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Are scooter startups really worth billions?

20:05 | 23 June

It’s been hard to miss the scooter startup wars opening fresh, techno-fueled rifts in Valley society in recent months. Another flavor of ride-sharing steed which sprouted seemingly overnight to clutter up sidewalks — drawing rapid-fire ire from city regulators apparently far more forgiving of traffic congestion if it’s delivered in the traditional, car-shaped capsule.

Even in their best, most-groomed PR shots, the dockless carelessness of these slimline electrified scooters hums with an air of insouciance and privilege. As if to say: Why yes, we turned a kids’ toy into a battery-powered kidult transporter — what u gonna do about it?

An earlier batch of electric scooter sharing startups — offering full-fat, on-road mopeds that most definitely do need a license to ride (and, unless you’re crazy, a helmet for your head) — just can’t compete with that. Last mile does not haul.

But a short-walk replacement tool that’s so seamlessly manhandled is also of course easily vandalized. Or misappropriated. Or both. And there have been a plethora of scooter dismemberment/kidnap horror stories coming out of California, judging by reports from the scooter wars front line. Hanging scooters in trees is presumably a protest thing.

Scooter brand Lime struck an especially tone-deaf tech note trying to fix this problem after an update added a security alarm  that bellowed robotic threats to call the cops on anyone who fumbled to unlock them. Safe to say, littering abusive scooters in public spaces isn’t a way to win friends and influence people.

Even when functioning ‘correctly’, i.e. as intended, scooter rides can ooze a kind of brash entitlement. The sweatless convenience looks like it might be mostly enabling another advance in tech-fueled douche behavior as a t-shirt wearing alpha nerd zips past barking into AirPods and inhaling a takeaway latte while cutting up the patience of pedestrians.

None of this fast-seeded societal friction has put the brakes on e-scooter startup momentum, though. Au contraire. They’ve been raising massive amounts of investment on rapidly inflating valuations ($2BN is the latest valuation for Bird).

But buying lots of e-scooters and leaving them at the mercy of human whim is an expensive business to try scaling. Hence big funding rounds are necessary if you’re going to replace all the canal-dunked duds and keep scooting fast enough for the competition.

At the same time, there isn’t a great deal to differentiate one e-scooter experience over another — beyond price and proximity. Branding might do it but then you have to scramble even harder and faster to create a slick experience and inflate a brand that sticks. (And it goes without saying that a scooter sticky with fecal-matter is absolutely not that.)

The still fledgling startups are certainly scrambling to scale, with some also already pushing into international markets. Lime just scattered ~200 e-scooters in Paris, for example. It’s also been testing the waters more quietly in Zurich. While Bird has its beady eye on European territory too.

The idea underpinning some very obese valuations for these fledgling startups is that scooters will be a key piece of a reworked, multi-modal transport mix for urban mobility, fueled by app-based convenience and city buy-in to greener transport options with emissions-free benefits. (Albeit scooters’ greenness depends on what they’re displacing; Great if it’s gas-guzzling cars, less compelling if it’s people walking or peddling.)

And while investors are buying in to the vision that lots of city dwellers are going to be scooting the last mile in future, and betting big on sizable value being captured by a few plucky scooter startups — more than half a billion dollars has been funneled into just two of these slimline scooter brands, Bird and Lime, since February — there are skeptical notes being sounded too.

Asking whether the scooter model really justifies such huge raises and heady valuations. Wondering if it isn’t a bit crazy for a fledgling Bird to be 2x a unicorn already.

Shared bike and scooter fleets are paving the way to a revolution in urban mobility but will only capture little value in the long term. Investors are highly overestimating the virtue of these businesses.

— Thibaud Elziere (@tiboel)

The bear case for these slimline e-scooters says they’re really only fixing a pretty limited urban mobility problem. Too spindly and unsafe to go the distance, too sedate of pace (and challenged for sidewalk space) to feel worthwhile if you don’t have far to go anyway. And of course you’re not going to be able to cart your kids and/or much baggage on a stand-up two wheeler. So they’re useless for families.

Meanwhile scooter invasions are illegal in some places and, where they are possible, are fast inviting public and regulatory frisson and friction — by contributing to congestion and peril on already crowded pavements.

After taking one of Lime’s just-landed e-scooters for a spin in Paris this week, Willy Braun, VC at early stage European fund Daphni, came away unimpressed. “I didn’t feel I was really saving time in a short distance, since there is always many people in our narrow sidewalks,” he tells us. “And it isn’t comfortable enough for me to imagine a longer distance. Also it’s quite expensive ($1 per use and $.15/min).

“Lastly: Before renting it I read two news media that told me I had to use it only on the sidewalks and they tell us that we should only use it on the road during the onboarding — and that wearing an helmet is mandatory without providing it). As a comparison, I’d rather use e-bikes (or emoto-bikes) for longer journey without hesitation.”

“Give us Jump instead of Lime!” he adds, namechecking the electric bike startup that’s been lodged under Uber’s umbrella since April, adding a greener string to its urban mobility bow — and which is also heading over to Europe as part of the ride-hailing giant’s ongoing efforts to revitalize its regionally battered brand.

“Uber stands ready to help address some of the biggest challenges facing German cities: tackling air pollution, reducing congestion and increasing access to cleaner transportation solutions,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wheeling a bright red Jump bike on stage at the Noah conference in Berlin earlier this month. Uber’s Jump e-bikes will launch in Germany this summer.

E-bikes do seem to offer more urban mobility versatility than e-scooters. Though a scooter is arguably a more accessible type of wheeled steed vs a bike, given you can just stand on it and be moved.

But in Europe’s dense and dynamic urban environments — which, unlike the US, tend to be replete with public transit options (typically at a spectrum of price-points) — individual transport choices tend to be based firstly on economics. After which it’s essentially a matter of personal taste and/or the weather.

Urban transport horses for courses — depending on your risk, convenience and comfort thresholds, thanks to a publicly funded luxury of choice. So scooters have loads of already embedded competition.

TechCrunch’s resident Parisienne, Romain Dillet — a regular user of on-demand bike services in the city (of which there are many), and prior to that the city’s own dock-based bike rental scheme — also went for a test spin on a Lime scooter this week. And also came away feeling underwhelmed.

“This is bad,” he said after his ride. “It’s slow and you need to brake constantly. BUT the worst part is that it feels waaaaaay more dangerous than a bike. Basically you can’t brake abruptly because you’re just standing there.”

Index Venture’s Martin Mignot was also in Paris this week and he took the chance to take a Lime scooter for a spin too — checking out the competition in his case, given the European VC firm is a Bird backer. So what did he think?

“The experience is pretty cool. It’s slightly faster than a bike, there’s no sweating. The weather was just amazing and very hot in Paris so it was pretty amazing in terms of speed and lack of effort,” he says, rolling out the positively spun, vested view on scooter sharing. “Especially going up hill to go to Gare du Nord.

“And the lack of friction — just to get on board and get started. So in general I think it’s a great experience and I think it feels a really interesting niche between walking and on-demand bikes… In Paris you’ve also got the mopeds. So that kind of ‘in between offering’. I think there’s a big market there. I think it’s going to work pretty well in Paris.”

Mignot is a tad disparaging about the quality of Lime’s scooters vs the model being deployed by Bird — a scooter model he also personally owns. But again, as you’d expect given his vested interests.

“Obviously I’m biased but I would say that the Xiaomi scooter/Ninebot scooter is higher quality than the one that Lime are using,” he tells us. “I thought that the Lime one, the handlebar is a little bit too high. The braking is a little bit too soft. Maybe it was the one I used, I don’t know.”

Talking generally about scooter startups, he says investors’ excitement boils down to trip frequency — thanks exactly to journeys being these itty-bitty last mile links.

But it’s also then about the potential for all that last mile hopping to be a shortcut for winning a prized slot on smartphone users’ homescreens — and thus the underlying game being played looks like a jockeying for prime position in the urban mobility race.

Lime, for example, started out with bike rentals before jumping into scooters and going multi-modal. So scooter sharing starts to look like a strategy for mobility startups to scoot to the top of the attention foodchain — where they’re then positioned to offer a full mix and capture more value.

So really scooters might mostly be a tool for catching people’s app attention. Think of that next time you see one lying on a sidewalk.

“What’s very interesting if you look at the trip distribution, most of the trips are short. So the vast majority of trips if you’re walking, obviously, are less than three miles. So that’s actually where the bulk of the mobility happens. And scooters play really well in that field. So in terms of sheer number of trips I think it’s going to dwarf any other type of transportation. And especially ride-hailing,” says Mignot.

“If you look at how often do people use Uber or Lyft or Taxify… it’s going to be much less frequent than the scooter users. And I think that’s what makes it such an interesting asset… The frequency will be much higher — and so the apps that power the scooters will tend to be on the homescreen. And kind of on top of the foodchain, so to speak. So I think that’s what makes it super interesting.”

Scooters also get a big investor tick on merit of the lack of friction standing in the way of riding vs other available urban options such as bikes (or, well, non-electric scooters, skateboards, roller blades, public transport, and so on and on) — in both onboarding (getting going) and propulsion (i.e. the lack of sweat required to ride) terms.

“That’s what’s so brilliant with these devices, you just snap the QR code and off you go,” he says. “The difference with bikes is that you don’t have to produce any effort. I think there are cases where obviously bikes are better. But I think there are a lot of cases where people will want something where you don’t sweat.

“Where you don’t wrinkle your clothes. Which goes a little bit faster. Without going all the way to the moped experience where you need to put the helmet, which is a bit more dangerous, which a lot of people, especially women, are not super familiar with. So I think what’s exciting with scooters as a form factor is it’s actually very mainstream.

“Anyone can ride them. It’s very simple to manoeuvre. It’s not super fast, it’s not too dangerous. It doesn’t require any muscular effort — so for older people or for people who just don’t want to sweat because they’re going to a meeting or something. It’s just a fantastic option.”

Index has also invested in an e-bike startup (Cowboy) and the firm is fully signed up to the notion that urban mobility will be multimodal. So if e-scooters valuations are a bit overcooked Index is not going to be too concerned. People in cities are clearly going to be riding something. And backing a mix is a smart way to hedge the risk of any one option ending up more passing fad than staple urban steed.

Mostly Index is betting that people will keep on riding robotic horses for urban courses. And whatever they ride it’s a fairly safe bet that an app is going to be involved in the process of finding (docklessness is therefore another attention play) or unlocking (scan that QR code!) the mobility device — opening up the possibility that a single app could house multiple mobility options and thus capture more overall value.

“It’s not a one-size fits all. They’re all complementing each other,” says Mignot of the urban mobility options in play. “I would say e-bikes are probably a little bit more great for little bit longer trips because you’re sitting down. But again it takes a little bit longer, because you have to adjust the saddle, you need to start peddling. There’s a bit more friction both on the onboading and on the riding. But they’re a bit better for slightly longer distances. I would say for shorter distances there’s nothing better than the scooter.”

He also points out that scooters are both cheaper and less bulky than e-bikes. And because they take up less street space they can — at least in theory — be more densely stacked, thereby generating the claimed convenience by having them sitting near enough to convince someone not to bother walking 10 minutes to the café or gym — and just scoot instead. So scooters’ slimline physique is also especially exciting to investors. (Even if, ironically, it’s being deployed to urge people to walk less.)

“I think we will end up with more density of scooters. Which is super important,” he continues. “People will, in the end, tend to take the vehicle that they can find where they are. And I think it’s more likely, eventually, that they will get a scooter than an e-bike. Just simply because they take less space and they are less expensive.”

But why wouldn’t people who do get won over to the sweatless perks of last mile scooting just buy and own their own ride — rather than shelling out on an ongoing basis to share?

Unlike bikes, scooters are mobile enough to be picked up and moved around fairly easily. Which means they can go with you into your home, office, even a restaurant — disruptively reducing theft risk. Whereas talk to any bike owner and they’ll almost invariably have at least one tale of theft woe, which is a key part of what makes bike sharing so attractive: It erases theft worry.

Add to that, you can find e-scooters on sale in European electronics shops for as little as €140. So if you’re going to be a regular scooterer, the purely economic argument to just own your own looks pretty compelling.

And people zipping around on e-scooters is a pretty common sight in another dense European city, Barcelona, which has very scooter-friendly weather but no scooter startups (yet). But unless it’s a tourist weaving along the seafront most of these riders are not shared: People just popped into their local electronics shop and walked out with a scooter in a box.

So the rides aren’t generating repeat revenue for anyone except the electricity companies.

 

Asked why people who do want to scoot won’t just buy, rather than rent Mignot talks up the hassle of ownership — undermined slightly by the fact he is also a scooter owner (despite the claimed faff from problems such as frequent flat tires and the chore of the nightly charge).

“The thing you notice very rapidly: There are two things, one is the maintenance,” he says. “The models that exist today are not super robust. Maybe in a very flat, very smooth roads, maybe Santa Monica, maybe it’s a little bit less true but I would say in Europe the maintenance that is required is fairly high… I have to do something on mine every week.

“The other thing is it takes a little bit of space. If you have to bring it to a restaurant or whatever type of crowded place, a movie theatre or wherever you’re going, to an office, to a meeting room, it’s a little bit on the heavy side, and it’s a little bit inconvenient. So certainly some people will buy them… But I also think that there are a lot of cases where you’d rather have it just on-demand.”

Unlike Mignot and Index, Tom Bradley, of UK focused VC firm Oxford Capital, is not so convinced by the on-demand scooter craze.

The firm has not made any e-scooter investments itself, though mobility is a “core theme”, with the portfolio including an on-demand coach travel startup (Sn-ap), and technology plays such as Morpheus Labs (machine learning for driverless cars) and UltraSoc (complex circuits for automotive parts, which sells to the likes of Tesla).

But it’s just not been sold on scooter startups. Bradley describes it as an “open question” whether scooters end up being “an important part of how people move around the cities of the future”. He also points to theft problems with dockless bike share schemes that have not played out well in the UK.

“We’re not convinced that this is a fundamental part of the picture,” he says of scooter sharing. “It may be a part of the picture but I personally am not yet convinced that it’s as big a part of the picture that people seem to be prepared to pay for.”

“I keep thinking of the Segway example,” he adds. “It’s an absolutely delightful product. It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. In a way that these electric scooters are not. But obviously it was much more expensive. And it made people feel a bit weird. But it was supposed to be the answer — and it’s not the answer. Before its time, perhaps.”

Of course he also accepts that capital is “being used as a weapon”, as he puts it, to scoot full-pelt towards a future where shared electric scooters are the norm on city streets by waging a “marketing war” to get there.

“Venture capital valuations are what someone is prepared to pay. And in this case people are valuing potential rather than valuing the business… so the valuations [of Bird and Lime] are being driven more than anything by the amount of money being raised,” he says. “So you decide a rule of thumb about what is acceptable dilution, and if you’re going to raise $400M or whatever then the valuation’s got to be somewhere between $1.6BN and $2BN to make that sort of raise make sense — and leave enough equity for the previous investors and founders. So there’s an element of this where the valuations are being driven by the amount of capital being raised.”

Oxford Capital’s bearish view on scooter sharing is also bounded by the fund only investing in UK-based startups. And while Bradley says it sees lots of local mobility strengths — especially in the automotive market — he admits it’s more of a mental leap to imagine a world leading scooter startup sprouting from the country’s green and pleasant lands. Not least because it’s not legal to use them on UK public roads or pavements.

“If you look at places like Amsterdam, Berlin, they’re sort of built for bikes. London’s getting towards being built for bikes… Cycling’s been one of the big success stories in London. Is [scooter sharing] going to replace cycling? I don’t know. Not so convinced… It’s obviously easy for anyone to get on and off these things, young and old. So that’s good, it’s inclusive. But it feels a little bit like a solution looking for a problem, the sorts of journeys people talk about for these things — on campus, short urban journeys. A lot of these are walkable or cycle journeys in a lot of cities. So is there a mass need?

“Is this Segway 2 or is this bike hire 2… it’s hard to tell. And we’re coming down on the former. We’re not convinced this is going to be a fundamental part of the transport space. It will be a feature but not a huge part.”

But for Mignot the early days of the urban mobility attention wars mean there’s much to play for — and much that can be favorably reshaped to fit scooters into the mix.

“The whole thing, even on-demand bikes, it’s a two year old phenomenon really,” he says. “So I think everyone is just trying to learn and figure out and adapt to this new reality, whether it’s users or companies or cities. I think it’s very similar to when cars were first introduced. There were no parking spaces at the time and there were no rules on the road. And fast forward 100 years and it looks very different.

“If you look at the amount of infrastructure and effort and spend that has been put into making — and I would argue way more than should have — into making a city car-friendly, if you only do a 100th of the same amount of effort and spend into making some space for bicycles and light two-wheel vehicles I think we’ll be fine.

“That’s the beauty of this model. If you compare the space of the tech and if you look at the efficiency of moving people around vs the space, the scooters are simply the most efficient because their footprint on the ground is just so small.”

He even makes the case for scooters working well in London — arguing the sprawl of the city amps up the utility because there are so many tedious last mile trips that people have to make.

Even more so than in denser European cities like Paris, where he admits that hopping on a scooter might just be more of a “nice to have”, given shorter distances and all the other available options. So, really, where urban mobility is concerned, it can actually be courses for horses.

Yet, the reality is London is off-limits to the likes of Bird and Lime for now — thanks to UK laws barring this type of unlicensed personal electric vehicle from public roads and spaces.

You can buy e-scooters for use on private land in the UK but any scooter startups that tried their usual playbook in London would be scooting straight for legal hot water.

It’s not just the British weather that’s inclement.

“I’m really hoping that TfL [Transport for London] and the Department for Transport are going to make it possible,” says Mignot on that. “I think any city should welcome this with open arms. Some cities are, by the way. And I think over time once they see the success stories in other parts of the world I think they all will. But I wish London was one of those cutting edge cities that would welcome new innovation with open arms. I think right now, unfortunately, it’s not there.

“There’s a lot of talk about air quality, and so on, but actually, when push comes to shove… you have a lot of resistance and a lot of pushback… So it’s a little bit disappointing. But, you know, we’ll get there eventually.”

 


0

Facebook mistakenly leaked developer analytics reports to testers

19:57 | 22 June

Set the “days without a Facebook’s privacy problem” counter to zero. This week, an alarmed developer contacted TechCrunch, informing us that their Facebook App Analytics weekly summary email had been delivered to someone outside their company. It contains sensitive business information including weekly average users, page views, and new users.

After two days of Facebook investigating, the social network now confirms to TechCrunch that 3 percent of apps using Facebook Analytics had their weekly summary reports sent to their app’s testers, instead of only the app’s developers, admins, and analysts.

Testers are often people outside of a developer’s company. If the leaked info got to an app’s competitors, it could provide them an advantage. At least they weren’t allowed to click through to view more extensive historical analytics data on Facebook’s site.

Facebook tells us it plans to notify all impacted developers about the leak today. Below you can find the email the company will send:

Subject line: We recently resolved an error with your weekly summary email

We wanted to let you know about a recent error where a summary e-mail from Facebook Analytics about your app was sent to testers of your app ‘[APP NAME WILL BE DYNAMICALLY INSERTED HERE]’. As you know, we send weekly summary emails to keep you up to date with some of your top-level metrics — these emails go to people you’ve identified as Admins, Analysts and Developers. You can also add Testers to your account, people designated by you to help test your apps when they’re in development.

We mistakenly sent the last weekly email summary to your Testers, in addition to the usual group of Admins, Analysts and Developers who get updates. Testers were only able to see the high-level summary information in the email, and were not able to access any other account information; if they clicked “View Dashboard” they did not have access to any of your Facebook Analytics information.

We apologize for the error and have made updates to prevent this from happening again.

One affected developer told TechCrunch “Not sure why it would ever be appropriate to send business metrics to an app user. When I created my app (in beta) I added dozens of people as testers as it only meant they could login to the app…not access info!” They’re still waiting for the disclosure from Facebook.

The privacy mistake comes just weeks after a bug caused 14 million users’ Facebook status update composers to change their default privacy setting to public. And Facebook has had problems with misdelivering business information before. In 2014, Facebook accidentally sent advertisers receipts for other business’ ad campaigns, causing significant confusion. The company has also misreported metrics about Page reach and more on several occasions.

While Facebook has been working diligently to patch app platform privacy holes since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, removing access to many APIs and strengthening human reviews of apps, issues like today’s make it hard to believe Facebook has a proper handle on the data of its 2 billion users.

 


0

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited finally lands on Apple’s App Store

19:07 | 22 June

Five and half years after it launched, one of the more popular apps for kids’ reading and entertainment has finally arrived on the iOS. Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, the e-commerce giant’s subscription service for children 3-12 that gives unlimited access to 10,000 books, movies and TV shows for $2.99 per month for up to four users across tablets, phones, e-readers, and smart speakers, is now available on the App Store.

Apple is promoting the new app at the moment on the home page of the App Store, where a reader saw it and flagged it to us.

“We launch new products and features as they’re ready,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “We’re excited to bring theFreeTime Unlimited experience to iOS devices, including iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.”

FreeTime Unlimited is already available on Amazon devices and on Android. Now, when users sign up for a subscription on any one platform, they can use it across all of them — whether it be a Fire tablet, a Fire Kids Edition tablet, compatible Android phones and tablets, or compatible Echo devices.

The move is a significant one both for Apple and Amazon. At a time when other media companies are launching kid-friendly versions of their services that bring in more parental controls and better filters to help block out content that is inappropriate for young ones, FreeTime Unlimited has proven to be one of the most popular kids-focused entertainment apps of them all — content includes video from Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, National Geographic and Amazon Originals for Kids — and yet it wasn’t available on one of the most popular (and well reviewed) tablets used by children.

While Amazon initially kept it as an Amazon-only product for its early years — as a way of driving more sales to its own hardware — last year it finally launched a version for Android devices, but it’s taken over a year more to finally bring it to iPhone and iPad devices.

One of the reasons for this could be the ongoing struggle between Amazon and Apple. In some regards, the two are complementary companies: Amazon ships a lot of Apple products, and iOS is a very strong platform for Amazon in terms of online sales, for example.

But in others — such as in hardware, increasingly online entertainment and “owning” customers, and for talent to build its products — the two are rivals. Apple, for one, has not allowed apps on its iOS platform to enable Amazon book purchases directly from their apps, and Amazon doesn’t sell books and movies from its own app to avoid Apple’s cut. So it’s not surprising to see Amazon also delay certain content and features from the Apple platform in some kind of tit-for-tat.

I’m guessing those skirmishes will go on for a long time to come, but for now, iPad and iPhone users will have a little more Amazon than they did before on their devices. Why now? It could be that Amazon felt that user growth was tailing off on the other platforms, so now is a good time to boost with new availability.

It’s also likely influenced by Apple’s increased attention to parental control features on iOS, which may have some parents feel like they have enough options to lock down their kids’ devices while still allowing them access to more wholesome and educational content. That could limit the appeal for a subscription service like Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited. But iOS 12 – which includes the new parental controls – doesn’t launch to the public until later this fall. That gives Amazon time to attract users to its own service in the meantime.

As with the existing version of FreeTime Unlimited, the app is divided into age groups and will have parental controls by way of the Amazon Parent Dashboard, as well as Discussion Cards that give them talking points about the work and summaries of what the kids are watching.

There may be variations based on geographies, but in the US the content will include films like Frozen, Moana, Star Wars, and Inside Out; TV shows like Sesame Street, Arthur, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood from PBS; Bubble Guppies, Team Umizoomi, and Dora the Explorer from Nickelodeon; Marvel comics including Spider-man, the Avengers, and Captain America; and Amazon Originals such as Just Add Magic, The Kicks, Thunderbirds are Go, Creative Galaxy, and Tumble Leaf.

One drawback to the iOS implementation of FreeTime Unlimited is that, unlike on Amazon’s own tablets, you can’t configure FreeTime Unlimited to completely reskin the device’s user interface to keep kids locked into the experience. Apple simply doesn’t allow third-party apps to have that level of control. Instead, FreeTime Unlimited works like any other app – you can launch it and exit at any time.

As with other apps, subscribing to FreeTime Unlimited will come via a user’s iTunes account (and thus Apple will get a cut) and will get automatically renewed until you turn off the auto-renewal 24 hours before the renewal date. There is also a free 30-day trial.

Additional reporting: Sarah Perez

 


0

Citymapper lets you find Ofo, Mobike and scooters around you

17:49 | 22 June

Urban transportation app Citymapper quietly rolled out an app update that lets you find many alternative mobility services in the app. You can now find the nearest dockless bike or electric scooter around you (not the Bird and Lime kind, the motorcycle kind).

The integrations are already live in many cities. The company didn’t add new buttons for each service because it was already getting quite crowded with buses, subways and ride-sharing services.

If you tap the bike button, you get a map view of the streets around you. In addition to traditional bike-sharing services, you’ll now find colored dots representing both Ofo and Mobike . Below the map, you get a list of the closest bikes. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden previously reported that the Mobike integration was coming soon.

But Citymapper also added a new scooter button in multiple cities. As the name suggests, this button helps you locate the closest free-floating scooter that you can unlock with your phone.

In Paris, you’ll find Coup and Cityscoot scooters. In Berlin, you’ll find Coup scooters. In Madrid and Barcelona, you’ll find Muving, ioscoot, eCooltra and Yugo scooters… You get the idea. Chances are all your local options will be there.

Interestingly, electric scooters from Bird and Lime aren’t in there just yet. It might be what everybody is talking about, but you’ll only see Jump and Ford bikes in San Francisco.

For now, all you can do is locate the nearest bike or scooter. You still have to open each individual app to scan the QR code and unlock those vehicles.

But this is an interesting approach. Citymapper doesn’t operate any transportation service. It can be an agnostic player and provide a comprehensive view of what’s around you without any conflict of interest. It doesn’t have to recreate a transportation hub like Lyft or Uber as those two companies recently acquired Motivate and Jump to provide bike-sharing services.

And if you’re visiting a city for the first time, you can open the app to find out how you’ll be able to navigate that new city.

 


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Transfer.sh is an instant sharing tool for programmers

17:22 | 22 June

File sharing tools are a dime a dozen these days. There’s Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud. But what if you want to share something quickly and easily from the command line? That’s why programmer Remco Verhoef created Transfer.sh.

The service has basically a file dump. You send a file to transfer.sh via curl and it stays there for fourteen days until its automatically deleted. For example, I uploaded this picture by adding a bit of code to my .bashrc.

The system is one of those small, clever tools that just works. Verhoef created it because he needed to be able to upload files on the fly.

“I created this application when I needed to share log data from within a ssh shell with someone else,” he said. “So I created a web application where I can easily upload files using curl (which is available on almost every platform) just using the command line and modify the file on the fly, like encrypting the contents, applying grep etc. The application has been made open source because it could be usable for many other people and I’d encourage them to run their own server.”

“We don’t have a business model, and we are keeping the site running as courtesy. It is getting a bit difficult to keep it running, because of the popularity and usage,” he said. He also runs a dev shop and is releasing a number of other products including ICO security.

Verhoef doesn’t promise security on his platform, only convenience. He recommends piping files through gpg before uploading them.

Not everyone is using the product for good, however, which frustrates his team.

“It is being used by a lot of people,” he said. “Some are using it for uploading log files, others are exporting complete video surveillance to us. Sometimes it is being abused, by distributing malware, botnets and other malicious tools, but we try to stop it as soon as possible. One time a porn website was serving porn photos through us, and when we found out we had all photos replaced by dogs and kittens.”

 


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Messenger Kids expands outside the U.S., rolls out ‘kindness’ features

17:05 | 22 June

Facebook’s kid-friendly messaging app, Messenger Kids, is expanding to its first countries outside the U.S. today, with launches in Canada and Peru. It’s also introducing French and Spanish versions of its app, and rolling out a handful of new features focused on promoting respect and empathy, including a “Messenger Kids Pledge” and something called “Kindness Stickers,” which are meant to inspire more positive emotions when communicating online.

The stickers say things like “MY BFF” or “Well Done!” or “Best Artist,” and are designed to be placed on shared photos.

Also helpful is the new “Messenger Kids Pledge,” which is designed for both parents and children to read together, and includes some basic guidelines about how to be behave online. For example, it reminds everyone to “be kind when you communicate,” and to “be respectful,” explaining also that when someone doesn’t respond right away, they may just be too busy. “Be safe” and “have fun” are also a part of the guidelines.

This seems like a small addition, but it’s the kind of thing parents should already be doing with their kids when they introduce new technology – and many do not. Some parents don’t even know what apps kids are using, which has allowed those less secure apps to become hunting grounds for predators.

Messenger Kids works differently, as it requires parental involvement. Kids can’t add any friends without parental approval, and the app can be managed directly from parents’ Facebook.

While it’s understandable that people have a hard time trusting Facebook these days, there isn’t any viable alternative that allows kids to “practice” communicating or socializing online in a more controlled environment. Kids instead beg for apps aimed at adults and older teens, like Snapchat, Instagram, and Musical.ly – apps I personally won’t install for a “tween.”

Messenger Kids at least gives kids a way to privately socialize with approved people – kids whose parents you know and trust, and family members on Facebook. They’re at an age where you can still look over their shoulder, and correct bad behavior as it arises.

The alternative to using Messenger Kids is what a lot parents do – they refuse all social apps until kids reach a certain age, then throw them to the wolves on the internet. Is that really better?

Despite its sandboxed nature, kids like Messenger Kids because it has the features they actually want from the adult-oriented apps – like photo filters and stickers. (If the app would please add Facebook’s new lip-sync feature so I could stop hearing the begs for Musical.ly on a daily basis, I’d be much appreciative.)

Related to its push for kindness and respect, Messenger Kids will also soon roll out an interactive guide within its app called the “Appreciation Mission” which will encourage kids to discover and express appreciation for their friends and family. This will live in the “Mission” section of the app, where kids learn how to use features, like starting a video call or sending a photo.

Come to think of it, a lot of adults could benefit from these sorts of features, too. Maybe Facebook and Twitter should add their own in-app kindness reminders, as well?

Messenger Kids also added support for two parents to manage kids’ accounts, based on customer feedback.

The app is a free download on iOS and Android.

 

Messenger Kids I Safer Messaging and Video Chat

Messenger Kids is a free, safer messaging and video chat app that provides more control for parents and more fun for kids.

Posted by Messenger Kids on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

 


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Happn takes on Tinder Places with an interactive map of missed connections

22:08 | 21 June

Dating app Happn, whose “missed connections” type of dating experience connects people who have crossed paths in real life, is fighting back at Tinder. Seemingly inspired by Happn’s location-based features, Tinder recently began piloting something called Tinder Places – a feature that tracks your location to match you with those people who visit your same haunts – like a favorite bar, bookshop, gym, restaurant, and more.

Of course Tinder’s move into location-based dating should worry Happn, which had built its entire dating app around the idea of matching up people who could have met in real life, but just missed doing so.

Now, Happn is challenging Tinder Places with a new feature of its own. It’s debuting an interactive map where users can discover those people they’ve crossed paths with over the past seven days.

Happn founder, French entrepreneur Didier Rappaport, dismisses the Tinder threat.

“We don’t see it as a threat at all but as a good thing,” he tells TechCrunch. “Find the people you’ve crossed paths with has always been in Happn’s DNA since the beginning….We are very flattered that Tinder wants to include the same feature in its product. However, we will never use the swipe in our product,” he says.

Rappaport believes swiping is wrong because it makes you think of the other person as a product, and that’s not Happn’s philosophy.

“We want to [give our users a chance] to interact or not with a person, to take their time to decide, to be able to move back in their timeline if suddenly they change their mind and want to have a second chance,” he notes.

To use Happn’s map, you’ll tap on a specific location you’ve visited, and are then presented with potential matches who have been there too, or within 250 meters of that spot. The map will use the same geolocation data that Happn already uses to create its timeline, but just displays it in another form.

For those who aren’t comfortable sharing their location all the time with a dating app (um, everyone?), Happn also offers an “invisibility” mode that lets people hide their location during particular parts of the day – for example, while they’re at work.

While Happn’s new feature is a nice upgrade for regular users, Tinder’s location-based features – we’re sorry to report – are more elegantly designed.

Today, Happn’s invisibility mode has to be turned on when you want to use it, or you have to pay for a subscription to schedule to come on automatically at certain times. That means it requires more effort to use on a day-to-day basis.

Meanwhile, Tinder Places lets you block a regular place you visit – like, say, the gym – from ever being recorded as a place you want to show up for matches. It also automatically removes places that would be inappropriate, including your home and work addresses, and alerts you when it’s adding a new one – so you can quickly take action to remove it, if you choose. Tinder Places is also free. (It’s just not rolled out worldwide at this time).

Happn, however, does offer a way to hide your profile information and other details from select users, and never shows your current location in real time, also like Tinder.

Happn, which launched back in 2014, now claims nearly 50 million users worldwide, across 50 major cities and 40 countries. It claims to have 6.5 million monthly users – but that’s much smaller, compared with Tinder’s estimated 50 million actives.

And with Tinder parent Match Group snatching up Hinge, suing Bumble, and effectively copying the idea of using “missed connections,” one has to wonder how much life rival dating apps, especially those of Happn’s size, have left.

The app is a free download on the App Store, Play Store and Windows Store.

 


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Hinge sells 51 percent of shares to Match Group

21:39 | 21 June

Match Group, parent company of dating apps Tinder, OKCupid and Match, announced yesterday that it has acquired a 51 percent stake in Hinge. With this new acquisition, Match Group has the right to acquire all remaining shares of Hinge within a 12-month period.

Match Group says its interest in Hinge began in 2017 after a redesign in which it did away with the “right swipe” in favor of more detailed profiles. According to a statement from Hinge, its app saw 400 percent growth in its user base after these changes. In a dating world often dominated by “hook-ups,” Hinge positions itself as a the “relationship app” and focuses on building real relationships instead.

Hinge in many ways is the antithesis to Tinder, but Match Group says this is part of the advantage to the partnership, not an obstacle.

“Dating isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach,” a Match Group spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We operate a variety of products because people gravitate to different apps for different reasons.”

Hinge CEO Justin McLeod says that this merger will help the company expand even further than it could alone.

“At a certain point, having the scaling capability of a well-funded and experienced partner [like Match Group] makes sense,” McLeod told TechCrunch. “We want to bring a more thoughtful dating experience to the most people.”

This acquisition by Match Group follows a reportedly failed attempt to acquire the dating app Bumble in November. Following the collapse of those discussions, Match Group filed a lawsuit against Bumble in March for patent infringement, claiming that it “copied Tinder’s world-changing, card-swipe-based, mutual opt-in premise.” Two weeks later, Bumble followed up with its own lawsuit to the tune of $400 million that alleged Match Group fraudulently obtained trade secrets during its acquisition talks six months earlier. These lawsuits are still being settled.

Hinge offers an alternative acquisition for Match, which is clearly looking to continue diversifying its dating offerings. “[Hinge] has been getting real traction with cosmopolitan millennials,”a Match Group spokesperson said. “We hope to meaningfully accelerate [its] growth.”

 


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Lydia now supports Samsung Pay

14:17 | 21 June

While French banks are just catching up to Apple Pay, French startup Lydia is adding support for Samsung Pay. If you have a recent Samsung phone, you can now add a virtual card to Samsung Pay and pay using your phone in your favorite stores.

Lydia started as a peer-to-peer payment app. It works more or less like Venmo or Square Cash in the U.S. After signing up, you can add a debit card to your account and send and receive money for free. You can withdraw your balance to a traditional bank account whenever you want.

The company has been adding more features to turn Lydia into the only banking app you need. You can now connect Lydia to your bank accounts, view your balances, get an IBAN, initiate transfers, create Lydia sub-accounts with multiple people and get a physical MasterCard.

Some features are now part of a premium subscription for €2.99 per month ($3.47) or €3.99 per month with the physical card ($4.62). The company also expanded to the U.K., Ireland, Spain and Portugal. There are a million registered users on Lydia.

More interestingly, Lydia wants to go beyond peer-to-peer payments. You can use Lydia to pay in some grocery stores, such as Franprix stores. You can also pay online by receiving a push notification and confirming the transaction in the Lydia app — Cdiscount supports Lydia for instance.

And when you can’t pay with your Lydia account directly, the startup doesn’t want to play favorites. You can generate a virtual card and enter the card number on an e-commerce website. You can add this virtual card to Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. Let’s see if Google Pay is next.

This could be particularly interesting for users who can’t use those payment systems because their banks don’t support those features. Let’s be honest, you rarely change your bank. With Lydia, you can still use Apple Pay or Samsung Pay with your existing bank account.

 


0

Truepic raises $8M to expose Deepfakes, verify photos for Reddit

01:01 | 21 June

How can you be sure an image wasn’t Photoshopped? Make sure it was shot with Truepic. This startup makes a camera feature that shoots photos and adds a watermark URL leading to a copy of the image it saves, so viewers can compare them to ensure the version they’re seeing hasn’t been altered.

Now Truepic’s technology is getting its most important deployment yet as the way Reddit will verify that Ask Me Anything Q&As are being conducted live by the actual person advertised — oftentimes a celebrity.

But beyond its utility for verifying AMAs, dating profiles and peer-to-peer e-commerce listings, Truepic is tackling its biggest challenge yet: identifying artificial intelligence-generated Deepfakes. These are where AI convincingly replaces the face of a person in a video with someone else’s. Right now the technology is being used to create fake pornography combining an adult film star’s body with an innocent celebrity’s face without their consent. But the big concern is that it could be used to impersonate politicians and make them appear to say or do things they haven’t.

The need for ways to weed out Deepfakes has attracted a new $8 million round for Truepic. The cash comes from untraditional startup investors, including Dowling Capital Partners, former Thomson Financial (which become Reuters) CEO Jeffrey Parker, Harvard Business school professor William Sahlman and more. The Series A brings Truepic to $10.5 million in funding.

“We started Truepic long before manipulated images impacted democratic elections across the globe, digital evidence of atrocities and human rights abuses were regularly undermined, or online identities were fabricated to advance political agendas — but now we fully recognize its impact on society,” says Truepic founder and COO Craig Stack. “The world needs the Truepic technology to help right the wrongs that have been created by the abuse of digital imagery.”

Here’s how Truepic works:

  1. Snap a photo in Truepic’s iOS and Android app, or an app that’s paid to embed its SDK in their own app
  2. Truepic verifies the image hasn’t been altered already, and watermarks it with a time stamp, geocode, URL and other metadata
  3. Truepic’s secure servers store a version of the photo, assigned with a six-digit code and its URL, plus a spot on an immutable blockchain
  4. Users can post their Truepic in apps to prove they’re not catfishing someone on a dating site, selling something broken on an e-commerce site, or elsewhere
  5. Viewers can visit the URL watermarked onto the photo to compare it to the vault-saved version to ensure it hasn’t been modified after the fact

For example, Reddit’s own Wiki recommends that AMA creators use the Truepic app to snap a photo of them holding a handwritten sign with their name and the date on it. “Truepic’s technology allows us to quickly and safely verify the identity and claims for some of our most eccentric guests,” says Reddit AMA moderator and Lynch LLP intellectual property attorney Brian Lynch. “Truepic is a perfect tool for the ever-evolving geography of privacy laws and social constructs across the internet.”

The abuses of image manipulation are evolving, too. Deepfakes could embarrass celebrities… or start a war. “We will be investing in offline image and video analysis and already have identified some subtle forensic techniques we can use to detect forgeries like deepfakes,” Truepic CEO Jeff McGregor tells me. “In particular, one can analyze hair, ears, reflectivity of eyes and other details that are nearly impossible to render true-to-life across the thousands of frames of a typical video. Identifying even a few frames that are fake is enough to declare a video fake.”

This will always be a cat and mouse game, but from newsrooms to video platforms, Truepic’s technology could keep content creators honest. The startup has also begun partnering with NGOs like the Syrian American Medical Society to help it deliver verified documentation of atrocities in the country’s conflict zone. The Human Rights Foundation also trained humanitarian leaders on how to use Truepic at the 2018 Freedom Forum in Oslo.

Throwing shade at Facebook, McGregor concludes that “The internet has quickly become a dumpster fire of disinformation. Fraudsters have taken full advantage of unsuspecting consumers and social platforms facilitate the swift spread of false narratives, leaving over 3.2 billion people on the internet to make self-determinations over what’s trustworthy vs. fake online… we intend to fix that by bringing a layer of trust back to the internet.”

 


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