Alleged NSA hack group Shadow Brokers releases new trove of exploits

Shadow Brokers, the group behind last year’s release of hacking exploits allegedly used by the National Security Agency, has dropped another trove of files. In a Medium post today, the hacker group offered up a password giving free access to files it had previously tried to auction off.

The Shadow Brokers first came to prominence last August when they leaked exploits linked to the NSA and the Equation Group containing vulnerabilities in major firewall products. The group would later release a list of IP addresses it claimed were compromised by the Equation Group.

Shadow Brokers was hoping to auction off another set of files, but didn’t attract very much interest — or Bitcoin — in the attempt. After that failed, the group posted a “farewell message” in January and leaked a new set of Windows-related vulnerabilities.

Today’s leak from the Shadow Brokers comes with a lengthy Medium post, in which the group says it is releasing the files as a “form of protest” after losing faith in the leadership of President Donald Trump. Claiming that Trump appears to be “abandoning his base,” the post also offers a list of suggestions for how the president could “Make America Great Again.”

Gig economy stalwart TaskRabbit is contemplating a sale

One of the earliest and most prominent startups of the so-called “sharing economy” or “gig economy” is evaluating the possibility of selling itself. As reported by Recode, freelance work marketplace TaskRabbit acknowledged that it is contemplating a sale after receiving inbound interest from a possible strategic buyer.

TaskRabbit launched in early 2008 as a way to match up with various types of odd jobs in their local area part-time workers who had spare time. In its earliest days, the business operated in a very loose marketplace model — users could list jobs they needed accomplished and the price they were willing to pay for those services, and so-called “TaskRabbits” could choose to accept those jobs or not.

It was a pretty novel concept at the time, but it wasn’t long before a number of other startups cropped up offering similar capabilities. Over time, those gig economy companies started to position themselves around specific types of work, with many attempting to be the place to go for cleaning services or home improvement.

A few more years passed, and, after some initial excitement around the gig economy, follow-on venture capital dried up and many of TaskRabbit’s competitors either shut down or were acquired for pennies on the dollar.

 And so here we are. After raising $38 million dollars from investors like Shasta Ventures, Founders Fund, First Round, Floodgate, CollabFund and others, there’s little appetite for other investors to keep putting money in companies like TaskRabbit.

So what now? All indications are that handyman services, light home renovation and furniture assembly are going to end up being a billion-dollar business. So it makes sense that TaskRabbit would explore the possibility of a sale if there’s a buyer — or multiple buyers — interested.

The only question is who those buyers might be, and how much they might be willing to pay for the business.

Moodelizer helps add epic soundtracks to your video efforts

When it comes to video, the audio is pretty damn important. Hell, they even give out some sort of award for getting it right on occasion. Moodelizer wants to put the power of suitable soundtracks in the hands of amateur filmmakers, by letting you add a delightfully over-the-top soundtrack to the most mundane of tasks at the touch of a button.

Moodelizer has created a ton of different music tracks, with a twist: They come unmixed, and with an elegant set of mixing tools to help even non-musicians create great-sounding soundtracks for video.

So you may have a nice bit of calm music leading up to a snowboard stunt, for example. When the sportsperson turns the hella nar nar to 11, you can add some funky beats and heavy orchestrations to turn the drama up. It sounds really simple, because, well, it is. But the app works incredibly well — and a piece of music that’s finely tuned to the film you’re showing off goes a long way to making the viewer’s heart rate peak at just the right times.

And, in a similar vein, but showing off the idea of building the drama in music just a tiny bit better, this one makes me happy, too:


To demo its tech, the company has released an app, now available on iOS, with an Android version coming in a month or so. Of course, all of this is probably mostly a stunt to sell more licenses of its professional Moodelizer Studio product, but who cares: The app is free and tons of fun. Definitely one to play around with for an afternoon, if nothing else.

Here are the frontier startups that presented at Singularity University’s third demo day

The nine startups participating in Singularity University’s accelerator program presented this afternoon at Moffett Federal Airfield just outside Mountain View, CA. Singularity University, founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, aims to make it more feasible for people to address hard science problems and those that require a global reach.

Startups backed by Singularity University have gone on to raise $194 million. Collectively, Modern Meadow, Matternet and Getaround have raised $122 million of that total figure to bring people animal free leather, automated last-mile delivery and more convenient car rental.

Monique Giggy, Director of Singularity University’s startup accelerator says the program received 460 applications this year. From there 20 startups received formal diligence alongside technical experts. Ultimately only nine companies were selected for this year’s batch.

This is the third and final generalized accelerator program that Singularity will be offering. Participating companies in the program received mentorship and support from corporations, researchers and the broader Singularity network.

Going forward, Singularity wants to engage with portfolio companies across a longer span of time than the existing eight week program. Giggy explained that future programs could focus narrowly on the FDA approval process or raising a Series A.

The startups that spoke today are addressing tough challenges in healthcare and materials science, among other things. Here are all nine companies that presented and the problems they are tackling.

IotaSecurity – Security solution for mobile banking

IotaSecurity is building a solution to address the security vulnerabilities faced by users of mobile banking services. Development recently concluded on the team’s primary SDK and it’s being marketed directly at banks. Yaron Vorona, who formally worked at a D.C. think tank, is working on the startup alongside Dr. Richard Krueger. Krueger previously worked to scale Amazon Prime.

Metamason – 3D printed masks for sufferers of sleep apnea

Metamason aims to serve the millions of Americans suffering from sleep apnea. The startup is developing technology that will allow sufferers to scan their face and have a 3D printed customized and fitted mask printed for them. Ideally, a better experience would incentivize more patients to stick with treatment instead of abandoning it.

Deep Blocks – Bringing intelligence to real estate developers

Deep Blocks is building a tool for real estate developers to aid them in the planning process. The long term vision is to deepen machine learning capabilities to be able to optimize decision making for all operators within the real estate vertical. The startup aggregates data across disparate sources, including critical regulatory information. Right now it’s available in Miami but plans to expand to other locals in the near future.

Nanobinoids –  Using hemp to create better batteries 

Nanobinoids is using hemp to unlock the promise of graphene. Graphene could someday push existing battery technology into the 21st century, but its incredibly expensive. Sanvar Oberoi and Jahan Pestonjamas are using their hemp textiles background to engineer carbon nanosheets at a price the market can stomach at scale.

Ourotech – Enabling a more efficient cancer treatment process

Ourotech is working on a process that would enable doctors to better prioritize treatment options for cancer patients. Though the work is still in testing, it could someday make it possible for biopsies to be tested against available treatments. This is an improvement over existing methods that rank treatments for the overall population rather than a specific patient.

Braincare – A minimally invasive way to monitor pressure inside the skull

Braincare has created a headband that can monitor pressure within the skull. It could offer patients a minimally invasive sensor for tracking critical information that is necessary for doctors working to protect the brain.

Flow – Making it easy to give presentations in virtual reality

Virtual reality is still a nascent technology, but Flow is trying to get ahead of the wave. The team is building software that would make it possible for anyone to design presentations optimized for multi-dimensional VR presentations. The immersive nature of VR makes it ideal for conveying ideas that fall flat (no pun intended) on old-school PowerPoints.

Golden – Connecting parents and children in the time of need

Caring for our parents (and grandparents) is difficult. The complexity and volume of information required to manage someone else’s finances and other affairs often causes important information to get lost. Golden is working to aggregate this information and make it easy to sift through so that we don’t miss out on cost-saving programs benefitting older Americans when we need them most.

Calorie Cloud – Putting schools and businesses to work to benefit the malnourished

Calorie Cloud hosts corporate wellness challenges and school programs to get people active. But this startup isn’t about increasing physical activity, it’s about caring for the malnourished. The more activity participants partake in, the more support goes to providing food for children who desperately need nutrients.

Facebook hires Apple veteran to lead virtual reality hardware efforts at Oculus

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants the company to own the future of virtual reality, and in the short term that means putting a lot of VR headsets on a lot of faces. Even for a company with nearly 2 billion monthly active users, hardware is still an incredibly difficult beast to master. To do so, the company is hiring Michael Hillman, a 15-year veteran of Apple, to lead the VR product roadmap for Oculus as head of VR hardware.

An Oculus spokesperson tells Bloomberg that Hillman will work closely alongside Oculus COO Hans Hartmann in his role.

The organizational structure at Oculus has grown increasingly peculiar over the past few months, with the virtual reality company growing much closer to its parent company Facebook. In December, co-founder Brendan Iribe stepped down as CEO to lead the PC-based VR division. Unlike other siloed Facebook products, such as Instagram, Oculus will soon report directly to an executive in Zuck’s inner circle, the recently hired Hugo Barra, joining from Xiaomi to lead VR efforts.Hillman worked in senior engineering and design roles at Apple where he worked on products like the iMac. According to his LinkedIn, Hillman spent his final four years at Apple working in a confidential hardware role. Hillman is listed as an inventor on a number of Apple patents related to displays and battery technologies. Hillman left Apple in 2015, later joining Zoox, an autonomous vehicle startup.

 Hillman adds another degree of separation between Facebook’s top brass and the original Oculus co-founders, a group that has recently been divided into organizationally separate mobile and PC-based hardware teams. While former Oculus CTO John Carmack and Chief Software Architect Michael Antonov are now working on the mobile team’s software advances, Iribe and former VP of Product Nate Mitchell are separately leading efforts on the PC-based Rift hardware.

With Hillman coming aboard as head of VR hardware, it’s worth noting that Oculus has already shown prototypes that look beyond its current Mobile/PC-based org structure. At the company’s OC3 developer’s conference late last year, Oculus gave press previews of “Santa Cruz,” its wirelessly tracked all-in-one prototype headset. An Oculus executive told TechCrunch that the company’s standalone headset was being developed under a separate team outside of the PC-based hardware division.

The company’s current flagship virtual reality device, the Oculus Rift headset, was released one year ago with more than a healthy amount of delays caused by manufacturing issues, something that caused quite a bit of anger among early adopters who were already upset by the headset’s higher-than-expected $599 price tag. The company released its Touch motion controllers for the Rift in December and last month slashed the prices of both the controllers and headset by $100.

Google is fighting with Symantec over encrypting the internet

Google, which has accused Symantec and its partners of misissuing tens of thousands of certificates for encrypted web connections, quietly announced Thursday that it’s downgrading the level and length of trust Chrome will place in certificates issued by Symantec.

Encrypted web connections — HTTPS connections like those on banking sites, login pages or news sites like this one — are enabled by Certificate Authorities, which verify the identity of the website owner and issue them a certificate authenticating that they are who they say they are. Think of a Certificate Authority like a passport agency and the certificates they issue like passports. Without the CA’s authentication of a website owner’s identity, users can’t trust that the site on the other end of their HTTPS connection is really their bank.

Symantec is a giant in the world of CAs — its certificates vouched for about 30 percent of the web in 2015. But Google claims that Symantec hasn’t been taking its responsibilities seriously and has issued at least 30,000 certificates without properly verifying the websites that received them. It’s a serious allegation that undermines the trust users can place in the encrypted web, and Google says it will begin the process of distrusting Symantec certificates in its Chrome browser. Symantec lashed out at Google’s claims, calling them “irresponsible” and “exaggerated and misleading.”

“Since January 19, the Google Chrome team has been investigating a series of failures by Symantec Corporation to properly validate certificates. Over the course of this investigation, the explanations provided by Symantec have revealed a continually increasing scope of misissuance with each set of questions from members of the Google Chrome team; an initial set of reportedly 127 certificates has expanded to include at least 30,000 certificates, issued over a period spanning several years,” Google software engineer Ryan Sleevi wrote in a forum post outlining the case against Symantec. “This is also coupled with a series of failures following the previous set of misissued certificates from Symantec, causing us to no longer have confidence in the certificate issuance policies and practices of Symantec over the past several years.”

To remedy the situation, Sleevi said that Chrome would reduce the length of time the browser trusts a Symantec-issued certificate and, over time, would require sites to replace old Symantec certificates with newer, trusted ones.

Sleevi said that Symantec’s behavior failed to meet the baseline requirements for a Certificate Authority, creating what he called “significant risk for Google Chrome users.” He added:

Symantec allowed at least four parties access to their infrastructure in a way to cause certificate issuance, did not sufficiently oversee these capabilities as required and expected, and when presented with evidence of these organizations’ failure to abide to the appropriate standard of care, failed to disclose such information in a timely manner or to identify the significance of the issues reported to them.

These issues, and the corresponding failure of appropriate oversight, spanned a period of several years, and were trivially identifiable from the information publicly available or that Symantec shared.

Chrome’s spat with Symantec stretches back over more than a year. In October 2015, Google discovered that Symantec has misissued certificates for Google itself and for Opera Software.

Symantec investigated the issue and claimed that all of the misissued certificates had been issued as part of routine testing. “Our investigation uncovered no evidence of malicious intent, nor harm to anyone,” Symantec said at the time.

Symantec pushed back on Google’s current allegations Friday, saying that Google had singled out Symantec and had exaggerated the number of misissued certificates leading to the problem in the first place.

“Google’s statements about our issuance practices and the scope of our past mis-issuances are exaggerated and misleading. For example, Google’s claim that we have mis-issued 30,000 SSL/TLS certificates is not true. In the event Google is referring to, 127 certificates — not 30,000 — were identified as mis-issued, and they resulted in no consumer harm,” Symantec wrote in a blog post. “While all major CAs have experienced SSL/TLS certificate mis-issuance events, Google has singled out the Symantec Certificate Authority in its proposal even though the mis-issuance event identified in Google’s blog post involved several CAs.”

Google’s Sleevi said in another post that Symantec partnered with other CAs — CrossCert (Korea Electronic Certificate Authority), Certisign Certificatadora Digital, Certsuperior S. de R. L. de C.V., and Certisur S.A. — that did not follow proper verification procedures, which led to the misissuance of 30,000 certificates.

“Symantec has acknowledged they were actively aware of this for at least one party, failed to disclose this to root programs, and did not sever the relationship with this party,” he wrote. “At least 30,000 certificates were issued by these parties, with no independent way to assess the compliance of these parties to the expected standards. Further, these certificates cannot be technically identified or distinguished from certificates where Symantec performed the validation role.”

 While Google and Symantec continue their fight — Symantec said it is “open to discussing the matter with Google in an effort to resolve the situation” — website owners that use Symantec to verify their HTTPS connections will need to start taking steps to ensure Chrome users can access their sites without getting hit with security warnings.

Symantec has severed ties with the four firms associated with the misissued certificates, so Chrome will trust new Symantec certificates going forward — site owners just need to swap out their old certificates for new ones.

Here’s the schedule, according to Sleevi:

To balance the compatibility risks versus the security risks, we propose a gradual distrust of all existing Symantec-issued certificates, requiring that they be replaced over time with new, fully revalidated certificates, compliant with the current Baseline Requirements. This will be accomplished by gradually decreasing the ‘maximum age’ of Symantec-issued certificates over a series of releases, distrusting certificates whose validity period (the difference of notBefore to notAfter) exceeds the specified maximum.

Symantec, for its part, seems hopeful that Google will back off and not require any changes at all. “We want to reassure our customers and all consumers that they can continue to trust Symantec SSL/TLS certificates. Symantec will vigorously defend the safe and productive use of the Internet, including minimizing any potential disruption caused by the proposal in Google’s blog post,” the company said.

Insta360 Air brings affordable, easy 360 photo and video to Android phones

You can share 360-degree video and images in more places than ever before, but how to capture that content in the first place? Insta360 has built a bit of a name for itself creating relatively inexpensive add-ons for the smartphone you already have that’d the ability to use those devices to record and broadcast in 360. The $129.99 Insta360 Air is the company’s Android device accessory, and it’s a very hand addition to your photographic toolkit in a small package.

The Insta360 Air is a small sphere with either a USB-C or micro USB connector, depending on which version you buy, which will depend on what kind of Android smartphone you’re using it with. I was pairing it with a Google Pixel XL, which means I was using the USB-C version. The connector is hardwired into the ball itself, so make this choice wisely: you’ll have to buy another Insta360 Air if you ever switch connectors with a new device in the future.

Sticking with a dedicated connector means that the Air can be very simple in its design, usability and construction, however. It’s a hard plastic ball, which feels very solid and relatively rugged, and it comes with a soft silicone sheath that protects the lens elements on the two camera the Air uses to stick together its 360-degree photo. It’s a clever design for a case that takes up almost no additional space in your bad, and that also protects the cameras from bumps or shocks in case of a drop. Plus, it encloses the USB extension that sticks out of the spherical camera body, ensuring this won’t bend or get snapped off.

 The ball itself works once you insert the USB connector into your phone. It’ll prompt you to install the app from the Google Play store if you haven’t, but otherwise it’ll launch the software. This will invert the orientation of the display on your phone, so that the camera is pointing the right way up when you’re looking at the image preview on the screen.

Taking photos or shooting video with the Insta360 Air is as easy as shooting either with your smartphone’s built-in camera. It takes some getting used to at first, since obviously you’re not focusing on the same things that you’d be aiming for when trying to get the “right” shot. Interesting elevation, either holding the phone up high or down low, seems to produce good results. You can also set the key or starting frame after the fact, so you don’t need to think that much about what you’re currently pointing the camera “towards.”

 Pictures are easy to share via various social networks, including Instagram, but they especially shine on Facebook. The native 360-degree support on the social network means your photos will instantly work in the FB feeds of your friends, letting them navigate around the image by moving their phone around when viewing on mobile.

Image quality is good, too, as you can see from the embedded images above. You start to see the limits of the resolution, which Insta 360 says is “3K,” when you do things like view them in immersive VR via Google Photos in Daydream, for instance – but for viewing on desktop and mobile via embeds lie those found in this article, there’s plenty of detail and the quality looks excellent, especially given how much software is at work behind-the-scenes stitching the 180-degree images from the two cameras together and making sure the image doesn’t look wonky.


In short, the Insta360 Air, like the iOS-focused Insta360 Nano before it, is a great option for affordable, portable capture of surround imagery and video. Unlike the Nano, it lacks a standalone battery and so can’t work without a smartphone, but it has a new power: using a flexible USB cable included within, it can be used with a computer for tethered live-streaming, eliminating battery concerns and platform issues you might run into with a smartphone.

Basically, it’s a tool that adds a lot of flexibility to your photographic arsenal, and it definitely earned a permanent spot in my camera bag.

The SEC and DOJ just dropped their inquiries into Hampton Creek

The SEC and the Department of Justice, which had launched preliminary inquiries into the vegan food company Hampton Creek last summer, have officially closed their inquiries, according to founder and CEO Josh Tetrick. He informed the company’s 160-plus employees of the status change this morning in an email that you can find below.

Tetrick called the news “the expected result by our leadership, board and investors.”

Not everyone was so confident in a positive outcome after a two-part Bloomberg investigation attracted the government agencies’ attention. At the heart of Bloomberg’s findings was that Hampton Creek had executed on a campaign to buy back mass quantities of its eggless mayo product to artificially inflate demand and, potentially, dupe investors.

In reaction, the company hired one of the Big Four accounting firms to examine Bloomberg’s claims, which the board has said it had no knowledge of until contacted by Bloomberg’s reporters last fall.

A source close to the board told us at the time that if Tetrick and other managers were discovered to have been “buying back mayo solely for the purpose of juicing the numbers,” the board would be “livid.”

Whether they’re now patting Tetrick on the back instead isn’t yet known. One of the company’s few board members didn’t respond to a request for comment earlier. A request for comment from Tetrick also went unanswered.

The SEC’s decision may not come as a complete surprise to industry watchers. The commission is largely expected to spend less time focused on Silicon Valley under President Trump’s administration. In fact, his pick as SEC chair, Jay Clayton, told lawmakers during a nomination hearing yesterday he would like to pare back regulations on startups. (Former SEC  chair Mary Jo White felt rather differently about whether Silicon Valley needed more policing.)

But Hampton Creek has more to celebrate than the agencies’ decision. Perhaps even better news for the company are the conclusions of that Big Four accounting firm investigation, which were also just released.

What it found, says a source close to the investigation: that Hampton Creek ordered buybacks but that its related operations were far smaller than suggested in Bloomberg.

Here’s the discrepancy specifically: According to Bloomberg’s sources — which reportedly included a former accounting employee — Hampton Creek used several expense categories on its profit and loss statements to disguise buybacks, including one line item called “Inventory Consumed for Samples and Internal Testing.” Bloomberg further reported that over a five-month period in 2014, Hampton Creek expensed about $1.4 million under that category, compared with $1.9 million of net sales in the period. That’s almost 75 percent of net sales.

Per the newly released forensic review — which we’re told involved research into more than 60,000 transactions that included bank account data, transactions by current and former employees, and other legacy expense data — Hampton Creek expensed less than two percent of its net sales on buybacks over a much longer period that began in 2014 and ended the following year. The review also did not find evidence that  Hampton Creek had used several expense categories on its profit and loss statements to disguise buybacks.

 It’s worth noting that Hampton Creek has never denied buying back its own product from stores. Instead, it said last summer that the buybacks were partially for the purposes of quality control.

It’s also worth noting that Bloomberg’s sources consistently argued that this narrative is false, with some former contractors telling Bloomberg they were asked to impersonate teachers and caterers in calls to local stores to order more Just Mayo. They were also reportedly told they could discard product they purchased.

In the end, consumers will have to decide for themselves what to think. The same is true of investors, some of whom may decide that Hampton Creek has been treated unfairly, and some of whom may be harder to convince.

As investor Marc Andreessen tweeted last August in response to a Bloomberg report, “No comment on specific companies, but make no mistake: Buying your own product to inflate your reported revenue is fraud.”


Several months ago, some inaccurate reporting led to SEC and DOJ Inquiries. As of today, both agencies closed their inquiries with no finding of wrongdoing by our company or any of our team members. It was the expected result by our leadership, board, and investors.

We should all be proud of the great work we’ve done in the last few months, from the opening of 3 labs to significant new discoveries to passing incumbents at some of the biggest retailers in the world.

Online ticket marketplace Vivid Seats is looking to sell for $1.5 billion

Online secondary ticket marketplace Vivid Seats is looking for a buyer and they’re hoping to fetch a price of about $1.5 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

According to multiple sources, private equity firm Vista Equity Partners is working with Morgan Stanley to unload Vivid, which could net a tidy profit for the firm a little over a year after acquiring the business for about $850 million.

Vivid Seats might not have the same name recognition as Ticketmaster or StubHub, but the Chicago-based firm has been a force in selling seats at concerts, theaters and sports events. Founded in 2001, the company had grown to become the third-largest secondary ticket seller in the U.S. by the time it received its strategic investment from Vista early last year.

According to one source, tech companies like Amazon and Priceline had taken a look at Vivid Seats but decided not to acquire it. We also heard that eBay-owned StubHub is not interested.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported on its terminal that Vista was considering a sale “after receiving inbound interest,” but did not offer further detail.

 One challenge for Vivid is that it gets a large portion of its traffic from misleading affiliate sites. Customers are sometimes lured to a destination that’s not actually associated with the team or artist, a controversial practice within the industry.

It’s possible that Vivid Seats will not find a suitable strategic buyer and will sell to another private equity firm. One source mentioned Carlyle Group, but a different source suggested that would be unlikely because they own PrimeSport, a competitor in the space.

If Vivid can’t fetch its desired acquisition price, perhaps Vista will keep it in its portfolio until it grows its value.

When asked for comment, Vivid said “we don’t comment on industry rumors.”

Senators reintroduce a bill to improve cybersecurity in cars

Senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have reintroduced the Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act of 2017. They first introduced the bill, along with a similar bill for aircraft, during the last session.

The SPY Car Act places the onus for automotive cybersecurity and privacy standards on the shoulders of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The law would require critical software systems — those required for operation of the vehicle — to be isolated from noncritical systems. And then those isolated systems should be tested for security.

It also addresses securing personal information, including all data “collected by the electronic systems that are built into motor vehicles,” against unauthorized access. If there is a hacking attempt, the SPY Car Act calls for all cars to be equipped with the ability to detect the breach, report it and stop it from taking over the vehicle or collecting driving data. If a manufacturer doesn’t include this capability, under the law it would be fined $5,000 per car that didn’t have security technology built in.

So far, the SPY Car Act seems like something we’d expect to see. But then Sens. Markey and Blumenthal take another step in requiring a “cyber dashboard.” This would tell the driver how far above and beyond the basic requirements a car company has gone to secure the onboard electronic systems via an “easy-to-understand, standardized graphic.” So some kind of scorecard would be placed where anyone could see it.

 But wait, there’s more! The SPY Car Act also requires that every vehicle give “clear and conspicuous notice” to the driver about what driving data is being collected, if it’s being transmitted or saved, and how it’s being used. Once you know this, the law would require that manufacturers give you the right to opt out of data collection without interfering with your ability to use navigation tools. And that data can only be used for marketing to you if you choose to opt in.

The SPY Car Act does exempt black-box-type data collection. That basic data is still useful in the event of a crash, or to check the emissions history of a vehicle.

Vehicle tracking specialists Satrak Plant Security polled 2,000 people in the U.K. recently and found that 40 percent of respondents said hacking was a “fairly serious” concern, which echoes other polls of consumers’ attitudes toward automotive cybersecurity. Now that NHTSA has created guidelines for autonomous vehicles, maybe it can build on its best practices guidelines if the SPY Car Act is passed.

Parental control service “Circle with Disney” to help with distracted driving, social media, kids’ chores & more

Circle with Disney, a device that helps parents manage their home’s internet rules and restrictions, wants to be more than just a modern-day net nanny. Already, it had differentiated itself from competing software solutions, by offering a licensed selection of Disney content – like games, videos, trailers and more – to make its service more appealing. Today, it’s taking a step at becoming a more expansive “smart family” platform, through a series of integrations that let Circle work with services that reward kids for chores or meeting activity goals, those that limit distracted driving, those that filter social media, and more.

Amazon Alexa will also work with Circle, allowing parents to ask questions about their kid’s screen time usage. And kids can ask Alexa about their own time limits, as well.

The feature is called “Circle Connections,” but it’s not fully live at this time.

Instead, the company is the unveiling its larger roadmap of integrations planned for the upcoming year. Today, only the first integration – with FamilyTech apps – is actually available.

FamilyTech has a number of apps, including MotherShp, ChoreMonster, and Landra, which help kids earn rewards by performing chores around the house. With Circle, those rewards can now be added screen time or later bedtimes, at parents’ discretion.

Later this year, Circle will roll out more features to Circle Connections, including integrations with connected car service Automatic, automation assistant IFTTT, Misfit activity trackers, and social media filter Rakkoon.

Automatic’s integration is most interesting, as it allows Circle to extend its usefulness to households with older children – an area often overlooked by parental control apps today, which seem to focus more on protecting kids from adult content or limiting screen time.

With Automatic, parents will be able to filter distracting applications – like social media apps – from disturbing teen drivers when the car has started. Those restricted apps are then re-enabled when the car shuts off.

The Rakkoon integration, meanwhile, helps with teens and pre-teens, as it filters questionable content on social media, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even iMessage. It will also alert parents for things like sexting and bullying.

Misfit will work to reward activity with screen time.

IFTTT’s integration, however, appeals to geekier parents. It will let you do things like make your smart lightbulbs change color when bedtime begins, or connect a real world internet pause button to Circle’s service. Fun, perhaps, but not necessary.

Despite being a parent myself, I’ve been hesitant to utilize strict parental control software or hardware devices in the home, as they add another layer of complexity to internet setup and use.

Instead, I’ve favored a combination of on-device controls provided by the platform maker (e.g. Apple), those in apps (e.g. Google’s safe search filters), and a hefty dose of good old-fashioned parenting. That means we have rules like, no watching YouTube shows unless I approve the channel first, no downloading apps without approval, and limited device use in general.

But I also have the luxury of only having to parent one child. And I’m aware that, as she grows, it will become more difficult to constantly keep an eye on her activity. Integrations like these make a service like Circle seem more appealing, and maybe even worth the hassle of set up and configuration, which, frankly, is still a bit of a pain, if I’m telling the truth.

Circle is a $99 device and is sold online through its website, and on retailers’ sites, including Amazon, Target, Best Buy and Disney Store. It’s also available in Target and Best Buy retail stores.

Use Nintendo Switch controllers with the NES Classic with this adapter

Nintendo Switch controllers are flexible, if flawed — the latest hardware they work with is the NES Classic, via 8bitdo’s $17 Retro Receiver, and a new firmware update available now for that little dongle. The wireless accessory already lets you connect a range of Bluetooth controllers to your NES Classic, including 8bitdo’s own NES30 controller replica, and PlayStation 4, Wii U Pro and more.

The new firmware supports connecting both individual Joy-Con halves, as well as the Switch Pro controller. It’s also available for the version of the Retro Receiver that plugs into original NES and SNES consoles, letting you use your Switch input devices with your vintage gaming consoles, too.

This is great news for controller consolidation — these things tend to replicate like crazy if you happen to own multiple gaming systems — and especially awesome on the heels of the news that Joy-Cons and Pro controllers also work with Mac, PC and Android devices with little or no special software required.

 Of course, Nintendo still has its fair share of controller issues on its hands with the Switch: Many users are experiencing connection problems, specifically with the left Joy-Con that shipped with their console. They advise keeping it out of range of basically any wireless gadget, which is not practically possible in many cases, and sources suggest it might only be truly solvable with a hardware fix.

Still, it’s useful to have the option to make these controllers extra portable NES Classic accessories in a pinch.

How The Last Mile helped Kenyatta Leal walk from prison in San Quentin to a job in tech

One year after their release, more than 75 percent of California’s formerly incarcerated can’t find jobs. One former prisoner, Kenyatta Leal, was serving a life sentence in San Quentin prison and was determined to change that number.

 On this episode he talks about what led him to prison, the mentors he found inside and how The Last Mile teaches people to code with no internet.

Leal also discusses his release, and how the tech skills he learned in prison landed him a job. For Leal, those skills included being able to blog and express himself on Twitter and Quora with no internet. Finally, Leal emphasizes the importance of breaking the cycle of incarceration.

Since Leal’s release, he has been able to help several people get jobs in tech, including some of the prisoners with him during his time in San Quentin.

If you want to learn more about criminal justice reform, feel free to reach out to [email protected] and we can connect you with the right people.

Verizon Ventures and R/GA partner to launch a digital media ‘venture studio’

Verizon Ventures and R/GA are announcing a new program called the Verizon Media Tech Venture Studio.

Stephen Plumlee, R/GA’s global COO and managing partner of R/GA Ventures, explained that the interactive agency’s “venture studios” started out similar to other startup accelerator programs, but they’ve expanded to provide access to “financial capital, creative capital and client relationship capital.” In other words, startups don’t just get funding and advice — they also work on products and partnerships with R/GA’s creative staff and clients.

In this case, the Media Tech Venture Studio is a 14-week program for up to 10 companies, which will receive $100,000 in funding each and work out of Verizon’s new “open innovation” space in New York City. The company says it’s looking for startups in areas like content creation and personalization, virtual reality and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, content distribution, interactive advertising and e-sports.

“The idea is for Verizon to really get out there and see what’s going on in the market,” said Paul Heitlinger of Verizon Ventures. “What’s really compelling for the companies who participate is, they get to work directly with Verizon’s business units. … They get access to our technologies, our networks, all behind-the-scenes stuff.”

At the same time, Heitlinger said participating in the program “doesn’t mean you have to work exclusively with Verizon.”

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As for whether these startups are then teed up for additional funding from Verizon Ventures, he said, “We wouldn’t say no, we wouldn’t say yes. … If we feel that there’s a particular company that’s well-suited or well-aligned with Verizon’s business, just like any other startup we would invest.”

Verizon has been trying to move deeper into digital media, with initiatives like its go90 mobile video app, not to mention its acquisition of AOL (which owns TechCrunch) and the still in-progress Yahoo deal.

Instacart raises $400 million at a $3.4 billion valuation to deliver groceries on-demand

Grocery delivery startup Instacart has raised another $400 million in a new round of financing at a valuation of $3.4 billion, according to sources familiar with the deal. Axios broke news that Instacart was in talks to close the deal last week. Instacart executives declined to comment for this story.

Over the past year, Instacart has weathered a number of controversies after raising prices for consumers and cutting rates for its workers. Previously, the startup had raised around $260 million at a reported $2 billion valuation.

Some of its competitors have faltered significantly since Instacart last raised funding. Close to home, San Francisco-based organic food delivery startup Good Eggs went through a change in leadership, layoffs and general belt-tightening. In India, ridesharing operator Ola axed its grocery delivery service entirely.

To date, Instacart has operated solely within the U.S., where consumers spend more than $727 billion annually on food for consumption at home, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Instacart’s Aporva Mehta speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco

As TechCrunch has previously reported, Instacart has multiple revenue streams. The company charges customers a markup on groceries, plus a fee for delivering items to their doors. In addition, consumer packaged goods brands pay Instacart to advertise on its platform. And the startup strikes revenue share agreements with partners including grocery chains like Whole Foods.

The Wall Street Journal reported that early investor Sequoia Capital contributed $100 million to Instacart’s latest round of funding. A yet-to-be-named strategic investor also participated. Other investors in Instacart include Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Y Combinator, Dragoneer, Canaan Partners and Khosla Ventures, among others.

Emerging competitors like Shipt, Postmates and StorePower may be hard-pressed to raise funding following this round. Instacart will likely be able to outspend competitors for a good long while given this latest cash infusion.

Apple says most vulnerabilities in Wikileaks docs are already patched

Wikileaks today published a trove of documents, allegedly taken from the CIA, that detail the government’s efforts to hack popular devices like iPhones, Android phones, and Samsung smart TVs. But Apple is pushing back against claims that the CIA’s hoarded vulnerabilities for its devices were effective.

The documents, if they are indeed legitimate, include charts that detail iOS exploits that would allow the CIA to surveil iPhone users and, in some cases, control their devices. Some of the exploits may have been developed in-house, while others appear to have been purchased, copied or downloaded from non-governmental sources.

However, Apple says that many of the iOS exploits in the Wikileaks dump have already been patched and it is working to address any new vulnerabilities.

“Apple is deeply committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy and security. The technology built into today’s iPhone represents the best data security available to consumers, and we’re constantly working to keep it that way. Our products and software are designed to quickly get security updates into the hands of our customers, with nearly 80 percent of users running the latest version of our operating system. While our initial analysis indicates that many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS, we will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities. We always urge customers to download the latest iOS to make sure they have the most recent security updates,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch.

 The Wikileaks documents also contain exploits designed for Android. A Google spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

This isn’t the first time the CIA has targeted mobile phone manufacturers in an effort to spy on certain customers — the Intercept reported in 2015 that the agency had worked to compromise iPhones and iPads.

If you’re concerned about the security of your device, it’s always a good idea to keep your software up-to-date.

Leaked emails put spotlight on Snapchat sales tactics

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun safety and gun control nonprofit backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, faced an awkward decision while working with Snapchat last year, according to leaked emails obtained by Mic.

Everytown was collaborating with the Snapchat news team on a “Guns in America” Live Story tied to National Gun Violence Awareness Day. This prompted Snapchat’s head of political sales Rob Saliterman (who’d already been discussing an ad campaign with Everytown) to send an email to Everytown that said, “I would urgently like to speak with you about advertising opportunities within the story, as there will be three ad slots. We are also talking to the NRA about running ads within the story.”

The nonprofit said that the ads would be beyond its budget, and it also expressed concern about the possible NRA ads. Saliterman, who previously held a similar role at Google, said that “the story has the potential to be bought by any advertiser, including the NRA,” but added, “The advertising will not impact the editorial content within the story as our teams are independent.”

When we reached out to Snapchat’s parent company Snap Inc., a spokesperson argued there was no breakdown here in the division between the editorial and advertising teams. Instead, they said the editorial team created their calendar independently, then sent it to the ad team to sell advertising on those stories.

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The NRA then found out about the story through the normal sales channels and expressed interest in buying one of the ads, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis (assuming they meet Snapchat’s political guidelines). In Snap’s view, Saliterman was simply providing Everytown with information that it would want to know — it’s hard to imagine the organization have been happy if Snapchat ran NRA ads with the story and didn’t tell Everytown this was going to happen.

None of Snap’s account seems to be contradicted by Mic’s reporting. And to be clear, the article doesn’t really suggest that Snap let the ad team influence editorial. So why is this getting any attention at all? Perhaps because there’s something unseemly, or just plain gross, about considering an NRA ad for this particular Live Story — and then using that possibility as a negotiating point.

How did Everytown feel about this? While a spokesperson declined to comment, Snap said that the organization did end up contributing to the “Guns in America” story after all.

Box’s Levie touts positive cash flow

Cloud content management company Box posted fourth-quarter earnings after the bell on Wednesday with shares quickly plummeting in initial after-hours trading. They mostly recovered, trading down just 1 percent by late afternoon.

Box beat investor expectations with an adjusted loss of 10 cents per share versus the negative 14 cents forecast. Revenue for the quarter was also a beat at $109.9 million, versus the $108.9 million predicted, and a 29 percent increase from the same period last year.

The company celebrated its first quarter as a free cash flow (FCF) positive business, with CEO Aaron Levie characterizing this as an “inflection point” in a call with TechCrunch. FCF was $10.2 million for the quarter, which they say is a $30 million gain year-over-year.

But Wall Street was disappointed that Box cautioned its first-quarter earnings would likely lose 14 to 15 cents per share, worse than the negative 12 cents investors are watching for.

DFJ investor Josh Stein, a longtime investor in Box, took to Twitter to defend the company’s growth, while also taking a shot at competitor Dropbox.

On the call with TechCrunch, Levie didn’t criticize the competition, but was happy to point to Box’s favorable performance in the stock market in the past year. Shares are up more than 50 percent from the same time in 2016.

 Commenting on today’s after-hours stock movements, Levie said it’s “hard to look into the daily trading and read too much into it.”

The company is going to be focused on international growth in 2017, with Levie referencing Australia, Canada, Japan and Europe. Box’s enterprise customer base already includes 71,000 clients.

An all new Box Notes, a note-taking and productivity platform, was unveiled in the quarter. They also announced new integrations with Microsoft Office. They’ve been partnering with major telecommunications providers like AT&T, and will be adding more partnerships in that category, said Levie.

Security and compliance remain key focus areas for the company, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Hack of VP Pence’s personal email last year may have included state business

The Vice President’s personal email was hacked last year, and it turns out that the hackers may have had access to official state business which Pence reportedly conducted on it. But wait — put down the pitchfork, for now anyway.

The facts are these: a public records request filed by the Indy Star showed that Pence indeed used his AOL account (Aol with lowercase letters owns TechCrunch, but it’s not really relevant) to discuss policy with his advisors and even FBI war-on-terror type business.

It must be said that there is no small amount of hypocrisy in that Pence, who was among the many politicians who loudly decried Hillary Clinton’s use of private email for state business, was himself using a private email for state business, but the situations are different in important ways.

Although using one’s personal email address for official communications is, generally speaking, a pretty bad idea, it’s not illegal. As was concluded in Clinton’s case, this shows irresponsibility but is not any kind of criminal offense.

Pence also wasn’t handling documents with federal protections — classified or top secret, that sort of thing. Again, he shouldn’t have been handling any business via his AOL account, but what he did handle wasn’t hugely important.

The emails in question were filed and retained dutifully as required by Indiana law, which is accommodating of the fact that these things sometimes happen.

 Pence was also using a private email address, but wasn’t running his own private email server, which is an important distinction. Among other things, AOL’s service is subject to restrictions and authorities that could lawfully compel it to produce emails or records — difficult to enforce with a private server like the one the Clintons used. And that’s not getting into the security implications.

The hack (which the Indy Star also reported on) occurred in June, and Pence wasn’t chosen (publicly, anyway) to be Trump’s running mate until July. That the hack resulted in Pence’s contacts being spammed with requests for money suggests it was the kind of hacker who targets prominent rich people, not a state actor looking to mine Pence’s personal records for juicy details on the Indiana state executive.

Lastly, it really is standard practice in government to have a personal and official email, as well as a third for off-record communication. Sometimes these might not all be available, and it would be troubling to have a governor be unable to address an emergency because he left his Blackberry at the office. So the lines get crossed now and then, and the law is there not to prevent that, but to make sure that when it happens, it stays on the record.

Pence is on the right side of the law here, but, like many others, the wrong side of security best practices. And this combination of circumstances is exactly why: public officials are targets, and it is irresponsible to allow state information to be put at risk through lax security. Pence deserves criticism for this embarrassing but luckily not particularly damaging lapse, but don’t get carried away.

Snapchat is already more valuable than these 9 companies

Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, had a stellar first day in its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange, popping 44%. The self-proclaimed camera company that began its roots as an ephemeral photo-sharing app first priced its IPO at $17 per share on Wednesday. The stock opened at $24 and closed the day at $24.51. The company’s market cap is being reported as $34 billion (fully diluted).

Many questions still remain for the future of Snap, like how it plans to grow its user base and ultimately become profitable. But investors are betting big on 26-year-old Evan Spiegel and the company’s promise of innovation. While it’s too early to know exactly what will happen to Snapchat, going public is a significant milestone. Here are 9 public companies that Snap is more valuable than on its first day as a publicly traded company.

1. Twitter (Market cap $11.20B)

jack dorsey

A worst-case scenario for Snap would be to mimic Twitter’s highly anticipated 2013 IPO. The company was off to a soaring start, but struggled to grow its user base over the years.

2. Ferrari (Market cap $12.46B)

Ferrari F12

Snap is more valuable than Italian sports car manufacturer Ferrari ($RACE), which went public in 2015 after separating from Fiat Chrysler.

3. Best Buy (Market cap $14.08B)

Curbside Best Buy

Consumer electronics and entertainment retailer Best Buy went public way back in 1985, but today is less valuable than the photo-sharing app that has only been around for six years.

4. Seagate (Market cap $14.44B)


Seagate, best known for its hard drives, has seen revenue fall over the past few years. The data storage solution company went public on the NYSE in 2002, but has been eclipsed by other sexier cloud storage providers.

5. Hershey (Market cap $16.57B)


Snap is about twice as valuable as The Hershey Company, which went public in 1978. To put this into perspective, Hershey owns more than 80 brands including Reese’s, Jolly Rancher, Kit Kat and Twizzlers.

6. Viacom (Market cap $16.73B)


Image (1) viacom.jpg for post 360037


On its first day as a public company, Snap was more valuable than a media conglomerate that split from CBS in 2005.  Viacom is one of the worlds largest broadcasting and cable companies, with brands including MTV, BET and Paramount Pictures.

7. Hilton (Market cap $19.18B)


Snap is more valuable than Hilton Worldwide, the hospitality company. Hilton owns a network of over 4,000 hotels, resorts and timeshare properties.

8. United Continental (Market cap $23.06B)


Snapchat is more valuable than the combination of two major airlines, United and Continental, which merged in 2010.

9. American Airlines (Market cap $23.05B)

Boeing American Airlines

American Airlines is a popular airline brand, but it struggled financially in recent years, even at one point filing for bankruptcy. The company has been able to turn things around and has improved its position on the stock market.

WhatsApp Now Has 200 Million Monthly Active Users in India

Mobile messaging service WhatsApp on Friday announced that it has 200 million monthly active users in India.

WhatsApp Now Has 200 Million Monthly Active Users in India

In a post on Twitter, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum announced the statistic, while reiterating that the company now has 1.2 billion monthly active users – a figure revealed to Gadgets 360 last week by WhatsApp Product Manager Randall Sarafa. India has been the biggest market for the instant messaging app since November last year, when it announced it had over 160 million users in India.

Separately, Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp, along with Neeraj Arora, Head of Business, WhatsApp, on Friday visited Indian Institute of Technology – Delhi to interact with the students.

The discussion focused on the ways WhatsApp can contribute to India as it is invested in building a service with high utility for millions of Indians, the company said in a statement.

WhatsApp has been rolling out updates and features to make the app more secure for its users.

The new ‘Status’ feature lets users share photos, GIFs or videos overlaid with drawings, emojis and a caption that will be visible to selected friends for 24 hours, before disappearing.

Users can also see who has viewed their Status update by tapping the eye icon at the bottom of any Status update.

The new feature is now available to all users across the globe on Android, iPhone, and Windows devices.

Smartron Said to Launch Sachin Tendulkar-Branded Smartphone Soon

Homegrown technology and IoT company Smartron is rumoured to launch an exclusive Sachin Tendulkar-branded mobile phone in April which will be the first-ever signature series of the master blaster for a mobile phone brand.

Smartron Said to Launch Sachin Tendulkar-Branded Smartphone Soon

Industry sources told IANS that Tendulkar was recently spotted shooting at a studio in Mumbai for Smartron that is working on their next device under the project name “Rimo SRT”.

This will be their third device in less than a year, earlier ones being the and

The device, that was seen being used during the shoot, appeared to have back fingerprint sensor and cricketing legend’s signature, the sources told IANS.

The company, however, declined to comment on it stating that “we will in due course of time announce a range of devices in mobile, laptop, wearable segment”.

Priced at Rs. 24,999, the company last year launched which sports a dual-tone colour scheme and comes in classic grey, metallic pink, steel blue and sunrise orange.

The 64GB device has a 5.5-inch, full-HD Super AMOLED display with 401ppi and is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor.

The company has not customised the user interface and, running on Marshmallow, the delivers stock Android experience.