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Tag Archives: sarah-perez

Twitter ‘smytes’ customers

Twitter today announced it was acquiring the “trust and safety as a service” startup  Smyte  to help it better address issues related to online abuse, harassment, spam, and security on its platform. But it also decided to immediately shut down access to Smyte’s API without warning, leaving Smyte’s existing customers no time to transition to a new service provider. The change left Smyte’s current customer base stranded, with production issues related to the safety of their own platforms. Needless to say, many were not happy about this situation and took to Twitter to register their complaints. According to Smyte’s website, its clients included Indiegogo, GoFundMe, npm, Musical.ly, TaskRabbit, Meetup, OLX, ThredUp, YouNow, 99 Designs, Carousell, and Zendesk – big name brands that used Smyte’s feature set in a variety of ways to combat fraud, abuse, harassment, scams, spam, and other security issues. While Twitter had earlier told TechCrunch that it would be “winding down” Smyte’s business with existing clients, what that apparently meant was that it was going to announce the acquisition, then effectively shut off the lights over at Smyte and leave everyone in the lurch. According to reports from those affected, Smyte disabled access to its API with very little warning to clients, and without giving them time to prepare. Customers got a phone call, and then – boom – the service was gone. Clients had multi-year contracts in some cases. And again, to reiterate, Smyte is a provider of anti-abuse and anti-fraud protections – not something any business would shut off overnight. In npm’s case, it even led to a production outage. Twitter declined to comment, but we understand it was making phone calls to affected Smyte customers today to match them with new service providers.

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Happn takes on Tinder Places with an interactive map of missed connections

Dating app Happn , whose “missed connections” type of dating experience connects people who have crossed paths in real life, is fighting back at Tinder. Seemingly inspired by Happn’s location-based features, Tinder recently began piloting something called Tinder Places – a feature that tracks your location to match you with those people who visit your same haunts – like a favorite bar, bookshop, gym, restaurant, and more. Of course Tinder’s move into location-based dating should worry Happn, which had built its entire dating app around the idea of matching up people who could have met in real life, but just missed doing so. Now, Happn is challenging Tinder Places with a new feature of its own. It’s debuting an interactive map where users can discover those people they’ve crossed paths with over the past seven days. Happn founder, French entrepreneur Didier Rappaport, dismisses the Tinder threat. “We don’t see it as a threat at all but as a good thing,” he tells TechCrunch. “Find the people you’ve crossed paths with has always been in Happn’s DNA since the beginning….We are very flattered that Tinder wants to include the same feature in its product. However, we will never use the swipe in our product,” he says. Rappaport believes swiping is wrong because it makes you think of the other person as a product, and that’s not Happn’s philosophy. “We want to give our users a chance to interact or not with a person, to take their time to decide, to be able to move back in their timeline if suddenly they change their mind and want to have a second chance,” he notes. To use Happn’s map, you’ll tap on a specific location you’ve visited, and are then presented with potential matches who have been there too, or within 250 meters of that spot

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Happn takes on Tinder Places with an interactive map of missed connections

Dating app Happn , whose “missed connections” type of dating experience connects people who have crossed paths in real life, is fighting back at Tinder. Seemingly inspired by Happn’s location-based features, Tinder recently began piloting something called Tinder Places – a feature that tracks your location to match you with those people who visit your same haunts – like a favorite bar, bookshop, gym, restaurant, and more. Of course Tinder’s move into location-based dating should worry Happn, which had built its entire dating app around the idea of matching up people who could have met in real life, but just missed doing so. Now, Happn is challenging Tinder Places with a new feature of its own. It’s debuting an interactive map where users can discover those people they’ve crossed paths with over the past seven days. Happn founder, French entrepreneur Didier Rappaport, dismisses the Tinder threat. “We don’t see it as a threat at all but as a good thing,” he tells TechCrunch. “Find the people you’ve crossed paths with has always been in Happn’s DNA since the beginning….We are very flattered that Tinder wants to include the same feature in its product. However, we will never use the swipe in our product,” he says. Rappaport believes swiping is wrong because it makes you think of the other person as a product, and that’s not Happn’s philosophy. “We want to give our users a chance to interact or not with a person, to take their time to decide, to be able to move back in their timeline if suddenly they change their mind and want to have a second chance,” he notes. To use Happn’s map, you’ll tap on a specific location you’ve visited, and are then presented with potential matches who have been there too, or within 250 meters of that spot

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AT&T launches a low-cost live TV streaming service, WatchTV

AT&T this morning announced the launch of a second TV streaming service, called WatchTV, days after its merger with Time Warner . The lower-cost alternative to AT&T’s DirecTV Now will offer anyone the ability to join WatchTV for only $15 per month, but the service will also be bundled into AT&T wireless plans. This $15 per month price point undercuts newcomer Philo, which in November had introduced the cheapest over-the-top TV service at just $16 per month. With WatchTV, customers gain access to over 30 live TV channels from top cable networks including A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, History, IFC, Lifetime, Sundance TV, TBS, TLC, TNT, VICELAND, and several others. (Full list below). Shortly after launch, it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick, and VH1. There are also over 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand, along with premium channels and music streaming options as add-ons. While the new WatchTV service is open to anyone, AT&T is also bundling it into two new unlimited plans for no additional cost. These plans are the AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan and the AT&T Unlimited & More plan. The Premium plan customers will have all the same features of the existing AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced Plan, including 15 GB of high-speed tethering, high-quality video and a $15 monthly credit towards DirecTV, U-verse TV, or, AT&T’s other streaming service, DirecTV Now. They can also choose to add one other option, like HBO, Showtime, Starz, Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora Premium and VRV, for no additional fee.

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Google Play now makes it easier to manage your subscriptions

Mobile app subscriptions are a big business, but consumers sometimes hesitate to sign up because pausing and cancelling existing subscriptions hasn’t been as easy as opting in. Google is now addressing those concerns with the official launch of its subscription center for Android users. The new feature centralizes all your Google Play subscriptions, and offers a way for you to find others you might like to try. The feature was first introduced at Google’s I/O developer conference in May, and recently rolled out to Android users, the company says. However, Google hadn’t formally announced its arrival until today. Access to the subscriptions center only takes one tap – the link is directly available from the “hamburger” menu in the Play Store app. Apple’s page for subscription management, by comparison, is far more tucked away. On iOS, you have to tap on your profile icon in the App Store app, then tap on your name. This already seem unintuitive – especially considering that a link to “Purchases” is on this Account screen. Why wouldn’t Subscriptions be here, too? But instead, you have to go to the next screen, then scroll down to near the bottom to find “Subscriptions” and tap that. To turn any individual subscription off, you have to go to its own page, scroll to the bottom and tap “Cancel.” This process should be more streamlined for iOS users

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YouTube woos brands with its new Creative Suite of ad tools

YouTube hopes a new set of creative tools will help it win back advertisers who may have grown disenchanted with the video network due to its ongoing content scandals . The company announced this morning a suite of tools that will allow brands and agencies to test ads, target specific audiences with customized versions of the same ad, and tell stories over a series of ads. One new tool, Video Experiments, offers AdWords advertisers a way to test video ads on YouTube’s site, as an alternative to using focus groups to determine the impact of creative on metrics brands care about like awareness or purchase intent. The service, which launches in beta later this month, will allow marketers to shift funds usually put towards those focus groups and their “simulated ad environments,” to real ad environments. The ads will run in cleanly segmented experiments on YouTube at no extra cost beyond the media investment, the company says, and turn around results in as little as three days’ time. The idea here is to allow brands to test their video ad campaigns before committing the funds to roll them out more broadly – something that could help them to tweak the creative material, or even pull back on an ad rollout that could have ended up being a total misfire  that draws consumer backlash. That’s a critical factor to consider in today’s social media landscape, where one bad ad can spread virally beyond just those who directly watched it, leading to negative consumer sentiment and even brand boycotts. Another new tool, Director Mix, was already announced last year , and is now being tested by brands like Kellogg’s in an alpha phase, ahead of its general availability. This tool lets advertisers create many versions of their same ad using swappable elements. They can customize the text, while using the existing images, sound and videos across a variety of ads. These ads can be far more personalized to YouTube viewers, as a result. For example, in a test with Campbell’s Soup , bumper ads appeared for those watching “Orange is the New Black” clips that said “does your cooking make prison food seem good? We’ve got a soup for that.” But the same ad customized for Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” instead included the line “Dinner for One?” McDonald’s had also used Director Mix in the past to create 77 pieces of content from one ad.

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Anchor brings podcast creation and editing to the iPad

Following its relaunch earlier this year as a podcast creation platform, Anchor today is bringing its suite of mobile podcasting tools to the iPad. Like its iPhone counterpart, the iPad version of Anchor lets you record, edit, then distribute your podcast anywhere, including iTunes and Google Play Music. The new app is also customized for touch-based editing, and it takes advantage of iPad features like drag-and-drop and multitasking. The company had originally been focused on short-form audio, but more recently realized it could better serve the growing audience of podcasters with a set of easy-to-use tools available right on their mobile device. The iPhone version of Anchor lets you press a button to record your audio, record with friends, insert voice messages (like call-ins) into your podcast, and easily add music and transitions. The iPad app now offers a similar set of tools, with a few upgrades and tweaks. For starters, you can opt use a real microphone by plugging one into your iPad’s lightning port, or by using a lightning-to-USB adapter. You can also upload or even drag and drop audio files from other apps into Anchor for use in its episode builder. For example, you could pull in music from GarageBand, add a voice memo, or import other audio files saved in a cloud storage site like Dropbox. The app support multitasking, too, so you can keep your notes open as your record. And you can directly edit the audio files on the iPad itself using touch-based controls that are easy enough for anyone – even novice or amateur podcasters – to use. The controls allow you to trim the beginning and end of your podcast, so you can cut out issues like false starts or other chatter.

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Starz launches 14 channels on YouTube TV

YouTube’s live TV streaming service is getting a big addition, starting today. Starz is rolling out its 14 channels, including Starz, Starz Encore, and Starz Encore Westerns, to the Google-owned streaming service as an add-on that costs $9 per month. The network joins YouTube TV’s other premium channel options, including Showtime, Shudder, Sundance Now, and Fox Soccer Plus. Notably, HBO is not in that list – YouTube TV chose not to take all of Time Warner Broadcasting’s channels because it wanted to offer a slimmed down, more affordable live TV service. So Time Warner chose to stop negotiating a deal for HBO, according to a report from Bloomberg. But that could be good news for Starz, as the network will now be one of the few premium cable networks to target YouTube TV’s younger, millennial viewers who often aren’t signing up for pay TV in the first place. They’re not coming to services like YouTube TV to reproduce what they’re missing from cable, but are instead discovering what’s available to stream, including via premium networks. Starz says its 14 Starz and Starz Encore channels are available as of today to YouTube TV subscribers, offering its full video-on-demand catalog of popular movies, exclusive documentaries, and Starz’ original programming. The originals include shows like “Power,” “Vida,” “Counterpart,” “Outlander,” “American Gods,” “Sweetbitter,” “Black Sails,” “Party Down,” and others. Of course, YouTube TV isn’t the only way to watch Starz’ content these days. The channel has been available over-the-top via Starz’ own app since 2016 which works across devices , and is available on-demand via other services like Hulu and Amazon Channels.

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Amazon launches an Alexa system for hotels

Alexa is coming to your hotel room. Amazon this morning is announcing a new program called Alexa for Hospitality, designed to bring its voice assistant technology to everything from chain hotels to vacation rentals. The system can be customized to include key guest information, like checkout time or pool hours; allows guests to request services like housekeeping or room service; and can be configured to control “smart” hotel room functions, like adjusting the thermostat or raising the blinds. Marriott is Amazon’s launch partner on the new platform, which is notable not only for the potential scale of this rollout, but also because the hotelier had been testing both Siri and Alexa devices ahead of today’s news. According to Amazon, Marriott International will introduce the new Alexa experience at select properties in Marriott Hotels, Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels starting this summer. The system will also be available by invitation to other hospitality providers beginning today. Alexa for Hospitality works over Echo devices installed in guest rooms which will be customized for the hotel. Currently, supported devices include the Amazon Echo Dot, Echo and Echo Plus. Via the Echo, guests will be able to ask Alexa for information about the hotel itself – like where the fitness center is located, when the pool is open, and other general information. But they’ll also be able to contact services like in-room dining, the concierge, the front desk, housekeeping, the spa, and so on, just by speaking to Alexa.

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Photomyne raises $5 million for its A.I.-powered photo scanning app

Tel Aviv-based  Photomyne , an A.I.-powered app that helps you bring your old photo prints online, has been benefitting from the subscription app boom to the tune of $5 million in Series A funding. Today, the app is used by a million people every month, and 250,000 people pay the $20 annual subscription for the expanded service. This adds a handful of additional features, including the option to build a family website where all your photos are uploaded immediately after being scanned. There is something of a limited lifetime for apps that convert physical media to digital – at some point, everyone who wants to transition their old media to the web will have done so. Another issue is that some people will make scanning photos a one-time project. They’ll then save all their photos to their own device and cloud storage, and cancel their subscription. And as those users drop off, physical media will continue to die out. For those reasons, Photomyne will eventually need to expand into other areas – perhaps scanning other things beyond photos. As it has a couple of patents for things like scanning business cards, documents, and sticky notes, it’s clearly thinking about this, too. But in the meantime, there’s still an audience of self-appointed family historians, who are making old photos available to their extended families, as well as older folks who grew up in the pre-smartphone era and now want to bring their memories online, too. By leveraging A.I. technology which runs locally, in real-time, on mobile devices, Photomyne is able to speed up the fairly tedious process of photo scanning using a handheld device. That is, instead of having to focus on one photo – as with Google’s PhotoScan , for example – Photomyne lets you scan multiple photos in a single shot as you flip through the pages of old albums. It then breaks those up into individual photos by auto-detecting the boundaries

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Venmo is discontinuing web support for payments and more

PayPal-owned, peer-to-peer payments app Venmo is ending web support for its service, the company announced in an email to users. The changes, which are beginning to roll out now, will see the Venmo.com website phasing out support for making payments and charging users. In time, users will see even less functionality on the website, the company says. The message to users was quietly shared in the body of Venmo’s monthly transaction history email. It reads as follows: NOTICE: Venmo has decided to phase out some of the functionality on the Venmo.com website over the coming months. We are beginning to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website, and over time, you may see less functionality on the website – this is just the start. We therefore have updated our user agreement to reflect that the use of Venmo on the Venmo.com website may be limited. The decision represents a notable shift in product direction for Venmo. Though best known as a mobile payments app, the service has also been available online, similar to PayPal, for many years. The Venmo website today allows users to sign in and view their various transaction feeds, including public transactions, those from friends, and personal transactions. You can also charge friends and submit payments from the website, send payment reminders, like and comment on transactions, add friends, edit your profile, and more. Some users may already be impacted by the changes, and will now see a message alerting them to the fact that charging friends and making payments can only be done in the Venmo app from the App Store or Google Play.

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Microsoft is developing its own cashierless store technology, says report

Amazon may be facing new competition from Microsoft on its cashierless, automated store technology, according to a new report from Reuters out this morning. The report claims Microsoft is in the process of developing its own systems for tracking what people place in their shopping carts, but doesn’t offer the details of how Microsoft’s technology operates, or how it may differ from others on the market. Presumably, it would be similar to existing systems, like Amazon’s. The Amazon Go convenience stores utilize a complex network of sensors on shelves, cameras, and A.I. to track what people pick up and place in their bag. Other startups are working on their own machine vision-powered checkout systems, as well, like Standard Cognition ,  AiFi , and AVA Retail , for example. The latter, along with half a dozen others, are already Microsoft partners building their own checkout-free services or related technology on Microsoft’s cloud. Microsoft also has an internal team of 10 to 15 working on retail store technologies within its Business AI group, including a computer vision specialist hired from Amazon Go, the report noted. The team has tested things like attaching cameras to shopping carts and using smartphones to pay in various ways. The focus of these efforts is not just to develop the new store technology itself, but also make it affordable for retailers, who tend to have small margins to work with. Microsoft has been talking to retailers about its efforts, and has shown off sample technology during these discussions, which have included Walmart. Neither company commented on Reuters’ report. If Microsoft were to take on Amazon in this space, it could give brick-and-mortar retailers a chance at fighting back as Amazon enters their own turf with its cashier-free stores and its grocery chain

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Musical.ly kills its standalone live-streaming app Live.ly

Musical.ly is merging the functionality from its two-year old live-streaming platform Live.ly into its main app, and has disabled Live.ly’s standalone app as part of the transition process. The Live.ly app will eventually be pulled from the App Store and Google Play, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. Instead of being able to go live, Live.ly users are presented with a message about the changes, informing them that live streaming has now moved over to Musical.ly. This change is also confirmed via Live.ly’s App Store update text, which says: Live.ly is becoming part of musical.ly! – You can go live on musical.ly right now! Plenty of live content there! Live.ly first launched in May 2016, offering Musical.ly users a live-streaming platform, where the streams were directly viewable on Musical.ly, as well as within the Live.ly mobile app. As the video creator streamed, they’d see a count of how many people were watching, and would see hearts float up across the screen when viewers “liked” their content — an experience that’s very similar to Twitter/Periscope and Facebook Live. Viewers could also chat with the streamer, and engage in real-time conversations. Unfortunately for Live.ly users, there was little warning about the shut down, and it seems that, for some, live streaming on Musical.ly is not working as expected. One regular Live.ly user posted to YouTube about the shutdown , complaining that after she made the switch to Musical.ly for her live stream as instructed, but no people were online watching and no likes and comments were showing up, either. This appears to be some sort of glitch, as viewers, likes, comments and other Live.ly core features are displaying for others who have been transitioned to the Musical.ly-based live-streaming experience. Not everyone will be able to go live directly on Musical.ly today, as the addition of live-streaming support is a phased rollout. However, the company says it remains committed to investing in live-streaming functionality, despite the Live.ly shutdown. We’re told that the majority of live-stream viewership was already taking place on Musical.ly’s main app, so it made sense for the company to consolidate the live video alongside the other short, lip sync videos Musical.ly is known for. The closure of Live.ly is one of the first major changes to the Musical.ly product following its acquisition by Chinese media company Bytedance for up to $1 billion in November 2017. Under its new ownership, Musical.ly launched a $50 million fund to help build out its creator community, but has also faced  criticism for having  poor content moderation capabilities — something that’s especially concerning given that a large part of its viewership audience is children. It is also now facing a new threat: this month, Facebook began testing a Musical.ly competitor  called Lip Sync Live.

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Amazon now lets you share your custom skills made with Alexa Blueprints

Earlier this year, Amazon introduced “ Alexa Blueprints ” – a way for anyone to create their own customized Alexa skills for personal use, without needing to know how to code. Today, the company will allow those skills to be shared with others, including through text messages, email, messaging apps like WhatsApp, or social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. The idea is that you could create a skill for your friends or family to use, to save them the work of having to edit Amazon’s provided templates with your own content. Amazon suggests the new sharing feature could be used among study groups, who have built a custom “flashcards” skill, for example, or shared among family for a birthday. (Presumably, the skill is part of your present?) Blueprints, so far, have been a fun way to play around with Alexa in your home, teaching it to respond to questions like “who’s the best mom?” (me, of course), creating lists of your family’s favorite jokes, playing customized trivia games, and more. But adoption has been fairly limited – it’s a neat trick, but not a must-have for all Alexa users. The skills themselves are simple to build: Amazon provides templates, which are basically filled in and ready to go, but you change the answers to suit your needs. Now, you when you’re viewing the list of skills you’ve made, you can toggle the skill’s status under the “Access” section to either “just me” or “shared.” (You can un-share a skill at any time, too, by choosing “revoke.”) Sharing creates a link to your skill that you can paste into a text message, email, social media, or anywhere else. When the recipients clicks the link, they’re taken to the Alexa Blueprints site where they can enable the skill for themselves. While this could make it easier for people to use Blueprints, it would be interesting if there was a way to share the skills more publicly, too – currently, you can’t publish skills to the Alexa Skill Store, as they’re meant for personal use. But having some sort of community section for Alexa owners within the Blueprints site itself could be interesting – maybe you could share your own Blueprints templates here, or ask others to collaborate on creating one with you. Imagine a Blueprint trivia game built by all the fans of a favorite TV show, for instance. Or maybe you could share a set of Blueprints with your extended family, since, you know, you’re “the techie one.” Of course, it’s hard to justify investing in a project that still has a niche audience at this time – but on the other hand, building a community of Alexa owners around homegrown skills could prompt that audience to grow, and help to inform professional developers about what kinds of skills people really wanted.

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LOLA just raised $24M for a subscription service that ships tampons, pads and now condoms

LOLA , a subscription service delivering tampons and pads, and now other products, including condoms, lubricant, and feminine cleansing wipes, has closed on $24 million in Series B funding. While the startup touts its products’ “100% organic” nature, it’s also well-received because of the customization offered and its direct-to-consumer nature. The new round of financing was led by private equity firm Alliance Consumer Growth (ACG), with support from existing investors Spark Capital, Lerer Hippeau and Brand Foundry Ventures. To date, LOLA has raised $11.2 million, from investors including also BBG Ventures, 14W, the founders of Warby Parker and Harry’s, Sweetgreen, Bonobos, and Insomnia Cookies. Celebs like  Serena Williams, Karlie Kloss, Lena Dunham, and Allison Williams have also invested. Launched in 2015, LOLA’s founders Alex Friedman and Jordana Kier had the idea to challenge industry giants, like Tampax and Playtex, with a 100% organic product. “We founded LOLA with a simple and seemingly obvious idea – as women, we shouldn’t have to compromise when it comes to our reproductive health,” explains Kier. “Like most women, we’d been using the same feminine care products since we were teenagers. But when we found out that brands – including the same ones we were loyal to all those years – aren’t required to disclose exactly what’s in their products, it made us wonder: what’s in our tampon?” “If we care about everything else we put in our bodies, products for our reproductive health shouldn’t be any different,” she states. LOLA’s tampons, pads and liners are made only with organic cotton, not synthetic fibers, like those used mainstream brands. Nor do they contain fragrances or dyes. The nature of its products appeal to consumers – especially, young millennial women – who are more conscious of the chemicals in their products, as well as those who want to buy organic for the environmental benefits. That said, there’s  a bit of debate over how dangerous (or not) it is to use traditional feminine care products. Skeptics , including some  doctors , insist there’s no threat from conventional products. But even women not concerned with buying organic may find LOLA appealing because of its model.

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