FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Amid controversy, Dispo confirms Series A funding, high-profile advisors, and investors

By Amanda Silberling

It’s only been nine months since Dispo rebranded from David’s Disposables. But the vintage-inspired photo sharing app has experienced a whiplash of ups and downs, mostly due to the brand’s original namesake, YouTuber David Dobrik.

Like Clubhouse, Dispo was one of this year’s most hyped up new social apps, requiring an invite from an existing member to join. On March 9, when the company said “goodbye waitlist” and opened the app up to any iOS user, Dispo looked poised to be a worthy competitor to photo-sharing behemoths like Instagram. But, just one week later, Business Insider reported on sexual assault allegations regarding a member of Vlog Squad, a YouTube prank ensemble headed by Dispo co-founder David Dobrik. Dobrik had posted a now-deleted vlog about the night of the alleged assault, joking, “we’re all going to jail” at the end of the video.

It was only after venture capital firm Spark Capital decided to “sever all ties” with Dispo that Dobrik stepped down from the company board. In a statement made to TechCrunch at the time, Dispo said, “Dispo’s team, product, and most importantly — our community — stand for building a diverse, inclusive and empowering world.”

Dispo capitalizes on Gen Z and young millennial nostalgia for a time before digital photography, when we couldn’t take thirty selfies before choosing which one to post. On Dispo, when you take a photo, you have to wait until 9 AM the following day for the image to “develop,” and only then can you view and share it.

In both February and March of this year, the app hit the top ten of the Photo & Video category in the U.S. App Store. Despite the backlash against Dobrik, which resulted in the app’s product page being bombarded with negative comments, the app still hit the top ten in Germany, Japan, and Brazil, according to their press release. Dispo reportedly has not yet expended any international marketing resources.

Now, early investors in Dispo like Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six, and Unshackled have committed to donate any potential profits from their investment in the app to organizations working with survivors of sexual assault. Though Axios reported the app’s $20M Series A funding news in February, Dispo put out a press release this morning confirming the financing event. Though they intend to donate profits from the app, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures remain listed as investors, but Spark Capital is not. Other notable names involved in the project include high-profile photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Raven B. Varona, who has worked with artists like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Actresses Cara Delevingne and Sofía Vergara, as well as NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, are also involved with the app as investors or advisors.

Dobrik’s role in the company was largely as a marketer – CEO Daniel Liss co-founded the app with Dobrik and has been leading the team since the beginning. After Dobrik’s departure, the Dispo team – which remains under twenty members strong – took a break from communications and product updates on the app. It’s expected that after today’s funding confirmation, the app will continue to roll out updates.

Dispo is quick to shift focus to the work of their team, which they call “some of the most talented, diverse leaders in consumer tech.” With the capital from this funding round, they hope to hire more staff to become more competitive with major social media apps with expansive teams, like Instagram and TikTok, and to experiment with machine learning. They will also likely have some serious marketing to do, now that their attempt at influencer marketing has failed massively.

Now more than ever, Dispo is promoting the app as a mental health benefit, hoping to shift the tide away from manufactured perfectionism toward more authentic social media experiences.

“A new era of start ups must emerge to end the scourge of big tech’s destruction of our political fabric and willful ignorance of its impact on body dysmorphia and mental health,” CEO Daniel Liss writes in a Substack post titled Dispo 2.0. “Imagine a world where Dispo is the social network of choice for every teen and college student in the world. How different a world would that be?”

But, for an app that propelled to success off the fame of a YouTuber with a history of less than savory behavior, that messaging might fall flat.

According to Sensor Tower, the highest Dispo has ever ranked in the Photo & Video category on the U.S. App Store was in January 2020, when it was still called David’s Disposables. The app ranked No. 1 in that category from January 7 to January 9, and on January 8, it reached No. 1 among all free iPhone apps.

Apple to introduce A/B testing and in-app events to the App Store

By Sarah Perez

Apple today announced a number of coming changes and improvements to the App Store that will help developers better target their apps to users, get their apps discovered by more people and even highlight what sort of events are taking place inside their apps to entice new users to download the app and encourage existing users to return.

The company said its App Store today sees 600 million weekly users across 175 countries, and has paid out more than $230 billion to developers since the App Store launched, highlighting the business opportunity for app developers.

However, as the App Store has grown, it’s become harder for app developers to market their apps to new users or get their apps found. The new features aim to address that.

Image Credits: Apple

One change involves the app’s product page. Starting this year, app developers will be able to create multiple custom product pages to showcase different features of their app for different users. For instance, they’ll be able to try out things like different screenshots, videos, and even different app icons to A/B test what users like the most.

They’ll also be able to advertise the dynamic things that are taking place inside their apps on an ongoing basis. Apple explained that apps and games are constantly rolling out new content and limited time events like film premieres on streaming services, events like Pokémon GO fests, or Nike fitness challenges. But these events were often only discoverable by those who already had the app installed and then opted in to push notifications.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple will now allow developers to better advertise these events, with the launch of in-app events “front and center on the App Store.” The events can be showcased on the app’s product page. Users can learn more about the events, sign up to be notified or quickly join the event, if it’s happening now. They can also discover events with personalized recommendations and through App Store search.

App Store editors will curate the best events and the new App Store widget will feature upcoming events right on users’ home screens, too.

Apple says the feature will be open to all developers, including those who already run events and those who are just getting started.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

This Week in Apps: WWDC Prep, F8 recap, TikTok goes after biometric data

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 continues to grow, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020. Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week was a busy one. Facebook held its developer conference F8 which delivered a lot of app-related news across its platform. Now, WWDC is just days away. We also broke a few big app stories this week, including one about TikTok’s privacy policy and its newly added permission to collect biometric data on U.S. users, including “faceprints and voiceprints.” Twitter added a subscription service, and Tinder tested group video chat.

And in our downloads section, we have a treat for readers: a time-sensitive and exclusive invite code to get into one of the hottest new apps for sneakerheads: Sole Retriever. 

Get the This Week in Apps newsletter! Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

WWDC 21 Prep

Image Credits: Apple

WWDC’s big keynote is kicking off next week on June 7 at 1 PM ET. The livestream page is here. While we may see new MacBook Pros, what software developers will care about are the forthcoming details about Apple’s latest OS releases and other new technologies. As to what they may include? Bloomberg reported that iOS 15 will introduce a way for users to set different notification preferences and automatic replies, based on their current status (driving, working, sleeping, etc.) and an updated Lock Screen where this menu of choices would be accessible. iMessage may be upgraded to be more social, to better compete with Messenger and WhatsApp. Meanwhile, iPadOS could be getting the App Library and an upgraded Home Screen with support for widgets. (And you can fill the screen with just widgets, if you choose.) Or who knows! Until it’s official, it’s all a maybe!

But one potentially interesting rumor to watch for would be a new privacy feature that would show users which apps were collecting data about them. This builds on Apple’s investments in App Tracking Transparency and could make it more difficult for shady SDKs to stay in business.

There will likely be some updates coming to other Apple’s own apps, Siri, watchOS and more. It’s going to be a packed week — stay tuned!

Ahead of WWDC, Apple also updated its report (conducted on its behalf via the Analysis Group) on App Store commerce. The company says the App Store facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year. The full report delves into other trends related to the pandemic’s impact, small and large businesses, and more. Apple initially commissioned the report to demonstrate how little business on the App Store is actually subject to App Store fees, but now it’s updated the report a year later. It’s interesting how much understanding Apple has about its App Store, especially when Tim Cook claimed to know so little about several crucial figures.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple also this week unveiled its 2021 Apple Design finalists. The awards honor apps and games that offer a combination of innovation, ingenuity and technical achievement — the latter which often means making great use of Apple technologies. The finalists span six categories: Inclusivity, Delight and Fun, Interaction, Social Impact, Visuals and Graphics, and Innovation.

Among the prospective winners are apps including snarky weather app Carrot Weather as well as the unique (Not Boring) Weather, short-form news service Brief, mental wellness app and Google Play award winner Loona, Editor’s Choice Genshin Impact, Snowman’s new kids app Pok Pok Playroom and summertime fun music app Poolside FM, and many others.

Weekly News

Platforms: Google

Google this week opened submissions for two of its annual developer programs: the Indie Games Accelerator and the Indie Games Festival. The programs are designed to help small games studios grow on Google Play. This year, the programs will include more eligible markets and will be fully digital experiences.

Google will restrict third-party apps from customizing the native Android Sharesheet in Android 12. Currently, the UI of the Sharesheet can differ from app to app, but XDA Developers reports it will become more iOS-like, by offering a consistent menu across apps.

Google is taking a cue from Apple by allowing users to opt out of personalization using the advertising ID in the Android Settings. Once users opt out, the advertising ID is disabled. The ID is a unique, user-resettable identifier provided by Google Play services. As part of a coming Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising identifier will be removed when the user opts out of tracking, and any attempt to access the identifier will only return a string of zeros. Google says ad and analytics service partners will receive notifications about a user’s preferences to help them with compliance. The change will roll out in late 2021 and will impact apps running on Android 12 devices initially, with an expansion to devices that support Google Play in early 2022.

Platforms: Huawei (!!)

Image Credits: Wang Chenglu, president of Huawei Consumer Business Group’s software department

Two years after Huawei was put on a list of Chinese companies banned from doing business with U.S. organizations, it launched its proprietary operating system, HarmonyOS, for smartphones. The OS is designed to power phones, tablets and smart devices. Smartphone maker Meizu has already hinted it may adopt the new OS.

Augmented Reality

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook’s flagship AR creation software, Spark AR, has already been used by more than 600,000 creators from over 190 countries to publish over 2 million AR effects. At Facebook’s F8 event this week, the company announced Multipeer API for video calls on Messenger, Instagram and Portal. The API will allow developers to create “shared AR” effects that apply to all the call participants — like a party hat that shows up on everyone’s heads for a birthday call, for instance.

E-commerce/Retail

Convenience store-style on-demand delivery startup JOKR launched in New York City to provide 15-minute or less delivery of items you might otherwise find in small stores and local delis. Except instead of dealing with stores, JOKR has its own strategically placed micro-hubs. The startup was founded by Ralf Wenzel, who previously founded Foodpanda, which later merged with Delivery Hero.

Image Credits: Walmart

Walmart is handing out over 740,000 new Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones (retail $499) to its employees, saying that “constant communication” is essential to its business. The phones will run Walmart’s proprietary Me@Walmart app, where employees clock in, adjust schedules, use the voice assistant “Ask Sam,” and communicate with others via push-to-talk. Employees will be allowed to use the phone for personal use after work hours, and Walmart will not have access to their personal data, the retailer says.

Fintech

Image Credits: Kraken

Coinbase rival Kraken launched a mobile app in the U.S. that allows users to buy and sell more than 50 crypto tokens from their mobile phone. Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange, in terms of trading volume.

Venmo now lets users hide their friend list for additional privacy. The change to the app came after BuzzFeed News found President Biden’s Venmo account using public friend lists. Digital rights groups had called the design a “security nightmare.”

Japan-based Line Corp. is launching its digital banking platform in Indonesia, which means it will now offering banking services in three of its biggest overseas markets: Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.

Coinbase Card, which allows users to spend their crypto while on the go, now works with Apple Pay and Google Pay. The card will offer up to 4% in crypto rewards for everyday purchases.

Chime has established itself as the No. 1 neobank in the U.S., according to eMarketer. The banking app will have 13.1 million U.S. accounts this year, up 30.7% from 2020. Current will have 4 million, double from the 2.1 million it had last year. Aspiration is in third place, with 3 million, followed by Varo, at 2.7 million.

Social

✨ Scoop: Tinder tested a group video chat feature ahead of parent company Match’s move into social discovery with its $1.73 billion acquisition of Seoul-based Hyperconnect. The feature was only tested briefly in New Zealand and then shut down, but may have served as a way to gain valuable data about younger users’ interest in social discovery apps and services as Match moves into that market which it says is double the size of the dating market.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter Blue officially launched. Will you pay for better Twitter? Twitter’s new premium subscription brings tools to organize your bookmarks, read threads in a clutter-free format and take advantage of an “Undo Tweet” feature — which is the closest thing Twitter will have to the long-requested “Edit” button. It also offers a few other perks, like custom app icons, colorful themes and subscription customer support. Unfortunately, the service is only live in Canada and Australia for the time being.

Twitter redesigned its mobile app to put its Clubhouse rival, Twitter Spaces, in the middle of its navigation bar. Initially, only around 500 people from the original Spaces beta test will first see the new Spaces discovery tab, but it will expand to more people over time. The tab will help people keep track of Spaces they want to listen to and manage notifications, among other things.

Twitter began rolling out Birdwatch fact checks inside tweets. Birdwatch is Twitter’s pilot program that aims to crowdsource fact-checking of tweets, as an alternative to relying on fact-checkers. The program’s goal will be to append more info to misinformation online in real time.

TikTok reamined the top non-game app worldwide in May 2021 by downloads. According to Sensor Tower, TikTok was No. 1 on both the App Store and Google Play with 80 million combined installs. Brazil accounted for 16% of those, and China 12%.

Facebook at its developer conference F8 also introduced Facebook Login Connect with Messenger. For businesses that have already integrated with Facebook Login, this allow users to log in to their app using their Facebook credentials and opt in to chat with businesses over Messenger, all in the Facebook Login flow. The tool is in closed beta.

Facebook also updated its Business Suite with a new feature that will allow developers to build “business apps,” which are tools made by third-party developers that work alongside the Business Suite. These “apps” could do things like bring in content from a catalog to their Facebook page or Instagram account. The platform already has 30 developers working on it and integrates with e-commerce platforms, like BigCommerce.

Image Credits: Facebook

Messaging

WhatsApp reversed course and now says it won’t reduce the app’s functionality if users don’t agree to its new privacy policy. The rollout had led to a lot of backlash as it revealed the messaging app would begin sharing more info with Facebook.

As part of its F8-related announcements, WhatsApp said it would update its Business API to make it quicker for business to get started with its service. WhatsApp will make it faster to set up a business account (5 minutes instead of weeks), and will allow businesses to respond faster to inbound messages, as well as send messages to users who opted in. The business tool for customer care will allow up to 10 pre-written messages, among other updates.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told popular news outlet/leaker WaBetaInfo that WhatsApp will add multi-device support for connecting up to four devices to one account. He also said WhatsApp will introduce a “view once” disappearing feature for photos and videos, and is working on an iPad app. The method of delivering this news is worth noting — WaBetaInfo is not a traditional news outlet, but more of an independent news portal of sorts. Zuckerberg has been taking Facebook news to non-traditional (and often far friendlier) channels as of late, including popping up in Clubhouse rooms and other independent outlets. Facebook clearly feels mainstream press has turned on it when they…[checks notes]…held Facebook accountable for its actions.

Facebook also announced the general availability of the Messenger API for Instagram. First announced last fall and rolling out in phases, the API offers a more efficient way for larger brands to handle a high volume of messages by allowing them to integrate Instagram messaging into the tools and applications they’re already using in-house to manage their Facebook conversations.

Community social network Nextdoor launched a new feature called Free Finds that helps its users unload their unwanted stuff on others in their neighborhood. Notably, the feature doesn’t require you to be a Nextdoor member to access the listings, but eventually, those users may convert.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Spotify

Spotify rolled out a sort of mid-year version of Wrapped with the launch of the new personalized experience, Only You. The feature offers insights about your music history in a sharable format, like your musical dinner party or audio birth chart, and other fun finds. Why now? Perhaps Spotify is heading off Apple Music news to come with a feature that reminds users it does personalization best?

Spotify also added Blend, a way to create a playlist with any other Spotify user. The company offers a similar feature for users on its Family and Duo plans, but this new tool doesn’t require users to be in the same household.

Apple tried to acquire livestreaming music platform Verzuz, which later sold to video social network Triller, Bloomberg reported. Apple didn’t engage in a bidding war and offered a lower price than what Triller paid, it said.

The Apple TV app launched on Android devices. Like Apple Music, Apple TV is a service that needs to work across platforms in order to compete with rivals. The Android app’s arrival followed the Apple TV app’s debut on Nvidia’s Shield TV, which means it’s now available across all major Android TV-based devices.

Health & Fitness

Amazon updated its Halo health app with a new feature called Movement Health, which will use computer vision and machine learning to asses users’ posture, mobility and stability and then suggest exercises to improve them.

Peloton slashed the pricing for its fitness app, normally $12.99/mo, for students, teachers, healthcare workers and military. Students can pay $6.99/mo while the others can pay $9.99/mo. Military members and their families can lock in that rate for life. The company is facing a PR crisis after recalling treadmills that injured 70 and led to one infant death.

Utilities

Image Credits: App Annie

A TikTok trend where users prank people by spamming them on text has driven the app that makes that possible, Paste Keyboard, to the top of the App Store. Mashable noted the app’s rise, but couldn’t figure out why. Nor could App Annie. It’s kids, y’all. Honestly, the App Store needs a new “viral” chart at this point.

AirTag support is coming to Android. Apple announced some changes to AirTag, including the period of time they’ll make a sound when moved. The time will change from three times per day to a random time between 8-24 hours. Apple believes the shortening of the window will serve as a better deterrent against bad actors using AirTag to track someone.  Alongside this announcement, Apple said it will later this year launch an Android application that will allow users to detect AirTag or other Find My network-enabled accessories that are separated from its owner and may be traveling with a user.

Firefox revamped its Mac and iOS app this week with a what it claims is a more distraction-free design, featuring streamlined toolbar and menus, expanded privacy protections, a new look for tabs, updated notifications and alerts, easier muting, and more.

 

Ring added “Request for Assistance posts” on its Neighbors app, claiming this will allow public safety agencies (e.g. police) to ask communities for help in investigations. The Request for Assistance posts can only be issued from verified public safety agency profiles, Ring says. Of course, this isn’t the only way police can acquire Ring videos, as the company has many police partnerships across the U.S. that let them acquire footage without a warrant.

Auto/Transportation

Toyota added a data privacy portal to its apps. The feature is available in the Account Settings of the Toyota and Lexus apps and works with vehicles offering connected services that were built in the 2013 model year or later. It also allows consumers who own multiple Toyota or Lexus vehicles to customize privacy and data-sharing settings for each.

Gokada is launching its ride-hailing service in two more Nigerian cities as part of its super app plans. The company is merging its ride-hailing service with food delivery platform GShop. In the past year, Gokada crossed $100 million in annualized transaction value, and helped onboard 30,000 merchants.

Reading

Image Credits: Apptopia

The top reading and writing apps grew their IAP revenue 50% YoY in May 2021, Apptopia reported. This group includes apps for writing novels or comic books, or reading the works from others, like Webtoon, Wattpad, Dreame, GoodNovel, Webnovel, Tapas and Radish. As a grouping, these apps have also grown IAP revenue 15% over the past six months. Since January 2020, Webtoon and Dreame combined accounted for 56.3% of the grouping’s total IAP revenue.

Government & Policy

Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, LinkedIn and startups ShareChat and Koo have now either fully or partially complied with India’s IT rules that require them to appoint and share contact details of representatives tasked with compliance, nodal point of reference and grievance redressals to address on-ground concerns. Twitter, whose offices were raided by police in Delhi, has not yet complied.

EU will review TikTok’s Terms of Service following child safety complaints. Areas of concern include hidden marketing, aggressive advertising techniques targeted at children and contractual terms in the company’s policies that could be misleading or confusing for consumers.

Security & Privacy

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

The TikTok logo is seen on an iPhone 11 Pro max

✨ Scoop: TikTok just gave itself permission to collect biometric data on U.S. users, including “faceprints and voiceprints.” A change to TikTok’s U.S. privacy policy on Wednesday introduced a new section that says the social video app “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content, including things like “faceprints and voiceprints.” Reached for comment, TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users, but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.

The biometric data collection details were introduced in the newly added section, “Image and Audio Information,” found under the heading of “Information we collect automatically” in the policy.

 

Alibaba’s UC Browser app has been found to be harvesting the private web activity of users across Android or iOS when incognito mode is turned on. The browser is the fourth largest in the world, with 500 million Android downloads alone. Before being banned in India over security concerns related to Chinese apps, it was also one of the most popular in India, as well.

Funding and M&A

💰 Miami-based NUE Life Health raised $3.3 million for its telemedicine platform and app in the U.S., where it combines mental wellness solutions that employ psychedelic-assisted therapies with a graph database-driven app. The app was backed by investors who recently left SV for Miami, including Jack Abraham, Shervin Pishevar, Martin Varsavsky, Jon Oringer, James Bailey and Christina Getty.

🤝 Etsy acquired secondhand e-commerce startup Depop for more than $1.6 billion. Depop, which caters to a Gen Z crowd, saw 2020 gross merchandise sales and revenue of approximately $650 million and $70 million, respectively.

💰 Social network platform Venn raised $60 million in Series B funding led by Group 11. The startup provides technology that allows building owners and other real estate partners and communities to provide social networking services to their tenants, with tools for organizing buy/sell groups, organizing community activities, connecting with neighbors and more.

💰 Digital health management company Hello Heart raised $45 million Series C led by IVP. The company’s app is marketed by employers as part of their benefit programs and helps patients manage heart health and blood pressure, medications and more.

💰 Personal finance app Truebill raised $17 million in Series C funding led by Accel, valuing the business at $500 million. The app helps consumers get better control over their finances by helping them cancel subscriptions, negotiate bills, view credit reports, budget, and access spending insights, among other things.

💰 Newly launched stock trading app Lightyear disclosed it raised $1.5 million pre-seed funding in a round co-led by the new unnamed fund formed by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Teleport co-founder Sten Tamkivi. The app was the fund’s first investment.

💰 Istanbul-based grocery delivery app Getir raised $550 million in new funding, tripling its valuation to $7.5 billion. New investors include DisruptAD and Mubadala Funding Firm (both being arms of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds) as well as Silicon Valley-based Silver Lake.

Downloads

Sole Retriever

Image Credits: Sole Retriever

Sole Retriever is a newly launched app that aims to be a sneakerhead’s dream.

The app offers a one-stop shop for all things sneaker — including sneaker news, sneaker releases, sneaker raffles, a calendar of upcoming drops and more. The company says its goal is to democratize access to sneaker drops by making this info more accessible and convenient for consumers. Before its mobile launch, Sole Retriever had offered its service via the web only. Now it’s live on both iOS and Android.

Unique to the mobile experience is the ability to customize your alerts so you only hear about the raffles you want to know about — like those in the U.S., or only those that are in-store or online, for example. It also makes entering raffles easier with autofill features. Custom profiles that let you save the info for others who have agreed to let you enter their name and address to increase your chances of winning. And the app can save your logins for different retailers to make shopping easier.

Sole Retriever is currently only available as a waitlist, but TechCrunch readers can bypass the waitlist! Here’s how! 

After downloading the app and logging in, when you reach the waitlist screen, you can redeem a special code — “TWIA” (in all caps!), which lets you bypass the entire waitlist and gain instant access to start your seven-day free trial for the app. The code is only valid for 24 hours after this post goes live so hit it quickly!

Apple Developer app

Image Credits: Apple

The Apple Developer app is not new. But it is the must-have download for the week ahead, as it will provide mobile developers with access to everything needed to navigate WWDC 21’s all-digital event. The app was updated this week with details about the agenda, sessions, pavilions, labs, coding and design challenges, and more. Developers can also sign up for labs inside the app and get notifications about their appointments. There are also new WWDC 21 iMessage stickers for some added fun.

Reading Recommendations

  • Marco.org: Developer Relations. Marco Arment has some harsh words for Apple ahead of WWDC. He accuses the iPhone maker of undervaluing what apps mean for iOS beyond their IAP revenue. And he points out that developers themselves bring in a good number of customers through their own marketing efforts, not because of their App Store listing.
  • Pew Research: Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021. Pew takes a look at U.S. trends, including smartphone ownership adoption. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults now own a smartphone, which is more than have broadband (77%) at home.
  • Donny Wals: The iOS Developer’s Guide to WWDC 2021. Wals reminds developers to not get caught up in the WWDC chaos, pace themselves and focus on what matters to their business. He also makes suggestions about what to not overlook during WWDC week.

Tweets

iOS 14 Now Installed on 90% of iPhones Released in Last Four Years https://t.co/2eR04AmZNx by @julipuli pic.twitter.com/7IXmDdaR6x

— MacRumors.com (@MacRumors) June 4, 2021

Target is hiring iOS engineers to work on their flagship app’s platform/infra team. If build tooling, design systems, and/or UI frameworks are your thing, I would love to hear from you!

— Matt Pennig (@pennig) June 4, 2021

It’s time pic.twitter.com/6XiWm9limt

— 🅳🅈🄻🄰🄽 (@DylanMcD8) June 4, 2021

Idle observation: in all the Epic/Apple filings, there are at least a dozen 100+ slide internal Apple presentations of metrics for the App Store. Billings, genres, popular apps, payment models, developers – every metric
Not a single one has a P&L or any analysis of costs at all

— Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) June 4, 2021

Gee I wonder if iMessage is getting a WWDC update. pic.twitter.com/BUkFbxTU0j

— Ryan Jones (@rjonesy) June 4, 2021

Of course, next week at WWDC the walls will get even higher. I hear there are big updates coming to Safari, Health, Maps and iMessage at WWDC next week.

— Joanna Stern (@JoannaStern) June 4, 2021

Twitter Spaces will be available for the web, including accessibility features

By Amanda Silberling

On Wednesday evening, Twitter announced that Spaces — its Clubhouse competitor — will start rolling out for use on the web. Earlier this month, Twitter Spaces became available for any user with more than 600 followers on the iOS or Android apps, and around the same time, Clubhouse finally released its long-awaited Android app. Still, Clubhouse has yet to debut on the web, marking a success for Twitter in the race to corner the live social audio market. 

Even Instagram is positioning itself as a Clubhouse competitor, allowing users to “go live” with the ability to mute their audio and video. How will each app differentiate itself? Twitter CFO Ned Segal attempted to address this at JP Morgan’s 49th Annual Technology, Media, & Communications conference this week. 

“Twitter is where you go to find out what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about,” said Segal. “So when you come to Twitter, and you look at your home Timeline and you see a Space, it’s gonna perhaps be people who you don’t know but who are talking about a topic that’s incredibly relevant to you. It could be Bitcoin, it could be the aftershock from the Grammys, it could be that they’re talking about the NFL Draft.” 

Twitter’s focus areas for the web version of Spaces include a UI that adapts to the user’s screen size and reminders for scheduled Spaces. Before joining a space, Twitter will display a preview that shows who is in a Space, and a description of the topic being discussed. Users will also be able to have a Space open on the right side of their screen while still scrolling through their Timeline.

Image Credits: Twitter

Most crucially, this update lists accessibility and transcriptions as a focus area. For an audio-only platform, live transcriptions are necessary for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people to join in on the conversation. In screenshots Twitter shared of the new features, we can see how live captions will appear in Spaces. As for how accurate these transcriptions will be, the jury’s still out.

Twitter fielded well-deserved criticism last year when it failed to include captioning on its audio tweet feature. In an apology tweet, Twitter Support wrote, “Accessibility should not be an afterthought.” By September, Twitter launched two accessibility teams

Still, accessibility has often been treated as an afterthought throughout the rise of live audio. Clubhouse does not yet support live captioning. 

Poparazzi hypes itself to the top of the App Store

By Sarah Perez

If Instagram’s photo tagging feature was spun out into its own app, you’d have the viral sensation Poparazzi, now the No. 1 app on the App Store. The new social networking app, from the same folks behind TTYL and others, lets you create a social profile that only your friends can post photos to — in other words, making your friends your own ‘paparazzi.’ To its credit, the new app has perfectly executed on a series of choices designed to fuel day one growth — from its pre-launch TikTok hype cycle to drive App Store pre-orders to its post-launch social buzz, including favorable tweets by its backers. But the app has also traded user privacy in some cases to amplify network effects in its bid for the Top Charts, which is a risky move in terms of its long-term staying power.

The company positions Poparazzi as a sort of anti-Instagram, rebelling against today’s social feeds filled with edited photos, too many selfies, and “seemingly effortless perfection.” People’s real lives are made up of many unperfect moments that are worthy of being captured and shared, too, a company blog post explains.

This manifesto hits the right notes at the right time. User demand for less performative social media has been steadily growing for years — particularly as younger, Gen Z users wake up to the manipulations by tech giants. We’ve already seen a number of startups try to siphon users away from Instagram using similar rallying cries, including MinutiaeVeroDayflashOggl, and more recently, the once-buzzy Dispo and the under-the-radar Herd.

Even Facebook has woken up to consumer demand on this front, with its plan to roll out new features that allow Facebook and Instagram users to remove the Like counts from their posts and their feeds.

Poparazzi hasn’t necessarily innovated in terms of its core idea — after all, tagging users in photos has existed for years. In fact, it was one of the first viral effects introduced by Facebook in its earlier days.

Instead, Poparazzi hit the top of the charts by carefully executing on growth strategies that ensured a rocket ship-style launch.

@poparazziappcomment it! ##greenscreen ##poparazziapp ##positivity ##foryoupage♬ Milkshake – BBY Kodie

The company began gathering pre-launch buzz by driving demand via TikTok — a platform that’s already helped mint App Store hits like the mobile game High Heels. TikTok’s powers are still often underestimated, even though its potential for to send apps up the Top Charts have successfully boosted downloads for a number of mobile businesses, including TikTok sister app CapCut and e-commerce app Shein, for example.

And Poparazzi didn’t just build demand on TikTok — it actually captured it by pointing users to its App Store pre-orders page via the link in its bio. By the time launch day rolled around, it had a gaggle of Gen Z users ready and willing to give Poparazzi a try.

The app launches with a clever onboarding screen that uses haptics to buzz and vibrate your phone while the intro video plays. This is unusual enough that users will talk and post about how cool it was — another potential means of generating organic growth through word-of-mouth.

@poparazzidotcom ‘s app & website (https://t.co/EGU0K6AVS3) experience is amazing 🤯🤯🤯🤯#poparazzi pic.twitter.com/NqJWD5T5Sg

— 𝔗𝔞𝔫𝔦𝔰𝔥 𝔄𝔯𝔬𝔯𝔞 (@tanishar0ra) May 25, 2021

After getting you riled up with excitement, Poparazzi eases you into its bigger data grab.

First, it signs up and authenticates users through a phone number. Despite Apple’s App Store policy, which requires it, there is no privacy-focused option to use “Sign In with Apple,” which allows users to protect their identity. That would have limited Poparazzi’s growth potential versus its phone number and address book access approach.

It then presents you with a screen where it asks for permission to access to your Camera (an obvious necessity), Contacts (wait, all of them?), and permission to send you Notifications. This is where things start to get more dicey. The app, like Clubhouse once did, demands a full address book upload. This is unnecessary in terms of an app’s usability, as there are plenty of other ways to add friends on social media — like by scanning each other’s QR code, typing in a username directly, or performing a search.

But gaining access someone’s full Contacts database lets Poparazzi skip having to build out features for the privacy-minded. It can simply match your stored phone numbers with those it has on file from user signups and create an instant friend graph.

As you complete each permission, Poparazzi rewards you with green checkmarks. In fact, even if you deny the permission being asked, the green check appears. This may confuse users as to whether whether they’ve accidently given the app access.

They had a killer and engaging intro video complete with gravity falling emoji and well-tuned haptics that built hype and informed proper use

(I feel like a lot of people these days actually download without knowing this stuff now, making onboarding even more important) pic.twitter.com/duUelcDm0H

— Chase Stubblefield 🛴 (@chasestubb) May 25, 2021

While you can “deny” the Address Book upload — a request met with a tsk tsk of a pop-up message — Poparazzi literally only works with friends, it warns you — you can’t avoid being found by other Poparazzi users who have your phone number stored in their phone.

When users sign up, the app matches their address book to the phone number it has on file and then — boom! — new users are instantly following the existing users. And if any other friends have signed up before you, they’ll be following you as soon as you log in the first time.

AND WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS POPARAZZI pic.twitter.com/EeeWcFIEZn

— Corey Robison (@thefomosapien) May 25, 2021

In other words, there’s no manual curation of a “friend graph” here. The expectation is that your address book is your friend graph, and Poparazzi is just duplicating it.

Of course, this isn’t always an accurate presentation of reality.

Many younger people, and particularly women, have the phone numbers of abusers, stalkers and exes stored in their phone’s Contacts. By doing so, they can leverage the phone’s built-in tools to block the unwanted calls and texts from that person. But because Poparazzi automatically matches people by phone number, abusers could gain immediate access to the user profiles of the people they’re trying to harass or hurt.

Sure, this is an edge case. But it’s a non-trivial one.

It’s a well-documented problem, too — and one that had plagued Clubhouse, which similarly required full address book uploads during its early growth phase. It’s a terrible strategy to become the norm, and one that does not appear to have created a lasting near-term lock-in for Clubhouse. It’s also not a new tactic. Mobile social network Path tried address book uploads nearly a decade ago and almost everyone at the time agreed this was not a good idea.

As carefully designed as Poparazzi is — (it’s even a blue icon — a color that denotes trustworthiness!) — it’s likely the company intentionally chose the trade off. It’s forgoing some aspects of user privacy and safety in favor of the network effects that come from having an instant friend graph.

More on @poparazzidotcom: they force you to upload your contacts to use it, as well as phone number—and also have this aggressive strategy to pull users from Snapchat. pic.twitter.com/SFx0TdCkaR

— Chase Stubblefield 🛴 (@chasestubb) May 25, 2021

The rest of the app then pushes you to grow that friend graph further and engage with other users. Your profile will remain bare unless you can convince someone to upload photos of you. A SnapKit integration lets you beg for photo tags over on Snapchat. And if you can’t get enough of your friends to tag you in photos, then you may find yourself drawn to the setting “Allow Pops from Everyone,” instead of just “People You Approve.”

There’s no world in which letting “everyone” upload photos to a social media profile doesn’t invite abuse at some point, but Poparazzi is clearly hedging its bets here. It likely knows it won’t have to deal with the fallout of these choices until further down the road — after it’s filled out its network with millions of disgruntled Instagram users, that is.

Dozens of other growth hacks are spread throughout the app, too, from multiple pushes to invite friends scattered throughout the app to a very Snapchatt-y “Top Poparazzi” section that will incentivize best friends to keep up their posting streaks.

Looking at someone else’s profile.

The “Top Poparazzi” section is genius. Really incentivizes posting for your friends (which is the biggest friction point). pic.twitter.com/7WjH0S2hQd

— Connor V. (@ConnorVO) May 25, 2021

It’s a clever bag of tricks. And though the app does not offer comments or followers counts, it isn’t being much of an “anti-Instagram” when it comes to chasing clout. The posts — which can turn into looping GIFs if you snap a few in a row — may be more “authentic” and unedited than those on Instagram; but Poparazzi uses react to posts with a range of emojis and how many reactions a post receives is shown publicly.

For beta testers featured on the explore page, reactions can be in the hundreds or thousands — effectively establishing a bar for Pop influence.

Finally, users you follow have permission to post photos, but if you unfollow them — a sure sign that you no longer want them to be in your poparazzi squad — they can still post to your profile. As it turns out, your squad is managed under a separate setting under “Allow Pops From.” That could lead to trouble. At the very least, it would be nice to see the app asking users if they also want to remove the unfollowed account’s permission to post to your profile at the time of the unfollow.

Overall, the app can be fun — especially if you’re in the young, carefree demographic it caters to. Its friend-centric and ironically anti-glam stance is promising as well. But additional privacy controls and the ability to join the service in a way that offers far more granular control of your friend graph in order to boost anti-abuse protections would be welcome additions. 

TechCrunch tried to reach Poparazzi’s team to gain their perspective on the app’s design and growth strategy, but did not hear back. (We understand they’re heads down for the time being.) We understand, per SignalFire’s Josh Constine and our own confirmation, that Floodgate has invested in the startup, as has former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Bonatsos’ Dream Machine and Weekend Fund.

Instagram launches a new section for shopping product drops

By Sarah Perez

Instagram today announced it’s adding a new feature to help connect online shoppers to product drops through its app. Drops, which are a newer e-commerce trend, help sellers create buzz for forthcoming products in the days and weeks leading up to their availability. The products themselves are often only available in limited supplies or for a short period of time, increasing demand.

On Instagram, drops will now have their own destination inside the app at the top of the Shop tab, where consumers can discover, browse and shop all the latest product launches as well as view upcoming launches. Shoppers can also sign up to receive reminders about products they’re interested in from here, and look through products and collections from other drops that recently took place on Instagram.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

Like other online shopping offered through Instagram, consumers can make their Drops purchases directly in the Instagram app itself via Checkout on Instagram, not by visiting third-party websites. This model will eventually allow Instagram to collect fees on purchases — something that’s become a more important part of Facebook and Instagram’s overall business model in the wake of Apple’s privacy crackdown on iOS apps that impacts Facebook’s ad revenues.

However, Instagram has temporarily waived its selling fees to both help businesses who are recovering from the last year of Covid. The move will also help it to gain ground in online shopping against new competitors, including TikTok.

Brands on Instagram had already been running drops before today, following Instagram’s release of a product reminders feature back in 2019 that allowed consumers to get notified when an item they were interested in became available for purchase. To date, brands across fashion, beauty, streetwear and others have leveraged the feature, the company says, including Hill House Home, Dragun Beauty, adidas, and others.

The new Drops location simply organizes the product launches in one place to make it easier to browse and shop. Instagram tells us it’s curating the featured drops in this section. To be considered, brands need to use the product launch feature which is available to businesses on Checkout with Instagram.

At launch, some of the drops available include today’s Drake x NOCTA ‘Cardinal Stock’ collection and upcoming drops like Wren + Glory hand-painted summer collection and Charlotte Tilbury Exclusive Pillow Talk Lips & Dreams Lashes Kit. This week, there are five total drops available. This number will vary from week to week as Instagram continues to test the new feature, the company tells us.

Image Credits: screenshot of Drops on Instagram

On an individual brand’s page inside Drops, consumers can view info like when the product became available, pricing, and other item details. They can also bookmark the item to add it to a wishlist or share the drop with a friend through Instagram’s direct messaging feature. From the top of the Drops page, users can return to their Cart or Wishlist at any time to complete the checkout — assuming they aren’t too late, of course.

In addition, the brand’s Live shopping can be scheduled to align with their product drop. When the brand goes live for a drop, there’s an on-screen countdown and confetti animation when the product becomes available.

The new feature is currently only available in the Instagram app in the U.S., and only on mobile devices (iOS and Android), not the web.

Facebook and Instagram will now allow users to hide ‘Like’ counts on posts

By Sarah Perez

Facebook this week will begin to publicly roll out the option to hide Likes on posts across both Facebook and Instagram, following earlier tests beginning in 2019. The project, which puts the decision about Likes in the hands of the company’s global user base, had been in development for years, but was deprioritized due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the response work required on Facebook’s part, the company says.

Originally, the idea to hide Like counts on Facebook’s social networks was focused on depressurizing the experience for users. Often, users faced anxiety and embarrassment around their posts if they didn’t receive enough Likes to be considered “popular.” This problem was particularly difficult for younger users who highly value what peers think of them — so much so that they would take down posts that didn’t receive enough Likes.

Like-chasing on Instagram, especially, also helped create an environment where people posted to gain clout and notoriety, which can be a less authentic experience. On Facebook, gaining Likes or other forms of engagement could also be associated with posting polarizing content that required a reaction.

As a result of this pressure to perform, some users grew hungry for a “Like-free” safer space, where they could engage with friends or the wider public without trying to earn these popularity points. That, in turn, gave rise to a new crop of social networking and photo-sharing apps such as MinutiaeVeroDayflashOggl and, now, newcomers like Dispo and newly viral Poparazzi.

Though Facebook and Instagram could have chosen to remove Likes entirely and take its social networks in a new direction, the company soon found that the metric was too deeply integrated into the product experience to be fully removed. One key issue was how the influencer community today trades on Likes as a form of currency that allows them to exchange their online popularity for brand deals and job opportunities. Removing Likes, then, is not necessarily an option for these users.

Instagram realized that if it made a decision for its users, it would anger one side or the other — even if the move in either direction didn’t really impact other core metrics, like app usage.

Image Credits: Instagram

“How many likes [users] got, or other people got — it turned out that it didn’t actually change nearly as much about the experience, in terms of how people felt or how much they use experience, as we thought it would. But it did end up being pretty polarizing,” admitted Instagram head, Adam Mosseri. “Some people really liked it and some people really didn’t.”

“For those who liked it, it was mostly what we had hoped — which is that it depressurized the experience. And, for those who didn’t, they used Likes to get a sense for what was trending or was relevant on Instagram and on Facebook. And they were just super annoyed that we took it away,” he added. This latter group sometimes included smaller creators still working on establishing a presence across social media, though larger influencers were sometimes in favor of Like removals. (Mosseri name-checked Katy Perry as being pro Like removals, in fact.)

Ultimately, the company decided to split the difference. Instead of making a hard choice about the future of its online communities, it’s rolling out the “no Likes” option as a user-controlled setting on both platforms.

On Instagram, both content consumers and content producers can turn on or off Like and View counts on posts — which means you can choose to not see these metrics when scrolling your own Feed and you can choose whether to allow Likes to be viewed by others when you’re posting. These are configured as two different settings, which provides for more flexibility and control.

Image Credits: Instagram

On Facebook, meanwhile, users access the new setting from the “Settings & Privacy” area under News Feed Settings (or News Feed Preferences on desktop). From here, you’ll find an option to “Hide number of reactions” to turn this setting off for both your own posts and for posts from others in News Feed, groups and Pages.

The feature will be made available to both public and private profiles, Facebook tells us, and will include posts you’ve published previously.

Image Credits: Facebook

Instagram last month restarted its tests on this feature in order to work out any final bugs before making the new settings live for global users, and said a Facebook test would come soon. But it’s now forging ahead with making the feature available publicly. When asked why such a short test, Instagram told TechCrunch it had been testing various iterations on this experience since 2019, so it felt it had enough data to proceed with a global launch.

Mosseri also pushed back at the idea that a decision on Likes would have majorly impacted the network. While removal of Likes on Instagram had some impact on user behavior, he said, it was not enough to be concerning. In some groups, users posted more — signaling that they felt less pressure to perform, perhaps. But others engaged less, Mosseri said.

Image Credits: Facebook

“Often people say, ‘oh, this has a bunch of Likes. I’m gonna go check it out,’ ” the exec explained. “Then they read the comments, or go deeper, or swipe to the carousel. There’s been some small effects — some positive, some negative — but they’ve all been small,” he noted. Instagram also believes users may toggle on and off the feature at various times, based on how they’re feeling.

In addition, Mosseri pointed out, “there’s no rigorous research that suggests Likes are bad for people’s well-being” — a statement that pushes back over the growing concerns that a gamified social media space is bad for users’ mental health. Instead, he argued that Instagram is still a small part of people’s day, so how Likes function doesn’t affect people’s overall well-being.

“As big as we are, we have to be careful not to overestimate our influence,” Mosseri said.

He also dismissed some of the current research pointing to negative impacts of social media use as being overly reliant on methodologies that ask users to self-report their use, rather than measure it directly.

In other words, this is not a company that feels motivated to remove Likes entirely due to the negative mental health outcomes attributed to its popularity metrics.

It’s worth mentioning that another factor that could have come into play here is Instagram’s plan to make a version of its app available to children under the age of 13, as competitor TikTok did following its FTC settlement. In that case, hiding Likes by default — or perhaps adding a parental control option — would necessitate such a setting. Instagram tells TechCrunch that, while it’s too soon to know what it would do with a kids app, it will “definitely explore” a no Likes by default option.

Facebook and Instagram both told TechCrunch the feature will roll out starting on Wednesday but will reach global users over time. On Instagram, that may take a matter of days.

Facebook, meanwhile, says a small percentage of users will have the feature Wednesday — notified through an alert on News Feed — but it will reach Facebook’s global audience “over the next few weeks.”

Pinterest introduces Idea Pins, a video-first feature aimed at creators

By Sarah Perez

Pinterest is expanding further into the creator community with today’s launch of a video-first feature called “Idea Pins,” aimed at creators who want to tell their stories using video, music, creative editing tools and more. The feature feels a lot like Pinterest’s own take on TikTok, mixed with Stories, as the new Pins allow creators to record and edit creative videos with up to 20 pages of content, using tools like voiceover recording, background music, transitions and other interactive elements.

The company says Idea Pins evolved out of its tests with Story Pins, launched into beta in September 2020, after various stages of development beginning the year prior. At the time, Pinterest explained that Story Pins were different from the Stories you’d find on other social networks, like Snapchat or Instagram, because they focused on what people were doing — like trying new ideas or new products, not giving you snapshots of a creator’s personal life.

Another notable differentiator was that Story Pins weren’t ephemeral. That is, they didn’t disappear after a certain amount of time, but rather could be surfaced through search and other discovery mechanisms.

Over the past eight months since their debut, Pinterest has worked with Story Pin creators on the experience. That’s led to the new concept of the Idea Pin — essentially a rebranded Story Pin, which now offers a broader suite of editing tools than what was previously available.

Video is a key element in Idea Pins, as the Pins target the increased consumer demand for short-form video content of a creative nature — like what’s being delivered through TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and elsewhere. The videos in the Pins can be up to 60 seconds on iOS, Android and web for each page, with up to 20 total pages per Pin.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Creators can edit their videos by adding their own voiceover or using a “ghost mode” transition tool to better showcase their before-and-afters by overlaying one part of a video on another. And they can save drafts of their work in progress.

But Idea Pins still include a number of features common to Stories, like adding stickers or tagging other creators with an @username, for instance. Pinterest says it will start with over 100 stickers featuring hand-drawn illustrations focused on top categories and behaviors it expects to see, like food-themed illustrations, stickers for before-and-afters, seasonal moments, and more.

Pinterest is also working with the royalty-free music database Epidemic Sound to offer a catalog of free tracks for use in Idea Pins.

And because many creators will use Idea Pins to inspire people to try a recipe or project of some sort, they can include “detail pages” where viewers can find the ingredient list or instructions, which is handy.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Pins are shared to Pinterest, where the company says they help the creator build an audience by being distributed in several places across its platform, including in some markets, by locating Pins for creators you follow right at the top of the home page.

Creators can also apply topic tags when publishing to ensure they’re surfaced when people are seeking that sort of content. Each Idea Pin can have up to 10 topic tags, which help to distribute the content in a targeted way to users via the home feed and search, the company says.

While Pins can help creators build an audience on Pinterest, they can use Idea Pins to grow their audience on other platforms, too. The company says it will offer export options that let people share their Pins across the web and social media. To do so, they download their Pin as a video which includes a Pinterest watermark and profile name — a trick learned from TikTok. This can then be reshared elsewhere.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Pinterest users, meanwhile, can save Idea Pins like any other Pin on the platform.

“We believe the best inspiration comes from people who are fueled by their passions and want to bring positivity and creativity into the world,” said Pinterest co-founder and Chief Design and Creative Officer Evan Sharp, in a statement about the launch. “On Pinterest, anyone can inspire. From creators to hobbyists to publishers, Pinterest is a place where anyone can publish great ideas and discover inspiring content. We have creators with extraordinary ideas on Pinterest, and with Idea Pins, creators are empowered to share their passions and inspire their audiences,” he added.

The new Idea Pin format is rolling out today to all creators (users with a business account) in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Image Credits: Pinterest

Pinterest says, during tests, it found that Idea Pins were more engaging than standard Pins, with 9x the average comment rate. The number of Idea Pins (previously known as Story Pins) has also grown by 4x since January, as more creators adopted the format.

To help creators track how well Pins are performing, Pinterest is expanding its Analytics feature to include a new Followers and Profile Visits-driven metric to show creators how their Idea Pins have driven deeper engagement with their account.

The company says the next step is to make Idea Pins more shoppable, which it’s doing now with tests of product tagging underway.

Pinterest has been increasing its investment in the creator community in recent months, with the launch of its first-ever Creator Fund last month, and this month’s test of livestreamed events with 21 creators. It’s also now testing creator and brand collaborations with a select number of creators, including Domonique PantonPeter Som and GrossyPelosi, it says.

Image Credits: Pinterest

While Idea Pins seem like a natural pivot from Pinterest’s founding as an inspiration and idea board, it will face serious competition when it comes to wooing the professional creator community to its platform. Other big tech companies are outspending Pinterest, whose new Creator Fund of $500K falls short of the $1 million per day Snap paid creators or the $100 million fund for YouTube Shorts creators, TikTok’s $200 million fund or the deals Instagram has been making to lure Reels creators. These platforms, as well as a host of startups, are also giving creators a way to directly monetize their efforts through features like tips, donations, subscriptions and more.

What Pinterest may have in its favor, though, is its reach. The company claims 475 million users, which makes it a destination some creators may not want to overlook in their bid for growth, and later, e-commerce.

Instagram Live takes on Clubhouse with options to mute and turn off the video

By Sarah Perez

In addition to Facebook’s Clubhouse competitor built within Messenger Rooms and its experiments with a Clubhouse-like Q&A platform on the web, the company is now leveraging yet another of its largest products to take on the Clubhouse threat: Instagram Live. Today, Instagram announced it’s adding new features that will allow users to mute their microphones and even turn their video off while using Instagram Live.

Instagram explains these new features will give hosts more flexibility during their livestream experiences, as they can decrease the pressure to look or sound a certain way while broadcasting live. While that may be true, the reality is that Facebook is simply taking another page from Clubhouse’s playbook by enabling a “video off” experience that encourages more serendipitous conversations.

When people don’t have to worry about how they look, they’ll often be more amenable to jumping into a voice chat. In addition, being audio-only allows creators to engage with their community while multitasking — perhaps they’re doing chores or moving around, and can’t sit and stare right at the camera. To date, this has been one of the advantages about using Clubhouse versus live video chat. You could participate in Clubhouse’s voice chat rooms without always having to give the conversation your full attention or worrying about background noise.

For the time being, hosts will not be able to turn on or off the video or mute others in the livestream, but Instagram tells us it’s working on offering more of these types of capabilities to the broadcaster, and expects to roll them out soon.

Instagram notes it tested the new features publicly earlier this week during an Instagram Live between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri.

This isn’t the first feature Instagram has added in recent weeks to lure the creator community to its platform instead of Clubhouse or other competitors. In March, Instagram rolled out the option for creators to host Live Rooms that allow up to four people to broadcast at the same time. The Rooms were meant to appeal to creators who wanted to host live talk shows, expanded Q&As and more — all experiences that are often found on Clubhouse. It also added the ability for fans to buy badges to support the hosts, to cater to the needs of professional creators looking to monetize their reach.

Although Instagram parent company Facebook already has a more direct Clubhouse clone in development with Live Audio Rooms on Facebook and Messenger, the company said it doesn’t expect it to launch into testing until this summer. And it will first be available to Groups and public figures, not the broader public.

Instagram Live’s new features, meanwhile, are rolling out to Instagram’s global audience on both iOS and Android starting today.

Brazil’s Loft adds $100M to its accounts, $700M to its valuation in a single month

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Nearly exactly one month ago, digital real estate platform Loft announced it had closed on $425 million in Series D funding led by New York-based D1 Capital Partners. The round included participation from a mix of new and existing investors such as DST, Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz, Fifth Wall and QED, among many others.

At the time, Loft was valued at $2.2 billion, a huge jump from its being just near unicorn territory in January 2020. The round marked one of the largest ever for a Brazilian startup.

Now, today, São Paulo-based Loft has announced an extension to that round with the closing of $100 million in additional funding that values the company at $2.9 billion. This means that the 3-year-old startup has increased its valuation by $700 million in a matter of weeks.

Baillie Gifford led the Series D-2 round, which also included participation from Tarsadia, Flight Deck, Caffeinated and others. Individuals also put money in the extension, including the founders of Better (Vishal Garg), GoPuff, Instacart, Kavak and Sweetgreen.

Loft has seen great success in its efforts to serve as a “one-stop shop” for Brazilians to help them manage the home buying and selling process. 

Image courtesy of Loft

In 2020, Loft saw the number of listings on its site increase “10 to 15 times,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Mate Pencz. Today, the company actively maintains more than 13,000 property listings in approximately 130 regions across São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, partnering with more than 30,000 brokers. Not only are more people open to transacting digitally, more people are looking to buy versus rent in the country.

“We did more than 6x YoY growth with many thousands of transactions over the course of 2020,” Pencz told TechCrunch at the time of the company’s last raise. “We’re now growing into the many tens of thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, of active listings.”

The decision to raise more capital so soon was due to a variety of factors. For one, Loft has received “overwhelming investor interest” even after “a very, very oversubscribed main round,” Pencz said.

“We have seen a continued acceleration in our market share growth, especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two markets we currently operate in,” he added. “We saw an opportunity to grow even faster with additional capital.”

Pencz also pointed out that Baillie Gifford has relatively large minimum check size requirements, which led to the extension being conducted at a higher price and increased the total round size “by quite a bit to be able to accommodate them.”

While the company was less forthcoming about its financials as of late, it told me last year that it had notched “over $150 million in annualized revenues in its first full year of operation” via more than 1,000 transactions.

The company’s revenues and GMV (gross merchandise value) “increased significantly” in 2020, according to Pencz, who declined to provide more specifics. He did say those figures are “multiples higher from where they were,” and that Loft has “a very clear horizon to profitability.”

Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch founded Loft in early 2018 and today serve as its co-CEOs. The aim of the platform, in the company’s words, is “bringing Latin American real estate into the e-commerce age by developing online alternatives to analogue legacy processes and leveraging data to create transparency in highly opaque markets.” The U.S. real estate tech company with the closest model to Loft’s is probably Zillow, according to Pencz.

In the United States, prospective buyers and sellers have the benefit of MLSs, which in the words of the National Association of Realtors, are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property. Loft itself spent years and many dollars in creating its own such databases for the Brazilian market. Besides helping people buy and sell homes, it offers services around insurance, renovations and rentals.

In 2020, Loft also entered the mortgage business by acquiring one of the largest mortgage brokerage businesses in Brazil. The startup now ranks among the top-three mortgage originators in the country, according to Pencz. When it comes to helping people apply for mortgages, he likened Loft to U.S.-based Better.com.

This latest financing brings Loft’s total funding raised to an impressive $800 million. Other backers include Brazil’s Canary and a group of high-profile angel investors such as Max Levchin of Affirm and PayPal, Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and David Vélez, CEO and founder of Brazilian fintech Nubank. In addition, Loft has also raised more than $100 million in debt financing through a series of publicly listed real estate funds.

Loft plans to use its new capital in part to expand across Brazil and eventually in Latin America and beyond. The company is also planning to explore more M&A opportunities.

Pearpop raises from The Chainsmokers, Alexis Ohanian, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Mark Cuban, Marshmello, and Snoop Dogg

By Jonathan Shieber

Pearpop, the marketplace for social collaborations between the teeming hordes of musicians, craftspeople, chefs, clowns, diarists, dancers, artists, actors, acrobats, aspiring celebrities and actual celebrities, has raised $16 million in funding that includes what seems like half of Hollywood, along with Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six venture firm and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The funding was actually split between a $6 million seed funding round co-led by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures and Slow Ventures, with participation from Atelier Ventures and Chapter One Ventures and a $10 million additional investment led by Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six with participation from Bessemer.

TechCrunch first covered pearpop last year and there’s no denying that the startup is on to something. It basically takes Cameo’s celebrity marketplace for private shout-outs and makes it public. Allowing social media personalities to boost their followers by paying more popular personalities to shout out, duet, or comment on their posts.

“I’ve invested in pearpop because it’s been on my mind for a while that the creator economy has resulted in a lot of not equitable outcomes for creators. Where i talked about the missing middle class of the creator economy,” said Li Jin, the founder of Atelier Ventures and author of a critical piece on creator economics, “The creator economy needs a middle class“. 

“When I saw pearpop I felt like there was a really big potential for pearpop to be the one of the creators of the creative middle class. They’ve introduced this mechanism by which larger creators can help smaller creators and everyone has something of value to offer something to everyone else in the ecosystem.”

Jin discovered pearpop through the TechCrunch piece, she said. “You wrote that article and then i reached out to the team,” said Jin.

The idea was so appealing, it brought in a slew of musicians, athletes, actors and entertainers, including: Abel Makkonen (The Weeknd), Amy Schumer, The Chainsmokers, Diddy, Gary Vaynerchuk, Griffin Johnson, Josh Richards, Kevin Durant (Thirty 5 Ventures), Kevin Hart (HartBeat Ventures), Mark Cuban, Marshmello, Moe Shalizi, Michael Gruen (Animal Capital), MrBeast (Night Media Ventures), Rich Miner (Android co-founder) and Snoop Dogg.

“Pearpop has the potential to benefit all social media platforms by delivering new users and engagement, while simultaneously leveling the playing field of opportunity for creators,” said Alexis Ohanian, Founder, Seven Seven Six, in a statement. “The company has created a revolutionary new marketplace model that is set to completely reimagine how we think of social media monetization. As both a social media founder and an investor, I’m excited for what’s to come with pearpop.”

Already Heidi Klum, Loren Gray, Snoop Dogg, and Tony Hawk have gotten paid to appear in social media posts from aspiring auteurs on the social media platform TikTok.

Using the platform is relatively simple. A social media user (for now, that means just TikTok) sends a post that exists on their social feed and requests that another social media user interacts with it in some way — either commenting, posting a video in response, or adding a sound. If the request seems okay, or “on brand”, then the person who accepts the request performs the prescribed action.

Pearpop takes a 25% cut of all transactions with the social media user who’s performing the task getting the other 75%.

The company wouldn’t comment on revenue numbers, except to say that it’s on track to bring in seven figures this year.

Users on the platform set their prices and determine which kinds of services they’re willing to provide to boost the social media posts of their contractors.

Prices range anywhere from $5 to $10,000 depending on the size of a user’s following and the type of request that’s being made. Right now, the most requested personality on the marketplace is the TikTok star, Anna Banana.

These kinds of transactions do have impacts. The company said that personalities on the platform were able to increase their follower count with the service. For instance, Leah Svoboda went from 20K to 141K followers, after a pearpop duet with Anna Shumate.

If this all makes you feel like you’ve tripped and fallen through a Black Mirror into a dystopian hellscape where everything and every interaction is a commodity to be mined for money, well… that’s life.

“What I appreciate most about pearpop is the control it gives me as a creator,” said Anna Shumate, TikTok influencer @annabananaxdddd. “The platform allows me to post what I want and when I want. My followers still love my content because it’s authentic and true to me, which is what sets pearpop apart from all of the other opportunities on social media.”

Talent agencies, too, see the draw. Early adopters include Talent X, Get Engaged, and Next Step Talent and The Fuel Injector, which has added its entire roster of talent to pearpop, which includes Kody Antle, Brooke Monk and Harry Raftus, the company said.

“The initial concept came out of an obvious gap within the space: no marketplace existed for creators of all sizes to monetize through simple, authentic collaborations that are mutually beneficial,” said Cole Mason, co-founder & CEO, pearpop.  “It soon became clear that this was a product that people had been waiting for, as thousands of people rely on our platform today to gain full control of their social capital for the first time starting with TikTok.”

Deepfake video app Avatarify, which processes on-phone, plans digital watermark for videos

By Mike Butcher

Making deepfake videos used to be hard. Now all you need is a smartphone. Avatarify, a startup that allows people to make deepfake videos directly on their phone rather than in the cloud, is soaring up the app charts after being used by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham.

However, the problem with many deepfake videos is that there is no digital watermark to determine that the video has been tampered with. So Avatarify says it will soon launch a digital watermark to prevent this from happening.

Run out of Moscow but with a U.S. HQ, Avatarify launched in July 2020 and since then has been downloaded millions of times. The founders say that 140 million deepfake videos were created with Avatarify this year alone. There are now 125 million views of videos with the hashtag #avatarify on TikTok. While its competitors include the well-funded Reface, Snapchat, Wombo.ai, Mug Life and Xpression, Avatarify has yet to raise any money beyond an angel round.

Despite taking only $120,000 in angel funding, the company has yet to accept any venture capital and says it has bootstrapped its way from zero to almost 10 million downloads and claims to have a $10 million annual run rate with a team of less than 10 people.

It’s not hard to see why. Avatarify has a freemium subscription model. They offer a 7-day free trial and a 12-month subscription for $34.99 or a weekly plan for $2.49. Without a subscription, they offer the core features of the app for free, but videos then carry a visible watermark.

The founders also say the app protects privacy, because the videos are processed directly on the phone, rather than in the cloud where they could be hacked.

Avatarify processes user’s photos and turns them into short videos by animating faces, using machine learning algorithms and adding sounds. The user chooses a picture they want to animate, chooses the effects and music, and then taps to animate the picture. This short video can then be posted on Instagram or TikTok.

The Avatarify videos are taking off on TikTok because teens no longer need to learn a dance or be much more creative than finding a photo of a celebrity to animate to.

Avartify says you can’t use their app to impersonate someone, but there is of course no way to police this.

Co-founders Ali Aliev and Karim Iskakov wrote the app during the COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020. Ali spent two hours writing a program in Python to transfer his facial expressions to the other person’s face and use a filter in Zoom. The result was a real-time video, which could be streamed to Zoom. He joined a call with Elon Mask’s face and everyone on the call was shocked. The team posted the video, which then went viral.

They posted the code on Github and immediately saw the number of downloads grow. The repository was published on 6 April 2020, and as of 19 March 2021 had been downloaded 50,000 times.

Ali left his job at Samsung AI Centre and devoted himself to the app. After Avatarify’s iOS app was released on 28 June 2020, viral videos on TikTok, created with the app, led it to App Store’s top charts without paid acquisition. In February 2021, Avatarify was ranked first among Top Free Apps worldwide. Between February and March, the app 2021 generated more than $1 million in revenue (Source: AppMagic).

However, despite Avartify’s success, the ongoing problems with deepfake videos remain, such as using these apps to make nonconsensual porn, using the faces of innocent people.

Instagram’s new test lets you choose if you want to hide ‘Likes,’ Facebook test to follow

By Sarah Perez

Instagram today will begin a new test around hiding Like counts on users’ posts, following its experiments in this area which first began in 2019. This time, however, Instagram is not enabling or disabling the feature for more users. Instead, it will begin to explore a new option where users get to decide what works best for them — either choosing to see the Like counts on others’ posts, or not. Users will also be able to turn off Like counts on their own posts, if they choose. Facebook additionally confirmed it will begin to test a similar experience on its own social network.

Instagram says tests involving Like counts were deprioritized after Covid-19 hit, as the company focused on other efforts needed to support its community. (Except for that brief period this March where Instagram accidentally hid Likes for more users due to a bug.)

The company says it’s now revisiting the feedback it collected from users during the tests and found a wide range of opinions. Originally, the idea with hiding Like counts was about reducing the anxiety and embarrassment that surrounds posting content on the social network. That is, people would stress over whether their post would receive enough Likes to be deemed “popular.” This problem was particularly difficult for Instagram’s younger users, who care much more about what their peers think — so much so that they would take down posts that didn’t receive “enough” Likes.

In addition, the removal of Likes helped reduce the sort of herd mentality that drives people to like things that are already popular, as opposed to judging the content for themselves.

But during tests, not everyone agreed the removal of Likes was a change for the better. Some people said they still wanted to see Like counts so they could track what was trending and popular. The argument for keeping Likes was more prevalent among the influencer community, where creators used the metric in order to communicate their value to partners, like brands and advertisers. Here, lower engagement rates on posts could directly translate to lower earnings for these creators.

Both arguments for and against Likes have merit, which is why Instagram’s latest test will put the choice back into users’ own hands.

This new test will be enabled for a small percentage of users globally on Instagram, the company says.

If you’ve been opted in, you’ll find a new option to hide the Likes from within the app’s Settings. This will prevent you from seeing Likes on other people’s posts as you scroll through your Instagram Feed. As a creator, you’ll be able to hide Likes on a per-post basis via the three-dot “…” menu at the top. Even if Likes are disabled publicly, creators are still able to view Like counts and other engagements through analytics, just as they did before.

The tests on Facebook, which has also been testing Like count removals for some time, have not yet begun. Facebook tells TechCrunch those will roll out in the weeks ahead.

Making Like counts an choice may initially seem like it could help to address everyone’s needs. But in reality, if the wider influencer community chooses to continue to use Likes as a currency that translates to popularity and job opportunities, then other users will continue to do the same.

Ultimately, communities themselves have to decide what sort of tone they want to set, preferably from the outset — before you’ve attracted millions of users who will be angry when you later try to change course.

There’s also a question as to whether social media users are really hungry for an “Like-free” safer space. For years we’ve seen startups focused on building an “anti-Instagram” of sorts, where they drop one or more Instagram features, like algorithmic feeds, Likes and other engagement mechanisms, such as Minutiae, Vero, Dayflash, Oggl, and now, newcomers like troubled Dispo, or under-the-radar Herd. But Instagram has yet to fail because of an anti-Instagram rival. If anything is a threat, it’s a new type of social network entirely, like TikTok –where it should be noted getting Likes and engagements is still very important for creator success.

Instagram didn’t say how long the new tests would last or if and when the features would roll out more broadly.

“We’re testing this on Instagram to start, but we’re also exploring a similar experience for Facebook. We will learn from this new small test and have more to share soon,” a Facebook company spokesperson said.

Facebook, Instagram users can now ask ‘oversight’ panel to review decisions not to remove content

By Natasha Lomas

Facebook’s self-styled ‘Oversight Board’ (FOB) has announced an operational change that looks intended to respond to criticism of the limits of the self-regulatory content-moderation decision review body: It says it’s started accepting requests from users to review decisions to leave content up on Facebook and Instagram.

The move expands the FOB’s remit beyond reviewing (and mostly reversing) content takedowns — an arbitrary limit that critics said aligns it with the economic incentives of its parent entity, given that Facebook’s business benefits from increased engagement with content (and outrageous content drives clicks and makes eyeballs stick).

“So far, users have been able to appeal content to the Board which they think should be restored to Facebook or Instagram. Now, users can also appeal content to the Board which they think should be removed from Facebook or Instagram,” the FOB writes, adding that it will “use its independent judgment to decide what to leave up and what to take down”.

“Our decisions will be binding on Facebook,” it adds.

The ability to request an appeal on content Facebook wouldn’t take down has been added across all markets, per Facebook. But the tech giant said it will take some “weeks” for all users to get access as it said it’s rolling out the feature “in waves to ensure stability of the product experience”.

While the FOB can now get individual pieces of content taken down from Facebook/Instagram — i.e. if the Board believes it’s justified in reversing an earlier decision by the company not to remove content — it cannot make Facebook adopt any associated suggestions vis-a-vis its content moderation policies generally.

That’s because Facebook has never said it will be bound by the FOB’s policy recommendations; only by the final decision made per review.

That in turn limits the FOB’s ability to influence the shape of the tech giant’s approach to speech policing. And indeed the whole effort remains inextricably bound to Facebook which devised and structured the FOB — writing the Board’s charter and bylaws, and hand picking the first cohort of members. The company thus continues to exert inescapable pull on the strings linking its self-regulatory vehicle to its lucrative people-profiling and ad-targeting empire.

The FOB getting the ability to review content ‘keep ups’ (if we can call them that) is also essentially irrelevant when you consider the ocean of content Facebook has ensured the Board won’t have any say in moderating — because its limited resources/man-power mean it can only ever consider a fantastically tiny subset of cases referred to it for review.

For an oversight body to provide a meaningful limit on Facebook’s power it would need to have considerably more meaty (i.e. legal) powers; be able to freely range across all aspects of Facebook’s business (not just review user generated content); and be truly independent of the adtech mothership — as well as having meaningful powers of enforcement and sanction.

So, in other words, it needs to be a public body, functioning in the public interest.

Instead, while Facebook applies its army of in house lawyers to fight actual democratic regulatory oversight and compliance, it has splashed out to fashion this bespoke bureaucracy that can align with its speech interests — handpicking a handful of external experts to pay to perform a content review cameo in its crisis PR drama.

Unsurprisingly, then, the FOB has mostly moved the needle in a speech-maximizing direction so far — while expressing some frustration at the limited deck of cards Facebook has dealt it.

Most notably, the Board still has a decision pending on whether to reverse Facebook’s indefinitely ban on former US president Donald Trump. If it reverses that decision Facebook users won’t have any recourse to appeal the restoration of Trump’s account.

The only available route would, presumably, be for users to report future Trump content to Facebook for violating its policies — and if Facebook refuses to take that stuff down, users could try to request a FOB review. But, again, there’s no guarantee the FOB will accept any such review requests. (Indeed, if the board chooses to reinstate Trump that may make it harder for it to accept requests to review Trump content, at least in the short term (in the interests of keeping a diverse case file, so… )

How to ask for a review after content isn’t removed

To request the FOB review a piece of content that’s been left up a user of Facebook/Instagram first has to report the content to Facebook/Instagram.

If the company decides to keep the content up Facebook says the reporting person will receive an Oversight Board Reference ID (a ten-character string that begins with ‘FB’) in their Support Inbox — which they can use to appeal its ‘no takedown’ decision to the Oversight Board.

There are several hoops to jump through to make an appeal: Following on-screen instructions Facebook says the user will be taken to the Oversight Board website where they need to log in with the account to which the reference ID was issued.

They will then be asked to provide responses to a number of questions about their reasons for reporting the content (to “help the board understand why you think Facebook made the wrong decision”).

Once an appeal has been submitted, the Oversight Board will decide whether or not to review it. The board only selects a certain number of “eligible appeals” to review; and Facebook has not disclosed the proportion of requests the Board accepts for review vs submissions it receives — per case or on aggregate. So how much chance of submission success any user has for any given piece of content is an unknown (and probably unknowable) quantity.

Users who have submitted an appeal against content that was left up can check the status of their appeal via the FOB’s website — again by logging in and using the reference ID.

A further limitation is time, as Facebook notes there’s a time limit on appealing decisions to the FOB

“Bear in mind that there is a time limit on appealing decisions to the Oversight Board. Once the window to appeal a decision has expired, you will no longer be able to submit it,” it writes in its Help Center, without specifying how long users have to get their appeal in. 

Facebook takes down 16,000 groups trading fake reviews after another poke by UK’s CMA

By Natasha Lomas

Facebook has removed 16,000 groups that were trading fake reviews on its platform after another intervention by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the regulator said today.

The CMA has been leaning on tech giants to prevent their platforms being used as thriving marketplaces for selling fake reviews since it began investigating the issue in 2018 — pressuring both eBay and Facebook to act against fake review sellers back in 2019.

The two companies pledged to do more to tackle the insidious trade last year, after coming under further pressure from the regulator — which found that Facebook-owned Instagram was also a thriving hub of fake review trades.

The latest intervention by the CMA looks considerably more substantial than last year’s action — when Facebook removed a mere 188 groups and disabled 24 user accounts. Although it’s not clear how many accounts the tech giant has banned and/or suspended this time it has removed orders of magnitude more groups. (We’ve asked.)

Facebook was contacted with questions but it did not answer what we asked directly, sending us this statement instead:

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices.”

Since the CMA has been raising the issue of fake review trading, Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for not doing enough to clean up its platforms, plural.

Today the regulator said the social media giant has made further changes to the systems it uses for “identifying, removing and preventing the trading of fake and/or misleading reviews on its platforms to ensure it is fulfilling its previous commitments”.

It’s not clear why it’s taken Facebook well over a year — and a number of high profile interventions — to dial up action against the trade in fake reviews. But the company suggested that the resources it has available to tackle the problem had been strained as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated impacts, such as home working. (Facebook’s full year revenue increased in 2020 but so too did its expenses.)

According to the CMA changes Facebook has made to its system for combating traders of fake reviews include:

  • suspending or banning users who are repeatedly creating Facebook groups and Instagram profiles that promote, encourage or facilitate fake and misleading reviews
  • introducing new automated processes that will improve the detection and removal of this content
  • making it harder for people to use Facebook’s search tools to find fake and misleading review groups and profiles on Facebook and Instagram
  • putting in place dedicated processes to make sure that these changes continue to work effectively and stop the problems from reappearing

Again it’s not clear why Facebook would not have already been suspending or banning repeat offenders — at least, not if it was actually taking good faith action to genuinely quash the problem, rather than seeing if it could get away with doing the bare minimum.

Commenting in a statement, Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, essentially makes that point, saying: “Facebook has a duty to do all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms. After we intervened again, the company made significant changes — but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.”

“We will continue to keep a close eye on Facebook, including its Instagram business. Should we find it is failing to honour its commitments, we will not hesitate to take further action,” Coscelli added.

A quick search on Facebook’s platform for UK groups trading in fake reviews appears to return fewer obviously dubious results than when we’ve checked in on this problem in 2019 and 2020. Although the results that were returned included a number of private groups so it was not immediately possible to verify what content is being solicited from members.

We did also find a number of Facebook groups offering Amazon reviews intended for other European markets, such as France and Spain (and in one public group aimed at Amazon Spain we found someone offering a “fee” via PayPal for a review; see below screengrab) — suggesting Facebook isn’t applying the same level of attention to tackling fake reviews that are being traded by users in markets where it’s faced fewer regulatory pokes than it has in the UK.

Screengrab: TechCrunch

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are super broken right now (Update: but starting to work again)

By Greg Kumparak

Are Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp down for you right now? Us too! And lots and lots of other people too, it seems.

We’re getting reports left and right of outages across the three Facebook properties, with no indication so far as to the cause. It’s all down so hard that Facebook’s own server status page won’t even load to explain what’s up. Some of the respective mobile apps appear to load, but are just loading cached data; refresh or try to pull in a new page, and things probably won’t load correctly.

When Facebook on the web does load, it’s largely throwing the following error message:

This outage comes just a few weeks after one that took out Instagram and WhatsApp in March.

(Update, 3:19 PM: It appears things are coming back online, about an hour after the outage first began.)

 

Lawmakers press Instagram for details on its plans for kids

By Taylor Hatmaker

A group of Democratic lawmakers wrote to Mark Zuckerberg this week to press the CEO on his plans to curate a version of Instagram for children. In a hearing last month, Zuckerberg confirmed reporting by BuzzFeed that the company was exploring an age-gated version of its app designed for young users.

Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representatives Lori Trahan (D-MA) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) signed the letter, expressing “serious concerns” about the company’s ability to protect the privacy and well being of young users.

“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation,” the lawmakers wrote.

They cited previous failures with products like Messenger Kids, which had a flaw that allowed kids to chat with people beyond their privacy parameters.

“Although software bugs are common, this episode illustrated the privacy threats to children online and evidenced Facebook’s inability to protect the kids the company actively invited onto this platform,” the lawmakers wrote.

“In light of these and other previous privacy and security issues on Facebook’s platforms, we are not confident that Facebook will be able to adequately protect children’s privacy on a version of Instagram for young users.”

The letter set a deadline of April 26 for the company to provide answers to a comprehensive and helpfully specific set of questions about a future kid-targeted product.

In the letter, lawmakers posed a number of questions about how Facebook will handle the private data for young users and if that data would be deleted when an account is terminated. They also asked the company to commit to not targeting kids with ads and not employing push alerts and behavior-shaping features designed to make apps more addictive.

During last month’s big tech hearing in the House, committee members from both political parties grilled Zuckerberg about how Facebook and Instagram adversely affect mental health in young users. Rep. Castor also pressed the chief executive about underage users who circumvent Instagram’s existing age guidelines to use a platform full of posts, videos and ads designed for adults.

“Of course, every parent knows there are kids under the age of 13 on Instagram, and the problem is that you know it,” Zuckerberg said.

Lowkey raises $7 million from a16z to help game streamers capitalize on short-form video

By Lucas Matney

While the growth of game-streaming audiences have continued on desktop platforms, the streaming space has felt surprisingly stagnant at times, particularly due to the missing mobile element and a lack of startup competitors.

Lowkey, a young gaming startup that builds software for game streamers, is aiming to build out opportunities in bit-sized clips. The startup wants to be a hub for both creating and viewing short gaming clips but also sees a big opportunity in helping streamers cut down their existing content for distribution on platforms like Instagram and TikTok where short-form gaming content sees a good deal of engagement.

The startup announced today that they’ve closed a $7 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from a host of angel investors including Figma’s Dylan Field, Loom’s Joe Thomas and Plaid’s Zach Perret & William Hockey.

We last covered Lowkey in early 2020 when the company was looking to build out a games tournament platform for adults. At the time, the company had already pivoted after going through YC as Camelot but which allowed audiences on Twitch and YouTube pay creators to take on challenges. This latest shift brings Lowkey back to the streaming world but more focused on becoming a tool for streamers and a hub for viewers.

One of the challenges for streamers has been adapting widescreen content for a vertical video form factor, but CEO Jesse Zhang says that it’s not really a problem with most modern games. “Games inherently want to focus you attention on the center of the screen,” Zhang tells TechCrunch. “So, almost all clips extend really cleanly to like a mobile format, which is what we’ve done.”

Twitch and YouTube Gaming have proven to be pretty uninterested in short-form content, favoring the opportunities of long-form stream that allow streamers to press broadcast and upload 30 minutes+ streams. Lowkey users can easily upload footage captured from Lowkey’s desktop app or directly import a linked stream. This allows content creators to upload and comment on their own footage or remix and respond to another streamer’s content.

Lowkey’s desktop app is available on Windows and their new mobile app is now live for iOS.

Instagram officially launches Remix on Reels, a TikTok Duets-like feature

By Sarah Perez

Instagram today is officially launching a new feature called Remix, which offers a way to record your Reels video alongside a video from another user. The option is similar to TikTok’s existing Duets feature, which also lets users to react to or interact with another person’s video content while creating their own. Instagram’s new feature has been in public testing before today, so some Instagram users may have already gained access.

We recently reported on Instagram’s plans with Remix, when noting that Snapchat was developing a Remix feature of its own. In fact, Snapchat is also using the name “Remix” for its TikTok Duets rival that’s currently in development.

On TikTok, Duets are a key part to making the app feel more like a social network and less of just a passive video-watching experience. Users take advantage of Duets to sing, dance, joke or act alongside another user’s video. They will do things like cook someone else’s recipe, record a reaction video, or even just watch a video from a smaller creator to give them a boost.

Meanwhile, TikTok competitors — like Instagram Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight or YouTube’s Shorts, for example — have launched their short-form video experiences without a full set of engagement or editing features like TikTok has, making their apps feel like pale knock-offs of the original. Remix on Reels is a first step towards changing that perception, by giving users at least one important option to engage and collaborate with their fellow creatives.

Re-re-re-remix 🤩

Now you can use the Remix feature in Reels to create your own reel next to one that already exists 🎭

Whether you’re capturing your reaction, responding to friends or bringing your own magic to trends, Remix is another way to collab on Instagram ✨pic.twitter.com/eU8x74Q3yf

— Instagram (@instagram) March 31, 2021

To use the new Remix feature, you’ll first tap on the three-dot menu on a Reel and select the new “Remix this Reel” option. The screen will then split into the original Reel and your own new one, where you can begin to record side-by-side with the original. When you’ve finished, you can tweak other aspects of the recording like the volume of the original video or your audio and you can optionally add a voiceover. After applying these or any other edits, you can publish the Remix.

The feature will only be available on newly uploaded Reels — so unfortunately, if you want your older Reels to be duetted, you either need to reupload them or go back to your old Reel and specifically enable Remix.

Image Credits: Instagram

Your Remixes will appear alongside any other Reels you’ve recorded on the Reels tab on your Instagram profile, and you’ll be able to track who has remixed your content through Instagram’s Activity tab.

The feature is rolling out, starting today, says Instagram. It will be enabled by default on all new Reels published from a public account.

Instagram and WhatsApp hit by outage

By Zack Whittaker

Instagram and WhatsApp experienced an apparent outage on Friday. It began around 1:40 p.m. ET and lasted for more than half an hour.

WhatsApp was unable to connect to the server, and messages were not being delivered. It’s not clear if the issue also affected Facebook Messenger, which last year rolled out new functionality to allow cross-platform messaging between Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

Instagram was showing a 500 message, suggesting a back-end server error.

Instagram's error page

Instagram’s error page. (Image: TechCrunch)

WhatsApp unable to connect to the server. (Image: TechCrunch)

WhatsApp has more than two billion users, and Instagram has about one billion users. Facebook’s developer status page did not show any immediate outages.

Facebook spokesperson Leslie Grant said: “Earlier today, a technical issue caused people to have trouble accessing some Facebook services. We resolved this issue for everyone, and we apologize for any inconvenience.” The cause of the outage was not disclosed.

More on TechCrunch:

Updated with comment from Facebook.

❌