Many schools that use fever scanners and symptom checkers have not rigorously studied if the technology has slowed the spread of Covid-19 on campuses.
The electronic Chinese yuan is now being tested in cities such as Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing. No other major power is as far along with a homegrown digital currency.
Discovery’s new app has taken off largely because viewers love watching people fix houses, tour diners and bicker about their relationships.
Virtual food brands, often driven by real celebrities, are rapidly spreading across the country. Do they help or hurt independent restaurants?
The 11-month-old audio social network is compelling. It also has some very grown-up problems.
The technology, Wi-Fi 6, is designed to reduce congestion from devices. We put it to the test.
The Kremlin has constructed an entire infrastructure of repression but has not displaced Western apps. Instead, it is turning to outright intimidation.
A simple explainer to the newest, buzziest social media app around.
Social audio app Clubhouse has now topped 8 million global downloads, despite still being in a prelaunch, invite-only mode, according to new data released today by mobile data and analytics firm App Annie. Per its estimates, Clubhouse grew from over 3.5 million global downloads as of Feb. 1, 2021, to reach 8.1 million by Feb. 16, 2021. This sharp growth is attributed to several high-profile guest appearances, including those from Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example.
App Annie also estimates that 2.6 million-plus of the total global installs took place in the U.S. — a figure that highlights the app’s global appeal.
Clubhouse, meanwhile, hasn’t officially shared its total number of downloads or registered users, but CEO Paul Davison revealed in January the app had grown to 2 million weekly active users — which means the app’s monthly active user figure and total registered user count would be much higher. Other estimates have put the app’s registered user base in between 6 million and 10 million (the latter citing unnamed sources.)
Reached for comment on App Annie’s report, Clubhouse said it doesn’t publish user numbers.
It’s worth noting that app install figures aren’t typically a valid proxy for registered users as many people often download an app but then never open it or sign up. But in Clubhouse’s case, the two figures could be more closely aligned as people who are installing the app are motivated to join. The app is not open to the public, so the users installing the app are likely either in possession of a Clubhouse invite or are aiming to get one from a friend or trusted contact who’s already joined.
Also in the new report, App Annie noted how Clubhouse phenomenon is having an impact on the larger app ecosystem. Local rivals to Clubhouse offering their own social audio experience have also gained downloads in recent days, including Dizhua, Tiya and Yalla, which have attracted users in China, the U.S., Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Dizhua, for example, has 174,000 downloads; Tiya has 6 million; and Yalla has 34.5 million, the report says. Yalla, notably, has been live since 2016, but Clubhouse’s popularity is giving it a boost.
Beyond this small handful, there’s been an explosion of social audio experiences, including those in from startups like Sonar, Locker Room, Quilt, Yoni Circle, Roadtrip, Space, Capiche.fm, Yac, Cappuccino, and others. Twitter, meanwhile, is building its own Clubhouse rival with Spaces, which it said yesterday will expand to Android by March. Facebook, too, is reportedly planning a Clubhouse competitor.
The question on everyone’s minds now is how much of this growth is sustainable. Skeptics say Clubhouse lends itself to those who tend to dominate conversations by talking at length; that many of its conversations are just kind of boring; that the app favors the “hustle culture”-obsessed; and so on. Some also wonder to how well social audio apps will fare when the world reopens post-COVID and there’s more to do — including the return traditional networking events.
But these concerns don’t take into account that social audio has the potential to carve out space for itself by supplanting users’ other mobile spoken-word audio activities, like podcast listening or audiobooks. Of course, questions about Clubhouse’s future can’t really be answered now, as the pandemic continues, and with an app that’s not fully open to the public.
A security lapse by a Jamaican government contractor has exposed immigration records and COVID-19 test results for hundreds of thousands of travelers who visited the island over the past year.
The Jamaican government contracted Amber Group to build the JamCOVID19 website and app, which the government uses to publish daily coronavirus figures and allows residents to self-report their symptoms. The contractor also built the website to pre-approve travel applications to visit the island during the pandemic, a process that requires travelers to upload a negative COVID-19 test result before they board their flight if they come from high-risk countries, including the United States.
But a cloud storage server storing those uploaded documents was left unprotected and without a password, and was publicly spilling out files onto the open web.
Many of the victims whose information was found on the exposed server are Americans.
The data is now secure after TechCrunch contacted Amber Group’s chief executive Dushyant Savadia, who did not comment when reached prior to publication.
The storage server, hosted on Amazon Web Services, was set to public. It’s not known for how long the data was unprotected, but contained more than 70,000 negative COVID-19 lab results, over 425,000 immigration documents authorizing travel to the island — which included the traveler’s name, date of birth and passport numbers — and over 250,000 quarantine orders dating back to June 2020, when Jamaica reopened its borders to visitors after the pandemic’s first wave. The server also contained more than 440,000 images of travelers’ signatures.
Two U.S. travelers whose lab results were among the exposed data told TechCrunch that they uploaded their COVID-19 results through the Visit Jamaica website before their travel. Once lab results are processed, travelers receive a travel authorization that they must present before boarding their flight.
Both of these documents, as well as quarantine orders that require visitors to shelter in place and several passports, were on the exposed storage server.
Travelers who are staying outside Jamaica’s so-called “resilient corridor,” a zone that covers a large portion of the island’s population, are told to install the app built by Amber Group that tracks their location and is tracked by the Ministry of Health to ensure visitors stay within the corridor. The app also requires that travelers record short “check-in” videos with a daily code sent by the government, along with their name and any symptoms.
The server exposed more than 1.1 million of those daily updating check-in videos.
The server also contained dozens of daily timestamped spreadsheets named “PICA,” likely for the Jamaican passport, immigration and citizenship agency, but these were restricted by access permissions. But the permissions on the storage server were set so that anyone had full control of the files inside, such as allowing them to be downloaded or deleted altogether. (TechCrunch did neither, as doing so would be unlawful.)
Stephen Davidson, a spokesperson for the Jamaican Ministry of Health, did not comment when reached, or say if the government planned to inform travelers of the security lapse.
Savadia founded Amber Group in 2015 and soon launched its vehicle-tracking system, Amber Connect.
According to one report, Amber’s Savadia said the company developed JamCOVID19 “within three days” and made it available to the Jamaican government in large part for free. The contractor is billing other countries, including Grenada and the British Virgin Islands, for similar implementations, and is said to be looking for other government customers outside the Caribbean.
Savadia would not say what measures his company put in place to protect the data of paying governments.
Jamaica has recorded at least 19,300 coronavirus cases on the island to date, and more than 370 deaths.
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After being cut off by Amazon and other tech giants, Parler worked for weeks to find a way to get back on the internet.
The 11-month-old app has exploded in popularity, even as it grapples with harassment, misinformation and privacy issues.
A vote on a bill this week is part of a movement that could cost Apple and Google billions of dollars. State legislatures are becoming the fight’s new front.
The social network, which has a history of cloning its competitors, has started working on an audio chat product.
China’s censors finally blocked Clubhouse, but not before users were able to bypass the caricatures painted by government-controlled media and freely discuss their hopes and fears.
Bitcoin and even Dogecoin, which began as a playful experiment, are soaring in value as billionaires, companies and celebrities promote the digital currencies.
For a little while, the social media platform Clubhouse provided the rare opportunity for cross-border dialogue on contentious topics free from the country’s usual tight controls.
John Matze, who led the social media platform that was popular with conservatives, said he recently disagreed with one of the site’s backers, Rebekah Mercer.
Telegram and Signal, the encrypted services that keep conversations confidential, are increasingly popular. Our tech columnists discuss whether this could get ugly.
Vlad Tenev has incited the fury of the trading app’s fans amid a stock market frenzy. His lack of preparedness on nuts-and-bolts issues was part of a pattern, former employees and analysts said.
Robinhood pitched itself to investors as the antithesis of Wall Street. It didn’t say that it also entirely relies on Wall Street. This past week, the two realities collided.
The no-fee trading app, which is popular with young investors, has been strained by the high volume of trading this week in stocks such as GameStop.
Millions of women use apps to track their cycles, and that data is often passed on to third-party companies, like Facebook and Google. But what if that data could be used to help women’s health research?
The social network has discussed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple, as tensions grow between the companies over how each treats consumer data.
Requiring that app makers list the data they collect reveals a lot about what some apps do with our information (ahem, WhatsApp) but creates confusion about others.
Charlie, a personal finance app that began as a chatbot, is relaunching today with a revamped experience focused on the larger goal of helping everyday Americans get out of debt. To do so, Charlie presents users with a full picture of their current debt and how long it will take them to pay it off. Users then connect their bank account to Charlie for personalized assistance in reducing their bills. It also “gamifies” saving money to make the process of setting money aside for paying down debt more fun.
According to Charlie CEO Ilian Georgiev, the idea to turn saving into more of game arose from his prior experience in the mobile gaming industry. At a company called Pocket Gems, he helped scale apps that generated millions of dollars in revenue growth from across millions of users.
“A really well-designed mobile game gets people to obsessively manage a virtual economy,” he explains. “And what I was curious about was how do we get people to do better in the real-world economy by using the same kind of tools?”
To help on that front, Charlie’s team includes people with backgrounds in not only computer science and engineering, but also in psychology. Using similar psychological tricks as found in gaming — rules, progress bars and reward mechanisms — the app helps nudge its users towards saving.
The original version of the Charlie app, launched in 2016, worked a little differently, however. It would analyze transaction data to look for areas where the user could improve their finances. It also worked over texting and through Facebook Messenger — platforms Charlie adopted with the idea that users needed a simpler way to connect with their finances.
“But the thing that we kept hearing over and over again, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is that the biggest concern that our users had is ‘how do I get out of debt? So then we said, instead of casting this really wide net…let’s laser focus on this one particular problem,” says Georgiev.
Today, the chatbot still lives on as a feature inside the new Charlie app, but it’s not the core experience.
Instead, users begin by providing the app with information about their debt. Georgiev stresses that many Americans often know their debt down to the penny — whether that’s how much they have left on student loans, how much left on their car, how much credit card debt they have, and so on.
The app then calculates how long it would take to pay off this debt if you only made minimum payments. This number helps shock people into action, as they’ll often discover they’re going to be in debt for another 40 or 50 years.
“For most users, that’s an epiphany because they’ve never seen these numbers before, and the math required — even if you do it in Excel — the math required to figure that out is beyond most people,” Georgiev says.
The app then encourages users to learn how they can reduce the time it would take them to get out of debt by paying more than the minimums. By clicking a button, they can visualize the what happens if you pay, for example, $20 or $50 more per month.
The final step is to help users find that extra cash. In part, this may come from savings the app locates on users’ behalf. But it also comes from the money-saving “game.”
Charlie helps users create autosave rules which, when applied, auto-transfer money from the user’s connected bank account to Charlie’s digital wallet (an account held at partner bank, Evolve). These can be fun rules or even sort of ridiculous ones. For example, you could create “Guilty Pleasures” rules where Charlie will put away 10% every time you eat McDonalds, or it could save $1 for you every time a contestant on “The Bachelor” says they’re “here for the right reasons.”
As those rules apply, money is saved and a little progress bar fills. The app rewards you with rainbow confetti as you achieve, also similar to some mobile gaming experiences.
At the end of the month, the user can take that saved money to make a larger payment towards their debt. Currently, Charlie doesn’t manage the bill pay aspects itself — which is a limitation. You have to transfer the funds back to your bank. But a bill pay feature is due to arrive in a couple’ months time, we’re told.
Later this year, Charlie plans to offer debt refinancing services to users. In this case, the team believes they can give the users lower interest rates because Charlie users will have proven, through their use of the app, that they’re lower risk.
Further down the road, Charlie aims to move more into neobank territory by issuing a debit card to users that works with users’ Charlie account. To differentiate from the growing number of neobanks, Charlie will continue to focus on paying down debt and savings.
Today, Charlie charges a $4.99 per month subscription, which the company aims to make up for by helping people reduce their larger debt loads more quickly. However, even that small amount could give money-sensitive users pause, despite Charlie’s perks and successes.
To date, Charlie has registered a half million users for its older chatbot experience. It hopes to now grow that figure with its new tools.
During the pandemic, entrepreneurial chefs have reshaped food culture across the country with tiny, homegrown pop-ups that thrive on social media.
Many people want to develop better screen-time habits, but don’t have a good set of tools to do so. A new startup, Opal, aims to help. The company, now backed by $4.3 million in seed funding, has developed a digital well-being assistant for iOS that allows you to block distracting websites and apps, set schedules around app usage, lock down apps for stricter and more focused quiet periods, and more.
The service works by way of a VPN system that limits your access to apps and sites. But unlike some VPNs on the market, Opal is committed to not collecting any personal data on its users or their private browsing data. Instead, its business model is based on paid subscriptions, not selling user data, it says.
Timed with its public debut, Opal also today announced its initial financing in a round led by Nicolas Wittenborn at Adjacent, a mobile-focused VC fund. Other investors included Harry Stebbings, Steve Schlafman, Alex Zubillaga, Kevin Carter, Thibaud Elziere, Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve, Alban Denoyel, Isai, Secocha Ventures, Speedinvest, and others.
The idea for Opal comes from Paris-based Kenneth Schlenker, a longtime technologist who previously founded and sold an art marketplace startup ArtList and later led mobility company Bird’s expansion in France.
Schlenker, who grew up in a small, quiet village in the Alps, says he got into technology at a young age.
“I sort of got obsessed, like many of us, by the potential of technology and its amazing power of attraction — making connections, learning new things, all sorts of incredible opportunities,” he explains. “But I’ve then spent the last 10 years and more trying to seek a balance between this need for connection and this need for disconnection.”
In more recent years, Schlenker came to realize that others were having the same problem, including those outside the tech industry. That drove him to build Opal, with the goal of helping people better achieve balance in their lives so they could reconnect with loved ones, spend time in nature or just generally go offline to focus on other areas of their lives.
At a basic level, Opal’s VPN allows users to block themselves from using dozens of distracting apps and sites for certain periods of time, including social media, news, productivity apps and more.
Social media, in particular, has been a huge problem in recent years, Schlenker says.
“In particular, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — social media is where you feel like you’re learning something, and you feel like you’re connecting with people. So it’s good. But on the other hand, it’s very hard to stay intentional,” he explains. “It’s okay to pick up your phone and go to Instagram, but when you ‘wake up’ 30 minutes later, you usually feel really bad. You feel like, ‘where’s the time gone?’, ‘what did I just do?,’ ” he says.
Opal addresses this problem through a handful of features.
The free service allows you to block distracting websites and apps and take breaks throughout the day. By upgrading to the paid membership, Opal users can schedule time off from apps to establish recurring downtimes — whether that’s for family dinners or working hours, or anything else. They also can use a more extreme version of this feature called Focus Mode, which locks you out of apps in a way that’s not cancelable.
While the company is using a VPN to make this system work, it’s being transparent and straightforward about its data collection practices.
“There is zero private browsing data that leaves your phone,” Schlenker insists. “Anything you do on your phone outside of Opal’s app stays local on your phone and is never stored on any of our servers or any other servers. That’s very important to us,” he says.
From inside Opal’s app, the company claims it only collects usability and crash information — not browsing data. And the usability data is completely anonymized for another layer of privacy. Opal also doesn’t require an email to begin using the app. It only asks for one if you choose to pay.
These core principles are also documented on Opal’s privacy page, and are why Schlenker believes his app won’t face the challenges that other screen-time apps on the App Store have experienced in the past.
As you may recall, Apple cracked down on the screen time app industry a couple of years ago — a move Apple said was focused on protecting user privacy, but has also been raised as a possible example of anticompetitive behavior. Many of the apps at the time had been using techniques Apple claimed put consumers’ privacy and security at risk, as they gave third-parties elevated access to users’ devices. This was particularly concerning because many of the impacted apps were marketed as parental control services — meaning the end users were often children.
Opal, meanwhile, is targeting adults, and perhaps teenagers, who want to develop better screen-time habits. It is not selling this as a parental control system, however.
At launch, Opal can block over 100 apps and sites across several categories, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, Gmail, Outlook, Slack, Robinhood, WhatsApp, WeChat and others, including those in the news, adult and gambling categories.
Users can choose to block the apps for short breaks — 5, 10 or 60 minutes — throughout the day. You can also set an intention and set a timer before using an app, to help you avoid the issue of losing track of time. And you can set focus timers or scheduled times to automatically shut off app usage.
You can track your progress by viewing the “time saved” and you can share your successes across social media. In time, Schlenker plans to add more of a scoring mechanism to Opal that will help you stay accountable to your original goals.
Though work on the app only began in 2020, Opal began attracting attention as it publicized its plans on Twitter and ran its private beta, which grew from hundreds to thousands of users this year, saving its users an average of two hours per day.
Though Schlenker had connections with many of the angel investors who have since backed Opal, he says the interest from institutional and larger investors was all inbound.
“It was not our intention to raise so much, so early,” Schlenker notes.
The funds will be used to help Opal grow its team, particularly engineering, design as well as product. The company will also soon launch a version of Opal for Chrome and later, Android, and will experiment with more social features around sharing and hosting group sessions.
The app is currently a free download on the App Store with an optional $59.99/year subscription plan.
The United States now requires a negative coronavirus test for all arriving international travelers, which has hotels adding testing suites and airlines enhancing mobile apps with health features.
The layoffs include most of the executive team at Postmates, the food delivery app that Uber bought last year.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.
Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.
Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.
Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.
Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.
The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.
The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.
TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record
We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.
This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.
Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.
On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.
Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.
Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.
- Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
- A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
- New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”
- Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
- Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.
- Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
- Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.
- Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
- Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.
- The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
- Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
- YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
- Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.
- WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.
- Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
- Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
- New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay.
- Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.
- Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
- Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
- Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
- TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.
Health & Fitness
- Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.
Government & Policy
- Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
- Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
- German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.
- Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.
- Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.
Funding and M&A
- Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
- Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
- On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
- Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
- Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
- Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
- London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
- Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.
A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.
Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.
The disclosure comes amid growing legislative scrutiny of how the government uses commercially available location records.
A new modeling study hints that odor-based screens could quash outbreaks. But some experts are skeptical it would work in the real world.
A new modeling study hints that odor-based screens could quash outbreaks. But some experts are skeptical it would work in the real world.
“There will be a period of epic withdrawal,” warned one addiction specialist, once schools, activities and social life return to normal.
The company faced a backlash from users who worried the changes made the messaging service less secure.
It is unclear how the president-elect will approach the Chinese tech industry.
Uber built a business on the backs of drivers and, now, restaurants. But the company’s chief Dara Khosrowshahi says it’s not part of the ‘menace economy.’
The Girl Scouts are also using virtual cookie booths and drive-through pickup sites to promote social distancing.
The encrypted messaging services have become the world’s hottest apps over the last week, driven by growing anxiety over the power of the biggest tech companies and privacy concerns.
The social media network has finally left the cinephile niche and entered the mainstream.
Convicted of inciting debauchery and violating family values, the women were caught up in a conservative backlash as the authorities tried to enforce strict social norms.
Social media platforms have raced to bar organizers of the attack on the Capitol. Will that make a repeat less likely, or just harder to prevent?
TikTok announced today it’s making changes to its app to make the experience safer for younger users. The company will now set the accounts for users ages 13 to 15 to private by default, as well as tighten other controls for all users under 18, in terms of how they can interact with other users and TikTok content itself. TikTok is also announcing a partnership with nonprofit Common Sense Networks, an education and advocacy group that helps parents and educators navigate today’s media landscape, including children’s use of technology.
The partnership will see Common Sense Networks working with TikTok to provide additional guidance on the appropriateness of its content for users under 13.
The social video app in 2019 had been fined $5.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating U.S. children’s privacy laws. The FTC had begun looking into the app back when it was known as Musical.ly. The earlier version, prior to its acquisition by ByteDance, had collected personal information for children under 13 without parents’ consent.
As a result of that ruling, TikTok created a new, legally compliant experience for younger users in the U.S. with age-appropriate content and no ability to publish videos.
Now, TikTok will restrict the experience for other minors using the app who are over 13, too.
For children ages 13 to 15, accounts will be set to private by default and TikTok will turn the setting “Suggest your account to others” to Off. This will allow users’ videos to only be seen by those they approve as a follower and limits their account from being recommended to others elsewhere in the app.
Commenting controls are also being locked down for these users.
They’ll now be able to choose between “Friends” or “No One” in terms of who can comment on their videos, and the “Everyone” option will be removed. The Dueting and Stitching features will also be removed, which limits how these younger users can engage with other TikTok users and their content. They won’t be able to make their videos downloadable either.
For those ages 16 to 17, the default setting for Duet and Stitch will be set to “Friends,” and they’ll only be able to download videos created by users 16 and over as a result of the lockdowns for younger users. Downloads for their own videos will also be set to Off by default, but they can enable this, if they choose.
TiTok had already restricted younger users’ accounts before today in various ways, including not only through the under-13 age gated experience, but also by restricting direct messaging and hosting live streams to accounts 16 and over, and restricting virtual gifts to users over 18. Parents additionally have had the option to control their child’s experience through the Family Pairing feature, which offers parental controls and screen time limits, among other things.
Of course, any of these restrictions can be worked around for those who lie about their age upon sign-up. But it’s still fairly unusual for a large social network to do more than look the other way when it knows that minors are on its app.
In TikTok’s case, however, it has a large underage user base — some estimates had said that 41% of TikTok is between ages 16 and 24. But in the U.S., TikTok has attracted a particularly large teenage userbase. The company said in 2020 that 60% of its 26.5 million monthly active users in the U.S. were between 16 and 24. Even some of TikTok’s biggest stars, like Charli D’Amelio, are still just teenagers.
The attention to minor safety and parental controls gathered TikTok praise from notable youth safety experts, which the company also shared.
Today, TikTok is touting praise it’s received from the National PTA, ConnectSafely, NCMEC, Family Online Safety Institute, and WeProtect Global Alliance. The groups believe the changes will help teens be able to use the app more safely, responsibility, and without the further risk of exploitation.
“We couldn’t be more pleased about partnering with TikTok to develop better content experiences for users under the age of 13,” added Eric Berger, CEO of Common Sense Networks, in reference to his organization’s partnership with the social video platfrom. “At Common Sense Networks, we see this engagement as an opportunity to double down on our commitment to elevate the quality of children’s digital media so that age-appropriate content is the rule in our industry and not the exception,” he said.
The changes will roll out starting today.
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.