Kim Jong-un’s sister responds to the South Korean leader’s last attempt to put the peace process back on track, but skepticism abounds.
Business Canvas, a South Korean document management SaaS company behind Typed, announced today it has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by Mirae Asset Venture Investment, with participation from Kakao Ventures and Nextrans Inc.
The seed round will be used for accelerating product development and global launch of open beta for its AI-powered document management platform. The company opened an office in Santa Clara, California this year to spur its global expansion.
People are bombarded with information thanks to advances in technology that opens the doors to a wealth of information, but at the same time, too much information and a huge amount of data at one time leave the users confused and/or unable to make timely decisions.
Business Canvas, founded in July 2020 by CEO Woojin Kim, Brian Shin, Seungmin Lee, Dongjoon Shin and Clint Yoo, is hoping to solve the challenge that every knowledge worker and writer faces: spending more time on research and file organization than the actual content output they need to create.
“In fact, people commit over 30% of their working hours trying to search for that file we once saved in a folder that we just cannot find anymore,” Business Canvas CEO and co-founder Kim said.
Through a network that intelligently tracks and organizes files based on the user’s interactions, Typed brings all the knowledge from different websites and applications into one simple-to-use and quick-to-learn digital workspace.
Strictly keeping its users’ information and their confidential files uninterrupted, Typed does not access the content of users’ documents but utilize them as machine learning data in order to protect their information and data, Kim told TechCrunch. It simply collects users’ action driven data point and publicly available metadata of documents and resources under users’ permission, Kim added.
“Modern document writing has not changed since the 1980s,” Business Canvas co-founder Clint Yoo said. “While we have more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before, we use the same rudimentary methods to organize and make sense of it. We want any writer – from lawyers and entrepreneurs to researchers and students – to focus on creating great content instead of wasting time organizing their source material. We achieved this by making knowledge management more like the way our brain operates.”
Since the launch of the closed beta test in February 2021, Typed saw significant user growth including more than 10,000 users on the waitlist, with 25,000 files uploaded and 350% month-over-month active user growth, the company said in its statement. Typed will be available through a freemium model and is currently accepting beta registrations on its website.
“When we’ve tested our closed beta, our metrics show top traction among students as well as journalists, writers and lawyers, who require heavy research and document work on a frequent basis. We opened up access earlier this month for the waitlists in over 50 countries. These are primarily B2C users,” Kim told TechCrunch. “As for B2B, we are currently in the process of proof-of-concept (POC) for one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea. Smaller teams like startups, boutique law, consulting firms, venture capitals and government institutions also have been adopting Typed as well.”
“While the company is still in its nascent stage in its development, Typed has the potential to fundamentally change how we work individually or as a team. If there is a business to take on our outdated way of writing content, it’s them [Typed],” Shina Chung, Kakao Ventures CEO said.
The global market size for social software and collaboration SaaS is estimated at $4.5 billion in 2021, increasing over 17% year on year, Kim said.
The boy band’s seven members accompanied President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who designated them as special presidential envoy for future generations and culture.
His mammoth Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul symbolized the explosive growth of the religion in the once war-torn country.
The launch on Wednesday was the country’s first ballistic missile test in six months, and violated multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.
The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.
Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.
The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.
Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.
The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.
Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.
Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.
South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.
In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.
The test was not a violation of U.N. sanctions but signaled the development of increasingly powerful weapons on the Korean Peninsula.
One county’s plan to help older, carless citizens stuck in remote villages proved wildly popular and has been copied across South Korea, revolutionizing public transportation in the countryside.
Epic Games has asked Apple to rejoin its Fortnite developer account in South Korea as the U.S. game maker plans to re-release Fortnite on iOS in South Korea, offering both Epic and Apple payments side-by-side, said in a tweet on September 10.
Epic has asked Apple to restore our Fortnite developer account. Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korean law.
— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) September 9, 2021
This request comes after South Korea passed a bill, the updated Telecommunications Business Act, in late August that will force Apple and other tech giants to let developers use their third-party payment systems.
“Epic intends to re-release Fortnite on iOS in Korea offering both Epic payment and Apple payment side-by-side in compliance with the new Korea law,” according to the official Fortnite Twitter account.
“As we’ve said all along, we would welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else. Epic has admitted to breach of contract and as of now, there’s no legitimate basis for the reinstatement of their developer account,” said a spokesperson at Apple.
Epic would also have to agree to comply with Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines regarding all apps, but Epic has not consistently abided by the Guidelines, and their request of Apple does not indicate any change in Epic’s position, added Apple’s statement.
Even if the South Korean legislation, which is not yet effective, were to become law in the country, it would impose no obligation on Apple to approve any developer program account application, which includes any requests for reinstatement of a developer program account terminated prior to the legislation’s effective date, based on Apple’s statement.
In August 2020, Apple kicked Fortnite off the App Store after Epic introduced a direct payment system in Fortnite that violated Apple’s in-app purchase requirement. The two companies have been embroiled in a legal dispute over the Apple Store’s payment system.
Apple is changing its app policy to allow developers to link to external websites and it also has reached a settlement with Japan for allowing developers of “reader” apps to link to their own websites.
An Epic Games spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The live streaming boom is driving a significant uptick in the creator economy, as a new forecast estimates consumers will spend $6.78 billion in social apps in 2021. That figure will grow to $17.2 billion annually by 2025, according to data from mobile data firm App Annie, which notes the upward trend represents a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29%. By that point, the lifetime total spend in social apps will reach $78 billion, the firm reports.
Initially, much of the livestream economy was based on one-off purchases like sticker packs, but today, consumers are gifting content creators directly during their live streams. Some of these donations can be incredibly high, at times. Twitch streamer ExoticChaotic was gifted $75,000 during a live session on Fortnite, which was one of the largest ever donations on the game streaming social network. Meanwhile, App Annie notes another platform, Bigo Live, is enabling broadcasters to earn up to $24,000 per month through their live streams.
Apps that offer live streaming as a prominent feature are also those that are driving the majority of today’s social app spending, the report says. In the first half of this year, $3 out every $4 spend in the top 25 social apps came from apps that offered live streams, for example.
During the first half of 2021, the U.S. become the top market for consumer spending inside social apps with 1.7x the spend of the next largest market, Japan, and representing 30% of the market by spend. China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea followed to round out the top 5.
While both creators and the platforms are financially benefitting from the live streaming economy, the platforms are benefitting in other ways beyond their commissions on in-app purchases. Live streams are helping to drive demand for these social apps and they help to boost other key engagement metrics, like time spent in app.
One top app that’s significantly gaining here is TikTok.
Last year, TikTok surpassed YouTube in the U.S. and the U.K. in terms of the average monthly time spent per user. It often continues to lead in the former market, and more decisively leads in the latter.
In other markets, like South Korea and Japan, TikTok is making strides, but YouTube still leads by a wide margin. (In South Korea, YouTube leads by 2.5x, in fact.)
Beyond just TikTok, consumers spent 740 billion hours in social apps in the first half of the year, which is equal to 44% of the time spent on mobile globally. Time spent in these apps has continued to trend upwards over the years, with growth that’s up 30% in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2018.
Today, the apps that enable live streaming are outpacing those that focus on chat, photo or video. This is why companies like Instagram are now announcing dramatic shifts in focus, like how they’re “no longer a photo sharing app.” They know they need to more fully shift to video or they will be left behind.
The total time spent in the top five social apps that have an emphasis on live streaming are now set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone this year, not including China. That’s a three-year CAGR of 25% versus just 15% for apps in the Chat and Photo & Video categories, App Annie noted.
Thanks to growth in India, the Asia-Pacific region now accounts for 60% of the time spent in social apps. As India’s growth in this area increased over the past 3.5 years, it shrunk the gap between itself and China from 115% in 2018 to just 7% in the first half of this year.
Social app downloads are also continuing to grow, due to the growth in live streaming.
To date, consumers have downloaded social apps 74 billion times and that demand remains strong, with 4.7 billion downloads in the first half of 2021 alone — up 50% year-over-year. In the first half of the year, Asia was the largest region region for social app downloads, accounting for 60% of the market.
This is largely due to India, the top market by a factor of 5x, which surpassed the U.S. back in 2018. India is followed by the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil and China, in terms of downloads.
The shift towards live streaming and video has also impacted what sort of apps consumers are interested in downloading, not just the number of downloads.
A chart that show the top global apps from 2012 to the present highlights Facebook’s slipping grip. While its apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Facebook) have dominated the top spots over the years in various positions, TikTok popped into the number one position last year, and continues to maintain that ranking in 2021.
Further down the chart, other apps that aid in video editing have also overtaken others that had been more focused on photos or chat.
Video apps like YouTube (#1), TikTok (#2) Tencent Video (#4), Bigo Live (#5), Twitch (#6), and others also now rank at the top of the global charts by consumer spending in the first half of 2021.
But YouTube (#1) still dominates in time spent compared with TikTok (#5), and others from Facebook — the company holds the next three spots for Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, respectively.
This could explain why TikTok is now exploring the idea of allowing users to upload even longer videos, by increasing the limit from 3 minutes to 5, for instance.
In addition, because of live streaming’s ability to drive growth in terms of time spent, it’s also likely the reason why TikTok has been heavily investing in new features for its TikTok LIVE platform, including things like events, support for co-hosts, Q&As and more, and why it made the “LIVE” button a more prominent feature in its app and user experience.
App Annie’s report also digs into the impact live streaming has had on specific platforms, like Twitch and Bigo Live, the former which doubled its monthly active user base from the pre-pandemic era, and the latter which saw $314.2 million in consumer spend during H1 2021.
“The ability of social media users to communicate with each other using live video – or watch others’ live broadcasts – has not only maintained the growth of a social media app market, but contributed to its exponential growth in engagement metrics like time spent, that might otherwise have saturated some time ago,” wrote App Annie’s Head of Insights, Lexi Sydow, when announcing the new report.
The full report is available here.
The pandemic has triggered more demand for contactless and staff-less operations in the hospitality sector, and now H2O Hospitality, the unmanned hotel management company, has closed a $30 million round on the back of that boost. The South Korea and Japan-based startup automates front and backend processes including accommodation reservation, room management and front desk duties, and it will be using the funds to continue expanding its business.
The Series C round (equivalent to about 34 billion won) is being led by Kakao Investment and Korea Development Bank (KDB), Gorilla Private Equity, Intervest and NICE Investment also participated. With Southeast Asia’s joint fund, Kejora-Intervest Growth Fund also joined in the round, it is a sign that H2O Hospitality will be focusing specifically on the Southeast Asian Market. H2O Hospitality has raised $7 million Series B round from Samsung Ventures, Stonebridge Ventures, IMM Investment and Shinhan Capital in February 2020.
H2O Hospitality will expand its business further by adding various types of accommodations in South Korea and Japan in 2021 and 2022 and plans to enter Singapore and Indonesia in 4Q in 2022 in line with its Southeast Asia penetration strategy, according to H2O Hospitality co-founder and CEO John Lee.
“H2O Hospitality is currently speaking with several global hotel chain companies to partner with their digital transformation and operation outside of Korea and Japan,” Lee told TechCrunch.
H2O will invest in R&D to advance its customer channel solutions and contactless check-in systems depending on customer needs of each country in Asia, Lee continued.
“We need optimal system development and customization for each accommodation and situation to lead successful hotel digital transformation even after COVID-19,” Lee said in an email interview.
H2O Hospitality was founded in South Korea 2015 by CEO John Lee, and it has been on something of an acquisition-expansion spree. It entered Japan in 2017, for example, by acquiring several Japanese hospitality management companies. In 2021, H2O acquired two South Korean companies such as the contactless hotel solution company, ImGATE, and a local creator startup, Replace, in order to enhance its technology and ESG competence.
These days, the company operates approximately 7,500 accommodations including hotels, ryokans and guest houses, in Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Busan, and Bangkok.
H2O Hospitality’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-based hotel management system, which enables hotel management to automate and digitize, includes the Channel Management System (CMS), Property Management System (PMS), Room Management System (RMS), and Facility Management System (FMS).
Its integrated hotel management system can reduce hotel management’s fixed operating costs by 50%, while increasing revenue by as much as 20%, according to its statement.
“COVID-19 hit the hospitality industry the most and most of the hotels wanted to decrease their fixed cost level, but it was impossible with their current operational flow,” Lee continued, “They had to go through digital transformation”.
When asked how the pandemic affected H2O as COVID-19 still freezes most of the tourism industry, Lee said H2O’s revenue has been increased by as much as 30% before the pandemic, but that percentage has been dropped to 5-15% post COVID-19. Revenue drivers these days are based around tools it’s built to improve the efficiency of its customers. They include its automated dynamic pricing (ADR) tool and diverse sales channels like online and offline travel agencies in domestic and overseas, he said.
Lee also pointed out that H2O has been onboarding a lot of properties and that has also contributed to H2O’s revenue growth in the last 18 months. H2O was the only company in Asia, he claims, and many property owners have started to get onboard since August 2020, he explained.
“Every single hotel that we onboarded during the pandemic turned around their profits & losses statements and started to recover their financial loss,” Lee said.
There are currently about 16.4 million hotel rooms in the world that generate $570 billion a year, according to Lee. H2O believes that it can digitize all the lodging accommodations in the world as the company’s main goal is not building a hotel brand but allowing hotel owners to operate their properties with better operation, he said.
Lee explained that the current hotel operation process looks a lot like that of “2G phones”, that was at a stage before turning to smartphones, and H2O is turning the overall hotel operation into a “smartphone”.
“This is a very natural transition for the (hospitality) industry as it was also natural for the cellphone users to transit from 2G phone to smartphone,” Lee said.
Unfortunately, the cross-border inbound tourism market has still been stopped for both Korea and Japan even though each domestic market is still pumping demand for the market, Lee mentioned.
“We believe the inbound tourism market will recover within a year as the vaccinations grow for both countries (Korea and Japan),” Lee said.
Managing Director at Kejora-Intervest Growth Fund Jun-seok Kang told TechCrunch: “We knew this new wave for hotel digital transformation trend was coming even before the pandemic; however, COVID-19 definitely expedited the transition period, and we believe H2O will thrive in the transforming hotel market.”
Weibo accused one account devoted to a BTS member of illegal fund-raising amid a crackdown on 22 pages.
Summer is still technically in session, but a snowball is slowly developing in the world of apps, and specifically the world of in-app payments. A report in Reuters today says that the Competition Commission of India, the country’s monopoly regulator, will soon be looking at an antitrust suit filed against Apple over how it mandates that app developers use Apple’s own in-app payment system — thereby giving Apple a cut of those payments — when publishers charge users for subscriptions and other items in their apps.
The suit, filed by an Indian non-profit called “Together We Fight Society”, said in a statement to Reuters that it was representing consumer and startup interests in its complaint.
The move would be the latest in what has become a string of challenges from national regulators against app store operators — specifically Apple but also others like Google and WeChat — over how they wield their positions to enforce market practices that critics have argued are anti-competitive. Other countries that have in recent weeks reached settlements, passed laws, or are about to introduce laws include Japan, South Korea, Australia, the U.S. and the European Union.
And in India specifically, the regulator is currently working through a similar investigation as it relates to in-app payments in Android apps, which Google mandates use its proprietary payment system. Google and Android dominate the Indian smartphone market, with the operating system active on 98% of the 520 million devices in use in the country as of the end of 2020.
It will be interesting to watch whether more countries wade in as a result of these developments. Ultimately, it could force app store operators, to avoid further and deeper regulatory scrutiny, to adopt new and more flexible universal policies.
In the meantime, we are seeing changes happen on a country-by-country basis.
Just yesterday, Apple reached a settlement in Japan that will let publishers of “reader” apps (those for using or consuming media like books and news, music, files in the cloud and more) to redirect users to external sites to provide alternatives to Apple’s proprietary in-app payment provision. Although it’s not as seamless as paying within the app, redirecting previously was typically not allowed, and in doing so the publishers can avoid Apple’s cut.
South Korean legislators earlier this week approved a measure that will make it illegal for Apple and Google to make a commission by forcing developers to use their proprietary payment systems.
And last week, Apple also made some movements in the U.S. around allowing alternative forms of payments, but relatively speaking the concessions were somewhat indirect: app publishers can refer to alternative, direct payment options in apps now, but not actually offer them. (Not yet at least.)
Some developers and consumers have been arguing for years that Apple’s strict policies should open up more. Apple however has long said in its defense that it mandates certain developer policies to build better overall user experiences, and for reasons of security. But, as app technology has evolved, and consumer habits have changed, critics believe that this position needs to be reconsidered.
One factor in Apple’s defense in India specifically might be the company’s position in the market. Android absolutely dominates India when it comes to smartphones and mobile services, with Apple actually a very small part of the ecosystem.
As of the end of 2020, it accounted for just 2% of the 520 million smartphones in use in the country, according to figures from Counterpoint Research quoted by Reuters. That figure had doubled in the last five years, but it’s a long way from a majority, or even significant minority.
The antitrust filing in India has yet to be filed formally, but Reuters notes that the wording leans on the fact that anti-competitive practices in payments systems make it less viable for many publishers to exist at all, since the economics simply do not add up:
“The existence of the 30% commission means that some app developers will never make it to the market,” Reuters noted from the filing. “This could also result in consumer harm.”
After a number of delays, South Korea’s National Assembly today voted to approve the passage of its “Anti-Google law.” Nicknamed after the search giant but more wide-ranging, the law will prevent Google and Apple from forcing developers to use their in-app billing systems when building apps for their two market-dominating app stores .
This is the first time globally that a government has intervened to prevent Google and Apple from imposing their own payment rails on in-app purchases.
Google and Apple have been increasingly under scrutiny over the restrictive aspects of their respective systems in other market, and so now many will be looking to see if the move in South Korea becomes a tipping point, where the two might be subjected to similar measures in other countries. Most imminently, Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is also considering regulations for digital payments system of Apple, Google and WeChat, according to media reports.
South Korea’s preliminary committee voted on Wednesday, 25 August to proceed with the revised Telecommunication Business Act, seeking to restrict Google and Apple from charging app developer’s commission on in-app purchases.
Since August 2020, lawmakers in South Korea have proposed bills to prohibit the global tech companies from wielding their dominance in the app payment market.
Google in March 2021 reduced its commission to 15% from an original 30% for all in-app purchases to appease app developers. But four months later, it announced that it will push back its new in-app billing system to March 2022.
Meanwhile, Apple in August proposed a settlement in a lawsuit filed against it by software developers in the US that notes Apple will allow app developers to direct their payment options outside of their iOS app or the App Store, although it didn’t go as far as allowing developers to include alternative methods of payment within app themselves.
Apple said in its statement, “the proposed Telecommunications Business Act will put users who purchase digital goods from other sources at risk of fraud, undermine their privacy protections, make it difficult to manage their purchases, and features like ‘Ask to Buy’ and Parental Controls will become less effective.”
Google could not be reached.
In an interview, Iván Duque defended his performance amid the pandemic and social strife, which could prompt a leftward shift in elections next year.
Urbanbase, a Seoul-based company that develops a 3D spatial data platform for interior planning and design, announced today it has raised $11.1 million (13 billion won) in a Series B+ round as it scales up.
This round of funding was led by Hanwha Hotel & Resort, which is a subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Corporation.
Urbanbase, founded in 2013 by chief executive officer and a former architect Jinu Ha, has now raised $20 million (approximately 23 billion won) in total.
Existing investors did not join this round. The company had raised Series A funding of $1.8 million and an additional $1.2 million in 2017 and its first Series B round in April 2020, from backers that included South Korea-based Shinsegae Information & Communication, Woomi Construction, SL Investment, KDB Capital, Shinhan Capital, Enlight Ventures, CKD Venture Capital, and Breeze Investment, Ha said.
The latest funding will be used for enhancing its B2B SaaS, investing in R&D for advanced virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 3D tools, which are considered core technologies of metaverse that is its new business Urbanbase plans to enter, according to Ha. Global metaverse market size is projected to increase $280 billion by 2025 from $30.7 billion in 2021, based on Strategy Analytics’ report.
Companies that focus on opportunities in the so-called “metaverse” have been growing as part of a next-generation approach to building viable business models in areas like virtual and augmented reality, and all the hardware and software and new tech that are being built for them. Big tech corporations, ranging from Facebook, Intel to Microsoft, are targeting to move in the area. Apple also waded into the area of virtual reality, working on developing a high-end VR headset.
Urbanbase also plans to upgrade its home interior software platform, Urbanbase Studio, that has functions to transform 2D indoor space images into 3D displays via Urbanbase’s patented algorithm, visualize interior products in augmented reality and analyze spatial images based on the AI technology.
Urbanbase claims 50,000 monthly active users with 70,000 registered B2C users. The company has about 50 B2B customers.
“Most of our B2B clients are large conglomerates in South Korea and Japan, for example, LG Electronics, Japan-based Mitsubishi Real Estate Service, Nitori Holdings, Dentsu Group and SoftBank, but we would like to extend our B2B clients base to small, midsized companies and bring more B2C users after closing the Series B+ funding,” Ha mentioned.
Urbanbase is seeking an acquisition target in prop-tech and construction technology sectors, Ha told TechCrunch. Urbanbase currently focuses on developing the interior tools for apartment buildings because about 70-80 percent of total households in South Korea and Japan live in apartments, Ha said, adding that it will diversify its portfolio by acquiring a startup that covers different types of residence.
It currently operates the platform in Korean and Japanese, but it will add English language service prior to entering in Singapore in the end of 2021, Ha said.
Apple today is launching a new program that will allow subscription news organizations that participate in the Apple News app and meet certain requirements to lower their commission rate to 15% on qualifying in-app purchases taking place inside their apps on the App Store. Typically, Apple’s model for subscription-based apps involves a standard 30% commission during their first year on the App Store which then drops to 15% in year two. But the new Apple News Partner Program, announced today, will now make 15% the commission rate for participants starting on day one.
Meanwhile, for publishers headquartered outside one of the four existing Apple News markets — the U.S., U.K., Australia, or Canada — they can instead satisfy the program’s obligations by providing Apple with an RSS feed.
On the App Store, the partner app qualifying for the 15% commission must be used to deliver “original, professionally authored” news content, and they must offer their auto-renewable subscriptions using Apple’s in-app purchase system.
While there is some initial work involved in establishing the publisher’s connection to Apple News, it’s worth noting that most major publishers already participate on Apple’s platform. That means they won’t have to do any additional work beyond what they’re already doing in order to transition over to the reduced commission for their apps. However, the program also serves as a way to push news organizations to continue to participate in the Apple News ecosystem, as it will make more financial sense to do so across their broader business.
That will likely be an area of contention for publishers, who would probably prefer that the reduced App Store commission didn’t come with strings attached.
Some publishers already worry that they’re giving up too much control over their business by tying themselves to the Apple News ecosystem. Last year, for example, The New York Times announced it would exit its partnership with Apple News, saying that Apple didn’t allow it to have as direct a relationship with readers as it wanted, and it would rather drive readers to its own app and website.
Apple, however, would argue that it doesn’t stand in the way of publishers’ businesses — it lets them paywall their content and keep 100% of the ad revenue from the ads they sell. (If they can’t sell it all or would prefer Apple to do so on their behalf, they then split the commission with Apple, keeping 70% of revenues instead.) In addition, for the company’s Apple News+ subscription service — where the subscription revenue split is much higher — it could be argued that it’s “found money.” That is, Apple markets the service to customers the publisher hadn’t been able to attract on its own anyway.
The launch of the new Apple News Partner program comes amid regulatory scrutiny over how Apple manages its App Store business and more recently, proposed legislation aiming to address alleged anticompetitive issues both in the U.S. and in major App Store markets, like South Korea.
Sensing this shift in the market, Apple had already been working to provide itself cover from antitrust complaints and lawsuits — like the one underway now with Epic Games — by adjusting its App Store commissions. Last year, it launched the App Store Small Business Program, which also lowered commissions on in-app purchases from 30% to 15% — but only for developers earning up to $1 million in revenues.
This program may have helped smaller publishers, but it was clear some major publishers still weren’t satisfied. After the reduced commissions for small businesses were announced in November, the publisher trade organization Digital Content Next (DCN) — a representative for the AP, The New York Times, NPR, ESPN, Vox, The Washington Post, Meredith, Bloomberg, NBCU, The Financial Times, and others — joined the advocacy group and lobbying organization the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) the very next month.
These publishers, who had previously written to Apple CEO Tim Cook to demand lower commissions — had other complaints about the revenue share beyond just the size of the split. They also didn’t want to be required to use Apple’s services for in-app purchases for their subscriptions, saying this “Apple tax” forces them to raise their prices for consumers.
It remains to be seen how these publishers will now react to the launch of the Apple News Partner program.
While it gives them a way to lower their App Store fees, it doesn’t address their broader complaints against Apple’s platform and its rules. If anything, it ties the lower fees to a program that locks them in further to the Apple ecosystem.
Apple, in a gesture of goodwill, also said today it would recommit support to three leading media non-profits, Common Sense Media, the News Literacy Project, and Osservatorio Permanente Giovani-Editori. These non-profits offer nonpartisan, independent media literacy programs, which Apple views as key to its larger mission to empower people to become smart and active news readers. Apple also said it would later announce further media literacy projects from other organizations. The company would not disclose the size of its commitment from a financial standpoint however, or discuss how much it has sent such organizations in the past.
“Providing Apple News customers with access to trusted information from our publishing partners has been our priority from day one,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Services, in a statement. “For more than a decade, Apple has offered our customers many ways to access and enjoy news content across our products and services. We have hundreds of news apps from dozens of countries around the world available in the App Store, and created Apple News Format to offer publishers a tool to showcase their content and provide a great experience for millions of Apple News users,” he added.
More details about the program and the application form will be available at the News Partner Program website.
As Apple and Google continue to face increasing scrutiny over the rules they set for how third-party apps in their app stores charge for services, a significant development in that story is going down in South Korea.
South Korea’s parliamentary committee passed on Wednesday (25 August) a landmark bill to prevent Google and Apple from charging software developers’ commissions on in-app purchases, the first of its kind in the world. The final vote by all members of the National Assembly – required to pass and activate the proposal – which was expected to be held in a plenary session on the same day, was delayed until further notice.
The plenary session was tentatively delayed to 30 August, according to a media.
South Korea will be the first country to prohibit such global tech giants from imposing billing systems on in-app purchases if voted into law.
The bill, dubbed the “Anti-Google Law”, was approved by the legislation and judiciary committee of the National Assembly to revise the Telecommunication Business Act, seeking to restrict Google and Apple from requiring app developers to use their billing system.
Google said in September 2020 it would impose its billing system on all app developers, collecting up to 30 percent commission for all in-app purchases.
In July 2021, Google decided to defer its new billing policy to the end of March 2022 upon request by app developers and lowered its play store commission to 15 percent, based on local media reports.
Apple said in its statement, “The proposed Telecommunications Business Act will put users who purchase digital goods from other sources at risk of fraud, undermine their privacy protections, make it difficult to manage their purchases, and features like ‘Ask to Buy’ and Parental Controls will become less effective. We believe user trust in App Store purchases will decrease as a result of this proposal—leading to fewer opportunities for the over 482,000 registered developers in Korea who have earned more than KRW8.55 trillion to date with Apple.”
Apple and Google of course argue that there are bigger issues around better and safer user experience that come with mandating their own in-app payment systems. And this is the argument that it falls on here too.
Google did not immediately respond.
A proposal in the South Korean legislature is an early test of how forcefully the Biden administration will defend the companies abroad while trying to trim their power at home.
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.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters
OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content
Creator platform OnlyFans is getting out of the porn business. The company announced this week it will begin to prohibit any “sexually explicit” content starting on October 1, 2021 — a decision it claimed would ensure the long-term sustainability of the platform. The news angered a number of impacted creators who weren’t notified ahead of time and who’ve come to rely on OnlyFans as their main source of income.
However, word is that OnlyFans was struggling to find outside investors, despite its sizable user base, due to the adult content it hosts. Some VC firms are prohibited from investing in adult content businesses, while others may be concerned over other matters — like how NSFW content could have limited interest from advertisers and brand partners. They may have also worried about OnlyFans’ ability to successfully restrict minors from using the app, in light of what appears to be soon-to-come increased regulations for online businesses. Plus, porn companies face a number of other issues, too. They have to continually ensure they’re not hosting illegal content like child sex abuse material, revenge porn or content from sex trafficking victims — the latter which has led to lawsuits at other large porn companies.
The news followed a big marketing push for OnlyFans’ porn-free (SFW) app, OFTV, which circulated alongside reports that the company was looking to raise funds at a $1 billion+ valuation. OnlyFans may not have technically needed the funding to operate its current business — it handled more than $2 billion in sales in 2020 and keeps 20%. Rather, the company may have seen there’s more opportunity to cater to the “SFW” creator community, now that it has big names like Bella Thorne, Cardi B, Tyga, Tyler Posey, Blac Chyna, Bhad Bhabie and others on board.
U.S. lawmakers demand info on TikTok’s plans for biometric data collection
Earlier this month, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which said they were “alarmed” by the change, and demanded to know what information TikTok will be collecting and what it plans to do with the data. This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok got in trouble for excessive data collection. Earlier this year, the company paid out $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed TikTok had unlawfully collected users’ biometric data and shared it with third parties.
- Apple told developers that some of the features it announced as coming in iOS 15 won’t be available at launch. This includes one of the highlights of the new OS, SharePlay, a feature that lets people share music, videos and their screen over FaceTime calls. Other features that will come in later releases include Wallet’s support for ID cards, the App Privacy report and others that have yet to make it to beta releases.
- Apple walked back its controversial Safari changes with the iOS 15 beta 6 update. Apple’s original redesign had shown the address bar at the bottom of the screen, floating atop the page’s content. Now the tab bar will appear below the page’s content, offering access to its usual set of buttons as when it was at the top. Users can also turn off the bottom tab bar now and revert to the old, Single Tab option that puts the address bar back at the top as before.
- In response to criticism over its new CSAM detection technology, Apple said the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered by a developer, Asuhariet Ygvar, was a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.
- The Verge dug through over 800 documents from the Apple-Epic trial to find the best emails, which included dirt on a number of other companies like Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Google, Nintendo, Valve, Microsoft, Amazon and more. These offered details on things like Netflix’s secret arrangement to pay only 15% of revenue, how Microsoft also quietly offers a way for some companies to bypass its full cut, how Apple initially saw the Amazon Appstore as a threat and more.
- A beta version of the Android Accessibility Suite app (12.0.0) which rolled out with the fourth Android beta release added something called “Camera Switches” to Switch Access, a toolset that lets you interact with your device without using the touchscreen. Camera Switches allows users to navigate their phone and use its features by making face gestures, like a smile, open mouth, raised eyebrows and more.
- Google announced its Pixel 5a with 5G, the latest A-series Pixel phone, will arrive on August 27, offering IP67 water resistance, long-lasting Adaptive Battery, Pixel’s dual-camera system and more, for $449. The phone makes Google’s default Android experience available at a lower price point than the soon to arrive Pixel 6.
- An unredacted complaint from the Apple-Epic trial revealed that Google had quietly paid developers hundreds of millions of dollars via a program known as “Project Hug,” (later “Apps and Games Velocity Program”) to keep their games on the Play Store. Epic alleges Google launched the program to keep developers from following its lead by moving their games outside the store.
- Snap on Thursday announced it hired its first VP of Platform Partnerships to lead AR, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis (“KP”). The new exec will lead Snap’s efforts to onboard partners, including individual AR creators building via Lens Studio as well as large companies that incorporate Snapchat’s camera and AR technology (Camera Kit) into their apps. KP will join in September, and report to Ben Schwerin, SVP of Content and Partnerships.
- Crypto exchange Coinbase will enter the Japanese market through a new partnership with Japanese financial giant Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG). The company said it plans to launch other localized versions of its existing global services in the future.
- Facebook launched a “test” of Facebook Reels in the U.S. on iOS and Android. The new feature brings the Reels experience to Facebook, allowing users to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. Instagram Reels creators can also now opt in to have their Reels featured on users’ News Feed. The company is heavily investing its its battle with TikTok, even pledging that some portion of its $1 billion creator fund will go toward Facebook Reels.
- Twitter’s redesign of its website and app was met with a lot of backlash from users and accessibility experts alike. The company choices add more visual contrast between various elements and may have helped those with low vision. But for others, the contrast is causing strain and headaches. Experts believe accessibility isn’t a one-size fits all situation, and Twitter should have introduced tools that allowed people to adjust their settings to their own needs.
- Twitter also tapped crypto developer Jay Graber to head the company’s “bluesky” project, which aims to create a decentralized social media protocol on which a number of networks, including Twitter, will eventually operate. The project will operate independently from Twitter, but is funded by Twitter and run by Twitter employees. Elsewhere, Twitter rolled out a new option that would allow users to report misinformation.
- Twitter added Spaces support to its API, allowing developers to build Spaces discovery tools, and later, tools for hosts.
- YikYak returned, under new management. The once-popular anonymous social network relaunched on iOS this week under new anonymous ownership from people who clearly hope a do-over will lead to different results. The original version of the app shut down in 2017 after being plagued by cyberbullying.
- The pro-Trump Twitter alternative Gettr’s lack of moderation has allowed users to share child exploitation images, according to research from the Stanford Internet Observatory’s Cyber Policy Center.
- Pinterest rolled out a new set of more inclusive search filters that allow people to find styles for different types of hair textures — like coily, curly, wavy, straight, as well as shaved or bald and protective styles.
- Photoshop for iPad gained new image correction tools, including the Healing Brush and Magic Wand, and added support for connecting an iPad to external monitors via HDMI or USB-C. The company also launched a Photoshop Beta program on the desktop.
- WhatsApp is being adopted by the Taliban to spread its message across Afghanistan, despite being on Facebook’s list of banned organizations. The company says it’s proactively removing Taliban content — but that may be difficult to do since WhatsApp’s E2E encryption means it can’t read people’s texts. This week, Facebook shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul, which allowed civilians to report violence and looting, but some critics said this wasn’t actually helping local Afghans, as the group was now in effect governing the region.
- WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that will show a large preview when sharing links, which some suspect may launch around the time when the app adds the ability to have the same account running on multiple devices.
Streaming & Entertainment
- Netflix announced it’s adding spatial audio support on iPhone and iPad on iOS 14, joining other streamers like HBO Max, Disney+ and Peacock that have already pledged to support the new technology. The feature will be available to toggle on and off in the Control Center, when it arrives.
- Blockchain-powered streaming music service Audius partnered with TikTok to allow artists to upload their songs using TikTok’s new SoundKit in just one click.
- YouTube’s mobile app added new functionality that allows users to browse a video’s chapters, and jump into the chapter they want directly from the search page.
- Spotify’s Anchor app now allows users in global markets to record “Music + Talk” podcasts, where users can combine spoken word recordings with any track from Spotify’s library of 70 million songs for a radio DJ-like experience.
- Podcasters are complaining that Apple’s revamped Podcasts platform is not working well, reports The Verge. Podcasts Connect has been buggy, and sports a confusing interface that has led to serious user errors (like entire shows being archived). And listeners have complained about syncing problems and podcasts they already heard flooding their libraries.
- Tinder announced a new feature that will allow users to voluntarily verify their identity on the platform, which will allow the company to cross-reference sex offender registry data. Previously, Tinder would only check this database when a user signed up for a paid subscription with a credit card.
- Pokémon Unite will come to iOS and Android on September 22, The Pokémon Company announced during a livestream this week. The strategic battle game first launched on Nintendo Switch in late July.
- Developer Konami announced a new game, Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which will come exclusively to Apple Arcade. The game is described as a “full-fledged side-scrolling action game,” featuring a roster of iconic characters from the classic game series. The company last year released another version of Castelvania on the App Store and Google Play.
- Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle has now surpassed $3 billion in player spending since its 2015 debut, reported Sensor Tower. The game from Bandai Namco took 20 months to reach the figure after hitting the $2 billion milestone in 2019. The new landmark sees the game joining other top-grossers, including Clash Royale, Lineage M and others.
- Sensor Tower’s mobile gaming advertising report revealed data on top ad networks in the mobile gaming market, and their market share. It also found puzzle games were among the top advertisers on gaming-focused networks like Chartboost, Unity, IronSource and Vungle. On less game-focused networks, mid-core games were top titles, like Call of Duty: Mobile and Top War.
Health & Fitness
- Apple is reportedly scaling back HealthHabit, an internal app for Apple employees that allowed them to track fitness goals, talk to clinicians and coaches at AC Wellness (a doctors’ group Apple works with) and manage hypertension. According to Insider, 50 employees had been tasked to work on the project.
- Samsung launched a new product for Galaxy smartphones in partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, that allows U.S. users to save a verifiable copy of their vaccination card in the Samsung Pay digital wallet.
- Samsung said it’s removing ads shown in its default apps, Samsung Pay, Samsung Weather and Samsung Theme, to address widespread criticism that a flagship phone’s core apps shouldn’t be ruined with ads.
Government & Policy
- China cited 43 apps, including Tencent’s WeChat and an e-reader from Alibaba, for illegally transferring user data. The regulator said the apps had transferred users location data and contact list and harassed them with pop-up windows. The apps have until August 25 to make changes before being punished.
Security & Privacy
- A VICE report reveals a fascinating story about a jailbreaking community member who had served as a double agent by spying for Apple’s security team. Andrey Shumeyko, whose online handles included JVHResearch and YRH04E, would advertise leaked apps, manuals and stolen devices on Twitter and Discord. He would then tell Apple things like which Apple employees were leaking confidential info, which reporters would talk to leakers, who sold stolen iPhone prototypes and more. Shumeyko decided to share his story because he felt Apple took advantage of him and didn’t compensate him for the work.
Funding and M&A
South Korea’s GS Retail Co. Ltd will buy Delivery Hero’s food delivery app Yogiyo in a deal valued at 800 billion won ($685 million USD). Yogiyo is the second-largest food delivery app in South Korea, with a 25% market share.
Gaming platform Roblox acquired a Discord rival, Guilded, which allows users to have text and voice conversations, organize communities around events and calendars and more. Deal terms were not disclosed. Guilded raised $10.2 million in venture funding. Roblox’s stock fell by 7% after the company reported earnings this week, after failing to meet Wall Street expectations.
Travel app Hopper raised $175 million in a Series G round of funding led by GPI Capital, valuing the business at over $3.5 billion. The company raised a similar amount just last year, but is now benefiting from renewed growth in travel following COVID-19 vaccinations and lifting restrictions.
Indian quiz app maker Zupee raised $30 million in a Series B round of funding led by Silicon Valley-based WestCap Group and Tomales Bay Capital. The round values the company at $500 million, up 5x from last year.
Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding led by DST Global. The round values the business at $2.7 billion and will be used to help the company launch its own payments platform, Karrot Pay.
Bangalore-based fintech app Smallcase raised $40 million in Series C funding round led by Faering Capital and Premji Invest, with participation from existing investors, as well as Amazon. The Robinhood-like app has over 3 million users who are transacting about $2.5 billion per year.
Social listening app Earbuds raised $3 million in Series A funding led by Ecliptic Capital. Founded by NFL star Jason Fox, the app lets anyone share their favorite playlists, livestream music like a DJ or comment on others’ music picks.
U.S. neobank app One raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Progressive Investment Company (the insurance giant’s investment arm), bringing its total raise to date to $66 million. The app offers all-in-one banking services and budgeting tools aimed at middle-income households who manage their finances on a weekly basis.
Indian travel booking app ixigo is looking to raise Rs 1,600 crore in its initial public offering, The Economic Times reported this week.
Trading app Robinhood disappointed in its first quarterly earnings as a publicly traded company, when it posted a net loss of $502 million, or $2.16 per share, larger than Wall Street forecasts. This overshadowed its beat on revenue ($565 million versus $521.8 million expected) and its more than doubling of MAUs to 21.3 million in Q2. Also of note, the company said dogecoin made up 62% of its crypto revenue in Q2.
3D scanning software maker Polycam launched a new 3D capture tool, Photo Mode, that allows iPhone and iPad users to capture professional-quality 3D models with just an iPhone. While the app’s scanner before had required the use of the lidar sensor built into newer devices like the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro models, the new Photo Mode feature uses just an iPhone’s camera. The resulting 3D assets are ready to use in a variety of applications, including 3D art, gaming, AR/VR and e-commerce. Data export is available in over a dozen file formats, including .obj, .gtlf, .usdz and others. The app is a free download on the App Store, with in-app purchases available.
Jiobit, the tracking dongle acquired by family safety and communication app Life360, this week partnered with emergency response service Noonlight to offer Jiobit Protect, a premium add-on that offers Jiobit users access to an SOS Mode and Alert Button that work with the Jiobit mobile app. SOS Mode can be triggered by a child’s caregiver when they detect — through notifications from the Jiobit app — that a loved one may be in danger. They can then reach Noonlight’s dispatcher who can facilitate a call to 911 and provide the exact location of the person wearing the Jiobit device, as well as share other details, like allergies or special needs, for example.
When your app redesign goes wrong…
Prominent App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou shut down his FlickType iOS app this week after too many frustrations with App Review. He cited rejections that incorrectly argued that his app required more access than it did — something he had successfully appealed and overturned years ago. Attempted follow-ups with Apple were ignored, he said.
Anyone have app ideas?
South Korean troops were the largest foreign contingent fighting alongside American soldiers during the Vietnam War. They have long been dogged by allegations of brutality.
There is growing anti-China sentiment in South Korea, particularly among young voters. Conservative politicians are eager to turn the antipathy into a presidential election issue.
Danggeun Market, the publisher of South Korea’s hyperlocal community app Karrot, announced on 18 August it has raised $162 million in a Series D round of funding with a valuation of $2.7 billion. (By the way, Danggeun means carrot in Korean.)
This round funding was led by DST Global, with additional participation from Aspex Management, Reverent Partners, and existing investors such as Goodwater Capital, Altos Ventures, SoftBank Ventures Asia, Kakao Ventures, Strong Ventures, and Capstone Partners.
The latest funding officially makes Danggeun Market a unicorn and the $205 million represents the final total fundraised.
The company plan to strengthen its capabilities in local commerce with Danggeun Pay, or Karrot Pay, which is set to launch this year, and Danggeun’s platform Karrot enables approximately 300,000 local SMBs partners to go digitalized by offering offline to online (O2O) service. Danggeun Market’s consumers access everything from fresh local produce delivery to essential services including cleaning, education, real estate brokerage, and used cars in their local communities.
The funding proceeds from the new round will be used for further global expansion, business diversification, R&D, investment in advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, and recruiting team talent.
“Danggeun Market plans to focus on accelerating further overseas market expansion for the next two years after closing Series D funding, and in South Korea, we will diversify our business, aiming to be a super app,” co-founder and co-CEO Gary Kim said in an exclusive conversation with TechCrunch.
Danggeun Market, which is short for “the market in your neighborhood”, was founded by Gary Kim and Paul Kim in 2015.
Danggeun Market also plans to launch its payment service Karrot Pay, expand offline to online (O2O) service for South Korean SMEs that use its platform Karrot and invest to develop advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning in its platform for suggesting personalized feeds for users to stay longer, Kim continued.
Danggeun Market is expected to get approval from South Korea’s financial supervisory service (FSS) as early as September for two licenses such as payment gateway operator (PG) and prepaid payment means operator to launch Danggeun Market’s payment service, Karrot Pay, this year, Kim said.
Danggeun Market, which already launched its global version of hyperlocal community app Karrot in the U.K. in November 2019, currently operates the Karrot app in 72 local communities in 4 countries such as the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Japan.
“We see some active transactions in Manchester, Birmingham, and Toronto,” Kim said. Danggeun Market launched Karrot in Canada and the U.S. in September and October 2020, respectively. In February 2021, it opened in Japan, Kim said.
When asked regarding the next foreign market location, “Danggeun Market will not designate a particular country this time. We will change our overseas penetration strategy slightly by opening the app Karrot globally and monitor the countries that show organic growth and then we will narrow down specific countries and cities to focus on more,” Kim said.
The company will still seek the high population density areas in foreign markets and keep the distance limit set, Danggeun’s unique feature, that only shows people listings from sellers located within 6km radius in South Korea and 10 miles (about 15km) maximum for the UK for providing hyperlocalized community service.
For the next round, Gary Kim said it depends on its global expansion growth. If its global business works well and Karrot draws more global users and reaches active MAU and transactions the company has set, Danggeun Market will definitely raise another funding in two years, Kim said. “We are not in a hurry for an IPO at this stage since we can raise enough capital in the private market now. We want to consider going public after we make stable profits,” Kim said.
Danggeun Market now claims its total registered users exceed 21 million (South Korea has a total of 20.92 million households) and has consistently experienced over 300 % year-on-year growth since 2018.
The company has reached 1.8 million monthly active users (MAUs) in 2019, 4.8 million MAUs in 2020, and finally increased to 14.2 million MAUs in 2021, growing 3x every year over the past three years. According to global app analytics platform AppAnnie, Danggeun Market users spend an average of 2hours and 2minutes per month on the app.
“Over the past few years, Danggeun Market has demonstrated overwhelming dominance in the Korean C2C market… with unique user behavior from location-based communities, Danggeun Market continues to showcase its potential as THE hyperlocal super app,” Managing Partner at DST Investment Management John Lindfors said.
“COVID-19 highlighted the importance of people wanting to connect to their neighbors and community. When meeting a friend for a simple coffee can no longer be taken for granted, we realize all the more importance of our relationships and community. Danggeun Market’s service bridges the offline and online world, enhancing both in-person interactions as well as purely digital ones. The core of Danggeun Market’s growth is its digital end-to-end platform that allows consumers to feel both genuinely part of their communities as well as have the comfort and safety of being part of a larger network that can grow together,” co-founder and Managing Partner at Goodwater Capital Eric Kim said.
Twitter introduced a new test feature Tuesday that allows users to report misinformation they run into on the platform, flagging it to the company as “misleading.” The test will roll out starting today to most users in the U.S., Australia and South Korea.
In the new test, Twitter users will be able to expand the three dot contextual menu in the upper right corner of a tweet to select “report tweet” where they’ll be met with the new option to flag a misleading tweet. The next menu offers users a choice to specify that a tweet is misleading about “politics,” “health” or “something else.” If they select politics, they can specify if the misleading political tweet pertains to elections and if they choose health they can flag a misleading tweet about COVID-19 specifically.
Twitter has added a way for users to report election-related misinformation before, though previously those options were temporary features linked to global elections. Back in 2019, the platform rolled out the option to report misleading tweets about voting to help safeguard elections in Europe and India.
The intention is to give users a way to surface tweets that violate Twitter’s existing policies around election and pandemic-related misinformation, two topics it focuses policy and enforcement efforts around. The user reporting system will work in tandem with Twitter’s proactive systems for identifying potentially dangerous misinformation, which rely on a combination of human and automated moderation. For now, users won’t receive any updates from the company on what happens to misleading tweets they report, though those updates could be added in the future.
While the new reporting feature will be available very broadly, the company describes the test as an “experiment,” not a finished feature. Twitter will observe how people on the platform use the new misinformation reporting tool to see if user reporting can be an effective tool for identifying potentially harmful misleading tweets, though the company isn’t on a set timeline for when to fully implement or remove the test feature.
For now, Twitter doesn’t seem very worried about users abusing the feature, since the new user reporting option will plug directly into its established moderation system. Still, the idea of users pointing the company toward “misleading” tweets is sure to spark new cries of censorship from corners of the platform already prone to spreading misinformation.
While the option to flag tweets as misleading is new, the feature will feed reported tweets into Twitter’s existing enforcement flow, where its established rules around health and political misinformation are implemented through a blend of human and algorithmic moderation.
That process will also sort reported tweets for review based on priority. Tweets from users with large followings or tweets generating an unusually high level of engagement will go to the front of the review line, as will tweets that pertain to elections and COVID-19, Twitter’s two areas of emphasis when it comes to policing misinformation.
The new test is Twitter’s latest effort to lean more on its own community to identify misinformation. Twitter’s most ambitious experiment along those lines is Birdwatch, a crowdsourced way for users to append contextual notes and fact-checks to tweets that can be upvoted or downvoted, Reddit-style. For now, Birdwatch is just a pilot program, but it’s clear the company is interested in decentralizing moderation — an experiment far thornier than just adding a new way to report tweets.
The South Korean broadcaster MBC showed photographs associating pizza with Italy, Chernobyl with Ukraine and Count Dracula with Romania in its coverage of the opening ceremony.
For all their shared experiences, each of these five artists has a unique story of struggles and triumphs.
The United States has fallen behind China and Europe in the production and adoption of electric vehicles, especially from 2017 to 2020, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. One important piece of the puzzle that the U.S. does have supremacy in, however, is the production of semiconductors, which are used in everything from smartphones to computers to electric vehicles. Now, it might be strengthening that hold.
SK Siltron CSS, a unit of South Korean semiconductor wafer manufacturer, SK Siltron, announced Wednesday plans to invest $300 million and create up to 150 high-paying, skilled jobs in Bay County, Michigan, which is about a couple hours north of Detroit, the country’s first automaking haven. The wafer manufacturer already has a presence in nearby Auburn, so the new factory will more than double its employee base. Over the next three years, SK Siltron says its investment will provide manufacturing and R&D capabilities of advanced materials for electric vehicles.
SK Siltron CSS Chief Executive Jianwei Dong told Reuters, which first reported the news, the $300 million investment would “help develop a domestic EV supply chain based in Michigan because we have our end customers in nearby communities.”
This new investment comes amid an ever-increasing lineup of new electric vehicles and investments in electrification from American automakers, including legacy companies General Motors and Ford as well as Tesla and upstarts such as Rivian.
It’s also joining the sticky pot of trade wars between China and the U.S.
China has owned EV production globally, producing 44% of all vehicles made from 2010 to 2020, but the U.S. has put a strangle hold on semiconductors, consistently blocking China from acquiring other chipmakers. Strong policies that both invest in EV production and spur demand have proven successful in both China and Europe, according to the ICCT report. The Biden administration’s call for $174 billion in funding to expand EV subsidies and charging networks could help the country catch up.
“As we build toward a more sustainable future, it is important that we create new, robust supply chains in the U.S. to support our corporations and the end consumer,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo in a statement. “The automotive industry has a tremendous opportunity with the rise of the electric vehicle, and we’re excited to see companies like SK Siltron CSS expanding to help support the transition to a green future.”
The SK Siltron CSS expansion still needs approval from state and local authorities, the company said, although it’s unlikely it will meet much resistance. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation said the state has been trying to attract EV-related jobs, spending nearly $9 billion in investments over the last two years and adding more than 10,000 jobs for the EV transition. SK Siltron said as it works with the state and local agencies to find employees, 70% will be skilled workers and the rest will be professional engineers.
A wafer is a thin slice of semiconductor that’s used to make integrated circuits, which essentially help make semiconductor chips smaller and faster. The wafer serves as the base upon which the rest of the semiconductor is built, making it crucial ingredient to the whole process. EVs need semiconductors because they allow batteries to operate at higher voltages, drive the powertrain and support modern car features like touchscreen interactivity.
SK Siltron’s wafer is made of silicon carbide, which can handle higher powers and conduct heat better than normal silicon, the company says.
“When used in EV system components, this characteristic can allow a more efficient transfer of electricity from the battery to the motor, increasing the driving range of an EV by 5% to 10%,” the company said in a statement.
The wafers can also be used in 5G communications equipment, and Dong told Reuters that the company is also considering additional investments.
South Korea’s LG Chem has earmarked ₩6 trillion ($5.2 billion) over the next four years to build out its battery materials business. The investment comes as automakers and state regulators set targets to transition away from internal combustion engine vehicles, in a shift that will likely be the most transformative to the mobility industry since the invention of the car.
The investments will focus on boosting the production of anode materials, separation membranes, cathode binders, and other essential battery components. This includes plans to build a massive cathode plant in the South Korean city of Gumi, that will increase the industrial giant’s anode production capacity by seven-fold, from 40,000 tons to around 260,000 tons by 2026. LG Chem had already agreed to invest ₩500 billion ($424 million) in the plant, which was announced in July 2019.
LG is also planning to expand its production capacity of carbon nanotubes (CNT), an advanced material used to enhance the performance of lithium-ion batteries, from 1,700 tons this year to triple or more by 2025. To get there, it’s planning on scaling output at its CNT Plant 2 and commencing construction on a third CNT plant this year.
On the supply chain front, LG said its preparing a joint venture with a mining company for the supply of metals and other raw materials for battery components. The company will “actively pursue cooperation in various ways with companies possessing mining, smelting and refining technologies to strengthen its metal sourcing competitiveness,” it said in a statement.
LG Chem is already one of the largest manufacturers of batteries and battery materials, with customers including Volkswagen, General Motors, and Tesla. And the company only sees the global battery materials market expanding – from ₩39 trillion ($34 billion) in 2021 to ₩100 trillion ($87 billion) by 2026.
Along with the battery investment, LG said it will pour an additional ₩3 trillion ($2.6 billion) into sustainable petrochemicals, like biodegradable polymers and plant-based bio-materials, and ₩1 trillion ($872 million) into its drug development business line.
CEO Hak Cheol Shin said the company is examining even more opportunities to shift toward an sustainable business portfolio. “This will be the most revolutionary change since the establishment of the company that will upgrade the value and sustainability of LG Chem, and tangible achievements will become available from the second half of this year,” he said.
The notorious Clop ransomware operation appears to be back in business, just days after Ukrainian police arrested six alleged members of the gang.
Last week, a law enforcement operation conducted by the National Police of Ukraine along with officials from South Korea and the U.S. saw the arrest of multiple suspects believed to be linked to the Clop ransomware gang. It’s believed to be the first time a national law enforcement group carried out mass arrests involving a ransomware group.
The Ukrainian police also claimed at the time to have successfully shut down the server infrastructure used by the gang. But it doesn’t seem the operation was completely successful.
While the Clop operation fell silent following the arrests, the gang has this week published a fresh batch of confidential data which it claims to have stolen from two new victims — a farm equipment retailer and an architects office — on its dark web site, seen by TechCrunch.
If true — and neither of the alleged victims responded to TechCrunch’s request for comment — this would suggest that the ransomware gang remains active, despite last week’s first-of-its-kind law enforcement sting. This is likely because the suspects cuffed included only those who played a lesser role in the Clop operation. Cybersecurity firm Intel 471 said it believes that last week’s arrests targeted the money laundering portion of the operation, with core members of the gang not apprehended.
“We do not believe that any core actors behind Clop were apprehended,” the security company said. “The overall impact to Clop is expected to be minor although this law enforcement attention may result in the Clop brand getting abandoned as we’ve recently seen with other ransomware groups like DarkSide and Babuk.”
Clop appears to still be in business, but it remains to be seen how long the group will remain operational. Not only have law enforcement operations dealt numerous blows to ransomware groups this year, such as U.S. investigators’ recent recovery of millions in cryptocurrency they claim was paid in ransom to the Colonial Pipeline hackers, but Russia has this week confirmed it will begin to work with the U.S. to locate cybercriminals.
Russia has until now taken a hands-off approach when it comes to dealing with hackers. Reuters reported Wednesday that the head of the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov was quoted as saying it will co-operate with U.S. authorities on future cybersecurity operations.
Intel 471 previously said that it does not believe the key members of Clop were arrested in last week’s operation because “they are probably living in Russia,” which has long provided safe harbor to cybercriminals by refusing to take action.
The Clop ransomware gang was first spotted in early 2019, and the group has since been linked to a number of high-profile attacks. These include the breach of U.S. pharmaceutical giant ExecuPharm in April 2020 and the recent data breach at Accellion, which saw hackers exploit flaws in the IT provider’s software to steal data from dozens of its customers including the University of Colorado and cloud security vendor Qualys.
Viva Republica, the Seoul-based fintech company behind Toss, a super app with more than 40 financial services, announced today it has raised $410 million at a post-money valuation of $7.4 billion. The new funding was led by Alkeon Capital, an American investment firm, and included participation from new investors like Korea Development Bank, and returning backers Altos Ventures and Greyhound Capital.
The company plans to launch Toss Bank, a neobank, in September 2021, which it describes as “the final key component” of its super app strategy. It will also use the funding to continue its expansion in overseas markets, including Vietnam, where Toss launched last year.
Viva Republica, which hit unicorn status in 2018, has now raised more than $940 million in equity funding.
Founder and chief executive officer SG Lee told TechCrunch that Toss Bank will focus on lending, and also offer savings accounts with competitive interest rates.
“A lot of challenger banks and neobanks are focusing on the banking experience, such as cards, so their main revenue source is interchange fees,” he said. “Toss is quite different because we already cover all that. We cover P2P payment, money transfer, cards and all sorts of services. So we are focusing on loans, unsecured loans, mortgages, all sorts of loans. We are going to use this vehicle to give the most competitive interest rates to users, and Toss Bank will not have a separate app, since we have super app strategy.”
One of the reasons Toss Bank is focusing on loans is because if someone has a middling credit score, many South Korean banks will only offer them loans at subprime interest rates, Lee said. Toss Bank will be able to offer better rates because its risk-scoring model leverages data from its millions of users.
Toss now claims a total of 20 million users (or more than a third of South Korea’s 51.7 population) and of that amount, 11 million are monthly active users.
The app launched as a Venmo-like peer-to-peer money transfer platform in 2015, before adding more services. Now its users can turn to the app for almost all of their financial needs.
For example, they can check their balances at different banks and credit cards on a dashboard. Merchants can use Toss Payments to send and receive online payments and manage their business finances. Other features include budgeting tools, bill payments, a credit score tracker and insurance plans. Lee said more than 20% of bank accounts and credit cards in South Korea are already registered on Toss.
As a financial super app, Toss Bank will be able to supplement information from South Korea’s main credit rating agencies with its own data about user transactions: for example, where do they spend money, how often do they spend, their cash flow and balances.
Lee added that one of South Korea’s leading credit bureaus, KCB (Korea Credit Bureau), backtested Toss’ engine with data from over two million users, and it turned out to be 150% better in terms of differential power analysis and 30% lower in delinquency rates. “This is the first engine that counts this asset-related data, and no machine-learning technologies have been used in credit evaluation” in South Korea, he said. “I think Toss Bank is really well-positioned to disrupt the whole loan market.”
In March, Toss also launched an investment service called Toss Securities, designed to make stock trading accessible to new investors who shy away from traditional brokerages. Over the past three months, it has signed up more than 3.5 million users.
Viva Republica launched Toss in Vietnam, its first international market, in 2020, and the app now has services like no-fee money transfers, debit cards and a financial dashboard through a partnership with CIMB bank. Toss currently claims more than three million monthly active users in Vietnam and says it adds more than 500,000 active users every month. Toss is planning to enter other Southeast Asian markets, too.
Toss hasn’t finalized a timeline, but it is targeting Malaysia for its next market by the end of this year. “The product that we built for Vietnam is actually quite scalable across all Southeast Asia markets, so it’s a matter of time,” Lee said. “But we want to focus on the Vietnam market because it’s scaling increasingly fast and we have to cover the growth.”
As for the possibility of holding an initial public offering or finding another exit opportunity, Lee said the company is still finalizing its plans. “As an Asian company, reaching a $7.4 billion valuation is pretty high, and I think at some point we will face not being able to do more fundraising in the private market. So we’re targeting to raise once more by the end of this year or early next year for over $300 million. That will be our last private fundraising, and then we’re thinking a timeline of three years, and we are reviewing not only for a Korean listing but also a U.S. listing.”