Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions, and suggestions about new apps and games to try, too.
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Apple to scan for CSAM imagery
Apple announced a major initiative to scan devices for CSAM imagery. The company on Thursday announced a new set of features, arriving later this year, that will detect child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in its cloud and report it to law enforcement. Companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft already scan for CSAM in their cloud services, but Apple had allowed users to encrypt their data before it reached iCloud. Now, Apple’s new technology, NeuralHash, will run on users’ devices, tatformso detect when a users upload known CSAM imagery — without having to first decrypt the images. It even can detect the imagery if it’s been cropped or edited in an attempt to avoid detection.
Meanwhile, on iPhone and iPad, the company will roll out protections to Messages app users that will filter images and alert children and parents if sexually explicit photos are sent to or from a child’s account. Children will not be shown the images but will instead see a grayed-out image instead. If they try to view the image anyway through the link, they’ll be shown interruptive screens that explain why the material may be harmful and are warned that their parents will be notified.
Some privacy advocates pushed back at the idea of such a system, believing it could expand to end-to-end encrypted photos, lead to false positives, or set the stage for more on-device government surveillance in the future. But many cryptology experts believe the system Apple developed provides a good balance between privacy and utility, and have offered their endorsement of the technology. In addition, Apple said reports are manually reviewed before being sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The changes may also benefit iOS developers who deal in user photos and uploads, as predators will no longer store CSAM imagery on iOS devices in the first place, given the new risk of detection.
In-App Events appear on the App Store
Though not yet publicly available to all users, those testing the new iOS 15 mobile operating system got their first glimpse of a new App Store discovery feature this week: “in-app events.” First announced at this year’s WWDC, the feature will allow developers and Apple editors alike to showcase directly on the App Store upcoming events taking place inside apps.
The events can appear on the App Store homepage, on the app’s product pages or can be discovered through personalized recommendations and search. In some cases, editors will curate events to feature on the App Store. But developers will also be provided tools to submit their own in-app events. TikTok’s “Summer Camp” for creators was one of the first in-app events to be featured, where it received a top spot on the iPadOS 15 App Store.
Apple expands support for student IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch ahead of the fall semester. Tens of thousands more U.S. and Canadian colleges will now support mobile student IDs in the Apple Wallet app, including Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, University of Maine, New Mexico State University and others.
Apple was accused of promoting scam apps in the App Store’s featured section. The company’s failure to properly police its store is one thing, but to curate an editorial list that actually includes the scams is quite another. One of the games rounded up under “Slime Relaxations,” an already iffy category to say the least, was a subscription-based slime simulator that locked users into a $13 AUD per week subscription for its slime simulator. One of the apps on the curated list didn’t even function, implying that Apple’s editors hadn’t even tested the apps they recommend.
Tax changes hit the App Store. Apple announced tax and price changes for apps and IAPs in South Africa, the U.K. and all territories using the Euro currency, all of which will see decreases. Increases will occur in Georgia and Tajikistan, due to new tax changes. Proceeds on the App Store in Italy will be increased to reflect a change to the Digital Services Tax effective rate.
Game Center changes, too. Apple said that on August 4, a new certificate for server-based Game Center verification will be available via the publicKeyUrl.
Robinhood stock jumped more than 24% to $46.80 on Tuesday after initially falling 8% on its first day of trading last week, after which it had continued to trade below its opening price of $38.
Square’s Cash app nearly doubled its gross profit to $546 million in Q2, but also reported a $45 million impairment loss on its bitcoin holdings.
Coinbase’s app now lets you buy your cryptocurrency using Apple Pay. The company previously made its Coinbase Card compatible with Apple Pay in June.
An anonymous app called Sendit, which relies on Snap Kit to function, is climbing the charts of the U.S. App Store after Snap suspended similar apps, YOLO and LMK. Snap was sued by the parent of child who was bullied through those apps, which led to his suicide. Sendit also allows for anonymity, and reviews compare it to YOLO. But some reviews also complained about bullying. This isn’t the first time Snap has been involved in a lawsuit related to a young person’s death related to its app. The company was also sued for its irresponsible “speed filter” that critics said encouraged unsafe driving. Three young men died using the filter, which captured them doing 123 mph.
TikTok is testing Stories. As Twitter’s own Stories integrations, Fleets, shuts down, TikTok confirmed it’s testing its own Stories product. The TikTok Stories appear in a left-hand sidebar and allow users to post ephemeral images or video that disappear in 24 hours. Users can also comment on Stories, which are public to their mutual friends and the creator. Stories on TikTok may make more sense than they did on Twitter, as TikTok is already known as a creative platform and it gives the app a more familiar place to integrate its effects toolset and, eventually, advertisements.
Facebook has again re-arranged its privacy settings. The company continually moves around where its privacy features are located, ostensibly to make them easier to find. But users then have to re-learn where to go to find the tools they need, after they had finally memorized the location. This time, the settings have been grouped into six top-level categories, but “privacy” settings have been unbundled from one location to be scattered among the other categories.
A VICE report details ban-as-a-service operations that allow anyone to harass or censor online creators on Instagram. Assuming you can find it, one operation charged $60 per ban, the listing says.
TikTok merged personal accounts with creator accounts. The change means now all non-business accounts on TikTok will have access to the creator tools under Settings, including Analytics, Creator Portal, Promote and Q&A. TikTok shared the news directly with subscribers of its TikTok Creators newsletter in August, and all users will get a push notification alerting them to the change, the company told us.
Discord now lets users customize their profile on its apps. The company added new features to its iOS and Android apps that let you add a description, links and emojis and select a profile color. Paid subscribers can also choose an image or GIF as their banner.
Twitter Spaces added a co-hosting option that allows up to two co-hosts to be added to the live audio chat rooms. Now Spaces can have one main host, two co-hosts and up to 10 speakers. Co-hosts have all the moderation abilities as hosts, but can’t add or remove others as co-hosts.
Tencent reopened new user sign-ups for its WeChat messaging app, after having suspended registrations last week for unspecified “technical upgrades.” The company, like many other Chinese tech giants, had to address new regulations from Beijing impacting the tech industry. New rules address how companies handle user data collection and storage, antitrust behavior and other checks on capitalist “excess.” The gaming industry is now worried it’s next to be impacted, with regulations that would restrict gaming for minors to fight addiction.
WhatsApp is adding a new feature that will allow users to send photos and videos that disappear after a single viewing. The Snapchat-inspired feature, however, doesn’t alert you if the other person takes a screenshot — as Snap’s app does. So it may not be ideal for sharing your most sensitive content.
Telegram’s update expands group video calls to support up to 1,000 viewers. It also announced video messages can be recorded in higher quality and can be expanded, regular videos can be watched at 0.5 or 2x speed, screen sharing with sound is available for all video calls, including 1-on-1 calls, and more.
Streaming & Entertainment
American Airlines added free access to TikTok aboard its Viasat-equipped aircraft. Passengers will be able to watch the app’s videos for up to 30 minutes for free and can even download the app if it’s not already installed. After the free time, they can opt to pay for Wi-Fi to keep watching. Considering how easy it is to fall into multi-hour TikTok viewing sessions without knowing it, the addition of the addictive app could make long plane rides feel shorter. Or at least less painful.
Chinese TikTok rival Kuaishou saw stocks fall by more than 15% in Hong Kong, the most since its February IPO. The company is another victim of an ongoing market selloff triggered by increasing investor uncertainty related to China’s recent crackdown on tech companies. Beijing’s campaign to rein in tech has also impacted Tencent, Alibaba, Jack Ma’s Ant Group, food delivery company Meituan and ride-hailing company Didi. Also related, Kuaishou shut down its controversial app Zynn, which had been paying users to watch its short-form videos, including those stolen from other apps.
Twitch overtook YouTube in consumer spending per user in April 2021, and now sees $6.20 per download as of June compared with YouTube’s $5.60, Sensor Tower found.
Spotify confirmed tests of a new ad-supported tier called Spotify Plus, which is only $0.99 per month and offers unlimited skips (like free users get on the desktop) and the ability to play the songs you want, instead of only being forced to use shuffle mode.
The company also noted in a forum posting that it’s no longer working on AirPlay2 support, due to “audio driver compatibility” issues.
Mark Cuban-backed audio app Fireside asked its users to invest in the company via an email sent to creators which didn’t share deal terms. The app has yet to launch.
YouTube kicks off its $100 million Shorts Fund aimed at taking on TikTok by providing creators with cash incentives for top videos. Creators will get bonuses of $100 to $10,000 based on their videos’ performance.
Match Group announced during its Q2 earnings it plans to add to several of the company’s brands over the next 12 to 24 months audio and video chat, including group live video, and other livestreaming technologies. The developments will be powered by innovations from Hyperconnect, the social networking company that this year became Match’s biggest acquisition to date when it bought the Korean app maker for a sizable $1.73 billion. Since then, Match was spotted testing group live video on Tinder, but says that particular product is not launching in the near-term. At least two brands will see Hyperconnect-powered integrations in 2021.
The Photo & Video category on U.S. app stores saw strong growth in the first half of the year, a Sensor Tower report found. Consumer spend among the top 100 apps grew 34% YoY to $457 million in Q2 2021, with the majority of the revenue (83%) taking place on iOS.
Pokémon GO influencers threatened to boycott the game after Niantic removed the COVID safety measures that had allowed people to more easily play while social distancing. Niantic’s move seemed ill-timed, given the Delta variant is causing a new wave of COVID cases globally.
Health & Fitness
Apple kicked out an app called Unjected from the App Store. The new social app billed itself as a community for the unvaccinated, allowing like-minded users to connect for dating and friendships. Apple said the app violated its policies for COVID-19 content.
Google Pay expanded support for vaccine cards. In Australia, Google’s payments app now allows users to add their COVID-19 digital certification to their device for easy access. The option is available through Google’s newly updated Passes API which lets government agencies distribute digital versions of vaccine cards.
COVID Tech Connect, a U.S. nonprofit initially dedicated to collecting devices like phones and tablets for COVID ICU patients, has now launched its own app. The app, TeleHome, is a device-agnostic, HIPAA-compliant way for patients to place a video call for free at a time when the Delta variant is again filling ICU wards, this time with the unvaccinated — a condition that sometimes overlaps with being low-income. Some among the working poor have been hesitant to get the shot because they can’t miss a day of work, and are worried about side effects. Which is why the Biden administration offered a tax credit to SMBs who offered paid time off to staff to get vaccinated and recover.
Popular journaling app Day One, which was recently acquired by WordPress.com owner Automattic, rolled out a new “Concealed Journals” feature that lets users hide content from others’ viewing. By tapping the eye icon, the content can be easily concealed on a journal by journal basis, which can be useful for those who write to their journal in public, like coffee shops or public transportation.
Recently IPO’d language learning app Duolingo is developing a math app for kids. The company says it’s still “very early” in the development process, but will announce more details at its annual conference, Duocon, later this month.
Educational publisher Pearson launched an app that offers U.S. students access to its 1,500 titles for a monthly subscription of $14.99. the Pearson+ mobile app (ack, another +), also offers the option of paying $9.99 per month for access to a single textbook for a minimum of four months.
News & Reading
Quora jumps into the subscription economy. Still not profitable from ads alone, Quora announced two new products that allow its expert creators to monetize their content on its service. With Quora+ ($5/mo or $50/yr), subscribers can pay for any content that a creator paywalls. Creators can choose to enable a adaptive paywall that will use an algorithm to determine when to show the paywall. Another product, Spaces, lets creators write paywalled publications on Quora, similar to Substack. But only a 5% cut goes to Quora, instead of 10% on Substack.
Google Maps on iOS added a new live location-sharing feature for iMessage users, allowing them to more easily show your ETA with friends and even how much battery life you have left. The feature competes with iMessage’s built-in location-sharing feature, and offers location sharing of 1 hour up to 3 days. The app also gained a dark mode.
Security & Privacy
Controversial crime app Citizen launched a $20 per month “Protect” service that includes live agent support (who can refer calls to 911 if need be). The agents can gather your precise location, alert your designated emergency contacts, help you navigate to a safe location and monitor the situation until you feel safe. The system of live agent support is similar to in-car or in-home security and safety systems, like those from ADT or OnStar, but works with users out in the real world. The controversial part, however, is the company behind the product: Citizen has been making headlines for launching private security fleets outside law enforcement, and recently offered a reward in a manhunt for an innocent person based on unsubstantiated tips.
? Square announced its acquisition of the “buy now, pay later” giant AfterPay in a $29 billion deal that values the Australian firm at more than 30% higher than the stock’s last closing price of AUS$96.66. AfterPay has served over 16 million customers and nearly 100,000 merchants globally, to date, and comes at a time when the BNPL space is heating up. Apple has also gotten into the market recently with an Affirm partnership in Canada.
? Gaming giant Zynga acquired Chinese game developer StarLark, the team behind the mobile golf game Golf Rival, from Betta Games for $525 million in both cash and stock. Golf Rival is the second-largest mobile golf game behind Playdemic’s Golf Clash, and EA is in the process of buying that studio for $1.4 billion.
? U.K.-based Humanity raised an additional $2.5 million for its app that claims to help slow down aging, bringing the total raise to date to $5 million. Backers include Calm’s co-founders, MyFitness Pal’s co-founder and others in the health space. The app works by benchmarking health advice against real-world data, to help users put better health practices into action.
? YELA, a Cameo-like app for the Middle East and South Asia, raised $2 million led by U.S. investors that include Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and Sean Rad, general partner of RAD Fund. The app is focusing on signing celebrities in the regions it serves, where smartphone penetration is high and over 6% of the population is under 35.
? London-based health and wellness app maker Palta raised a $100 million Series B led by VNV Global. The company’s products include Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, Zing Fitness Coach and others, which reach a combined 2.4 million active, paid subscribers. The funds will be used to create more mobile subscription products.
? Emoji database and Wikipedia-like site Emojipedia was acquired by Zedge, the makers of a phone personalization app offering wallpapers, ringtones and more to 35 million MAUs. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. Emojipedia says the deal provides it with more stability and the opportunity for future growth. For Zedge, the deal provides?….um, a popular web resource it thinks it can better monetize, we suspect.
? Mental health app Revery raised $2 million led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge program for its app that combines cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with mobile gaming concepts. The company will focus on other mental health issues in the future.
? London-based Nigerian-operating fintech startup Kuda raised a $55 million Series B, valuing its mobile-first challenger bank at $500 million. The inside round was co-led by Valar Ventures and Target Global.
? Vietnamese payments provider VNLife raised $250 million in a round led by U.S.-based General Atlantic and Dragoneer Investment Group. PayPal Ventures and others also participated. The round values the business at over $1 billion.
Mastodon for iPhone
Fans of decentralized social media efforts now have a new app. The nonprofit behind the open source decentralized social network Mastodon released an official iPhone app, aimed at making the network more accessible to newcomers. The app allows you to find and follow people and topics; post text, images, GIFs, polls, and videos; and get notified of new replies and reblogs, much like Twitter.
@_666eveITS SO COOL FRFR do u guys want a tutorial? #fypシ #醒图 #醒图app♬ original sound – Ian Asher
TikTok users are teaching each other how to switch over to the Chinese App Store in order to get ahold of the Xingtu app for iOS. (An Android version is also available.) The app offers advanced editing tools that let users edit their face and body, like FaceTune, apply makeup, add filters and more. While image-editing apps can be controversial for how they can impact body acceptance, Xingtu offers a variety of artistic filters which is what’s primarily driving the demand. It’s interesting to see the lengths people will go to just to get a few new filters for their photos — perhaps making a case for Instagram to finally update its Post filters instead of pretending no one cares about their static photos anymore.
Facebook still dominating top charts, but not the No. 1 spot:
Not cool, Apple:
This user acquisition strategy:
Maybe Stories don’t work everywhere:
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Digital pensions platform Penfold raises $8.5M Series A led by Bridford Group – TechCrunch
Penfold, a digital pensions platform, has closed a £7m ($8.49m) Series A funding round led by Bridford Group, an investment group.
Also participating in the round was Jeremy Coller, Chief Investment Officer and Chairman of Coller Capital. Penfold also raised additional funding via a crowdfund amongst its customer base. The cash will be used to expand Penfold’s workplace pension division.
Chris Eastwood, Co-Founder at Penfold, commented (in a statement): “It’s been a big year for Penfold – from launching our workplace pension offering, to reaching £100m AUA.”
Bridford Group, lead investor, commented: “The pensions industry represents a huge market – with £8trn in savings in the UK alone. Despite this, many people remain uninterested and unengaged in their pensions. With so many people not saving enough, there’s a real opportunity for a new provider to step in.”
After the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, online threats quickly turn into real-world violence – TechCrunch
Threats of violence reached a fever pitch — reminiscent of the days leading up to the Capitol attack — following the news that the FBI raided Trump’s Florida beach club to retrieve classified documents the former president may have unlawfully taken there.
After Trump himself confirmed Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago, pro-Trump pundits and politicians rallied around declarations of “war,” and Trump’s ever-fervent supporters called for everything from dismantling the federal law enforcement agency to committing acts of violence against its agents. The situation escalated from there in record time, with online rhetoric boiling over quickly into real-world violence.
By Thursday, an armed man identified as Ricky Shiffer attempted to force his way into an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, brandishing a rifle before fleeing. Law enforcement pursued Shiffer and he was fatally shot during the ensuing standoff with police.
Analysts with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonprofit that researches extremism and disinformation, found evidence that Shiffer was driven to commit violence by “conspiratorial beliefs related to former President Trump and the 2020 election…interest in killing federal law enforcement, and the recent search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago earlier this week.” He was also reportedly present at the January 6 attack — another echo between this week’s escalating online threats and the tensions that culminated in political violence at the Capitol that day.
Shiffer appears to have been active on both Twitter and Truth Social, the platform from Trump’s media company that hosts the former president and his supporters. As Thursday’s attack unfolded, Shiffer appeared to post to Truth Social about how his plan to infiltrate the FBI office by breaking through a ballistic glass barrier with a nail gun had gone awry. “Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t,” the account posted Thursday morning. “If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops…”
In posts on Truth Social, the account implored others to “be ready to kill the enemy” and “kill the FBI on sight” in light of Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago. It also urged followers to heed a “call to arms” to arm themselves and prepare for combat. “If you know of any protests or attacks, please post here,” the account declared earlier this week.
By Friday, that account was removed from the platform and a search of Shiffer’s name mostly surfaced content denouncing his actions. “Why did you censor #rickyshiffer‘s profile? So much for #truth and #transparency,” one Truth Social user posted on Friday. Still, online conspiracies around the week’s events remain in wide circulation on Truth Social and elsewhere, blaming antifa for the attack on the Ohio FBI office, accusing the agency of planting documents at Mar-a-Lago and sowing unfounded fears that well-armed IRS agents will descend on Americans in light of Friday’s House passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
“‘Violence against law enforcement is not the answer no matter what anybody is upset about or who they’re upset with,’ FBI director Christopher Wray said in light of emerging threats of violence this week. Trump appointed Wray to the role in 2017 after infamously ousting former FBI director James Comey.”
Friday is also the five-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, which saw white nationalists clad in Nazi imagery marching openly through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The ensuing events left 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer dead and sent political shockwaves through a nation that had largely grown complacent about the simmering threat of white supremacist violence.
Diagnostic Robotics has AI catching health problems before they take you to the ER – TechCrunch
A stitch in time saves nine, they say — and a blood thinner in time saves a trip to the emergency room for a heart attack, as Diagnostic Robotics hopes to show. The company’s machine learning-powered preventative care aims to predict and avoid dangerous (and costly) medical crises, saving everyone money and hopefully keeping them healthier in general — and it’s raised $45 million to scale up.
It’s important to explain at the start that this particular combination of AI, insurance, hospital bills, and “predictive medicine” isn’t some kind of technotopian nightmare. The whole company is based on the fact that it’s both better for you and cheaper if you, for example, improve your heart health rather than have a heart attack.
That’s why your doctors tell you to cut down on red meat and maybe even take a cholesterol-maintenance medication instead of saying “well, if you have a heart attack just go to the ER.” It’s just common sense, and it also saves patients, hospitals, and insurance companies money. And don’t worry, this kind of prediction can’t be used to raise your premiums or deny care. They want you making monthly payments — they just don’t want to have to shell out for a $25,000 operation if they can help it.
The question is, what about less obvious conditions, or ones that patients haven’t had specific tests for? This is where machine learning models come in; they’re very good at teasing out a signal from a large amount of noise. And in this case what the AI was trained on is 65 million anonymized medical records.
“We see how people look before the problems — everything we do is preventative care,” said Kira Radinsky, CEO and co-founder of Diagnostic Robotics. “It’s all about offering the right intervention, at the right time, to the right patient.”
She noted that providers often focus on the most expensive patients in order to reduce costs — for example, someone with advanced heart disease. But while acute and maintenance care continues to be important for them, that money has already gone out the door. On the other hand, if you diagnose someone with early signs of congestive heart failure, you can stop it from advancing and save money and possibly even a life. And the technique applies beyond things that can be detected in labs.
“Say the challenge is to find patients suffering from depression or anxiety, but aren’t taking any medications,” Radinsky proposed. “How do you identify someone with depression or anxiety based on medical records? We identify the entropy of their visits — lots of providers, lots of complaints — that’s a strong signal. Then you do specific questions, a medical triage, and you get them connected to a psychologist or psychiatrist, and they’re no longer deteriorating.”
The company claims it can reduce ER visits by three quarters, which is important beyond the immediate benefits for a person and their provider; ERs and urgent cares are overwhelmed in the U.S., paradoxically due to the pervasive fear of incurring huge medical expenses.
In many cases, she said, medical providers or insurers will offer medications or treatment for free or at nominal cost, since they know they’re saving themselves a bigger bill down the line. Sure, it’s all out of self-interest, but that means you can trust them.
The Tel Aviv-based Diagnostic Robotics just raised a big $45 million B round, led by StageOne investors, with participation from Mayo Clinic, Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) and Bradley Bloom. Radinsky said this will help the company start working more directly with providers, taking on more holistic health goals in addition to specific high-risk conditions. (The company currently tracks around 20.)
A pilot test of this broader approach was recently validated in a study of a few hundred patients, in which the AI-prepared health plan was statistically indistinguishable from a clinician’s. The company is already serving millions of patients in some capacity, in Israel, South Africa, and in the U.S., with Blue Cross Rhode Island.
If they expand to your provider, don’t expect some kind of robotic examination, though the name obviously suggests this.
“You’ll get phone calls from care managers offering additional treatments, for free or almost for free,” Radinsky said. The AI will already have done its work, and maybe your test results and location suggest you’re at risk for something — and you’d do well to take these recommendations seriously. AI may have a lot of room to grow still but it’s good at sniffing out statistical correlations.
She was careful to add that they are also actively working on finding, defining, and mitigating bias in the algorithms, whether it results from biased data or human error somewhere else along the lines. “What the algorithm is trying to do is see who will benefit the most,” Radinsky explained, but as with other forms of AI and machine learning, only careful monitoring will tell whether its idea of who benefits matches the real world.
Amazon-owned MGM makes a viral video show with surveillance footage from Amazon-owned Ring – TechCrunch
MGM (which is owned by Amazon) is making a viral video show based on footage from Ring security cameras (also owned by Amazon). The syndicated television show, “Ring Nation,” is poised to be a modern-day, surveillance-tinged spin on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” with Wanda Sykes as host.
According to a report in Deadline, the show will feature Ring footage of “neighbors saving neighbors, marriage proposals, military reunions and silly animals.” Ring is also known for activities like accidentally leaking people’s home addresses and handing over footage to the government without users’ permission.
Between January and July of this year, Amazon shared ring doorbell footage with U.S. authorities 11 times without the device owner’s consent. Ring has been critiqued for working unusually closely with at least 2,200 police departments around the United States, allowing police to request video doorbell camera footage from homeowners through Ring’s Neighbors app. Like Citizen and Nextdoor, the Neighbors app tracks local crime and allows users to comment anonymously — plus, Ring’s police partners can publicly request video footage on the app.
An executive at MGM, Barry Poznick, praised the new show: “From the incredible, to the hilarious and uplifting must-see viral moments from around the country every day, Ring Nation offers something for everyone watching at home.”
But perhaps what viewers at home really want is data privacy.
Ring only started disclosing its connections with law enforcement after fielding demands for transparency from the U.S. government. In a 2019 letter, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) said that the company’s relationship with police forces raise civil liberties concerns.
“The integration of Ring’s network of cameras with law enforcement offices could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color and feeds racial anxieties in local communities,” Sen. Markey wrote. “In light of evidence that existing facial recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies African Americans and Latinos, a product like this has the potential to catalyze racial profiling and harm people of color.”
Amazon bought the smart video doorbell company in 2018 for $1 billion, then bought MGM for $8.5 billion earlier this year. Now, these two investments — which seemingly have nothing to do with each other — are merging to create a late-capitalist dystopian spectacular that we couldn’t have imagined in our worst nightmares. Amazon also just spent $1.7 billion on iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum, but we will not dare to imagine how that acquisition may one day inspire a horrifying TV show.
Teens have abandoned Facebook, Pew study says – TechCrunch
Gen Z internet use is on the rise, but the rate at which teens use Facebook is rapidly declining. A Pew Research Center study on teens, technology and social media found that only 32% of teens aged 13-17 use Facebook at all, but in a previous survey from 2014-2015, that figure was 71%, beating out platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.
Jules Terpak, a Gen Z content creator covering digital culture, told TechCrunch that teens just don’t find value in Facebook anymore.
“There are now well over five strongly positioned social media platforms to endlessly scroll through, and it isn’t sustainable for our minds to compartmentalize nor prioritize our relationship with all of them,” Terpak said via email. “For the sake of time and sanity, people have to eliminate platforms that begin to lack a value-add incentive.”
Terpak thinks that Facebook, which teens often associate with their parents, has little to offer Gen Z.
“The culture cultivated by the average Facebook user is very disconnected from what attracts Gen Z to a platform today, instead exuding the energy of a spam email,” she said.
Even in 2013, when 77% of online teens used Facebook, young users still felt negatively about the platform.
“While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens’ everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own,” Pew’s report from 2013 said. In that nine-year-old study, Pew found that teens expressed more enthusiasm for other platforms, even if they weren’t using them as much as Facebook. That trend has remained constant — as new generations of teens join social media, they’ve almost abandoned Facebook altogether.
Pew’s new findings are also consistent with Facebook’s own internal reporting, according to documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen. A Facebook researcher found in early 2021 that teenage users on Facebook’s app had declined 13% since 2019 and projected that the figure would continue to plummet 45% over the next two years. Overall, Facebook usership has remained somewhat stagnant, but this drop-off in a key demographic is bad news for Facebook’s ads business, which makes up the bulk of its revenue.
“Most young adults perceive Facebook as a place for people in their 40s and 50s,” said the 2021 internal Facebook document obtained by The Verge. “Young adults perceive content as boring, misleading, and negative.”
Instagram is not far behind TikTok
Even if teens are tired of Facebook, they haven’t given up on Instagram, another Meta platform. Sixty-two percent of teens use Instagram, up from 52% in the 2014-2015 survey. But TikTok, which wasn’t even released at the time of the last study, is now used by 67% of U.S. teens. Ninety-five percent of teens say they use YouTube, which may make it seem like it’s the dominant social platform — but many users interact with the platform simply to watch videos, rather than as a place to connect with others online. For example, a teen who uses YouTube to listen to music would be included in that 95%.
But as TikTok inches above Instagram and Snapchat — which are used by 62% and 59% of American teens, respectively — it makes sense why these older platforms are so desperate to mimic their newer competitor.
Pew also asked the 1,316 surveyed teens about the frequency with which they use these apps. But TikTok still earned a greater share of teens’ attention than any platform aside from YouTube, which 19% of teens say they use “almost constantly.” TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat earned this “almost constant attention” from 16%, 10% and 15% of teens respectively. Only 2% said this about Facebook.
These “almost constant” admissions might seem alarming, but teens are aware that social media usage may not always provide the social connection they hope for. Thirty-six percent of teens think that they spend too much time on social media. Conversely, only 8% of teens said that they think they don’t use social media enough.
If you think Gen Z is full of phone-addicted zombies, though, you might be wrong. Forty-five percent of teens said that they wouldn’t have trouble giving up social media. More power to them.
Google Meet’s new feature lets users consume YouTube and Spotify together – TechCrunch
As Google continues the great merger between its Duo and Meet video communications apps, the company today announced that it’s introducing new Apple SharePlay-like live-sharing features to Meet, making it easier for call-participants to engage with content together in real time.
It’s worth noting that Google already introduced some live-sharing features (e.g. watching YouTube videos together) to Duo back in February, and now it’s bringing them to Meet as the part of the merger.
The live-sharing feature will let users watch YouTube videos together, for example, and listen to songs on Spotify or play games such as Heads Up!, UNO! Mobile or Kahoot!.
These new features will be available under a new Activities tab — which also hosts Q&A and polls options — and is accessible through the three-dot menu. From there, users can start a shared activity — for instance, if they want to listen to a Spotify track together, they would tap on the Spotify icon and Meet redirects them to the Spotify app where they can join a group session. Notably, the group session feature is only available for Spotify Premium customers, with support for two to five participants.
Last week, Google took the next step of merging both video calling apps by updating the icon for Duo and renaming it Google Meet. As for Google Meet, it will be now called “Google Meet (original),” with a green icon — yes, it’s all very confusing. The tech giant has been adding other new features to Meet, too, such as instant and schedule meeting options, in-meeting chat, and virtual backgrounds.
While these latest updates work well for Meet calls across different platforms, consumers embedded in Apple’s ecosystem will already be familiar with this type of social content consumption through SharePlay, which works across a broader array of apps such as Apple TV+, TikTok, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, NBA, Twitch, TikTok, MasterClass, ESPN+, Paramount+, Pluto TV, Apple Fitness+, and Apple Music.
This Yale alum wants to build a telemedicine platform expressly for Alzheimer’s disease – TechCrunch
Nikhil Patel is the kind of founder who investors adore. He’s a brainiac who, before studying computer science at Yale, spent three years in high school working as a research associate at the University of Central Florida. “I started working there before I could drive, and it was the most embarrassing thing to get dropped off by my mom at the office,” he says with a laugh.
Patel also has a personal connection to the problem he is trying to solve, that of trying to diagnose and address Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible. Watching his grandmother lose ground to Alzheimer’s, and understanding, from a young age, that an early diagnosis and intervention can delay the onset of dementia, he centered his research on building Alzheimer’s-related computerized diagnostics — which wasn’t easy to pull off as a teenager. (He says he finally found one professor who was willing to publish his findings under the auspices of the lab after more than 100 others turned him down.)
Patel did get a wee bit distracted. After graduating from college, he logged time at a “couple of different hedge funds” and at Goldman Sachs where he worked on trading algorithms. But by early last year, as another relative was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he returned to earlier work, founding Craniometrix, which is today a tiny, three-person operation with sizable ambitions.
So far, the team has raised $6 million in seed funding for a HIPAA-compliant app that, according to Patel, can help identify Alzheimer’s disease — even years before symptoms appear — after just 10 minutes of gameplay on a cellphone. It’s not purely a tech offering. Patel says the results are given to an “actual physician” affiliated with Craniometrix who “reviews, verifies, and signs that diagnostic” and returns it back to a patient.
But the company’s backers — including Quiet Capital, Defy.vc, Olive Tree Capital, Rebel Fund, J Ventures, Cathexis Ventures and Y Combinator — and really betting on Patel and his bigger vision to create a one-stop, direct-to-consumer tele-medicine platform that not only helps with early Alzheimer’s detection but that also provides ongoing support to patients and their caregivers.
It’s a concept that Neil Sequeira of Defy says he rallied around easily, given his firm’s interest in startups that use tech to improve upon legacy healthcare businesses. (Others of Defy’s bets include a cloud-based lab management startup called Genemod and Apploi, a healthcare hiring platform.)
But Sequeira suggests that he might back anything Patel worked on. In fact, he says he met Patel through another CEO whose stealth startup Defy has funded and who, when asked about the smartest person he has ever met, pointed to Patel.
Only time will tell whether those smarts will successfully bolster a big business, but unsurprisingly, Patel already has a roadmap.
While step one centers on people who are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s, want to self-screen at home, and will receive a doctor-reviewed diagnostic report from the company within 48 hours, Craniometrix expects to soon offer real-time doctor access to customers who may have questions and concerns after receiving their report.
Craniometrix also plans to create bundled monthly subscriptions that will include point-in-time screenings, access to live doctor assistance, and other tools to address symptom management and caregiver support.
It’s a big market, Patel argues. He asserts that caregivers today spend $3,000 a year out of pocket on the types of services that Craniometrix will eventually offer online. He also notes that while the direct-to-consumer market alone is a big opportunity, he is already having “interesting conversations” with health plans about using tools like those that Craniometrix is developing to cut down on unnecessary patient visits.
Says Patel, “a lot of today’s visits could easily be served by a chat service or an offline communication service.”
Ultimately, Patel says, the idea is to eliminate the need to go to a medical office. But it’s also to “keep people on better footing” when it comes to managing the disease.
Considering that Alzheimer’s currently afflicts 6 million Americans alone and that those numbers are growing fast as the overall population ages, the company could well be one to watch. Stay tuned.
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