General News

N26 faces criticism regarding its identification processes

TechCrunch - 5 hours 6 min ago

Fintech startup N26 is growing quite rapidly. Building a startup is hard, but building a startup that manages your bank account is even harder given the increased scrutiny. German weekly magazine Wirtschaftswoche published an article that questioned N26’s identification processes. According to Wirtschaftswoche, it’s quite easy to create an account with a fake ID document.

“One or two people got through with a fake ID document. And we detected that afterward. Unfortunately, we didn't detect it in real time,” co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf told me. “Unfortunately, it can happen.”

But Stalf also insisted that it’s not a widespread problem and that all banks face the same issue. According to him, N26 complies with all regulations when it comes to onboarding.

Currently, N26 has three different procedures depending on the country and works with a third-party company called SafeNed for some of the verification procedures.

In many countries, you can initiate a video call with someone so that they can check your ID and compare it with your face. In Germany, you can also print a document, go to the post office with an ID document and make a post employee check that you are actually you.

In some countries, you can open an N26 account by uploading a photo of your ID document and a selfie. Other banks also take advantage of this procedure. For instance, it’s a common process in the U.K.

More generally, other banks also have to deal with fake ID documents. But security is never perfect. That’s why you can’t simply eradicate the issue. You can try to keep the fake ID rate as low as possible.

“Security is our top priority at N26, which is why secure identification processes and constant review of our security and monitoring mechanisms to prevent identity theft are of great importance to the company,” the company told me in a statement.

In other words, N26 monitors this fake ID rate. And N26 also has ongoing transaction monitoring for those who have already opened a bank account. The company tries to detect fraudulent activity as quickly as possible.

You might think that uploading a photo of your ID document leads to more fraudulent activity. But N26 has noticed that there’s a higher fraud rate for customers who go to the post office to check their ID document.

So fraud is nothing new in the banking industry. Nobody has eradicated fraud, and nobody will. In fact, many startups (such as DreamQuark) are working on improving fraud detection using machine learning and more sophisticated processes. But even artificial intelligence won’t solve this problem altogether.

All eyes are on N26 because it’s the hot new thing. But if you look at what’s happening, it’s a pretty boring story. “In one of the articles they said we used weaker method to grow faster. This is complete bullshit,” Stalf told me.

This story is a great example that it can be tough to manage your startup’s reputation. Building trust takes a long time. But it can go away much more quickly. That might be why N26 debunked the issue so intensely.

Here’s N26’s full statement:

Security is our top priority at N26, which is why secure identification processes and constant review of our security and monitoring mechanisms to prevent identity theft are of great importance to the company.

After the customer’s identity is verified, we carry out ongoing transaction monitoring along with numerous other security measures, in a bid to prevent criminal activity such as money laundering and terrorist financing.

We therefore take the findings put forward by Wirtschaftswoche very seriously, will analyse the facts and take appropriate measures if necessary.

Contrary to the statement in Wirtschaftswoche, the use of photo verification by N26 is legally compliant. N26 works with a regulated payment service provider, SafeNed, in this regard. SafeNed is a UK business which is authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) with regards to the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing. SafeNed verifies its customers using the Photo Ident process, which is compliant with UK law.

According to the German Money Laundering Act, N26 is allowed to use a third party regulated in the EU, in this case a payment service provider in the UK, for the verification of customers (Section 17 (1) GwG). The respective verification procedure is then determined by the law applicable to the third party (in the above example, therefore, by UK law). This understanding is also confirmed by BaFin in its interpretation and application notes on the German Money Laundering Act (p. 67 et seq.) for customers not resident in Germany.

Categories: General News

Twitter makes it easier to see enforcement taken on reported tweets

TechCrunch - 5 hours 17 min ago

Twitter is making a change to how its tweet reporting procedures will work. Before, Twitter had experimented with both showing or hiding the tweet you reported, but users told the company they sometimes needed to refer back to the tweet – like when they’re trying to report it to law enforcement, for example. Now, Twitter says it will hide the tweet behind an informational notice, but allow you to tap the notice to view the tweet again.

In addition, the company is also making it more transparent to users whether a deleted tweet was deleted by the user or because Twitter took an action. If the latter, these same informational notices will display.

Going forward, Twitter says that once it has determined that a tweet should be deleted, it will display a notice that states the tweet is unavailable because it violated the Twitter Rules. This will also include a link to those rules and an article that provides details on how Twitter enforces its rules.

This notice will be displayed both on the account’s profile and on the specific tweet’s page for 14 days after the tweet is deleted.

This will roll out to the Twitter app and on the web in the coming weeks, the company says.

Meanwhile, if you’re the one who reported a tweet, Twitter will hide this tweet from your view.

In the past, Twitter had tried both showing and hiding the reported tweet, because some users said they needed to access it for other reasons, while others simply never wanted to see it again. Most recently, Twitter had been hiding the reported tweets, we’re told.

The new process offers a compromise between showing and hiding these tweets.

While the tweet is hidden by default, if you do need to see it, the option is available with a tap on the notice.

The company demonstrates what this reporting and enforcement flow looks like, in a video it shared on its Twitter Safety account, posted this morning.

You don’t want to see a Tweet you’ve reported, but you do want to know we’ve done something about it. And all those Tweets that break our rules? You should know we’ve done something about them too.

Here’s what these Tweets will look like now.

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 17, 2018

The change is the latest in a series of updates, feature release, and new procedures and policies that Twitter has been rolling out in recent months. The company has been trying to crack down on the rampant abuse and harassment that occurs on its platform, while also being careful about making sure its rules are understood and properly enforced.

Not everyone believes that Twitter is doing a good job at this yet, or that it will ever really be able to solve issues around online abuse and hate speech, which afflict so many social media platforms today.

Categories: General News

Tumblr says it’s fixed a security bug, but says ‘no evidence’ any user data was exposed

TechCrunch - 5 hours 20 min ago

Tumblr has disclosed a security vulnerability on its site that in some cases could have exposed account information.

The bug was found in the part of the site that recommends other Tumblr blogs to users, according to a blog post. The blogging site said the “recommended blogs” module — only visible to logged-in users — could have exposed some account information associated with the blog.

Tumblr didn’t disclose much about how the bug worked, but said that a blog owner’s email address, scrambled password (both hashed and salted) and their self-reported location, as well as previously used email addresses and the last login IP address.

The discovering security researcher contacted Tumblr and the bug was fixed within a day, and the bug finder was awarded an unknown amount from Tumblr’s bug bounty program. (Disclosure: Tumblr and TechCrunch are both owned by Oath, a division of Verizon.)

Tumblr said that it has so far found “no evidence” that the bug was abused and “nothing to suggest” that unprotected account information was accessed, but wanted to “be transparent” about the incident.

That’s good news on one hand, but it’s early days and that may change. It’s near-impossible for companies to confirm for absolute certain that a bug wasn’t exploited, often until data turns up somewhere. And, because often bugs exploit vulnerabilities in software that look like authorized commands, it’s difficult to differentiate between legitimate and malicious data requests.

Tumblr’s disclosure is the latest incident in a string of security blunders at high profile tech companies. Facebook recently confirmed 29 million accounts were improperly accessed, Twitter said that a year-long bug could have exposed some private direct messages, and just last week Google said it would shut down its Google+ social network after a security incident exposed a half-million accounts.

Unlike Google, which only came clean about the bug after the decision not to inform customers was revealed by the Wall Street Journal, at least Tumblr went public before it was forced to.

A Tumblr spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Categories: General News

Elon Musk plans to buy another $20 million in Tesla stock

TechCrunch - 5 hours 45 min ago

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the company’s largest shareholder, intends to buy another $20 million in common stock, a move that appears to be in response to a recent settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to a filing Wednesday.

The 8-K document detailed a settlement agreement between Musk, Tesla and the SEC over allegations of securities fraud connected to his August 7 “funding secured” tweet about taking the electric automaker private. A federal judge approved the settlement Tuesday.

At the bottom of the 8-K, Tesla outlined Musk’s plans to buy $20 million in stock. The statement read:

Separate and apart from the settlement, Elon has notified Tesla that he intends to purchase from Tesla, and Tesla expects that it will issue and sell to Elon, $20 million of Tesla’s common stock during the next open trading window at the then-current market price.

As part of the settlement, Musk has agreed to pay a $20 million fine and step down as chairman of the board for at least three years. He will still keep a board seat and has not admitted or denied any of the SEC’s allegations.

Tesla will pay a separate $20 million fine. The company also agreed to monitor and pre-approve Musk’s communications through channels such as Twitter and the Tesla blog to determine if any of the information is material, and thereby should be disclosed.

Categories: General News

Crypto Quantique unveils its ‘quantum driven secure chip’ for IoT devices

TechCrunch - 5 hours 53 min ago

With Gartner estimating that there will be 150 billion connected devices by 2030 — many of them mission critical, such as powering major national infrastructure — the risk and realisation that these devices aren’t secured properly is leading some cyber security experts to predict that there is a large-scale disaster waiting to happen. And the problem is only getting worse. By some estimates, on average there are 127 new devices connected to the internet every second.

Enter: Crypto Quantique, a startup out of company builder Entrepreneur First that has been patiently toiling away for the last couple of years trying to solve the IoT security problem. Specifically, the company has developed what it claims is “the world’s first quantum driven secure chip (QDSC)” on silicon, which, when combined with cryptographic APIs, it says is capable of providing any connected device with a scalable and easy to implement “end-to-end” security solution.

Moreover, by employing advanced techniques in cryptography and quantum physics, its makers say the Crypto Quantique QDSC is unique to every device and entirely unclonable, which makes it almost impossible to hack. That’s quite a claim.

“There are security complexities in IoT, many stakeholders, including OEMs, manufacturers, integrators and designers are involved in developing and implementing the IoT,” Shahram Mossayebi, co-founder of Crypto Quantique, told me over email. “Each stakeholder is faced with different threat vectors and thus has different security requirements and produces devices based on very different architectures. Currently there is no clear approach to securing the IoT, which is also impacted by the lack of basic security tools that would allow stakeholders to build their own security solutions”.

To that end, he explained that security must start from the device, then travel through the network and finally reach the IoT device’s backend services. In other words, proper end-to-end security is required to protect IoT devices and infrastructure.

At the heart of this is “root of trust” — the ability for a device to authenticate itself and be a trusted member of a network — which, conversely, is also the weakest link. Data traveling throughout the network also needs strong encryption, of course. Finally, with IoT devices being in the billions, there’s an issue of cost: any secure solution can’t be prohibitively expensive to implement on a per device basis or be fragmented across multiple third-party providers.

“We have created a root-of-trust by harnessing quantum processes in semiconductors to generate unique, unclonable and tamper evident cryptographic keys,” says Mossayebi. “We call it quantum driven secure chip (QDSC) and it is the first ever of its kind in the world. Because of the uniqueness and way in which the keys are generated there is no requirement to store the keys on the device because the keys can be retrieved on demand. This eliminates secure storage requirements and leakage of sensitive information.

“In addition to building the QDSC, we also provide the cryptographic APIs and manage the end to end security to remove the multiple parties involved in the security chain and provide an all-in-one solution. This means there are no ‘open windows’ in connectivity when it comes to security. Once a QDSC is placed in a device it links directly to the owner system (i.e. public or private cloud) through CQ’s cryptographic APIs, where it is managed automatically and remotely while the device is in the field. This is the most advanced security product for the IoT, enabling new industrial revolutions such as Industry 4.0”.

As I said, big (and very interesting) claims, indeed.

On that note, Mossayebi says Crypto Quantique is aimed at any connected device that needs to stay secure, from traffic lights to a SCADA machine used in critical infrastructure. “Currently, we are working with leaders in different fields such as defence, aerospace, energy, industrial IoT manufacturers and enterprise hardware appliance manufacturers. The applications vary from securing satellites and drones to securing energy grids, sensors in critical infrastructure and data centres,” he says.

Categories: General News

UK health minister sets out tech-first vision for future care provision

TechCrunch - 5 hours 53 min ago

The UK’s still fairly new in post minister for health, Matt Hancock, quickly made technology one of his stated priorities. And today he’s put more meat on the bones of his thinking, setting out a vision for transforming, root and branch, how the country’s National Health Service operates to accommodate the plugging in of “healthtech” apps and services — to support tech-enabled “preventative, predictive and personalised care”.

How such a major IT upgrade program would be paid for is not clearly set out in the policy document. But the government writes that it is “committed to working with partners” to deliver on its grand vision.

“Our ultimate objective is the provision of better care and improved health outcomes for people in England,” Hancock writes in the ‘future of healthcare’ policy document. “But this cannot be done without a clear focus on improving the technology used by the 1.4 million NHS staff, 1.5 million-strong social care workforce and those many different groups who deliver and plan health and care services for the public.”

The minister is proposing that NHS digital services and IT systems will have to meet “a clear set of open standards” to ensure interoperability and updatability.

Meaning that existing systems that don’t meet the incoming standards will need to be phased out and ripped out over time.

The tech itself that NHS trusts and clinical commissioners can choose to buy will not be imposed upon them from above. Rather the stated intent is to encourage “competition on user experience and better tools for everyone”, says Hancock.

In a statement, the health and social care secretary said: “The tech revolution is coming to the NHS. These robust standards will ensure that every part of the NHS can use the best technology to improve patient safety, reduce delays and speed up appointments.

“A modern technical architecture for the health and care service has huge potential to deliver better services and to unlock our innovations. We want this approach to empower the country’s best innovators — inside and outside the NHS — and we want to hear from staff, experts and suppliers to ensure our standards will deliver the most advanced health and care service in the world.”

The four stated priorities for achieving the planned transformation are infrastructure (principally but not only related to patient records); digital services; innovation; and skills and culture:

“Our technology infrastructure should allow systems to talk to each other safely and securely, using open standards for data and interoperability so people have confidence that their data is up to date and in the right place, and health and care professionals have access to the information they need to provide care,” the document notes.  

The ‘tech for health’ vision — which lacks any kind of timeframe whatsoever — loops in an assortment of tech-fuelled case studies, from applying AI for faster diagnoses (as DeepMind has been trying) to Amazon Alexa skills being used as a memory aid for social care. And envisages, as a future success metric, that “a healthy person can stay healthy and active (using wearables, diet-tracking apps) and can co-ordinate with their GP or other health professional about targeted preventative care”.

The ‘techiness’ of the vision is unsurprising, given Hancock was previously the UK’s digital minister and has made no secret of his love of apps. Even having an app of his own developed to connect with his constituents (aka the eponymous Matt Hancock App — albeit running into some controversy for problems with the app’s privacy policy).

Hancock has also been a loud advocate for (and a personal user of) London-based digital healthcare startup Babylon Health, whose app initially included an AI diagnostic chatbot, in addition to offering video and text consultations with (human) doctors and specialists.

The company has partnered with the NHS for a triage service, and to offer a digital alternative to a traditional primary care service via an app that offers remote consultations (called GP at Hand).

But the app has also faced criticism from healthcare professionals. The AI chatbot component specifically has been attacked by doctors for offering incorrect and potentially dangerous diagnosis advice to patients. This summer Babylon pulled the AI element out of the app, leaving the bot to serve unintelligent triage advice — such as by suggesting people go straight to A&E even with just a headache. (Thereby, said its critics, piling pressure on already over-stretched NHS hospital services.)

All of which underlines some of the pitfalls of scrambling too quickly to squash innovation and healthcare together.

The demographic cherrypicking that can come inherently bundled with digital healthcare apps which are most likely to appeal to younger users (who have fewer complex health problems) is another key criticism of some of these shiny, modern services — with the argument being they impact non-digital NHS primary care services by saddling the bricks-and-mortar bits with more older, sicker patients to care for while the apps siphon off (and monetize) mostly the well, tech-savvy young.

Hancock’s pro-tech vision for upgrading the UK’s healthcare service doesn’t really engage with that critique of modern tech services having a potentially unequal impact on a free-at-the-point-of-use, taxpayer-funded health service.

Rather, in a section on “inclusion”, the vision document talks about the need to “design for, and with, people with different physical, mental health, social, cultural and learning needs, and for people with low digital literacy or those less able to access technology”. But without saying exactly how that might be achieved, given the overarching thrust being to reconfigure the NHS to be mobile-first, tech-enabled and tech-fuelled. 

“Different people may need different services and some people will never use digital services themselves directly but will benefit from others using digital services and freeing resources to help them,” runs the patter. “We must acknowledge that those with the greatest health needs are also the most at risk of being left behind and build digital services with this in mind, ensuring the highest levels of accessibility wherever possible.”

So the risk is being acknowledged — yet in a manner and context that suggests it’s simultaneously being dismissed, or elbowed out of the way, in the push for technology-enabled progress.

Hancock also appears willing to tolerate some iterative tech missteps — again towards a ‘greater good’ of modernizing the tech used to deliver NHS services so it can be continuously responsive to user needs, via updates and modular plugins, all greased by patient data being made reliably available via the envisaged transformation.

Though there is a bit of a cautionary caveat for healthcare startups like Babylon too. At least if they make actual clinical claims, with the document noting that: “We must be careful to ensure that we follow clinical trials where the new technology is clinical but also to ensure we have appropriate assurance processes that recognise when an innovation can be adopted faster. We must learn to adopt, iterate and continuously improve innovations, and support those who are working this way.”

Another more obvious contradiction is Hancock’s claim that “privacy and security” is one of four guiding principles for the vision (alongside “user need; interoperability and openness; and inclusion”), yet this is rubbing up against active engagement with the idea of sensitive social care data being processed by and hosted by a commercial ecommerce giant like Amazon, for example.

The need for patient trust and buy in gets more than passing mention, though. And there’s a pledge to introduce “a healthtech regulatory sandbox working with the ICO, National Data Guardian, NICE and other regulators” to provide support and an easier entry route for developers wanting to build health apps to sell in to the NHS, with the government also saying it will take other steps to “simplify the landscape for innovators”.

“If data is to be used effectively to support better health and care outcomes, it is essential that the public has trust and confidence in us and can see robust data governance, strong safeguards and strict penalties in place for misuse,” the policy document notes. 

Balancing support for data-based digital innovation, including where data-thirsty technologies like AI are concerned, with respect for the privacy of people’s highly sensitive health data will be a tricky act for the government to steer, though. Perhaps especially given Hancock is so keenly rushing to embrace the market.

“We need to build nationally only those few services that the market can’t provide and that must be done once and for everyone, such as a secure login and granular access to date,” runs the ministerial line. “This may mean some programmes need to be stopped.”

Although he also writes that there is a “huge role” for the NHS, care providers and commissioners to “develop solutions and co-create them with industry”.

“Some of our user needs are unique, like carers in a particular geographical location or patients using assistive technologies. Or sometimes we can beat something to market because we know what we need and are motivated to solve the problem first.

“In those circumstances where industry won’t see the economies of scale they need to invest, we must be empowered to build our own digital services, often running on our data and networks. We will do that according to the government’s Digital Service Standard, and within the minimal rules we set for our infrastructure.”

“We also want to reassure those who are currently building products that we have no intention or desire to close off the market – in fact we want exactly the opposite,” the document also notes. “We want to back innovations that can improve our health and care system, wherever they can be found – and we know that some of the best innovations are being driven by clinicians and staff up and down the country.”

Among the commercial entities currently building products targeted at the NHS is Google -owned DeepMind, which got embroiled in a privacy controversy related to a data governance failure by the NHS Trust it worked with to co-develop an app for the early detection of a kidney condition.

DeepMind’s health data ambitions expand beyond building alert apps or even crafting diagnostic AIs to also wanting to build out and own healthcare app delivery infrastructure (aka, a fast healthcare interoperability resource, or FHIR) — which, in the aforementioned project, was bundled into the app contract with the Royal Free NHS Trust, locking the trust into sending data to DeepMind’s servers by prohibiting it from connecting to other FHIR servers. So not at all a model vision of interoperability.

Earlier this year DeepMind’s own independent reviewer panel warned there was a risk of the company gaining excessive monopoly power. And Hancock’s vision for health tech seems to be proposing to outlaw such contractual lock ins. Though it remains to be seen whether the guiding principle will stand up to the inexorable tech industry lobbying.

“We will set national open standards for data, interoperability, privacy and confidentiality, real-time data access, cyber security and access rules,” the vision grandly envisages.

“Open standards are not an abstract technical goal. They permit interoperability between different regions and systems but they also, crucially, permit a modular approach to IT in the NHS, where tools can be pulled and replaced with better alternatives as vendors develop better products. This, in turn, will help produce market conditions that drive innovation, in an ecosystem where developers and vendors continuously compete on quality to fill each niche, rather than capturing users.”

Responding to Hancock’s health tech plan, Sam Smith, coordinator of patient data privacy advocacy group medConfidential, told us: “There’s not much detail in here. It’s not so much ‘jam tomorrow’, as ‘jam… sometime’ — there’s no timeline, and jam gets pretty rancid after not very long. He says “these are standards”, but they’re just a vision for standards — all the hard work is left to be done.”

On the privacy plus AI front, Smith also picks up on Hancock’s vision including suggestive support for setting up “data trusts to facilitate the ethical sharing of data between organisations”, with the document reiterating the government’s plan to launch a pilot later this year. 

“Hancock says “we are supportive” of stripping the NHS of its role in oversight of commercial exploitation of data. Who is the “we” in that as it should be a cause for widespread concern. If Matt thinks the NHS will never get data right, what does he know that the public don’t?” said Smith on this.

He also points out at previous grand scheme attempts to overhaul NHS IT — most notably the uncompleted NHS National Programme for IT, which in the early 2000s tried and failed to deliver a top-down digitization of the service — taking a decade and sinking billions in the process.

“The widely criticised National Programme for IT also started out with similar lofty vision,” he noted. “This is yet another political piece saying what “good looks like”, but none of the success criteria are about patients getting better care from the NHS. For that, better technology has to be delivered on a ward, and in a GP surgery, and the many other places that the NHS and social care touch. Reforming procurement and standards do matter, and will help, but it helps in the same way a good accountant helps — and that’s not by having a vision of better accounting.”

On the vision’s timeframe, a Department of Health spokesman told us: “Today marks the beginning of a conversation between technology experts across the NHS, regulatory bodies and industry as we refine the standards and consider timeframes and details. The iterated standards document will be published in December once we receive feedback and the mandate will be rolled out gradually.

“We have been clear that we will phase out any system which does not meet these standards, will not procure systems which do not comply and will look to end contracts with suppliers who do not meet the standards.”

Categories: General News

Lyft hires former United Airlines exec to lead market expansion

TechCrunch - 5 hours 54 min ago

Lyft has brought on former United Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Julia Haywood to serve as its VP of Strategy. The plan is for her to own Lyft’s market expansion efforts and accelerate growth.

“I’m excited to see Julia make a huge impact here at Lyft,” said Jon McNeill, chief operating officer at Lyft. “We are in a period of hypergrowth, and as the complexity of our product offerings and organization increases, Julia’s hands-on approach to tackling challenges is just what we need to best-position us for the future.”

That future likely entails an initial public offering. Just yesterday, news broke that Lyft has selected JPMorgan Chase & Co. as the lead underwriter of its IPO, along with Credit Suisse Group and Jeffries Group. According to the WSJ, Lyft’s valuation will exceed $15.1 billion.

Since joining Lyft from Tesla in February, McNeill has made numerous hires to the team, including a handful from Tesla.

In September, Lyft hit one billion rides. Earlier that month, Lyft officially entered the scooter-sharing space when it launched electric scooters in Denver, Colo. Lyft has since deployed its scooters in Santa Monica, Calif. as part of the city’s pilot program. Lyft’s entrance into scooters came close after its acquisition of bike-share company Motivate.

Lyft’s $299 subscription plan is launching to the masses

Categories: General News

Spotify takes a stake in DistroKid, will support cross-platform music uploads in Spotify for Artists

TechCrunch - 5 hours 57 min ago

Spotify has taken a minority stake in music distribution service, DistroKid, a popular tool used by artists for uploading their music across platforms. The company didn’t confirm the size of its stake, only saying that it made a “passive minority investment.” As a result of the deal, Spotify will also upgrade its Spotify for Artists service to include an integration with DistroKid that allows artists to simultaneously upload content to other platforms.

“For the past five years, DistroKid has served as a go-to service for hundreds of thousands independent artists, helping them deliver their tracks to digital music services around the world, and reaching fans however they choose to consume music,” the company announced in a blog post about the deal.

Spotify was already a partner with DistroKid ahead of this news. However, DistroKid’s service currently allows musicians an easy way to get their tunes to Spotify competitors, too, including Apple, Amazon, Google Play, TIDAL, iHeartRadio, YouTube, Pandora, Deezer, and over 150 other music streaming services and stores.

Given DistroKid’s formerly agnostic position in the industry, Spotify’s investment is likely to cause a stir. It’s unclear for now how Spotify rivals will react to the move.

Spotify declined to disclose any financial details, when asked by TechCrunch, but a spokesperson clarified that it did not acquire the company, does not have a board seat, and that DistroKid remains independent. It also said that it has no rights to see the data from other digital service providers and DistroKid will not share confidential information.

Asked if planned to take a cut of sales of DistroKid subscriptions, currently $19.99 per year, Spotify said it doesn’t have that information to offer at this time. “We’ll announce full details when we’re ready to open the integration to artists,” we were told.

It seems, then, that Spotify – for now, at least – largely wanted to solidify its relationship with DistroKid for the purposes of the work it has planned regarding the upcoming technical integrations, in addition to establishing an expanded business relationship in general.

Spotify says it will soon roll out a new tool that will allow musicians to upload to DistroKid through Spotify for Artists.

Launched out of beta last year, Spotify for Artists is the streaming service’s online dashboard that allows musicians and their management teams a way to easily update their profile information, track their streams, and gain insights about their fan bases. In September 2018, Spotify announced a major new feature for the service as well – music uploads. The company said that artists would be able to use a beta upload feature to send their tracks directly to Spotify, as well as edit the metadata around those files, and track the songs’ performance.

DistroKid’s integration will complement this new feature, by offering the ability to upload elsewhere, too.

Spotify did not say when it expects the integrations to go live, only that it would be in the “near future.”

Categories: General News

How to download your data from Apple

TechCrunch - 6 hours 38 min ago

Good news! Apple now allows U.S. customers to download a copy of their data, months after rolling out the feature to EU customers.

But don’t be disappointed when you get your download and find there’s almost nothing in there. Earlier this year when I requested my own data (before the portal feature rolled out), Apple sent me a dozen spreadsheets with my purchase and order history, a few iCloud logs, and some of my account information. The data will date back to when you opened your account, but may not include recent data if Apple has no reason to retain it.

But because most Apple data is stored on your devices, it can’t turn over what it doesn’t have. And any data it collects from Apple News, Maps and Siri is anonymous and can’t attribute to individual users.

Apple has a short support page explaining the kind of data it will send back to you.

If you’re curious — here’s how you get your data.

1. Go to Apple’s privacy portal

You need to log in to with your Apple ID and password, and enter your two-factor authentication code if you have it set-up.

2. Request a copy of your data

From here, tap on “Obtain a copy of your data” and select the data that you would like to download — or hit “select all.” You will also have the option of splitting the download into smaller portions.

3. Go through the account verification steps

Apple will verify that you’re the account holder, and may ask you for several bits of information. Once the data is ready to download, you’ll get a notification that it’s available for download, and you’ll have two weeks to download the .zip file.

If the “obtain your data” option isn’t immediately available, it may still take time to roll out to all customers.

Apple overhauls its privacy pages, and now lets U.S. customers download their own data

Categories: General News

These are the most successful companies to emerge from Y Combinator

TechCrunch - 6 hours 49 min ago

Earlier this month, Brex, a credit card provider to startups, announced it had raised $125 million at a $1.1 billion valuation.

The round was impressive for a couple of reasons: The founders are a pair of 22-year-olds that had set out to build a virtual reality company before pivoting to payments, and they had only completed Y Combinator, a well-known Silicon Valley startup accelerator, the year prior.

Y Combinator is responsible for many successes in the startup world, certainly more than its fellow accelerators, which are all known to provide early-stage companies with a seed investment — in YC’s case, $150,000 — mentorship and educational resources through a short-term program that culminates in a demo day.

Today, YC has released the latest list of its most successful companies since it began backing startups in 2005. Ranked by valuation and/or market cap, Brex, sure enough, is the youngest company to crack the top 20:

  1. Airbnb: An online travel community and room-sharing platform founded by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk. Valuation: $31 billion. YC W2009.
  2. Stripe: A provider of an online payment processing system for internet businesses founded by John and Patrick Collison. Valuation: $20 billion. YC S2009.
  3. Cruise: Acquired by GM in 2006, the company is building autonomous vehicles. It was founded by Kyle Vogt and Daniel Kan. Valuation: $14 billion. YC W2014.
  4. Dropbox: A file hosting service and workplace collaboration platform founded by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi that went public in March. Market cap: >$10 billion. YC S2007.
  5. Instacart: A grocery and home essentials delivery service founded by Apoorva Mehta, Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo. Valuation: $7.6 billion. YC S2012.
  6. Machine Zone: A mobile games company, founded by Mike Sherrill, Gabriel Leydon and Halbert Nakagawa, known for “Game of War.” Valuation: >$5 billion. YC W2008.
  7. DoorDash: An app-based food delivery service founded by Tony Xu, Stanley Tang and Andy Fang. Valuation: $4 billion. YC S2013.
  8. Zenefits: The provider of human resources software for small and medium-sized businesses founded by Laks Srini and Parker Conrad. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2013.
  9. Gusto: The provider of software that automates and simplifies payroll for businesses, founded by Josh Reeves, Tomer London and Edward Kim. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2012.
  10.  Reddit: An online platform for conversation and thousands of communities founded by Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman. Valuation: $1.8 billion. YC S2005.
  11.  Coinbase: A digital cryptocurrency exchange and wallet platform founded by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. Valuation ~$1.6 billion. YC S2012.
  12.  PagerDuty: A digital ops management platform for businesses founded by Baskar Puvanathasan, Andrew Miklas and Alex Solomon. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2012.
  13.  Docker: A platform for applications that gives developers the freedom to build, manage and secure business-critical applications, founded by Solomon Hykes and Sebastien Pahl. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2010.
  14.  Ginkgo Bioworks: A biotech company focused on designing custom microbes founded by Reshma Shetty, Jason Kelly, Barry Canton and others. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC S2014.
  15.  Rappi: A Latin American on-demand delivery startup founded by Felipe Villamarin, Simon Borrero and Sebastian Mejia. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC W2016.
  16.  Brex: A B2B financial startup that provides corporate cards to startups. Its founders include Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2017.
  17.  GitLab: A developer service founded by Sid Sijbrandij and Dmitriy Zaporozhets that aims to offer a full lifecycle DevOps platform. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2015.
  18.  Twitch: An Amazon-acquired live-streaming platform for video games used by millions. Its founders include Emmett Shear, Justin Kan, Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt. YC W2007.
  19.  Flexport: A logistics company that moves freight globally by air, ocean, rail and truck founded by Ryan Petersen. Valuation: ~$1 billion. YC W2014.
  20.  Mixpanel: A user analytics platform that helps each person at a business understand its users, founded by Suhail Doshi and Tim Trefren. Valuation: >$865 million. YC S2009.

The full list of Y Combinator’s 100 most successful companies is available here.

Y Combinator is changing up the way it invests

Categories: General News

Hulu adds a dark mode on the web

TechCrunch - 6 hours 51 min ago

Rejoice, dark mode fans. Hulu is joining YouTube and YouTube TV as the streaming video service to embrace a dark theme – something that gives video sites a more cinematic look and feel (as Netflix already knows). The company says it will begin to roll out its new “Night Mode” starting today to all users of Hulu on the web.

The theme, which can be enabled in the settings, can also help reduce eye strain and glare in low light, Hulu notes. That’s useful for those who are watching on laptops, while curled up on the sofa or bed – as many web users are today.

While Hulu has timed the launch to coincide with its offering of creepy “Huluween” content, it says the feature is a permanent addition. However, it wouldn’t yet confirm if the dark mode will expand to other Hulu platforms. Instead, the company says it will listen to user feedback to find out if that’s something people want on their other devices, like phones and tablets.

This the first time Hulu has offered a dark theme of any sort, it notes.

Dark themes have become increasingly popular with a subset of users, especially as people spend more time on their devices, reading, interacting with, and streaming content. A number of big-name apps now offer dark themes, including YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Telegram, Instapaper, Pocket, Feedly, Medium, Wikipedia, IMDb, Apple Books, Kindle, and many others.

The feature will be live on Hulu’s site at 9:30 AM PT.

Categories: General News

The new normal

TechCrunch - 6 hours 54 min ago

When we first started writing about startups at TechCrunch the idea of a startup – a small business with global ambitions – was a pipe dream. How could a side hustle like Twitter turn into a mouthpiece for heroes and villains? How could a video uploading service like YouTube destroy the media industry? How could a blog – a blog written by a perpetually exhausted ex-lawyer from his bedroom – upturn and change the entire process of building, growing, and selling ideas?

But it happened. In a few years – between 2005 and 2010 – the world changed. TechCrunch became aspirational reading. Millions of would-be entrepreneurs sat in their cubicles scrolling down the river, wondering when it would be their turn to hold a comically large check from a VC in a fleece vest. I distinctly remember talking to two Dutch startuppers in 2007. They told me about a good idea they had based on scientific work they had done. They asked, quite simply, if they should quit their jobs. Three years before the question would have been ludicrous. Give up a cushy job in academia for a long shot? Absolutely not.

But on that afternoon, two years into the startup revolution when getting funding was as easy as getting a post on TechCrunch, the long shot was the better bet.

Now we’re facing a new normal and many of the advances wrought in those years are being reversed. In 2014, risk aversion and VC bag-holding behavior slowed angel and seed investment and startup growth beyond the behemoth b2b solution stalled. Further, an insipid culture of the Creamery, conferences, “passion,” and Allbirds. As I traveled the world I noticed that every city – from St. Louis to Skopje – went through the motions of post TechCrunch-style entrepreneurship. Every city had its own conferences replete with mason jars of wheatgrass smoothie and cuddle rooms where co-founders could emotion-hack their feelings. Members of the speaker circuit told one of two stories – “You can do it!” or “You’re doing it wrong!” – and pitch-offs and hackathons sprung up like kudzu across the globe.

But the amount of VC cash available to support these dreamers is shrinking. It is easy to enter into the entrepreneurial lifestyle but it is far harder to build an entrepreneurial life. One friend quit his job four years ago and is now cashing out IRAs. Other folks I know are taking a break from startups and are nestling into the warm confines of a desk job. The bloom is off the rose.

At the same time I’ve been watching the ICO – or now Security Token Offering – markets explode. In a few short years a massive wealth redistribution has made a few bold folks very rich and their startups are becoming funds in themselves. Thanks to the egalitarian nature of crypto you can take money from a fifteen year old in Zagreb and a mafia bookkeeper in Moscow as easily as you could get it on Sand Hill Road in 2006. Arguably this new market is full of risks and investors have little recourse if their investors move to the coast of Spain and disappear but it is the new normal, the new startup methodology. And as much as VCs like to crow that they add value, they don’t. Money adds value and money comes from the ICO market.

I’ve been working hard to understand the companies inside this market and I’ve found it very difficult. First, if you’re an ICO-funded or blockchain-based startup, visit this form and tell me about yourself. I’ll be writing up a few of you over the next few months. Second, I’d like to offer a bit of advice from a being birthed in the transparency-induced fires of 2005.

First, as I’ve written before, your ICO press relations are awful. I’ll reiterate what I wrote a few months ago:

Here’s the bad news: your PR person sucks. Every single PR person I’ve spoken to is awful at crypto. There are a number of companies out there and I won’t single anyone out but if you have any questions email me at and I’ll name names. Let me tell you: every single PR person I deal with, including internal communications managers, is awful. This isn’t always their fault because the space is so new but then again many of them are incompetent.

It is, thankfully, getting better. An ICO is essentially a crowd sale. Getting people to pay attention to crowd sales has always been nearly impossible. Kickstarter projects only started getting taken seriously after a mass of them succeeded in shipping and, as of this writing, very few ICOs have produced much of anything. The story, then, isn’t that you’re doing an ICO. The story is that a group of smart people are getting together to solve a big, hairy problem. That they raised $80 million from a bunch of nerds and gangsters is secondary or tertiary to the story unless, of course, the founders are found in a cage in a basement in Stockholm for not delivering on time.

Second, communication is key. I’ve reached out to a number of top 100 ICOs and they’re more secretive than a frat after a hazing accident. The thinking is that they’ve made their money and anything they say will affect the price because Reddit will say something bad about the coin. It is time to break this sad circle and decide that, once and for all, price should be more resistant to rumor and innuendo.

Both of these aspects of the ICO industry have been solved before. Startups once had awful PR and the only way Michael Arrington was able to get news was to talk to folks who passed on a deal and had an axe to grind. This sort of reporting is useful in the early years of an industry and will begin entering the mainstream as angry investors and ex-employees spill the dirt. But now startup PR is an accepted part of the business cycle. You can read about new fundings in the Wall Street Journal. Eventually the WSJ will cover ICOs the way they cover IPOs and then blockchain companies will really have to step up their game.

Second, communicating with the world is far more important than any ICOed founder thinks. Shareholder relations is an established industry and token holder relations will soon follow. But at this point the extent of token communications comes from a single person in a Telegram room whose job it is to delete trolls. Almost all the sites I visited had one email address –, for example – that went to a Zendesk installation that, in turn, sent emails into a black hole. If a potential retail angel investor can’t contact you, they can’t trust you.

The idea that a small group of smart people can create something amazing with funding that seems to come out the ether is wildly compelling. It is the dawn of a new era in funding and it should give every single fund pause. Many of them are on the bandwagon, dutifully meeting founders who spout absolute gibberish. Because no one understood startups in 2005, everything was a potential winner. Because no one understands crypto today, everything is a potential winner. It is in every entrepreneur’s best interest to close that amazing new self-help book, “Zero to One Hard Thing About Corporate Startup Building Handbook” while sipping bone broth and get some real work done. It’s the only way we’ll all move forward, and it’s about time we started the trip.

Categories: General News

Apple overhauls its privacy pages, and now lets U.S. customers download their own data

TechCrunch - 6 hours 54 min ago

Apple has refreshed and expanded its privacy website, a month after its most recent iPhone and Mac launches.

You’re not going to see much change from previous years — the privacy pages still state the same commitments that Apple’s long held, like that privacy is a “fundamental human right” and that your information is largely on your iPhones, iPads and Macs. And, now with a bevy of new security and privacy features in iOS 12 and macOS Mojave, the pages are updated to include new information about end-to-end encrypted group FaceTime video calls and improvements to intelligence tracking protections — and, how it uses differential privacy to understand which are the most popular features so it can improve, without being able to identify individual users.

One key addition this time around: Apple is expanding its data portal to allow U.S. customers to get a copy of the data that the company stores on them.

It’s the same portal that EU customers have been able to use since May, when the new EU-wide data protection rules — known as General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR — went into effect. That mandated companies operating in Europe to allow customers to obtain a copy of their own data.

Apple’s making good on its promise earlier this year that it would expand the feature to U.S. customers. Customers in Canada, Australia and New Zealand can also request their data.

But because the company doesn’t store that much data on you in the first place — don’t expect too much back. When I asked Apple for my own data, the company turned over only a few megabytes of spreadsheets, including my order and purchase histories, and marketing information. Any other data that Apple stores is either encrypted — so it can’t turn over — or was only held for a short amount of time and was deleted.

That’s a drop in the ocean compared to data hungry services like Facebook and Google, which compiled an archive of my data ranging from a few hundred megabytes to over a couple of gigabytes of data.

Apple refreshes its privacy pages once a year, usually a month or so after its product launches. It first launched its dedicated privacy pages in 2014, but aggressively began pushing back against claims revealed after the NSA surveillance scandal. A year later, the company blew up the traditional privacy policy in 2015 by going more full-disclosure than any other tech giant at the time.

Since then, its pages have expanded and continued to transparently lay out how the company encrypts user data on its devices, so not even the company can read it — and, when data is uploaded, how it’s securely processed and stored.

How to download your data from Apple

Categories: General News

Hulu’s Live TV service may add ‘skinnier’ bundles of news, sports and entertainment programming

TechCrunch - 7 hours 9 min ago

Hulu is planning to change up its live TV service by dropping channels from its core offering to instead create smaller “bundles” of sports, news, and entertainment programming, according to an interview with Hulu CEO Randy Freer in The Information. The changes, which would make Hulu more of a direct competitor to skinny bundle providers like Dish’s Sling TV, could help to reduce costs for consumers and Hulu alike, and free up funds for increased investments in original programming.

The company today offers a $40 per month bundle of over 50 channels, but is considering breaking that up into separate packages, Freer said. For example: a sports bundle, news bundle or an entertainment bundle with premium channels like HBO, Starz and Showtime.

In addition to plans to increase its original content spend, in the wake of successes like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Castle Rock,” Hulu also said it wants to become an aggregator of other streaming services.

That means it could sell others’ streaming offerings on top of its own bundles and live TV service – a move that would pit Hulu against Amazon’s Prime Video Channels, or Walmart’s upcoming efforts with Vudu.

However, this strategy could also be useful if content owners begin pulling content out of Hulu and into their own streaming services – Hulu could become the wholesaler for those services, in exchange for a percentage of the revenue.

Hulu’s live TV service today has over a million subscribers, while its on-demand service has 20+ million. The company’s ability to offer both under one roof, allows it to benefit when doing deals, the report noted.

While live streaming services tend to lose money – The Information says YouTube TV loses $9 per subscriber per month, for example – Hulu is able to offset its costs by negotiating better rates on on-demand deals when making its live streaming deals. It also sells ads against its programming, which earned it over a billion in ad revenue in 2017 – a figure that’s expected to grow this year.

Categories: General News

Twitter opens archive of 4,500 accounts related to Russia and Iran’s political propaganda

TechCrunch - 7 hours 21 min ago

After getting hauled into Washington to be grilled over how its social media platform was exploited to influence public opinion around elections and politics in the US and elsewhere, Twitter vowed that it would be more open with its data, in an attempt to do better in the future — the idea partly being that others can provide more insight into what nefarious groups did on Twitter, and partly people will not mistrust Twitter in its own intentions to keep this off its platform. Now it’s coming good on some of that.

Today, Twitter released a set of data files detailing Tweets and other actions taken by more than 4,500 accounts on the site linked to state-backed information operations, specifically: 3,841 accounts associated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency and 770 other accounts “potentially originating in Iran.”

While Twitter had revealed the account numbers previously, this is the first time that it’s unveiling actual Tweets and more from the data trove behind them. The files total more than 360 gigabytes and include more than 10 million Tweets; more than 2 million images, GIFs, videos, and Periscope broadcasts; and a list of datapoints detailing more about those accounts and their Tweets — how many followers and who they followed; the geolocation of their Tweets; polls that were run and more.

The trove goes back as far as these accounts do. In some cases, certain accounts go back as far as 2009, Twitter said. That in itself is very interesting: it could be a measure of how nefarious people were hijacking dormant accounts, or a measure of the long game that the most malicious groups play.

These files are for those who want to take a peek into just what groups like Russia’s Internet Agency and people out of Iran got up to on Twitter, but especially for those who might be able to map out and make better sense of the data than Twitter has done up to now.

“It is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease,” write Vijaya Gadde and Yoel Roth, respectively Twitter’s legal, policy and trust and safety lead, and head of site integrity. “These types of tactics have been around for far longer than Twitter has existed — they will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and as new technologies emerge. For our part, we are committed to understanding how bad-faith actors use our services. We will continue to proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter, while partnering with civil society, government, our industry peers, and researchers to improve our collective understanding of coordinated attempts to interfere in the public conversation.”

Twitter notes that the data does not include deleted Tweets prior to suspension, although it also said that these would account for less than 1 percent of overall activity.

Going forward, Twitter said that it plans to release similar datasets as and when it identifies them, “in a timely fashion after we complete our investigations,” and also may release incremental datasets if they appear to be significant and materially impacting.

In cases where accounts have less than 5,000 followers, Twitter said that it has hashed identifying fields like user ID and screen name in the public files linked today. “While we’ve taken every possible precaution to ensure there are no false positives in these datasets, we’ve hashed these fields to reduce the potential negative impact on real or compromised accounts — while still enabling longitudinal research, network analysis, and assessment of the underlying content created by these accounts.”

To that end, it’s also including a form for people to fill out if they feel they’ve been included in error.

Categories: General News

Product Hunt Radio: Gen Z, what ‘the kids these days’ are using, and the future of social apps

TechCrunch - 7 hours 54 min ago
Ryan Hoover Contributor Share on Twitter Ryan Hoover is the founder of Product Hunt and host of Product Hunt Radio. More posts by this contributor

In this episode of Product Hunt Radio, I’m recording from my home in San Francisco to talk to two young entrepreneurs.

Tiffany Zhong interned at Product Hunt while she was still in high school. After she finished school, she worked in venture capital before starting Zebra Intelligence, a startup helping brands and old people like myself better understand Gen Z. She’s also an investor with her fund, Pineapple Capital.

Drake Rehfeld is CEO of Splish, a Y Combinator-backed company that’s building social apps to make the internet more fun. He formerly worked at Snap, where he was one of the youngest hires, as well as at Team 10. Drake’s been a tech entrepreneur since high school, when he created a product for school events that made real money.

In this episode we talk about:

  • “What the kids are using these days” and all things Generation Z, including what they’re looking for in products and some of the common misconceptions about this younger demographic.
  • The projects that Tiffany, Drake and I started while still in high school, including the story of, a site I created with the goal of earning $100,000 that netted $70 before I shut it down. (Tiffany and Drake had more success with their high school ventures.)
  • “Digital influencers” on Instagram, what Gen Z thinks of them, and why you would start your own. Also — why any of this has anything to do with fake plants.
  • The phenomenon of a “finsta,” the ways that “the kids these days” are reshaping how identity works on the web and some of the experimental social apps that don’t have any of the typical social features like comments, followers or likes.

We of course also talk about some of their favorite products, including the HQ Trivia of music, a tool for creating your very own “digital influencer” and an anonymous app that (surprisingly) brings positive vibes.

We’ll be back next week, so be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, Overcast or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Categories: General News

Roku to resume sales in Mexico, following court ruling

TechCrunch - 8 hours 5 min ago

Last year, Roku lost a legal battle in Mexico over piracy which resulted in a ban on sales of its devices in the country. Now, that ban has been lifted, the company says, following a favorable ruling from the 11th Collegiate Court in Mexico City. This will allow Roku to resume sales of its devices in Mexico in the coming weeks.

The issue first arose when Cablevision, the cable TV operator owned by Mexican media giant Televisa, took Roku to court alleging that Roku devices were being hacked to allow users to watch pirated channels.

The problem was that Roku’s platform – unlike, say, the more locked-down Apple TV – supports something called “private channels.” This feature was originally intended as a way for developers to test their channels before making them publicly available on Roku’s Channel Store. But many began to use private channels to stream illegal content, like cable TV programming, for example.

Roku was effectively benefiting from these channels and their popularity, while also able to turn a blind eye to the piracy problem. The channels, after all, were private – and what they did was seemingly not Roku’s concern or its business. Until, of course, it was.

The same issue also plagues Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices today. Entire businesses have sprung up around selling “hacked” Fire Sticks, as consumers like to call them. These are devices that have been preloaded with software that allows users to stream illegal content, including TV shows and movies – even those still in theaters.

After its ban in Mexico, Roku began to take the piracy problem more seriously. It began cracking down on private channels, loading up warnings on screen that channels have to abide by Roku’s terms and distribute legal content. Some channels decided to exit Roku on their own, and others were booted by the device maker in the days that followed, including popular sources for pirated or illegally streamed content like XTV, USTVNOWChannel Pear, and others.

Roku had argued at the time of the original ruling that it was not enabling the distribution of pirated content on its platform, and was, in fact, taking channels down when found. It said it planned to fight the ruling.

With its victory now in hand, Roku says devices will soon return to stores in Mexico.

“Streaming is the future of TV. It offers a great opportunity for consumers in Mexico by providing more entertainment choices, the ability to watch TV on their schedules and more value for money,” said Roku CMO Matthew Anderson, in a statement. “We are grateful for our customers in Mexico who, despite the sales ban, continued to stream more and more hours; and for our retail partners and content providers who supported us throughout this past year. We look forward to launching the latest Roku devices in Mexico soon and giving customers an even richer streaming experience,” he added.

“Today’s decision is an important victory for Roku and its Mexican distributor, Latamel Distribuidora, S. de R.L. de C.V. and Mexican retailers in the legal battle against an improper ban on sales of its popular streaming players in Mexico,” Roku General Counsel Stephen Kay also noted. “We are pleased with the Collegiate Court’s decision and look forward to continuing to build Roku’s TV streaming business in Mexico,” he said.

Roku’s stock jumped several percentage points in late trading after its announcement Tuesday, and continued to climb in premarket trading as well.

Categories: General News

Epsagon emerges from stealth with serverless monitoring tool

TechCrunch - 8 hours 33 min ago

Epsagon, an Israeli startup, launched today with a new serverless tool that helps customers monitor infrastructure, even when they don’t know where or what that is.

That’s the nature of serverless of course. It involves ephemeral resources. Developers build a series of event triggers and the cloud vendor spins up the necessary resources as needed. The beauty of that approach is programmers just codes without worrying about infrastructure, but the downside is that operations doesn’t have any way of controlling or understanding that infrastructure.

Epsagon is trying to solve that problem by giving visibility into serverless architecture. “What the company does, essentially is distributed tracing, observability and cost monitoring for serverless. We’ve been laying low for awhile, and now is actually the official launch of the company,” CEO and co-founder Nitzan Shapira told TechCrunch.

With serverless you can’t use an agent because you don’t know where to put it. There is no fixed server to attach it to. This makes using traditional logging tools inappropriate. Epsagon gets around this problem with an agentless approach using libraries. Shapria says the company will be open sourcing these libraries to make them more attractive to developers.

For starters, the company is supporting AWS Lambda, but plans to expand to other cloud platforms next year. First you sign up for Epsagon, enter your AWS credentials and it immediately begins providing some information about performance in the Epsagon dashboard. But Shapira says the real value comes from the libraries. “We have this library that is essentially the instrumentation, which acts in the same way an agent does,” he explained.

Screenshot: Epsagon

The product does more than simply provide traditional monitoring data though. It also allows customers to understand what they are spending. With serverless, the cloud company provides you resources as required, which is convenient, but could also spiral out of control quickly from a cost perspective. Epsagon lets you see exactly what you’re paying.

The company is still playing with pricing, but they are using a self-service approach for starters. You go and sign up on their website and there are a variety of pricing options starting with a free tier. All of the tiers have a free two-week trial.

Epsagon, which is based in Tel Aviv, currently has 11 employees. They are in the process of opening a US office where they will establish sales, marketing and support operations. They raised $4 million led by Lightspeed Venture Partners in January.

Categories: General News

Azimo launches business money transfer service

TechCrunch - 8 hours 35 min ago

Hot on the heels of raising $20 million in Series C funding led by Japan’s Rakuten Capital, London-based money transfer service Azimo is launching a new service aimed at small and medium-sized businesses.

Dubbed “Azimo Business,” it lets SMEs across the U.K. and Europe send payments to an impressive 189 countries — including many emerging markets, which is Azimo’s traditional focus — and at a price the company claims undercuts banks by 50 percent or more.

The idea isn’t just to beat the banks on fees (which is often not hard to do) but also through better technology, delivering faster transfers and a smoother UX via the Azimo mobile apps and web versions.

In a brief call, Azimo co-founder and CEO Michael Kent told me that a fully fledged business version of Azimo was something that many of the company’s existing customers had been asking for as they wanted to expand their use of the money transfer service to the small businesses they operate, not just for sending money to family and friends in their original home country.

He also (rightly) noted that immigrants are much more likely to start their own business compared to native nationals, and that these micro and small businesses are often international in nature, such as importing or exporting specialist goods. This requires a significant amount of money transfer and exchange for things like paying suppliers and paying local salaries.

To that end, even though Azimo Business runs on the same rails as Azimo’s existing consumer service, Kent explained that there are additional regulatory requirements around anti-money laundering. This sees business users having to pass KYC and KYB checks, with Azimo ultimately needing to satisfy the regulator that it knows the beneficial owner of a business sending money.

However, the Azimo founder says that required building technology and processes to scale those checks but in a way that doesn’t expose Azimo to regulatory risk or creates too many false positives that would decline customers unnecessarily.

Meanwhile (and proof that there was pent-up demand), while running in beta, Azimo Business customers on average sent six times more money than Azimo’s consumer customers. The most popular sending countries were the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and France. The most popular receiving countries were Poland, China, Singapore, Pakistan, Hong-Kong, and South Africa

Categories: General News

Skydio’s autonomous drone lands in Apple retail stores, now supports Watch controls

TechCrunch - 8 hours 50 min ago

With a few taps, you can now direct Skydio‘s $1,999 autonomous drone from your Apple Watch, allowing you to fulfill the geeky dream you never knew you had: directing an expensive autonomous drone with your little wrist computer.

The very cool R1 self-flying drone will also be going up for sale in U.S. Apple Stores, a big win for the young drone startup that has only been taking orders via its own website. Apple doesn’t have a very robust selection of drones either, with most of their selection coming from drone giant DJI, putting Skydio in some pretty elite company.

Now, let’s get back to the real question here. Why on earth would you need to control a drone from your Apple Watch? Well, it’s certainly a valid question. The Apple Watch launched with a ton of third-party apps, and one by one they kind of seemed to drop off as developers — and Apple — learned that the device is generally at its best when it’s part of a passive experience.

Skydio sort of bills the R1 as a drone built for the GoPro crowd, delivering a very unique type of footage but ultimately one that can be self-controlled. Navigating the Skydio app on your phone always takes you out of action for a bit and makes it so that you staring at your phone is always the first part of every cinematic shot. With Apple Watch support, some use cases make a lot more sense than others. People who use the drone to video themselves while biking will probably find this particularly useful, as the controls are all of a sudden in a much more accessible place on your wrist. Otherwise, the Watch support makes the very niche problem of controlling a drone in the most low-key way possible just a little bit easier.

The Watch app has a very straight-forward UI and really gives you a lot of control over the drone. You can cycle through the list of skills, tapping modes like Lead, Follow and Orbit and putting the drone to work, but you can also interestingly identify people in the R1’s feed for it to follow, as well. It all works surprisingly well on the Watch, and feels like an unusually powerful set of features for the device.

For the Skydio user, the Watch is now in your control repertoire. It’s certainly not going to be the most logical piloting mechanism at all times, but if you’ve been looking for more effortless ways to direct the R1, you have some new options.

Categories: General News