Russia investigates Apple over Kaspersky kids app block

BACK IN APRIL, Apple was in hot water over claims it was taking a strange new interest in rivals’ kid protection apps after its own Screen Time …

BACK IN APRIL, Apple was in hot water over claims it was taking a strange new interest in rivals’ kid protection apps after its own Screen Time software launched on iPhone. Apple initially denied that it was hobbling others to promote its own app, but eventually softened its absolute ban on Mobile Device Management (MDM) being used in parental-control apps. It was still frowned upon, but accepted in some circumstances.

That, it turns out, isn’t the end of the story. While previously Apple was just dealing with some ticked off app developers, now it has Russia’s anti-monopoly watchdog – the FAS – on its tail.

The FAS says it is looking into why the latest version of Kaspersky Lab’s Safe Kids app has been blocked from the App Store, noting that version 12 of Screen Time seems to offer plenty of feature overlap with Kaspersky’s product.

For its part, Kaspersky noted that the official guidelines allow limited use of MDM, but couldn’t find a way to get the go-ahead from Apple’s app guardians.

When Reutersapproached Apple for comment, the company pointed the news agency back to its statement from April. The one that says certain apps were removed because “they put users’ privacy and security at risk.”

At the end of that post, it’s worth remembering that Apple categorically denied the removal of apps had anything to do with them sharing functionality with home-grown products. “In this app category, and in every category, we are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem,” the statement read.

“There are many tremendously successful apps that offer functions and services similar to Apple’s in categories like messaging, maps, email, music, web browsers, photos, note-taking apps, contact managers and payment systems, just to name a few. We are committed to offering a place for these apps to thrive as they improve the user experience for everyone.”

We’ll have to wait and see as to whether the FSA reaches the same conclusion. µ

Further reading

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~$27.8 Million Worth Of Crypto Stolen From Japanese Crypto-Exchange, BitPoint

Following the hacking incident, the company has promised affected users that they will reimburse the stolen Bitcoin and other digital money through …

As a smartphone owner, you can have a plethora of apps available for download via Google Play Store or Apple App Store. However, not all of these apps are secured and are safe to be installed on your devices. Some of them are either fake apps posing as a legitimate version of another app, or worse; they could be carriers of infectious malware that could potentially put your device or yourself in harm’s way.

Amid the risk of threat actors and hackers invading someone’s phone or tablet, leading tech company, Upstream, launched an online index that screens, catalogs, and blocks suspicious Android apps in the market around the world.

“The information on the Secure-D Index, currently in beta, allows anyone to easily find what apps pose a threat to their privacy and pocket, in one place, for free. Data is openly available to the whole mobile industry, from app developers, ad networks and publishers, to media, advertisers and mobile network operators that all fall prey to mobile ad fraud.”

The Secure-D Index is still in beta and is currently being tested. Nonetheless, the company and the platform promise to help resolve the problem of malicious apps that serve as a trojan horse for a more significant and more destructive attack against people’s privacy.

Currently, the platform included an aggregate list of suspected malicious Android Apps, and the index is growing every day as the platform continue to scan the internet to flag these unwanted applications. For each app, the Secure-D Index center features pertinent information such as the number of downloads, market infection rate, and markets where the app is active.

The data is available to 17 regions, and they are working on expanding their reach shortly. They are available in countries like the US, Russia, India, Germany, South Africa, and Egypt, covering up to 1.3 billion mobile data subscribers.

The number of the listed apps in the platform is currently at 1,500, with malicious apps estimating to 13.5 billion downloads. The platform allows users to check whether the apps are available on Google Play, have been removed from Google Play, or are distributed through third-party app stores.

Furthermore, along with the entry of each malicious app, the index also includes data such as the developer’s website, whenever the information is available.

“Secure-D leads the fight against malware, an ever-growing threat for mobile security worldwide. We believe a crucial part of this fight is awareness, which mobile users and, surprisingly, a large part of the industry lacks,” Dimitris Maniatis, Head of Secure-D at Upstream said

“At Upstream, we have been steadily and openly sharing Secure-D’s proprietary findings on suspicious and fraudulent apps in an effort to eliminate digital mobile fraud. The publication of these findings through our Secure-D Index highlights the level of awareness we aim to achieve and the transparency we believe is required to more effectively target the shady practices of threat actors that prey on a whole ecosystem.”

The platform is available for everyone where the Index is available, and it is free of charge, according to the press release of the company. Users can access the top 20 most active malware from the previous day and register for free to access full data — either global or country-specific — see historical data, or search for a specific app.

In 2018 alone, Secure-D having processed over 1.8 billion mobile transactions, detected and blocked over 63,000 malicious apps in 16 countries. They added that the platform is currently processing and blocking an average of 170 malicious applications every day.

Earlier this year, Secure-D reported on the suspicious background activity of 4shared, a popular file-sharing app, Vidmate, a video downloader, and Weather Forecast a preinstalled app on Alcatel devices. They said that all these apps were previously available at Google Play Store and had more than 600,000 downloads before their platform was able to flag their suspicious behavior. The company said that in these three cases alone, Secure-D detected and blocked near 250 million suspicious mobile transactions

“By providing information on suspicious apps freely to the public via Secure-D Index, Upstream aims to further protect mobile subscribers, operators, and advertisers from the ever-growing threat of mobile ad fraud, whose value is currently estimated at $40 billion,” they added.

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My six months with $30/month email service Superhuman

The New York Times reports that the SF startup closed a $33 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz last month, raising at a $260 million …

A $30-per-month email service capturing the adoration of investors and founders in Silicon Valley is perhaps an unsurprising story in a subscription-obsessed landscape, yet we’re only now hearing how stealth-y startup Superhuman has captured investor $$$.

The New York Times reports that the SF startup closed a $33 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz last month, raising at a $260 million valuation. The company has been oddly tight-lipped about its funding for a startup that people won’t stop talking about, though CEO Rahul Vohra has justified this as a desire to keep the story on the product not the money.

Superhuman has little need for a marketing budget when every VC’s twitter is spreading the gospel of luxury email.

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The startup has seemed to have grown at its own pace, the service’s members frequently reference the 100,000+ people on the waiting list to pay for the email app though the company seems most intent on growing by word of mouth referrals which allow you to hop the line. (Roose’s story details that list is actually 180k people long, and that the company has less than 15k on-boarded subscribers)

The service is designed around helping people that spend several hours in email every day to find areas to cut down on friction. What’s it like though?

I spent about 6 months paying for the service (thanks for the referral Niv) before eventually unsubscribing a couple months ago. There’s certainly plenty to love, though the price can be a bit to stomach when you realize how much you’re paying for email compared to other services.

Superhuman’s central strength is speed. Its other strength is that it feels like an exclusive club, though its members probably have nicer things to say about it than The Battery.

More on its functional differentiators in a bit, but the culture surrounding the app is a little fascinating. It’s a luxury app icon to have on your phone. You won’t find the Superhuman app in the App Store, you have to be approved for the service in iOS’s TestFlight where constant beta updates are delivered.

Other founders I’ve chatted with have been inspired by how Superhuman’s on-boarding process helps users feel like they’re getting a product custom-built for them. I met with Vohra during my 30-minute meeting where he walked me through the product and asked me about my own email habits as he helped me set up my account. The result is a bizarre connection with the product and team.

Example: for 30 days after you set up your account, you get an email from Vohra detailing some tips and tricks for using the service. Not only did I not immediately unsubscribe from these messages, I read almost all of them. When I filled out a survey at the end surrounding what I thought about the service, an employee at the startup shot me an email a few days later with a full response, I responded to that.

But honestly, how many paid services would expect its users to include a line in their signature plugging the service “Sent via Superhuman” and never disable it? And yet, the cult of Superhuman led me to keep it for awhile until my eyes were opened that flexing my $30/month email in my signature made me look like an asshole. Yes, it did.

What all of these interaction earn Superhuman is that when reality eventually beamed on me that I was not making VC money and I should probably end this little experiment, I almost felt like I had to apologize to the startup for cancelling my subscription. I felt so coddled as a member of the service with every new little update feeling like a new membership perk.

Okay, okay, yes, there are other ways to feel special that aren’t a $30/month electronic mail service. What is so nice about using it?

Speed is the top-line item. The desktop experience is the platform’s key differentiator, it’s structured entirely around keyboard shortcuts and the app is constantly training you to move through your email more quickly.

A couple of months in, I truly was spending far less time combing through pitches and tips, particularly thanks to the custom buckets that Superhuman sorts your mail into. The “Important” tab in your inbox differentiates newsletters and mailing list emails and only sucks in messages that were sent directly to you. It is miles better than the rudimentary sorting that Gmail pulls off.

If you aren’t used to the cult of “inbox-zero,” the service will drag you into it. The app prompts you to archive, snooze or delete every email in your inbox, transforming the utility of the service from a simple mailbox into a to-do list.

Other features like the souped up email tracking lets you know when your email was opened and does this much better than the free Gmail extensions I’ve tried. When a founder tried to claim he hadn’t seen my email asking him about some problems at his startup, I checked the app and saw he had opened it no less than 17 times on his phone and PC. Hmmm…

Before starting Superhuman, Vohra founded Rapportive which LinkedIn later bought. He kind of recreated that service for Superhuman which really allows you to get into people’s inboxes more easily. If you can guess someone’s email, a sidebar in the app will populate with a bio of the person if you’re correct. This is obviously pretty useful to a journalist, but if you’re trying to cold email your way into new opportunities it can be pretty great as well.

I’m perhaps not enough of a power user to get the most of snippets, which allow you to quickly inject canned responses that you can stylize, but they seem like they’d be amazing for intros though I rarely ended up using them.

When it comes to shortcomings, Superhuman is a desktop experience first-and-foremost. I’m a heavy mobile email user and the Superhuman app may have better than most other iOS email apps I had used, but it is still iterative on mobile and I think I was left thinking about the subscription costs most when I was swiping through emails there.

Even in the six months that I was a subscriber the mobile app made some hefty advances, though getting people to continually justify a subscription over what would otherwise be free is a challenge that won’t go away as long as it holds its price tag.

The issue for Superhuman is that in a lot of ways the app just trains you how to use email more effectively. Since cancelling my subscription, I’ve dialed in my Gmail keyboard shortcuts and shifted how I flag and archive messages and I’d say I’m operating fairly close to the efficiency I pulled off on the premium service.

The mental load of spending $30 month on email is admittedly heavy and is undoubtedly a barrier for Superhuman scaling to different echelons of users, but with $33 million from Andreessen Horowitz, the startup certainly has some options for how it grows from here. I do still dearly miss the “Important” tab, email tracking and sidebar profiles and perhaps I will eventually return though I imagine that will happen when the service costs less than what I put into Apple Music and Netflix combined.

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Cameo Raises $50 Million In Series B, Has Hosted 275000 Video Shoutouts In 2 Years

… The Chernin Group, Spark Ventures, Bain Capital, and Lightspeed Venture Partners (which led the company’s $12.5 million Series A in November).

Cameo, the video platform that enables fans to purchase personalized video messages from their favorite influencers, athletes, and reality stars, has just closed a seismic $50 million funding round.

Cameo did not disclose its valuation in the wake of the Series B, which was led by Kleiner Perkins with participation from The Chernin Group, Spark Ventures, Bain Capital, and Lightspeed Venture Partners (which led the company’s $12.5 million Series A in November).

Cameo is growing at lightning speeds. The 26-month-old company has facilitated 275,000 personalized greetings from a total of 15,000 celebrities to date — up from 85,000 greetings from a total of 5,000 stars last November. Company revenues have increased by a multiple of five within the past six months, CEO Steven Galanis tells Tubefilter. (Roughly half of the 15,000 stars on the platform are social media influencers, who charge between $50 and $100 per video).

Some of the platform’s biggest moneymakers right now — who can take home between five and six figures monthly for filming 30-second shoutouts, birthday greetings, and even marriage proposals — include Snoop Dogg (who was a Series A investor), footballer Antonio Brown, and Charlie Sheen, Galanis says. And three of the platform’s five most-booked performers are cast members of Bravo‘s The Real Housewives Of New York City — including Sonja Morgan, Dorinda Medley, and Luann De Lesseps.

But in terms of total output, early adopters like Cody Ko (who was the roommate of Cameo co-founder and fellow OG Vine star Devon Townsend) — as well as Evan Breen and Nick Coletti — take the cake. Breen, for his part, has been booked over 4,000 times.

We’re In The “The Top Of The Second Inning”

New funds will be allocated to expanding Cameo’s domestic and international footprint (particularly in the U.K. and Australia). Galanis says 30% of the company’s revenues currently hail from abroad.

Headquartered in Chicago with 66 staffers, Cameo opened a 20-person office in Los Angeles in February, and plans to aggressively build out its product development and design teams on the West Coast, with the intention of tripling its headcount there by year’s end. Galanis says the company intends to onboard “world class” product managers, designers, and engineers so that Cameo is on par with the other social video platforms du jour, including YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and the like.

“It’s the top of the second inning at Cameo,” Galanis said in a statement. “We have an ambitious roadmap that includes developing new, rich conversation features, bolstering our talent roster in key verticals, and aggressively scaling our global presence. Our co-founder Martin Blencowe, who is British, is even moving back to London to oversee international expansion.”

The company is also planning to overhaul its look and interface across desktop and mobile. Cameo will unveil a new iOS app in coming months, after it made the critical decision to remove the ability to purchase Cameos on i)S two months ago due to the fact that Apple takes a massive 30% cut of any in-app purchases. (While its Android app still facilitates bookings, Galanis tells Tubefilter that the majority are transacted on the mobile web; iOS only represented 6% of bookings before the capability was removed). The redesigned iOS app will enable users to purchase Cameos via a new digital currency model. It will also tout a more compelling, content-based feed.

Finally, Galanis says, the company will be using new funds to launch its first-ever marketing push, which will roll out within the next 90 days.

What Makes A Cameo Star?

Generally speaking, Cameo creators must have at least 20,000 Instagram followers in order to be eligible to vend shoutouts (the company also accepts referrals from stars who are already on the platform). Creators can set their own pricing — from $5 to $2,500 per video. Top creators on the platform are producing 15 to 20 Cameos daily, Galanis says. Cameo pockets 25% of the fee, with the creator taking home the remaining 75%.

Galanis tells Tubefilter that follower counts don’t necessarily correlate with success on Cameo. Monetary success depends on a number of factors — including pricing strategy (influencers might count younger fans who would spend less per shoutout, for instance), and a knack for the medium, which lends itself to an authentic, comedic acumen that packs a 30-second punch. Two of the most-requested personalities across all verticals who have yet to join, says Galanis, are Casey Neistat and David Dobrik.

In addition to being a monetization channel, Galanis also sees Cameo as a personal brand booster — given that the clips typically turn their recipients into even more rabid admirers. Additionally, recipients share their Cameos on social media most of the time, which spreads the reach of a creator’s work and also serves as a commercial of sorts for future bookings.

In another boon for discovery, Cameos are also free-to-watch on the company’s website, where viewers can come to browse other peoples’ shoutouts.

“In the same way that Vine and YouTube made different celebrities, Cameo is creating its own breed of digital stars,” Galanis says.

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Crime app gives neurotic New Yorkers even more to worry about

Other investors include Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Slow Ventures and Sequoia Capital. It was valued at US$31mil (RM129.25mil) in 2017, …

One afternoon in late October 2017, hundreds of students from the elite Avenues private school in Manhattan were loaded onto buses, ready to head home. Suddenly, school principal Abby Brody got a disturbing smartphone alert.

The crime-tracking app Citizen buzzed with a bulletin, and then a live video, about a nearby traffic incident. It turned out to be a deadly terror attack that left eight people dead.

“I jumped in front of the buses and stopped them,” Brody said. “They were about to pull out and if I’d waited to get an update from the security team or the local police precinct, the kids would’ve been in the middle of it; they would’ve been driving right into it.”

Citizen uses a mix of humans and technology to monitor police scanners and sends out alerts to users regarding incidents occurring within about a one-mile radius of their smartphones. Users on site can upload photos and live videos of the scene. Originally called Vigilante, the app was banned from Apple’s App Store the day after launching in 2016 amid concern it would encourage citizens to take crime-stopping into their own hands.

But after rebranding as Citizen in 2017 with an emphasis on safety and awareness, the app has exploded in popularity. It’s currently available in five cities: Los Angeles, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York, where more than 1 million people have downloaded it. The app was ranked No. 18 in news app downloads across iOS and Google Play in the US in May, according to analytics firm App Annie.

Citizen’s founder and chief executive officer Andrew Frame has lofty goals for the mobile app to become a people-powered public safety net that will unite the country by encouraging people to help and protect each other. “Hyper local information is really important; it gives you situational awareness,” Frame said in an interview at Citizen’s New York headquarters. “We’re empowering people to make decisions about their safety in ways that have never been possible before. This fills a basic human need that we all have.”

But where some people feel empowered by knowing everything that’s going on around them, others see cause for neurosis and a risk for unfair profiling of neighbours.

New York City councilmember Justin Brannan first became aware of Citizen about a year ago. He downloaded the app and quickly became concerned about the “frenetic pace” of postings. “You’re in this constant state of anxiety because of what you’re seeing on the Citizen app, even though there’s no real credibility about the posts,” Brannan said.

Citizen automatically transcribes 911 calls but doesn’t give context on which ones are false alarms or unfounded alerts, he said. This means that if someone sets off fireworks and a neighbour calls 911 reporting gun fire, Citizen would publish that shots had been fired and never go back to retract the post or update it.

“That puts a certain vibe out there with people that they’ve got to be fearful for no reason,” Brannan said. Crime in New York City is at historic lows, yet Citizen blasts an “alternate reality of danger” by transcribing every 911 call without vetting those that might be over-exaggerated or just plain inaccurate, Brannan said.

Getting timely information on nearby car crashes, shootings, robberies or carbon monoxide leaks could help people steer clear of trouble or traffic jams, according to Citizen. The app sends out an average of 2 million notifications a day, but the intensity of the news varies widely. While the school principal’s story about the terrorist attack shows how the app can provide users with crucial information faster than police, many of the posts are more mundane.

On an average Sunday afternoon in midtown Manhattan, Citizen’s reports showed police were investigating the theft of a taxi, a street brawl involving a naked man and a brash raccoon sunbathing on a balcony. Still, there are success stories, like the five librarians who used the app to track down a missing elderly man on Staten Island in May. And in February, a person was awoken by a Citizen alert to a fire in his building, allowing him to evacuate before the firefighters came knocking.

In a well-documented heroic rescue, Citizen users helped find a missing four -year-old boy who had been picked up by a man on a crowded subway platform. Police later found out the man had a record of sexual abuse of a minor.

Such anecdotes help attract talent to Citizen, Frame said. The company’s head of design, Ed Kim, previously worked at Alphabet Inc’s Google. Praveen Arichandran, the head of growth, used to lead a similar unit at Tesla Inc and was formerly a product manager at Facebook Inc. Earlier this year, Citizen raised US$27mil (RM112.57mil) in a funding round led by 8VC. Other investors include Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Slow Ventures and Sequoia Capital. It was valued at US$31mil (RM129.25mil) in 2017, according to PitchBook.

For now, Citizen is a free app and it doesn’t run advertising. The company has plans to make money in the public safety space, but declined to provide further details.

When Citizen first launched under the name Vigilante, it used the tension between the community and police to attract users. The company claimed that trust between the public and police had eroded to all-time lows after mass protests that spread across America in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Police departments had begun implementing body cameras as a way of documenting police interactions with the public.

Vigilante wanted to put cameras in the hands of the people, encouraging users to livestream from crime scenes. This mission ran afoul of law enforcement agencies. The New York Police Department said: “Crimes in progress should be handled by the NYPD and not a vigilante with a cellphone.”

Since then, the newly re-branded Citizen has made distinct changes to its platform and its mission. Peter Donald, the former NYPD assistant commissioner for communications who previously denounced the app as Vigilante, joined Citizen as its head of policy and communications.

Citizen no longer encourages users to interfere with active crime scenes or disrupt law enforcement. It has a 26-page editorial guide outlining the types of events it can broadcast and others that are banned. For example, Citizen won’t publish a suicide unless it places the public in danger, such as a person threatening to jump from an apartment building above a busy street. It has also hired moderators to review all the photos and videos uploaded on the platform to ensure there are no graphic images and to try and filter out derogatory, racist or explicit comments. The company said it’s working to improve the monitoring process and screening for offensive content.

Columbia University Associate Professor Desmond Upton Patton said Citizen could potentially help connect and engage communities, but it needs to ensure it guards against bias and misinterpretation first. If Citizen was truly an “app for the people” it would allow users to correct any inaccurate postings to avoid presenting a skewed reality of crime, he said.

Patton, who is affiliated with Columbia’s Data Science Institute, said a lack of context around 911 calls could lead to “gross misinterpretations”, particularly within over-policed communities of colour.

“I’m concerned there isn’t a way for the system to be corrected by the people and for the people,” Patton said. “This is just going to lead toward a continued pathway of e-carceration and the over-criminalisation of black and brown communities.” – Bloomberg

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