posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here. 1. Cloudflare files for initial public offering The web infrastructure company has recently found itself at the center of political debates around some of its customers, including social media networks like 8chan and racist media companies like the Daily Stormer. In fact, the company went so far as to cite 8chan as a risk factor in its public offering documents. Even so, the company will likely be worth billions when it starts trading on the market. And we have to point out that Cloudflare actually made its debut on TechCrunch’s Battlefield stage back in 2010. 2. Apple is suing Corellium Corellium allows customers to create and interact with virtual iOS devices — a software iPhone, for example, running actual iOS firmware, all within the browser. Apple says this is copyright infringement. 3. YouTube shuts down music companies’ use of manual copyright claims to steal creator revenue Going forward, copyright owners will no longer be able to monetize creator videos with very short or unintentional uses of music via YouTube’s “Manual Claiming” tool. Instead, they can choose to prevent the other party from monetizing the video, or they can block the content. 4. Twitter leads $100M round in top Indian regional social media platform ShareChat ShareChat serves 60 million users each month in 15 regional languages — but not English, which the company says is a deliberate choice. 5. Apple, Samsung continue growth as North American wearables market hits $2B The numbers aren’t exactly earth-shattering, but they show significant growth for a category that felt almost dead in the water a year or two back. 6. Local governments are forcing the scooter industry to grow up fast For scooter startups, city regulations can make or break their businesses across nearly every aspect of operations, especially in two key areas: ridership growth and the ability to attract investor dollars. (Extra Crunch membership required.) 7. Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich will join us for TC Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 In a fireside chat, we’ll ask Russinovich about what Microsoft is doing to reduce the complexity of moving legacy systems to the cloud, and how enterprises can maximize their current cloud investments.

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The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” was originally meant sarcastically. It’s not actually physically possible to do — especially while wearing Allbirds and having just fallen off a Bird scooter in downtown San Francisco, but I should get to my point. This week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services Office, repeatedly referred to the notion of bootstraps in announcing shifts in immigration policy, even going so far as to change the words to Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus:” no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.” We’ve come to expect “alternative facts” from this administration, but who could have foreseen alternative poems? Still, the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ is far from limited to the rhetorical territory of the welfare state and social safety net. It’s also a favorite term of art in Silicon Valley tech and venture capital circles: see for example this excellent (and scary) recent piece by my editor Danny Crichton, in which young VC firms attempt to overcome a lack of the startup capital that is essential to their business model by creating, as perhaps an even more essential feature of their model, impossible working conditions for most everyone involved. Often with predictably disastrous results. It is in this context of unrealistic expectations about people’s labor, that I want to introduce my most recent interviewee in this series of in-depth conversations about ethics and technology. Mary L. Gray is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research. One of the world’s leading experts in the emerging field of ethics in AI, Mary is also an anthropologist who maintains a faculty position at Indiana University. With her co-author Siddharth Suri (a computer scientist), Gray coined the term “ghost work,” as in the title of their extraordinarily important 2019 book, Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass.  Image via Mary L. Gray / Ghostwork / Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography Ghost Work is a name for a rising new category of employment that involves people scheduling, managing, shipping, billing, etc. “through some combination of an application programming interface, APIs, the internet and maybe a sprinkle of artificial intelligence,” Gray told me earlier this summer. But what really distinguishes ghost work (and makes Mary’s scholarship around it so important) is the way it is presented and sold to the end consumer as artificial intelligence and the magic of computation. In other words, just as we have long enjoyed telling ourselves that it’s possible to hoist ourselves up in life without help from anyone else (I like to think anyone who talks seriously about “bootstrapping” should be legally required to rephrase as “raising oneself from infancy”), we now attempt to convince ourselves and others that it’s possible, at scale, to get computers and robots to do work that only humans can actually do. Ghost Work’s purpose, as I understand it, is to elevate the value of what the computers are doing (a minority of the work) and make us forget, as much as possible, about the actual messy human beings contributing to the services we use. Well, except for the founders, and maybe the occasional COO. Facebook now has far more employees than Harvard has students, but many of us still talk about it as if it were little more than Mark Zuckerberg, Cheryl Sandberg, and a bunch of circuit boards. But if working people are supposed to be ghosts, then when they speak up or otherwise make themselves visible, they are “haunting” us. And maybe it can be haunting to be reminded that you didn’t “bootstrap” yourself to billions or even to hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth. Sure, you worked hard. Sure, your circumstances may well have stunk. Most people’s do. But none of us rise without help, without cooperation, without goodwill, both from those who look and think like us and those who do not. Not to mention dumb luck, even if only our incredible good fortune of being born with a relatively healthy mind and body, in a position to learn and grow, here on this planet, fourteen billion years or so after the Big Bang. I’ll now turn to the conversation I recently had with Gray, which turned out to be surprisingly more hopeful than perhaps this introduction has made it seem. Greg Epstein: One of the most central and least understood features of ghost work is the way it revolves around people constantly making themselves available to do it. Mary Gray: Yes, [What Siddarth Suri and I call ghost work] values having a supply of people available, literally on demand. Their contributions are collective contributions. It’s not one person you’re hiring to take you to the airport every day, or to confirm the identity of the driver, or to clean that data set. Unless we’re valuing that availability of a person, to participate in the moment of need, it can quickly slip into ghost work conditions.

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Any first responder knows that situational awareness is key. In domestic violence disputes, hostage rescue, or human trafficking situations, first responders often need help determining where humans are behind closed doors. That’s why Megan Lacy, Corbin Hennen and Rob Kleffner developed Lumineye, a 3D printed radar device that uses signal analysis software to differentiate moving and breathing humans from other objects, through walls. Lumineye uses pulse radar technology that works like echolocation (how bats and dolphins communicate). It sends signals and listens for how long it takes for a pulse to bounce back. The software analyzes these pulses to determine the approximate size, range and movement characteristics of a signal. On the software side, Lumineye’s app that will tell a user how far away a person is when they’re moving and breathing. It’s one dimensional, so it doesn’t tell the user whether the subject is to the right or left. But the device can detect humans out to 50 feet in open air, and that range decreases depending upon the materials placed in between like drywall, brick or concrete. One scenario the team gave to describe the advantages of using Lumineye was the instance of hostage rescue. In this type of situation, it’s crucial for first responders to know how many people are in a room and how far away they are from one another. That’s where the use of multiple devices and triangulation from something like Lumineye could change a responding team’s tactical rescue approach. Machines that currently exist to make these kind of detections are heavy and cumbersome. The team behind Lumineye was inspired to manufacture a more portable option that won’t weigh teams down during longer emergency response situations that can sometimes last for up to 12 hours or overnight. The prototype combines the detection hardware with an ordinary smartphone. It’s about 10 x 5 inches and weighs 1.5 pounds. Lumineye wants to grow out its functionality to become more of a ubiquitous device. The team of four is planning to continue manufacturing the device and selling it directly to customers.   Lumineye’s device can detect humans through walls using radio frequencies Lumineye has just started its pilot programs, and recently spent a Saturday at a FEMA event testing out the the device’s ability to detect people covered in rubble piles. The company was born out of the Boise Idaho cohort of Stanford’s Hacking4Defense program, a course meant to connect Silicon Valley innovations with the U.S. Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. The Idaho-based startup is graduating from Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 class. Megan Lacy, Corbin Hennen and Rob Kleffner

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If there was one company at the top of everyone’s mind this year, it was Slack. The now-ubiquitous workplace messaging tool began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in June after taking an unusual route to the public markets known as a direct listing. Slack bypassed the typical IPO process in favor of putting its current stock on to the NYSE without doing an additional raise or bringing on underwriter banking partners. Slack co-founder and chief technology officer Cal Henderson and Slack investor and Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn will join us on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF to give a behind the scenes look at Slack’s banner year, the company’s origin story and what convinced Quinn to participate in the business’s funding round years ago. Early in his career, Henderson was the technical director of Special Web Projects at Emap, a UK media company. Later, he became the head of engineering for Flickr, the photo-sharing tool co-founded by Slack chief Steward Butterfield. In April 2009, he was reported to be starting a new stealth social gaming company with Butterfield, a project that would ultimately become Slack. Quinn, for her part, added Slack to the Spark Capital portfolio in 2015, participating in the company’s $160 million Series E at a valuation of $2.8 billion. No small startup at the time, Slack already had 750,000 daily users and backing from Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, GV and Kleiner Perkins. Quinn is a seasoned investor, known for striking deals with Coinbase, Glossier, Rover and Wealthfront, among others. She first entered the venture capital scene in 2012 as an investment partner at Kleiner Perkins, where she invested in early to mid-stage consumer tech startups. Quinn joined Spark Capital in 2015 to make growth-stage investments in companies across the board. Before trying her hand at VC, she spent seven years in product management and strategic partnership development at Google and one year as the head of product at payments company Square. Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-661cf9b1b8f85f5aae09b8946cafadba') if ( iframe ) { iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-661cf9b1b8f85f5aae09b8946cafadba' }, "https:\/\/tcprotectedembed.com" ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( 'tcprotectedembed.com' !== origin.host ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof e.data || undefined === e.data.msg_type ) return; switch ( e.data.msg_type ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( e.data._request.frame_id ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( e.data.height ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

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Google publicly disclosed its acquisition of homework helper app Socratic in an announcement this week, detailing the added support for the company’s A.I. technology and its relaunch on iOS. The acquisition apparently flew under the radar — Google says it bought the app last year. According to one founder’s LinkedIn update, that was in March 2018. Google hasn’t responded to requests for comment for more details about the deal, but we’ll update if that changes. Socratic was founded in 2013 Chris Pedregal and Shreyans Bhansali with the goal of creating a community that made learning accessible to all students. Initially, the app offered a Quora-like Q&A platform where students could ask questions which were answered by experts. By the time Socratic raised $6 million in Series A funding back in 2015, its community had grown to around 500,000 students. The company later evolved to focus less on connecting users and more on utility. It included a feature to take a photo of a homework question in order to get instant explanations through the mobile app launched in 2015. This is similar to many other apps in the space, like Photomath, Mathway, DoYourMath, and others. However, Socratic isn’t just a math helper — it can also tackle subjects like science, literature, social studies, and more. In February 2018, Socratic announced it would remove the app’s social features. That June, the company said it was closing its Q&A website to user contributions. This decision was met with some backlash of disappointed users. Socratic explained the app and website were different products, and it was strategically choosing to focus on the former. “We, as anyone, are bound by the constraints of reality—you just can’t do everything—which means making decisions and tradeoffs where necessary. This one is particularly painful,” wrote Community Lead Becca McArthur at the time. That strategy, apparently, was to make Socratic a Google A.I.-powered product. According to Google’s blog post penned by Bhansali — now the Engineering Manager at Socratic — the updated iOS app uses A.I. technology to help users. The new version of the iOS app still allows you to snap a photo to get answers, or you can speak your question. For example, if a student takes a photo from a classroom handout or asks a question like “what’s the difference between distance and displacement?,” Socratic will return a top match, followed by explainers, a Q&A section, and even related YouTube videos and web links. It’s almost like a custom search engine just for your homework questions. Google also says it has built and trained algorithms that can analyze the student’s question then identify the underlying concepts in order to point users to these resources. For students who need even more help, the app can break down the concepts into smaller, easy-to-understand lessons. In addition, the app includes subject guides on over 1,000 higher education and high school topics, developed with help from educators. The study guides can help students prepare for tests or just better learn a particular concept. “In building educational resources for teachers and students, we’ve spent a lot of time talking to them about challenges they face and how we can help,” writes Bhansali. “We’ve heard that students often get ‘stuck’ while studying. When they have questions in the classroom, a teacher can quickly clarify—but it’s frustrating for students who spend hours trying to find answers while studying on their own,” he says. This is where Socratic will help. That said, the acquisition could help Google in other ways, too. In addition to its primary focus as a homework helper, the acquisition could aid Google Assistant technology across platforms, as the virtual assistant could learn to answer more complex questions that Google’s Knowledge Graph didn’t already include. The relaunched, A.I.-powered version of Socratic by Google arrived on Thursday on iOS, where it also discloses through the app update text the app is now owned by Google. The Android version of the app will launch this fall.  

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NASA is celebrating alongside Northrop Grumman at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the latter becomes the first commercial partner to make use of the Vehicle Assembly Building on-site at the base. The VAB, as it’s more commonly known, is a cavernous building that’s used to build and test rockets ahead of rolling them out to nearby launch pads, which was originally constructed by NASA to support the Apollo program. Northrop Grumman will be using the VAB to build and prep its OmegA launch vehicle, a new rocket the company is building to transport intermediate and heavy payloads to orbit. It’s a fully expendable rocket, which Northrop is positioning as a lower-risk alternative to reusable models flown by competitors (cough SpaceX cough), and it’s also billed as an “affordable” option for those seeking launch services. OmegA is designed to help Northrop Grumman compete for future national security launch contracts, as well as support commercial customer missions. NASA will also continue to use the VAB for the assembly of its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will be supporting missions in the Artemis program and transporting the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew craft to space, and eventually to the Moon. Kennedy Space Center also already plays host to rocket assembly and launch facilities for both SpaceX and Blue Origin, making it a hot spot for public-private space business activity.

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Users have said they are receiving emails from Amazon containing invoices and order updates on other customers, TechCrunch has learned. Jake Williams, founder of cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec, raised the alarm after he received an email from Amazon addressed to another customer with their name, postal address and their order details. Williams said he ordered something months ago which recently became available for shipping. He checked the email headers to make sure it was a genuine message. “I think they legitimately intended to email me a notification that my item was shipping early,” he said. “I just think they screwed something up in the system and sent the updates to the wrong people.” He said the apparent security lapse was worrying because emails about orders sent to the wrong place is a “serious breach of trust” that can reveal private information about a customer’s life, such as sexual orientation, proclivities or other personal information Several other Amazon customers also said they received emails seemingly meant for other people. “I made an order yesterday afternoon and received her email last night,” another customer who tweeted about the mishap told TechCrunch. “Luckily I’m not a malicious person but that’s a huge security issue,” she said. Another customer tweeted out about receiving an email meant for someone else. He said he spoke to Amazon customer service, which said they will investigate additional security issues. “Hope you didn’t send my sensitive account info to someone else,” he added. And, one other customer posted a tweet thread about the issue, saying they spoke to a supervisor about the issue who gave a “nonchalant” response, she wrote. She said the supervisor said the issue happens frequently. A spokesperson for Amazon did not return a request for comment when we asked how many customers were affected and if the company plans to inform customers of the breach. If we hear back, we’ll update. It’s the second security lapse in a year. In November the company emailed customers saying a “technical error” had exposed an unknown number of their email addresses. When asked about specifics, the notoriously secretive company declined to comment further. Amazon admits it exposed customer email addresses, but refuses to give details

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What’s the lifeblood of any early-stage startup? Money and media coverage. Opportunities to acquire both abound at Disrupt San Francisco 2019, our flagship tech conference that takes place on October 2-4. It’s all about networking and making the right connections to make your startup dreams come true, and there’s no better networking mecca than Startup Alley. Buy a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and plant your early-stage startup in the path of more than 10,000 attendees, including leading technologists, investors, 400 accredited media outlets and other leading influencers. The package includes one full exhibit day and three Founder passes. You’ll have access to three days of Disrupt programming across the Main Stage, the Extra Crunch Stage, the Showcase Stage and the Q&A Stage. You can watch Startup Battlefield, our epic pitch competition, to see who takes home the $100,000 prize. You’ll also receive invitations to VIP events, like a reception with top-tier investors and global media outlets. You’ll have CrunchMatch at your side to make networking as easy as possible. This free, business match-making platform helps you find and connect with the people who can move your business forward. It matches people based on their mutual business interests, suggests meetings and sends out invitations (which recipients can easily accept or decline). CrunchMatch even lets you reserve dedicated meeting spaces where you can network in comfort. And how’s this for opportunity? Every early-stage startup that exhibits in Startup Alley is eligible for a chance to win a Wild Card entry to the Startup Battlefield pitch competition. TechCrunch editors will select two standout startups as Wild Card teams to compete for $100,000 in Startup Battlefield. It might sound like a longshot (and it is), but RecordGram earned a Wild Card spot and went on to become the Startup Battlefield champ at Disrupt NY 2017. Because dreams do come true. Disrupt San Francisco 2019 takes place on October 2-4. Buy a demo table, exhibit in Startup Alley and network your way to greatness. Come on and show the world what you’ve got. Is your company interested in sponsoring at Disrupt SF 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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If you’re a New Yorker, one of the easiest ways to keep up-to-date on the latest consumer products — furniture, beauty products, mobile apps, you name it — is to hop on the subway. Even before you board, you may find yourself walking through a station filled with colorful startup ads. And once you’re actually on the train, you may find yourself surrounded by even more of those of ads. It felt very different when I first moved to New York in 2013, back when the only companies that seemed to buy subway ads were local colleges, law firms and sketchy-sounding surgeons. Over the next few years, I noticed that the companies I wrote about in TechCrunch were starting to show up on the subway walls. These ads are managed by Outfront Media, which has an exclusive contract with the MTA and says it’s worked with more than 150 startups and direct-to-consumer brands since 2018. “Startups and DTC brands, now more than ever before, are looking for ways to raise awareness and gain market share among a heavy competitor set,” said Outfront’s chief product experience officer Jason Kuperman via email. “For these brands, it is all about testing and learning, and leveraging out-of-home (OOH) [advertising] and advertising on the subway allows them to do just that.” Kuperman added that when they launch their subway campaigns, many of these startups are unknown, so they “find value in a permanent place to advertise that people pass through every day.” From out-of-home to in transit John Laramie, CEO of out-of-home advertising agency Project X, agreed that there’s been a big shift over the past few years. He and I first spoke in 2011 about startups buying billboard ads alongside Silicon Valley’s main highway, Route 101. More recently, he told me, “Fast forward to the last four years, and who cares about the 101? It’s all about the New York City subway.”

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SmileDirectClub, the at-home teeth-straightening service, is on its way to becoming a public company. SmileDirectClub is seeking to raise up to $100 million in its IPO, according to its S-1 filed today. The number of shares and price range for the offering have yet to be determined. Prior to this, SmileDirectClub reached a $3.2 billion valuation following a $380 million funding round last October. Investors from Clayton, Dubilier & Rice led the round, which featured participation from Kleiner Perkins and Spark Capital. This funding came on top of Invisalign maker Align Technology’s $46.7 million investment in SmileDirectClub in 2016, and another $12.8 million investment in 2017 to own a total of 19 percent of the company. In 2018, SmileDirectClub’s revenues came in at $432.2 million, a significant uptick from just $147 million the year prior. The company ships invisible aligners directly to customers, and licensed dental professionals (either orthodontists or general dentists) remotely monitor the progress of the patient. Before shipping the aligners, patients either take their dental impressions at home and send them to SmileDirectClub or visit one of the company’s “SmileShops” to be scanned in person. SmileDirectClub says it costs 60 percent less than other types of teeth-straightening treatments, with the length of treatments ranging from four to 14 months. The average treatment lasts six months. Though, members of the American Association of Orthodontists have taken issue with SmileDirectClub, previously asserting that SmileDirectClub violates the law because its methods of allowing people to skip in-person visits and X-rays is “illegal and creates medical risks.” The organization has also filed complaints against SmileDirectClub in 36 states, alleging violations of statutes and regulations governing the practice of dentistry. Those complaints were filed with the regulatory boards that oversee dentistry practices and with the attorneys general of each state. SmileDirectClub explicitly calls out those issues in its S-1 as potential risk factors. Here’s a key nugget: A number of dental and orthodontic professionals believe that clear aligners are appropriate for only a limited percentage of their patients. National and state dental associations have issued statements discouraging use of orthodontics using a teledentistry platform. Increased market acceptance of our remote clear aligner treatment may depend, in part, upon the recommendations of dental and orthodontic professionals and associations, as well as other factors including effectiveness, safety, ease of use, reliability, aesthetics, and price compared to competing products. Furthermore, our ability to conduct business in each state is dependent, in part, upon that particular state’s treatment of remote healthcare and that state dental board’s regulation of the practice of dentistry, each which are subject to changing political, regulatory, and other influences. There is a risk that state authorities may find that our contractual relationships with our doctors violate laws and regulations prohibiting the corporate practice of dentistry, which generally bar the practice of dentistry by entities. Two state dental boards have established new rules or interpreted existing rules in a manner that purports to limit or restrict our ability to conduct our business as currently conducted. Additionally, as the S-1 notes, a national dental association recently filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration claiming that SmileDirectClub’s manufacturing violates “prescription only” requirements. While no regulations or laws have been passed that would affect SmileDirectClub to date, it’s a possible scenario that would greatly impact the company’s core business. Tech startups want to go inside your mouth

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posted 7 days ago on techcrunch
Each month millions of Indians are coming online for the first time, making India the last great growth market for internet companies worldwide. But winning them presents its own challenges. These users, most of whom live in small cities and villages in India, can’t speak English. Their interests and needs are different from those of their counterparts in large cities. When they come online, the world wide web that is predominantly focused on the English-speaking masses, suddenly seems tiny, Google executives acknowledged at a media conference last year. According to a KPMG-Google report (PDF) on Indian languages, there will be 536 million non-English speaking users using internet in India by 2021. Many companies are increasingly adding support for more languages, and Silicon Valley giants such as Google are developing tools to populate the web with content in Indian languages. But there is still room for others to participate. On Friday, a new startup announced it is also in the race. And it has already received the backing of Y Combinator (YC). Lokal is a news app that wants to bring local news to hundreds of millions of users in India in their regional languages. The startup, which is currently available in the Telugu language, has already amassed more than two million users, Jani Pasha, co-founder of Lokal, told TechCrunch in an interview. There are tens of thousands of publications in India and several news aggregators that showcase the top stories from the mainstream outlets. But very few today are focusing on local news and delivering it in a language that the masses can understand, Pasha said. Lokal is building a network of stringers and freelance reporters who produce original reporting around the issues and current affairs of local towns and cities. The app is updated throughout the day with regional news and also includes an “information” stream that shows things like current price of vegetables, upcoming events and contact details for local doctors and police stations. The platform has grown to cover 18 districts in South India and is slowly ramping up its operations to more corners of the country. The early signs show that people are increasingly finding Lokal useful. “In 11 of the 18 districts we cover, we already have a larger presence and reader base than other media houses,” Pasha said. Before creating Lokal, Pasha and the other co-founder of the startup, Vipul Chaudhary, attempted to develop a news aggregator app. The app presented news events in a timeline, offering context around each development. “We made the biggest mistake. We built the product for four to five months without ever consulting with the users. We quickly found that nobody was using it. We went back to the drawing board and started interviewing users to understand what they wanted. How they consumed news, and where they got their news from,” he said. “One thing we learned was that most of these users in tier 2 and tier 3 India still heavily rely on newspapers. Newspapers still carry a lot of local news and they rely on stringers who produce these news pieces and source them to publications,” he added. But newspapers have limited pages, and they are slow. So Pasha and the team tried to build a platform that addresses these two things. Pasha tried to replicate it through distributing local news, sourced from stringers, on a WhatsApp group. “That one WhatsApp group quickly became one of many as more and more people kept joining us,” he recalls. And that led to the creation of Lokal. Along the journey, the team found that classifieds, matrimonial ads and things like birthday wishes are still driving people to newspapers, so Lokal has brought those things to the platform. Pasha said Lokal will expand to three more states in the coming months. It will also begin to experiment with monetization, though that is not the primary focus currently. “The plan is to eventually bring this to entire India,” he said. A growing number of startups today are attempting to build solutions for what they call India 2 and India 3 — the users who don’t live in major cities, don’t speak English and are financially not as strong. ShareChat, a social media platform that serves users in 15 regional languages — but not English — said recently it has raised $100 million in a round led by Twitter. The app serves more than 60 million users each month, a figure it wants to double in the next year.

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Postmates has officially received the green light from the city of San Francisco to begin testing its Serve wheeled delivery robot on city streets, as first reported by the SF Chronicle and confirmed with Postmates by TechCrunch. The on-demand delivery company told us last week that it expected the issuance of the permit to come through shortly after a conditional approval, and that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday this week. The permit doesn’t cover the entire city — just a designated area of a number of blocks in and around Potrero Hill and the Inner Mission, but it will allow Postmates to begin testing up to three autonomous delivery robots at once, at speeds of up to 3 mph. Deliveries can only take place between 8 AM and 6:30 PM on weekdays, and a human has to be on hand within 30 feet of the vehicles while they’re operating. Still, it’s a start — and from a city regulatory environment that has had a somewhat rocky start with some less collaborative early pilots from other companies. Autonomous delivery bot company Marble also has a permit application pending with the city’s Public Works department, and will look to test its own four-wheeled, sensor-equipped rolling delivery bots within the city soon, should it be granted similar testing approval. Postmates revealed Serve last December, taking a more anthropomorphic approach to the vehicle’s overall design. Like many short-distance delivery robots of its ilk, it includes a lockable cargo container and screen-based user interface for eventual autonomous deliveries to customers. The competitive field for autonomous rolling delivery bots is growing continuously, with companies like Starship Technologies, Amazon and many more throwing their hats in the ring. Postmates’ self-driving delivery rover will see with Ouster’s lidar

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For a long, long time, renewable energy proponents have considered advancements in battery technology to be the holy grail of the industry. Advancements in energy storage has been among the hardest to achieve economically thanks to the incredibly tricky chemistry that’s involved in storing power. Now, one company that’s launching from Y Combinator believes it has found the key to making batteries better. The company is called Holy Grail and it’s launching in the accelerator’s latest cohort. With an executive team that initially included Nuno Pereira, David Pervan, and Martin Hansen, Holy Grail is trying to bring the techniques of the fabless semiconductor industry to the world of batteries. The company’s founders believe that the only way to improve battery functionality is to take a systems approach to understanding how different anodes and cathodes will work together. It sounds simple, but Pereira says that the computational power hadn’t existed to take into account all of the variables that go along with introducing a new chemical to the battery mix. “You can’t fix a battery with just a component,” Pereira says. “All of the batteries that were created and failed in the past. They create an anode, but they don’t have a chemical that works with the cathode or the electrolyte.” For Pereira, the creation of Holy Grail is the latest step on a long road of experimentation with mechanical and chemical engineering. “As a kid I was more interested in mechanical engineering and building stuff,” he says. But as he began tinkering with cars and became fascinated with mobility, he realized that batteries were the innovation that gave the world its charge. In 2017 Pereira founded a company called 10Xbattery, which was making high-density lithium batteries. That company, launching with what Pereira saw as a better chemistry, encapsulated the industry’s problem at large — the lack So, with the help of a now-departed co-founder, Pereira founded Holy Grail. “He essentially told me, ‘Do you want to take a step back and see if there’s a better way to do this?'” said Pereira. The company pitches itself as science fiction coming from the future, but it relies on a combination of what are now fairly standard (at least in the research community) tools. Holy Grail’s pitch is that it can automate much of the research and development process to create new batteries that are optimized to the specifications of end customers. “It’s hard for a human to do the experiments that you need and to analyze multidimensional data,” says Pereira. “There are some companies that only do the machine-learning part and the computational science part and sell the results to companies. The problem is that there’s a disconnection between experimental reality and the simulations.” Using computer modeling, chemical engineering and automated manufacturing, Holy Grail pitches a system that can get real test batteries into the hands of end customers in the mobility, electronics, and utility industries orders of magnitude more quickly than traditional research and development shops. Currently the system that Holy Grail has built out can make 700 batteries per day. The company intends to  build a pilot plant that will make batteries for electronics and drones. For automotive and energy companies, Holy Grail says it will partner with existing battery manufacturers that can support the kind of high-throughput manufacturing big orders will require. Think of it like bringing the fabless chip design technologies and business models to the battery industry, says Pereira. Holy Grail already has $14 million in letters of intent with potential customers, according to Pereira and is expecting to close additional financing as it exits Y Combinator. To date the company has been backed by the London-based early stage investment firm Deep Science Ventures, where Pereira worked as an entrepreneur in residence. Ultimately, the company sees its technology being applied far beyond batteries as a new platform for materials science discoveries broadly. For now, though the focus is on batteries. “For the low volume we sell direct,” says Pereira. “While on high volume production, we will implement a pilot line through the system… we are able to do the research engineering with the small ones and test the big ones. In our case when we have a cell that works, it’s not something that works in a lab it’s something that works in the final cell.”

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Twitter is testing a new way to filter unwanted messages from your Direct Message inbox. Today, Twitter allows users to set their Direct Message inbox as being open to receiving messages from anyone, but this can invite a lot of unwanted messages, including abuse. While one solution is to adjust your settings so only those you follow can send your private messages, that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people — like reporters, for example — want to have an open inbox in order to have private conversations and receive tips. This new experiment will test a filter that will move unwanted messages, including those with offensive content or spam, to a separate tab. Unwanted messages aren’t fun. So we’re testing a filter in your DM requests to keep those out of sight, out of mind. pic.twitter.com/Sg5idjdeVv — Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) August 15, 2019 Instead of lumping all your messages into a single view, the Message Requests section will include the messages from people you don’t follow, and below that, you’ll find a way to access these newly filtered messages. Users would have to click on the “Show” button to even read these, which protects them from having to face the stream of unwanted content that can pour in at times when the inbox is left open. And even upon viewing this list of filtered messages, all the content itself isn’t immediately visible. In the case that Twitter identifies content that’s potentially offensive, the message preview will say the message is hidden because it may contain offensive content. That way, users can decide if they want to open the message itself or just click the delete button to trash it. The change could allow Direct Messages to become a more useful tool for those who prefer an open inbox, as well as an additional means of clamping down on online abuse. It’s also similar to how Facebook Messenger handles requests — those from people you aren’t friends with are relocated to a separate Message Requests area. And those that are spammy or more questionable are in a hard-to-find Filtered section below that. It’s not clear why a feature like this really requires a “test,” however — arguably, most people would want junk and abuse filtered out. And those who for some reason did not, could just toggle a setting to turn the filter off. Instead, this feels like another example of Twitter’s slow pace when it comes to making changes to clamp down on abuse. Facebook Messenger has been filtering messages in this way since late 2017. Twitter should just launch a change like this, instead of “testing” it. The idea of hiding — instead of entirely deleting — unwanted content is something Twitter has been testing in other areas, too. Last month, for example, it began piloting a new “Hide Replies” feature in Canada, which allows users to hide unwanted replies to their tweets so they’re not visible to everyone. The tweets aren’t deleted, but rather placed behind an extra click — similar to this Direct Message change. Twitter is updating is Direct Message system in other ways, too. At a press conference this week, Twitter announced several changes coming to its platform including a way to follow topics, plus a search tool for the Direct Message inbox, as well as support for iOS Live Photos as GIFs, the ability to reorder photos, and more.

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Cedric Dussud, Michael Nason, Ahmed Elsamadisi and Matthew Star (pictured above, in order) spent the summer sharing a house in San Francisco, cooking meals together and building Narrator, a startup with ambitions of becoming a universal data model fit for any company. Narrator is one of more than 100 startups graduating next week from Y Combinator, the San Francisco accelerator program. Put simply, the company provides data-science-as-a-service to its customers: fellow startups. “We provide the equivalent of a data team for the price of an analyst,” explains Narrator co-founder and director of engineering Star. “Within the first month, our clients get an infinitely scalable data system.” Led by chief executive officer Elsamadisi, a former senior data engineer at WeWork, the Narrator founding team is made up entirely of alums of the co-working giant. The building blocks of Narrator’s subscription-based data modeling tool were developed during Elsamadisi’s WeWork tenure, where he was tasked with making sense of the company’s disorganized trove of data. As an early addition to WeWork’s data team, Elsamadisi spent two years bringing WeWork’s data to one place, scaling the team to 40 people and ultimately creating a functional data model the soon-to-be-public company could use to streamline operations. Then in 2017, Elsamadisi had an a-ha moment. The system he created at WeWork could be applied to any data stream, he thought. “All companies are fundamentally the same when it comes to the kinds of data they want to understand about their business,” Narrator’s Dussud tells TechCrunch. “Every startup wants to know what’s my monthly recurring revenue, why are my customers churning or whatever the case may be. The only reason they have to go hire a data team and hire a business analyst is because the way that their data is structured is specific to that company.” All Narrator clients use the same consistent format to absorb and manage their data, saving startups time and heaps of money. Narrator follows a long line of Y Combinator graduates that built startups catering to other startups, as the accelerator becomes more of a SaaS incubator of sorts. PagerDuty and Docker proved that YC companies could build with a strong focus on other YC companies. Brex, a recent YC grad that issues credit cards to entrepreneurs, has leveraged the same startup-focused model for big-time success. “Why not build a company to make something that other startups can have?” Asks Dussud. “It’s hugely valuable and only big companies have access to it. Let’s make it available to everybody.” New York-based Narrator sees a massive opportunity ahead. Every company, after all, wants to increase revenue or decrease costs, a difficult task easier accomplished with a data-driven culture. “If you start to imagine a world where, under the hood, the structure of the data at all companies is the same, you can now start reusing a lot of the things that in the past would actually be quite complicated,” said Star. “Right now, anytime you want to start from scratch with a new data system, you are literally starting from scratch and unfortunately reinventing the wheel. If you had a standardized system, you know, a standardized model, you could start reusing a lot of really wonderful things.” Narrator is working with 14 clients today, each using an identical data model. Their goal is for Narrator’s structure to become the standard by which all startups do data science. In other words, Narrator hopes to become the operating system for data science. “What’s kind of amazing is whether we’re working with a financial app … a clothing rental startup or a healthcare company, they’re all using the same data model,” said Star. “Any one of those teams, if they wanted to get the same level of analysis, they would have to hire a data analyst.” Narrator raised $1.3 million in seed funding led by Flybridge Capital Partners prior to joining YC. Hot off the heels of the accelerator program, there’s no doubt the startup will close another round of financing soon. To fund Y Combinator’s top startups, VCs scoop them before Demo Day

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Dozens of Android adware apps disguised as photo editing apps and games have been caught serving ads that would take over users’ screens as part of a fraudulent money-making scheme. Security firm Trend Micro said it found 85 individual apps downloaded more than eight million times from the Google Play — all of which have since been removed from the app store. More often than not adware apps will run on a user’s device and will silently serve and click ads in the background and without the user’s knowledge to generate ad revenue. But these apps were particularly brazen and sneaky, one of the researchers said. “It isn’t your run-of-the-mill adware family,” said Ecular Xu, a mobile threat response engineer at Trend Micro. “Apart from displaying advertisements that are difficult to close, it employs unique techniques to evade detection through user behavior and time-based triggers.” The researchers discovered that the apps would keep a record when they were installed and sit dormant for around half-an-hour. After the delay, the app would hide its icon and create a shortcut on the user’s home screen, the security firm said. That, they say, helped to protect the app from being deleted if the user decided to drag and drop the shortcut to the ‘uninstall’ section of the screen. “These ads are shown in full screen,” said Xu. “Users are forced to view the whole duration of the ad before being able to close it or go back to app itself.” When the app unlocked, it displayed ads on the user’s home screen. The code also checks to make sure it doesn’t show the same ad too frequently, the researchers said. Worse, the ads can be remotely configured by the fraudster, allowing ads to be displayed more frequently than the default five minute intervals. Trend Micro provided a list of the apps — including Super Selfie Camera, Cos Camera, Pop Camera, and One Stroke Line Puzzle — all of which had a million downloads each. Users about to install the apps had a dead giveaway: most of the apps had appalling reviews, many of which had as many one-star reviews as they did five-stars, with users complaining about the deluge of pop-up ads. Google does not typically comment on app removals beyond acknowledging their removal from Google Play. Read more: New Android adware found in 200 apps on Google Play Sennheiser’s flawed headphone software opened PCs and Macs to HTTPS site spoofing Millions of Android users tricked into downloading dozens of adware apps from Google Play Scranos, a new rootkit malware, steals passwords and pushes YouTube clicks A top-tier app in Apple’s Mac App Store stole your browser history Android security: 0.04% of downloads on Google Play in 2018 were ‘potentially harmful apps’

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Good on Motorola for keeping it interesting. At the end of the day, I’m not sure how large a market there is for a budget “action camera” phone, but in a world of samey electronics, at least the Lenovo-owned brand continues to shade in interesting corners. Honestly, I’m surprised more phones didn’t attempt to position themselves as action devices in the heyday of the GoPro. For most consumers, that trend has largely blown over, and for GoPro itself, it’s become tough to compete with cheap knockoffs and the recent entrance of DJI into the market. The “action” part of the Motorola One Action is largely a reference to the three camera array on the rear — specifically the 117 degree, ultra side angle that offers a more GoPro-style shot. What’s really interesting here (and could have broad implications) is the decision to change the sensor’s orientation. Holding the phone vertically (wrong) results in landscape videos (right). And listen, I realize that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to shoot phone video, but come on, let’s be real for a minute. Those bars a really awful way to watch a YouTube video. The handset is pretty much a standard budget Moto device in ever other way. It arrives in Brazil, Mexico and parts of Europe today. The U.S. and Canada will get their hands on it in October. Expect it to be priced under $300.

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Tyler Elliston & Kevin Barry Contributor Tyler Elliston is the founder of Right Side Up, a collective of growth marketers that primarily helps early to mid-stage companies scale. Kevin Barry is the co-founder of Right Percent, a B2B-only performance marketing agency that develops tailored acquisition strategies for early to mid-stage companies. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of B2B companies apply ineffective demand generation strategies to their startup. If you’re a B2B founder trying to grow your business, this guide is for you. Rule #1: B2B is not B2C. We are often dealing with considered purchases, multiple stakeholders, long decision cycles, and massive LTVs. These unique attributes matter when developing a growth strategy. We’ll share B2B best practices we’ve employed while working with awesome B2B companies like Zenefits, Crunchbase, Segment, OnDeck, Yelp, Kabbage, Farmers Business Network, and many more. Topics covered include: Descriptions of growth stages you can use to determine your company’s status Tactics for each stage with specific examples Which advertising channels work best Optimization of your ad copy to maximize CTR and conversions Optimization of your sales funnel Measuring the ROI of your advertising spend We often crack growth for companies that didn’t think it was possible, based on their prior experience with agencies and/or internal resources. There are many misconceptions out there about B2B growth, rooted in the misapplication of B2C strategies and leading to poor performance. Study the differences and you’ll develop a filter for all the advice you get that’s good for one context (ex: B2C) but bad for another (ex: B2B). This guide will get you off on the right foot. Table of Contents What growth stage is your B2B startup? How do you find B2B customers? When do you use which channels? What kind of marketing messaging should you use? How do you build your sales funnel? How should you calculate and use the ROI of your marketing budget? In summary What growth stage is your B2B startup? The best growth strategy for your company ultimately depends on whether you’re in an incubation, iteration, or scale stage. One of the most common mistakes we see is a company acting like they’re in the scale phase when they’re actually in the iteration phase. As a result, many of them end up developing inefficient growth strategies that lead to exorbitant monthly ad spends, extraneous acquisition channels, hiring (and later firing) ineffective team members, and de-emphasizing critical customer feedback. There is often an intense pressure to grow, but believing your own hype before it’s real can kill early-stage ventures. Here’s a breakdown of each stage: Incubation is when you are building your minimum viable product (MVP). This should be done in close partnership with potential customers to ensure you are solving a real problem with a credible solution. Typically a founder is a voice of the customer, as someone who experienced the problem and sought out the solution s/he is now building. Other times, founders enter a new space and build a panel of prospective buyers to participate in the product development process. The endpoint of this phase is a working MVP. Iteration is when you have customers using your MVP and you are rapidly improving the product. Success at this stage is rooted in customer insights – both qualitative and quantitative – not marketing excellence. It’s valuable to include in this iterative process customers with whom the founder(s) have no prior relationship. You want to test the product’s appeal, not friends’ willingness to help you out. We want a customer set that is an accurate sample of a much larger population you will later sell to. The endpoint of the iteration phase is product/market fit. Scale is when you have product/market fit and are trying to grow your customer base. The goal of this phase is to build a portfolio of tactics that maximize market penetration with minimal – or at least profitable – cost. Success is rooted in growing lifetime value through retention and margin, maximizing funnel conversion to efficiently convert leads to customers, and finding repeatable tactics to drive prospective buyers’ awareness and consideration of your product. The endpoint of this phase is ultimately market saturation, leading to the incubation and iteration of new features, customer segments, and geographies. How do you find B2B customers?  Here’s a list of B2B customer acquisition tactics we commonly employ and recommend. Later in this article, we’ll connect each channel to the growth stage it’s best used in. This list is generally sorted by early stage to later stage: 1. Leverage your network. This is particularly valuable for founders who are building a product based on their own past experience. Reach out to old colleagues you know have the same problem you had (and are solving). Leverage the startup ecosystem. If your startup is in YCombinator, for instance, other companies in your batch may be prospects, along with alumni who will take your call simply because of your affiliation. Example: If you’re building an app for marketers, ask past marketing colleagues you’ve worked with to try out your product is a no brainer.

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YouTube is making a change to its copyright enforcement policies around music used in videos, which may result in an increased number of blocked videos in the shorter term — but overall, a healthier ecosystem in the long-term. Going forward, copyright owners will no longer be able to monetize creator videos with very short or unintentional uses of music via YouTube’s “Manual Claiming” tool. Instead, they can choose to prevent the other party from monetizing the video or they can block the content. However, YouTube expects that by removing the option to monetize these sorts of videos themselves, some copyright holders will instead just leave them alone. “One concerning trend we’ve seen is aggressive manual claiming of very short music clips used in monetized videos. These claims can feel particularly unfair, as they transfer all revenue from the creator to the claimant, regardless of the amount of music claimed,” explained YouTube in a blog post. To be clear, the changes only involve YouTube’s Manual Claiming tool which is not how the majority of copyright violations are handled today. Instead, the majority of claims are created through YouTube’s Content ID match system. This system scans videos uploaded to YouTube against a database of files submitted to the site by copyright owners. Then, when a match is found, the copyright holder owner can choose to block the video or monetize it themselves, and track the video’s viewership stats.  The Manual Claiming tool, on the other hand, is only offered to partners who understand how Content ID works. It allows them to search through publicly available YouTube videos to look for those containing their content and apply a claim when a match is found. The problem with the Manual Claiming policy is that is was impacting creator content even when the use of the claimed music in videos was very short — even a second long — or unintentional. For example, a creator who was vlogging may have walked past a store that was playing the copyrighted song, but then could lose the revenue from their video as a result. In April, YouTube said it was looking to address this problem. And just ahead of this year’s VidCon, YouTube announced several well-received changes to the Manual Claiming Policy. It began to require that copyright owners specify the timestamp in the video where the claim occurs — a change that YouTube hoped would create additional friction and cut down on abuse. Creators were also given tools of their own that let them easily remove the clip or replace the infringing content with free-to-use tracks. These newly announced changes go even further as they remove the ability for the copyright owner to monetize the infringing video at all. Copyright holders can now only prevent the creators themselves from monetizing the video, or they can block the content. However, given the new creator tools for handling infringing content, it’s likely that creators in those situations would just address the problem content in order to keep their video online. “As always, the best way to avoid these issues is to not use unlicensed content in your videos, even when it’s unintentional music playing in the background,” noted YouTube. It also urged creators to utilize its resources like the YouTube Audio Library and to read up on YouTube’s dispute process policies before uploading content that the creator believes is a copyright exception due to  Fair Use. YouTube says the changes will apply to all new manual claims, starting in mid-September. Once enforcement begins, copyright owners who repeatedly fail to adhere to the policies will lose access to the Manual Claiming tool. The response from the creator community, not surprisingly, has been positive as creators thanked YouTube for finally listening to them and responding to their concerns over this sort of copyright claim abuse. New today A policy preventing Copyright owners from making $ on manual claims for: Short song clips (ex: 5 sec of a song)Unintentional audio (ex:from passing cars) Claimants can still block monetization or the video itself, but timestamps help you edit out the claim. — TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) August 15, 2019  

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Shiru, a new company that’s launching from the latest batch of Y Combinator-backed startups, is joining the ranks of the businesses angling for a spot at the vanguard of the new food technology revolution. The company was founded by Jasmin Hume, the former director of food chemistry at Just (the company formerly known as Hampton Creek) and takes its name from a homophone of the Chinese shi rou (which Hume has roughly translated to an examination of meat). At Just, Hume was working with a team that was fractionating plants to look at their physical properties to identify what products could be made from the various proteins and chemicals researchers found in the plants. Shiru, by contrast, is using computational biology to find the ideal proteins for specific applications in the food industry. The company’s looking at what proteins are best for creating certain kinds of qualities that are used in food additives, things like viscosity building, solubility, foam stability, emulsification, and biding, according to Hume. In some ways, Hume’s approach looks similar to the early product roadmap for Geltor, a company backed by SOSV and IndieBio that was also looking to make functional proteins. The company, which has raised over $18 million to date, shifted its attention to proteins for the beauty industry and cosmetics instead of food — potentially leaving an opening for Shiru to exploit.  Still in its early days, Shiru doesn’t have a product nailed down yet, but the company the science the company is exploring is increasingly well understood, and Hume says it’s looking at several different genetically engineered feedstocks — from yeasts to undisclosed strains of bacteria and fungi to make its proteins.  “We use the power of molecular design and machine learning to identify protein structures that are more functional than existing alternatives,” says Hume. “The proteins that we are screening for are inspired by nature.” Hume’s path to founding Shiru involves quite the pedigree. Before Just, she received her doctorate in materials chemistry from New York University, and she’d spent a stretch as a summer associate at the New York-based frontier technology-focused investment firm Lux Capital. Hume expects to begin pilot production of initial proteins later this year and be producing small but repeatable quantities by the end of 2020. The company hasn’t raised any outside capital before Y Combinator and is currently in the process of raising a round, Hume said.  

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We love a good how-to, especially one that saves early-stage startup founders money and positions them for mad success. We’re talking about how to apply to be a TC Top Pick and exhibit at Disrupt Berlin 2019 — for free. Our TC Top Picks program is what we call a pre-Disrupt competition. If you’re a founder of an early-stage startup this is your chance to win a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and a VIP experience in Berlin. How does it all work? Read on! First, fill out an application if your startup falls into one of these tech categories: AI/Machine Learning, Biotech/Healthtech, Blockchain, Fintech, Mobility, Privacy/Security, Retail/E-commerce, Robotics/IoT/Hardware, CRM/Enterprise and Education. TechCrunch editors closely vet each application — and these editors have an almost-mystical ability to spot serious success potential. Ultimately, they’ll choose up to five of the best representatives for each category. A Startup Alley Exhibitor Package includes one exhibit day, three Founder passes, access to the full conference and all programming at the event. TC Top Picks attract a lot of attention at the show, and it’s a networking wonderland. You’ll meet investors, potential customers and future collaborators who can help you move to the next level. Plus, you’ll be interviewed by a TechCrunch editor live on the Showcase Stage. We’ll record that interview and promote it on our social media platforms. Talk about a great long-term marketing tool. Take a page from Caleb John’s playbook. Here’s what the CEO of Cedar Robotics said about exhibiting as a TC Top Pick: “It blew away my expectations. The number of people we met, the connections we made and the amount of media exposure we received is worth its weight in gold.” And another thing! You — and all the other exhibiting startups — might even win a chance to compete in Startup Battlefield. TechCrunch editors will choose a startup as a Wild Card competitor, and they’ll compete for $50,000. It’s a longshot, but it sure paid off for RecordGram. They won the Wild Card and then won the Battlefield. Can lightning strike twice? Disrupt Berlin 2019 takes place on 11-12 December. Don’t miss your opportunity to showcase your outstanding startup in Startup Alley and enjoy a VIP experience — for free. Apply to our TC Top Picks program today.

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Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion is teaming up with Kenya’s Wapi Capital to source and fund early-stage African fintech startups. Headquartered in Shenzhen, Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa that recently confirmed its imminent IPO. Wapi Capital is the venture fund of Kenyan fintech startup Wapi Pay—a Nairobi based company that facilitates digital payments between African and Asia via mobile money or bank accounts. Investments for the new partnership will come from Transsion’s Future Hub, an incubator and seed fund for African startups opened by Transsion in 2019. Starting September 2019, Transsion will work with Wapi Capital to select early-stage African fintech companies for equity-based investments of up to $100,000, Transsion Future Hub Senior Investor Laura Li told TechCrunch via email. Wapi Capital won’t contribute funds to Transsion’s Africa investments, but will help determine the viability and scale of the startups, including due diligence and deal flow, according to Wapi Pay co-founder Eddie Ndichu. Wapi Pay and Transsion Future Hub will consider ventures from all 54 African countries and interested startups can reach out directly to either organization, Ndichu and Li confirmed. The Wapi Capital fintech partnership is not Transsion’s sole VC focus in Africa. Though an exact fund size hasn’t been disclosed, the Transsion Future Hub will also make startup investments on the continent in adtech, fintech, e-commerce, logistics, and media and entertainment, according to Li. Transsion Future Hub’s existing portfolio includes Africa focused browser company Phoenix, content aggregator Scoop, and music service Boomplay. Boomplay, a Spotify-style music and video streaming service for African music and Africa, raises $20M Wapi Capital adds to the list of African located and run venture funds—which have been growing in recent years—according to a 2018 study by TechCrunch and Crunchbase. Wapi Capital will also start making its own investments and is looking to raise $1 million this year and $10 million over the next three years, according to Ndichu, who co-founded the fund and Wapi Pay with his twin brother Paul. Transsion’s commitment to African startup investments comes as the company is on the verge of listing on China’s new Nasdaq-style STAR Market tech exchange. Transsion confirmed to TechCrunch this month the IPO is in process and that it could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million). Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market — through its brands Tecno, Infinix and Itel — and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats. Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia. Transsion’s move into venture investing tracks greater influence from China in African tech. China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities. Transsion’s Wapi Pay partnership is the second recent event — after Chinese owned Opera’s big venture spending in Nigeria — to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene. Opera founded startup OPay raises $50M for mobile finance in Nigeria              

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Is there room for another social media platform? ShareChat, a four-year-old social network in India that serves tens of million of people in regional languages, just answered that question with a $100 million financing round led by global giant Twitter . Other than Twitter, TrustBridge Partners, and existing investors Shunwei Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, SAIF Capital, India Quotient and Morningside Venture Capital also participated in the Series D round of ShareChat. The new round, which pushes ShareChat’s all-time raise to $224 million, valued the firm at about $650 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. ShareChat declined to comment on the valuation. Screenshot of Sharechat home page on web “Twitter and ShareChat are aligned on the broader purpose of serving the public conversation, helping the world learn faster and solve common challenges. This investment will help ShareChat grow and provide the company’s management team access to Twitter’s executives as thought partners,” said Manish Maheshwari, managing director of Twitter India, in a prepared statement. Twitter, like many other Silicon Valley firms, counts India as one of its key markets. And like Twitter, other Silicon Valley firms are also increasingly investing in Indian startups. ShareChat serves 60 million users each month in 15 regional languages, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and CEO of the firm, told TechCrunch in an interview. The platform currently does not support English, and has no plans to change that, Sachdeva said. That choice is what has driven users to ShareChat, he explained. The early incarnation of the social media platform supported English language. It saw most of its users choose English as their preferred language, but this also led to another interesting development: Their engagement with the app significantly reduced. The origin story “For some reason, everyone wanted to converse in English. There was an inherent bias to pick English even when they did not know it.” (Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people speak English. Hindi, a regional language, on the other hand, is spoken by about half a billion people, according to official government figures.) So ShareChat pulled support for English. Today, an average user spends 22 minutes on the app each day, Sachdeva said. The learning in the early days to remove English is just one of the many things that has shaped ShareChat to what it is today and led to its growth. In 2014, Sachdeva and two of his friends — Bhanu Singh and Farid Ahsan, all of whom met at the prestigious institute IIT Kanpur — got the idea of building a debate platform by looking at the kind of discussions people were having on Facebook groups. They identified that cricket and movie stars were popular conversation topics, so they created WhatsApp groups and aggressively posted links to those groups on Facebook to attract users. It was then when they built chatbots to allow users to discover different genres of jokes, recommendations for phones and food recipes, among other things. But they soon realized that users weren’t interested in most of such offerings. “Nobody cared about our smartphone recommendations. All they wanted was to download wallpapers, ringtones, copy jokes and move on. They just wanted content.” So in 2015, Sachdeva and company moved on from chatbots and created an app where users can easily produce, discover and share content in the languages they understand. (Today, user generated content is one of the key attractions of the platform, with about 15% of its user base actively producing content.) A year later, ShareChat, like tens of thousands of other businesses, was in for a pleasant surprise. India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his new telecom network Reliance Jio, which offered users access to the bulk of data at little to no charge for an extended period of time. This immediately changed the way millions of people in the country, who once cared about each megabyte they consumed online, interacted with the internet. On ShareChat people quickly started to move from sharing jokes and other messages in text format to images and then videos. Path ahead and monetization That momentum continues to today. ShareChat now plans to give users more incentive — including money — and tools to produce content on the platform to drive engagement. “There remains a huge hunger for content in vernacular languages,” Sachdeva said. Speaking of money, ShareChat has experimented with ads on the app and its site, but revenue generation isn’t currently its primary focus, Sachdeva said. “We’re in the Series D now so there is obviously an obligation we have to our investors to make money. But we all believe that we need to focus on growth at this stage,” he said. ShareChat, which is headquartered in Bangalore, also has many users in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Middle East, where many users speak Indian regional languages. But the startup currently plans to focus largely on expanding its user base in India, hopefully doubling it in the next one year, he said. It will use the new capital to strengthen the technology infrastructure and hire more tech talent. Sachdeva said ShareChat is looking to open an office in San Francisco to hire local engineers there. A handful of local and global giants have emerged in India in recent years to cater to people in small cities and villages, who are just getting online. Pratilipi, a storytelling platform has amassed more than 5 million users, for instance. It recently raised $15 million to expand its user base and help users strike deals with content studios. Perhaps no other app poses a bigger challenge to ShareChat than TikTok, an app where users share short-form videos. TikTok, owned by one of the world’s most valued startups, has over 120 million users in India and sees content in many Indian languages. But the app — with its ever growing ambitions — also tends to land itself in hot water in India every few weeks. In all sensitive corners of the country. On that front, ShareChat has an advantage. Over the years, it has emerged as an outlier in the country that has strongly supported proposed laws by the Indian government that seek to make social apps more accountable for content that circulates on their platforms.

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posted 7 days ago on techcrunch
Apple is suing virtualization software company Corellium, according to documents filed today in Florida. Corellium allows customers to create and interact with virtual iOS devices — a software iPhone, for example, running actual iOS firmware, all within the browser. Apple says this is copyright infringement, and is demanding Corellium stops “all uses of” its iOS virtualization products and pays Apple unspecified “damages and lost profits” Corellium could allow, for example, a security researcher to quickly fire up a simulated iPhone and hunt for potential bugs. If one is discovered, they can quickly load up prior versions of iOS to see how long this bug has been around. If a bug “bricks” the virtual iOS device and renders it unusable, it’s a matter of just booting up a new one rather than obtaining a whole new phone. Virtualized devices can be paused, giving researchers a detailed look at its precise state at any given moment . Forbes did a deep dive on the company last year. As they point out, two of the company’s co-founders were some of the earliest members of the iPhone jailbreak scene, giving them an understanding better than nearly anyone else in the world as to how iPhones, iPads, etc work under the hood. In its complaint, Apple writes: The product Corellium offers is a “virtual” version of Apple mobile hardware products, accessible to anyone with a web browser. Specifically, Corellium serves up what it touts as a perfect digital facsimile of a broad range of Apple’s market-leading devices—recreating with fastidious attention to detail not just the way the operating system and applications appear visually to bona fide purchasers, but also the underlying computer code. Corellium does so with no license or permission from Apple. This news comes just days after Apple announced that it would be launching a “iOS Security Research Device Program”, in which select security researchers would be given access to less-locked down iOS devices in order to help them find vulnerabilities.

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posted 7 days ago on techcrunch
Domestic abuse comes in digital forms as well as physical and emotional, but a lack of tools to address this kind of behavior leaves many victims unprotected and desperate for help. This Cornell project aims to define and detect digital abuse in a systematic way. Digital abuse may be many things: hacking the victim’s computer, using knowledge of passwords or personal date to impersonate them or interfere with their presence online, accessing photos to track their location, and so on. As with other forms of abuse, there are as many patterns as there are people who suffer from it. But with something like emotional abuse, there are decades of studies and clinical approaches to address how to categorize and cope with it. Not so with newer phenomena like being hacked or stalked via social media. That means there’s little standard playbook for them, and both abused and those helping them are left scrambling for answers. “Prior to this work, people were reporting that the abusers were very sophisticated hackers, and clients were receiving inconsistent advice. Some people were saying, ‘Throw your device out.’ Other people were saying, ‘Delete the app.’ But there wasn’t a clear understanding of how this abuse was happening and why it was happening,” explained Diana Freed, a doctoral student at Cornell Tech and co-author of a new paper about digital abuse. “They were making their best efforts, but there was no uniform way to address this,” said co-author Sam Havron. “They were using Google to try to help clients with their abuse situations.” Investigating this problem with the help of a National Science Foundation grant to examine the role of tech in domestic abuse, they and some professor collaborators at Cornell and NYU came up with a new approach. There’s a standardized questionnaire to characterize the type of tech-based being experienced. It may not occur to someone who isn’t tech-savvy that their partner may know their passwords, or that there are social media settings they can use to prevent that partner from seeing their posts. This information and other data are added to a sort of digital presence diagram the team calls the “technograph” and which helps the victim visualize their technological assets and exposure. The team also created a device they call the IPV Spyware Discovery, or ISDi. It’s basically spyware scanning software loaded on a device that can check the victim’s device without having to install anything. This is important because an abuser may have installed tracking software that would alert them if the victim is trying to remove it. Sound extreme? Not to people fighting a custody battle who can’t seem to escape the all-seeing eye of an abusive ex. And these spying tools are readily available for purchase. “It’s consistent, it’s data-driven and it takes into account at each phase what the abuser will know if the client makes changes. This is giving people a more accurate way to make decisions and providing them with a comprehensive understanding of how things are happening,” explained Freed. Even if the abuse can’t be instantly counteracted, it can be helpful simply to understand it and know that there are some steps that can be taken to help. The authors have been piloting their work at New York’s Family Justice Centers, and following some testing have released the complete set of documents and tools for anyone to use. This isn’t the team’s first piece of work on the topic — you can read their other papers and learn more about their ongoing research at the Intimate Partner Violence Tech Research program site.

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