (and with that, IT admins can also test those releases ahead of their release to a company’s employees, too).

If you’re part of the Windows Insider program, those changes will be automatic and start with builds that are set to launch later this month.

#developer, #freeware, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #windows-10, #windows-phone

Microsoft updates Teams with new automation and scheduling tools, NDI support for broadcasting and more

At its (virtual) Build developer conference, Microsoft today announced a slew of updates for its Teams collaboration and communications platform. Given that Microsoft now sees Teams as its hub for teamwork and collaboration through calls, chats, and audio and video meetings, it’s no surprise that it would highlight Teams across today’s announcements.

For the most part, the new features the company is adding to Teams are pretty straightforward.

For users, most of the important updates are around meetings in teams, where you’ll soon be able to schedule, manage and conduct virtual appointments through the Bookings app, for example. On the scheduling side, Teams is also getting new capabilities in the Shifts app, including new triggers and templates to enable auto-approvals for shift requests, for example, when a managers approval isn’t needed.

In the near future, Microsoft will also add a number of customizable templates to Teams to help new users get started. These include many standard business scenarios like event management and crisis response, as well as industry-specific templates for hospitals and bands, for example. The templates include pre-set channels, apps and guidance, the company says.

Soon, Microsoft will also make Power Virtual Agents chatbots available in the Teams app store, which will make creating and managing these bots easier.

Microsoft will also soon enable a new feature that makes it easier to integrated Power Apps and Power Automate business process templates into Teams, and Power BI users will soon be able to quickly share reports to Teams with the click of a single button.

Another new feature that will have a bit more of a niche audience is Network Device Interface (NDI) support – but that niche will be very happy to hear it’s coming. Currently, you can enable a similar feature in Skype, where it allows you to stream Skype interviews with multiple participants through your favorite streaming software and platform (think OBS, Wirecast, etc.). It allows you to receive separate video streams for every participant (though for reasons only known to the Skype team, you only get one audio feed, which makes dealing with any audio delays a nightmare).

Now, this is also coming to teams so that it’ll be easier for companies to create public or private broadcasts based on Teams chats. Teams will also get integrations with Skype TX, the hardware-based Skype solution that’s used by many broadcast networks to conduct remote interviews. NDI support should go live in Teams next month.

#app-store, #freeware, #messaging-apps, #microsoft, #microsoft-build-2020, #operating-systems, #skype, #skype-for-business, #software, #tc, #texas

Vivaldi browser gets built-in tracking blocker, goes GA on Android

Vivaldi, the browser launched by former Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner, has long positioned itself as a highly customizable alternative to Chrome and Firefox for power users. Today, the team is launching version 3.0 of its desktop browser, with built-in tracker and ad blockers, and it’s bringing its Android browser out of beta.

I’ve long been a fan of Vivaldi, but the company was relatively late to the tracking protection game. Now, it’s doubling down on this, by integrating a blocklist powered by DuckDuckGo’s Tracker Radar.

Like competing browsers, Vivaldi offers three blocking levels that users can easily toggle on and off for individual websites. Those blocking levels are relatively blunt, though, with the options to either block trackers, block trackers and ads or disable blocking. Competitors like Edge offer slightly more nuanced options for blocking trackers, though I would expect Vivaldi to adopt a similar scheme over time.

For the most part, the Vivaldi team always said that it would delegate ad blocking to extensions, though it added the option to block highly intrusive ads in the middle of last year. And while the company still notes that blocking trackers provides enough privacy protection, with today’s update, it now also gives users the option to block virtually all ads without the need to download any extensions (as a Chromium-based browser, Vivaldi supports all Chrome extensions).

Also new in the desktop version is a clock. Yes. A clock. That may sound like a weird feature, given that your desktop of choice surely features a clock, but like all things Vivaldi, you can a) remove it and b) there is actually some usefulness here as you can, for example, set up timers if you’re into Pomodoro or similar productivity techniques. And because it is Vivaldi, you can set all kinds of custom alarms and countdown timers, too.

As for the mobile version, which is now generally available for Android 5 and higher, the most important fact is probably that it exists, given how most users expect to be able to easily sync their bookmarks, passwords and browsing history between mobile and desktop. As with other browsers, you can choose what you want to sync.

Like the desktop version, Vivaldi for Android now also features a tracking and ad blocker. There’s also a built-in screenshot tool and support for Vivaldi notes, which also sync between devices.

The mobile browser isn’t quite as flexible as the desktop version, with its plethora of options, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for in a mobile browser anyway. But having a stable mobile browser that can accompany the desktop version is a big deal for Vivaldi and may give users who were on the sidelines a reason to take another look at it.

Out of the box, there’s no other browser that will give you the kind of flexibility Vivaldi does.

#ad-blocking, #android, #duckduckgo, #firefox, #freeware, #google-chrome, #jon-von-tetzchner, #online-advertising, #software, #tc, #vivaldi, #web-browsers