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Category Archives: Mobile

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Fabric’s new app helps parents with the hard stuff, including wills, life insurance & shared finances

Category : Mobile

A new app called Fabric aims to make it simpler for parents to plan for their family’s long-term financial well-being. The goal is to offer parents a one-stop-shop that includes the ability to ability for term life insurance from their phone, create a free will in about five minutes, and collaborate with a spouse or partner to organize key financial accounts or other important documents. In addition, parents are able to coordinate with beneficiaries, children’s guardians, attorneys, financial advisors, and others right from the app.

Fabric was originally founded in 2015 by Adam Erlebacher, previously the COO at online bank Simple, and Steven Surgnier, previously the Director of Data at Simple. The company last year raised a $10 million Series A led by Bessemer Venture Partners, after having sold life insurance coverage to thousands of families.

Since launch, Fabric has expanded beyond life insurance to offer other services, like easy will creation and the addition of tools that help families organize their financial and legal information in one place. The idea, the company explained at the time, was to offer today’s busy parents a better alternative to meetings with agents to discuss complicated life insurance products. Instead, the company offers a simple, 10-minute life insurance application and the option to connect with a licensed team if they need additional help, as well as a similarly simplified will creation workflow.

As with the founders’ earlier company, Simple, which offered a better front-end to banking while actual bank accounts were held elsewhere, Fabric’s life insurance policies are issued by “A” rated insurer, Vantis Life, not Fabric itself.

However, until now, Fabric’s suite of services were only available on the web. They’re now offered in an app for added convenience. The app is initially available on iOS with an Android version in the works.

“Money can be especially stressful when you’re trying to build a family and a career,” said Fabric co-founder and CEO Adam Erlebacher. “In one survey by Everyday Health, 52% of respondents said financial issues regularly stress them out, and people between the ages of 38 to 53 were the most stressed out financially. Parents want to have more control over their families’ long-term financial well-being and today’s dusty old products and tools are failing them,” he added.

Using the Fabric app, parents can take advantage of any of its offerings, including the option to apply for life insurance from the phone and get immediate approval. The app also makes it possible to share the policy information with beneficiaries, so it doesn’t get lost.

Another feature lets you create your will for free, and share that information with key people as well, including the witnesses you need to coordinate with in order to finalize the will, for example. And a spouse can choose to mirror your will, which speeds up the process of creating a second one with the same set of choices.

Fabric also helps to address an issue that often only comes up after it’s too late or in other emergency situations — organizing both parents’ finances in a single place. Many working adults today have not just a bank account, but also have investment accounts, 401Ks, IRAs, and credit cards, or a combination of those. But their partner may not know where to find this information or where the accounts are held.

The app, which we put through its paces (but didn’t purchase life insurance through), is very easy to use. It starts off with a short quiz to get a handle on your financial picture. It then delivers you to a personalized homescreen with a checklist of suggestions of what to do next. Naturally, this includes the life insurance application, as this is where Fabric’s revenue lies. And if you’re lacking a will and have other fiances to organize, these are featured, too.

The online forms are easy to fill out, despite the smartphone’s reduced screen space compared with a web browser, and Fabric has taken the time to get the small touches right — like when you enter a phone number, the numeric keypad appears, for example, or the integration of address lookup so you can just tap on the match and have the rest autofill. It also saves your work in progress, so you can finish later in case you get interrupted — as parents often do. And it explains terms, like “executor,” so you know what sort of rights you’re assigning.

Given its focus, Fabric protects user information with bank-grade security, including 256-bit encryption, two-factor authentication, automatic lockouts, biometrics, and other adaptive security features.

Fabric isn’t alone in helping parents and others financially plan wills and more from their iPhone. Other apps exist in this space, including will planning apps from Tomorrow, LegalZoom, Qwill, and others. Plus many insurers offer a mobile experience. Fabric is unique because it puts wills, insurance, and other tools into a single destination, without complicating the user interface.

Fabric’s app is a free download on the App Store.

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Android’s Ambient Mode will soon come to ‘select devices’

Category : Mobile

You’ve probably heard murmurs about Google’s forthcoming Ambient Mode for Android . The company first announced this feature, which essentially turns an Android device into a smart display while it’s charging, in September. Now, in a Twitter post, Google confirmed that it will launch soon, starting with a number of select devices that run Android 8.0 or later.

At the time, Google said Ambient Mode was coming to the Lenovo Smart Tab M8 HD and Smart Tab tablets, as well as the Nokia 7.2 and 6.2 phones. According to the Verge, it’ll also come to Sony, Nokia, Transsion and Xiaomi phones, though Google’s own Pixels aren’t on the company’s list yet.

While your 🔋 charges, Ambient Mode comes to life. Hear how it delivers a proactive Google Assistant experience to your #Android phone. pic.twitter.com/67rrgTTxqO

— Android (@Android) November 25, 2019

“The ultimate goal for proactive Assistant is to help you get things done faster, anticipate your needs and accomplish your tasks as quickly and as easily as possible,” said Google Assistant product manager Arvind Chandrababu in the announcement. “It’s fundamentally about moving from an app-based way of doing things to an intent-based way of doing things. Right now, users can do most things with their smartphones, but it requires quite a bit of mental bandwidth to figure out, hey, I need to accomplish this task, so let me backtrack and figure out all the steps that I need to do in order to get there.”

Those are pretty lofty goals. In practice, what this means, for now, is that you will be able to set an alarm with just a few taps from the ambient screen, see your upcoming appointments, turn off your connected lights and see a slideshow of your images in the background. I don’t think that any of those tasks really consumed a lot of mental bandwidth in the first place, but Google says it has more proactive experiences planned for the future.


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Instagram founders join $30M raise for Loom work video messenger

Category : Mobile

Why are we all trapped in enterprise chat apps if we talk 6X faster than we type, and our brain processes visual info 60,000X faster than text? Thanks to Instagram, we’re not as camera-shy anymore. And everyone’s trying to remain in flow instead of being distracted by multi-tasking.

That’s why now is the time for Loom. It’s an enterprise collaboration video messaging service that lets you send quick clips of yourself so you can get your point across and get back to work. Talk through a problem, explain your solution, or narrate a screenshare. Some engineering hocus pocus sees videos start uploading before you finish recording so you can share instantly viewable links as soon as you’re done.

Loom video messaging on mobile

“What we felt was that more visual communication could be translated into the workplace and deliver disproportionate value” co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas tells me. He actually conducted our whole interview over Loom, responding to emailed questions with video clips.

Launched in 2016, Loom is finally hitting its growth spurt. It’s up from 1.1 million users and 18,000 companies in February to 1.8 million people at 50,000 businesses sharing 15 million minutes of Loom videos per month. Remote workers are especially keen on Loom since it gives them face-to-face time with colleagues without the annoyance of scheduling synchronous video calls. “80% of our professional power users had primarily said that they were communicating with people that they didn’t share office space with” Thomas notes.

A smart product, swift traction, and a shot at riding the consumerization of enterprise trend has secured Loom a $30 million Series B. The round that’s being announced later today was led by prestigious SAAS investor Sequoia and joined by Kleiner Perkins, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Front CEO Mathilde Collin, and Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

“At Instagram, one of the biggest things we did was focus on extreme performance and extreme ease of use and that meant optimizing every screen, doing really creative things about when we started uploading, optimizing everything from video codec to networking” Krieger says. “Since then I feel like some products have managed to try to capture some of that but few as much as Loom did. When I first used Loom I turned to Kevin who was my Instagram co-founder and said, ‘oh my god, how did they do that? This feels impossibly fast.’”

Systrom concurs about the similarities, saying “I’m most excited because I see how they’re tackling the problem of visual communication in the same way that we tried to tackle that at Instagram.” Loom is looking to double-down there, potentially adding the ability to Like and follow videos from your favorite productivity gurus or sharpest co-workers.

Loom is also prepping some of its most requested features. The startup is launching an iOS app next month with Android coming the first half of 2020, improving its video editor with blurring for hiding your bad hair day and stitching to connect multiple takes. New branding options will help external sales pitches and presentations look right. What I’m most excited for is transcription, which is also slated for the first half of next year through a partnership with another provider, so you can skim or search a Loom. Sometimes even watching at 2X speed is too slow.

But the point of raising a massive $30 million Series B just a year after Loom’s $11 million Kleiner-led Series A is to nail the enterprise product and sales process. To date, Loom has focused on a bottom-up distribution strategy similar to Dropbox. It tries to get so many individual employees to use Loom that it becomes a team’s default collaboration software. Now it needs to grow up so it can offer the security and permissions features IT managers demand. Loom for teams is rolling out in beta access this year before officially launching in early 2020.

Loom’s bid to become essential to the enterprise, though, is its team video library. This will let employees organize their Looms into folders of a knowledge base so they can explain something once on camera, and everyone else can watch whenever they need to learn that skill. No more redundant one-off messages begging for a team’s best employees to stop and re-teach something. The Loom dashboard offers analytics on who’s actually watching your videos. And integration directly into popular enterprise software suites will let recipients watch without stopping what they’re doing.

To build out these features Loom has already grown to a headcount of 45, though co-founder Shahed Khan is stepping back from company. For new leadership, it’s hired away former head of web growth at Dropbox Nicole Obst, head of design for Slack Joshua Goldenberg, and VP of commercial product strategy for Intercom Matt Hodges.

Still, the elephants in the room remain Slack and Microsoft Teams. Right now, they’re mainly focused on text messaging with some additional screensharing and video chat integrations. They’re not building Loom-style asynchronous video messaging…yet. “We want to be clear about the fact that we don’t think we’re in competition with Slack or Microsoft Teams at all.We are a complementary tool to chat” Thomas insists. But given the similar productivity and communication ethos, those incumbents could certainly opt to compete. Slack already has 12 million daily users it could provide with video tools.

Loom co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas

Hodges, Loom’s head of marketing, tells me “I agree Slack and Microsoft could choose to get into this territory, but what’s the opportunity cost for them in doing so? It’s the classic build vs. buy vs. integrate argument.” Slack bought screensharing tool Screenhero, but partners with Zoom and Google for video chat. Loom will focus on being easily integratable so it can plug into would-be competitors. And Hodges notes that “Delivering asynchronous video recording and sharing at scale is non-trivial. Loom holds a patent on its streaming, transcoding, and storage technology, which has proven to provide a competitive advantage to this day.”

The tea leaves point to video invading more and more of our communication, so I expect rival startups and features to Loom will crop up. Vidyard and Wistia’s Soapbox are already pushing into the space. As long as it has the head start, Loom needs to move as fast as it can. “It’s really hard to maintain focus to deliver on the core product experience that we set out to deliver versus spreading ourselves too thin. And this is absolutely critical” Thomas tells me.

One thing that could set Loom apart? A commitment to financial fundamentals. “When you grow really fast, you can sometimes lose sight of what is the core reason for a business entity to exist, which is to become profitable. . . Even in a really bold market where cash can be cheap, we’re trying to keep profitability at the top of our minds.”


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New smartphone figures highlight continued struggles to grow market

Category : Mobile

In some corners, the smartphone market is showing its first signs of life in some time.

Recent figures from Canalys indicate a small but notable uptick in the European market as shipments grew 3%, year-over-year in Q3.

The analyst firm put global growth at 1% globally in another recent report. Generally, such numbers wouldn’t warrant much celebration, but the way the market has been going, most manufacturers will take what they can get.

New numbers out this morning from Gartner paint a less rosy picture, with sales numbers declining 0.4%. It’s not a huge discrepancy between shipping and sales figures, but it’s the difference between being in the red and being in the black for the quarter.


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Omni storage & rentals fails, shutters, sells engineers to Coinbase

Category : Mobile

$35 million-funded Omni is packing up and shutting down after struggling to make the economics of equipment rentals and physical on-demand storage work out. It’s another victim of a venture capital-subsidized business offering a convenient service at an unsustainable price.

The startup fought for a second wind after selling off its physical storage operations to competitor Clutter in May. Then sources tell me it tried to build a whitelabel software platform for letting brick-and-mortar merchants rent stuff like drills or tents as well as sell them so Omni could get out of hands-on logistics. But now the whole company is folding, with Coinbase hiring roughly 10 of Omni’s engineers.

“They realized that the core business was just challenging as architected” a source close to Omni tells TechCrunch. “The service was really great for the consumer but when they looked at what it would take to scale, that would be difficult and expensive.” Another source says Omni’s peak headcount was around 70.

The news follows TechCrunch’s report in October that Omni had laid off operations teams members and was in talks to sell its engineering team to Coinbase. Omni had internally discussed informing its retail rental partners ahead of time that it would be shutting down. Meanwhile, it frantically worked to stop team members from contacting the press about the startup’s internal troubles.

We’ll be winding down operations at Omni and closing the platform by the end of this year. We are proud of what we built and incredibl y thankful for everyone who supported our vision over the past five and a half years” an Omni spokesperson says. Omni CEO Tom McLeod did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Oddly, Omni was still allowing renters to pay for items as of this morning, though it’s already shut down its blog and hasn’t made a public announcement about its shut down.

Coinbase has reached an agreement with Omni to hire members of its engineering team. We’re always looking for top-tier engineering talent and look forward to welcoming these new team members to Coinbase” a Coinbase spokesperson tells us. The team was looking for more highly skilled engineers they could efficiently hire as a group, though it’s too early to say what they’ll be working on.

Omni originaly launched in 2015, offering to send a van to your house to pick up and index any of your possession, drive them to a nearby warehouse, store them, and bring them back to you whenever you needed for just a few dollars per month. It seemed too good to be true and ended up being just that.

Eventually Omni pivoted towards letting you rent out what you were storing so you and it could earn some extra cash in 2017. Sensing a better business model there, it sold its storage business to Softbank-funded Clutter and moved to helping retail stores run rental programs. But that simply required too big of a shift in behavior for merchants and users, while also relying on slim margins.

Omni Rentals

One major question is whether investors will get any cash back. Omni raised $25 million from cryptocurrency company Ripple in early 2018. Major investors include Flybridge, Highland, Allen & Company, and Founders Fund, plus a slew of angels.

The implosion of Omni comes as investors are re-examining business fundamentals of startups in the wake of Uber’s valuation getting cut in half in the public markets and the chaos at WeWork ahead of its planned IPO. VCs and their LPs want growth, but not at the cost of burning endless sums of money to subsidize prices just to lure customers to a platform.

It’s one thing if the value of the service is so high that people will stick with a startup as prices rise to sustainable levels, as many have with ride hailing. But for Omni, ballooning storage prices pissed off users as on-demand became less afforable than a traditional storage unit. Rentals were a hassle, especially considering users had to pick-up and return items themselves when they could just buy the items and get instant delivery from Amazon.

Startups that need a ton of cash for operations and marketing but don’t have a clear path to ultra-high lifetime value they can earn from customers may find their streams of capital running dry.


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European smartphone shipments grew in Q3, driven by Samsung

Category : Mobile

Europe bucked global smartphone stagnation in the third quarter, marking an 8% year over year growth in device shipments. That number, provided by Canalys, puts the region at the top of smartphone growth figures, beating out Asia/Pacific’s six percent.

Once again, Samsung was the biggest winner here. The Korean manufacturer saw a healthy 26%, year over year growth. As noted back in Q2, Samsung’s growth comes as the company floods the market with a variety of different devices. Its mid-tier A Series accounted for all four of its top spots during that time period.

Huawei held steady in second place, as the company refocuses on Europe amid US/China trade tensions. Huawei accounted for 22.2 % of units shipped, versus Samsung’s 35.7%. Fellow Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi saw an extremely healthy boost for the quarter, jumping 73 percent for the year, to nab fourth place behind Apple.

While the numbers are positive in the face of larger negative trends, politics are still having a marked impact on figures.

“On the negative side, Brexit has already had an impact,” analyst Ben Stanton said in a release. “In the UK, shipments of premium devices from Samsung and Apple accelerated before each Brexit deadline this year, in March and recently October, followed by a large dip, as distributors were forced to stockpile product and hedge against impending tariff risk. This shot-term artificial boost distorts the market and the accompanying risk, costs and uncertainty, is a drain on the industry.”

Like much of the rest of the world, the European market is looking forward to a 5G rollout to help further juice shipments moving forward.


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This Week in Apps: Honey’s $4B exit, a new plan for iOS 14, Apple’s new developer resource

Category : Mobile

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support, and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week, we’re looking at several major stories, including the whopping $4 billion PayPal just spent on browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey, as well as the release of the Apple Developer app, a new plan for iOS 14, Google Stadia’s launch, AR gaming’s next big hit (or flop?), e-commerce app trends, Microsoft’s exit from voice assistant mobile apps, and so much more.

Plus, did you hear the one about the developer who got kicked out from his developer account by Apple, leaving his apps abandoned?

Headlines

Apple to overhaul iOS development strategy after buggy iOS 13 launch

apple ios 13Apple’s iOS 13 release was one of its worst, in terms of bugs and glitches. Now Apple is making an internal change to how it approaches software development in an effort to address the problem. According to Bloomberg, Apple’s Software chief Craig Federighi and other execs announced its plans at an internal meeting. The new process will involve having unfinished and buggy features disabled by default in daily builds. Testers will then have to optionally enable the features in order to try them. While this change focuses on making internal builds of the OS more usable (or “livable”), Apple hopes that over time it will improve the overall quality of its software as it will give testers the ability to really understand what’s supposed to now be working, but isn’t. The testing changes will also apply to iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS, the report said.

Apple launches the Apple Developer App

Apple rebranded and expanded its existing WWDC app to become a new Apple Developer app that can stay with its 23 million registered developers year-round. Instead of only including information about the developer event itself, the app will expand to include other relevant resources — like technical and design articles, developer news and updates, videos and more. It also will offer a way for developers to enroll in the Apple Developer program and maintain their membership. Apple says it found many developers were more inclined to open an app than an email, and by centralizing this information in one place, it could more efficiently and seamlessly deliver new information and other resources to its community.

PayPal buys Honey for $4 billion

PayPal has made its biggest-ever acquisition for browser extension and mobile app maker, Honey. TechCrunch exclusively broke the news of the nearly all-cash deal, noting that Honey currently has 17 million monthly actives. But PayPal was interested in more than the user base — it wanted the tech. The company plans to insert itself ahead of the checkout screen by getting involved with the online shopping and research process, where customers visit sites and look for deals. Honey’s offer-finding features from its mobile app will also become part of PayPal and Venmo’s apps in the future.

Cloud gaming expands with Google Stadia launch

Cloud-based gaming could benefit from the growing investment in 5G. Google Stadia, which launched this week, is a big bet on 5G in that regard. Though the early reviews were middling, Google believes the next generation of gaming will involve continuous, cross-device play, including on mobile devices. This trend was already apparent with the successes of cross-platform games like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, and PUBG, for example. Meanwhile, console makers like Microsoft are working to build out their own cloud infrastructure to compete. (Microsoft’s xCloud launches in May 2020.) Google could have a head start, even if Stadia today feels more like a beta than a finished product. But one question that still arises is whether Google is serious about gaming, or only sees Stadia as a content engine for YouTube?

Microsoft kills Cortana mobile apps

Microsoft this week belatedly realized it can’t compete with the built-in advantages that Siri and Google Assistant offer users, like dedicated buttons, hands-free voice commands, workflow building and more. The company decided to shut down its Cortana mobile applications on iOS and Android in a number of markets, including Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India. Any bets on when the U.S. makes that list?

SF Symbols expands


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More than 1 million T-Mobile customers exposed by breach

Category : Mobile

T-Mobile has confirmed a data breach affecting more than a million of its customers, whose personal data (but no financial or password data) was exposed to a malicious actor. The company alerted the affected customers but did not provide many details in its official account of the hack.

The company said in its disclosure to affected users that its security team had shut down “malicious, unauthorized access” to prepaid data customers. The data exposed appears to have been:

  • Name
  • Billing address
  • Phone number
  • Account number
  • Rate, plan and calling features (such as paying for international calls)

The latter data is considered “customer proprietary network information” and under telecoms regulations they are required to notify customers if it is leaked. The implication seems to be that they might not have done so otherwise. Of course some hacks, even hacks of historic magnitude, go undisclosed sometimes for years.

In this case, however, it seems that T-Mobile has disclosed the hack in a fairly prompt manner, though it provided very few details. When I asked, a T-Mobile representative indicated that “less than 1.5 percent” of customers were affected, which of the company’s approximately 75 million users adds up to somewhat over a million.

The company reports that “we take the security of your information very seriously,” a canard we’ve asked companies to stop saying in these situations.

The T-Mobile representative stated that the attack was discovered in early November and shut down “immediately.” They did not answer other questions I asked, such as whether it was on a public-facing or internal website or database, how long the data was exposed and what specifically the company had done to rectify the problem.

The data listed above is not necessarily highly damaging on its own, but it’s the kind of data with which someone might attempt to steal your identity or take over your account. Account hijacking is a fairly common tactic among cyber-ne’er-do-wells these days and it helps to have details like the target’s plan, home address and so on at one’s fingertips.

If you’re a T-Mobile customer, it may be a good idea to change your password there and check up on your account details.


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Facebook prototypes Favorites for close friends microsharing

Category : Mobile

Facebook is building its own version of Instagram Close Friends, the company confirms to TechCrunch. There are a lot people that don’t share on Facebook because it can feel risky or awkward as its definition of “friends” has swelled to include family, work colleagues and distant acquaintances. No one wants their boss or grandma seeing their weekend partying or edgy memes. There are whole types of sharing, like Snapchat’s Snap Map-style live location tracking, that feel creepy to expose to such a wide audience.

The social network needs to get a handle on microsharing. Yet Facebook has tried and failed over the years to get people to build Friend Lists for posting to different subsets of their network.

Back in 2011, Facebook said that 95% of users hadn’t made a single list. So it tried auto-grouping people into Smart Lists like High School Friends and Co-Workers, and offered manual always-see-in-feed Close Friends and only-see-important-updates Acquaintances lists. But they too saw little traction and few product updates in the past eight years. Facebook ended up shutting down Friend Lists Feeds last year for viewing what certain sets of friends shared.

Then a year ago, Instagram made a breakthrough. Instead of making a complicated array of Friend Lists you could never remember who was on, it made a single Close Friends list with a dedicated button for sharing to them from Stories. Instagram’s research found 85% of a user’s Direct messages go to the same three people, so why not make that easier for Stories without pulling everyone into a group thread? Last month I wrote that “I’m surprised Facebook doesn’t already have its own Close Friends feature, and it’d be smart to build one.”

How Facebook Favorites works

Now Facebook is in fact prototyping its a feature similar to Instagram Close Friends called Favorites. It lets users designate certain friends as Favorites, and then instantly send them their Facebook Story or a camera-based post from Messenger to just those people, each in their own message thread.

The feature was first spotted inside Messenger by reverse engineering master and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Buried in the Android app is the code that let Wong generate the screenshots (above) of this unreleased feature. They show how when users go to share a Story or camera post from Messenger, they can instantly send it over chat to everyone on in their Favorites, and edit who’s on that list by adding up to 10 people manually or from algorithmic suggestions. For now Favorites isn’t an audience for sharing Stories like Instagram Close Friends is, but you could imagine Facebook expanding Favorites to have that functionality down the line.

[Update: Facebook had originally confirmed Favorites was for sharing via Stories, but later corrected itself saying posts are sent to Favorites via Messenger.]

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to me that this feature is a prototype that the Messenger team created. It’s an early exploration of the microsharing opportunity, and the feature isn’t officially testing internally with employees or publicly in the wild. The spokesperson describes the Favorites feature as a type of shortcut for sharing to a specific set of people. They tell me that Facebook is always exploring new ways to share, and as discussed at its F8 conference this year, Facebook is focused on improving the experience of sharing with and staying more connected to your closest friends.

Unlocking creepier sharing

There are a ton of benefits Facebook could get from a Favorites feature if it ever launches. First, users might share more often if they can make content visible to just their best pals, as those people wouldn’t get annoyed by over-posting. Second, Facebook could get new, more intimate types of content shared, from the heartfelt and vulnerable to the silly and spontaneous to the racy and shocking — stuff people don’t want every single person they’ve ever accepted a friend request from to see. Favorites could reduce self-censorship.

“No one has ever mastered a close friends graph and made it easy for people to understand . . . People get friend requests and they feel pressure to accept,” Instagram director of product Robby Stein told me when it launched Close Friends last year. “The curve is actually that your sharing goes up and as you add more people initially, as more people can respond to you. But then there’s a point where it reduces sharing over time.” Google+, Path and other apps have died chasing this purposefully selective microsharing behavior.

Facebook Favorites could stimulate lots of sharing of content unique to its network, thereby driving usage. After all, Facebook said in April that it had 500 million daily Stories users across Facebook and Messenger posting from the camera, and the same number as Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status.

Before Instagram launched Close Friends, it actually tested the feature under the name Favorites and allowed you to share feed posts as well as Stories to just that subset of people. And last month Instagram launched the Close Friends-only messaging app Threads that lets you share your Auto-Status about where or what you’re up to.

Facebook Favorites could similarly unlock whole new ways to connect. Facebook can’t follow some apps like Snapchat down more privacy-centric product paths because it knows users are already uneasy about it after 15 years of privacy scandals. Apps built for sharing to different graphs than Facebook have been some of the few social products that have succeeded outside its empire, from Twitter’s interest graph, to TikTok’s fandoms of public entertainment, to Snapchat’s messaging threads with besties.

Instagram Threads

A competent and popular Facebook Favorites could let it try products in location, memes, performances, Q&A, messaging, live streaming and more. It could build its own take on Instagram Threads, let people share exact location just with Favorites instead of just what neighborhood they’re in with Nearby Friends or create a dedicated meme resharing hub like the LOL experiment for teens it shut down. At the very least, it could integrate with Instagram Close Friends so you could syndicate posts from Instagram to your Facebook Favorites.

The whole concept of Favorites aligns with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s privacy-focused vision for social networking. “Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends,” he writes. Facebook can’t just be the general purpose catch-all social network we occasionally check for acquaintances’ broadcasted life updates. To survive another 15 years, it must be where people come back each day to get real with their dearest friends. Less can be more.


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FCC bans spending on Huawei, ZTE and other ‘national security threats’

Category : Mobile

The FCC has finally put the seal of approval on its plan to cut funding going to equipment from companies it deems a “national security threat,” currently an exclusive club of two: Huawei and ZTE.

No money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund, used to subsidize purchases to support the rollout of communications infrastructure, will be spent on equipment from these companies.

“We take these actions based on evidence in the record as well as longstanding concerns from the executive and legislative branches,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “Both companies have close ties to China’s Communist government and military apparatus. Both companies are subject to Chinese laws broadly obligating them to cooperate with any request from the country’s intelligence services and to keep those requests secret. Both companies have engaged in conduct like intellectual property theft, bribery, and corruption.”

The Chinese companies have faced federal scrutiny for years, and vague suspicions of selling compromised hardware that the government there could take advantage of, but it was only at the beginning of 2019 that things began to heat up with the controversial arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. The companies, it hardly needs mentioning, have vehemently denied all allegations.

Increasingly complicated relations between China and the U.S. generally compounded the difficulty of ZTE and Huawei operating in the States, as well as selling to or purchasing from American companies.

The FCC’s new rule was actually proposed well before things escalated, a fact that Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, though she supported the measure, emphasized.

“This is not hard,” she wrote in a statement accompanying the new rule. “It should not have taken us eighteen months to reach the conclusion that federal funds should not be used to purchase equipment that undermines national security.”

Working out the details may have been difficult, however, given the generally chaotic state of the federal government right now. For instance, one month this summer it was going to be illegal for U.S. firms to sell their products to Huawei — and then it wasn’t. Just yesterday several senators wrote to protest the Department of Commerce issuing licenses to firms doing business with Huawei.

Another proposal discussed today but not yet adopted would require companies that receive USF funds to remove equipment from those companies that they may have already installed.

Admittedly it may be a financial burden for smaller carriers to comply with these rules. There’s a plan for that, though, as Chairman Pai explained: “To mitigate the financial impact of this requirement, particularly on small, rural carriers, we propose to establish a reimbursement program to help offset the cost of transitioning to more trusted vendors.”