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Trump’s new cyber strategy eases rules on use of government cyberweapons

The Trump administration’s new cyber strategy out this week isn’t much more than a stringing together of previously considered ideas. In the 40-page document , the government set out its plans to improve cybersecurity, incentivizing change, and reforming computer hacking laws. Election security about a quarter of a page, second only to “space cybersecurity.” The difference was the tone. Although the document had no mention of “offensive” action against actors and states that attack the US, the imposition of “consequences” was repeated. “Our presidential directive effectively reversed those restraints, effectively enabling offensive cyber-operations through the relevant departments,” said John Bolton, national security advisor, to reporters. “Our hands are not tied as they were in the Obama administration,” said Bolton, throwing shade on the previous government. The big change, beyond the rehashing of old policies and principles, was the tearing up of an Obama-era presidential directive, known as PPD-20, which put restrictions on the government’s cyberweapons. Those classified rules were removed a month ago, the Wall Street Journal reported , described at the time as an “offensive step forward” by an administration official briefed on the plan. In other words, it’ll give the government greater authority to hit back at targets seen as active cyberattackers — like Russia , North Korea , and Iran — all of which have been implicated in cyberattacks against the US in the recent past. Any rhetoric that ramps up the threat of military action or considers use of force — whether in the real world or in cyberspace — is all too often is met with criticism, amid concerns of rising tensions. This time, not everyone hated it.

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Scientists have moved one step closer to RNA editing, which could be the next stage of CRISPR

Researchers at the prestigious  Salk  Institute  are reporting that they have managed to map the molecular structure of a CRISPR enzyme that could allow scientists to more precisely manipulate functions within cells. Over the past several years, CRISPR-Cas9 has seized the public imagination for its ability to edit genetic code in a way that may correct defects inside individual cells — potentially healing mutations and preventing the advent of may illnesses. Specifically Cas9 enzymes act sort of like scissors, snipping away pieces of genetic code and swapping them out with a replacement. But these enzymes target DNA, which is the fundamental building block for the development of an organism, and there are growing concerns that using the enzyme to essentially reprogram the DNA of a cell may cause more harm than good. As this report in  Scientific American  illustrates: Research  published on Monday suggests that’s only the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg: CRISPR-Cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic havoc than experts thought, the study concludes, perhaps enough to threaten the health of patients who would one day receive  CRISPR-based therapy . The results come hard on the heels of two  studies  that identified a related issue: Some CRISPR’d cells might be missing a key anti-cancer mechanism and therefore be able to initiate tumors. CRISPR-CAS9 gene editing complex from Streptococcus pyogenes. The Cas9 nuclease protein uses a guide RNA sequence to cut DNA at a complementary site. Cas9 protein: white surface model. DNA fragments: blue ladder cartoon. RNA: red ladder cartoon. Photo courtesy Getty Images The new findings from the Salk Institute, published in the journal  Cell ,  provide the detailed molecular structure of CRISPR-Cas13d, an enzyme that can target RNA instead of DNA. Once thought to just be the delivery mechanism for instructions encoded in DNA for cell operations, RNA is now known to carry out biochemical reactions like enzymes; and serve their own regulatory functions in cells. By identifying an enzyme that can target the mechanisms by which cells operate, rather than the overall plan for cellular function, scientists should be able to come up with even more highly refined treatments with fewer risks

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Facebook’s Camera AR platform head is coming to TC Sessions: AR/VR

Augmented reality has the potential to change how we interact with the internet; as these technologies scale, you can certainly bet that Facebook is going to be looking to shape what’s possible. At our one-day TC Sessions: AR/VR event in LA next month, we’ll be joined by Ficus Kirkpatrick, Facebook’s head of Camera AR Platform, to chat about the company’s strategies in 2018 and beyond for augmented reality. While the bulk of Facebook’s VR ambitions have taken up residence under the Oculus name, the biggest AR platform available right now are the hundreds of millions of smartphones that people already have. Fortunately, Facebook has quite the presence on mobile, but that’s made it even more of a challenge to fit AR ambitions into apps that already have so much going on. Facebook is not the place most people turn to when they want to take a photo, but the company’s Camera team is hoping to change that by bringing augmented reality face and environment filters deeper into the app. The Camera Effects AR Platform was Mark Zuckerberg’s hallmark announcement at F8 in 2017 , a year when Apple and Google also started getting more verbose in their praise for AR’s potential. In 2018, the company has had some other things keeping it busy, but has continued to bring AR to other areas of the company’s suite of apps with new capabilities. Right now Facebook is largely focused on the fun and artsy applications of AR, but where will the company take smartphone AR beyond selfie filters toward delivering utility to billions of users? We look forward to chatting with Kirkpatrick about the challenges ahead for the tech giant and the strategies for getting more users to warm up to AR. $99 Early-Bird sale ends tomorrow , 9/21; book your tickets today and save $100 before prices go up, and save an additional 25 percent when you tweet your attendance through our ticketing platform. Student tickets are just $45 and can be purchased here . Student tickets are good for high/middle school students (with chaperone), two- and four-year college students and master’s/PhD students

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Hulu is making a new season of ‘Veronica Mars’

It’s official: Hulu is reviving the cult mystery series “Veronica Mars”. The show originally ran from 2004 to 2007 on UPN and the CW, with the titular high school sleuth played by Kristen Bell. Last month, there were reports that Hulu was in talks to bring the show back . Now it looks like a deal is in place, with Bell confirming the news on Instagram . Hulu says it’s placed a straight-to-series order for eight more episodes of the show, with Bell returning as Veronica and serving as executive producer alongside creator Rob Thomas (who’s writing the first episode) and writers Diane Ruggiero-Wright and Dan Etheridge. Apparently the story will return viewers to the Southern California town of Neptune, where spring breakers are getting murdered, fueling conflict between the town’s haves and have nots and ultimately pulling Mars Investigations onto the case. Hulu also says it’s picked up the rights to the three existing seasons of “Veronica Mars”, along with the feature film, to start streaming in summer 2019. If you haven’t watched the show, I highly recommend it — especially the first season, which offers a near perfect combination of noir-ish mystery, class conflict and personal drama. I was  less impressed by the Kickstarter-funded movie , which suffered from trying to stuff everything fans might possibly want into a two-hour runtime. Hopefully, Thomas and his team learned from the experience. Plus, these eight episodes should give them a lot more room to tell their story.

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Cluep, a Canadian startup that raised just $500k, acquired for $40M

Everyone loves a tale of a bootstrapped startup founder’s journey to an eight-figure exit. The team at Toronto-based Cluep have a good one. The founders of the adtech startup raised less than $500,000 from angel investors before selling their company to Impact Group for $40 million ($53 milllion CAD) this week. Founded in 2012, Karan Walia, Sobi Walia and Anton Mamonov were just  21, 17 and 16 years old, respectively, when they started  the digital advertising platform, which uses artificial intelligence  to help brands connect and engage with people based on what they are sharing, how they are feeling and the places they’ve been. They, being teenagers, struggled initially to get the company off the ground. At one point, the trio hacked into computers at a university in Toronto to train the neural networks on large amounts of data sets because they didn’t have enough money to buy their own tech. On a shoe-string budget, they would split meals at Popeyes to get by. “No one wanted to give us money at that time so we had to live off of my student loans,” Walia told TechCrunch . “ We did pretty much everything, whether it was programming and building the product, or going out and selling. I was our first sales rep and I was pretty bad early on but I learned.” Ultimately, Cluep was able to raise enough from angels to pay themselves a salary, hire a few engineers and sales representatives, and move into an actual office. From that point, their revenue began growing significantly YoY. 2015: $2 million CAD in revenue 2016: $6 million CAD in revenue 2017: $14.5 million CAD in revenue 2018: On track to bring in ~$30 million CAD They fielded offers from VCs toward the end of 2015 and considered raising a proper Series A round of capital, but ultimately decided staying independent would lead to the best exit. “This way allowed us to basically maintain control and exit on our terms,” Walia said. Impact Group, a Boise, Idaho-based grocery sales and marketing agency, will operate Cluep independently.

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Amazon’s Fire TV Recast will let you record live TV, stream it anywhere

Amazon this morning introduced a new device called the Fire TV Recast that works with Fire TV and other devices to allow you to record live TV through a connected digital antenna. The device allows you to place your digital antenna anywhere in the house where you can get good reception, without having to worry about having your connected media player device – like a Fire TV or Echo Show – also having to be nearby. As Amazon explained, the Recast allows you to separate out where the actual recording happens and where the viewing happens. The device also helpfully includes an app that will help you find the spot that has the highest attenuation for your antenna, so you can place it appropriately. The device then uses “an advanced wireless system,” to deliver the streams to other connected devices. It can stream to your Fire TV, Echo Show, Echo Spot (the alarm clock) or even iOS and Android devices. With your antenna, you can pick up over-the-air channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and others. How well you receive them, of course, will depend on your geographic location. The device allows you to record two or four shows at a time, depending on which version of the Recast you choose, them stream to multiple devices. If you have a Recast set up in your home, your Fire TV interface will include a new DVR menu up in the top and the Home screen will inform you about live programming you can watch now. You can even see a free preview of what’s on.

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Amazon launches an Echo Wall Clock, because Alexa is gonna be everywhere

Amazon keeps rolling out new Alexa devices this morning, with the launch of a new Alexa device – in a clock. Yes, there’s now an Echo Wall Clock available that has Alexa voice capabilities built in. That means you can ask Alexa to do things like set alarms and timers – and the lines on the clock will illuminate as the time progresses. Alarms and timers, of course, are two of the most used Echo features – and a wall clock makes sense as a place where people might like to use them, or so Amazon thinks. The Wall Clock is designed to have an easy-to-understand interface so anyone who walks into the room could use it, without a long learning curve, the company claims. The company demonstrated using the clock for setting a pasta timer, where a little LED shows up to tell you where the timer is, and then it begins to count down. Amazon also pointed out that an Alexa-connected wall clock would mean you’d no longer have to update your clock for daylight savings time. The device sort of feels like Amazon is throwing out a bunch of stuff just to see what sticks. Do people want an Alexa microwave or wall clock? The holiday shopping season will give us that answer. The Wall Clock will ship later this year for $30.

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Amazon updates the Echo Plus so it can control the smart home when the internet goes down

Amazon today is giving its premium smart home-ready Echo Plus device a notable update. The device, which includes a smart home hub built into the Echo, is now getting a new fabric design, and a temperature sensor. However, what’s more interesting is the addition of something Amazon calls “local voice control.” What this means is that if the internet goes down, you’ll still be able to use Alexa to control your smart home devices. As the company explained this morning at its hardware event in Seattle , a hub that works with a cloud-based system can often run into trouble when internet access becomes spotty or unavailable. So what the company did to address this is build in local voice control, a new capability that takes the best of its natural language understanding and its automatic speech recognition and runs it all locally on the device. So when the internet goes down (and Amazon says it’s starting with the smart home capabilities here, when it comes to local voice control) you can still say “Alexa, turn on the lights” or “Alexa, turn on the plug,” and it’ll work. This feature will get better over time as the devices add more local control and more capabilities, the company noted. Meanwhile, the temperature sensor feature will allow Alexa owners to add temperatures into their routines. For example, if the room gets too chilly, Alexa can tell you. The updated version of the Echo Plus will still remain $149 and it will be shipping in every country that Alexa is in today. Check out our full coverage from the event  here .

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Vonage acquires cloud-based contact center startup NewVoiceMedia for $350M in cash

More consolidation is afoot in the world of cloud-based voice services. Today, Vonage — once a VoIP pioneer that today offers cloud-based unified communications and other IP services in the business market — announced that it would acquire NewVoiceMedia , a UK startup that builds cloud-based contact center solutions, for $350 million in cash. Vonage says the price represents 3.8 times NewVoiceMedia’s projected 2019 revenue. But it isn’t a stellar exit for the startup, which has been around since 1998 and was last valued at upwards of $311 million, according to Pitchbook  data. That was over two years ago, and  we’d heard the valuation was actually closer to $500 million  at the time. Its investors included Bessemer Venture Partners, Technology Crossover Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and more. On the other hand, the deal will help Vonage increase the services it provides, and thus the margins it makes, in a wider suite of value-added IP services — which today include office phone systems, marketing automation and an existing call center solution , as well as MPLS and other IP services. Specifically, it gives it the platform to integrate also more deeply with other software providers like Salesforce, an important part of how Vonage sells its services to would be customers. “We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of NewVoiceMedia, which represents a major step forward in the realization of our strategic vision to deliver a differentiated, fully-programmable communications solution that drives more meaningful customer interactions and better outcomes for businesses,” said Vonage CEO Alan Masarek, in a statement. “This acquisition accelerates Vonage’s growth strategy and leadership position in cloud communications, strengthens our presence with global mid-market and enterprise clients, and deepens our integrations and key go-to-market relationships with CRM providers, especially Salesforce.com.” Vonage is today a $3.2 billion company traded publicly on the NYSE, and its stock is up slightly in trading today. Vonage claims NewVoiceMedia is the largest privately-owned, pure-play, cloud contact center company globally, with some 700 customers mostly in the mid- to large-enterprise range, including Adobe, Siemens, Time Inc., FundingCircle, and Rapid7. Dennis Fois, the CEO of NewVoiceMedia, will stay on and continue to lead NewVoiceMedia business, which has 400 employees today.

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Spotify will now let indie artists upload their own music

Spotify today is taking another step that may make record labels uncomfortable. Fresh off reports that the streaming service is  cutting its own licensing deals with independent artists , the company this morning announced it will now allow indie artists to directly upload their music to its service, too. The upload feature is today launching into beta on  Spotify for Artists , the online dashboard that arrived publicly last year. This dashboard and its accompanying mobile app  allow artists to track metrics surrounding their streams and their fan base demographics. Through the new upload tool , artists will now be able to add their own tracks to the streaming service in just a few clicks. Explains Spotify, artists will upload the music, preview how things will appear, then edit the music’s metadata, if need be. They’ll also be able to choose when those new tracks “go live” on Spotify. (No more new music Fridays, perhaps.) Most importantly, Spotify says that artists are paid as usual for their uploaded music – the royalty payments will simply be direct deposited to artists’ bank accounts every month. Another new report in the dashboard will detail how much the uploaded streams are earning and when they can expect to be paid. The upload option is free, and Spotify says it won’t deduct any fees or commissions of its own. The move is likely to concern labels, who have traditionally acted as gatekeepers between artists and fans. But through digital media platforms, artists have been exploring new ways to build their audience. For example, on SoundCloud – a service Spotify once considered acquiring –  indie musicians, DJs, bands and other performers have been able to attract followings. Similarly, YouTube has often served as a discovery vehicle for unknowns

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GoPro shakes up its entire camera line

GoPro delivered a big refresh of its cameras today with a lot of new product names but not quite as many hardware updates as we’ve seen in past updates. The new lineup from GoPro is definitely less confusing from a branding perspective. The Hero7 White, Silver and Black will cost $199, $299 and $399 respectively. Unlike past years, the company will be discontinuing the previous generations rather than just dropping the price. The company did not offer any updates on its Fusion 360-degree camera. The new cameras ship September 27. In terms of the new product line, here’s what you’re looking at when it comes to specs. Hero7 White Specs $199 Max video: 1440p @ 60 frames Waterproof up to 10m 10MP photos Hero7 Silver Specs $299 Max video: 4K @ 30 frames Waterproof up to 10m 10MP photos GPS Hero7 Black Specs $399 Max video: 4K @ 60 frames Slow-mo: 2.7K @ 120 frames, 1080p @ 240 frames Waterproof up to 10m 12MP HDR photos Live-streaming GPS While the White and Silver models both have a new color palette, they both have lost the small front LCD status screen that could help you determine what mode you were in. It’s an interesting move that probably offered a drop in bill of materials cost for the cameras and offered a broader range of differences between low and high-end models but they do ultimately kind of feel like downgrades to the Hero5 Black and Hero they are replacing in the lineup. The flagship Hero7 Black is again the star of the group, but the differences between the newcomer and its preceding model are far less pronounced than in past releases. You can check out our Hero7 Black review for some more details on how the hardware and software stack up.

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WalkMe raises $40M at a $1B+ valuation for its on-screen guidance technology

Designing for digital interfaces has come a long way  since the first days of the web, but there remains a place for tech that can help navigate us through what are sometimes still bloated or complicated services (notwithstanding those that are  deliberately so). Today, one of the more successful startups working in this area has raised a sizeable round that speaks to the opportunity. WalkMe — the Israel-based provider of tools that companies and organizations plug into their own apps to help guide people in using them more efficiently — has closed $40 million in funding in a Series F round led by Insight Venture Partners, with participation also from previous investor Mangrove. WalkMe is not disclosing its valuation, but a source very close to the company confirmed to me that it is now over $1 billion as business continues to “grow rapidly.” WalkMe now has 2,000 customers globally, which includes more than 30 percent of the Fortune 500, including Delta, HP (CEO and co-founder Dan Adika is an alum), T-Mobile and Microsoft (no Clippy jokes , please). The money — which brings the total raised to $207.5 million — will be used to expand its business further into local markets in Europe and Asia Pacific, and also continue to build out its platform. Today, that platform includes elements of machine learning and big data analytics along with technologies to read, understand, and guide through user interfaces — a tech stack that has grown through a combination of internal development and acquisitions. When it was founded in 2011, WalkMe’s focus was primarily on providing help to website visitors, to keep them from bouncing away in frustration. Over time, it expanded to other areas. Its remit now also includes B2B, since in many cases an organization’s internal teams can be just as confused or frustrated with its tech services as external customers might be, and that impacts overall productivity. (Consider employee on-boarding, or change management, or the fact that we have multiple services, sometimes as much as 20 different systems, that we need to use daily.) WalkMe is also doing more in automation, helping fill in information and proceed through other steps to speed up usage, or as Rephael Sweary, the president and other co-founder of the company, describes it, “reducing the steps it takes to do something on a site from 10 to three.” Sweary said that WalkMe’s business is roughly split equally between B2B and B2B2C today, with 40 percent of sales to repeat customers. Perhaps the best measure of a service that helps you use other services better is if the helping service disappears into the background and becomes a bit invisible. That seems to be something of the modus operandi of WalkMe, which even as a startup lacks much of a profile, especially considering its valuation now

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Lime hits 11.5 million bike and scooter rides

Bike and scooter company Lime recently hit 11.5 million rides,  a couple of months after it surpassed six million rides . This milestone comes just 14 months after Lime deployed its first bikes. Today, Lime is in more than 100 markets throughout the U.S. and Europe. Last December , Lime brought its bikes to a number of European cities and in June,  Lime brought its scooters to Paris . By the end of this year, Lime plans to launch in an additional 50 cities. The rise of shared personal electric vehicles has also led to a new type of side hustle for some people. Through Lime’s Juicer program, which enables anyone to make money from charging scooters overnight, the company has paid out millions of dollars to those workers. Lime has raised $467 million in funding, with its most recent round coming in at  $335 million. The round, led by GV, included participation from Uber .

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Meituan-Dianping’s IPO off to a good start as shares climb 7% on debut

Meituan-Dianping (3690.HK) enjoyed a strong debut today in Hong Kong, a sign that investors are confident in the Tencent-backed company’s prospects despite its cash-burning growth strategy, heavy competition and a sluggish Hong Kong stock market . During morning trading, Meituan’s shares reached a high of HKD$73.85 (about $9.41) , a 7% increase over its initial public offering price of HKD$69. When Meituan reportedly set a target valuation of $55 billion for its debut, it triggered concerns that the company, which bills itself a “one-stop super app” for everything from food delivery to ticket bookings, as overconfident. While Meituan, the owner of Mobile, is the leading online marketplace for services in China, it faces formidable competition from Alibaba’s Ele.me and operating on tight margins and heavy losses as it spends money on marketing and user acquisition costs. As it prepared for its IPO, Meituan was also under the shadow of underwhelming Hong Kong debuts by Xiaomi and China Tower . Like Xiaomi, Meituan is listed under a new dual-class share structure designed to attract tech companies by allowing them to give weighted voting rights to founders. The sponsors of Meituan’s IPO are Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

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VW reimagines the microbus as an all-electric cargo hauler

The slow roll towards electrified vehicles isn’t isolated to passenger cars and SUVs. Manufacturers are investing in commercial vehicles as well — everything from school buses and delivery vans to big commercial trucks. VW Group’s vision for an electrified commercial vehicle future also includes a microbus. The automaker’s commercial vehicles unit unveiled five zero-emission vehicles at the 69th IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hannover, Germany. Among them is an all-electric cargo van that’s meant to be the commercial equivalent of the I.D. Buzz microbus revealed in 2017. The others include a commercial-grade cargo e-bike, an electric concept van called the Crafter HyMotion that’s powered by hydrogen fuel cell system, a Transporter concept van with a 48-volt mild hybrid drive system that combines a turbodiesel engine with an electric drive and finally, the A BT e-Caddy, a small van that will to arrive on market in mid-2019. Some of these concepts such as the hydrogen fuel cell Crafter HyMotion are far from hitting the streets. The Crafter HyMotion concept 3.5-ton van is equipped with a hydrogen tank that enable a total range of about 217 miles. “This is still a concept vehicle, but the technical concept is already near-production,” Heinz-Jürgen Löw, head of sales and a board member of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles said in a statement.  “We are conducting an intensive cost and benefit analysis to determine its market potential. The Crafter HyMotion with a fuel cell drive is absolutely a beneficial addition to our drive portfolio of petrol, diesel, natural gas and electric motors.” The microbus with its 1970s hippie-turned Jetson-vibe is of course the show stopper, which VW describes at the “ideal vehicle for the urban traffic of tomorrow.” And unlike many other concepts, a version of this one might actually make it into production.

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