Skype upgrades its messaging feature with drafts, bookmarks and more

Skype is best known for being a video calling app and, to some extent, that’s because its messaging feature set has been a bit underdeveloped. Today, the company is working to change that image with a series of improvements to Skype’s chatting features aimed at further differentiating it from rival apps.

One of the most useful of the new features is support for Message Drafts.

Similar to email, any message you type up in Skype but don’t yet send is saved within the conversation with a “draft” tag attached. That way you can return to the message to finish it and send it later on.

Skype new features 1b

It’s a feature it would be great to see other messaging clients adopt, as well, given how much of modern business and personal communication takes place outside of email.

People have wanted the ability to draft and schedule iMessage texts for years — so much so that clever developers invented app-based workarounds to meet consumers’ needs. Some people even type up their texts in Notepad, while waiting for the right time to send them.

In another email-inspired addition, Skype is also introducing the ability to bookmark important messages. To access this option, you just have to long-press a message (on mobile) or right-click (on desktop), then tap or click “Add Bookmark.” This will add the message to your Bookmarks screen for easy retrieval.

Skype new features 2

You’ll also now be able to preview photos, videos, and files before you send them through messages — a worthwhile improvement, but one that’s more about playing catch-up to other communication apps than being particularly innovative.

Skype new features 4

And if you’re sharing a bunch of photos or videos all at once, Skype will now organize them neatly. Instead of overwhelming recipients with a large set of photos, the photos are grouped in a way that’s more common to what you’d see on social media. That is, only a few are display while the rest hide behind a “+” button you have to click in order to see more.

Skype new features 3b

Unrelated to the messaging improvements, Skype also rolled out split window support for all versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux. (Windows 10 support was already available).

As one of the older messaging apps still in use, Skype is no longer the largest or most popular, claiming only 300 million monthly active users compared to WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion, for example.

However, it’s good to see its team getting back to solving real consumer pain points rather than trying to clone Snapchat as it mistakenly tried to do not too long ago. (Thankfully, those changes were rolled back.) What Skype remaining users appreciate is the app’s ease-of-use and its productivity focus, and these changes are focused on that direction.

Outside of the expanded access to split view, noted above, all the other new features are rolling out across all Skype platforms, the company says.



Source: Tech Crunch

Credit Sesame, a platform for managing loans and credit scores, picks up $43M en route to IPO

Household debt in the U.S. continues to rise and as of this year now stands at nearly $14 billion. Now, one of the startups that’s building tools to help consumers better cope with that is announcing a round of funding and plans for an IPO — signs of the demand for its services, and its success to date.

Credit Sesame — which lets consumers check their credit scores and evaluate options to rebalance existing debts and loans to improve that score and thus their overall “financial health,” in the words of CEO and founder Adrian Nazari — has raised $43 million. With the company already profitable and growing revenues 90% each year for the last five, Nazari said that this round is likely to be the last round the company raises before it goes public.

Credit Sesame is not disclosing its valuation, in part because this round is likely to have some more money added to it. But Nazari noted that it’s on track to be valued at over $1 billion when it does close in the coming months. It has now raised $110 million in total.

The round is a mixture of equity and debt, and includes both strategic and financial investors. Led by growth-stage investors ATW Partners, it also includes participation from previous investors. Past backers of Credit Sesame include Menlo Ventures, Inventus Capital, Globespan Capital, IA Capital Groups, Symantec, Capital One Ventures, and Stanford University. There will also likely be new investors coming to the company when the round does expand.

The reason the startup is raising both equity and debt is worth a note: Nazari said Credit Sesame is profitable and has been “for some time,” Nazari noted, so when it raises money now, it would prefer to do so with less dilution. The funding will be going towards continuing to work on Credit Sesame’s artificial intelligence algorithms, and to continue expanding this business, but not likely acquisitions: there are a lot of companies in the fintech arena that are working on products adjacent to what Credit Sesame does, but Nazari said that it would likely only start to work on some M&A and consolidation plays after it IPOs, using the proceeds from that to fuel that.

In addition to a number of companies building tools and products to help people manage their money better, there are direct competitors to Credit Sesame, too, including Credit Karma, NerdWallet, Experian, ClearScore, Equifax and many more. Nazari’s view is that while Credit Sesame maybe targeting a similar initial function, its approach and how helps you manage your credit score is what differentiates it.

The company has coined the term “Personal Credit Management” (as opposed to personal financial management), and has built an algorithm it calls RoboCredit, which is based on a basic score provided by TransUnion (one of the big agencies that calculates scores, alongside Equifax and Experian) but also includes other factors that it calculates to show consumers what actions they can take to improve their scores. Checking initial scores is free on Credit Sesame, as are evaluating options for how to rebalance loans and other debts to help improve the score. But users that take products referred through the engine — such as refinancing a mortgage or taking a new credit and/or transferring your existing balance — or other premium services (such as an advanced level of identity theft protection), pay fees to do so.

The credit rating industry has seen some big setbacks in the last several years — first the big breach at Equifax, and then the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fining both Equifax and TransUnion for misrepresenting what kind of data it was providing to consumers, and for not being transparent enough in its charges. But Nazari said that in fact, this has had a positive impact on the company.

“The impact from Equifax has been net positive,” he explained. “Incidents like these create awareness and the need for consumers to watch their credit and be on top of that,” he noted. “Identity theft from breaches could happen any time.” 

Indeed, online security has become a bit of an unknown variable for many of us: we can try to prepare as much as possible, but we never know what news of a new breach might come around the corner, or when one fragment of our disclosed information might be the missing piece to someone using it to steal something from us. On the other hand, the startup is giving more transparency at least to how some of the other aspects of our online financial identity work, and how it can be used by others to evaluate us as consumers.

“Credit Sesame is revolutionizing how consumers manage their credit. What once was a mystery and black box is now distilled by Credit Sesame’s PCM platform into easy to digest actionable insights that can effortlessly and meaningfully change a consumer’s credit and financial health,” said Kerry Propper, co-founder and managing partner at ATW Partners, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to open the gates to a new age of Personal Credit Management with the Credit Sesame team leading the space.”

Source: Tech Crunch

2019 tech IPOs: Some thoughts from the public company roller coaster

2019 has already been an active year for U.S. tech IPOs. Some highly anticipated unicorns, such as Uber and Lyft, have disappointed investors with their IPO debuts and their first results as public companies. Others, such as Fiverr, Zoom and CrowdStrike, have soared. And food-tech brand Beyond Meat (two words you normally don’t see together) hit a high of $239 from their $25 IPO price.

The first of these 2019 tech IPO companies will soon face a new challenge as the early investor and employee lockups expire — often 180 days after the IPO — allowing them to sell and increasing the number of shares available to trade. Lyft will remain at the front of the 2019 pack when the lockups expire, bringing more of the company’s stock into play on the public market. Regardless of what happens next, it’s amazing to see the trajectory of companies that have built such impressive businesses in such a remarkably short period of time.

I was recently at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to ring the opening bell and celebrate our three- millionth borrower on the platform. It brought back great memories from when our company, LendingClub, entered the public fray in 2014. LendingClub was the largest U.S. tech IPO that year, and is still one of the biggest U.S. tech IPOs of all time. We listed at a $5.4 billion valuation, and our shares surged 67% on the first day of trading. We were thrilled to celebrate the validation of our hard work and excited about the next stage of our growth. However, by the time our lockups expired, we had fallen back to around our IPO valuation of $15 a share.

Since then, despite being the market leader in the fastest-growing sector of consumer credit in the country with double-digit annual growth, the company today is worth less than a fifth of what it was in 2014. Our story is thankfully unique, and I’ll spare you the details here, but suffice to say… we had a rough period. We are back on track now, delivering growth and margin expansion while executing against our vision.

However bespoke our story, there are some observations I’ll share that might be useful for others as they think about life post-IPO. I’m not going to cover the issues around short-termism and the tyranny of quarterly targets (which have been well-documented elsewhere), but rather a few of the implications that sure would have been useful for me to know going in…

Things will be different — really

I’d compare the period leading up to the IPO to the period when you are expecting a baby. Intellectually, you know things will be different when you bring home a newborn. But knowing it and living it are two different things. Going public is a transformational event that permanently changes your company and how the CEO, CFO and board spend their time (with obvious trickle-down effects). From the moment we rang the NYSE bell on December 11, 2014, everything changed.

Making money matters

Investors buying your stock are essentially valuing your future cash flow. At some point, you have to have your “show them the money” moment and become profitable. Amazon famously lost a total of $2.8 billion over 17 straight quarters after their IPO and was the subject of a lot of skepticism and criticism throughout. The company maintained their strategy, delivering top-line growth and investing in their future and, suffice to say, investor patience paid off!

At LendingClub, we have invested millions of dollars to develop products that delight our 3 million+ customers (and, at 78, our NPS is at its highest level in the history of the company) and expand our competitive moat. We are now driving toward adjusted net income profitability.

Like it or not, there is a scoreboard

Once you go public, some people stop thinking of you as a business, and start thinking about you as a stock price. And that stock price is always broadcasting. It broadcasts to your equity investors, your employees, your partners, your board — to everyone who is listening.

You can’t preserve your culture, but you can and must maintain the values your company holds dear.

When the stock is up, everyone feels great. But, in a volatile market or a downturn, there are a lot of people who will be needing to hear your view on what’s happening. Communication to your stakeholders is not in the way of you doing your job, it is a critical part of your job that just got A LOT bigger. You need to stay ahead of it and deliberately carve out the time to make it a priority.

There are others sharing the microphone

When you are starting out, the world is divided into two types of people: those who love you, and those who don’t know/care. When you are a public company, a lot of voices join the conversation. You’ll add a different beat of reporters focused on your financials. You have analysts who are paid to research and think about your company, your strategy, your prospects and your value. These analysts may have never covered a company quite like yours (after all, you are breaking new ground) and you’ll need to spend time together to understand what matters.

You also can attract a whole new kind of investor, a “short” who has a vested interest in your stock going down. All of these voices are speaking to your stakeholders and you need to understand what they are saying and how it should affect your own communications.

Be careful, the microphone is on

Remember those days when everyone attended the “all hands” and you could share the details of your product road map, your corporate strategy, what’s working and what isn’t? Yeah, those are over. The risk of material nonpublic information leaking means you need to find a new balance in transparency with your employees (and your friends and partners for that matter).

It’s a change to behavior and to culture that doesn’t come naturally (at least it didn’t to me). It’s a change that can be frustrating to employees as the necessary opacity can erode trust as people feel out of the loop. At LendingClub, we still regularly communicate as much as we can and trust our employees, but there are places where you have to draw the line.

Your competitors are listening

Ironically enough, while your ability to share key details with employees is limited, you are sharing a lot with your competition. Shareholders and money managers want to know your battle plans and expect a detailed update at your earnings call every quarter. You can expect that your competitors are taking notice and taking notes.

Your scarcest resource

As the above would indicate, being public means that you are inevitably going to be spending less time running the business, and more time focused externally. Not a bad thing, but something you need to plan for so that you have the resources in place underneath you to maintain business momentum. If your management team isn’t materially different as you head to the market than it was a few years ago, I’d be surprised if you have what you need.

Your culture will change, focus on your values

I once asked a senior Google executive advice on how to preserve culture when going through massive periods of transition. She told me that you can’t preserve your culture, but you can and must maintain the values your company holds dear. Her advice, which I have followed and am passing on to you, is to make sure you write them down, hire against them and assess performance against them.

We started this practice years ago and it is remarkable how consistent our values have remained even as the company has evolved and matured. We codified six core values that put the customer at the center of everything we do. We are guided by our No. 1 value — Do What’s Right. You know a LendingClubber when you meet them, and it is part of what makes us great.

Being a public company is not for the faint-hearted, but being public is part of growing up. Being public legitimizes the company, unlocks liquidity to fuel growth and enables you to attract the next generation of talent. We always said that going public would allow us to deliver more value to a greater number of consumers and would lend legitimacy to our growing industry. We have facilitated more than $50 billion in loans and are still at a small percentage of our immediately addressable market. Although challenging at times, we’re seeing our dream to truly help everyday Americans come to life.

We’ve worked hard since our IPO to change the face people associate with finance. We’ve built a diverse team, established strong core values and nurtured a culture that has resulted in the kind of company we want to represent fintech and the tech industry as a whole — both inside and outside Silicon Valley.

So, to the new joiners in the public sphere — life in the spotlight is a wild ride. Congratulations on this step in your journey, and on to the next!

Source: Tech Crunch

“Filmmaker Mode” will automatically turn off all the dumb motion smoothing and noise reduction on new TVs


Most people don’t adjust the settings on their TV after they buy it.

Most newer TVs, meanwhile, come with a bunch of random junk turned on by default; things like motion smoothing that makes epic movies look like soap operas, or noise reduction that can wash out details and make an actor’s skin look cyborg-y. These things help the TVs catch more eyes on the retail show floor — look how smooth the butterfly wings in the demo video are moving!

Movie makers and show creators tend to hate these things because they algorithmically screw with details they’ve spent many hundreds of hours fine tuning frame-by-frame. But getting the viewer to go in and muck with a bunch of settings, hidden behind confusing names (often unique to each company, because Branding™) and a dozen button presses, is hard.

That’s the driving force behind Filmmaker Mode. Push a button, and all that crap gets turned off.

It’s a move which the UHD Alliance (a group made up of 40 companies like Dolby, Panasonic, Samsung, Universal, Warner Brothers, and a bunch of other industry mega companies) says they’re making with the input of icons like Martin Scorsese, Patty Jenkins, Ryan Coogler, Rian Johnson, and Christopher Nolan.

Flip on Filmmaker mode, and your TV set should:

  • Turn off all motion smoothing effects
  • Turn off noise reduction, sharpening, and other after-the-fact processing effects
  • Automatically display the media in its intended aspect ratio/frame rate.
  • Turn off overscan, unless required by the video
  • Set the white point color to the widely used D65 standard

According to The Digital Bits, the mode is meant to be toggled on in either of two ways: manually via a button on the remote, or automatically when a video’s metadata says so. Want all the motion smoothing stuff back on for sports? Push a button, and it’s back.

LG, Panasonic, and Vizio have committed to implementing the new mode, and I imagine others will hop on board once word of the mode spreads. The downside? It sounds like this is only coming to new TVs, with no announced plans so far about it coming to older sets via software update. Fortunately, you can always toggle most of this stuff manually.

If you’ve spent hours tweaking your tv and pouring through AV forums to find settings that you love, awesome — keep’em. But if you’re at a friends house in a few years watching Lord of the Rings and can’t get over Gimli’s unusually smooth skin compliments of TruDynamicNoiseMasterPlus 4.0, maybe tell them about Filmmaker mode.

Source: Tech Crunch

MIT’s autonomous boat robots can now shapeshift to form new structures

MIT Shapeshifting Roboats 01 0Work continues on developing MIT’s fully autonomous robot boats – ‘roboats’ if you’d rather – and now they have a new trick, allowing them to change configurations and reassemble with one another to form a range of new structures.

When last we checked in on the ‘roboat’ project, the robots had achieved a basic level of autonomy, allowing them to do basic navigation, and also to latch on to one another to form rudimentary assemblies. Now, they’re improved to the point where they can not only connect, but also both disconnect and re-assemble into new types of structures – all on their own.

The researchers working on the self-assembling roboats have devised an algorithm that manages all the planning involved in getting groups of the aquatic robots to unlatch from each other, then route a path that avoids any potential collisions, and then reconnect with other robots again in a new type of configuration. They’ve demonstrated this working both in simulation and in a pool at MIT, with the rectangular platform robots configuring themselves into straight lines, squares and even Ls.

So they’ve essentially mastered the basic shapes from Tetris, but this is a key step in the ultimate goal of making these the basis for truly utilitarian robots that can assemble and reassemble on-demand to create bridges, floating platforms, on-demand barges of any size and more, which would have obvious applications for reshaping urban environments with easy access to water.

The self-configuration and re-configuration happens because the roboats now come in two flavors: workers and coordinators. These units combine to form an overall platform, but the coordinators include GPS and a measuring tool for determining their relative pose and velocity. The workers have actuators to help the overall platform unit steer. The coordinators work together to figure out how they’re currently arranged, compare that to the target arrangement, and then issue orders about which ones stay in place, and which ones have to change position to achieve that new shape given their staring point.

While the robots used for these specific experiments were about 3 feet by 1.5 feet in size, the full-sized roboats are about four times the size – but researchers think the algorithm will work when applied to them, too. That will be crucial if the team hopes to achieve its goal of building a bridge capable of autonomous formation to span the nearly 200-foot canal that connects the NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam to a nearby neighborhood, which they’re aiming to do sometime next year.

Source: Tech Crunch

Marc Benioff will discuss building a socially responsible and successful startup at TechCrunch Disrupt

Salesforce chairman, co-founder and CEO, Marc Benioff, took a lot of big chances when he launched the company 20 years ago. For starters, his was one of the earliest enterprise SaaS companies, but he wasn’t just developing a company on top of new platform, he was building one from scratch with social responsibility built-in.

Fast forward 20 years and that company is wildly successful. In its most recent earnings report, it announced a $4 billion quarter, putting it on a $16 billion run rate, and making it by far the most successful SaaS company ever.

But at the heart of the company’s DNA is a charitable streak, and it’s not something they bolted on after getting successful. Even before the company had a working product, in the earliest planning documents, Salesforce wanted to be a different kind of company. Early on, it designed the 1-1-1 philanthropic model that set aside one percent of Salesforce’s equity, and one percent of its product and one percent of its employees’ time to the community. As the company has grown, that model has serious financial teeth now, and other startups over the years have also adopted the same approach using Salesforce as a model.

In our coverage of Dreamforce, the company’s enormous annual customer conference, in 2016, Benioff outlined his personal philosophy around giving back:

“You are at work, and you have great leadership skills. You can isolate yourselves and say I’m going to put those skills to use in a box at work, or you can say I’m going to have an integrated life. The way I look at the world, I’m going to put those skills to work to make the world a better place,” Benioff said at the time.

This year Benioff is coming to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco to discuss with TechCrunch Editors how to build a highly successful business, while giving back to the community and the society your business is part of. In fact, he has a book coming out in mid-October called Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change, in which he writes about how businesses can be a positive social force.

Benioff has received numerous awards over the years for his entrepreneurial and charitable spirit including Innovator of the Decade from Forbes, one of the World’s 25 Greatest Leaders from Fortune, one of the 10 Best-Performing CEOs from Harvard Business Review, GLAAD, the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative for his work on equality and the Variety Magazine EmPOWerment Award.

It’s worth noting that in 2018, a group of 618 Salesforce employees presented Benioff with a petition protesting the company’s contract with the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Benioff in public comments stated that the tools were being used in recruitment and management, and not helping to separate families at the border. While Salesforce did not cancel the contract, at the time, co-CEO Keith Block stated that the company would donate $1 million to organizations helping separated families, as well as match any internal employee contributions through its charitable arm,

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of 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 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

Target’s Drive Up pickup service expands nationwide

Target’s same-day curbside pickup service, Drive Up, has now reached all 50 U.S. states, the retailer announced on Thursday. The service allows consumers to shop online then pull up to designated spaces at their local store to have their purchases ferried to their vehicle by Target staff.

Drive Up has rolled out to Target stores at a fairly fast pace, given the technology requirements, infrastructure and operational changes required to support these fast-to-fill online orders.

The company in April 2018 introduced Drive Up to its first locations outside of Target’s hometown market of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where it had been in piloting testing since October 2017. With the public launch, Drive Up was immediately available across nearly 270 stores in Florida, Texas and the Southeast. By summer 2018, it had reached over 800 stores, with plans to reach 1,000 by year-end.

Instead, it hit the 1,000-store milestone in October 2018.

And with the start of this year’s back-to-school shopping season, Drive Up became available at over 1,500 stores.

With the expansion announced today, Drive Up has now reached 1,750 stores, thanks to recent rollouts in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. As it launches in new locations, Target will often dole out free product samples as a perk for its first customers and to encourage repeat business.

Overall, Drive Up seems to be working to bring more consumers to its stores — even if they don’t come inside.

In less than two year’s time, Drive Up has become one of Target’s best-rated services. During its most recent earnings, Target noted that it had more than doubled the total number of Drive Up orders in 2018 by fulfilling nearly 5 million orders within the first part of this year alone.

The retailer also recently noted that roughly 1 in 5 customers placing a same-day order in Q2 were placing an order with Target for the first time.

The backend side of Drive Up has improved over time, as well, with improvements to optimize both order picking and delivery of curbside orders to customers.

At launch, Target was committing to fulfill Drive Up orders within 2 hours. Today, Target says it’s able to offer fulfillment by Drive Up in as soon as one hour.

By this holiday season, Target says that “most” of its 1,855 U.S. stores will offer Drive Up service.

“We’ve heard the message loud and clear from our guests: They absolutely love the ease and convenience of Drive Up, whether they’re shopping for household essentials, road trip snacks or baby gear,” said Dawn Block, senior vice president, digital, in a statement about the nationwide expansion. “So our team has worked hard to rapidly expand the service since its introduction less than two years ago to all 50 states. And the work’s not done. The team’s continuing to find ways to make the service even better.”

The service is not without competition, however.

Walmart Grocery offers curbside pickup at over 2,500 locations. Sam’s Club in July announced same-day pickup nationwide. Amazon, which has historically lacked a brick-and-mortar presence, has been quick to react to the threat of curbside pickup. Most recently, it announced a new partnership with Rite Aid, that will see the arrival of a “Counter” service — a free, in-store pickup option — at 1,500 Rite Aid locations by year-end. (Amazon also offers grocery pickup at select Whole Foods.)

However, in-store pickup isn’t quite as convenient as curbside service. And that’s especially true for curbside’s top demographic: parents — often those with young children. Among Target Drive Up’s best-sellers, for example, are things like diapers, wipes, and formula.

Drive Up is one of several ways Target is fighting back against Amazon. The company also now owns same-day delivery service Shipt, offers online order pickup, subscriptions to common household items, and runs a Prime Pantry competitor with next-day service, Target Restock. 

Source: Tech Crunch

‘Behind the Screen’ illuminates the invisible, indispensable content moderation industry

The moderators who sift through the toxic detritus of social media have gained the spotlight recently, but they’ve been important for far longer — longer than internet giants would like you to know. In her new book “Behind the Screen,” UCLA’s Sarah Roberts illuminates the history of this scrupulously hidden workforce and the many forms the job takes.

It is after all people who look at every heinous image, racist diatribe, and porn clip that gets uploaded to Facebook, YouTube, and every other platform — people who are often paid like dirt, treated like parts, then disposed of like trash when worn out. And they’ve been doing it for a long time.

True to her academic roots, Roberts lays out the thesis of the book clearly in the introduction, explaining that although content moderators or the companies that employ them may occasionally surface in discussions, the job has been systematically obscured from sight.

The work they do, the conditions under which they do it, and for whose benefit are largely imperceptible to the users of the platforms who pay for and rely upon this labor. In fact, this invisibility is by design.

Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at UCLA, has been looking into this industry for the better part of a decade, and this book is the culmination of her efforts to document it. While it is not the final word on the topic — no academic would suggest their work was — it is an eye-opening account, engagingly written, and not at all the tour of horrors you may reasonably expect it to be.

After reading the book, I talked with Roberts about the process of researching and writing it. As an academic and tech outsider, she was not writing from personal experience or even commenting on the tech itself, but found that she had to essentially invent a new area of research from scratch spanning tech, global labor, and sociocultural norms.

“Opacity, obfuscation, and general unwillingness”

“To take you back to 2010 when I started this work, there was literally no academic research on this topic,” Roberts said. “That’s unusual for a grad student, and actually something that made me feel insecure — like maybe this isn’t a thing, maybe no one cares.”

That turned out not to be the case, of course. But the practices we read about with horror, of low-wage workers grinding through endless queues of content from child abuse to terrorist attacks, while they’ve been in place for years and years, have been successfully moderated out of existence by the companies that employ them. But recent events have changed that.

“A number of factors are coalescing to make the public more receptive to this kind of work,” she explained. “Average social media users, just regular people, are becoming more sophisticated about their use, and questioning the integration of those kinds of tools and media in their everyday life. And certainly there were a few key political situations where social media was implicated. Those were a driving force behind the people asking, do I actually know what I’m using? Do I know whether or how I’m being manipulated? How do the things I see on my screen actually get there?”

A handful of reports over the years, like Casey Newton’s in the Verge recently, also pierced the curtain behind which tech firms carefully and repeatedly hid this unrewarding yet essential work. At some point the cat was simply out of the bag. But few people recognized it for what it was.

Source: Tech Crunch

India liberalizes foreign investment rules in a win for Apple

India has further liberalized its foreign direct investment (FDI) rules for many sectors, opening new avenues for global investors and giants such as Apple as Asia’s third-largest economy attempts to jump-start its years-low economic growth.

New Delhi said Wednesday evening that it is easing sourcing norms for single-brand retailers like Apple. As part of the new proposal, which has been approved, the government said single-brand retail companies will be allowed to open online stores before they set up presence in the bricks-and-mortar market.

This would allow Apple, which has yet to set up retail stores in the country, to start selling a range of products through its own online store. Currently, Apple sells its products in India through partnered third-party offline retailers and e-commerce platforms such as Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall.

Over the years, Apple has requested the government numerous times to relax the local foreign direct investment (FDI) rules. Company executives have long expressed disappointment at Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall for offering heavy discounts on the iPhone and MacBook Air to boost their respective GMV metrics.

Even as this boosted the sales of iPhones in India, the discounts diluted the brand image of iPhones in the country, executives felt.

Apple will soon explore selling its products through its online store in India, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. But the move is unlikely to materialize before next year, the person said, requesting anonymity.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

New Delhi previously also forced companies like Apple to source 30% of their productions locally (PDF). Now the government says it is broadening the definition to include both materials sold in India and those exported in the local sourcing law.

“It has been decided that all procurements made from India by the single brand retail trade entity for that single brand shall be counted towards local sourcing, irrespective of whether the goods procured are sold in India or exported. Further, the current cap of considering exports for five years only is proposed to be removed, to give an impetus to exports,” Piyush Goyal, Commerce and Industry Minister, said in a press conference.

Apple had urged the government previously to ease this requirement, as well.

India has emerged as one of the world’s biggest battlegrounds for smartphone vendors. As sale of smartphones slow or decline in nearly every corner of the world, Indians are showing a growing appetite for handsets.

The local smartphone market, which is the fastest growing globally and also second largest, was once commanded by local smartphone manufacturers. But things have dramatically changed in recent years with Chinese phone makers such as Xiaomi, Vivo, OnePlus, Oppo and Realme and South Korean giant Samsung together controlling 90% of the market.

Apple continues to largely focus on users looking for a premium smartphone in India. Even as the iPhone maker’s market share in India stands below 2%, per research firms IDC, Counterpoint and Canalys, Apple CEO Tim Cook has said on a number of earnings calls that the company sees major opportunity in India.

To boost sales in India, Apple has started to assemble several iPhone models locally and reached a stage where it can begin to export to overseas markets phones produced in India. Assembling phones in India allows Apple — as it does other phone makers — to enjoy some tax benefits that Narendra Modi’s government provides.

As part of today’s announcement, the government is now also allowing foreign investment in digital media to take up to 26% stakes in companies — a figure that now stands at 100% for the coal mining industry and associated infrastructure and sales of fuel.

“The extant FDI policy provides for 49% FDI under approval route in Up-linking of ‘News &Current Affairs’ TV Channels. It has been decided to permit 26% FDI under government route for uploading/ streaming of News & Current Affairs through Digital Media, on the lines of print media,” it said in a press release.

India’s move today comes as the nation grapples with a slowing of economic growth. The economic growth in the quarter that just ended stood at 5.8%, a five-year low in the nation.

Source: Tech Crunch

Daily Crunch: Peloton finances revealed

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. Peloton files publicly for IPO

Peloton previously filed a confidential S-1, but now its IPO documents have been revealed publicly, showing that the fitness tech company brought in $915 million in revenue during its most recent fiscal year, with losses of $245.7 million.

Co-founder and CEO John Foley laid out a grand vision in the documents, writing that “Peloton is so much more than a Bike — we believe we have the opportunity to create one of the most innovative global technology platforms of our time.”

2. Anthony Levandowski, former Google engineer at center of Waymo-Uber case, charged with stealing trade secrets

If convicted, Levandowski faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of $250,000 — plus restitution — for each violation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

3. Fitbit’s CEO discusses the company’s subscription future

At a small event in Manhattan this week, Fitbit laid out its future for the press. Tellingly, the event was far more focused on the company’s software play. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Image via Getty Images /

4. US border officials are increasingly denying entry to travelers over others’ social media

The latest case saw a Palestinian national living in Lebanon and would-be Harvard freshman denied entry to the U.S. just before the start of the school year.

5. ThoughtSpot hauls in $248M Series E on $1.95B valuation

ThoughtSpot was started by a bunch of ex-Googlers looking to bring the power of search to data. Seven years later the company is growing fast, sporting a valuation of almost $2 billion and looking ahead to a possible IPO.

6. Google will shut down Google Hire in 2020

Google built Hire in an effort to simplify the hiring process, with a workflow that integrated into Google’s G Suite things like searching for applicants, scheduling interviews and providing feedback about potential hires.

7. Rwanda to phase out gas motorcycle taxis for e-motos

The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos.

Source: Tech Crunch