Tag Archive | "press"

Alleged Bitcoin Creator Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto Denies Involvement

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Is this man really the father of Bitcoin? After a full day of wild speculation and anger, the LA press have finally tracked down Nakamoto and he’s receiving a grilling. According to reports, Nakamoto and an AP reporter went to a sushi restaurant earlier this afternoon while the rest of the press followed along. Finally, the 64-year-old man went to the AP offices where he conducted his only… Read More

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Sony’s Waterproof Wearable To Be Available Worldwide In March

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Sony introduced the SmartBand SWR10 at CES 2014. The diminutive wearable is part of Sony’s push into an ever-connected experience centered around its Xperia products. Sony was mum about the release schedule back at CES, but today, at Mobile World Congress, the company announced that the device will be available in 60 markets next month.

The SmartBand sports the standard affair of fitness tracking. But Sony is positioning this device as much more than a fitness tracker. According to the press release, it’s “a new user experience based around three core pillars – Lifelogging, ‘Wearing smart’ and ‘Life tools’.”

Besides Lifelogging, the other two items are needless branding for standard functions found on wearables. This includes sleep monitoring, vibrating notification alerts, and remote control of media playback. Sony loves to brand things.

The Lifelogging is a bit convoluted. From the sound of it, this function uses the SmartBand as a sort of life-tracking tool that somehow relates media to a location. Here’s what the presser has to say about it.

Lifelog application – Communication and entertainment, staying on top of the things that matter to you Sony’s innovative new Lifelog application binds the SmartWear Experience together, enabling you to discover your past, enjoy your present and helping inspire your future. Together with SmartBand, the Android app enables you to effortlessly capture life and entertainment – places visited, music listened to, games played, books read – and presents it a beautifully visual interface.

You can see how active you were, where you went, what pictures you took and how you have been communicating with your world. Lifelog will also help you set activity goals, monitor your progress and make recommendations to help inform future decisions.

So there’s that.

The SmartBand only works with Android devices, and from the press release, it seems some of the so-called Lifelogging functions require specific applications. At CES Sony stated the device would cost 99 euros. This release communiqué doesn’t state the price, meaning Sony is going to hold true to its aforementioned pricing or it could switch things up prior to the release.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Y Combinator-Backed Ambition Offers A Fantasy Football-Style Approach To Motivating Sales Teams

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Ambition says it’s taking the process of tracking and motivating sales teams beyond white boards and gongs.

The startup, which is part of the current class at incubator Y Combinator, launched its product last August, but has been “flying under the radar” in the press until now, said co-founder Travis Truett. He compared Ambition’s approach to fantasy football — he’s hoping Ambition users will be excited to log in every day and see how their team is doing.

Unlike fantasy football, however, Ambition isn’t tracking professional athletes competing against each other in imaginary matches. (At least, that’s how I remember fantasy football — it’s been a long time since someone strong-armed me into participating.) Instead, it looks at the performance of different sales teams within the company, allowing them to compete for limited “seasons”, with rewards for the winners.

Each team member is assigned an “ambition” score. The specific metrics that are used to calculate the score can be customized for each company and each position, so Truett suggested that it’s a way to compare people who are doing different positions.

He added that Ambition integrates with phone and customer relationship management systems, so it can track the relevant metrics without requiring any extra work from the salespeople (though it may motivate them to keep the CRM updated).

Ambition Profile

The idea of “gamifying” the workplace isn’t new, Truett acknowledgde, but he said most companies are doing “gamification for gamification’s sake” or “Gamification 1.0″. More specifically, he suggested that many of the existing tools are too focused on leaderboards.

“That’s relatively passive, it’s not sustainable,” he said. “You really only have the top 10 percent who are motivated, because I might say, ‘You know what? Anthony wins every single time, so what do I care?’”

That’s why the team-focused system could be an important motivator — participants feel like they have a stake in their team’s success, even if they’re not number one, and it also makes the process “peer motivated, not manager motivated,” Truett said. Managers, meanwhile, can look at individual and team-wide data.

While Ambition’s initial focus is sales, Truett suggested that it could eventually serve “anybody that measures their employees.”

The startup was founded in Chattanooga, Tennessee and has raised seed funding from The Lamp Post Group, Y Combinator, and YCVC.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Belkin Fixes WeMo Vulnerabilities With Firmware Update

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Fear not, owners of Belkin WeMo devices: you no longer have to lose sleep over the possibility that your smart plug will be hacked. Belkin has rolled out an update that patches the five vulnerabilities listed by FEMA’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team. This security hole affects up to 500,000 WeMo devices, and as CERT states, the vulnerability could result in anything from a fire to the waste of electricity.

These holes were recently discovered and announced by IOActive, Inc. As the press release states, the security company made several attempts to contact Belkin about the issues, but Belkin was unresponsive. So IOActive turned to CERT who also issued a statement. However, per a statement Belkin sent to TechCrunch (embedded below), Belkin was in fact in contact with the security research firm prior to their public statement.

Specifically, Mike Davis, IOActive’s principal research scientist, identified that through several different means, hackers could remotely access Internet-connected WeMo products, upload custom firmware, remotely monitor devices and access local networks.

The update Belkin recently issued patches these holes.

This speaks to a larger issue. As the Internet of things takes off, hackers and malicious coders have an increasing number of targets. It’s not inconsivable that in the near future, KitchenAid will have to issue a security patch for a toaster or blender.

Belkin’s Statement

Belkin has corrected the list of five potential vulnerabilities affecting the WeMo line of home automation solutions that was published in a CERT advisory on February 18. Belkin was in contact with the security researchers prior to the publication of the advisory, and, as of February 18, had already issued fixes for each of the noted potential vulnerabilities via in-app notifications and updates. Users with the most recent firmware release (version 3949) are not at risk for malicious firmware attacks or remote control or monitoring of WeMo devices from unauthorized devices. Belkin urges such users to download the latest app from the App Store (version 1.4.1) or Google Play Store (version 1.2.1) and then upgrade the firmware version through the app.

Specific fixes Belkin has issued include:

1) An update to the WeMo API server on November 5, 2013 that prevents an XML injection attack from gaining access to other WeMo devices.

2) An update to the WeMo firmware, published on January 24, 2014, that adds SSL encryption and validation to the WeMo firmware distribution feed, eliminates storage of the signing key on the device, and password protects the serial port interface to prevent a malicious firmware attack

3) An update to the WeMo app for both iOS (published on January 24, 2014) and Android (published on February 10, 2014) that contains the most recent firmware update

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Please Come Pick Up Your Award, Edward

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We gave Edward Snowden an award and he can’t even give us the courtesy to show up and accept it. Sure, he’d be jailed upon entering US soil and set on a pretty much pre-determined course for life in prison. But, still, it’s a tiny statue of a monkey smashing a TV. We question his priorities.

Accepting on his behalf was Trevor Timm, Executive Director of the Freedom of Press Foundation, of which Edward Snowden is a member. “It’s fitting that he’s won the award tonight,” said Timm at his acceptance speech, who organized a mass web protest yesterday to pressure Congress to rein in the authority of the National Security Agency.

Watch the full interview with Timm above and listen to his call to action.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Flappy Bird Developer Says He’s Taking The Hit Game Down Tomorrow

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The developer of the popular mobile game Flappy Bird just declared that he’s taking the game down tomorrow.

Dong Nguyen, an indie game developer based in Hanoi, Vietnam, tweeted, “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird’ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird’ down. I cannot take this anymore.” He then elaborated, “It is not anything related to legal issues. I just cannot keep it anymore.”

After his tweets first went out, others asked if he was willing to sell it, but he said no. Nguyen also said that he’s still making games.

TechCrunch interviewed Nguyen via email a week ago, after Flappy Bird took off (it’s still the number one free app in both Apple’s App Store and in Google Play). He said that he’s the only creator at his game studio .GEARS , and he seemed to be as surprised by Flappy Bird’s popularity as anyone else, telling us, “I have no resources to do anything else beside uploading the game.”

I’ve emailed Nguyen to find out more and will update this post if I hear back. Presumably, if you’ve already downloaded the game you’d be able to continue playing it, but again, that’s not something I’ve confirmed with Nguyen.

As noted in Kotaku, Nguyen said earlier this week that the press was “overrating” the success of his games: “It is something I never want. Please give me peace.”

Still want more? Read “Confessions Of A Flappy Bird Addict”

Flappy Bird Addiction Done

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

PressFriendly Launches To Teach Startups How To Stop Sending Me Stupid Pitches

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PressFriendly logo

Today in software eating the world: Software eating PR!

As you might expect, I receive a ginormous number of stupid PR pitches each day, most of which come from people who are specifically paid to send me those pitches. But some of them are from well-meaning entrepreneurs who want coverage but just don’t know how to pitch.

The result is a lot of emails that are pretty much instantly archived without a second thought.

For startups, there’s usually a choice between hiring someone to take care of your PR — which usually means retaining an agency — or doing the work yourself. PressFriendly seeks to provide an alternative, in which startups can have more effective communications with the press through software.

To do that, the company has built a platform that walks a startup through all the things they should do before they begin to do press outreach. It also builds custom media lists for startups based on what their product is and which reporters might be most interested in the story.

The whole thing works like a kind of virtual agency. Rather than meeting with a human PR team, startups enter their information into a PressFriendly “pitch builder” which helps them to hone their messaging before they go out to press. And then there’s the media list, which I mentioned before.

But it’s not all software-driven: PressFriendly also provides consultation with professionals who can help work out the kinks and generally provide more advice. But like other companies that are trying to make more efficient use of people’s time, those folks will talk less to more people, rather than the traditional PR model of having dedicated teams for specific companies.

The whole point is to replace an agency as much as possible and do the work yourself, says PressFriendly co-founder Joel Andren. By doing so, founders can drastically reduce their costs: PressFriendly is a SaaS platform that costs between $99 and $999 a month, depending on how much consultation time startups plan to use.

The platform was founded by Andren, who was a co-founder of Bitcasa and head of marketing and BD at HelloSign, along with Paul Denya, who was the second developer at HelloSign and worked at global ad firm Euro RSCG.

The idea is that these guys and their software will be able to help get startups in line and ready to launch before they start emailing someone like me. Will it work? God, I hope so.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Klout Adds Content Sharing Recommendations To Help Improve Your Score

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Think your Klout score’s too low? Well, the social influence measurement startup is launching a revamped version of its website today that includes tools for improving your score.

The main addition is a “create” section that shows a stream of content based on the topics that you’re interested in and that the people who follow your social media accounts are interested in. The main way to increase your Klout score is to post content that people engage with, so with the stream is essentially recommendations for content to share. Klout can also handle scheduling each post and will provide analytics so you can see what is and isn’t working.

And the site flags different types of content in the stream. There’s On the Rise, which means the content is “on the verge of trending.” Crowd Pleaser signals content that your followers would be interested in. Hot off the Press means that it was recently published by a trusted source. And Hidden Gem is a label for content that hasn’t shown up in the news feeds of many of your followers, so you’re not just duplicating links that everyone else is sharing.

Chief Product Officer Sanjay Desai said Klout has been testing these new tools with a limited group of users and found that people are sharing an average of three pieces of content per session. He also said that initially, these features will help existing Klout users get “more value” from the service, but he thinks they could eventually help recruit new users as well, particularly as the company continues adding new capabilities.

klout screenshot

The risk, of course, is that we’ll see a bunch of people all sharing the same content in the hope of boosting their “personal brand” or whatever. The content flags should help mitigate that, and CEO Joe Fernandez said there will be more tools for creating original content later. He suggested that content sharing is “a starting point”, both from a Klout product perspective and in the sense that it’s an easy way for people who aren’t active on social networks to become more comfortable.

“If Klout is just a factory for spreading links for the web, it’s pretty lame,” Fernandez said. “We’re going to go beyond that.”

Last year, Fernandez wrote about some of the challenges he’s faced turning Klout into a business. However, he emphasized yesterday that the monetization plan (where companies pay to promote their products to influential users as “perks”) is working, with Klout seeing revenue in the “double digit millions” for the first time last year. Both Fernandez and Desi said they’re hoping to reach profitability by early next year.

The need for revenue doesn’t shape all of the company’s product decisions, Fernandez added, but there is a new opportunity to make money here by including promoted links among the content recommendations.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Truecaller Lands $18.8M Series B From Sequoia, Partners With Yelp To Verify Business Numbers

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Truecaller, the mobile phone number verification directory with over 45 million users, has today secured an $18.8 million Series B financing round led by Sequoia Capital, alongside existing investor Open Ocean, Truecaller Chairman Stefan Lennhammer, and an anonymous private investor “who is known for his high profile Silicon Valley investments,” according to the press release.

Mysterious.

Along with the funding, Truecaller has also announced a partnership with Yelp to help users automatically verify business numbers that are calling your smartphone.

Based out of Stockholm, Sweden, Truecaller helps users identify all the phone numbers calling their smartphone, whether that number is in the Contacts list or not. To add even more verifiable numbers to the Truecaller directory, the company has integrated Yelp’s API data into the app so that business calls don’t come as a surprise.

But beyond showing the name of the Yelp business calling you, Truecaller will also show the business’s Yelp rating, and whether Truecaller users have marked that number as spam.

This isn’t the first time Truecaller has forged partnerships to expand reach. In December, Truecaller partnered with Twitter in India to link phone number lookups with tweets.

In terms of the funding, Truecaller will be using the Series B to expand the business into the U.S., where the company has yet to establish a huge presence.

Eventually, Truecaller will move beyond the freemium model, which lets users see who has searched their number or look up numbers on their own, to promote various businesses within the app.

“If you’re looking for a good pizza place, with our database and your social graph, we can figure which pizza places are the ones your friends actually call or care about,” said Truecaller CEO Alan Mamedi. “And that can be a powerful thing.”

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Fair Competition Or Foul Play? Rival Car Service Fires Back At Uber Over Alleged Attack

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If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again: Competition can get pretty fierce in the world of on-demand transportation. Consumer demand for better, faster and more convenient car services has exploded and top startups are racing to meet the opportunity. As an early mover in the space, Uber is used to pushing back against unwelcoming opposition, and fighting unions, legislators and more as it’s grown.

However, as we reported last week, an Uber competitor made it clear that the company’s “aggressive tactics” may have finally gone too far.

Gett, formerly GetTaxi, brought a rival black car service to New York City for the first time this fall. Soon thereafter, it crossed a $100 million annual run rate thanks to its growing international presence. The startup’s entrance into an already hyper-competitive New York market did not go unnoticed.

As we reported, over the course of three days during the week of January 13th, Gett alleged that Uber employees launched the “real world” equivalent of a DDoS, or denial-of-service, attack, ordering and canceling more than 100 of its cars. Evidence provided to TechCrunch at the time showed that more than one dozen Uber employees had worked simultaneously to request rides from its competitor, waiting until the cars had almost arrived before canceling their orders.

Having obtained drivers’ numbers as a result of ordering the rides through the app, Uber employees then texted as many of the Gett drivers they could in an attempt to recruit them, offering cash incentives to those who would switch into its camp.

From Gett’s perspective, this was “uncool” for a number of reasons, chief of which was the disruption of its new business. To Uber’s credit, it responded with a public apology, admitting that it had attempted to recruit Gett drivers, saying that its “local teams can be pretty determined when spreading the word about Uber and how our platform opens up new economic opportunities for drivers.”

While that could have been the end of it (and perhaps should have been), Gett isn’t satisfied. The startup heard Uber’s apology acknowledging that it screwed up — but saw that apology as more of an appeasement measure aimed at customers and vocal opponents on Twitter.

Uber said in its statement that members of its New York team had made these requests to “generate leads of independent contractors” but had in fact “cancelled those requests seconds later,” and did pay “cancellation fees for these requests.”

The company also defined its requests as “sales tactics” — even if qualified by the admission that they were “too aggressive.”

Gett, simply put, seems to think that, when it comes to apologizing for anti-competitive behavior, this is the bare minimum as far as apologies are concerned. That it is the equivalent of apologizing, but saying, “hey, we’re an aggressive company with go-get-’em sales tactics and we shouldn’t have done that, but ‘no harm, no foul’ because we cancelled seconds later and paid any necessary fees.”

In a follow-up statement today, Gett is firing back, saying that Uber’s attempt to shift focus away from their transgression is unfair and that their presentation of the situation as a well-intentioned but “too aggressive” marketing tactic doesn’t quite do it justice. According to evidence provided to TechCrunch, this was not simply a random, rogue employee going off the reservation.

In fact, further evidence shows that, not only do the dozen or so Uber employees whose names appear on the order include a social media manager, operations manager, community manager and general manager, but Gett alleges that more than one Uber employee created multiple accounts using different names.

The idea being that it wasn’t just a dozen employees using their real first and last name, but multiple employees using, say, their first name and middle name, or variations thereof. Uber General Manager Josh Mohrer, for example, allegedly created two accounts, one being “Josh Martin” and the other being “Jim Martins.”

For one of those names, Mohrer allegedly provided an invalid credit card and requested rides not just from the Uber offices or one individual location, but multiple rides originating from all over Manhattan and the outer boroughs — from Times Square to La Guardia.

The majority of these rides took place over the course of one hour, at the very least making it difficult to contend that Mohrer was in all of those places at once. To further back up its claims, Gett also alleges that Mohrer was far from alone in this behavior, as multiple Uber employees used invalid credit cards and removed credit card information after canceling their rides.

When asked what purpose Gett had in coming forward with this kind of information, Gett CEO Jing Herman said that “driver information is not for sale and indulgences don’t go for $10.” She also said that Uber had managed to recruit one of Gett’s drivers since then, and the company wants to make sure that this kind of behavior does not continue.

As to whether Gett planned to pursue legal action against Uber? The CEO said that the company had not made a final decision yet on this front and is “evaluating its options.”

TechCrunch asked former Federal Prosecutor Fred Tocce whether or not he thought Uber’s actions potentially warranted more serious, er, legal action from Gett. Tocce, whose firm Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel, specializes in intellectual property law, including unfair competition, and who himself has worked on over 200 cases in this area, said, in short, “yes.”

Elaborating, the former federal prosecutor said that Gett would potentially “have a number of viable causes of action against Uber under New York law” — as well as the laws of many states in the U.S., he added. Tocce cited potential causes of action as including but not limited to, unfair competition, tortious interference with contractual relations and tortious interference with prospective contractual relations.

If the false credit card part of the scheme were true, Tocce continued, then there could also be cause for action for fraud and conversion, but in all cases, it would be a matter of showing that Uber’s conduct caused harm and just how much harm to business it actually caused. In the end, however, Gett has thus far been content to let this play itself out in the press, rather than enter into a lengthy and potentially expensive legal battle against one of the largest companies in the space.

Of course, if one were to view this situation from the other side of the table, one might say that Gett is also taking advantage of the incident and is, overall, on a mission to use Uber as a focal point around which to base some of its own marketing; particularly around the fact that it does not use surge pricing as Uber does during peak hours.

When TechCrunch reached out to Uber for a response, the company again apologized and reiterated its previous response:

We apologize for the tactics used to recruit drivers in NYC a couple of weeks ago and took steps to ensure that it does not occur again … We believe that the Uber platform is the best option for drivers to maximize their incomes and become their own entrepreneurs. As we were working to bring more drivers on the Uber platform quickly to meet consumer demand, the NYC team got overzealous in getting the word out to drivers.

Uber spokesman Andrew Noyes also contended that while some employees did use their first name and maiden names, they had made no effort to conceal their identity or produce fake accounts. Furthermore, to their knowledge, all of the credit card information provided was authentic, although there was one instance in which an employee had a card authenticated by had removed the information once it triggered fraud protection at their bank.

In response, Gett said that it used Braintree, and processed payment information likely in much the same way as Uber. COO Adi Vaxman said that the company “authenticates cards at the time the account is opened and also runs a small pre-authorization amount when a ride is requested, similar to all mobile app vendors.” In the event that a pre-authorization fails, the user is then “prompted to update their payment method in order to pay for their ride.”

But, according to Gett, the Uber users in question did not in fact update their payment information. When the cancellation fees were later processed, the company learned that some of the cards were invalid while others were removed from the accounts entirely, and that Gett “could not charge all users due to invalid credit cards and cards being removed,” the CEO said.

For now, it is up to readers to decide what to make of this unfolding story, but from the facts presented by both sides, it doesn’t exactly look like there are too many ways to spin this in Uber’s favor. Yes, stories like this make Uber seem like the incumbent, like the dominant name in the space, but that’s not going to be much of a surprise to people. However, what could potentially be more interesting, and worth more of a conversation, is what happens when a space doesn’t exactly have 10,000-foot barriers to competition and what the leaders in the space do when that competition inevitably arrives.

Is this a case of all’s fair in love and on-demand transportation, or is this something that Uber needs to be held accountable for? You be the judge.

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Article courtesy of TechCrunch

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