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Microsoft brings new shopping tools to its Edge browser

Microsoft announced a few updates to its Edge browser today that are all about shopping. In addition to expanding the price comparison feature the team announced last month, Edge can now also automatically find coupons for you. In addition, the company is launching a new shopping hub in its Bing search engine. The timing here is undoubtedly driven by the holiday shopping season — though this year, it feels like Black Friday-style deals already started weeks ago.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The potential usefulness of the price comparison tools is pretty obvious. I’ve found this always worked reasonably well in Edge Collections — though at times it could also be a frustrating experience because it just wouldn’t pull any data for items you saved from some sites. Now, with this price comparison running in the background all the time, you’ll see a new badge pop up in the URL bar that lets you open up the price comparison. And when you already found the best price, it’ll tell you that right away, too.

At least in the Edge Canary where this has been available for a little bit already, this was also hit and miss. It seems to work just fine when you shop on Amazon, for example, as long as there’s only one SKU of an item. If there are different colors, sizes or other options available, it doesn’t really seem to kick in, which is a bit frustrating.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The coupons feature, too, is a bit of a disappointment. It works more consistently and seems to pull data from most of the standard coupon sites (think RetailMeNot and Slickdeals), but all it does is show sitewide coupons. Since most coupons only apply to a limited set of items, clicking on the coupon badge quickly feels like a waste of time. To be fair, the team implemented a nifty feature where at checkout, Bing will try to apply all of the coupons it found. That could be a potential time- and money-saver. Given the close cooperation with the Bing team in other areas, this feels like an area of improvement, though. I turned it off.

Microsoft is also using today’s announcement to launch a new URL shortener in Edge. “Now, when you paste a link that you copied from the address bar, it will automatically convert from a long, nonsensical URL address to a short hyperlink with the website title. If you prefer the full URL, you can convert to plain text using the context menu,” Microsoft explains. I guess that makes sense in some scenarios. Most of the time, though, I just want the link (and no third-party in-between), so I hope this can easily be turned off, too.

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Fragomen, a law firm used by Google, confirms data breach

Immigration law firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy has confirmed a data breach involving the personal information of current and former Google employees.

The New York-based law firm provides companies with employment verification screening services to determine if employees are eligible and authorized to work in the United States.

Every company operating in the United States is required to maintain a Form I-9 file on every employee to ensure that they are legally allowed to work and not subject to more restrictive immigration rules. But Form I-9 files can contain a ton of sensitive information, including government documents like passports, ID cards and driver’s licenses, and other personally identifiable data, making them a target for hackers and identity thieves.

But the law firm said it discovered last month that an unauthorized third-party accessed a file containing personal information on a “limited number” of current and former Google employees.

In a notice with the California attorney general’s office, Fragomen did not say what kind of data was accessed or how many Google employees were affected. Companies with more than 500 California residents affected by a breach are required to submit a notice with the state’s attorney general’s office.

Michael McNamara, a spokesperson for Fragomen, declined to say how many Google employees were affected by the breach.

A spokesperson for Google did not respond to a request for comment.

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Google Meet and other Google services go down (Updated)

Google’s engineers aren’t having a good day today. This afternoon, a number of Google services went offline or are barely reachable. These services include Google Meet, Drive, Docs, Analytics, Classroom and Calendar, for example.

While Google’s own status dashboards don’t show any issues, we’re seeing reports from around the world from people who aren’t able to reach any of these services. Best we can tell, these issues started around 6pm PT.

It’s unusual for this number of Google services to go down at once. Usually, it’s only a single service that is affected. This time around, however, it’s clearly a far broader issue.

We’ve reached out to Google and will update this post once we hear more about what happened.

Update (6:30pm PT): and we’re back. It looks like most Google services are now recovering.

Update: (8:00pm PT): here is a statement from Google: “We experienced a short service disruption affecting several products including G Suite, and are now recovering. For more details, please visit our status dashboard.”

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Twitter, Reddit challenge US rules forcing visa applicants to disclose their social media handles

Twitter and Reddit have filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging a U.S. government rule change compelling visa applicants to disclose their social media handles.

The lawsuit, brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice and law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, seeks to undo both the State Department’s requirement that visa applicants must disclose their social media handles prior to obtaining a U.S. visa, as well as related rules over the retention and dissemination of those records.

Last year, the State Department began asking visa applicants for their current and former social media usernames, a move that affects millions of non-citizens applying to travel to the United States each year. The rule change was part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand its “enhanced” screening protocols. At the time, it was reported that the information would be used if the State Department determines that “such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”

In a filing supporting the lawsuit, both Twitter and Reddit said the social media policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that the rules violate the First Amendment rights “to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

Twitter and Reddit, which collectively have more than 560 million users, said their users — many of which don’t use their real names on their platforms — are forced to “surrender their anonymity in order to travel to the United States,” which “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” the brief said.

“That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”

Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s policy chief for the Americas, said the social media rule “infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.” Reddit’s general counsel Ben Lee called the rule an “intrusive overreach” by the government.

It’s not known how many, if any, visa applicants have been denied a visa because of their social media content. But since the social media rule went into effect, cases emerged of approved visa holders denied entry to the U.S. for other people’s social media postings. Ismail Ajjawi, a then 17-year-old freshman at Harvard University, was turned away at Boston Logan International Airport after U.S. border officials searched his phone after taking issue with social media postings of Ajjawi’s friends — and not his own.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told TechCrunch at the time that Ajjawi’s case was not isolated. A week later, TechCrunch learned of another man who was denied entry to the U.S. because of a WhatsApp message sent by a distant acquaintance.

A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment on matters under litigation.

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Carry1st has $4M to invest in African mobile gaming

Gaming development startup Carry1st has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by CRE Venture Capital .

That brings the company’s total VC to $4 million, which Carry1st will deploy to support and invest in game publishing across Africa.

The startup — with offices in New York, Lagos, and South Africa — was co-founded in 2018 by Sierra Leonean Cordel Robbin-Coker, American Lucy Parry, and Zimbabwean software engineer Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu.

Robbin-Coker and Parry met while working in investment banking in New York, before forming Carry1st.

“I convinced her to avoid going to business school and instead come to South Africa to Cape Town,” Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch on a call.

“We launched with the idea that we wanted to bring the gaming industry…to the African continent.”

Carry1st looks to match gaming demand in Africa to the continent’s fast growing youth population, improving internet penetration and rapid smartphone adoption.

Carry1st has already launched two games as direct downloads from its site, Carry1st Trivia and Hyper!.

“In April, [Carry1st Trivia] did pretty well. It was the number one game in Nigeria, and Kenya for most of the year and did about one and a half million downloads.” Robbin-Coker said.

Image Credit: Carry1st

The startup will use a portion of its latest round and overall capital to bring more unique content onto its platform. “In order to do that, you need cash…to help a developer finish a game or entice a strong game to work with you,” said Robbin-Coker.

The company will also expand its distribution channels, such as partnerships with mobile operators and the Carry1st Brand Ambassador program — a network of sales agents who promote and sell games across the continent.

The company will also invest in the gaming market and itself.

“We want to dedicate at least a million dollars to actually going out and acquiring users and scaling our user base. And then, the final piece is really around the the tech platform that we’re looking to build,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails creating multiple channels and revenue points to develop, distribute, and invest in games on the continent, he explained.

Image Credits: Carry1st

Robbin-Coker compared the Carry1st’s strategy in Africa as something similar to Sea: an Asia regional mobile entertainment distribution platform — publicly traded and partially owned by Tencent — that incubated the popular Fornite game.

“We’re looking to be the number one regional publisher of [gaming] content in the region…the publisher of record and the app store,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails developing and distributing not only games originating from the continent, but also serving as channel for gaming content from other continents coming into Africa.

That generates a consistent revenue stream for the startup, Robbin-Coker explained, but also creates opportunities for big creative wins.

“It’s a hits driven business. A single studio will work and toil in obscurity for a decade and then they’ll make Candy Crush. And then that would be worth $6 billion, very quickly,” Carry1st’s CEO said.

He and his team will use a portion of their $4 million in VC to invest in that potential gaming success story in Africa.

The company’s co-founder Lucy Parry directs aspirants to the company’s homepage. “There’s a big blue button that says ‘Pitch Your Game’ at the bottom of our website.”

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Security lapse at India’s Jio exposed coronavirus symptom checker results

Since the start of the outbreak, governments and companies have scrambled to develop apps and websites that can help users identify COVID-19 symptoms.

India’s largest cell network Jio, a subsidiary of Reliance, launched its coronavirus self-test symptom checker in late March, just before the Indian government imposed a strict nationwide lockdown to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. The symptom checker allows anyone to check their symptoms from their phone or Jio’s website to see if they may have become infected with COVID-19.

But a security lapse exposed one of the symptom checker’s core databases to the internet without a password, TechCrunch has found.

Jio’s coronavirus symptom checker. One of its databases exposed users’ responses. (Image: TechCrunch)

Security researcher Anurag Sen found the database on May 1, just after it was first exposed, and informed TechCrunch to notify the company. Jio quickly pulled the system offline after TechCrunch made contact. It’s not known if anyone else accessed the database.

“We have taken immediate action,” said Jio spokesperson Tushar Pania. “The logging server was for monitoring performance of our website, intended for the limited purpose of people doing a self-check to see if they have any COVID-19 symptoms.”

The database contains millions of logs and records starting April 17 through to the time that the database was pulled offline. Although the server contained a running log of website errors and other system messages, it also ingested vast numbers of user-generated self-test data. Each self-test was logged in the database and included a record of who took the test — such as “self” or a relative, their age, and their gender.

The data also included the person’s user agent, a small snippet of information about the user’s browser version and the operating system, often used to load the website properly but can also be used to track a user’s online activity.

The database also contains individual records of those who signed up to create a profile, allowing users to update their symptoms over time. These records contained the answers to each question asked by the symptom checker, including what symptoms they are experiencing, who they have been in contact with, and what health conditions they may have.

Some of the records also contained the user’s precise location, but only if the user allowed the symptom checker access to their browser or phone’s location data.

We’ve posted a redacted portion of one of the records below.

A redacted portion of the exposed database. (Image: TechCrunch)

From one sample of data we obtained, we found thousands of users’ precise geolocation from across India. TechCrunch was able to identify people’s homes using the latitude and longitude records found in the database.

Most of the location data is clustered around major cities, like Mumbai and Pune. TechCrunch also found users in the United Kingdom and North America.

The exposure could not come at a more critical time for the Indian telecoms giant. Last week Facebook invested $5.7 billion for a near-10% stake in Jio’s Platforms, valuing the Reliance subsidiary at about $66 billion.

Jio did not answer our follow-up questions, and the company did not say if it will inform those who used the symptom tracker of the security lapse.

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Airbnb to provide free or subsidized housing for 100,000 COVID-19 healthcare workers

The hospitality and travel industry may be reeling, but Airbnb is still doing what it can to support the global effort to fight the spread of the coronavirus causing a worldwide pandemic. The company announced today that it will provide “free or subsidized housing” for 100,000 people working as frontline healthcare, …

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How to Build a Beautiful, User-Friendly Website on a Budget

When your business is just starting out, it’s entirely possible you don’t have the capital to invest in designers and developers to build your web presence. However, a great website is critical to success in the 21st century. Instead of shelling out thousands on developers, then, try a tool like Blocs 3.

Blocs 3 is a website builder for Mac that makes it easy for brands to get online without breaking the bank. This fast, easy-to-use visual web design software lets you create responsive, user-friendly websites without writing a single line of code.

It works by stacking pre-defined sections to build fully-coded web pages, so you use the intuitive styling controls to map out a smart design experience without compromising on the code. You can build layouts in just minutes using pre-made blocks and sitemaps, customize fonts to your liking, and even add animations and comment support using Disqus. Plus, your site can integrate with your existing CMS and will automatically scale to any screen.

With Blocs 3, you can build a site that looks and feels like it was made by a in-house design team, but for a fraction of the cost.

Build your web presence and engage your users online without breaking the bank. Normally, a Blocs 3 subscription is $99.99 but you can save 60 percent when you get one for just $39.99 today.

Source: Entrepreneur

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H1 Insights is giving the healthcare industry the ultimate professional database

I want to build a business which profiles every single researcher and healthcare professional in the world and I want to sell it to industry,” says Ariel Katz, the co-founder and chief executive of H1 Insights. 

With the healthcare industry on a mission to digitize and analyze every conceivable datapoint it can to wring more efficiencies out of its incredibly fragmented and broken system, for Katz, there’s no opportunity that seems more obvious than giving the industry data on its own professionals.

The idea may sound like nothing more than creating a LinkedIn for healthcare professionals, but building an accurate account of the professional ecosystem could be a huge help to businesses as diverse as pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, insurers, and, eventually, consumers.

For Katz, it’s the continuation of a longstanding mission to create transparency for datasets that were previously opaque. Katz sold his first company, Research Connection (which became LabSpot), three years ago. That company was designed to uncover the research underway at universities around the country so students could see where they should apply for undergraduate and graduate studies.

After the sale the young entrepreneur went on a vacation to India, and it was there that he met his co-founder Ian Sax. “He backpacked there to follow his wife who was volunteering with Mother Theresa [and] ended up starting a staffing company.”

The two men became friends and collaborated on projects — including a software that would help medical school students find jobs.

Conversations between the two soon hit upon the lack of transparency around what research was happening at what universities and which clinical trials were underway at which hospitals. A visible network of experts, the two men thought, would go a long way toward solving a number of the healthcare industry’s seemingly intractable problems.

“Pharma, biotech, and medical devices spend $30 billion per year partnering with researchers and hospitals,” says Katz. “If you could allow a user sitting on the pharmaceutical side to sort and search and rank and analyze researchers… it would help reduce the cost and solve the problem.”

While Katz says the transparency can help solve a number of healthcare’s drug development and discovery problems, he’s wary about creating others. H1 Insights has built certain rules on how its database should be used, which Katz hopes will limit abuse.

“We don’t sell to sales and marketing arms at pharmaceutical companies,” he says. The risk there is that these sales and marketing arms could put undue pressure on doctors to skew research.

The data that H1 collects is already public, so there’s no need for the company to use user generated data to build out its dataset. “It’s all public. The biggest problem is de-duping it,” says Katz.

The company already has 350,000 academic researchers and 4 million healthcare professionals in its database already.

That body of knowledge was enough to attract Y Combinator, which accepted H1 Insight into its latest cohort of companies.

With the accelerator’s help, H1 Insights wants to take its business global and develop applications for the pharmaceutical industry, care providers and ultimately consumers.

The initial application for all of that data is clinical trials.

“The number one reason why clinical trials fail is recruitment,” says Katz. “If you can find a principal investigator who has done a successful clinical trial in an adjacent space,” pharma companies can improve their chances for success, according to Katz. 

Source: TechCrunch

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Startups Weekly: Oyo’s toxicity + A farewell

Welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week I wrote about the startups we lost in 2019. Before that, I noted the defining moments of VC in 2019.

Unfortunately, this will be my last newsletter, as I am leaving TechCrunch for a new opportunity. Don’t worry, Startups Weekly isn’t going anywhere. We’ll have a new writer taking over the weekly update soon enough; in the meantime, TechCrunch editor Henry Pickavet will be at the helm. You can still get in touch with me on Twitter @KateClarkTweets.

If you’re new here, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here. Lots of good content will be coming your way in 2020.


India’s WeWork?

TechCrunch reporter Manish Singh penned an interesting piece on the state of Indian startups this week: As Indian startups raise record capital, losses are widening (Extra Crunch membership required). In it, he claims the financial performance of India’s largest startups are cause for concern. Gems like Flipkart, BigBasket and Paytm have lost a collective $3 billion in the last year.

“What is especially troublesome for startups is that there is no clear path for how they would ever generate big profits,” he writes. “Silicon Valley companies, for instance, have entered and expanded into India in recent years, investing billions of dollars in local operations, but yet, India has yet to make any substantial contribution to their bottom lines. If that wasn’t challenging enough, many Indian startups compete directly with Silicon Valley giants, which while impressive, is an expensive endeavor.”

Manish’s story came one day after The New York Times published an in-depth report on Oyo, a tech-enabled budget hotel chain and rising star in the Indian tech community. The NYT wrote that Oyo offers unlicensed rooms and has bribed police officials to deter trouble, among other toxic practices.

Whether Oyo, backed by billions from the SoftBank Vision Fund, will become India’s WeWork is the real cause for concern. India’s startup ecosystem is likely to face a number of barriers as it grows to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

Follow Manish here or on Twitter for more of TechCrunch’s growing India coverage.


Venture capital highlights (it’s been a slow week)


How to find the right reporter to pitch your startup

If you’ve still not subscribed to Extra Crunch, now is the time. Longtime TechCrunch reporter and editor Josh Constine is launching a new series to teach you how to pitch your startup. In it he will examine embargoes, exclusives, press kit visuals, interview questions and more. The first of many, How to find the right reporter to pitch your startup, is online now.

Subscribe to Extra Crunch here.


#EquityPod

tc equity podcast ios 2 1

Another week, another new episode of TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. This week, we discussed a few of 2019’s largest scandals, Peloton’s strange holiday ad and the controversy over at the luggage startup Away. Listen here and be sure to subscribe, too.

For anyone wondering about changes at Equity following my departure from TechCrunch, the lovely Alex Wilhelm (founding Equity co-host) will keep the show alive and, soon enough, there will be a brand new co-host in my place. Please keep supporting the show and be sure to recommend it to all your podcast-adoring friends.

Source: TechCrunch