A voter contact and canvassing company, used exclusively by Republican political campaigns, mistakenly left an unprotected copy of its app’s code on its website for anyone to find.
The company, Campaign Sidekick, helps Republican campaigns canvas its districts using iOS and Android apps, which pull in names and addresses from voter registration rolls. Campaign Sidekick says it has helped campaigns in Arizona, Montana, and Ohio and contributed to the Brian Kemp campaign, which saw him narrowly win against Democratic rival Stacey Abrams in the Georgia gubernatorial campaign in 2018.
For the past two decades, political campaigns have ramped up their use of data to identify swing voters. This growing political data business has opened up a whole economy of startups and tech companies using data to help campaigns better understand their electorate. But that has led to voter records spilling out of unprotected servers and other privacy-related controversies — like the case of Cambridge Analytica obtaining private data from social media sites.
Chris Vickery, director of cyber risk research at security firm UpGuard, said he found the cache of Campaign Sidekick’s code by chance.
In his review of the code, Vickery found several instances of credentials and other app-related secrets, he said in a blog post on Monday, which he shared exclusively with TechCrunch. These secrets, such as keys and tokens, can typically be used to gain access to systems or data without a username or password. But Vickery did not test the password as doing so would be unlawful. Vickery also found a sampling of personally identifiable information, he said, amounting to dozens of spreadsheets packed with voter names and addresses.
Fearing the exposed credentials could be abused if accessed by a malicious actor, Vickery informed the company of the issue in mid-February. Campaign Sidekick quickly pulled the exposed cache of code offline.
One of the Campaign Sidekick mockups, using dummy data, collates a voter’s data in one place. (Image: supplied)
One of the screenshots provided by Vickery showed a mockup of a voter profile compiled by the app, containing basic information about the voter and their past voting and donor history, which can be obtained from public and voter records. The mockup also lists the voter’s “friends.”
Vickery told TechCrunch he found “clear evidence” that the app’s code was designed to pull in data from its now-defunct Facebook app, which allowed users to sign-in and pull their list of friends — a feature that was supported by Facebook at the time until limits were put on third-party developers’ access to friends’ data.
“There is clear evidence that Campaign Sidekick and related entities had and have used access to Facebook user data and APIs to query that data,” Vickery said.
Drew Ryun, founder of Campaign Sidekick, told TechCrunch that its Facebook project was from eight years prior, that Facebook had since deprecated access to developers, and that the screenshot was a “digital artifact of a mockup.” (TechCrunch confirmed that the data in the mockup did not match public records.)
Ryun said after he learned of the exposed data the company “immediately changed sensitive credentials for our current systems,” but that the credentials in the exposed code could have been used to access its databases storing user and voter data.
The iOS version of popular remote-working video app Zoom has been updated to remove the code that was sending user data to Facebook.
From Fortune 500 enterprises to very small businesses, most every organization has been thrust into the future of work faster than prognosticators dared dream. What factors will determine failure or success in this brave new world of work?
Zoom on Friday released an updated version of its iOS app after removing the Facebook software development kit (SDK) it had used to implement the ‘Login with Facebook’ feature that was transferring device data to Facebook’s Graph API.
Data that was being transferred included the operating system type and version, IP address, the iOS Advertiser ID, the device time zone and language, the device model and carrier, screen size, processor cores, and disk space.
SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)
However, it did not include information about meetings, such as names of participants or notes, according to Zoom.
“Our customers’ privacy is incredibly important to us, and therefore we decided to remove the Facebook SDK in our iOS client and have reconfigured the feature so that users will still be able to log in with Facebook via their browser,” wrote Zoom founder Eric Yuan in a blogpost.
He said the SDK was “collecting device information unnecessary for us to provide our services.”
“We sincerely apologize for the concern this has caused, and remain firmly committed to the protection of our users’ privacy. We are reviewing our process and protocols for implementing these features in the future to ensure this does not happen again,” he added.
The company was called out last year over security issues caused by the way it implemented a bypass to Apple Safari restrictions on Macs.
SEE: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic
Zoom has become a popular tool for millions of people working from home amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The company last week issued guidance for users who want to prevent strangers gate-crashing Zoom events. Some users weren’t aware that publicly sharing a meeting link online allows anyone else with the link to join the event.
Microsoft today announced a slew of new products, but at the core of the release is a major change to how the company is marketing its tools and services to consumers.
Office 365, which has long been the brand for the company’s subscription service for its productivity tools like Word, Excel and Outlook, is going away. On April 21, it’ll be replaced by new Microsoft 365 plans, including new personal and family plans (for up to six people) at $6.99 and $9.99 respectively. That’s the same price as the existing Office 365 Personal and Home plans.
“We are basically evolving our subscription from — in our minds — a set of tools to solutions that help you manage across your work and life,” Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s CVP of Modern Life, Search and Devices, told me ahead of today’s announcement.
Microsoft is making similar branding changes to its business plans for Office 365. They are a bit more convoluted, with Office 365 Business Premium now called Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Microsoft 365 Business now becoming Microsoft 365 Business Premium, but for the most part, this is about branding while prices stay the same.
These new Microsoft 365 Personal and Family plans will include access to Outlook and the Office desktop apps for Windows and macOS, 1 terabyte of OneDrive storage per person (including unlimited access to the more secure OneDrive Personal Vault service) and 50 gigabytes of Outlook.com email storage, Skype call recording and 60 minutes of Skype landline and mobile phone calls.
And since this is now Microsoft 365 and not Office 365, you can also get Windows 10 technical support with the subscription, as well as additional security features to protect you from phishing and malware attacks.
More than 37 million people currently have personal Office 365 subscriptions and chances are these lower prices will bring more users to the platform in the long run. As Mehdi stressed, Microsoft’s free offerings aren’t going away.
But with today’s release, Microsoft isn’t just changing the branding and launching these new plans, it’s also highlighting quite a few new capabilities in its various applications that are either launching today or in the coming months.
Microsoft Teams gets a personal edition
The highlight of this launch, especially given the current situation around COVID-19, is likely the announcement of Teams for consumers. Teams is already one of Microsoft’s fastest growing products for businesses with 44 million people using it. But in its efforts to help people bridge their work and personal lives, it will now launch a new Teams edition for consumers, as well.
Just like you can switch between work and personal accounts in Outlook, you will soon be able to do the same in Teams. The personal teams view will look a little bit different, with shared calendars for the family, access to OneDrive vaults, photo sharing, etc., but it sits on the same codebase as the business version. You’ll also be able to do video calls and shared to-do lists.
Better writing through AI
About a year ago, Microsoft announced that Word Online would get a new AI-powered editor that would help you write better. You can think of it as a smarter grammar checker that can fix all of your standard grammar mistakes but can also help you avoid overly complex sentences and bias in your word choices.
This editor is now the Microsoft Editor, and the company is expanding it well beyond Word. The new AI-powered service is now available in 20 languages in Word and Outlook.com — and maybe most importantly, it’ll be available as a Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome plug-in, too.
Free users will get basic spelling and grammar features, while Microsoft 365 subscribers will get a number of more advanced features like the ability to ask the editor to suggest a rewrite of a mangled sentence, a plagiarism checker, style analysis to see if your writing is unclear or too formal and access to an inclusive language critique to help you avoid unintentional bias.
If you’ve used Grammarly in the past, then a lot of this will sound familiar. Both services now offer a similar set of capabilities, but Microsoft may have an edge with its ability to rewrite sentences.
Better presentations through technology
In a similar vein, Microsoft also launched a presentation coach for PowerPoint as a limited test last September. This AI-driven feature helps you avoid filler words and other presentation no-nos.
This feature first launched in the online version of PowerPoint, with a basic set of features. Now, Microsoft 365 subscribers will get two new advanced features, too, that can help you avoid a monotone pitch that puts your audience to sleep and avoid grammar mistakes in your spoken sentences.
Currently, these are still available as a free preview to all but will become Microsoft 365-only features soon.
PowerPoint is also getting an updated Designer to help you create better presentations. It can now easily turn text into a timeline, for example, and when you add an image, it can present you with a set of potential slide layouts.
Microsoft 365 subscribers now also get access to over 8,000 images and 175 looping videos from Getty Images, as well as 300 new fonts and 2,800 new icons.
Excel + Plaid
For you spreadsheet jockeys out there, Microsoft also has some good news, especially if you want to use Excel to manage your personal budgets.
In partnership with Plaid, you can now link your bank accounts to Excel and import all of your expenses into your spreadsheets. With that, you can then categorize your spend and build your own personal Mint. This feature, dubbed “Money in Excel,” will launch in the U.S. in the coming months.
In addition, Excel is getting a lot more cloud- and AI-driven data types that now cover over 100 topics, including nutrition, movies, places, chemistry and — because why not — Pokémon. Like some of the previous features, this is an extension of the work Microsoft did on Excel in the last few years, starting with the ability to pull in stock market and geographical data.
And just like with the previous set of features, you’ll need a Microsoft 365 subscription to get access to these additional data types. Otherwise, you’ll remain restricted to the stock market and geography data types, which will become available to Office Insiders in the spring and then Personal and Family subscribers in the U.S. in the coming months.
Outlook gets more personal
Even though you may want to forget about Outlook and ignore your inbox for a while, Microsoft doesn’t. In Outlook on the web, you can now link your personal and work calendars to ensure you don’t end up with a work meeting in the middle of a personal appointment, because Chris from marketing really needs another sync meeting during your gym time even though a short email would suffice.
Outlook for Android can now summarize and read your emails aloud for you, too. This feature will roll out in the coming months.
While most of the new features here focus on existing applications, Microsoft is also launching one completely new app: Microsoft Family Safety. This app is coming to Microsoft 365 subscribers on iOS and Android and will bring together a set of tools that can help families manage their online activities and track the location of family members.
The app lets families manage the screen time of their kids (and maybe parents, too) across Windows, Android and Xbox, for example. Parents can also set content filters that only allow kids to download age-appropriate apps. But it also allows parents to track their kids in the real world through location tracking and even driving reports. This, as Mehdi stressed, is a feature that kids can turn off, but they’ll probably have to explain themselves to their parents then. Indeed, he stressed that a lot of what the app does is give parents a chance to have a dialog with their kids. What makes the service unique is that it works across platforms, with iOS support coming in the future.
This app is launching as a limited preview now and will be available in the coming months (I think you can spot a trend here).
Mehdi noted that Microsoft is also partnering with companies like Adobe, Bark, Blinkist, Creative Live, Experian, Headspace and TeamSnap to provide Microsoft 365 subscribers with additional benefits like limited-time access to their products and services. Subscribers will get three months of free access to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan, for example.
At the core of today’s updates, though, is a mission to bring a lot of the productivity tools that people know from their work life to their personal life, too, with the personal edition of Teams being the core example.
“We’re very much excited to bring this type of value — not increase the price of Office 365 — take a big step forward, and then move to this,” Mehdi said. “We think now more than ever, it is valuable for people to have the subscription service for their life that helps them make the most of their time, protects their family, lets them develop and grow. And our goal or aspiration is: Can we give you the most valuable subscription for your life? I know people value their video subscriptions and music subscriptions. Our aspiration is to provide the most valuable subscription for your life via Microsoft 365 Personal and Family.”
Over the past two years, I’ve been switching between a succession of iPhones and a series of Android devices, using each for an extended amount of time. Spending months with each mobile platform has been a tremendously useful exercise, helping me understand the strengths and weaknesses of the two dominant smartphone options.
But every time I pick up one of those Android devices, a nagging question pops up in the back of my mind. It’s the same one I hear from friends, family members, and readers every time the topic turns to smartphone platforms: “Aren’t you worried about your privacy when you run Google’s software?”
It’s a legitimate question, and there’s no easy answer.
Google, like Facebook, has a business model that’s built on surveillance. The company’s stated mission of “organizing the world’s information” also includes capturing as much as possible of your information. That information is the base layer of some undeniably useful services, which in turn fuel the advertising that makes up the overwhelming majority of Google’s revenue.
In 2019, Google took in just over $75 billion in revenue. Roughly 84% of that revenue, about $134.8 billion, came directly from the advertising platform made possible by data collected from a few billion people, including you and me.
To be fair, Google provides ample privacy controls, including options to delete saved data. They also count on most people being too busy, distracted, or unconcerned to actually use those controls. And even if you meticulously delete your activity history. there’s not much you can do about the profile that Google and its subsidiary DoubleClick (and the advertising ecosystem that’s grown up around them) create based on those activities in real time.
We won’t even talk about the antitrust investigations in the United States, where Google is reportedly “in serious trouble,” and another antitrust probe in the European Union, which has already fined Google multiple times for anticompetitive behavior.
Unlike the other giant of online advertising, Facebook, the option to delete your Google account isn’t very practical. It’s hard to imagine a world without Google’s outsized influence, but it is possible to rebuild your personal online environment around an alternate set of services and experiences.
There are plenty of options from smaller third parties, but for the most part the replacements for the Google services you know come from Apple and Microsoft. Those two tech giants have the requisite scale, but their business models don’t rely disproportionately on data collection and advertising. When your revenue comes mostly from high-margin hardware (in Apple’s case) and business-focused productivity services (in Microsoft’s case), it’s easier to place greater value on personal privacy, and there’s less incentive to design products and services that explicitly turn data into revenue.
So how do you reduce the role of Google in your tech life? I took a look at my own experience to see where you’ll find the most interesting alternatives. Note that some of these options require paid subscriptions, in contrast to Google’s ad- and data-supported services.
Say adios to Android
There are two and only two mobile device platforms that matter: Android and iOS. As a result, ditching Google means learning to love Apple hardware and software. Because of the way Google licenses Android, it’s almost impossible to find a device that isn’t loaded with Google services. And although you can tweak and tune privacy settings and replace default apps, you can’t easily get rid of the Google Play services and store.
Switching to an iPhone isn’t exactly painful (except perhaps for the pricetag). You get world class hardware, and you also avoid one of Android’s worst flaws: unpredictable updates.
Apple devices get fully supported updates for years, and you are not at the mercy of a carrier to get the latest version. That support lasts a long time, too. The iPhone 6S, for example, which debuted more than four years ago, runs the brand-new iOS 13 and will be supported for another year. You can’t say that about any Android phones released in 2015.
In fact, even new devices often have to wait, sometimes forever, for upgrades. I have three Android phones on my desk right now, from Motorola, Samsung, and Google. All three devices were released in 2018, but each one is running a different Android version (8, 9, and 10). I have no idea if or when those two phones running out-of-date Android versions will get the latest features.
And I have to say I trust Apple’s biometric support more than I trust the same features on Android devices. A pair of snafus involving biometric technology in late 2019, on the latest premium devices from Samsung and Google, make me even more comfortable with switching platforms.
Choose an alternate default web browser
If your objective is to cut ties with Google, you’ll need to choose a different web browser than Google Chrome, naturally. The logical alternatives are Mozilla Firefox and Opera; on MacOS and iOS, you can also choose Safari.
Several people in the comments section have recommended the Brave browser, a relatively recent addition to the category, led by Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich and focused relentlessly on privacy. I tried Brave when it first came out and will take another look. It’s a strong contender.
The dark horse in this field is Microsoft’s new cross-platform Edge browser, based on the open-source Chromium engine. (I do not recommend the legacy Edge browser, available only in Windows 10, which is deprecated and will be replaced with the new Edge within a year.)
The most relevant feature is tracking protection, which offers this simple but easy-to-understand interface in the new Edge Settings pane on the desktop.
How effective is it? Click that Blocked Trackers link to see a running count. On this browser, the number-one source of trackers is Google, which accounts for more than 20% of the blocks on my production PC.
After a lengthy beta test cycle, the new Edge browser was officially released in January 2020; in addition to running on Windows, it also runs on MacOS and has versions for iOS and Android. It allows you to install extensions directly from the Chrome Web Store, and pages you visit look like they’re running in Chrome.
Pick a privacy-focused search engine
The Bing brand is an easy punchline for anyone trying to get some cheap tech-oriented laughs, but the underlying data is no joke. In its just-concluded 2019 fiscal year, Microsoft brought in more than $7.6 billion in revenue from search advertising. That’s a fraction (less than 10%) of what Google makes, but it’s still a very big business on its own; that revenue makes it the fifth biggest division at Microsoft, one of the only companies big enough to compete with Google on this playing field.
But you don’t have to insert yourself into Bing’s advertising ecosystem, either. The privacy-focused DuckDuckGo (“the search engine that doesn’t track you”) returns results using Microsoft’s data along with a few hundred other primary sources,
For desktop use, you can also get the DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials extension for Chrome (which works in the Chromium-based Microsoft Edge as well).
In the comments, several readers have recommended Startpage.com, a Dutch company that uses Google search results repackaged in a privacy-focused format that eliminates tracking.
Replace Google Voice
I’ve always been reluctant to use Google Voice for any serious business-related purpose, because it seemed like yet another free service that Google would eventually kill off. One plausible theory I’ve heard is that Google Voice is so widely used by Google execs that discontinuing it is not an option.
Google Voice has the twin benefits of being device-independent and supporting SMS messages. That means you can use a virtual number other than your regular mobile phone number for security-related tasks, like two-factor authentication. That makes SIM-swapping scams dramatically less effective.
Google Voice also runs on multiple devices, which is handy for someone who switches devices regularly. Not having to reconfigure 2FA when you switch to a new device is liberating.
I can’t find a free alternative to Google Voice that I can comfortably recommend, but the venerable Line2 service, at $10 per month (or $99 a year, billed annually) fills the bill. YouMail, a call-blocking and voicemail service, includes a second line with SMS support as a standard feature on its $10.99 per month YouMail Professional products. I’ve used it for several years and recommend it.
Use something other than Gmail as your default email client
I’m old enough to remember when Gmail was a closed beta and you had to have an invitation to get your own account. In retrospect, we should have gotten a clue that something was amiss when the Gmail beta launched, officially, on April Fool’s Day, 2004. (Not a joke. DuckDuckGo it.)
Back in 2017, Google stopped its controversial practice of scanning the content of free Gmail accounts for the purpose of targeting ads, and the company says any processing it does of message content (to generate reply suggestions, for example) is done by machines. And, of course, paid GSuite business accounts have always been disconnected from Google’s ad infrastructure.
The main reason I don’t use Gmail, though, has nothing to do with privacy. It’s just that I really really don’t like the browser-based interface on the desktop, where I do most of my serious email work. Alas, that’s how Google wants its customers to use Gmail on PCs, and Gmail developers don’t seem to care that their service doesn’t play well with other clients.
For business accounts, I use Office 365, and most of my personal accounts are on Outlook.com. If your employer uses Gmail, you’re not free to switch, but for personal mail it’s easy to set up a new default address, forward messages from Gmail, and hardly skip a beat.
For paid business email, there are third-party alternatives if you’d rather avoid working with Microsoft directly. I recommend Intermedia, which offers hosted Exchange and Office 365 with a much less intimidating interface. Many hosting providers offer email options to go with your custom domain; for example, you can get Office 365 subscriptions from GoDaddy, with or without a hosting package. It pays to check with your current hosting provider.
There’s certainly no reason to delete your Gmail account, but switching to a new default email service doesn’t have to be painful. Back in 2013, I made the case against Gmail and wrote detailed instructions for switching from Gmail to Outlook.com. The basic principles haven’t changed in all that time.
Get off of Google’s cloud
Some of Google’s stickiest services are its cloud-based storage and collaboration tools: GSuite (Docs, Sheets, Slides), Google Drive, and Google Photos.
Office 365, which includes a terabyte or more of OneDrive storage with every subscription, is the logical alternative to GSuite and Google Drive. Earlier this year, I did a comprehensive comparison of the two services, “Office 365 vs G Suite: Which productivity suite is best for your business?” Read that for a quick refresher on what makes Office 365 different from GSuite.
You can also choose from a wealth of independent cloud storage providers, including well-known services like Dropbox and Box and others that are less well known but technically superior, like Intermedia’s SecuriSync, which is available bundled with email and Office or as a standalone product.
Google Photos is a harder service to replace. For the basic task of backing up and organizing your digital photos, both Apple (iCloud) and Microsoft (OneDrive) offer options to upload photos from the default camera roll on your mobile device to their respective services. OneDrive is the clear choice if you also want those photos to be accessible on a Windows 10 PC.
But no one quite does the AI-powered magic that Google does with Photos. Just be aware that all that magic also feeds Google’s insatiable appetite for data.
Consider Apple’s Maps app
In its early days, Apple’s Maps product was clearly inferior to Google Maps. That’s no longer true, and Maps now plays the same counterweight-to-Google role on iPhone that Bing plays to Google Search. Location tracking is one of the key privacy concerns of our time, so it’s worth at least trying to make the switch.
For those who decide Apple Maps is not good enough, though, you have no credible alternatives to Google.
How do you solve a problem like YouTube?
If you’re a YouTube fan, there’s virtually no way to avoid having your activities tracked by Google, with the inevitable algorithmic recommendations not far behind.
And there’s nothing quite like YouTube on the planet. You can avoid some tracking by using your browser’s private/incognito mode, but that’s at best a partial fix.
Do you see any options I missed? Use the contact form to send me your thoughts via email, or share other alternatives in the comments section below.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.
The app industry saw a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
This week, we’re continuing our special coverage of how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting apps and the wider mobile app industry as more COVID-19 apps appear — including one from Apple built in partnership with the CDC, among others. We also take a look at the gains made by social and video apps in recent weeks as people struggle to stay connected while stuck at home in quarantine. In other headlines, we dig into Instagram’s co-watching feature, the Google for Games conference news, Apple’s latest releases and updates, Epic Games expansion into publishing and more.
Coronavirus Special Coverage
Social video apps are exploding due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Earlier this year, personalized news aggregation app Flipboard expanded into local news. The feature brought local news, sports, real estate, weather, transportation news and more to 23 cities across the U.S. Today, Flipboard is bringing local news to 12 more U.S. metros and is adding critical coronavirus local coverage to all of the 35 supported locales.
The 12 new metros include the following: Baltimore, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
They join the 23 cities that were already supported: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.
To offer local news in its app, Flipboard works with area partners, big and small, like The Plain Dealer’s Cleveland.com, the Detroit Free Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It has now added to the list of partners local news service Patch and ProPublica, including its Local Reporting Network partners and its collaborative journalism project Electionland.
Patch alone is putting out more than 200 local coronavirus stories per day. Meanwhile, the ProPublica Local Reporting Network funds and jointly publishes year-long investigative projects with 23 local news organizations across the U.S. The Electionland initiative reports on problems that disenfranchise eligible voters, like misinformation, changing voting laws and rules, voter harassment, equipment failures and long lines at the polls.
To determine if a user should be shown local news, based on a user’s IP address — not a precise location — the app may recommend stories relevant to local audiences. It will also offer the Local sections inside the Explore tab in the Flipboard app. Once added, users can then browse their local news alongside other content they’re interested in, across a variety of topics.
At present, there are two main areas of interest to news readers — the COVID-19 outbreak and the 2020 Election, both of which are now offered in the local sections. In addition to understanding the current state of the pandemic on a global and national level, Flipboard readers in the supported areas will be able to track how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting where they live. This could include coverage of things like local ordinances, school closings, shelter-in-place laws, number of cases and deaths, testing resources and more.
“Understanding the decisions state and local governments make and their impact on the community is not only important, but gives people a greater connection to their local leaders and the media,” said Marci McCue, VP of Content and Communications at Flipboard. “For instance, as a local resident you may want coverage from national newspapers about the coronavirus outbreak, but even more importantly is a local source that tells you where you can get tested and measures local leaders are taking that impact your daily life,” she noted.
The addition of coronavirus special coverage at a local level, aggregated from across publishers, means readers will be able to track stories without having to hop around different sites or apps from area newspapers or broadcasters.
For Flipboard’s business, adding local news allows advertisers to target against user interests, which may now include a city’s metro region as one of those interests.
Flipboard’s mobile app today reaches 145 million users per month. Local news is available in the supported metros across both iOS and Android .
Apple’s iOS 13 update (and the newly renamed iPadOS for iPad hardware) both support multiple simultaneous Bluetooth game controller connections. Apple added Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controller support in the updates, and after doing some digging, I can confirm that you can use multiple of either type of controller on one iOS device running the update, with each controlling a different player character.
That’s the good news: The bad news is that not many games take advantage of this right now. I wasn’t able to find a game in Apple’s new Arcade subscription service to try this out, for instance — and even finding a non-Arcade iOS game took a bit of digging. I finally was able to try local multi-controller multiplayer with “Horde,” a free-to-play two-player co-op brawler, and found that it worked exactly as you’d expect.
With Arcade, Apple has done more to re-invigorate the App Store, and gaming on iOS in particular, than it has since the original launch of the iPhone. The all-you-can-game subscription offering, which delivers extremely high-quality gaming experiences without ads or in-app purchases, has already impressed me immensely with the breadth and depth of its launch slate, which includes fantastic titles like “Where Cards Fall,” “Skate,” “Sayonara: Wild Hearts” and “What the Golf,” to name just a few.
Combine the quality and value of the library with cross-play on iOS, iPadOS, Apple TV and eventually Mac devices, and you have a killer combo that’s well-positioned to eat up a lot of the gaming market currently owned by Nintendo’s Switch and other home consoles.
Local multiplayer, especially on iPads, is another potential killer feature here. Already, iPad owners are likely to be using their tablets both at home and on the road, and providing quality local gaming experiences on that big display, with just the added requirement that you pack a couple of PS4 or Xbox controllers in your suitcase or carry-on, opens up a lot of potential value for device owners.
As I said above, there’s not much in the way of games that support this right now, but it’s refreshing to know that the features are there for when game developers want to take advantage.
MX Player, the on-demand video streaming service owned by India’s conglomerate Times Internet, is expanding to more than half a dozen new international markets including the U.S. and the U.K. to supply more entertainment content to millions of people trapped in their homes.
The Singapore-headquartered on-demand video streaming service, which raised $111 million in a round led by Tencent last year, said it has expanded to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Nepal in addition to the U.S. and the UK.
Like in India, MX Player will offer its catalog at no charge to users in the international markets and monetize through ads, Karan Bedi, chief executive of the service, told TechCrunch in an interview.
The streaming service, which has amassed over 175 million monthly active users in India, is offering locally relevant titles in each market, he said. This is notably different from Disney’s Hotstar expansion into select international markets, where it has largely aimed to cater to the Indian diaspora.
MX Player is not currently offering any originally produced titles in any international market — instead offering movies and shows it has licensed from global and local studios — but the streamer plans to change that in the coming months, said Bedi.
Even as the expansion comes at a time when the world is grappling with containing and fighting the coronavirus outbreak, Bedi said MX Player had already been testing the service in several markets for a few months.
“We believe in meeting this rapidly rising demand from discerning entertainment lovers with stories that strike a chord. To that end, we have collaborated with some of the best talent and content partners globally who will help bring us a step closer to becoming the go-to destination for entertainment across the world,” said Nakul Kapur, Business Head for International markets at MX Player, in a statement.
Times Internet acquired MX Player, an app popular for efficiently playing a plethora of locally-stored media files on entry-level Android smartphones, in 2018 for about $140 million. In the years since, Times Internet has introduced video streaming service to it, and then live TV channels in India.
MX Player has also bundled free music streaming (through Gaana, another property owned by Times Internet) and has introduced in-app casual games for users in the country.
Bedi said the company is working on bringing these additional services to international markets, and also looking to enter additional regions including the Middle East and South Asia.
The reMarkable tablet is a strange device in this era of ultra-smart gadgets: A black and white screen meant for reading, writing, and sketching — and nothing more. Yet the company has sold 100,000 of the devices and now has attracted $15 million in series A funding from Spark Capital.
It’s an unusual trajectory for a hardware startup exploring a nearly unoccupied market, but CEO Magnus Wanberg is confident that’s because this category of device is destined to grow in response to increasingly invasive tech. Sometimes an anti-technology trend is the tech opportunity of a lifetime.
I reviewed the reMarkable last year and compared it with its only real competition, the Sony Digital Paper Tablet. It was launched not on Kickstarter or Indiegogo but with its own independent crowdfunding campaign — and considering we’ve seen devices like this attempt such a thing and either let down or rip off their backers, that alone was a significant risk.
The device has been a runaway success, though, selling over 100,000 units — and attracting investment in the process. When I talked with Wanberg and co-founder Gerst about their new A round, the conversation was so interesting that I decided to publish it in full (or at least slightly edited).
How did they get here? What would they have done differently? Is the threat of the “smart” world really a thing? Why fight tech with more tech?
Devin: So you guys raised some money, that’s great! But it’s been a while since we talked. I think it’s important to hear about the progress of unique companies that are doing interesting things. So first can you tell me a little about what the company’s been busy with?
Magnus: Well, we’ve created this wonderful product, the reMarkable paper tablet. We’ve been very focused on that effort, based on a love for paper and a love for technology, to see if we can find some ways to join these two together to help people think better. That’s sort of the the whole ethos of the company.
So for the last six years, we’ve just been grinding away… you know, we’re a small player up against the big guys on this. So we’ve been sort of fighting guerrilla warfare trying to trying to establish ourselves.
And we were successful, fortunately, when we did our pre-order campaign, because as we found out, we weren’t the only ones who who love this notion of thinking better with the paper tablet, seeing paper as a powerful tool for thinking and for creating.
Do you own one of those super-expensive iPhone 11 Pro Max handsets? Might be a good idea to check to see if your battery is wearing out faster than expected.
A few weeks ago, a reader got in touch, worrying that their iPhone 11 Pro Max was suffering from premature battery wear. The information that was offered by the Battery Health feature in iOS certainly seemed to suggest that this was the case. And the owner says the handset was charged once a day using the stock charger.
I dismissed it as a one off.
However, since then, more people have got in touch with the same problem. Battery health dropping faster than expected. Some have approached Apple and been told it’s nothing to worry about, others report getting the handset exchanged.
There are also a few reports over on Apple’s support forum of the same issue.
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The problem is more noticeable on older handsets, so the longer you’ve had it, the more apparent the problem should be.
You can check your Battery Health by going Settings > Battery > Battery Health. As far as Apple is concerned, anything over 80 percent is good. Also, according to Apple, like other iPhones, the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s battery should be good for at least 500 recharge cycles.