A mobile security startup has found seven security flaws in Samsung’s pre-installed mobile apps, which it says if abused could have allowed attackers broad access to a victim’s personal data.
Oversecured said the vulnerabilities were found in several apps and components bundled with Samsung phones and tablets. Oversecured founder Sergey Toshin told TechCrunch that the vulnerabilities were verified on a Samsung Galaxy S10+ but that all Samsung devices could be potentially affected because the baked-in apps are responsible for system functionality.
Toshin said the vulnerabilities could have allowed a malicious app on the same device to steal a victim’s photos, videos, contacts, call records and messages, and change settings “without any user consent or notice” by hijacking the permissions from Samsung’s stock apps.
One of the flaws could have allowed the theft of data by exploiting a vulnerability in Samsung’s Secure Folder app, which has a “large set” of rights across the device. In a proof-of-concept, Toshin showed the bug could be used to steal contacts data. Another bug in Samsung’s Knox security software could have been abused to install other malicious apps, while a bug in Samsung Dex could have been used to scrape data from user notifications from apps, email inboxes, and messages.
Oversecured published technical details of the vulnerabilities in a blog post, and said it reported the bugs to Samsung, which fixed the flaws.
Samsung confirmed the flaws affected “selected” Galaxy devices but would not provide a list of specific devices. “There have been no known reported issues globally and users should be assured that their sensitive information was not at risk,” but provided no evidence for this claim. “We addressed the potential vulnerability by developing and issuing security patches via software update in April and May, 2021 as soon as we identified this issue.”
Google today launched the second beta of Android 12. The first beta, which launched at Google’s I/O conference in May, introduced us to the first glimpses of Google’s new ‘Material You’ design system, though many of the promised new features and design tweaks weren’t part of this first beta yet. With this new beta, Google is bringing more of these to its testers (you can sign up for the beta here), including its new privacy dashboard that makes it easier for users to see which apps recently used a phone’s microphone, camera and location.
Other new features available in the beta are the addition of microphone and camera indicators that show users if an app is using those, as well as new Quick Setting toggles to disable app access to them. When access is toggled off, apps will receive blank audio and camera feeds. Related to this, Google is also bringing a clipboard read notification to Android that shows readers when an app is reading from the clipboard.
Image Credits: Google
Also new in beta 2 is a new Internet Panel that makes it easier for you to switch between internet providers, wifi networks, etc.
Image Credits: Google
With this release, Google is now one release away from reaching platform stability in August. As the company notes, now would be a good time for developers to finish their compatibility testing and release compatible versions of their apps, SDK and libraries. Given the current monthly release cadence, we’ll likely see a final release of Android 12 in September.
Like before, you’ll need a compatible device to try out the beta. Unlike with some the earlier preview releases, this list includes a lot of non-Google devices, with Sharp joining the beta program today, for example. You can find a full list of supported devices — and instructions for how to get started on non-Google devices — here.
Apple today announced a number of coming changes and improvements to the App Store that will help developers better target their apps to users, get their apps discovered by more people, and even highlight what sort of events are taking place inside their apps to entice new users to download the app and encourage existing users to return.
The company said its App Store today sees 600 million weekly users across 175 countries, and has paid out over $230 billion to developers since the App Store launched, highlighting the business opportunity for app developers.
However, as the App Store has grown, it’s become harder for app developers to market their apps to new users or get their apps found. The new features aim to address that.
Image Credits: Apple
One change involves the app’s product page. Starting this year, app developers will be able to create multiple custom product pages to showcase different features of their app for different users. For instance, they’ll be able to try out things like different screenshots, videos, and even different app icons to A/B test what users like the most.
They’ll also be able to advertise the dynamic things that are taking place inside their apps on an ongoing basis. Apple explained that apps and games are constantly rolling out new content and limited time events like film premieres on streaming services, events like Pokémon Go fests, or Nike fitness challenges. But these events were often only discoverable by those who already had the app installed and then opted in to push notifications.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple will now allow developers to better advertise these events, with the launch in-app events “front and center on the App Store.” The events can be showcased on the app’s product page. Users can learn more about the events, sign up to be notified, or quickly join the event, if it’s happening now. They can also discover events with personalized recommendations and through App Store search.
App Store editors will curate the best events and the new App Store widget will feature upcoming events right on users’ homescreens, too.
Apple says the feature will be open to all developers, including those who already run events and those who are just getting started.
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 continues to grow, 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.
And in our downloads section, we have a treat for readers: a time-sensitive and exclusive invite code to get into one of the hottest new apps for sneakerheads: Sole Retriever.
WWDC’s big keynote is kicking off next week on June 7 at 1 PM ET. The livestream page is here. While we may see new MacBook Pros, what software developers will care about are the forthcoming details about Apple’s latest OS releases and other new technologies. As to what they may include? Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 will introduce a way for users to set different notification preferences and automatic replies, based on their current status (driving, working, sleeping, etc.) and an updated Lock Screen where this menu of choices would be accessible. iMessage may be upgraded to be more social, to better compete with Messenger and WhatsApp. Meanwhile, iPadOS could be getting the App Library and an upgraded Home Screen with support for widgets. (And you can fill the screen with just widgets, if you choose.) Or who knows! Until it’s official, it’s all a maybe!
But one potentially interesting rumor to watch for would be a new privacy feature that would show users which apps were collecting data about them. This builds on Apple’s investments in App Tracking Transparency and could make it more difficult for shady SDKs to stay in business.
There will likely be some updates coming to other Apple’s own apps, Siri, watchOS and more. It’s going to be a packed week — stay tuned!
Ahead of WWDC, Apple also updated its report (conducted on its behalf via the Analysis Group) on App Store commerce. The company says the App Store facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year. The full report delves into other trends related to the pandemic’s impact, small and large businesses, and more. Apple initially commissioned the report to demonstrate how little business on the App Store is actually subject to App Store fees, but now it’s updated the report a year later. It’s interesting how much understanding Apple has about its App Store, especially when Tim Cook claimed to know so little about several crucial figures.
Image Credits: Apple
Apple also this week unveiled its 2021 Apple Design finalists. The awards honor apps and games that offer a combination of innovation, ingenuity and technical achievement — the latter which often means making great use of Apple technologies. The finalists span six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation.
Google this week opened submissions for two of its annual developer programs: the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Festival. The programs are designed to help small games studios grow on Google Play. This year, the programs will include more eligible markets and will be fully digital experiences.
Google will restrict third-party apps from customizing the native Android Sharesheet in Android 12. Currently, the UI of the Sharesheet can differ from app to app, but XDA Developers reports it will become more iOS-like, by offering a consistent menu across apps.
Google is taking a cue from Apple by allowing users to opt out of personalization using the advertising ID in the Android Settings. Once users opt out, the advertising ID is disabled. The ID is a unique, user-resettable identifier provided by Google Play services. As part of a coming Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising identifier will be removed when the user opts out of tracking, and any attempt to access the identifier will only return a string of zeros. Google says ad and analytics service partners will receive notifications about a user’s preferences to help them with compliance. The change will roll out in late 2021 and will impact apps running on Android 12 devices initially, with an expansion to devices that support Google Play in early 2022.
Platforms: Huawei (!!)
Image Credits: Wang Chenglu, president of Huawei Consumer Business Group’s software department
Two years after Huawei was put on a list of Chinese companies banned from doing business with U.S. organizations, it launched its proprietary operating system, HarmonyOS, for smartphones. The OS is designed to power phones, tablets and smart devices. Smartphone maker Meizu has already hinted it may adopt the new OS.
Image Credits: Facebook
Facebook’s flagship AR creation software, Spark AR, has already been used by more than 600,000 creators from over 190 countries to publish over 2 million AR effects. At Facebook’s F8 event this week, the company announced Multipeer API for video calls on Messenger, Instagram and Portal. The API will allow developers to create “shared AR” effects that apply to all the call participants — like a party hat that shows up on everyone’s heads for a birthday call, for instance.
Convenience store-style on-demand delivery startup JOKR launched in New York City to provide 15-minute or less delivery of items you might otherwise find in small stores and local delis. Except instead of dealing with stores, JOKR has its own strategically placed micro-hubs. The startup was founded by Ralf Wenzel, who previously founded Foodpanda, which later merged with Delivery Hero.
Image Credits: Walmart
Walmart is handing out over 740,000 new Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones (retail $499) to its employees, saying that “constant communication” is essential to its business. The phones will run Walmart’s proprietary Me@Walmart app, where employees clock in, adjust schedules, use the voice assistant “Ask Sam,” and communicate with others via push-to-talk. Employees will be allowed to use the phone for personal use after work hours, and Walmart will not have access to their personal data, the retailer says.
Image Credits: Kraken
Coinbase rival Kraken launched a mobile app in the U.S. that allows users to buy and sell more than 50 crypto tokens from their mobile phone. Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange, in terms of trading volume.
Venmo now lets users hide their friend list for additional privacy. The change to the app came after BuzzFeed News found President Biden’s Venmo account using public friend lists. Digital rights groups had called the design a “security nightmare.”
Japan-based Line Corp. is launching its digital banking platform in Indonesia, which means it will now offering banking services in three of its biggest overseas markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.
Coinbase Card, which allows users to spend their crypto while on the go, now works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. The card will offer up to 4% in crypto rewards for everyday purchases.
Chime has established itself as the No. 1 neobank in the U.S., according to eMarketer. The banking app will have 13.1 million U.S. accounts this year, up 30.7% from 2020. Current will have 4 million, double from the 2.1 million it had last year. Aspiration is in third place, with 3 million, followed by Varo, at 2.7 million.
Scoop: Tinder tested a group video chat feature ahead of parent company Match’s move into social discovery with its $1.73 billion acquisition of Seoul-based Hyperconnect. The feature was only tested briefly in New Zealand and then shut down, but may have served as a way to gain valuable data about younger users’ interest in social discovery apps and services as Match moves into that market which it says is double the size of the dating market.
Image Credits: Twitter
Twitter Blue officially launched. Will you pay for better Twitter? Twitter’s new premium subscription brings tools to organize your bookmarks, read threads in a clutter-free format and take advantage of an “Undo Tweet” feature — which is the closest thing Twitter will have to the long-requested “Edit” button. It also offers a few other perks, like custom app icons, colorful themes and subscription customer support. Unfortunately, the service is only live in Canada and Australia for the time being.
Twitter redesigned its mobile app to put its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, in the middle of its navigation bar. Initially, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, but it will expand to more people over time. The tab will help people keep track of Spaces they want to listen to and manage notifications, among other things.
Twitter began rolling out Birdwatch fact checks inside tweets. Birdwatch is Twitter’s pilot program that aims to crowdsource fact-checking of tweets, as an alternative to relying on fact-checkers. The program’s goal will be to append more info to misinformation online in real time.
TikTok reamined the top non-game app worldwide in May 2021 by downloads. According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was No. 1 on both the App Store and Google Play with 80 million combined installs. Brazil accounted for 16% of those, and China 12%.
Facebook at its developer conference F8 also introduced Facebook Login Connect with Messenger. For businesses that have already integrated with Facebook Login, this allow users to log in to their app using their Facebook credentials and opt in to chat with businesses over Messenger, all in the Facebook Login flow. The tool is in closed beta.
Facebook also updated its Business Suite with a new feature that will allow developers to build “business apps,” which are tools made by third-party developers that work alongside the Business Suite. These “apps” could do things like bring in content from a catalog to their Facebook page or Instagram account. The platform already has 30 developers working on it and integrates with e-commerce platforms, like BigCommerce.
Image Credits: Facebook
As part of its F8-related announcements, WhatsApp said it would update its Business API to make it quicker for business to get started with its service. WhatsApp will make it faster to set up a business account (5 minutes instead of weeks), and will allow businesses to respond faster to inbound messages, as well as send messages to users who opted in. The business tool for customer care will allow up to 10 pre-written messages, among other updates.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told popular news outlet/leaker WaBetaInfo that WhatsApp will add multi-device support for connecting up to four devices to one account. He also said WhatsApp will introduce a “view once” disappearing feature for photos and videos, and is working on an iPad app. The method of delivering this news is worth noting — WaBetaInfo is not a traditional news outlet, but more of an independent news portal of sorts. Zuckerberg has been taking Facebook news to non-traditional (and often far friendlier) channels as of late, including popping up in Clubhouse rooms and other independent outlets. Facebook clearly feels mainstream press has turned on it when they…[checks notes]…held Facebook accountable for its actions.
Facebook also announced the general availability of the Messenger API for Instagram. First announced last fall and rolling out in phases, the API offers a more efficient way for larger brands to handle a high volume of messages by allowing them to integrate Instagram messaging into the tools and applications they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.
Community social network Nextdoor launched a new feature called Free Finds that helps its users unload their unwanted stuff on others in their neighborhood. Notably, the feature doesn’t require you to be a Nextdoor member to access the listings, but eventually, those users may convert.
Streaming & Entertainment
Image Credits: Spotify
Spotify rolled out a sort of mid-year version of Wrapped with the launch of the new personalized experience, Only You. The feature offers insights about your music history in a sharable format, like your musical dinner party or audio birth chart, and other fun finds. Why now? Perhaps Spotify is heading off Apple Music news to come with a feature that reminds users it does personalization best?
Spotify also added Blend, a way to create a playlist with any other Spotify user. The company offers a similar feature for users on its Family and Duo plans, but this new tool doesn’t require users to be in the same household.
Apple tried to acquire livestreaming music platform Verzuz, which later sold to video social network Triller,Bloomberg reported. Apple didn’t engage in a bidding war and offered a lower price than what Triller paid, it said.
The Apple TV app launched on Android devices. Like Apple Music, Apple TV is a service that needs to work across platforms in order to compete with rivals. The Android app’s arrival followed the Apple TV app’s debut on Nvidia’s Shield TV, which means it’s now available across all major Android TV-based devices.
Health & Fitness
Amazon updated its Halo health app with a new feature called Movement Health, which will use computer vision and machine learning to asses users’ posture, mobility and stability and then suggest exercises to improve them.
Peloton slashed the pricing for its fitness app, normally $12.99/mo, for students, teachers, healthcare workers and military. Students can pay $6.99/mo while the others can pay $9.99/mo. Military members and their families can lock in that rate for life. The company is facing a PR crisis after recalling treadmills that injured 70 and led to one infant death.
Image Credits: App Annie
A TikTok trend where users prank people by spamming them on text has driven the app that makes that possible, Paste Keyboard, to the top of the App Store. Mashable noted the app’s rise, but couldn’t figure out why. Nor could App Annie. It’s kids, y’all. Honestly, the App Store needs a new “viral” chart at this point.
AirTag support is coming to Android. Apple announced some changes to AirTag, including the period of time they’ll make a sound when moved. The time will change from three times per day to a random time between 8-24 hours. Apple believes the shortening of the window will serve as a better deterrent against bad actors using AirTag to track someone. Alongside this announcement, Apple said it will later this year launch an Android application that will allow users to detect AirTag or other Find My network-enabled accessories that are separated from its owner and may be traveling with a user.
Firefox revamped its Mac and iOS app this week with a what it claims is a more distraction-free design, featuring streamlined toolbar and menus, expanded privacy protections, a new look for tabs, updated notifications and alerts, easier muting, and more.
Ring added “Request for Assistance posts” on its Neighbors app, claiming this will allow public safety agencies (e.g. police) to ask communities for help in investigations. The Request for Assistance posts can only be issued from verified public safety agency profiles, Ring says. Of course, this isn’t the only way police can acquire Ring videos, as the company has many police partnerships across the U.S. that let them acquire footage without a warrant.
Toyota added a data privacy portal to its apps. The feature is available in the Account Settings of the Toyota and Lexus apps and works with vehicles offering connected services that were built in the 2013 model year or later. It also allows consumers who own multiple Toyota or Lexus vehicles to customize privacy and data-sharing settings for each.
Gokada is launching its ride-hailing service in two more Nigerian cities as part of its super app plans. The company is merging its ride-hailing service with food delivery platform GShop. In the past year, Gokada crossed $100 million in annualized transaction value, and helped onboard 30,000 merchants.
Image Credits: Apptopia
The top reading and writing apps grew their IAP revenue 50% YoY in May 2021, Apptopia reported. This group includes apps for writing novels or comic books, or reading the works from others, like Webtoon, Wattpad, Dreame, GoodNovel, Webnovel, Tapas and Radish. As a grouping, these apps have also grown IAP revenue 15% over the past six months. Since January 2020, Webtoon and Dreame combined accounted for 56.3% of the grouping’s total IAP revenue.
Government & Policy
Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, LinkedIn and startups ShareChat and Koo have now either fully or partially complied with India’s IT rules that require them to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns. Twitter, whose offices were raided by police in Delhi, has not yet complied.
EU will review TikTok’s Terms of Service following child safety complaints. Areas of concern include hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children and contractual terms in the company’s policies that could be misleading or confusing for consumers.
Security & Privacy
The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max
The biometric data collection details were introduced in the newly added section, “Image and Audio Information,” found under the heading of “Information we collect automatically” in the policy.
Alibaba’s UC Browser app has been found to be harvesting the private web activity of users across Android or iOS when incognito mode is turned on. The browser is the fourth largest in the world, with 500 million Android downloads alone. Before being banned in India over security concerns related to Chinese apps, it was also one of the most popular in India, as well.
Funding and M&A
Miami-based NUE Life Health raised $3.3 million for its telemedicine platform and app in the U.S., where it combines mental wellness solutions that employ psychedelic-assisted therapies with a graph database-driven app. The app was backed by investors who recently left SV for Miami, including Jack Abraham, Shervin Pishevar, Martin Varsavsky, Jon Oringer, James Bailey and Christina Getty.
Etsy acquired secondhand e-commerce startup Depop for more than $1.6 billion. Depop, which caters to a Gen Z crowd, saw 2020 gross merchandise sales and revenue of approximately $650 million and $70 million, respectively.
Social network platform Venn raised $60 million in Series B funding led by Group 11. The startup provides technology that allows building owners and other real estate partners and communities to provide social networking services to their tenants, with tools for organizing buy/sell groups, organizing community activities, connecting with neighbors and more.
Digital health management company Hello Heart raised $45 million Series C led by IVP. The company’s app is marketed by employers as part of their benefit programs and helps patients manage heart health and blood pressure, medications and more.
Personal finance app Truebill raised $17 million in Series C funding led by Accel, valuing the business at $500 million. The app helps consumers get better control over their finances by helping them cancel subscriptions, negotiate bills, view credit reports, budget, and access spending insights, among other things.
Newly launched stock trading app Lightyear disclosed it raised $1.5 million pre-seed funding in a round co-led by the new unnamed fund formed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi. The app was the fund’s first investment.
Istanbul-based grocery delivery app Getir raised $550 million in new funding, tripling its valuation to $7.5 billion. New investors include DisruptAD and Mubadala Funding Firm (both being arms of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds) as well as Silicon Valley-based Silver Lake.
Image Credits: Sole Retriever
Sole Retriever is a newly launched app that aims to be a sneakerhead’s dream.
The app offers a one-stop shop for all things sneaker — including sneaker news, sneaker releases, sneaker raffles, a calendar of upcoming drops and more. The company says its goal is to democratize access to sneaker drops by making this info more accessible and convenient for consumers. Before its mobile launch, Sole Retriever had offered its service via the web only. Now it’s live on both iOS and Android.
Unique to the mobile experience is the ability to customize your alerts so you only hear about the raffles you want to know about — like those in the U.S., or only those that are in-store or online, for example. It also makes entering raffles easier with autofill features. Custom profiles that let you save the info for others who have agreed to let you enter their name and address to increase your chances of winning. And the app can save your logins for different retailers to make shopping easier.
Sole Retriever is currently only available as a waitlist, but TechCrunch readers can bypass the waitlist! Here’s how!
After downloading the app and logging in, when you reach the waitlist screen, you can redeem a special code — “TWIA” (in all caps!), which lets you bypass the entire waitlist and gain instant access to start your seven-day free trial for the app. The code is only valid for 24 hours after this post goes live so hit it quickly!
Apple Developer app
Image Credits: Apple
The Apple Developer app is not new. But it is the must-have download for the week ahead, as it will provide mobile developers with access to everything needed to navigate WWDC 21’s all-digital event. The app was updated this week with details about the agenda, sessions, pavilions, labs, coding and design challenges, and more. Developers can also sign up for labs inside the app and get notifications about their appointments. There are also new WWDC 21 iMessage stickers for some added fun.
Marco.org: Developer Relations. Marco Arment has some harsh words for Apple ahead of WWDC. He accuses the iPhone maker of undervaluing what apps mean for iOS beyond their IAP revenue. And he points out that developers themselves bring in a good number of customers through their own marketing efforts, not because of their App Store listing.
Pew Research: Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021. Pew takes a look at U.S. trends, including smartphone ownership adoption. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, which is more than have broadband (77%) at home.
Donny Wals: The iOS Developer’s Guide to WWDC 2021. Wals reminds developers to not get caught up in the WWDC chaos, pace themselves and focus on what matters to their business. He also makes suggestions about what to not overlook during WWDC week.
Idle observation: in all the Epic/Apple filings, there are at least a dozen 100+ slide internal Apple presentations of metrics for the App Store. Billings, genres, popular apps, payment models, developers – every metric Not a single one has a P&L or any analysis of costs at all
At its I/O developer conference, Google today announced a slew of updates to its Firebase developer platform, which, as the company also announced, now powers over 3 million apps.
There’s a number of major updates here, most of which center around improving existing tools like Firebase Remote Config and Firebase’s monitoring capabilities, but there are also a number of completely new features here as well, including the ability to create Android App Bundles and a new security tool called App Check.
“Helping developers be successful is what makes Firebase successful,” Firebase product manager Kristen Richards told me ahead of today’s announcements. “So we put helpfulness and helping developers at the center of everything that we do.” She noted that during the pandemic, Google saw a lot of people who started to focus on app development — both as learners and as professional developers. But the team also saw a lot of enterprises move to its platform as those companies looked to quickly bring new apps online.
Maybe the marquee Firebase announcement at I/O is the updated Remote Config. That’s always been a very powerful feature that allows developers to make changes to live production apps on the go without having to release a new version of their app. Developers can use this for anything from A/B testing to providing tailored in-app experience to specific user groups.
With this update, Google is introducing updates to the Remote Config console, to make it easier for developers to see how they are using this tool, as well as an updated publish flow and redesigned test results pages for A/B tests.
Image Credits: Google
What’s most important, though, is that Google is taking Remote Config a step further now by launching a new Personalization feature that helps developers automatically optimize the user experience for individual users. “It’s a new feature of [Remote Config] that uses Google’s machine learning to create unique individual app experiences,” Richards explained. “It’s super simple to set up and it automatically creates these personalized experiences that’s tailored to each individual user. Maybe you have something that you would like, which would be something different for me. In that way, we’re able to get a tailored experience, which is really what customers expect nowadays. I think we’re all expecting things to be more personalized than they have in the past.”
Image Credits: Google
Google is also improving a number of Firebase’s analytics and monitoring capabilities, including its Crashlytics service for figuring out app crashes. For game developers, that means improved support for games written with the help of the Unity platform, for example, but for all developers, the fact that Firebase’s Performance Monitoring service now processes data in real time is a major update to having performance data (especially on launch day) arrive with a delay of almost half a day.
Firebase is also now finally adding support for Android App Bundles, Google’s relatively new format for packaging up all of an app’s code and resources, with Google Play optimizing the actual APK with the right resources for the kind of device the app gets installed on. This typically leads to smaller downloads and faster installs.
On the security side, the Firebase team is launching App Check, now available in beta. App Check helps developers guard their apps against outside threats and is meant to automatically block any traffic to online resources like Cloud Storage, Realtime Database and Cloud Functions for Firebase (with others coming soon) that doesn’t provide valid credentials.
Image Credits: Google
The other update worth mentioning here is to Firebase Extensions, which launched a while ago, but which is getting support for a few more extensions today. These are new extensions from Algolia, Mailchimp and MessageBird, that helps bring new features like Algolia’s search capabilities or MessageBird’s communications features directly to the platform. Google itself is also launching a new extension that helps developers detect comments that could be considered “rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable in a way that will make people leave a conversation.”
Months after Apple’s App Store introduced privacy labels for apps, Google announced its own mobile app marketplace, Google Play, will follow suit. The company today pre-announced its plans to introduce a new “safety” section in Google Play, rolling out next year, which will require app developers to share what sort of data their apps collect, how it’s stored, and how it’s used.
For example, developers will need to share what sort of personal information their apps collect, like users’ names or emails, and whether it collects information from the phone, like the user’s precise location, their media files or contacts. Apps will also need to explain how the app uses that information — for example, for enhancing the app’s functionality or for personalization purposes.
Developers who already adhere to specific security and privacy practices will additionally be able to highlight that in their app listing. On this front, Google says it will add new elements that detail whether the app uses security practices like data encryption; if the app follows Google’s Families policy, related to child safety; if the app’s safety section has been verified by an independent third party; whether the app needs data to function or allows users to choose whether or not share data; and whether the developer agrees to delete user data when a user uninstalls the app in question.
Apps will also be required to provide their privacy policies.
While clearly inspired by Apple’s privacy labels, there are several key differences. Apple’s labels focus on what data is being collected for tracking purposes and what’s linked to the end user. Google’s additions seem to be more about whether or not you can trust the data being collected is being handled responsibility, by allowing the developer to showcase if they follow best practices around data security, for instance. It also gives the developer a way to make a case for why it’s collecting data right on the listing page itself. (Apple’s “ask to track” pop-ups on iOS now force developers to beg inside their apps for access user data).
Another interesting addition is that Google will allow the app data labels to be independently verified. Assuming these verifications are handled by trusted names, they could help to convey to users that the disclosures aren’t lies. One early criticism of Apple’s privacy labels was that many were providing inaccurate information — and were getting away with it, too.
Google says the new features will not roll out until Q2 2022, but it wanted to announce now in order to give developers plenty of time to prepare.
Image Credits: Google
There is, of course, a lot of irony to be found in an app privacy announcement from Google.
The company was one of the longest holdouts on issuing privacy labels for its own iOS apps, as it scrambled to review (and re-review, we understand) the labels’ content and disclosures. After initially claiming its labels would roll out “soon,” many of Google’s top apps then entered a lengthy period where they received no updates at all, as they were no longer compliant with App Store policies.
Google’s plan to add a safety section of its own to Google Play gives it a chance to shift the narrative a bit.
It’s not a privacy push, necessarily. They’re not even called privacy labels! Instead, the changes seem designed to allow app developers to better explain if you can trust their app with your data, rather than setting the expectation that the app should not be collecting data in the first place.
How well this will resonate with consumers remains to be seen. Apple has made a solid case that it’s a company that compares about user privacy, and is adding features that put users in control of their data. It’s a hard argument to fight back against — especially in an era that’s seen too many data breaches to count, careless handling of private data by tech giants, widespread government spying, and a creepy adtech industry that grew to feel entitled to user data collection without disclosure.
Google says when the changes roll out, non-compliant apps will be required to fix their violations or become subject to policy enforcement. It hasn’t yet detailed how that process will be handled, or whether it will pause app updates for apps in violation.
Security researchers say APKPure, a widely popular app for installing older or discontinued Android apps from outside of Google’s app store, contained malicious adware that flooded the victim’s device with unwanted ads.
Kaspersky Lab said that it alerted APKPure on Thursday that its most recent app version, 3.17.18, contained malicious code that siphoned off data from a victim’s device without their knowledge, and pushed ads to the device’s lock screen and in the background to generate fraudulent revenue for the adware operators.
But the researchers said that the malicious code had the capacity to download other malware, potentially putting affected victims at further risk.
The researchers said the APKPure developers likely introduced the malicious code, known as a software development kit or SDK, from an unverified source. APKPure removed the malicious code and pushed out a new version, 3.17.19, and the developers no longer list the malicious version on its site.
APKPure was set up in 2014 to allow Android users access to a vast bank of Android apps and games, including old versions, as well as app versions from other regions that are no longer on Android’s official app store Google Play. It later launched an Android app, which also has to be installed outside Google Play, serving as its own app store to allow users to download older apps directly to their Android devices.
But security experts have long warned against installing apps outside of the official app stores as quality and security vary wildly as much of the Android malware requires victims to install malicious apps from outside the app store. Google scans all Android apps that make it into Google Play, but some have slipped through the cracks before.
TechCrunch contacted APKPure for comment but did not hear back.
The pandemic’s remarkable impact on the app industry has not slowed down in 2021. In fact, consumer spending in apps has hit a new record in the first quarter of this year, a new report from App Annie indicates. The firm says consumers in Q1 2021 spent $32 billion on apps across both iOS and Google Play, up 40% year-over-year from Q1 2020. It’s the largest-ever quarter on record, App Annie also notes.
Last year saw both app downloads and consumer spend increase, as people rapidly adopted apps under coronavirus lockdowns — including apps for work, school, shopping, fitness, entertainment, gaming and more. App Annie previously reported a record 218 billion in global downloads and record consumer spend of $143 billion for the year.
Image Credits: App Annie
These trends have continued into 2021, it seems, with mobile consumers spending roughly $9 billion more in Q1 2021 compared with Q1 2020. Although iOS saw larger consumer spend than Android in the quarter — $21 billion vs. $11 billion, respectively — both stores grew by the same percentage, 40%.
But the types of apps driving spending were slightly different from store to store.
On Google Play, Games, Social and Entertainment apps saw the strongest quarter-over-quarter growth in terms of consumer spending, while Games, Photo & Video, and Entertainment apps accounted for the strongest growth on iOS.
By downloads, the categories were different between the stores, as well.
On Google Play, Social, Tools, and Fiance saw the biggest download growth in Q1, while Games, Finance and Social Networking drove download growth for iOS. Also on Google Play, other top categories included Weather (40%) and Dating (35%), while iOS saw Health and Fitness app downloads grow by a notable 25% — likely a perfect storm as New Year’s Resolutions combined with continued stay-at-measures that encouraged users to find new ways to stay fit without going to a gym.
Image Credits: App Annie
The top apps in the quarter remained fairly consistent, however. TikTok beat Facebook, in terms of downloads, and was followed by Instagram, Telegram, WhatsApp and Zoom. But the short-form video app only made it to No. 2 in terms of consumer spend, with YouTube snagging the top spot. Tinder, Disney+, Tencent Video, and others followed. (Netflix has dropped off this chart as it now directs new users to sign up directly, rather than through in-app purchases).
Image Credits: App Annie
Though Facebook’s apps have fallen behind TikTok by downloads, its apps — including Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram — still led the market in terms monthly active users (MAUs) in the quarter. TikTok, meanwhile, ranked No. 8 by this metric.
Up-and-comers in the quarter included privacy-focused messaging app Signal, which saw the strongest growth in the quarter by both downloads and MAUs — a calculation that App Annie calls “breakout apps.” Telegram closely followed, as users bailed from mainstream social after the Capitol riot. Another “breakout” app was MX TakaTak, which is filling the hole in the market for short-form video that resulted from India’s ban of TikTok.
Image Credits: App Annie
Gaming, meanwhile, drove a majority of the quarter’s spending, as usual, accounting for $22 billion of the spend — $13 billion on iOS (up 30% year-over-year) and $9 billion on Android (up 35%). Gamers downloaded about a billion titles per week, up 15% year-over-year from 2020.
Among Us! dropped to No. 2 in the quarter by downloads, replaced by Join Clash 3D, while DOP 2: Delete One Part jumped 308 places to reach No. 3.
Image Credits: App Annie
Roblox led by consumer spend, followed by Genshin Impact, Coin Master, Pokemon Go and others. And although Among Us! dropped on the charts by downloads, it remained No. 1 by monthly active users in the quarter, followed by PUBG Mobile, Candy Crush Saga, Roblox and others.
App Annie notes that the pandemic also accelerated the mobile gaming market, with game downloads outpacing overall downloads by 2.5x in 2020. It predicts that mobile gaming will reach $120 billion in consumer spending this year, or 1.5x all other gaming formats combined.
Today, Google announced a major change to the revenue-sharing structure of Google Play apps—one that could significantly alter the fortunes of independent developers or small companies who rely on the Android platform’s app store for revenue.
Starting on July 1, Google will take a 15 percent cut of the first $1 million in annual Google Play revenue from Google Play that a developer earns. That’s down from 30 percent previously. The 30 percent figure will still apply to all revenue over $1 million each year.
Google claims that 99 percent of developers with apps and content on Google Play will experience reductions in fees paid to Google of up to 50 percent.
Google will lower its Play commissions globally for developers that sell in-app digital goods and services on its marquee store, the company said, following a similar move by rival Apple late last year.
The Android-maker said on Tuesday that starting July 1, it is reducing the service fee for Google Play to 15% — down from 30% — for the first $1 million of revenue developers earn using Play billing system each year. The company will levy a 30% cut on every dollar developers generate through Google Play beyond the first $1 million in a year, it said.
Citing its own estimates, Google said 99% of developers that sell goods and services with Play will see a 50% reduction in fees, and that 97% of apps globally do not sell digital goods or pay any service fee.
Google’s new approach is slightly different from Apple, which last year said it would collect 15% rather than 30% of App Store sales from companies that generate no more than $1 million in revenue through the company’s platform. That drop doesn’t apply to iOS apps if a developer’s revenue on Apple platform exceeds $1 million.
“We’ve heard from our partners making $2 million, $5 million and even $10 million a year that their services are still on a path to self-sustaining orbit,” wrote Sameer Samat, VP of Android and Google Play, in a blog post.
“This is why we are making this reduced fee on the first $1 million of total revenue earned each year available to every Play developer that uses the Play billing system, regardless of size. We believe this is a fair approach that aligns with Google’s broader mission to help all developers succeed.”
The move comes months after changes in Google billing system charges rattled many startups in India. More than 150 startups banded together last year after Google said it will collect as high as 30% cut on in-app purchases in a range of categories made by Android apps.
Following the backlash, Google delayed mandating the planned Play Store payments rule in India to April 2022 and had reached out to several firms in recent months in the country to better understand their concerns, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive of mobile payments provider Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, dismissed Google’s move today as a “PR stunt.”
In an interview with TechCrunch, Sharma said established firms like his will still have to pay an exorbitant amount of fee to Google. Today’s announcement by Google, he said, further raises the question whether Google plans to address concerns raised by serious internet firms at all.
The biggest concern firms face today is the inability to use a third-party payments service for billing, he said. “They are basically saying that as soon as you build a business larger than $1 million — which is a very low bar — you are going to pay a 30% fee, which after taxes, becomes 44%,” he said.
A 30% sales cut and the inability to use third-party billing system have been points of contention between many developers and app store operators — Apple and Google — and led to a lawsuit by Fortnite-maker Epic Games against the iPhone-maker last year. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney had alleged that Apple’s move to lower the App Store fee for smaller developers was orchestrated to sow division among app creators.
Sharma said he was hopeful that Google will address other concerns, especially because in a country like India “we don’t have any other operating system, or distribution platform. They effectively control the destiny of every app developer in the country.”
Android commands 99% of the smartphone market in India, according to research firm Counterpoint. “Earlier India was powered by Android, then we became dependent on Android, and now it is controlled by Android,” said Sharma, whose payments app competes with Google Pay in the world’s second largest internet market.
Google’s Samat said,”We look forward to seeing more businesses scale to new heights on Android, and to further discussions with the Indian developer community to find new ways to support them technically and economically as they build their businesses.”
“Once developers confirm some basic information to help us understand any associated accounts they have and ensure we apply the 15% properly, this discount will automatically renew each year,” he wrote.
Google is making changes to its parental control system, Family Link, that aims to better reflect parents’ changing views on children’s screen time. In the pre-pandemic world, parents were more likely to see screen time as something in need of restriction — they’d rather their kids get offline or go outside to play with friends, perhaps. But the challenges of a locked-down world and the push towards virtual learning have impacted parents’ views. Google says today’s parents are more concerned about how kids are spending time on their devices, not how much time is being spent.
It’s a concession to a world where devices have become a savior of sorts to families who’ve stayed at home to avoid Covid — where they’ve been restricted from seeing extended family and friends, and where schools are closed and playdates and parties were cancelled. Parents came to realize that screen time in and of itself isn’t necessarily something to be avoided; they just wanted more control over how it’s used.
With the Family Link update, parents can now choose to make remote learning apps “always allowed,” so they don’t count toward overall screen time daily limits. This could include not only those apps that are used to attend school or communicate with teachers, but others that have popped up to help kids learn and be entertained, like the supplementalresources the school suggests — or the apps parents allow during break times from virtual class.
Parents will also now have access to more detailed daily, weekly and monthly activity reports that provide both an overview of how the child is spending their time in apps, as well as how screen time usage has changed over a week or month, and what portion of time was spent in the “always allowed” apps. This gives parents a better idea of what screen time was used for education versus play.
On Android, Family Link users will also be able to browse through a selection of teacher-recommended apps from the Google Play catalog for kids under 13 in the U.S. And parents can also now set screen time limits directly from the child’s device on Android.
Image Credits: Google
Though these updates will remain useful in a post-pandemic world where parents hold a more nuanced view of screen time, it’s unfortunate that Google waited until so late in the pandemic to roll these changes out. As more people in the U.S. are being vaccinated, restrictions are lifting — including the re-opening of schools in many places. That means parents’ stress over kids’ increased screen time usage will soon become a moot point. The devices will be replaced with in-person learning, and screen time may become villainized yet again.
Related to today’s news, Google has launched a new website for families whose kids are beginning to use technology at families.google. The company also launched a new content series with meditation app Headspace that will help families with kids practice mindfulness together. Again, that’s a resource that was desperately needed in 2020 during the pandemic’s heights, more so than it is today as the world begins reopening.
Still, the pandemic has forced families to think more about screen time and what sort of on-device experiences they want their children to have. As a result of this increased scrutiny, social apps like TikTok and Instagram — the latter just today, in fact — have rolled out more family-friendly safety features, aimed at encouraging parents to see their apps in a better light, rather than being the first to go when screen time gets locked down. It has also encouraged new hybrid learning and education startups to launch, hoping to build out a new category of edutainment apps that can avoid screen time lockdowns.
Google has suspended the Trump 2020 campaign app from the Google Play Store for policy violations, the company confirmed, following a report from Android Police which noted the app was unable to load any content and appeared to have been taken down. Both the Android version of the app and its iOS counterpart have been left online since the November 2020 elections, but hadn’t received recent updates — which likely contributed to the app’s stability issues.
The Play Store version hadn’t been updated since October 30, 2020, for example, according to data from Sensor Tower.
According to Android Police’s report, the app was hanging and couldn’t load content, and it reported connectivity issues. We understand the issue was as they described — when users downloaded the app, it would either hang on the initial loading screen with a spinning “T” logo or it would immediately report a server error at startup. In either case, it would never load the app experience at all.
Recent user reviews on the Play Store noted these issues, saying things like “will not open,” “the app doesn’t even work,” “absolutely terrible doesn’t even work,” “wouldn’t open keep saying check connections,” and more. One user even asked the developer to respond to the numerous complaints, saying “please reply to people commenting. It’s not loading.” Another implied the issues were Google’s fault, noting “worked great, until Google canceled it.”
Google, though, did not cancel it. The Trump 2020 Android app has actually been experiencing problems for some time before Google took this action.
For example, a tweet from around a month ago described a similar set of issues:
Google told TechCrunch the app has not been banned from the Play Store, only suspended for its non-functionality. It can be reinstated if the problems are addressed. The company also said it attempted to reach out to the app’s developer before taking the app down, but never received a response.
“The Trump 2020 campaign app recently stopped working and we reached out to the developer multiple times in an attempt to get them to address the issue,” a Google spokesperson said. “People expect that apps downloaded from Google Play provide a minimum level of functionality and our policy is to remove non-working apps from the store if they are not fixed.”
Despite the issues on Android, we found the iOS version was still able to load upon first launch, and could send confirmation codes to a phone number at sign-up. But when you visited the app’s main screens, it also now presents an error message. This error doesn’t affect your ability to browse through the past content on iOS, however.
Image Credits: Trump 2020 screenshot on iOS
According to data from Sensor Tower, the Android version hadn’t seen any new installs since February 7, 2021. The firm also noted the Trump 2020 Android app had around 840,000 installs compared with close to 1.5 million on iOS.
This is not the first time the Trump 2020 app’s issues have made headlines.
In the months leading up to last year’s presidential election in the U.S., a number of TikTok users decided to troll the app in its user reviews. (For some reason, Gen Z users believe a lowly rated app will be automatically removed from the app stores. That’s not true.) Their efforts at the time were able to bring the app’s overall star rating down to just 1.2 stars, and eventually forced the Trump 2020 campaign to reset the app’s ratings.
Apps saw record downloads and consumer spending in 2020, globally reaching somewhere around $111 billion to $112 billion, according to various estimates. But a growing part of that spend was subscription payments, a new report from Sensor Tower indicates. Last year, global subscription app revenue from the top 100 subscription apps (excluding games), climbed 34% year-over-year to $13 billion, up from $9.7 billion in 2019.
The App Store, not surprisingly, accounted for a sizable chunk of this subscription revenue, given it has historically outpaced the Play Store on consumer spending. In 2020, the top 100 subscription apps worldwide generated $10.3 billion on the App Store, up 32% over 2019, compared with $2.7 billion on Google Play, which grew 42% from $1.9 billion in 2019.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
There are some signs that subscription revenue growth may be hitting a peak. (Or it could be that subscriptions were a luxury some consumers cut in a down economy.)
Globally, subscription app revenue from the top 100 apps was around 11.7% of the total ~$111 billion consumers spent on in-app purchases in 2020 — which is roughly the same share it saw in 2019.
And in the fourth quarter of 2020, 86 of the top 100 earning apps worldwide offered subscriptions, which was down from the 89 that did so in the fourth quarter of 2019.
In addition, subscription app revenue growth in the U.S. is now trailing the global trends.
Although subscription app revenue was still up 26% on a year-over-year basis to reach nearly $5.9 billion in 2020, that was slower growth than the 34% seen worldwide.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
What’s more, subscription app spending in the U.S. last year represented a smaller percentage of the total consumer spend than in 2019, the report found. In 2020, subscription payments from the top 100 subscription apps were 17.6% of the $33 billion U.S. consumers spent on in-app purchases, down from the 21% share they accounted for in 2019.
And out of the 100 top grossing apps in the U.S. in the fourth quarter 2020, 91 were subscription-based, down from 93 in the year ago quarter.
The top subscription apps in the U.S. looked different between the App Store and Google Play. On the former, YouTube was the top grosser in this category, while Google Pay users spent on Google One (Google’s cloud storage product). Tinder, meanwhile, was No. 2 on the App Store, while Disney+ took the second spot on Google Play.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
Overall, the top 10 across both stores were YouTube, Disney+, Tinder, Pandora, Google One, Twitch, Bumble, HBO Max, Hulu, and ESPN. These top earners indicate that consumers are willing to pay for their entertainment — like streaming services — on subscription, but it’s more difficult for other categories to break into the top charts. Dating apps. however, remain an exception.
A benign barcode scanner with more than 10 million downloads from Google Play has been caught receiving an upgrade that turned it to the dark side, prompting the search-and-advertising giant to remove it.
Barcode Scanner, one of dozens of such apps available in the official Google app repository, began its life as a legitimate offering. Then in late December, researchers with security firm Malwarebytes began receiving messages from customers complaining that ads were opening out of nowhere on their default browser.
One update is all it takes
Malwarebytes mobile malware researcher Nathan Collier was at first puzzled. None of the customers had recently installed any apps, and all the apps they had already installed came from Play, a market that despite its long history of admitting malicious apps remains safer than most third-party sites. Eventually, Collier identified the culprit as the Barcode Scanner. The researcher said an update delivered in December included code that was responsible for the bombardment of ads.
Amazon Web Services is suspending Parler’s access to its hosting services at the end of the weekend, potentially driving the service offline unless it can find a new provider.
“Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler’s account effective Sunday, January 10th, at 11:59PM PST,” Amazon wrote to Parler in an email obtained and first reported by BuzzFeed.
The email from AWS to Parler cites several examples of violent and threatening posts made in recent days, including threats to “systematically assassinate liberal leaders, liberal activists, BLM leaders and supporters,” and others. “Given the unfortunate events that transpired this past week in Washington, D.C., there is serious risk that this type of content will further incite violence,” the message adds.
Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.
The company tells TechCrunch,
We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues.
In the wake of its decision Apple sent Parler’s developers the following note,
To the developers of the Parler app,
Thank you for your response regarding dangerous and harmful content on Parler. We have determined that the measures you describe are inadequate to address the proliferation of dangerous and objectionable content on your app.
Parler has not upheld its commitment to moderate and remove harmful or dangerous content encouraging violence and illegal activity, and is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.
In your response, you referenced that Parler has been taking this content “very seriously for weeks.” However, the processes Parler has put in place to moderate or prevent the spread of dangerous and illegal content have proved insufficient. Specifically, we have continued to find direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action in violation of Guideline 1.1 – Safety – Objectionable Content.
Your response also references a moderation plan “for the time being,” which does not meet the ongoing requirements in Guideline 1.2 – Safety – User Generated content. While there is no perfect system to prevent all dangerous or hateful user content, apps are required to have robust content moderation plans in place to proactively and effectively address these issues. A temporary “task force” is not a sufficient response given the widespread proliferation of harmful content.
For these reasons, your app will be removed from the App Store until we receive an update that is compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and you have demonstrated your ability to effectively moderate and filter the dangerous and harmful content on your service.
App Review Board
Conservative commentator and Parler investor Dan Bongino posted about Apple’s decision on the site,
The tech tyrants at Apple have pulled the app from their App Store. Apple is no different than the Chinese communist party in their preference for totalitarian thought control. I’m proud of the remaining liberty-loving people of this great country. And I’m embarrassed, and horrified by the tech totalitarians who’ve taken control of it.
While Parler is no longer available through the store at present, it seems it will still be available to access for those who have already downloaded it. As The New York Times noted earlier this week,
If Apple pulls Parler from the App Store, people would not be able to download the app to their iPhones or iPads. People who had already downloaded the Parler iPhone app would still be able to use it, but the company would not be able to update the app, meaning it would eventually be rendered obsolete as Apple updated the iPhone software.
The news comes shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules, we understand. Apple’s App Store guidelines require apps hosting user-generated content to have moderation policies to remove content that incites violence.
BuzzFeed News on Friday reported Parler had received a letter from Apple which warned that the app would be removed from the App Store within 24 hours, unless the company submitted a content moderation improvement plan.
Apple’s notice read:
We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property. The app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.
Parler CEO John Matze posted about Apple’s ultimatum to his own Parler account, saying he would not cave to “those authoritarians who hate free speech.” Earlier today, it was noted that the service reportedly removed a post from Trump associate Lin Wood over calls for violence against Vice President, Mike Pence.
Ahead of its removal, Parler had ranked No. 1 in News on the iPhone App Store and No. 13 Overall, according to data from App Annie. On Friday, it was ranking as high as No. 1, at times, on the iPhone’s Top Charts of free non-game apps, though final data was not available.
Image Credits: App Annie
Currently, the app is hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), but it appears to be in violation of the AWS Acceptable Use Policy which could serve as grounds for its removal.
The collective action of tech company employees is playing a key role in some of the decisions being made regarding Trump and his supporters’ access to platforms to communicate and organize in the days following the Capitol riots. According to The Washington Post, for example, over 350 Twitter employees signed a letter urging CEO Jack Dorsey and other execs to permanently suspend Trump’s account before the company followed through.
Trump has now lost his ability to post to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Twitch, to name a few. Meanwhile, Parler’s removal from both app stores will limit the reach of the more radical and violent Trump supporter movement to some extent, forcing them to more obscure corners of the web. However, many argue these measures have come too late, as the damage to not only Capitol, but to the nation’s psyche as whole, has already been done.
Users are surging on small, conservative, social media platforms after President Donald Trump’s ban from the world’s largest social networks, even as those platforms are seeing access throttled by the app marketplaces of tech’s biggest players.
Parler saw approximately 210,000 installs globally on Friday 1/8, up 281% from approximately 55,000 on 1/7, according to data from the analytics service Sensor Tower. “In the U.S., the app saw approximately 182,000 first-time downloads on 1/8, up 355% from about 40,000 installs on 1/7. Since Wednesday, the app has seen approximately 268,000 installs from across U.S. app stores,” a press rep from Sensor Tower wrote in an email.
Parler’s ballooning user base comes at a potentially perilous time for the company. It has already been removed from Google’s Play store and Apple is considering suspending the social media app as well if it does not add some content moderation features.
The expectation with these services is that users on the platforms are in charge of muting and blocking trolls or offensive content, but, by their nature, those who join these platforms will generally find themselves among like-minded users.
Their user counts might be surging, but would-be adopters may soon have a hard time finding the services.
On Friday night, Google said that it would be removing Parler from their Play Store immediately — suspending the app until the developers committed to a moderation and enforcement policy that could handle objectionable content on the platform.
In a statement to TechCrunch, a Google spokesperson said:
“In order to protect user safety on Google Play, our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence. All developers agree to these terms and we have reminded Parler of this clear policy in recent months. We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.“
On Friday, Buzzfeed News reported that Parler had received a letter from Apple informing them that the app would be removed from the App Store within 24 hours unless the company submitted an update with a moderation improvement plan. Parler CEO John Matze confirmed the action from Apple in a post on his Parler account where he posted a screenshot of the notification from Apple.
“We want to be clear that Parler is in fact responsible for all the user generated content present on your service and for ensuring that this content meets App Store requirements for the safety and protection of our users,” text from the screenshot reads. “We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.
Parler is backed by the conservative billionaire heiress Rebekah Mercer, according to a November report in The Wall Street Journal. Founded in 2018, the service has experienced spikes in user adoption with every clash between more social media companies and the outgoing President Trump. In November, Parler boasted some 10 million users, according to the Journal.
Users like Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo and the conservative talk show host Dan Bongino, a wildly popular figure on Facebook who is also an investor in Parler, have joined the platform. In the Journal article Bongino called the company “a collective middle finger to the tech tyrants.”
Sarah Perez and Lucas Matney contributed additional reporting to this article.
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 204 billion total downloads and $120 billion in global consumer spend in 2019. Not including Chinese third-party app stores, iOS and Android users in 2020 downloaded 130 billion apps and spent a record $112 billion. In 2019, people spent three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV.
Due to COVID-19, time spent in apps jumped 25% year-over-year on Android. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
This week (after a week off for the holidays), we’re taking a look at holiday app store spending, how the Chinese gaming licensing rules have impacted the App Store, Apple’s move to ban a party app that could have helped spread COVID, and the collaborative musical created by TikTok users, among other things.
Christmas Day app spending grows 35% year-over-year
Global app spending didn’t seem to be impacted by the pandemic in 2020, according to data from Sensor Tower. The firm reports that consumers spent $407.6 million in apps from the iOS App Store and Google Play on Christmas Day, 34.5% from the $303 million spent in 2019. The majority of the spending was on mobile games, up 27% year-over-year to $295.6 million. Tencent’s Honor of Kings led the games category, while TikTok led non-game apps with $4.7 million in spending on Christmas Day.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
As in prior years, Apple accounted for the majority of the spending, or 68.4% ($278.6M) vs Google Play’s $129M. The spending was led by the U.S., who accounted for ~$130 million of the total
Apple takes a stand on pandemic parties
Apple’s App Store Review guidelines don’t specifically detail how the company will handle apps that could contribute to the spread of COVID-19, but Apple found a way to draw the line when it came to a social app that encouraged unsafe gatherings. This past week, Apple banned the app Vybe Together, which had allowed people to locate “secret” indoor house parties in their area, sometimes including those held in violation of state guidelines.
There’s no good defense, really, for the unnecessary and ill-timed promotion of an app that encouraged people from different households to gather, which spreads COVID. And what the founder seemed to not understand, by nature of his recent tweets and statements on the app’s website, is that many cities and states also alreadyprohibit small private gatherings of varying degrees, including those he believes are fine, like small parties in folks’ “own apartments with people in your area.”
The U.S. is coping with 346,000 COVID deaths, and in New York, where the app was promoting NYE parties, 74% of all COVID-19 cases from Sept.-Nov. 2020 have been linked to private gatherings.
The media may have reported on what the app was doing, but ultimately the decision to “cancel” it was Apple’s. And it was the correct one.
iOS games have long been required to obtain a Chinese gaming license in order to operate in the country, but Apple skirted this rule for years by hosting unlicensed titles even as Android app stores complied. Apple began to enforce the rule in 2020 and gave publishers a Dec. 31, 2020 deadline to obtain the license — a process that can be tedious and time-consuming.
Clearly, a large number of publishers were not able to meet the deadline. Included in the new sweep were Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Identity and NBA 2K20. Qimai says only only 74 of the top 1,500 paid games remained following the removals. To date, Apple purged more than 46,000 titles from the China App Store, the report said.
TikTok births a “Ratatousical”
The TikTok musical version of Ratatouille has become a real thing. The pandemic forced a lot of creative types out of work in 2020, leading them to find new ways to express themselves online. On TikTok, this collective pent-up energy turned into a large-scale collaborative event: a musical version of Disney’s Ratatouille. (Or Ratatousical, as it was nicknamed.) TikTokers composed music, wrote lyrics and dialogue, choreographed dances, designed costumes, sets and more, as they worked together through the app.
Surprisingly, Disney is allowing a charity version of this collaboration to become a real event without any interference or lawsuits. The Ratatouille musical live-streamed on Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. Eastern, and will be available via video-on-demand through Jan. 4, for a minimum $5 donation to The Actors Fund.
The musical itself was lighthearted fun for a younger, Gen Z crowd. It also cleverly incorporated actual TikTok videos that featured the app’s well-known visual effects — like cloning yourself or the flashing colored lights typically associated with TikTok’s “you think you can hurt me” meme, for example. That made it more accessible and familiar to kids who had spent the past year being entertained via the internet.
TikTok users, of course, aren’t the only ones designing, creating and editing productions through remote and collaborative processes in 2020 — Hollywood itself has had to reorient itself for remote work at a much larger scale. TikTok was simply the platform of choice for theater kids looking for something to do.
It will be interesting to see if the TikTok-based collaborative process that birthed this musical ultimately becomes a one-off event that arose from the pandemic’s impacts — including the ability for many creative people to devote time and energy on side projects, for example, due to shuttered productions and stay-at-home orders. Or perhaps in-app collaborations have a real future? Time will tell.
TikTok has already proven it can drive the music charts, fashion trends, and app downloads, so it can probably generate an audience for this production, as well. But the cynic may wonder if such an event would have been as popular and buzzworthy had it been some entirely original production, rather than one based on already popular and beloved Disney IP. But you may as well watch — it’s not like you have any other plans these days.
The iPhone 11 was the most activated device on Christmas Day 2020, according to Flurry data, with activations 5% higher versus the 7 day average between December 18 to December 24. However, overall new smartphone activations were down 23% year-over-year, likely because of the economic hardships due to the COVID health crisis, including delayed stimulus checks.
Samsung teams up with Epic Games on Apple battle over Fortnite. Samsung and Epic Games worked together on the “Free Fortnite” marketing campaign, which recently involving sending packages to influencers that contained a Free Fortnite bomber jacket and Samsung Galaxy Tab S7. Fortnite was the Samsung Galaxy Store game of the year in 2020, and the store also distributes the Epic Games app which distributes the Fortnite updates. This is an odd move as Epic alleges the app stores leverage their power to engage in monopolistic practices, but this makes it clear that Samsung is offering them distribution. Apple has the right to set its own pricing for its services (and it recently lowered commissions for small businesses, too). But even if Epic Games is not the knight in shining armor one would hope for, its lawsuit could help set precedent. And regulators may still decide one day that Apple can’t dictate rules about how businesses operate outside its app store — meaning, they should have the right to collect their own payments, for example.
Image Credits: The New York Times
The New York Times gets into AR gaming. The media company has experimented with augmented reality as a way to augment storytelling both in its app and through other efforts on social media. But it has now taken AR into the world of gaming with an AR-enabled crossword puzzle where you swipe to rotate broken pieces floating above the puzzle to find clues.
Social & Photos
Telegram photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Telegram begins to make money. The messaging app, now nearing 500 million users, will introduce an ad platform for its public one-to-many channels that is “user-friendly” and “respects privacy.” The company says it needs to generate revenue to cover the costs of server and traffic. Telegram earlier abandoned a blockchain token project due to regulatory issues.
Mr. Beast announces the second annual “Finger on the App” challenge on Feb. 19. The game doles out $100,000 to whoever can keep their finger on their smartphone the longest, via an app designed for this purpose. Last year, it was a four-way tie after 70 hours, and the prize money was divided. The new app introduces in-app challenges to dissuade cheating. YouTuber Mr. Beast rose to fame for his philanthropic-based viral videos and stunts. He has made sizable donations to people in need and those impacted by the pandemic. But this year, the otherwise silly game has a darker tone as it involves competitors who will likely be in more desperate situations.
Bumble uproar over indoor bikini and bra photos. The dating app found itself in the middle of a small controversy this week when a woman who wanted to pose in her bra had her photos taken down. The company said its existing policy prohibits things like shirtless bathroom mirror selfies and indoor photos of people wearing swimsuits and underwear. Bumble’s policies were crafted in response to user data and feedback, but may also help to prevent adult sites from spamming with fake profiles. However, there’s still something weird about an app that markets itself as female-friendly telling a woman to go put some clothes on.
TikTok launches its first personalized annual recap feature. The company “year on TikTok” in-app experience joins other personalized wrap-ups like the Top Nine for Instagram or Spotify’s Wrapped. It also introduces a floating, tappable button to connect users to the experience. This could pave way for other sorts of mini-applications in the future.
Clubhouse power users invited to special club. A select group of creators inside the already invite-only audio conversations app have now been given exclusive access to tools and private meetings with Clubhouse leadership and influencers. In one meeting, the creators discussed monetization strategies. The app grew to popularity amid the pandemic as people have been prevented from typical forms of networking, but it’s also struggled with moderation as conversations go off the rails. Today, Clubhouse alsohostsmanyadulttopics, as well, which would give the app a 17+ rating if it were actually submitted to the App Store instead of being in a private beta.
HBO Max’s mobile app set a single-day download record following the release of “Wonder Woman 1984.” During the release weekend (Fri.-Sun.) the app saw 554K downloads, including 244K downloads on Sunday alone, reported Apptopia. The firm estimates the app now has just under 12M mobile users.
The U.S. government appealed the injunction against its TikTok ban on Dec. 28. Two U.S. judges had already stopped Trump’s E.O. from being carried out. U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols on Dec. 7 determined the Commerce Dept. had overstepped its authority, and declared the action “arbitrary and capricious.” The department said it would continue to pursue the ban, which it did this past week by filing the appeal. It’s still unclear what will happen to TikTok and this specific case the days to come when President-Elect Biden takes office, but many suspect it could be dropped as the new administration focuses on more pressing issues, like the COVID crisis.
Tappity raises $1.3 million for its interactive and educational video library for kids. The Y Combinator-backed startup using live action actors responding to kids’ actions in the apps to teach standards-based science.
Tencent-backed edtech startup Yuanfudao raises $300 million from Jack Ma’s Yufeng Capital. The company, which earned $1.53B USD in 2020, makes a variety of remote learning products, including live tutoring platform Yuanfudao, Zebra AI Class, online question bank Yuantiku, question searching app Xiaoyuan Souti, and arithmetic problem checking app Xiaoyuan Kousuan.
The popular app maker Iconfactory released a new app, Waterscope, that is a weather app more specifically designed to provide users with information on water conditions. Creator Craig Hockenberry explains the app is something he largely built for himself, an ocean swimmer often in need of information about the tides, wave heights, water temperature, wind speed, air temperature, forecasts and more. The app could be useful to those who live around the water, whether they’re swimming, fishing, boating or anything else. iOS only.
Run Boggo Run
Image Credits: BuzzFeed
This endless runner is BuzzFeed’s first mobile game, which makes it worth noting if not exactly recommending. The mental health-themed game, inspired by BuzzFeed’s animated series The Land of Boggs, was created by BuzzFeed Animation Studios. In the game, characters try to avoid things like stress monsters and gremlins, which is a humorous take on the anxieties of 2020. However, early user reviews indicate the game’s controls are too difficult and complain the game is too hard to be fun. How stressful! $0.99 on iOS and Android.
A new meditation game Enso promises to help users relax, meditate or fall asleep faster using gameplay that involves soothing visuals and sounds, composed by A.I. The app consists of 5-minute journeys where users concentrate on a task while guiding their movements and breath to achieve their goals. iOS and Android.
Image Credits: Portal
Not Facebook’s Portal! This sleep and relaxation-focused app, also called Portal, has been updated with Apple’s new privacy measures in mind. The company announced in December it will not collect user data from its app, and will now no longer use any in-app analytics tracking. The app also never required a login or collected personal information, and didn’t include third-party ads and ad trackers.
That’s resulted in an App Store rare find:
The Portal app is a free download and offers a $35 per year membership for those who want access to the full content library.
Google announced this morning Android phones will receive an update this winter that will bring some half-dozen new features to devices, including improvements to apps like Gboard, Google Play Books, Voice Access, Google Maps, Android Auto, and Nearby Share. The release is the latest in a series of update bundles that now allow Android devices to receive new features outside of the usual annual update cycle.
The bundles may not deliver Android’s latest flagship features, but they offer steady improvements on a more frequent basis.
One of the more fun bits in the winter update will include a change to “Emoji Kitchen,” the feature in the Gboard keyboard app that lets users combine their favorite emoji to create new ones that can be shared as customized stickers. To date, users have remixed emoji over 3 billion times since the feature launched earlier this year, Google says. Now, the option is being expanded. Instead of offering hundreds of design combinations, it will offer over 14,000. You’ll also be able to tap two emoji to see suggested combinations or double tap on one emoji to see other suggestions.
Image Credits: Google
This updated feature had been live in the Gboard beta app, but will now roll out to Android 6.0 and above devices in the weeks ahead.
Another update will expand audiobook availability on Google Play Books. Now, Google will auto-generate narrations for books that don’t offer an audio version. The company says it worked with publishers in the U.S. and U.K. to add these auto-narrated books to Google Play Books. The feature is in beta but will roll out to all publishers in early 2021.
An accessibility feature that lets people use and navigate their phone with voice commands, Voice Access, will also be improved. The feature will soon leverage machine learning to understand interface labels on devices. This will allow users to refer to things like the “back” and “more” buttons, and many others by name when they are speaking.
An update for Google Maps will add a new feature to one of people’s most-used apps.
In a new (perhaps Waze-inspired) “Go Tab,” users will be able to more quickly navigate to frequently visited places — like a school or grocery store, for example — with a tap. The app will allow users to see directions, live traffic trends, disruptions on the route, and gives an accurate ETA, without having to type in the actual address. Favorite places — or in the case of public transit users, specific routes — can be pinned in the Go Tab for easy access. Transit users will be able to see things like accurate departure and arrival times, alerts from the local transit agency, and an up-to-date ETA.
Image Credits: Google
One potentially helpful use case for this new feature would be to pin both a transit route and driving route to the same destination, then compare their respective ETAs to pick the faster option.
This feature is coming to both Google Maps on Android as well as iOS in the weeks ahead.
Android Auto will expand to more countries over the next few months. Google initially said it would reach 36 countries, but then updated the announcement language as the timing of the rollout was pushed back. The company now isn’t saying how many countries will gain access in the months to follow or which ones, so you’ll need stay tuned for news on that front.
Image Credits: Google
The final change is to Nearby Share, the proximity-based sharing feature that lets users share things like links, files, photos and and more even when they don’t have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection available. The feature, which is largely designed with emerging markets in mind, will now allow users to share apps from Google Play with people around them, too.
To do so, you’ll access a new “Share Apps” menu in “Manage Apps & Games” in the Google Play app. This feature will roll out in the weeks ahead.
Some of these features will begin rolling out today, so you may receive them earlier than a timeframe of several “weeks,” but the progress of each update will vary.
Google today introduced a new mobile management and security solution, Android Enterprise Essentials, which, despite its name, is actually aimed at small to medium-sized businesses. The company explains this solution leverages Google’s experience in building Android Enterprise device management and security tools for larger organizations in order to come up with a simpler solution for those businesses with smaller budgets.
The new service includes the basics in mobile device management, with features that allow smaller businesses to require their employees to use a lock screen and encryption to protect company data. It also prevents users from installing apps outside the Google Play Store via the Google Play Protect service, and allows businesses to remotely wipe all the company data from phones that are lost or stolen.
As Google explains, smaller companies often handle customer data on mobile devices, but many of today’s remote device management solutions are too complex for small business owners, and are often complicated to get up-and-running.
Android Enterprise Essentials attempts to make the overall setup process easier by eliminating the need to manually activate each device. And because the security policies are applied remotely, there’s nothing the employees themselves have to configure on their own phones. Instead, businesses that want to use the new solution will just buy Android devices from a reseller to hand out or ship to employees with policies already in place.
Though primarily aimed at smaller companies, Google notes the solution may work for select larger organizations that want to extend some basic protections to devices that don’t require more advanced management solutions. The new service can also help companies get started with securing their mobile device inventory, before they move up to more sophisticated solutions over time, including those from third-party vendors.
Google says it will roll out Android Enterprise Essentials initially with distributors Synnex in the U.S. and Tech Data in the U.K. In the future, it will make the service available through additional resellers as it takes the solution global in early 2021. Google will also host an online launch event and demo in January for interested customers.