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Dating app S’More adds blurred video calling and launches in LA

3 juillet, par Anthony Ha[ —]

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down dating app S’More — at least according to CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who said that the app’s daily active user count doubled in March and hasn’t gone down since.

“When people are working form home, they have much more time to dedicate to their relationships,” Cohen-Aslatei told me.

The app (whose name is short for “something more”) launched last fall and has supposedly attracted nearly 50,000 users. The goal is to move beyond the superficiality of most dating apps, where you first learn about another user and then unlock visual elements (like a profile photo) as you interact.

Cohen-Aslatei said the team has also spent more on marketing to attract a diverse audience, both in terms of racial diversity (something S’more reinforces by not allowing users to filter by race) and sexual orientation, with 15% of users identifying as LGBTQ.

Of course, dating someone new can be challenging when meeting up in-person poses real health risks, but Cohen-Aslatei said S’More users have gotten creative, like remote dinners where they order each other takeout from their favorite restaurants. And now that things are reopening (though some of those reopenings are getting pulled back), users are asking, “How do we transition these virtual relationships into IRL?”

S'More video calling

Image Credits: S’More

To give users more ways to interact, the S’More team recently launched a video calling feature. But Cohen-Aslatei noted, “We had to to create it in a way that was really fitting for our app … Women actually don’t want to see a guy right away, when you don’t know if they’re a creep.”

So in S’more’s video calling, the video is blurred for the first two minutes, which means you’ve got to actually start an interesting conversation before you can see who you’re talking to, and before they see you (a concept that may be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind”).

S’More has also expanded geographically, launching last week in Los Angeles (it was already available in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago). And it recently started its a video series of its own on Instagram’s IGTV — the S’More Live Happy Hour, where celebrities offer dating advice.

“There’s this negative history of dating apps perpetuating negative online behaviors, fake images, catfishers,” Cohen-Aslatei said. “But now we’re going into a new era of authenticity, where we’re going from super vain to super authentic. S’more is one of those apps that’s going to lead you in that direction.”


Sprint 5G is no more, as T-Mobile focuses on its own network

3 juillet, par Brian Heater[ —]

A day after formally completing the sale of Boost, Virgin and other Sprint prepaid networks to Dish, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on Sprint 5G. The move is one in a long list of issues that need sorting out in the wake of April’s $26.5 billion merger. And like a number of other moves, it’s set to leave some customers in the lurch.

The end of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz 5G comes as T-Mobile opts to focus on its own network. T-Mobile already started the process in New York City, a few weeks after the merger and has since completed it in a handful of other cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

As CNET notes, while most of the Sprint 5G handsets won’t be able to make the transition, Samsung Galaxy S20 5G users are in the clear here. For everyone else, T-Mobile is offering up credits on leases for new 5G handsets.

T-Mobile told TechCrunch in a statement, “We are working to quickly re-deploy, optimize and test the 2.5GHz spectrum before lighting it up on the T-Mobile network.”

Along with the sale of Boost, 5G was a big selling point for T-Mobile’s Sprint acquisition. The carriers argued that the deal was necessary to keep them competitive with first and second place carriers AT&T and Verizon when it came to the next-generation wireless technology.

At the time FCC chairman Ajit Pai agreed stating, “This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States.”

Earlier this week, OpenSignal awarded T-Mobile the top spot in availability, noting, “In the U.S., T-Mobile won the 5G Availability award by a large margin with Sprint and AT&T trailing with scores of 14.1% and 10.3%, respectively.”

Update: The language of the post has been updated to reflect the impact on specific unsupported devices, rather than user base figures.


Police roll up crime networks in Europe after infiltrating popular encrypted chat app

2 juillet, par Devin Coldewey[ —]

Hundreds of alleged drug dealers and other criminals are in custody today after police in Europe infiltrated an encrypted chat system reportedly used by thousands to discuss illegal operations. The total failure of this ostensibly secure method of communication will likely have a chilling effect on the shadowy industry of crime-focused tech.

“Operation Venetic” was reported by various police agencies, major local news outlets, and by Motherboard in especially vibrant form, quoting extensively people apparently from within the groups affected.

The operation involved hundreds of officers working across numerous agencies in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other countries. It began in 2017, and culminated two months ago when a service called EncroChat was hacked and the messages of tens of thousands of users exposed to police scrutiny.

EncroChat is a step up in some ways from encrypted chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp. Rather like Blackberry once did, EncroChat provided customized hardware, a dedicated OS, and its own servers to users, providing an expensive service costing thousands per year rather than a one-time purchase or download.

Messages on the service were supposedly very secure and had deniability built in by letting conversations be edited later — so theoretically a user could claim after the fact they never said something. Motherboard’s Joseph Cox has been following the company for some time and has far more details on its claims and operations.

Image Credits: EncroChat /

Needless to say those claims were not entirely true, as at some point in early 2020 police managed to introduce malware into the EncroChat system that completely exposed the conversations and images of its users. Because of the trusted nature of the app, people would openly discuss drug deals, murders, and other crimes, making them sitting ducks for law enforcement.

Throughout the spring criminal operations were being cracked open with alarming (to them) regularity, but it wasn’t until May that users and EncroChat managed to put the pieces together. The company attempted to warn its users and issue an update, but the cat was out of the bag. Seeing that its operation was now exposed, the Operation Venetic teams struck.

Arrests across the several countries involved (there were numerous sub-operations but France and the Netherlands were the primary investigators) total near a thousand, but exact numbers are not clear. Dozens of guns, tons (metric, naturally) of drugs and the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in cash were seized. More importantly, the chat logs seem to have provided access to people higher up the food chain than ordinary busts would have.

That the reportedly most popular of encrypted chat companies focused on illegal activities could be so completely subverted by international authorities will likely put a damper on its competition. But like other, more domestic challenges to encryption, such as the perennial complaints by the FBI, this event is more likely to strengthen the tools in the long run.


Daily Crunch: Apple and Google block banned apps in India

2 juillet, par Anthony Ha[ —]

Banned Chinese apps are beginning to disappear from India’s app stores, Palantir is raising more funding and Venmo starts testing Business Profiles.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 2, 2020.

1. Apple and Google block dozens of Chinese apps in India

Two days after India blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, Google and Apple have started to comply with the government’s order and are preventing users in the world’s second-largest internet market from accessing those apps.

UC Browser, Shareit, Club Factory and other apps are no longer listed on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. In a statement, a Google spokesperson said that the company had “temporarily blocked access to the apps”on Google Play Store as it reviews the order.

2. SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

Palantir, the controversial and secretive big data and analytics provider, has reportedly been eyeing up a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

3. Venmo begins piloting ‘Business Profiles’ for small sellers

Business Profiles offer small sellers and other sole proprietors the opportunity to have a more professional profile page on its platform. Sellers can share key business details like address, phone number, email, website and more.

4. Tesla delivered 90,650 vehicles in second quarter, a smaller than expected decline

Tesla said Thursday that it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter, a 4.8% decline from the same period last year, prompted by challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — like suspending production for weeks at its main U.S. factory. But the company still managed to beat expectations despite the headwinds.

5. Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects

From larger fund investors like Mark Suster and Kara Nortman at Upfront Ventures to Dana Settle at Greycroft Partners; to early-stage investors like Will Hsu at Mucker Capital; TX Zhuo at Fika Ventures, the responses were generally upbeat about the future opportunities for Los Angeles startups. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Dish closes Boost Mobile purchase, following T-Mobile/Sprint merger

T-Mobile today announced that it has closed a deal that divests Sprint’s pre-paid businesses, including Boost and Virgin Mobile. The whole thing was a key part of T-Mobile’s bid to merge with Sprint.

7. AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Many AR startups made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion. Lucas Matney argues that a key error was thinking that an AR glasses company should be hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on first-party software experiences. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.


Dish closes Boost Mobile purchase, following T-Mobile/Sprint merger

1er juillet, par Brian Heater[ —]

T-Mobile today announced that it has closed a deal that divests Sprint’s pre-paid businesses, including Boost and Virgin Mobile. The news finds Dish entering the wireless carrier game in earnest, courtesy of the $1.4 billion deal.

The whole thing was, of course, a key part of T-Mobile’s bid to merge with Sprint. It was a relatively small concession to those worried that such a deal would decrease competition in the market, as the number of major U.S. carriers shrunk from four down to three. The $26 billion T-Mobile/Sprint deal was finally completed in April of this year, and has already resulted in hundreds of lost jobs, as reported last month by TechCrunch.

The deal gives Dish a nice head start in the pre-paid phone game, with north of 9 million customers and access to T-Mobile’s wireless network for the next seven years. It also finds current Dish’s COO John Swieringa stepping in to lead the new subsidiary. Oh, and there’s a new Boost logo, too:

Image Credits: Dish

See? It’s basically the old Boost Mobile logo, but with the little Dish wireless symbols in the middle, to really show you who’s boss.

Dish used the opportunity to announce a new plan for Boost users with 15GB of data for $45, and has already begun switching consumers with compatible devices over to the new T-Mobile-backed network.


AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

1er juillet, par Lucas Matney[ —]

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit


Match Group completes separation from IAC, new board includes Wendi Murdoch and Ryan Reynolds

1er juillet, par Anthony Ha[ —]

IAC and Match Group announced that they have completed a “full separation.”

Previously, Match Group (which owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish and Match itself) was a publicly traded company, with digital holding company IAC as its majority shareholder. Last year, the companies announced a plan that would see IAC’s ownership of Match distributed to IAC’s shareholders — a plan that is complete as of this morning.

The separation also involves a leadership change, with Mark Stein and Gregg Winiarski stepping down from the Match Group board. The company has four new board members: ExecOnline CEO Stephen Bailey, the NBA’s executive president for digital media Melissa Brenner, investor and entrepreneur Wendi Murdoch and actor Ryan Reynolds (also an owner of Aviation American Gin and Mint Mobile).

“Most millennials and Gen Z can’t remember what dating was like before the advent of Tinder, OkCupid and Hinge,” Reynolds said in a statement. “These brands have enormous responsibility and opportunities to affect societies, all while embracing new technologies and remaining at the forefront of pop culture. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the team on their future growth and success.”

Shar Dubey will continue to serve as Match Group’s CEO, a position she took at the beginning of this year, while Joey Levin remains both IAC’s CEO and Match Group’s executive chairman.

“This is just the largest transaction at the core of our strategy throughout these 25 years,” said IAC Chairman Barry Diller in a statement. “Be opportunistic, be balance sheet conservative, build up enterprises and when they deserve independence let them have it. Be a conglomerate and an anti-conglomerate, a business model that has been unique to us.”


Location data startup Bluedot raises $9.1M

1er juillet, par Anthony Ha[ —]

Bluedot, a geofencing and location data startup used by companies like Dunkin’, KFC and McDonald’s, is announcing that it has raised $9.1 million in Series B funding.

The San Francisco-headquartered company claims that its technology its 20 times more accurate than competing solutions — something that CEO Emil Davityan attributed to its roots in the toll road industry, where it needed to deliver “lane-level” accuracy.

“Since then, we’ve delivered location-based solutions for retail, restaurants and other verticals,” Davityan told me via email. “The focus is on valuable, contactless experiences that prioritize the consumer’s needs.”

The company is extending its capabilities with the launch of a new product called Tempo, which is supposed to incorporate data like traffic patterns — and even the time it takes to get in and out of a car — to deliver real-time alerts when a customer is approaching.

That sounds particularly desirable in the middle of a pandemic, when businesses are increasingly interacting with customers via curbside pickup and drive-through — and presumably want to minimize contact even when the customers are inside the store. It also sounds a little creepy, but Davityan emphasized that the data is encrypted and anonymized.

“We don’t collect personal data, or track, share or sell location data,” he said. “It’s easy to make claims about being ‘privacy friendly.’ The real challenge is to live and breathe it, to make it central to your business.”

Bluedot says its footprint — as measured by unique monthly users — has increased 2,471% over the past year, and that it’s now powering more than 121 million location events each month.

The startup has now raised a total of $21.9 million. The new funding was led by Autotech Ventures, with participation from previous backer Transurban and new investors Forefront Ventures, IAG Firemark Ventures and Mighty Capital. Autotech’s Alexei Andreev is joining the Bluedot board, with Mighty Capital’s Jennifer Azapian joining as board observer.

“Software that can enable businesses to minimize contact is vital,” Andreev said in a statement. “Moving forward, we see the market favoring contactless solutions and Bluedot is poised to meet this demand. Bluedot’s differentiated offering, focus on consumer experience and scalability are key factors for any business’s future success, especially as we all rethink mobility and brand interactions.”


OnePlus will return to its budget roots with the launch of Nord

30 juin, par Brian Heater[ —]

Two factors defined OnePlus’s seemingly out-of-nowhere growth in the middle of the last decade: solid specs and a budget price tag. But markets change, and companies must adapt to survive. As someone who has followed the Chinese smartphone maker since close to the beginning, I can confidently say that it hasn’t wavered from that first part. The second bit, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story.

OnePlus has experienced a bit of a price creep as it has continued to add features to set itself apart from the competition. In the early days, the smartphone maker was content to wait a generation or two before embracing new tech, for the sake of keeping costs down. But increasingly, it has come to pride itself in being among the first to things like in-screen fingerprint readers and 5G.

Today, however, it’s announcing a bit of a return to its roots, with the Nord. The upcoming phone has been the subject of all manner of rumors under a variety of different names in recent months, but OnePlus just confirmed its name and arrival by way of an extended behind-the-scenes documentary on Instagram. Details are pretty slim at the moment, though the company confirmed that it will be priced at under $500.

Co-founder Carl Pei — who discussed the company’s place in the budget market at Disrupt last year — noted in the video, “There’s a huge change every two years. Anything can happen. Thousand-dollar phones are decreasing in sales.” It’s a pretty well-established phenomenon over the last few years that has led to, among other things, companies like Samsung, Apple and Google to embrace lower-cost devices amid stagnant sales figures.

OnePlus’s devices have still remained relatively affordable, compared to the competition, but the addition of the Nord will find it’s getting back to where it started with a line aimed at a wider range of consumers and different markets. More info soon, no doubt.


DoubleDown is going public: Why isn’t its IPO worth more?

29 juin, par Alex Wilhelm[ —]

Agora isn’t the only company headquartered outside the United States aiming to go public domestically this quarter. After catching up on Agora’s F-1 filing, the China-and-U.S.-based, API-powered tech company that went public last week, today we’re parsing DoubleDown Interactive’s IPO document.


The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.


The mobile gaming company is targeting the NASDAQ and wants to trade under the ticker symbol “DDI.”

As with Agora, DoubleDown filed an F-1, instead of an S-1. That’s because it’s based in South Korea, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. DoubleDown was founded in Seattle, according to Crunchbase, before selling itself to DoubleU Games, which is based in South Korea. So, yes, the company is filing an F-1 and will remain majority-held by its South Korean parent company post-IPO, but this offering is more a local affair than it might at first seem.

Even more, with a $17 to $19 per-share IPO price range, the company could be worth up to nearly $1 billion when it debuts. Does that pricing make sense? We want to find out.

So let’s quickly explore the company this morning. We’ll see what this mobile, social gaming company looks like under the hood in an effort to understand why it is being sent to the public markets right now. Let’s go!

Fundamentals

Any gaming company has to have its fun-damentals in place so that it can have solid financial results, right? Right?

Anyway, DoubleDown is a nicely profitable company. In 2019 its revenue only grew a hair to $273.6 million from $266.9 million the year before (a mere 2.5% gain), but the company’s net income rose from $25.1 million to $36.3 million, and its adjusted EBITDA rose from $85.1 million to $101.7 million over the same period.


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