TC Sessions: AR/VR surveys an industry in transition

TC Sessions: AR/VR surveys an industry in transition
Industry vets and students alike crammed into UCLA’s historic Royce Hall last week for TC Sessions: AR/VR, our one-day event on the fast-moving (and hype-plagued) industry and the people in it. Disney, Snap, Oculus and more stopped by to chat and show off their latest; if you didn’t happen to be in LA that day, read on and find out what we learned — and follow the links to watch the interviews and panels yourself.

To kick off the day we had Jon Snoddy from Walt Disney Imagineering. As you can imagine, this is a company deeply invested in “experiences.” But he warned that VR and AR storytelling isn’t ready for prime time: “I don’t feel like we’re there yet. We know it’s extraordinary, we know it’s really interesting, but it’s not yet speaking to us deeply the way it will.”

Next came Snap’s Eitan Pilipski. Snapchat wants to leave augmented reality creativity up to the creators rather than prescribing what they should build. AR headsets people want to wear in real life might take years to arrive, but nevertheless Snap confirmed that it’s prototyping new AI-powered face filters and VR experiences in the meantime.
I was onstage next with a collection of startups which, while very different from each other, collectively embody a willingness to pursue alternative display methods — holography and projection — as businesses. Ashley Crowder from VNTANA and Shawn Frayne from Looking Glass explained how they essentially built the technology they saw demand for: holographic display tech that makes 3D visualization simple and real. And Lightform’s Brett Jones talked about embracing and extending the real world and creating shared experiences rather than isolated ones.

Frayne’s holographic desktop display was there in the lobby, I should add, and very impressive it was. People were crowding three or four deep to try to understand how the giant block of acrylic could hold 3D characters and landscapes.
Maureen Fan from BaoBab Studios touched on the importance of conserving cash for entertainment-focused virtual reality companies. Previewing her new film, Crow, Fan noted that new modes of storytelling need to be explored for the medium, such as the creative merging of gaming and cinematic experiences.
Up next was a large panel of investors: Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst), Jacob Mullins (Shasta Ventures), Catherine Ulrich (FirstMark Capital) and Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia). The consensus of this lively discussion was that (as Fan noted earlier) this is a time for startups to go lean. Competition has been thinned out by companies burning VC cash and a bootstrapped, efficient company stands out from the crowd.

Oculus is getting serious about non-gaming experiences in virtual reality. In our chat with Oculus Executive Producer Yelena Rachitsky, we heard more details about how the company is looking to new hardware to deepen the interactions users can have in VR and that new hardware like the Oculus Quest will allow users to go far beyond the capabilities of 360-degree VR video.
Of course if Oculus is around, its parent company can’t be far away. Facebook’s Ficus Kirkpatrick believes it must build exemplary “lighthouse” AR experiences to guide independent developers toward use cases they could enhance. Beyond creative expression, AR is progressing slowly because no one wants to hold a phone in the air for too long. But that’s also why Facebook is already investing in efforts to build its own AR headset.
Matt Miesnieks, from 6d.ai, announced the opening of his company’s augmented reality development platform to the public and made a case of the creation of an open mapping platform and toolkit for opening augmented reality to collaborative experiences and the masses.
Augmented reality headsets like Magic Leap and HoloLens tend to hog the spotlight, but phones are where most people will have their first taste. Parham Aarabi (ModiFace), Kirin Sinha (Illumix) and Allison Wood (Camera IQ) agreed that mainstreaming the tech is about three to five years away, with a successful standalone device like a headset somewhere beyond that. They also agreed that while there are countless tech demos and novelties, there’s still no killer app for AR.

Derek Belch (STRIVR), Clorama Dorvilias (DebiasVR) and Morgan Mercer (Vantage Point) took on the potential of VR in commercial and industrial applications. They concluded that making consumer technology enterprise-grade remains one of the most significant adoptions to virtual reality applications in business. (Companies like StarVR are specifically targeting businesses, but it remains to be seen whether that play will succeed.)
With Facebook running the VR show, how are small VR startups making a dent in social? The CEOs of TheWaveVR, Mindshow and SVRF all say that part of the key is finding the best ways for users to interact and making experiences that bring people together in different ways.
After a break, we were treated to a live demo of the VR versus boxing game Creed: Rise to Glory, by developer Survios co-founders Alex Silkin and James Iliff. They then joined me for a discussion of the difficulties and possibilities of social and multiplayer VR, both in how they can create intimate experiences and how developers can inoculate against isolation or abuse in the player base.
Early-stage investments are key to the success of any emerging industry, and the VR space is seeing a slowdown in that area. Peter Rojas of Betaworks and Greg Castle from Anorak offered more details on their investment strategies and how they see success in the AR space coming along as the tech industry’s biggest companies continue to pump money into the technologies.

UCLA contributed a moderator with Anderson’s Jay Tucker, who talked with Mariana Acuna (Opaque Studios) and Guy Primus (Virtual Reality Company) about how storytelling in VR may be in very early days, but that this period of exploration and experimentation is something to be encouraged and experienced. Movies didn’t begin with Netflix and Marvel — they started with picture palaces and one-reel silent shorts. VR is following the same path.
And what would an AR/VR conference be without the creators of the most popular AR game ever created? Niantic already has some big plans as it expands its success beyond Pokémon GO. The company, which is deep in development of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, is building out a developer platform based on their cutting-edge AR technologies. In our chat, AR research head Ross Finman talks about privacy in the upcoming AR age and just how much of a challenger Apple is to them in the space.
That wrapped the show; you can see more images (perhaps of yourself) at our Flickr page. Thanks to our sponsors, our generous hosts at UCLA, the motivated and interesting speakers and most of all the attendees. See you again soon!

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Salesforce partners with Apple to roll deeper into mobile enterprise markets

Salesforce partners with Apple to roll deeper into mobile enterprise markets

Apple and Salesforce are both highly successful, iconic brands, who like to put on a big show when they make product announcements. Today, the two companies announced they were forming a strategic partnership with an emphasis on mobile strategy ahead of Salesforce’s enormous customer conference, Dreamforce, which starts tomorrow in San Francisco.

For Apple, which is has been establishing partnerships with key enterprise brands for the last several years, today’s news is a another big step toward solidifying its enterprise strategy by involving the largest enterprise SaaS vendor in the world.

“We’re forming a strategic partnership with Salesforce to change the way people work and to empower developers of all abilities to build world-class mobile apps,” Susan Prescott, vice president of markets, apps and services at Apple told TechCrunch.

Tim Cook at Apple event on September 12, 2018 Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bret Taylor, president and chief product officer at Salesforce, who came over in the Quip deal a couple of years ago, says working together, the two companies can streamline mobile development for customers. “Every single one of our customers is on mobile. They all want world-class mobile experiences, and this enables us when we’re talking to a customer about their mobile strategy, that we can be in that conversation together,” he explained.

For starters, the partnership is going to involve three main components: The two companies are going to work together to bring in some key iOS features such Siri Shortcuts and integration with Apple’s Business Chat into the Salesforce mobile app. Much like the partnership between Apple and IBM, Apple and Salesforce will also work together to build industry-specific iOS apps on the Salesforce platform.

The companies are also working together on a new mobile SDK built specifically for Swift, Apple’s popular programming language. The plan is to provide a way to build Swift apps for iOS and deploy them natively on Salesforce’s Lightning platform.

The final component involves deeper integration with Trailhead, Salesforce’s education platform. That will involve a new Trailhead Mobile app on IOS as well as adding Swift education courses to the Trailhead catalogue to help drive adoption of the mobile SDK.

While Apple has largely been perceived as a consumer-focused organization, as we saw a shift to  companies encouraging employees to bring their own devices to work over the last six or seven years, Apple has benefited. As that has happened, it has been able to take advantage to sell more products and services and has partnered with a number of other well-known enterprise brands including IBMCiscoSAP and GE along with systems integrators Accenture and Deloitte.

The move gives Salesforce a formidable partner to continue their incredible growth trajectory. Just last year the company passed the $10 billion run rate putting it in rarefied company with some of the most successful software companies in the world. In their most recent earnings call at the end of August, they reported $3.28 billion for the quarter, placing them on a run rate of over $13 billion. Connecting with Apple could help keep that momentum growing.

The two companies will show off the partnership at Dreamforce this week. It’s a deal that has the potential to work out well for both companies, giving Salesforce a more integrated iOS experience and helping Apple increase its reach into the enterprise.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain
Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent.
The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives.
The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from the cloud. As a result, user data is processed on the device itself, acting as a potentially stronger guarantor of privacy. Unlike centralized assistants like Alexa and Google, Snips knows nothing about its users.
Its approach is convincing investors. To date, Snips has raised €22 million in funding from investors like Korelya Capital, MAIF Avenir, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. Created in 2013 by 3 PhDs, and now employing more than 60 people in Paris and New York, Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white-labelled solution for enterprise device manufacturers.
It’s tested its theories about voice by releasing the result of a consumer poll. The survey of 410 people found that 66% of respondents said they would be apprehensive of using a voice assistant in a hotel room, because of concerns over privacy, 90% said they would like to control the ways corporations use their data, even if it meant sacrificing convenience.
“Сonsumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage,” says Dr Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO at Snips. “However, emerging technologies like blockchain are helping us to create safer and fairer alternatives for voice assistants.”
Indeed, blockchain is very much part of Snip’s future. As Hindi told TechCrunch in May, the company will release a new set of consumer devices independent of its enterprise business. The idea is to create a consumer business that will prompt further enterprise development. At the same time, they will issue a cryptographic token via an ICO to incentivize developers to improve the Snips platform, as an alternative to using data from consumers. The theory goes that this will put it at odds with the approach used by Google and Amazon, who are constantly criticised for invading our private lives merely to improve their platforms.
As a result Hindi believes that as voice-controlled devices become an increasingly common sight in public spaces, there could be a significant shift in public opinion about how their privacy is being protected.
In an interview conducted last month with TechCrunch, Hindi told me the company’s plans for its new consumer product are well advanced, and will be designed from the beginning to be improved over time using a combination of decentralized machine learning and cryptography.
By using blockchain technology to share data, they will be able to train the network “without ever anybody sending unencrypted data anywhere,” he told me.
And ‘training the network” is where it gets interesting. By issuing a cryptographic token for developers to use, Hindi says they will incentivize devs to work on their platform and process data in a decentralized fashion. They are starting from a good place. He claims they already have 14,000 developers on the platform who will be further incentivized by a token economy.
“Otherwise people have no incentive to process that data in a decentralized fashion, right?” he says.
“We got into blockchain because we’re trying to find a way to get people to participate in decentralized machine learning. We’ve been wanting to get into consumer [devices] for a couple of years but didn’t really figure out the end goal because we had always had this missing element which was: how do you keep making it better over time.”
“This is the main argument for Google and Amazon to pretend that you need to send your data to them, to make the service better. If we can fix this [by using blockchain] then we can offer a real alternative to Alexa that guarantees Privacy by Design,” he says.
“We now have over 14000 developers building for us and that’s really completely organic growth, zero marketing, purely word of mouth, which is really nice because it shows that there’s a very big demand for decentralized voice assistance, effectively.”
It could be a high-risk strategy. Launching a voice-controlled device is one thing. Layering it with applications produced by developed supposedly incentivized by tokens, especially when crypto prices have crashed, is quite another.
It does definitely feel like a moonshot idea, however, and we’ll really only know if Snips can live up to such lofty ideals after the launch.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

PoLTE lets you track devices using LTE signal

PoLTE lets you track devices using LTE signal
Meet PoLTE, a Dallas-based startup that wants to make location-tracking more efficient. Thanks to PoLTE’s software solution, logistics and shipment companies can much more easily track packages and goods. The startup is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF.
If you want to use a connected device to track a package, you currently need a couple of things — a way to determine the location of the package, and a way to transmit this information over the air. The most straightforward way of doing it is by using a GPS chipset combined with a cellular chipset.
Systems-on-chip have made this easier as they usually integrate multiple modules. You can get a GPS signal and wireless capabilities in the same chip. While GPS is insanely accurate, it also requires a ton of battery just to position a device on a map. That’s why devices often triangulate your position using Wi-Fi combined with a database of Wi-Fi networks and their positions.
And yet, using GPS or Wi-Fi as well as an LTE modem doesn’t work if you want to track a container over multiple weeks or months. At some point, your device will run out of battery. Or you’ll have to spend a small fortune to buy a ton of trackers with big batteries.
PoLTE has developed a software solution that lets you turn data from the cell modem into location information. It works with existing modems and only requires a software update. The company has been working with Riot Micro for instance.

Behind the scene PoLTE’s magic happens on their servers. IoT devices don’t need to do any of the computing. They just need to send a tiny sample of LTE signals and PoLTE can figure out the location from their servers. Customers can then get this data using an API.
It only takes 300 bytes of data to get location information with precision of less than a few meters. You don’t need a powerful CPU, Wi-Fi, GPS or Bluetooth.
“We offer 80 percent cost reduction on IoT devices together with longer battery life,” CEO Ed Chao told me.
On the business side, PoLTE is using a software-as-a-service model. You can get started for free if you don’t need a lot of API calls. You then start paying depending on the size of your fleet of devices and the number of location requests.
It doesn’t really matter if the company finds a good business opportunity. PoLTE is a low-level technology company at heart. Its solution is interesting by itself and could help bigger companies that are looking for an efficient location-tracking solution.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Facebook builds its own AR games for Messenger video chat

Facebook builds its own AR games for Messenger video chat

Facebook is diving deeper into in-house game development with the launch of its own version of Snapchat’s multiplayer augmented reality video chat games. Today, Facebook Messenger globally launches its first two AR video chat games that you can play with up to six people.

“Don’t Smile” is like a staring contest that detects if you grin, and then uses AR to contort your face into an exaggerated Joker’s smirk while awarding your opponent the win. “Asteroids Attack” sees you move your face around to navigate a space ship, avoiding rocks and grabbing laser beam powerups. Soon, Facebook also plans to launch “Beach Bump” for passing an AR ball back and forth, and a “Kitten Craze” cat matching game. To play the games, you start a video chat, hit the star button to open the filter menu, then select one of the games. You can snap and share screenshots to your chat thread while you play.

The games are effectively a way to pass the time while you video chat, rather than something you’d ever play on your own. They could be a hit with parents and grandparents who are away and want to spend time with a kid…who isn’t exactly the best conversationalist.

Facebook tells me it built these games itself using the AR Studio tool it launched last year to let developers create their own AR face filters. When asked if game development would be available to everyone through AR studio, a spokesperson told me, “Not today, but we’ve seen successful short-session AR games developed by the creator community and are always looking out for ways to bring the best AR content to the FB family of apps.”

For now, there will be no ads, sponsored branding or in-app purchases in Messenger’s video chat games. But those all offer opportunities for Facebook and potentially outside developers to earn money. Facebook could easily show an ad interstitial between game rounds, let brands build games to promote movie releases or product launches or let you buy powerups to beat friends or cosmetically upgrade your in-game face.

Snapchat’s Snappables games launched in April

The games feel less polished than the launch titles for Snapchat’s Snappables gaming platform that launched in April. Snapchat focused on taking over your whole screen with augmented reality, transporting you into space or a disco dance hall. Facebook’s games merely overlay a few graphics on the world around you. But Facebook’s games are more purposefully designed for split-screen multiplayer. Snapchat is reportedly building its own third-party game development platform, but it seems Facebook wanted to get the drop on it.

The AR video chat games live separately from the Messenger Instant Games platform the company launched last year. These include arcade classics and new mobile titles that users can play by themselves and challenge friends over high-scores. Facebook now allows developers of Instant Games to monetize with in-app purchases and ads, foreshadowing what could come to AR video chat games.

Facebook has rarely developed its own games. It did build a few mini-games, like an arcade pop-a-shot style basketball game and a soccer game to show off what the Messenger Instant Games platform could become. But typically it’s stuck to letting outside developers lead. Here, it may be trying to set examples of what developers should build before actually spawning a platform around video chat games.

Now with more than 1.3 billion users, Facebook Messenger is seeking more ways to keep people engaged. Having already devoured many people’s one-on-one utility chats, it’s fun group chats, video calling and gaming that could get people spending more time in the app.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

WhatsApp finally earns money by charging businesses for slow replies

WhatsApp finally earns money by charging businesses for slow replies

Today WhatsApp launches its first revenue-generating enterprise product and the only way it currently makes money directly from its app. The WhatsApp Business API is launching to let businesses respond to messages from users for free for up to 24 hours, but will charge them a fixed rate by country per message sent after that.

Businesses will still only be able to message people who contacted them first, but the API will help them programatically send shipping confirmations, appointment reminders or event tickets. Clients also can use it to manually respond to customer service inquiries through their own tool or apps like Zendesk, MessageBird or Twilio. And small businesses that are one of the 3 million users of the WhatsApp For Business app can still use it to send late replies one-by-one for free.

After getting acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014, it’s finally time for the 1.5 billion-user WhatsApp to pull its weight and contribute some revenue. If Facebook can pitch the WhatsApp Business API as a cheaper alternative to customer service call centers, the convenience of asynchronous chat could compel users to message companies instead of phoning.

Only charging for slow replies after 24 hours since a user’s last message is a genius way to create a growth feedback loop. If users get quick answers via WhatsApp, they’ll prefer it to other channels. Once businesses and their customers get addicted to it, WhatsApp could eventually charge for all replies or any that exceed a volume threshold, or cut down the free window. Meanwhile, businesses might be too optimistic about their response times and end up paying more often than they expect, especially when messages come in on weekends or holidays.

WhatsApp first announced it would eventually charge for enterprise service last September when it launched its free WhatsApp For Business app that now has 3 million users and remains free for all replies, even late ones.

Importantly, WhatsApp stresses that all messaging between users and businesses, even through the API, will be end-to-end encrypted. That contrasts with The Washington Post’s report that Facebook pushing to weaken encryption for WhatsApp For Business messages is partly what drove former CEO Jan Koum to quit WhatsApp and Facebook’s board in April. His co-founder, Brian Acton, had ditched Facebook back in September and donated $50 million to the foundation of encrypted messaging app Signal.

Today WhatsApp is also formally launching its new display ads product worldwide. But don’t worry, they won’t be crammed into your chat inbox like with Facebook Messenger. Instead, businesses will be able to buy ads on Facebook’s News Feed that launch WhatsApp conversations with them… thereby allowing them to use the new Business API to reply. TechCrunch scooped that this was coming last September, when code in Facebook’s ad manager revealed the click-to-WhatsApp ads option and the company confirmed the ads were in testing. Facebook launched similar click-to-Messenger ads back in 2015.

Finally, WhatsApp also tells TechCrunch it’s planning to run ads in its 450 million daily user Snapchat Stories clone called Status. “WhatsApp does not currently run ads in Status though this represents a future goal for us, starting in 2019. We will move slowly and carefully and provide more details before we place any Ads in Status,” a spokesperson told us. Given WhatsApp Status is more than twice the size of Snapchat, it could earn a ton on ads between Stories, especially if it’s willing to make some unskippable.

Together, the ads and API will replace the $1 per year subscription fee WhatsApp used to charge in some countries but dropped in 2016. With Facebook’s own revenue decelerating, triggering a 20 percent, $120 billion market cap drop in its share price, it needs to show it has new ways to make money — now more than ever.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

Facebook, Google and more unite to let you transfer data between apps

The Data Transfer Project is a new team-up between tech giants to let you move your content, contacts, and more across apps. Founded by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft, the DTP today revealed its plans for an open source data portability platform any online service can join. While many companies already let you download your information, that’s not very helpful if you can’t easily upload and use it elsewhere — whether you want to evacuate a social network you hate, back up your data somewhere different, or bring your digital identity along when you try a new app. The DTP’s tool isn’t ready for use yet, but the group today laid out a white paper for how it will work.

Creating an industry standard for data portability could force companies to compete on utility instead of being protected by data lock-in that traps users because it’s tough to switch services. The DTP could potentially offer a solution to a major problem with social networks I detailed in April: you can’t find your friends from one app on another. We’ve asked Facebook for details on if and how you’ll be able to transfer your social connections and friends’ contact info which it’s historically hoarded.

From porting playlists in music streaming services to health data from fitness trackers to our reams of photos and videos, the DTP could be a boon for startups. Incumbent tech giants maintain a huge advantage in popularizing new functionality because they instantly interoperate with a user’s existing data rather than making them start from scratch. Even if a social networking startup builds a better location sharing feature, personalized avatar, or payment system, it might be a lot easier to use Facebook’s clone of it because that’s where your profile, friends, and photos live.

If the DTP gains industry-wide momentum and its founding partners cooperate in good faith rather than at some bare minimum level of involvement, it could lower the barrier for people to experiment with new apps. Meanwhile, the tech giants could argue that the government shouldn’t step in to regulate them or break them up because DTP means users are free to choose whichever app best competes for their data and attention.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Apple just released the first iOS 12 beta to everyone

Apple just released the first iOS 12 beta to everyone
This is your opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of iOS. Apple just released the first public beta of iOS 12, the next major version of the operating system for iPhone and iPad. Unlike developer betas, everyone can download it without a $99 developer account. But don’t forget, it’s a beta.
The company still plans to release the final version of iOS 12.0 this fall (usually September). But Apple is going to release betas every few weeks over the summer. It’s a good way to fix as many bugs as possible and gather data from a large group of users.
As always, Apple’s public betas closely follow the release cycle of developer betas. And Apple released the second developer beta of iOS 12 just last week. So it sounds like the first public beta is more or less the same build as the second developer build.
But remember, you shouldn’t install an iOS beta on your primary iPhone or iPad. The issue is not just bugs — some apps and features won’t work at all. In some rare cases, beta software can also brick your device and make it unusable. Proceed with extreme caution.
But if you have an iPad or iPhone you don’t need, here’s how to download it. Head over to Apple’s beta website and download the configuration profile. It’s a tiny file that tells your iOS device to update to public betas like it’s a normal software update.
You can either download the configuration profile from Safari on your iOS device directly, or transfer it to your device using AirDrop, for instance. Reboot your device, then head over to the Settings app. In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 12 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 12. The main feature of iOS 12 is a performance improvement, especially for older devices. If you have an iPhone 6 or an iPad Air for instance, you should see a big improvement when it comes to launching apps, triggering the camera and entering text.
The other big theme of the year is new features to help you spend less time using your phone. There’s a new Screen Time feature to see and control how much time you spend using each app. Notifications are now grouped and you can silence them from the lock screen. You also can turn on Do Not Disturb when you’re in a meeting, for a few hours or for longer.
Apple didn’t stop there, and added new power features as well. Developers will be able to take advantage of a new file format for augmented reality and new features in ARKit 2.0. Apple is releasing the Workflow app as a new Siri Shortcuts app. Developers will be able to add information to Siri, as well, so that you can add a boarding pass or a music playlist to Siri.
The Photos, News and Stocks apps have been improved, as well as Apple Books (the app formerly known as iBooks). Apple is introducing Memoji on the iPhone X. It’s a customized avatar that you can use in iMessage and FaceTime to represent you.
If you want to learn more, read my iOS 12 preview to get my thoughts on this release.

iOS 12 is all about making your phone work better

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Facebook mistakenly leaked developer analytics reports to testers

Facebook mistakenly leaked developer analytics reports to testers

Set the “days without a Facebook privacy problem” counter to zero. This week, an alarmed developer contacted TechCrunch, informing us that their Facebook App Analytics weekly summary email had been delivered to someone outside their company. It contains sensitive business information, including weekly average users, page views and new users.

Forty-three hours after we contacted Facebook about the issue, the social network now confirms to TechCrunch that 3 percent of apps using Facebook Analytics had their weekly summary reports sent to their app’s testers, instead of only the app’s developers, admins and analysts.

Testers are often people outside of a developer’s company. If the leaked info got to an app’s competitors, it could provide them an advantage. At least they weren’t allowed to click through to view more extensive historical analytics data on Facebook’s site.

Facebook tells us it has fixed the problem and no personally identifiable information or contact info was improperly disclosed. It plans to notify all impacted developers about the leak today and has already begun.

Update: 1pm Pacific: TechCrunch was provided with this statement from a Facebook spokesperson:

“Due to an error in our email delivery system, weekly business performance summaries we send to developers about their account were also sent to a small group of those developer’s app testers. No personal information about people on Facebook was shared. We’re sorry for the error and have updated our system to prevent it from happening again.”

Below you can find the email the company is sending:

Subject line: We recently resolved an error with your weekly summary email

We wanted to let you know about a recent error where a summary e-mail from Facebook Analytics about your app was sent to testers of your app ‘[APP NAME WILL BE DYNAMICALLY INSERTED HERE]’. As you know, we send weekly summary emails to keep you up to date with some of your top-level metrics — these emails go to people you’ve identified as Admins, Analysts and Developers. You can also add Testers to your account, people designated by you to help test your apps when they’re in development.

We mistakenly sent the last weekly email summary to your Testers, in addition to the usual group of Admins, Analysts and Developers who get updates. Testers were only able to see the high-level summary information in the email, and were not able to access any other account information; if they clicked “View Dashboard” they did not have access to any of your Facebook Analytics information.

We apologize for the error and have made updates to prevent this from happening again.

One affected developer told TechCrunch “Not sure why it would ever be appropriate to send business metrics to an app user. When I created my app (in beta) I added dozens of people as testers as it only meant they could login to the app…not access info!” They’re still waiting for the disclosure from Facebook.

Facebook wouldn’t disclose a ballpark number of apps impacted by the error. Last year it announced 1 million apps, sites and bots were on Facebook Analytics. However, this issue only affected apps, and only 3 percent of them.

The mistake comes just weeks after a bug caused 14 million users’ Facebook status update composers to change their default privacy setting to public. And Facebook has had problems with misdelivering business information before. In 2014, Facebook accidentally sent advertisers receipts for other business’ ad campaigns, causing significant confusion. The company has also misreported metrics about Page reach and more on several occasions. Though user data didn’t leak and today’s issue isn’t as severe as others Facebook has dealt with, developers still consider their business metrics to be private, making this a breach of that privacy.

While Facebook has been working diligently to patch app platform privacy holes since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, removing access to many APIs and strengthening human reviews of apps, issues like today’s make it hard to believe Facebook has a proper handle on the data of its 2 billion users.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Snapchat launches privacy-safe Snap Kit, the un-Facebook platform

Snapchat launches privacy-safe Snap Kit, the un-Facebook platform

Today Snapchat finally gets a true developer platform, confirming TechCrunch’s scoop from last month about Snap Kit. This set of APIs lets other apps piggyback on Snap’s login for sign up, build Bitmoji avatars into their keyboards, display public Our Stories and Snap Map content, and generate branded stickers with referral links users can share back inside Snapchat.

Snap Kit’s big selling point is privacy — a differentiator from Facebook. It doesn’t even let you share your social graph with apps to prevent a Cambridge Analytica-style scandal.

Launch partners include Tinder bringing Bitmojis to your chats with matches, Patreon letting fans watch creators’ Stories from within its app, and Postmates offering order ETA stickers you can share in Snapchat that open the restaurant’s page in the delivery app. Developers that want to join the platform can sign up here.

Snap Kit could help the stumbling public company colonize the mobile app ecosystem with its buttons and content, which might inspire Snapchat signups from new users and reengagement from old ones. “Growth is one of our three goals for 2018, so we absolutely hope it can contribute to that, and continue to strengthen engagement, which has always been a key metric for us” Snap’s VP of product Jacob Andreou tells me. That’s critical since Snapchat sunk to its lowest user growth rate ever last quarter under the weight of competition from Instagram and WhatsApp.

“There have been areas inside of our products where we’ve really set standards” Andreou explains. “Early, that was seen in examples like Stories, but today with things like how we treat user data, what we collect, what we share when people login and register for our service . . . Snap Kit is a set of developer tools that really allow people to take the best parts of our products and the standards that we’ve set in a few of these areas, and bring them into their apps.”

This focus on privacy manifests as a limit of 90 days of inactivity before your connection with an app is severed. And the login feature only requires you bring along your changeable Snapchat display name, and optionally, your Bitmoji. Snap Kit apps can’t even ask for your email, phone number, gender, age, location, who you follow, or who you’re friends with.

“It really became challenging for us to see our users then use other products throughout their day and have to lower their expectations. . . having to be okay with the fact that all of their information and data would be shared” Andreou gripes. This messaging is a stark turnaround from four years ago when it took 10 days for CEO Evan Spiegel to apologize for security laziness causing the leak of 4 million users’ phone numbers. But now with Facebook as everyone’s favorite privacy punching bag, Snapchat is seizing the PR opportunity.

“I think one of the parts that [Spiegel] was really excited about with this release is how much better our approach to our users in that way really is — without relying on things like policy or developer’s best intentions or them writing perfect bug free code, but instead by design, not even exposing these things to begin with.”

Yet judging by Facebook’s continued growth and recovered share price, privacy is too abstract of a concept for many people to grasp. Snap Kit will have to win on the merits of what it brings other apps, and the strength of its partnerships team. Done right, Snapchat could gain an army of allies to battle the blue menace.

Snapvengers Assemble

Snap’s desire to maintain an iron grip on its ‘cool’ brand has kept its work with developers minimal until now. Its first accidental brush with a developer platform was actually a massive security hazard.

Third-party apps promising a method to secretly screenshot messages asked users to login with their Snapchat usernames and passwords, then proceeded to get hacked, exposing some users’ risqué photos. Snap later cut off an innocent music video app called Mindie for finding a way to share to users’ Stories. Last year I wrote how A year ago I urged it to build a platform in my article “Snap’s anti-developer attitude is an augmented liability”, as it needs help to populate the physical world with AR.

2017 saw Snap cautiously extend the drawbridge, inviting in ads, analytics, and marketing developer partners to help brands be hip, and letting hacker/designers make their own AR lenses. But the real transition moment was when Spiegel said on the Q4 2017 earnings call that “We feel strongly that Snapchat should not be confined to our mobile application—the amazing Snaps created by our community deserve wider distribution so they can be enjoyed by everyone.”

At the time that meant Snaps on the web, embedded in news sites, and on Jumbotrons. Today it means in other apps. But Snap will avoid one of the key pitfalls of the Facebook platform: over-promising. Snap Deputy General Counsel for Privacy Katherine Tassi tells me “It was also very important to us that there wasn’t going to be the exchange of the friends graph as part of the value proposition to third party developers.”

How Snap Kit Works

Snap Kit breaks down to four core pieces of functionality that will appeal to different apps looking to simplify signup, make communication visual, host eye-catching content, or score referral traffic. Developers that want access to Snap Kit must pass a human review and approval process. Snap will review their functionality to ensure they’re not doing anything shady.

Once authorized, they’ll have access to these APIs:

  • Login Kit is the foundation of Snap Kit. It’s an OAuth-style alternative to Facebook Login that lets users skip creating a proprietary username and password by instead using their Snapchat credentials. But all the app gets is their changeable, pseudonym-allowed Snapchat display name, and optionally, their Bitmoji avatar to use as a profile pic if the user approves. Getting that login button in lots of apps could remind people Snapchat exists, and turn it into a fundamental identity utility people will be loath to abandon.
  • Creative Kit is how apps will get a chance to create stickers and filters for use back in the Snapchat camera. Similar to April’s F8 launch of the ability to share from other apps to Instagram and Facebook Stories, developers can turn content like high scores, workout stats and more into stickers that users can overlay on their Snaps to drive awareness of the source app. Developers can also set a deep link where those stickers send people to generate referral traffic, which could be appealing to those looking to tap Snap’s 191 million teens.

  • Bitmoji Kit lets developers integrate Snapchat’s personalized avatars directly into their app’s keyboard. It’s an easy path to making chat more visually expressive without having to reinvent the wheel. This follows the expansion of Friendmoji that illustrate you and a pal rolling out to the iOS keyboard. But Bitmoji Kit means developers do the integration work instead of having to depend on users installing anything extra.
  • Story Kit allows developers to embed Snapchat Stories into their apps and websites. Beyond specific Stories, apps can also search through public Stories submitted to Our Story or Snap Map by location, time, or captions. A journalism app could surface first-hand reports from the scene of breaking news or a meme app could pull in puppy Snaps. The company will add extra reminders to the Our Story submission process to ensure users know their Stories could appear outside of Snapchat’s own app.

One thing that’s not in Snap Kit, at least yet, is the ability to embed Snapchat’s whole software camera into other apps which TechCrunch erroneously reported. Our sources mistakenly confused Creative Kit’s ability to generate stickers as opposed to sharing whole stories, which Andreou called “an interesting first step” for making Snapchat the broadcast channel for other apps.

Additional launch partners include bringing Bitmoji to Quip’s word processor, RSVP stickers from Eventbrite, GIF-enhanced Stories search in Giphy, Stories from touring musicians in Bands In Town, storytelling about your dinner reservation on Quandoo, music discovery sharing from SoundHound, and real-time sports score sharing from ScoreStream.

While other platforms have escaped their host’s control, like Facebook’s viral game spam outbreak in 2009 or Twitter having to shut down errant clients, Snapchat’s approval process will let it direct the destiny of its integrations.

Bitmoji Kit in Tinder

When asked why Snapchat was building Snap Kit, Andreou explained that “We think that giving people more tools to be able to express themselves freely, have fun and be creative, both on Snapchat and other apps is a good thing. We also think that helping more people outside of Snapchat learn about our platform and our features is a good thing. And most importantly, being able to do this in a way that doesn’t compromise our users’ privacy is very good thing.”

Without much data sharing, there’s a lot less risk here for Snapchat. But the platform won’t have the same draw that Facebook can dangle with its massive user base and extensive personal info access. Instead, Snapchat will have to leverage the fear of being left out of the visual communication era and tout itself as the catalyst for apps to evolve. The biggest driver of the platform might be youngins demanding their Bitmoji everywhere.

Snap needs all the help it can get right now. If other apps are willing to be a billboard for it in exchange for some of its teen-approved functionality, Snapchat could find new growth channels amidst stiff competition. Platforms can entrench apps. And after its user count shrunk in March, Snap has to find a way to keep from disappearing

Source: Mobile – Techcruch