posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
Web feature developers are being warned to step up attention to privacy and security as they design contributions. Writing in a blog post about “evolving threats” to Internet users’ privacy and security, the W3C standards body’s technical architecture group (TAG) and Privacy Interest Group (PING) set out a series of revisions to the W3C’s Security and Privacy Questionnaire for web feature developers. The questionnaire itself is not new. But the latest updates place greater emphasis on the need for contributors to assess and mitigate privacy impacts, with developers warned that “features may not be implemented if risks are found impossible or unsatisfactorily mitigated”. In the blog post, independent researcher Lukasz Olejnik, currently serving as an invited expert at the W3C TAG; and Apple’s Jason Novak, representing the PING, write that the intent with the update is to make it “clear that feature developers should consider security and privacy early in the feature’s lifecycle” [emphasis theirs]. “The TAG will be carefully considering the security and privacy of a feature in their design reviews,” they further warn, adding: “A security and privacy considerations section of a specification is more than answers to the questionnaire.” Security & privacy to be considered early in the web/browser feature’s lifecycle. New high level type of threat "legitimate misuse": just because something is technically possible does not mean it was designed for abuse and it is OK to do so — Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) September 11, 2019 The revisions to the questionnaire include updates to the threat model and specific threats a specification author should consider — including a new high level type of threat dubbed “legitimate misuse“, where the document stipulates that: “When designing a specification with security and privacy in mind, all both use and misuse cases should be in scope.” “Including this threat into the Security and Privacy Questionnaire is meant to highlight that just because a feature is possible does not mean that the feature should necessarily be developed, particularly if the benefitting audience is outnumbered by the adversely impacted audience, especially in the long term,” they write. “As a result, one mitigation for the privacy impact of a feature is for a user agent to drop the feature (or not implement it).” “Features should be secure and private by default and issues mitigated in their design,” they further emphasize. “User agents should not be afraid of undermining their users’ privacy by implementing new web standards or need to resort to breaking specifications in implementation to preserve user privacy.” The pair also urge specification authors to avoid blanket treatment of first and third parties, suggesting: “Specification authors may want to consider first and third parties separately in their feature to protect user security and privacy.” The revisions to the questionnaire come at a time when browser makers are dialling up their response to privacy threats — encouraged by rising public awareness of the risks posed by data leaks, as well as increased regulatory action on data protection. Last month the open source WebKit browser engine (which underpins Apple’s Safari browser) announced a new tracking prevention policy that takes the strictest line yet on background and cross-site tracking, saying it would treat attempts to circumvent the policy as akin to hacking — essentially putting privacy protection on a par with security. Earlier this month Mozilla also pushed out an update to its Firefox browser that enables an anti-tracking cookie feature across the board, for existing users too — demoting third party cookies to default junk. Even Google’s Chrome browser has made some tentative steps towards enhancing privacy — announcing changes to how it handles cookies earlier this year. Though the adtech giant has studiously avoided flipping on privacy by default in Chrome where third party tracking cookies are concerned, leading to accusations that the move is mostly privacy-washing. More recently Google announced a long term plan to involve its Chromium browser engine in developing a new open standard for privacy — sparking concerns it’s trying to both kick the can on privacy protection and muddy the waters by shaping and pushing self-interested definitions which align with its core data-mining business interests. There’s more activity to consider too. Earlier this year another data-mining adtech giant, Facebook, made its first major API contribution to Google’s Chrome browser — which it also brought to the W3C Performance Working Group. Facebook does not have its own browser, of course. Which means that authoring contributions to web technologies offers the company an alternative conduit to try to influence Internet architecture in its favor. The W3C TAG’s latest move to focus minds on privacy and security by default is timely. It chimes with a wider industry shift towards pro-actively defending user data, and should rule out any rubberstamping of tech giants contributions to Internet architecture which is obviously a good thing. Scrutiny remains the best defence against self-interest.

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Goop is cashing in on pseudoscience and, in the process, giving natural health practices a bad name. Krista Berlincourt, the co-founder and chief executive officer of a new startup, Kenshō Health, hopes she can take back the narrative. “We’re the antithesis of Goop,” Berlincourt, a fintech veteran who previously led marketing and product at Simple Finance, tells TechCrunch. “What we are creating is less of a consumer magazine. We are a holistic health platform that approaches things as more of a holistic health medical journal — everything is backed by science.” Kenshō, launching today, is an invite-only subscription-based platform for holistic healthcare providers to list their services and share knowledge. The startup has also collected information to construct a research-backed guide to holistic health, something the team believes has been missing from the natural health sector. Berlincourt and Kenshō co-founder Danny Steiner, who previously worked at NBC Universal, Conde Nast and Hulu before pivoting to health and wellness, have raised $1.3 million in seed funding from Crosscut, a Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, and Female Founders Fund. The pair, based in the LA area, have both suffered from chronic illnesses that had them in and out of doctor’s offices for years. “I had two years of working with a team of incredible Western physicians and then I had a crash that landed me in the ER. That’s when I realized, OK, this isn’t working,” Berlincourt said. “When you’re caring for yourself or someone you love, there are standards. I am focused on elevating and creating those standards in a way that can be better advised.” The global wellness economy represented a $4.2 trillion market in 2017, according to The Global Wellness Institute, as subcategories like personalized medicine, healthy eating and fitness/mind-body accelerate growth. Kenshō, nestled in the personalized and complementary medicine category, says it ensures all of the care providers featured on its platform are 100% validated. Before being allowed to list their services, providers complete a background check and their provider credentials are verified. Kenshō then affirms the providers use research-backed methods and that they have vetted peer references and clients who can provide positive feedback. Kenshō’s launch features providers from Stanford University, Harvard University, Columbia University and more. “When you look at health as a whole today in the U.S., we only treat the physical,” Berlincourt explains. “The reason that is destructive is 70% of death is premature and lifestyle related. We are dying faster and people are dying more quickly, generally speaking, as the world turns.” Many, of course, are skeptical of natural care practices because they can be untested or dependent on unscientific principles. Additionally, holistic care often forces patients to pay out-of-pocket. Nonetheless, patients across the globe are turning to non-traditional methods. ”There’s been a massive shift in the zeitgeist in the way people look at health,” she adds. “One in three people have paid for supplemental care out of pocket from a holistic health provider.”

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There are a lot of open source databases out there, and ScyllaDB, a NoSQL variety, is looking to differentiate itself by attracting none other than Amazon users. Today, it announced a DynamoDB migration tool to help Amazon customers move to its product. It’s a bold move, but Scylla, which has a free open source product along with paid versions, has always had a penchant for going after bigger players. It has had a tool to help move Cassandra users to ScyllaDB for some time. CEO Dor Laor says DynamoDB customers can now also migrate existing code with little modification. “If you’re using DynamoDB today, you will still be using the same drivers and the same client code. In fact, you don’t need to modify your client code one bit. You just need to redirect access to a different IP address running Scylla,” Laor told TechCrunch. He says that the reason customers would want to switch to Scylla is because it offers a faster and cheaper experience by utilizing the hardware more efficiently. That means companies can run the same workloads on fewer machines, and do it faster, which ultimately should translate to lower costs. The company also announced a $25 million Series C extension led by Eight Roads Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Magma Venture Partners, Qualcomm Ventures and TLV Partners also participated. Scylla has raised a total of $60 million, according to the company. The startup has been around for 6 years and customers include Comcast, GE, IBM and Samsung. Laor says that Comcast went from running Cassandra on 400 machines to running the same workloads with Scylla on just 60. Laor is playing the long game in the database market, and it’s not about taking on Cassandra, DynamoDB or any other individual product. “Our main goal is to be the default NoSQL database where if someone has big data, real-time workloads, they’ll think about us first, and we will become the default.”

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Relativity Space, the startup developing manufacturing technologies for entirely 3D printed rockets and space equipment, has signed its latest paying customer, the orbital transportation startup, Momentus. Relativity’s Terran 1 rocket will carry Momentus’ small and medium-sized satellite payloads on its rocket and Momentus will then move those satellites into geosynchronous orbit using its own in-space shuttle technology. The deal between Momentus and Relativity covers the first Terran 1 launch scheduled for 2021, with the option for five additional Relativity launches, according to a statement from the company. Carrying Momentus’ payloads enables the company to include more diverse ranges of orbits for Terran 1’s initial launch, including geostationary transfer orbit, Lunar and deep space orbits, lower inclinations and phasing multiple spacecraft in low Earth orbit, the company said. The tie-up links two of Y Combinator’s space-focused alumni, with Momentus graduating in 2018 and Relativity launching from the accelerator in 2016. In July, Momentus closed on a $25 million round of funding to move its business from simply providing a thruster for existing small-sats to becoming a full-service provider of orbital transportation services for payloads. The company’s key innovation was the development of a water-based plasma propulsion system for low-cost transportation in space. That’s what powers the company’s Vigoride orbital shuttle. In-space shuttle service, Momentus, raises $25.5 million as investments climb for ‘new space’ tech Meanwhile, Relativity Space is barreling ahead with its own technology development.  With the goal of building a rocket that goes from raw materials to launch-ready in less than 60 days with a payload capacity of up to 1250 kilograms, the company is planning its first test launch in 2020 with a commercial payload ready for 2021. So far the company has performed 200 engine tests to date across 14 different serial numbers and begun conducting turbo pump testing as well. Testing has also begun on the company’s initial avionics hardware, according to company co-founder Tim Ellis. Relativity has also started printing and stress testing some second stage structures and is beginning to print its larger primary stage structures now. “With Momentus’ innovations in sustainable in-space ‘last mile’ solutions, we look forward to working together to expand Terran 1’s flexibility and offering beyond LEO, offering small and medium satellite launch opportunities with industry-defining lead time, flexibility, and cost,” Ellis said in a statement. “This partnership will enable us to build the space economy faster, and accelerate the future of humanity in space.” The company has dramatically expanded its production, testing and launch facilities to include 280,000 square feet of operations on facilities at Cape Canaveral in Florida and the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Dreaming of Mars, the startup Relativity Space gets its first launch site on Earth Relativity also has customer agreements with Telesat, to support their low Earth orbit constellation; the Thai satellite and space technology company, mu Space; and Spaceflight Industries to launch their smallsat ride-shares.  

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Bux, the Amsterdam-based fintech that wants to make investing more accessible, is launching its fee-free trading app today. Dubbed “BUX Zero,” the new offering is available first to users in the Netherlands who previously signed up to the wait-list. Further European launches are to follow, with Germany and Austria up next. The BUX Zero app promises to demystify investing in public markets for people who perhaps haven’t done so before, and also make it cheaper. “It will offer a unique combination of a simplified investing experience along with a vibrant community where they can follow, learn from fellow investors and explore new investing opportunities,” Nick Bortot, CEO and founder of Bux, told TechCrunch in June. In addition, the idea is by removing fees it makes investing small sums more viable — a high fee per buy/sell can make it prohibitively expensive to do so. At launch, both market orders and limit orders are commission-free until the end of this year, after which Bux will charge €1 and €2 per order, respectively. A “market order” executes as quickly as possible at the market price, and a “limit order” sets the maximum/minimum price you are willing to buy or sell. Once the special offer ends, BUX Zero will also introduce a third order type called a “basic order”, which will be commission-free “forever” and is executed at a fixed time, once per day. A subscription plan is also being tested. This will give BUX Zero users the option of paying a fixed monthly fee to get access to unlimited commission-free market, limit and basic orders. “The subscription fee will be lower than the commission of a single transaction at a traditional online broker,” says Bux. All of this is made possible because, like a number of competitors, such as Freetrade, Bux recently brought its brokering in-house. Bortot has previously said this gives the company control over “the full value chain,” including a full brokerage license, back-end technology and operation — and, of course, lowers overheads per trade. It’s a similar argument made by challenger banks that have built out their own banking stack.

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Nigerian fintech startup Kuda — a digital-only retail bank — has raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding. The Lagos and London-based company recently launched the beta version of its online mobile finance platform. Kuda also received its banking license from the Nigerian Central Bank, giving it a distinction compared to other fintech startups. “Kuda is the first digital-only bank in Nigeria with a standalone license. We’re not a mobile wallet or simply a mobile app piggybacking on an existing bank,” Kuda bank founder Babs Ogundeyi told TechCrunch. “We have built our own full-stack banking software from scratch. We can also take deposits and connect directly to the switch,” Ogundeyi added, referring to the Nigeria’s Central Switch — a SWIFT-like system that facilitates bank communication and settlements. A representative for the Central Bank of Nigeria (speaking on background) confirmed Kuda’s banking license and status, telling TechCrunch, “As far as I’m aware there is no other digital bank [in Nigeria] that has a micro-finance license.”   Kuda offers checking accounts with no monthly-fees, a free debit card, and plans to offer consumer savings and P2P payments options on its platform in coming months. “You can open a bank account within five minutes, do all the KYC in the app, and you get issued a new bank account number,” according to Ogundeyi. Ogundeyi — a repeat founder who exited classifieds site Motortradertrader.ng and worked in a finance advisory role to the Nigerian government — co-founded Kuda in 2018 with former Stanbic Bank software developer Musty Mustapha. The two convinced investor Haresh Aswani to lead the $1.6 million pre-seed funding, along with Ragnar Meitern and other angel investors. Aswani confirmed his investment to TechCrunch and that he will take a position on Kuda’s board. Kuda plans to use its seed funds to go from beta to live launch in Nigeria by fourth-quarter 2019. The startup will also build out the tech of its banking platform, including support for its developer team located in Lagos and Cape Town, according to Ogundeyi. Kuda also intends to expand in the near future. “It’s Nigeria for right now, but the plan is build a Pan-African digital-only bank,” he said. As of 2014, Nigeria has held the dual distinction as Africa’s largest economy and most populous country (with 190 million people). To scale there, and add some physical infrastructure to its online model, Kuda has correspondent relationships with three of Nigeria’s largest financial institutions: GTBank, Access Bank and Zenith Bank. He clarified the banks are partners and not investors. Kuda customers can use these banks’ branches and ATMs to put money into bank accounts or withdraw funds without a fee. “Even though we don’t own a single branch, we actually have the largest branch network in the country,” Ogundeyi claimed. Kuda’s plans to generate revenues focus largely around leveraging its bank balances. “We plan to match different liability classes to the different asset classes that we create. That’s how we make money, that’s how we get efficiency in terms of income,” Ogundeyi said. In Nigeria, Kuda enters a potentially revenue-rich market, but its one that already hosts a crowded fintech field — as the country becomes ground zero for payments startups and tech investment in Africa. In both raw and per capita numbers, Nigeria has been slower to convert to digital payments than leading African countries, such as Kenya, according to joint McKinsey Company and Gates Foundation analysis done several years ago. The same study estimated there could be nearly $1.3 billion in revenue up for grabs if Nigeria could reach the same digital-payments penetration as Kenya. A number of startups — established and new — are going after that prize in the West African country — several with a strategy to scale in Nigeria first before expanding outward on the continent and globally. San Francisco-based, no-fee payment venture Chipper Cash entered Nigeria this month. SF-based African fintech startup Chipper Cash expands to Nigeria Series B-stage Nigerian payments company Paga raised $10 million in 2018 to further grow its customer base (that now tallies 13 million) and expand to Asia and Latin America. Kuda CEO Babs Ogundeyi believes the startup can scale and compete in Nigeria on a number of factors, one being financial safety. He names the company’s official bank status and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation security that brings as something that can attract cash-comfortable bank clients to digital finance. Ogundeyi also points to offerings and price.”We look to be the next generation bank where you can do everything— savings, payments and transfers — and also the one that’s least expensive,” he said. These startups are locating in SF and Africa to win in global fintech  

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Assembly Bill 5, the gig worker bill opposed by the likes of Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, has passed in the California State Senate. This comes shortly after California Governor Gavin Newsom officially put his support behind AB 5 in an op-ed. The bill needed 21 votes to pass in the State Senate. It passed in a 29 to 11 vote this evening. The next step is for Governor Newsom to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do. If he signs the bill, it will go into effect at the beginning of 2020. “AB 5 is only the beginning,” Gig Workers Rising member and driver Edan Alva said in a statement. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.” The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codfiy the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors based on the presumption that “a worker who performs services for a hirer is an employee for purposes of claims for wages and benefits…” Those who work as 1099 contractors can set their own schedules, and decide when, where and how much they want to work. For employers, bringing on 1099 contractors means they can avoid paying payroll taxes, overtime pay, benefits and workers’ compensation. According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.” In short, AB-5, which has already passed in the California State Assembly, would ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits. Uber and Lyft, two of the main targets of this legislation, are adamantly against it. Last month, Uber, Lyft and DoorDash amped up their efforts to do whatever they can to prevent it from happening. That’s in part due to the fact that the companies cost of operating would increase. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash each put $30 million toward funding a 2020 ballot initiative that would enable them to keep their drivers as independent contractors. Assuming Gov. Newsom signs the bill, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. AB5 has passed through the Senate! We thank @LorenaAD80 for championing this in the legislature and celebrate with drivers from across the state who have spent years organizing. Up next: a real union for drivers! — Gig Workers Rising (@GigWorkersRise) September 11, 2019

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SpaceX is taking the steps necessary to begin test flying the orbital-class version of its Starship spacecraft, with new documents filed by the company (via Teslarati) with the FCC seeking necessary permissions for it to communicate with the prototype while it’s in flight. The company filed documents with the U.S. regulatory agency this week in advance of the flight, which lists a max altitude of 74,000 feet, which is a far cry from Earth orbit but still a much greater distance vs. the 500 or so feet achieved by the squat ‘Starhopper’ demonstration and test vehicle that SpaceX has been actively operating in preparation for Starship . Getting ready for flight of orbit-class Starship design https://t.co/CtXtq522ia — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 10, 2019 SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that prep was underway via tweet. Musk has previously said that he hoped to follow the Starhopper’s most recent and final successful test quickly with tests of the full-scale vehicle. Like with that low-altitude test, SpaceX will aim to launch and land the Starhopper, with touch down planned just a short distance away. Assembly and construction of the Starship prototype looks to be well underway, and Musk recently teased a Starship update event for September 28, which is likely when we’ll see this prototype assembled and ready to go ahead of its planned October first test flight window. Starship is the next generation of SpaceX spacecraft, designed for maximum reusability, and with the aim of creating one vehicle that can serve the needs of current and future customers, eventually replacing both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Starship is also a key ingredient in Musk’s ambitious plan to reach and establish a continuing human presence on Mars.

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The U.K.-based vegetarian frozen food company Strong Roots has picked up $18.3 million in funding from the private equity firm, Goode Partners, as it looks to expand its U.S. presence and build out its technological capabilities. Advised by global mid-market investment bank, Alantra, Strong Roots has a presence in the U.S. in retailers including Target, Wegmans and Whole Foods, and in the UK at Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer. Neither a direct to consumer company nor a novel technology developer, Strong Roots is hoping to use the new financing to expand its research and development efforts to provide more functional foods and nutrients, according to chief executive officer Samuel Dennigan. The company is on track to move $50 million worth of frozen vegan food items in the calendar year, and it expects its sales to more than quadruple over the next four years. The company’s exceptional growth comes at a time when consumers globally are looking for healthy options. Strong Roots offers a range of tasty plant-based food designed for busy lives. Found in your freezer aisle, the award-winning line includes premium root vegetables, veggie burgers and freezer favorites like Cauliflower Hash Browns. The company has found a strong partner in Goode Partners, whose previous investments include AllSaints and La Colombe. Dennigan’s career in agribusiness stretches back 15 years, but his family has long been in the food production and distribution business. “I started working with some international brands in the late nineties and saw how CPG companies were doing things in a poor way,” says Dennigan. At first the company thought it would go after fresh foods, but saw more opportunity in the frozen food aisle. Strong Roots began selling its frozen foods in 2015 just as the vegan and health food craze began to surge. While the company has spent the past four years building up a brand as a vegan alternative in frozen foods, Dennigan is now ready to expand into other categories. “The pieces of IP that are going to be developed and placed in market in the next 12 months especially around the fortification of the products,” he says. “What our research is showing us is that there’s a huge opportunity between extruded and food and what we’re doing.” Dennigan is, of course, referring to companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods which have built protein replacement businesses over the past ten years and have surged into consumer consciousness with big deals at fast food chains (and no small amount of kerfuffles). The success of those two companies has set up a feeding frenzy among investors who are voraciously scarfing up vegetarian food companies to add to their portfolios.  

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Concept vehicles are a staple of the auto show circuit. And while most will never end up as a production vehicle, they can provide insight into an automaker and clues to where it’s headed. Over at Audi, designers and engineers might have had a distant planet in mind. Or at least an expanse of wilderness. The German automaker unveiled Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show the Audi AI: TRAIL quattro, a concept electric vehicle designed for the “future of off roading.” The “Trail” off roader is one of four concept vehicles that Audi has presented at various auto shows since 2017. Other concepts included a sports car, luxury vehicle and one designed for megacities. Audi argues that these concepts aren’t efforts of futility. Instead, the company says it these four vehicles show how Audi vehicles in the future will be designed for specific use cases. “In the future, customers will be able to order any of these specialist Audi models from an Audi on-demand vehicle pool to suit their personal preferences and requirements and to lease them for a limited period,” the company said in its announcement. Audi takes this idea of the on-demand subscription further by noting that vehicles will be configured to suit individual preferences of customers who use this still non-existent and totally conceptual on-demand product. All the essential customer information would be stored in the myAudi system and accompanying app, the company said. In the video below, Audi’s head of design Marc Lichte explains the thinking behind these concepts.   In the case of the Audi AI: TRAIL, designers put an emphasis on exploration and seeing the surrounding environment. It even comes with five drones, which aside from replacing the headlights, can provide other tasks such as lighting up your camping area or picnic spot. The all-electric concept, which has a range of up to 310 miles, is about 13.5 feet long and 7 feet wide and is outfitted with beefy 22-inch wheels. And because it’s a vehicle meant to off road, designers gave it ground clearance of 13.4 inches. This concept, if it really existed beyond the showroom floor, can ford through water more than half a meter deep. The range of the vehicle does drop on rough roads to about 155 miles, which would theoretically (if this vehicle actually existed) make wilderness travel more difficult. [gallery ids="1880216,1880211,1880220,1880215,1880212,1880213,1880210,1880221,1880214,1880207"] The battery unit is integrated into the floor providing a spacious interior that sits four people. Glass surrounds the cabin to provide unrivaled views of the environment, whether it’s an earthly vista or the binary sunset over the fictional Tatooine desert. The remaining exterior body is made of a mixture of high-tech steel, aluminum and carbon fiber, giving it a total weight of 3,858 pounds. The concept vehicle is equipped with four electric motors, systems for assisted and automated driving and all-wheel drive. What you won’t find are any screens for streaming video. This concept was designed for viewing the outside world. The interior, which uses recycled materials, is scant. There are pedals, a yoke for a steering wheel, a few buttons, and a smartphone attached to the steering column as a display and control center for vehicle functions and navigation. The second row features seats that are designed to function like hammocks — and can be removed and used as mobile outdoor chairs. Drones as headlights! Perhaps the most interesting feature is the inclusion of five rotorless electrically operated drones, which serve a variety of purposes. The drones, which have matrix LED lighting, can dock on the roof to get more power with the inductive charging elements. Audi calls these drones Audi Light Pathfinders because of their ability to fly and illuminate the path ahead. These drones, Audi says replace headlights altogether. When the vehicle is parked, the drones can be used ti light up the surrounding area. Occupants control the drones through their smartphones in this theoretical use case. The on-board cameras can generate a video image that can be transmitted to the display in front of the driver via Wi-Fi, turning the Pathfinders into “eyes in the sky,” Audi says.

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Razer’s efforts to build a game-centric smartphone haven’t exactly caught the world on fire just yet. Still, mobile gaming is a huge business poised to get even bigger, with services from big names like Apple and Google waiting in the wings. Seeing as how accessories have long been the company’s bread and butter, products like Arctech are probably an easier way for the company to ensure it’s got a horse in that race. The product is a phone case specifically designed to help stop phones from overheating during resource-intensive activities like gaming. The product uses Razer’s proprietary Thermaphene technology sandwiched between a microfiber lining and an outer casing with perforations to help let the heat out. Per Razer: Thermaphene is a thermally – conductive material that dissipates heat. In independent testing against similar style cases, the Razer Arctech case maintained temperatures up to 6° Celsius (42.8 Fahrenheit) lower than the comparison case. There are two versions of the case, Slim and Pro, the latter of which offers added protection for up to a 10-foot drop. As for why the company’s launching today, in addition to the Razer Phone 2, the Arctech will be available for all of Apple’s new iPhones. The Slim runs $30 and the Pro is $40. They’re both available starting today.

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Sean Dempsey Contributor Sean is the co-founder and managing director of Merus Capital , a Palo-Alto based venture capital firm focused on early-stage investments. Before co-founding Merus, he was a principal of corporate development at Google. Before Google, Sean spent more than six years at Microsoft. When it comes to big business, the numbers rarely lie, and the ones PitchBook and other sources have pulled together on the state of seed investing aren’t pretty. The total number of seed deals, funds raised and dollars invested in seed deals were all down in the 2015-2018 time frame, a period too long to be considered a correctable glitch. The number of seed deals, defined as U.S.-based deals under $1 million, dropped to 882 in Q4 2018 from 1,500 three years earlier, a 40% drop. The number of seed funds raised and the total dollars invested in seed rounds were both down roughly 30% over the same time period. And the trend isn’t limited to the U.S. — venture capital investment volume outside the U.S. dropped by more than 50% between 2014 and 2017. The rise before the fall To discover the reason behind the precipitous drop in seed deals requires a trip back in time to 2006, which was the start of a seed boom that saw investing rise 600% over a nine-year period to 2014. If you’re an internet historian, 2006 should ring a bell. It’s the year Amazon unveiled their Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, its revolutionary on-demand cloud computing platform that gave everyone from the government to your next-door neighbor a pay-as-you-go option for servers and storage. Gone were the days of investing millions of dollars in tech infrastructure before writing the first line of code. At the same time, the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated and freely available open-source software provided many of the building blocks upon which to build a startup. And we can’t forget the launch of the iPhone in 2007 and, more importantly for startups, the App Store in 2008. With the financial barrier to starting a business obliterated, and coupled with the launch of an entirely new and exciting mobile platform, Silicon Valley and other innovation hubs were suddenly booming with new businesses. Angel investors and dedicated seed funds quickly followed, providing capital to support this burgeoning ecosystem. As more capital became available, more companies were formed, leading to a positive reinforcing cycle. Enter stagnation But this cycle began to slow in 2015. Had investor optimism waned, or was the supply of founders dwindling? Had innovation simply stopped? To find the answer, it’s helpful to understand a key role of the traditional venture capitalist. Once the Series A round of financing closes, the lead investor will join the company’s board of directors to provide support and guidance as the company grows. This differs from the seed round of financing when investors typically do not join the board, if one exists at all. But even the most zealous and hardworking of VCs can only sit on so many boards and be fully engaged with each portfolio company. An old-fashioned logjam If you’ve ever ridden Splash Mountain at Disneyland, you’ve likely experienced a moment when the boats stack up due to a hiccup in the flow somewhere farther down the route. This is what happened with seed companies looking to raise a Series A round of financing in 2015. Venture capital remains a hands-on business. With venture investors limited by the number of board seats they could responsibly hold, a huge percentage of seed-stage companies failed to successfully raise more capital. Inevitably, many seed funds also felt this pain as their portfolios started to underperform. This led to tighter availability of capital, which led to a tougher fundraising environment for seed-stage companies. Series A investors could not absorb the giant wave of seed opportunities — the virtuous cycle had turned vicious. The scaling of venture capital In its simplest form, venture investing has three distinct phases: seed, venture and growth. Because seed investors are not weighed down by the constraints of active board roles, they have the ability to build large portfolios of companies. In this sense, seed funds are more scalable than traditional early-stage venture funds. At the other end of the spectrum, growth funds are able to scale their volume of dollars invested. With the average age of a company at IPO now being 12 years, companies are staying private longer than ever, which affords growth funds an opportunity to invest enormous amounts of capital and raise ever-larger funds. It’s in the middle — traditional venture — where achieving scalability, by quantity of deals or dollars, is the most challenging. It was this inability to scale that led to the great winnowing of seed companies hoping to raise their Series A. It’s a situation that is unlikely to change. Venture capital remains a hands-on business. The tight working relationship between investors and founders makes venture capital a unique asset class. This alchemy doesn’t scale. The irony for traditional Series A venture investors is that the trait they find most desirable in a startup — scalability — is the one thing they themselves are unlikely to achieve.

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posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
No matter how much polish and Apple magic the company put on today’s big event, there was one unshakable truth that colored the event: phones just aren’t selling like they used to. And unlike other industry-wide trends, Apple isn’t immune. The large scale slowdown of smartphone sales has had an undeniable impact on the company’s bottom line. Casual observers may not have noticed, but that harsh truth impacted nearly every mobile announcement on stage today at the Steve Jobs theater. Two elements in particular really stood out, however: Content and services taking center stage Apple rethinking how the iPhone is positioned.

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Ross Lipson comes from an entrepreneurial family, so perhaps it’s no wonder that as a college student, he dropped out of school to jump into the online food space, including cofounding, then selling, one of Canada’s first online food ordering service startups. It’s even less surprising that having gone through that experience, Lipson would use what he learned in the service of another startup: Dutchie, a two-year-old, 36-person, Bend, Ore.-based startup whose software is used by a growing number of cannabis dispensaries that pay the startup a monthly subscription fee to create and maintain their websites, as well as to accept orders and track what needs to be ready for pickup. The decision is looking like a smart one right now. Dutchie says it’s now being used by 450 dispensaries across 18 states and that it’s seeing $140 million in gross merchandise volume. The company also just locked down $15 million in Series A funding led by Gron Ventures, a new cannabis-focused venture fund with at least $117 million to invest. Other participants in the round include earlier backers Casa Verde Capital, Thirty Five Ventures (founded by NBA star Kevin Durant and sports agent Rich Kleiman), Sinai Ventures and individual investors, including Shutterstock founder and CEO Jon Oringer. Altogether, Dutchie (named after the song), has now raised $18 million. We talked earlier today with Lipson about the company, its challenges, and working with his big brother Zach, himself a serial entrepreneur who cofounded Dutchie and today serves as its chief product officer while Ross serves as CEO. TC: It’s always interesting when siblings team up. Did you always get along with your brother? RL: We complement each other strongly. I’m energy, I’m sales and business development. I’m fast-moving by nature and the guy who wants to drive the car as fast as possible. Zach is the one who wants to make sure that we’re doing everything right. He’s the methodical one. We really do understand each other quite well and appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which enables us to meet in the middle on a lot of things. TC: It’s also interesting that you’ve both been founders beginning around the time you were in college. Were your parents entrepreneurs? RL: Our father is a founder and has run his own business for the last 35 years. Our parents also always pitched us that anything is possible and encouraged us to go for it. He was the dreamer and our mom was the cheerleader, which is a pretty nice combination. TC: You started Dutchie a couple of years ago. Is running this startup more or less challenging than your experience in the food delivery business? RL:  It’s our second year in business, and we’ve seen some explosive, unprecedented growth. As for whether it’s harder or easier than food, we’re very product and user centric, and by that we mean consumers but also dispensaries. We’re focused on the customer all day, every day, with a team that ensures that they have support, that they receive their orders, that the orders are out the door quickly or at least, ready for pickup. We make sure the photos work, that different potencies are marked. Our system is kind of like a Shopify of the cannabis space maybe meets DoorDash. TC: You don’t deliver, though. RL: No. We don’t do delivery for legal reasons; the dispensaries [handle this piece]. TC: You’re charging like other software-as-service businesses. Do you also take a cut of each sale? RL: We don’t charge on transaction volume. TC: You’re working with 450 dispensaries. Is there any way to know what percentage of the overall market that is, and how much is left for you to chase after? RL: First, there are more than 30 states where cannabis is either medically legal or that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and we operate in both types of markets. It’s hard to know the actual count [of dispensaries], because they are always being formed, getting acquired, or going out of business, but counting registered dispensaries, we work with more than 15 percent of them right now. TC: Who are you biggest competitors? Eaze? Leafly? They also help consumers find cannabis and, in Eaze’s case, deliver it, too. RL: Eaze is more focused on delivery where we’re more focused on pickup. It’s also only avaiable in California and Oregon, whereas we’re in 18 states. They educate the consumer about online ordering, which is great, but they also own the consumer experience, where we’re really powering the dispensary. Leafly and Weedmaps are really different types of platforms; they’re mostly known for their dispensary and strain reviews, where we’re strictly an online ordering service. TC: You’ve raised a big Series A for a company in the cannabis space. Do you have concerns about there being later-stage funding available when you need it? RL: It’s true the most investors still haven’t touched cannabis, though you are seeing bigger deals. Thrive Capital led that [$35 million] round in [the online cannabis inventory and ordering platform] LeafLink [last month]. You saw Tiger Global [lead a $17 million round ] in [the software platform for cannabis dispensaries] Green Bits last summer. It’s a big advantage to the funds that can right now invest because there are these barriers to entry; they’re finding deals that are promising and they can get in early and without competition. Pictured, left to right, above: Ross and Zach Lipson

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posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
Peloton, which debuted its IPO prospectus last month, plans to charge as much as $29 per share in its upcoming Nasdaq listing. In an amended S-1 filing released Tuesday afternoon, the developer of internet-connected stationary bikes and treadmills announced a proposed price range of $26 to $29 per share, allowing the company to raise as much as $1.2 billion in its 2019 public offering. At the high end of the proposed price, Peloton’s valuation would surpass $8 billion. The business is expected to launch its IPO roadshow as soon as Wednesday, according to Bloomberg. New York-based Peloton will trade under the ticker symbol PTON. Goldman Sachs & Co. and J.P. Morgan Securities are managing the IPO as lead underwriters. Peloton, founded in 2012, raised $550 million in venture capital funding last year at a valuation of $4.15 billion. In total, the company has attracted $994 million in venture capital investment, according to PitchBook. Its S-1 filing lists CP Interactive Fitness (5.4% pre-IPO stake) — an entity connected to the private equity firm Catterton — TCV (6.7%), Tiger Global (19.8%), True Ventures (12%) and Fidelity Investments (6.8%) as principal stakeholders, or investors with at least a 5% stake in the company. Peloton reported an impressive $915 million in total revenue for the year ending June 30, 2019, an increase of 110% from $435 million in fiscal 2018 and $218.6 million in 2017. Its losses, meanwhile, hit $245.7 million in 2019, up significantly from a reported net loss of $47.9 million last year.

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The AdRoll Group has a new name — NextRoll — designed to reflect the company’s moves beyond ad retargeting. “We have, for the longest time, been pigeonholed as a retargeting company, but the reality is that we have really been evolving,” CEO Toby Gabriner told me. To be clear, the AdRoll retargeting business isn’t going away. But the company subsequently introduced RollWorks, which offers business-to-business marketing tools, and today it’s launching a third unit, NextRoll Platform Services. Gabriner became CEO of AdRoll in November 2017, and he said the rebrand has been in the works for a while now. When the company launched the RollWorks product last year, both business units continued to operate under The AdRoll Group umbrella, but Gabriner said that was always “a temporary placeholder.” He added, “We’re now a year and a half into the RollWorks brand launch and it’s firmly planted on its own two feet. It makes a ton of sense for us to move onto onto the NextRoll brand. This was always planned.” As for how NextRoll Platform Services fits into that strategy, the company describes as a “marketing-technology-as-a-service offering.” Granier explained that it provides access to AdRoll’s underlying technologies through APIs, allowing businesses bring these capabilities into other ad products, or to resell them as part of their own platforms. The initial offerings are Channels-As-A-Service, which allows businesses to extend their marketing to new channels, and Audiences-As-A-Service, which turns audience data into targetable segments. “This is something we’ve been pulled by a lot of customers to do,” Gabriner said. “What we’ve been doing over the last couple of years is externalizing those services so people outside of the company. developers, would have an easier time using them. [Now we’ve] gone that last mile of making them commercially friendly.” AdRoll expands its B2B data and tech by acquiring Growlabs

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Policing hate speech is something nearly every online communication platform struggles with. Because to police it, you must detect it; and to detect it, you must understand it. Hatebase is a company that has made understanding hate speech its primary mission, and it provides that understanding as a service — an increasingly valuable one. Essentially Hatebase analyzes language use on the web, structures and contextualizes the resulting data, and sells (or provides) the resulting database to companies and researchers that don’t have the expertise to do this themselves. The Canadian company, a small but growing operation, emerged out of research at the Sentinel Project into predicting and preventing atrocities based on analyzing the language used in a conflict-ridden region. “What Sentinel discovered was that hate speech tends to precede escalation of these conflicts,” explained Timothy Quinn, founder and CEO of Hatebase. “I partnered with them to build Hatebase as a pilot project — basically a lexicon of multilingual hate speech. What surprised us was that a lot of other NGOs [non-governmental organizations] started using our data for the same purpose. Then we started getting a lot of commercial entities using our data. So last year we decided to spin it out as a startup.” You might be thinking, “what’s so hard about detecting a handful ethnic slurs and hateful phrases?” And sure, anyone can tell you (perhaps reluctantly) the most common slurs and offensive things to say — in their language… that they know of. There’s much more to hate speech than just a couple ugly words. It’s an entire genre of slang, and the slang of a single language would fill a dictionary. What about the slang of all languages? A shifting lexicon As Victor Hugo pointed out in Les Miserables, slang (or “argot” in French) is the most mutable part of any language. These words can be “solitary, barbarous, sometimes hideous words… Argot, being the idiom of corruption, is easily corrupted. Moreover, as it always seeks disguise so soon as it perceives it is understood, it transforms itself.” Facebook is finally banning white supremacy that goes by other names Not only is slang and hate speech voluminous, but it is ever-shifting. So the task of cataloguing it is a continuous one. Hatebase uses a combination of human and automated processes to scrape the public web for uses of hate-related terms. “We go out to a bunch of sources — the biggest, as you might imagine, is Twitter — and we pull it all in and turn it over to Hatebrain. It’s a natural language program that goes through the post and returns true, false, or unknown.” True means it’s pretty sure it’s hate speech — as you can imagine, there are plenty of examples of this. False means no, of course. And unknown means it can’t be sure; perhaps it’s sarcasm, or academic chatter about a phrase, or someone using a word who belongs to the group and is attempting to reclaim it or rebuke others who use it. Those are the values that go out via the API, and users can choose to look up more information or context in the larger database, including location, frequency, level of offensiveness, and so on. With that kind of data you can understand global trends, correlate activity with other events, or simply keep abreast of the fast-moving world of ethnic slurs. Hate speech being flagged all around the world — these were a handful detected today, along with the latitude and longitude of the IP they came from. Quinn doesn’t pretend the process is magical or perfect, though. “There are very few 100 percents coming out of Hatebrain,” he explained. “It varies a little from the machine learning approach others use. ML is great when you have an unambiguous training set, but with human speech, and hate speech, which can be so nuanced, that’s when you get bias floating in. We just don’t have a massive corpus of hate speech, because no one can agree on what hate speech is.” That’s part of the problem faced by companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook — you can’t automate what can’t be automatically understood. ‘Behind the Screen’ illuminates the invisible, indispensable content moderation industry Fortunately Hatebrain also employs human intelligence, in the form of a corps of volunteers and partners who authenticate, adjudicate, and aggregate the more ambiguous data points. “We have a bunch of NGOs that partner with us in linguistically diverse regions around the world, and we just launched our ‘citizen linguists’ program, which is a volunteer arm of our company, and they’re constantly updating and approving and cleaning up definitions,” Quinn said. “We place a high degree of authenticity on the data they provide us.” That local perspective can be crucial for understanding the context of a word. He gave the example of a word in Nigeria, which when used between members of one group means friend, but when used by that group to refer to someone else means uneducated. It’s unlikely anyone but a Nigerian would be able to tell you that. Currently Hatebase covers 95 languages in 200 countries, and they’re adding to that all the time. Furthermore there are “intensifiers,” words or phrases that are not offensive on their own but serve to indicate whether someone is emphasizing the slur or phrase. Other factors enter into it too, some of which a natural language engine may not be able to recognize because it has so little data concerning them. So in addition to keeping definitions up to date, the team is also constantly working on improving the parameters used to categorize speech Hatebrain encounters. Building a better database for science and profit The system just ingested its millionth hate speech sighting (out of perhaps tens times that many phrases evaluated), which sounds simultaneously like a lot and a little. It’s a little because the volume of speech on the internet is so vast that one rather expects even the tiny proportion of it constituting hate speech to add up to millions and millions. But it’s a lot because no one else has put together a database of this size and quality. A vetted, million-data-point set of words and phrases classified as hate speech or not hate speech is a valuable commodity all on its own. That’s why Hatebase provides it for free to researchers and institutions using it for humanitarian or scientific purposes. But companies and larger organizations looking to outsource hate speech detection for moderation purposes pay a license fee, which keeps the lights on and allows the free tier to exist. “We’ve got, I think, four of the world’s ten largest social networks pulling our data. We’ve got the UN pulling data, NGOs, the hyper local ones working in conflict areas. We’ve been pulling data for the LAPD for the last couple years. And we’re increasingly talking to government departments,” Quinn said. They have a number of commercial clients, many of which are under NDA, Quinn noted, but the most recent to join up did so publicly, and that’s TikTok. As you can imagine, a popular platform like that has a great need for quick, accurate moderation. In fact it’s something of a crisis, since there are laws coming into play that penalize companies enormous amounts if they don’t promptly remove offending content. That kind of threat really loosens the purse strings; If a fine could be in the tens of millions of dollars, paying a significant fraction of that for a service like Hatebase’s is a good investment. “These big online ecosystems need to get this stuff off their platforms, and they need to automate a certain percentage of their content moderation,” Quinn said. “We don’t ever think we’ll be able to get rid of human moderation, that’s a ridiculous and unachievable goal; What we want to do is help automation that’s already in place. It’s increasingly unrealistic that every online community under the sun is going to build up their own massive database of multilingual hate speech, their own AI. The same way companies don’t have their own mail server any more, they use Gmail, or they don’t have server rooms, they use AWS — that’s our model, we call ourselves hate speech as a service. About half of us love that term, half don’t, but that really is our model.” Hatebase’s commercial clients have made the company profitable from day one, but they’re “not rolling in cash by any means.” “We were nonprofit until we spun out, and we’re not walking away from that, but we wanted to be self-funding,” Quinn said. Relying on the kindness of rich strangers is no way to stay in business, after all. The company is hiring and investing in its infrastructure, but Quinn indicated that they’re not looking to juice growth or anything — just make sure the jobs that need doing have someone to do them. In the meantime it seems clear to Quinn and everyone else that this kind of information has real value, though it’s rarely simple. “It’s a really, it’s a really complicated problem. We always grapple with it, you know, in terms of, well, what role does hate speech play? What role does misinformation play? What role do socioeconomics play?” he said. “There’s a great paper that came out of the University of Warwick, they studied the correlation between hate speech and violence against immigrants in Germany over, I want to say, 2015 to 2017. They graph it out. And its peak for peak, you know, valid for Valley. It’s amazing. We don’t do a hell of a lot of analysis — we’re a data provider.” “But now have like, almost 300 universities pulling the data, and they do those kinds of those kinds of analyses. So that’s very validating for us.” You can learn more about Hatebase, join the Citizen Linguists or research partnership, or see recent sightings and updates to the database at the company’s website.

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posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
Ford unveiled a range of hybrid vehicles Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show as part of its plan to reach sales of 1 million electrified vehicles in Europe by the end of 2022. Ford introduced hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Mondeo wagon, Puma compact crossover, Kuga (shown below) and Explorer SUVs as well as the new Tourneo “people mover” at the show. But more are coming. Ford said earlier this year it plans to bring eight electrified vehicles to market this year and another nine that will be produced by 2024. One of those, an all-electric Mustang-inspired SUV, will come to market in 2020. The electric SUV with Mustang styling has a targeted range of 600 km (more than 370 miles) calculated using the World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), and fast-charging capability. Ford expects that electrified vehicles will account for more than 50% of its car sales in Europe by 2022, surpassing combined sales of conventional petrol and diesel models. Ford’s upcoming portfolio is part of its broader plan to make its Europe division leaner and more profitable. The company said in June it will cut 12,000 jobs and consolidate its manufacturing footprint to a proposed 18 facilities by the end of 2020. Most of the job cuts, 2,000 of which are salaried position, will occur through voluntary separation programs. The automaker also announced Tuesday partnerships with six energy suppliers in Europe, including Centrica in the U.K. and Ireland, to install home charging wall boxes and provide green energy tariffs. A partnership with NewMotion aims to help drivers locate and pay for charging more easily at more than 118,000 charging points in 30 countries. “With electrification fast becoming the mainstream, we are substantially increasing the number of electrified models and powertrain options for our customers to choose from to suit their needs,” Ford of Europe President Stuart Rowley said in a statement. Electrified doesn’t mean every vehicle will be solely powered by electricity. The term means the vehicles can use hybrid, plug-in hybrid or battery-electric technology. The showcase Tuesday supports the automaker’s earlier commitment that every new Ford passenger vehicle will include an electrified option. While some automakers have stuck to an all-electric strategy, Ford plans to produce a range of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles. “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution when it comes to electrification – every customer’s circumstances and travel needs are different,” said Joerg Beyer, executive director of engineering at Ford of Europe. “Our strategy is to pair the right electrified powertrain option to the right vehicle, helping our customers make their electrified vehicle experience easy and enjoyable.” Ford isn’t doing this alone. The automaker announced in July a partnership with Volkswagen Group that covers collaboration on electric vehicles and development of autonomous technology via a $2.6 billion investment by VW into Argo AI. Under the EV part of the tie-up, Ford will use VW’s MEB platform, the underlying architecture for its upcoming line of passenger electric vehicles, to develop at least one fully electric car for Europe. VW debuted Monday the ID.3, the first model with MEB platform.

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posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
The new Apple Watch is even harder to distinguish from its predecessor than the new iPhone. Given the fact that Fitbit’s smartwatches appear more and more Apple-like with every new generation, however, maybe the company’s onto something here. Like the iPhone, Apple hasn’t touched the Watch’s design for a while now, leading one to wonder if there’s much to be done on that front. The new titanium and ceramic cases are nice to look at, but they’ll cost you. There are some nice new magnetic straps, as well, and Apple’s new in-store customization options will go a little ways toward helping wearers stand out from the crowd. On the whole, the Series 5 doesn’t feel like a huge step forward. There’s nothing on here that’s quite as radical a shift as the addition of LTE from a while back. The addition of sleep tracking, meanwhile, appears to have been put on the back burner for a bit — owing perhaps to battery constraints. The truth of the matter is that 18 hours is more than enough to get you through a day, but wearing the watch to sleep is another matter. That said, there has been some battery improvement. The listed battery life is the same as the last model, but that time now factors in the always-on display. That’s probably the useful day to day addition for the new device. Even when you’re not actively engaging with it, the screen stays on. Like other smartwatches, it accomplishes this with the low-energy display. But the switch is less radical than on, say, the new Fitbit Versa. Instead, the faces invert while keeping complications and other features visible. I got a demo of the feature, which was triggered when either covering the light sensor with a hand or, more naturally, swinging your arm down to the side. I’ve been using always on with the Fitbit and find it to be kind of a mixed bag. It sucks when sleeping (you’re better off turning it off at night) and would probably be a pain in, say, a movie theater. That said, there are plenty more instances when you just want to check the time without actively engaging the watch. Among other things, Apple appears to be laying the ground work for battery improvements and, hopefully, the aforementioned sleep tracking. [gallery ids="1880001,1880002,1880003,1879998,1880008,1880009,1880067,1880062"] The inclusion of the compass is nice. It’s easy to see how developers can leverage it, going forward. The best demo I got was Night Sky. The familiar star gazing app is neat when you can move the watch around to get a full spherical look at the constellations. The Series 5 starts at $399 for the standard version and $499 for LTE. Titanium is around $700. Like the iPhone, they hit stores September 20.

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posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
More than any other iPhone event in recent memory, today’s big launch was content-first. Apple began the show with several gaming demos from Arcade, before moving along to TV+ premieres. The new iPhone didn’t necessarily take a backseat, but there’s little question that this event was a key piece in shifting messaging for the company. The big announcement also saw a shift in iPhone positioning against a backdrop of declining smartphone sales. There are a number of reasons why device sales are down across the board, of course — I along with everyone else in the industry have written about them dozens if not hundreds of times. Price creep is a big one, and the iPhone 11 finds the company readjusting accordingly. Here’s everything Apple announced today at the iPhone 11 event The device takes the spot of the R line — a big seller for Apple. This time the entry-level “flagship” is $699, while the Pro and Pro Max step in for the premium-tier devices, priced at $999 and $1,099, respectively. Apple set those prices with the iPhone X two years ago and hasn’t looked back. Apple has also really settled into a style. The 11s are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, head on. The screens have been souped-up to “Super Retina XDR” on the Pros. Both are 458 PPI, at 5.8 and 6.5 inches, respectively. The notch remains, even as companies like Samsung push into a subtler cut-out model (not to mention all of those companies currently experimenting with pop-up cameras). Ditto, unfortunately, for the Lightning port. Apple’s ditched it for USB-C on the iPad Pro and, honestly, I can’t wait for it to follow suit on the iPhone. I go through what feels like a Lightning cable a month, due to wear and tear on the connection. That will have to wait until 2020 (fingers crossed). So, too, will 5G, though the company did allude to “faster cellular” in a quick rundown of all the features it didn’t have time to announce onstage. Ditto for the rumored improved FaceTime camera. That should work faster and from more angles, so you’ll (theoretically) be able to check messages while the phone is laying flush on a table. Huge, if true. Speaker of cameras, that’s the biggie here, of course. It continues to be the last vestige for smartphone innovation. Again, hardware is just kind of good on smartphones. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of room for innovation, but for the camera. The iPhone 11 ditches telephoto, for wide and ultra-wide-angle lenses. The Pros, meanwhile, add telephoto it back in. The three cameras on the Pros are as follows: 12MP wide angle camera (26mm f/1.8), a 12MP ultra wide (13mm f/2.4), plus a 12MP telephoto camera (52mm f/2.0). All are capable of shooting 4K video at 60FPS. They’re in an odd square array (versus, say, the three down vertical on Samsung’s latest). In fact, all versions of the iPhone 11 have a camera box bump on the rear, for the sake, one imagines, of aesthetic uniformity. As we’ve noted before, most of the innovation in smartphone cameras is happening on the software side, and that appears to be the case here. The big feature is Deep Fusion. It works similarly to HDR photos, creating a massive composite. Here it uses nine photos, with the optimal pixels chosen by on-board machine learning for super-fancy photos that should greatly reduce image noise. The devices are the first to sport Apple’s new A13 chip, which promises much faster processing — the “fastest ever on a smartphone,” according to the company. That, naturally, means more and better gaming, bringing us right back around to the content play we were discussing at the top of this story. [gallery ids="1880064,1880063,1880061,1880060,1880006,1880000,1880005,1879991,1879992"] Understandably, what you can do with the phone has become a much larger selling point for Apple than the phone itself. You’ll be able to get your hands on the device starting September 20. 

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posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
In my review of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I was blown away by the authenticity and level of detail in the game world. The game itself — well, it was fine. But the highlight was ancient Greece in all its classical splendor, and a new educational Discovery Tour mode aims to teach the history of that society through a gaming lens. The free update, available now to anyone who owns the game, adds dozens of historical “tours” guided by a NPC, in which you can learn about the cities of ancient Greece, the life and crafts of the people who lived there, what they believed and how they were governed, and of course the many famous battles of the era. It’s an expanded version of a similar feature created for Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which was set in ancient Egypt. It seemed wasteful then, as in Odyssey, to create such a rich world and just have you stab your way through it. Obviously others at Ubisoft felt the same way, especially Discovery Mode director Maxime Durand, who says he envisioned a feature like this a decade ago. And how could you not with the Assassin’s Creed series? From the very first one players were immersed in a painstakingly recreated period of history that gave variously accurate but always compelling experiences of really living in that bygone era. All the work that went into making it convincing can easily — well, perhaps not easily, but directly — be applied to educating the player as well as thrilling them. And quizzing them! The end of each guided tour will have an optional live quiz-type chat with the guide, which Ubisoft assures players will be fun and not for a grade. I’d probably skip it myself. But history teachers will probably make you do it for extra credit or something. There are 30 discovery sites, each with its own tour and modern-day context, so for example an artist in-game may explain how they sculpt, but then you’ll also see a museum artifact showing the process in “real life.” Here’s hoping the history lessons are a little less lenient on the topic of slavery than some of the quests were. “I think learning is a lot about agency… as soon as someone tells you you have to learn about something, there’s some of the fun taken away from it,” said Ubisoft’s Alicia Fortier. “So if we look at learning as play and as exploring, we need to make sure players can focus on what’s interesting to them and then they’ll naturally get more curious.” The Discovery Tour update is free for all players today. Go, learn something.

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posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
As California moves ahead with what would be the most restrictive online privacy laws in the nation, the chief executives of some of the nation’s largest companies are taking their case to the nation’s capitol to plead for federal regulation. Chief executives at Amazon, AT&T, Dell, Ford, IBM, Qualcomm, Walmart, and other leading financial services, manufacturing, and technology companies have issued an open letter to Congressional leadership pleading with them to take action on online privacy, through the pro-industry organization, The Business Roundtable. “Now is the time for Congress to act and ensure that consumers are not faced with confusion about their rights and protections based on a patchwork of inconsistent state laws. Further, as the regulatory landscape becomes increasingly fragmented and more complex, U.S. innovation and global competitiveness in the digital economy are threatened,” the letter says. The subtext to this call to action is the California privacy regulations that are set to take effect by the end of this year. California passes landmark data privacy bill As we noted when the bill was passed last year there are a few key components of the California legislation including the following requirements: Businesses must disclose what information they collect, what business purpose they do so for and any third parties they share that data with. Businesses would be required to comply with official consumer requests to delete that data. Consumers can opt out of their data being sold, and businesses can’t retaliate by changing the price or level of service. Businesses can, however, offer “financial incentives” for being allowed to collect data. California authorities are empowered to fine companies for violations. There’s a reason why companies would push for federal regulation to supersede any initiatives from the states. It is more of a challenge for companies to adhere to a patchwork of different regulatory regimes at the state level. But it’s also true that companies, following the lead of automakers in California, could just adhere to the most stringent requirements which would clarify any confusion. Indeed many of these companies are already complying with strict privacy regulations thanks to the passage of the GDPR in Europe. WTF is GDPR?

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posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
JobTeaser, the graduate recruitment and career guidance platform, has raised £45 million in new funding to help it expand its careers service to more students across the U.K. and Europe. The investment is led by Highland Europe, with continued backing from existing investors Alven, Idinvest Partners, Seventure Partners and Korelya Capital. It brings the total amount raised to £61 million since the company was founded all the way back in 2008. JobTeaser says the funding will be used to expand JobTeaser’s partner network of schools and universities across the U.K. and Ireland. That company’s aim is to become the official careers website for its education partners. The promise is that it can connect more students and graduates to the careers they seek and in turn help corporates and organisations plug gaps in the talent and skills they need. “We believe the transition between University and the professional world is very difficult for young talent,” Adrien Ledoux, co-founder of JobTeaser, tells me. “A lot of young talent feel lost when it comes to choosing their career; in the survey that we conducted with WISE this year, we discovered that 9 out of 10 young people in Europe want better support to define their career choices.” Ledoux says JobTeaser’s goal is to transform the way students and recent graduates find work by helping them choose a career path that fits with their aspirations and ambitions. “We are convinced that if each young talent puts their energy into the right job, all of society benefits from it,” he says To achieve this mission, JobTeaser has built a platform that combines bespoke career guidance with internships, job opportunities and ongoing career and interview support. In order to reach the largest number of students and recent graduates, JobTeaser provides its “Career Centre by JobTeaser” platform free of charge to universities. It then charges businesses a fee to advertise jobs to that captive audience. “Businesses can access talent at the right place (the university) and at the right time (when they are looking for their first job),” explains Ledoux. “Our platform allows businesses to pay once to multi-post their job ads and employer-branded content in a single click, which then goes out to all of JobTeaser’s partner higher education institutions.” It’s this business model that allows JobTeaser to reach businesses, universities and prospective young jobseekers across 19 European countries, says the JobTeaser co-founder. Since its launch, JobTeaser says it has served 2.5 million students and recent graduates. The company works with more than 70,000 businesses, including Amazon, PWC, Deutsche Bank, Blackrock, L’Oréal and LVMH.

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posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
Apple is doubling down on personalization to help better sell its latest products. In addition to an expanded array of iPhone colors — hello mint green, lilac, etc. — the company today announced the launch of Apple Watch Studio, which will allow consumers to create the Apple Watch case and band pairing that they want, instead of having to choose one designed by Apple. Before today, Apple would pair its Apple Watch cases with select bands. If you didn’t like the band that came with your Watch, however, you’d have to buy another at your own expense either from Apple or a third-party seller. Apple Watch Studio will change that by allowing you to pick the case and band style you prefer, when shopping. “Apple has always been the best place to help you customize and personalize your products. And now we’re going to take it even further with Apple Watch,” said Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail + People, speaking at the Apple press event in Cupertino this morning. The experience will be available starting with the launch of Apple Watch Series 5 at Apple retail stores and online. O’Brien said the new experience will offer “over 1,000” different ways for customers to customize their Watch, thanks to the many variations of case and band styles now available. The Series 5, also announced at today’s event, will offer aluminum models that come in silver, gold and space gray. Its stainless steel models will come in gold, silver, and space black and a ceramic model will come in white, plus an all-new titanium model. Apple has also now launched a range of new band styles, some which complement the new colors of the iPhone 11 line. Effectively, it debuted a fall collection of bands, with bands featuring deeper jewel tones like pine green, midnight blue, and aubergine (purple), alongside a few brighter colors like lemons and oranges and of course some classic blacks and browns, among others. While Apple will still sell Apple Watch case/band pairings on its site, if you scroll down the page you can try out the new Apple Watch Studio starting today. The site displays an image of an Apple Watch that you customize it by selecting the size, case, and band. These options appear in a horizontal scroll bar, so you can easily tweak the design by clicking over to the next option on the right or left. When finished, you just click “I’m Done” and complete the checkout process. It’s a small change but one that could see more customers sporting bands made by Apple instead of knockoffs, as they’ll get one they actually like at purchase.

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posted 9 days ago on techcrunch
After a summer of beta test, Apple is about to release the next major version of macOS, macOS Catalina. But not so fast, the new version will arrive in October, according to Apple’s updated website. As always, this update will be available as a free download in the Mac App Store. This version completely rethinks the way you interact with media. Instead of using iTunes for everything, there are a handful of new apps specifically designed for each task — Music, Podcasts and TV. Mac users will also notice a huge update to Photos. It borrows many of the new features that you can see in iOS 13, such as the ability to view photos by days, months or years with a curated selection of shots. The company tries to identify the best photos using artificial intelligence. If you’ve been using Duet Display or Luna Display, macOS Catalina lets you use your iPad as a second Mac display. It’s as easy as opening the AirPlay menu and selecting your iPad to extend your desktop. The feature is called Sidecar. Apple is also adding new accessibility features. For instance, you can open apps, click on dropdown menus and navigate apps much more easily with your voice. More interestingly, this new version of macOS opens up the ability to port iPad apps to the desktop using Project Catalyst. Some developers already said that they plan on taking advantage of that feature, such as Twitter, Gameloft and Atlassian.

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