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Twitter’s edit button, BeReal clones, Trump’s Truth Social gets blocked – TechCrunch

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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.

Global app spending reached $65 billion in the first half of 2022, up only slightly from the $64.4 billion during the same period in 2021, as hypergrowth fueled by the pandemic has decreased. But overall, the app economy is continuing to grow, having produced a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS and Google Play last year was $133 billion, and consumers downloaded 143.6 billion apps.

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 much more.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Twitter gets editable… do we still care?

After years of user demand for an edit button, Twitter’s news this week that such a feature was now entering testing felt a little anticlimactic.

Twitter broke its own embargo over the impending launch. There weren’t any interviews. Instead, Twitter just casually noted the edit feature was being tested internally, it said in a tweet published ahead of its blog post announcement. Here’s a feature you wanted. I guess we’ll ship it. 

And though the feature will roll out to users later this month, it won’t be broadly available. Instead, users can pay for a Twitter Blue subscription to access the edit feature, Twitter said. But only “some” Twitter Blue subscribers will even see the option, as it will still be in a test mode at first. Then there’s the fact that Twitter Blue subscribers have already been somewhat placated by the “Undo Tweet” feature — an option that lets you quickly unsend a tweet when you spot a typo. (It’s actually a delay to post, which makes the “unsending” possible.) This reduces the need for an edit button in many cases, as it turns out.

A true edit feature, meanwhile, introduces a layer of complexity on top of the increasingly cluttered social app. Although Twitter says the feature will have an edit log to minimize abuse, there’s concern that people will re-write tweets knowing that many won’t ever look at the past versions.

If anything, the demand for an edit button had become more a meme than a true user request. It was just sort of unfathomable to some Twitter users that a basic feature like this was not being built. But over the years, people have learned to work around the lack of editing. We’d delete and retweet things. We’d reply with a correction, cursing the lack of an edit button as we did. And then we moved on. Now Twitter wants everyone to pay for this long-requested functionality? Ouch.

Here come the BeReal clones

Image Credits: Snapchat

Remember when every social app was copying Snapchat’s Stories — Instagram successfully so? More recently, that sort of copy-and-paste development cycle has been focused on shoehorning a TikTok-like vertical video feed into every other social app, including Instagram and Facebook (Reels), YouTube (Shorts), Snapchat (Spotlight) and otherseven Twitter gave it a shot for a time.

But now, the top social apps have set their sights on BeReal, the scrappy social app for unfiltered sharing that’s been sitting just a bit too long at the top of the App Store to keep calling it a “trend.” That has the major social platforms worried about the impact the newcomer is having on their respective user bases. In particular, BeReal seems to be succeeding in appealing to a younger, Gen Z audience in search of a more authentic social networking experience. It allows them to connect with their friends without all the embellishments that, for years, have been the hallmarks of social apps — filters, AR and advanced editing tools resulting in a curated, idealized feed. Instead, BeReal users are in search of imperfection — yet another nail in the coffin for the old “Instagram aesthetic” that’s since been replaced by intentionally poorly shot photos and lo-fi selfies.

Last week, we saw Instagram building out a new feature that’s clearly designed to be a BeReal clone, as it would send Instagram users a notification after which they’d have two minutes to capture and share an “IG Candid” photo to their Story. This is essentially the same mechanic BeReal uses today. Before that, it built a Dual camera feature that lets users shoot from both cameras at once. But that one missed the key component to BeReal’s draw: connecting with friends.

Now Snapchat is jumping on the BeReal bandwagon, with the launch of its own Dual Camera feature. Similar to BeReal, the new mode also lets users capture photos and videos from both their front and back cameras at the same time. But in its case, the app allows users to customize where and how their selfie photo appears — either picture-in-picture, in a horizontal or vertical side-by-side layout or in a unique “image cutout” mode. This latter option cuts out your selfie from the background, then overlays it on top of the footage from the back camera. This differentiates Snap’s feature from BeReal as it could inspire a different type of image-sharing experience to emerge.

It’s also the latest example of how advances in machine learning technologies have been allowing technology companies to do more with users’ photos. Apple, for instance, is introducing an image cutout feature in iOS 16 that lets you cut and paste the subject of a photo into other apps — like texting a picture of your dog’s image cutout in iMessage. This technology is also powering other areas involving photos across iOS — like the “copy subject” feature in mobile Safari or “remove background” in Files, for example.

Elsewhere, Pinterest’s buzzy new app Shuffles is also using image cutouts to allow users to grab images from their Pins for use in collages.

But whether or not an image cutout feature will prove a draw for Snapchat users is still unknown. After all, the dual camera photo-taking tech itself is not driving demand for BeReal — it’s the social connections it enables.

California advances an age-appropriate design code bill for apps

Lawmakers in California have passed a bill, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, that would require apps and websites to increase protections for children, in the absence of any sort of federal standards. The legislation supports the implementation of a range of design changes and features across sites and apps. For instance, companies would have to turn on the highest privacy settings for minors by default — something apps like Instagram have begun doing for minor users (at least new ones), in anticipation of such legislation.

It would also restrict companies from collecting users’ precise locations — a privacy protection that, coincidentally, just went viral on TikTok, as users warned each other how to disable precise location for Instagram’s app in their phone’s Settings. This prompted Instagram head Adam Mosseri to refute the claims users were making, noting that the app was not actually tracking users or sharing their location with others.

Additionally, the bill calls for protections around data collection, prohibiting companies from collecting any data beyond what’s absolutely necessary or using the data collection in a way that would negatively impact the physical or mental health of minors. Apps and sites would also have to have the strongest privacy protections in place, disabling features that personalize the experience based on prior behavior or browsing history, which could affect numerous apps using recommendation algorithms, like TikTok. And it could restrict apps in other ways, like limiting messaging with strangers, and disallowing techniques designed to addict kids into spending hours with the service, among other things.

While such guidelines sound good on paper, the broad and vague language used in the bill could create complications in implementing some of the changes, critics have argued. In addition, privacy advocates pointed out that this could increase the use of age-verification tech, which often requires users to submit personal data in order to use a service.

If signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, the bill could become law by 2024.

Platforms: Apple

  • Ahead of next week’s event, Apple released iOS 16, beta 8 to developers with additional bug fixes and performance improvements.
  • It also rolled out Xcode Cloud subscriptions to developers using Xcode 13.4.1 or later and are members of the Apple Developer Program. The subscription offers 25 compute hours per month for free (until the end of 2023 when it will become $15/mo). Pricing kicks in starting at $49.99/mo for 100 hours and goes up to 1,000 compute hours at $400/mo. Account holders can start, upgrade or downgrade a subscription at any time, Apple says.
  • An app developer’s lawsuit over App Store rejections, scams and fraud has ended in a settlement agreement after court filings show a request to dismiss the suit earlier this summer. The plaintiff, app developer and former Pinterest engineer Kosta Eleftheriou, made a name for himself in recent months calling out some of the worst App Store scams. This later culminated in a lawsuit of his own against Apple, filed in California’s Superior Court in Santa Clara County in March 2021, where he alleged his own app had been unfairly rejected from the App Store and then later targeted by scammers, leading to lost revenues. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Platforms: Google

  • Google blocked Trump’s social media app, Truth Social, from launching on the Play Store over its content moderation issues. Specifically, Google found the app contained physical threats and incitements to violence, which are banned by its policy. But the app remains live on iOS despite hosting some of the same dangerous content in violation of Apple’s rules. Meanwhile, Google has now reinstated the Parler app to the Play Store after initially removing it over similar content moderation issues following the January 6 Capitol attack.
  • Google rolled out third-party in-app billing in the Play Store to additional markets, including India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the European Economic Area, making the option available to end users. Interested non-gaming developers can apply for the program and, if they qualify, will be able to use third-party payment systems in their apps. The company announced the program earlier this year. It notes that “reasonable service fees” will still apply to those who make the switch, but didn’t disclose the percentages involved.

E-commerce

Meta and Jio launch grocery shopping on WhatsApp in India

Image Credits: WhatsApp

  • Meta partnered with India’s Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms to bring grocery shopping to WhatsApp. The launch will allow customers in India to browse JioMart’s grocery catalog on WhatsApp, then add items to a cart and make the payments via local payments rail UPI without leaving the messaging app.
  • Block’s Cash App will now allow users to make payments on e-commerce sites outside the Square network, including with new partners American Eagle, Aerie, Tommy Hilfiger, Finish Line and JD Sports. Other merchants will join in the following months, like Romwe, Savage x Fenty, SHEIN, thredUP and Wish.

Social

Meta Instagram NFT

Image Credits: Meta

  • Facebook and Instagram now let users post NFTs to their profiles by connecting their wallets, like Rainbow, MetaMask, Trust Wallet, Coinbase Wallet and Dapper Wallet. NFTs minted on the Ethereum, Polygon and Flow blockchains are supported.
  • Facebook said it’s shutting down its Nextdoor clone called Neighborhoods next month after realizing that Facebook Groups was actually just fine for this purpose. It also recently shut down live shopping and its standalone gaming app.
  • Instagram began testing new features that will help users better control what they see on the app. This includes the option to mark multiple posts on the Explore page as “Not Interested,” and another option that will let you tell Instagram you want to stop seeing posts with content you’re no longer interested in.
  • Twitter launched its “close friends” feature, Twitter Circle, to global users. The feature allows users to add up to 150 people to their Twitter Circle in order to make some tweets available only to those they know and trust instead of to the wider public.
Twitter Circle on mobile

Image Credits: Twitter

  • Twitter was reportedly working on an OnlyFans competitor, The Verge reported, but ended those efforts due to issues with CSAM on the platform.
  • TikTok laid off employees from its U.S. ad department, amid a restructuring, The Information reported. The head of the ad sales team, former Meta executive Blake Chandlee, had forewarned about layoffs earlier this month.
  • Snap also confirmed it would lay off around 20% of its 6,400-plus staff, after The Verge reported on its plans. The company also said it would cancel its original shows and in-app games, and would shut down its Zenly and Voisey apps. The Zenly shutdown is most surprising, given the app is still fairly popular with 35 million MAUs.
  • Last summer’s hit social app Poparazzi’s parent company, TTYL, is prepping a new social app that adds the ability for users to post not only photos but also videos, and answers to questions and prompts to their friends’ profiles. The app, called Made With Friends, is due out in October.

Image Credits: Made With Friends

Messaging

  • Google brought back the Duo icon with an update to its Google Meet Android app after recently consolidating the Meet and Duo apps, making “Meet” the surviving brand. The company said this would help people who were searching for “Duo” to find and launch the newly merged application.
  • An Indian court ordered Telegram to disclose details of channels violating copyright in a lawsuit filed by a teacher. The teacher shared a list of channels circulating her lectures and books on competitive exams, which were being sold on these channels at discounted prices, she said.
  • Researchers at the University of Washington made an underwater communication app, AquaApp, that uses sonic signals to pass messages. The system uses the phone’s speaker to create high-frequency audio signals to communicate.

Streaming & Entertainment

  • Alongside its announcement of NBC’s Dateline as its latest podcast subscription, Apple shared that the number of Apple Podcast subscribers had grown by 300%+ since June 2021 and 25%+ of the top 100 shows in its Top Shows chart now offer a subscription.
  • Sony Music sued Triller over copyright infringement after missing payments, its lawsuit alleges.
  • Netflix snatched up two Snap executives to lead its new ad-supported business: Chief Business Officer Jeremi Gorman and VP of Sales for the Americas Peter Naylor, according to The Verge.

Dating

  • Video dating app Filter Off described to TechCrunch how it used GPT-3 to create a number of chatbots combined with a script to create human-like faces to trick scammers into interacting with fake dating app profiles. These profiles weren’t seen by normal app users, only by those the algorithm identified as scammers. This ended up with scammers trying to scam each other or scam other bots. Read the full story here.

Gaming

  • Facebook is shutting down its standalone Facebook Gaming app on iOS and Android on October 28, 2022 and will transfer games, content and groups over to the main Facebook app. The move comes as the company prioritizes its investments around discovery and recommendations in the main Facebook feed, leading to other closures like live shopping and its specialized neighborhood groups product.
  • Epic Games defeated another copyright infringement lawsuit over its Fortnite dances. This one had claimed Fortnite ripped off a choreographer’s routine for the “It’s Complicated” emote in the game. A judge ruled the two dances didn’t share enough creative elements for the emote to be considered infringement.
  • Meta renamed its Oculus Mobile app to “Meta Quest” as its continues it transition away from the Oculus branding to take on the Meta name.

Health & Fitness

  • Streaming music service Deezer entered the wellness market with the launch of an app called Zen featuring guided yoga, meditation and other inspiration that can be recommended based on mood or goals. The app will roll out more broadly in 2023, offering the company the opportunity to cross-sell content, it said.

Utilities

  • Keyboard tech licensing startup Fleksy expanded its SDK to indie devs and app makers who want to add more text input features — like text input autocorrection, prediction and swipe — to their apps.
  • Truecaller released an update to its iOS app featuring better spam detection, faster performance, quick onboarding and a smaller app size. The new app also addresses user concerns over call detection and spam identification that had previously worked better on Android.

Travel & Transportation

  • Uber updated its app with new safety features, including a new way to text 911 and others in partnership with ADT. Now, tapping the shield-shaped icon will bring up four options: contact 911, contact an ADT safety agent, share trip status or report a safety issue to the company.

Government & Policy

  • The U.S. Department of Justice is in the early stages of drafting an antitrust lawsuit against Apple, according to sources cited by Politico. While the report suggested a potential suit could arrive by the end of the year, it also stressed that a final decision about if or when to sue Apple had not yet been made.
  • The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a lawsuit against data broker Kochava Inc. for selling geolocation data from “hundreds of millions of mobile devices,” it says, which could be used to trace the movements of individuals, including those to and from sensitive locations.

Security & Privacy

  • Microsoft revealed how a high-severity vulnerability impacted TikTok users on Android. Though now patched, the vulnerability could have allowed attackers to take over user accounts that clicked on a malicious link.

🤝 Sony acquired mobile game developer Savage Game Studios for an undisclosed sum. The company will join Sony’s newly created and independently operating PlayStation Studios Mobile Division, which will focus on creating games based on new and existing PlayStation IP.

💰 OneSignal, a startup that helps businesses automate SMS, email and in-app campaigns, raised $50 million in Series C funding, led by BAM Elevate. The company has raised $80 million to date and counts around 6,000 paying customers.

💰 Investing app Landa, which lets users make fractional investments in rental properties, emerged from stealth with an $8 million seed and $25 million Series A, co-led by NFX, 83North and Viola. To date, users have invested in around 400 properties in the app across NYC and Atlanta. It’s soon launching in Charlotte, Birmingham, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida.

💰 PsycApps, a gamified mental health app for teens and adults, raised $1.7 in seed funding from U.S.-based Morningside Ventures. The startup has been through clinical trials, allowing it to secure contracts with schools in the U.K., including Regional College and Paragon Skills.

🤝 Reddit acquired audience contextualization company Spiketrap to boost its ads business for an undisclosed sum. Reddit says Spiketrap’s AI-powered contextual analysis and tools will help Reddit to improve in areas like ad quality scoring and will boost prediction models for powering auto-bidding.

🤝 Grocery delivery app Instacart is acquiring Eversight, an AI-powered pricing and promotions platform for Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands and retailers, for an undisclosed sum.

💰 Triller reportedly raised $200 million in debt and equity per a report by The Wrap, and is targeting a $3 billion valuation in its expected IPO this year.

Robin Games’ PLAYHOUSE

Image Credits: Robin Games

Women-led mobile gaming startup Robin Games raised funding around the idea of carving out a new niche in the market of “lifestyle gaming” by creating a fantasy gaming experience that’s more sophisticated and stylish — something more in line with the sort of content you’d typically find in a lifestyle magazine or Instagram influencer’s profile. This week, the startup released its first title to tackle this concept with the launch of a mobile game, PLAYHOUSE, which combines both gameplay and shopping in one experience.

Available on iOS and Android, PLAYHOUSE is a DIY design game that allows players to drag-and-drop furniture and décor into spaces to create original looks for rooms using elements like wall art, sofas, chairs, tables, plants and more. Unlike some competing design games, the pieces can be moved, rotated, resized or layered to create a unique look. But what makes this experience even more interesting is that users can shop the items in the game by clicking through to the retailer’s website. At launch, it’s partnering with over 100 brands like Arhaus, Article, 1stDibs, Chairish, One Kings Lane, ABC Carpet & Home, Jenni Kayne, Society6, Bloomscape, Room & Board and Lulu & Georgia, and others.

The app monetizes as a free-to-play title with in-app purchases, however, not affiliate commissions. (Read the full review on TechCrunch.)

Duolingo’s new Math app (waitlist)

Language learning app maker Duolingo has launched its latest creation, Duolingo Math, announced during its Duocon conference — after first being teased at the event the year prior. Similar to how Duolingo turns language learning into mini-games, the new app will teach third-grade math to users in a snack-sized experience aimed at making learning fun and accessible. The company says the new app will initially be available to iPhone and iPad users who sign up for the waitlist.



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Zipline’s drones to deliver medicine in Salt Lake City area • TechCrunch

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Zipline, a drone delivery and logistics company that got its start delivering medical supplies in Africa, has started dropping prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to homes in the Salt Lake City, Utah area.

In a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, a healthcare company that services the Intermountain Region of the United States, Zipline will deploy an initial fleet of five electric, autonomous drones out of its Salt Lake Valley distribution center. The startup is promising on-demand deliveries directly to patients’ homes in “as little as 15 minutes,” and plans to gradually expand to cater to more than 1 million customers over the next five years, Zipline said in a statement Tuesday.

While Zipline has been deploying drones in Africa, starting in Rwanda, since 2016, the company gained U.S. market entry in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zipline partnered with Novant Health to distribute personal protective gear and medical equipment in North Carolina — a distribution network that has since expanded to include Cardinal Health and Magellan Rx Management. Later that same year, Zipline began a partnership with Walmart in Arkansas, initially to deploy health and wellness supplies, and has since expanded to more general products in the future.

During the pandemic, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Zipline an emergency waiver to operate without the proper certification. In June, Zipline finally received its FAA Part 135 air carrier certification, which authorized the company to complete long range on-demand commercial drone deliveries in the United States.

Now, certain customers in Utah will look up into the sky to see a 45-pound, fixed-wing aircraft that looks like a tiny airplane quietly humming above a patient’s house as it parachutes a box down into their yard. Zipline says its autonomous aircraft are constantly taking in surrounding information like wind speed and direction so they can accurately drop packages within a target area “about the size of a couple parking spaces.”

The drones, which fly up to 400 feet above ground level, are monitored by trained remote pilots who can intervene if necessary.

Zipline’s latest launch will initially service communities within a few miles of its distribution center located in South Jordan. The startup’s drones can fly up to a 50-mile radius in most weather conditions, Zipline said. Over the next five years, Zipline plans to add new distribution centers to its network so it can deliver to around 90% of households and community drop-off locations in the Salt Lake Valley area. After that, Zipline has its eyes on broader expansion in Utah.

Interested customers within the Intermountain Healthcare network can start signing up to use the service. The startup and its healthcare partner are targeting customers who are less mobile, are sick or have work obligations that make it difficult to make it to the pharmacy for their meds. Zipline will evaluate whether it can deliver to homes based on factors like yard size, location and surrounding airspace, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

“This partnership allows us to reach patients faster than we ever thought possible, at a time that’s convenient for them,” said Gordon Slade, associate vice president of supply chain logistics at Intermountain Healthcare, in a statement. “Combined with our telehealth services like Connect Care, it’s possible to virtually see a doctor and get medication you need delivered from Zipline, without having to travel to a clinic or the hospital.”



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VLC-developer VideoLAN sends legal notice to Indian ministries over ban • TechCrunch

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VideoLAN, the developer and operator of popular media player VLC, has filed a legal notice to India’s IT and Telecom ministries, alleging that the Indian bodies failed to notify the software developer and did not afford it a chance for an explanation.

Indian telecom operators have been blocking VideoLAN’s website, where it lists links to downloading VLC, since February of this year, VideoLan president and lead developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf told TechCrunch in an earlier interview. India is one of the largest markets for VLC.

“Most major ISPs [internet service providers] are banning the site, with diverse techniques,” he said of the blocking in India. The telecom operators began blocking the VideoLan website on February 13 of this year, when the site saw a drop of 80% in traffic from the South Asian market, he said.

Now, VideoLAN, in assistance with local advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, is using legal means to get answers and redressal. It has sought a copy of the blocking order for banning VideoLAN website in India and an opportunity to defend the case through a virtual hearing.

In the notice, VideoLAN argues that the way Indian ministries have enforced the ban on the website, they violate their own local laws. The letter adds:

As per Rule 8 of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (‘Blocking Rules’) and the ruling of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) 5 SCC 1, government officers responsible for issuing a blocking order are required to: (i) make all reasonable efforts to identify the originator or intermediary hosting the information to be blocked, (ii) issue a notice to such person, (iii) provide a hearing to such person before the concerned authority, and (iv) provide a copy of a reasoned blocking order to the person concerned prior to the hearing. Despite this, the URL, which allows users to download VLC was blocked by the DoT without any prior notice, or an opportunity of hearing to VideoLAN.

Indian telecom operators have not explained why they have blocked the VideoLan website, but some speculate that it could be because of a misinterpretation of a security warning from earlier this year.

Security firm Symantec reported in April this year that the hacker group Cicada, which has ties with the Chinese government, was exploiting VLC Media Player as well as several other popular applications to gain remote access to the victim’s computers. Kempf said he or his firm had not been contacted by any Indian government agency and the block is likely a result of a misunderstanding of the Chinese security issue.

But by blocking the website, India is pushing its citizens to “shady websites that are running hacked version of VLC. So they are endangering their own citizens with this ban,” Kempf said earlier.

In the legal notice, VideoLAN warns that failure to comply with its request will compel the open source firm to initiate legal proceedings. “Any such proceedings, if initiated, shall be solely at your risk, cost, and for breach of your own rules,” the notice adds.



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Twitter expands access to its experimental Status feature…but not to its paid subscribers • TechCrunch

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Twitter’s throwback feature, Twitter Status, is today expanding its list of potential status updates to choose from, in a continuation of tests that began this July. The feature, which is something of a cross between MySpace moods and a Facebook status, allows users to tag posts with an additional expression beyond the tweet itself — like “shower thoughts,” “spoiler alert” or “picture of the day.” Now, the company is adding common Twitter slang to its list, allowing users to tag their tweets with things like “Don’t @ me,” “Tweeting it into existence,” or “That’s it, that’s the Tweet,” and more.

The expansion was first spotted by app researcher Jane Manchun Wong, and Twitter confirmed the addition began rolling out to Twitter Status testers on Monday.

Other new status options now available include “Breaking news,” “Gaming,” “Pet of the day,” “So wholesome,” “Then and now,” “To whom it may concern,” “Touching grass,” “Twitter do your thing,” “Watching cricket,” “Watching football,” “Watching rugby,” and “Winning.”

The experiment, however, is not one of the “early access” features provided to Twitter’s paying customers as part of their Twitter Blue subscription.

Until today, the option to add a status to a tweet has been available to a select group of users in the U.S. With the update, Twitter says it’s now bringing on users in Australia, as well.

“As part of this expansion, those with access to the status feature will see a new set of potential statuses to choose from. Additionally, more people in Australia will also receive access to the experiment today,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. They added that, with today’s update, the “majority of people in Australia” will now be able to use the feature.

One group that doesn’t necessarily have the ability to use the Twitter Status feature is the group of power users who pay for a Twitter Blue subscription. Though Twitter marketed Blue to those who wanted an expanded range of features — like a better news reading experience, personalization options, and early access to experiments — it hasn’t made all its new product tests available to its paid subscribers.

For instance, when Twitter began rolling out the addition of podcasts to its revamped “Audio” tab, Twitter Blue users weren’t the first group to gain access to the feature. Instead, Twitter made podcasts visible to a random group within its English-speaking mobile audience in August before later rolling out podcasts to paid subscribers the following month.

Similarly, Twitter Status isn’t listed among the experiments offered to Twitter Blue subscribers at this time.

Asked why Twitter isn’t prioritizing its paid subscriber base when it comes to trialing its new products first, as promised, a spokesperson clarified that it will only offer some of its experiments to subscribers while others will be tested with the broader public.

This seems to be a poor strategic decision on Twitter’s part, as those who are actually paying for Twitter have to stand by and watch other users get to play around with new features first — a perk they were promised. Though it’s understandable that some features may need to be tested among a larger group, at the very least, paid customers should be within that group.

The spokesperson clarified that Twitter Blue subscribers will have access to what the company considers “higher-impact” features first — like NFT profile pictures and, notably, the new Edit Tweet option.

The latter also today rolled out to Blue subscribers in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand after Twitter teased the editing feature last week. But the launch does not yet include Twitter Blue’s largest market, the U.S., which Twitter said would be “coming soon.”

Again, this strategy seems to be off the mark. While it’s one thing to test a small experiment within select geographies, it’s disheartening to see Twitter prioritize select markets and non-subscribers over its paying customers when it comes to some of its most fun and in-demand features.



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Geely’s Europe expansion continues, Argo robotaxis on the Lyft app and Tesla AI Day takeaways • TechCrunch

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The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. This is a shorter version of The Station newsletter that is emailed to subscribers. Want all the deals, news roundups and commentary? Subscribe for free

Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. 

The week capped off with Tesla AI Day, a recruitment slash roadshow that ended up lasting three hours. Yeah.

What did we learn and see? Tesla has made progress on its Tesla bot, also called Optimus. It is no longer a human dressed in a robot suit, but an actual robot. Will it make Boston Dynamics or Serve Robotics shake in their boots? Probably not. But it was a robot that moved, albeit briefly.

A few takeaways:
1. The event was somehow simultaneously very dense and lacking basic details that would help establish baselines and progress.
2. Tesla made a point to put employees from the AI and hardware teams on stage (this is unusual for the typical Elon-centric reveals and events)
3. There was an incredible emphasis on how the bot was equipped with components and tech used in Tesla vehicles, notably Autopilot. There is an efficiency that comes from shared parts and technology, but it also can come at great risk. Especially when said tech — ahem Autopilot — is controversial and coming under increased scrutiny by regulators.
4. Musk was asked if Tesla was still a sustainable energy company and he responded “I think the mission effectively does somewhat broaden with the advent of Optimists to you know, I don’t know, making the future awesome.” He also said that he believed that Tesla could provide a meaningful contribution to artificial general intelligence.
5. Tesla employees provided other updates, including its auto-labeling technology and the Dojo supercomputer. While Tesla employees explained these, Musk was off-stage tweeting” “Naturally, there will be a catgirl version of our Optimus.”

You can always email me at [email protected] to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions, or tips. You also can send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec

Micromobbin’

There wasn’t too much micromobility news this week, so we’ll keep this brief. Here’s what you need to know in the world of tiny electric vehicles.

Climate change is killing bees, and that’s a big problem, because bees kind of help regulate the effects of climate change. What’s this got to do with micromobility? Well, Cake launched a limited edition Kalk model bike called Flower Power that’s available in seven different color options. The company said that 5% of profits from the bikes will be donated to the World Bee Project, which is dedicated to saving the planet’s bee population.

Delfast unveiled a smaller electric moped that it’s calling the Delfast California, which has a 750W motor and reach a max speed of 28 mph, making it slightly less intense than Delfast’s more badass bike the Top 3.0.

Pure Electric is teasing a folding scooter that is expected to launch in early October. Is that a fat tire we detect, or just a play of the light?

You’re reading an abbreviated version of micromobbin’. Subscribe for free to the newsletter and you’ll get a lot more.

Deal of the week

money the station

When news broke that Chinese carmaker Geely Holding Group acquired a 7.6% share of British luxury automaker Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings, one of my co-workers (and an international reporter who covers China) exclaimed: Geely owns everyone!

It sure seems like it.

Geely was aiming to own all of Aston Martin. Instead, it settled for a small stake. Geely didn’t even get a board seat out of the deal. But no matter, Geely has squeezed a lot out of seemingly empty juice vesicles before.

Geely, which owns Lotus and is the largest shareholder of Polestar and Volvo Cars, took a 10% stake valued at $9 billion in Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler in 2018. Geely didn’t have a board seat either, but managed to exert its influence over the company, including a joint venture with the German automaker that gave it partial control of the Smart car brand.

Aston Martin also announced that it raised $732 million from investors that included Mercedes-Benz and Saudi’s Public Investment Fund participating. Yew Tree Consortium holds 19% of Aston Martin following the raise. The Public Investment Fund has become a new anchor shareholder with a 18.7% stake in the company.

Other deals that got my attention this week …

Faraday Future, the struggling EV SPAC, secured up to $100 million in funding through $40 million in convertible notes and warrant exercise payments and up to $60 million in convertible notes from Hong Kong holding company Senyun International.

Gogoro signed a $345 million five-year credit facility agreement in order to increase liquidity amid uncertain economic conditions. The loan comes from a group of 10 syndicated banks led by Mega International Commercial Bank Co., according to a regulatory filing.

Harley Davidson’s electric motorcycle division spinoff, LiveWire, raised less than planned and was valued below expectations when it went public this week through a SPAC combination. Shocking! LiveWire brought in $295 million in net proceeds, which is short of the $545 million anticipated when the deal was announced in December.

Want more deals? A whole list of them, including info on Aptiv, TerraWatt and TruckSmarter were in the subscription version this week. Subscribe for free here. 

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Argo AI’s robotaxis are now operating on the Lyft network in Austin, Texas. This is a public service and the second city in which Lyft and Argo are operating a commercial robotaxi operation after Miami, which launched in December.

Aurora announced its 4th generation Driver, which can now detect and maneuver around a variety of objects and debris on the road and detect repainted lines in complex construction zones.

In a series of simulated tests, Waymo’s driver avoided crashes better than a virtual representation of a hyper-attentive driver.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Arrival produced its first battery-electric van at the company’s Microfactory in Bicester, U.K., which uses autonomous mobile robots instead of a traditional assembly line. The remaining vans built this year will be earmarked for testing, validation and quality control, rather than customer delivery.

ChargerHelp has partnered with Tesla improve reliability and consumer confidence in charging access.

New York follows California and mandates that all new passenger cars, pickup trucks and SUVs sold in New York state must be zero emissions by 2035.

People

Airbnb co-founder and billionaire Joe Gebbia has joined Tesla’s board as an independent director.

Charly Mwangi, the former executive vice president of manufacturing at Rivian, who previously worked at Tesla, is now a partner at Eclipse Ventures.

Lyft has canceled job interviews and issued a hiring freeze in the U.S., according to anonymous professional network Blind.

Treepz CEO Onyeka Akumah talks to TechCrunch’s Rebecca Bellan about how to succeed in transportation in the latest edition of our founder’s Q&A series.

Want to read more of the notable reads plus other bits of news from the week? The Station’s weekly emailed newsletter has a lot more on EVs and AVs, future of flight, insider info and more. Click here and then check “The Station” to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox.



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24 hours left to apply to volunteer at TechCrunch Disrupt and attend for free • TechCrunch

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It takes a veritable army to make TechCrunch Disrupt — which takes place October 18–20 in San Francisco — the well-oiled experience that savvy startuppers have come to know and love. And we couldn’t do it nearly as well without our incredible volunteers.

If you’re looking for a no-budget way to experience Disrupt up close and personal, sign up to volunteer for work exchange. Not only will you get a behind-the-scenes look at how to produce events, but you’ll also earn a free pass ($1,995 value) to experience the event. The deadline to apply is tomorrow, October 3 at 11:59 p.m. PDT.

You’ll work hard, play hard and get free access to all three days of Disrupt. Whether you dream of becoming a startup founder, marketer or event coordinator, this is a great way to see what it takes to produce a world-renowned tech startup conference.

Plus, your free pass gives you access to the full Disrupt experience — the main stage, the TechCrunch+ stage, the expo floor — where you’ll find the Startup Battlefield 200 — and the Startup Battlefield competition.

Volunteers handle a variety of tasks to help make this startup conference an epic experience for everyone. At any given time, you might help with registration, wrangle speakers, direct attendees, stuff goodie bags, place signage, scan tickets or help with pre-marketing activities.

We need volunteers on October 17–20. If you can meet the following criteria, we want to hear from you:

  • Attend a mandatory orientation on Monday, October 17 at Moscone Center.
  • Work a minimum of 10 hours during the entire conference, starting from October 17 (the day before the conference starts) to October 20. You’ll find volunteer shift availability in the application. We might select you for some pre-event opportunities, which would count toward your hours.
  • You may be scheduled for an 8- to 9-hour shift or you may be scheduled with two separate shifts of 4 to 5 hours each. Shifts can start as early as 6:30 a.m. PDT or end as late as 8:30 p.m. PDT.
  • You must provide your own housing and transportation.
  • Due to the high volume of applications, we will notify only the selected applicants.

Read the volunteer FAQ for more information.

Lend us a helping hand, and we’ll hand you a free pass. Save money, gain valuable experience and still have plenty of time to take in all the startup goodness that TechCrunch Disrupt has to offer. Apply to volunteer by October 3 to get your free pass, and we’ll see you in October!



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Meta plans hiring freeze, NASA shoots an asteroid, and Elon’s texts about Twitter are made public • TechCrunch

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Hi all! Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly sum up some of the most read TechCrunch stories from the past seven days. The goal? Even when you’re swamped, a quick skim of WiR on Saturday morning should give you a pretty good understanding of what happened in tech this week.

Want it in your inbox? Get it here.

most read

  • Elon’s texts: As part of the ongoing Musk vs. Twitter trial, a big ol’ trove of Twitter-related texts between Elon and various key figures/executives/celebrities has been made public. Amanda and Taylor look at some of the most interesting bits, with appearances from people like Gayle King, Joe Rogan, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey (or, as he seems to be named in Elon’s contacts, “jack jack”.)
  • Instagram bans PornHub’s account: “After a weeks-long suspension,” writes Amanda, “Pornhub’s account has been permanently removed from Instagram.” Why? PH says they don’t know, as they insist everything they put on Instagram was totally “PG” while calling for “full transparency and clear explanations.”
  • Interpol issues a red notice for Terra’s founder: “Interpol has issued a red notice for Do Kwon,” write Manish and Kate, “requesting law enforcement agencies worldwide to search for and arrest the Terraform Labs founder whose blockchain startup collapsed earlier this year.”
  • Google Maps’ new features: A bunch of new stuff is coming to Google Maps, and Aisha has the roundup. There’s a new view style meant to help you “immerse” yourself in a city before you visit, a “Neighborhood vibe” feature that aims to capture an area’s highlights, and augmented reality features that use the view from your camera to show exactly where ATMs and coffee shops are.
  • Meta’s hiring freeze: The era of explosive hiring at Meta/Facebook is over, it seems. The company will freeze hiring and “restructure some groups” internally, Zuckerberg reportedly announced during an internal all-hands this week.
  • Hacker hits Fast Company, sends awful push notifications: If you got a particularly vulgar push notification from Fast Company by way of Apple News this week, it’s because a hacker managed to breach the outlet’s content management system. The hacker also apparently published a (now pulled) post on Fast Company outlining how they got in.
  • NASA hits an asteroid: If we needed to hit an asteroid from millions of miles away — to, say, change its course and steer it away from Earth — could we do it? NASA proved they could do just that this week, smashing a purpose-built spacecraft into an asteroid at 14,700 mph. The asteroid in question was never believed to be a threat to Earth, but these are the kinds of things you want tested before they’re necessary.
  • Microsoft confirms Exchange vulnerabilities: “Microsoft has confirmed two unpatched Exchange Server zero-day vulnerabilities are being exploited by cybercriminals in real-world attacks,” writes Carly. Even worse? There’s no patch yet, though MSFT says one has been put on an “accelerated timeline” and offers temporary mitigation measures in the meantime.

audio roundup

Didn’t have time to tune in to all of TechCrunch’s podcasts this week? Here’s what you might’ve missed:

  • Evernote and mmhmm co-founder Phil Libin joined us on Found to share what he’s learned about remote work and why he’ll “never go to work in the metaverse.”
  • The Chain Reaction crew went deep on why crypto exchange FTX bid billions on a bankrupt company’s assets.
  • Amanda joined Darrell on the TechCrunch Podcast to explore whether Tumblr was reversing its controversial porn ban (spoiler: no), and Devin hopped on to talk all about NASA’s wild anti-asteroid test mission.

techcrunch+

What hides behind the TechCrunch+ paywall? Lots of really great stuff! It’s where we get to step away from the unrelenting news cycle and go a bit deeper on the stuff you tell us you like most. The most-read TC+ stuff this week?

  • Is Silicon Valley really losing its crown?: A provocative question, one asked all the more after COVID flipped the switch on widespread remote work pretty much overnight. Alex dives into the investor data to see where the money is going, and whether or not that’s changed.
  • Investors hit the brakes on productivity software: It’s an Alex Wilhelm double feature this week! After a few quarters of consistent investment growth, it seems investor interest in productivity tools might be waning. Why? Alex looks at why/how investment in the vertical has shifted.



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Telegram cuts subscription cost by more than half in India • TechCrunch

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Telegram has cut the monthly subscription fee for its premium tier by more than half in India, just months after introducing the offering as it attempts to aggressively cash in on a large user base in one of its biggest markets.

In a message to users in India on Saturday, Telegram said it was making the subscription available in the country at a discount. The monthly subscription now costs customers 179 Indian rupees ($2.2), down from 469 Indian rupees ($5.74) earlier. The app’s monthly subscription, called Telegram Premium, costs between $4.99 to $6 in every other market.

Users who have not received the message are also seeing the new price in the settings section of the app, they said and TechCrunch independently verified.

India is one of the largest markets for Telegram. The instant messaging app has amassed over 120 million monthly active users in the country, according to analytics firm data.ai. (An industry executive shared the figures with TechCrunch.) That figure makes the app the second most popular in its category in the country, only second to WhatsApp, which has courted over half a billion users in the South Asian market.

Telegram, which claims to have amassed over 700 million monthly active users globally, introduced the optional subscription offering in June this year in a move it hopes will improve its finances and continuing to support a free tier. Premium customers gain access to a wide-range of additional features such as the ability to follow up to 1,000 channels, send larger files (4GB) and faster download speeds.

The Dubai-headquartered firm joins a list of global tech firms that offer their services for lower cost in India. Apple’s music app charges $1.2 for the individual monthly plan in the country, whereas Netflix’s offerings starts at as low as $1.83 in the country.



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