social media

Meet EventBot, a new Android malware that steals banking passwords and two-factor codes

Posted by | Android, capitalone, computing, Cybereason, encryption, Finance, malware, mobile malware, operating system, operating systems, Security, security breaches, social media | No Comments

Security researchers are sounding the alarm over a newly discovered Android malware that targets banking apps and cryptocurrency wallets.

The malware, which researchers at security firm Cybereason recently discovered and called EventBot, masquerades as a legitimate Android app — like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Word for Android — which abuses Android’s in-built accessibility features to obtain deep access to the device’s operating system.

Once installed — either by an unsuspecting user or by a malicious person with access to a victim’s phone — the EventBot-infected fake app quietly siphons off passwords for more than 200 banking and cryptocurrency apps — including PayPal, Coinbase, CapitalOne and HSBC — and intercepts and two-factor authentication text message codes.

With a victim’s password and two-factor code, the hackers can break into bank accounts, apps and wallets, and steal a victim’s funds.

“The developer behind Eventbot has invested a lot of time and resources into creating the code, and the level of sophistication and capabilities is really high,” Assaf Dahan, head of threat research at Cybereason, told TechCrunch.

The malware quietly records every tap and key press, and can read notifications from other installed apps, giving the hackers a window into what’s happening on a victim’s device.

Over time, the malware siphons off banking and cryptocurrency app passwords back to the hackers’ server.

The researchers said that EventBot remains a work in progress. Over a period of several weeks since its discovery in March, the researchers saw the malware iteratively update every few days to include new malicious features. At one point the malware’s creators improved the encryption scheme it uses to communicate with the hackers’ server, and included a new feature that can grab a user’s device lock code, likely to allow the malware to grant itself higher privileges to the victim’s device like payments and system settings.

But while the researchers are stumped as to who is behind the campaign, their research suggests the malware is brand new.

“Thus far, we haven’t observed clear cases of copy-paste or code reuse from other malware and it seems to have been written from scratch,” said Dahan.

Android malware is not new, but it’s on the rise. Hackers and malware operators have increasingly targeted mobile users because many device owners have their banking apps, social media, and other sensitive services on their device. Google has improved Android security in recent years by screening apps in its app store and proactively blocking third-party apps to cut down on malware — with mixed results. Many malicious apps have evaded Google’s detection.

Cybereason said it has not yet seen EventBot on Android’s app store or in active use in malware campaigns, limiting the exposure to potential victims — for now.

But the researchers said users should avoid untrusted apps from third-party sites and stores, many of which don’t screen their apps for malware.

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook to launch ‘virtual dating’ over Messenger for Facebook Dating users

Posted by | bumble, coronavirus, COVID-19, dating, eharmony, Facebook, Facebook Dating, Hinge, IAC, Match Group, Messenger, Mobile, operating systems, Social, social media, social network, Software, TC, Tinder, Video, video dating, world wide web | No Comments

Facebook will soon allow users to go on “virtual dates,” the company announced today. The social network is planning to introduce a new video calling feature that will allow users of its Facebook Dating service to connect and video call over Messenger, as an alternative to going on a real-world date. This sort of feature is much in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to stay home and practice social distancing.

But for online dating apps, which aim to connect people in the real world, it’s a significant challenge for their business.

For the time being, government lockdowns have limited the places where online daters could meet up for their first date. Restaurants, malls, bars and other retail establishments are closed across regions impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. But even when those restrictions lift, many online dating app users will be wary of meeting up with strangers for those first-time, getting-to-know-you dates. Video chat offers a safer option to explore potential connections with their matches.

When the new Facebook Dating feature goes live, online daters will be able to invite a match to a virtual date. The recipient can either choose to accept or decline the offer via a pop-up that appears.

If they accept, the Facebook Dating users will be connected in a video chat powered by Facebook Messenger in order to get to know one another.

As the feature is still being developed, Facebook declined to share more specific details about how it will work, in terms of privacy and security features.

Facebook is not the first online dating service to pivot to video as a result of the pandemic. But many rival dating apps were adopting video features well before the coronavirus struck, as well.

Bumble, for example, has offered voice and video calling in its app for roughly a year. The feature there works like a normal phone call or Apple’s FaceTime. However, users don’t have to share their phone number or other private information, like an email address, which makes it safer.

The company says use of the feature has spiked over the last two months as users embrace virtual dating.

Meanwhile, Match Group has more recently rolled out video across a number of the dating apps it operates.

This month, the Match app added video chat that allows users who have already matched to connect over video calls. Match-owned Hinge also rolled out a “Dating from Home” prompt and is preparing its own live video date feature, as well, Match says. Plenty of Fish (PoF), another Match property, launched live-streaming in March, giving singles a new way to hang out with friends and potential matches.

Match Group’s flagship app Tinder has not yet embraced live video dates, but still offers a way for users to add video to their profiles. The company couldn’t comment on whether or not video dating was in the works for Tinder, but in the post-COVID era, it would be almost bizarre to not offer such feature.

Other dating apps have also launched video dating, including eHarmony and a number of lesser-known dating apps hoping to now gain traction for their video dating concepts.

Facebook says the feature will roll out in the months ahead and will be available everywhere Facebook Dating is available.

Powered by WPeMatico

Nextdoor and Walmart partner on a new neighborly assistance program

Posted by | Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, grocery, Mobile, neighbors, nextdoor, Social, social media, volunteer, Walmart | No Comments

Neighborhood social network Nextdoor and Walmart are teaming up today to launch a new “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” program that will make it easier for vulnerable community members to get assistance from neighbors who are already planning a trip to Walmart. The new in-app feature will allow Nextdoor users to post to groups associated with their local Walmart store to request shopping assistance.

To find the new option, Nextdoor users can either use the Nextdoor website or mobile app.

From there, users will click on the “Groups” tab where they’ll see local Walmart stores pinned to the top of the page. Members can then post a message to the group feed where they can ask for help or offer to help others.

Members who connect in the feed can then work out the details on the message board or through direct message, where they can share more private details like their address and what they need from the store.

The feature is designed to help elderly, high-risk or other vulnerable members find someone who will pick up groceries, medications or other essentials when they’re planning a trip to the store.

This could also offer a low-cost alternative to using online grocery delivery services, which require tipping. In the case of a neighbor helping a neighbor, the assistance is offered on a volunteer basis, not as someone’s job. That could be potentially life-saving for low-income community members who can’t risk shopping in a store during the coronavirus pandemic, but who also struggle to afford alternatives like online grocery.

Walmart isn’t moderating or managing these Nextdoor groups, to be clear, but worked with Nextdoor to make the feature available.

For the retailer, the addition isn’t just beneficial in terms of directing customers to Walmart to shop, it’s also seen as a way to reduce the number of people who come to the store in-person.

“I’ve seen first-hand the countless ways our Walmart team is working together during this challenging time, leading with humanity, compassion and understanding to serve our customers,” said Janey Whiteside, Walmart’s chief customer officer, in a statement about the feature’s launch. “We’re continuing to do that through our new program with Nextdoor. We’re connecting neighbors to each other so that more members of our communities have access to essential items, while limiting contact and the number of people shopping in our stores,” she added.

Nextdoor has launched several new features in response to the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks.

Its new “Help Maps” allowed members to post and offer help in their neighborhood, for example. But this feature had been buried on the “More” menu in the app and was being underutilized as a result. A dedicated place within Nextdoor Groups for these sorts of requests is more visible, making it easier to offer assistance or to ask for help.

Over the past few weeks, Nextdoor says it has seen a 7x increase in people joining groups to help one another, a not surprising figure given its recent exit from beta.

Nextdoor will also make the Walmart groups easy to find by pinning them to the top of the Groups tab, it says.

Meanwhile, Walmart store locations and hours where “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” is available can be found on Nextdoor’s “Help Map.”

“We’re inspired everyday by the kindness of people around the world who are stepping up and helping out. In recent weeks, we’ve been blown away by the number of members who have raised their hand to run an errand, go to the grocery store, or pick up a prescription for a neighbor,” said Sarah Friar, Nextdoor CEO, about the feature. “We’re grateful for Walmart’s partnership to make this important connection between neighbors around vital services, and we’re proud to come together to ensure everyone has a neighborhood to rely on,” she said.

The new initiative is launching nationwide starting today, but may not be immediately available in the app as the rollout could take time to complete.

Powered by WPeMatico

Digital mapping of coronavirus contacts will have key role in lifting Europe’s lockdown, says Commission

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Bluetooth, contacts tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, data protection, data security, EC, Europe, european commission, european union, Google, Health, Mobile, mobile applications, mobile devices, privacy, privacy by design, social media, social media platforms | No Comments

The European Commission has set out a plan for coordinating the lifting of regional coronavirus restrictions that includes a role for digital tools in what the EU executive couches as “a robust system of reporting and contact tracing.” However it has reiterated that such tools must “fully respect data privacy.”

Last week, the Commission made a similar call for a common approach to data and apps for fighting the coronavirus, emphasizing the need for technical measures to be taken to ensure that citizens’ rights and freedoms aren’t torched in the scramble for a tech fix.

Today’s toolbox of measures and principles is the next step in its push to coordinate a pan-EU response.

Responsible planning on the ground, wisely balancing the interests of protection of public health with those of the functioning of our societies, needs a solid foundation. That’s why the Commission has drawn up a catalogue of guidelines, criteria and measures that provide a basis for thoughtful action,” said EC president Ursula von der Leyen, commenting on the full roadmap in a statement.

“The strength of Europe lies in its social and economic balance. Together we learn from each other and help our European Union out of this crisis,” she added.

Harmonized data gathering and sharing by public health authorities — “on the spread of the virus, the characteristics of infected and recovered persons and their potential direct contacts” — is another key plank of the plan for lifting coronavirus restrictions on citizens within the 27 Member State bloc.

While ‘anonymized and aggregated’ data from commercial sources — such as telcos and social media platforms — is seen as a potential aid to pandemic modelling and forecasting efforts, per the plan.

“Social media and mobile network operators can offer a wealth of data on mobility, social interactions, as well as voluntary reports of mild disease cases (e.g. via participatory surveillance) and/or indirect early signals of disease spread (e.g. searches/posts on unusual symptoms),” it writes. “Such data, if pooled and used in anonymised, aggregated format in compliance with EU data protection and privacy rules, could contribute to improve the quality of modelling and forecasting for the pandemic at EU level.”

The Commission has been leaning on telcos to hand over fuzzy metadata for coronavirus modelling which it wants done by the EU’s Joint Research Centre. It wrote to 19 mobile operators last week to formalize its request, per Euractiv, which reported yesterday that its aim is to have the data exchange system operational ‘as soon as possible’ — with the hope being it will cover all the EU’s member states.

Other measures included in the wider roadmap are the need for states to expand their coronavirus testing capacity and harmonize tesing methodologies — with the Commission today issuing guidelines to support the development of “safe and reliable testing”.

Steps to support the reopening of internal and external EU borders is another area of focus, with the executive generally urging a gradual and phased lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

On contacts tracing apps specifically, the Commission writes:

“Mobile applications that warn citizens of an increased risk due to contact with a person tested positive for COVID-19 are particularly relevant in the phase of lifting containment measures, when the infection risk grows as more and more people get in contact with each other. As experienced by other countries dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, these applications can help interrupt infection chains and reduce the risk of further virus transmission. They should thus be an important element in the strategies put in place by Member States, complementing other measures like increased testing capacities.

“The use of such mobile applications should be voluntary for individuals, based on users’ consent and fully respecting European privacy and personal data protection rules. When using tracing apps, users should remain in control of their data. National health authorities should be involved in the design of the system. Tracing close proximity between mobile devices should be allowed only on an anonymous and aggregated basis, without any tracking of citizens, and names of possibly infected persons should not be disclosed to other users. Mobile tracing and warning applications should be subject to demanding transparency requirements, be deactivated as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is over and any remaining data erased.”

“Confidence in these applications and their respect of privacy and data protection are paramount to their success and effectiveness,” it adds.

Earlier this week Apple and Google announced a collaboration around coronavirus contracts tracing — throwing their weight behind a privacy-sensitive decentralized approach to proximity tracking that would see ephemeral IDs processed locally on devices, rather than being continually uploaded and held on a central server.

A similar decentralized infrastructure for Bluetooth-based COVID-19 contacts tracing had already been suggested by a European coalition of privacy and security experts, as we reported last week.

While a separate coalition of European technologists and researchers has been pushing a standardization effort for COVID-19 contacts tracing that they’ve said will support either centralized or decentralized approaches — in the hopes of garnering the broadest possible international backing.

For its part the Commission has urged the use of technologies such as decentralization for COVID-19 contacts tracing to ensure tools align with core EU principles for handling personal data and safeguarding individual privacy, such as data minimization.

However governments in the region are working on a variety of apps and approaches for coronavirus contacts tracing that don’t all look as if they will check a ‘rights respecting’ box…

Poland advertised a new product to enforce #coronavirus #COVID19 quarantaine? Electronic bracelet equipped with geolocation sensor (and a microphone, apparently), for “constant monitoring instead of random checks”. https://t.co/WipDJDnLK8 pic.twitter.com/ormYjM1EyJ

— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) April 14, 2020

In a video address last week, Europe’s lead privacy regulator, the EDPS, intervened to call for a “panEuropean model ‘COVID-19 mobile application’, coordinated at EU level” — in light of varied tech efforts by Member States which involve the processing of personal data for a claimed public health purpose.

“The use of temporary broadcast identifiers and bluetooth technology for contact tracing seems to be a useful path to achieve privacy and personal data protection effectively,” said Wojciech Wiewiórowski on Monday week. “Given these divergences, the European Data Protection Supervisor calls for a panEuropean model “COVID-19 mobile application”, coordinated at EU level. Ideally, coordination with the World Health Organisation should also take place, to ensure data protection by design globally from the start.”

The Commission has not gone so far in today’s plan — calling instead for Member States to ensure their own efforts align with the EU’s existing data protection framework.

Though its roadmap is also heavy on talk of the need for “coordination between Member Statesto avoid negative effects” — dubbing it “a matter of common European interest”. But, for now, the Commission has issued a list of recommendations; it’s up to Member States to choose to fall in behind them or not.

With the caveat that EU regulators are watching very carefully how states’ handle citizens’ data.

“Legality, transparency and proportionality are essential for me,” warned Wiewiórowski, ending last week’s intervention on the EU digital response to the coronavirus with a call for “digital solidarity, which should make data working for all people in Europe and especially for the most vulnerable” — and a cry against “the now tarnished and discredited business models of constant surveillance and targeting that have so damaged trust in the digital society”.

Powered by WPeMatico

Twine aims to end social isolation with its video chat app for deep conversations

Posted by | Apps, brand foundry, ceo, chatroulette, computing, connections, coronavirus, COVID-19, Cvent, doubledutch, FJ Labs, Foundry, friendships, funding, Georgetown, Lawrence Coburn, Mobile, new york city, San Francisco, scott heiferman, Social, social media, social network, Startups, Twine, Video, video chat, websites, world wide web | No Comments

A new startup called twine wants to help people feel less isolated and alone. Though the project has been in the works for around six months, it’s launching at a time when people are struggling with being cut off from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting government lockdowns and self-quarantines. Described simply as a “Zoom for meeting new people,” twine is a group video chat experience where people are encouraged to have meaningful discussions that spark new friendships.

In twine, users are matched with four other partners who they’ll then have 1-to-1 conversations with for eight minutes apiece. The full gathering lasts for a total of 40 minutes, including the virtual guide portion where the ground rules are set.

Participants choose from a library of more than 250 “deep” questions, then get matched with partners who want to explore the same topics. They then RSVP for twine’s digital gatherings in their time zone and check in when it’s time to start.

The overall experience is meant to help people find connections by skipping the small talk and going straight to what matters. But the focus is on friendships, not dating. Afterward, users are encouraged to set reminders to get back in touch and meet again in future gatherings.

There’s a hint of Chatroulette to this idea, given that users could be matched to people who are only there to disrupt the experience, in theory at least. But the company aims to reduce the potential for this sort of shock trolling by permanently banning members who are flagged for making others uncomfortable in any sort of way. We also noticed the app asks for your email, phone and ZIP code during its onboarding process, so it’s not entirely an anonymous experience.

In addition, twine requires users to rate each conversation when it ends, and members have to be pre-approved before joining a chat. The company says it’s looking to move toward “real ID only” in the future to further reduce the potential for trolling.

That said, there’s still a bit of a risk in chatting openly with strangers about highly personal topics. Twine’s guidelines say that conversations are not to be discussed with others, but this is not a doctor-patient relationship with legal protections for confidentiality. It’s just a group chat app with people who may or may not be there to follow the rules.

That said, the internet is currently experiencing a rebirth of sorts, due to COVID-19. People are coming online to look for connections. Social media is actually becoming social. This is an ideal environment to test something as optimistic as twine, which at its core believes people are largely good and will use the technology appropriately.

The idea for twine comes from serial entrepreneurs Lawrence Coburn and Diana Rau. Coburn spent the last nine years as founder and CEO of mobile events technology provider DoubleDutch, which was acquired by Cvent in 2019. Rau, meanwhile, was co-founder and CEO of Veterati, a digital mentoring platform for veterans that had also leveraged 1-to-1 conversations as part of its community-building experience.

The founders already knew each other from the Georgetown entrepreneurship ecosystem. And Coburn was an advisor to Veterati, and Rau had worked at DoubeDutch, as well.

Coburn describes his vision for twine as something in between a new social network and a substitute for those who are spiritual, but not religious, in terms of helping people who want to “be better humans.” Rau says she wanted to work on twine to help end loneliness by giving people a place to explore humanity on a one-on-one basis.

The app was originally intended to connect people who would meet up in real-life gatherings, but the coronavirus outbreak shifted those plans and accelerated launch plans.

“Launching a new company during the best of times is really, really hard. During a global pandemic? Yikes!,” wrote Coburn, in a blog post about the launch. “But as the new reality settles in, it has become clear to me that the world needs twine or something like it more than ever. The macro forces that inspired Diana and I to start twine – loneliness, polarization, isolation – will only be exacerbated by social distancing. A societal loneliness that was already classified as an epidemic pre coronavirus, is about to get way, way worse,” he added.

The startup is backed by $1.4 million in seed funding, closed on March 12, led by DoubleDutch investor, Hinge Capital. Other investors from DoubleDutch have also returned to fund twine, including FJ Labs, Brand Foundry and Bragiel Brothers. Angels in the round include April Underwood (Slack), Jay Hoffmann (Rocketmiles), Scott Heiferman (Meetup) and Vishal Kapur (Screenhero).

In the future, twine aims to be subscription-based and launch real-life gatherings, as originally planned, when it’s safe to do so.

The app is currently in private beta on iOS and web. Currently, it has a waitlist of around 1,000 users, mainly from New York City and San Francisco, but twine will be available worldwide.

Powered by WPeMatico

Security lapse exposed Republican voter firm’s internal app code

Posted by | Android, arizona, Cambridge Analytica, computing, Facebook, founder, Georgia, montana, Ohio, operating systems, photo sharing, Security, social media, Software, TechCrunch, UpGuard | No Comments

A voter contact and canvassing company, used exclusively by Republican political campaigns, mistakenly left an unprotected copy of its app’s code on its website for anyone to find.

The company, Campaign Sidekick, helps Republican campaigns canvas its districts using iOS and Android apps, which pull in names and addresses from voter registration rolls. Campaign Sidekick says it has helped campaigns in Arizona, Montana, and Ohio and contributed to the Brian Kemp campaign, which saw him narrowly win against Democratic rival Stacey Abrams in the Georgia gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

For the past two decades, political campaigns have ramped up their use of data to identify swing voters. This growing political data business has opened up a whole economy of startups and tech companies using data to help campaigns better understand their electorate. But that has led to voter records spilling out of unprotected servers and other privacy-related controversies — like the case of Cambridge Analytica obtaining private data from social media sites.

Chris Vickery, director of cyber risk research at security firm UpGuard, said he found the cache of Campaign Sidekick’s code by chance.

In his review of the code, Vickery found several instances of credentials and other app-related secrets, he said in a blog post on Monday, which he shared exclusively with TechCrunch. These secrets, such as keys and tokens, can typically be used to gain access to systems or data without a username or password. But Vickery did not test the password as doing so would be unlawful. Vickery also found a sampling of personally identifiable information, he said, amounting to dozens of spreadsheets packed with voter names and addresses.

Fearing the exposed credentials could be abused if accessed by a malicious actor, Vickery informed the company of the issue in mid-February. Campaign Sidekick quickly pulled the exposed cache of code offline.

One of the Campaign Sidekick mockups, using dummy data, collates a voter’s data in one place. (Image: supplied)

One of the screenshots provided by Vickery showed a mockup of a voter profile compiled by the app, containing basic information about the voter and their past voting and donor history, which can be obtained from public and voter records. The mockup also lists the voter’s “friends.”

Vickery told TechCrunch he found “clear evidence” that the app’s code was designed to pull in data from its now-defunct Facebook app, which allowed users to sign-in and pull their list of friends — a feature that was supported by Facebook at the time until limits were put on third-party developers’ access to friends’ data.

“There is clear evidence that Campaign Sidekick and related entities had and have used access to Facebook user data and APIs to query that data,” Vickery said.

Drew Ryun, founder of Campaign Sidekick, told TechCrunch that its Facebook project was from eight years prior, that Facebook had since deprecated access to developers, and that the screenshot was a “digital artifact of a mockup.” (TechCrunch confirmed that the data in the mockup did not match public records.)

Ryun said after he learned of the exposed data the company “immediately changed sensitive credentials for our current systems,” but that the credentials in the exposed code could have been used to access its databases storing user and voter data.

Powered by WPeMatico

Under quarantine, media is actually social

Posted by | Apps, coronavirus, COVID-19, Facebook, Health, HouseParty, instagram, Livestreaming, Memes, Mobile, Opinion, Social, social media, TC, zoom | No Comments

The flood of status symbol content into Instagram Stories has run dry. No one is going out and doing anything cool right now, and if they are, they should be shamed for it. Beyond sharing video chat happy hour screenshots and quarantine dinner concoctions, our piece-by-piece biographies have ground to a halt. Oddly, what remains feels more social than social networks have in a long time.

With no source material, we’re doing it live. Coronavirus has absolved our desire to share the recent past. The drab days stuck inside blur into each other. The near future is so uncertain that there’s little impetus to make plans. Why schedule an event or get excited for a trip just to get your heartbroken if shelter-in-place orders are extended? We’re left firmly fixed in the present.

A house-arrest Houseparty, via StoicLeys

What is social media when there’s nothing to brag about? Many of us are discovering it’s a lot more fun. We had turned social media into a sport but spent the whole time staring at the scoreboard rather than embracing the joy of play.

But thankfully, there are no Like counts on Zoom .

Nothing permanent remains. That’s freed us from the external validation that too often rules our decision making. It’s stopped being about how this looks and started being about how this feels. Does it put me at peace, make me laugh, or abate the loneliness? Then do it. There’s no more FOMO because there’s nothing to miss by staying home to read, take a bath, or play board games. You do you.

Being social animals, what feels most natural is to connect. Not asynchronously through feeds of what we just did. But by coexisting concurrently. Professional enterprise technology for agenda-driven video calls has been subverted for meandering, motive-less togetherness. We’re doing what many of us spent our childhoods doing in basements and parking lots: just hanging out.

It’s time to Houseparty

For evidence, just look at group video chat app Houseparty, where teens aimlessly chill with everyone’s face on screen at once. In Italy, which has tragically been on lock down since COVID-19’s rapid spread in the country, Houseparty wasn’t even in the top 1500 apps a month ago. Today it’s the #1 social app, and the #2 app overall second only to Zoom which is topping the charts in tons of countries.

Houseparty topped all the charts on Monday, when Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch the app’s download rate was 323X higher than its average in February. As of yesterday it was #1 in Portugal (up 371X) and Spain (up 592X), as well as Peru, Argentina, Chile, Austria, Belgium, and the U.K. I despite being absent from the chart a week earlier. Apptopia tells me Houseparty saw 25 downloads in Spain on March 1st and 40,000 yesterday.

Houseparty rockets to #1 in many countries

A year ago Houseparty was nearly dead, languishing at #245 on the US charts before being acquired by Fortnite-maker Epic in June. Our sudden need for unmediated connection has brought Houseparty roaring back to life, even if Epic has neglected to update it since July.

“Houseparty was designed to connect people in the most human way possible when they are physically apart” the startup’s co-founder Ben Rubin tells me. “This is a time of isolation and uncertainty for us all. I’m grateful that we created a product that gives a sense of human connection to millions people during this critical moment.”

Around the world, apps for direct connection are spiking. Google Hangouts rules in Sweden. Discord for chat while gaming is #1 in France. Slack clone Microsoft Teams is king in the Netherlands. After binging through Netflix, all that’s left to entertain us is each other.

Undivided By Geography

If we’re all stuck at home, it doesn’t matter where that home is. We’ve been released from the confines of which friends are within a 20 minute drive or hour-long train. Just like students are saying they all go to Zoom University since every school’s classes moved online, we all now live in Zoom Town. All commutes have been reduced to how long it takes to generate an invite URL.

Nestled in San Francisco, even pals across the Bay in Berkeley felt far away before. But this week I had hour-long video calls with my favorite people who typically feel out of reach in Chicago and New York. I spent time with babies I hadn’t met in person. And I kept in closer touch with my parents on the other coast, which is more vital and urgent than ever before.

Playing board game Codenames over Zoom with friends in New York and North Carolina

Typically, our time is occupied by acquaintances of circumstance. The co-workers who share our office. The friends who happen to live in the neighborhood. But now we’re each building a virtual family completely of our choosing. The calculus has shifted from who is convenient or who invites us to the most exciting place, to who makes us feel most human.

Even celebrities are getting into it. Rather than pristine portraits and flashy music videos, they’re appearing raw, with crappy lighting, on Facebook and Instagram Live. John Legend played piano for 100,000 people while his wife Chrissy Teigen sat on screen in a towel looking salty like she’s heard “All Of Me” far too many times. That’s more authentic than anything you’ll get on TV.

And without the traditional norms of who we are and aren’t supposed to call, there’s an opportunity to contact those we cared about in a different moment of our lives. The old college roommate, the high school buddy, the mentor who gave you you’re shot. If we have the emotional capacity in these trying times, there’s good to be done. Who do you know who’s single, lives alone, or resides in a city without a dense support network?

Reforging those connections not only surfaces prized memories we may have forgotten, but could help keep someone sane. For those who relied on work and play for social interaction, shelter-in-place is essentially solitary confinement. There’s a looming mental health crisis if we don’t check in on the isolated.

The crisis language of memes

It can be hard to muster the energy to seize these connections, though. We’re all drenched in angst about the health impacts of the virus and financial impacts of the response. I certainly spent a few mornings sleeping in just to make the days feel shorter. When all small talk leads to rehashing our fears, sometimes you don’t have anything to say.

Luckily we don’t have to say anything to communicate. We can share memes instead.

My father-in-law sent me this. That’s when you know memes have become the universal language

The internet’s response to COVID-19 has been an international outpour of gallow’s humor. From group chats to Instagram joke accounts to Reddit threads to Facebook groups like quarter-million member “Zoom Memes For Quaranteens”, we’re joining up to weather the crisis.

A nervous laugh is better than no laugh at all. Memes allow us to convert our creeping dread and stir craziness into something borderline productive. We can assume an anonymous voice, resharing what some unspecified other made without the vulnerability of self-attribution. We can dive into the creation of memes ourselves, killing time under house arrest in hopes of generating smiles for our generation. And with the feeds and Stories emptied, consuming memes offers a new medium of solidarity. We’re all in this hellscape together so we may as well make fun of it.

The web’s mental immune system has kicked into gear amidst the outbreak. Rather than wallowing in captivity, we’ve developed digital antibodies that are evolving to fight the solitude. We’re spicing up video chats with board games like Codenames. One-off livestreams have turned into wholly online music festivals to bring the sounds of New Orleans or Berlin to the world. Trolls and pranksters are finding ways to get their lulz too, Zoombombing webinars. And after a half-decade of techlash, our industry’s leaders are launching peer-to-peer social safety nets and ways to help small businesses survive until we can be patrons in person again.

Rather than scrounging for experiences to share, we’re inventing them from scratch with the only thing we’re left with us in quarantine: ourselves. When the infection waves pass, I hope this swell of creativity and in-the-moment togetherness stays strong. The best part of the internet isn’t showing off, it’s showing up.

Powered by WPeMatico

Finally dark mode arrives to soothe your 3am WhatsApps

Posted by | Android, Apps, Dark Mode, Facebook, iOS, iPhone, messaging apps, Social, social media, WhatsApp | No Comments

Facebook -owned WhatsApp is finally giving users’ eyes a break by rolling out a dark mode setting to the messaging app — years after some other tech giants figured out how to offer a “dimmer pixels” switch.

The messaging giant says the feature is rolling out globally in the “coming days” to the latest version of WhatsApp on both Android and iOS.

The setting can be enabled via system settings for users running the most recent versions of the respective smartphone OSes — or via the WhatsApp settings option on Android:

Users on Android 10 and iOS 13 can use dark mode by enabling it in system settings. Users on Android 9 and below can go into WhatsApp Settings > Chats > Theme > select ‘Dark’.

We’re told iPhone users not running the latest OS are out of luck. “Dark Mode will only be available to users on iOS 13 and above,” said a spokesman.

WhatsApp says the eye-soothing option has been the most requested feature from users everywhere.

Nonetheless, it’s taken its sweet time to jump aboard the dark mode bandwagon.

YouTube, for example, announced a dark mode for its iOS app a full two years ago. Twitter added an even darker mode to its dark mode more than a year ago. Google was also showing off a system-wide dark mode for Android Q last May. In June, Apple followed suit, previewing iOS 13’s eye-soothing setting.

Apparently Facebook has low interest in moving fast and soothing things. But, er, it got there in the end…

In a blog post about the launch, WhatsApp writes that it spent its time “researching and experimenting” how to design a dark mode that would ensure “readability” and maintain “information hierarchy.”

Which is a fancy way of saying it didn’t want to reduce eye-strain so much that users might actually remember they need to fall asleep, rather than carry on WhatsApping through the night.

“When choosing colours, we wanted to minimise eye fatigue and use colours that are closer to the system defaults on iPhone and Android respectively,” it writes, before reversing the intent by expressing the counter design: “We wanted to help users easily focus their attention on each screen. We did this by using colour and other design elements to make sure the most important information stands out.”

Perhaps it’s clear why it took the company so long to “fix” eye strain after all.

The Android flavor of the dark mode (below) also appears a smidge less dark on the contacts screen view versus the iOS version (pictured at the top of this post) — though that may be to do with differences in how the two OSes handle dark mode at the system level since WhatsApp said it wanted to reflect those choices.

Powered by WPeMatico

Where FaZe Clan sees the future of gaming and entertainment

Posted by | Activision, epic games, esports, faze clan, fortnite, gamer, Gaming, instagram, Microsoft, National Football League, social media, TC, Twitch, video games, video gaming | No Comments

Lee Trink has spent nearly his entire career in the entertainment business. The former president of Capitol Records is now the head of FaZe Clan, an esports juggernaut that is one of the most recognizable names in the wildly popular phenomenon of competitive gaming.

Trink sees FaZe Clan as the voice of a new generation of consumers who are finding their voice and their identity through gaming — and it’s a voice that’s increasingly speaking volumes in the entertainment industry through a clutch of competitive esports teams, a clothing and lifestyle brand and a network of creators who feed the appetites of millions of young gamers.

As the company struggles with a lawsuit brought by one of its most famous players, Trink is looking to the future — and setting his sights on new markets and new games as he consolidates FaZe Clan’s role as the voice of a new generation.

“The teams and social media output that we create is all marketing,” he says. “It’s not that we have an overall marketing strategy that we then populate with all of these opportunities. We’re not maximizing all of our brands.”

Powered by WPeMatico

44% of TikTok’s all-time downloads were in 2019, but app hasn’t figured out monetization

Posted by | Apps, Mobile, Social, social media, tiktok, Video | No Comments

Despite the U.S. government’s concerns over TikTok, which most recently led to the U.S. Navy banning service members’ use of the app, TikTok had a stellar 2019 in terms of both downloads and revenue. According to new data from Sensor Tower, 44% of TikTok’s total 1.65 billion downloads to date, or 738+ million installs, took place in 2019 alone. And though TikTok is still just experimenting with different means of monetization, the app had its best year in terms of revenue, grossing $176.9 million in 2019 — or 71% of its all-time revenue of $247.6 million.

Apptopia had previously reported TikTok was generating $50 million per quarter.

The number of TikTok downloads in 2019 is up 13% from the 655 million installs the app saw in 2018, with the holiday quarter (Q4 2019) being TikTok’s best ever, with 219 million downloads, up 6% from TikTok’s previous best quarter, Q4 2018. TikTok was also the second-most downloaded (non-game) app worldwide across the Apple App Store and Google Play in 2019, according to Sensor Tower data.

However, App Annie’s recent “State of Mobile” report put it in fourth place, behind Messenger, Facebook and WhatsApp — not just behind WhatsApp, as Sensor Tower does.

Regardless, the increase in TikTok downloads in 2019 is largely tied to the app’s traction in India. Though the app was briefly banned in the country earlier in the year, that market still accounted for 44% (or 323 million) of 2019’s total downloads. That’s a 27% increase from 2018.

TikTok’s home country, China, is TikTok’s biggest revenue driver, with iOS consumer spend of $122.9 million, or 69% of the total and more than triple what U.S. users spent in the app ($36 million). The U.K. was the third-largest contributor in terms of revenue, with users spending $4.2 million in 2019.

These numbers, however, are minuscule in comparison with the billions upon billions earned by Facebook on an annual basis, or even the low-digit billions earned by smaller social apps like Twitter. To be fair, TikTok remains in an experimental phase with regards to revenue. In 2019, it ran a variety of ad formats, including brand takeovers, in-feed native video, hashtag challenges and lens filters. It even dabbled in social commerce.

Meanwhile, only a handful of creators have been able to earn money in live streams through tipping — another area that deserves to see expansion in the months ahead if TikTok aims to take on YouTube as a home for creator talent.

When it comes to monetization, TikTok is challenged because it doesn’t have as much personal information about its users, compared with a network like Facebook and its rich user profile data. That means advertisers can’t target ads based on user interests and demographics in the same way. Because of this, brands will sometimes forgo working with TikTok itself to deal directly with its influencer stars, instead.

What TikTok lacks in revenue, it makes up for in user engagement. According to App Annie, time spent in the app was up 210% year-over-year in 2019, to reach a total 68 billion hours. TikTok clearly has users’ attention, but now it will need to figure out how to capitalize on those eyeballs and actually make money.

Reached for comment, TikTok confirmed it doesn’t share its own stats on installs or revenue, so third-party estimates are the only way to track the app’s growth for now.

Powered by WPeMatico