Lowkey raises $7 million from a16z to help game streamers capitalize on short-form video

While the growth of game-streaming audiences have continued on desktop platforms, the streaming space has felt surprisingly stagnant at times, particularly due to the missing mobile element and a lack of startup competitors.

Lowkey, a gaming startup that builds software for game streamers, is aiming to build out opportunities in bit-sized clips on mobile. The startup wants to be a hub for both creating and viewing short gaming clips but also sees a big opportunity in helping streamers cut down their existing content for distribution on platforms like Instagram and TikTok where short-form gaming content sees a good deal of engagement.

The startup announced today that they’ve closed a $7 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from a host of angel investors including Figma’s Dylan Field, Loom’s Joe Thomas and Plaid’s Zach Perret & William Hockey.

We last covered Lowkey in early 2020 when the company was looking to build out a games tournament platform for adults. At the time, the company had already pivoted after going through YC as Camelot but which allowed audiences on Twitch and YouTube pay creators to take on challenges. This latest shift brings Lowkey back to the streaming world but more focused on becoming a tool for streamers and a hub for viewers.

Twitch and YouTube Gaming have proven to be pretty uninterested in short-form content, favoring the opportunities of long-form streams that allow creators to press broadcast and upload lengthy streams. Lowkey users can easily upload footage captured from Lowkey’s desktop app or directly import a linked stream. This allows content creators to upload and comment on their own footage or remix and respond to another streamer’s content.

One of the challenges for streamers has been adapting widescreen content for a vertical video form factor, but CEO Jesse Zhang says that it’s not really a problem with most modern games. “Games inherently want to focus you attention on the center of the screen,” Zhang tells TechCrunch. “So, almost all clips extend really cleanly to like a mobile format, which is what we’ve done.”

Lowkey’s desktop app is available on Windows and their new mobile app is now live for iOS.

#andreessen-horowitz, #ceo, #digital-media, #gaming, #hockey, #instagram, #joe-thomas, #mass-media, #microsoft-windows, #twitch, #video-hosting, #world-wide-web, #youtube, #zach-perret

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Google Cloud launches a new support option for mission critical workloads

Google Cloud today announced the launch of a new support option for its Premium Support customers that run mission-critical services on its platform. The new service, imaginatively dubbed Mission Critical Services (MCS), brings Google’s own experience with Site Reliability Engineering to its customers. This is not Google completely taking over the management of these services, though. Instead, the company describes it as a “consultative offering in which we partner with you on a journey toward readiness.”

Initially, Google will work with its customers to improve — or develop — the architecture of their apps and help them instrument the right monitoring systems and controls, as well as help them set and raise their service-level objectives (a key feature in the Site Reliability Engineering philosophy).

Later, Google will also provide ongoing check-ins with its engineers and walk customers through tune-ups architecture reviews. “Our highest tier of engineers will have deep familiarity with your workloads, allowing us to monitor, prevent, and mitigate impacts quickly, delivering the fastest response in the industry. For example, if you have any issues–24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week–we’ll spin up a live war room with our experts within five minutes,” Google Cloud’s VP for Customer Experience, John Jester, explains in today’s announcement.

This new offering is another example of how Google Cloud is trying to differentiate itself from the rest of the large cloud providers. Its emphasis today is on providing the high-touch service experiences that were long missing from its platform, with a clear emphasis on the needs of large enterprise customers. That’s what Thomas Kurian promised to do when he became the organization’s CEO and he’s clearly following through.

 

#artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #enterprise, #google, #google-cloud, #google-workspace, #technology, #thomas-kurian, #world-wide-web

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Facebook restricts users in Australia from sharing or viewing news links

Australian Facebook users will be forced to go elsewhere to read news after the company announced Wednesday that they will be restricting users in the country from sharing or viewing news links on the platform. The drastic move follows debate on proposed legislation from the Australian government that seeks to push internet platforms — with a particular focus on advertising giants Facebook and Google — to pay news publishers directly for access to share their content.

Pulling back entirely was a nuclear option for Facebook which had previously floated the possibility. In a blog post, the company sought to minimize the material impact of the decision to Facebook’s bottom line, while emphasizing what the move will cost users in Australia and around the globe. The company disclosed that just 4% of the content in Australian users’ feeds was news, though the platform did not break out other engagement metrics tied to news consumption.

In their post, Facebook sought to drive a distinction between how news content was shared on Facebook by users while content is algorithmically curated by Google inside their search product. “Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content,” William Easton, Facebook’s managing director for the region, wrote. “On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”

Google has already begun working with publishers to drive lump sum payments so that they continue to surface news content in the country, striking a deal Wednesday with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, despite their own earlier threats to shut down in Australia. Facebook’s action has ramifications for global users outside Australia who will be unable to share links on the platform to news publications based in the country.

This legislation is an aggressive example of regional legislation having the potential to drive global change for how internet platforms continue to operate. It’s clear that plenty of other countries are watching this saga play out. Facebook taking a hard line approach while Google seeks to strike private deals to stay active showcases different approaches from very different platforms being forced to reckon with how they operate in the future.

#australia, #computing, #facebook, #facebook-platform, #google, #murdoch, #news-corp, #rupert-murdoch, #social-media, #software, #tc, #world-wide-web

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YouTube to expand Shorts to the U.S., add 4K and DVR to YouTube TV, launch in-video shopping and more in 2021

YouTube has a host of big product updates coming this year, and it just detailed a lot of them in a blog post from Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan. Google’s streaming video site plans to expand its TikTok-esque Shorts mobile video creation and consumption tool to the U.S. (it’s currently in beta in India), make YouTube TV a more full-featured in-home cable alternative, add customization and control options to YouTube Kids and more.

Many of the product updates detailed by Mohan are expansions of existing tests and beta features, but there are also entirely new developments that could significantly change how YouTube works for both creators and audiences. YouTube’s focus on monetization and new formats also indicates a desire to keep creators happy, which makes a lot of sense in the context of the platform’s popular new mobile-first competitor TikTok.

Here’s a TL;DR of everything YouTube announced today for its 2021 roadmap:

  • Expansion of its in-video e-commerce shopping experience beyond the current limited beta
  • Expansion of Applause tipping feature
  • YouTube Shorts launching in the U.S.
  • Adding the ability for parents to specify individual channels and videos for their kids to be able to watch on YouTube Kids
  • New features for user playlists on YouTube Music, and making those playlists more discoverable to others
  • A new paid add-on coming to YouTube TV that offers 4K streaming, DVR for off-line playback, and unlimited simultaneous in-home streams
  • Automatic video chaptering for some videos that don’t have creator-defined ones
  • A redesigned YouTube VR experience focused on accessibility, search and better navigation

YouTube has a big year planned, and some of these changes could significantly alter the dynamics of the platform. Making it possible for every creator to turn their channel in a mini shopping channel has a lot of potential to alter what it looks like to build a business on the platform, while YouTube TV’s transformation narrows the gap even further between that service and traditional cable and satellite provider offerings.

#ecommerce, #google, #india, #neal-mohan, #social-media, #software, #streaming-video, #tc, #tiktok, #united-states, #video, #video-hosting, #virtual-reality, #world-wide-web, #youtube, #youtube-music

0

Notion’s hours-long outage was caused by phishing complaints

Last week’s hours-long outage at online workspace startup Notion was caused by phishing complaints, according to the startup’s domain registrar.

Notion was offline for most of the morning on Friday, plunging its more than four million users into organization darkness because of what the company called a “very unusual DNS issue that occurred at the registry operator level.” With the company’s domain offline, users were unable to access their files, calendars, and documents.

Notion registered its domain name notion.so through Name.com, but all .so domains are managed by Hexonet, a company that helps connect Sonic, the .so top-level domain registry, with domain name registrars like Name.com.

That complex web of interdependence is in large part what led to the communications failure that resulted in Notion falling offline for hours.

In an email to TechCrunch, Name.com spokesperson Jared Ewy said: “Hexonet received complaints about user-generated Notion pages connected to phishing. They informed Name.com about these reports, but we were unable to independently confirm them. Per its policies, Hexonet placed a temporary hold on Notion’s domain.”

“Noting the impact of this action, all teams worked together to restore service to Notion and its users. All three teams are now partnering on new protocols to ensure this type of incident does not happen again. The Notion team and their avid followers were responsive and a pleasure to work with throughout. We thank everyone for their patience and understanding,” said Ewy.

There are several threads on Reddit discussing concerns about Notion being used to host phishing sites, and security researchers have shown examples of Notion used in active phishing campaigns. A Notion employee said almost a year ago that Notion would “soon” move its domain to notion.com, which the company owns.

Notion’s outage is almost identical to what happened with Zoho in 2018, which like Notion, resorted to tweeting at its domain registrar after it blocked zoho.com following complaints about phishing emails sent from Zoho-hosted email accounts.

It sounds like there’s no immediate danger of a repeat outage, but Notion did not return TechCrunch’s email over the weekend asking what it plans to do to prevent phishing on its platform in the future.

Read more:

#crime, #cybercrime, #dns, #email, #internet, #notion, #phishing, #security, #sonic, #spamming, #spokesperson, #top-level-domain, #web-hosting, #world-wide-web

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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

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Social platform veteran Sriram Krishnan is Andreessen Horowitz’s latest general partner

Today, Andreessen Horowitz founder Marc Andreessen announced that social media product veteran Sriram Krishnan will be joining the firm as their latest general partner.

Krishnan, whose previous roles include stints at Snap, Facebook and Twitter, has gained a higher profile in recent weeks from his recurring audio show “The Good Time Show” on Clubhouse. His recent talk with Tesla CEO Elon Musk was something of a watershed moment for the audio chat platform driving plenty of new attention to the budding app.

This announcement follows a report in The Information regarding the hire earlier this week.

Krishnan’s hire comes at an interesting point for Andreessen Horowitz, the firm is at the center of plenty of chatter among media circles regarding their “go direct” content strategy. At the same time, a16z and its leadership have played an increasingly hard-nosed role in driving a broader backlash against tech media in recent years among founders and tech enthusiasts in their orbit. Krishnan has spent much of the past couple years building out his flirtations with “tech optimism” content with his interview newsletter “The Observer Effect,” his Clubhouse show and his prolific Twitter usage.

Broader “tech pessimism” among media outlets has, I think, partially been owed to a swift and outspoken shift in thinking regarding the societal responsibilities of social media platforms to more aggressively moderate the content they are surfacing on a global scale. Some of the partners at a16z, a Facebook backer, have been among the more vocal in pushing back on these critiques even as the executives at their portfolio companies have seemed more amenable to shift their thinking.

In his blog post, Andreessen notes that Krishnan will be joining the firm’s consumer team to invest in areas that include social.

Krishnan, well-regarded in tech circles, may play an important role at the firm as they approach more social investments in a world where the effects of rapidly scaled consumer platforms have become more understood. The firm and its partners have been throwing their full support behind Clubhouse in an aggressive push to promote the platform, flexing the firm’s celebrity connections and influence along the way as the platform quickly picks up millions of new users. Krishnan’s direct operator roles engaging with the product struggles of building platforms that responsibly scale will likely be an asset as the firm faces increased competition across an increasingly frothy venture market.

#andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #ceo, #clubhouse, #effect, #elon-musk, #facebook, #marc-andreessen, #operating-systems, #snap, #social-media, #social-media-platforms, #software, #sriram-krishnan, #tc, #tesla, #venture-capital, #world-wide-web

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Google Cloud lost $5.6B in 2020

Google continues to bet heavily on Google Cloud and while it is seeing accelerated revenue growth, its losses are also increasing. For the first time today, Google disclosed operating income/loss for its Google Cloud business unit in its quarterly earnings today. Google Cloud lost $5.6 billion in Google’s fiscal year 2020, which ended December 31. That’s on $13 billion of revenue.

While this may look a bit dire at first glance (cloud computing should be pretty profitable, after all), there’s different ways of looking at this. On the one hand, losses are mounting, up from $4.3 billion in 2018 and $4.6 billion in 2019, but revenue is also seeing strong growth, up from $5.8 billion in 2018 and $8.9 billion in 2019. What we’re seeing here, more than anything else, is Google investing heavily in its cloud business.

Google’s Cloud unit, led by its CEO Thomas Kurian, includes all of its cloud infrastructure and platform services, as well as Google Workspace (which you probably still refer to as G Suite). And that’s exactly where Google is making a lot of investments right now. Data centers, after all, don’t come cheap and Google Cloud launched four new regions in 2020 and started work on others. That’s on top of its investment in its core services and a number of acquisitions.

Image Credits: Google

“Our strong fourth quarter performance, with revenues of $56.9 billion, was driven by Search and YouTube, as consumer and business activity recovered from earlier in the year,” Ruth Porat, CFO of Google and Alphabet, said. “Google Cloud revenues were $13.1 billion for 2020, with significant ongoing momentum, and we remain focused on delivering value across the growth opportunities we see.”

For now, though, Google’s core business, which saw a strong rebound in its advertising business in the last quarter, is subsidizing its cloud expansion.

Meanwhile, over in Seattle, AWS today reported revenue of $12.74 billion in the last quarter alone and operating income of $3.56 billion. For 2020, AWS’s operating income was $13.5 billion.

#alphabet, #amazon-web-services, #artificial-intelligence, #aws, #ceo, #cfo, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #companies, #computing, #diane-greene, #earnings, #google, #google-cloud, #google-cloud-platform, #ruth-porat, #seattle, #thomas-kurian, #world-wide-web

0

Vantage makes managing AWS easier

Vantage, a new service that makes managing AWS resources and their associated spend easier, is coming out of stealth today. The service offers its users an alternative to the complex AWS console with support for most of the standard AWS services, including EC2 instances, S3 buckets, VPCs, ECS and Fargate and Route 53 hosted zones.

The company’s founder, Ben Schaechter, previously worked at AWS and Digital Ocean (and before that, he worked on Crunchbase, too). Yet while DigitalOcean showed him how to build a developer experience for individuals and small businesses, he argues that the underlying services and hardware simply weren’t as robust as those of the hyperclouds. AWS, on the other hand, offers everything a developer could want (and likely more), but the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Image Credits: Vantage

“The idea was really born out of ‘what if we could take the user experience of DigitalOcean and apply it to the three public cloud providers, AWS, GCP and Azure,” Schaechter told me. “We decided to start just with AWS because the experience there is the roughest and it’s the largest player in the market. And I really think that we can provide a lot of value there before we do GCP and Azure.”

The focus for Vantage is on the developer experience and cost transparency. Schaechter noted that some of its users describe it as being akin to a “Mint for AWS.” To get started, you give Vantage a set of read permissions to your AWS services and the tool will automatically profile everything in your account. The service refreshes this list once per hour, but users can also refresh their lists manually.

Given that it’s often hard enough to know which AWS services you are actually using, that alone is a useful feature. “That’s the number one use case,” he said. “What are we paying for and what do we have?”

At the core of Vantage is what the team calls “views,” which allows you to see which resources you are using. What is interesting here is that this is quite a flexible system and allows you to build custom views to see which resources you are using for a given application across regions, for example. Those may include Lambda, storage buckets, your subnet, code pipeline and more.

On the cost-tracking side, Vantage currently only offers point-in-time costs, but Schaechter tells me that the team plans to add historical trends as well to give users a better view of their cloud spend.

Schaechter and his co-founder bootstrapped the company and he noted that before he wants to raise any money for the service, he wants to see people paying for it. Currently, Vantage offers a free plan, as well as paid “pro” and “business” plans with additional functionality.

Image Credits: Vantage 

#amazon-web-services, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computing, #developer, #digitalocean, #gcp, #tc, #web-hosting, #world-wide-web

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Parler is officially offline after AWS suspension

True to its word, Amazon Web Services (AWS) suspended services to Parler, the right-wing-focused social network that proved a welcoming home for pro-Trump users whose calls for violence at the nation’s Capitol and beyond. The service suspension went into effect overnight after a 24-hour warning from AWS, which means that if you now go to Parler’s web address you’re greeted with a message saying the requested domain can’t be reached.

Parler’s community had been surging after the permanent suspension of Trump’s official accounts from Twitter and Facebook last week, which also saw a number of accounts tweeting similar invective and encouragement of violence aligned with Trump’s sentiments removed from those platforms. Apple and Google then removed Parler from their respective app stores for violations of their own terms of service, and AWS follows suit with its own suspension notice.

The company has suggested that it will rebuild its own infrastructure from scratch in order to contend with the various suspensions, but meanwhile other alternative social media sites that continue to exist, and that have typically catered to a more right-wing audience, like Gab, are seeing the benefits of Parler’s deplatforming. Gab has previously seen its hosting revoked, and been removed from Google Play for issues around hate speech dissemination.

#amazon-web-services, #computing, #gab, #google, #parler, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #tc, #technology, #trump, #web-services, #world-wide-web

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AWS adds natural language search service for business intelligence from its data sets

When Amazon Web Services launched QuickSight, its business intelligence service, back in 2016 the company wanted to provide product information and customer information for business users — not just developers.

At the time, the natural language processing technologies available weren’t robust enough to give customers the tools to search databases effectively using queries in plain speech.

Now, as those technologies have matured, Amazon is coming back with a significant upgrade called QuickSight Q, which allows users to just ask a simple question and get the answers they need, according to Andy Jassy’s keynote at AWS re:Invent.

“We will provide natural language to provide what we think the key learning is,” said Jassy. “I don’t like that our users have to know which databases to access or where data is stored. I want them to be able to type into a search bar and get the answer to a natural language question.

That’s what QuickSight Q aims to do. It’s a direct challenge to a number of business intelligence startups and another instance of the way machine learning and natural language processing are changing business processes across multiple industries.

“The way Q works. Type in a question in natural language [like]… ‘Give me the trailing twelve month sales of product X?’… You get an answer in seconds. You don’t have to know tables or have to know data stores.”

It’s a compelling use case and gets at the way AWS is integrating machine learning to provide more no-code services to customers. “Customers didn’t hire us to do machine learning,” Jassy said. “They hired us to answer the questions.”

#amazon-web-services, #andy-jassy, #aws-reinvent-2020, #business-intelligence, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #machine-learning, #natural-language-processing, #quicksight, #tc, #world-wide-web

0

Amazon Web Services outage takes a portion of the internet down with it

Amazon Web Services is currently having an outage, taking a chunk of the internet down with it.

Several AWS services were experiencing problems as of early Wednesday, according to its status page. That means any app, site or service that relies on AWS might also be down, too. (As I found out the hard way this morning when my Roomba refused to connect.)

Amazon says the issue is largely localized to North America. The company didn’t give a reason for the outage, only that it was experiencing increased error rates and that it was working on a resolution. The irony is that the outage is also affecting the company’s “ability to post updates to the Service Health Dashboard,” so not even Amazon is immune from its own downtime.

So far a number of companies that rely on AWS have tweeted out that they’re experiencing issues as a result, including Adobe and Roku.

We’ll keep you updated as this outage continues. On the bright side TechCrunch is still up, so here are a few things to read.

Extra Crunch:

#amazon-web-services, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #north-america, #roomba, #web-hosting, #web-services, #world-wide-web

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Come June 1, 2021, all of your new photos will count against your free Google storage

Come June 1, 2021, Google will change its storage policies for free accounts — and not for the better. Basically, if you’re on a free account and a semi-regular Google Photos user, get ready to pay up next year and subscribe to Google One.

Currently, every free Google Account comes with 15 GB of online storage for all your Gmail, Drive and Photos needs. Email and the files you store in Drive already counted against those 15 GB, but come June 1, all Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms or Jamboard files will count against the free storage as well. Those tend to be small files, but what’s maybe most important here, virtually all of your Photos uploads will now count against those 15 GB as well.

That’s a bid deal because today, Google Photos lets you store unlimited images (and unlimited video, if it’s in HD) for free as long as they are under 16MP in resolution or you opt to have Google degrade the quality. Come June of 2021, any new photo or video uploaded in high quality, which currently wouldn’t count against your allocation, will count against those free 15 GB.

Image Credits: Google

As people take more photos every year, that free allotment won’t last very long. Google argues that 80 percent of its users will have at least three years to reach those 15 GB. Given that you’re reading TechCrunch, though, chances are you’re in those 20 percent that will run out of space much faster (or you’re already on a Google One plan).

Some good news: to make this transition a bit easier, photos and videos uploaded in high quality before June 1, 2021 will not count toward the 15 GB of free storage. As usual, original quality images will continue to count against it, though. And if you own a Pixel device, even after June 1, you can still upload an unlimited number of high-quality images from those.

To let you see how long your current storage will last, Google will now show you personalized estimates, too, and come next June, the company will release a new free tool for Photos that lets you more easily manage your storage. It’ll also show you dark and blurry photos you may want to delete — but then, for a long time Google’s promise was you didn’t have to worry about storage (remember Google’s old Gmail motto? ‘Archive, don’t delete!’)

In addition to these storage updates, there’s a few additional changes worth knowing about. If your account is inactive in Gmail, Drive or Photos for more than two years, Google ‘may’ delete the content in that product. So if you use Gmail but don’t use Photos for two years because you use another service, Google may delete any old photos you had stored there. And if you stay over your storage limit for two years, Google “may delete your content across Gmail, Drive and Photos.”

Cutting back a free and (in some cases) unlimited service is never a great move. Google argues that it needs to make these changes to “continue to provide everyone with a great storage experience and to keep pace with the growing demand.”

People now upload more than 4.3 million GB to Gmail, Drive and Photos every day. That’s not cheap, I’m sure, but Google also controls every aspect of this and must have had some internal projections of how this would evolve when it first set those policies.

To some degree, though, this was maybe to be expected. This isn’t the freewheeling Google of 2010 anymore, after all. We’ve already seen some indications that Google may reserve some advanced features for Google One subscribers in Photos, for example. This new move will obviously push more people to pay for Google One and more money from Google One means a little bit less dependence on advertising for the company.

#cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-storage, #computing, #gmail, #google, #google-one, #google-photos, #online-storage, #storage, #tc, #web-applications, #world-wide-web

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Tim Berners Lee’s startup Inrupt releases Solid privacy platform for enterprises

Inrupt, the startup from World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee, announced an enterprise version of the Solid privacy platform today, which allows large organizations and governments to build applications that put users in control of their data.

Berners-Lee has always believed that the web should be free and open, but large organizations have grown up over the last 20 years that make their money using our data. He wanted to put people back in charge of their data, and the Solid open source project, developed at MIT, was the first step in that process.

Three years ago he launched Inrupt, a startup built on top of the open source project, and hired John Bruce to run the company. The two shared the same vision of shifting data ownership without changing the way websites get developed. With Solid, developers use the same standards and methods of building sites, and these applications will work in any browser. What Solid aims to do is alter the balance of data power and redirect it to the user.

“Fast forward to today, and we’re releasing the first significant technology as the fruits of our labor, which is an enterprise version of Solid to be deployed at scale by large organizations,” Bruce explained.

The core idea behind this approach is that users control their data in online storage entities called Personal Online Data Stores or Pods for short. The enterprise version consists of Solid Server to manage the Pods, and developers can build applications using an SDK to take advantage of the Pods and access the data they need to do a particular job like pay taxes or interact with a healthcare provider. Bruce points out that the enterprise version is fully compatible with the open source Solid project specifications.

The company has been working with some major organizations prior to today’s release including the BBC and National Health Service in the UK and the Government of Flanders in Belgium as they have been working to bring this to market.

To give you a sense of how this works, the National Health Service has been building an application for patients interacting with them, who using Solid can control their health data. “Patients will be able to permit doctors, family or at-home caregivers to read certain data from their Solid Pods, and add caretaking notes or observations that doctors can then read in order to improve patient care,” the company explained.

The difference between this and more conventional web or phone apps is that it is up to the user who can access this information and the application owner has to ask the user for permission and the user has to explicitly grant it and under what conditions.

The startup launched in 2017 and has raised about $20 million so far. Bruce and Berners-Lee understand that for this to take root, it has to be easy to use, be standards-based and and have the capacity to handle massive scale. Anyone can download and use the open source version of Solid, but by having an enterprise version, it gives large organizations like the ones they have been working with the support, security and scale that these companies require.

#data-privacy, #enterprise, #open-source, #privacy, #tim-berners-lee, #world-wide-web

0

Facebook takes down ‘Stop the Steal 2020’ group organizing around false claims of election chicanery

Facebook has taken down a group that had amassed over 300,000 members and was sharing misinformation and organizing around false allegations of impropriety during the 2020 elections.

The group, called “Stop the Steal 2020,” was organizing protests targeting the election officials currently counting ballots cast in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

“In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group ‘Stop the Steal,’ which was creating real-world events,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.”

Facebook’s action was first noticed by Ryan Mac of Buzzfeed who reported the move in a tweet.

Protestors advocating for votes to be counted and for vote counting to cease are cropping up across the country as Republican party organizers and campaign officials try to derail the count of mail-in ballots and absentee votes cast in the 2020 race and Democratic supporters organize counter-protests.

Social media election takedowns

While the organizers may be tapping supporters of President Trump across the country, their messaging is different depending on the state.

In Phoenix, protestors are calling for all votes to be counted, as Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden hangs on to a slim lead in Arizona.

Meanwhile, the messaging is the opposite in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada where President Donald Trump is trying to preserve the slim margins that have him ahead or reverse the counts that had put him behind in the polls. In Detroit, for instance, Trump supporters held up signs that said “stop the steal” and “stop the cheat” according to news reports.

Conservative advocates across the Twittersphere have had their tweets amended by the company to indicate that they were sharing election misinformation.

Facebook has also added “labels” to election posts that break the rules, though they are designed to mostly point users to contextual, factual information rather than to offer explicit warnings about false claims.

In fact, as a direct response to Trump’s premature claims of victory, Facebook also rolled out an eye-catching set of messages across Facebook and Instagram reminding users that votes were still being counted.

Facebook has also instituted changes to its policies about groups that organize real-world events in the wake of 2016’s election disinformation campaign carried out by Russian agents and the recent shooting in Kenosha, Wis. in which two men were killed after a local self-declared militia group organized a response to protests against the killing of Kenosha resident, Jacob Blake.

#2020-election, #arizona, #buzzfeed, #detroit, #donald-trump, #facebook, #georgia, #joe-biden, #las-vegas, #michigan, #nevada, #operating-systems, #pennsylvania, #phoenix, #president, #republican-party, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #vice-president, #world-wide-web

0

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

0

Twilio launches an app for frontline workers, a free 1:1 video toolkit and a new IoT platform

Twilio is hosting its annual Signal conference today and as usual, the company is using the event to launch a host of new products and features. For the most part, especially if you’re a web or mobile developer, these are not groundbreaking new features. The core Twilio services, after all, have been in place for a while now. Instead, today’s announcements build out some of the edges of the overall Twilio product ecosystem.

The most interesting launch — at least from the perspective of most developers — is probably the general availability of Twilio’s Video Web RTC Go. The free video service allows you to add 1:1 video chats to your web and mobile applications. The company notes that this is not a free trial, but you are limited to 25 GB of bandwidth through Twilio’s relays per month, or about 100,000 participant minutes. You also get logging and diagnostic features. So freemium, I guess, but with generous limits to get you started. If you need more, you can upgrade to a higher tier later.

“Twilio Video WebRTC Go is a free tier and a free offering for developers to get started building those one to one video connections for things like distance learning, client consultations — all of those things that you might have a need for in these new use cases that we’ve seen evolve through the pandemic,” Quinton Wall, Twilio’s Senior Director for Platform and Developer Experience, told me. “And what we really wanted to do is take away all the barriers and make a free tier — and a perpetually free tier — that gives them all the tools that they need to build on top of WebRTC to get going. ”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The second major announcement is the launch of Twilio’s latest IoT service: the Microvisor IoT platform. Twilio acquired IoT hardware and software specialist Electric Imp earlier this year and when it first launched its IoT efforts, it started with cellular connectivity through its Super SIM product. The idea behind the Microvisor IoT platform is to give embedded developers all the tools they need to build connected devices and the lifecycle management tools to keep them updated and secure.

As Evan Cummack, the GM of Twilio IoT, told me, as the company dug deeper into the IoT market, it found that a lot of projects were failing.

“When we really dug into what was going on with our customers individually, what we saw was the reasons for a lot of these failures,” he explained. “Sometimes it was a fundamental misjudgment in terms of what end-users wanted, or the end-user experience, or value and business models, but a lot of the time, it was a technical failure, or it was that the technical challenges were so steep that the ROI equation fell apart. You couldn’t deliver substantial enough value in order to justify the technical effort required.”

With Electric Imp, Twilio bought a full-stack platform — and there are others like it on the market. But as Cummack noted, most businesses aren’t buying those. Instead, they are trying to build their solutions from scratch and Twilio’s hypothesis was that they were doing so because they wanted to be able to write native code for these devices. Combining that with the convenience of a full-stack platform is difficult.

Image Credits: Twilio

The solution the team came up with combines this new software platform with a recent hardware innovation by Arm: TrustZones. But with Arm’s TrustZone hardware isolation feature at its core, the Microvisor platform only runs on devices that use the latest Cortex M-based processors, which obviously means its not a service you can use to upgrade your existing solutions. In return, users get secure boot features, over-the-air firmware updates and secure tunnels to connect to their devices, in addition to remote debugging features.

Also new today is Event Streams, a new API that helps developers aggregate data from all of their Twilio-powered experiences across voice, SMS, wireless connectivity through Super SIM, TaskRouter and more. The idea here is to give users a better understanding of how these channels are being used — and less so for understanding their bills and more for helping them build tools that allow businesses to better understand how they are interacting with customers.

Image Credits: Twilio

Lastly, there’s Twilio Frontline. This isn’t really a developer product but a React Native-based app for frontline workers who may need to communicate with customers. Think of an employee in a store who needs to talk to a customer who is waiting outside. The app focuses on chat, with support for SMS, WhatsApp, and web-based and in-app chat clients. Frontline can also be integrated with existing enterprise authentication and CRM systems.

#computing, #distance-learning, #freemium, #tc, #twilio, #webrtc, #world-wide-web

0

Applicants say a DC Bar website bug exposed their personal data and background checks

Lawyers applying for a license to practice law in Washington, D.C., say a security lapse by the bar association exposed their application files, including their government-issued IDs and background checks.

Applicants said the District of Columbia Bar, which oversees the admissions and licensing for lawyers practicing in the U.S. capital, was storing the applications in an unprotected directory on its website.

The DC Bar did not respond to multiple emailed requests and a voicemail requesting comment prior to publication.

The security lapse was first disclosed in an August 26 email, obtained by TechCrunch, by an unnamed whistleblower who said they “reported this issue on three separate occasions” to the DC Bar, but that their email was not returned nor was the issue fixed. The email said that documents contained personal information like names, phone numbers, and email addresses, as well as Social Security number, the applicant’s full employment history, previous home addresses, and any disciplinary records.

The whistleblower said they began notifying news outlets “in a good faith effort to notify affected users and ensure the issue is fixed.” TechCrunch obtained the email from a pseudonymous Twitter account that goes by the handle Bar Exam Tracker.

The email said that the security lapse meant that applicants could still access their uploaded application files from the DC Bar website, even after they logged out. But because the application files followed a consistent naming scheme, anyone could access the application files of other applicants by incrementally changing the web address.

“The documents are publicly accessible merely by opening their addresses in a web browser, and are not protected by any authentication system,” the whistleblower’s email wrote.

Word of the security lapse quickly spread among some bar applicants. Two applicants, who agreed to be quoted but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, told TechCrunch that they were able to access their application files after they had logged out.

“We did take some steps to verify it,” said one applicant, referring to the claims in the whistleblower’s email. “A colleague and I both were able to access our documents while not logged into the system through a new browser.”

“Several of us tried it, myself included, and found that it worked,” said another applicant.

The applicants also reported the issue to the DC Bar. Soon after, a notice on the application site said the DC Bar was “investigating some technical issues,” and asked applicants not to upload any files.

The security lapse was subsequently fixed, but the applicants say that the DC Bar has not yet disclosed the security incident.

“Truly can’t believe the bar didn’t notify us of the issue,” one of the applicants said.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia would not say if the DC Bar had notified the office of the security lapse.

#computing, #cyberspace, #dc, #email, #government, #internet, #security, #washington-dc, #web-browser, #world-wide-web

0

As losses expand, Asana is confident it has the ticket for a successful public listing

Asana, the project management software developer, dropped its filing for a direct listing on one of the busiest days of a surprisingly busy late summer.

The task management toolkit provider started by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and early FB employee Justin Rosenstein, isn’t as well known or as well financed as today’s other big public offerings — the game engine developer, Unity, and the $14 billion valued enterprise cloud storage provider Snowflake — but its modest $1.5 billion valuation may in some way make it a better bellwether for investor appetite in new tech offerings.

That’s because Asana is losing money … and losing money big. Its losses are expanding even as its growth increases. The company lost $118.6 million in fiscal 2020 even as it expanded its revenue to $142.6 million for the same period. In 2019 it saw revenues of $76.8 million and a net loss of $50.9 million. 

If the idea is that you have to spend money to make money, then Asana is doing exactly as it should, because the company has been growing. Revenue increased $19.7 million, or 71 percent, during the three months ending April 30, 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The company attributed that growth to a shift in its sales strategy toward higher-priced subscription plans and revenue from existing customers.

Cost of revenues for the company grew by 51 percent as gross margins slightly rose over the same period, according to the company.

One bright spot for Asana is the potential converts it still has yet to win over as paying customers. Asana boasts 3.2 million free accounts and has managed to make its bones off of only over 75,000 paying customers. Given the rapid transition to remote work for many knowledge workers, project management tools only become more important.

The path to the public markets has been a long one for Asana, which first appeared on the scene in 2008. The company’s last capital infusion came in 2018 with $125 million raised across two quick investment rounds led by Generation Investment Management, the investment fund co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

While Gore’s firm may have ponied up a lot of cash, the biggest winner in Asana’s public listing is likely to be Facebook co-founder Moskovitz. He owns a huge percentage of the company — roughly 35 percent. That’s a whole lot more than Rosenstein’s 16.2 percent haul.

Asana had telegraphed its intentions to access public markets via a direct listing earlier this year — even before the pandemic had made the market more receptive to collaboration software tools like the ones it offers.

#al-gore, #asana, #co-founder, #computing, #dustin-moskovitz, #facebook, #generation-investment-management, #justin-rosenstein, #software, #tc, #unity, #vice-president, #world-wide-web

0

‘Stalkerware’ phone spying apps have escaped Google’s ad ban

Several companies offering phone-spying apps — known as “stalkerware” — are still advertising in Google search results, despite the search giant’s ban that took effect today, TechCrunch has found.

These controversial apps are often pitched to help parents snoop on their child’s calls, messages, apps and other private data under the guise of helping to protect against online predators.

But some repurpose these apps to spy on their spouses — often without their permission.

It’s a problem that the wider tech industry has worked to tackle. Security firms and antivirus makers are working to combat the rise of stalkerware, and federal authorities have taken action when app makers have violated the law.

One of the biggest actions to date came last month when Google announced an updated ads policy, effectively banning companies from advertising phone-snooping apps “with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization.”

Google gave these companies until August 11 to remove these ads.

But TechCrunch found seven companies known to provide stalkerware — including FlexiSpy, mSpy, WebWatcher and KidsGuard — were still advertising in Google search results after the ban took effect.

Google did not say explicitly say if the stalkerware apps violated its policy, but told TechCrunch that it removed ads for WebWatcher. Despite the deadline, Google said that enforcement is not always immediate.

“We recently updated our policies to prohibit ads promoting spyware for partner surveillance while still allowing ads for technology that helps parents monitor their underage children,” said a Google spokesperson. “To prevent deceitful actors who try to disguise the product’s intent and evade our enforcement, we look at several signals like the ad text, creative and landing page, among others, for policy compliance. When we find that an ad or advertiser is violating our policies, we take immediate action.”

The policy is evidently far from perfect. Google faced immediate criticism for carving out exceptions to its new policy for “products or services designed for parents to track or monitor their underage children.”

Malwarebytes, one of several antivirus makers that pledged to help fight stalkerware, called the policy “incomplete,” in large part because the “the line between stalkerware-type applications and parental monitoring applications can be blurred.”

In this case, several of the stalkerware apps explicitly state how their apps could be used to spy on spouses.

For instance, mSpy’s website said the app can be used to spy on “your children, wife, or colleagues.” KidsGuard, which had a massive security lapse last year that exposed thousands of surveilled users, explicitly says on its homepage that its app can “catch a cheating spouse.” Two other app makers, Spyic and PhoneSpector, still have dozens of blog posts on their website explicitly referencing spying on spouses.

Last year the Electronic Frontier Foundation founded the Coalition Against Stalkerware, a group of academics, companies and nonprofits to help detect, combat and raise awareness of stalkerware.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849 or send an encrypted email to: zack.whittaker@protonmail.com

#apps, #companies, #computing, #google-play, #privacy, #security, #stalkerware, #world-wide-web

0

Effx raises $3.9M for its DevOps monitoring platform

Effx, a startup that aims to give developers better insights into their microservice architectures, today announced that it has raised a $3.9 million funding round led by Kleiner Perkins and Cowboy Ventures. Other investors and angels in this round include Tokyo Black, Essence VC Fund, Jason Warner, Michael Stoppelman, Vijay Pandurangan and Miles Grimshaw.

The company’s founder and CEO, Joey Parsons, was an early employee at Rackspace and then first went to Flipboard and then Airbnb a few years ago, where he built out the company’s site reliability team.

“When I first joined Airbnb, it’s the middle of 2015, it’s already a unicorn, already a well-known entity in the industry, but they had nobody there that was really looking after cloud infrastructure and reliability there […],” he told me. The original Airbnb platform was built on Ruby on Rails and wasn’t able to scale to the demands of the growing platform anymore. “Myself and a lot of people that were really smarter than me from the team there got together and we decided at that point, ‘okay, let’s let’s break apart this monolith or monorail that we call it and break it up into microservices.’ ”

Image Credits: Effx

But microservices obviously come with their own challenges — they constantly change, after all, and those changes are reflected in different UIs — and that’s essentially where the idea for Effx came from. The idea behind the product is to give engineers a single pane of glass to get all of the information they need about the microservices that have been deployed across their organization.

Effx founder and CEO Joey Parsons

At Airbnb, Parsons’ team built out a small metastore to track what each service did, who owned it, what language it was written in and whether it was in scope for PCI or GDPR, for example. After leaving Airbnb, Parsons went to Kleiner as an entrepreneur in residence and started to work on building out this idea of bringing to more companies some of the ideas of what the team built at Airbnb. He raised a small amount of money from Kleiner to hire the initial engineering team in 2019 and then started testing the product with a first set of pilot customers earlier this year.

In its early iterations, the product relied on engineers writing YAML files, which the product could then consume, but few engineers love writing YAML files and the value in a tool like this comes from being able to automate a lot of this work. So the team built out integrations with common service orchestration platforms, including Kubernetes, but also AWS Lambda and ECS.

“What we’ve found is that most companies that have been moving towards microservices are using some combination of those platforms — maybe one, maybe two, maybe all three — to orchestrate things,” Parsons explained. “So we built really heavy integrations into those platforms to where in Kubernetes we can drop a client in there, it automatically discovers all your services, populates as much as it can into the catalog from that and then does the same thing for an AWS Lambda or ECS perspective where we consume data from those platforms and pull data in.”

Image Credits: Effx

As Parsons noted, the value here isn’t just in getting that single pane of glass, but once you have all of this information and these services’ dependencies and combine it with your CI/CD data, it also becomes a new tool for troubleshooting as it helps you see which services changed before something broke. To even better enable this, teams can add links to their runbooks, documentation and version control tools too.

Parsons tells me that the team is currently in the process of closing more pilots and hiring more engineers as it works to build out its service, add more integrations and find new ways to help its customers make use of all the data it gathers.

“As the future of what we’re building comes more into fruition, the most important thing for us right now is to really deliver on the value that our existing product delivers to our end users as a platform to build more business,” Parsons explained. “I think that in the long run, the power of this feed and getting the data that’s behind it ends up being a really interesting mode for us simply because there’s a lot of great insights that you can build for organizations based on like the patterns and the cadence of information that shows up in this feed, to help teams really understand why there’s that incident that happens every Tuesday at midnight UTC.”

#airbnb, #cloud-infrastructure, #cowboy-ventures, #economy, #effx, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #flipboard, #fundings-exits, #kleiner, #kleiner-perkins, #rackspace, #recent-funding, #ruby-on-rails, #startups, #tc, #world-wide-web

0

WhatsApp hit by outage, leaving users unable to send or receive messages

Facebook -owned WhatsApp is currently down, with users unable to send or receive messages on the end-to-end encrypted messaging app.

Affected users might see that WhatsApp is “connecting” to the service when trying to send a message. The outage started at about 4pm ET. We don’t know much more at this stage.

WhatsApp failing to connect to its servers. (Image: TechCrunch)

A spokesperson for Facebook did not immediately comment on the outage. We’ll update when we know more.

WhatsApp hit the 2 billion user mark earlier this year. Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 in what became one of the social media giant’s biggest purchases.

#apps, #facebook, #instant-messaging, #messaging-apps, #operating-systems, #security, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #whatsapp, #world-wide-web

0

Google’s grammar suggestions in Docs are now available in Spanish

If you regularly write in Spanish, you’ll be happy to hear that Google today announced that its neural network-powered grammar suggestions in its Docs online text editor are now available in Spanish, too. Just like with grammar suggestions for English, though, this feature will only be available for G Suite customers for now — but if you are a G Suite customer, it should be available now. Google says it plans to extend this feature to consumers and educational organizations in the future.

In addition, Google also today announced that Smart Compose, which tries to finish sentences for you, and spelling autocorrect will also come to Docs in Spanish later this year. Google also tells me that grammar suggestions for Spanish will soon come to Gmail as well, where support for English is already available today.

Google introduced its grammar suggestions for English last February (and it first announced it at Google Cloud Next in the middle of 2018). And while Docs had a grammar checker before, this new tool now uses an interesting machine learning approach based on the company’s experience in doing machine translations. That also means Google has to train a new neural network for every new language it supports.

We’ll likely see the company introduce additional languages in the not too distant future, but for now, English and Spanish are the only ones currently supported in Docs.

One nice feature here is that Google’s tool automatically knows what language you are writing in, so there’s no need to manually switch back and forth.

With Google, Microsoft and Grammarly now offering next-generation spell-checking and grammar tools, we’re seeing a lot more competition in this space than even a few months ago. Microsoft and Grammarly are taking a bit of a different approach, though, with extensions that work across applications (though Microsoft Editor only supports text fields across a select number of web apps so far). Microsoft Editor, it’s worth noting, also supports more than 20 languages in Word. All of them, though, only make their most advanced tools available to paying customers for the time being. Those neural networks don’t run themselves, after all.

#artificial-intelligence, #cloud-applications, #g-suite, #gmail, #google, #google-search, #machine-learning, #neural-network, #tc, #websites, #world-wide-web

0

Twitter, Reddit challenge US rules forcing visa applicants to disclose their social media handles

Twitter and Reddit have filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging a U.S. government rule change compelling visa applicants to disclose their social media handles.

The lawsuit, brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice, and law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, seeks to undo both the State Department’s requirement that visa applicants must disclose their social media handles prior to obtaining a U.S. visa, as well as related rules over the retention and dissemination of those records.

Last year, the State Department began asking visa applicants for their current and former social media usernames, a move that affects millions non-citizens applying to travel to the United States each year. The rule change was part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand its “enhanced” screening protocols. At the time, it was reported that the information would be used if the State Department determines that “such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”

In a filing supporting the lawsuit, both Twitter and Reddit said the social media policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that the rules violate the First Amendment rights “to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

Twitter and Reddit, which collectively have more than 560 million users, said their users — many of which don’t use their real names on their platforms — are forced to “surrender their anonymity in order to travel to the United States,” which “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” the brief said.

“That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”

Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s policy chief for the Americas, said the social media rule “infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.” Reddit’s general counsel Ben Lee called the rule a “intrusive overreach” by the government.

It’s not known how many, if any, visa applicants have been denied a visa because of their social media content. But since the social media rule went into effect, cases emerged of approved visa holders denied entry to the U.S. for other people’s social media postings. Ismail Ajjawi, a then 17-year-old freshman at Harvard University, was turned away at Boston Logan International Airport after U.S. border officials searched his phone after taking issue with social media postings of Ajjawi’s friends — and not his own.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told TechCrunch at the time that Ajjawi’s case was not isolated. A week later, TechCrunch learned of another man who was denied entry to the U.S. because of a WhatsApp message sent by a distant acquaintance.

A spokesperson for the State Department did not immediately comment on news of the amicus brief.

#columbia-university, #crowdsourcing, #digital-media, #government, #policy, #privacy, #reddit, #security, #social-media, #spokesperson, #trump-administration, #twitter, #u-s-government, #united-states, #websites, #wikis, #world-wide-web

0

Carry1st has $4M to invest in African mobile gaming

Gaming development startup Carry1st has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by CRE Venture Capital .

That brings the company’s total VC to $4 million, which Carry1st will deploy to support and invest in game publishing across Africa.

The startup — with offices in New York, Lagos, and South Africa — was co-founded in 2018 by Sierra Leonean Cordel Robbin-Coker, American Lucy Parry, and Zimbabwean software engineer Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu.

Robbin-Coker and Parry met while working in investment banking in New York, before forming Carry1st.

“I convinced her to avoid going to business school and instead come to South Africa to Cape Town,” Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch on a call.

“We launched with the idea that we wanted to bring the gaming industry…to the African continent.”

Carry1st looks to match gaming demand in Africa to the continent’s fast growing youth population, improving internet penetration and rapid smartphone adoption.

The startup has already launched two games as direct downloads from its site, Carry1st Trivia and Hyper!.

“In April, [Carry1st Trivia] did pretty well. It was the number one game in Nigeria, and Kenya for most of the year and did about one and a half million downloads.” Robbin-Coker said.

Carry1st Africa

Image Credit: Carry1st

The startup will use a portion of its latest round and overall capital to bring more unique content onto its platform. “In order to do that, you need cash…to help a developer finish a game or entice a strong game to work with you,” said Robbin-Coker.

The company will also expand its distribution channels, such as partnerships with mobile operators and the Carry1st Brand Ambassador program — a network of sales agents who promote and sell games across the continent.

The company will also invest in the gaming market and itself.

“We want to dedicate at least a million dollars to actually going out and acquiring users and scaling our user base. And then, the final piece is really around the tech platform that we’re looking to build,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails creating multiple channels and revenue points to develop, distribute, and invest in games on the continent, he explained.

Image Credits: Carry1st

Robbin-Coker compared the Carry1st’s strategy in Africa as something similar to Sea: an Asia regional mobile entertainment distribution platform — publicly traded and partially owned by Tencent — that incubated the popular Fornite game.

“We’re looking to be the number one regional publisher of [gaming] content in the region…the publisher of record and the app store,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails developing and distributing not only games originating from the continent, but also serving as channel for gaming content from other continents coming into Africa.

That generates a consistent revenue stream for the startup, Robbin-Coker explained, but also creates opportunities for big creative wins.

“It’s a hits driven business. A single studio will work and toil in obscurity for a decade and then they’ll make Candy Crush. And then that would be worth $6 billion, very quickly,” Carry1st’s CEO said.

He and his team will use a portion of their $4 million in VC to invest in that potential gaming success story in Africa.

The company’s co-founder Lucy Parry directs aspirants to the company’s homepage. “There’s a big blue button that says ‘Pitch Your Game’ at the bottom of our website.”

#africa, #african-tech, #app-store, #asia, #carry1st, #ceo, #co-founder, #cre-venture-capital, #digital-media, #gaming, #internet-penetration, #investment-banking, #lagos, #new-york, #nigeria, #smartphone, #south-africa, #tc, #tencent, #websites, #world-wide-web

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A massive database of 8 billion Thai internet records leaks

Thailand’s largest cell network AIS has pulled a database offline that was spilling billions of real-time internet records on millions of Thai internet users.

Security researcher Justin Paine said in a blog post that he found the database, containing DNS queries and Netflow data, on the internet without a password. With access to this database, Paine said that anyone could “quickly paint a picture” about what an internet user (or their household) does in real-time.

Paine alerted AIS to the open database on May 13. But after not hearing back for a week, Paine reported the apparent security lapse to Thailand’s national computer emergency response team, known as ThaiCERT, which contacted AIS about the open database.

The database was inaccessible a short time later.

It’s not known who owns the database. Paine told TechCrunch that the kind of records found in the database can only come from someone who’s able to monitor internet traffic as it flows across the network. But there is no easy way to differentiate between if the database belongs to the internet provider — or one of its subsidiaries — or a large enterprise customer on AIS’ network. AIS spokespeople did not respond to our emails requesting comment.

DNS queries are a normal side-effect of using the internet. Every time you visit a website, the browser converts a web address into an IP address, which tells the browser where the web page lives on the internet. Although DNS queries don’t carry private messages, emails, or sensitive data like passwords, they can identify which websites you access and which apps you use.

But that could be a major problem for high-risk individuals, like journalists and activists, whose internet records could be used to identify their sources.

Thailand’s internet surveillance laws grant authorities sweeping access to internet user data. Thailand also has some of the strictest censorship laws in Asia, forbidding any kind of criticism against the Thai royal family, national security, and certain political issues. In 2017, the Thai military junta, which took power in a 2015 coup, narrowly backed down from banning Facebook across the country after the social network giant refused to censor certain users’ posts.

DNS query data can also be used to gain insights into a person’s internet activity.

Using the data, Paine showed how anyone with access to the database could learn a number of things from a single internet-connected house, such as the kind of devices they owned, which antivirus they ran, and which browsers they used, and which social media apps and websites they frequented. In households or offices, many people share one internet connection, making it far more difficult to trace internet activity back to a particular person.

Advertisers also find DNS data valuable for serving targeted ads.

Since a 2017 law allowed U.S. internet providers to sell internet records — like DNS queries and browsing histories — of their users, browser makers have pushed back by rolling out privacy-enhancing technologies that make it harder for internet and network providers to snoop.

One such technology, DNS over HTTPS — or DoH — encrypts DNS requests, making it far more difficult for internet or network providers to know which websites a customer is visiting or which apps they use.

#asia, #computing, #dns, #internet-traffic, #security, #thailand, #world-wide-web

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Facebook’s new safety feature for women in India: Easily lock the account from strangers

Facebook has rolled out a new safety feature in India that will enable users to easily lock their account so that people they are not friends with on the platform cannot view their posts and zoom into and download their profile picture and cover photo.

The feature is especially aimed at women to give them more control over their Facebook experience, the company said. “We are deeply aware of the concerns people in India, particularly women, have about protecting their online profile,” said Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director at Facebook India, in a statement.

Locking the profile applies multiple existing privacy settings and several new measures to a user’s Facebook profile in a few taps, the company said. Once a user has locked their account, people they are not friends with will no longer be able to see photos and posts — both historic and new — and zoom into, share, and download profile pictures and cover photos.

“We have often heard from young girls that they are hesitant to share about themselves online and are intimidated by the idea of someone misusing their information. I am very happy to see that Facebook is making efforts to learn about their concerns and building products that can give them the experience they want. This new safety feature will give women, especially young girls a chance to express themselves freely,” said Ranjana Kumari, Director at New Delhi-based women advocacy group Centre for Social Research, in a statement.

A user can lock the account by tapping on More under their name, then tapping the Lock Profile button and the confirmation button that prompts afterward.

Prior to Thursday’s announcement, this feature was available to users in Bangladesh, a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The new feature appears to be an extension of a similar effort Facebook made in 2017 in India to combat catfishing. That feature, called Profile Picture Guard, allowed users to protect their profile picture from being zoomed into and shared by their friends and those not in the friend list.

#apps, #asia, #bangladesh, #facebook, #india, #social, #world-wide-web

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Facebook to acquire Giphy in a deal reportedly worth $400 million

Facebook will acquire Giphy, the web-based animated gif search engine and platform provider, Facebook confirmed today, in a deal worth around $400 million, according to a report by Axios. Facebook said it isn’t disclosing terms of the deal. Giphy has grown to be a central source for shareable, high-engagement content, and its animated response gifs are available across Facebook’s platforms, as well as through other social apps and services on the web.

Most notably, Giphy provides built-in search and sticker functions for Facebook’s Instagram, and it will continue to operate in that capacity,  as well as be available to its other apps through existing and additional integrations. People will still be able to upload their own GIFs, and Facebook intends to continue to operate Giphy under its own branding and offer integration to outside developers.

Facebook says it will invest in additional tech development for Giphy, as well as build out new relationships for it on both the content side, as well as the endpoint developer side. The company says that fully 50% of traffic that Giphy receives actually already comes from Facebook’s apps, including Instagram, Messenger, the FB app itself and WhatsApp .

Giphy was founded in 2013, and was originally simply a search engine for GIFs. The website’s first major product expansion was an extension that allowed sharing via Facebook, introduced later in its founding year, and it quickly added Twitter as a second integration. According to the most recent data from Crunchbase, Giphy had raised $150.9 million across five rounds, backed by funders including DFJ Growth, Lightspeed, Betaworks, GV, Lerer Hippeau and more.

#axios, #betaworks, #dfj-growth, #facebook, #gif, #giphy, #lerer-hippeau, #lightspeed, #ma, #operating-systems, #photo-sharing, #search-engine, #social-media, #software, #tc, #twitter, #whatsapp, #world-wide-web

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As COVID-19 pummels global economy, 8 new companies join the $100M ARR club

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

This morning we’re adding a number of companies to the $100 million ARR club, a collection of private companies that have reached material scale. Over time, this series has gone from noting that a few private companies have managed to grow to IPO-size to denoting a cohort of firms that are IPO candidates.

The tone of this entry is different than that of its predecessors due to the ongoing depression of the American economy. For example, one company on today’s list, BounceX, announced that it crossed $100 million ARR mark since our last entry in the series, only to cut staff in the wake of COVID-19 before we could induct it properly. We’re leaving it on the list today as, well, it did meet our criteria before everything changed.

This particular $100 million ARR club entry was delayed because each time I’d get close to working on it the world economy would become worse, driving a separate news cycle, or another company to include would crop up. But, enough, let’s add HeadSpin, UiPath, DigitalOcean, BounceX, Wrike, Aeris, Podium, and Lucid to the list today. (We’ve already begun a watch list for the second half of 2020, including PolicyGenius, Guild Education and Zeus Living.)

New members

As we’re adding more new firms to league than usual this morning, we’ll be brief. If you need to catch up, this entry has links back to all previous ARR club posts. As always, we’re casting a wide net, so some companies might be a hair under the mark but close enough to include. Let’s go!

Headspin: On track for $100M ARR in ‘early 2020′

#artificial-intelligence, #ceo, #computing, #digitalocean, #executive, #fundings-exits, #headspin, #lucidpress, #podium, #professional-services, #qualtrics, #startups, #tc, #techcrunch, #tripactions, #uipath, #utah, #venture-capital, #vista-equity-partners, #world-wide-web, #wrike

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Google rolls back SameSite cookie changes to keep essential online services from breaking

Google today announced that it will temporarily roll back the changes it recently made to how its Chrome browser handles cookies in order to ensure that sites that perform essential services like banking, online grocery, government services and healthcare won’t become inaccessible to Chrome users during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The new SameSite rules, which the company started rolling out to a growing number of Chrome users in recent months, are meant to make it harder for sites to access cookies from third-party sites and hence track a user’s online activity. These new rules are also meant to prevent cross-site request forgery attacks.

Under Google’s new guidance, developers must explicitly allow their cookies to be read by third-party sites, otherwise, the browser will prevent these third-party sites from accessing them.

Because this is a pretty major change, Google gave developers quite a bit of time to adapt their applications to it. Still, not every site is ready yet, so the Chrome team decided to halt the gradual rollout and stop enforcing these new rules for the time being.

“While most of the web ecosystem was prepared for this change, we want to ensure stability for websites providing essential services including banking, online groceries, government services and healthcare that facilitate our daily life during this time,” writes Google Chrome engineering director Justin Schuh. “As we roll back enforcement, organizations, users and sites should see no disruption.”

A Google spokesperson also told us that the team saw some breakage in sites “that would not normally be considered