- Orchid Labs is in the process of raising $125 million for its surveillance-free layer atop the internet
- Friday Night Lights is on Hulu now. You’re welcome.
- SmugMug acquires Flickr
- Nintendo Labo review
- Pivotal Software closed up 5% following IPO, raised $555 million
- Founder of cryptocurrency debit card faces new fraud charges for $32 million ICO scheme
- German Supreme Court dismisses Axel Springer lawsuit, says ad blocking is legal
- YouTube ads for hundreds of brands still running on extremist and white nationalist channels
- Startup ecosystem report: China is rising while the US is waning
- Twitter banned Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab from buying ads
- SF supervisor doesn’t want you riding electric scooters on sidewalks
- ZTE says export ban will ‘severely impact’ its survival
- Twitter is down again for some [Update: It’s Back]
- Kubernetes and Cloud Foundry grow closer
- iOS 11’s new App Store boosts downloads by 800% for featured apps
- Watch how Steven Spielberg framed ‘Ready Player One’ shots in VR
- RealSelf, a community for cosmetic treatments, raises $40 million
- Facebook starts its facial recognition push to Europeans
- AT&T CEO says a new $15-per-month, sports-free streaming service is launching in a few weeks
- This robot can build your IKEA furniture
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 05:46 PM PDT
Orchid Labs, a San Francisco-based startup that’s developing a a surveillance-free layer on top of the internet, has raised a bunch of funding, according to a newly processed SEC filing that shows the year-old startup has closed on $36.1 million. The money comes just five months after Orchid closed on a separate, $4.5 million in funding from investors, including Yes VC, cofounded by serial entrepreneurs Caterina Fake and Jyri Engeström.
The stated goal of the Orchid is to provide anonymized internet access to people across the globe, particularly individuals who live in countries with excessive government oversight of their browsing and shopping. Part of the point also seems to be to insulate users from the many companies that now harvest and sell their data, including walled gardens like Facebook and other giants like AT&T.
In a word where one assumes the Cambridge Analytica scandal is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data abuse, it’s easy to see the project’s appeal. So far, says the filing, the company has raised that $36.1 million via a SAFT agreement, an investment contract offered by cryptocurrency developers to accredited investors (42 of them in this case).
But the filing shows a target of $125,595,882 million, and based how hot particular blockchain ideas are getting, and how aggressively they’re being funded (see the Basis deal earlier this week), you can imagine more money will flow to the company if it hasn’t already. That’s also an awfully specific target on its filing.
We’ve reached out to the company for more information. You can also check out its white paper if you’re curious.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that Orchid has five founders with varied and interesting backgrounds. They include Stephen Bell, who spent seven years as a managing director at Trilogy Ventures, shopping for opportunities in China, before returning to the states in 2015; Steve Waterhouse, long an investor with the digital currencies-focused firm Pantera Capital; former Ethereum Foundation developer Gustav Simonsson; software engineer Jay Freeman; and Brian Fox, who is credited with building the first interactive online banking software for Wells Fargo in 1995 and who was the first employee of the legendary programmer Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation, among other things.
Between the money involved, the mission, and the founders, this one looks like a Big Deal. Stay tuned.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 03:31 PM PDT
Friday Night Lights, the football show that was never just about football (and one of the best shows on television), is now streaming on Hulu.
Say goodbye to the weekend is all I’m saying.
Hailed as one of the most honest depictions of a functioning adult relationship in its portrayal of the husband and wife duo of “Coach” Eric and Tammy Taylor, Friday Night Lights also worked wonders for showing the life and high school times of teens in a small Texas town.
The show is phenomenal. If you haven’t seen it, you should, and if you have (and if you’re me, you have many many many times), this weekend is as good a time as any to watch it again.
For Hulu, this is part of a clutch of shows from the ’90s and 2000s that are touchstones of popular culture. The streaming service already holds Will & Grace, Felicity, Dawson’s Creek and The O.C.
Created by writer/director Peter Berg and inspired by the wildly successful book of the same name by H.G. Bissinger, the show tells the story of football and families in a small Texas town.
The series launched (or cemented) the careers of several actors, including Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Adrianne Palicki, (and a post-Wire, pre-Fruitvale Station, Creed and Black Panther) Michael B. Jordan, Minka Kelly, Jesse Plemons and Gaius Charles.
Hulu isn’t the only place you can see the Taylors struggle with life in Dillon, Texas. Amazon added the series (along with Parks & Recreation, House and Eureka) to its lineup, as well.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 03:15 PM PDT
Two photo-sharing services are teaming up, as SmugMug buys Flickr from Verizon’s digital media subsidiary Oath.
At the same time, he said he’s still figuring out his actual plans: “It sounds silly for the CEO to not to totally know what he's going to do, but we haven't built SmugMug on a master plan either. We try to listen to our customers and when enough of them ask for something that's important to them or to the community, we go and build it."
Flickr was founded in 2004 and sold to Yahoo a year later. Yahoo, in turn, was acquired by Verizon, which brought it together with AOL to create a new subsidiary called Oath.
Over the past couple of months, Oath (which owns TechCrunch) has been selling off some of its AOL and Yahoo properties, including Moviefone (sold to the company behind MoviePass, which Oath now has a stake in) and Polyvore (assets sold to Ssense).
In an FAQ about the deal, SmugMug says it will continue to operate Flickr as a separate site, with no merging of user accounts or photos: “Over time, we'll be migrating Flickr onto SmugMug's technology infrastructure, and your Flickr photos will move as a part of this migration — but the photos themselves will remain on Flickr.”
The company also uses the FAQ to describe its vision for the combined services:
The financial terms were not disclosed.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 03:15 PM PDT
I'm here to tell you first-hand: Nintendo Labo is no joke. I'm a grown-up human person, who has spent many hours of his life building things: office furniture, websites, a model of the Batmobile from the 1989 Tim Burton movie. In the fourth grade, I attempted to build Mission Santa Barbara out of sugar cubes. It didn't go great, but the point (I'm told) is that I tried.
We're talking multiple decades of building things. Following instructions, backtracking, trying again. I'm sure there are all sorts of valuable lessons I learned along the way; self-discipline, patience, teamwork, why sugar is not a structurally sound building material. But event with all of that building under my wisened belt, Nintendo Labo is no walk in the park.
It's literal child's play. It says right there, on the box, "6+." I've been six-plus for — let's just say… a while now. And yet, it took me around two hours this morning to build a cardboard piano. Now I've got a table full of scraps, a small paper cut on my ring finger and a surprise sense of accomplishment. Oh, and the piano is pretty cool, too.
Labo is one of the most fascinating products to come across my desk in recent memory. It's unique, bizarre and as frustrating as it is fun. In other words, it's uniquely Nintendo — not so much out-of-the-box thinking as it is the actual box. It's a product that's built entirely around the premise of making kids sit still, follow instructions and fold the heck out of some cardboard. And, strangely, it totally works.
Hook, line and sinker
I wouldn't have been my first choice to review Labo, but I was uniquely qualified, if only for the half a day I spent getting walked through the construction kit with a room full of brightly dressed and infectiously enthusiastic Nintendo employees. That experience served as the foundation for our hands on, as we were broken up into small teams and walked through a pair of increasingly complex projects.
We started with the race cars, the box's introductory project, which is really as much about getting you used to the strange world of Labo. But even that small starter is a glimpse of the cleverness contained throughout, as the cardboard-wrapped Joy-Cons use their own haptic feedback to propel forward, as you control its speed via the touchscreen. Because there are a pair of Joy-Cons for every Switch, you can use them to race against one another.
The second hands-on project felt like a considerable step up. Nintendo puts the fishing rod's build time at one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours, versus the cars' 20 minutes total. In other words, find a comfortable spot, maybe put on some music and make sure you're hydrated. When it's done, however, you get a working reel with a string and a rod that vibrates when you catch a fish on screen. Pretty neat.
Having accomplished those in a well-supervised room full of Nintendo employees a few weeks back, I naturally took on the most complex project of the bunch.
Keys to the kingdom
The piano should take two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours, by Nintendo's estimates. I built the thing in about two hours — an accomplishment of sorts for a grown-up person who was supposed to be working. Even so, it reflects just how large of a time sink these projects are. That's certainly good news for parents looking for the ideal project for a rainy day. It's a clever little play that leverages a video game system to get them to do something other than play video games. Neat trick, Nintendo.
The primary set is a big, flat and heavy box with 28 cardboard sheets, comprising six different projects. There's a plastic bag inside, too, containing a random assortment of knick knacks — rubber bands, reflective stickers, washers — all of which will come in handy down the road. There's no real instruction booklet, because the Switch is going to do all of the heavy lifting there.
The screen walks you through the process of building, one patient step a time. The touchscreen instructions are superior to paper in a number of ways, including a number of animated videos showing off the motions of properly working components, and the ability to pivot the camera angles to get a full 360-degree view of the build. You can rewind if you need to back up, or fast-forward when things get repetitive — like they did with the piano's 13 keys.
Don't go too fast, though. The kit tosses some curve balls at you — as in the case of some tabs that are folded inward, to double as springs. That, however, is the one constant. Folding. So, so much folding. Honestly, it gets pretty tedious on the longer projects. The instructions actually make light of this fact, from time to time, with little quips about the repetition. It also recommends stepping away before a particularly grueling section — probably the right move for both your sanity and health.
Once you get into the rhythm, however, it's strangely meditative. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold. Tap, fold.
Congratulations, you've completely 1/6 steps.
I'd say it's not the destination, it's the journey, but honestly, it's really about the destination here. The most satisfying part in all of this was how seemingly abstract shapes lock into place and create a fully formed object. These little kits are truly remarkable feats of engineering in their own right, and in the case of the piano, it's incredible satisfying to see the object completed — and actually get to play the keys, recognizing the role each individual piece plays in the whole creation.
There are so many smart touches here, from the incorporation of the Joy-Cons, to the use of reflective tape, which triggers the Switch’s built in cameras. It’s that functionality that makes the piano keys play notes through the Switch itself. It also triggers the arms and legs on the robot through a set of pulleys.
It's equally relieving the moment you realize you did everything right. Though I still had a few instances where I found myself having to backtrack multiple steps, because I'd missed a fold or turned something the wrong way. Also, as the instructions note, folding is at the heart of the project. A bad or incomplete fold can lead to heartbreak at the end. So fold, children. Fold like your lives depend on it.
Companies that make coding toys will usually tell you the same thing: it ultimately doesn't matter that they're not built in some universal programming language, so long as they teach the fundamentals. The jury is still out on all that, as far as I'm concerned, but I think there's a lot to be said for a product that's capable of fostering curiosity and love in some bigger idea. That, I think, is the biggest appeal of Labo. It encourages kids to step outside the console for a minute and build something with their hands.
Does building a Labo piano or fishing rod make you any more qualified to create the real thing? Not really, but it does help foster a genuine interest in the way things work. A maker friend of mine recently related a story to me about how she got into the culture. Her parents came home one day and she had disassembled and reassembled a computer, in order to install a component. From then on, she told me, they came to her for computer help.
Every maker has a story like that — a first step that often involves tearing down a computer or clock or toaster, piece by piece. Labo potentially affords the ability to explore that path without destroying some antique clock in the process. (Though, if it’s successful with your kids, I'd keep a close eye on your piano, if you have one at home.) Parental guidance is also recommended for the more complex projects, making for a great opportunity to bond with kids through creation with a side of frustration. And when you're done, you've got a lovely object that looks like it stepped out of the panels of Calvin & Hobbes.
If your kids don't have the passion to build — they'll also learn that lesson pretty quickly. Many kids simply won't have the patience to sit still and fold for hours on end. It's also worth pointing out that the objects, when finished, are fragile. They are cardboard, after all. Water is their mortal enemy, and rowdy kids are a close second — pieces can easily rip or tear, even accidentally during the building process. Thankfully, the company has started selling pieces individually.
Of course, $70 isn't an insignificant amount to pay to find all of that out. And by just about any measure, it's a pretty steep premium for what amounts to a cardboard box full of cardboard. And, of course, that doesn't factor in the price of the Switch itself.
But what the kit does afford is continual discovery. From there, kids can graduate to the massive Robot Kit (saving that one for a rainy weekend), which runs $80 and features a complex pulley system and a fun little game where you're a mech trampling some poor, defenseless city. Even more compelling (and significantly less expensive), however, is Toy-Con Garage.
Built into both packs, the portal lets kids remix and hack creations, offering a breaking down of the technologies involved. If there's a gateway to the wonderful world of making in this box, it's this. The pre-determined kits are as much a lesson in following instructions as they are building. Toy-Con Garage, on the other hand, opens the door to true creativity.
Labo is the most bizarre, creative and uniquely Nintendo product since the Switch itself. It's not for every kid — that much is certain. And the $70 fee will make it cost prohibitive for many parents. But those who take to it will do so like ducks to water — and hopefully won't get that cardboard wet in the process.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 02:29 PM PDT
Stock market investors showed lukewarm enthusiasm for Pivotal Software’s debut on Friday. After pricing the IPO at $15, the company closed the day at $15.73.
The enterprise cloud computing company has been majority-owned by Dell, which came about after its merger with EMC in 2016. It was spun off from Dell, EMC and VMware in April 2013.
After that, it raised $1.7 billion in funding from Microsoft, Ford and General Electric.
Here's how it describes its business in the S-1 filing:
According to the filing, Pivotal brought in $509.4 million in revenue for its fiscal year ending in February. This is up from $416.3 million in revenue for 2017 and $280.9 million in revenue the year before.
The company is still losing a lot of money, however. Losses for fiscal 2018 stood at $163.5 million, improved from the than the negative $232.5 million seen in 2017 and $282.5 million in 2016.
"We have incurred substantial losses and may not be able to generate sufficient revenue to achieve and sustain profitability," the company warned in the requisite "risk factors" section of its IPO filing.
Pivotal also acknowledged that it faces competition from "legacy application infrastructure and middleware form vendors" like IBM and Oracle. The company says it additionally competes with "open-source based offerings supported by vendors" like RedHat. Pivotal also faces challenges from SAP Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
The company says it believes it will stand out from the pack because of its strong security and easy-to-use platform. Pivotal also claims to have strong brand awareness and a good reputation. It has 118 U.S. patents and 73 pending and is betting that it will remain innovative.
Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs served as lead underwriters. Davis Polk and Fenwick & West worked as counsel.
The company listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “PVTL.”
It has been an active spring for tech IPOs, after a slow winter. Dropbox, Spotify and Zuora are amongst the companies that have gone public in recent weeks. DocuSign, Smartsheet, Carbon Black and Pluralsight are all expected to debut within the next month.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 02:06 PM PDT
The U.S. government is following through on its promise to crack down on initial coin offering scams. On Friday, the SEC announced charges against Raymond Trapani, the third co-founder of Centra Tech Inc., which raised $32 million for a cryptocurrency debit card last year through a flashy ICO endorsed by DJ Khaled and boxer Floyd Mayweather. The company’s other two co-founders, Sam Sharma and Robert Farkas, were charged and arrested earlier this month.
"We allege that the Centra co-founders went to great lengths to create the false impression that they had developed a viable, cutting-edge technology,” the SEC’s Cyber Unit Chief Robert A. Cohen said of the ICO. “Investors should exercise caution about investments in digital assets, especially when they are marketed with claims that seem too good to be true.”
The SEC calls Trapani the “mastermind” of the fraudulent ICO scheme, which lured investors with claims of major credit card partnerships, misrepresentations about the company’s product, fake founder biographies and price manipulation of its Centra tokens (CTR).
According to SEC documents, these particular ICO fraud artists were caught red-handed:
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York also unsealed criminal securities and wire fraud charges against Trapani, who was arrested Friday morning. Trapani faces one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud. Three out of the four charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years,
“As alleged, Raymond Trapani conspired with his co-defendants to lure investors with false claims about their product and about relationships they had with credible financial institutions,” Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said of the criminal charges.
“While investing in virtual currencies is legal, lying to deceive investors is not."
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 01:24 PM PDT
The European publishing giant (which acquired Business Insider in 2015) argued that ad blocking, as well as the business model where advertisers pay to be added to circumvent the white list, violated Germany’s competition law. Axel Springer won a partial victory in 2016, when a lower court ruled that it shouldn’t have to pay for white listing.
However, the Supreme Court has now overturned that decision. In the process, it declared that ad-blocking and Eyeo’s white list are both legal. (German speakers can read the court’s press release.)
After the ruling, Eyeo sent me the following statement from Ben Williams, its head of operations and communications:
Axel Springer, meanwhile, described ad blocking as “an attack on the heart of the free media” and said it would appeal to the country’s Constitutional Court.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 12:25 PM PDT
It’s been more than a year since YouTube promised to improve controls over what content advertisers would find their ads in front of; eight months since it promised to demonetize “hateful” videos; two months since it said it would downgrade offensive channels; and yet CNN reports that ads from hundreds of major brands are still appearing as pre-rolls for actual Nazis.
The ongoing failure to police billions of hours of content isn’t exactly baffling — this is a difficult problem to solve — but it is disappointing that YouTube seems to have repeatedly erred on the side of monetization.
As with previous reports, CNN’s article shows that ads were running on channels that, if YouTube’s content rules are to be believed, should have been demonetized and demoted instantly: Nazis, pedophiles, extremists of the right, left, and everywhere in between. Maybe even Logan Paul.
And the system appears to be working in strange ways: one screenshot shows a video by a self-avowed Nazi, entitled “David Duke on Harvey Weinstein exposing Jewish domination. Black/White genetic differences.” Below it a YouTube warning states that “certain features have been disabled for this video,” including comments and sharing, because of “content that may be inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.”
A cheerful ad from Nissan is running ahead of this enlightening piece of media, and CNN notes that ads also ran on it coming from the Friends of Zion Museum and the Jewish National Fund! Ads from the Toy Association ran on the channel of a guy who argued for the decriminalization of pedophilia!
I can’t really add anything to this. It’s so absurd I can barely believe it myself. Remember, this is after the company supposedly spent a year (at the very least) working to prevent this exact thing from happening. I left the headline in the present tense because I’m so certain that it’s still going on.
The responsibility really is YouTube’s, and if it can’t live up to its own promises, companies are going to leave it behind rather than face viral videos of their logo smoothly fading into a swastika on the wall of some sad basement-dwelling bigot. “Subway — eat fresh! And now, some guy’s thoughts on genocide.”
Some of the other brands that had ads run against offensive content: Amazon, Adidas, Cisco, Hilton, Hershey, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Netflix, Nordstrom, The Washington Post, The New York Times, 20th Century Fox Film, Under Armour, The Centers for Disease Control, Department of Transportation, Customs and Border Protection, Veterans Affairs and the US Coast Guard Academy.
I asked YouTube for comment on how this happened — or rather, how it never stopped happening. The company did not address my specific questions, but offered the following statement:
Very similar to previous statements over the last year or so. I look forward to hearing what brands it thought Nazism and pedophilia were appropriate for.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 12:02 PM PDT
Startups are a gamble, but it’s possible to better understand why some thrive and many more die by looking at the ecosystems in which they operate. Such is the mission of eight-year-old Startup Genome, composed of a group of researchers and entrepreneurs who, every year, interview thousands of founders and investors around the world to get a better handle on what’s changing in the regions where they operate, and what remains stubbornly the same.
The larger objective is to figure out how to help more startups succeed, and the outfit — which this year surveyed 10,000 founders with the help of partners like Crunchbase and Dealroom — produced some data that should perhaps concern those in the U.S. To wit, China looks positioned to overtake U.S. dominance when it comes to numerous tech sectors. Consider: In 2014, just 14 percent of so-called unicorns were based in China. Between the start of last year through today, that percentage has shot up to 35 percent, while in the U.S., the number of homegrown unicorns has fallen from 61 percent to 41 percent of the overall global number.
You could argue that investors are simply assigning China-based startups overly lofty valuations, as happened here in the U.S., and we partly believe that to be true. But China is also clearly “in it to win it,” based on a look at patents, with four times as many AI-related applications and three times as many crypto- and blockchain-related patents registered in China last year. With so much of the tech industry now focused on deep tech, it’s worth noting. In fact, though we loathed the January Financial Times column penned by famed VC Michael Moritz, who suggested U.S. companies follow China’s lead, his underlying call to arms was probably, gulp, prescient in its own way.
What else should startups know? According to Startup Genome’s findings, in addition to the rise of AI, blockchain and robotics manufacturing, there are clearly declining sub sectors, too, including, least surprisingly, adtech, which has seen a roughly 35 percent drop in funding over the last five years. No doubt that ties directly to the growing dominance of Facebook and Google, which accounted for 73 percent of all U.S. digital advertising last year, according to the equity research firm Pivotal.
That doesn’t mean adtech startups are cooked, notes the study’s authors. Rather, declining sub-sectors are often “mature” but can be revived by new technologies. In this case, while funding for adtech has dropped, virtual reality and augmented reality could well inject some new growth into the industry at some point. Maybe.
Either way, to us, the most interesting facets of this report — and it really is worth poring over — are the connections it’s able to make by talking with so many people around the world. It addresses, for example, how Stockholm, a relatively small startup ecosystem, is able to produce sizable startups at a meaningful rate, versus Chicago, whose ecosystem is ostensibly three times bigger. (The answer: Stockholm’s startup founders are apparently better connected to the world’s top seven ecosystems.)
Also quite interesting is the report’s findings about women founders, who build more relationships with regional founders and are more locally connected than their male counterparts — except with investors. That’s bad news for both women founders and investors, as local connectedness is associated with better startup performance.
To read the report in full, click over here. You have to fork over your email address, but with 240 pages filled with fascinating nuggets and other useful information, you’ll likely find it worth it.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 12:00 PM PDT
The U.S. government isn’t the only one feeling skittish about Kaspersky Lab. On Friday, the Russian security firm’s founder Eugene Kaspersky confronted Twitter’s apparent ban on advertising from the company, a decision it quietly issued in January.
“In a short letter from an unnamed Twitter employee, we were told that our company ‘operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices,'” Kaspersky wrote.
“One thing I can say for sure is this: we haven't violated any written – or unwritten – rules, and our business model is quite simply the same template business model that's used throughout the whole cybersecurity industry: We provide users with products and services, and they pay us for them.”
He noted that the company has spent around than €75,000 ($93,000 USD) to promote its content on Twitter in 2017.
Kaspersky called for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to specify the motivation behind the ban after failing to respond to an official February 6 letter from his company.
In a statement about the incident, Twitter reiterated that Kaspersky Lab’s business model “inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.” In a statement to CyberScoop, Twitter pointed to the late 2017 Department of Homeland Security directive to eliminate Kaspersky software from Executive Branch systems due to the company’s relationship with Russian intelligence.
“The Department is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks,” DHS asserted in the directive at the time.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 11:25 AM PDT
For those of you keeping track of the scooter saga in San Francisco, Supervisor Aaron Peskin has filed a resolution in opposition of California State Assembly bill 2989. The bill, authored by Assembly Member Heath Flora and sponsored by electric scooter startup Bird, seeks to allow top speeds of 20 mph, let people ride them on sidewalks and only require minors to wear helmets.
“It is disturbing that the same companies and investors who have pledged to work with the City to respect California public safety and public realm laws are spending lobbying dollars in Sacramento to repeal them," Peskin told TechCrunch via email. “San Francisco is a Transit First City and has committed to some of the strictest environmental and Vision Zero protections in the state. AB 2989 would dismantle those hard-fought protections, and send a message that seniors, parents with kids and the disabled aren't welcome on San Francisco's sidewalks.”
But Bird says the intent of the pending legislation is to bring e-scooters into parity with e-bikes.
“It also empowers cities and municipalities in California to pass whatever rules are best for their communities including where to ride an e-scooter,” Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer told TechCrunch in an email. “We think that is the best approach for cities — as well as riders — and an approach that most cities in California prefer when it comes to policymaking. If there are language improvements to make it clear that cities should be able to set ridership rules, then we are open to that.”
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and the Municipal Transportation Agency are actively creating a permitting process to better regulate scooters. The intent is to ensure “sensible, regulatory frameworks,” Peskin said earlier this week. In legislative meetings earlier this week, members of the public and supervisors expressed concerns pertaining to people operating scooters on sidewalks, as well as people riding them without helmets. This bill, introduced back in February, would essentially enable the opposite of what San Francisco envisions.
“While San Francisco policymakers pursue common sense regulation of standup electronic scooters to enhance the public benefit of this new shared mobility technology and to reduce potential harm to the public, state legislators seek to eliminate elements of the Vehicle Code that exist to protect the health and safety of members of the public including users of standup electric scooters,” Peskin wrote in his resolution.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 11:23 AM PDT
It's been a hell of a week for ZTE. News Monday that it was being hit with a seven-year export ban sent the company scrambling. The Chinese handset maker suspended its earnings report and reportedly sent its lawyers to meet with Google to see if anything could be worked out about a punishment that could hamper its ability to utilize Android and various key services.
Four days after we first reached out, ZTE has finally offered us an official reaction to the news. And it's a doozy. The six-paragraph official statement from corporate mulls over the punishment and reasserts ZTE's compliance to international law, which it "regard[s] as the foundation and bottom-line of the company's operation."
ZTE adds that it invested "over $50 million in its export control compliance program and is planning to invest more resources in 2018." So, why did the company get dinged by the U.S. Department of Commerce for failure to significantly reprimand staff after pleading guilty to violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea?
The company contends that the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security "ignored" its "diligent work" and progress it has made in complying with the law, calling the punishment, "unfair." Seven years is certainly severe, given that U.S.-based companies make north of a quarter of the components used in the company's handsets, according to estimates.
That, coupled with U.S.-based software makers, Google included, put the company in an extremely tight spot moving forward, and will likely require a complete rethink of ZTE's business model, if upheld.
"The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE," the company says, "but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies." ZTE adds that it will continue to fight the ruling, taking "judicial measures," if necessary.
The punishment comes as ZTE finds itself targeted by the U.S. government over spying charges, alongside fellow Chinese handset maker, Huawei.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 11:22 AM PDT
Rough week to be in Twitter support. Three days after the site experienced downtime across the globe, the site was hit by another outage. Status.io’s service site is currently listing an “active incident,” leaving many users unable to tweet. In other cases, the site isn’t loading at all, instead serving up internal server errors or messages stating that the service is “over capacity.”
Here in the States, at least, the issue doesn’t appear to be quite as widespread as Tuesday’s incident. We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment and will update as soon as we hear more.
Update: Twitter says it’s resolved the momentary outage, telling TechCrunch in a statement, “Earlier today, people were unable to send Tweets for about 30 minutes. We've resolved the internal issue and we're sorry for the disruption.”
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 10:56 AM PDT
Containers are eating the software world — and Kubernetes is the king of containers. So if you are working on any major software project, especially in the enterprise, you will run into it sooner or later. Cloud Foundry, which hosted its semi-annual developer conference in Boston this week, is an interesting example for this.
Outside of the world of enterprise developers, Cloud Foundry remains a bit of an unknown entity, despite having users in at least half of the Fortune 500 companies (though in the startup world, it has almost no traction). If you are unfamiliar with Cloud Foundry, you can think of it as somewhat similar to Heroku, but as an open-source project with a large commercial ecosystem and the ability to run it at scale on any cloud or on-premises installation. Developers write their code (following the twelve-factor methodology), define what it needs to run and Cloud Foundry handles all of the underlying infrastructure and — if necessary — scaling. Ideally, that frees up the developer from having to think about where their applications will run and lets them work more efficiently.
To enable all of this, the Cloud Foundry Foundation made a very early bet on containers, even before Docker was a thing. Since Kubernetes wasn’t around at the time, the various companies involved in Cloud Foundry came together to build their own container orchestration system, which still underpins much of the service today. As it took off, though, the pressure to bring support for Kubernetes grew inside of the Cloud Foundry ecosystem. Last year, the Foundation announced its first major move in this direction by launching its Kubernetes-based Container Runtime for managing containers, which sits next to the existing Application Runtime. With this, developers can use Cloud Foundry to run and manage their new (and existing) monolithic apps and run them in parallel with the new services they develop.
But remember how Cloud Foundry also still uses its own container service for the Application Runtime? There is really no reason to do that now that Kubernetes (and the various other projects in its ecosystem) have become the default of handling containers. It’s maybe no surprise then that there is now a Cloud Foundry project that aims to rip out the old container management systems and replace them with Kubernetes. The container management piece isn’t what differentiates Cloud Foundry, after all. Instead, it’s the developer experience — and at the end of the day, the whole point of Cloud Foundry is that developers shouldn’t have to care about the internal plumbing of the infrastructure.
There is another aspect to how the Cloud Foundry ecosystem is embracing Kubernetes, too. Since Cloud Foundry is also just software, there’s nothing stopping you from running it on top of Kubernetes, too. And with that, it’s no surprise that some of the largest Cloud Foundry vendors, including SUSE and IBM, are doing exactly that.
The SUSE Cloud Application Platform, which is a certified Cloud Foundry distribution, can run on any public cloud Kubernetes infrastructure, including the Microsoft Azure Container service. As the SUSE team told me, that means it’s not just easier to deploy, but also far less resource-intensive to run.
Similarly, IBM is now offering Cloud Foundry on top of Kubernetes for its customers, though it’s only calling this an experimental product for now. IBM’s GM of Cloud Developer Services Don Boulia stressed that IBM’s customers were mostly looking for ways to run their workloads in an isolated environment that isn’t shared with other IBM customers.
Boulia also stressed that for most customers, it’s not about Kubernetes versus Cloud Foundry. For most of his customers, using Kubernetes by itself is very much about moving their existing applications to the cloud. And for new applications, those customers are then opting to run Cloud Foundry.
That’s something the SUSE team also stressed. One pattern SUSE has seen is that potential customers come to it with the idea of setting up a container environment and then, over the course of the conversation, decide to implement Cloud Foundry as well.
Indeed, the message of this week’s event was very much that Kubernetes and Cloud Foundry are complementary technologies. That’s something Chen Goldberg, Google’s Director of Engineering for Container Engine and Kubernetes, also stressed during a panel discussion at the event.
Both the Cloud Foundry Foundation and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of Kubernetes, are under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation. They take somewhat different approaches to their communities, with Cloud Foundry stressing enterprise users far more than the CNCF. There are probably some politics at play here, but for the most part, the two organizations seem friendly enough — and they do share a number of members. “We are part of CNCF and part of Cloud Foundry foundation,” Pivotal CEO Rob Mee told our own Ron Miller. “Those communities are increasingly sharing tech back and forth and evolving together. Not entirely independent and not competitive either. Lot of complexity and subtlety. CNCF and Cloud Foundry are part of a larger ecosystem with complimentary and converging tech.”
We’ll likely see more of this technology sharing — and maybe collaboration — between the CNCF and Cloud Foundry going forward. The CNCF is, after all, the home of a number of very interesting projects for building cloud-native applications that do have their fair share of use cases in Cloud Foundry, too.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 10:45 AM PDT
When Apple launched its new App Store in iOS 11 back in September, it aimed to offer app developers better exposure, as well as a better app discovery experience for consumers. A new study from Sensor Tower out today takes a look at how well that’s been working in the months since. According to its findings, getting a featured spot on the new App Store can increase downloads by as much as 800 percent, with the “App of the Day” or “Game of the Day” spots offering the most impact.
The app store intelligence firm examined data from September 2017 to present day to come to its conclusions, it says.
During this time, median U.S. iPhone downloads for apps that snagged the “Game of the Day” spot increased by 802 percent for the week following the feature, compared to the week prior to being featured.
“App of the Day” apps saw a boost of 685 percent.
Being featured in other ways — like in one of the new App Store Stories or in an App List — also drove downloads higher, by 222 percent and 240 percent, respectively.
The numbers seem to indicate that Apple is achieving the results it wanted with the release of its redesigned App Store.
Over the years, Apple’s app marketplace had grown so large that finding new apps had become challenging. And developers sometimes found ways to bump their apps higher in the top charts for exposure, leaving iPhone owners wondering if a new app was really that popular, or if it was some sort of paid promotion.
The iOS 11 App Store, on the other hand, has taken more of an editorial viewpoint to its app recommendations. While the top charts haven’t gone away, the focus these days is on what Apple thinks is best — not the wisdom of the masses. Apple has applied its editorial eye to things like timely round-ups of apps; curated, thematic collections; as well as articles about apps and interviews with developers. Apple also picks an app and game to feature daily, so the App Store always has fresh content and a reason for users to return.
The end result is something that’s more akin to a publication about apps, instead of a just an app marketplace.
What’s most interesting, then, in Sensor Tower’s report, are what sort of app publishers Apple has chosen to feature.
Apple had touted the App Store changes would be a way to give smaller developers more exposure. But if you’ve popped into the App Store from time to time, you may have noticed that big publishers — not indies — were having their apps featured.
In fact, an early report about the App Store revamp criticized Apple for giving big publishers too much attention. It said that apps from brands like Starbucks and CBS, or game makers like EA and Glu, weren’t exactly hurting for downloads.
But Apple’s favoring of big publishers is only true to a point, says Sensor Tower.
It found that 13 of the top 15 featured publishers (by number of features) had at least one million U.S. iPhone downloads since the launch of the new App Store last September. It’s not surprising that Apple wants to highlight these publishers. Many of them, and particularly the game publishers, have multiple popular apps. So when their apps get an update or they have a new release, consumers pay attention.
Apple, of course, wants to capitalize on that consumer interest because it shares in the revenue app publishers generate through things like paid downloads, in-app purchases and subscriptions.
However, Apple isn’t only giving the limelight to large publishers, says Sensor Tower.
It also found that 29 percent of the apps it has featured since the launch of the revamped App Store were from publishers who had fewer than 10,000 downloads during that time.
“While it's clearly the case that big publishers are more likely to receive the largest number of features, small publishers still very much have their chance to benefit from a feature on the App Store,” said Sensor Tower’s Mobile Insights Analyst, Jonathan Briskman.
Though Sensor Tower’s published report focused only on the iOS App Store, it’s worth noting how it compares with Google Play.
Getting a featured spot on Google’s app store isn’t as impactful, the firm tells TechCrunch. The largest week-over-week increase to the median it saw there was only around 200 percent.
Image credits, all: Sensor Tower
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 09:07 AM PDT
Despite plenty of skepticism over early trailers and the source material itself, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One has been doing very well at the box office. En mi opinion, it made a lot of quality shifts from the book that made it a quality popcorn flick that wasn’t too nerdishly pretentious.
A lot of people in the virtual reality industry had sky-high expectations for the movie to drive people to buying VR headsets, and while that probably isn’t happening, the movie has given an opportunity to a lot of these insiders to showcase how far the technology has come. Today, HTC released a video showing how VR was used in the production of Ready Player One by the actors and the man himself, Steven Spielberg.
The video offers a healthy chunk of heavy-handed PR for Vive. Nevertheless, what’s cool about the video is what it showcases about how acting has changed because of visual effects and how technology platforms can equal the playing field a bit by getting creatives deeper inside visual worlds to deliver edits with a more precise set of tools. As the actors were clad in mo-cap suits, VR offered them a chance to orient themselves.
For Spielberg, himself, VR offered an opportunity to move freely through rough digital environments and frame shots while in full view of the 3D designs. Tech tools like the in-VR editors for game engines that Unity and Epic Games have built have done wonders for game developers wanting to peer inside game worlds, but they also have plenty to offer in more of a view-only sense where non-technical folk can explore details and pipe off commands for what they want a scene or model or environment to look like.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 08:44 AM PDT
RealSelf, an online community where people can ask questions, share their experiences and connect with doctors providing cosmetic treatments, has raised $40 million in new funding — its first round of financing since the $2 million raised in 2008, two years after its founding. The round was led by Elephant, a VC firm co-founded by Warby Parker co-founder Andy Hunt.
Hunt will also join RealSelf’s board of directors with the close of this round.
RealSelf offers one of the largest online communities for those who want to learn more about cosmetic procedures, including plastic surgery and other non-surgical treatments, like Botox injections. It’s the sort of thing people don’t necessarily want to talk about openly on social networks, but RealSelf has found a way to get people to socialize around the topic. Its users — anonymously — post reviews, have discussions, ask questions and even detail their progress in post-op photos series.
Reading through someone’s experiences not only gives people better insight into what a procedure is like, it also provides an emotional support system for those who are recovering.
The idea for the company came from Expedia alum Tom Seery, following a discussion he had with his wife about how hard it was to get the true story about which cosmetic treatments are actually worth the cost and show results. RealSelf’s goal is to bring more transparency to a market where customers before had been sold on promises and hype, often by doctors who would gloss over the downsides — like months spent in painful recovery — or the potential bad outcomes from riskier procedures.
Since its launch, RealSelf has grown to include more than 2 million anonymous patient reviews, ratings and photos regarding hundreds of different aesthetic procedures.
And demand for this sort of information continues to grow, along with the overall market.
Last year, for example, there were more than 17.5 million surgical and non-surgical cosmetic treatments performed in the U.S., up from 13.1 million procedures in 2010, the company notes. Much of that growth comes from minimally invasive, non-surgical treatments, which outpaced surgeries nearly eight to one.
With more people looking for information about these procedures online, RealSelf has seen its visitor counts climb. Last year, nearly 94 million people visited the site from more than 100 countries — a metric that’s up more than 270 percent since 2013; 40 percent of those visitors were from outside the U.S.
In addition to helping users network and review their own treatments, RealSelf also allows doctors to answer users’ questions, create profiles, share their own before-and-after’s and offer consultations to those who contact them.
The company makes money by offering these doctors a way to target their potential customers, and has been profitable for years as a result.
Every month, RealSelf facilitates around 500,000 connections between consumers and doctors, the company says.
The funding will allow RealSelf to add fuel to its fire, says its founder.
"Our investors bring incredible experience and insight in building household name brands and businesses for the long-term. I am thrilled to have Elephant and our other new investors join our roster and welcome Andy to our board," said Seery, in an announcement about the round. "We've bootstrapped RealSelf into a market leading position that helps millions learn about cosmetic treatments and connect with doctors. Now is our time to step on the gas. We are doubling down to grow awareness, drive innovation and extend our global reach to help anyone considering cosmetic treatments make more confident decisions,” he added.
The company, which already has more than 200 employees, plans to hire “significantly” this year, and double its office space in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood in June. It has also just brought on its first CMO, Tanja Omeze, previously the head of marketing for the Amazon Video Store, and who has led marketing at Weight Watchers, Verizon Wireless and Scholastic.
"Tom and the team at RealSelf have done an amazing job building a trusted marketplace where consumers and medical experts come together to share information and connect," said RealSelf’s new board member, Hunt. "Historically, we have invested in companies that provide consumers with transparency in complex markets. RealSelf has built the leading platform allowing consumers to find detailed information, share stories and make better, safer decisions about extremely personal aesthetics choices,” he said.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 07:23 AM PDT
Facebook users in Europe are reporting that the company has started giving them the option to turn on its controversial facial recognition technology.
Jimmy Nsubuga, a journalist at Metro, is among several European Facebook users who have reporting getting notifications asking if they want to turn on face recognition technology.
Facebook has previously said an opt-in option would be pushed out to all European users, and also globally, as part of changes to its T&Cs and consent flow.
In Europe the company is hoping to convince users to voluntarily allow it to deploy the privacy-hostile tech — which was turned off in the bloc after regulatory pressure, back in 2012, when Facebook began using facial recognition to offer features such as automatically tagging users in photo uploads.
But under impending changes to its T&Cs — ostensibly to comply with the EU’s incoming GDPR data protection standard — the company has crafted a manipulative consent flow that tries to sell people on giving it their data; including filling in its own facial recognition blanks by convincing Europeans to agree to it grabbing and using their biometric data after all.
Users who choose not to switch on facial recognition still have to click through a ‘continue’ screen before they get to the off switch. On this screen Facebook attempts to convince them to turn it on — using manipulative examples of how the tech can “protect” them.
As another Facebook user who has also already received the notifications — journalist, Jennifer Baker — points out, what it’s doing here is incredibly disingenuous — because it’s using fear to try to manipulate people’s choices.
Under the EU’s incoming data protection framework Facebook cannot automatically opt users into facial recognition — it has to convince people to switch the tech on themselves. So it is emphasizing that users can choose whether or not to enable the technology.
But data protection experts we spoke to earlier this week do not believe Facebook’s approach to consent will be legal under GDPR.
Essentially, this is big data-powered manipulation of human decision-making — until the ‘right’ answer (for Facebook’s business) is ‘selected’ by the user. In other words, not freely given, informed consent at all.
Legal challenges are certain at this point.
A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed to TechCrunch that any European users who are being asked about the tech now, ahead of the May 25 GDPR deadline, are part of its rollout of platform changes intended to comply with the incoming standard.
“The flow is not a test, it is part of a rollout we are doing across the EU,” she said. “We are asking people for opt-in consent for three things — third party data for ads, facial recognition and the permission to process their sensitive data.”
She also confirmed that Facebook did run a test of “a very similar version of this flow to a small percentage of users in the EU back in March”, adding: “The flow + wording was broadly the same. At all times it was opt-in.”
The problem is, given Facebook controls the entire consent flow, and can rely on big data insights gleaned from its own platform (of 2BN+ users), this is not even remotely a fair fight. Manipulated acceptance is not consent.
But legal challenges take time. And in the meanwhile Facebook users are being socially engineered, with selective examples and friction, into agreeing with things that align with the company’s data-harvesting business interests — handing over sensitive personal data without understanding the full implications of doing so.
It’s not clear exactly how many Facebook users were part of the earlier flow test. It’s likely the company used the aforementioned variations in wording to determine — via an A/B testing process — which consent screens were most successful at convincing people to accept the highly privacy-hostile technology.
Last month — when Facebook said it would be rolling out “a limited test of some of the additional choices we'll ask people to make as part of GDPR” — it also said it would start “by asking only a small percentage of people so that we can be sure everything is working properly”.
Interestingly it did not put a number on how many people were involved in that test. And Facebook’s spokeswoman did not provide an answer when we asked.
The company was likely hoping the test would not attract too much attention — given how much GDPR news is flowing through its PR channels, and how much attention the topic is generally sucking up.
But depending on how successful those tests prove to be at convincing Europeans to let it have and use their facial biometric data, millions of additional Facebook users could soon be providing the company with fresh streams of sensitive data — and having their fundamental rights trampled on, yet again, thanks to a very manipulative consent flow.
This article was updated with a series of corrections after Facebook confirmed the notifications are in fact the rollout of its new consent flow, not part of the earlier tests. It has also told us categorically that no users were auto-enrolled in facial recognition tech in Europe — even in the test. So we’ve updated this article accordingly.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 07:07 AM PDT
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson revealed on Thursday the carrier’s plans to launch another live TV service called “AT&T Watch,” which would offer a cheap, $15-per-month bundle of channels for customers, and be provided to AT&T Unlimited Wireless subscribers for free. At this price point, the service would be one of the lowest on the market — less than Sling TV’s entry-level, $20-per-month package, and just a bit less than Philo’s low-cost, sports-free offering, priced at $16 per month.
Stephenson, who’s in court defending the proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner against antitrust claims, announced the service on the witness stand. He held up the soon-to-arrive AT&T Watch as a rebuttal of sorts to the Justice Department’s point about the company’s continually climbing prices for its DirecTV satellite service, according to a report from Variety.
The Justice Department is concerned that if the merger goes through, AT&T will then raise prices on Time Warner’s Turner networks, like TNT, TBS and CNN in a way that would hurt other pay TV providers.
Few other details were offered regarding AT&T Watch, beyond its price point — which is due to the fact that it will also be a sports-free offering, like Philo.
But AT&T’s advantage over competitors is the distribution provided by its AT&T Wireless business. Although its existing streaming service DirecTV Now is one of the newest on the market, it has already reached No. 2 in terms of subscribers, falling behind Sling TV.
Beyond its lack of sports, the channel lineup for AT&T Watch was not discussed, nor was an exact launch date.
Stephenson said the company hoped to launch it in the next few weeks.
Posted: 20 Apr 2018 06:15 AM PDT
IkeaBot is a project built at Control Robotics Intelligence (CRI) group at NTU in Singapore. The team began by teaching robots to insert pins and manipulate IKEA parts, then, slowly, they began to figure out how to pit the robots against the furniture. The results, if you’ve ever fought with someone trying to put together a Billy, are heartening.
In other words the robots are semi-autonomous but never get frustrated and can use basic heuristics to figure out next steps. The robots can now essentially assemble chairs in about 20 minutes, a feat that I doubt many of us can emulate. You can watch the finished dance here, in all its robotic glory.
The best part? Even robots get frustrated and fling parts around:
I, for one, welcome our IKEA chair manufacturing robotic overlords.
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