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    MediaLab acquires messaging app Kik, expanding its app portfolio

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Yesterday - 20:47

Popular messaging app Kik is, indeed, “here to stay” following an acquisition by the Los Angeles-based multimedia holding company, MediaLab .

It echoes the same message from Kik’s chief executive Tim Livingston last week when he rebuffed earlier reports that the company would shut down amid an ongoing battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Livingston had tweeted that Kik had signed a letter-of-intent with a “great company,” but that it was “not a done deal.”

Now we know the the company: MediaLab. In a post on Kik’s blog on Friday the MediaLab said that it has “finalized an agreement” to acquire Kik Messenger.

Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations,” the blog post read. “Whether it be a passion for an obscure manga or your favorite football team, Kik has shown an incredible ability to provide a platform for new friendships to be forged through your mobile phone.”

MediaLab is a holding company that owns several other mobile properties , including anonymous social network Whisper and mixtape app DatPiff . In acquiring Kik, the holding company is expanding its mobile app portfolio.

MediaLab said it has “some ideas” for developing Kik going forwards, including making the app faster and reducing the amount of unwanted messages and spam bots. The company said it will introduce ads “over the coming weeks” in order to “cover our expenses” of running the platform.

Buying the Kik messaging platform adds another social media weapon to the arsenal for MediaLab and its chief executive, Michael Heyward .

Heyward was an early star of the budding Los Angeles startup community with the launch of the anonymous messaging service, Whisper nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the company was one of a clutch of anonymous apps — including Secret and YikYak — that raised tens of millions of dollars to offer online iterations of the confessional journal, the burn book, and the bathroom wall (respectively).

In 2017, TechCrunch reported that Whisper underwent significant layoffs to stave off collapse and put the company on a path to profitability.

At the time Whisper had roughly 20 million monthly active users across its app and website, which the company was looking to monetize through programmatic advertising, rather than brand-sponsored campaigns that had provided some of the company’s revenue in the past. Through widgets, the company had an additional 10 million viewers of its content per-month using various widgets and a reach of around 250 million through Facebook and other social networks on which it published posts.

People familiar with the company said at the time that it was seeing gross revenues of roughly $1 million and was going to hit $12.5 million in revenue for that calendar year. By 2018 that revenue was expected to top $30 million, according to sources at the time.

The flagship Whisper app let people post short bits of anonymous text and images that other folks could like or comment about. Heyward intended it to be a way for people to share more personal and intimate details —  to be a social network for confessions and support rather than harassment.

The idea caught on with investors and Whisper managed to raise $61 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures . Whisper’s last round was a $36 million Series C back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2018 when Secret had been shut down for three years while YikYak also went bust — selling off its engineering team to Square for around $1 million. Whisper, meanwhile, seemingly set up MediaLab as a holding company for its app and additional assets that Heyward would look to roll up. The company filed registration documents in California in June 2018.

According to the filings, Susan Stone, a partner with the investment firm Sierra Wasatch Capital , is listed as a director for the company.

Heyward did not respond to a request for comment.

Zack Whittaker contributed reporting for this article.

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    HuffPost is reportedly on the auction block

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – Yesterday - 17:29

Late last night the Financial Times reported that HuffPost , arguably one of the crown jewels of Verizon Media Group’s remaining network of media properties (which includes TechCrunch), is up for sale .

Verizon has been shedding media properties in a retreat from the strategy that it had begun to execute with the acquisition of AOL for $4.4 billion back in 2015. Through the AOL deal, then-chief executive Tim Armstrong became the architect of the telecommunications company’s media and advertising strategy.

Armstrong’s vision was to roll up as much online real estate as he could while creating a high technology advertising architecture on the back-end that could better target consumers based on their media consumption (which the telecom company would also own).

The idea was to provide a broad-based competitor to the reach of ad platforms on Google and Facebook which were also targeting users based on their browsing history and interests. The benefit that Google and Facebook had was that they had a more holistic view of what consumers did online and they positioned themselves as a distribution channel between media companies and users — essentially redistributing their articles and videos and hoovering up the ad dollars that had previously gone to those media companies.

The multi-billion dollar land grab continued when Verizon paid $4.5 billion for Yahoo in 2017.

Now it appears that Verizon has a multi-billion dollar case of buyer’s remorse. Part of the billions that Verizon spent on Yahoo was for the early social network Tumblr, which Yahoo had acquired for $1.1 billion back in 2013.

Earlier this year Verizon unloaded Tumblr for the cost of a luxury Manhattan apartment . That $3 million sale was presaged by the significant fall from grace of other former high-flying media and tech properties.

Vice was once worth $5.7 billion at the height of the media investment bubble, but earlier this year Disney wrote down its stake in the company to virtually nothing.

At least Vice is emerging as a survivor. the company has rolled up Refinery29. Vox Media is also doing well in the new world of media. It bought Recode back in 2015 and recently acquired the publisher behind New York Magazine to expand its purview into paper publications and get its hands on the popular New York websites Intelligencer, The Cut, Vulture, and Grub Street.

Other publications like Hello Giggles, which was founded by the actress Zooey Deschanel, were sold to Time Magazine. High-fliers like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Vice and Vox have all had to lay off staff in recent months.

It’s been a wild ride for HuffPost, which began in 2005 as a collection of celebrity bloggers brought together under the auspices of Arianna Huffington, from whom the site took its name.

AOL acquired The Huffington Post back in 2011 in a deal that was valued at $315 million less than a year after picking up TechCrunch for $25 million.

Verizon announced layoffs across its media properties at the beginning of the year. It cut roughly 7 percent of its staff — or around 800 jobs — including some at HuffPost.

In a statement to the Financial Times, Verizon said that it would not comment on rumors and speculation.

Neither Verizon Media nor HuffPost responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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    Zuckerberg doubles down on free speech—the Facebook way

    news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica – Yesterday - 11:05

“I’m here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Georgetown University Thursday.

Enlarge / “I’m here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Georgetown University Thursday. (credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty)

Mark Zuckerberg came to Washington, DC, on Thursday to claim the mantle of Martin Luther King and the Founding Fathers as a champion of free speech. Standing in the stately Gaston Hall auditorium at Georgetown University—which has hosted the likes of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Bono—the Facebook CEO declared, “I’m here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression.”

And a city full of regulation-hungry politicians and foes of Big Tech undoubtedly thought: How’s that working out?

Zuckerberg’s highly promoted speech introduced no new Facebook features or initiatives, but was a defiant reply to critics of Facebook’s destructive effects on global society— manipulating voters , fomenting division, and even aiding genocide . He doubled down on Facebook’s handling of the treacherous business of implementing free expression at an unprecedented global scale. Despite considerable evidence that the approach has often fallen short, Zuckerberg still professes optimism: Giving people a voice and connecting the world, he believes, are transformationally positive actions. Essentially, he’s saying—as he always has—that Facebook is essentially positive.

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    VR/AR startup valuations reach $45 billion (on paper)

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 2 days ago - 21:09

Despite early-stage virtual reality market and augmented reality market valuations softening in a transitional period, total global AR/VR startup valuations are now at $45 billion globally — include non-pure play AR/VR startups discussed below, and that amount exceeds $67 billion. More than $8 billion has been returned to investors through M&A already, with the remaining augmented and virtual reality startups carrying more than $36 billion valuations on paper. Only time will tell how much of this value gets realized for investors.

(Note: this analysis is of AR/VR startup valuations only, excluding internal investment by large corporates like Facebook . Again, this analysis is of valuation, not revenue.)

Digi-Capital AR/VR Analytics Platform

Selected AR/VR companies that have raised funding or generated significant revenue, plus selected corporates as of September 2019.

There is significant value concentration, with just 18 AR/VR pure plays accounting for half of the $45 billion global figure. Some of the large valuations are for Magic Leap ( well over $6 billion ), Niantic ( nearly $4 billion ), Oculus ( $3 billion from exit to Facebook ), Beijing Moviebook Technology ($1 billion+) and Lightricks ($1 billion). While there are unicorns, the market hasn’t seen an AR/VR decacorn yet.

Across all industries — not just AR/VR — around 60% of VC-backed startups fail, not 90% as often quoted . That doesn’t mean this many startups crash and burn, but that 60% of startups deliver less than 1x return on investment (ROI) to investors (i.e. investors get less back than they put in). To better understand what’s happening in AR/VR, let’s analyze the thousands of startup valuations in Digi-Capital’s AR/VR Analytics Platform to see where the smart money is by sector, stage and country.

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    Daily Crunch: Zuckerberg has thoughts on free speech

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 2 days ago - 18:44

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here .

1. Zuckerberg on Chinese censorship: Is that the internet we want?

The Facebook CEO spoke yesterday at Georgetown University, sharing his thoughts on speech and “how we might address the challenges that more voice and the internet introduce, and the major threats to free expression around the world.”

Among his arguments: China is exporting its social values, political ads are an important part of free expression and the definition of dangerous speech must be kept in check.

2. Atlassian acquires Code Barrel, makers of Automation for Jira

Sydney-based Code Barrel was founded by two of the first engineers who built Jira at Atlassian, Nick Menere and Andreas Knecht. With this acquisition, they are returning to Atlassian after four years in startup land.

3. Swarm gets green light from FCC for its 150-satellite constellation

Swarm Technologies aims to connect smart devices around the world with a low-bandwidth but ever-present network provided by satellites — and it just got approval from the FCC to do so. Apparently the agency is no longer worried that Swarm’s sandwich-sized satellites are too small to be tracked.

4. Nintendo Switch hits another sales milestone

Nintendo’s North American Switch unit sales have already surpassed the lifetime worldwide unit sales of the Wii U. The company announced Thursday that they had sold 15 million units of the popular handheld console in North America.

5. HBO Max scores all 21 Studio Ghibli films

WarnerMedia has been on a shopping spree for its HBO Max service. It bought the rights to “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and now it’s using its outsized checkbook to bring beloved Japanese animation group Studio Ghibli’s films onto the web exclusively on its platform for U.S. subscribers.

6. Volvo creates a dedicated business for autonomous industrial and commercial transport

The vehicle-maker has already been active in putting autonomous technology to work in various industries, with self-driving projects at quarries and mines, and in the busy port located at Gothenburg, Sweden.

7. How Unity built the world’s most popular game engine

Unity’s growth is a case study of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. While other game engines targeted the big AAA game makers at the top of the console and PC markets, Unity went after independent developers with a less robust product that was better suited to their needs and budget. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

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    $35B face data lawsuit against Facebook will proceed

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 2 days ago - 17:53

Facebook just lost a battle in its war to stop a $35 billion class action lawsuit regarding alleged misuse of facial recognition data in Illinois. Today it was denied its request for an en banc hearing before the full slate of ninth circuit judges that could have halted the case. Now the case will go to trial unless the Supreme Court intercedes.

The suit alleges that Illinois citizens didn’t consent to having their uploaded photos scanned with facial recognition and weren’t informed of how long the data would be saved when the mapping started in 2011. Facebook could face $1000 to $5000 in penalties per user for 7 million people, which could sum to a maximum of $35 billion.

facebook facial recognition photo review

A three-judge panel of ninth circuit judges rejected Facebook’s motion to dismiss the case and its appeal of the class certification of the plaintiffs back in August. One of those judges said that it “seems likely” that the Facebook facial recognition data could be used to identify them in surveillance footage or even unlock a biometrically secured cell phone. Facebook had originally built the feature to power photo tag suggestions, asking users if it’s them or a particular friend in an untagged photo.

Nicholas Iovino spotted the announcement today that we’ve attained and embedded below. When asked for comment, a Facebook spokesperson responded “Facebook has always told people about its use of face recognition technology and given them control over whether it’s used for them. We are reviewing our options and will continue to defend ourselves vigorously.”

Filed in 2015, Facebook has done everything to try to block the class action case, from objecting to definitions of tons of words in the suit to lobbying against the underlying Biometric Information Privacy Act .

The class action poses an even greater penalty than the record-breaking $5 billion settlement Facebook agreed to over violations of its FTC consent decree. Though that payment amounts to a fraction of the $55 billion in revenue Facebook earned last year, it’s also been sidled with tons of new data privacy and transparency requirements. The $35 billion threat coming into focus contributed to a 2.25% share price drop for Facebook today.

[Image Credit: Mike MacKenzie ]

Additional reporting by Zack Whittaker

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    Facebook doit-il censurer les mensonges des personnalités politiques ?

    news.movim.eu / Numerama – 2 days ago - 12:27

Mark Zuckerberg a expliqué qu'il n'était pas contre les « fake news » sur sa plateforme, du moins quand il s'agit de personnalités publiques qui les diffusent. Pour lui, la liberté d'expression doit primer. [Lire la suite]

Voitures, vélos, scooters... : la mobilité de demain se lit sur Vroom ! https://www.numerama.com/vroom/vroom//

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    Facebook’s new Portal increases privacy, but is still searching for a reason to exist

    news.movim.eu / TechCrunch – 5 days ago - 12:00

The timing of the original Portal’s launch was less than ideal . The company reportedly pushed things back as the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit full broil, only to be hit with another data breach disclosure. If there’s a lesson to be learned with this year’s sequel, it’s that there may just not be a good time for the company to release a camera-mounted piece of home hardware.

If nothing else, the seemingly endless parade of bad publicity has had the knock-on effect of making the company particularly proactive about privacy in a way the competition lacks. One of my main complaints about Google’s Nest Hub Max is the lack of a physical camera shutter. The original Portal, meanwhile, came with a small piece of plastic that clipped over the camera.

“It was a nice thought, but, practically, users might lose that, and it’s not always visible and available for users who want to cover the camera gracefully,” Facebook Director, Product Management Micah Collins told TechCrunch. “So we wanted to make sure that was a very integral and communicative part of the design.”

Portal Call 1

The new version of the device swaps that in-box piece of plastic for a three-position physical button. All the way to right is open and ready for business. The middle covers the camera with a built-in physical shutter while keeping the mic on. Going all the way to the left disconnects both the camera and microphone. That also turns on a red LED, letting you know definitely both are off. For my own purposes, that middle setting is getting the most use. I suspect I won’t be alone on that front, either.

Of course, disabling the camera sort of defeats the primary purpose of the device. At its heart, the Portal is a home video conferencing product. The inclusion of things like Alexa smart display functionality and music services like Spotify and Pandora are nice, but they’re kind of bonuses. No one is buying a Portal because it’s a more compelling smart screen than an Echo Show or Google Nest Hub Max.

Facebook’s value proposition is its own ecosystem. It’s the implicit understanding that, if you’re a person who is on the internet, odds are you’ve already opted in to Facebook, Facebook Messenger and now WhatsApp. That’s where the device attempts to set itself apart.

The first generation did get a leg up with some very clever AI camera panning, zooming and framing. It was a great feature and one it would be nice to see incorporated into devices like the Echo Show, where the video chat experience leaves something to be desired. Google, meanwhile, adopted something similar for the Nest Hub Max (while the original, smaller device still lacks a camera), which surely has taken some of the wind out of Facebook’s sails here.

Alexa B

“Nest has done a fine job,” Collins says, diplomatically. “We’re really happy they followed our lead in that sense of trying to deliver a richer calling experience.”

One gets the feeling Facebook is very much trying to wrap its brain around what its differentiator is here, and the new version of the Portal doesn’t do much to clarify that mission statement. While the company insisted to me that the growing family of devices are a play in and of themselves, it’s hard to shake the notion that the Portal family operates better as a kind of reference design for how third-party hardware manufacturers might better integrate its services into their own designs.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that Facebook can’t break away from this paradigm. The Microsoft Surface line presents a model for moving from reference to viable product. At the moment, however, there’s not a lot to recommend Facebook’s offerings, particularly with the external cloud of privacy offerings.

That said, there are things that can be taken away from this generation. The picture frame design, while far less interesting and aesthetically pleasing than its predecessor, does point to what is likely the future of these devices: a push to more seamlessly blend in with their surroundings. As the novelty of the category begins to wear off, more users are likely to choose function over form.

There’s also the clever kickstand. I’ll admit, I was a little baffled when I took the plug out of the box, but the rigid bit jutting from the back allows you to flip between portrait and landscape mode, depending on the source on the other end (mobile versus another Portal device), which would otherwise appear with letterboxing on the sides.

Alexa A

The Portal includes some other nice touches. The company’s adding additional AR Effects and Story Time stories. Like the rest of the Alexa-powered smart displays, Portal lacks a YouTube app, though you can access that through the built-in browser. It’s an inconvenient workaround, but good to have nonetheless, given how key a service like YouTube feels to a smart display like this.

Otherwise, the less universal Facebook Watch is your primary video source here. There are 14 apps currently listed in the onboard store, including those that are already pre-installed. The list includes big names like CNN, Food Network, Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio. Beyond that, you’re going to be relying on the built-in browser, requiring a lot of typing on an upright screen.

The price is certainly decent. At $179, I can’t imagine Facebook is making a ton of money on these. In fact, it’s not entirely clear why Facebook is making the Portal at all, outside of the stock line of “want[ing] to connect the world.” Perhaps once it figures out that, it will have a reason why the rest of us should get on board.