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Today — January 18th 2021Your RSS feeds

Signal and Telegram are also growing in China – for now

By Rita Liao

As fears over WhatsApp’s privacy policies send millions of users in the West to Signal and Telegram, the two encrypted apps are also seeing a slight user uptick in China, where WeChat has long dominated and the government has a tight grip on online communication.

Following WhatsApp’s pop-up notification reminding users that it shares their data with its parent Facebook, people began fleeing to alternate encrypted platforms. Telegram added 25 million just between January 10-13, the company said on its official Telegram channel, while Signal surged to the top of the App Store and Google Play Store in dozens of countries, TechCrunch learned earlier.

The migration was accelerated when, on January 7, Elon Musk urged his 40 million Twitter followers to install Signal in a tweet that likely stoked more interest in the end-to-end encryption messenger.

The growth of Telegram and Signal in China isn’t nearly as remarkable as their soaring popularity in regions where WhatsApp has been the mainstream chat app, but the uplift is a reminder that WeChat alternatives still exist in China in various capacities.

Signal amassed 9,000 new downloads from the China App Store between January 8 and 12, up 500% from the period between January 3 and 7, according to data from research firm Sensor Tower. Telegram added 17,000 downloads during January 8-12, up 6% from the January 3-7 duration. WhatsApp’s growth stalled, recording 10,000 downloads in both periods.

Sensor Tower estimates that Telegram has seen about 2.7 million total installs on China’s App Store, compared to 458,000 downloads from Signal and 9.5 million times from WhatsApp.

The fact that Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp are accessible in China might come as a surprise to some people. But China’s censorship decisions can be arbitrary and inconsistent. As censorship monitoring site Apple Censorship shows, all major Western messengers are still available on the China App Store.

The situation for Android is trickier. Google services are largely blocked in China and Android users revert to Android app stores operated by local companies like Tencent and Baidu. Neither Telegram nor Signal is available on these third-party Android stores, but users with a tool that can bypass China’s Great Firewall, such as a virtual private network (VPN), can access Google Play and install the encrypted messengers.

The next challenge is actually using these apps. The major chat apps all get slightly different treatment from Beijing’s censorship apparatus. Some, like Signal, work perfectly without the need for a VPN. Users have reported that WhatsApp occasionally works in China without a VPN, though it loads very slowly. And Facebook doesn’t work at all without a VPN.

“Some websites and apps can remain untouched until they reach a certain threshold of users at which point the authorities will try to block or disrupt the website or app,” said Charlie Smith, the pseudonymous head of Great Fire, an organization monitoring the Chinese internet that also runs Apple Censorship.

“Perhaps before this mass migration from WhatsApp, Signal did not have that many users in China. That might have changed over the last week in which case the authorities could be pondering restrictions for Signal,” Smith added.

To legally operate in China, companies must store their data within China and submit information to the authorities for security spot-checks, according to a cybersecurity law enacted in 2017. Apple, for instance, partners with a local cloud provider to store the data of its Chinese users.

The requirement raises questions about the type of interaction that Signal, Telegram, and other foreign apps have with the Chinese authorities. Signal said it never turned over data to the Hong Kong police and had no data to turn over when concerns grew over Beijing’s heightened controls over the former British colony.

The biggest challenges for apps like Signal in China, according to Smith, will come from Apple, which is constantly under fire by investors and activists for submitting to the Chinese authorities.

In recent years, the American giant has stepped up app crackdown in China, zeroing in on services that grant Chinese users access to unfiltered information, such as VPN providers, RSS feed readers and podcast apps. Apple has also purged tens of thousands of unlicensed games in recent quarters after a years-long delay.

“Apple has a history of pre-emptively censoring apps that they believe the authorities would want censored,” Smith observed. “If Apple decides to remove Signal in China, either on its own initiative or in direct response to a request from the authorities, then Apple customers in China will be left with no secure messaging options.”

Yesterday — January 17th 2021Your RSS feeds

This Week in Apps: Parler deplatformed, alt apps rise, looking back at 2020 trends

By Sarah Perez

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 is as hot as ever, 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.

Top Stories

The right-wing gets deplatformed

Last weekend, Google and Apple removed Parler from their respective app stores, the latter after first giving the app 24 hours to come up with a new moderation strategy to address the threats of violence and illegal activity taking place on the app in the wake of the Capitol riot. When Parler failed to take adequate measures, the app was pulled down.

What happened afterwards was unprecedented. All of Parler’s technology backend services providers pulled support for Parler, too, including Amazon AWS (which has led to a lawsuit), Stripe and even Okta, which Parler was only using as a free trial. Other vendors also refused to do business with the app, potentially ending its ability to operate for good.

But although Parler is down, its data lives on. Several efforts have been made to archive Parler data for posterity — and for tipping off the FBI. Gizmodo made a map using the GPS data of 70,000 Parler posts. Another effort, Y’all Qaeda, is also using location data to map videos from Parler to locations around the Capitol building.

These visualizations are possible because the data itself was quickly archived by internet archivist @donk_enby before Parler was taken down, and because Parler stored rich metadata with each user’s post. That means each user’s precise location was recorded when they uploaded their photos and videos to the app.

It’s a gold mine for investigators and a further indication of the privilege these rioters believed they had to avoid prosecution or the extent to which they were willing to throw their life away for their cause — the false reality painted for them by Trump, his allies and other outlets that repeated the “big lie” until they truly believed only a revolution could save our democracy.

The move to kick Parler offline followed the broader deplatforming of Trump, who’s accused of inciting the violence, in part by his refusal to concede and his continued lies about a “rigged election.” As a result, Trump has been deplatformed across social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, Discord and Snapchat, while e-commerce platform Shopify kicked out Trump merch shops and PayPal refused to process transactions for some groups of Trump supporters.

Alternative social apps post gains following Capitol riot

Parler was the most high-profile app used by the Capitol rioters, but others found themselves compromised by the same crowd. Walkie-talkie app Zello, for instance, was used by some insurrectionists during the January 6 riot to communicate. Telegram, meanwhile, recently had to block dozens of hardcore hate channels that were threatening violence, including those led by Nazis (which were reported for years with no action by the company, some claim).

Now, many in the radical right are moving to new platforms outside of the mainstream. Immediately following the Capitol riot, MeWe, CloutHub and other privacy-focused rivals to big tech began topping the app stores, alongside the privacy-focused messengers Signal and Telegram. YouTube alternative Rumble also gained ground due to recent events. Right-wingers even mistakenly downloaded the wrong “Parlor” app and a local newspaper app they thought was the uncensored social network Gab. (They’re not always the brightest bulbs.)

This could soon prove to be another difficult situation for the platforms to address, as we already came across highly concerning posts distributed on MeWe, which had used extreme hate speech or threatened violence. MeWe claims it moderates its content, but its recent growth to now 15 million users may be making that difficult — especially since it’s inheriting the former Parler users, including the radical far-right. The company has not been able to properly moderate the content, which may make it the next to be gone.

2020 annual review

App Annie this week released its annual review of the mobile app industry finding (as noted above) that mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Consumer spending also grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Consumers spent 3.5 trillion minutes on Android devices in 2020. Meanwhile, U.S. users now spend more time in apps (four hours) than watching live TV (3.7 hours).

The full report examines other key trends across social, gaming, finance, e-commerce, video and streaming, mobile food ordering, business apps, edtech and much more. We pulled out some highlights here, such as TikTok’s chart-topping year by downloads, the rise in livestreamed and social shopping, consumers spending 40% more time streaming on mobile YoY and other key trends.

Sensor Tower also released its own annual report, which specifically explored the impact of COVID-19; the growth in business apps, led by Zoom; mobile gaming; and the slow recovery of travel apps, among other things.

Samsung reveals its new flagships

Image Credits: Samsung

Though not “apps” news per se, it’s worth making note of what’s next in the Android ecosystem of high-end devices. This week was Samsung’s Unpacked press event, where the company revealed its latest flagship devices and other products. The big news was Samsung’s three new phones and their now lower prices: the glass-backed Galaxy S21 ($799) and S21 Plus ($999), and the S21 Ultra ($1,199), which is S Pen compatible.

The now more streamlined camera systems are the key feature of the new phones, and include:

  • S21 and S21 Plus: A 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12-megapixel wide and 64-megapixel telephoto with 30x space zoom.
  • S21 Ultra: A 12-megapixel ultra-wide, 108-megapixel wide and, for the first time, a dual-telephoto lens system with 3x and 10x optical zoom. The Ultra also improves low-light shooting with its Bright Night sensor.

The devices support UWB and there’s a wild AI-powered photo feature that lets you tap to remove people from the background of your photos. (How well it works is TBD). Other software imaging updates allow you to pull stills from 8K shooting, better image stabilization and a new “Vlogger view” for shooting from front and back cameras as the same time.

Also launched were Samsung’s AirPods rival, the Galaxy Buds Pro, and its Tile rival, the Galaxy SmartTag.

 

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple releases second iOS 14.2 developer beta. The update brings improvements to the HomePod mini handoff experience and an update to the Find My app to ready it for supporting third-party accessories.
  • Apple will soon allow third-parties to join the Find My app ahead of its AirTags launch. Tile had argued before regulators last year that Apple was giving itself first-party advantage with AirTags in Find My. Apple subsequently launched the Find My Accessory Program to begin certifying third-party products. AirTags’ existence was also leaked again this week.
  • Apple is working to bring its Music and Podcasts apps to the Microsoft Store.
  • Apple may be working on a podcast subscription service, per The Information.

Platforms: Google

  • Google appears to be working on an app hibernation feature for Android 12. The feature would hibernate unused apps to free up space.
  • Google pulls several personal loan apps from the Play Store in India. The company said several of the apps had been targeting vulnerable borrowers, then abusing them and using other extreme tactics when they couldn’t pay. Critics say Google took too long to respond to the outcry, which has already prompted suicides. Police have also frozen bank accounts holding $58 million for alleged scams conducted through 30 apps, none of which had approval from India’s central bank.

Gaming

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • 48,000 mobile games were purged from the China App Store in December 2020, reports Sensor Tower. The games removed in 2020 for not having acquired the proper Chinese gaming license, had generated nearly $3 billion in lifetime revenue.
  • The top grossing mobile game in December 2020 was Honor of Kings with $258 million in player spending, up 58% year-over-year, according to Sensor Tower. PUBG Mobile was No. 2. followed by Genshin Impact.
  • Among Us was the most downloaded mobile game in December 2020, per Apptopia. with an estimated 48 million new downloads in the month, most through Google Play.
  • Epic Games demands Fortnite to be reinstated on the App Store, in a U.K. legal filing. The game maker is engaged in multiple lawsuits over the “Apple tax.”

Security

  • Amazon’s Ring app exposed users’ home addresses. Amazon says there’s no evidence the security flaw had been exploited by anyone.
  • New research details how law enforcements gets into iOS and Android smartphones and cloud backups of their data.

Privacy

  • Signal’s Brian Acton says recent outrage over WhatsApp’s terms are driving installs of the private messaging app. Third-party data indicates Signal has around 20 million MAUs as of December 2020. The app also saw a surge due to the U.S. Capitol riots, with 7.5 million downloads from January 6-10.
  • Telegram user base in India was up 110% in 2020. The app now has 115 million MAUs in India, which could allow it to better compete with WhatsApp.
  • Privacy concerns are also driving sign-ups for encrypted email providers, ProtonMail and Tutanota. The former reports a 3x rise in recent weeks, while the latter said usage has doubled size WhatsApp released its new T&Cs.
  • FTC settled with period-tracking app Flo for sharing user health data with third-party analytics and marketing services, when it had promised to keep data private. The app must now obtain user consent and will be subject to an independent review of its practices.
  • FTC settled with Ever, the maker of a photo storage app that had pivoted to selling facial recognition services. The company used the photos it collected to train facial recognition algorithms. It’s been order to delete that data and all face embeddings derived from photos without user consent.
  • Muslim prayer app Salaat First (Prayer Times) was found to be recording and selling user location info to a data broker. The firm collecting the data had been linked to a supply chain that involved a U.S. government contractor who worked with ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and the FBI.
  • TikTok changed the privacy settings and defaults for users under 18. Children 13-15 will have private accounts by default. Other restrictions apply on features like commenting, Dueting, Stitching and more for all under 18. TikTok also partnered with Common Sense Networks to help it curate age-appropriate content for users under 13.

Government & Policy

  • Italy’s data protection agency, the GPDP, said it contacted the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) to raise concerns over WhatsApp’s requirement for users to accept its updated T&Cs to continue to use the service. The law requires that users are informed of each specific use of their data and given a choice as to whether their data is processed. The new in-app notification doesn’t make the changes clear nor allow that option.
  • Turkey starts an antitrust investigation into Facebook and WhatsApp. The investigation was prompted by WhatsApp’s new Terms of Service, effective February 8, which allows data sharing with Facebook.
  • WhatsApp then delayed its T&C changes, as a result.

Health & Fitness

  • Google this week fixed an issue with its Android Exposure Notification System that’s used by COVID-19 tracking apps. The impacted apps took longer to load and carry out their exposure checks.

Edtech

  • Amazon makes an education push in India with JEE preparation app. The company launched Amazon Academy, a service that will help students in India prepare for the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE), a government-backed entrance assessment for admission into various engineering colleges.

Funding and M&A (and IPOs)

  • PayPal acquired the 30% stake it didn’t already own in China’s GoPay, making it the first foreign firm in China with full ownership of its payments business.
  • Therapy app Talkspace will go public through a $1.4 billion merger with SPAC Hudson Executive Investment Corp.
  • Snap acquired location data startup StreetCred. The team will join the company and work on maps and location-related products for Snapchat.
  • BlaBla raised $1.5 million for its language-learning app that teaches English using TikTok-like videos. The startup, a participant in Y Combinator’s 2020 summer batch, had previously applied to YC seven times. Other investors include Amino Capital, Starling Ventures and Wayra X.
  • Poshmark, the online and mobile app for reselling clothing, IPO’d and closed up more than 140% on day one.
  • Dating app Bumble also filed to go public. The company claims 42 million MAUs, with 2.4 million paying users through the first nine months of 2020. It lost $117 million on $417 million in revenue during that time.
  • Blog platform Medium acquired Paris-based Glose, a mobile app that lets you buy and read books on mobile devices.
  • Indonesian investment app Ajaib raised $25 million Series A led by Horizons Venture and Alpha JWC. Inspired by Robinhood, the app offers low-fee stock trading and access to mutual funds.
  • Mailchimp acquired Chatitive, a B2B messaging startup that helps businesses reach customers over text messages.
  • Chinese fitness app Keep raised $360 million Series F led by SoftBank Vision Fund. The six-year-old startup that allows fitness influencers to host live classes over video is now valued at $2 billion.
  • Google finalized Fitbit acquisition. Google confirmed it will allow Fitbit users to continue to connect with third-party services and said the health data will be kept separate and not used for ads.
  • On-demand U.K. supermarket Weezy raised $20 million Series A for its Postmates-like app that delivers groceries in as fast as 15 minutes, on average.

Downloads

Bandsintown

Exclusive performances by @AdrianneLenker, @JeffTweedy, @flyinglotus, and Fleet Foxes, coming soon to Bandsintown PLUS. https://t.co/SsnrebvOUh pic.twitter.com/81haWTPf3F

— Bandsintown (@Bandsintown) January 12, 2021

COVID has cancelled concerts, which required Bandsintown to pivot from helping people find shows to attend to a new subscription service for live music. The company this week launched Bandsintown Plus, a $9.99 per month pass that gives users access to more than 25 concerts per month. The shows offered are exclusive to the platform, and not available on other sites like YouTube, Twitch, Apple Music or Spotify.

Piñata Farms

Image Credits: Piñata Farms

This new social video app lets you put anyone or anything into an existing video to make humorous video memes. The computer vision-powered app lets you do things like crop out a head from a photo, for example, or use thousands of in-app items to add to your existing video. The resulting creations can be shared in the app, privately through messaging or out to other social platforms. Available on iOS only.

Capture App

Image Credits: Numbers Protocol

This new blockchain camera app, reviewed here on TechCrunch, uses tech commercialized by the Taiwan-based startup, Numbers Protocol. The app secures the metadata associated with photos you take on the blockchain, also allowing users to adjust privacy settings if they don’t want to share a precise location. Any subsequent changes to the photo are then traced and recorded. Use cases for the technology include journalism (plus combating fake news), as well as a way for photographers to assure their photos are attributed correctly. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.

Marsbot for AirPods

Image Credits: Foursquare Labs, Inc.

A new experiment from Foursquare Labs, Marsbot, offers an audio guide to your city. As you walk or bike around, the app gives you running commentary about the places around you using data from Foursquare, other content providers and snippets from other app users. The app is also optimized for AirPods, making it iOS-only.

Loupe

Image Credits: Loupe

Loupe is a new app that modernizes sports card collecting. The app allows users to participate in daily box breaks, host their own livestreams with chats, collect alongside fellow collectors and purchase new sports card singles, packs and boxes when they hit the market, among other things. The app is available on iOS.

 

Apple is extending Apple TV+ trials again

By Greg Kumparak

If you’ve got an Apple TV+ trial that’s set to expire sometime between now and June, good news: you’re getting some free bonus time.

Apple TV+ first launched in November of 2019, alongside a one-year free trial for anyone buying a new iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac. As those initial trials approached their end, Apple voluntarily extended them out to February of 2021. Now they’re extending them once again.

As first reported by 9to5Mac, any trial that previously would’ve expired from February to June of 2021 will now expire in July instead. We have confirmed these plans with Apple.

Users should expect to get an email about the extension in the coming weeks. If you’re already paying for AppleTV+ or have it as part of an Apple One bundle, meanwhile, you’ll be getting a $4.99 per month credit until the end of June.

If you haven’t already, take this as an opportunity to blast through Ted Lasso, which is probably the most charming thing anyone has made for TV in a decade. Central Park is also great, though it has yet to hook me in quite the same way as Loren Bouchard’s other series (Bob’s Burgers, Home Movies).

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Apple announces new projects related to its $100 million pledge for racial equity and justice

By Romain Dillet

Last June, Apple committed $100 million to a Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI). Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, is leading the initiative. Today, Apple is sharing some of its work as part of the initiative.

“We’re launching REJI’s latest initiatives with partners across a broad range of industries and backgrounds — from students to teachers, developers to entrepreneurs, and community organizers to justice advocates — working together to empower communities that have borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long. We are honored to help bring this vision to bear, and to match our words and actions to the values of equity and inclusion we have always prized at Apple,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

The company will contribute $25 million to the Propel Center, an innovation and leaning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It is going to be both a virtual platform and a physical campus in the Atlanta University Center. Apple is sharing some early renderings of the new building (see above and below).

Students will be able to follow different educational tracks focused on artificial intelligence, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment, app development, augmented reality, design and create arts and entrepreneurship. This isn’t just a monetary investment for Apple as employees will help develop curricula and provide mentorship as well. There will be internship opportunities for students.

In Downtown Detroit, the company will also open an Apple Developer Academy focused on young Black entrepreneurs. This is a collaborative effort with Michigan State University. It’ll be open to all learners across Detroit and teach valuable skills for entrepreneurs, creators and coders.

There will be two programs. A 30-day introductory program will help you learn more about app economy careers. And if you’re willing to dive deeper, there’s an intensive 10- to 12-month program. Apple is trying to reach 1,000 students per year with these two programs.

The third effort is focused on investment opportunities for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. Apple will invest $10 million with Harlem Capital, a VC firm based in New York. There will be more collaboration between Harlem Capital and Apple down the road.

Apple is also investing $25 million in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund. Finally, Apple is making a contribution to The King Center.

As you can see, Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative is an on-going effort that requires evaluating new opportunities constantly. The company isn’t just trying to give money to everyone. It is evaluating each opportunity individually to find the best collaboration.

Image Credits: Apple

Companies rush to replace the gym at CES

By Brian Heater

The year of the first-ever all-virtual CES is, unsurprisingly, the year of the virtual gym. The past 12 months have seen most of our fitness routines completely transformed — speaking for myself, my Apple Watch step count shows two big empty spots where March and April are.

Fitness startups have seen unexpected windfall in all of this. In June, Lululemon announced plans to acquire Mirror for $500 million, while competitors like Tonal saw a 7x increase in sales for the year. In December, Apple launched Fitness+, its own on-demand service designed to take on the Pelotons of the world.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re starting to see a streaming service-style land rush on the fitness side of things. It’s a massive industry, of course, and odds are things will never return exactly to “normal” in the wake of all of this, but unlike movie services, it’s hard to imagine people subscribing to more than one at a time.

Perhaps the biggest name to enter the market thus far at CES is Samsung. The electronics giant announced Smart Trainer, an addition to its growing line of fitness-focused apps. The system is designed specially for Samsung’s Smart TVs, using a webcam to track exercises. On that front, at least, it seems to be a bit more in-depth than Apple’s Watch-only tracking, which relies on an accelerometer and heart-rate monitor for feedback. Like Fitness+, it will employ trainers to lead exercises, including workout celebrity Jillian Michaels.

Ultrahuman is another major fitness video platform making its debut this week. The startup recently closed an $8 million round. Like Fitness+, its biotracking is built around the Apple Watch, showcasing heart rate and calories burned, among other metrics. The service compares its offering to a “masterclass” for fitness.

Partners include leading athletes and celebrities like Crossfit champion Kara Saunders, fitness celebrity Amanda Cerny, coach Johannes Bartl, hybrid athlete and coach Kris Gethin and MindSize CEO Christian Straka to name a few. Available on iOS and Android devices, the app also integrates biofeedback via its Apple Watch integration to measure and improve the efficacy of meditation and workouts. Compared to Calm and Headspace’s celebrity content approach, Ultrahuman uses a technology platform-based approach to improve experience and long-term results.

These services set themselves apart from the likes of Mirror, Peloton and new offerings from the likes of NordicTrack, in that these technologies ditch the heavy exercise equipment, lowering the barrier of entry (though I suppose Samsung’s does require a big, expensive TV). The fact is that demand will decrease when people feel more comfortable going to the gym. That will certainly shake out the industry to a certain extent.

For many people, however, once the secrets of home fitness have been unlocked, they may never want to visit the gym again.

PopSockets announces its MagSafe-compatible iPhone 12 accessories

By Sarah Perez

In October, TechCrunch broke the news that PopSockets was developing its own line of MagSafe-compatible products that will support the new wireless charging capabilities of the iPhone 12 devices. Today, at the (virtual) 2021 Consumer Electronics Show, the company formally introduced its upcoming products for the first time. The new line will include three MagSafe-compatible PopGrips, a wallet with an integrated grip, and two mounts.

The first of these is the new PopGrip for MagSafe, which will magnetically attach to MagSafe-compatible cases for iPhone 12 devices.

The design of this PopGrip clears up some confusion over how a PopGrip (the round, poppable dongle that people normally think of when they think of “PopPockets”) will work with a MagSafe device. Instead of attaching just at the base of the grip itself, the grip is integrated into a larger base which attaches to the case.

Meanwhile, the grip has a swappable top so you can change the style of your PopGrip whenever you want without having to buy a whole new accessory.

This grip will also be compatible with PopSockets PopMount 2 phone mounts, including the new PopMount 2 for MagSafe, introduced today.

The PopMount 2 for MagSafe will launch as two solutions: PopMount for MagSafe Multi-Surface and PopMount for MagSafe Car Vent. As described by their name, both products will magnetically attach to iPhone 12 devices either at home or while on-the-go.

For those who use the new PopGrip for MagSafe grip, they’ll be able to leave the grip on then let the mount’s magnets attach to the base.

Image Credits: PopMount Multi Surface for MagSafe

Also new is an updated PopWallet+ for MagSafe, which is combination wallet and grip that lets users carry up to 3 cards that now attaches magnetically to MagSafe-compatible phone cases for iPhone 12 devices. The wallet has an elastic sock so you can extract your cards without having to remove the wallet from the back of the device, and it now includes a shield to protect credit cards from magnetic damage. The grip here is swappable, too.

Image Credits: PopWallet+ for MagSafe

There are also two versions of the PopGrip Slide becoming available. One, the PopGrip Slide Stretch will have expanding arms that attach mechanically to the sides of most phone cases, including iPhone 12 cases. You can slide this grip to the bottom of the phone to serve as a portrait stand or to attach MagSafe accessories, without having to remove the grip.

Image Credits: PopGrip Slide Stretch for MagSafe

The PopGrip Slide for iPhone 12 is basically the same thing, but designed to fit the Apple Silicone cases for iPhone 12 devices, more specifically.

Among the first of the new accessories to hit the market will be the PopGrip for MagSafe and PopWallet+ for MagSafe in spring 2021.

The PopGrip Slide Stretch will launch March 21st on PopSockets.com and in select Target locations ahead of a broader rollout. The PopGrip Slide will launch May 1st on PopSockets.com and in Apple Stores. And the PopMount for MagSafe line will launch in summer 2021.

The company also announced a few other non-MagSafe products, including the PopGrip Pocketable, which streamlines the grip when collapsed so the the surface is flat; the PopGrip Antimicrobial, which has an embedded silver-based treatment for protection; and the PopSockets x SOG PopGrip Multi-Tool, made in collaboration with SOG Speciality Knives, which includes a PopGrip with a detachable multi-tool.

The company didn’t share an exact timeframe for these products besides “early 2021.”

Healthvana’s digital COVID-19 vaccination records are about communication, not passports for the immune

By Darrell Etherington

As the vaccination campaign to counter COVID-19 gets underway (albeit with a rocky start), a number of companies are attempting to support its rollout in a variety of ways. Healthvana, a health tech startup that began with a specific focus on providing patient information digitally for individuals living with HIV, is helping Los Angeles County roll-out mobile vaccination records for COVID-19 using Apple’s Wallet technology. A cursory appraisal of the implementation of this tech might lead one to believe it’s about providing individuals with easy proof of vaccination – but the tech, and Healthvana, are focused on informing individuals to ensure they participate in their own healthcare programs, not providing an immunity pass.

“I generally consider most of healthcare to look and feel like Windows 95,” Healthvana CEO and founder Ramin Bastani. “We look and feel like Instagram . Why is that important? Because patients can engage in things they understand, it’s easier for them to communicate in the way they’re used to communicating, and that ends up leading them better health outcomes.”

Bastani points out that they began the company by focusing this approach to patient education and communication on HIV, and demonstrated that using their software led to patients being 7.4 times more likely to show up for their next follow-up appointment vs. patients who received follow-up information and appointment notices via traditional methods. The company has built their tooling and their approach around not only producing better health for individuals, but also on reducing costs for healthcare providers by eliminating the need for a lot of the work that goes into clearing up misunderstandings, and essentially hounding patients to follow-up, which can significantly dig into clinician and care staff hours.

“We’re actually also reducing the cost to healthcare providers, because you don’t have 1,000 people calling you asking what are their results, and saying ‘I don’t understand, I can’t log in, I don’t know what it means to be SARS nonreactive,’ or all those things we address through simplicity,” Bastain said. “That’s made a huge difference. Overall, I think the key to all healthcare is going to be to be able to get patients to pay attention, and take action to things around their health.”

That’s the goal of Healthvana’s partnership with LA County on COVID-19 immunization records, too – taking vitally important action to ensure the successful rollout of its vaccination program. All approved COVID-19 vaccines to date require a two-course treatment, including one initial inoculation followed by a booster to be administered sometime later. Keeping LA county residents informed about their COVID-19 inoculation, and when they’re due for a second dose, is the primary purpose of the partnership, and benefits from Healthvana’s experience in improving patient follow-up activities. But the app is also providing users with information about COVID-19 care, and, most usefully, prevention and ways to slow the spread.

While Bastani stresses that Healthvana is, in the end, just “the last mile” for message delivery, and that there are many other layers involved in determining the right steps for proper care and prevention, the way in which they provide actionable info has already proven a big boon to one key measure: contact tracing. In select municipalities, Healthvana will also prompt users who’ve tested positive to anonymously notify close contacts directly from their device, which will provide those individuals with both free testing options and information resources.

“Just us doing this in the greater Los Angeles area for less than two months, 12,000+ people have been notified that they’ve been exposed,” Bastani said. “Each of them likely lives with other people and families – this is how you can help slow the spread.”

Contrast that with the relatively slow uptake of the exposure notification tools built into iOS and Android devices via recent software updates provided by Google and Apple working in a rare collaboration. While the technology that underlies it is sound, and focused on user privacy, its usage numbers thus far are far from earthshaking; only 388 people have sent alerts through Virginia’s app based on the exposure notification framework in three months since its launch, for instance.

Healthvana’s focus on timely and relevant delivery of information, offered to users in ways they’re mostly likely to understand and engage with, is already showing its ability to have an impact on COVID-19 and its community transmission. The startup is already in talks to launch similar programs elsewhere in the country, and that could help improve national vaccination outcomes, and how people handle COVID-19 once they have it, too.

Apple suspends Parler from App Store

By Sarah Perez

Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.

The company tells TechCrunch,

We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues.

In the wake of its decision Apple sent Parler’s developers the following note,

To the developers of the Parler app,

Thank you for your response regarding dangerous and harmful content on Parler. We have determined that the measures you describe are inadequate to address the proliferation of dangerous and objectionable content on your app.

Parler has not upheld its commitment to moderate and remove harmful or dangerous content encouraging violence and illegal activity, and is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.

In your response, you referenced that Parler has been taking this content “very seriously for weeks.” However, the processes Parler has put in place to moderate or prevent the spread of dangerous and illegal content have proved insufficient. Specifically, we have continued to find direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action in violation of Guideline 1.1 – Safety – Objectionable Content.

Your response also references a moderation plan “for the time being,” which does not meet the ongoing requirements in Guideline 1.2 – Safety – User Generated content. While there is no perfect system to prevent all dangerous or hateful user content, apps are required to have robust content moderation plans in place to proactively and effectively address these issues. A temporary “task force” is not a sufficient response given the widespread proliferation of harmful content.

For these reasons, your app will be removed from the App Store until we receive an update that is compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and you have demonstrated your ability to effectively moderate and filter the dangerous and harmful content on your service.

Regards,

App Review Board

Conservative commentator and Parler investor Dan Bongino posted about Apple’s decision on the site,

The tech tyrants at Apple have pulled the app from their App Store. Apple is no different than the Chinese communist party in their preference for totalitarian thought control. I’m proud of the remaining liberty-loving people of this great country. And I’m embarrassed, and horrified by the tech totalitarians who’ve taken control of it.

Bongino was among those recently suspended from Twitter. He noted, however, that he had no intention to return to the site.

While Parler is no longer available through the store at present, it seems it will still be available to access for those who have already downloaded it. As The New York Times noted earlier this week,

If Apple pulls Parler from the App Store, people would not be able to download the app to their iPhones or iPads. People who had already downloaded the Parler iPhone app would still be able to use it, but the company would not be able to update the app, meaning it would eventually be rendered obsolete as Apple updated the iPhone software.

But Parler’s future remains more uncertain than most, as there’s a growing push inside Amazon to pull the plug on Parler, too.

The news comes shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules, we understand. Apple’s App Store guidelines require apps hosting user-generated content to have moderation policies to remove content that incites violence.

Despite these policies, neither Apple nor Google had taken action to remove Parler in prior weeks, even though Trump supporters and other far-right users had used the app to call for violence and organize their plans to storm the Capitol. The insurrection left five people dead, over 50 police officers injured, and more than a dozen facing federal charges, in addition to the growing number of arrests emerging as suspects are identified.

Image Credits: Parler via the App Store

BuzzFeed News on Friday reported Parler had received a letter from Apple which warned that the app would be removed from the App Store within 24 hours, unless the company submitted a content moderation improvement plan.

Apple’s notice read:

We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property. The app also appears to continue to be used to plan and facilitate yet further illegal and dangerous activities.

(TechCrunch additionally confirmed BuzzFeed’s reporting.)

Parler CEO John Matze posted about Apple’s ultimatum to his own Parler account, saying he would not cave to “those authoritarians who hate free speech.” Earlier today, it was noted that the service reportedly removed a post from Trump associate Lin Wood over calls for violence against Vice President, Mike Pence.

Ahead of its removal, Parler had ranked No. 1 in News on the iPhone App Store and No. 13 Overall, according to data from App Annie. On Friday, it was ranking as high as No. 1, at times, on the iPhone’s Top Charts of free non-game apps, though final data was not available.

Image Credits: App Annie

Currently, the app is hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), but it appears to be in violation of the AWS Acceptable Use Policy which could serve as grounds for its removal.

The collective action of tech company employees is playing a key role in some of the decisions being made regarding Trump and his supporters’ access to platforms to communicate and organize in the days following the Capitol riots. According to The Washington Post, for example, over 350 Twitter employees signed a letter urging CEO Jack Dorsey and other execs to permanently suspend Trump’s account before the company followed through.

Trump has now lost his ability to post to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Twitch, to name a few. Meanwhile, Parler’s removal from both app stores will limit the reach of the more radical and violent Trump supporter movement to some extent, forcing them to more obscure corners of the web. However, many argue these measures have come too late, as the damage to not only Capitol, but to the nation’s psyche as whole, has already been done.

 

This Week in Apps: Social apps react to riots, Parler gets booted, FTC threatens regulation

By Sarah Perez

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 is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in global consumer spend in 2019. Consumer spend also hit a record $112 billion across iOS and Android alone.

Not including third-party Chinese app stores, iOS and Android users downloaded 130 billion apps in 2020. Due to COVID-19, time spent in apps jumped 25% year-over-year on Android.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a  $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

Top Stories

Social apps boot Trump following Capitol riot

To varying degrees, social apps had to quickly figure out where to draw the line on allowing Trump to continue to use their platforms this week, after his false claims about a rigged election led Trump supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, destroying property, stealing at least one computer, potentially gaining access to other unlocked computers and causing chaos that led to five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer who has now died of injuries sustained on duty.

Social platforms, however, have been complicit in allowing these dangerous and radicalized groups to emerge in the first place. Facebook, for example, allowed StoptheSteal and Secession groups to organize using its platform. It also waited years to sweep the platform of QAnon groups, and then didn’t even finish the job — these disinformation networks remain live on the platform today. But even smaller gestures aimed at cleaning up the mess of a platform that prioritized ad dollars over safety led some Trump supporters to flee to other social media networks used by the far-right, such as Gab and Parler. There, they could post even more violent rhetoric without repercussions.

@thegoodliarsOur view of the terrorists storming the Capitol. ##trumplost ##dc ##washington ##trumpisaloser ##coup♬ original sound – The Good Liars

Following the riot, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump would be banned from both Facebook and Instagram for two weeks. Twitter initially locked Trump’s account on Wednesday, then allowed him to return after deleting a few tweets, noting that another violation would result in permanent suspension. On Friday, it permanently banned Trump, and his other close associates.

Both also removed Trump’s video where he showed support for rioters, telling them to go home but also “we love you, you’re very special.”

TikTok, though obviously not used by Trump, took down re-shares of Trump’s video, but allowed counter speech against it and some posts by news organizations. And it proactively blocked the hashtags used by rioters. Snapchat locked Trump’s account as well, and Twitch disabled him until the end of his term.

New social apps and startups with social features will often mimic the general approaches of the large platforms as they craft their own content policies. But human rights organizations argue that what’s being done is not enough.

Said activist group Color of Change this week, “Mark Zuckerberg does not deserve applause for taking action at the 11th hour, after years of damage has already been done. Facebook is unquestionably complicit in the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill yesterday, and in the erosion of our democracy that’s continued to unfold in plain sight.”

The group is urging for Trump’s permanent ban from Facebook and for the network to “take action against his enablers and allies who continue to use the platform to incite violence and spread dangerous misinformation.”

App Stores take action on Parler

On Friday, Buzzfeed News reported Parler had received a letter from Apple that said they had 24 hours to come up with a moderation plan for the app, otherwise it would be banned from the App Store. Google Play, however, more quickly banned the app on Friday until the company could commit to a moderation and enforcement policy to handle objectionable content on its network.

Google’s statement reads as follows:

“In order to protect user safety on Google Play, our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence. All developers agree to these terms and we have reminded Parler of this clear policy in recent months. We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.“

Parler had been one of the places where Trump supporters and other extremists to organized their plans to storm the Capitol this week as well as plan future attacks. Posts on Parler, which has a looser moderation policy compared with Twitter, often call for people’s deaths and even for Civil War.

Several high-profile conservatives, including members of Trump’s family, had been participating on Parler, following the increased enforcement of various polices against election misinformation and false claims about COVID-19, among other things, on mainstream social platforms.

It is not unusual for Apple and Google to take action against apps with harmful content, though one has to wonder why it took a deadly insurrection aimed at toppling U.S. democratic processes for them to care.

U.S. bans transactions with Chinese payments apps

Ahead of the violence at the Capitol this week, the Trump administration continued its crackdown on Chinese mobile applications. Via an executive order signed on Tuesday, the U.S. banned transactions with eight Chinese mobile apps, including Ant Group’s Alipay mobile payment app, Reuters first reported.

Others named in the order include CamScanner, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate (published by Alibaba Group subsidiary UCWeb) and Beijing Kingsoft Office Software’s WPS Office.

The move is meant to cut off China’s access to U.S. user data, including, per the order, the ability for China to “track the locations of federal employees and contractors” and “build dossiers of personal information.”

The administration had previously banned TikTok and WeChat, but U.S. courts blocked the orders from going into effect.

FTC settles with Tapjoy over deceptive practices, but lays blame at feet of app store gatekeepers

Image Credits: Tapjoy

Mobile advertising company Tapjoy settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it was misleading consumers about the in-app rewards they could earn in mobile games. The FTC said Tapjoy deceived consumers who participated in various activities — like purchasing a product, signing up for a free trial, providing their personal information like an email address or completing a survey — in exchange for in-game virtual currency. But when it was time to pay up, Tapjoy’s partners didn’t deliver.

The order will now require Tapjoy to follow up on complaints and monitor to ensure that offers are delivered, or face further fines of up to $43,280 per each violation.

Tapjoy serves as a middleman between developers, consumers and advertisers, and is one of many “offerwall”-based mobile ad networks available today.

Mobile game developers integrate Tapjoy’s technology to display ads — aka “offers” — to their customers, in order to earn payments for their users’ activity. When the consumer completes the offer by taking whatever action was required, they’re supposed to earn in-game coins or other virtual currency. The app developers then earn a percentage of that ad revenue. But the FTC said that would often not happen, and Tapjoy ignored hundreds of thousands of consumer complaints.

Though Tapjoy was the business being held accountable in the FTC’s ruling, the Commissioners harshly scolded the “rent-seeking” app store business model for allowing networks like Tapjoy to rise in the first place. Using language that strongly hinted that regulation of the app stores was on the way, the Commissioners scolded the app stores’ “vast power to impose taxes and regulations on the mobile gaming industry.”

“This market structure also has cascading effects on gamers and consumers,” the ruling stated. “Under heavy taxation by Apple and Google, developers have been forced to adopt alternative monetization models that rely on surveillance, manipulation, and other harmful practices,” it said.

Apple is being given a lot of credit in recent weeks for its privacy push, with the launch of its so-called app store “nutrition labels” that help to better highlight the bad actors in the mobile app market. But some of the recent reporting neglects to explain why these alternative business models rose in the first place or detail how Apple will financially benefit from the shift to subscriptions that will result from the mobile ad clampdown. It’s also rarely noted that Apple itself serves behavioral advertising within its own apps that is based on the user data it collects from across its catalog of first-party apps and services. That’s not to say that Apple isn’t doing a service with its privacy push, but it’s a complex matter. This isn’t sports; you don’t have to pick one side or the other.

The FTC then not-too-subtly warned Apple and Google that it “will need to use all of its tools — competition, consumer protection, and data protection — to combat middlemen mischief, including by the largest gaming gatekeepers.”

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple & Google

  • Google says it will add privacy labels to its app either this week or the next, following a report that claimed it hadn’t updated its app since Apple’s new labeling requirements.
  • iOS 14.4 beta indicates guided audio walking workouts are on the way to Apple Watch.

Services

  • Quibi returns. Okay, not exactly. Instead, the content catalog from the deceased mobile streaming app has been bought by Roku, which will stream it for free in its The Roku Channel this year, including The Roku Channel app.

Gaming

  • Mobile games accounted for 58% of the total gaming market in 2020, up 10% year-over-year, according to SuperData’s annual report. They also accounted for the majority of the revenue, at $73.8 billion, compared with $33.1 billion for PC games and $19.7 billion for console games. Mobile games were also eight out of 10 of the top free-to-play titles, led by Honor of Kings.

Image Credits: SuperData

Augmented Reality

  • TikTok launches its first AR effect to leverage the LiDAR Scanner in iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max. The effect arrived for New Year’s and involves a dropping ball, similar to the one in Times Square, that explodes with confetti. Thanks to the LiDAR Scanner’s tech, the confetti can fall on the furniture in the room much as it would in real life.

To ring in 2021 we released our first AR effect on the new iPhone 12 Pro, using LiDAR technology which allows us to create effects that interact with your environment – visually bridging the digital and physical worlds. We're excited to develop more innovative effects in 2021! pic.twitter.com/6yFD2FfHta

— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) January 6, 2021

Social & Photos

  • WhatsApp is alerting users they have to agree to the new privacy policy by February 8, or won’t be able to use the app. The agreement requires users to share their data with Facebook — a move that’s led to a boost in downloads for private messaging app Signal.
  • WhatsApp is working on multi-device support, according to references found in its 2.21.1.1 beta on Android.
  • Facebook reminds businesses it will have to comply with App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14, according to a recent email it sent them. The email states the change will hurt “the industry and the ability for businesses of all sizes to market themselves efficiently.”

Health & Fitness

  • Singapore confirmed its police can obtain COVID-19 tracing data to aid in criminal investigations via the TraceTogether app, used by more than 4.2 million residents.

Deadpool

  • Alibaba shuts down 12-year-old music streaming app Xiami, acquired in 2013.
  • Twitter to shut down podcast app Breaker following acquisition.
  • Microsoft will shut down Minecraft Earth AR game in June, due to pandemic.
  • BBVA to shut down neobank Simple, acquired in 2014. Users to be transferred to BBVA USA, which is merging with PNC.

Trends

  • Global mobile app spending reached nearly $111 billion in 2020, up 30.2% year-over-year, according to Sensor Tower. The App Store accounted for the majority of the spending at $72.3 billion, up 30.3% from $55.5 billion in 2019.
  • Outside of games, Entertainment apps saw the most user spending worldwide in 2020, with $5.3 billion.
  • First-time installs set a new record in 2020, with 143 billion installs across the App Store and Google Play combined.
  • European mobile app spending grew 31% in 2020 to reach $14.8 billion, also according to Sensor Tower, representing a 31% year-over-year increase. The App Store drove the majority of the spending at $8 billion.
  • Apptopia pulled data to create charts of 2020’s top downloaded apps across 20 different categories, both for U.S. and global apps. It also released top grossing charts for apps, games and “health & fitness” apps.
  • CNBC estimates App Store gross revenue was over $64 billion in 2020. The estimate uses the figures Apple released on Wednesday about money paid to developers to back out roughly how much revenue the App Store made.
  • Apple said its customers spent $1.8 billion during the week of Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day. App Store customers also set a new single-day spending record on New Year’s Day by more than $540 million.
  • New CIRP data says the iPhone 12 models accounted for 76% of new iPhone sales from October-November 2020. The iPhone 12 mini only accounted for 6% of sales, however.

Image Credits: CIRP

Funding and M&A

Image Credits: Breaker/Twitter

  • Twitter acquires social podcasting app Breaker and acqui-hires creative agency Ueno to help it design new products, including Twitter Spaces.
  • Cross-platform gaming company Roblox raises $520 million in a round led by Altimeter Capital and Dragoneer Investment Group ahead of its planned IPO. The new round values the business at $29.5 billion.
  • Perfect Corp. raises $50 million Series C led by Goldman Sachs. The company develops the virtual beauty app YouCam Makeup app along with other AR makeup products, including those now embedded in Google Search.
  • Local news app News Break raises $115 million in a round led by Francisco Partners. IDG also participated. The Mountain View-based company has roots in China, where founder Jeff Zheng previously led Yahoo Labs in Beijing, and has team members in Shanghai. But the majority are in the U.S.
  • Quantum Metric raises $200 million for its platform that helps companies improve their website and apps with real-time feedback from end users. It captures data at the session level, which can then be played back to see how customers interacted with the site or app.
  • (IPO) Poshmark plans to price its IPO between $35 and $39 per share, potentially valuing the business at $3 billion.
  • Indonesian robo-advisor app Bibit raises $30 million in round led by Sequoia Capital India.
  • AR gaming company Niantic acquires competitive gaming platform Mayhem for an undisclosed price. Mayhem had participated in YC’s winter 2018 batch before raising $5.7 million for its league and tournament organization platform.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games acquires Rad Game Tools, the maker of game development tools. The companies had worked together, as Epic had used Rad Game Tools’ compression tech to speed the load time for Fortnite.
  • Indian social network ShareChat said to be raising funds from Google and Snap.

Downloads

Overviewer

New app Overviewer, reviewed here by 9to5Mac, turns an iOS device into a document camera for sharing content on video conferencing apps, like Zoom. The app makes for a good companion for teachers doing virtual learning as well as businesses. The app was created by Dark Noise app developer Charlie Chapman.

Textcraft

Image Credits: TextCraft

Want an easier way to insert the clapping hands emoji into your online rants, type text as bubbled letters, type In aLtErNaTe cAsE, in hashtags, in superscript or anything else? The new Textcraft app can help. The app allows you to type in the text then copy and paste or share any one of its over 50 text transformations. The app is well-designed with support for dark mode, drag-and-drop on iPad, and other macOS design guidelines in mind when using it across platforms.

According to a tween who reviewed the app for me: “This is cool. I want it.” They then ignored me as they played with it. I think that’s a good sign. (Paid download of $6.99 on iOS, iPad and Mac).

Discovery+

Image Credits: Discovery

If you’ve binged it all during the pandemic, there’s a new option for you. Discovery+ launched this week, bringing Discovery’s networks — HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet — to a $5 per month subscription video on demand service. (Or $7 if you don’t want ads.)

The app also includes some non-Discovery content, like nature documentaries from the BBC and programming from A&E, The History Channel and Lifetime.

If home renovation, travel and reality are your escapist favs, this could be the app for you.

Wellnest

Image Credits: Wellnest

It’s been a stressful week. Maybe it’s time for some self-care? Guided journaling app Wellnest is helping users prioritize their mental health using game design techniques. The app offers deep dive question sets, daily prompts, mood check-in, speech to text, insights and more, wrapped up in a colorful and simple package. The app is a free download, then $24 per year or $5 per month for full access.

The deplatforming of President Trump

By Danny Crichton

After years of placid admonishments, the tech world came out in force against President Trump this past week following the violent assault of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. From Twitter to PayPal, more than a dozen companies have placed unprecedented restrictions or outright banned the current occupant of the White House from using their services, and in some cases, some of his associates and supporters as well.

The news was voluminous and continuous for the past few days, so here’s a recap of who took action when, and what might happen next.

Twitter: a permanent ban and a real-time attempt to shut down all possible account alternatives

Twitter has played a paramount role over the debate about how to moderate President Trump’s communications, given the president’s penchant for the platform and the nearly 90 million followers on his @realDonaldTrump account. In the past, Twitter has repeatedly warned the president, added labels related to electron integrity and misinformation, and outright blocked the occasional tweet.

This week, however, Twitter’s patience seemed to have been exhausted. Shortly after the riots at the Capitol on Wednesday, Twitter put in place a large banner warning its users about the president’s related tweet on the matter, blocking retweets of that specific message. A few hours later, the company instituted a 12-hour ban on the president’s personal account.

At first, it looked like the situation would return to normal, with Twitter offering Thursday morning that it would reinstate the president’s account after he removed tweets the company considered against its policies around inciting violence. The president posted a tweet later on Thursday with a video attachment that seemed to be relatively calmer than his recent fiery rhetoric, a video in which he also accepted the country’s election results for the first time.

Enormous pressure externally on its own platform as well as internal demands from employees kept the policy rapidly changing though. Late Friday night, the company announced that it decided to permanently ban the president from its platform, shutting down @realDonaldTrump. The company then played a game of whack-a-mole as it blocked the president’s access to affiliated Twitter handles like @TeamTrump (his official campaign account) as well as the official presidential account @POTUS and deleted individual tweets from the president. The company’s policies state that a blocked user may not attempt to use a different account to evade its ban.

Twitter has also taken other actions against some of the president’s affiliates and broader audience, blocking Michael Flynn, a bunch of other Trump supporters, and a variety of QAnon figures.

With a new president on the horizon, the official @POTUS account will be handed to the new Biden administration, although Twitter has reportedly been intending to reset the account’s followers to zero, unlike its transition of the account in 2016 from Obama to Trump.

As for Trump himself, a permanent ban from his most prominent platform begs the question: where will he take his braggadocio and invective next? So far, we haven’t seen the president move his activities to any social network alternatives, but after the past few years (and on Twitter, the last decade), it seems hard to believe the president will merely return to his golf course and quietly ride out to the horizon.

Snap: a quick lock after dampening the president’s audience for months

Snap locked the president’s account late Wednesday following the events on Capitol Hill, and seemed to be one of the most poised tech companies to rapidly react to the events taking place in DC. Snap’s lock prevents the president from posting new snaps to his followers on the platform, which currently number approximately two million. As far as TechCrunch knows, that lock remains in place, although the president’s official profile is still available to users.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the concomitant Black Lives Matter protests, the company had announced back in June that it would remove the president’s account from its curated “Discover” tab, limiting its distribution and discoverability.

The president has never really effectively used the Snap platform, and with an indefinite ban in place, it looks unlikely he will find a home there in the future.

Facebook / Instagram: A short-to-medium ban with open questions on how long “indefinite” means

Facebook, like Twitter, is one of the president’s most popular destinations for his supporters, and the platform is also a locus for many of the political right’s most popular personalities. It’s moderation actions have been heavily scrutinized by the press over the past few years, but the company has mostly avoided taking direct action against the president — until this week.

On Wednesday as rioters walked out of the halls of Congress, Facebook pulled down a video from President Trump that it considered was promoting violence. Later Wednesday evening, that policy eventually extended into a 24-hour ban of the president’s account, which currently has 33 million likes, or followers. The company argued that the president had violated its policies multiple times, automatically triggering the one-day suspension. At the same time, Facebook (and Instagram) took action to block a popular trending hashtag related to the Capitol riots.

On Thursday morning, Mark Zuckerberg, in a personal post on his own platform, announced an “indefinite” suspension for the president, with a minimum duration of two weeks. That timing would neatly extend the suspension through the inauguration of president-elect Biden, who is to assume the presidency at noon on January 20th.

What will happen after the inauguration? Right now, we don’t know. The president’s account is suspended but not deactivated, which means that the president cannot post new material to his page, but that the page remains visible to Facebook users. The company could remove the suspension once the transition of power is complete, or it may continue the ban longer-term. Given the president’s prominence on the platform and the heavy popularity of the social network among his supporters, Facebook is in a much more intense bind between banning content it deems offensive, and retaining users important to its bottom line.

Shopify / PayPal: Ecommerce platforms won’t sell Trump official merchandise for the time being

It’s not just social networks that are blocking the president’s audience — ecommerce giants are also getting into moderating their platforms against the president. On Thursday, Shopify announced that it was removing the storefronts for both the Trump campaign and Trump’s personal brand.

That’s an evolution on policy for the company, which years ago said that it would not moderate its platform, but in recent years has removed some controversial stores, such as some right-wing shops in 2018.

PayPal meanwhile has been deactivating the accounts of some groups of Trump supporters this week, who were using the money-transfer fintech to coordinate payments to underwrite the rioters’ actions on Capitol Hill. PayPal has been increasingly banning some political accounts, banning a far-right activist in 2019 and also banning a spate of far-right organizations in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville in 2017. These bans have so far not extended directly to the president himself from what TechCrunch can glean.

Given the president’s well-known personal brand and penchant for product tie-ins before becoming president, it’s a major open question about how these two platforms and others in ecommerce will respond to Trump once he leaves office in two weeks. Will the president go back to shilling steaks, water and cologne? And will he need an ecommerce venue to sell his wares online? Much will depend on Trump’s next goals and whether he stays focused on politics, or heads back to his more commercial pursuits.

Google removes Parler from the Google Play Store, while Apple mulls a removal as well

For supporters of Trump and others concerned about the moderation actions of Facebook and other platforms, Parler has taken the lead as an alternative social network for this audience. Right now, the app is number one in the App Store in the United States, ahead of encrypted and secure messaging app Signal, which is at number four and got a massive endorsement from Elon Musk this week.

Parler’s opportunism for growth around the riots on Capitol Hill though has run into a very real barrier: the two tech companies which run the two stores for mobile applications in the United States.

Google announced Friday evening that it would be removing the Parler app from its store, citing the social network’s lack of moderation and content filtering capabilities. The app’s page remains down as this article was going to press. That ban means that new users won’t be able to install the app from the Play Store, however, existing users who already have Parler installed will be able to continue using it.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed reports that Apple has reportedly sent a 24-hour takedown notice to Parler’s developers, saying that it would mirror Google’s actions if the app didn’t immediately filter content that endangers safety. As of now, Parler remains available in the App Store, but if the timing is to be believed, the app could be taken down later this Saturday.

Given the complexities of content moderation, including the need to hire content moderators en masse, it seems highly unlikely that Parler could respond to these requests in any short period of time. What happens to the app and the president’s supporters long-term next is, right now, anyone’s guess.

Discord / Twitch / YouTube / Reddit / TikTok: All the socials don’t want to be social anymore with President Trump

Finally, let’s head over to the rest of the social networking world, where Trump is just as unpopular as he is at Facebook and Twitter HQ these days. Companies widely blocked the president from accessing their sites, and they also took action against affiliated groups.

Google-owned YouTube announced Thursday that it would start handing out “strikes” against channels — including President Trump’s — that post election misinformation. In the past, videos with election misinformation would have a warning label attached, but the channel itself didn’t face any consequences. In December, the company changed that policy to include the outright removal of videos purveying election misinformation.

This week’s latest policy change is an escalation from the company’s previous approach, and would result in lengthier and lengthier temporary suspensions for each additional strike that a channel receives. Those strikes could eventual result in a permanent ban for a YouTube channel if they happen within a set period of time. That’s precisely what happened with Steve Bannon’s channel, which was permanently banned Friday late afternoon for repeated violations of YouTube’s policies. Meanwhile, President Trump’s official channel has less than 3 million followers, and is currently still available for viewing on the platform.

Outside YouTube, Twitch followed a similar policy to Facebook, announcing Thursday morning that it would ban the president “indefinitely” and at least through the inauguration on January 20th. The president has a limited audience of just about 151,000 followers on the popular streaming platform, making it among the least important of the president’s social media accounts.

In terms of the president’s supporters, their groups are also being removed from popular tech platforms. On Friday, Reddit announced that it would ban the subreddit r/DonaldTrump, which had become one of a number of unofficial communities on the platform where the president’s most ardent supporters hung out. The social network had previously removed the controversial subreddit r/The_Donald back in June. Discord on Friday shut down a server related to that banned subreddit, citing the server’s “overt connection to an online forum used to incite violence.”

Lastly, TikTok announced on Thursday that it was limiting the spread of some information related to the Capitol riots, including redirecting hashtags and removing violent content as well as the president’s own video message to supporters. The president does not have a TikTok account, and therefore, most of the company’s actions are focused on his supporters and broader content surrounding the situation on Capitol Hill this week.

 

Parler removed from Google Play store as Apple App Store suspension reportedly looms

By Lucas Matney

Shortly after Twitter announced Friday afternoon that they were permanently suspending the account of President Trump, Google shared that they were removing Parler, a conservative social media app, from their Play Store immediately, saying in a statement that they were suspending the app until the developers committed to a moderation and enforcement policy that could handle objectionable content on the platform.

In a statement to TechCrunch, a Google spokesperson said:

“In order to protect user safety on Google Play, our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence. All developers agree to these terms and we have reminded Parler of this clear policy in recent months. We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.“

Parler’s Play Store page is currently down.

The conservative platform garnered attention this week after posts surfaced detailing threats of violence and planning around Tuesday’s chaotic Capitol building riots which led to the deaths of 5 people including a Capitol police officer. While more mainstream social media sites raced to take down violent content related to the riots, death threats and violence were easy to find across the Parler platform.

The app hosts accounts from a variety of conservative figures including many in the President’s family, though not the President himself.

On Friday, Buzzfeed News reported that Parler had received a letter from Apple informing them that the app would be removed from the App Store within 24 hours unless the company submitted an update with a moderation improvement plan. Parler CEO John Matze confirmed the action from Apple in a post on his Parler account where he posted a screenshot of the notification from Apple.

“We want to be clear that Parler is in fact responsible for all the user generated content present on your service and for ensuring that this content meets App Store requirements for the safety and protection of our users,” text from the screenshot reads. “We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.

The app remains available in the App Store, though users are currently complaining of technical issues.

We have reached out to Apple for additional comment.

Shares of Hyundai Motor Co. climb more than 20% on potential EV deal with Apple

By Catherine Shu

Hyundai Motor Company is downplaying reports that it is in talks with Apple to produce an autonomous electric vehicle, stating that discussions are still in the “early stage” and still undecided. But the news of a potential tie-up (however tentative) with Apple, which is known for keeping a tight lid on deals before they are announced, was enough to send shares of Hyundai Motor Company up more than 20% on the Korea Exchange during trading on Friday.

The talks were first reported by the Korea Economic Daily and confirmed by Hyundai to Bloomberg in a statement that said “Apple and Hyundai are in discussion, but as it is at early stage, nothing has been decided.” The Korean auto giant also told CNBC that “we understand Apple is in discussion with a variety of global automakers, including Hyundai Motor. As the discussion is at its early stage, nothing has been decided.”

A Hyundai spokesperson declined to comment to TechCrunch. Apple has also been contacted for comment.

Last month, Reuters reported that Apple’s car initiative, called Project Titan, is still going on, with plans to develop an autonomous electric passenger vehicle. But the car is not expected to launch until 2024.

Hyundai launched its own electric vehicle brand, Ioniq, in August 2020, with plans to bring three all-electric vehicles to market over the next four years, as part of its strategy to sell one million battery electric vehicles and take a 10% share of the EV market by 2025. Hyundai also has a joint venture with autonomous driving technology company Aptiv to make Level 4 and Level 5 production-ready self-driving systems available to robotaxi, fleet operators and automakers by 2022. The Aptiv partnership was announced in 2019.

 

Apple App Store customers spent $1.8B over the week of Christmas, set a spending record on New Year’s Day

By Sarah Perez

Apple this morning offered an updated look at its App Store business with the release of its holiday sales figures. The company said App Store customers spent $1.8 billion in apps during the week of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, driven largely by games. And App Store customers also hit a new single-day spending record on New Year’s Day of more than $540 million.

What Apple didn’t fully spell out was to what extent the pandemic played a role in increased app spending over the course of 2020. It did again note that top apps during the year had included those that helped customers stay connected and be entertained, like Zoom and Disney+, as well as games that brought people together, like Roblox and Among Us.

However, the company didn’t detail how much customers spent on apps and games over 2020. That leaves us to look to third-party estimates for those figures. According to Sensor Tower’s year-end report, global consumer spending on the App Store reached $72.3 billion in 2020, up 30.3% year-over-year from $55.5 billion in 2019. App Annie came up with a similar figure in a preliminary estimate ahead of its annual report.

Apple, on the other hand, noted that App Store developers have now earned over $200 billion to date since the App Store began in 2008, a figure that’s up from the $155 billion it announced last year.

The company’s holiday week last year also set a new record with $1.42 billion spent on apps and games, a 16% increase over the year prior. Given that consumers in 2020 spent $1.8 billion, it seems a new record has now been set as well, but it’s unclear why Apple didn’t highlight that today.

Apple also shared a few updates related to its other services businesses in its 2020 wrap-up. It said Apple Music had a “record year” without sharing specifics. Instead, it only noted that 90% of iOS 14 listeners had tried out its new features, like Listen Now, the updated Search, personal radio stations and Autoplay. Apple also said engagement with its lyrics feature doubled in 2020.

Apple additionally noted the Apple TV+ app is now available across 1 billion screens in more than 100 countries, and customers can now buy or rent over 100,000 new release and classic movies and shows.

Apple Pay, meanwhile, is now available at over 90% of U.S. stores, 85% of stores in the U.K. and 99% of stores in Australia.

Apple News, iCloud and its new service, Fitness+, were mentioned, but Apple didn’t offer any new metrics related to user adoption or growth.

The company also said Apple Arcade had reached over 140 games, Apple Books now has 90+ million monthly active users and Apple Podcasts is now available in over 175 countries.

Google to add App Store privacy labels to its iOS apps as soon as this week

By Sarah Perez

Contrary to reports, Google is not delaying updates to its iOS apps because it doesn’t want to comply with Apple’s recently announced App Store Privacy Labels policy. The new policy, a part of the company’s larger privacy push, requires developers to disclose how data is collected from App Store users and used to track them. TechCrunch confirmed Google is not taking a stand against the labels. It is, in fact, preparing to roll out privacy labels across its sizable iOS app catalog as soon as this week or the next.

TechCrunch looked into the situation with Google’s apps following a story by Fast Company today that speculated that Google’s slowdown on releasing iOS app updates could be because it was not ready to be transparent about the data it collects from its users. The report stated that “not a single one” of Google’s apps had been updated since December 7, 2020 — coincidentally, just one day before Apple’s new privacy label requirements went into effect on the App Store.

It went on to suggest the late November to early December time frame when many of Google’s iOS apps were updated was another indication that Google was trying to squeeze in a few last updates before the app privacy label deadline.

There are a few problems with speculation, however.

For starters, Google actually did update two of its apps after the deadline — but those updates didn’t include privacy labels.

Google Slides, the slideshow presentation app and one of Google’s more significant apps in the productivity space, was updated on December 14, 2020. And Socratic by Google, a homework helper and the No. 7 free app in the Education category, was updated on December 15. (We fact-checked this data with Sensor Tower’s assistance, as Google’s iOS catalog is nearing 100 iPhone apps!)

While it may seem Google is skirting Apple’s new rules, we must also be careful about reading too much into the update timing. A slowdown in December app updates isn’t unusual by any stretch. Nor is it suspicious to see app changes pushed out to the public in the weeks before Christmas and New Year’s because the Apple’s App Store itself shuts down over the holidays. This year, The App Store closed from December 23 through December 27, 2020 for its annual break.

And like other large companies, Google goes on a code freeze in late December through early January, so as not to cause major issues with its products and services over the holidays when staff is out.

Google also isn’t the only major app publisher that delayed an immediate embrace of app privacy labels. Amazon and Pinterest haven’t yet updated with privacy labels as of the time of writing, for example.

Of course, none of this is to say that app privacy labels aren’t a concern for Google, given its primary business is advertising. In fact, they’re being taken quite seriously — with execs attending meetings to discuss that sort of thing.

Apple may have given Google some leeway on the matter, it seems, as it allowed Google’s apps to update after the deadline without submitting the privacy label information. (That probably won’t make happy smaller developers who worked to comply with the deadline, however.)

Reached for comment, a Google spokesperson confirmed the company has a plan to add privacy labels across its app catalog. They also confirmed the labels are expected to begin rolling out as soon as this week or next week, though an exact date is not yet available.

Elon Musk claims he tried selling Tesla to Apple but Tim Cook wasn’t interested

By Lucas Matney

Tesla stock’s miraculously bizarre 2020 might have a gone different way had Apple’s Tim Cook agreed to a meeting in recent years, or so says Elon Musk.

Reacting to Reuters’ recent news that Apple has not abandoned its electric car program and is still pursuing plans to build a physical vehicle, Musk tweeted that in “the darkest days” of scaling Model 3 production, he reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook and raised the possibility of the Cupertino company acquiring Tesla. Musk says that Cook refused to take the meeting.

TechCrunch has reached out to Apple for comment.

During the darkest days of the Model 3 program, I reached out to Tim Cook to discuss the possibility of Apple acquiring Tesla (for 1/10 of our current value). He refused to take the meeting.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2020

Musk’s short tweet did not clarify exactly when this timeline was, though given public information about Tesla’s Model 3 production, it was likely between 2017 and 2019. In regards to Musk’s proposed sales price, 1/10th of Tesla’s current market capitalization is about $60 billion, which isn’t too far from the stock’s public value last year before it reached stratospheric heights in recent months.

Though Tesla is now worth more than $600 billion on the public markets after joining the S&P 500 this week, most Wall Street analysts seem perplexed by the stock’s recent growth, which has been owed to young and first-time investors rallying behind Tesla’s products and its CEO.

The ‘Apple car’ chatter is back with new reports pointing to a 2024 launch date

By Kirsten Korosec

The demise of the Apple car, the technology giant’s not-so-secret secret project, was perhaps overstated. Apple’s so-called Project Titan, which last year reduced the team by some 200 employees, is not only alive, it has plans to produce an electric passenger vehicle with “breakthrough battery technology” and automated vehicle technology by 2024, according to a report from Reuters.

It’s unclear what the vehicle will look like, who will be the manufacturing partner or if the self-driving system that Apple has been working on will be part of the car or offered as a software product to other companies. The Reuters article builds off of another report from Taiwanese media outlet Economic Daily Times, which describes Apple ramping up orders for auto parts and components from suppliers in the country. Together, the reports offer confirmation that Apple, while quiet and with a smaller team, hasn’t ditched the idea of a car after all.

Reuters sources describe this as a passenger vehicle, which would put Apple in a different category than autonomous vehicle technology companies like Waymo that are trying to commercialize robotaxi services. (Waymo has said that it is also interested in licensing its AV tech for passenger vehicles, but it’s not the company’s first priority.)

The day-to-day operations of Apple’s Project Titan is led by Doug Field, who returned to the company in 2018 after a stint at electric automaker Tesla. Field, who was senior vice president of engineering at Tesla, was one of the key executives behind the launch of the Model 3. Under Field’s leadership, it appears the Apple car might square off more directly with Tesla than say Alphabet’s Waymo.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Apple has moved Field and the rest of the Project Titan team under Apple executive John Giannandrea’s artificial intelligence and machine-learning group.

Apple takes aim at adtech hysteria over iOS app tracking change

By Natasha Lomas

Apple has used a speech to European lawmakers and privacy regulators today to come out jabbing at what SVP Craig Federighi described as dramatic, “outlandish” and “false” claims being made by the adtech industry over a forthcoming change to iOS that will give users the ability to decline app tracking. 

The iPhone maker had been due to introduce the major privacy enhancement to the App Store this fall but delayed until early 2021 after the plan drew fire from advertising giants.

Facebook, for example, warned the move could have a major impact on app makers which rely on its in-app advertising network to monetize on iOS, as well as some impact on its own bottom line.

Since then four online advertising lobby groups have filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in France — seeking to derail the privacy changes on competition grounds.

However Apple made it clear today that it’s not backing down.

Federighi described online tracking as privacy’s “biggest” challenge — saying its forthcoming App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature represents “the front line of user privacy” as far as it’s concerned.

“Never before has the right to privacy — the right to keep personal data under your own control — been under assault like it is today. As external threats to privacy continue to evolve, our work to counter them must, too,” he said in the speech to the European Data Protection & Privacy Conference.

The aim of ATT is “to empower our users to decide when or if they want to allow an app to track them in a way that could be shared across other companies’ apps or websites”, according to Federighi.

Civic society’s objection to the adtech industry’s tracking ‘dark art’ is that it sums to hellishly opaque mass surveillance of the mainstream Internet.

While harms attached to the practice include the risk of discrimination; manipulation of vulnerable groups; and election interference, to name a few.

Federighi took clear aim in his own attack — returning to a descriptor that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook used in a speech to an earlier European privacy conference back in 2018.

“The mass centralization of data puts privacy at risk — no matter who’s collecting it and what their intentions might be,” he warned. “So we believe Apple should have as little data about our customers as possible. Now, others take the opposite approach.

“They gather, sell, and hoard as much of your personal information as they can. The result is a data-industrial complex, where shadowy actors work to infiltrate the most intimate parts of your life and exploit whatever they can find — whether to sell you something, to radicalize your views, or worse.”

Since Cook wooed EU lawmakers by denouncing the “data-industrial complex” — and simultaneously lauding Europe’s pro-privacy approach to digital regulation — scores of individual and collective complaints have been lodged against the adtech infrastructure that underpins behavioral advertising under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Yet regional regulators still haven’t taken any enforcement action over these adtech complaints. Turning the cookie-tracking tanker clearly isn’t a cake walk.

And while the adtech lobby may have been heartened by remarks made yesterday by Commission EVP and competition chief, Margrethe Vestager — who told the OECD Global Competition Forum that antitrust enforcers should be “vigilant so that privacy is not used as a shield against competition” — there was a sting in the tail as she expressed support for a ‘superprofiling’ case against Facebook in Germany, which combines the streams of privacy and competition in new and interesting ways, with Vestager dubbing the piece of regulatory innovation “inspiring and interesting”.

Federighi urged Europe’s lawmakers to screw their courage to the sticking place where privacy is concerned.

“Through GDPR and other policies — many of which have been implemented by Commissioner Jourová, Commissioner Reynders, and others here with us today — Europe has shown the world what a privacy-friendly future could look like,” he said, lathering on the kind of ‘geopolitical influencer’ praise that’s particularly cherished in Brussels.

He also reiterated Apple’s support for a GDPR-style “omnibus privacy law in the U.S.” — something Cook called for two years ago — aka: a law that “empowers consumers to minimize collection of their data; to know when and why it is being collected; to access, correct, or delete that data; and to know that it is truly secure”.

“It’s already clear that some companies are going to do everything they can to stop [ATT] — or any innovation like it — and to maintain their unfettered access to people’s data. Some have already begun to make outlandish claims, like saying that ATT — which helps users control when they’re tracked — will somehow lead to greater privacy invasions,” he went on, taking further sideswipes at Apple’s adtech detractors.

“To say that we’re skeptical of those claims would be an understatement. But that won’t stop these companies from making false arguments to get what they want. We need the world to see those arguments for what they are: a brazen attempt to maintain the privacy-invasive status quo.”

In another direct appeal to EU lawmakers, Federighi suggested ATT “reflects both the spirit and the requirements of both the ePrivacy Directive, and the planned updates in the draft ePrivacy Regulation” — displaying a keen insight into the (oftentimes fraught) process of EU policymaking. (The ePrivacy update has in fact been stalled for years — so the subtle suggestion in Apple’s appeal is its technology levers being flipped to enable greater user privacy could help unblock the EU’s bunged up policy levers.)

“ATT, like ePrivacy, is about giving people the power to make informed choices about what happens to their data. I hope that the lawmakers, regulators, and privacy advocates here today will continue to stand up for strong privacy protections like these,” he added.

Earlier in the speech Federighi also made some plainer points: Likening ATT to the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature Apple added to its Safari browser back in 2017 — pointing out that despite similar objections from adtech then the industry as a whole has posted revenue increases every year since.

“Just as with ITP, some in the ad industry are lobbying against these efforts — claiming that ATT will dramatically hurt ad-supported businesses. But we expect that the industry will adapt as it did before — providing effective advertising, but this time without invasive tracking,” he said.

“Of course, some advertisers and tech companies would prefer that ATT is never implemented at all. When invasive tracking is your business model, you tend not to welcome transparency and customer choice,” he added, taking another swipe at the industry’s motives for objecting to more choice and privacy for iOS users.

At the same time Federighi did acknowledge that the iOS switch to requiring user permission for app tracking “is a big change from the world we live in now”.

Of course it’s one that will likely bring transitionary pain to iOS developers, too.

But on this his messaging stood firm: He made it clear Apple may wield the stick at developers who don’t get with its user privacy upgrade program, warning: “Early next year, we’ll begin requiring all apps that want to do that to obtain their users’ explicit permission, and developers who fail to meet that standard can have their apps taken down from the App Store.”

It was interesting to note that the speech contained both specific appeals to regional lawmakers to stay the course in regulating to protect data and privacy; and more amorphous appeals to (unnamed) competitors — to follow Apple’s lead and innovate around privacy.

But if you’re a tech giant being accused of anti-competitive behaviour by a self-interested adtech clique, framing your desire for increased competition in the (lucrative) business of enhancing user privacy is a nice rebuttal.

“We don’t define success as standing alone. When it comes to privacy protections, we’re very happy to see our competitors copy our work, or develop innovative privacy features of their own that we can learn from,” said Federighi.

“At Apple, we are passionate advocates for privacy protections for all users. We love to see people buy our products. But we would also love to see robust competition among companies for the best, the strongest, and the most empowering privacy features.”

The Apple SVP also took gentle aim at any EU policymakers who may be imagining it’s a clever idea to crack open the pandora’s box of end-to-end encryption — urging them to strengthen the bloc’s commitment to robust security. Duh.

The backstory here is there’s been some recent chatter around the topic. Last monthdraft resolution made by the Council of the European Union triggered press coverage that suggested EU legislators are on the cusp of banning e2e encryption.

Although, to be fair, the only ‘b’ word the Commission has used so far is ‘balanced’ — when it said its new EU security strategy will “explore and support balanced technical, operational and legal solutions, and promote an approach which both maintains the effectiveness of encryption in protecting privacy and security of communications, while providing an effective response to serious crime and terrorism”.

“I also hope that you will strengthen Europe’s support for end-to-end encryption. Apple strongly supported the European Parliament when it proposed a requirement that the ePrivacy Regulation support end-to-end encryption, and we will continue to do so,” Federighi added, tone set to ‘don’t disappoint’.

Daily Crunch: Apple announces AirPods Max headphones

By Anthony Ha

Apple unveils new high-end headphones, Calm raises more funding and Cyberpunk 2077 faces criticism. This is your Daily Crunch for December 8, 2020.

The big story: Apple announces AirPods Max headphones

These are Apple’s first over-ear headphones under the AirPods brand (it also owns Beats), and at $549 they’re priced significantly higher than previous AirPods.

Other features include active noise cancellation, transparency mode, spatial audio and Adaptive EQ, a feature that adjusts the sound based on the fit and seal of the headphones. The headband is made of stainless steal, and it also includes a digital crown for adjusting the volume, skipping tracks and more.

Pre-orders start today, with the first headphones shipping on December 15.

The tech giants

Tesla files to sell $5B in stock while its shares are richly valued — Tesla is striking while its share price is hot.

SAP is the latest enterprise software giant to offer low-code workflow — SAP Cloud Platform Workflow Management enables people with little or no coding skills to build operational workflows.

Apple Fitness+ launches on December 14 — The service will include 10 workout types at launch, including High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), strength, yoga, dance, core, cycling, indoor walking and running.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Calm raises $75M more at $2B valuation — The round was anticipated after the company was reported to be hunting for up to $150 million at a valuation of $2.2 billion.

New York-based indoor ag company Gotham Greens raises $87M — The company already sells its greens in more than 40 states and operates greenhouses in Chicago, Providence, Rhode Island, Baltimore and Denver.

Rivian is building its own EV charging network, but with an adventurous twist — The electric automaker is starting to build out a network of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the United States.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Making sense of Klarna — The Swedish fintech sensation is currently Europe’s most valuable private tech company.

China watches and learns from the US in AR/VR competition — There’s a young generation of Chinese entrepreneurs uniquely positioned to build world-class hardware.

Is 2020 bringing more edtech rounds than ever, or does it simply feel that way? — Venture capital activity is at a high, but not all sectors are equally busy.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cyberpunk 2077 draws criticism for seizure-inducing sequence with no warning or mitigation — Developer CD Projekt Red is already under fire for an early game sequence with the potential to induce seizures.

Christopher Nolan calls HBO Max the ‘worst streaming service’ — The director isn’t happy about WarnerMedia’s plans to bring its 2021 movies straight to streaming.

Nielsen plans to combine traditional and digital TV ratings — While the firm has long provided the standard measure for TV audiences, things are more fragmented when it comes to digital viewing.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Apple Fitness+ launches on December 14

By Darrell Etherington

Apple is launching its subscription fitness service, which is built mainly to complement Apple Watch, on December 14. Apple Fitness+ was first announced at Apple’s iPhone event in September, and will offer guided workouts on iPhone iPad and Apple TV, with live personal metrics delivered by the Apple Watch’s health metrics monitoring.

The fitness offering will cover 10 workout types at launch, including Hight Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), strength, yoga, dance, core, cycling, indoor walking and running, as well as rowing and cooldown. All cases are led by real trainers that Apple selected to record the interactive sessions, and they’re soundtracked from “today’s top artists” according to the company.

The interactive elements are fed mostly by Apple Watch stats, and will display heart rate metrics, countdown timers, and goal achievement ‘celebration’ graphics which display on the screen when a user fills up their Apple Watch Activity rings. This is a level of direct integration that’s similar to what Peloton achieves with its service, but without requiring a whole connected stationary bike or treadmill to work.

Other distinguishing features of the service include a recommendation engine that leverages data including previous Fitness+ courses taken by a user, as well as their Apple Watch Workout App data and other third-party health and fitness app integration information from Apple Health to recommend new workouts, trainers and exercise routines. Apple’s use of third-party integrations is particularly interesting here, since it’s using its platform advantage to inform its service personalization.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple is also committing to weekly updates of new content across all categories of workouts, with varying intensity and difficult levels. Anyone using Fitness+ can also share their workouts with friends and family, and compete with others directly in the app if they want.

There’s also an optional Apple Music integration, which allows users to favorite songs and playlists directly from workouts to add them to their library, but users won’t require Apple Music in order to access the music used for the training videos, which are divided into different selectable “styles” or genres.

Apple Fitness+ is available starting December 14, and will retail for $9.99 per month, or $79.99 when paid for a twelve month period up front. It’s also part of Apple’s new Apple One Premier service bundle alongside other services.

This is definitely a major competitive service launch to existing subscription fitness offerings, including Peloton. Apple’s bundle offering, along with its system’s flexibility and syncing across its devices, could make it an easier choice for beginners and those just getting started with more serious training, though the lack of live classes might be a downside for some.

Apple announces $549 over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max

By Romain Dillet

The AirPods Max are joining the AirPods and AirPods Pro in Apple’s audio accessory lineup. As you can see on the photo, Apple is releasing its first over-ear headphones under the AirPods brand.

The wireless headphones feature active noise cancellation and cost $549. With this product, Apple competes directly with Sony’s and Bose’s wireless headphones — the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose 700. Pre-orders start today and they’ll ship on December 15.

This isn’t the company’s first over-ear headphones as Apple acquired Beats back in 2014. Apple has released new Beats headphones over the past few years. For instance, last year, Apple released the Beats Solo Pro, wireless headphones that feature Apple’s H1 chip and cost $300. They also have active noise cancellation.

The AirPods Max come in multiple colors — silver, space gray, sky blue, pink and green. They are foldable and can be stored in a case — or, as Apple calls it, a Smart Case. When you put your headphones in the case, the device enters an ultra-low power state — but that’s about it. Apple promises 20 hours of battery life.

Image Credits: Apple

Powered by Apple’s H1 chip, they bring many of the features that you can find in the AirPods Pro — active noise cancellation, transparency mode, spatial audio and adaptive EQ. The headband is made of stainless steel, which probably explains the pricing strategy. The ear cushions try to create a seal thanks to memory foam.

In addition to a noise control button, there’s an Apple Watch digital crown, which lets you adjust the volume, skip tracks, etc. Inside the device, you’ll find 40-mm dynamic drivers. Combined with computational audio, Apple promises very little distorsion and high quality sound.

Image Credits: Apple

If you’re not familiar with Adaptive EQ, the feature was originally introduced with the AirPods Pro. The device uses microphones to adjust the sound based on the fit and seal of the headphones or earbuds.

When it comes to active noise cancellation, the AirPods Max use three outward-facing microphones on each ear cup. When you pair the AirPods Max with an iPhone or iPad, Apple uses the gyroscope and accelerometer in both devices to compare motion data and deliver sound in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos. Music also automatically stops when you remove the AirPods Max.

Image Credits: Apple

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