Slack now has more than 10 million daily active users

As Slack reportedly readies itself for an entry to the public markets, the high-flying startup is ready to brag a little bit about what it has accomplished in the past year.

In a blog post, the company shared that it now has 10 million daily active users on the platform, up from 8 million DAUs in May. It’s not just tech companies in Silicon Valley using the service either, the company broke down the number a bit, clarifying that more than half of the DAUs are from outside the United States.

User numbers via Slack

We didn’t get an update on the number of paid users — the company also shared in May that it had 3 million paying users — but the company did say that the number of subscribers has grown to 85,000, a 50 percent over the past year. The company’s major challenge of the past couple years has been bringing on more big companies to its platform, it seems they’ve definitely had some success, detailing in the blog that 65 of the Fortune 100 companies were slacking away.

Even with its weird new logo, the company seems to be growing at a fairly consistent pace from a user standpoint. We got a look at how things were looking on the financial side via a recent report in The Information, which forecast its 2019 revenue at $640 million and detailed that the company had over $900 million in cash on its balance sheet.

The company was last valued at more than $7 billion.

Source: Tech Crunch

State Farm sponsors popular Fortnite streamer DrLupo

DrLupo, one of the biggest names and most recognizable voices in Fortnite streaming, has closed a sponsorship deal with State Farm.

Bejanmin “DrLupo” Lupo has nearly 3 million Twitch followers and often plays with the world’s most popular streamer, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Beloved for his talent and his personality alike, Lupo has also worked as a caster for various Fortnite tournaments and events. Last year, DrLupo held a charity stream for St. Jude’s Research Hospital and raised $1.3 million.

State Farm Marketing Director Ed Gold had this to say:

DrLupo is one of the world’s most followed Fortnite streamers. His philanthropic efforts and massive fanbase make him an ideal partner as we continue to amplify our esports programming and efforts with the gaming community.

This marks State Farm’s first sponsorship of an esports athlete. The sponsorship will include support of the stream through branded replays, live in-stream stunts and product integration (here’s me trying to imagine integrating insurance products into a video game stream), event-based remote streams, sponsored giveaways, and social content.

DrLupo announced the partnership on his stream, saying that he and his family have worked with State Farm for a long time and that he’s very thankful for the opportunity.

Sponsorships are certainly not new in the esports world — Newzoo reported that some $359 million would be spent in 2018 on esports sponsorships. That said, this does mark a grown-up shift in an industry whose sponsors have traditionally included energy drink brands, Taco Bell and Totinos Pizza Rolls.

Part of that has to do with the fact that both the viewership and the popular content creators, particularly in Fortnite, have grown up. DrLupo is married with a child, and his family frequently appears on his stream. If his viewers aren’t already age appropriate for insurance products, they soon will be.

But more importantly, the relationship DrLupo (or any other popular streamer) has with his audience is very different from the one Sofia Vergara has with Modern Family fans/Head & Shoulders customers. Streamers spend anywhere from six to twelve hours a day with their audience, often simply shooting the shit. Moreover, viewers can interact through the chat, having actual conversations with the creator.

The potential for brands to harness and translate that influence through esports sponsorships could be quite powerful, but streamers will have to remain diligent to stay authentic considering their audience is a generation that has become entirely numb to and/or incredulous toward advertising.

Source: Tech Crunch

Apple partners with Aetna to launch health app leveraging Apple Watch data

In its clearest move yet to woo the healthcare industry, Apple has collaborated with the health insurance provider Aetna to launch a new app called Attain that uses Apple Watch data to provide a window into users’ health.

The launch stems from a 2016 collaboration between the insurer and Apple which saw 90% of participants in a study reported a health benefit from using their Apple Watch.

Both Apple and Google (through its parent company, Alphabet) have been making headway into personalized health using wearables. Earlier this month, Alphabet’s Verily business unit had its wearable device approved by the FDA for tracking heart health. Apple had received its approval from the FDA in September 2018 when it launched a new version of the Apple Watch.

“We believe that people should be able to play a more active role in managing their well-being. Every day, we receive emails and letters from people all over the world who have found great benefit by incorporating Apple Watch into their lives and daily routines,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO. “As we learn over time, the goal is to make more customized recommendations that will help members accomplish their goals and live healthier lives.”

Healthcare has been on Apple’s radar since at least 2016, when Tim Cook targeted it as an area the company was looking to pursue in an interview with Fast Company.

“We’ve gotten into the health arena and we started looking at wellness, that took us to pulling a string to thinking about research, pulling that string a little further took us to some patient-care stuff, and that pulled a string that’s taking us into some other stuff,” [Cook said at the time]. “When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

The new Attain app consists of four pillars divided into achieving activity goals; sustaining everyday health, personalized health notifications; and rewards for achievements.

The app determines personalized activity goals based on age, sex and weight, and includes a more varied array of potential activities than just steps taken — using the Apple Watch to measure swimming and yoga as potential activities.

Aetna’s app will also offer challenges where participants earn points for taking actions like getting more sleep, engaging in meditation activities and monitoring and improving their diet.

Attain will also recommend health actions based on the healthcare reports culled from the health records that Aetna’s patient populations shares through the app. Created alongside physicians the app uses doctor recommended clinical guidelines and will incorporate prompts for healthy actions like getting flu shots and vaccinations, refill medication prescriptions when they’re scheduled to run out; suggest visits to primary care physicians if checkups have lagged and prompt about lower-cost options for lab tests.

Finally, users can earn rewards — like points off the cost of their Apple Watch or gift cards to national stores. The app is available to Aetna members who have an iPhone 5s or later and an Apple Watch Series 1 or later.

“From fitness enthusiasts, to casual gym-goers, to parents who get all their exercise by keeping up with their kids – we designed Attain for everyone,” said Alan Lotvin, M.D., Executive Vice President of Transformation for CVS Health, in a statement. “We understand that you don’t need to be a personal trainer or work out several hours a day to be healthier. We’re designing Attain to be personalized and clinically relevant to where each individual is in their health journey. This is an ambitious challenge, and we will adapt and improve over time to create the best experience for our members.”

After users have signed up with the Attain app they can share data and health history with Apple, giving both companies access to data that can be used later for potential clinical trials or to make predictions abut population health… while the companies are pitching it as a way to get more personalized suggestions from the app.

According to a statement from the company all the health data is encrypted on the device, in transit and on Apple and Aetna’s servers where it is stored in a HIPAA compliant way.

The companies also say that the data won’t be used for underwriting, premium or coverage decisions.

In the future you could see Apple and Aetna collaborating to make Apple Watches an employee benefit — like computers — to track employee health and lower healthcare costs. It’d be a win-win for both.

But as Apple pushes deeper into collecting health records and data the company is setting a high bar for its security protocols at a time when the company is still cleaning up the mess from a bug that left Facetime users exposed.



Source: Tech Crunch

Mozilla streamlines Firefox tracker blocking controls

Mozilla has rolled out what it bills as enhanced and simplified controls for Firefox users to manage how they block trackers.

An update to its browser software, released today, offers a redesigned interface which includes new controls that let users choose from ‘standard’, ‘strict’ or ‘custom’ settings to help them control online trackers.

Trackers refer to content embedded on websites that surreptitiously harvests information about visitors’ browsing activity — often for ad targeting purposes.

Using a tracker blocker is therefore one way to claw back a little online privacy. Although trackers can be used for lots of functions. Hence you may not want to block ’em all.

With the latest version of the Firefox browser the ‘strict’ level of tracker blocking is “for people who want a bit more protection and don’t mind if some sites break”, according to Mozilla. This mode also blocks trackers in all Windows.

Whereas ‘standard’ is summed up as a “set it and forget it” mode that blocks known trackers — but only when the user is using Private Browsing mode.

The standard mode will also block third party tracking cookies “in the future”. Though Mozilla looks to still be tweaking and testing that.

The third option is a custom tracker blocker mode which it says is “for those who want complete control to pick and choose what trackers and cookies they want to block”. This mode lets users choose whether or not to block trackers in all windows, or only in Private Browsing windows; and also to select different block lists.

On cookies, the custom option also lets users pick from blocking third-party trackers; cookies from unvisited websites; all third-party cookies (which Mozilla warns “may” cause websites to break); and all cookies (which it says will cause websites to break).

Mozilla has updated Firefox with a redesigned interface for tracker blocking

The redesigned tracker blocking interface follows an announcement from Mozilla last summer, when it said it would expand its approach to privacy by introducing default settings that block trackers, as well as “offering a clear set of controls to give our users more choice over what information they share with sites” — flagging the “harms of unchecked data collection”.

Concern over behavioral advertising has generally been stepping up in recent years, fuelled by a string of data misuse and security scandals which have encouraged policymakers to take a closer interest in how personal data is collected and where it flows.

Rising concern over creepy ads has also encouraged a rise in activity in the tracker blocking space. So the latest tweaks to Firefox are part of a wider privacy trend.

“We initially announced in October that we would roll out Enhanced Tracking Protection off-by-default. This was just one of the many steps we took to help prepare users when we turn this on by default this year,” Mozilla writes today, teeing up the redesigned tracker blocking interface.

“We continue to experiment and share our journey to ensure we balance these new preferences with the experiences our users want and expect. Before we roll this feature out by default, we plan to run a few more experiments and users can expect to hear more from us about it.”

Firefox users can view the redesigned Content Blocking section via the Preferences menu, clicking on Privacy & Security — which will offer a Content Blocking section option. Or by clicking on the small “i” icon in the address bar, and then the small gear displayed next to Content Blocking.

A full list of changes in Firefox Release 65.0 can also be viewed here.

Among other listed improvements are a better pop-up blocker (“to prevent multiple pop-up windows from being opened by websites at the same time”); improved performance and web compatibility; and a better experience for multilingual users as also being among the updates.

Source: Tech Crunch

Gmail on mobile gets a fresh coat of Material Design paint

Gmail on mobile will soon get a new look. Google today announced that its mobile email apps for iOS and Android are getting a redesign that is in line with the company’s recent Material Design updates to Gmail, Drive, Calendar and Docs and Site. Indeed, the new UI will look familiar to anybody who has ever used the Gmail web app, including that versions ability to select three different density styles. You’ll also see some new fonts and other visual tweaks. In terms of functionality, the mobile app is also getting a few new features that put it on par with the web version.

Like on the desktop, you can now choose between the default view, as well as a comfortable and compact style.  The default view features a generous amount of white space and the same attachment chips underneath the email preview as the web version. The comfortable view does away with those chips and the compact view removes a lot of the space between messages to show you more emails at a glance.

I’ve been testing the new app for a bit and quickly settled on the comfortable view since I never found the attachment chips all that useful in day-to-day use.

In line with Google’s Material Design guidelines, all the styles feature relatively subtle but welcome animations that don’t take a lot of time but give you a couple of extra visual cues about what’s going on as you work your way to Inbox Zero.

Google also notes that the new design makes it a bit easier to switch between accounts. I’m not sure I agree (I definitely find the implementation of this in Inbox, which is sadly going away soon, easier to use), but if you regularly use this feature, it’s still easy enough to use. The switcher is now part of the search bar, though, which is a bit confusing and took me a moment to find.

One nice addition to the mobile app is that the large red phishing and scam warning box from the web version now also appears in the mobile app.

Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook drafts a proposal describing how its new content review board will work

In November, Facebook announced a new plan that would revamp how the company makes content policy decisions on its social network — it will begin to pass off to an independent review board some of the more contested decisions. The board will serve as the final level of escalation for appeals around reported content, acting something like a Facebook Supreme Court. Today, Facebook is sharing (PDF) more detail about how this board will be structured, and how the review process will work.

Facebook earlier explained that the review board wouldn’t be making the first — or even the second — decision on reported content. Instead, when someone reports content on Facebook, the first two appeals will still be handled by Facebook’s own internal review systems. But if someone isn’t happy with Facebook’s decision, the case can make its way to the new review board to consider.

However, the board may not decide to take on every case that’s pushed up the chain. Instead, it will focus on those it thinks are the most important, the company had said.

Today, Facebook explains in more detail how the board will be staffed and how its decisions will be handled.

In a draft charter, the company says that the board will include experts with experience in “content, privacy, free expression, human rights, journalism, civil rights, safety, and other relevant disciplines.” The member list will also be public, and the board will be supported by a full-time staff that will ensure its decisions are properly implemented.

While decisions around the board makeup haven’t been made, Facebook is today suggesting the board should have 40 members. These will be chosen by Facebook after it publicly announces the required qualifications for joining, and says it will offer special consideration to factors like “geographical and cultural background,” and a “diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.”

The board will also not include former or current Facebook employees, contingent workers of Facebook or government officials.

Once this board is launched, it will be responsible for the future selection of members after members’ own terms are up.

Facebook believes the ideal term length is three years, with the term automatically renewable one time, for those who want to continue their participation. The board members will serve “part-time,” as well — a necessary consideration as many will likely have other roles outside of policing Facebook content.

Facebook will ultimately allow the board to have final say. It can reverse Facebook’s own decisions, when necessary. The company may then choose to incorporate some of the final rulings into its own policy development. Facebook may also seek policy advice from the board, at times, even when a decision is not pressing.

The board will be referred cases both through the user appeals process, as well as directly from Facebook. For the latter, Facebook will likely hand off the more controversial or hotly debated decisions, or those where existing policy seems to conflict with Facebook’s own values.

To further guide board members, Facebook will publish a final charter that includes a statement of its values.

The board will not decide cases where doing so would violate the law, however.

Cases will be heard by smaller panels that consist of a rotating, odd number of board members. Decisions will be attributed to the review board, but the names of the actual board members who decided an individual case will not be attached to the decision — that’s likely something that could protect them from directed threats and harassment.

The board’s decisions will be made public, though it will not compromise user privacy in its explanations. After a decision is issued, the board will have two weeks to publish its decision and explanation. In the case of non-unanimous decisions, a dissenting member may opt to publish their perspective along with the final decision.

Like a higher court would, the board will reference its prior opinions before finalizing its decision on a new case.

After deciding their slate of cases, the members of the first panel will choose a slate of cases to be heard by the next panel. That panel will then pick the third slate of cases, and so on. A majority of members on a panel will have to agree that a case should be heard for it to be added to the docket.

Because 40 people can’t reasonably represent the entirety of the planet, nor Facebook’s 2+ billion users, the board will rely on consultants and experts, as required, in order to gather together the necessary “linguistic, cultural and sociopolitical expertise” to make its decisions, Facebook says.

To keep the board impartial, Facebook plans to spell out guidelines around recusals for when a conflict of interest develops, and it will not allow the board to be lobbied or accept incentives. However, the board will be paid — a standardized, fixed salary in advance of their term.

None of these announced plans are final, just Facebook’s initial proposals.

Facebook is issuing them in draft format to gather feedback and says it will open up a way for outside stakeholders to submit their own proposals in the weeks ahead.

The company also plans to host a series of workshops around the world over the next six months, where it will get various experts together to talk about issues like free speech and technology, democracy, procedural fairness and human rights. The workshops will be held in Singapore, Delhi, Nairobi, Berlin, New York, Mexico City and other cities yet to be announced.

Facebook has been criticized for its handling of issues like the calls to violence that led to genocide in Myanmar and riots in Sri Lanka; election meddling from state-backed actors from Russia, Iran and elsewhere; its failure to remove child abuse posts in India; the weaponization of Facebook by the government in the Philippines to silence its critics; Facebook’s approach to handling Holocaust denials or conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones; and much more.

Some may say Facebook is now offloading its responsibility by referring the tough decisions to an outside board. This, after all, could potentially save the company itself from being held accountable for war crimes and the like. But on the other hand, Facebook has not shown itself capable of making reasonable policy decisions related to things like hate speech and propaganda. It may be time for it to bring in the experts, and let someone else make the decisions.

Source: Tech Crunch

App Store developers have earned $120 billion since 2008

Apple is kicking off the Entrepreneur Camp in Cupertino. Eleven female-founded app development companies have been invited to Cupertino for multiple workshops and meetings with Apple employees, and Apple used that opportunity to share a new number when it comes to App Store revenue.

Since the creation of the App Store, Apple has given back $120 billion in revenue to App Store developers. It means that the App Store has generated more revenue than that in total. But if you remove Apple’s cut, $120 billion have been wired to developers.

App Store revenue is still growing rapidly, as more than $30 billion of developer revenue has been generated in the last 12 months alone. Apple reported $100 billion in developer revenue at WWDC back in June 2018.

Apple only counts direct App Store revenue, such as paid downloads, in-app purchases and subscriptions. Developers also could have generated more revenue through ads and subscriptions on a website, for instance.

If you’re curious about the Entrepreneur Camp, Apple has invited the developers of Bites, Camille, CUCO: Lembrete de Medicamentos, Deepr, D’efekt, Hopscotch, LactApp, Pureple, Statues of the La Paz Malecón, WeParent and Seneca Connect. There will be a new session every quarter.

Source: Tech Crunch

Porsche Taycan owners will get three years free charging at hundreds of Electrify America stations

Owners of the upcoming Porsche Taycan will get three years of free charging at hundreds of Electrify America public stations that will blanket the U.S. in the coming months.

And in many cases, that will include access to DC fast chargers that will allow the Taycan, which is designed to have an 800 volt battery that can take a 350 kW charge, to get 60 miles of range in just four minutes. That charging speed blows away competitor Tesla, which has set up its own vast network of fast chargers called Superchargers.

Porsche and Electrify America, the entity set up by Volkswagen as part of its settlement with U.S. regulators over its diesel emissions cheating scandal, announced the agreement Monday.

The Porsche Taycan, which is coming later this year, is hotly anticipated, even without the free access to Electrify America’s network. But the agreement, along with an additional $70 million investment to add DC fast chargers to Porsche dealerships, shows the automaker wants to ensure this electric bet pays off.

Electrify America will have more than 300 highway stations in 42 states and another 184 sites in 17 metro areas. Each location will have an average of five charging dispensers, with some having as many as 10. In all, Electrify America says 484 locations will be installed or under construction by July 1.

The company is expected to build out a second phase beginning July 2019.

ELECTRIFY AMERICA Nationwide Network MapThe highway stations will have a minimum of two 350 kW chargers per site, with additional chargers delivering up to 150 kW. Charging dispensers at metro locations will have 150 kilowatts of power.

The highway stations will be spaced along multiple routes — as can be seen in the map above — and no more than 120 miles from each other. The distance between highway stations will average 70 miles.

In addition to this 484-station Electrify America network, all 191 Porsche dealerships will be installing their own DC fast-charging units. More than 120 of these dealerships will feature Porsche Turbo Charging, which is the automaker’s own DC system that delivers up to 320 kW and also uses the CCS plug. The remaining dealerships will install 50 kW fast chargers.

Electrify America charging kioskElectrify America has had an early hiccup with its growing charging network.

On Friday, supplier Huber + Suhner recommended its customers suspend the operation of all charging stations with its high-power charging system after a short-circuit was reported at a charging station on a test site in Germany. Electrify America has shuttered these chargers while the supplier completes tests of its liquid-cooled cables. Other EV charging companies, including Fastned and Ionity in Europe, have also shut down their chargers with Huber + Suhner’s high-power cables.

In the meantime, all 89 Electrify America charging locations are open to charge electric vehicles, a spokesman said. These charging locations all have CHAdeMO connector 50 kW chargers available and some have CCS connector charging. Electrify America also has high-power liquid-cooled cables from another supplier, ITT Cannon, which are operating.

Electrify America’s engineers are working with the company closely so it can get all of its chargers back and available for users, the spokesman said.

Source: Tech Crunch

AirBuddy brings iOS-style AirPod integration to the Mac

iOS is easily one of the best things AirPods have going for them. Flip open the cap and, boom, there are the headphones and case, each sporting their respective battery levels. Pairing AirPods to your desktop has been doable as well, albeit markedly less convenient.

Guilherme Rambo of 9 to 5 Mac has a convenient new solution, however, beating Apple to the punch in the process. Now available through Gumroad (for a suggested donation of $5+), AirBuddy brings the same convenient iOS experience to desktops running Mojave (10.14) or later.

Once installed, opening the AirPod case next to a Mac will pop up the familiar floating AirPods icon, letting you know what’s left of your battery (or how much time you’ve got left to charge). There’s also a nice added feature here, “A simple click and you’re connected and playing your Mac’s audio to AirPods,” the developer writes. Oh, it also makes sure the audio input of your Mac is NOT switched to the AirPods so you can get the best possible quality.”

The system requires Bluetooth LE to work. It should also work for other nearby Apple devices that have connected via Wi-Fi, including iPhones, iPads and Beats headphones sporting the W1 chip.

Source: Tech Crunch

Sapphire Ventures bets big on esports and entertainment with new $115M fund

Sapphire Ventures, formerly the corporate venture capital arm of SAP, has lassoed $115 million from new limited partners (LPs) to invest at the intersection of tech, sports, media and entertainment.

A majority of the LPs for the new fund, called Sapphire Sport, have ties to the sports industry, from City Football Group, which owns English Premier League team Manchester City, to Adidas, the owners of the Indiana Pacers, New York Jets, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others.

The firm plans to do five to six investments per year, sized between $3 million and $7 million. So far, they’ve deployed capital to five startups: at-home fitness system Tonal, live soccer streaming platform mycujoo, digital sports network Overtime, ticketing and events platform Fevo and gaming studio Phoenix Labs. Sapphire began backing tech startups in 2008; in 2016, the firm closed on $1 billion for its third flagship venture fund.

Sapphire managing director and co-founder Doug Higgins is leading the effort alongside newly tapped partner Michael Spirito, who joined from 21st Century Fox, where he focused on business development and digital media for the Fox Sports-owned Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network, in September.

Higgins was an investment manager at Intel Capital for four years prior to co-launching Sapphire. Throughout his career, he’s managed the firm’s investments in LinkedIn, DocuSign, Square and more.

“We invest in anything that tech is disrupting,” Higgins told TechCrunch. “We were early investors in Fitbit, so we saw the beginning of digital fitness and how tech can impact the lives of anyone, not just high-performance athletes … We are also investors in Square, TicketFly and Paytm and what we’ve been seeing — the dream as a VC — is these massive markets in the sports, media and digital health world that are getting disrupted by tech.”

Sapphire is betting its traditional and well-established venture platform, coupled with the expertise of leading sports entities on board as LPs, will give it a competitive edge as it targets some of the best emerging sports tech companies.

“We see a lot of FOMO happening in this world, where everyone wants to have a play, but to make the best investment you need to have the widest perspective,” Higgins said. “So if you’re a team owner of a particular football team you are going to make better decisions if you are able to share perspectives with owners of other teams.”

“The best entrepreneurs, the ones we all want to invest in, there’s not a draft, they have to select you,” he added.

Investment in esports and gaming has skyrocketed, surpassing a total of $2.5 billion in VC funding in 2018. According to PitchBook, a handful of startups have already raised a total of $65 million in VC backing this year, including a $10.8 million financing for ReKTGlobal, a provider of esports infrastructure services.

“You can’t ignore the numbers on esports,” Higgins added. “They just continue to grow massively and people who have teenage kids, like myself, [those kids] want to grow up to be the next ninja, not the next Tom Brady .”

Source: Tech Crunch