Teens

Wattpad’s latest deal will turn its stories into TV shows and movies in Korea

Posted by | Apps, Asia, films, kids, korea, Media, Mobile, movies, Publishing, Teens, tv, wattpad | No Comments

Wattpad’s ambitions to grow beyond a storytelling community for young adults took another leap forward today with the announcement of a new partnership that will help expand its reach in Asia. The company has teamed up with Huayi Brothers in Korea, which will now be Wattpad’s exclusive entertainment partner in the region. The two companies will co-produce content sourced from Wattpad’s community as it’s adapted for film, TV and other digital media projects in the country.

Development deals like this are not new to Wattpad at this point.

In the U.S., the storytelling app made headlines for bringing to Netflix the teen hit “The Kissing Booth,” which shot up to become the No. 4 movie on IMDb for a time.

Wattpad also recently announced a second season for “Light as a Feather,” which it produces with AwesomenessTV and Grammnet for Hulu.

It additionally works with eOne, Sony, SYFY, Universal Cable Productions (a division of NBCUniversal) and Germany’s Bavaria Fiction.

Outside the U.S., Wattpad has 26 films in development with iflix in Indonesia.

And WattPad’s feature film “After,” based on Anna Todd’s novel, will arrive in theaters on April 12.

Key to these deals is Wattpad’s ability to source the best content from the 565 million stories on its platform. Do to so, it uses something it calls its “Story DNA Machine Learning technology,” which helps to deconstruct stories by analyzing things like sentence structure, word use, grammar and more in order to help identify the next big hits using more than just readership numbers alone.

The stories it identifies as promising are then sent over to content specialists (aka human editors) for further review.

This same combination of tech and human curation has been used in the past to help source its writing award winners and is now being used to find the next stories to be turned into novels for its new U.S. publishing arm, Wattpad Books.

In addition to its hit-finding technology, studios working with Wattpad also have a way to reach younger users who today are often out of touch with traditional media, as much of youth culture has shifted online.

These days, teens and young adults are more likely to know YouTube stars than Hollywood actors. They’re consuming content online in communities like Reddit, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and elsewhere. And when it comes to reading, they’re doing more of that online, too — whether that’s through chat fiction apps like Hooked or by reading Wattpad’s longer stories.

Wattpad says it now has 70 million users worldwide, who now spend 22 billion combined minutes per month engaged with its website and app.

With the Korean deal, Wattpad is further growing its international footprint after several other moves focused on its international expansions.

For example, today’s news follows Wattpad’s raise of $51 million in funding from Tencent; its appointment of its first Head of Asia for Wattpad Studios, Dexter Ong, last year; and its hiring of its first GM of India, Devashish Sharma, who is working with local partners to turn its stories into movies, TV, digital and print in the region.

Huayi Brothers Korea hasn’t announced any specific projects from the Wattpad deal at this point, but those will follow.

“Wattpad’s model is the future of entertainment, using technology to find great storytellers and bring them to an international audience,” said, Jay Ji, CEO, Huayi Brothers Korea, in a statement. “In an era of entertainment abundance, working with Wattpad means access to the most important things in the industry: a data-backed approach to development, and powerful, proven stories that audiences have already fall in love with,” he said.

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Step targets teens and parents with a no-fees mobile bank account and Visa card

Posted by | Apps, Banking, family, Finance, kids, Mobile, mobile banking, parents, savings, Startups, Step, teenagers, Teens | No Comments

A new mobile banking startup called Step wants to help bring teenagers and other young adults into the cashless era. Today, cash is used less often, as more consumers shop online and send money to one another through payment apps like Venmo. But teenagers in particular are still heavily burdened with cash — even though they, too, want to spend their money on things that require a payment card, like Amazon.com purchases or mobile gaming, for example.

That’s where Step comes in.

The company aims to address the needs of what it believes is an underserved market in mobile banking — the 75 million children and young adults under the age of 21 in the U.S., who are still being forced to use cash.

This market isn’t the “unbanked,” it’s the “pre-banked,” explains Step CEO CJ MacDonald, whose previous startup, mobile gift card platform Gyft, sold to First Data several years ago.

Above: Step CEO, CJ MacDonald

“We’re building an all-in-one banking solution that primarily focuses on teens and parents,” he says. “We want it to be a teen’s first bank account. We want to be a teen’s first spending card. And we want to teach financial literacy and responsibility firsthand.”

MacDonald, along with CTO Alexey Kalinichenko, previously of Square and financial services startup Token, founded Step in May 2018. The 10-person team also includes several prior Gyft employees.

Last summer, Step closed on $3.8 million in seed funding from Sesame Ventures, Crosslink Capital and Collaborative Fund. Crosslink general partner Eric Chin sits on the board.

While there are a number of mobile banking apps out there today — like Chime, Monzo, Simple, Revolut and others — Step will specifically target teens, 13 and up, and other young adults with its marketing. Teens under 18 still need parents’ approval to sign up, of course. But the goal is to encourage the teens to bring the idea to their parents — not the other way around.

Step’s focus on this younger demographic puts it in a different space, where there are fewer competitors. Its more direct rivals are not the bigger mobile banks, but rather startups like teen debit card and bank app Current, or the parent-managed debit card for kids from Greenlight.

The mobile banking service Step provides will also aim to be more comprehensive than just a debit card. It will offer a combination of checking, savings and a Visa card that works as both credit and debit.

The card includes Visa’s Zero Liability Protection on all purchases from unauthorized use, and allows parents to set spending limits.

Parents will also be able to connect their own bank accounts to Step to instantly transfer in funds, which can then be distributed to kids’ accounts for things like allowances and chores, or other everyday spending needs. Step’s bank account itself is backed by Evolve Bank, so it’s FDIC-insured up to $250,000.

Unlike Current, which charges a subscription to use its service, Step aims to be a fee-free bank for consumers. Users don’t have to pay for their account, and there are no fees for things like overdrafts. Instead, Step’s plan is to generate revenue through traditional means — like interchange fees and by way of lending practices, once it has established a deposit base.

The company pays a 2.5 percent interest rate on deposits, offers a round-up savings feature and a range of budgeting tools and supports free instant transfers between Step accounts. It also provides access to a network of 35,000 ATMs with no fees.

Beyond simply facilitating mobile banking, Step’s bigger goal is to teach teens to become financially responsible.

“Schools do not teach kids about money. A lot of families don’t talk about money. And it’s a crucial life skill that’s not really addressed properly when people are growing up,” says MacDonald, who says he was lacking in life skills in this area, even as a young college grad.

“There were ‘Money 101’ skills that I had not learned — that no one had talked to me about. Things like building credit, how many credit cards you should have, debt to income ratio,” he continues. “A lot of people get released into the real world without experience [in those areas],” he says.

Long-term, after solving the needs associated with everyday banking transactions, Step wants to layer on other products and services — like tools that allow a family to save together for college, for example.

The company is launching the banking service under an invite-only system to scale up.

Today, it’s opening a waitlist and referral program. When you invite a friend, you each receive one dollar. Access will then be rolled out on a first-come, first-serve basis this spring. Users can join Step through the website, iOS or Android application.

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Apple bans Facebook’s Research app that paid users for data

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Facebook, facebook research, Mark Zuckerberg, Mobile, Policy, privacy, Social, TC, Teens, Tim Cook, vpn | No Comments

In the wake of TechCrunch’s investigation yesterday, Apple blocked Facebook’s Research VPN app before the social network could voluntarily shut it down. The Research app asked users for root network access to all data passing through their phone in exchange for $20 per month. Apple tells TechCrunch that yesterday evening it revoked the Enterprise Certificate that allows Facebook to distribute the Research app without going through the App Store.

TechCrunch had reported that Facebook was breaking Apple’s policy that the Enterprise system is only for distributing internal corporate apps to employees, not paid external testers. That was actually before Facebook released a statement last night saying that it had shut down the iOS version of the Research program without mentioning that it was forced by Apple to do so.

TechCrunch’s investigation discovered that Facebook has been quietly operated the Research program on iOS and Android since 2016, recently under the name Project Atlas. It recruited 13 to 35 year olds, 5 percent of which were teenagers, with ads on Instagram and Snapchat and paid them a monthly fee plus referral bonuses to install Facebook’s Research app, the included VPN app that routes traffic to Facebook, and to ‘Trust’ the company with root network access to their phone. That lets Facebook pull in a user’s web browsing activity, what apps are on their phone and how they use them, and even decrypt their encrypted traffic. Facebook went so far as to ask users to screenshot and submit their Amazon order history. Facebook uses all this data to track competitors, assess trends, and plan its product roadmap.

Facebook was forced to remove its similar Onavo Protect app in August last year after Apple changed its policies to prohibit the VPN app’s data collection practices. But Facebook never shut down the Research app with the same functionality it was running in parallel. In fact, TechCrunch commissioned security expert Will Strafach to dig into the Facebook Research app, and we found that it featured tons of similar code and references to Onavo Protect. That means Facebook was purposefully disobeying the spirit of Apple’s 2018 privacy policy change while also abusing the Enterprise Certificate program.

Sources tell us that Apple revoking Facebook’s Enterprise Certificate has broken all of the company’s legitimate employee-only apps. Those include pre-launch internal-testing versions of Facebook and Instagram, as well as the employee apps for coordinating office collaboration, commutes, seeing the day’s lunch schedule, and more. That’s causing mayhem at Facebook, disrupting their daily work flow and ability to do product development. We predicted yesterday that Apple could take this drastic step to punish Facebook much harder than just removing its Research app. The disruption will translate into a huge loss of productivity for Facebook’s 33,000 employees.

[Update: Facebook later confirmed to TechCrunch that its internal apps were broken by Apple’s punishment and that it’s in talks with Apple to try to resolve the issue and get their employee tools running again.]

For reference, Facebook’s main iOS app still functions normally. Also, you can’t get paid for installing Onavo Protect on Android, only for the Facebook Research app. And Facebook isn’t the only one violating Apple’s Enterprise Certificate policy, as TechCrunch discovered Google’s Screenwise Meter surveillance app breaks the rules too.

This morning, Apple informed us it had banned Facebook’s Research app yesterday before the social network seemingly pulled it voluntarily. Apple provided us with this strongly worded statement condemning the social network’s behavior:

“We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.”

That comes in direct contradiction to Facebook’s initial response to our investigation. Facebook claimed it was in alignment with Apple’s Enterprise Certificate policy and that the program was no different than a focus group.

Seven hours later, a Facebook spokesperson said it was pulling its Research program from iOS without mentioning that Apple forced it to do so, and issued this statement disputing the characterization of our story:

“Key facts about this market research program are being ignored. Despite early reports, there was nothing ‘secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”

We refute those accusations by Facebook. As we wrote yesterday night, Facebook did not publicly promote the Research VPN itself and used intermediaries that often didn’t disclose Facebook’s involvement until users had begun the signup process. While users were given clear instructions and warnings, the program never stresses nor mentions the full extent of the data Facebook can collect through the VPN. A small fraction of the users paid may have been teens, but we stand by the newsworthiness of its choice not to exclude minors from this data collection initiative.

Senator Mark Warner has since called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to support legislation requiring individual informed consent for market research initiatives like Facebook Research. Meanwhile, Senator Richard Blumenthal issued a fierce statement that “Wiretapping teens is not research, and it should never be permissible.”

The situation will surely worsen the relationship between Facebook and Apple after years of mounting animosity between the tech giants. Apple’s Tim Cook has repeatedly criticized Facebook’s data collection practices, and Zuckerberg has countered that it offers products for free for everyone rather than making products few can afford like Apple. Flared tensions could see Facebook receive less promotion in the App Store, fewer integrations into iOS, and more jabs from Cook. Meanwhile, the world sees Facebook as having been caught red-handed threatening user privacy and breaking Apple policy.

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Roblox follows Minecraft into the education market

Posted by | coding, Education, Gaming, kids, Roblox, Teens | No Comments

Roblox, the massively multiplayer online game favored by the under 13 crowd, is following in Minecraft’s footsteps with a move into the education market. The company this morning announced a new education initiative, Roblox Education, that will offer a free curriculum to educators, along with international summer coding camps, and a free online “Creator Challenge” in partnership with Universal Brand Development, which will see kids building Roblox games inspired by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. 

The gaming company has been around for many years, but only recently reached a critical mass where it was ready to talk about its numbers. Today, Roblox sees over 60 million monthly active users, and its creator community building new worlds for kids to explore has doubled to 2 million this year from the year prior, it said earlier this year.

Roblox gets kids coding by hooking them on the game itself when they’re young – around elementary school age. By middle school, users are downloading Roblox Studio to build their own games and experiences. And by high school, they’ve learned to code to customize their games even further.

And the kids aren’t just building for fun – there’s money to be made, too. The top creators make two to three million a year, the company claims. The games are free, but creators monetize through the sale of virtual goods. Roblox says it paid out $30 million to its creator community last year, and is now cash-flow positive.

With Roblox Education, the aim is to get more kids coding by working with educators directly.

The new curriculum offers teachers 12 hours of step-by-step tutorials, handouts, technical setup guides, outlines, lesson guides, and more. It’s shared freely under a Creative Commons license so teachers can use or modify it as they see fit. In the future, the curriculum will be expanded to include other subjects, as well, like Physics and Design, the company says.

In addition, teaching kids how to use Roblox Studio will be the main focus of more than 500 coding camps and online programs this summer in the U.S., U.K. Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal. The kids will learn how to create, publish and market their games to others.

The company will also run its 4th annual Roblox Summer Accelerator, and host 45 young developers at its HQ for the summer. The program has previously produced some of the more popular Roblox titles, like MeepCity and Lumber Tycoon.

And it will host its annual Roblox Developer Conference in San Francisco July 13-15, 2018, and in Amsterdam August 17-19, 2018. It’s doubling the number of attendees this year at both.

Finally, Roblox will host its first Creator Challenge with Universal, where kids learn tricks of game building via a Jurassic Park-themed, self-paced course.

“Roblox’s mission is to power and fuel imagination while inspiring a new generation of creators,” said Grace Francisco, VP of Developer Relations at Roblox, said in a statement about the launch. ”We are thrilled to be launching our education initiative that gives young people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to develop the crucial skills needed to be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and creators.”

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How tbh hit #1 by turning anonymity positive

Posted by | anonymous apps, Apps, Midnight Labs, Mobile, Nikita Bier, Social, Startups, tbh, TC, Teens | No Comments

 The innovation of tbh, teen-speak for To Be Honest, was getting rid of the typing. Whether asking or answering questions, open text fields invite abuse when combined with anonymity. Even an innocuous question like “What do you think of me?” can lead to mean-spirited comments if responders don’t have their names, and therefore any accountability, attached. Read More

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Lifestage, Facebook’s teens-only app, hits Android

Posted by | android apps, Apps, Facebook, lifestage, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC, Teens | No Comments

lifestage-android Lifestage, Facebook’s newer “teens-only” app designed to counteract the Snapchat threat by giving younger users a place to connect outside of Facebook’s larger social network, has now arrived on Android. Previously an iPhone-only application, this experimental app represents Facebook’s attempt to woo the high schooler crowd, while also testing other features… Read More

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Facebook’s new teens-only app Lifestage turns bios into video profiles

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook Lifestage, Michael Sayman, Mobile, Snapchat, Social, TC, Teens | No Comments

Facebook Lightstage “What if I figured out a way to take Facebook from 2004 and bring it to 2016? What if every field in your profile was a full video?” asks Facebook’s 19-year-old product prodigy Michael Sayman. The answer is Lifestage, a standalone iOS app for people 21 and under, which Facebook is launching today. It asks for your happy face, sad face, likes, dislikes, best friend, the way… Read More

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