Draft bill could penalize companies for using end-to-end encryption

Politicians may be looking for a roundabout way to thwart end-to-end encryption. Senator Lindsey Graham is drafting a bill, the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act, that would modify the Communications D…
Source: Engadget | Draft bill could penalize companies for using end-to-end encryption

Aston Martin won’t release EVs until it’s financially stable

Aston Martin has officially delayed the launch of all of its electric vehicles while it attempts to get back on solid financial footing. On Friday, the automaker said it plans to take up to £500 million (approximately $659 million) in emergency…
Source: Engadget | Aston Martin won’t release EVs until it’s financially stable

EU votes in favor of choosing a common charging cable standard

European Union lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to legislate manufacturers to adopt a shared charging cable standard. In a 582 to 40 vote, the European Parliament said it wants the European Commission, the body that drafts the EU's laws, to ensure…
Source: Engadget | EU votes in favor of choosing a common charging cable standard

Unicorn fever as One Medical’s IPO pops 40% after conservative pricing

Shares of One Medical are worth $19.50 this morning after the venture-backed unicorn priced its IPO at $14 per share last night. The company opened at $18 before rising further, according to Yahoo Finance data. At its current price, One Medical is worth about 40% more than its IPO price, a strong debut for the company.

The result is a boon for One Medical, which raised $532.1 million during its time as a private company. At $14 per share, the company was worth $1.71 billion. At 19.50, One Medical is worth $2.38 billion, a winning result for a company said to be worth around $1.5 billion as a private company.

For investors The Carlyle Group, J.P. Morgan, Redmile Group, GV and Benchmark (among others), the debut is a success, pricing their stakes in the company higher once again. For other unicorns, the news is even better. One Medical, a company with gross margins under the 50% mark, deeply minority recurring revenue and 30% revenue growth in 2019 at best is now worth about 8.5x its trailing revenues.

That is about as good a signal as one could imagine for venture-backed companies that aren’t in as good shape as Slack or Zoom were letting them know that now is the time to go public.

Unicorn directions

It’s possible to read One Medical’s new revenue multiple in a few ways. You can be positive, saying that its valuation and resulting metrics are signs of investor optimism for the medical service company. Or you could go negative and assume that its pricing looks like a case of the market being more excited about a brand than a set of accounting results.


Source: Tech Crunch Startups | Unicorn fever as One Medical’s IPO pops 40% after conservative pricing

You can still watch the Super Bowl for free on Roku (updated)

Last night, Fox apps were pulled from Roku, which left users who were planning to watch Super Bowl LIV via those apps scrambling. While Fox and Roku work out their differences, the NFL says there is nothing to worry about. The league will stream the…
Source: Engadget | You can still watch the Super Bowl for free on Roku (updated)

Can we keep facial recognition from enabling a surveillance state?

Since the start of the 21st century, computer vision research has advanced at a breakneck pace. Today we can board flights, rent cars, and unlock our phones simply by looking into a camera. But these conveniences come with plenty of drawbacks. Au…
Source: Engadget | Can we keep facial recognition from enabling a surveillance state?

Last day for early-bird tickets to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020

Today’s your last day to score early-bird pricing on tickets to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020, which takes place on March 3. If you want to keep $150 in your wallet, beat the deadline and buy your ticket here before the clock strikes 11:59 p.m. (PT) tonight!

Our one-day conference dedicated to robotics and AI — the good, the bad and the challenging — features interviews, panel discussions, Q&As, workshops and demos. Join roughly 1,500 experts, visionaries, creators, founders, investors, researchers and engineers. Rub elbows, network and engage with current and aspiring leaders, as well as students poised to drive future innovation.

We have a stellar line up, and just because we’re biased doesn’t mean we’re wrong. I mean come on — assistive robots, ethics and AI, the state of VC investment and robot demos. And that’s just for starters. Here are a couple of specific examples (peruse the full agenda right here):

  • Cultivating Intelligence in Agricultural Robots: The benefits of robotics in agriculture are undeniable, yet at the same time only getting started. Lewis Anderson (Traptic) and Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) will compare notes on the rigors of developing industrial-grade robots that both pick crops and weed fields, respectively. Pyka’s Michael Norcia will discuss taking flight over those fields with an autonomous crop-spraying drone.
  • Building the Robots that Build: Join Daniel Blank (Toggle), Tessa Lau (Dusty Robotics) and Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics) as they discuss whether robots can help us build structures faster, smarter and cheaper. Built Robotics makes a self-driving excavator. Toggle is developing a new fabrication of rebar for reinforced concrete and Dusty Robotics builds robot-powered tools. We’ll talk with the founders to learn how and when robots will become a part of the construction crew.

And in case you haven’t heard, we’ve added Pitch Night, a mini pitch-off, into the mix this year. We’re accepting applications until tomorrow, February 1. This is no time for fence-sitting! Apply to compete in Pitch Night now. TechCrunch editors will review the applications and choose 10 startups to pitch at a private event the night before the conference. A panel of VC judges will select five teams as finalists. Those founders will pitch again the next day — live from the Main Stage. It’s awesome exposure that could take your startup to the next level.

If you love robots, you need to be at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 on March 3. And there’s no point paying more than necessary. Today’s the last day to buy an early-bird ticket. Buy yours before the deadline expires at 11:59 p.m. (PT) and save $150.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Source: Tech Crunch Startups | Last day for early-bird tickets to TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020

Google open-sources the tools needed to make 2FA security keys

Security keys are designed to make logging in to devices simpler and more secure, but not everyone has access to them, or the inclination to use them. Until now. Today, Google has launched an open source project that will help hobbyists and hardware…
Source: Engadget | Google open-sources the tools needed to make 2FA security keys

How Dubsmash revived itself as #2 to TikTok

Lip-syncing app Dubsmash was on the brink of death. After a brief moment of virality in 2015 alongside Vine (R.I.P), Dubsmash was bleeding users faster than it could recruit them. The app let you choose an audio track like a rap song or movie quote and shoot a video of you pretending to say the words. But there was nowhere in the app to post the videos. It was a creation tool like Hipstamatic, not a network like Instagram. There’s a reason we’re only using one of those today.

So in 2017, Dubsmash‘s three executives burned down the 30-person company and rebuilt something social from the ashes with the rest of the $15.4 million it’d raised from Lowercase Capital, Index Ventures and Raine. They ditched its Berlin headquarters and resettled in Brooklyn, closer to the one demographic still pushing Dubsmashes to the Instagram Explore page: African-American teenagers posting dances and lip-syncs to indie hip-hop songs on the rise.

Dubsmash stretched its funding to rehire a whole new team of 15. They spent a year coding a new version of Dubsmash centered around Following and Trending feeds, desperately trying to match the core features of Musically, which by then had been bought by China’s ByteDance. It’s got chat but still lacks the augmented reality filters, cut transitions and photo slideshows of TikTok. But Dubsmash has the critical remix option for soundtracking your clip with the audio of any other video that sets it apart from Instagram and Snapchat.

“We realized to build a great product, we needed a depth of expertise that we just didn’t have access to in Berlin,” Dubsmash co-founder and CEO Jonas Druppel tells me. “It was a risky move and we felt the weight of it acutely. But we also knew there was no other way forward, given the scale and pace of the other players in the market.”

Few social apps have ever pulled off a real comeback. Even Snapchat had only lost 5 million of its 191 million users before it started growing again. But in the case of Dubsmash, its biggest competitor was also its savior.

The pre-relaunch version of Dubsmash

In August 2018, ByteDance merged Musically into TikTok to form a micro-entertainment phenomenon. Instead of haphazardly sharing auto-biographical Stories shot with little forethought, people began storyboarding skits and practicing dances. The resulting videos were denser and more compelling than content on Snapchat and Instagram. The new Dubsmash, launched two months later, rode along with the surge of interest in short-form video like a Lilliputian in a giant’s shirt pocket. The momentum helped Dubsmash raise a secret round of funding last year to keep up the chase.

Now Dubsmash has 1 billion video views per month.

Dubsmash rebuilt its app and revived its usage

“The turnaround that we executed hasn’t been done in recent memory by a consumer app in such a competitive marketplace. Most of them fade to oblivion or shut down,” Dubsmash co-founder and president Suchit Dash tells me. “By moving the company to the United States, hiring a brand new all-star team and relaunching the product, we gave this company and product a second life. Through that journey, we obsessed only on one metric: retention.”

Now the app has pulled 27% of the U.S. short-form video market share by installs, second only to TikTok’s 59%, according to App Annie. Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that TikTok has about 3X as many U.S. lifetime installs as Dubsmash, and 11X more between when Musically became TikTok in August 2018 and now. [Note: These statistics are based on polling methods and TechCrunch cannot confirm their exact accuracy.]

In terms of active users outside of TikTok, Dubsmash has 73% of the U.S. market, compared to just 23% on Triller, 3.6% on Firework and an embarrassing 0% on Facebook’s Lasso. And while Triller began surpassing Dubsmash in downloads per month in October, Dubsmash has 3X as many active users and saw 38% more first-time downloads in 2018 than 2019. Dubsmash now sees 30% retention after a month, and 30% of its daily users are creating content.

It’s that stellar rate of participation that’s brought Dubsmash back to life. It also attracted a previously unannounced round of $6.75 million in the spring of 2019, largely from existing investors. While TikTok’s superstars and huge visibility could be scaring some users away from shooting videos while a long-tail of recent downloaders watch passively, Dubsmash has managed to make people feel comfortable on camera.

“Dubsmash is ground zero for culture creation in America — it’s where the newest, most popular hip-hop and dance challenges on the internet originate,” Dash declares. “Members of the community are developing content that will make them the superstars of tomorrow.”

Being No. 2 might not be so bad, given how mobile video viewing is growing massively thanks to better cameras, bigger screens, faster networks and cheaper data. Right now, Dubsmash doesn’t make any money. It hopes to one day generate revenue while helping its creators earn a living too, perhaps through ad revenue shares, tipping, subscriptions, merchandise or offline meetups.

One advantage of not being TikTok is that the app feels less crowded by semi-pro creators and influencers. That gives users the vibe that they’re more likely to hit the Trending or Explore page on Dubsmash. The Trending page is dominated by hot new songs and flashy dances, even if they’re shot with a lower production quality that feels accessible.

Dubsmash tries to stoke that sense of opportunity by making Explore about discovering accounts and all the content they’ve made rather than specific videos. While popular clips might have tens of thousands of views rather than the hundred-thousand or multi-million counts on TikTok’s top content, there’s enough visibility to make shooting Dubsmashes worth it.

TikTok has already taken notice. Shown in a leak of its moderation guidelines from Netzpolitik, the company’s policy is to downrank the visibility of any video referencing or including a watermark from direct competitors, including Dubsmash, Triller, Lasso, Snapchat and WhatsApp. That keeps Dubsmash videos, which you can save to your camera roll, from going viral on TikTok and luring users away.

TikTok’s content moderation guidelines show it downranks content featuring the watermarks of competitors like Dubsmash

TikTok also continues to aggressively buy users via ads on competing apps like Facebook thanks to the billions in funding raked in by its parent ByteDance. In contrast, Dash says Dubsmash has never spent a dollar on user acquisition, influencer marketing or any other source of growth. That makes it achieving even half to a third of as many installs as TikTok in the U.S. an impressive fete.

Why would creators choose Dubsmash over TikTok? Dash clinically explains that it’s a “decoupled audio and video platform that enables producers and tastemakers to upload fresh, original tracks that are utilized by creators and influencers alike,” but that it’s also about “its role as a welcoming home for a community that’s underrepresented on social platforms.”

If Dubsmash keeps growing, though, it will encounter the inevitable content moderation problems that come with scale. It’s already doing a solid job of requiring users to sign up with their birth date to watch or post videos, and it blocks those under 13. Only users who follow each other can chat.

Any piece of content that’s flagged by users is hidden from the network until it passes a review by its human moderation team that works around the clock, and it does proactive takedowns too. However, brigading and malicious takedown reports could be used by trolls to silence their enemies. Dubsmash is working off of a common sense model of what’s allowed rather than firm guidelines, which will be tough to keep consistent at scale.

“Being a social media app in 2020 means you need to take greater responsibility for the well-being of the community,” says Dash. “We decided upon relaunch to take a strict perspective. Our goal is to be intentional and proactive early, and invest in safety and healthy growth rather than growth at all costs. This may not be the most popular approach amongst the market, but we believe this is the most effective way to build a social platform.”

Dubsmash proves that short-form video is so compelling to teens that the market can sustain multiple apps. That will have to be the case, given Instagram is preparing to release its TikTok clone, Reels, and Vine’s co-founder Dom Hofmann just launched his successor, Byte. The breakdown could look like:

  • TikTok: A slightly longer-form combo of comedy, dance and absurdity
  • Dubsmash: Mid-length dance and music videos with a diverse community
  • Byte: Super short-form comedy featuring slightly older ex-Vine stars
  • Triller: Mid-length life blogging clips from Hollywood celebrities
  • Instagram Reels: International influencers making videos for a mainstream audience

Perhaps we’ll eventually see consolidation in the market, with giants like TikTok and Instagram acquiring smaller players to grow their content network effect with more fodder for remixes. But fragmentation could breed creativity. Different tools and audiences beg for different types of videos. Make something special, and there’s an app out there to enter you into pop culture cannon.

For more on the short-form video wars and the future of micro-entertainment, read:

Source: Tech Crunch Mobiles | How Dubsmash revived itself as #2 to TikTok