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  • Twitter says changes to its API and policy enforcement resulted in suspension of 142K apps responsible for 130M "low-quality" tweets, for violating its ToS (Ingrid Lunden/TechCrunch)
  • Ingrid Lunden / TechCrunch:
    Twitter says changes to its API and policy enforcement resulted in suspension of 142K apps responsible for 130M “low-quality” tweets, for violating its ToS  —  Twitter is making good on its pledge to fight the persistent problems of spam, bots, harassment, and misinformation that have plagued the social platform for years.


    1 Hours ago.

  • Podcast app Castbox raises $13.5 million, launches its own original programming
  • Riding high on the growing consumer demand for podcasts, a startup called Castbox this morning announced the close of $13.5 million in Series B funding for its technology-fueled podcast app. The round was led by SIG China, and includes participation from existing investors IDG Capital, Qiming Venture Partners, and GSR Ventures.

    To date, Castbox has raised $29.5 million.

    While there are a number of podcast applications on the market today, what makes Castbox interesting is the proprietary technology it has under the hood. The platform uses natural language processing and machine learning techniques to power some of its unique features, like personalized recommendations and in-audio search.

    The app is capable of making suggestions of what to listen to next, based on user’s prior listening behavior, which can help to improve discovery of podcasts people may like. Meanwhile, the in-audio search feature takes advantage of the recent leaps the industry has seen with voice recognition technology, and actually transcribes the audio content inside podcasts, indexes it, and makes it available for search within the Castbox app.

    That means users no longer have to rely on things like episode titles, descriptions and show notes to find a podcast related to a topic they want to listen to – they can just search the Castbox app for any podcasts where the term was mentioned.

    These differentiating features, so far, appear to be attracting users. Castbox’s app has been installed 15 million times, and today sees 1.8 million daily users, with a retention rate of 50 percent. While the company doesn’t have a way to directly correlate its features’ usage to these figures, its user ratings and reviews including a number of comments referencing them, along with compliments about the app’s overall clean user interface and experience, notes Castbox founder Renee Wang.

    Wang, who previously worked at Google in Japan and Dublin, had originally created Castbox because of her own troubles in finding a player that supported different languages or gave personalized recommendations. Castbox was then further developed in response to user feedback and with a focus on improved podcast discovery.

    Today, Castbox has a global user base, with only 45 percent from the U.S. But those users are most engaged. Americans spend the most time in the app, listening to an average of 113 minutes per day, says Wang. Chinese users, meanwhile, subscribe the most, with an average of 12 subscriptions per user.

    With the additional funding, Castbox is adding another big differentiator to its app: original programming.

    The company kicked off its efforts with “Castbox Originals,” as it original shows are called, with its first series, “Off Track with Hinch and Rossi.” The show stars Indy car drivers James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi, and was made in partnership with INDYCAR. That was followed by “Heard Well Now,” an influencer-driven music podcast series in partnership with influencer music label Heard Well.

    Both were designed to be niche series that would drive new audiences – specifically race car fans and teens – to podcasts.

    The titles aren’t exclusive to Castbox, though – they’re also distributed through major platforms like Apple and Spotify. The shows, however, will include advertising which is how Castbox now aims to make money.

    The upcoming slate of shows will also include a scripted series called “Be.Scared,” where listeners can hear tales of horror from contemporary writers, as well as a full-length true crime mockumentary for fans of “Serial,” a wrestling podcast, and a series of women-hosted podcasts.

    “We’re investing a chunk of the new capital into original programming and strategic partnerships with creators,” says Wang. “Over the next two months, we’ve committed to launching more than a dozen Castbox Originals in addition to the ones we’ve already released in the past 30 days. On this front, we’ll continue identifying the right partners to work with as we expand our content strategy, which will allow us to strengthen our brand in the podcasting space,” she adds.

    While the cost of launching a new show will vary based on a number of factors – like voice talent, writing, editing, music, marketing, promotion, etc. – the full process can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands.

    The new funding will also be used to improve Castbox’s technology platform, including improvements to usability, content discovery, and personalization.

    SIG China’s involvement speaks to Castbox’s roots – the startup initially launched in the Chinese market, but since relocated its headquarters to San Francisco, while maintaining an engineering office in Beijing. The team is now 52 full-time employees, and will continue to grow throughout the year.

    “Castbox has shown consistent growth across all metrics, but more importantly, Renee and her team share great vision for the company,” said Andy Gao of SIG China, in a statement. :They’re extremely passionate about the podcasting space and their decision to share their content openly shows just how invested they are. As this new medium takes off and goes mass-market, we’re excited to see what’s next to come for Castbox.”

    Castbox, of course, has fierce competition in the U.S., where there are dozens of alternative podcast players available across platforms, in addition to those from major players like Apple, and streaming services like Spotify or TuneIn. But users are always looking for the “best” app to serve their needs, and Castbox’s focus on discovery, and now, Originals, could give it the extra edge as it grows.

     


    1 Hours ago.

  • Federal appeals court upholds a 15-month prison sentence for e-waste recycler Eric Lundgren for making Windows restore disks (Tom Jackman/Washington Post)
  • Tom Jackman / Washington Post:
    Federal appeals court upholds a 15-month prison sentence for e-waste recycler Eric Lundgren for making Windows restore disks  —  A California man who built a sizable business out of recycling electronic waste is headed to federal prison for 15 months after a federal appeals court in Miami rejected …


    1 Hours ago.

  • Atlanta spent ~$2.6M on recovery efforts after the ransomware attack against city's systems, though it isn't clear if the city tried to pay the ~$50,000 ransom (Lily Hay Newman/Wired)
  • Lily Hay Newman / Wired:
    Atlanta spent ~$2.6M on recovery efforts after the ransomware attack against city's systems, though it isn't clear if the city tried to pay the ~$50,000 ransom  —  THE CITY OF Atlanta spent more than $2.6 million on emergency efforts to respond to a ransomware attack that destabilized municipal operations last month.


    2 Hours ago.

  • Video consultation service Doctor on Demand raised $74 million so everyone can see a doctor anytime
  • Healing America’s broken healthcare industry has been at the top of the priority list for almost every politician, entrepreneur, and inventor for at least the past forty years.

    Costs continue to climb (roughly 5% this year) and spending is already 20% of the nation’s GDP. For the trillions of dollars Americans spend on healthcare they’re getting declining services, more frequent ailments and a steadily diverging standard of care for the rich and the poor in the country.

    Something needs to be done — and venture capitalists and some of the biggest names in finance led by Goldman Sachs are investing $73 million in a technology startup they see as a potential solution.

    The company is Doctor on Demand and its solution is video-based telemedicine.

    The new funding led by Goldman Sachs and Princeville Global (with participation from existing investors including Venrock, Shasta Ventures, and Tenaya Capital) will be used to continue the company’s rapid expansion in the U.S. and abroad — and brings the company’s total financing to $160 million.

    “This trend of consumerization, which we’re leading, is really going to result in much greater patient driven healthcare experiences which will save the patient a lot of money,” says company chief executive Hill Ferguson .

    Ferguson knows that the arc of internet services bends towards on-demand and he says that healthcare should be no different. “Most people have no idea they can see a board-certified physician on their phone from their bed while they’re sick at two in the morning with a five minute wait time,” he says.

    That’s essentially the service that Doctor on Demand provides.

    While the company’s consultations aren’t a panacea for everything that ails the healthcare industry, Ferguson claims his company’s board certified staff can handle 90% of the consultations that happen every day in Urgent Care facilities and for $300 less than insurers currently pay out.

    While the service started out as something that consumers had to pay out of pocket, it has now transitioned to a more seamless (and cheaper) option for customers — it’s covered by most major insurance carriers.

    “We’ve shifted from being a cash pay virtual practice to more of an enterprise player. we’re driving most of our volume through health insurance plans and employers,” Ferguson says.

    The company employs its own doctors and staffs its video consultation service 24-hours a day, seven days a week, Ferguson says. Despite the workload — which sees the company’s virtual doctors consult with four patients each hour on average — the company’s fourteen day readmission rate (a standard measure of effective diagnoses) is on par with brick and mortar services, Ferguson says.

    Roughly 5% of the consultations involve patients who need to be referred to specialists, according to Ferguson.

    The service can also refer patients to diagnostics and testing facilities to get bloodwork and other tests that can supplement an initial diagnosis.

    Through its agreements with insurers, Doctor on Demand stipulates what kinds of conditions its video consultations can cover, and which ailments and maladies require immediate medical attention. Increasingly, customers are taking advantage of the company’s mental health services — an area that’s grown 240% since it was introduced, according to Ferguson.

    Mental health is one growth area for the company and its testing services provide another. In all, Ferguson thinks there’s a $50 billion addressable market in the U.S. alone. A figure he says more than justifies the company’s $160 million (and counting) in funding.

     

    Doctor on Demand isn’t profitable yet, and the new financing still sees the company valued under $1 billion, but Ferguson is confident about the future. “I gotta wear shades,” the chief executive said.


    2 Hours ago.

  • Overflow error shuts down token trading
  • A recently discovered programming error can make some crypto tokens susceptible to hackers . The exploit allows a hacker to pass an unusually high value to the exchange and get a ridiculous number of tokens in exchange, a problem that has caused the Okex exchange shut down all token trading including one called BeautyChain (BEC).

    What’s really interesting is how the hack worked. As you can see above a line in the smart contract creates another value – amount – by multiplying cnt and _value. The hackers made a transfer and set the value to eight vigintillion – an eight with 63 zeroes. When this value is passed, the code overflows allowing the hacker to gain a massive number of tokens. Thanks to the smart contract’s “code-is-law” principal, each of these transfers are technically legitimate.

    “There is no traditional well-known security response mechanism in place to remedy these vulnerable contracts!” wrote one researcher on Medium. “With that, we further run our system to scan and analyze other contracts. Our results show that more than a dozen of ERC20 contracts are also vulnerable to batchOverflow.”

    In response Okex shut down all ERC-20 tokens but there are other exchanges and tokens susceptible to the hack.

    “To protect public interest, we have decided to suspend the deposits of all ERC-20 tokens until the bug is fixed. Also, we have contacted the affected token teams to conduct investigation and take necessary measures to prevent the attack,” Okex wrote.

    Image via MelisaDrucker who makes some unusually cool subway token earrings.


    2 Hours ago.

  • BigCommerce raises $64 million to build e-commerce sites
  • Austin, Texas-based BigCommerce has completed a big round of funding.

    The growth stage startup, which builds e-commerce sites for Sony, Toyota and 60,000 other merchants, has raised $64 million to accelerate its business. The investment was led by Goldman Sachs, with participation from General Catalyst, GGV Capital and Tenaya Capital. And it brings BigCommerce’s total raised to over $200 million since it was founded in 2009.

    BigCommerce has developed a template for its customers to launch websites with manageable shipping and payments tracking. It also makes it easy to cross-sell on Amazon, eBay and Facebook. The company claims it is able to help e-tailers cut down on costs by as much as 80%.

    “Every product company, brand company, physical retailer on the planet has decided they need to get serious about e-commerce,” said Jeff Richards, managing partner at GGV about why he’s invested. It’s a “huge category with a very big business that’s doing extremely well.”

    BigCommerce has built a robust business in the United States and Australia, and hopes to use the capital to expand further internationally. It sees an opportunity to build out its presence in Europe.

    The company also recently built an integration with Instagram to make it easier for consumers to purchase directly via the app.  BigCommerce also has partnerships with PayPal and Google and plans to double down on cross-platform opportunities.

    While BigCommerce’s business resembles Shopify and Salesforce’s recently-purchased Demandware, CEO Brent Bellm says that while the former focuses on small businesses and the latter targets large enterprises, BigCommerce’s sweet spot is somewhere in between. It aims to build sites for brands with between $1 million and $50 million in revenue.

    Yet BigCommerce’s own revenue numbers exceed that of the clients it is targeting. Bellm said that the company is approaching $100 million in annualized revenue.

    When asked about whether that meant the company is targeting an IPO, he said that BigCommerce is “on a track where that’s possible” and that he believed this financing would be “the last round as a private company.”

    If Shopify’s stock performance is any indication, public investors are hot on the space. Shares have gone up over 600% since its IPO in 2015.

    Competitor Magento, on the other hand, was taken private after spinning off from eBay. Bellm believes that BigCommerce is better positioned to take advantage of a growing preference for SaaS business models.


    2 Hours ago.

  • India’s Jugnoo adopts a unique take on ride-hailing to help fill Singapore’s Uber void
  • Another contender is throwing its hat into the ring to replace Uber in Southeast Asia after India’s Jugnoo, a startup that specializes in offering autorickshaws on-demand in India, revealed it plans to enter Singapore.

    Uber announced its exit from Southeast Asia last month in a deal that sees Grab buy its regional business, and since then a number of companies have stepped into the void. Those include $4 billion-valued heavyweight Go-Jek, which has held talks with top taxi operator ComfortDelGro, and newer names like Ryde and U.S.-based Arcade City, but Jugnoo is perhaps even less expected.

    Away from the main stage fight between Ola and Uber in India, Jugnoo has quietly buckled down and built a business that founder and CEO Samar Singla told TechCrunch is profitable with around 10 percent of the country’s e-hailing volumes. Key to that, he said, has been a focus on more rural areas of the country and its B2B logistics service. Uber briefly ran a competing service in 2015, while Ola is pushing its rickshaw offerings towards electric vehicles.

    Jugnoo plans to take a unique approach in Singapore, where it will launch a car-on-demand service that uses a “reverse-bidding” model. That’s a play on bidding systems — which incentivize passengers to offer a tip to land a driver for their requested journey — that instead lets drivers jostle to ‘win’ a passenger’s journey. So a user makes a request to go from A to B, and then picks the driver with the price — or perhaps car, or driver rating — that they prefer.

    “Drivers will bid so we hope it will be beneficial to consumers,” Singla said in an interview, admitting that the system may need to be fine-tuned further down the line. “Singapore customers are open, educated and understanding of startup models.”

    Jugnoo founder and CEO Samar Singla

    The company was lured to Singapore as part of a government initiative to contact potential ride-hailing services post Uber-Grab . Jugnoo claims to have signed up over 100 drivers in the past two days, and it is aiming to grow that number to at least 500 before the service launches.

    “If we say we will go and compete with Uber, Grab, Didi and others on their home turf and with their money, that would be quite stupid,” the Jugnoo CEO explained. “We think this could be a decent niche. Our goal is around 10 percent market share [and] to be a sustainable company.”

    The opportunistic move will be Jugnoo’s first expansion outside of India. Singla is optimistic that it can figure out alternative ways to compete in other parts of the world, which could potentially include markets outside of Southeast Asia, in the future.

    Jugnoo has taken $16 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. Its most recent raise was a $10 million Series B round that closed in 2016.

    That’s small pennies for Grab, which raised a round of more than $2 billion led by SoftBank and Didi last year at a valuation of $6 billion. To date, the Singapore-based firm has pulled in over $4 billion in capital from investors.


    2 Hours ago.

  • Google debuts Tasks, a dedicated to-do app for iOS and Android that lets users add tasks from Google Calendar and Gmail (Abner Li/9to5Google)
  • Abner Li / 9to5Google:
    Google debuts Tasks, a dedicated to-do app for iOS and Android that lets users add tasks from Google Calendar and Gmail  —  In addition to a leak late last month, the Gmail on the web revamp confirmed the existence of Google Tasks.  Today, Google's new and unified to-do solution is available …


    2 Hours ago.

  • Twitter revoked API access for 142k apps covering 130M ‘low-quality’ Tweets in 1 week under new terms
  • Twitter is making good on its pledge to fight the persistent problems of spam, bots, harassment, and misinformation that have plagued the social platform for years. Today, in its generally positive Q1 earnings report, the company announced that changes that it has made related to TweetDeck and its API — two of the most common spam vectors on Twitter — in in the past quarter have translated into real numbers that point to overall improvements in quality on the service.

    Specifically, according to figures published in the company’s letter to investors, 142,000 apps, accounting for 130 million Tweets, have had their API access revoked; and there are now 90 percent fewer accounts using TweetDeck to create junk Tweets.

    To note, Twitter’s new changes took effect only on March 23, and the earnings report covers only activity for the three months ending March 30 — meaning these numbers are just covering a week of activity. In other words, the effect over the longer term will likely be significant.

    The TweetDeck stat covering 90 percent fewer users using TweetDeck to create false information and automated engagement spam are both a result of changes to TweetDeck itself, as well as a new and more proactive approach that Twitter is taking.

    In February, Twitter stopped allowing automating mass retweeting — or TweetDecking, as it’s been called by some — in which power users turned to TweetDeck to retweet posts across masses of accounts they managed, as well as across smaller user groups of people who managed masses of accounts, a technique that helps a Tweet go viral. Some weeks later it moved to suspend a number of accounts that were guilty of the practice.

    Policies and enforcement around the company’s API have also been tightened up. The 142,000 applications that are no longer connected to the API were responsible for no less than 130 million “low-quality Tweets”. It’s a sizeable volume on its own, but — given the Twitter model — it’s even more impactful since they spurred a number of interactions and retweets outside those spam accounts, perpetuated by individuals. As with TweetDeck, the API changes were part of the larger overhaul Twitter made around automation and multiple accounts.

    It’s an interesting turn for the company: given that the mass-action Tweeting ability has been so hugely misused, it’s a wonder why Twitter ever allowed it in the first place. It may have been one of those badly-conceived moments where Twitter thought it would help with traffic and activity on the site at a time when it needed to demonstrate growth, and perhaps just to bring more activity to the platform when it was smaller.

    Beyond its own desire to be a force for good and not abuse, it’s also something that Twitter has been somewhat forced to address. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have proven to have a huge role in helping to disseminate information, but that spotlight has taken on a particularly pernicious hue in recent times. The rise of fake news and what role that might have played in the outcome of the EU referendum in the UK and the most recent presidential election in the US; and extreme cases of harassment online, are two of the uglier examples of where social sites might have an obligation to play a stronger role beyond that of simply being a conduit for information. With governments now also looking into the issue, Twitter taking better control of this is an important step, and perhaps one it would rather control itself.

    In any case, this appears to be just the start of how Twitter hopes to raise the tone, and generally make its platform a safer and nicer place to be. “Our systems continue to identify and challenge millions of suspicious accounts globally per week as a result of our sustained investments in improving information quality on Twitter,” the company notes.

    There are also some interesting plans in the pipeline. The company has been on a “health” kick of late, and has been looking to crowdsource suggestions for how to improve trust and safety, and reduce abuse and spam, on the platform. An RFP that it issued to stakeholders — and anyone interested in helping — has so far yielded 230 responses from “global institutions”, the company said. “We expect to have meaningful updates in the second quarter, and we’re committed to continuing to share our progress along the way.”

    We are listening to the earnings webcast and will update with more related to this as we hear it.


    2 Hours ago.

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