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Main article: Apps

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Facebook finally lets you banish nav bar tabs & red dots

22:43 | 11 November

Are those red notification dots on your Facebook home screen driving you crazy? Sick of Facebook Marketplace wasting your screen space? Now you can control what appears in the Facebook app’s navigation bar thanks to a new option called Shortcuts Bar Settings.

Over the weekend TechCrunch spotted the option to remove certain tabs like Marketplace, Watch, Groups, Events, and Dating or just silence their notification dots. In response to our inquiry, Facebook confirms that Shortcut Bar Settings is now rolling out to everyone, with most iOS users already equipped and the rest of Android owners getting it in the next few weeks.

The move could save the sanity and improve the well-being of people who don’t want their Facebook cluttered with distractions. Users already get important alerts that they could actually control via their Notifications tab. Constant red notification counts on the homescreen are an insidious growth hack, trying to pull in people’s attention to random Group feeds, Event wall posts, and Marketplace.

“We are rolling out navigation bar controls to make it easier for people to connect with the things they like and control the notifications they get within the Facebook app” a Facebook spokesperson tells me.

Back in July 2018, Facebook said it would start personalizing the navigation bar based on what utilities you use most. But the navigation bar seemed more intent on promoting features Facebook wanted to be popular like its Craigslist competitor Marketplace, which I rarely use, rather than its long-standing Events feature I access daily.

To use the Shortcuts Bar Settings options, tap and hold on any of the shortcuts in your navigation bar that’s at the bottom of the Facebook homescreen on iOS and the top on Android. You’ll see a menu pop up letting you remove that tab entirely, or leave it but disable the red notification count overlays. That clears space in your nav bar for a more peaceful experience.

You’ll also now find in the three-line More tab -> Settings & Privacy -> Settings -> Shortcuts menu the ability to toggle any of the Marketplace, Groups, Events, and Pages tabs on or off. Eagle-eyed reverse engineering specialist

spotted in June that Facebook was testing Notification Dots settings menu that’s now available too.

A Facebook spokesperson admits people should have the ability to take a break from notifications within the app. They tell me Facebook wanted to give users more control so they can have access to what’s relevant to them.

For all of Facebook’s talk about well-being, with it trying out hiding Like counts in its app and Instagram (this week starting in the US), there’s still plenty of low-hanging fruit. Better batching of Facebook notifications would be a great step, allowing users to get a daily digest of Groups or Events posts rather than a constant flurry. Its Time Well Spent dashboard that counts your minutes on Facebook should also say how many notifications you get of each type, how many you actually open, and let you disable the most common but useless ones right from there.

If Facebook wants to survive long-term, it can’t piss off users by trapping them in an anxiety-inducing hellscape of growth hacks that benefit the company. The app has become bloated and cramped with extra features over the last 15 years. Facebook could get away with more aggressive cross-promotion of some of these forgotten features as long as it empowers us to hide what we hate.

 


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Facebook’s first experimental apps from its ‘NPE Team’ division focus on students, chat & music

00:05 | 9 November

This July, Facebook announced a new division called NPE Team which would build experimental consumer-facing apps, allowing the company to try out new ideas and features to see how people would react. It soon thereafter tapped former Vine GM Jason Toff to join the team as a Product Manager. The first apps to emerge from the NPE Team have now quietly launched. One, Bump, is a chat app that aims to help people make new friends through conversations, not appearances. Another, Aux, is a social music listening app.

Aux seems a bit reminiscent of an older startup, Turntable.fm, that closed its doors in 2013. As in Turntable.fm, the idea with Aux is that of a virtual DJ’ing experience where people instead of algorithms are programming the music. This concept of crowdsourced DJ’ing also caught on in years past with radio stations who put their audiences in control of the playlist through their mobile app.

Later, streaming music apps like Spotify experimented with party playlists, and various startups launched their own guest-controlled playlists.

The NPE Team’s Aux app is a slightly different take on this general idea of people-powered playlists.

The app is aimed at school-aged kids and teens who join a party in the app every day at 9 PM. They then choose the songs they want to play and compete for the “AUX” to get theirs played first. At the end of the night, a winner is chosen based on how many “claps” are received.

As the app describes it, Aux is a “DJ for Your School” — a title that’s a bit confusing, as it brings to mind music being played over the school’s intercom system, as opposed to a social app for kids who attend school to use in the evenings.

Aux launched on August 8, 2019 in Canada, and has less than 500 downloads on iOS, according to data from Sensor Tower. It’s not available on Android. It briefly ranked No. 38 among all Music apps on the Canadian App Store on October 22, which may point to some sort of short campaign to juice the downloads.

The other new NPE Team app is Bump, which aims to help people “make new friends.”

Essentially an anonymous chat app, the idea here is that Bump can help people connected by giving them icebreakers to respond to using text. There are no images, videos or links in Bump — just chats.

Based on the App Store screenshots, the app seems to be intended for college students. The screenshots show questions about “the coolest place” on campus and where to find cheap food. A sample chat shown in the screenshots mentions things like classes and roommate troubles. 

There could be a dating component to the app, as well, as it stresses that Bump helps people make a connection through “dialog versus appearances.” That levels the playing field a bit, compared with other social apps — and certainly dating apps — where the most attractive users with the best photos tend to receive the most attention.

Chats in Bump take place in real-time, and you can only message in one chat at a time. There’s also a time limit of 30 seconds to respond to messages, which keeps the chat active. When the chat ends, the app will ask you if you want to keep in touch with the other person. Only if both people say yes will you be able to chat with them again.

Bump is available on both iOS and Android and is live in Canada and the Philippines. Bump once ranked as high as No. 252 in Social Networking on the Canadian App Store on September 1, 2019, according to Sensor Tower. However, it’s not ranking at all right now.

What’s interesting is that only one of these NPE Team apps, Bump, discloses in its App Store description that the NPE Team is from Facebook. The other, Aux, doesn’t mention this. However, both do point to an App privacy policy that’s hosted on Facebook.com for those who went digging.

That’s not too different from how Google’s in-house app incubator, Area 120, behaves. Some of its apps aren’t clear about their affiliation with Google, save for a link to Google’s privacy policy. It seems these companies want to see if the apps succeed or fail on their own merit, not because of their parent company’s brand name recognition.

Facebook hasn’t said much about its plans for the NPE Team beyond the fact that they will focus on new ways of building community and may be shut down quickly if they’re not useful.

Facebook has been asked for comment about the new apps and we’ll update if one is provided.

 


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Popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners

21:00 | 8 November

Security researchers have found several popular Android phones can be tricked into snooping on their owners by exploiting a weakness that gives accessories access to the phone’s underlying baseband software.

Attackers can use that access to trick vulnerable phones into giving up their unique identifiers, such as their IMEI and IMSI numbers, downgrade a target’s connection in order to intercept phone calls, forward calls to another phone or block all phone calls and internet access altogether.

The research, shared exclusively with TechCrunch, affects at least 10 popular Android devices, including Google’s Pixel 2, Huawei’s Nexus 6P and Samsung’s Galaxy S8+.

The vulnerabilities are found in the baseband firmware, the software that allows the phone’s modem to communicate with the cell network, such as making phone calls or connecting to the internet. Given its importance, the baseband is typically off-limits from the rest of the device, including its apps, and often come with command blacklisting to prevent non-critical commands from running. But the researchers found that many Android phones inadvertently allow Bluetooth and USB accessories — like headphones and headsets — access to the baseband. By exploiting a vulnerable accessory, an attacker can run commands on a connected Android phone.

“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption,” said Syed Rafiul Hussain, one of the co-authors of the paper, in an email to TechCrunch.

Hussain and his colleagues Imtiaz Karim, Fabrizio Cicala and Elisa Bertino at Purdue University and Omar Chowdhury at the University of Iowa are set to present their findings next month.

“The impact of these attacks ranges from sensitive user information exposure to complete service disruption.”
Syed Rafiul Hussain, Purdue University

Baseband firmware use a special language, known as AT commands, which control the device’s cellular functions. These commands can be used to tell the modem which phone number to call. But the researchers found that these commands can be manipulated. The researchers developed a tool, dubbed ATFuzzer, which tries to find potentially problematic AT commands.

In their testing, the researchers discovered 14 commands that could be used to trick the vulnerable Android phones into leaking sensitive device data, and manipulating phone calls.

But not all devices are vulnerable to the same commands or can be manipulated in the same way. The researchers found, for example, that certain commands could trick a Galaxy S8+ phone into leaking its IMEI number, redirect phone calls to another phone and downgrade their cellular connection — all of which can be used to snoop and listen in on phone calls, such as with specialist cellular snooping hardware known as “stingrays.” Other devices were not vulnerable to call manipulation but were susceptible to commands that could be used to block internet connectivity and phone calls.

The vulnerabilities are not difficult to exploit, but require all of the right conditions to be met.

“The attacks can be easily carried out by an adversary with cheap Bluetooth connectors or by setting up a malicious USB charging station,” said Hussain. In other words, it’s possible to manipulate a phone if an accessory is accessible over the internet — such as a computer. Or, if a phone is connected to a Bluetooth device, an attacker has to be in close proximity. (Bluetooth attacks are not difficult, given vulnerabilities in how some devices implement Bluetooth has left some devices more vulnerable to attacks than others.)

“If your smartphone is connected with a headphone or any other Bluetooth device, the attacker can first exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of the Bluetooth connection and then inject those malformed AT commands,” said Hussain.

Samsung recognized the vulnerabilities in some of its devices and is rolling out patches. Neither Huawei nor Google provided comment at the time of writing.

Hussain said that iPhones were not affected by the vulnerabilities.

This research becomes the latest to examine vulnerabilities in baseband firmware. Over the years there have been several papers examining various phones and devices with baseband vulnerabilities. Although these reports are rare, security researchers have long warned that intelligence agencies and hackers alike could be using these flaws to launch silent attacks.

 


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Tinder’s interactive video series ‘Swipe Night’ is going international next year

20:58 | 6 November

Tinder’s big experiment with interactive content — the recently launched in-app series called Swipe Night — was a success. According to Tinder parent company Match during its Q3 earnings this week, “millions” of Tinder users tuned into to watch the show’s episodes during its run in October, and this drove double-digit increases in both matches and messages. As a result, Match confirmed its plans to launch Tinder’s new show outside the U.S. in early 2020. 

Swipe Night’s launch was something of a departure for the dating app, whose primary focus has been on connecting users for dating and other more casual affairs.

The new series presented users with something else to do in the Tinder app beyond just swiping on potential matches. Instead, you swiped on a story.

Presented in a “choose-your-own-adventure” style format that’s been popularized by Netflix, YouTube, and others, Swipe Night asked users to make decisions to advance a narrative that followed a group of friends in an “apocalyptic adventure.”

Swipe Night ChoiceThe moral and practical choices you made during Swipe Night would then be shown on your profile as a conversation starter, or as just another signal as to whether or not a match was right for you. After all, they say that the best relationships come from those who share common values, not necessarily common interests. And Swipe Night helped to uncover aspects to someone’s personality that a profile would not — like whether you’d cover for a friend who cheated, or tell your other friend who was the one being cheated on?

The 5-minute long episodes ran every Sunday night in October from 6 PM to midnight.

Though early reports on Tinder’s plans had somewhat dramatically described Swipe Night as Tinder’s launch into streaming video, it’s more accurate to call Swipe Night an engagement booster for an app that many people often find themselves needing a break from. Specifically, it could help Tinder to address issues around declines in open rates or sessions per user — metrics that often hide behind what otherwise looks like steady growth. (Tinder, for example, added another 437,000 subscribers in the quarter, leading to 5.7 million average subscribers in Q3).

Ahead of earnings, there were already signs that Swipe Night was succeeding in its efforts to boost engagement.

Tinder said in late October that matches on its app jumped 26% compared to a typical Sunday night, and messages increased 12%.

On Tinder’s earnings call with investors, Match presented some updated metrics. The company said Swipe Night led to a 20% to 25% increase in “likes” and a 30% increase in matches. And the elevated conversation levels that resulted from user participation continued for days after each episode aired. Also importantly, the series helped boost female engagement in the app.

“This really extended our appeal and resonated with Gen Z users,” said Match CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “This effort demonstrates the kind of creativity and team we have a tender and the kind of that we’re willing to make.”

Swipe Night

The company says it will make Season 1 of Swipe Night (a hint there’s more to come) available soon as an on-demand experience, and will roll out the product to international markets early next year.

Swipe Night isn’t the only video product Match Group has in the works. In other Match-owned dating apps, Plenty of Fish and Twoo, the company is starting to test live streaming broadcasts. But these are created by the app’s users, not as a polished, professional product from the company itself.

Match had reported better-than-expected earnings for the third quarter, with earnings of 51 cents per share — above analysts’ expectations for earnings of 42 cents per share. Match’s revenue was $541 million, in line with Wall St.’s expectations.

But its fourth-quarter guidance came in lower than expectations ($545M-$555M, below the projected $559.3M), sending the stock dropping. Match said it would have to take on about $10 million in expenses related to it being spun out from parent company IAC.

 

 

 


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Glovo is opening a tech hub in Poland after gobbling a local food delivery rival

16:08 | 6 November

Barcelona-based on-demand delivery startup Glovo is beefing up its engineering capacity by opening a second tech hub, its first in Poland — with an initial plan to hire 40 additional engineers and have a total of 50 tech and product experts working predominantly out of its Warsaw office.

Glovo says it expects the Polish engineering hub to make up half of its technology capacity in time. It will have a main focus on developing user-facing features for its marketplace product and for partners operating on the platform, it adds.

It also has plans for further expansion of the facility down the line — and an overarching roadmap for its business of a 300-strong engineering team to support building out its on-demand service offering.

Its pitch is “everything” delivered on-demand, from fast food to groceries or pharmaceuticals, so long as it’s small and light enough to be handled by one of the couriers picking up jobs on its platform.

While there’s little doubt that fast food makes up the bulk of Glovo orders right now the startup has been trying to push into online grocery deliveries, to compete with giants like Amazon — including setting up its own warehouses capable of fulfilling orders within 20 minutes, 24 hours a day. (It calls these ‘dark supermarkets’ SuperGlovo — ‘super’ meaning ‘supermarket’ in Spanish. Though its ‘dark’ model has also attracted attention from Barcelona City Council for lacking a correct permit.)

In August Spanish media reported that Glovo had itself been shopping — picking up Polish food delivery platform, Pizza Portal, for an acquisition price-tag that’s billed as up to €35M (~$39M).

Glovo raised a $169M Series D back in April which included investment from Drake, owner of global pizza franchise Papa John’s — giving it the means and the motive to gobble smaller rivals in the food delivery space.

Poland being one of its existing markets in Europe. (Albeit Pizza Portal offers various types of fast food for delivery, not just pizza.)

In all, Glovo operates in more than 20 countries at this stage, though its densest markets of operation remain its home market of Spain and also Italy.

In Poland it operates in just eight cities — so the Pizza Portal acquisition looks intended to beef up its footprint there, with the latter slated as the largest food-service platform in the market — even as Glovo doubles down on expanding its engineering capacity by tapping up local tech talent.

At the same time, competition for on-demand delivery, and especially food delivery, remains fierce in Europe where a number of players — including the likes of Deliveroo, JustEat and Uber Eats, are battling it out for territory. And, in some instances, consuming each other to carve out a bigger share of lunch in key markets.

Where Glovo doesn’t operate in Europe highlights some of that ongoing food fight, with no offering in Germany or the UK, for instance. Its regional strategy focuses on the South and East. It has also been building up an international business, opening in markets in LatAm and the Middle East and Africa.

Scaling fast is certainly core to Glovo’s playbook, though. It says it launched in a new city every four days on average last year, while the 2015-founded startup now employs over 1,300 people in all.

Glovo founder Oscar Pierre will be joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin in December to chat about growing an on-demand delivery business — you can find out more about Disrupt conference passes here

 


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Uber is entering the ads business

15:51 | 6 November

Uber will become an ad platform, selling space inside its Eats app to restaurants hoping to lure in more food delivery orders. A recent Uber job listing spotted by TechCrunch seeks an Uber Eats Ads Lead “to lead the team and efforts responsible for creating a new ads business that enables eaters to discover new foods and restaurants to grow their customer base.”

An Uber spokesperson confirmed the company would be entering the ads business, telling TechCrunch “We are exploring relevant ads in Eats.” Selling ads could help it improve margins on Eats, where it only takes 10.7% of gross bookings as adjusted net revenue since it pays out so much to restaurants and drivers.

The fresh opportunity in ads comes at a critical time when Uber is desperate to show its future potential in the face of a sagging share price that closed at $28.02 yesterday, down 40% from a high of $46.38 in June. Today, Uber’s post-IPO stock lock-up expires and early investors are able to sell their shares, putting newfound pressure on its stock.

TechCrunch was the first to discover a prototype of Eats ads in Decembe called Specials, where restaurants could get featured placement in the app in exchange for offering a discount. This demonstrated Uber’s ability to steer hungry users to order from particular restaurants.

I followed up with Uber’s senior director and head of Eats product Stephen Chau, who hinted at the company’s aspiration in the ads business. “There’s a bunch of different ways we can work with restaurants over time. If we have all the restaurants on the marketplace and we give them tools to help them grow, then this will be a very efficient marketplace. They’re going to be spending those ad dollars somewhere,” Chau told me. We’ve been checking on the company’s progress in ads ever since.

As we predicted, now instead of just a quid pro quo where Uber exchanges added visibility to restaurants willing to offer discounts that could keep users loyal to Uber Eats, it plans to formally sell ads.

“As this is a brand new space for Uber” the Toronto-based Eats Ads Lead “will be responsible for defining the vision for this new product area and determining where to start building.”

The job listing also notes whoever takes the role will “Help formulate our business, product and go-to-market strategy for ads” and “Creatively experiment and quickly iterate on early tests”. Signaling global ambitions for Eats ads, the Lead will “Customize and scale this offering across the world.”

The effort is separate from Uber’s own marketing efforts that see it spend over $1 billion per year to recruit riders, drivers, and Eats customers. Uber will start selling the ads, not just buying them.

The potential for Eats ads stems from Uber’s place as a destination for choosing what to eat, not just ordering it. Wherever there is discovery, there are opportunities for paid discovery. And as Uber focuses on cross-promoting Eats inside its main ride hailing app, it could suck in more users that are open to suggestions that restaurants pay to provide.

We don’t have details on exactly how Uber’s ads will look. However, you could imagine them appearing on the home page, the browse section, or even in search results for certain cuisines or restaurants. Restaurants hoping to boost orders could pay to appear to users who are hungry but don’t know what they want to eat, or to appear before competitors in the same food style.

Amazon successfully navigated a similar expansion from marketplace to ad platform. eMarketer expects Amazon’s US ads business will grow 33% this year to reach $9.85 billion, and claim 7.6% of the total US ad market which makes it the biggest search ad player behind Google.

Uber could use any revenue it can get. This quarter the company lost $1 billion, with $316 million of that loss coming from Eats. But Eats’ revenue grew 64% year-over-year, showing it’s increasingly popular, and could command enough user attention to make advertising lucrative.

Ads could also serve as a wedge for Uber to move deeper into business intelligence services for restaurants. It could apply its data on food delivery demand to help kitchens to optimize prices, allocate staff, and improve menus.

To save its share price, Uber’s best bet is to find new streams of cash it doesn’t have to share with drivers or restaurants. It may still be years until self-driving vehicles arrive to rescue Uber from its tremendous costs.

 


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Subscription service for Mac apps Setapp extends to teams

21:22 | 5 November

Setapp, the Spotify of Mac apps, is launching a new subscription plan specifically designed for teams. It is currently available as a public beta. As a reminder, Setapp lets you download and use 160 apps for a flat subscription fee. You don’t need to pay for major updates and there’s no in-app purchase.

Anybody can sign up to a Setapp account for $9.99 per month, or $8.99 per month with annual subscriptions. There are also family plans for three users and five Macs for $19.99 per month.

As the name suggests, Setapp for teams is a new offering specifically designed for companies. It costs $8.99 per user per month. You’ll find the same app library whether you have an individual Setapp account or a business account.

The new offering makes it easier to manage software licenses. There’s a unified billing and administration panel that lets you add and remove users over time.

Apps include Ulysses, PDFpen, ForkLift, Mindnode, iStat Menus, etc. It has become a sort of mini Mac App Store without any paid download. Every time you need a new app to achieve a specific task, you can open Setapp and search the app library to see if there’s an app that can do that for you.

 


0

Arweave’s Permaweb blockchain can host sites & apps forever

21:13 | 5 November

What if you could pay now to store something online permanently? You could preserve a website against censorship, save legal contracts, or offer an app even after your company fails. That’s the promise of Arweave‘s Permaweb.

The startup has built a new type of blockchain that relies on Moore’s Law-style declining data storage costs. Users pay a few hundred dollars upfront (about half a cent per megabyte), and the interest accrued by the excess payment will perpetually cover the costs of shrinking storage prices.

The Permaweb quietly launched last June. Over 100 permanent apps have been built on Arweave’s infrastructure including an email client in the last six months, while 50,000 objects were stored on the Permaweb in October alone. As long as some node operators keep hosting the data on unused hard drive space, they keep getting paid, and the sites, apps, or files remain available. Instead of needing some special blockchain browser to access what’s stored, the Permaweb can be accessed through traditional web browsers and URLs.

Arweave founder Sam Williams

The potential of the Permaweb has attracted $5 million in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto, and joined by other top blockchain investors Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital who’ve exchanged the cash for tokens from Arweave. Those tokens, and the rest Arweave is sitting on, could become increasingly valuable if the Permaweb becomes popular.

“Arweave’s mission is to become the new Library of Alexandria” Arweave founder Sam Williams writes, “but invulnerable to the pitfalls of centralised points of failure, ensuring that humanity’s shared knowledge and history is available to all future generations.”

Filling Orwell’s Memory Hole

The idea spawned from a slew of PhDs dropouts trying to address the fake news problem. They figured if sites or articles could be stored permanently in their original form, they couldn’t be changed or eradicated by a future despot.

The team discovered blockchains could handle this at small scale. But to decentralize large amounts of data, they developed a special kind of blockchain where miners are rewarded for storing a random old block from the chain, not just the most recent one. That meant the more of the total blocks they stored, the more they’d stand to earn.

After going through TechStars Berlin and recruiting some of their accelerator-mates, Arweave launched the Permaweb mid last year. Those who want to store something download a free Chrome, Firefox, or Brave browser extension, fund their wallet, and make a one-time payment. For example, here’s a permanently hosted forum that won’t disappear like many online communities have over the years.

While pricier than alternatives like AWS in the short-term, the Permaweb could theoretically keep files alive forever. Williams says that data storage costs have declined around 30% per year for a while, but the decentralized network would still be able to cover costs as long as that rate doesn’t fall lower than 0.5%. “If we dropped below 0.5% storage cost decline, then really, really bad things will have happened to humans.” And even then, today’s payments would cover 200 years of storage.

Another benefit is that users of applications can choose to use the original version of a Perma app instead of an updated one. That way if a developer polluted later versions with ads or privacy invasions, users could rely on the old one.

An important concern is that the Permaweb could be used to enable piracy. But Williams tells me the majority of node operators have to vote to approve hosting a file, so they could refuse copyrighted music or revenge porn. And anyways, torrenting is a free and so likely more appealing to pirates. We’ll see if other players try to crash into the market with a similar concept and trigger a perma pricing war.

Arweave likens itself to an Uber for storage, matching users needing to save files with those with excess storage capacity. But it acts as if there’s no middleman like Uber taking a cut. Instead the startup will sell tokens as necessary to stay funded until the network is sufficiently decentralized and runs itself.

“A lot of crypto projects are long on white papers but short on code. Arweave was the opposite” says Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger. His fund tried out the Permaweb by storing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ongoing measurements of carbon dioxide — something climate change deniers might want to suppress.

The goal was always to stop misinformation. Williams concludes “We think that we’re closing what Orwell called the memory hole so people can’t change what was said, so everyone can see it that way in the future without the possibility of redaction or censorship.”

 


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Huawei calls hackers to Munich for secret bug bounty meeting

19:25 | 5 November

Chinese tech giant Huawei has asked some of the world’s best phone hackers to a secret meeting in Munich later this month as the company tries to curry favor with global governments, TechCrunch has learned.

Sources with knowledge of the November 16 meeting said Huawei will privately present its new bug bounty program, which would allow researchers to get financial rewards for submitting security vulnerabilities. The sources said the bug bounty will be focused on past and future mobile devices, as well as its new mobile operating system, HarmonyOS, Huawei’s Android competitor.

Other phone makers, including Apple, Google, and Samsung, also have bug bounties.

The move comes at a time of increased pressure on Huawei over its links to the Chinese government. Huawei has denied U.S.-led claims that it could be forced to spy on behalf of Beijing. But that hasn’t stopped the federal government from imposing sanctions and obstacles from operating in the United States. That pressure has led companies like Google from pulling its support for Android, which Huawei relies on for its phones, prompting the tech giant to find or build alternatives.

One source described the event as similar to a secret meeting hosted by Apple in August, in which the tech giant handed its most prized security researchers special “dev” iPhones to hack and find security weaknesses.

The source said that Huawei’s bug bounty meeting was likely a way to show governments that it’s willing to work with hackers and security researchers to bolster the security of its products.

Huawei, which also makes networking equipment for telecom networks, came under fire by U.K. authorities earlier this year for failing to address “serious and systematic defects” in its software at a time it’s trying to prove it’s technologies are do not pose a national security threat.

Chase Skinner, a spokesperson for Huawei, did not respond to a request for comment.

 


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Pigeon, a ‘Waze for public transit’ from Google’s Area 120, expands across the U.S.

18:02 | 5 November

Crowdsourced transit app Pigeon, developed within Google’s Area 120 lab for experimental projects, is today rolling out to five new cities across the U.S., in addition to New York — including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Unlike traditional transit apps that rely on schedules and updates from a local transit authority, Pigeon takes more of a Waze-like approach where commuters help one another by reporting delays, crowds, and other issues.

The result is a transit app that can better inform users about unexpected incidents, as well as real-time crowds and offer more context about delays. The app will also send out alerts to users about things like power outages or major service changes, in addition to personalized alerts sent before commuters leave their home or office so they can plan around the delays, reroutes or weather-related incidents.

While the app’s goal is to offer better transit information to riders, it’s also working to develop a community within Pigeon.

Similar to Waze where users establish profiles and communicate with friends, Pigeon offers a social component. Users can post not only about delays, but also other transit happenings with both comments and images. These reports are then shared along a rider’s route in an activity feed.

For example, users may post about dirty or unsafe conditions, crowds, or escalator outages, then share a photo along with that information. But some of the posts may be more positive — like those applauding a local entertainer or noting a cute dog.

If anything, Pigeon could encourage more of these kinds of social posts as its users, unlike on Waze, aren’t stuck behind the wheel and only able to quickly tap a button to share a report with the crowd.

However, even users who don’t want to contribute directly can benefit from the app’s push notifications about unexpected delays and incidents.

The app was developed internally at Google, through its in-house incubator Area 120, and launched to New York users in September 2018. (TechCrunch actually spotted it go live in May 2018, but Google wasn’t sharing much information at the time.)

Since then, Pigeon has helped its early adopters across hundreds of thousands of transit trips each month, the company says. It’s also releasing an NYC Subway Insights Report detailing some of those learnings — like which lines had the most rush-hour delays or most crowds, which station was reported to be the hottest in the summer, and more.

Google’s app isn’t alone in tackling public transit from a new angle. Startups like Transit, Moovit, Citymapper, and others are also participating in this space — sometimes with their own crowdsourced components.

Today, Pigeon is live on iOS in these half-dozen U.S. cities and supports transit information for subway, bus, rail, ferry and cable car.

Android users can sign up for the waitlist to be alerted as to when Pigeon becomes available.

 


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