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‘The best VC on Instagram’ is now VC-backed

By Kate Clark

About 18 months ago, Jenny Gyllander created an Instagram account by the name @thingtesting.

The premise was simple. Gyllander, who was at the center of the London startup ecosystem as an investor with the British seed fund Backed.VC, would upload photos of interesting direct-to-consumer products with a caption that served as a bite-sized review. The experiment began with Birchbox, a provider of curated boxes of beauty products that rose to prominence amid the subscription box hype of yesteryear. In her short review, tailored perfectly for the Instagram generation, Gyllander admitted to being “like 10 years late to this much hyped subscription-everything party,” adding that “after two boxes and ten products, only three products were relevant to me.” Her honesty, and perhaps more importantly, her brevity, garnered her a small following of venture capitalists, founders and consumer brand enthusiasts.

 

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Since that first post, Gyllander has featured and reviewed more than 100 products on her Instagram account — which today counts 32,800 followers — quit her day job and began building an Instagram inspired, full-fledged review business.

“I found something I am very, very passionate about,” Gyllander tells TechCrunch. “Finding the D2C niche was for me a little bit of a holy grail. It’s where brands and startups align for the first time in a concrete way.”

With a $300,000 pre-seed investment from angel investor and Homebrew co-founder Hunter Walk, who previously called Thingtesting “The best VC on Instagram,” early Spotify investor Shakil Khan and more, Gyllander wants to create a full-scale D2C review platform with a team of reviewers and content creators, and a portal for her loyal followers to write and submit their own reviews. She compares what she envisions for Thingtesting to that of Rotten Tomatoes. Akin to the popular website for movie and television reviews, each product review on her future website will include a Thingtesting score and an audience score. The goal is to help consumers shop smarter and filter through the D2C noise.

“People are confused right now by the sheer amount of products launching,” Gyllander said. “I want Thingtesting to be a filter for people to consume better … It’s a role department stores used to have back in the day but no body has really filled that role in the online world.”

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Gyllander, already making money from what was once a side project, has plans in store to generate significantly more revenue. Currently, she’s capitalizing off Instagram’s Close Friends list, which the social media hub launched last year to allow users to share content to fewer people. Gyllander, like a slew of other Instagram Influencers, however, quickly realized an opportunity to monetize content using the feature, a trend explained in detail in a recent report from The Atlantic.

Gyllander charges a lifetime fee of $100 to her followers hoping for a spot on her Close Friends list. Those followers are then provided exclusive content, including behind-the-scenes looks at her product review journeys. So far, 300 people have been granted access to the exclusive group as others sit on the waitlist. Gyllander explains she hasn’t green-lit every request to enter the coveted group because she wants to maintain a sense of community as the account grows in popularity. Early next year, she hopes, she will have launched a Thingtesting website and a new subscription-based membership tier targeting D2C connoisseurs, investors and anyone interested in a front seat view of the booming D2C industry.

As Thingtesting morphs into a digital review platform and expands from the bounds of Instagram, Gyllander will have to work harder to differentiate what she’s built from other review sites and D2C blogs. Her secret weapon, she believes, is her authenticity.

“It’s my honesty,” Gyllander said. “And it’s the fact that there’s no payment involved from the brands and that I’m not being paid to review products. That’s something quite rare in the Instagram world today. There aren’t that many accounts that are just talking about new products with non-monetary incentives.”

 

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Since launching with a review of Birchbox, Gyllander has shared her thoughts on Magic Spoon, a D2C cereal company: “one bowl kept me full for hours,” she wrote, ultimately concluding she wouldn’t continue eating the cereal. More recently, she referred to the D2C aperitif brand Haus as “stunning;” wrote a lukewarm review of the blue light-protecting eyewear brand Felix Gray; and posted a glowing summary of Dripkit, a D2C coffee brand.

To secure a spot on Gyllander’s grid, a product must bring something new to the market, as well as boast killer branding and packaging. The former VC says she tries out about 20 products a month and shares official reviews of four or five.

“The majority of people today, when it comes to modern brands, they have their first interaction through an ad or an influencer telling them about the product,” Gyllander explained. “Discovery is in a weird place right now when it comes to the general consumer.”

It’s difficult to imagine a venture-scale business within Gyllander’s vision for Thingtesting. But one should never underestimate the value of an exclusive and hyper-focused network. Gyllander, in a short time, has created a meeting place for D2C aficionados and venture capitalists and, as she’s proven, her thoughts are worth paying for.

Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs

By Natasha Lomas

UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children.

Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears.

Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap.

The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency”, leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

“The potential harms outlined in this report can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement,” the committee writes in a summary of the report which it says explores “how data-rich immersive technologies are driven by business models that combine people’s data with design practices to have powerful psychological effects”.

As well as trying to pry information about of games companies, MPs also took evidence from gamers during the course of the enquiry.

In one instance the committee heard that a gamer spent up to £1,000 per year on loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts’s Fifa series.

A member of the public also reported that their adult son had built up debts of more than £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in online game RuneScape. The maker of that game, Jagex, told the committee that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month”.

In addition to calling for gambling law to be applied to the industry’s lucrative loot box mechanic, the report calls on games makers to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms, saying research into possible negative psychosocial harms has been hampered by the industry’s unwillingness to share play data.

“Data on how long people play games for is essential to understand what normal and healthy — and, conversely, abnormal and potentially unhealthy — engagement with gaming looks like. Games companies collect this information for their own marketing and design purposes; however, in evidence to us, representatives from the games industry were wilfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play,” it writes.

“Although the vast majority of people who play games find it a positive experience, the minority who struggle to maintain control over how much they are playing experience serious consequences for them and their loved ones. At present, the games industry has not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm. Moreover, both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play.”

The report recommends the government require games makers share aggregated player data with researchers, with the committee calling for a new regulator to oversee a levy on the industry to fund independent academic research — including into ‘Gaming disorder‘, an addictive condition formally designated by the World Health Organization — and to ensure that “the relevant data is made available from the industry to enable it to be effective”.

“Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users,” said DCMS committee chair, Damian Collins, in a statement.

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.

“Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products. Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”

The committee wants independent research to inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. “This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around ‘designed addiction’ and ‘excessive screen time’,” it writes, citing the government’s plan for a new Internet regulator for online harms.

MPs are also concerned about the lack of robust age verification to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games.

The report identifies inconsistencies in the games industry’s ‘age-ratings’ stemming from self-regulation around the distribution of games (such as online games not being subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, meaning voluntary ratings are used instead).

“Games companies should not assume that the responsibility to enforce age-ratings applies exclusively to the main delivery platforms: All companies and platforms that are making games available online should uphold the highest standards of enforcing age-ratings,” the committee writes on that.

“Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on self-certification from children and adults,” Collins adds.

During the enquiry it emerged that the UK government is working with tech companies including Snap to try to devise a centralized system for age verification for online platforms.

A section of the report on Effective Age Verification cites testimony from deputy information commissioner Steve Wood raising concerns about any move towards “wide-spread age verification [by] collecting hard identifiers from people, like scans of passports”.

Wood instead pointed the committee towards technological alternatives, such as age estimation, which he said uses “algorithms running behind the scenes using different types of data linked to the self-declaration of the age to work out whether this person is the age they say they are when they are on the platform”.

Snapchat’s Will Scougal also told the committee that its platform is able to monitor user signals to ensure users are the appropriate age — by tracking behavior and activity; location; and connections between users to flag a user as potentially underage. 

The report also makes a recommendation on deepfake content, with the committee saying that malicious creation and distribution of deepfake videos should be regarded as harmful content.

“The release of content like this could try to influence the outcome of elections and undermine people’s public reputation,” it warns. “Social media platforms should have clear policies in place for the removal of deepfakes. In the UK, the Government should include action against deepfakes as part of the duty of care social media companies should exercise in the interests of their users, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper.”

“Social media firms need to take action against known deepfake films, particularly when they have been designed to distort the appearance of people in an attempt to maliciously damage their public reputation, as was seen with the recent film of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi,” adds Collins.

Mozilla launches a VPN, brings back the Firefox Test Pilot program

By Frederic Lardinois

Mozilla today announced that it is bringing back the Firefox Test Pilot program to allow users to try out new features before they are ready for mainstream usage. While the name is familiar, though, the overall goals of the new program are a bit different from the last iteration and the focus is less on crazy experiments and more on beta testing products that are almost ready for public consumption.

The first new project in the Test Pilot program is the beta of the Firefox Private Network VPN service, which is now available in the U.S. for Firefox desktop users.

The Firefox Test Pilot program has gone through its share of iterations. First launched three years ago, it quickly became the incubation ground for a number of new features. In January of this year, though, the organization decided to shut it down.

Why bring it back now? Clearly, Mozilla was getting valuable feedback from the Test Pilot users, who were surely among the most dedicated Firefox fans.

The organization says that it wanted to take time to evolve the program and this new version is indeed somewhat different. “The difference with the newly relaunched Test Pilot program is that these products and services may be outside the Firefox browser, and we will be far more polished, and just one step shy of general public release,” the team explains.

The new Test Pilot program then is less about giving users the opportunity to test some of the Firefox team’s more eccentric ideas and more like a traditional public beta test program.

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The new VPN project, the team writes, is a good example of this approach. It’s a Test Pilot project because the team wants to fine-tune it a bit more before its public release.

The Firefox Private Network isn’t so much about trying to circumvent geo-restrictions and instead mostly focuses on giving users access to a private network when they are on public WiFi and helping them hide their locations from website and ad trackers (and indeed, a lot of the new Test Pilot projects will focus on privacy). That’s probably why Mozilla doesn’t refer to it as a VPN either, though that’s obviously what it is.

“One of the key learnings from recent events is that there is growing demand for privacy features,” Mozilla’s Marissa Wood writes today. “The Firefox Private Network is an extension which provides a secure, encrypted path to the web to protect your connection and your personal information anywhere and everywhere you use your Firefox browser.”

Mozilla is partnering with Cloudflare for this launch and Cloudflare is providing the proxy server for it. It’s available as a Firefox extension, but only in the U.S. and fore Firefox desktop users. For now, it’s available for free, though there have been some hints that Mozilla will at some point start charging for the service. Since it’s not a full VPN service, it remains to be seen how much the organization will be able to charge for it. Last year, Mozilla partnered with ProtonVPN and offered that service for $10 per month.

It’s worth noting that Opera, too, includes a free built-in VPN service, which includes the ability to set your location to either the Americas, Europe or Asia.

If you want to give the new service a try, you only need a Firefox account and sign up here.

 

 

Google brings Cloud Dataproc to Kubernetes

By Frederic Lardinois

Cloud Dataproc is probably one of the lesser-known products in Google Cloud’s portfolio, but it’s a powerful tool for data wranglers who are looking for a fully managed cloud service that lets them run Apache Spark and Hadoop clusters without having to worry about managing the underlying infrastructure. Today. Google announced that it is launching the alpha of Cloud Dataproc to Kubernetes — and while that, too, may not sound all that interesting at first, it’s an important step for Google Cloud as it works to adapt more of its products to a hybrid cloud model.

The general idea here is to give enterprise customers (and make no mistake, enterprise customers are the main focus of Google Cloud these days) the ability to run Apache Spark jobs on Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) clusters. With products like Anthos now making GKE available virtually anywhere, this means customers can now also take Cloud Dataproc to their own data centers. Right now, the service only supports Apache Spark, but Google plans to support other open-source projects, too.

“Enterprises are increasingly looking for products and services that support data processing across multiple locations and platforms,” said Matt Aslett, Research Vice President at 451 Research. “The launch of Cloud Dataproc on Kubernetes is significant in that it provides customers with a single control plane for deploying and managing Apache Spark jobs on Google Kubernetes Engine in both public cloud and on-premises environments.”

Typically, Spark applications run on Hadoop YARN clusters. Google notes that the Cloud Dataproc on Kubernetes will free users from having to use two cluster management systems and will give them a single view across both YARN and Kubernetes clusters. “Supporting both YARN and Kubernetes can bring your enterprise the needed flexibility to modernize certain hybrid workloads while continuing to monitor YARN-based workloads,” the company writes in today’s announcement.

The new service is now available as an alpha. If you want to give it a try, you’ll have to apply for access by emailing Google.

Clubhouse announces new collaboration tool and free version of its project management platform

By Arman Tabatabai

Clubhouse — the software project management platform focused on team collaboration, workflow transparency and ease of integration — is taking another big step towards its goal of democratizing efficient software development.

Traditionally, legacy project management programs in software development can often appear like an engineer feeding frenzy around a clunky stack of to-dos. Engineers have limited clarity into the work being done by other members of their team or into project tasks that fall outside of their own silo.

Clubhouse has long been focused on easing the headaches of software development workflows by providing full visibility into the status of specific tasks, the work being done by all team members across a project, as well as higher-level project plans and goals. Clubhouse also offers easy integration with other development tools as well as its own API to better support the cross-functionality a new user may want.

Today, Clubhouse released a free version of its project management platform, that offers teams of up to 10 people unlimited access to the product’s full suite of features, as well as unlimited app integrations.

The company also announced it will be launching an engineer focused collaboration and documentation tool later this year, that will be fully integrated with the Clubhouse project management product. The new product dubbed “Clubhouse Write” is currently in beta, but will allow development teams to collaborate, organize and comment on project documentation in real-time, enabling further inter-team communication and a more open workflow.

The broader mission behind the Clubhouse Write tool and the core product’s free plan is to support more key functions in the development process for more people, ultimately making it easier for anyone to start dynamic and distributed software teams and ideate on projects.

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“Clubhouse Write” Beta Version. Image via Clubhouse

In an interview with TechCrunch, Clubhouse also discussed how the offerings will provide key competitive positioning against larger incumbents in the software project management space. Clubhouse has long competed with Atlassian’s project management tool “Jira”, but now the company is doubling down by launching Clubhouse Write which will compete head-on with Atlassian’s team collaboration product Confluence.

According to recent Atlassian investor presentations, Jira and Confluence make up the lion’s share of the Atlassian’s business and revenues. And with Atlassian’s market capitalization of ~$30 billion, Clubhouse has its sights set on what it views as a significant market share opportunity.

According to Clubhouse, the company believes it’s in pole position to capture a serious chunk of Atlassian’s foothold given it designed its two products to have tighter integration than the legacy platforms, and since Clubhouse is essentially providing free versions of what many are already paying for to date.

And while Atlassian is far from the only competitor in the cluttered project management space, few if any competing platforms are offering a full project tool kit for free, according to the company. Clubhouse is also encouraged by the strong support it has received from the engineering community to date. In a previous interview with TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton, the company told TechCrunch it had reached at least 700 enterprise customers using the platform before hiring any sales reps, and users of the platform already include Nubank, Dataiku, and Atrium amongst thousands of others.

Clubhouse has ambitious plans to further expand its footprint, having raised $16 million to date through its Series A according to Crunchbase, with investments from a long list of Silicon Valley mainstays including Battery Ventures, Resolute Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, RRE Ventures, BoxGroup, and others.

A former CTO himself, Clubhouse cofounder and CEO Kurt Schrader is intimately familiar with the opacity in product development that frustrates engineers and complicates release schedules. Schrader and Clubhouse CMO Mitch Wainer believe Clubhouse can maintain its organic growth by that staying hyperfocused on designing for project managers and creating simple workflows that keep engineers happy. According to Schrader, the company ultimately wants to be the “default [destination] for modern software teams to plan and build software.”

“Clubhouse is the best software project management app in the world,” he said. “We want all teams to have access to a world-class tool from day one whether it’s a 5 or 5,000 person team.”

China Has an Ecommerce Giant You’ve Never Heard Of

By Kyle Mullin
Pinduoduo draws shoppers outside China's big cities with low-priced goods. It trails only Alibaba in number of users, and has a larger market cap than eBay.

Startups Weekly: Peloton’s 29 secret weapons

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about a new e-commerce startup, Pietra. Before that, I wrote about the flurry of IPO filings.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

What’s new?

Peloton revealed its S-1 this week, taking a big step toward an IPO expected later this year. The filing was packed with interesting tidbits, including that the company, which manufacturers internet-connected stationary bikes and sells an affiliated subscription to its growing library of on-demand fitness content, is raking in more than $900 million in annual revenue. Sure, it’s not profitable, and it’s losing an increasing amount of money to sales and marketing efforts, but for a company that many people wrote off from the very beginning, it’s an impressive feat.

Despite being a hardware, media, interactive software, product design, social connection, apparel and logistics company, according to its S-1, the future of Peloton relies on its talent. Not the employees developing the bikes and software but the 29 instructors teaching its digital fitness courses. Ally Love, Alex Toussaint and the 27 other teachers have developed cult followings, fans who will happily pay Peloton’s steep $39 per month content subscription to get their daily dose of Ben or Christine.

“To create Peloton, we needed to build what we believed to be the best indoor bike on the market, recruit the best instructors in the world, and engineer a state-of-the-art software platform to tie it all together,” founder and CEO John Foley writes in the IPO prospectus. “Against prevailing conventional wisdom, and despite countless investor conference rooms full of very smart skeptics, we were determined for Peloton to build a vertically integrated platform to deliver a seamless end-to-end experience as physically rewarding and addictive as attending a live, in-studio class.”

Peloton succeeded in poaching the best of the best. The question is, can they keep them? Will competition in the fast-growing fitness technology sector swoop in and scoop Peloton’s stars?

In other news

Last week I published a long feature on the state of seed investing in the Bay Area. The TL;DR? Mega-funds are increasingly battling seed-stage investors for access to the hottest companies. As a result, seed investors are getting a little more creative about how they source deals. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and everyone wants a stake in The Next Big Thing. Read the story here.

Rounds of the week

DISRUPT SF 530X350 V1 1

Time to Disrupt

Don’t miss out on our flagship Disrupt, which takes place October 2-4. It’s the quintessential tech conference for anyone focused on early-stage startups. Join more than 10,000 attendees — including over 1,200 exhibiting startups — for three jam-packed days of programming. We’re talking four different stages with interactive workshops, Q&A sessions and interviews with some of the industry’s top tech titans, founders, investors, movers and shakers. Check out our list of speakers and the Disrupt agenda. I will be there interviewing a bunch of tech leaders, including Bastian Lehmann and Charles Hudson. Buy tickets here.

Listen

This week on Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, we had Floodgate’s Iris Choi on to discuss Peloton’s upcoming IPO. You can listen to it here. Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast and Spotify.

Learn

We published a number of new deep dives on Extra Crunch, our paid subscription product, this week. Here’s a quick look at the top stories:

What is Andela, the Africa tech talent accelerator?

By Jake Bright

As someone who covers Africa’s tech scene, I’m frequently asked about Andela . That’s not surprising, given the venture gets more global press (arguably) than any startup in Africa.

I’ve found many Silicon Valley investors have heard of Andela but aren’t exactly sure what it does.

In a bite, Andela is Series D stage startup―backed by $180 million in VC―that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

The revenue-focused venture is often misread as a charity. In 2017, Andela CEO Jeremy Johnson described the organization as “a mission-driven for-profit company” ― a model for the concept “that you can actually build businesses that create real impact.”

I asked Johnson recently to clarify the objective behind Andela’s drive. “It’s the exact same mission as when we started, based around our founding principle… that brilliance and talent are distributed equally around the world, but opportunity is not,” he said.

“We’re about breaking down the walls that prevent brilliance and opportunity from connecting to each other.”

A major barrier for Africa’s software engineers, according to Johnson, is simply the fact that the continent has been totally off the network that companies look to for developer talent.

Marc Benioff will discuss building a socially responsible and successful startup at TechCrunch Disrupt

By Ron Miller

Salesforce chairman, co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff took a lot of big chances when he launched the company 20 years ago. For starters, his was one of the earliest enterprise SaaS companies, but he wasn’t just developing a company on top of a new platform, he was building one from scratch with social responsibility built-in.

Fast-forward 20 years and that company is wildly successful. In its most recent earnings report, it announced a $4 billion quarter, putting it on a $16 billion run rate, and making it by far the most successful SaaS company ever.

But at the heart of the company’s DNA is a charitable streak, and it’s not something they bolted on after getting successful. Even before the company had a working product, in the earliest planning documents, Salesforce wanted to be a different kind of company. Early on, it designed the 1-1-1 philanthropic model that set aside 1% of Salesforce’s equity, and 1% of its product and 1% of its employees’ time to the community. As the company has grown, that model has serious financial teeth now, and other startups over the years have also adopted the same approach using Salesforce as a model.

In our coverage of Dreamforce, the company’s enormous annual customer conference, in 2016, Benioff outlined his personal philosophy around giving back:

You are at work, and you have great leadership skills. You can isolate yourselves and say I’m going to put those skills to use in a box at work, or you can say I’m going to have an integrated life. The way I look at the world, I’m going to put those skills to work to make the world a better place.

This year Benioff is coming to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco to discuss with TechCrunch editors how to build a highly successful business, while giving back to the community and the society your business is part of. In fact, he has a book coming out in mid-October called Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change, in which he writes about how businesses can be a positive social force.

Benioff has received numerous awards over the years for his entrepreneurial and charitable spirit, including Innovator of the Decade from Forbes, one of the World’s 25 Greatest Leaders from Fortune, one of the 10 Best-Performing CEOs from Harvard Business Review, GLAAD, the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative for his work on equality and the Variety Magazine EmPOWerment Award.

It’s worth noting that in 2018, a group of 618 Salesforce employees presented Benioff with a petition protesting the company’s contract with the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Benioff in public comments stated that the tools were being used in recruitment and management, and not helping to separate families at the border. While Salesforce did not cancel the contract, at the time, co-CEO Keith Block stated that the company would donate $1 million to organizations helping separated families, as well as match any internal employee contributions through its charitable arm, Salesforce.org.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in the heart of San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email extracrunch@techcrunch.com to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.

Google to pay security researchers who find Android apps and Chrome extensions misusing user data

By Zack Whittaker

Google said it will pay security researchers who find “verifiably and unambiguous evidence” of data abuse using its platforms.

It’s part of the company’s efforts to catch those who misuse user data collected through Android apps or Chrome extensions — and to avoid its own version of a scandal like Cambridge Analytica, which saw millions of Facebook profiles scraped and used to identify undecided voters during the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

Google said anyone who identifies “situations where user data is being used or sold unexpectedly, or repurposed in an illegitimate way without user consent” is eligible for its expanded data abuse bug bounty.

“If data abuse is identified related to an app or Chrome extension, that app or extension will accordingly be removed from Google Play or Google Chrome Web Store,” read a blog post. “In the case of an app developer abusing access to Gmail restricted scopes, their API access will be removed.” The company said abuse of its developer APIs would also fall under the scope of the bug bounty.

Google said it isn’t providing a reward table yet but a single report of data misuse could net $50,000 in bounties.

News of the expanded bounty comes in the wake of the DataSpii scandal, which saw browser extensions scrape and share data from millions of users. These Chrome extensions uploaded web addresses and web page titles of every site a user visited, exposing sensitive data like tax returns, patient data and travel itineraries.

Google was forced to step in and suspend the offending Chrome extensions.

Instagram recently expanded its own bug bounty to include misused user data following a spate of data incidents.

Apple patches previously fixed security bug that allowed iPhone jailbreak

By Zack Whittaker

Apple has fixed a security flaw for a second time after it accidentally reintroduced an old bug in a recent software update.

iOS 12.4.1, released Monday, contains a security fix that was first patched months earlier in iOS 12.3. Apple rolled out a fix in May, but accidentally undid the security patch in its latest update, iOS 12.4, in July.

In a brief security advisory published after the software’s release, Apple said it fixed a kernel vulnerability that could have allowed an attacker to execute code on an iPhone or iPad with the highest level of privileges.

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Apple’s latest security advisory for iOS 12.4.1.

Those privileges, also known as system or root privileges, can open up a device to running apps that are not normally allowed by Apple’s strict rules. Known as jailbreaking, apps can access parts of a device that are normally off-limits. On one hand that allows users to extensively customize their devices, but it can also expose the device to malicious software, like malware or spyware apps .

Spyware apps often rely on undisclosed jailbreaks exploits to get access to a user’s messages, track their location, and listen to their calls without their knowledge. Nation states are known to hire mobile spyware makers to remotely install malware on the devices of activists, dissidents, and journalists. Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by agents of the Saudi regime, is believed to have been targeted by mobile spyware, according to reports. The company accused of supplying the spyware, Israel-based NSO Group, has denied any involvement.

Apple confirmed it pushed out a fix in its security notes, which included a short acknowledgement to Pwn20wnd, the team which confirmed last week that its jailbreak was working again.

The same kernel vulnerability was fixed in a supplemental update for macOS 10.14.6.

Downloads needed to rank No. 1 on App Store is down 30+% since 2016 for apps, up 47% for games

By Sarah Perez

With the App Store’s big makeover in fall 2017, Apple attempted to shift consumers’ attention away from the Top Charts and more toward editorial content. But app developers still want to make it to the No. 1 position. According to new research from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, it’s become easier for non-game apps over the past few years to achieve the top ranking.

Specifically, the firm found that the median number of daily downloads required for non-game applications on the U.S. iPhone App Store to reach No. 1 decreased around 34% from 136,000 to 90,000 in 2018, then increased a little more than 4% to 94,000 this year.

At the same time, the number of non-game installs on the U.S. App Store had increased by 33% between Q1 2016 and Q1 2019.

These findings, Sensor Tower suggests, indicate that the U.S. market for the top social and messaging apps has become saturated, with downloads for top apps like Facebook and Messenger decreasing over time. In addition, no other apps have found the same level of success that Snapchat and Bitmoji did back in 2016 and 2017, the report adds.

median downloads no 1 ios

For example, Messenger saw 5 million U.S. App Store installs in November 2016 while Bitmoji and Snapchat passed 5 million installs in August 2016 and March 2017, respectively. And no other non-game app has topped 3.5 million installs in a single month since March 2017.

Meanwhile, the decline in downloads needed to reach the No. 1 spot on Google Play was even more significant.

The median daily downloads for the top non-game app decreased by 65% from 209,000 in 2016 to 74,000 so far in 2019.

Similarly, the store saw a decrease in installs among top apps, including Messenger, Facebook, Snapchat, Pandora and Instagram. Messenger, for example, saw its yearly installs fall by 68% from nearly 80 million in 2016 to 26 million in 2018.

Games

With mobile games, however, it’s a different story across both app stores.

On the Apple App Store, it has taken 174,000 downloads for a game to reach the top of the rankings on any given day in 2019 — 85% more the 94,000 installs required for non-game app to reach the top of the charts.

This figure also represents an increase of 47% compared to the 118,000 median daily downloads required to top the charts back in 2016, Sensor Tower said.

median downloads no 1 google play

In part, this trend is due to the rise of hyper-casual gaming. So far in 2019, 28 games have reached the No. 1 position on the U.S. App Store, with hyper-casual games making up all but 4 of those. And of those four, only Harry Potter: Wizards Unite spent more than one day at the top of the charts. Meanwhile, hyper-casual games like aquapark.io and Colorbump 3D have spent 25 and 30 days at No. 1, respectively.

On Google Play, the median daily installs to reach the No. 1 position increased from 70,000 in 2017 to 116,000 so far in 2019, or 66% growth. Overall game downloads, however, decreased 16% from 646 million in Q1 2017 to 544 million in Q1 2019.

Similarly, 21 out of the 23 games that reached the top spot this year have been hyper-casual titles, like Words Story or Traffic Run.

Breaking the Top 10

While topping the charts has gotten easier for non-game apps over the years, breaking into the top 10 has gotten more difficult. Median U.S. daily installs for the No. 10 free non-game app increased 11% from 44,000 in 2016 to 49,000 in 2019.

median downloads top 10 ios

On Google Play, meidan daily installs for non-game apps fell nearly 50% from 55,000 median daily installs in 2016 to 31,000 in 2019.

For games, the No. 10 game’s spot on the App Store had 25,000 median daily installs in 2016 to 43,000 so far in 2019, and Google Play saw 26% growth from 27,000 to 34,000 during the same period.

median downloads top 10 google play

Categories making the Top 10

In terms of breaking into the top 10 by category, Photo & Video apps on the App Store present the most challenge. The category where YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat reside saw a median daily amount of more than 16,000 downloads for the No. 10 app.

This was followed by Shopping (15,300 daily downloads for the No. 10 app), Social Networking (14,500), Entertainment (12,600), and Productivity (12,400).

On Google Play, Entertainment apps — like Hulu, Netflix and Bitmoji — need around 17,100 U.S. installs in a day to reach the top 10. This is followed by Shopping (10,800), Social (9,100), Music (8,200), and Finance (8000).

Beyond the U.S.

Outside the U.S., a non-game app needs approximately 91,000 downloads to reach the top 10 on the App Store in China — higher than the 49,000 installs needed in the U.S. For games, the U.S. is the most difficult to crack the top 10, with a median of 43,000 daily downloads for the No. 10 game.

median downloads top 10 by country ios

On Google Play, India required the most downloads to reach the top 10 with apps needing 256,000 downloads in a day and games needing 117,000 downloads.

median downloads top 10 by country google play

Of course, the App Store’s ranking algorithms — nor Google Play’s algorithms — rely on downloads alone to determine an app’s ranking. Apple takes into consideration downloads and velocity, among other undocumented factors. Google Play does something similar.

But these days, developers are more concerned with showing up highly ranked in app store searches than they are on top charts, where they’ll need to consider numerous other factors beyond downloads — like keywords, description, user engagement, and even app quality, among other things.

Nvidia and VMware team up to make GPU virtualization easier

By Frederic Lardinois

Nvidia today announced that it has been working with VMware to bring its virtual GPU technology (vGPU) to VMware’s vSphere and VMware Cloud on AWS. The company’s core vGPU technology isn’t new, but it now supports server virtualization to enable enterprises to run their hardware-accelerated AI and data science workloads in environments like VMware’s vSphere, using its new vComputeServer technology.

Traditionally (as far as that’s a thing in AI training), GPU-accelerated workloads tend to run on bare metal servers, which were typically managed separately from the rest of a company’s servers.

“With vComputeServer, IT admins can better streamline management of GPU accelerated virtualized servers while retaining existing workflows and lowering overall operational costs,” Nvidia explains in today’s announcement. This also means that businesses will reap the cost benefits of GPU sharing and aggregation, thanks to the improved utilization this technology promises.

Note that vComputeServer works with VMware Sphere, vCenter and vMotion, as well as VMware Cloud. Indeed, the two companies are using the same vComputeServer technology to also bring accelerated GPU services to VMware Cloud on AWS. This allows enterprises to take their containerized applications and from their own data center to the cloud as needed — and then hook into AWS’s other cloud-based technologies.

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“From operational intelligence to artificial intelligence, businesses rely on GPU-accelerated computing to make fast, accurate predictions that directly impact their bottom line,” said Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang . “Together with VMware, we’re designing the most advanced and highest performing GPU- accelerated hybrid cloud infrastructure to foster innovation across the enterprise.”

Y Combinator Demo Day, revenue-based VC funding, Pivotal, Dell, Tumblr, WeWork, and more

By Danny Crichton

Editor’s note

Due to bad travel logistics (thanks SFO), I wasn’t able to get the mid-week edition of the Extra Crunch roundup newsletter out. Sorry about that. Instead, here is everything we published this week on Extra Crunch in one fell swoop — and my, we covered a lot of ground. Hope you enjoy some great weekend reading.

Y Combinator Demo Day Coverage-a-palooza

Much like the equinoxes that synchronize Earth’s calendar, Y Combinator’s biannual demo days are a key fixture of the Silicon Valley calendar. This year was no different, with 166 companies presenting from the summer batch (and occasionally from previous batches if they chose to delay their presentation).

We had a full squad on site not only covering the 84 companies from day one and 82 companies from day two, but our team also put their collective heads together to identify the top companies from each set exclusively for Extra Crunch members.

The 11 best startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

Read our favorite 11 startups from day one, which included:

PopSQL provides collaborative SQL query editing. You can store SQL queries you run regularly, grouping them into folders that can be kept private or shared amongst your team. Version history tracks changes so it can be reverted if/when something breaks. It currently has more than 100 paying companies, and is making $13K per month. It plans to build a marketplace for apps that run on top of your company’s database.

Why it’s one of our favorites: SQL database queries can be a nightmare, especially if they’re not something you’re used to dealing with every day. PopSQL lets you hammer on queries collaboratively until they’re working exactly as you want — then you can save them for future use and share them amongst your team members. And when you’ve spent the last 45 minutes trying to figure out why your query isn’t working only for a team mate to fix it in thirty seconds, you can use version control to see exactly what they changed. PopSQL says its product has already found customers in companies like Instacart, Redfin, and DoorDash.

Our 12 favorite startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 2

Read our favorite 12 startups from day two, which included:

Business Score is helping companies automate background checks on other businesses. The startup is looking to stamp out tired manual processes that largely mean picking up the phone and scouring documents. The single API taps data sources across the web to build out real-time profiles that can help customers scan businesses in an effort to prevent fraud, qualify leads and onboard new clients.

Why it’s one of our favorites: Though it’s yet another startup in the batch catering to other startups, we thought Business Score stood out. The company integrates with thousands of data providers to help companies verify other startups and enterprises they are considering doing business with, using a system they’ve dubbed “the business passport.” There’s an opportunity here to create a tool essential to company-building across industry.

YC is doubling down on these investment theses in its most recent batch

Finally, amidst all the zany craziness of watching 166 companies present over two days (there should be a YC company for unmelting your brain), our venture capital reporter Kate Clark stepped back to assess what all the various companies in the batch indicated about the accelerator’s strategy these days.

YC knows its sweet spot: enterprise SaaS. One might go as far as to say it’s transitioning into a full-on SaaS incubator. Why? Because one of the greatest advantages of going through YC is the network of alumni companies you can tap into. Many successful B2B companies have emerged from the program, raised boat loads of venture capital funding and rocketed to the moon (hello Stripe, Brex, Gusto and Atrium). With that in mind, YC is doubling down on its resources for startups that sell products to other startups, which brings us to our first piece of news.

YC chief executive officer Michael Seibel and president Geoff Ralston announced this week that the accelerator has implemented something called CTO and HR demo days. In short, CTO and HR demo days are an opportunity for B2B startups to pitch their products to YC alum companies’ CTO and/or head of HR. Seibel and Ralston said 60 CTOs attended the event, as well as 30 HR heads. In total, 42 startups presented and we’re guessing a bunch of those companies booked a few customers.

Enterprise software is hot — who would have thought?

By Frederic Lardinois
Alex Williams Contributor
Alex Williams is the founder and publisher of The New Stack, which publishes explanations and analysis of at-scale, distributed technologies for developers, DevOps and other IT professionals.

Once considered the most boring of topics, enterprise software is now getting infused with such energy that it is arguably the hottest space in tech.

It’s been a long time coming. And it is the developers, software engineers and veteran technologists with deep experience building at-scale technologies who are energizing enterprise software. They have learned to build resilient and secure applications with open-source components through continuous delivery practices that align technical requirements with customer needs. And now they are developing application architectures and tools for at-scale development and management for enterprises to make the same transformation.

“Enterprise had become a dirty word, but there’s a resurgence going on and Enterprise doesn’t just mean big and slow anymore,” said JD Trask, co-founder of Raygun enterprise monitoring software. “I view the modern enterprise as one that expects their software to be as good as consumer software. Fast. Easy to use. Delivers value.”

The shift to scale out computing and the rise of the container ecosystem, driven largely by startups, is disrupting the entire stack, notes Andrew Randall, vice president of business development at Kinvolk.

In advance of TechCrunch’s first enterprise-focused event, TC Sessions: Enterprise, The New Stack examined the commonalities between the numerous enterprise-focused companies who sponsor us. Their experiences help illustrate the forces at play behind the creation of the modern enterprise tech stack. In every case, the founders and CTOs recognize the need for speed and agility, with the ultimate goal of producing software that’s uniquely in line with customer needs.

We’ll explore these topics in more depth at The New Stack pancake breakfast and podcast recording at TC Sessions: Enterprise. Starting at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 5, we’ll be serving breakfast and hosting a panel discussion on “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise,” with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO, GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise writer and editor, TechCrunch, among others. Questions from the audience are encouraged and rewarded, with a raffle prize awarded at the end.

Traditional virtual machine infrastructure was originally designed to help manage server sprawl for systems-of-record software — not to scale out across a fabric of distributed nodes. The disruptors transforming the historical technology stack view the application, not the hardware, as the main focus of attention. Companies in The New Stack’s sponsor network provide examples of the shift toward software that they aim to inspire in their enterprise customers. Portworx provides persistent state for containers; NS1 offers a DNS platform that orchestrates the delivery internet and enterprise applications; Lightbend combines the scalability and resilience of microservices architecture with the real-time value of streaming data.

“Application development and delivery have changed. Organizations across all industry verticals are looking to leverage new technologies, vendors and topologies in search of better performance, reliability and time to market,” said Kris Beevers, CEO of NS1. “For many, this means embracing the benefits of agile development in multicloud environments or building edge networks to drive maximum velocity.”

Enterprise software startups are delivering that value, while they embody the practices that help them deliver it.

The secrets to speed, agility and customer focus

Speed matters, but only if the end result aligns with customer needs. Faster time to market is often cited as the main driver behind digital transformation in the enterprise. But speed must also be matched by agility and the ability to adapt to customer needs. That means embracing continuous delivery, which Martin Fowler describes as the process that allows for the ability to put software into production at any time, with the workflows and the pipeline to support it.

Continuous delivery (CD) makes it possible to develop software that can adapt quickly, meet customer demands and provide a level of satisfaction with benefits that enhance the value of the business and the overall brand. CD has become a major category in cloud-native technologies, with companies such as CircleCI, CloudBees, Harness and Semaphore all finding their own ways to approach the problems enterprises face as they often struggle with the shift.

“The best-equipped enterprises are those [that] realize that the speed and quality of their software output are integral to their bottom line,” Rob Zuber, CTO of CircleCI, said.

Speed is also in large part why monitoring and observability have held their value and continue to be part of the larger dimension of at-scale application development, delivery and management. Better data collection and analysis, assisted by machine learning and artificial intelligence, allow companies to quickly troubleshoot and respond to customer needs with reduced downtime and tight DevOps feedback loops. Companies in our sponsor network that fit in this space include Raygun for error detection; Humio, which provides observability capabilities; InfluxData with its time-series data platform for monitoring; Epsagon, the monitoring platform for serverless architectures and Tricentis for software testing.

“Customer focus has always been a priority, but the ability to deliver an exceptional experience will now make or break a “modern enterprise,” said Wolfgang Platz, founder of Tricentis, which makes automated software testing tools. “It’s absolutely essential that you’re highly responsive to the user base, constantly engaging with them to add greater value. This close and constant collaboration has always been central to longevity, but now it’s a matter of survival.”

DevOps is a bit overplayed, but it still is the mainstay workflow for cloud-native technologies and critical to achieving engineering speed and agility in a decoupled, cloud-native architecture. However, DevOps is also undergoing its own transformation, buoyed by the increasing automation and transparency allowed through the rise of declarative infrastructure, microservices and serverless technologies. This is cloud-native DevOps. Not a tool or a new methodology, but an evolution of the longstanding practices that further align developers and operations teams — but now also expanding to include security teams (DevSecOps), business teams (BizDevOps) and networking (NetDevOps).

“We are in this constant feedback loop with our customers where, while helping them in their digital transformation journey, we learn a lot and we apply these learnings for our own digital transformation journey,” Francois Dechery, chief strategy officer and co-founder of CloudBees, said. “It includes finding the right balance between developer freedom and risk management. It requires the creation of what we call a continuous everything culture.”

Leveraging open-source components is also core in achieving speed for engineering. Open-source use allows engineering teams to focus on building code that creates or supports the core business value. Startups in this space include Tidelift and open-source security companies such as Capsule8. Organizations in our sponsor portfolio that play roles in the development of at-scale technologies include The Linux Foundation, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and the Cloud Foundry Foundation.

“Modern enterprises … think critically about what they should be building themselves and what they should be sourcing from somewhere else,” said Chip Childers, CTO of Cloud Foundry Foundation . “Talented engineers are one of the most valuable assets a company can apply to being competitive, and ensuring they have the freedom to focus on differentiation is super important.”

You need great engineering talent, giving them the ability to build secure and reliable systems at scale while also the trust in providing direct access to hardware as a differentiator.

Is the enterprise really ready?

The bleeding edge can bleed too much for the likings of enterprise customers, said James Ford, an analyst and consultant.

“It’s tempting to live by mantras like ‘wow the customer,’ ‘never do what customers want (instead build innovative solutions that solve their need),’ ‘reduce to the max,’ … and many more,” said Bernd Greifeneder, CTO and co-founder of Dynatrace . “But at the end of the day, the point is that technology is here to help with smart answers … so it’s important to marry technical expertise with enterprise customer need, and vice versa.”

How the enterprise adopts new ways of working will affect how startups ultimately fare. The container hype has cooled a bit and technologists have more solid viewpoints about how to build out architecture.

One notable trend to watch: The role of cloud services through projects such as Firecracker. AWS Lambda is built on Firecracker, the open-source virtualization technology, built originally at Amazon Web Services . Firecracker serves as a way to get the speed and density that comes with containers and the hardware isolation and security capabilities that virtualization offers. Startups such as Weaveworks have developed a platform on Firecracker. OpenStack’s Kata containers also use Firecracker.

“Firecracker makes it easier for the enterprise to have secure code,” Ford said. It reduces the surface security issues. “With its minimal footprint, the user has control. It means less features that are misconfigured, which is a major security vulnerability.”

Enterprise startups are hot. How they succeed will determine how well they may provide a uniqueness in the face of the ever-consuming cloud services and at-scale startups that inevitably launch their own services. The answer may be in the middle with purpose-built architectures that use open-source components such as Firecracker to provide the capabilities of containers and the hardware isolation that comes with virtualization.

Hope to see you at TC Sessions: Enterprise. Get there early. We’ll be serving pancakes to start the day. As we like to say, “Come have a short stack with The New Stack!”

Google proposes new privacy and anti-fingerprinting controls for the web

By Frederic Lardinois

Google today announced a new long-term initiative that, if fully realized, will make it harder for online marketers and advertisers to track you across the web. This new proposal follows the company’s plans to change how cookies in Chrome work and to make it easier for users to block tracking cookies.

Today’s proposal for a new open standard extends this by looking at how Chrome can close the loopholes that the digital advertising ecosystem can use to circumvent that. And soon, that may mean that your browser will feature new options that give you more control over how much you share without losing your anonymity.

Over the course of the last few months, Google started talking about a ‘Privacy Sandbox’ which would allow for a certain degree of personalization while still protecting a user’s privacy.

“We have a great reputation on security. […] I feel the way we earned that reputation was by really moving the web forward,” Justin Schuh, Google’s engineering director for Chrome security and privacy told me. “We provide a lot of benefits, worked on a lot of different fronts. What we’re trying to do today is basically do the same thing for privacy: have the same kind of big, bold vision for how we think privacy should work on the web, how we should make browsers and the web more private by default.”

Here is the technical side of what Google is proposing today: to prevent the kind of fingerprinting that makes your machine uniquely identifiable as yours, Google is proposing the idea of a privacy budget. With this, a browser could allow websites to make enough API calls to get enough information about you to group your into a larger cohort but not to the point where you give up your anonymity. Once a site has exhausted this budget, the browser stops responding to any further calls.

Some browsers also already implement a very restrictive form of cookie blocking. Google argues that this has unintended consequences and that there needs to be an agreed-upon set of standards. “The other browser vendors, for the most part, we think really are committed to an open web,” said Schuh, who also stressed that Google wants this to be an open standard and develop it in collaboration with other players in the web ecosystem.

“There’s definitely been a lot of not intentional misinformation but just incorrect data about how sites monetize and how publishers are actually funded,” Schuh stressed. Indeed, Google today notes that its research has shown that publishers lose an average of 52 percent of their advertising revenue when their readers block cookies. That number is even higher for news sites.

In addition, blocking all third-party cookies is not a viable solution according to Google because developers will find ways around this restriction by relying on fingerprinting a user’s machine instead. Yet while you can opt out of cookies and delete them from your browser, you can’t opt out of being fingerprinted since there’s no data stored on your machine (unless you regularly change the configuration of your laptop, the fonts you have installed and other identifiable traits that make your laptop uniquely yours).

What Google basically wants to do here is change the incentive structure for the advertising ecosystem. Instead of trying to circumvent a browser’s cookie and fingerprinting restrictions, the privacy budget, in combination with the industry’s work on federated learning and differential privacy, this is meant to give advertisers the tools they need without hurting publishers, while still respecting the users’ privacy. That’s not an easy switch and something that, as Google freely acknowledges, will take years.

“It’s going to be a multi-year journey,” said Schuh. “What I can say is that I have very high confidence that we will be able to change the incentive structures with this. So we are committed to taking very strong measures to preserve user privacy, we are committed to combating abuses of user privacy. […] But as we’re doing that, we have to move the platform forward and make the platform inherently provide much more robust privacy protections.”

Most of the big tech companies now understand that they have a responsibility to help their users retain their privacy online. Yet at the same time, personalized advertising relies on knowing as much as possible about a given user and Google itself makes the vast majority of its income from its various ad services. It sounds like this should create some tension inside the company. Schuh, however, argued that Google’s ad side and the Chrome team have their independence. “At the end of the day, we’re a web browser, we are concerned about our users base. We are going to make the decisions that are most in their interest so we have to weigh how all of this fits in,” said Schuh. He also noted that the ad side has a very strong commitment to user transparency and user control — and that if users don’t trust the ads ecosystem, that’s a problem, too.

For the time being, though, there’s nothing here for you to try out or any bits being shipped in the Chrome browser. For now, this is simply a proposal and an effort on the Chrome team’s part to start a conversation. We should expect the company to start experimenting with some of these ideas in the near future, though.

Just like with its proposed changes to how advertisers and sites use cookies, this is very much a long-term project for the company. Some users will argue that Google could take more drastic measures and simply use its tech prowess to stop the ad ecosystem from tracking you through cookies, fingerprinting and whatever else the adtech boffins will dream up next. If Google’s numbers are correct, though, that would definitely hurt publishers and few publications are in a position to handle a 50 percent drop in revenue. I can see why Google doesn’t want to do this alone, but it does have the market position to be more aggressive in pushing for these changes.

Apple, which doesn’t have any vested interest in the advertising business, has already made this more drastic move with the latest release of Safari. Its browser now blocks a number of tracking technologies, including fingerprinting, without making any concessions to advertisers. The results of this for publishers is in line with Google’s cookie study.

As far as the rest of Chrome’s competitors, Firefox has started to add anti-fingerprinting techniques as well. Upstart Brave, too, has added fingerprinting protection for all third-party content, while Microsoft’s new Edge currently focuses on cookies for tracking prevention.

By trying to find a middle path, Chrome runs the risk of falling behind as users look for browsers that protect their privacy today — especially now that there are compelling alternatives again.

 

Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

By Frederic Lardinois

Splunk, the publicly traded data processing and analytics company, today announced that it has acquired SignalFx for a total price of about $1.05 billion. Approximately 60% of this will be in cash and 40% in Splunk common stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2020.

SignalFx, which emerged from stealth in 2015, provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. Upon close, Splunk argues, this acquisition will allow it to become a leader “in observability and APM for organizations at every stage of their cloud journey, from cloud-native apps to homegrown on-premises applications.”

Indeed, the acquisition will likely make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space as it expands its support for cloud-native applications and the modern infrastructures and architectures those rely on.

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Ahead of the acquisition, SignalFx had raised a total of $178.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a recent Series E round. Investors include General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz and CRV. Its customers include the likes of AthenaHealth, Change.org, Kayak, NBCUniversal and Yelp.

“Data fuels the modern business, and the acquisition of SignalFx squarely puts Splunk in position as a leader in monitoring and observability at massive scale,” said Doug Merritt, president and CEO, Splunk, in today’s announcement. “SignalFx will support our continued commitment to giving customers one platform that can monitor the entire enterprise application lifecycle. We are also incredibly impressed by the SignalFx team and leadership, whose expertise and professionalism are a strong addition to the Splunk family.”

Altruism Still Fuels the Web. Businesses Love to Exploit It

By Zeynep Tufekci
How open source projects reveal technology's free rider problem.

Join The New Stack for Pancake & Podcast with Q&A at TC Sessions: Enterprise

By Emma Comeau

Popular enterprise news and research site The New Stack is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 for a special Pancake & Podcast session with live Q&A, featuring, you guessed it, delicious pancakes and awesome panelists!

Here’s the “short stack” of what’s going to happen:

  • Pancake buffet opens at 7:45 am on Thursday, September 5 at TC Sessions: Enterprise
  • At 8:15 am the panel discussion/podcast kicks off; the topic, “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise
  • After the discussion, the moderators will host a live audience Q&A session with the panelists
  • Once the Q&A is done, attendees will get the chance to win some amazing raffle prizes

You can only take part in this fun pancake-breakfast podcast if you register for a ticket to  TC Sessions: Enterprise. Use the code TNS30 to get 30% off the conference registration price!

Here’s the longer version of what’s going to happen:

At 8:15 a.m., The New Stack founder and publisher Alex Williams takes the stage as the moderator and host of the panel discussion. Our topic: “The People and Technology You Need to Build a Modern Enterprise.” We’ll start with intros of our panelists and then dive into the topic with Sid Sijbrandij, founder and CEO at GitLab, and Frederic Lardinois, enterprise reporter and editor at TechCrunch, as our initial panelists. More panelists to come!

Then it’s time for questions. Questions we could see getting asked (hint, hint): Who’s on your team? What makes a great technical team for the enterprise startup? What are the observations a journalist has about how the enterprise is changing? What about when the time comes for AI? Who will I need on my team?

And just before 9 a.m., we’ll pick a ticket out of the hat and announce our raffle winner. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

On a side note, the pancake breakfast discussion will be published as a podcast on The New Stack Analysts

But there’s only one way to get a prize and network with fellow attendees, and that’s by registering for TC Sessions: Enterprise and joining us for a short stack with The New Stack. Tickets are now $349, but you can save 30% with code TNS30.

Twitter blocks state-controlled media outlets from advertising on its social network

By Jonathan Shieber

Twitter is now blocking state-run media outlets from advertising on its platform.

The new policy was announced just hours after the company identified an information operation involving hundreds of accounts linked to China as part of an effort to “sow political discord” around events in Hong Kong after weeks of protests in the region. Over the weekend more than 1 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest what they see as an encroachment by the mainland Chinese government over their rights.

State-funded media enterprises that do not rely on taxpayer dollars for their financing and don’t operate independently of the governments that finance them will no longer be allowed to advertise on the platform, Twitter said in a statement. That leaves a big exception for outlets like the Associated Press, the British Broadcasting Corp., Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio, according to reporting from BBC reporter, Dave Lee.

The affected accounts will be able to use Twitter, but can’t access the company’s advertising products, Twitter said in a statement.

“We believe that there is a difference between engaging in conversation with accounts you choose to follow and the content you see from advertisers in your Twitter experience which may be from accounts you’re not currently following. We have policies for both but we have higher standards for our advertisers,” Twitter said in its statement.

The policy applies to news media outlets that are financially or editorially controlled by the state, Twitter said. The company said it will make its policy determinations on the basis of media freedom and independence, including editorial control over articles and video, the financial ownership of the publication, the influence or interference governments may exert over editors, broadcasters and journalists, and political pressure or control over the production and distribution process.

Twitter said the advertising rules wouldn’t apply to entities that are focused on entertainment, sports or travel, but if there’s news in the mix, the company will block advertising access.

Affected outlets have 30 days before they’re removed from Twitter and the company is halting all existing campaigns.

State media has long been a source of disinformation and was cited as part of the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election. Indeed, Twitter has booted state-financed news organizations before. In October 2017, the company banned Russia Today and Sputnik from advertising on its platform (although a representative from RT claimed that Twitter encouraged it to advertise ahead of the election).

 

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