What you missed in cybersecurity this week

It’s been a busy week — it’s tough to keep up with all the cybersecurity news. We’ve collected some of the biggest cybersecurity stories from the week — from TechCrunch and afar — to keep you up to date with the latest hacks, privacy breaches and security stories you need to know.

Facebook now says its password leak affected ‘millions’ of Instagram users

TechCrunch: As all eyes were on attorney general William Barr giving his highly anticipated summary of the Mueller report out this week, Facebook was quietly updating a blog post it had published a month earlier, revising up the number of Instagram accounts affected by a years-long bug that stored passwords in plaintext. Facebook admitted that “millions” of accounts were affected and not “hundreds of thousands” as it had first estimated. It wasn’t a coincidence; it was a perfect opportunity for Facebook to bury bad news. CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan called it the “most cynical” thing Facebook has done since dropping its report detailing its role in a genocide in Myanmar the day before the U.S. midterm elections.

Utah bans police from searching digital data without a warrant

Forbes: Some good news for privacy advocates this week: a big Fourth Amendment loophole has been closed in the state of Utah. Previously, state law enforcement only required a subpoena to access someone’s digital content — including emails, pictures, video and audio — from internet and cloud providers. Now, following the introduction of HB 57, the Electronic Information or Data Privacy Act, police need a warrant based on probable cause. No more warrantless fishing expeditions allowed.

A mystery agent is doxing Iran’s hackers and dumping their code

Wired: Buried in the news this week was the startling revelation that someone — whose identity isn’t known — has begun spilling the secrets of an Iranian hacker group, known as OilRig or APT34, on a Telegram channel, according to Chronicle, Alphabet’s cybersecurity company. It would be a devastating breach of their operational security if true, only a couple of years after the Shadow Brokers stole and published highly classified hacking tools developed by the National Security Agency.

The Weather Channel knocked off the air for over an hour

Wall Street Journal: For over an hour on Thursday, The Weather Channel was brought offline by a ransomware attack. In a tweet, the channel said it restored its live programming after running through its backup systems. The FBI said it was investigating. It’s the latest ransomware incident hit a major company — from aluminum maker Norsk Hydro to drinks giant Arizona Beverages.

Mueller report: Hacked elections, encrypted messaging, troll farms and more

TechCrunch: After two years, the Special Counsel’s probe into Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election is over. TechCrunch covered the tech angles you need to know: from how Russian-backed hackers broke into the Hillary Clinton campaign, how the use encrypted messaging apps hindered the investigation, how successful Russia was in breaking into election systems, and what role its troll factory and disinformation had on the election.

FTC said to want to face-off with Mark Zuckerberg over privacy violations

Washington Post: Now more than ever, Facebook is under the watchful eye of the Federal Trade Commission. A report this week said the social media giant’s founder Mark Zuckerberg could also be in the agency’s crosshairs. It’s part of an ongoing effort to hold the company accountable since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, following which has been security incident after incident, amid claims of mismanaged consumer data and gross ethical violations.

Cybersecurity firm Verint hit by ransomware

ZDNet: Verint, a cybersecurity company, was also hit by ransomware this week. Described as an “extreme case of irony,” the company was forced to bring in a third-party security firm to handle the infection. It comes in the same week that Wipro, one of India’s largest outsourcing companies, was hit by hackers. The company initially denied the breach, but was challenged by the security reporter Brian Krebs — who broke the news — live on the company’s earnings conference days following the breach. Of course the call was recorded, forcing Wipro’s chief operating officer Bhanu Ballapuram to come clean.

Security flaw in French government messaging app exposed confidential conversations

TechCrunch: And finally, a security flaw was found in the French government’s own encrypted messaging app Tchap immediately after it launched. Security researcher Baptiste Robert created a user account — even though the service is restricted to government officials. The app, which uses the open-source Signal Protocol, inadvertently allowed access to non-government email addresses, exposing the app’s public channels.


Source: Tech Crunch

Notes from the Samsung Galaxy Fold: day six

I’m starting to get that thing where my iPhone XS screen feels super tiny when I switch back from the Fold to send a text message from my number. Someone recently asked me if I’m going to have trouble giving the device back to Samsung in a few days, and while the answer is a decided “not really,” the march toward even larger screens does feel inevitable — and I do believe folding phones will be an important part of that push.

Of course, I also believe that we’re as close as a generation or two out from this first shot on that foldable feeling pretty big and bulky (some folks who’ve seen the phone have already said as much about it). I’m back at the airport today, and both airline representatives and TSA agents (who see a LOT of phones as people are checking in) seem pretty impressed with it.

I had the phone standing up at a 45 degree angle on the bathroom sink this morning to watch the news as I brushed my teeth. That’s pretty neat. And If I’d had the forethought, I have loaded a couple of movies on it for the flight. It definitely beats the seatback screens on Delta.

In addition to the fingerprints on the outside, the inside gets like crazy dusty after any kind of use. And a lot of that collects in the little reservoir between the screen protector and the outside lip.

The top shot is from yesterday’s A’s game (the dark line along the seam is a shadow). You can use the front facing screen as a view finder while taking photos, but it’s pretty small. The inside, meanwhile, makes you feel like one of those people who use their iPads to take photos in public. Once you get over that, it’s a pretty nice way to view shots, though.

And no, it’s not broken yet. We’re still waiting for official word from Samsung about what happened there. The Fold is on track for an April 26 release here in the States, in spite of everything, and even as a China release appears be delayed.

Review soon.

 


Source: Tech Crunch

Sri Lanka blocks social media sites after deadly explosions

The government of Sri Lanka has temporarily blocked access to several social media services following deadly explosions that ripped through the country, killing at least 207 people and injuring hundreds more.

Eight bombings were reported, including during Easter services at three churches, on the holiest weekend of the Christian calendar.

In a brief statement, the Sri Lankan president’s secretary Udaya Seneviratne said the government has “decided to temporarily block social media sites including Facebook and Instagram,” in an effort to curb “false news reports.” The government said the services will be restored once the investigations into the attacks had concluded.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has described the explosions as a terrorist incident.

Nalaka Gunawardene, a science writer and Sri Lankan native, confirmed in a tweet that Facebook-owned WhatsApp was also blocked in the country. Others reported that YouTube was inaccessible. But some said they were able to still use WhatsApp .

Facebook spokesperson Ruchika Budhraja told TechCrunch: ““Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by this horrendous act. Teams from across Facebook have been working to support first responders and law enforcement as well as to identify and remove content which violates our standards. We are aware of the government’s statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms. People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time.”

A spokesperson for Google did not immediately comment.

It’s a rare but not unprecedented step for a government to block access to widely used sites and services. Although Sri Lanka’s move is ostensibly aimed at preventing the spread of false news, it’s likely to have an inhibiting effect on freedom of speech and efforts to communicate with loved ones.

Sri Lanka, like other emerging nations, has previously battled with misinformation. The government has complained that false news shared on Facebook has helped spread hatred and violence against the country’s Muslim minority. Other countries like India say encrypted messaging app WhatsApp has contributed to the spread of misinformation, prompting the social media company to add limits to how many groups a message can be sent to.

Iran and Turkey have also blocked access to social media sites in recent years amid protests and political unrest.

Updated with comment from Facebook.


Source: Tech Crunch

Week-in-Review: is Samsung unfolding another flop?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Samsung tries to deliver a big innovation and fails miserably.

A big story this week on TechCrunch was that in the buildup to the release of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, potentially one of the weirdest, most innovative, most expensive phones shipped in the past decade, there are some signs that this could be a momentous failure. Samsung only sent out about a dozen review units to press outlets, and three of them seemed to fail for three distinct reasons.

Does this inspire much faith in the durability of the $1,980 hardware (which has already sold out in pre-orders)? Not quite.

“A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter,” a Samsung spokesperson publicly detailed, responding to the issues.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

This nascent scandal may lead you to recall the Note 7 debacle, which earned Samsung what was perhaps the worst free advertising ever, with the FAA mandating just about every domestic flight begin with the pilot ensuring that the plane was Note 7-free. A phone spontaneously dying is a cake walk compared to a phablet bomb, but we’ll see whether this was just a big pre-release fluke and the consumer units prove more durable. That said, a failure rate of around 25 percent for models sent to journalists after a few days doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence.

Brian seemed to have some pretty nice things to say about his early time with the device —

Unfolding the Samsung Galaxy Fold:
Hands-on with the $2,000 foldable

I will say I did get a chance to fumble around with the Fold this week while our hardware editor Brian Heater was in town, and I personally found the device pretty inspiring. The screen on his still-functioning device is really quite beautiful and it all just feels like an innovative approach, even if it’s very first-gen at its heart.

Its good qualities all rely on the device continuing to function though, so I won’t get too complimentary until we get some further clarity on that.

apple vs qualcomm

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Apple + Intel Qualcomm = best friends
    The two companies finally put aside their royalties and patent troll skirmishes, and various media reports suggest Apple’s mobile mea culpa was all about accepting Qualcomm’s command on 5G modems — something the iPhone giant really couldn’t afford to overlook. It was great news for Qualcomm, which had a major stock rally this week, but probably bad news for Intel, which seemed to be embracing a renewed and improved relationship with Apple as it tried to replace Qualcomm’s tech. Oh well.
  • TikTok’s shock block 
    Chinese company ByteDance’s cross-border hit TikTok hit a major stumbling block in India after a judge there ruled that app downloads had to be halted on iOS and Android following a number of issues regarding porn and other “illegal content.” There are 120 million existing TikTok users in India, but they shouldn’t be affected, as the service itself has not been banned — you just won’t find them in the app stores there.
  • Move slow, still break things
    Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey continued his ill-advised public speaking tour with a chat at TED, where he first said he isn’t sure he’d build Twitter the same way if he got a second shot. “If I had to start the service again, I would not emphasize the follower count as much … I don’t think I would create ‘likes’ in the first place.” In response to a question about his lack of urgency in fixing some of Twitter’s more egregious problems, Dorsey said, “We are working as quickly as we can, but quickness will not get the job done… It’s focus, it’s prioritization, it’s understanding the fundamentals of the network.”
  • Sony teases an 8K PS5… Xbox loses a slot  
    While Google is betting on a world without dedicated high-end gaming hardware with its Stadia game-streaming platform, Xbox is betting on a future without physical media. Microsoft released the Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” this week for $249. The company has been piping out mid-generation upgrades for Xbox One, and this is its most minor hardware update — there are almost no differences beyond the disc drive. Meanwhile, PlayStation kind of stole Xbox’s press lunch by giving some details on the PS5. Also on the gaming front, a report suggests Apple is spending more than $500 million on its Arcade gaming subscription service.

Shoot me tips or feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

lost passwords

Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw-up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness:

  1. Facebook elaborates more on that “screwing over users’ privacy” thing it does from time to time:
    [Facebook now says its password leak affected ‘millions’ of Instagram users]
  2. YouTube managed to add its own conspiracy to videos of the Notre-Dame fire:
    [YouTube’s algorithm added 9/11 facts to a live stream of the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service has been off to a great start. I just kicked off my new series this week, “The Exit,” where I interview a lead investor in a recent exit. I talked to Bessemer’s Adam Fisher, who led Bessemer’s investments in Dynamic Yield, which McDonald’s bought last month for $300 million.

The Exit: an AI startup’s McPivot

“The pivot from courting the grey lady to the golden arches isn’t as drastic as it sounds. In a lot of ways, it’s the result of the company learning to say ‘no’ to certain customers…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers —

Want more TechCrunch newsletters? Sign up here.


Source: Tech Crunch

The UK’s latest list of most hacked passwords is as bad as you’d think

Names, soccer players, musicians and fictional characters make up some of the worst passwords of the year, according to the U.K. government’s National Cyber Security Center.

But nothing beats “123456” as the worst password of all.

It’s no shock to any seasoned security pro. For years, the six-digit password has been donned the worst password of all, given its wide usage. Trailing behind the worst password is — surprise, surprise — “123456789”.

The NCSC said more than 30 million victims use those two passwords alone, according to its latest breach analysis based off data pulled from Pwned Passwords, a website run by security researcher Troy Hunt, who also runs breach notification Have I Been Pwned.

“We understand that cyber security can feel daunting to a lot of people, but the NCSC has published lots of easily applicable advice to make you much less vulnerable,” said Dr. Ian Levy, NCSC’s technical director. “Password re-use is a major risk that can be avoided — nobody should protect sensitive data with something that can be guessed, like their first name, local football team or favorite band.”

Weak passwords are a problem. Not only can they be easily guessed by bots trying to break into your account, they can be easily cracked if they’re ever stolen from the company in a data breach. Weak passwords are often the default credentials on Internet of Things devices, making it easy for botnets to quietly break into your smart devices and hijack them for nefarious purposes.

What can you do about it?

TechCrunch has several free security guides you can read to put you on the right path. Setting yourself up with a password manager is the first big step. Password managers generate and securely store your passwords so you don’t have to remember each one. Then, you should set up two-factor authentication, as adding an additional barrier on top of your password makes it even tougher for the most determined malicious hacker to break into your accounts.

It doesn’t take long to get secure. Take an hour out of your day and get started.


Source: Tech Crunch

Original Content podcast: On ‘Guava Island,’ Donald Glover mixes music and politics

It was hard to know what to expect from “Guava Island.”

Last year, Donald Glover and Rihanna filmed the mysterious project with director Hiro Murai (who’s also directed multiple episodes of “Atlanta” and the music video for “This is America”, then they said almost nothing about it until debuting the film at Coachella and releasing it on Amazon.

“Guava Island” turns out to be a 54-minute, fable-like story of a musician named Deni (Glover) and his girlfriend Kofi (Rihanna) on a fictional Caribbean island. Deni plans to throw a music festival for the community, but the island boss Red Cargo wants to stop him — if his employees stay out late to party, they might not show up for work the next day.

On this week’s episode of the Original Content podcast, we’re joined by Jon Shieber to discuss our reactions to the film.

It’s certainly filled with beautiful footage of Cuba, as well as wonderful musical moments — like a restaging of “This is America” that makes its anti-capitalist themes even more obvious. But the story as a whole feels underdeveloped, and it’s a bit mystifying that someone would cast Rihanna in musical, then fail to give her a single moment to sing.

We also discuss an obscure little show called “Game of Thrones,” which returned for its final season last week. We have thoughts on the season premiere, and on what’s coming for the next five episodes.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)


Source: Tech Crunch

From lab-grown meat to fermented fungus, here’s what corporate food VCs are serving up

In a foodie’s ideal world, we’d all eat healthy, minimally processed cuisine sourced from artisanal farmers, bakers and chefs.

In the real world, however, most of us derive the lion’s share of calories from edibles supplied by a handful of giant food conglomerates. As such, the ingredients and processing techniques they favor have an outsized impact on our daily diets.

With this in mind, Crunchbase News decided to take a look at corporate food VCs and the startups they are backing to see what their dealmaking might say about our snacking future. We put together a list of venture funds operated by some of the larger food and beverage producers, covering literally everything from soup to nuts (plus lunch meat and soda, too!).

Like their corporate backers, startups funded by “Big Food” are a diverse bunch. Recent funding recipients are pursuing endeavors ranging from alternative protein to biospectral imaging to fermented fungus. But if one were to pinpoint an overarching trend, it might be a shift away from cost savings to consumer-friendliness.

“You think of food-tech and ag-tech 1.0, these were technologies that were primarily beneficial to the producers,” said Rob LeClerc, founding partner at AgFunder, an agrifood investor network. “This new generation of companies are really more focused on what does the consumer want.”

And what does the consumer want? This particular consumer would currently like a zero calorie hot fudge sundae. More broadly, however, the general trends LeClerc sees call for food that is healthier, tastier, nutrient-dense, satiating, ethically sourced and less environmentally impactful.

Below, we look at some of the trends in more detail, including funded companies, active investors and the up-and-coming edibles.

The new, new protein

Mass-market foods may get better but also weirder. This is particularly true for one of the more consistently hot areas of food-tech investment: alternative protein.

Demand for protein-rich foods, combined with ethical concerns about consuming animal products, has, for a number of years, led investors to startups offering meaty tasting tidbits sourced from the plant world.

But lately, corporate food giants have been looking farther beyond soy and peas. Lab-grown meat, once an oddball endeavor good for headlines about $1,000 meatballs, has been attracting serious cash. Since last year, at least two companies in the space have closed rounds backed by Tyson Ventures, the VC arm of the largest U.S. meat producer. They include pricey meatball maker Memphis Meats (actually based in California), which raised $20 million, and Israel-based Future Meat Technologies, a biotech startup working on animal-free meat, which secured $2 million.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat.

If you cringe at the notion of lab-grown cell meat, then there’s always the option of getting your protein through microbes in volcanic springs. That’s the general aim of Sustainable Bioproducts, a startup that raised $33 million in Series A funding from backers including ADM and Danone Manifesto Ventures. The Chicago company’s technology for making edible protein emerged out of research into extremophile organisms in Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic springs.

Meanwhile, if you hanker for real dairy milk but don’t want to trouble cows, another startup, Perfect Day, is working on a solution. Per the company website: “Instead of having cows do all the work, we use microflora and age-old fermentation techniques to make the very same dairy protein that cows make.” Toward that end, the Berkeley company closed a $35 million Series B in February, with backing from ADM.

Fermentation

Perfect Day isn’t the only fermentation play raising major funding.

Corporate food-tech investors have long been interested in the processing technologies that turn an obscure microbe or under-appreciated crop into a high-demand ingredient. And lately, LeClerc said, they’ve been particularly keen on startups finding new ways to apply the age-old technology known as fermentation.

Most of us know fermentation as the process that turns a yucky mix of grain, yeast and water into the popular beverage known as beer. More broadly, however, fermentation is a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes. That is, take a substance, add something it reacts with and voilà, you have a new substance.

Several of the most heavily funded, buzz-generating companies in the food space are applying fermentation, LeClerc said. Besides Perfect Day, examples he points to include the unicorn Ginkgo BioworksGeltor (another alt-protein startup) and mushroom-focused MycoTechnology.

Colorado-based MycoTechnology has been a particularly attractive investor target of late. The company has raised $83 million from a mix of corporate and traditional VCs, including a $30 million Series C in January that included Tyson and Kellogg’s venture arm, Eighteen94 Capital . Founded six years ago, the company is pursuing a range of applications for its fermented fungi, including flavor enhancers, protein supplements and preservatives.

Supply chain

Besides adding strange new ingredients to our grocery shelves, corporate food-tech investors are also putting money into technologies and platforms aimed at boosting the security and efficiency of existing supply chains.

Just like new foods, much of the food safety tech sounds odd, too. Silicon Valley-based ImpactVision, a seed-funded startup backed by Campbell Soup VC arm Acre Venture Partners, wants to employ hyper-spectral imaging to perceive information about contamination, food quality and ripeness.

Boston-based Spoiler Alert, another Acre portfolio company, develops software and analytics for food companies to manage unsold inventory. And Pensa Systems, which uses AI-powered autonomous drones to track in-store inventory, raised a Series A round this year with backing from the venture arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Is weirder better?

We highlighted a few trends in corporate food-tech investment, but there are others that merit attention, as well. Probiotics plays, including the maker of the GoodBelly drink line, are generating investor interest. New ingredients other than proteins are also attracting capital, such as UCAN, a startup developing energy snacks based on a novel, slow-digesting carbohydrate. And the list goes on.

Much of the early enthusiasm for new products stems from disillusionment with the existing ingredients we overeat. But LeClerc noted that new products aren’t always better in the long run — they just might seem so at first.

“The question in the back of our head is: Are we ever creating margarine 2.0,” he said. “Just because it’s a plant product doesn’t mean it’s actually better for you.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Acquisitions, more than IPOs, will create Africa’s early startup successes

Africa has made its global IPO debut. Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia—a $1 billion-valued company—began trading live on the NYSE last week.

The stock offering made Jumia the first upstart operating in Africa to list on a major global exchange.

This raises expectations for unicorns and IPOs to create the continent’s first wave of startup moguls. But unlike other markets, big public listings and nine-figure valuations could remain rare in Africa.

The rise of venture arms and startup acquisitions will factor more prominently than IPOs in creating Africa’s early startup successes.

I’ll break down why. First, a quick briefer.

Primer on African tech

Not everyone may be aware, but yes, Africa has a booming tech scene. When measured by monetary values, it’s minuscule by Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards.


Source: Tech Crunch

3 fixes for Netflix’s “What to watch?” problem

Wasting time every night debating with yourself or your partner about what to watch on Netflix is a drag. It burns people’s time and good will, robs great creators of attention, and leaves Netflix vulnerable to competitors who can solve discovery. A ReelGood study estimated that the average user spends 18 minutes per day deciding.

To date, Netflix’s solution has been its state-of-the-art artificial intelligence that offers personalized recommendations. But that algorithm is ignorant of how we’re feeling in the moment, what we’ve already seen elsewhere, and if we’re factoring in what someone else with us wants to watch too.

Netflix is considering a Shuffle button. [Image Credit: AndroidPolice]

This week Netflix introduced one basic new approach to discovery: a shuffle button. Click on a show you like such as The Office, and it will queue up a random episode. But that only works if you already know what you want to watch, it’s not a movie, and it’s not a linear series you have to watch in order.

Here are three much more exciting, applicable, and lucrative ways for Netflix (or Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or any of the major streaming services) to get us to stop browsing and start chilling:

Netflix Channels

For the history of broadcast television, people surfed their way to what to watch. They turned on the tube, flipped through a few favorite channels, and jumped in even if a show or movie had already started. They didn’t have to decide between infinite options, and they didn’t have to commit to starting from the beginning. We all have that guilty pleasure we’ll watch until the end whenever we stumble upon it.

Netflix could harness that laziness and repurpose the concept of channels so you could surf its on-demand catalog the same way. Imagine if Netflix created channels dedicated to cartoons, action, comedy, or history. It could curate non-stop streams of cherry-picked content, mixing classic episodes and films, new releases related to current events, thematically relevant seasonal video, and Netflix’s own Original titles it wants to promote.

For example, the comedy channel could run modern classic films like 40-Year Old Virgin and Van Wilder during the day, top episodes of Arrested Development and Parks And Recreation in the afternoon, a featured recent release film like The Lobster in primetime, and then off-kilter cult hits like Monty Python or its own show Big Mouth in the late night slots. Users who finish one video could get turned on to the next, and those who might not start a personal favorite film from the beginning might happily jump in at the climax.

Short-Film Bundles

There’s a rapidly expanding demographic of post-couple pre-children people desperately seeking after-work entertainment. They’re too old or settled to go out every night, but aren’t so busy with kids that they lack downtime.

But one big shortcoming of Netflix is that it can be tough to get a satisfying dose of entertainment in a limited amount of time before you have to go to bed. A 30-minute TV show is too short. A lot of TV nowadays is serialized so it’s incomprehensible or too cliffhanger-y to watch a single episode, but sometimes you can’t stay up to binge. And movies are too long so you end up exhausted if you manage to finish in one sitting.

Netflix could fill this gap by bundling three or so short films together into thematic collections that are approximately 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Netflix could commission Originals and mix them with the plethora of untapped existing shorts that have never had a mainstream distribution channel. They’re often too long or prestigious to live on the web, but too short for TV, and it’s annoying to have to go hunting for a new one every 15 minutes. The whole point here is to reduce browsing. Netflix could create collections related to different seasons, holidays, or world news moments, and rebundle the separate shorts on the fly to fit viewership trends or try different curational angles.

Often artful and conclusive, they’d provide a sense of culture and closure that a TV episode doesn’t. If you get sleepy you could save the last short, and there’s a feeling of low commitment since you could skip any short that doesn’t grab you.

The Nightly Water Cooler Pick

One thing we’ve lost with the rise of on-demand video are some of those zeitgeist moments where everyone watches the same thing the same night and can then talk about it together the next day. We still get that with live sports, the occasional tent pole premier like Game Of Thrones, or when a series drops for binge-watching like Stranger Things. But Netflix has the ubiquity to manufacture those moments that stimulate conversation and a sense of unity.

Netflix could choose one piece of programming per night per region, perhaps a movie, short arc of TV episodes, or one of the short film bundles I suggested above and stick it prominently on the home page. This Netflix Zeitgeist choice would help override people’s picky preferences that get them stuck browsing by applying peer pressure like, “well, this is what everyone else will be watching.”

Netflix’s curators could pick content matched with an upcoming holiday like a Passover TV episode, show a film that’s reboot is about to debut like Dune or Clueless, pick a classic from an actor that’s just passed away like Luke Perry in the original Buffy movie, or show something tied to a big event like Netflix is currently doing with Beyonce’s Coachella concert film. Netflix could even let brands and or content studios pay to have their content promoted in the Zeitgeist slot.

As streaming service competition heats up and all the apps battle for the best back catalog, it’s not just exclusives but curation and discovery that will set them apart. These ideas could make Netflix the streaming app where you can just turn it on to find something great, be exposed to gorgeous shorts you’d have never known about, or get to participate in a shared societal experience. Entertainment shouldn’t have to be a chore.


Source: Tech Crunch

Startups Weekly: Zoom CEO says its stock price is ‘too high’

When Zoom hit the public markets Thursday, its IPO pop, a whopping 81 percent, floored everyone, including its own chief executive officer, Eric Yuan.

Yuan became a billionaire this week when his video conferencing business went public. He told Bloomberg that he actually wished his stock hadn’t soared quite so high. I’m guessing his modesty and laser focus attracted Wall Street to his stock; well, that, and the fact that his business is actually profitable. He is, this week proved, not your average tech CEO.

I chatted with him briefly on listing day. Here’s what he had to say.

“I think the future is so bright and the stock price will follow our execution. Our philosophy remains the same even now that we’ve become a public company. The philosophy, first of all, is you have to focus on execution, but how do you do that? For me as a CEO, my number one role is to make sure Zoom customers are happy. Our market is growing and if our customers are happy they are going to pay for our service. I don’t think anything will change after the IPO. We will probably have a much better brand because we are a public company now, it’s a new milestone.”

“The dream is coming true,” he added. 

For the most part, it sounded like Yuan just wants to get back to work.

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IPO corner

You thought I was done with IPO talk? No, definitely not:

  • Pinterest completed its IPO this week too! Here’s the TLDR: Pinterest popped 25 percent on its debut Thursday and is currently trading up 28 percent. Not bad, Pinterest, not bad.
  • Fastly, a startup I’d admittedly never heard of until this week, filed its S-1 and displayed a nice path to profitability. That means the parade of tech IPOs is far from over.
  • Uber… Surprisingly, no Uber IPO news this week. Sit tight, more is surely coming.

$1B for self-driving cars

While I’m on the subject of Uber, the company’s autonomous vehicles unit did, in fact, raise $1 billion, a piece of news that had been previously reported but was confirmed this week. With funding from Toyota, Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Uber will spin-out its self-driving car unit, called Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. The deal values ATG at $7.25 billion.

Robots!

The TechCrunch staff traveled to Berkeley this week for a day-long conference on robotics and artificial intelligence. The highlight? Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert debuted the production version of their buzzworthy electric robot. As we noted last year, the company plans to produce around 100 models of the robot in 2019. Raibert said the company is aiming to start production in July or August. There are robots coming off the assembly line now, but they are betas being used for testing, and the company is still doing redesigns. Pricing details will be announced this summer.

Digital health investment is down

Despite notable rounds for digital health businesses like Ro, known for its direct-to-consumer erectile dysfunction medications, investment in the digital health space is actually down, reports TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber. Venture investors, private equity and corporations funneled $2 billion into digital health startups in the first quarter of 2019, down 19 percent from the nearly $2.5 billion invested a year ago. There were also 38 fewer deals done in the first quarter this year than last year, when investors backed 187 early-stage digital health companies, according to data from Mercom Capital Group.

Startup capital

Byton loses co-founder and former CEO, reported $500M Series C to close this summer
Lyric raises $160M from VCs, Airbnb
Brex, the credit card for startups, raises $100M debt round
Ro, a D2C online pharmacy, reaches $500M valuation
Logistics startup Zencargo gets $20M to take on the business of freight forwarding
Co-Star raises $5M to bring its astrology app to Android
Y Combinator grad Fuzzbuzz lands $2.7M seed round to deliver fuzzing as a service

Extra Crunch

Hundreds of billions of dollars in venture capital went into tech startups last year, topping off huge growth this decade. VCs are reviewing more pitch decks than ever, as more people build companies and try to get a slice of the funding opportunities. So how do you do that in such a competitive landscape? Storytelling. Read contributor’s Russ Heddleston’s latest for Extra Crunch: Data tells us that investors love a good story.

Plus: The different playbook of D2C brands

And finally, for the first of a new series on VC-backed exits aptly called The Exit. TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney spoke to Bessemer Venture Partners’ Adam Fisher about Dynamic Yield’s $300M exit to McDonald’s.

#Equitypod

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I chat about rounds for Brex, Ro and Kindbody, plus special guest Danny Crichton joined us to discuss the latest in the chip and sensor world.


Source: Tech Crunch