Europe

Pixpay is a challenger bank for teens focused on pocket money

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, fintech, France Newsletter, Mobile, Pixpay, Startups | No Comments

Meet Pixpay, a French startup that wants to replace cash when you’re handing out pocket money to your kids. Anybody who is older than 10 years old can create a Pixpay account, get a debit card and manage pocket money.

Challenger banks are nothing new, but they’re still mostly targeted towards adults. If you want to create an N26 or Revolut account, you need to be at least 18 years old. You can create a Lydia account if you’re at least 14 years old with parental consent.

Pixpay, like Kard, wants to fill that gap and offer modern payment methods to teens so that you can ditch cash altogether. Parents and kids both download the Pixpay app to interact with the service.

A few days after creating an account, your child receives a Mastercard. It offers the same features that you’d expect from a challenger bank — you can customize the PIN code, lock it and unlock it, receive a notification with each transaction and restrict some features, such as limits, ATM withdrawals, online payments and payments abroad. Pixpay also lets you generate virtual cards for online payments.

In addition to some spending analytics, users can create projects and set money aside to buy an expensive thing after months of savings. Parents can also define an interest rate on a vault account to teach children how to save money. In the future, Pixpay wants to let teens collect money after a babysitting job for instance.

As for parents, they can send money instantly from the Pixpay app. You can top up your Pixpay account with your favorite debit card and send money on a regular basis (€4 per week for instance) or for one-off payment (here’s €15 for your movie ticket and fast food).

Parents can see an overview of multiple accounts in case you have multiple children using Pixpay. Eventually, the startup wants to let multiple parents manage the account of their child, which could be useful for separated couples.

Pixpay costs €2.99 per month per card. Payments and ATM withdrawals in the Eurozone are free. Transactions in foreign currencies cost 2% in foreign exchange and ATM withdrawals outside of the Eurozone cost €2.

The startup has raised $3.4 million (€3.1 million) from Global Founders Capital. The company partners with Treezor, a banking-as-a-service platform that lets you generate cards and e-wallet accounts using an API.

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Revolut supports direct debits in the UK

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, Finance, fintech, Mobile, Revolut, Startups | No Comments

Fintech startup Revolut is adding a key feature for users who want to replace their traditional bank account altogether. You can now pay with GBP direct debits. Revolut already added EUR direct debits last year.

While most people use cards to pay for goods and services in the U.K., some businesses require you to pay with direct debit. It can be a utility bill, a gym membership or a phone contract for instance.

Compared to card transactions, direct debits pull money directly from your account and transfer it to the recipient’s account. It doesn’t go through Mastercard or Visa. Some businesses love direct debits because it’s usually cheaper than card processing fees. Direct debits also don’t have an expiry date, unlike cards.

Customers from the European Economic Area can now share their GBP account details for direct debits in the U.K. Direct debits are protected against some fraud and payment errors by the U.K. Direct Debit Guarantee.

Revolut has partnered with Modulr for this feature as it uses Modulr’s API. Business customers will also be able to take advantage of direct debits. You can now pay suppliers with your account details, which could be convenient for large sums of money for instance.

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Devialet partners with Huawei for new speaker

Posted by | Devialet, Europe, Gadgets, huawei, Huawei Sound X, Startups | No Comments

Huawei and Devialet have unveiled a new speaker specifically designed for the Chinese market, the Huawei Sound X. French startup Devialet has been looking at ways to license its technology and patents to consumer electronics manufacturers, such as Sky, Iliad, Altice USA and Renault.

While Devialet only sells very premium speakers under its own brand, such as the $1,000 Phantom Reactor, the Huawei Sound X is much more affordable. You’ll be able to buy a pair of speakers for RMB 1,999, the equivalent of $285. Unfortunately, those speakers will only be available in China for now.

The pill-shaped design is reminiscent of the Apple HomePod or the most recent Amazon Echo. It features a 60W double subwoofer and 360-degree sound. You can either use the pair of speakers in different rooms or pair them to create a stereo sound system.

The Huawei Sound X has six microphones so that you can control it with your voice. You can also control the speaker with capacitive touch buttons at the top of the speaker.

If you have a Huawei phone, you can tap it on the top of the speaker to hand off music to the speaker. It also integrates with Huawei HiLink, the company’s framework to control your connected objects around your home.

Devialet has been slowly expanding to China with a distribution partnership, two Devialet stores in Beijing and Shanghai and retail stores partnerships. According to the company, China is now the second market for Devialet.

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Email app Spark receives update with new design

Posted by | Apps, Europe, Mobile, readdle, spark, Startups, TC | No Comments

Spark, the popular email app from Readdle, has been redesigned on iOS and Android. The interface has always been a bit busy in the mobile app. That’s why the updated app now features a cleaner design and a handful of new features.

On the design front, Spark now uses simple headers to separate smart sections, such as newsletters, notifications and personal emails. It looks better than the rounded boxes with a colorful background.

There’s a lot of whitespace now, but the company has also taken advantage of this update to add dark mode. When you tap on a thread, the thread view has been updated as well.

When it comes to new features, the app tries to autopopulate your inbox with profile pictures. Just like Vignette, it pulls images from popular web services. For instance, if somebody who emails you has a Twitter account under the same email address, Spark can add the Twitter profile picture to your inbox.

Everybody has their own way of dealing with their email inbox. That’s why Spark lets you choose the buttons that appear at the bottom of an email thread. For instance, if you use folders a lot, you can put a folder button. But if you want to replace that button with a snooze button, you can.

Spark is now a better citizen on iPadOS 13. You can open multiple instances of Spark. This way, you can work on a document with an email thread using Split View and you can open a second Spark window to check your inbox in a separate workspace. Spark on iPadOS also supports the floating keyboard and new iPadOS gestures.

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Angell is a smart bike with an integrated display

Posted by | Angell, Europe, France Newsletter, Gadgets, Marc Simoncini, Startups | No Comments

Meet Angell, a new smart bike from a French startup led by Marc Simoncini who is mostly known for founding Meetic. The company is announcing its first electric-bike today. And the goal is to make an e-bike that is smarter than everything out there.

“We dedicate half of public space to cars even though cars only represent 12% of trips,” Angell co-founder and CEO Marc Simoncini told me. And according to the company’s data, only 2% of people use bikes to move around a city in France, compared to 31% in the Netherlands and 13% in Germany.

So there’s a market opportunity for a newcomer in the e-bike space in France, and eventually in other major cities around the world. “Our goal is to become the global leader in the smart bike space,” Simoncini said.

When it comes to hardware, the Angell e-bike is a 14kg bike with an aluminum frame, integrated lights and a removable battery. It has a 2.4-inch touch screen to control the bike. The battery should last 70km on a single charge. There are also turn signals that you can activate with a button.

The Angell e-bike comes with everything you’d expect from a connected bike and that you can already find on Cowboy and Vanmoof e-bikes. It connects with your phone using Bluetooth and has an integrated lock and alarm system. If somebody tries to steal your bike, the bike will play a loud sound. If somebody manages to steal your bike, you can track it using an integrated GPS chip and cellular modem.

But Angell wants to go one step further with its integrated display. First, you can select different levels of assistance directly on the bike itself. You can display information on the screen when you’re riding your bike, such as speed, calories, battery level and distance on the screen. You can also set an emergency contact so that they automatically receive a notification if your bike detects a fall.

More interestingly, you can set a destination on your phone and get turn-by-turn directions on your bike. In addition to arrows that tell you when you’re supposed to turn, your handlebar vibrates as well.

“70% of the Angell project is software,” Simoncini said.

The Angell e-bike will be available at some point during the summer of 2020. It’ll cost €2,690 ($2,966) with pre-orders starting today. Customers can also choose to pay €74.90 per month for 36 months. Angell will also partner with an insurance company to offer a theft and damage insurance product for €9.90 per month.

The Angell e-bike is just the first step of the company. Eventually, Angell wants to dedicate 5% of its revenue to a smart city fund and incubator, the Angell Lab. The company wants to create an ecosystem of startups that want to reinvent city mobility. Angell is fully funded by Marc Simoncini for now.

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‘Magic: The Gathering’ game maker exposed 452,000 players’ account data

Posted by | Bucket, computer security, cryptography, database, Europe, game developer, Gaming, General Data Protection Regulation, Government, information commissioner's office, Password, player, Prevention, Security, spokesperson, United Kingdom, washington | No Comments

The maker of Magic: The Gathering has confirmed that a security lapse exposed the data on hundreds of thousands of game players.

The game’s developer, the Washington-based Wizards of the Coast, left a database backup file in a public Amazon Web Services storage bucket. The database file contained user account information for the game’s online arena. But there was no password on the storage bucket, allowing anyone to access the files inside.

The bucket is not believed to have been exposed for long — since around early-September — but it was long enough for U.K. cybersecurity firm Fidus Information Security to find the database.

A review of the database file showed there were 452,634 players’ information, including about 470 email addresses associated with Wizards’ staff. The database included player names and usernames, email addresses, and the date and time of the account’s creation. The database also had user passwords, which were hashed and salted, making it difficult but not impossible to unscramble.

None of the data was encrypted. The accounts date back to at least 2012, according to our review of the data, but some of the more recent entries date back to mid-2018.

A formatted version of the database backup file, redacted, containing 452,000 user records. (Image: TechCrunch)

Fidus reached out to Wizards of the Coast but did not hear back. It was only after TechCrunch reached out that the game maker pulled the storage bucket offline.

Bruce Dugan, a spokesperson for the game developer, told TechCrunch in a statement: “We learned that a database file from a decommissioned website had inadvertently been made accessible outside the company.”

“We removed the database file from our server and commenced an investigation to determine the scope of the incident,” he said. “We believe that this was an isolated incident and we have no reason to believe that any malicious use has been made of the data,” but the spokesperson did not provide any evidence for this claim.

“However, in an abundance of caution, we are notifying players whose information was contained in the database and requiring them to reset their passwords on our current system,” he said.

Harriet Lester, Fidus’ director of research and development, said it was “surprising in this day and age that misconfigurations and lack of basic security hygiene still exist on this scale, especially when referring to such large companies with a userbase of over 450,000 accounts.”

“Our research team work continuously, looking for misconfigurations such as this to alert companies as soon as possible to avoid the data falling into the wrong hands. It’s our small way of helping make the internet a safer place,” she told TechCrunch.

The game maker said it informed the U.K. data protection authorities about the exposure, in line with breach notification rules under Europe’s GDPR regulations. The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office did not immediately return an email to confirm the disclosure.

Companies can be fined up to 4% of their annual turnover for GDPR violations.

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More layoffs at pivoting London ed tech startup pi-top

Posted by | edtech, Education, Europe, Gadgets, London, pi-top, Raspberry Pi, Startups, STEM learning, TC, United Kingdom | No Comments

London ed tech startup pi-top has gone through another round of layoffs, TechCrunch has learned.

Pi-top confirmed that eight jobs have been cut in the London office, saying the job losses resulted from “restructuring our business to focus on the U.S. education market.”

In August we broke the news that the STEM hardware-focused company had cut 12 staff after losing out on a major contract; pi-top told us then that its headcount had been reduced from 72 to 60.

The latest cuts suggest the workforce has been reduced to around 50 — although we have also heard that company headcount is now considerably lower than that.

One source told us that 12 jobs have gone in the London office this week, as well as additional cuts in the China office, where the company’s hardware team is based — but pi-top denied there have been any changes to its China team.

Pi-top said in August that the layoffs were related to implementing a new strategy.

Commenting on the latest cuts, it told us: “We have made changes within the company that reflect our business focus on the U.S. education market and our increasingly important SaaS learning platform.”

“The core of our business remains unchanged and we are happy with progress and the fantastic feedback we have received on pitop 4 from our school partners,” pi-top added.

Additionally, we have heard that a further eight roles at the U.K. office have been informed to staff as at risk of redundancy. Affected jobs at risk include roles in product, marketing, creative services, customer support and finance.

We also understand that a number of employees have left the company of their own accord in recent months, following an earlier round of layoffs.

Pi-top did not provide comment on jobs at risk of redundancy, but told us that it has hired three new staff “to accelerate the SaaS side of our education offering and will be increasing our numbers in the U.S. to service our growth in the region.”

We understand that the latest round of cuts have been communicated to staff as a cost-reduction exercise and also linked to implementing a new strategy. Staff have also been told that the business focus has shifted to the U.S schools market.

As we reported earlier this year, pi-top appointed a new executive chairman of its board who has a strong U.S. focus: Stanley Buchesky served in the Trump administration as an interim CFO for the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He is also the founder of a U.S. ed tech seed fund.

Sources familiar with pi-top say the company is seeking to pivot away from making proprietary ed tech hardware to focus on a SaaS learning platform for teaching STEM, called pi-top Further.

At the start of this year it crowdfunded a fourth-gen STEM device, the pi-top 4, with an estimated shipping date of this month. The crowdfunder attracted 521 backers, pledging close to $200,000 to fund the project.

In the pi-top 4 Kickstarter pitch the device is slated as being supported by a software platform called Further — which is described as a “free social making platform” that “teaches you how to use all the pi-top components through completing challenges and contributing projects to the community,” as well as offering social sharing features.

The plan now is for pi-top to monetize that software platform by charging subscription fees for elements of the service — with the ultimate goal of SaaS revenues making up the bulk of its business as hardware sales are de-emphasized. (Hardware is hard; and pi-top’s current STEM learning flagship has faced some challenges with reliability, as we reported in August.)

We understand that the strategic change to Further — from free to a subscription service — was communicated to staff internally in September.

Asked about progress on the pi-top 4, the company told us the device began shipping to backers this week. 

“We are pleased to announce the release of pi-top 4 and pi-top Further, our new learning and robotics coding platform,” it said. “This new product suite provides educators the ability to teach coding, robotics and AI with step-by-step curriculum and an integrated coding window that powers the projects students build. With pi-top, teachers can effectively use Project Based Learning and students can learn by doing and apply what they learn to the real world.”

Last month pi-top announced it had taken in $4 million in additional investment to fund the planned pivot to SaaS — and “bridge towards profitability,” as it put it today.

“The changes you see are a fast growing start-up shifting from revenue focus to a right-sized profit generating company,” it also told us.

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Fem tech startup Inne takes the wraps off a hormone tracker and $8.8M in funding

Posted by | berlin, Blossom Capital, Europe, femtech, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Health, hormone tracking, Inne, natural contraception, Startups, TC | No Comments

Berlin-based fem tech startup Inne is coming out of stealth to announce an €8 million (~$8.8M) Series A and give the first glimpse of a hormone-tracking subscription product for fertility-tracking and natural contraception that’s slated for launch in Q1 next year.

The Series A is led by led by Blossom Capital, with early Inne backer Monkfish Equity also participating, along with a number of angel investors — including Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of TransferWise; Tom Stafford, managing partner at DST; and Trivago co-founder Rolf Schromgens.

Women’s health apps have been having a tech-fuelled moment in recent years, with the rise of a fem tech category. There are now all sorts of apps for tracking periods and the menstrual cycle, such as Clue and Flo.

Some also try to predict which days a women is fertile and which they’re not — offering digital tools to help women track bodily signals if they’re following a natural family planning method of contraception, or indeed trying to conceive a baby.

Others — such as Natural Cycles — have gone further down that path, branding their approach “digital contraception” and claiming greater sophistication vs traditional natural family planning by applying learning algorithms to cycle data augmented with additional information (typically a daily body temperature measurement). Although there has also been some controversy around aggressive and even misleading marketing tactics targeting young women.

A multi-month investigation by the medical device regulator in Natural Cycles’ home market, instigated after a number of women fell pregnant while using its method, found rates of failure were in line with its small-print promises but concluded with the company agreeing to clarify the risk of the product failing.

At issue is that the notion of “digital contraception” may present as simple and effortless — arriving in handy app form, often boosted by a flotilla of seductive social media lifestyle ads. Yet the reality for the user is the opposite of effortless. Because in fact they are personally taking on all of the risk.

For these products to work the user needs a high level of dedication to stick at it, be consistent and pay close attention to key details in order to achieve the promised rate of protection.

Natural contraception is also what Inne is touting, dangling another enticing promise of hormone-free contraception — its website calls the product “a tool of radical self-knowledge” and claims it “protect[s]… from invasive contraceptive methods”. It’s twist is it’s not using temperature to track fertility; its focus is on hormone-tracking as a fertility measure.

Inne says it’s developed a saliva-based test to measure hormone levels, along with an in vitro diagnostic device (pictured above) that allows data to be extracted from the disposable tests at home and wirelessly logged in the companion app.

Founder Eirini Rapti describes the product as a “mini lab” — saying it’s small and portable enough to fit in a pocket. Her team has been doing the R&D on it since 2017, preferring, she says, to focus on getting the biochemistry right rather than shouting about launching the startup. (It took in seed funding prior to this round but isn’t disclosing how much.)

At this stage Inne has applied for and gained European certification as a medical device. Though it’s not yet been formally announced.

The first product, a natural contraception for adult women — billed as best suited for women aged 28-40, i.e. at a steady relationship time-of-life — will be launching in select European markets (starting in Scandinavia) next year, though initially as a closed beta style launch as they work on iterating the product based on user feedback.

“It basically has three parts,” Rapti says of the proposition. “It has a small reader… It has what we call a little mouth opening in the front. It always gives you a smile. That’s the hardware part of it, so it recognizes the intensity of your hormones. And then there’s a disposable saliva test. You basically collect your saliva by putting it in your mouth for 30 seconds. And then you insert it in the reader and then you go about your day.

“The reader is connected to your phone, either via BlueTooth or wifi, depending on where you are taking the test daily… It takes the reading and it sends it over to your phone. In your phone you can do a couple of things. First of all you look at your hormonal data and you look at how those change throughout the menstrual cycle. So you can see how they grow, how they fall. What that means about your ovulation or your overall female health — like we measure progesterone; that tells you a lot about your lining etc. And then you can also track your fluids… We teach you how to track them, how to understand what they mean.”

As well as a contraception use-case, the fertility tracking element naturally means it could also be used by women wanting to get pregnant. Eirini Rapti

“This product is not a tracker. We’re not looking to gather your data and then tell you next month what you should be feeling — at all,” she adds. “It’s more designed to track your hormones and tell you look this is the most basic change that happens in your body and because of those changes you will feel certain things. So do you feel them or not — and if you don’t, what does it mean? Or if you do what does it mean?

“It builds your own hormonal baseline — so you start measuring your hormones and we go okay so this is your baseline and now let’s look at things that go out of your baseline. And what do they mean?”

Of course the key question is how accurate is a saliva-based test for hormones as a method for predicting fertility? On this Rapti says Inne isn’t ready to share data about the product’s efficacy — but claims it will be publishing details of the various studies it conducted as part of the CE marking process in the next few weeks.

“A couple more weeks and all the hardcore numbers will be out there,” she says.

In terms of how it works in general the hormone measurement is “a combination of a biochemical reaction and the read out of it”, as she puts it — with the test itself being pure chemistry but algorithms then being applied to interpret the hormonal reading, looping in other signals such as the user’s cycle length, age and the time of day of the test.

She claims the biochemical hormone test the product relies on as its baseline for predicting fertility is based on similar principles to standard pregnancy tests — such as those that involve peeing on a stick to get a binary ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’ result. “We are focused on specifically fertility hormones,” she says.

“Our device is a medical device. It’s CE-certified in Europe and to do that you have to do all kinds of verification and performance evaluation studies. They will be published pretty soon. I cannot tell you too much in detail but to develop something like that we had to do verification studies, performance evaluation studies, so all of that is done.”

While it developed and “validated” the approach in-house, Rapti notes that it also worked with a number of external diagnostic companies to “optimize” the test.

“The science behind it is pretty straightforward,” she adds. “Your hormones behave in a specific way — they go from a low to a high to a low again, and what you’re looking for is building that trend… What we are building is an individual curve per user. The starting and the ending point in terms of values can be different but it is the same across the cycle for one user.”

“When you enter a field like biochemistry as an outsider a lot of the academics will tell you about the incredible things you could do in the future. And there are plenty,” she adds. “But I think what has made a difference to us is we always had this manufacturability in mind. So if you ask me there’s plenty of ways you can detect hormones that are spectacular but need about ten years of development let alone being able to manufacture it at scale. So it was important to me to find a technology that would allow us to do it effectively, repeatedly but also manufacture it at a low cost — so not reinventing the whole wheel.”

Rapti says Inne is controlling for variability in the testing process by controlling when users take the measurement (although that’s clearly not directly within its control, even if it can send an in-app reminder); controlling how much saliva is extracted per test; and controlling how much of the sample is tested — saying “that’s all done mechanically; you don’t do that”.

“The beauty about hormones is they do not get influenced by lack of sleep, they do not get influenced by getting out of your bed — and this is the reason why I wanted to opt to actually measure them,” she adds, saying she came up with the idea for the product as a user of natural contraception searching for a better experience. (Rapti is not herself trained in medical or life sciences.)

“When I started the company I was using the temperature method [of natural contraception] and I thought it cannot be that I have to take this measurement from my bed otherwise my measurement’s invalid,” she adds.

However there are other types of usage restrictions Inne users will need to observe in order to avoid negatively affecting the hormonal measurements.

Firstly they must take the test in the same time window each time — either in the morning or the evening but sticking to one of those choices for good.

They also need to stick to daily testing for at least a full menstrual cycle. Plus there are certain days in the month when testing will always be essential, per Rapti, even as she suggests a “learning element” might allow for the odd missed test day later on, i.e. once enough data has been inputted.

Users also have to avoid drinking and eating for 30 minutes before taking the test. She further specifies this half hour pre-test restriction includes not having oral sex — “because that also affects the measurements”.

“There’s a few indications around it,” she concedes, adding: “The product is super easy to use but it is not for women who want to not think ever about contraception or their bodies. I believe that for these women the IUD would be the perfect solution because they never have to think about it. This product is for women who consciously do not want to take hormones and don’t want invasive devices — either because they’ve been in pain or they’re interested in being natural and not taking hormones.”

At this stage Inne hasn’t performed any comparative studies vs established contraception methods such as the pill. So unless or until it does users won’t be able to assess the relative risk of falling pregnant while using it against more tried and tested contraception methods.

Rapti says the plan is to run more clinical studies in the coming year, helped by the new funding. But these will be more focused on what additional insights can be extracted from the test to feed the product proposition — rather than on further efficacy (or any comparative) tests.

They’ve also started the process of applying for FDA certification to be able to enter the US market in future.

Beyond natural contraception and fertility tracking, Inne is thinking about wider applications for its approach to hormone tracking — such as providing women with information about the menopause, based on longer term tracking of their hormone levels. Or to help manage conditions such as endometriosis, which is one of the areas where it wants to do further research.

The intent is to be the opposite of binary, she suggests, by providing adult women with a versatile tool to help them get closer to and understand changes in their bodies for a range of individual needs and purposes.

“I want to shift the way people perceive our female bodies to be binary,” she adds. “Our bodies are not binary, they change around the month. So maybe this month you want to avoid getting pregnant and maybe next month you actually want to get pregnant. It’s the same body that you need to understand to help you do that.”

Commenting on the Series A in a supporting statement, Louise Samet, partner at Blossom Capital, said: “Inne has a winning combination of scientific validity plus usability that can enable women to better understand their bodies at all stages in their lives. What really impressed us is the team’s meticulous focus on design and easy-of-use together with the scientific validity and clear ambition to impact women all over the world.”

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US search market needs a ‘choice screen’ remedy now, says DuckDuckGo

Posted by | Android, antitrust, Apps, Australia, competition law, DuckDuckGo, Europe, european union, Google, google search, local search, Margrethe Vestager, Qwant, russia, Search, search engine, search engines, search results, United States, Yandex | No Comments

US regulators shouldn’t be sitting on their hands while the 50+ state, federal and congressional antitrust investigations of Google to grind along, search rival DuckDuckGo argues.

It’s put out a piece of research today that suggests choice screens which let smartphone users choose from a number of search engines to be their device default — aka “preference menus” as DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg prefers to call them — offer an easy and quick win for regulators to reboot competition in the search space by rebalancing markets right now.

“If designed properly we think [preference menus] are a quick and effective key piece in the puzzle for a good remedy,” Weinberg tells TechCrunch. “And that’s because it finally enables people to change the search defaults across the entire device which has been difficult in the past… It’s at a point, during device set-up, where you can promote the users to take a moment to think about whether they want to try out an alternative search engine.”

Google is already offering such a choice (example below) to Android users in Europe, following an EU antitrust decision against Android last year.

Google search choice screen

 

DuckDuckGo is concerned US regulators aren’t thinking pro-actively enough about remedies for competition in the US search market — and is hoping to encourage more of a lean-in approach to support boosting diversity so that rivals aren’t left waiting years for the courts to issue judgements before any relief is possible.

In a survey of Internet users which it commissioned, polling more than 3,400 adults in the US, UK, Germany and Australia, people were asked to respond to a 4-choice screen design, based on an initial Google Android remedy proposal, as well as an 8-choice variant.

“We found that in each surveyed country, people select the Google alternatives at a rate that could increase their collective mobile market share by 300%-800%, with overall mobile search market share immediately changing by over 10%,” it writes [emphasis its].

Survey takers were also asked about factors that motivate them to switch search engines — with the number one reason given being a better quality of search results, and the next reason being if a search engine doesn’t track their searches or data.ChoiceScreenAndriod

Of course DuckDuckGo stands to gain from any pro-privacy switching, having built an alternative search business by offering non-tracked searches supported by contextual ads. Its model directly contrasts with Google’s, which relies on pervasive tracking of Internet users to determine which ads to serve.

But there’s plenty of evidence consumers hate being tracked. Not least the rise in use of tracker blockers.

“Using the original design puzzle [i.e. that Google devised] we saw a lot of people selecting alternative search engines and we think it would go up from there,” says Weinberg. “But even initially a 10% market share change is really significant.”

He points to regulatory efforts in Europe and also Russia which have resulted in antitrust decisions and enforcements against Google — and where choice screens are already in use promoting alternative search engine choices to Android users.

He also notes that regulators in Australia and the UK are pursuing choice screens — as actual or potential remedies for rebalancing the search market.

Russia has the lead here, with its regulator — the FAS — slapping Google with an order against bundling its services with Android all the way back in 2015, a few months after local search giant Yandex filed a complaint. A choice screen was implemented in 2017 and Russia’s homegrown Internet giant has increased its search market share on Android devices as a result. Google continues to do well in Russia. But the result is greater diversity in the local search market, as a direct result of implementing a choice screen mechanism.

“We think that all regulatory agencies that are now considering search market competition should really implement this remedy immediately,” says Weinberg. “They should do other things… as well but I don’t see any reason why one should wait on not implementing this because it would take a while to roll out and it’s a good start.”

Of course US regulators have yet to issue any antitrust findings against Google — despite there now being tens of investigations into “potential monopolistic behavior”. And Weinberg concedes that US regulators haven’t yet reached the stage of discussing remedies.

“It feels at a very investigatory stage,” he agrees. “But we would like to accelerate that… As well as bigger remedial changes — similar to privacy and how we’re pushing Do Not Track legislation — as something you can do right now as kind of low hanging fruit. I view this preference menu in the same way.”

“It’s a very high leverage thing that you can do immediately to move market share and increase search competition and so one should do it faster and then take the things that need to be slower slower,” he adds, referring to more radical possible competition interventions — such as breaking a business up.

There is certainly growing concern among policymakers around the world that the current modus operandi of enforcing competition law has failed to keep pace with increasingly powerful technology-driven businesses and platforms — hence ‘winner takes all’ skews which exist in certain markets and marketplaces, reducing choice for consumers and shrinking opportunities for startups to compete.

This concern was raised as a question for Europe’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, during her hearing in front of the EU parliament earlier this month. She pointed to the Commission’s use of interim measures in an ongoing case against chipmaker Broadcom as an example of how the EU is trying to speed up its regulatory response, noting it’s the first time such an application has been made for two decades.

In a press conference shortly afterwards, to confirm the application of EU interim measures against Broadcom, Vestager added: “Interim measures are one way to tackle the challenge of enforcing our competition rules in a fast and effective manner. This is why they are important. And especially that in fast moving markets. Whenever necessary I’m therefore committed to making the best possible use of this important tool.”

Weinberg is critical of Google’s latest proposals around search engine choice in Europe — after it released details of its idea to ‘evolve’ the search choice screen — by applying an auction model, starting early next year. Other rivals, such as French pro-privacy engine Qwant, have also blasted the proposal.

Clearly, how choice screens are implemented is key to their market impact.

“The way the current design is my read is smaller search engines, including us and including European search engines will not be on the screen long term the way it’s set up,” says Weinberg. “There will need to be additional changes to get the effects that we were seeing in our studies we made.

“There’s many reasons why us and others would not be those highest bidders,” he says of the proposed auction. “But needless to say the bigger companies can weigh outbid the smaller ones and so there are alternative ways to set this up.”

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Shadow announces new plans for its cloud gaming platform

Posted by | cloud gaming, Europe, France Newsletter, Gaming, Startups | No Comments

Blade, the French startup behind Shadow, held a press conference this morning to announce some product news as well as some corporate changes.

Shadow is a cloud computing service for gamers. For a monthly subscription fee, you can access a gaming PC in a data center near you. Compared to other cloud gaming services, Shadow provides a full Windows 10 instance. You can install anything you want — Steam, Photoshop or Word.

Right now, the company offers a single configuration for $35 per month with eight threads on an Intel Xeon 2620 processor, an Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU that performs more or less as well as an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

The startup is moving away from a single configuration to offer three different plans. On February 2020, customers will be able to chose between three plans — Boost, Ultra or Infinite.

  • Boost: Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU, 3.4GHz with 4 cores CPU, 12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage
  • Ultra: Nvidia RTX 2080 GPU, 4GHz with 4 cores CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage
  • Infinite: Nvidia Titan RTX GPU, 4 GHz with 6 cores CPU, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage

In the U.K., Boost costs £12.99/£14.99 per month, Ultra costs £24.99/£29.99 and Infinite costs £39.99/£49.99 per month. You get the lower price with yearly subscriptions.

In France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, plans cost €12.99/€14.99, €24.99/€29.99 and €39.99/€49.99 respectively. Plans will become more expensive after the first 50,000 customers — pre-orders start today. New plans aren’t available in the U.S. for now.

It’s worth noting that you’ll be able to add an option to get more storage with any plan. Storage plans include 256GB of SSD performance — anything above that will perform like a more traditional HDD. Shadow is using Intel Xeon W3200 CPUs on the new configurations.

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OVH founder and chairman Octave Klaba also announced a new partnership with Shadow. OVH is going to take care of Shadow’s infrastructure and become the cloud hosting partner going forward. The new servers will be rolled out in OVH data centers.

In other news, Shadow is launching a new interface specifically designed for TVs and mobile devices. The launcher now lists all your games. You can tap on a game to launch the game directly without going through the regular Windows interface. The update is available on Android TV, iOS and Android. The tvOS update should land next week.

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Competition is heating up

Google is about to launch Stadia on November 19th. Microsoft is working on Project xCloud. Nvidia has its own cloud gaming service. In other words, cloud gaming has become an incredibly crowded market.

Shadow has been around for a few years now. In addition to refining its streaming technology, the company emphasizes everything you can do with Shadow that you can’t do with a more limited cloud gaming service.

“We’re the only one to offer a full PC. You can stream, work, do some Photoshop, do some SolidWorks,” Shadow co-founder Emmanuel Freund said. “We’re the only one to offer 144Hz monitor support, we’re the only one to adapt to all screens.”

As a pure cloud gaming company, Shadow wants to be available on any platform. You don’t have to buy a Google Pixel phone or a PlayStation to access the service. You can launch your Shadow instance on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, tvOS and Android TV.

And now, you can even imagine using Shadow with a mobile VR headset. After installing the Android app, you can launch VR games on your Shadow instance and access demanding games without a gaming PC.

Some corporate news

Shadow raised another $33 million in October (€30 million) from existing investor Nick Suppipat as well as new investors Serena, a syndicate led by Erik Maris and 2CRSi. The company also raised some money from Western Digital and Charter Communications earlier this year. Overall, the startup has now raised $111 million since launch (€100 million).

There are now 70,000 Shadow customers across eight countries. At $35 per month, the company is generating some significant monthly recurring revenue.

And Shadow has a new CEO. Co-founder Emmanuel Freund is stepping aside as CEO — he’s now in charge of strategy. Jérôme Arnaud is taking over as CEO. The company was probably looking for a more senior business profile for the next step of the company.

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