Hired raises $30M to build an easy subscription pipeline for company hiring

Recruiting is one of the latest industries to get a data science makeover through companies like Hired and Triplebyte, but the former hopes to turn it into a subscription business just like other enterprise software companies — and has raised a new pile of funding to do that.

Hired looks to serve as a one-stop recruiting point for both companies and potential candidates. The startup collects information like a basic profile, some thoughts on what those candidates are looking for, and your resume information, and then crunches that through a series of back-end algorithms and processes in order to figure out the best match for that candidate. It then points those candidates to hiring managers at companies that are looking for a strong pipeline of candidates, though the company now hopes that they will be able to build a kind of recurring revenue model for those companies with its subscription business. Hired today also said it has raised $30 million in new financing led by the Investment Management Corporation of Ontario.

“Outside of your choice of life partner your choice of where to work is the second most important decision to make,” CEO Mehul Patel said. “You spend most of your time at work, and any misery or joy you take back to your life partner. When you look at recruiting, it’s a massive industry, and to companies it’s existential to find great talent — but it’s massively broken. Ask anyone who searches for a job whether it works great, and you are going to get a unanimous answer that it doesn’t.”

Chances are you’ve gotten a few pitches on LinkedIn to go throw your information on Hired, but that’s all part of the performance marketing that the company hopes to use to get a robust set of candidates onto the platform. By doing that, it can continue to not only have a steady stream of candidates, but also collect more and more information on what candidates might be the best fit. For example, a school might not be the best indicator of future success, while the number of followers on a Github account could be a better barometer for the performance of the candidate. It’s a pretty intuitive result, but not one that hiring managers are likely actively tracking unless they already know that’s the best protocol.

Through that, Hired tries to compress the amount of time it takes for a company to say it needs a candidate and then that candidate actually getting hired. The subscription idea is that hiring managers will be able to just post a position — whether it’s new or back-filling an existing role — and keep that steady stream of candidates coming. Patel said the company has been able to squish that threshold down to around 25 days, which was one data point they could flag investors on in order to convince them that the model was working. (The company, which did not disclose its bookings, also said its bookings grew 300% year-over-year, which is a big number but without a point of reference isn’t so useful.)

“We’re seeing the importance of data not just to drive the outcomes — that data lets you compare against other companies and makes sure you’re better hiring for any company,” Patel said. “We have data about which companies are successful, or why aren’t they successful, and we can share that and help companies figure out their best practices. That combination of helping companies hire predictably, or using high quality talent and doing that with great insight, is [where we think we’ll succeed].”

That subscription model is also going to be an important one as a hedge against a potential downturn, where hiring might slow. If the startup is able to convince companies that it is a viable pipeline that they should be paying a recurring fee, it might be able to absorb the shock of a recession and a slowdown in hiring and prove useful in cases like incremental hiring and back-filling old roles. The company also said that it has hired John Kelly to be its vice president of revenue, who previously worked at companies like SAP, Oracle, and FindView.

There’s going to be plenty of competition, especially as these companies are able to collect more and more data. There’s Recruit Holdings, the mega-Frankenstein of companies that include Indeed and GlassDoor (which the company acquired for $1.2 billion), that would likely provide the largest hurdle to cover. Patel said Hired should be able to close the time gap between finding the candidate and the hiring process, which would be the primary metric of success for the company, faster than other companies.

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Meditation app Calm hits a $250M valuation amid an explosion of interest in mindfulness apps

Just a few years ago, it might have been a bit of a challenge to convince investors that a mindfulness app would end up being a big business — but thanks to an increasing focus on mental health from both startups and larger companies, companies like Calm are now capturing the excitement of investors.

From meditation sessions like you might find on other apps to tracks called “sleep stories” designed to help people get control of their sleep, Calm serves as a suite of content for users focusing on mental wellness. It’s one of an increasingly hot space centered around mental wellness and maintaining a sort of mindfulness in the hope that it’ll convert into a daily habit and help people just generally feel, well, more calm. The company says it has raised $27 million in a new financing round that values it at a $250 million pre-money led by Insight Venture Partners with Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures also participating. Before this, Calm raised around $1.5 million in seed funding.

“There’s definitely a bias toward the physical body in fitness,” co-founder Michael Acton Smith said. “For a long time there’s been a certain amount of embarrassment and shame talking about our own feelings. A lot of people are realizing that we’re all, at different times, going through tough times. I think that’s part of the culture we’ve grown up in. Everything’s been about improving the efficiency and improving the effectiveness and the external circumstances. We haven’t considered the internal circumstances the same way. The same thing isn’t true of eastern philosophies. This crossover is just beginning to happen in a big way.”

Calm, at its core, is a hub of content centered around mindfulness ranging from in-the-moment sessions to tracks that are designed to soothing enough to help people get ready to go to sleep. Everything boils down to trying to help teach users mindfulness, which is in of itself a skill that requires training, co-founder Alex Tew said. This itself has morphed into a business in of itself, with the company generating $22 million in revenue in 2017 and reaching an annual revenue run rate of $75 million.

And the more content the company creates, and the more people come back, the more data it acquires on what’s working and what isn’t. Like any other tech tool or service, some of the content resonates with users and some doesn’t, and the startup looks to employ the same rigor that many other companies with a heavy testing culture to ensure that the experience is simple for users that will jump in and jump out. For example, it turns out a voice named Eric reading stories about being on a train struck a chord with users — so the company invested more in Eric.

“It’s a tricky balance,” Tew said. “Sometimes we’ll launch things that we think are popular but don’t end up being popular, but there’s never been any kind of dramatic errors. We try to create content that will appeal to the biggest range of users. We speak to our customers and find out what they would like.”

Calm’s focus is built off of an increasingly important topic the technology industry is grappling with — mental health. As more and more users pick up Calm and start listening to the tracks, the company can start to figure out what kinds of sessions or tools are helping people want to come back more often and, in theory, start feeling better with those kinds of practices. If you talk to investors in the valley, helping founders manage the highs and lows of starting a company is increasingly part of the discussion, with the refrain that ‘people are at least talking about it now’ showing up more and more often. That’s also helping companies like Calm and Headspace attract funding from the venture community.

“It does feel like a major societal shift,” Acton Smith said. “Just a few years ago no one talked about mental health, it was very much in the shadows. As more politicians talk about it, as the media treat it as something normal and healthy to do, more and more people step out of the shadows and into the light. We realize the brain is pretty much the most complex thing in the known universe, it’s not surprising it goes wrong every now and then. To be able to talk about that and understand it is a very healthy and positive thing. It just feels like we’re at the start, 50 years ago the wave began around physical fitness, jogging, aerobics, and now we’re at the start of this new wave.

Calm and other mindfulness apps are not the only companies at play here. Indeed, the two largest direct owners of smartphone platforms — Apple and Google — this year announced a suite of tools geared toward trying to manage the amount of time users end up glued to their screens. While those are centered around helping users manage their time on their phones, it does show that even the largest companies in the world are increasingly aware of the potential negative effects their devices may have spawned from people spending all their time on their phones.

But by extension, Calm is not the only app where people can throw on some headphones and listen to a soothing voice with a British accent. Headspace is another obvious player in the space, having also raised a substantial amount of funding. Tew said the goal is to remain focused on simplicity, which in the end will keep people coming back over and over — and then end up continuing to drive that business.

“There was a lot of skepticism around Calm and this category as recently as a year ago,” Acton Smith said.” People were concerned that there was a lot of competition, and wondered whether people would really pay for this. We’ve quite convincingly shown we’ve answered all those questions with the growth we’ve had in our user numbers and our revenue. This is a successful business with very high margins and a huge addressable market. If you think about Nike, and the physical exercise boom being worth tens of billions, there’s no reason why mental wellness won’t be.”

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Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

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Keepsafe launches a privacy-focused mobile browser

Keepsafe, the company behind the private photo app of the same name, is expanding its product lineup today with the release of a mobile web browser.

Co-founder and CEO Zouhair Belkoura argued that all of Keepsafe’s products (which also include a VPN app and a private phone number generator) are united not just by a focus on privacy, but by a determination to make those features simple and easy-to-understand — in contrast to what Belkoura described as “how security is designed in techland,” with lots of jargon and complicated settings.

Plus, when it comes to your online activity, Belkoura said there are different levels of privacy. There’s the question of the government and large tech companies accessing our personal data, which he argued people care about intellectually, but “they don’t really care about it emotionally.”

Then there’s “the nosy neighbor problem,” which Belkoura suggested is something people feel more strongly about: “A billion people are using Gmail and it’s scanning all their email [for advertising], but if I were to walk up to you and say, ‘Hey, can I read your email?’ you’d be like, ‘No, that’s kind of weird, go away.’ ”

It looks like Keepsafe is trying to tackle both kinds of privacy with its browser. For one thing, you can lock the browser with a PIN (it also supports Touch ID, Face ID and Android Fingerprint).

Keepsafe browser tabs

Then once you’re actually browsing, you can either do it in normal tabs, where social, advertising and analytics trackers are blocked (you can toggle which kinds of trackers are affected), but cookies and caching are still allowed — so you stay logged in to websites, and other session data is retained. But if you want an additional layer of privacy, you can open a private tab, where everything gets forgotten as soon as you close it.

While you can get some of these protections just by turning on private/incognito mode in a regular browser, Belkoura said there’s a clarity for consumers when an app is designed specifically for privacy, and the app is part of a broader suite of privacy-focused products. In addition, he said he’s hoping to build meaningful integrations between the different Keepsafe products.

Keepsafe Browser is available for free on iOS and Android.

When asked about monetization, Belkoura said, “I don’t think that the private browser per se is a good place to directly monetize … I’m more interested in saying this is part of the Keepsafe suite and there are other parts of the Keepsafe Suite that we’ll charge you money for.”

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Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and porfolios of their past sponsored content.

Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the Top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events, or home ownership.

Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today

  • Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today. The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.

  • Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more US creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
  • Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.

  • Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
  • Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.

Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification, and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.

Why Facebook Wants Sponsored Content

Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.

But Vine proved that six-seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]

Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions, and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.

So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.

Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon, and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.

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Verizon stops selling customer location to two data brokers after one is caught leaking it

Verizon is cutting off access to its mobile customers’ real-time locations to two third-party data brokers “to prevent misuse of that information going forward.” The company announced the decision in a letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who along with others helped reveal improper usage and poor security at these location brokers. It is not, however, getting out of the location-sharing business altogether.

Verizon sold bulk access to its customers’ locations to the brokers in question, LocationSmart and Zumigo, which then turned around and resold that data to dozens of other companies. This isn’t necessarily bad — there are tons of times when location is necessary to provide a service the customer asks for, and supposedly that customer would have to okay the sharing of that data. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch. This does not affect our coverage.)

That doesn’t seem to have been the case at LocationSmart customer Securus, which was selling its data directly to law enforcement so they could find mobile customers quickly and without all that fuss about paperwork and warrants. And then it was found that LocationSmart had exposed an API that allowed anyone to request mobile locations freely and anonymously, and without collecting consent.

When these facts were revealed by security researchers and Sen. Wyden, Verizon immediately looked into it, they reported in a letter sent to the Senator.

“We conducted a comprehensive review of our location aggregator program,” wrote Verizon CTO Karen Zacharia. “As a result of this review, we are initiating a process to terminate our existing agreements for the location aggregator program.”

“We will not enter into new location aggregation arrangements unless and until we are comfortable that we can adequately protect our customers’ location data through technological advancements and/or other practices,” she wrote later in the letter. In other words, the program is on ice until it can be secured.

Although Verizon claims to have “girded” the system with “mechanisms designed to protect against misuse of our customers’ location data,” the abuses in question clearly slipped through the cracks. Perhaps most notable is the simple fact that Verizon itself does not seem to need to be informed whether a customer has consented to having their location polled. That collection is the responsibility “the aggregator or corporate customer.”

In other words, Verizon doesn’t need to ask the customer, and the company it sells the data to wholesale doesn’t need to ask the customer — the requirement devolves to the company buying access from the wholesaler. In Securus’s case, it had abstracted things one step further, allowing law enforcement full access when it said it had authority to do so, but apparently without checking, AT&T wrote in its own letter to Wyden.

And there were 75 other corporate customers. Don’t worry, someone is keeping track of them. Right?

These processes are audited, Verizon wrote, but apparently not an audit that finds things like the abuse by Securus or a poorly secured API. Perhaps how this happened is among the “number of internal questions” raised by the review.

When asked for comment, a Verizon representative offered the following statement:

When these issues were brought to our attention, we took immediate steps to stop it.  Customer privacy and security remain a top priority for our customers and our company. We stand-by that commitment to our customers.

And indeed while the program itself appears to have been run with a laxity that should be alarming to all those customers for whom Verizon claims to be so concerned, some of the company’s competitors have yet to take similar action. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint were also named by LocationSmart as partners. Their own letters to Wyden stressed that their systems were similar to the others, with similar safeguards (that were similarly eluded).

Sen. Wyden called on the others to step up in a press release announcing that his pressure on Verizon had borne fruit:

Verizon deserves credit for taking quick action to protect its customers’ privacy and security. After my investigation and follow-up reports revealed that middlemen are selling Americans’ location to the highest bidder without their consent, or making it available on insecure web portals, Verizon did the responsible thing and promptly announced it was cutting these companies off. In contrast, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint seem content to continuing to sell their customers’ private information to these shady middle men, Americans’ privacy be damned.

AT&T actually announced that it is ending its agreements as well, after Wyden’s call to action was published.

The FCC, meanwhile, has announced that it is looking into the issue — with the considerable handicap that Chairman Ajit Pai represented Securus back in 2012 when he was working as a lawyer. Wyden has called on him to recuse himself, but that has yet to happen.

I’ve asked Verizon for further clarification on its arrangements and plans, specifically whether it has any other location-sharing agreements in place with other companies. These aren’t, after all, the only players in the game.

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Facebook launches gameshows platform with interactive video

Rather than build its own HQ trivia competitor, Facebook is launching a gameshow platform. Today the company announced a new set of interactive live and on-demand video features that let creators adds quizzes, polls, challenges, and gamification so players can be eliminated from a game for a wrong answer. The features could help Facebook achieve its new mission to push healthier active video consumption rather than passive zombie watching that hurts people’s well-being. Creators and publishers who want early access can sign up here.

Gameshow launch partners include Fresno’s What’s In The Box where viewers guess what’s inside, and BuzzFeed News’ Outside Your Bubble where contestants have to guess what their opponents are thinking. Plus, Facebook is testing the ability to award prize money with (Business) INSIDER’s Confetti, where viewers answer trivia questions and can see friends’ responses, with winners splitting the cash.

“Video is evolving away from just passive consumption to more interactive two-way formats”, Simo tells TechCrunch. “We think creators will want to reward people. If this is something that works will with Insider and Confetti, we may consider rolling out payments tools.”

When asked if Facebook was inspired by HQ, Simo repeatedly dodged the question and avoiding mentioning the startup’s name, but relented in saying “I think they’re part of a much broader trend that is making content interactive. We’ve seen that across much more than one player.”

Facebook won’t be taking a share of the prize money in this test. For now, it’s also forgoing its cut of its $4.99 per month subscriptions option that lets fans pay for exclusive content, which rolls out today to more creators. Facebook also just launched its Brand Collabs Manager that we scooped in May, which helps brands browse creators by demographic and portfolio so they can set up sponsored content and product placement deals.

Initially Facebook is not taking a cut there either. For all three of these features, though, Simo says “that doesn’t mean we never will.” Creators can sign up for these monetization options here.

The new interactive video features will be available to all publishers and creators, alongside the global launch of the Android version of Facebook’s Creator app for web celebs. The tools range from offering basic in-video polls to creating a full trivia gameshow. Creators and will be able to write out their trivia questions and designate correct answers, as well as “write down the logic of the game” says Simo.

While polls will work for Live and on-demand videos, gamification that impacts the outcome of the broadcast is only for Live. Brent Rivera and That Chick Angel are two creators who will be testing the features in the coming weeks. Facebook already found that fans enjoyed polling on its Watch show Help Us Get Married, which let viewers influence the wedding planning decisions about themes and the venue.

Facebook’s last attempt at original video, its Watch hub, saw mediocre adoption as the content felt also-ran rather than something special or must-see. That’s why Facebook is expanding Watch to offer a broader range of shows for more creators, including potentially longer or non-episodic content. That includes bringing Facebook videos originally only hosted on Pages into the Watch destination.

Facebook’s family of apps will get another chance at an original video home run when Instagram launches its long-form video hub tomorrow, according to TechCrunch’s sources.

What we’re seeing here is positioning that diverges Facebook and Instagram’s video efforts. Facebook’s might be more interactive, about playing and watching with friends, and embrace more novel new formats like mobile gameshows. Instagram, with its history of polished photos, could house more traditional high-end entertainment content.

“We’re not trying to do one show or one trivia game. We’re trying to get every creator to create such gameplay. The beauty of the creators space is that they each have a unique audience” Facebook’s VP of video product Fidji Simo tells me. With 2.2 billion users, making an in-house one-size-fits-all game may have been impossible.

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Lyft’s app code reveals unlaunched bike or scooter feature

Lyft hasn’t acquired a bike-sharing startup or gotten a scooter permit yet, but it’s already preparing its app for them with a feature codenamed “last mile.” Code and screenshots dug out of Lyft’s Android app reveal a way to search a map for last-mile vehicles, and scan a QR code or enter a pin to unlock them.

These materials come to TechCrunch from Jane Manchun Wong, who’s recently established herself as a prolific app code investigator. Her work has led to TechCrunch scoops on Instagram video calling and Usage Insights, Twitter encrypted DMs and Facebook’s personalized emoji Avatars that were confirmed by the companies.

Lyft’s entrance into last-mile vehicles could win customers looking for quick, cheap and exciting transportation beyond the longer car trips it already offers. Renting scooters or bikes from the same app as its car rideshare options would allow it to compete with dedicated last-mile provides like LimeBike and Bird that don’t benefit from the customer cross-pollination. It would also help it keep up with Uber, which recently acquired electric bike-share startup JUMP.

The screenshots show a map you can browse to find nearby vehicles plus a “Scan to ride” button. That brings up a barcode scanner for unlocking the vehicle, though there’s also an option to enter four-digit pin code on your phone for unlocking. Code reveals that vehicles can have a status of “Idle, Unlocking, In Ride, Locked, or Post Ride.”

Lyft is one of a dozen companies the SF Chronicle reports have applied for five dockless scooter permits from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Regarding these new in-app materials, a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch, “As has been reported I can confirm that we’ve submitted an application to the SFMTA but we aren’t sharing any further details at this time.”

Lyft is vying for a permit alongside Uber, Spin, LimeBike, Bird, Razor, Scoot, Ofo, Skip, CycleHop, Ridecell, and USSCooter. SF recently banned scooter rentals after an unregulated invasion by several of these companies saw the vehicles strewn on sidewalks, obstructing pedestrians.

Lyft’s Android code includes new “last mile” features

Meanwhile, The Information reports that Lyft is in talks to acquire Mobike, offering $250 million or more for the startup that operates NYC’s Citi Bikes, and SF’s Ford GoBikes. But Axios reports Uber is trying to muscle in with its own bid, which could block Lyft or at least force it to pay a higher price. Lyft already offers bike rentals in Baltimore, but only through the Baltimore Bike Share app, not its own.

Some might see all this as premature, with scooter rentals existing in few cities and considerable backlash from some citizens. But given the alternatives are either slow walking, or ridesharing that can increase traffic congestion, create more carbon emissions and be quite expensive for short trips, many who give scooters a shot are finding them quite pleasant.

A driver displays Uber and Lyft ridesharing signs in his car windscreen in Santa Monica, California, U.S., May 23, 2016. About a half dozen ride-hailing firms have rushed into Texas tech hub Austin after market leaders Uber and Lyft left the city a little over a month ago in a huff over municipal requirements that they fingerprint drivers. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Files

Hopefully, cities will focus on giving permits to dockless bike and scooter companies willing to incentivize proper parking, bike lane riding and helmet usage, and that build reliable hardware that doesn’t end up broken or out of battery on the streets. Given Lyft’s more cooperative brand in comparison to Uber’s more confrontational style, it could leverage its public perception to gain access to markets with these vehicles.

If those permits or acquisitions come through, Lyft clearly wants to move fast to get last-mile transportations in customers’ hands and under their feet.

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Apple slapped with $6.6M fine in Australia over bricked devices

Apple has been fined AUS$9M (~$6.6M) by a court in Australia following a legal challenge by a consumer rights group related to the company’s response after iOS updates bricked devices that had been repaired by third parties.

The Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) invested a series of complaints relating to an error (‘error 53’) which disabled some iPhones and iPads after owners downloaded an update to Apple’s iOS operating system.

The ACCC says Apple admitted that, between February 2015 and February 2016 — via the Apple US’ website, Apple Australia’s staff in-store and customer service phone calls — it had informed at least 275 Australian customers affected by error 53 that they were no longer eligible for a remedy if their device had been repaired by a third party.

Image credit: 70023venus2009 via Flickr under license CC BY-ND 2.0

The court judged Apple’s action to have breached the Australian consumer law.

“If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund. Apple’s representations led customers to believe they’d be denied a remedy for their faulty device because they used a third party repairer,” said ACCC commissioner Sarah Court in a statement.

“The Court declared the mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply, or the consumer’s right to a remedy being extinguished.”

The ACCC notes that after it notified Apple about its investigation, the company implemented an outreach program to compensate individual consumers whose devices were made inoperable by error 53. It says this outreach program was extended to approximately 5,000 consumers.

It also says Apple Australia offered a court enforceable undertaking to improve staff training, audit information about warranties and Australian Consumer Law on its website, and improve its systems and procedures to ensure future compliance with the law.

The ACCC further notes that a concern addressed by the undertaking is that Apple was allegedly providing refurbished goods as replacements, after supplying a good which suffered a major failure — saying Apple has committed to provide new replacements in those circumstances if the consumer requests one.

“If people buy an iPhone or iPad from Apple and it suffers a major failure, they are entitled to a refund. If customers would prefer a replacement, they are entitled to a new device as opposed to refurbished, if one is available,” said Court.

The court also held the Apple parent company, Apple US, responsible for the conduct of its Australian subsidiary. “Global companies must ensure their returns policies are compliant with the Australian Consumer Law, or they will face ACCC action,” added Court.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the court decision and will update this post with any response.

A company spokeswoman told Reuters it had had “very productive conversations with the ACCC about this” but declined to comment further on the court finding.

More recently, Apple found itself in hot water with consumer groups around the world over its use of a power management feature that throttled performance on older iPhones to avoid unexpected battery shutdowns.

The company apologized in December for not being more transparent about the feature, and later said it would add a control allowing consumers to turn it off if they did not want their device’s performance to be impacted.

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Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Pick a category, wager a few dollars, and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes.

“I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?‘” says co-founder Prem Thomas.

Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as ‘skill-based gaming’ that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off.

The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting a moment’s notice. That could make it a favorite amongst players and investors in a world of mobile games without consequences.

“I could spend $50 for a three-hour experience in a movie theater, or I could spend $2 to enter a Proveit Movies tournament that gives me the opportunity to compete for several thousand dollars in prize money” says co-founder Nathan Lehoux. “That could pay for a lot of movies tickets!”

Proving It As Outsiders

St Petersburg, FL isn’t exactly known as an innovation hub. But outside Tampa Bay, far from the distractions, copycatting, and astronomical rent of Silicon Valley, the founders of Proveit built something different. “What if people could play trivia for money just like fantasy sports?” Thomas asked his friend Lehoux.

That’s the same pitch that got me interested when Lehoux tracked me down at TechCrunch’s SXSW party earlier this year. Lehoux is a jolly, outgoing fella who became interested in startups while managing some angel investments for a family office. Thomas had worked in banking and health before starting a yoga-inspired sandals brand. Neither had computer science backgrounds, and they’d raised just a $300,000 seed round from childhood friend Hilt Tatum who’d co-founded beleaguered real money gambling site Absolute Poker.

Yet when he Lehoux thrust the Proveit app into my hand, even on a clogged mobile network at SXSW, it ran smoothly and I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of matching wits for money. They’d initially outsourced development to an NYC firm that burned much of their initial $300,000 seed funding without delivering. Luckily, the Ukranian they’d hired to help review that shop’s code helped them spin up a whole team there that built an impressive v1 of Proveit.

Meanwhile, the founders worked with a gaming lawyer to secure approvals in 33 states. “This is a highly regulated and highly controversial space due to all the negative press that fantasy sports drummed up” says Lehoux. “We talked to 100 banks and processors before finding one who’d work with us.”

Proveit founders (from left): Nathan Lehoux, Prem Thomas

Proveit was finally legal for the 3/4s of the U.S. population, and had a regulatory moat to deter competitors. To raise launch capital, the duo tapped their Florida connections to find John Morgan, a high-profile lawyer and medical marijuana advocate who footed a $2 million angel round. A team of grad students in Tampa Bay was assembled to concoct the trivia questions, while a third-party AI company assists with weeding out fraud.

Proveit launched early this year, but beyond a SXSW promotion, it has stayed under the radar as it tinkers with tournaments and retention tactics. The app has now reached 80,000 registered users, 6,000 multi-deposit hardcore loyalists, and has paid out $750,000 total. But watching HQ trivia climb to over 1 million players per game has proven a bigger market for Proveit.

Quiz For Cash

“We’re actually fans of HQ. We play. We think they’ve revolutionized the game show” Lehoux tells me. “What we want to do is provide something very different. With HQ, you can’t pick your category. You can’t pick the time you want to play. We want to offer a much more customized experience.”

To play Proveit, you download its iOS-only app and fund your account with a buy-in of $20 to $100, earning more bonus cash with bigger packages (no minors allowed). Then you play a practice round to get the hang out of it — something HQ sorely lacks. Once you’re ready, you pick from a list of game categories, each with a fixed wager of about $1 to $5 to play (choose your own bet is in the works). You can test your knowledge of superheroes, the 90s, quotes, current events, rock’n’roll, Seinfeld, tech, and rotating selection of other topics.

In each Proveit game you get 10 questions, 1 at a time, with up to 15 seconds to answer each. Most games are head-to-head, with options to be matched with a stranger, or a friend via phone contacts. You score more for quick answers, discouraging cheating via Google, and get penalized for errors. At the end, your score is tallied up an compared against your opponent, with the winner keeping both player’s wagers minus Proveit’s cut. In a minute or so, you could lose $3 or win $5.28. Afterwards you can demand a rematch, go double-or-nothing, head back to the category list, or cash out if you have more than $20.

The speed element creates intense, white-knuckled urgency. You can get every question right and still lose if your opponent is faster. So instead of second-guessing until locking in your choice just before the buzzer like on HQ where one error knocks you out, you race to convert your instincts into answers on Proveit. The near instant gratification of a win or humiliation of a defeat both nudge you to play again rather than having to wait for tomorrow’s game.

Proveit will have to compete with free apps like Trivia Crack, prize games like studen loan repayer Giveling and virtual currency-based Fleetwit, and the juggernaut HQ.

“The large tournaments are the big draw”, though, Lehoux believes. Instead of playing one-on-one, you can register and ante up for a scheduled tournament where you compete in a single round against hundreds of players for a grand prize. Right now, the players with the top 20 percent of scores win at least their entry fee back or more, with a few geniuses collecting the cash of the rest of the losers.

Just like how DraftKings and FanDuel built their user base with big jackpot tournaments, Proveit hopes to do the same…then get people playing little one-on-one games in between as they wait for their coffee or commute home from work.

Gaming Or Gambling?

Thankfully, Proveit understands just how addictive it can be. The startup offers an “self-exclusion” option. “If you feel that you need to take greater control of your life as it relates to skill-gaming”, users can email it to say they shouldn’t play any more, and it will freeze or close their account. Family members and others can also request you be frozen if you share a bank account, they’re your dependent, they’re obligated for your debts, or you owe unpaid child support.

“We want Proveit to be a fun, intelligent entertainment option for our players. It’s impossible for us to know who might have an issue with real-money gaming” Lehoux tells me. “Every responsible real-money game provides this type of option for its users.

That isn’t necessarily enough to thwart addiction, because dopamine can turn people into dopes. Just because the outcome is determined by your answers rather than someone else’s touchdown pass doesn’t change that.

Skill-based betting from home could be much more ripe for abuse than having to drag yourself to a casino, while giving people an excuse that they’re not gambling on chance. Zynga’s titles like Farmville have been turning people into micro-transaction zombies for a decade, and you can’t even win money from them. Simultaneously, sharks could study up on a category and let Proveit’s random matching deliver them willing rookies to strip cash from all day. “This is actually one of the few forms of entertainment that rewards players financially for using their brain” Lehoux defends.

With so much content to consume and consequence-free games to play, there’s an edgy appeal to the danger of Proveit and apps like it. Its moral stance hinges on how much autonomy you think adults should be afforded. From Coca-Cola to Harley Davidson to Caesar’s Palace, society has allowed businesses to profit off questionably safe products that some enjoy.

For better and worse, Proveit is one of the most exciting mobile games I’ve ever played.

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