Netflix’s new feature for tracking upcoming releases could help retain subscribers

Hoping to keep viewers engaged with its content, Netflix today announced the launch of a new section called “Latest” in its TV app, designed to highlight the streaming service’s recent and upcoming releases. The addition isn’t just another row or two within the main Netflix homepage. Instead, the “Latest” section gets its own dedicated area in the Netflix TV app, which is accessible from the left-hand sidebar navigation.

Here, it’s found beneath the “Home” button and above the links to the dedicated “Movies” and “TV Shows” pages.

The section will be personalized to the end user, based on their viewing history, the company says.

At the top of “Latest” is a row that showcases new content that arrived this week, which is then followed by two rows showing content that’s due to arrive this week and the next.

Users can also click on these future releases and set alerts to remind them when the TV show or movie they’re interested in watching has arrived.

Netflix says the feature is now globally available on its TV app, which means you’ll only find it on streaming devices like the Fire TV, Apple TV or Roku, for instance, or on other smart TV or game console platforms. However, the company tells TechCrunch it already has a similar feature for Android users and is currently testing the “Latest” section on iOS.

The company first spoke to Variety about the addition, adding that the personalized suggestions update several times per day.

Netflix director of product innovation Cameron Johnson told the outlet the experience was similar, in a way, to movie trailers, as it’s also designed to get people interested in upcoming releases.

However, the launch comes at a time when people will soon be considering the value they receive from their Netflix subscription. The company recently posted a disappointing quarter where it announced it lost U.S. subscribers for the first time since 2011 and broadly missed estimates of 5 million subscriber additions, by adding just 2.7 million new subscribers globally.

The streamer blamed its light content slate for the declines. While it did claim a couple of bright spots in Q2, like the dark comedy Dead to Me and the limited series When They See Us, a good bit of Netflix’s original content is becoming formulaic and copycat-ish.

It’s now doing its own version of Project Runway, and has a slate of shows that are obviously inspired by (if not precisely copied from) popular reality TV hits like Million Dollar Listing, Say Yes to the Dress, Cupcake Wars, Top Chef, The Bachelor, Real Housewives, and others. It manages to snag beloved stars, but then puts them into mediocre fare. It underwhelms with its by-the-numbers original films.

That said, Netflix deserves credit for how far it has come since its early days as a mail-order movie service. Today, its multi-billion dollar investments in original content has led to the streamer being best known for its own breakout hits, like Orange is the New Black or House of Cards, for example.

But as its sheds its catalog content in favor of shifting its audience to in-house productions, its image has changed as well. It’s no longer thought of a one-stop-shop for anything you want to watch combined with a rich slate of quality originals. And now it’s poised to lose some of its most popular licensed content — Friends and The Office — as the traditional media license holders move into the streaming market.

Variety had reported in July that content from NBCU, Disney/Fox and Warner Bros. accounts for 60%-65% of Netflix’s viewing hours.

Now Netflix is facing competition from Disney+, which will undercut Netflix’s pricing at $6.99 per month and be offered in a $12.99 per month bundle that also includes Hulu and ESPN+. That’s the same price as Netflix’s standard U.S. plan.

More than ever, Netflix needs to keep its viewers locked in, and one of the best ways to do this is to remind them there are new movies and shows they will want to watch.

Image credit: Netflix


Source: Tech Crunch

Independent report on Facebook bias catalogues mild complaints from conservatives

An independent investigator has issued a preliminary report on its work determining the existence and/or extent of bias against conservatives on Facebook . It’s refreshingly light reading — the complaints are less “Facebook is a den of liberals” and more “we need more transparency on ad policies.”

The report was undertaken in May of last year, when Facebook retained Covington and Burling, led by former Republican Senator Jon Kyl, to look into the allegations loudly being made at the time that there was some kind of anti-conservative bias on the social network.

“We know we need to take these concerns seriously,” wrote VP of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg. Of course, Facebook says it takes everything seriously, so it’s hard to be sure sometimes.

Covington and Burling’s approach was to interview more than a hundred individuals and organizations that fall under the broad umbrella of “conservative” about their concerns. These would be sorted, summarized, and presented to Facebook leadership.

By far the biggest concern wasn’t anything like “they’re censoring us” or “they’re pushing an agenda.” These views, which are often over-amplified, don’t seem to reflect what everyday folks and businesses are having trouble with on the platform.

Instead, the largest concern is transparency. The people interviewed were mainly concerned that the policies behind content moderation, ad approval, fact-checking, and so on were inadequately explained. In the absence of good explanations, these people understandably supplied their own, usually along the lines that they were being targeted inordinately in comparison with those left of them politically.

It’s worth noting here that no evidence that this was or wasn’t the case was sought or presented. The surveys were about concerns people had, and did not extend to anything like “provide the logs where you can see this happened,” or anything like that. What was gathered was strictly anecdotal.

In a way this feels irresponsible, in that anyone could voice their concern about a problem that may very well not exist, or that may not be universally agreed is a problem. For instance some groups complained that their anti-abortion ads featuring premature babies were being removed. Maybe Facebook feels that images of bloody, screaming children will not increase time on site.

hatespeech

Unfortunately hate speech is real and here to stay. But it is valid to take issue with the subjectivity of how it may be determined as such.

But at the same time, the intent was not to quantify and solve bias, necessarily, but to understand how people perceived bias in day-to-day use of the site in the first place.

As you may have perceived, the concerns of conservatives in fact mirror the concerns of liberals: that Facebook is applying unknown and unknowable processes to the selection and display of content on the platform, and that our ability to question or challenge these processes is limited. These are nonpartisan issues.

Facebook’s response since the report was commissioned (in other words, over the last year and a half) has been to generally provide more information whenever it has stepped in to touch a post, ad, or other user data. It now tells people why certain posts are being shown, it has better documented news feed ranking (though not too well, lest someone take advantage), and it has created a better system for making content removal decisions, as well as a better appeal process.

So it says, anyway, but we can hardly take the company at its word that it has increased diversity, improved tools, and so forth. The investigation by Covington and Burling continues and these are but the preliminary results. Clegg writes that “This is the first stage of an ongoing process and Senator Kyl and his team will report again in a few months’ time.”

You can read the full interim report below:

Facebook – Covington Interim Report 1 by TechCrunch on Scribd


Source: Tech Crunch

NASA confirms mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa to explore its icy oceans

NASA has confirmed a mission to Europa, one of the Moons of Jupiter, will indeed happen. The mission was initially explored starting in 2017, with the space agency looking for reports on how it might proceed, and now NASA has said it will go ahead and move to the key stop of finalizing mission design, which will then lead to actually building the spacecraft that will make the trip, and the science payload it’ll carry on board.

The goal of the mission, which is codenamed ‘Europa Clipper,’ is to find out whether the icy natural satellite orbiting Jupiter could sustain life, and also explore whether it might be colonizable or habitable. Plus, we’ll definitely learn a lot more about Europa with an up-close-and-personal exploration.

Europa is the one of 79 known moons orbiting the gas giant, and is the six-largest in the entire solar system. It’s a bit smaller than our own, and has a crust that is composed primarily of water ice. Some scientists believe that it could have a water ocean just underneath that ice curst, however, and that if said ocean exists, it might be among the likelier places in our solar system to find life.

NASA’s goal for this mission is to launch it as early as 2023, though it’ll need its SLS launch system to be ready to make that happen. The extended timeline allows for a launch-ready state by 2025, which seems a bit more realistic given the current state of affairs.


Source: Tech Crunch

Fitbit cofounders James Park and Eric Friedman are coming to Disrupt SF

Ten years ago, a hardware startup launched a fitness device on stage at TechCrunch 50. The $99 gadget combined a pedometer with a diet monitoring system, designed to help wearers meet their fitness goals.

Of course, a lot has changed for Fitbit in the intervening decade. The company has since become synonymous with fitness trackers in the U.S. In 2015, it filed for a $358 million IPO.

After several years of defining the wearables category, things have gotten a bit rockier, however, as the company contends with increased competition from the premium Apple Watch and low cost trackers from companies like Xiaomi.

Through acquisitions like Pebble and Vector, the company has improved its fortunes by building its own smartwatch line. Fitbit has also begun to transition into the healthcare industry through partnerships wit companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Fitbit’s cofounders James Park and Eric Friedman will join us on stage to discuss their process for growing a hardware startup and navigating often fickle industry trends.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email extracrunch@techcrunch.com to get your 20% off discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.

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Source: Tech Crunch

Daily Crunch: Apple Card launches in the US

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. Apple Card launches today for all US customers, adds 3% cash back for Uber and Uber Eats

Customers can apply for Apple Card through the Wallet app on their iPhones, then start using it via Apple Pay before the physical card arrives in the mail.

Why use the card? One benefit is the ability to track your purchases in an app. Plus, there’s cash back — 2% for Apple Pay purchases, 1% for non-Apple Pay purchases and 3% for purchases on Uber and Uber Eats.

2. Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around protests in Hong Kong.

3. All 84 startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

There are 197 companies (!) in the summer YC batch, and TechCrunch wrote up all 84 of the ones that presented yesterday.

Starship Technologies delivery robots go to work for Postmates in Washington D.C.

4. Starship Technologies raises $40M, crosses 100K deliveries and plans to expand to 100 new universities

Starship Technologies invented the category of rolling autonomous sidewalk delivery robots.

5. Facebook unveils new tools to control how websites share your data for ad-targeting

Just to be clear: Facebook isn’t deleting the data that a third party might have collected about your behavior. Instead, it’s removing the connection between that data and your personal information on the social network.

6. Without evidence, Trump accuses Google of manipulating millions of votes

The president’s accusation appears to be based on little more than supposition in an old paper reheated by months-old congressional testimony.

7. Revenue-based investing: A new option for founders who care about control

There’s a new wave of investors who use creative deal structures with some of the upside of traditional VC, but some of the downside protection of debt. (Extra Crunch membership required.)


Source: Tech Crunch

Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

Popular enterprise news and research site, The New Stack, is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A  featuring, you guessed it, delicious pancakes and awesome panelists!

Here’s the “short stack” of what’s going to happen:

  • Pancake buffet opens at 7:45 am on Thursday, Sept. 5 at TC Sessions: Enterprise
  • At 8:15 am the panel discussion/podcast kicks off, the topic, “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise
  • After the discussion, the moderators will host a live audience Q&A session with the panelists
  • Once the Q&A is done, attendees will get the chance to win some amazing raffle prizes

You can only take part in this fun pancake-breakfast podcast if you register for a ticket to  TC Sessions: Enterprise. Use the code TNS30 to get 30% off the conference registration price!

Here’s the longer-versions of what’s going to happen:

At 8:15 a.m., The New Stack founder and Publisher Alex Williams takes the stage as the moderator and host of the panel discussion. Our topic for TC Sessions: Enterprise is The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise. We’ll start with intros of our panelists and then dive into the topic with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO at GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise reporter and editor at TechCrunch, as our initial panelists. More panelists to come!

Then it’s time for questions. Questions we could see getting asked (hint, hint): Who’s on your team? What makes a great technical team for the enterprise startup? What are the observations a journalist has about how the enterprise is changing? What about when the time comes for AI? Who will I need on my team?

And just before 9 a.m., we’ll pick a ticket out of the hat and announce our raffle winner. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

On a side note, the pancake breakfast discussion will be published as a podcast on The New Stack Analysts

But there’s only one way to get a prize and network with fellow attendees, and that’s by registering for TC Sessions: Enterprise and joining us for a short stack with The New Stack. Tickets are now $349, but you can save 30% with code TNS30.


Source: Tech Crunch

WP Standard’s Weekender leather duffle is built for life

Have you heard? It’s Bag Week! It’s the most wonderful week of the year at TechCrunch. Just in time for back to school, we’re bringing you reviews of bags of all varieties: from backpacks, to rollers to messengers to fanny packs.

WP Standard makes exceptional leather goods and the company’s new leather duffle is no different. It’s fantastic and my go-to travel bag. There are downsides — it’s heavy and the shoulder strap slips on my boney shoulders — but the good outweighs the bad.

I travel a lot. Airplanes, bikes, cars, and pretty much everything but trains — because I live in the midwest and not because I don’t like trains. A few years back I got a lovely, low-cost leather duffle from Amazon and started using it instead of a roller bag. It’s fun and forces me to pack smarter. Besides, the duffle always fits in overhead spaces, in taxi cabs and is easier to handle on a busy subway.

But you don’t care about my life. You’re here for this bag.

WP Standard built the Weekender duffle for people like me. It’s a great size and I have no issue packing away a bunch shirts, a few pairs of pants and an extra pair of shoes. This isn’t a bag built to hold suits, but rather a weekend’s worth of clothes — hence the name.

The full grain leather is thick and tough and has so far held up nicely to the riggers of travel. There are scratches and scuffs but those are souvenirs and badges of honor. It’s ridden in the back of my pickup in downpours and down dusty lanes. It’s survived several transatlantic flights and still looks like it has decades of life to give.

In the end this isn’t a Patagonia or The North Face duffle constructed out of space-age fabric designed to survive the tallest peaks or the deepest valleys. WP Standard doesn’t play that game. This company makes goods out of full grain leather that are naturally tough and will age gracefully.

The bag is constructed in a way to give the leather the best chance at survival. The hand straps wrap the bag to give it extra strength. The bottom is constructed out of two layers of stiff leather. The zipper is beefy. The shoulder strap is tough and hasn’t shown any sign of stretching.

A few years ago I reviewed WP Standard’s messenger bag. The Weekender duffle is just as lovely but these two bags share the same downside: The shoulder straps pad is too slippery. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing a t-shirt, jacket or parka, the shoulder strap doesn’t stay in place. To compensate, I often forgo using the pad and use the strap itself, which is thinner and can be uncomfortable after several minutes. To me, this isn’t a deal killer, but you, dear reader, should know about this downside.

The WP Standard Weekender costs $375. It’s a great price considering the thickness of the leather and quality of construction. Similar bags can be had from Wills, Shinola or Saddleback but for nearly twice the price. Pad and Quill makes quality leather goods and sells a leather duffle that’s similar to the Weekend for $545; it’s also worth a consideration.


Source: Tech Crunch

Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform.

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified an information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around events in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region. Over the weekend over 1 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest what they see as an encroachment by the mainland Chinese government over their rights.

State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don’t operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service, and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee.

 

The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can’t access the company’s advertising products, Twitter said in a statement.

“We believe that there is a difference between engaging in conversation with accounts you choose to follow and the content you see from advertisers in your Twitter experience which may be from accounts you’re not currently following. We have policies for both but we have higher standards for our advertisers,” Twitter said in its statement.

The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process.

Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn’t apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports, or travel, but if there’s news in the mix, the company will block advertising access.

Affected outlets have 30 days before they’re removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

State media has long been a source of disinformation and was cited as part of the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election. Indeed, Twitter has booted state-financed news organizations before. In October 2017, the company banned Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on its platform (although a representative from RT claimed that Twitter encouraged it to advertise ahead of the election).

 


Source: Tech Crunch

A newly funded startup, Internal, says it wants to help companies better manage their internal consoles

Uber and Facebook and countless other companies that know an awful lot about their customers have found themselves in hot water for providing broad internal access to sensitive customer information.

Now, a startup says its “out-of-the-box tools” can help protect customers’ privacy while also saving companies from themselves. How? With a software-as-a-service product that promises to help employees access the app data they need — and only the app data they need. Among the features the company, Internal, is offering, are search and filtering, auto-generated tasks and team queues, granular permissioning on every field, audit logs on every record, and redacted fields for sensitive information.

Whether the startup can win the trust of enterprises is the biggest question for the company, which was created by Arisa Amano and Bob Remeika, founders who last year launched the blockchain technology company Harbor. The two also worked together previously at two other companies: Zenefits and Yammer.

All of these endeavors have another person in common, and that’s David Sacks, whose venture firm, Craft Ventures, has just led a $5 million round in Internal. Sacks also invested last year in Harbor; he was an early investor in Zenefits and took over during troubled times as its CEO for less than a year; he also founded Yammer, which sold to Microsoft for $1.2 billion in cash in 2012.

All of the aforementioned have been focused, too, on making it easier for companies to get their work done, and Amano and Remeika have built the internal console at all three companies, which is how they arrived at their “aha” moment last year, says Amano. “So many companies build their consoles [which allow users advanced use of the computer system they’re attached to] in a half-hearted way; we realized there was an opportunity to build this as a service.” Adds Remeika, “Companies never dedicate enough engineers to [their internal consoles], so they’re often half broken and hard to use and they do a terrible job of limiting access to sensitive customer data. We eliminate the need to build these tools altogether, and takes just minutes to get set up.”

Internal Screens 1

Starting today, companies can decide for themselves whether they think Internal can help their employees interact with their customer app data in a more secure and compliant way. The eight-person company has just made the product available for a free trial.

Naturally, Amano and Remeika are full of assurances why companies can trust them. “We don’t store data,” says Amano. “That resides on the [customer’s] servers. It stays in their database.” Internal’s technology instead “understands the structure of the data and will read that structure,” offers Remeika, who says not to mistake Internal for an analytics tool. “Analytics tools commonly provide a high-level overview; Internal is giving users granular access to customer data and letting you debug problems.”

As for competitors, the duo say their most formidable opponent right now is developers who throw up a data model viewer that has complete access to everything in a database, which may be sloppy but happens routinely.

Internal isn’t disclosing its pricing publicly just yet, but it says its initial target is non-technical users, on operations and customer support teams, for example.

As for Harbor (we couldn’t help but wonder why they’re already starting a new company), they say it’s in good hands with CEO Josh Stein, who was previously general counsel and chief compliance officer at Zenefits (he was its first lawyer) and who joined Harbor in February of last year as its president. Stein was later named CEO.

In addition to Craft Ventures, Internal’s new seed round comes from Pathfinder, which is Founders Fund’s early-stage investment vehicle, and other, unnamed angel investors.


Source: Tech Crunch

Without evidence, Trump accuses Google of manipulating millions of votes

The President this morning lashed out at Google on Twitter, accusing the company of manipulating millions of votes in the 2016 election to sway it towards Hillary Clinton. The authority on which he bases this serious accusation, however, is little more than supposition in an old paper reheated by months-old congressional testimony.

Trump’s tweet this morning cited no paper at all, in fact, though he did tag conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, perhaps asking them to investigate. It’s also unclear who he thinks should sue the company.

Coincidentally, Fox News had just mentioned the existence of such a report about five minutes earlier. Trump has also recently criticized Google and CEO Sundar Pichai over a variety of perceived slights.

In fact the report was not “just issued,” and does not say what the President suggests it did. What both Fox and Trump appear to be referring to is a paper published in 2017 that described what the authors say was a bias in Google and other search engines during the run-up to the 2016 election.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about this particular study, I can tell you why — it’s a very bad study. The authors looked at search results for 95 people over the 25 days preceding the election and evaluated the first page for bias.

They claim to have found that based on “crowdsourced” determinations of bias, the process for which is not described, that most search results, especially on Google, tended to be biased in favor of Clinton. No data on these searches, such as a sample search and results and how they were determined to be biased, is provided. There’s no discussion of the fact, for example, that Google tailors search results based on a person’s previous searches, stated preferences, location, and so on.

In fact, the paper lacks all the qualifications of any ordinary research paper. There is no abstract or introduction, no methods section to show the statistics work and definitions of terms, no discussion, no references. Without this basic information the document is not only incapable of being reviewed by peers or experts, but is indistinguishable from completely invented suppositions. Nothing in this paper can be in any way verified.

Epstein freely references himself, however: a single 2015 paper in PNAS on how search results could be deliberately manipulated to affect a voter looking for information on candidates, and  the many, many opinion pieces he has written on the subject, frequently on far-right outlets the Epoch Times and Daily Caller, but also non-partisan ones like USA Today and Bloomberg Businessweek.

The numbers advanced in the study are completely without merit. Citing math he does not describe, Epstein says that “a pro-Clinton bias in Google’s search results would over time, shift at least 2.6 million votes to Clinton.” No mechanism or justification for this assertion is provided, except a highly theoretical one based on ideas and assumptions from his 2015 study, which had little in common with this one. The numbers are, essentially, made up.

In other words, this so-called report is nothing of the kind — a nonfactual document written with no scientific justification of its claims written by someone who publishes anti-Google editorials almost monthly. It was not published in a journal of any kind, simply put online at a private nonprofit research agency called the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, where Epstein is on staff and which appears to exist almost solely to promote his work — such as it is. (I’ve asked AIBRT for more information on its funding.)

If that were all, it would be more than enough. But Trump’s citation of this fraudulent paper doesn’t even get the facts right. His assertion was that “Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 Election,” and the report doesn’t even state that.

The source for this false claim appears to be Epstein’s recent appearance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. Here he received star treatment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who asked him to share his expert opinion on the possibility of tech manipulation of voting. Cruz’s previous expert for this purpose was conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager.

Again citing no data, studies, or mechanisms whatsoever, Epstein described 2.6 million as a “rock bottom minimum” of votes that Google, Facebook, Twitter and others could have affected (he does not say did affected, or attempted to affect). He also says that in subsequent elections, specifically in 2020, “if all these companies are supporting the same candidate, there are 15 million votes on the line that can be shifted without people’s knowledge and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace.”

“the methods they are using are invisible, they’re subliminal, they’re more powerful than most any effects I’ve seen in the behavioral sciences,” Epstein said, but did not actually describe what the techniques are. Though he did suggest that Mark Zuckerberg could send out a “get out the vote” notification only to Democrats and no one would ever know — absurd.

In other words, the numbers are not only invented, but unrelated to the 2016 election, and inclusive of all tech companies, not just Google. Even if Epstein’s claims were anywhere near justifiable, Trump’s tweet mischaracterizes them and gets everything wrong. Nothing about any of this is anywhere close to correct.

Google issued a statement addressing the President’s accusation, saying “This researcher’s inaccurate claim has been debunked since it was made in 2016. As we stated then, we have never re-ranked or altered search results to manipulate political sentiment.”

You can read the full “report” below:

EPSTEIN & ROBERTSON 2017-A Method for Detecting Bias in Search Rankings-AIBRT by TechCrunch on Scribd


Source: Tech Crunch