Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth $250M

Twitter buys a startup to battle harassment, e-cigs are booming, and a meditation app is worth 0M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week TechCrunch’s Silicon Valley Editor Connie Loizos and I jammed out on a couple of topics as Alex Wilhelm was out managing his fake stock game spreadsheets or something. (The jury is out on whether this was a good or bad thing.)

First up is Twitter buying Smyte, a startup targeting fixes for spam and abuse. This is, of course, Twitter’s perennial problem and it’s one that it’s been trying to fix for some time — but definitely not there yet. The deal terms weren’t disclosed, but Twitter to its credit has seen its stock basically double this year (and almost triple in the past few years). Twitter is going into a big year, with the U.S. midterm elections, the 2018 World Cup, and the Sacramento Kings probably finding some way to screw up in the NBA draft. This’ll be a close one to watch over the next few months as we get closer to the finals for the World Cup and the elections. Twitter is trying to bill itself as a home for news, focusing on live video, and a number of other things.

Then we have Juul Labs, an e-cigarette company that is somehow worth $10 billion. The Information reports that the PAX Labs spinout from 2015 has gone from a $250 million valuation all the way to $10 billion faster than you can name each scooter company that’s raising a new $200 million round from Sequoia that will have already been completed by the time you finish this sentence. Obviously the original cigarette industry was a complicated one circa the 20th century, so this one will be an interesting one to play out over the next few years.

Finally, we have meditation app Calm raising a $27 million round at a $250 million pre-money valuation. Calm isn’t the only mental health-focused startup that’s starting to pick up some momentum, but it’s one that’s a long time coming. I remember stumbling upon Calm.com back in 2012, where you’d just chill out on the website for a minute or so, so it’s fun to see a half-decade or so later that these apps are showing off some impressive numbers.

That’s all for this week, we’ll catch you guys next week. We apologize in advance if Alex makes it back on to the podcast.

Equity  drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocketcast, Downcast and all the casts.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Juul tightens up social media to focus on former smokers switching to e-cigs

Juul tightens up social media to focus on former smokers switching to e-cigs
Juul Labs, the company behind the ever-popular Juul e-cig, has today announced a new policy around social media.
This comes in the midst of Juul’s effort to get FDA approval, which has been made more arduous by the fact that the FDA has cracked down on Juul after learning how popular the device is with underage users.
As part of the new policy, Juul will no longer feature models in pictures posted on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. FWIW, Juul doesn’t even have a Snapchat. Instead of using models to market the e-cig, Juul Labs will now use real former smokers who switched from combustible cigarette to Juul.
Juul has always said that its product was meant to serve as an alternative to combustible cigarettes, which are considered far more harmful to your health.
Juul has also initiated an internal team focused on flagging and reporting social media content that is inappropriate or targeted to underage users.
The company mentioned that it has worked to report and remove more than 10,000 illegal online sales since February from various online marketplaces.
We reached out to Juul to see if any changes have been made to the way that Juul targets ads on social media and elsewhere. We’ll update the post if/when we hear back.
Here’s what Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns had to say in a prepared statement:
While JUUL already has a strict marketing code, we want to take it one step further by implementing an industry-leading policy eliminating all social media posts featuring models and instead focus our social media on sharing stories about adult smokers who have successfully switched to JUUL. We also are having success in proactively working with social media platforms to remove posts, pages and unauthorized offers to sell product targeted at underage accounts. We believe we can both serve the 38 million smokers in the U.S. and work together to combat underage use – these are not mutually exclusive missions.
In April, the FDA sent a request for information to Juul Labs as part of a new Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, which is aimed at keeping tobacco products of any kind out of the hands of minors. The information request was meant to help the FDA understand why teens are so interested in e-cigs (particularly Juul) and whether or not Juul Labs was marketing the product intentionally to minors.
In response, Juul announced a new strategy to combat underage use, with an investment of $30 million over the next three years going towards independent research, youth and parent education and community engagement efforts.
Since August 2017, Juul has required that people be 21+ to purchase products on its own website, but online and offline third-party retailers have not been so diligent.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Twitter has an unlaunched ‘Secret’ encrypted messages feature

Twitter has an unlaunched ‘Secret’ encrypted messages feature

Buried inside Twitter’s Android app is a “Secret conversation” option that if launched would allow users to send encrypted direct messages. The feature could make Twitter a better home for sensitive communications that often end up on encrypted messaging apps like Signal, Telegram or WhatsApp.

The encrypted DMs option was first spotted inside the Twitter for Android application package (APK) by Jane Manchun Wong. APKs often contain code for unlaunched features that companies are quietly testing or will soon make available. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the record. It’s unclear how long it might be before Twitter officially launches the feature, but at least we know it’s been built.

The appearance of encrypted DMs comes 18 months after whistleblower Edward Snowden asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for the feature, which Dorsey said was “reasonable and something we’ll think about.”

Twitter has gone from “thinking about” the feature to prototyping it. The screenshot above shows the options to learn more about encrypted messaging, start a secret conversation and view both your own and your conversation partner’s encryption keys to verify a secure connection.

Twitter’s DMs have become a powerful way for people to contact strangers without needing their phone number or email address. Whether it’s to send a reporter a scoop, warn someone of a problem, discuss business or just “slide into their DMs” to flirt, Twitter has established one of the most open messaging mediums. But without encryption, those messages are subject to snooping by governments, hackers or Twitter itself.

Twitter has long positioned itself as a facilitator of political discourse and even uprisings. But anyone seriously worried about the consequences of political dissonance, whistleblowing or leaking should be using an app like Signal that offers strong end-to-end encryption. Launching encrypted DMs could win back some of those change-makers and protect those still on Twitter.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook swings at Twitter with Breaking News label

Facebook swings at Twitter with Breaking News label
 Facebook’s algorithm is terrible at surfacing breaking news, often showing urgent posts hours or even days later when more facts have since emerged or the story has changed. This has made Twitter the default home for this content, but that position has weakened since Twitter implemented its own relevancy algorithm that brings up old tweets. Facebook isn’t ready to make any changes… Read More

Source: Mobile – Techcruch