Hundreds of e-commerce sites booby-trapped with payment card skimming malware

Stock photo of a woman using a laptop and a credit card to make a purchase.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

About 500 e-commerce websites were recently found to be compromised by hackers who installed a credit card skimmer that surreptitiously stole sensitive data when visitors attempted to make a purchase.

A report published on Tuesday is only the latest one involving Magecart, an umbrella term given to competing crime groups that infect e-commerce sites with skimmers. Over the past few years, thousands of sites have been hit by exploits that cause them to run malicious code. When visitors enter payment card details during purchase, the code sends them to attacker-controlled servers.

Fraud courtesy of Naturalfreshmall[.]com

Sansec, the security firm that discovered the latest batch of infections, said the compromised sites were all loading malicious scripts hosted at the domain naturalfreshmall[.]com.

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#biz-it, #ecommerce, #payment-skimmers, #websites

OnlyFans’ explicit content ban should spark a conversation about a creators’ bill of rights

OnlyFans’ decision to ban sexually explicit content is reigniting an important and overlooked conversation around tech companies, content guidelines and sex work. However, the implications of this discussion go beyond just one platform and one marginalized group.

It’s indicative of a broken ecosystem for content creators where platforms have outsized control over the ways in which creators are allowed to share content and engage with their followers and fans. In response, creators are decentralizing, broadening their reach to multiple platforms and taking their audiences with them.

In doing so, creators also have the opportunity to define what rights they want to be built into these platforms.

History repeats itself

Creators being shut out of the individual platforms is nothing new. Many are comparing OnlyFans’ policy change to Tumblr’s move to ban adult content in 2018. This has been an ongoing issue for YouTube as well — several communities, including a group of LGBTQ YouTubers, have accused the platform of targeting them with their demonetization algorithm.

Many of these platforms, including OnlyFans, point to their payment partners’ policies as a barrier to allowing certain forms of content. One of the earliest major controversies we saw in this arena was when PayPal banned WikiLeaks in 2010.

While each of these events have drawn the ire of creators and their followers, it’s indicative of an ecosystemwide problem, not necessarily an indictment of the platforms themselves.

After all, these platforms have provided the opportunity for creators to build an audience and engage with their fans. But these platforms have also had to put policies in place to shield themselves from regulatory and reputational risk.

The core of the issue is that creators are beholden to individual platforms, always vulnerable to changing policies and forced to navigate the painful migration of their audiences and monetization from platform to platform.

That doesn’t mean that that all guidelines and policies are bad — they play a role to foster and govern a positive and safe community with thoughtful guidelines — but it should not come at the cost of harming and de-platforming the creators who fuel these platforms with content and engagement. The core of the issue is that creators are beholden to individual platforms, always vulnerable to changing policies and forced to navigate the painful migration of their audiences and monetization from platform to platform.

And, at the end of the day, it takes away from their ability to create meaningful content, engage with their communities and earn a reliable living.

As creators have lost more and more control to platforms over time, some have begun exploring alternative options that allow independent and direct monetization from their audience in a distributed way.

Decentralizing, monetizing

The direct-to-fan monetization model is already displacing the traditional ad-based, platform-dictated model that creators relied on for years. During my time at Patreon, I saw how putting control and ownership in the hands of creators builds a more sustainable, fair and vibrant creator economy. Substack has given writers a similarly powerful financial tool, and over the past few years, there has been an ever-growing number of companies that serve creators.

The challenge is that many of these companies rely on the existing systems that hamstrung the platforms of the past, and have business models that require take rates and revenue shares. In many ways, the creator economy needs new infrastructure and business models to build the next phase of creator and fan interaction.

With the right application, crypto can help rewrite the playbook of how creators monetize, engage with their fans and partner with platforms. Its peer-to-peer structure reflects the direct-to-fan relationship and allows creators to own the financial relationship with their audience instead of relying on tech giants or payment partners as middlemen. Beyond that, crypto allows creators to maintain ownership and control over their brands and intellectual property.

Additionally, many crypto projects allow participants to have a voice in the value proposition, strategic direction, operational functions and economic structures of the project via DAOs or governance tokens. In this way, creators can join projects and set the direction in a way that aligns with how they want to engage with their communities.

Creators are especially positioned to benefit from community-governed projects given their ability to motivate and engage their own communities. We are in the early phases of crypto adoption, and creators have a huge opportunity to shape the future of this paradigm shift. With social tokens, creators can mint their own cryptocurrencies that allow for a shared economy that creators and fans can grow together and use to transact directly across different platforms.

NFTs are another category that have exploded in popularity this year, but the industry is just scratching the surface of the utility that they will have. Creators and crypto projects are figuring out ways to make NFTs go beyond collectibles; NFTs provide an engaging and functional digital tool for creators to give their fans their time (through video calls or AMAs) or access to other exclusive benefits.

Creators are just beginning to discover the power that crypto provides. As the user experience of crypto-based platforms continues to become more intuitive, crypto will become ubiquitous. Before that point, creators should think about what rights they need (and can demand) from the decentralized services they use.

A creators’ bill of rights

Be it within crypto or not, creators finally have the leverage to determine their rights. While I believe that creators should be the ones leading this conversation, here are a few jumping off points:

  • Ability to move freely across platforms: Reliance on individual platforms is at the heart of many of the issues that creators face. By allowing creators to take their fans with them wherever they go, many of the problems we’ve seen even with direct-to-fan monetization can be solved.
  • Direct financial relationships between creators and fans: At the heart of the OnlyFans matter is creators’ inability to own their financial relationships with fans. Even if direct financial relationships aren’t feasible on every platform, creators should have options to own those relationships and dictate their own terms.
  • Creator-led decision-making: Historically, platforms have given creators minimal control over platformwide decisions and policies. Creators should have direct input and even be able to vote on various platformwide measures.
  • Quality over quantity: Platforms and their algorithms are structured to reward quantity and force creators down a path of burnout and hyperspeed content creation. Both creators and fans are looking for a more deep and engaging interaction and incentivizing this behavior will ensure a more vibrant and sustainable creator ecosystem.
  • Low (or zero) take rates: Big tech platforms take nearly 100% of revenue from creators. Creators (and their fans) should be earning the majority of platform revenue.
  • Equity access or revenue sharing: Big tech platforms have built empires on the labor of creators. Instead of dictating ad revenue payout to creators, decentralized platforms should allow creators to have true “skin in the game” by being able to own a piece of the pie outright or benefit from the overall growth of the ecosystem. This alignment of interests will be a major shift from the capital-labor split we see today.
  • Transparency and consultation: Creators should have full view into what they can or can’t do and a seat at the table as policies are being created and adapted. Platforms’ content moderation decisions and the algorithms behind demonetization are often opaque, broadly applied and decided without consulting the creators they will impact. They should also have visibility into the size of the overall revenue pie and their share.
  • Ability for reform and rehabilitation: We are all human, and there might be moments that a creator knowingly or unknowingly goes outside of the guidelines set by a platform. Creating a space for creators to rehabilitate their content will create a more trusting and collaborative relationship between creators and platforms.

We’ll leave it to creators to dictate their terms — they’ve been cut out of this conversation for far too long. That said, I’m confident that Rally and many other key participants in the Web 3.0 ecosystem would be open to supporting this effort to create an environment that works for creators and their fans.

#column, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #media, #online-advertising, #onlyfans, #opinion, #patreon, #payments, #paypal, #peer-to-peer, #substack, #tumblr, #video-hosting, #websites, #world-wide-web, #youtube

Privacy-oriented search app Xayn raises $12M from Japanese backers to go into devices

Back in December 2020 we covered the launch of a new kind of smartphone app-based search engine, Xayn.

“A search engine?!” I hear you say? Well, yes, because despite the convenience of modern search engines’ ability to tailor their search results to the individual, this user-tracking comes at the expense of privacy. This mass surveillance might be what improves Google’s search engine and Facebook’s ad targeting, to name just two examples, but it’s not very good for our privacy.

Internet users are admittedly able to switch to the US-based DuckDuckGo, or perhaps France’s Qwant, but what they gain in privacy, they often lose in user experience and the relevance of search results, through this lack of tailoring.

What Berlin-based Xayn has come up with is personalized, but a privacy-safe web search on smartphones, which replaces the cloud-based AI employed by Google et al with the innate AI in-built into modern smartphones. The result is that no data about you is uploaded to Xayn’s servers.

And this approach is not just for ‘privacy freaks’. Businesses that need search but don’t need Google’s dominant market position are increasingly attracted by this model.

And the evidence comes today with the new that Xayn has now raised almost $12 million in Series A funding led by the Japanese investors Global Brain and KDDI (a Japanese telecommunications operator), with participation from previous backers, including the Earlybird VC in Berlin. Xayn’s total financing now comes to more than $23 million to date.

It would appear that Xayn’s fusion of a search engine, a discovery feed, and a mobile browser has appealed to these Asian market players, particularly because Xayn can be built into OEM devices.

The result of the investment is that Xayn will now also focus on the Asian market, starting with Japan, as well as Europe.

Leif-Nissen Lundbæk, Co-Founder and CEO of Xayn said: “We proved with Xayn that you can have it all: great results through personalization, privacy by design through advanced technology, and a convenient user experience through clean design.”

He added: “In an industry in which selling data and delivering ads en masse are the norm, we choose to lead with privacy instead and put user satisfaction front and center.”

The funding comes as legislation such as the EU’s GDPR or California’s CCPA have both raised public awareness about personal data online.

Since its launch, Xayn says its app has been downloaded around 215,000 times worldwide, and a web version of its app is expected soon.

Over a call, Lundbæk expanded on the KDDI aspect of the fund-raising: “The partnership with KDDI means we will give users access to Xayn for free, while the corporate – such as KDDI – is the actual customer but gives our search engine away for free.”

The core features of Xayn include personalized search results; a personalized feed of the entire Internet which learns from their Tinder-like swipes, without collecting or sharing personal data;
an ad-free experience.  

Naoki Kamimeada, Partner at Global Brain Corporation said: “The market for private online search is growing, but Xayn is head and shoulders above everyone else because of the way they’re re-thinking how finding information online should be.”

Kazuhiko Chuman, Head of KDDI Open Innovation Fund, said: “This European discovery engine uniquely combines efficient AI with a privacy-protecting focus and a smooth user experience. At KDDI, we’re constantly on the lookout for companies that can shape the future with their expertise and technology. That’s why it was a perfect match for us.”

In addition to the three co-founders Leif-Nissen Lundbæk (Chief Executive Officer), Professor Michael Huth (Chief Research Officer), and Felix Hahmann (Chief Operations Officer), Dr Daniel von Heyl will come on board as Chief Financial Officer, Frank Pepermans will take on the role of Chief Technology Officer, and Michael Briggs will join as Chief Growth Officer.

#artificial-intelligence, #berlin, #california, #chief-executive-officer, #chief-financial-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #computing, #duckduckgo, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #france, #global-brain-corporation, #google, #head, #japan, #kddi, #online-search, #partner, #privacy, #qwant, #search-engine, #search-engines, #search-results, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #terms-of-service, #websites, #world-wide-web, #xayn

Creators can now monetize their expertise on Quora

In May, Yahoo! Answers shut down after helping the internet answer its most burning questions since 2005. But now, Quora, which began as a question-and-answer site but expanded to incorporate blogging, is making its platform more appealing to creators.

Quora says it’s “on track to be cash flow positive from ads alone,” implying that the platform isn’t currently in the black. But Quora sees tapping into the creator economy and subscriptions as a way to turn a profit.

“We want to make sharing knowledge more financially sustainable for creators,” Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo wrote in a blog post. “Even though many people are motivated and able to spend their time writing on Quora just to share their knowledge, many others could share much more with financial justification to do so.”

Quora’s first new product is Quora+ — subscribers will pay a $5 monthly fee or a $50 yearly fee to access content that any creator chooses to put behind a paywall. These are the same rates that Medium, which has no ads, charges for its membership program.

Rather than paying select creators, subscribers will pay Quora. Then, each subscriber’s payment will be distributed to creators “in proportion to the amount each subscriber is consuming their content, with more of a subscriber’s contribution going to writers and spaces the subscriber follows.” Creators have the option to enable a dynamic paywall on Quora+ content, which would give free users access to certain posts if Quora thinks they’re likely to convert to paid membership; there’s also an “adaptive” paywall option, which uses an algorithm to decide whether to paywall content for a specific user on a case-by-case basis. This is supposed to help creators strike a balance between monetizing their content and growing their audience to find new potential subscribers.

Quora told TechCrunch that it is still experimenting with Quora+ and can’t yet say what percentage it will take from subscriptions.

The other option is for creators to write paywalled posts on Spaces, which are like user-created publications on Quora. Quora will take 5% of the subscription fee, which the creator can choose at their own discretion — comparatively, the direct-to-consumer blogging platform Substack takes 10% of writers’ profits, which makes Quora a competitive alternative. Other platforms like Ghost ask for a $9 monthly fee, but let writers retain their revenue — for writers making at least $180 per month, Ghost would be more profitable than Quora.

“We’re able to sustainably commit to taking only a minimal fee without needing to increase it in the future because we make enough revenue from ads to fund most of the platform’s development and operations,” D’Angelo wrote. Substack, meanwhile, doesn’t have ads.

Quora reached a $1.8 billion valuation in 2017 after raising $85 million, and at the time, the platform had 190 million monthly users. Now, according to D’Angelo’s blog post, over 300 million people use Quora each month. Despite this user growth, Quora laid off an undisclosed amount of staff in its Bay Area and New York City offices in January 2020.

Space subscriptions will launch today for English language users in 25 countries, including the U.S. The rollout of Quora+ will be less immediate as Quora invites select writers to test the platform and determine what works best for subscribers and creators.

#adam-dangelo, #apps, #california, #ceo, #new-york-city, #peer-to-peer, #question-and-answer-site, #quora, #substack, #website, #websites, #yahoo, #yahoo-answers

Norby raises $3.8M for an all-in-one creator marketing platform

Early in the pandemic, Nick Gerard, Steven Layne, and Samantha Safer Valentine had a hit on their hands. In the era before Zoom fatigue set in, the trio launched Mainstream Live, a website and newsletter that curated live virtual events across platforms and gave people text-based reminders to check them out. 

“We started with the discovery problem of people looking for cool things to do online,” Gerard told TechCrunch. “…Right away we knew that we were tapping into something.” Overnight, tens of thousands of people were on the site, browsing for online events to keep them connected in a period of unprecedented social isolation.

After going viral, the Mainstream Live team found itself inundated with questions about the tools it used to surface events and keep its community in the loop. As the team built more services for its own needs, it eventually opened its custom toolkit, sharing the code to other community leads and content creators who implemented the same set of tools with a rebrand.

“People loved it — more and more people asked for it,” Gerard said. “We got to the point where we were juggling a dozen of [these] for different partners.” By the fall, the team wound down the original community, leaned into the inbound interest in its toolset and built Norby.

Norby platform

The new company rolled together everything that people were asking for: a link-in-bio service, referral tracking, SMS, ticketing and other marketing tools necessary to keep a small brand or creator community humming. 

Gerard says the team at Norby has been “following that signal” ever since. Now, Norby has raised a $3.8M seed round led by Gradient Ventures, Google’s venture AI-focused fund, to grow its team and scale its full-stack marketing platform to new heights. Bungalow Capital, BBG Ventures, Charge VC, and Notation also participated in the funding round. 

Norby’s big idea is to combine services like LinkTree, Eventbrite and MailChimp into a single, affordable, subscription-based service, offering anyone who handles an online community a single solution rather than an expensive patchwork of services that have to be individually set up and managed. Norby is ideal for small brands and solo entrepreneurs and most of its customers run less than 10-person operations. The creator tool suite is purely subscription based and won’t collect any fees like Eventbrite and other popular services.

For brands, it starts at $20 per month and the company has plans in the works for a $5 per month tier for individual use. There’s no free tier, and Gerard prefers to think that Norby’s customers will be excited to save time and money on the company’s bundled offering. “What we found is that people spend an enormous amount of money on these tools,” Gerard said. “We can knock a bunch of tools out of your stack and save you money. But we can also save you time.” 

Norby’s team spends a lot of time talking to creators and small companies. Its customers range from sexual wellness companies to advice columnists and activists — anybody who needs to manage an online community. It counts Sad Girls Club, EVRYMAN and Allbodies among its early customers

The company is growing slowly and organically, bringing new users in through a waitlist and invite system and showing them around the product in group demos. “What’s been really cool for us, we’ll get a new customer for one or two features… then they came into the product and were like ‘oh we’ve always wanted to try SMS’ and then it’s just there and they can start using it,” Gerard said. 

Big picture, Norby views itself as an advocate for creators — and an insulator against the power that big platforms wield. In the long term, Gerard hopes to help creators own their own communities as a kind of “counterbalance” to big platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

Norby hopes to help more people make a reliable living creating content and communities online. “There’s a handful of extreme winners and it’s just barren after that,” Gerard said, citing Li Jin’s ideas on building a creator middle class

Helping creators “own the relationship” with their communities is something that big platforms will never have an incentive to do. But those same platforms are realizing that creators wield some very real power — and the ability to pick up their content empires and take them to go if they choose to. 

“Whats exciting about this moment is that right now looking ahead to the next five or ten years, nothing is inevitable,” Gerard said. “These windows don’t come along all the time.”

#bbg-ventures, #content-creators, #eventbrite, #gradient-ventures, #li-jin, #linktree, #mailchimp, #online-communities, #online-community, #online-events, #sms, #social, #tc, #techcrunch, #tiktok, #verizon-media, #websites

One week left to buy passes to TC Disrupt 2021 for less than $100

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, the world’s original and most epic conference dedicated to tech startups, takes place September 21-23. Are you ready to take full advantage of this opportunity-packed event? Start right now and buy a Disrupt pass for less than $100. But don’t wait — the early bird prices disappear on July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Experience the full range of the global tech startup culture. Disrupt draws thousands of attendees from around the world, ready to learn, network, inspire and inform. You’ll hear from the leading voices across the tech spectrum — people like Coinbase CEO, Brian Armstrong, Pear VC’s Mar Hershenson and Accel’s Arun Matthew. And even a few tech-savvy celebrity founders (we’re looking at you, Seth Rogan).

Head to the Disrupt Stage for compelling interviews, panel discussions and presentations. And if you’re hot for tips, strategies and advice you can put to work in your startup right away, head on over to the Extra Crunch Stage. Our virtual platform makes it easy to pop in and out as your schedule permits, and you’ll have three months of video-on-demand access to all presentations when the event ends. You won’t miss a thing.

Check out the Disrupt 2021 agenda and register here to get updates when we add new speakers, events and discounts.

Startup Alley, our legendary expo area, is already sold out. Do not miss this collection of innovative startups showcasing their impressive tech and talent. Stop by their virtual booths, schedule 1:1 video meeting, ask for a product demo. You might just find a new collaborator, the perfect solution to a nagging problem or a promising addition to your investment portfolio.

Pro Tip: Every Startup Alley exhibitor will take part in one of our pitch feedback breakout sessions. It’s not only an opportunity to learn about the company — the feedback they receive from the Team TechCrunch can help you improve your own pitch.

Of course, Startup Battlefield is where the best-of-the best take the virtual stage to pitch for glory, global exposure and, oh yeah, $100,000 in equity-free prizemoney. It’s the startup world’s best launch pad and, since its inception, 922 companies have collectively raised $9 billion and generated 117 exits. Here’s how Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars described watching Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020.

“The Startup Battlefield translated easily to the virtual format. You could see the excitement, enthusiasm and possibility of the young founders, and I loved that. You could also ask questions through the chat feature, and you don’t always have time for questions at a live event.”

Tune in to watch this thrilling throwdown. You never know — this year’s cohort might produce a future unicorn or two.

TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 takes place on September 21-23. Buy your Disrupt pass before July 30 at 11:59 pm (PT), and you’ll pay less than $100. Now that’s an opportunity worth grabbing.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#brian-armstrong, #business, #ceo, #coinbase, #economy, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #techcrunch-disrupt-2021, #techcrunch-disrupt-new-york, #verizon-media, #volvo-cars, #websites

Colombian on-demand delivery startup Rappi raises ‘over’ $500M at a $5.25B valuation

Rappi, a Colombian on-demand delivery startup, has raised “over” $500 million at a $5.25 billion valuation in a Series G round led by T. Rowe Price, the company announced late Friday.

Baillie Gifford, Third Point, Octahedron, GIC SoftBank, DST Global, Y Combinator, Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital and others also participated in the round.

The new financing brings Rappi’s total raised since its 2015 inception to over $2 billion, according to Crunchbase. Today, the country has operations in 9 countries and more than 250 cities across Latin America. Its last raise was a $300 million a Series F funding round in September of 2020.

According to the Latin American Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (LAVCA), Rappi focused on delivering beverages and first, and has since expanded into meals, groceries, tech goods and medicine. The company also offers a cash withdrawal feature, allowing users to pay with credit cards and then receive cash from one of Rappi’s delivery agents. Today, the company says its app allows consumers to “order nearly any good or service.”

In addition to traditional delivery, it says “users can get products delivered in less than 10 minutes, can access financial services, as well as ‘whims,” and “favors.’ Whims allow users to order anything available in their coverage area. Favors offer an array of custom services, such as running an errand, going to the hardware store or picking out and delivering a gift. The two products allow users to connect directly with a courier. 

Simón Borrero, Sebastian Mejia, and Felipe Villamarin launched the company in 2015, graduating from Y Combinator the following year. A16z’s initial investment in July 2016 was the Silicon Valley firm’s first investment in Latin America, according to LAVCA.

#andreessen-horowitz, #apps, #baillie-gifford, #colombia, #companies, #delivery, #dst-global, #feature, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gic, #latin-america, #online-food-ordering, #rappi, #recent-funding, #reddit, #sequoia-capital, #softbank, #softbank-group, #startup, #startups, #t-rowe-price, #venture-capital, #websites, #y-combinator

End-to-end moving startup Updater buys on-demand moving startup Dolly

Moving services giant Updater is bringing on the team from Dolly as the New York company looks to expand its scope of offerings with the acquisition of the on-demand startup known for helping consumers execute small-scale moves.

Dolly connects users in need of moving a large item like a piece of furniture with a contractor ready to lend a hand. Like competing services such as Lugg, the app has been a popular solution for picking up items from peer-to-peer marketplaces like Craigslist. Dolly boasts a partnership with Facebook Marketplace that has allowed its users to coordinate picking up items with the service, available in 45 major cities across the US, according to their website.

In addition to its user-facing service, Dolly has also built a major business partnering with retailers directly allowing them to tap into their mover network and coordinate same-day delivery for customers. Dolly’s retail partners include companies like Costco, Lowe’s and The Container Store.

A price tag for the deal wasn’t disclosed and couldn’t be learned. Dolly raised $17.2 million over several rounds, including a $7.5 million Series B in May of 2019. The startup’s backers include Maveron, Hyde Park Venture Partners and Version One Ventures.

As part of the acquisition, Dolly will be living on an independent, wholly-owned subsidiary of Updater.

The SoftBank-backed Updater is an “invite-only” service focused on building a more premium end-to-end moving experience. The team has partnered with a number of major brokerage firms whose customers are given the option to use Updater’s services to coordinate their move, pairing them with moving companies who use Updater’s MoveHQ software platform. Today, a quarter of US household moves are facilitated using one of Updater’s products, the company says.

The firm has raised nearly $200 million since its founding in 2010. Dolly’s acquisition will allow Updater to expand their services to customers that are “conducting a small move or don’t want to book a full-service moving company,” CEO David Greenberg tells TechCrunch. “We want to be the go-to place for Americans to conquer their move.”

#contractor, #costco, #craigslist, #dolly, #facebook, #finance, #hyde-park-venture-partners, #lowes, #maveron, #new-york, #peer-to-peer, #software-platform, #tc, #united-states, #updater, #version-one-ventures, #websites

In latest big tech antitrust push, Germany’s FCO eyes Google News Showcase fine print

The Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s very active competition authority, isn’t letting the grass grow under new powers it gained this year to tackle big tech: The Federal Cartel Office (FCO) has just announced a third proceeding against Google.

The FCO’s latest competition probe looks very interesting as it’s targeting Google News Showcase — Google’s relatively recently launched product which curates a selection of third party publishers’ content to appear in story panels on Google News (and other Google properties), content for which the tech giant pays a licensing fee.

Google started cutting content licensing deals with publishers around the world for News Showcase last year, announcing a total pot of $1BN to fund the arrangements — with Germany one of the first markets where it inked deals.

However its motivation to pay publishers to licence their journalism is hardly pure.

It follows years of bitter accusations from media companies that Google is freeloading off their content. To which the tech giant routinely responded with stonewalling statements — saying it would never pay for content because that’s not how online aggregation works. It also tried to fob off the industry with a digital innovation fund (aka Google News Initiative) which distributes small grants and offers free workshops and product advice, seeking to frame publishers’ decimated business models as a failure of innovation, leaving Google’s adtech machine scot free to steamroller on.

Google’s stonewalling-plus-chicken-feeding approach worked to stave off regulatory action for a long time but eventually enough political pressure built up around the issue of media business models vs the online advertising duopoly that legislators started to make moves to try to address the power imbalance between traditional publishers and intermediating tech giants.

Most infamously in Australia, where lawmakers passed a news media bargaining code earlier this year.

Prior to its passage, both Facebook and Google, the twin targets for that law, warned the move could result in dire consequences — such as a total shut down of their products, reduced quality or even fees to use their services.

Nothing like that happened but lawmakers did agree to a last minute amendment — adding a two-month mediation period to the legislation which allows digital platforms and publishers to strike deals on their own before having to enter into forced arbitration.

Critics say that allows for the two tech giants to continue to set their own terms when dealmaking with publishers, leveraging market muscle to strike deals that may disproportionately benefit Australia’s largest media firms — and doing so without any external oversight and with no guarantees that the resulting content arrangements foster media diversity and plurality or even support quality journalism.

In the EU, lawmakers acted earlier — taking the controversial route of extending copyright to cover snippets of news content back in 2019.

Following on, France was among the first EU countries to transpose the provision into national law — and its competition watchdog quickly ordered Google to pay for news reuse back in 2020 after Google tried to wiggle out of the legislation by stopping displaying snippets in the market.

It responded to the competition authority’s order with more obfuscation, though, agreeing earlier this year to pay French publishers for linking to their content but also for their participation in News Showcase — bundling required-by-law payments (for news reuse) with content licensing deals of its own devising. And thereby making it difficult to understand the balance of mandatory payments vs commercial arrangements.

The problem with News Showcase is that these licensing arrangements are being done behind closed doors, in many cases ahead of relevant legislation and thus purely on Google’s terms — which means the initiative risks exacerbating concerns about the power imbalance between it and traditional publishers caught in a revenue bind as their business models have been massively disrupted by the switch to digital.

If Google suddenly offers some money for content, plenty of publishers might well jump — regardless of the terms. And perhaps especially because any publishers that hold out against licensing content to Google at the price it likes risk being disadvantaged by reduced visibility for their content, given Google’s dominance of the search market and content discoverability (via its ability to direct traffic to specific media properties, such as based on how prominently News Showcase content is displayed, for example).

The competition implications look clear.

But it’s still impressive that the Bundeskartellamt is spinning up an investigation into News Showcase so quickly.

The FCO said it’s acting on a complaint from Corint Media — looking at whether the announced integration of the Google News Showcase service into Google’s general search function is “likely to constitute self-preferencing or an impediment to the services offered by competing third parties”.

It also said it’s looking at whether contractual conditions include unreasonable terms (“to the detriment of the participating publishers”); and, in particular, “make it disproportionately difficult for them to enforce the ancillary copyright for press publishers introduced by the German Bundestag and Bundesrat in May 2021” — a reference to the transposed neighbouring right for news in the EU copyright reform.

So it will be examining the core issue of whether Google is trying to use News Showcase to undermine the new EU rights publishers gained under the copyright reform.

The FCO also said it wants to look at “how the conditions for access to Google’s News Showcase service are defined”.

Google launched the News Showcase in Germany on October 1 2020, with an initial 20 media companies participating — covering 50 publications. Although more have been added since.

Per the FCO, the News Showcase ‘story panels’ were initially integrated in the Google News app but can now also be found in Google News on the desktop. It also notes that Google has said the panels will soon also appear in the general Google search results — a move that will further dial up the competition dynamics around the product, given Google’s massive dominance of the search market in Europe.

Commenting on its proceeding in a statement, Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, said: “Cooperating with Google can be an attractive option for publishers and other news providers and offer consumers new or improved information services. However, it must be ensured that this will not result in discrimination between individual publishers. In addition, Google’s strong position in providing access to end customers must not lead to a situation where competing services offered by publishers or other news providers are squeezed out of the market. There must be an adequate balance between the rights and obligations of the content providers participating in Google’s programme.”

Google was contacted for comment on the FCO’s action — and it sent us this statement, attributed to spokesperson, Kay Oberbeck:

“Showcase is one of many ways Google supports journalism, building on products and funds that all publishers can benefit from. Showcase is an international licensing program for news — the selection of partners is based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria, and partner content is not given preference in the ranking of our results. We will cooperate fully with the German Competition Authority and look forward to answering their questions.”

The FCO’s scrutiny of Google News Showcase, follows hard on the heels of two other Google proceedings it opened last month, one to determine whether or not the tech giant meets the threshold of Germany’s new competition powers for tackling big tech — and another examining its data processing practices. Both remain ongoing.

The competition authority has also recently opened a proceeding into Amazon’s market dominance — and is also looking to extend another recent investigation of Facebook’s Oculus business, also by determining whether the social media giant’s business meets the threshold required under the new law.

The amendment to the German Competition Act came into force in January — giving the FCO greater powers to proactively impose conditions on large digital companies who are considered to be of “paramount significance for competition across markets” in order to pre-emptively control the risk of market abuse.

That it’s taking on so many proceedings in parallel against big tech shows it’s keen not to waste any time — putting itself in a position to come, as quickly as possible, with proactive interventions to address competitive problems caused by platform giants just as soon as it determines it can legally do that.

The Bundeskartellamt also has a pioneering case against Facebook’s ‘superprofiling’ on its desk — which links privacy abuse to competition concerns and could drastically limit the tech giant’s ability to profile users. That investigation and case has been ongoing for years but was recently referred to Europe’s top court for an interpretation of key legal questions.

 

#andreas-mundt, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #companies, #digital-media, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #france, #germany, #google, #google-news-showcase, #media, #news-showcase, #policy, #president, #spokesperson, #websites, #world-wide-web

Fresh out of YC, Houm raises $8M to improve the home rental and sales market in LatAm

As a longtime real estate developer based in Chile, Benjamin Labra was able to spot gaps in the buying and renting markets in Latin America. To meet demands, he started Houm, an all-in-one platform that helps homeowners rent and sell their properties in the region.

Fresh out of Y Combinator’s W21 cohort, today Houm announced an $8 million seed round. 

If you think the concept sounds like Brazil’s unicorn, QuintoAndar, it’s because Houm is very similar. While QuintoAndar dominates the Brazilian market, Houm operates in Chile, Mexico and Colombia, and aims to capture the rest of Spanish-speaking LatAm.

Think of Houm as a homeowner-run Zillow meets TaskRabbit. The company offers a marketplace run by the property owners themselves and cuts out the realtor by employing 200 freelancers who prepare the property for sale or to manage it.

Houmers, as they are called, go to the owner’s home, take photos and then help possible buyers or renters view the property. For their work, Houmers are compensated each time a home they worked on sells or gets rented.

However, Houm’s selling proposition isn’t just the ease of use it provides; instead, it also serves as a guarantor in my ways, making the buying process more accessible.

“In Colombia and Mexico, for someone to be your guarantor, they have to have a property that’s free of mortgage so it can be used as collateral,” Labra told TechCrunch.

On the flip side, the company also guarantees that renters will get paid every month, and if a tenant falters, Houm covers the cost. “You really have nothing to lose if you use Houm,” Labra said.

You can imagine that a company like Houm now has all sorts of data on the real estate market, especially around sales and rental prices. As a result, Houm uses this data in an algorithm that helps the homeowner determine a fair price for their property, but the listed price remains up to the owner.

The company, which was founded in 2018 and is based in Chile, now has about 200 full-time employees, in addition to their freelance team. While Labra declined to say how many active users it has, he said Houm is now showing a property every eight minutes.

The current funding round had no lead investor but includes Y Combinator, Goodwater Ventures, OneVC, Vast VC, Liquid2 and Myelin. The company plans to use the money to expand within the region, perfect its algorithm and generally speed up growth.

 

#brazil, #chile, #funding, #goodwater-ventures, #houm, #latin-america, #liquid2-ventures, #prop-tech, #property, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #taskrabbit, #websites, #y-combinator, #zillow

Substack acquires team from community consulting startup People & Company

New media poster child Substack announced today that they’ve added a small community-building consultancy team to its ranks, acquiring the Brooklyn-based startup People & Company.

The small firm has been working with clients to build up their community efforts and its team will now be tasked with building up some of the newsletter company’s upstart efforts for writers in its network.

In a blog post, Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie said that the company had previously used the People & Co. team to consult on their fellowship and mentorship programs and that members of the team would now be working on a variety of new efforts from scaling programs to help writers with legal support and health insurance to community-guided projects like workshops and meetups to help crowdsource insights.

“These people are the best in the world at what they do, and now they’re not only working for Substack, but they’re also working for you,” McKenzie wrote.

Beyond Substack, previous partners with People & Company include Porsche AG, Nike and Surfrider.

Substack has been blazing ahead in recent months, adding new partners and raising cash as it aims to bring on more and more subscribers to its network. The firm shared back in late March that it had raised a $65 million round at a reported valuation around $650 million according earlier reporting by Axios.

#axios, #brooklyn, #co-founder, #crowdsource, #digital-media, #hamish-mckenzie, #health-insurance, #nike, #porsche-ag, #substack, #tc, #websites, #world-wide-web

Armed with $160M in funding, LatAm’s Merama enters the e-commerce land grab

Merama, a five-month old e-commerce startup focused on Latin America, announced today that it has raised $60 million in seed and Series A funding and $100 million in debt.

The money was raised “at well over a $200 million valuation,” according to co-founder and CEO Sujay Tyle.  

“We are receiving significant inbound for a Series B already,” he said.

LatAm firms Valor Capital and Monashees Capital and U.K.-based Balderton Capital co-led the “massively oversubscribed” funding round, which also included participation from Silicon Valley-based TriplePoint Capital and the CEOs of four unicorns in Latin America, including Uala, Loggi, Rappi and Madeira Madeira. 

Tyle, Felipe Delgado, Olivier Scialom, Renato Andrade and Guilherme Nosralla started Merama in December 2020 with a vision to be the “largest and best-selling set of brands in Latin America.” The company has dual headquarters in Mexico City and São Paulo.

Merama partners with e-commerce product sellers in Latin America by purchasing a stake in the businesses and working with their teams to help them “exponentially” grow and boost their technology while providing them with nondilutive working capital. CEO Tyle describes the company’s model as “wildly different” from that of Thras.io, Perch and other similar companies such as Valoreo because it does not aggregate dozens of brands.

“We will work with very few brands over time, and only the best, and work with our entire team to scale and expand these few businesses,” Tyle told TechCrunch. “We’re more similar to The Hut Group in the EU.”

Merama expects to sell $100 million across the region this year, more than two times the year before. It is currently focused on Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Already, the company operates “very profitably,” according to Tyle. So the cash raised will go primarily toward partnering with more brands, investing in building its technology platform “to aid in the automation of several facets” of its partners’ brands and in working capital for product innovation and inventory purchases. 

The 42-person team is made up of e-commerce leaders from companies such as Amazon, Mercado Libre and Facebook, among others. Tyle knows a thing or two about growing and building new startups, having co-founded Frontier Car Group, which sold to OLX/Naspers for about $700 million in 2019. He is also currently a venture partner at Balderton. 

It’s a fact that Latin American e-commerce has boomed, particularly during the pandemic. Mexico was the fastest-growing e-commerce market in 2020 worldwide, yet is still in its infancy, Tyle said. Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.

“Merchants are seeing hypergrowth but still struggle with fundamental problems, which creates a ceiling in their potential,” Tyle told TechCrunch. “For example, they are unable to expand internationally, get reliable and cost-effective working capital and build technology tools to support their own online presence. This is where Merama comes in. We seek to give our partners an unfair advantage. When we decide to work with a team, it is because we believe they will be the de facto category leader and can become a $1 billion business on their own.”

Merama collaborates with e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Mercado Libre, and several executives from both companies have invested in the startup, as well.

Daniel Waterhouse, partner at Balderton Capital, says his firm sees “huge potential” in Merama.

“In our two decades scaling businesses in Europe, we have seen firsthand what defines eCommerce category leaders,” he said in a written statement. “What they have already achieved is breathtaking, and it is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Valor Capital founding partner Scott Sobel believes that creating superior products that connect with consumers is the first key challenge D2C companies face.

“That is why we like Merama’s approach to partnering with these established brands and provide them unparalleled support to scale their operations in an efficient way,” he added.

#amazon, #argentina, #balderton-capital, #brazil, #chile, #daniel-waterhouse, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #europe, #european-union, #facebook, #frontier-car-group, #funding, #fundings-exits, #latin-america, #merama, #mercado-libre, #mercadolibre, #mexico, #mexico-city, #monashees-capital, #naspers, #olx, #paypal, #rappi, #recent-funding, #retailers, #sao-paulo, #silicon-valley, #startup, #startups, #sujay-tyle, #tc, #techcrunch, #the-hut-group, #triplepoint-capital, #unicorn, #valor-capital, #venture-capital, #websites

Mighty Networks raises $50M to build a creator economy for the masses

Mighty Networks, a platform designed to give creators and brands a dedicated place to start and grow communities, has closed on $50 million in a Series B funding round led by Owl Ventures.

Ziff Capital Partners and LionTree Partners also participated in the financing, along with existing backers Intel Capital, Marie Forleo, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Rosensweig, Reid Hoffman, BBG Ventures and Lucas Venture Group. The investment brings Palo Alto-based Mighty Networks’ total raised since its 2017 inception to $67 million. 

Mighty Networks founder and CEO Gina Bianchini — who started the company with Tim Herby and Thomas Aaron — is no stranger to building nurturing environments for community building. Previously, she was the CEO and co-founder of Ning, where she led the company’s rapid growth to three million Ning Networks created and about 100 million users around the world in three years. 

With Mighty Networks, Bianchini’s goal is to build “a creator middle class” founded on community memberships, events and live online courses.  

“Basically we have a platform for people to create communities the way that they would create e-commerce stores,” she told TechCrunch. “So what Shopify has done for e-commerce, we’re doing for digital subscriptions and digital payments where the value is around a community that is mastering something interesting or important together, and not just content alone.”

The company’s flagship Business Plan product is aimed at new creators with the goal of giving them an easy way to get started with digital subscriptions, Bianchini said. Established brands, organizations and successful creators use the company’s Mighty Pro plan to get everything Mighty Networks offers on their own branded iOS, iPad and Android apps. 

Mighty Networks — which operates as a SaaS business — has seen impressive growth. In 2020, ARR climbed by “2.5x” while annual customer growth climbed by 200%. Customers are defined as paying creators who host their community, courses and events on their own Mighty Network. The company also saw a 400% annual growth in payments, or rather in subscriptions and payments where a creator or brand will sell a membership or an online course.

The pandemic was actually a boon to the business, as well as the fact that it launched live events last year.

“We were able to help many businesses quickly move online — from yoga studios to leadership speakers and consultants — and now that the world is coming back, they’ll be able to use the features that we’ve built into the platform from day one around finding members, events and groups near them, as well as making everything via not just the web but mobile apps,” Bianchini said.

One of the startup’s goals is to help people understand that they don’t need massive amounts of followers (such as 1 million followers on TikTok) to be successful creators. For example, a creator charging 30 people for a subscription that amounts to around $1,000 a year can still pull in $30,000 a year. So while it’s not huge, it’s certainly still substantial — hence the company’s intent to build a “creator middle class.”

Mighty Networks has more than 10,000 paying creators, brands and coaches today. Users include established creators and brands such as YouTube star Adriene Mishler, Xprize and Singularity University founder Peter Diamandis, author Luvvie Ajayi Jones, comedian Amanda Seales, Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso and brands such as the TED conference and wellness scheduling platform MINDBODY.

“Content alone will kill the creator economy,” Bianchini said. “We can’t build a thriving creator movement on an exhausting, unfair dynamic where content creators rent audiences from big tech platforms, are required to produce a never-ending stream of content and get paid pennies for it, if they get paid at all. Creators need to own their own community on the internet, where members meet each other and get results and transformation.” 

Owl Ventures Managing Director Amit Patel said his firm was impressed by Mighty Networks before it even met the company.

“No company in this space has more loyal, passionate believers, and when we saw firsthand that creators could successfully build paid communities and online courses on a Mighty Network with as few as 30 members, we wanted to be a part of unlocking this creator middle class for a million more creators,” Patel said in a written statement.

The company plans to use its new capital on product development across media types, payment options and expansion into new markets. 

Earlier this month, Pico, a New York startup that helps online creators and media companies make money and manage their customer data, announced that it had launched an upgraded platform and raised $6.5 million in new funding. Essentially, the company is building what it considers to be an operating system for the creator market.

#amit-patel, #android, #author, #bbg-ventures, #creator-economy, #dan-rosensweig, #e-commerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gina-bianchini, #intel-capital, #ios, #ipad, #mighty-networks, #mindbody, #ning, #online-courses, #owl-ventures, #palo-alto, #recent-funding, #reid-hoffman, #saas, #shopify, #singularity-university, #software, #startup, #startups, #venture-capital, #video-hosting, #websites, #youtube

The #8meals app from Habits of Waste helps people cut back on meaty meals to save the planet

Earth Day may have come and gone, but with apps like #8meals from the non-profit Habits of Waste, anyone can try and do their part to help reduce deforestation and rising greenhouse gas emissions by cutting meat out of their diets for just 8 meals a week.

The app, which was created by Habits of Waste founder Sheila Morovati along with the development shop Digital Pomegranate, gives users a way to schedule which meals of theirs will be meatless and offers recipe suggestions for what to eat to help them stick to their goals.

For Morovati, the #8meals app is only the latest in a series of initiatives that are meant to cut down on waste and consumption. Morovati’s journey to environmental advocacy began with a program to redistribute used crayons from restaurants to schools in the Southern California region.

That program, called Crayon Collection, has redirected over 20 million crayons from landfills, but Morovati’s non-profit push to reduce waste didn’t end there.

The Habits of Waste organization also launched the #cutoutcutlery campaign, which convinced Uber Eats, Postmates, Grubhub and DoorDash to change their default settings to make customers opt-in to receive plastic cutlery. It’s a way to reduce the nearly 40 billion plastic utensils that are thrown away each year, according to the Habits of Waste website.

“We decided to create a whole new arm which is cut out cutlery and eight meals. Trying to shift societal mindset is my goal,” said Morovati. 

Meanwhile, the number of meat replacements available to consumers continues to expand. Everyone from Post Cereal to Anheuser Busch is trying to make a play for replacements to proteins sourced from animals. That’s not to mention the billions raised by companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to sell replacements direct to consumers.

Going meatless, even for a few meals a week, can make a huge difference for planetary health (and human health). That’s because animal agriculture is responsible for more than 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide — and it contributes to deforestation.

“I always think about this fake person that I’ve created in my mind and I call him Mr. Joe Barbecue,” Morovati said during a YouTube interview with self-described superfood guru, Darien Olien, earlier this year. “How can we get Mr. Joe Barbecue to be on board? Is it possible to tell him to go fully vegan? I don’t think so. Not yet. But I think if we introduce it with eight meals a week, maybe even Mr. Joe Barbecue will be willing to go there and understand it and try it and open up the door a crack to invite people in who may not be willing to do this.”

#cutlery, #doordash, #earth-day, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #grubhub, #postmates, #tc, #uber-eats, #websites

Steady’s Adam Roseman and investor Emmalyn Shaw outline what worked (and what was missing) in the Series A deck

When it comes to Steady, the platform that helps hourly workers manage their income, maximize their income, and access deals on things like benefits and financial services, the strengths of the business are clear. But it took time for founder and CEO Adam Roseman to clearly define and communicate each of them in his quest for fundraising.

To date, Steady has raised just under $30 million with investors that include Loeb.nyc, Recruit Strategic Partners, Propel Ventures and Flourish Ventures. In fact, Flourish’s Emmalyn Shaw sits on the board, having led the company’s Series A round in 2018.

As a partner at a $500 million fintech fund, her expertise in not only how fintech companies should think about fundraising but what it takes for them to be successful is invaluable. Lucky for us, we got the chance to sit down with both Steady CEO Adam Roseman and Emmalyn Shaw for a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live.

The duo were gracious enough to walk us through Steady’s Series A deck, explaining the importance of highlighting the strengths of the business. They went into detail on how Steady was successful in that during that fundraising process, and what the company could have done differently to be more effectively.

Shaw and Roseman also gave some fantastic advice for founders during the Pitch Deck Teardown, wherein speakers give their expert feedback on decks submitted by the audience. (If you’d like to have your pitch deck featured on an episode of Extra Crunch Live, hit up this link.)

Relationships first

Roseman shared that the best investors are ones that not only understand the business but understand you as a founder and a person. He explained that he and Shaw had plenty of time to get to know each other before the Series A deal.

“I’ve been a part of businesses in the past as an entrepreneur and on boards where it’s been the worst situation, especially when they don’t understand your business,” said Roseman. “Flourish took the time to understand it through and through and was entirely aligned. That makes for the best long-term partnership.”

While it’s a cliche, it remains true that investors often place bets based on a team and not an idea or a product. But what exactly makes a great team or founder? According to Shaw, it’s about vision and passion.

“In Adam’s case, he has a direction connection to what Steady is trying to do,” said Shaw. “That makes a huge difference in terms of commitment because you have ups and downs. They bring experience in terms of understanding the space, how to penetrate and scale and a deep understanding of fintech.”

#adam-roseman, #ec-fintech, #ec-how-to, #ecl, #emmalyn-shaw, #extra-crunch-live, #flourish-ventures, #jordan-crook, #pitch-deck, #steady, #tc, #websites

Microsoft is seeing a big spike in Web shell use

Microsoft is seeing a big spike in Web shell use

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Security personnel at Microsoft are seeing a big increase in the use of Web shells, the light-weight programs that hackers install so they can burrow further into compromised websites.

The average number of Web shells installed from August, 2020 to January of this year was 144,000, almost twice that for the same months in 2019 and 2020. The spike represents an acceleration in growth that the same Microsoft researchers saw throughout last year.

(credit: Microsoft)

A Swiss Army knife for hackers

The growth is a sign of just how useful and hard to detect these simple programs can be. A Web shell is an interface that allows hackers to execute standard commands on Web servers once the servers have been compromised. Web shells are built using Web-based programming languages such as PHP, JSP, or ASP. The command interfaces work much the way browsers do.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #compromise, #hacking, #tech, #web-shell, #websites

Reddit raises $250 million in Series E funding

Reddit has raised a new funding round, totalling $250 million. This is the company’s Series E round of financing, and it comes hot on the heels of renewed public attention on the site that has dubbed itself ‘the front page of the Internet,’ owing to the role the subreddit r/WallStreetBets played in the recent meteoric rise (and subsequent steep fall) of the value of GameStop stock. Reddit also ran a 5-second Super Bowl ad on Sunday, consisting of. a single static image that looked like a standard post on the network itself.

This is Reddit’s 16th year of operation, and the company has raised around $800 million to date, including a Tencent-led $300 million Series D in February, 2019. Today’s round including financing from “existing and new investors,” Reddit noted in a blog post in which it announced the funding. In the post, Reddit notes that the company felt “now was the right opportunity to make strategic investments in Reddit including video, advertising, consumer products and expanding into international markets.”

Reddit’s 5-second Super Bowl ad.

It’s unclear how the round came together exactly, but given the network’s time in the spotlight over the past few weeks, culminating in yesterday’s very brief, but also very memorable and high-profile ad, it seems likely it was at least finalized fast in order to help the company make the most of its time in the spotlight. In terms of what kind of specific moves Reddit could make with its new cash on hand, the blog post also namecheck its acquisition late last year of short video sharing platform Dubsmash, and announced plans to double its team over the course of this year with new hires.

Reddit’s long history has also included some significant tumult, and efforts to clean up its act in order to present a better face to advertisers, and to potential new community members. The network still struggles with balancing its commitments to fostering a home for a range of communities with the potential for hate speech and discrimination to take root within some of these, and it was also in the news earlier this year for finally banning controversial subreddit r/donaldtrump following “repeat´d policy violations” surrounding the attempted insurrection a the U.S. Capitol by a mob of domestic terrorists.

 

#apps, #consumer-products, #dubsmash, #funding, #gamestop, #like-button, #recent-funding, #reddit, #robinhood, #short-selling, #social, #software, #startups, #super-bowl, #tc, #websites, #wikis, #world-wide-web

Google now gives you more information about the sites in your search results

Google regularly tweaks its search results pages and tries out new designs. It’s not that often, though, that it adds new features to those results, so when it does, it’s worth paying attention to.

Today, Google is adding a new menu item to virtually all search results in English in the U.S. on mobile, desktop and its Android Google app. This new link will provide searchers with more information about the site they are about to visit — and before they click on the actual link.

Clicking the new hamburger-style menu icon will pop up a new info panel with additional information about the site. These include a short description of what the site is about — taken from Wikipedia when available– and some data about whether the connection to the site is secure.

Image Credits: Google

For sites without a Wikipedia entry, Google will show when it first indexed the site and other data if it’s available.

There’s also a full link and a short line about whether it’s a native search result or an ad (which seems like a tacit admission that it’s too hard to distinguish ads from regular search results on Google). At the bottom of the pane, there are also links to your privacy settings and to an explainer about ‘how search works.’

Image Credits: Google

“When you search for information on Google, you probably often come across results from sources that you’re familiar with: major retailer websites, national news sites and more,” Google product manager JK Kearns writes in today’s announcement. “But there’s also a ton of great information on and services available from sites that you may not have come across before. And while you can always use Google to do some additional research about those sites, we’re working on a new way for you to find helpful info without having to do another search.”

This new feature will start rolling out today and as usual, it may take a while before you see it in your own search results.

Image Credits: Google

 

 

#android, #google, #google-search, #search, #search-engine, #search-results, #tc, #united-states, #websites

Roblox raises at $29.5 billion valuation, readies for direct listing

Roblox is now one of the world’s most valuable private companies in the world after a monster Series H raise brings the social gaming platform a stratospheric $29.5 billion valuation. The company won’t be private for long, though.

The $520 million raise led by Altimeter Capital and Dragoneer Investment Group is a significant cash influx for Roblox, which had previously raised just over $335 million from investors according to Crunchbase. The Investment Group of Santa Barbara, Warner Music Group, and a number of current investors, also participated in this round.

In February of 2020, the company closed a $150 million Series G led by Andreessen Horowitz which valued the company at $4 billion.

The gaming startup has initially planned an IPO in 2020, but after the major first day pops of DoorDash and Airbnb, the company leadership reconsidered their timeline, according to a report in Axios. Those major say-one share price pops left significant money on the table for the companies selling those shares, an outcome Roblox is likely looking to avoid. Today, the company also announced that it plans to enter the public markets via a direct listing.

Roblox’s 7x valuation multiple signals just how feverish public and private markets are for tech stocks. The valuation also highlights how investors foresee the company benefiting from pandemic trends which pushed more users online and towards social gaming platforms. In a 2019 prospectus, the company shared that it had 17.6 million users, now Roblox claims to have 31 million daily active users on its platform.

#airbnb, #altimeter-capital, #andreessen-horowitz, #computing, #crunchbase, #doordash, #dragoneer-investment-group, #gaming, #online-games, #roblox, #tc, #valuation, #video-gaming, #warner-music-group, #websites

Uber officially completes Postmates acquisition

Uber today announced the official completion of its Postmates acquisition deal, which it announced originally back in July. The all-stock deal, valued at around $2.65 billion at the time of its disclosure, sees Postmates join Uber, while continuing to operate as a separate service with its own branding and front-end – while some backend operations, including a shared pool of drivers, will merge.

Uber detailed some of its further thinking around the newly combined companies and what that will mean for the businesses they work with in a new blog post. The company posited the move as of benefit to the merchant population they work with, and alongside the official closure announced a new initiative to encourage and gather customer feedback on the merchant side.

They’re calling it a “regional listening exercise” to be run beginning next year, wherein they’ll work with local restaurant associations and chambers of commerce to hear concerns from local business owners in their own communities. This sounds similar in design to Uber’s prior efforts to focus on driver feedback from a couple of years ago in order to improve the way it works with that side of its double-sided marketplace.

Focusing on the needs of its merchant population is doubly important given the current global pandemic, which has seen Uber Eats emerge as even more of a key infrastructure component in the food service and grocery industries as people seek more delivery options in order to better comply with stay-at-home orders and other public safety recommendations.

#apps, #california, #companies, #driver, #food-service, #ma, #online-food-ordering, #postmates, #tc, #uber, #websites

Microsoft brings new shopping tools to its Edge browser

Microsoft announced a few updates to its Edge browser today that are all about shopping. In addition to expanding the price comparison feature the team announced last month, Edge can now also automatically find coupons for you. In addition, the company is launching a new shopping hub in its Bing search engine. The timing here is undoubtedly driven by the holiday shopping season — though this year, it feels like Black Friday-style deals already started weeks ago.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The potential usefulness of the price comparison tools is pretty obvious. I’ve found this always worked reasonably well in Edge Collections — though at times it could also be a frustrating experience because it just wouldn’t pull any data for items you saved from some sites. Now, with this price comparison running in the background all the time, you’ll see a new badge pop up in the URL bar that lets you open up the price comparison. And when you already found the best price, it’ll tell you that right away, too.

At least in the Edge Canary where this has been available for a little bit already, this was also hit and miss. It seems to work just fine when you shop on Amazon, for example, as long as there’s only one SKU of an item. If there are different colors, sizes or other options available, it doesn’t really seem to kick in, which is a bit frustrating.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The coupons feature, too, is a bit of a disappointment. It works more consistently and seems to pull data from most of the standard coupon sites (think RetailMeNot and Slickdeals), but all it does is show sitewide coupons. Since most coupons only apply to a limited set of items, clicking on the coupon badge quickly feels like a waste of time. To be fair, the team implemented a nifty feature where at checkout, Bing will try to apply all of the coupons it found. That could be a potential time- and money-saver. Given the close cooperation with the Bing team in other areas, this feels like an area of improvement, though. I turned it off.

Microsoft is also using today’s announcement to launch a new URL shortener in Edge. “Now, when you paste a link that you copied from the address bar, it will automatically convert from a long, nonsensical URL address to a short hyperlink with the website title. If you prefer the full URL, you can convert to plain text using the context menu,” Microsoft explains. I guess that makes sense in some scenarios. Most of the time, though, I just want the link (and no third-party in-between), so I hope this can easily be turned off, too.

#business, #coupon, #mass-media, #microsoft, #microsoft-bing, #retailmenot, #search-engine, #tc, #websites

Spying a pivot to ghost kitchens, Softbank’s second Vision Fund pours $120 million into Ordermark

“We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,” is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it.

The 29 year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince Softbank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round for that the company announced today.

“We have uncovered an opportunity to help drive more orders into restaurants through this offering we have called Nextbite,” Canter said. “Nextbite is a portfolio of delivery-only restaurant brands that exist only on UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates.”

After hearing about Nextbite, Softbank actually didn’t take much convincing.

Investors from the latest Vision Fund first reached out to Canter shortly after the company announced its last round of funding in 2019. Canter had just begun experimenting with Nextbite at the time, but now the business is driving a huge chunk of the company’s revenues and could account for a large percentage of the company’s total business in the coming year.

“We believe Ordermark’s leading technology platform and innovative virtual restaurant concepts are transforming the restaurant industry,” said Jeff Housenbold, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Alex and the Ordermark team have a deep understanding of the challenges that independent restaurants face. We are excited to support their mission to help independent restaurants optimize online ordering and generate incremental revenue from under-utilized kitchens.”

It’s an interesting pivot for a company that began as a centralized hub for restaurants to manage all of the online delivery orders coming in through various delivery services like GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats .

Canter is no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owns one of Los Angeles’ most famous delicatessens, the eponymous Canters, and Ordermark apocryphally started as a way to manage the restaurant’s own back-of-the-house chaos caused by a profusion of delivery service orders.

Now, instead of becoming the proprietor of one restaurant brand, Canter is running 15 of them. Unlike Cloud Kitchens, Kitchen United or Reef, Ordermark isn’t building or operating new kitchens. Instead, the company relies on the unused kitchen capacity of restaurants that the company has vetted to act as its quasi-franchisees.

Ordermark logos for some of the company’s delivery-only restaurant concepts. Image Credit: Ordermark

While most of the restaurant concepts have been developed internally, Ordermark isn’t above the occasional celebrity sponsorship. Its Nextbite service has partnered with Wiz Khalifa on a delivery-only restaurant called HotBox by Wiz, featuring “stoner-friendly munchies”.

The first brand Canter launched was The Grilled Cheese Society, which took advantage of unused kitchens at places like a Los Angeles nightclub and mom-and-pop restaurants across the East Coast to build out a footprint that now covers 100 locations nationwide.

It’s perhaps the growth of the HotBox brand that shows what kind of growth Nextbite could promote. Since the brand’s launch in early October, it has grown to a footprint that will reach 50 cities by the end of the month, according to Canter.

In some ways, Nextbite couldn’t exist without Ordermark’s delivery aggregation technology. “The way that Ordermark’s technology is designed, not only can we aggregate online orders into the device, but we can aggregate multiple brands into the device.”

For restaurants that sign up to be fulfillment partners for the Nextbite brands, there are few additional upfront costs and a fair bit of upside, according to Canter. Restaurants are making 30% margin on every order they take for one of Ordermark’s brands, Canter said.

To become a part of Nextbite’s network of restaurants the business has to be vetted by Ordermark. The company takes cues on what kinds of restaurants are performing well in different regions and develops a menu that is suited to match those trends. For instance, Nextbite recently launched a hot chicken sandwich brand after seeing the item rise in popularity on different digital delivery services.

Restaurants are chosen that can match the menu style of the delivery-only brand that Ordermark’s Nextbite business creates.

Behind those menus is Guy Simsiman, a Denver-based chef who is in charge of developing new menus for the company.

“We’re building things that we know can scale and we do a lot of upfront vetting to find the right types of fulfillment partners,” said Canter. “When a restaurant signs up to become a fulfillment partner, we’re vetting them and training them on what they need to do to … We’re guiding them to become fulfillment partners for these concepts. There’s a whole bunch of training that happens. Then there’s secret shopping and review monitoring to monitor quality.”

While Nextbite may be the future of Ordermark’s business, its overall health looks solid. The company is about to cross $1 billion worth of orders processed through its system.

“We are laser focused right now on helping our restaurants survive COVID and the best way we can do that is by doubling down on the incremental revenues of the Nextbite business,” said Canter when asked where the company’s emphasis would be going forward.

Nextbite is something we’ve been developing for a while now. We took it to market at the end of last year prior to COVID. When COVID kicked in every restaurant in America needed to be more creative. People were looking for alternative ways to supplement the loss in foot traffic,” he said. Nextbite provided an answer.

#america, #business, #ceo, #chef, #chief-executive-officer, #companies, #covid, #delivery-services, #denver, #doordash, #east-coast, #grubhub, #jeff-housenbold, #laser, #los-angeles, #managing-partner, #menu, #online-food-ordering, #ordermark, #postmates, #restaurant, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #vision-fund, #websites, #wiz

Fragomen, a law firm used by Google, confirms data breach

Immigration law firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy has confirmed a data breach involving the personal information of current and former Google employees.

The New York-based law firm provides companies with employment verification screening services to determine if employees are eligible and authorized to work in the United States.

Every company operating in the United States is required to maintain a Form I-9 file on every employee to ensure that they are legally allowed to work and not subject to more restrictive immigration rules. But Form I-9 files can contain a ton of sensitive information, including government documents like passports, ID cards and driver’s licenses, and other personally identifiable data, making them a target for hackers and identity thieves.

But the law firm said it discovered last month that an unauthorized third-party accessed a file containing personal information on a “limited number” of current and former Google employees.

In a notice with the California attorney general’s office, Fragomen did not say what kind of data was accessed or how many Google employees were affected. Companies with more than 500 California residents affected by a breach are required to submit a notice with the state’s attorney general’s office.

Michael McNamara, a spokesperson for Fragomen, declined to say how many Google employees were affected by the breach.

A spokesperson for Google did not respond to a request for comment.

#attorney-general, #california, #data-breach, #google, #immigration-law, #security, #websites

Gowalla is being resurrected as an augmented reality social app

Gowalla is coming back.

The startup, which longtime TechCrunch readers will likely recall, was an ambitious consumer social app that excited Silicon Valley investors but ultimately floundered in its quest to take on Foursquare before an eventual $3 million acquihire in 2011 brought the company’s talent to Facebook.

The story certainly seemed destined to end there, but founder Josh Williams tells TechCrunch that he has decided to revive the Gowalla name and build on its ultimate vision by leaning on augmented reality tech.

“I really don’t think [Gowalla’s vision] has been fully realized at all, which is why I still want to scratch this itch,” Williams tells TechCrunch. “It was frankly really difficult to see it shut down.”

After a stint at Facebook, another venture-backed startup and a few other gigs, Williams has reacquired the Gowalla name, and is resurrecting the company with the guidance of co-founder Patrick Piemonte, a former Apple interface designer who previously founded an AR startup called Mirage. The new company was incubated inside Form Capital, a small design-centric VC fund operated by Williams and Bobby Goodlatte .

Founders Patrick Piemonte (left) and Josh Williams (right). Image credit: Josh Williams.

Williams hopes that AR can bring the Gowalla brand new life.

Despite significant investment from Facebook, Apple and Google, augmented reality is still seen as a bit of a gamble with many proponents estimating mass adoption to be several years out. Apple’s ARKit developer platform has yielded few wins despite hefty investment and Pokémon Go — the space’s sole consumer smash hit — is growing old.

“The biggest AR experience out there is Pokémon Go, and it’s now over six years old,” Williams says. “It’s moved the space forward a lot but is still very early in terms of what we’re going to see.”

Williams was cryptic when it came to details for what exactly the new augmented reality platform would look like when it launches. He did specify that it will feel more like a gamified social app than a social game, though he also lists the Nintendo franchise Animal Crossing as one of the platform’s foundational inspirations.

A glimpse of the branding for the new Gowalla. Image credit: Josh Williams

“It’s not a game with bosses or missions or levels, but rather something that you can experience,” Williams says. “How do you blend augmented reality and location? How do you see the world through somebody else’s eyes?”

A location-based social platform will likely rely on users actually going places, and the pandemic has largely dictated the app’s launch timing. Today, Gowalla is launching a waitlist, Williams says the app itself will launch in beta “in a number of cities” sometime in the first-half of next year. The team is also trying something unique with a smaller paid beta group called the “Street Team,” which will give users paying a flat $49 fee early access to Gowalla as well as “VIP membership,” membership to a private Discord group and some branded swag. A dedicated Street Team app will also launch in December.

#apple, #arkit, #augmented-reality, #bobby-goodlatte, #co-founder, #facebook, #foursquare, #google, #gowalla, #josh-williams, #mirage, #nintendo, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #techcrunch, #websites

Google launches a slew of Search updates

Google today announced a number of improvements to its core search engine, with a strong focus on how the company is using AI to help its users. These include the ability to better answer questions with very specific answers, very broad questions and a new algorithm to better handle the typos in your queries. The company also announced updates to Google Lens and other Search-related tools. Most of these are meant to be useful but some are also just fun. You will now be able to hum a song and the Google Assistant will try to find the right song for you, for example.

As Google noted, 1 in 10 search queries is misspelled. The company already does a pretty good job dealing with those through its ‘did you mean’ feature. Now, the company is launching an improvement to this algorithm that uses a deep neural net with 680 million parameters to better understand the context of your search query.

Image Credits: Google

Another nifty new feature is an integration with various data sources, which were previously only available as part of Google’s Open Data Commons, into Search. Now, if you ask questions about something like “employment in Chicago,” Google’s Knowledge Graph will trigger and show you graphs with this data right on the Search results page.

Image Credits: Google

Another update the company announced today in its systems ability to index parts of pages to better answer niche queries like “how do I determine if my windows have UV glass?” The system can now point you right to a paragraph on a DIY forum. In total, this new system will improve about 7% of queries, Google said.

For broader questions, Google is now also using its AI system to better understand the nuances of what a page is about to better answer these queries.

Image Credits: Google

These days, a lot of content can be found in videos, too. Google is now using advanced computer recognition and speech recognition to tag key moments in videos — that’s something you can already find in Search these days, but this new algorithm should make that even easier, especially for videos where the creators haven’t already tagged the content.

Other updates include an update to Google Lens that lets you ask the app to read out a passage from a photo of a book — no matter the language. Lens can now also understand math formulas — and then show you step-by-step guides and videos to solve it. This doesn’t just work for math, but also chemistry, biology and physics.

Image Credits: Google

Given that the holiday shopping season is coming up, it’s maybe no surprise that Google also launched a number of updates to its shopping services. Specifically, the company is launching a new feature in Chrome and the Google App where you can now long-tap on any image and then find related products. And for the fashion-challenged, the service will also show you related items that tend to show up in related images.

If you’re shopping for a car, you will now also be able to get an AR view of them so you can see what they look like in your driveway.

Image Credits: Google

In Google Maps, you will now also be able to point at a restaurant or other local business when you are using the AR walking directions to see their opening hours, for example.

Another new Maps feature is that Google will now also show live busyness information right on the map, so you don’t have to specifically search for a place to see how busy it currently is. That’s a useful feature in 2020.

Image Credits: Google

During the event (or really, video premiere, because this is 2020), which was set to the most calming of music, Google’s head of search, Prabhakar Raghavan, also noted that its 2019 BERT update to the natural language understanding part of its Search system is now used for almost every query and available in more languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Arabic, German and Amharic. That’s part of the more than 3,600 updates the company made to its search product in 2019.

All of these announcements are happening against the backdrop of various governments looking into Google’s business practices, so it’s probably no surprise that the event also put an emphasis on Google’s privacy practices and that Raghavan regularly talked about “open access” and that Google Search is free for everyone and everywhere, with ranking policies applied “fairly” to all websites. I’m sure Yelp and other Google competitors wouldn’t quite agree with this last assertion.

#artificial-intelligence, #computing, #google, #google-search, #prabhakar-raghavan, #search-engine, #speech-recognition, #tc, #websites, #world-wide-web, #yelp

Shogun raises $35M to help brands take on Amazon with faster and better sites of their own

E-commerce has boomed this year, with more businesses and shoppers than ever before turning to websites and apps as a safer, socially distanced alternative during the current global health pandemic. Today, a startup that has built a platform to help individual companies and brands design better websites is announcing a round of growth funding to help them step up to that challenge with faster and better designed interfaces.

Shogun, which lets companies build sites that sit on top of e-commerce back-ends like Shopify, Big Commerce or Magento to let them sell goods and services is today announcing that it has raised $35 million in funding after seeing its business growth 182% over the last year, with 15,000 companies — including Leesa, MVMT, Timbuk2 and Chubbies, as well as household Fortune 500 brands that it declines to name — now using Shogun’s tools, up 5,000 in the last eight months.

Finbarr Taylor, the CEO who co-founded the company with Nick Raushenbush, said that the startup plans to use the company to continue enhancing its two main products — Page Builder for bigger companies and agencies; and frontend, a headless commerce solution for smaller businesses — and to help improve its market strategy.

To date, much of the company’s growth has been organic, with a marketing team of two, and also only two sales people. “So it will be about scaling up those teams as well as our engineer and design and product teams, to deliver on the promises we made to our customers.”

The Series B is being led by Accel with participation from Initialized Capital, VMG Partners, and Y Combinator, and it also has a number of high-profile individuals in the round that speak to Shogun’s credibility in the worlds of e-commerce and web design, including Bryant Chou (CTO at Webflow), Mark Lavelle and Mark Lenhard (former CEO and SVP of Strategy at Magento, respectively), Alex O’Byrne (CEO of We Make Websites, a leading Shopify agency), Brian Grady (CEO of Gorilla Group, a leading Magento agency), and Romain Lapeyre (CEO of Gorgias).

Growth is one marker of how hot the market is for what Shogun is offering — in addition to Shogun’s own expanding list of users, it’s estimated by the company that there has been some $94 billion in extra sales online (beyond original projections, that is) since March globally — and another is the funding itself.

This the second round that the startup has raised in the short span of eight months: Shogun closed a $10 million Series A in February of this year led by Initialized (with participation also from YC and VMG).

And a third marker is the valuation. Taylor said that the company is valued in the “solid nine figures” but declined to say where in the regions of hundreds of millions of dollars that might be. For some context, the company was valued at $50 million in February, according to data from PitchBook.

Shogun’s news comes at a key moment in the world of e-commerce not just in terms of the wider macroeconomic trends, but in terms of who is making the wheels move. Amazon and other marketplaces have come to dominate how a lot of people are shopping online: after all, they offer one-stop shops for whatever you might want or need, free shipping, and a familiar interface. Similarly, social media platforms have made a play as a new kind of “store” of sorts, a place where brands already are interacting with would-be customers, and are now being given the tools to sell to them there as well.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story: brands and companies want to have their own space to present things how they want them to look, to better control the customer experience, and to make sure that they are not beholden to a third party (both physically and financially) for their online survival.

Yes, some consumers might only care about where they can get what they want for the cheapest price, but others know exactly what they want, or feel loyal to a specific company, and want to shop there without the rest of the noise, and there will always be a business opportunity in building stores for them, too.

And the predictability of the interface of a marketplace like Amazon, or a “shoppable” photo on Instagram, belies how frustratingly oblique it can also be at times. I don’t want to see 15 different Danish whisks at slightly different prices; I just want one that will arrive in one piece and not break after a month of use, leading me down a rabbit hole trying to find someone to provide a refund. Similarly, I may want to buy from a brand, but perhaps not the particular item that they’re serving me in a Story.

Shogun’s proposition to the companies it works with is to give them more choice and better speed after they have already made the decision to build their own “real estate” online using backends like Shopify’s.

The opportunity is that, even if an e-commerce business is seen as a “tech” play, that is not often its core competency.

“Merchants large and small are getting sick of maintaining their own tech stacks,” said Ethan Choi, a partner at Accel. While the platforms are getting ever more sophisticated by moving into areas like shipping and logistics alongside payments and inventory ordering and so on, they have yet to extend into web design. “Shopify only has like 15 templates,” he said. “There is no design control and you look like 1 of one million other sites.” At the same time, if you have the funds and energy to build a custom site, he added, “that is expensive and it can take a whole day to change just a piece of text.”

The speed is an issue that Shogun has identified and fixed in another way: Taylor says that with site speed being the most important aspect of converting a browser to a buyer, it’s providing the fastest page loading times to customers.

As with so many startup stories, Taylor and Raushenbush nearly stumbled on their gap in the market by accident. The pair were working at Y Combinator — Taylor, an engineer originally from Glasgow in Scotland, had been devising tools for YC to help it manage the huge inbound volume of applications it was receiving for its incubator. (Sidenote: one offshoot of that was the Startup School that the company created to better address working with startups on a more regional level: Taylor built that.)

As a side project, he and Nick had come up with a page builder based on Ruby on Rails. It wasn’t getting much traction, but a friend of Nick’s, who worked for an e-commerce agency, said that if the two could tweak it for building e-commerce pages specifically, his agency would use it and even pay them. “So we did,” he said. That eventually took off with more customers and more use, prompting them to eventually move to the other side of the organization, becoming part of a YC cohort and eventually striking out on their own.

Looking ahead, one particular focus for Shogun, Taylor said, will be to build more tools to improve mobile commerce — notable for typically accounting for 80% of all e-commerce browsing but only some 20% of sales.

#design, #ecommerce, #recent-funding, #shogun, #startups, #tc, #websites

Boom! Hacked page on mobile phone website is stealing customers’ card data

A cartoon depicts a thief emerged from one computer and reaching onto the screen of another.

Enlarge / Computer hacker character stealing money online. Vector flat cartoon illustration (credit: GettyImages)

If you’re in the market for a new mobile phone plan, it’s best to avoid turning to Boom! Mobile. That is, unless you don’t mind your sensitive payment card data being sent to criminals in an attack that remained ongoing in the last few hours.

According to researchers from security firm Malwarebytes, Boom! Mobile’s boom.us website is infected with a malicious script that skims payment card data and sends it to a server under the control of a criminal group researchers have dubbed Fullz House. The malicious script is called by a single line that comprises mostly nonsense characters when viewed with the human eye.

(credit: Malwarebytes)

When decoded from Base64 format, the line translates to: paypal-debit[.]com/cdn/ga.js. The JavaScript code ga.js masquerades as a Google Analytics script at one of the many fraudulent domains operated by Fullz House members.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #ecommerce, #payment-cards, #skimmers, #websites