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Wed, 08 Aug 2018 17:12:06 +0000
Y Combinator is launching a startup program in China
U.S. accelerator Y Combinator is expanding to China after it announced the hiring of former Microsoft and Baidu executive Qi Lu who will develop a standalone startup program that runs on Chinese soil. Shanghai-born Lu spent 11 years with Yahoo and eight years with Microsoft before a short spell with Baidu, where he was COO and […]

At Disrupt SF 2018, Facebook’s soon-to-be-former chief security officer Alex Stamos will join us to chat about his tenure in the top security role for the world’s biggest social network, how it feels to have weathered some of the biggest security and privacy scandals to ever hit the tech industry and securing U.S. elections in the 2018 midterms and beyond.

Following his last day at Facebook on August 17, Stamos will transition to an academic role at Stanford, starting this September. Since March, Stamos has focused on election security at Facebook as the company tries to rid its massive platform of Russian interference and bolster it against disinformation campaigns aiming to disrupt U.S. politics.

“It is critical that we as an industry live up to our collective responsibility to consider the impact of what we build, and I look forward to continued collaboration and partnership with the security and safety teams at Facebook,” Stamos said of the company he is leaving.

At Stanford, Stamos will take on a full-time role as an adjunct professor with the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and plans to conduct research, as well. Stamos previously lectured a security class at Stanford and intends to expand on that foundation with a hands-on “hack lab” where students explore real-world hacking techniques and how to defend against them. With the class, open to non-computer science majors, Stamos seeks to expose a broader swath of students to the intricacies of cybersecurity.

Prior to his time at Facebook, Stamos served as the chief information security officer at Yahoo . Stamos left in 2015 for his new security role at Facebook, reportedly over clashes at the beleaguered company over cybersecurity resources and the implementation of measures like end-to-end encryption. In both roles, Stamos navigated the choppy waters of high-profile privacy scandals while trying to chart a more secure path forward.

The full agenda is here. You can purchase tickets here.


Thu, 19 Jul 2018 23:31:20 +0000
Outgoing Facebook CSO Alex Stamos will join Disrupt SF to talk cybersecurity
At Disrupt SF 2018, Facebook’s soon-to-be-former chief security officer Alex Stamos will join us to chat about his tenure in the top security role for the world’s biggest social network, how it feels to have weathered some of the biggest security and privacy scandals to ever hit the tech industry and securing U.S. elections in […]

You would think that Amazon, Reddit, Wikipedia and other highly popular websites would by now tell you that “password1” or “hunter2” is a terrible password — just terrible. But they don’t. A research project that has kept tabs on the top sites and their password habits for the last 11 years shows that most provide only rudimentary password restrictions and do little to help users.

Steven Furnell, of the University of Plymouth, first did a survey of websites’ password practices in 2007, repeating the process in 2011 and 2014 — and then once more this week. His conclusions?

It is somewhat disappointing to find that the overall story in 2018 remains largely similar to that of 2007. In the intervening years, much has been written about the failings of passwords and the ways in which we use them, yet little is done to encourage or oblige us to follow the right path.

Although the university writeup notes that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo had the best password practices and Amazon, Reddit and Wikipedia had the worst, it diplomatically declined to go into specifics. Fortunately, I acquired the paper for myself and am prepared to name and shame.

The top 10 unique sites in English (as measured by Alexa; the lineup has changed somewhat over the years) were evaluated: Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, Yahoo, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram, Microsoft Live and Netflix.

The biggest failure is inarguably Amazon, which combines truly inadequate password controls with an incredibly valuable and personal service. Wikipedia and Reddit had fewer restrictions, but neither protects such important data; an Amazon account being accessed by malicious actors is a far greater danger.

Amazon accepted practically every password Furnell threw at it, including repeats of the username, the user’s own name and, of course, the all-time classic, “password.” (Netflix and Reddit also took “password,” though Wikipedia didn’t. Wikipedia, on the other hand, accepted single-character passwords like “b.”)

Even sites that do have restrictions, like requiring multiple character types or rejecting commonly used passwords, seldom explain themselves. Presented with no feedback at the start, users creating an account may enter a password, only to be told it must be longer… and then, again, that it can’t have a certain word (like the user’s last name)… and then, again, that it must include special characters. And some sites have different requirements when you sign up than when you set a new one!

Why not lay it all out at the start? And for that matter, why not explain the reasoning behind it? It’d be trivial to make a little info box saying “We require X because Y.” But hardly any of the top sites do.

The one bit of light in this dreary report is that two-factor authentication — arguably more important than a good password — is in fact making strides, and some of the worst offenders in password policy (looking at you, Amazon) allow it. Now they just have to move it off of SMS and onto a secure authenticator app.

The final word is pretty the same as it’s been for the last decade:

The basic argument here – as with the earlier versions of the study and the others referenced – is for provision of user-facing security to be matched with accompanying support. Passwords are a good example because we know that many people are poor at using them. And yet the lesson continues to go unheeded and we continue to criticise the method and blame the users instead.

Two-factor is a start, but:

Users arguably require more encouragement – or indeed obligation – to use them. Otherwise, like passwords themselves, they will offer the potential for protection, while falling short of doing so in practice.

In other words, quit talking about how bad passwords are and do something about it!


Tue, 19 Jun 2018 13:12:49 +0000
Surprise! Top sites still fail at encouraging non-terrible passwords
You would think that Amazon, Reddit, Wikipedia and other highly popular websites would by now tell you that "password1" or "hunter2" is a terrible password — just terrible. But they don't. A research project that has kept tabs on the top sites and their password habits for the last 11 years shows that most provide only rudimentary password restrictions and do little to help users.

The days for Yahoo Messenger are now numbered, but Yahoo and its parent Oath (which also owns TC) are still counting on growth for other communications services, specifically Yahoo Mail. Today, the company announced two new versions of Yahoo Mail, optimised for mobile web and an app for Android Go, a version of Android specifically tailored for cheaper handsets.

The launch comes at a time when Yahoo Mail has stagnated in its growth: the company says that it now has 227.8 million monthly active users with some 26 billion emails sent daily, but that user size is only about two million more than it had a year ago. It’s a small number also relatively speaking: as a comparison, Google’s Gmail reported 1.4 billion users this past April.

In other words, one very clear aim of enhancing the mobile web and Android One experience is to try to grow use of Yahoo Mail among new categories of users, specifically among people who are using lower-end devices, either in emerging markets or as more casual mobile users in more mature markets. And given that Yahoo Mail is already available in 46 languages and 70 markets, it’s probably overdue that Yahoo has decided to revamp some features specifically for a large part of those markets.

For the mobile web service specifically, Yahoo’s hoping to ease people into using Yahoo Mail more regularly.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from users that they’re not always ready to make the big leap to downloading an app that takes up any storage space on their phone,” said Joshua Jacobson, senior director of product management for Yahoo Mail. “People with high-capacity phones may want to save that space for photos or videos, while others with entry-level smartphones may just have limited space from the get-go. Further, some folks share devices or borrow a family member’s to access their email. This is all especially true in developing markets.” 

Yahoo is not the only company to focus on how to cater more to emerging markets: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and many others have developed versions of their platforms and apps tailored for users in these countries (sometimes controversially, when their actions are deemed to be too anticompetitive). Part of the reason for this is because emerging market consumers have been proven to be very enthusiastic users of mobile phones: they use handsets as their primary communications device, often forgoing landlines and computers in the process; but not only do they generally have less money to spend on things like mobile data and devices, but often mobile data represents a higher relative cost overall.

On top of this, as growth has levelled off in mature markets, emerging economies are the drivers of all new adoption: usage outside of the US and other mature markets will grow by over 50 percent by 2025, according to the GSMA. Creating apps and sites that consume less data is a no-brainer if you want to grow your usage in these markets, which is what Yahoo is now trying to do.

Yahoo last year introduced a new version of its Mail app (along with a paid, ad-free option), which it updated earlier this year with faster load times and other features. Today’s new web version and Android Go app are aiming to create more parity with the standard that it set there. Features include “swipe through your inbox”, a Tinder-style gesture to either to mark a mail a ‘read’ or to delete it (if you swipe left); a new option to personalise your inbox with color themes; an enhanced sidebar to create and use folders; autosuggestion on names (a big one that would have felt very onerous to do without, I’d guess); infinite scroll on the inbox (with no need to click on ‘next’).

One issue that I’ve noticed a lot with web apps is that they often don’t seem to work as fast as native apps, and this too seems to be something that Yahoo wants to address: built on React and Redux (similar to the native apps), the responsiveness is much faster now.

Yahoo says that Android Go, meanwhile, will take up only about 10 megabytes of space to install, and is optimised to reduce RAM usage if your device is below 50MB.


Tue, 12 Jun 2018 12:48:18 +0000
Yahoo Mail aims at emerging markets and casual users, launches versions for mobile web and Android Go
The days for Yahoo Messenger are now numbered, but Yahoo and its parent Oath (which also owns TC) are still counting on growth for other communications services, specifically Yahoo Mail. Today, the company announced two new versions of Yahoo Mail, optimised for mobile web and an app for Android Go, a version of Android specifically tailored […]

Another fallout from the massive Yahoo data breach that dates back to 2014: The UK’s data watchdog has just issued a


Tue, 05 Jun 2018 17:10:56 +0000
UK watchdog issues $330k fine for Yahoo’s 2014 data breach
Another fallout from the massive Yahoo data breach that dates back to 2014: The UK’s data watchdog has just issued a

Tue, 29 May 2018 23:54:09 +0000
MyHeritage breach exposes 92M emails and hashed passwords
The genetic analysis and family tree website MyHeritage was breached last year by unknown actors, who exfiltrated the emails and hashed passwords of all 92 million registered users of the site. No credit card info, nor (what would be more disturbing) genetic data appears to have been collected.

After pleading guilty in November, the Canadian hacker at least partially to blame for the massive Yahoo hack that exposed up to 3 billion accounts will face five years in prison. According to the Justice Department, the hacker, 23-year-old Karim Baratov, worked under the guidance of two agents from the FSB, Russia’s spy agency, to compromise the accounts.

Those officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, reside in Russia, as does Latvian hacker Alexsey Belan who also was implicated in the Yahoo hack. Given their location, those three are unlikely to face consequences for their involvement, but Baratov’s Canadian citizenship made him vulnerable to prosecution.

“Baratov’s role in the charged conspiracy was to hack webmail accounts of individuals of interest to his coconspirator who was working for the FSB and send those accounts’ passwords to Dokuchaev in exchange for money,” the Justice Department described in its summary of Baratov’s sentencing.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Alex G. Tse issued a stern warning to other would-be hackers doing a foreign government’s dirty work:

The sentence imposed reflects the seriousness of hacking for hire. Hackers such as Baratov ply their trade without regard for the criminal objectives of the people who hire and pay them. These hackers are not minor players; they are a critical tool used by criminals to obtain and exploit personal information illegally. In sentencing Baratov to five years in prison, the Court sent a clear message to hackers that participating in cyber attacks sponsored by nation states will result in significant consequences.

In addition to his prison sentence, Baratov was ordered to pay out all of his remaining assets up to $2,250,000 in the form of a fine. As part of his plea, Baratov also admitted to hacking as many as 11,000 email accounts between 2010 and his arrest in 2017.

Baratov’s crimes include aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.


Fri, 25 May 2018 18:28:13 +0000
Canadian Yahoo hacker gets a five-year prison sentence
After pleading guilty in November, the Canadian hacker at least partially to blame for the massive Yahoo hack that exposed up to 3 billion accounts will face five years in prison. According to the Justice Department, the hacker, 23-year-old Karim Baratov, worked under the guidance of two agents from the FSB, Russia’s spy agency, to […]

Well, that didn’t take long. Yahoo Finance’s new social savings app Tanda, which launched just this January, is already shutting down. The company announced the news of the app’s closure via a blog post, which vaguely hinted at a lack of traction. That appears to be true – the app isn’t even in the top 1,500 in the Finance category on the App Store, according to Sensor Tower’s data.

It had been installed around 37,000 times to date across both iOS and Android.

Still, tens of thousands in the first few months isn’t an entirely horrible showing for app that received almost no attention, marketing effort or media outreach. (We happened upon it practically by accident – not because Yahoo reached out to press. Yes, even though Yahoo is owned by Oath which also owns us, there wasn’t any internal heads-up. Or even any external pitching. In case you’re wondering!)

The app had allowed people to save money together for short-term goals using the concept of a “money pool” where a group of friends pay a fixed amount to the saving pot monthly, and every month someone takes the pot home. You didn’t “win” this pot, you took turns claiming it. In the end, it was just another way to save money, but the social element helped you stay on track.

Money pools are popular outside the U.S., in places like Mexico and the Philippines, Yahoo notes. It may have been hard to convince the U.S. audience to give them a shot, though.

In any event, Yahoo says Tanda is no more.

“While we garnered valuable insights around how consumers can benefit from financial planning tools and the opportunity for Yahoo Finance to offer a diversified suite of financial products, we’ve made the decision to begin sunsetting Tanda this week,” the blog post reads.

“Every trial run helps brands better optimize, and create a better experience for users. We’ve learned a lot from launching and running Tanda, and then scaling it back. Key learnings around audience segments, engagement rates, consumer preferences, and UX will inform the projects we are creating, and how we improve the ones that are already in the market to fuel future innovation,” it says.

Still, that was a fast learning experience, guys.

In an email sent to Tanda users, the company says the app will be shut down starting on May 29.

Any funds owed to you will be refunded in full, and then your Tanda account will be deactivated, the email states.

Yahoo declined to comment further on the reasons behind the shutdown, but said the Tanda team will continue to support Yahoo Finance.


Thu, 10 May 2018 19:30:45 +0000
Yahoo shuts down social savings app Tanda only months after launch
Well, that didn’t take long. Yahoo Finance’s new social savings app Tanda, which launched just this January, is already shutting down. The company announced the news of the app’s closure via a blog post, which vaguely hinted at a lack of traction. That appears to be true – the app isn’t even in the top […]

Earlier this year, Verizon quietly launched a new startup called Visible, offering unlimited data, minutes, and messaging services for the low, low price of $40.

To subscribe for the service, users simply download the Visible app (currently available only on iOS) and register. Right now, subscriptions are invitation only and would-be subscribers have to get an invitation from someone who’s already a current Visible member.

Once registration is complete, Visible will send a sim card the next day, and, once installed, a user can access Verizon’s 4G LTE network to stream videos, send texts, and make calls as much as their heart desires.

Visible says there’s no throttling at the end of the month and subscribers can pay using internet-based payment services like PayPal and Venmo (which is owned by PayPal).

The service is only available on unlocked devices — and right now, pretty much only to iPhone users.

“This is something that’s been the seed of an idea for a year or so,” says Minjae Ormes, head of marketing at Visible. “There’s a core group of people from the strategy side. There’s a core group of five or ten people who came up with the idea.”

The company wouldn’t say how much Verizon gave to the business to get it off the ground, but the leadership team is comprised mostly of former employees, like Miguel Quiroga the company’s chief executive.

“The way I would think about it.. we are a phone service in the platform that enables everything that you do. The way we launched and the app messaging piece of it. You do everything else on your phone and a lot of time if you ask people your phone is your life,” said Ormes. The thinking was, “let’s give you a phone that you can activate right from your phone and get ready to go and see how it resonates.”

It’s an interesting move from our corporate overlord (Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch), which is already the top dog in wireless services, with some 150 million subscribers compared with AT&T’s 141.6 million and a soon-to-be-combined Sprint and T-Mobile subscriber base of 126.2 million.

For Verizon, the new company is likely about holding off attrition. The company shed 24,000 postpaid phone connections in the last quarter, according to The Wall Street Journal, which put some pressure on its customer base (but not really all that much).

Mobile telecommunications remain at the core of Verizon’s business plans for the future, even as other carriers like AT&T look to dive deeper into content (while Go90 has been a flop, Verizon hasn’t given up on content plans entirely). The acquisition of Oath added about $1.2 billion in brand revenue (?) to Verizon for the last quarter, but it’s not anywhere near the kind of media juggernaut that AT&T would get through the TimeWarner acquisition.

Verizon seems to be looking to its other mobile services, through connected devices, industrial equipment, autonomous vehicles, and the development of its 5G network for future growth.

Every wireless carrier is pushing hard to develop 5G technologies, which should see nationwide rollout by the end of this year. Verizon recently completed its 11 city trial-run and is banking on expansion of the network’s capabilities to drive new services.

As the Motely Fool noted, all of this comes as Verizon adds new networking capabilities for industrial and commercial applications through its Verizon Connect division — formed in part from the $2.4 billion acquisition of Fleetmatics, that Verizon bought in 2016 along with Telogis, Sensity Systems, and LQD Wifi to beef up its mobile device connectivity services.

Meanwhile, upstart entrants to challenge big wireless carriers are coming from all quarters. In 2015, Google launched its own wireless service, Project Fi, to compete with traditional carriers and Business Insider just covered another would-be wireless warrior, Wing.

Founded by the team that created the media site Elite Daily, Wing uses Sprint cell-phone towers to deliver its service.

David Arabov and co-founder Jonathan Francis didn’t take long after taking a $26 million payout for their previous business before getting right back into the startup fray. Unlike Visible, Wing isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan and it’s a much more traditional MVNO. The company has a range of plans starting at $17 for a flip-phone and increasing to an unlimited plan at $27 per month, according to the company’s website.

As carriers continue to face complaints over service fees, locked in contracts, and terrible options, new options are bound to emerge. In this instance, it looks like Verizon is trying to make itself into one of those carriers.


Wed, 09 May 2018 00:41:58 +0000
Verizon stealthily launched a startup offering $40-per-month unlimited data, messaging and minutes
Earlier this year, Verizon quietly launched a new startup called Visible, offering unlimited data, minutes, and messaging services for the low, low price of $40. To subscribe for the service, users simply download the Visible app (currently available only on iOS) and register. Right now, subscriptions are invitation only and would-be subscribers have to get an […]

Messaging apps collectively passed the 5 billion mark for monthly active users last year, with Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger on track now to pass 2 billion users apiece. With messaging’s popularity showing no signs of slowing down, a new app is entering the fray in hopes of catching the wave. Yahoo has quietly launched a new iOS and Android messaging app called Squirrel, focused specifically on friend, family and work groups that want to exchange messages and share photos, links and other media.

The key with Squirrel is that access to any group is by invitation-only. That is, you invite people with a link, no need to access your wider set of contacts as part of the process of picking up new group members. That is a critical detail, given both Yahoo’s reputation in the wake of its massive data breach a couple of years ago; and the fact that some may now be turning off to just how much data messaging-dominant platforms like Facebook might have about you, starting with your contacts.

Squirrel was first spotted earlier by AndroidPolice, and Oath (Yahoo’s parent company, which also owns TC) has since confirmed to us that the app is in test mode. The ability to kick off a conversation group is also currently in invitation-only mode, and appears to require a Yahoo login to get started for now.

“At Oath, we’re always looking for creative ways to add value to our members’ lives,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We listen closely and frequently test new product ideas based on research and feedback. Right now we’re experimenting with a new invite-only messaging app focused on improving group communication in everyday life.”

Yahoo has had a mixed track record when it comes to messaging apps. Yahoo Messenger, first launched 20 years ago in 1998, was one of the early movers and leaders in instant messaging in the days when it was mainly a computer-based chat service. But like other services in that first generation of messaging, its role and functions were swiftly surpassed by faster and more functional mobile-based services, and specifically mobile messaging apps (notably, WhatsApp was created by ex-Yahoo employees).

In the years since, Yahoo has had moderate (but far from blockbuster) success with Yahoo Messenger on mobile, which today ranks at 160 on iOS and 117 on Android in the social networking category, according to App Annie. Other attempts at building new messaging products have been short-lived.

Messaging can be a tough nut to crack.

Squirrel is hoping to find traction by digging into the group experience first rather than offering yet another direct messaging option to users with a group option tacked onto that.

It works a little like old-style IRC, or, if you like, new-style Slack, minus the hundreds of app integrations. Those in a group get access to a main room, and have the option of creating side-rooms for separate topics or conversation threads, which can potentially include 1:1 conversations.

Rooms that are not relevant to you can be muted, and those who are given administration access can send out “blasts”, or alerts for priority messages. All activity in a group also gets logged in a separate feed that highlights your mentions.

From what I understand, some of what Yahoo is trying to do is build a new product around how it sees people already sharing content and conversations in groups in email and its other communications products.

It’s not the only one spotting that opportunity. In addition to the group features of most mobile messaging apps, Facebook — in its new push for “community” — has been expanding and revamping its own approach to groups across its range of products. There are also a fair number of group-first apps, with business-user options including the likes of Slack and Teams, and those for consumers including GroupMe. Is there room for a little Squirrel in the forest of apps?

The idea will be to keep the product in a semi-closed, invite-only mode while Yahoo continues to tweak it, with the plan being to roll it out more widely, making the ability to start a new group open to anyone. We’ll update with more as we learn it.


Fri, 13 Apr 2018 19:43:27 +0000
Yahoo is testing Squirrel, an invite-only group messaging app
Messaging apps collectively passed the 5 billion mark for monthly active users last year, with Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger on track now to pass 2 billion users apiece. With messaging’s popularity showing no signs of slowing down, a new app is entering the fray in hopes of catching the wave. Yahoo has quietly launched a new iOS […]

Yahoo Japan has gotten its hands on 40 percent of a Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange set to launch this fall.

The investment, made in BitARG Exchange through a Yahoo Japan subsidiary gives the company a minority stake with BitARG parent company CMD Laboratories still maintaining 60 percent ownership of the exchange. A source told CNBC the deal went for about 2-3 billion yen or around $18-28 million.

In a translated announcement, BitARG said the exchange would benefit from the “service operation and security expertise of the Yahoo Japan Group, which will make it easier for customers to prepare for the start of the exchange service… and to improve the operation after the commencement.”

Last month, Nikkei Asian Review reported the deal was in progress, further noting that Yahoo Japan planned to use BitARG’s technology to launch its own cryptocurrency exchange in 2019.


Wed, 04 Apr 2018 22:30:12 +0000
Yahoo Japan buys a minority stake in a Tokyo cryptocurrency exchange
Yahoo Japan has gotten its hands on 40 percent of a Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange set to launch this fall. The investment, made in BitARG Exchange through a Yahoo Japan subsidiary gives the company a minority stake with BitARG parent company CMD Laboratories still maintaining 60 percent ownership of the exchange. A source told CNBC the deal […]

Since the dawn of the internet, the titans of this industry have fought to win the “starting point” — the place that users start their online experiences. In other words, the place where they begin “browsing.” The advent of the dial-up era had America Online mailing a CD to every home in America, which passed the baton to Yahoo’s categorical listings, which was swallowed by Google’s indexing of the world’s information — winning the “starting point” was everything.

As the mobile revolution continues to explode across the world, the battle for the starting point has intensified. For a period of time, people believed it would be the hardware, then it became clear that the software mattered most. Then conversation shifted to a debate between operating systems (Android or iOS) and moved on to social properties and messaging apps, where people were spending most of their time. Today, my belief is we’re hovering somewhere between apps and operating systems. That being said, the interface layer will always be evolving.

The starting point, just like a rocket’s launchpad, is only important because of what comes after. The battle to win that coveted position, although often disguised as many other things, is really a battle to become the starting point of commerce.  

Google’s philosophy includes a commitment to get users “off their page” as quickly as possible…to get that user to form a habit and come back to their starting point. The real (yet somewhat veiled) goal, in my opinion, is to get users to search and find the things they want to buy.

Of course, Google “does no evil” while aggregating the world’s information, but they pay their bills by sending purchases to Priceline, Expedia, Amazon and the rest of the digital economy.  

Facebook, on the other hand, has become a starting point through its monopolization of users’ time, attention and data. Through this effort, it’s developed an advertising business that shatters records quarter after quarter.

Google and Facebook, this famed duopoly, represent 89 percent of new advertising spending in 2017. Their dominance is unrivaled… for now.

Change is urgently being demanded by market forces — shifts in consumer habits, intolerable rising costs to advertisers and through a nearly universal dissatisfaction with the advertising models that have dominated (plagued) the U.S. digital economy.  All of which is being accelerated by mobile. Terrible experiences for users still persist in our online experiences, deliver low efficacy for advertisers and fraud is rampant. The march away from the glut of advertising excess may be most symbolically seen in the explosion of ad blockers. Further evidence of the “need for a correction of this broken industry” is Oracle’s willingness to pay $850 million for a company that polices ads (probably the best entrepreneurs I know ran this company, so no surprise).

As an entrepreneur, my job is to predict the future. When reflecting on what I’ve learned thus far in my journey, it’s become clear that two truths can guide us in making smarter decisions about our digital future:

Every day, retailers, advertisers, brands and marketers get smarter. This means that every day, they will push the platforms, their partners and the places they rely on for users to be more “performance driven.” More transactional.

Paying for views, bots (Russian or otherwise) or anything other than “dollars” will become less and less popular over time. It’s no secret that Amazon, the world’s most powerful company (imho), relies so heavily on its Associates Program (its home-built partnership and affiliate platform). This channel is the highest performing form of paid acquisition that retailers have, and in fact, it’s rumored that the success of Amazon’s affiliate program led to the development of AWS due to large spikes in partner traffic.

Chinese flag overlooking The Bund, Shanghai, China (Photo: Rolf Bruderer/Getty Images)

When thinking about our digital future, look down and look east. Look down and admire your phone — this will serve as your portal to the digital world for the next decade, and our dependence will only continue to grow. The explosive adoption of this form factor is continuing to outpace any technological trend in history.

Now, look east and recognize that what happens in China will happen here, in the West, eventually. The Chinese market skipped the PC-driven digital revolution — and adopted the digital era via the smartphone. Some really smart investors have built strategies around this thesis and have quietly been reaping rewards due to their clairvoyance.  

China has historically been categorized as a market full of knock-offs and copycats — but times have changed. Some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies have come out of China over the past decade. The entrepreneurial work ethic in China (as praised recently by arguably the world’s greatest investor, Michael Moritz), the speed of innovation and the ability to quickly scale and reach meaningful populations have caused Chinese companies to leapfrog the market cap of many of their U.S. counterparts.  

The most interesting component of the Chinese digital economy’s growth is that it is fundamentally more “pure” than the U.S. market’s. I say this because the Chinese market is inherently “transactional.” As Andreessen Horowitz writes, WeChat, China’s  most valuable company, has become the “starting point” and hub for all user actions. Their revenue diversity is much more “Amazon” than “Google” or “Facebook” — it’s much more pure. They make money off the transactions driven from their platform, and advertising is far less important in their strategy.

The obsession with replicating WeChat took the tech industry by storm two years ago — and for some misplaced reason, everyone thought we needed to build messaging bots to compete.  

What shouldn’t be lost is our obsession with the purity and power of the business models being created in China. The fabric that binds the Chinese digital economy and has fostered its seemingly boundless growth is the magic combination of commerce and mobile. Singles Day, the Chinese version of Black Friday, drove $25 billion in sales on Alibaba — 90 percent of which were on mobile.

The lesson we’ve learned thus far in both the U.S. and in China is that “consumers spending money” creates the most durable consumer businesses. Google, putting aside all its moonshots and heroic mission statements, is a “starting point” powered by a shopping engine. If you disagree, look at where their revenue comes from…

Google’s recent announcement of Shopping Actions and their movement to a “pay per transaction model” signals a turning point that could forever change the landscape of the digital economy.  

Google’s multi-front battle against Apple, Facebook and Amazon is weighted. Amazon is the most threatening. It’s the most durable business of the four — and its model is unbounded on two fronts that almost everyone I know would bet their future on, 1) people buying more online, where Amazon makes a disproportionate amount of every dollar spent, and 2) companies needing more cloud computing power (more servers), where Amazon makes a disproportionate amount of every dollar spent.  

To add insult to injury, Amazon is threatening Google by becoming a starting point itself — 55 percent of product searches now originate at Amazon, up from 30 percent just a year ago.

Google, recognizing consumer behavior was changing in mobile (less searching) and the inferiority of their model when compared to the durability and growth prospects of Amazon, needed to respond. Google needed a model that supported boundless growth and one that created a “win-win” for its advertising partners — one that resembled Amazon’s relationship with its merchants — not one that continued to increase costs to retailers while capitalizing on their monopolization of search traffic.

Google knows that with its position as the starting point — with Google.com, Google Apps and Android — it has to become a part of the transaction to prevail in the long term. With users in mobile demanding fewer ads and more utility (demanding experiences that look and feel a lot more like what has prevailed in China), Google has every reason in the world to look down and to look east — to become a part of the transaction — to take its piece.  

A collision course for Google and the retailers it relies upon for revenue was on the horizon. Search activity per user was declining in mobile and user acquisition costs were growing quarter over quarter. Businesses are repeatedly failing to compete with Amazon, and unless Google could create an economically viable growth model for retailers, no one would stand a chance against the commerce juggernaut — not the retailers nor Google itself. 

As I’ve believed for a long time, becoming a part of the transaction is the most favorable business model for all parties; sources of traffic make money when retailers sell things, and, most importantly, this only happens when users find the things they want.  

Shopping Actions is Google’s first ambitious step to satisfy all three parties — businesses and business models all over the world will feel this impact.  

Good work, Sundar.


Tue, 13 Feb 2018 00:13:20 +0000
Our digital future will be shaped by increasingly mobile technologies coming from China
Since the dawn of the internet, the titans of this industry have fought to win the “starting point” -- the place that users start their online experiences. In other words, the place where they begin “browsing.” The advent of the dial-up era had America Online mailing a CD to every home in America, which passed the baton to Yahoo’s categorical listings, which was swallowed by Google’s indexing of the world’s information -- winning the “starting point” was everything.

As Lydia Polgreen sees it, society is currently divided into media haves and have nots, and it’s important for HuffPost to remain mostly free for its readers so that it can serve a group that mostly consumes content for free.

In a wide-ranging conversation covering the role of consolidation in the current media marketplace and platforms that have performed the best for HuffPost, Polgreen was most emphatic on the need for free or low-cost content online.

“I am very committed to the idea of free to no-cost consumer news,” Polgreen told Recode’s Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka onstage at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, Calif. “One of the reasons I wanted to take this job was what I saw as the stratification of society into media haves and have nots.”

One way to support that independence is to have the big corporate parent that HuffPost enjoys in Verizon (also the owner of TechCrunch through its acquisition and merger of AOL and Yahoo into Oath).

“Any content company has to be thinking about the fact that all content consumption is converging on mobile devices. In 2018 probably the best owner you can have is a phone company,” Polgreen says.

Polgreen said that Verizon hasn’t interfered in the creation of stories, which was her biggest concern when joining the organization. “Our journalistic independence has been intact,” Polgreen says. “Looking ahead at a world in which the device we’re getting our content also is owned by the people making that content, there are real questions around free speech and net neutrality.”

News, it turns out, occupies a central place in the media landscape and in Verizon’s approach to content online. “News is the dial tone of media,” Polgreen quoted one of our bosses as saying.

Increasingly that dial tone is being accessed on different platforms, which Polgreen also had some strong thoughts on. For her, Facebook’s declining importance has been counterbalanced by rising new distribution sources like Apple News and Google Amp.

“Like most publishers who are creating original content,” says Polgreen, “we’ve seen a significant decline in traffic coming from Facebook. For us, Apple News is a more important platform.”

Beyond that, Facebook doesn’t have the best history of being a great partner. “Facebook from a monetization perspective and as a place for us to connect with our audience has not necessarily been a reliable partner,” says Polgreen. “We’ve sought out other ways we can connect with our audience in meaningful ways. [But] we have invested heavily in community pages.”

As HuffPost expands, Polgreen does have three areas on her wish list that she’d like to invest more heavily in. Those areas — investigative journalism, service journalism and great video platforms — represent strategic goals where the site hasn’t had a tradition of strength (outside of service journalism).


Mon, 12 Feb 2018 13:21:35 +0000
HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen wants HuffPost to remain mostly free
As Lydia Polgreen sees it, society is currently divided into media haves and have nots, and it's important for HuffPost to remain mostly free for its readers so that it can serve a group that mostly consumes content for free.

In this episode of Technotopia I talk to Jeremy Ring, a former Florida state senator and author of We Were Yahoo!, a meditation on his career as one of the first employees at Yahoo . Ring has a lot to say about the search giant – including plenty of complaints about how things were run over the years – and some insights into technology and modern politics.

His book is available now and it’s a fascinating look at some of the first steps and missteps he saw while working in the red-hot dot-com bubble.

Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.


Wed, 07 Feb 2018 13:30:57 +0000
Former state Senator Jeremy Ring talks about the first days of Yahoo
In this episode of Technotopia I talk to Jeremy Ring, a former Florida state senator and author of We Were Yahoo!, a meditation on his career as one of the first employees at Yahoo . Ring has a lot to say about the search giant – including plenty of complaints about how things were run […]

The Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit: Crypto will examine the growing market and investor interest in crypto and the technology behind it. Specifically, where are these digital assets heading, and how can everyday investors buy in safely? From bitcoin and blockchain to ethereum and ICOs, we’ll discuss crypto investing with CEOs, engineers, policy makers and legal experts. Watch the live stream on the player above beginning at 9 a.m. ET.


Fri, 19 Jan 2018 20:44:17 +0000
Watch Yahoo Finance’s crypto summit live
The Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit: Crypto will examine the growing market and investor interest in crypto and the technology behind it. Specifically, where are these digital assets heading, and how can everyday investors buy in safely? From bitcoin and blockchain to ethereum and ICOs, we’ll discuss crypto investing with CEOs, engineers, policy makers and […]

Yahoo Finance today launched a new app called Tanda that allows small groups of either five or nine people to save money together for short-term goals. The app uses the concept of a “money pool” – that is, everyone participating in one Tanda’s collaborative savings circles will pay a fixed amount to the group’s savings pot every month. And every month, one member gets to take home the full pot.

But Tanda is not a gambling app. That is, users are not contributing in the hopes of “winning” the pot of money – everyone in the savings circle gets a chance to take home the full pot at some point.

The app is based on the age-old “rotating savings and credit associations” (ROSCA) concept, which pushes people to save through the use of collective pressure.

In other words, while it’s true that you could just set aside a set a fixed amount of money on your own, Tanda’s makes saving a more collaborative and social construct.

The other difference between saving in Tanda and saving on your own is how the app handles payouts. The first two people to receive their money pay a fee, but the last payout position receives a 2 percent cash bonus. This rewards users who are willing to wait to receive their turn at the pot, though some will want higher positions in order to get the large payout sooner.

A higher position is obviously more desirable if you have a more immediate need for the funds – like buying books for school or replacing a dead laptop, for example. Of course, you still have to pay into Tanda to take money out, so it’s not a direct replacement for a credit card. But, with some planning, it could used as an alternative to charging larger purchases.

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As a user participates in Tanda by making contributions, their “Tanda score” increases. With higher scores, the user gains access to higher value savings circles and earlier payout positions. These savings circles can reach up to $2,000.

And if someone drops out, Tanda will step in to cover their positions.

Tanda is also working with its partner Dwolla to vet users before they can begin saving, the company says. Users will be required to submit a valid ID and have a U.S. bank account.

Yahoo says that the app is designed to help individuals achieve their financial goals without racking up more debt.

The company hopes this will allow Tanda to attract a millennial audience, which is already drawn to social apps in the finance space, like Venmo. In addition, this younger demographic is facing a variety of financial struggles, like higher costs of living, difficulties in finding work, and they often struggle to save on their own.

“Thirteen months ago, a national outlet reported 46 percent of our nation can’t come up with a $400 emergency expense,” Simon Khalaf, Head of Media Business & Products, told TechCrunch, when explaining why the company wanted to develop this app.

(The figure he’s citing comes from this 2016 Federal Reserve survey of more than 5,000 Americans about their financial situation. According to its findings, approximately 46 percent of Americans said they would not be able to come up with $400 in an emergency situation.)

“This inspired us to start building Tanda, a mobile world version of a centuries old
community savings tool that we hope provides a solution to many,” Khalaf explained.

The new app is being released under the Yahoo Finance brand.

Yahoo, like (disclosure!) TechCrunch parent company AOL, combined to form Oath, which is now owned by Verizon. But Yahoo continues to maintain its own app store presence through apps like Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Weather, Yahoo Newsroom, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Fantasy Football, Yahoo Mail, and many others.

Tanda is available today in both English and Spanish on Android, and will arrive on iOS within the next few days.


Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:02:43 +0000
Yahoo Finance launches social savings app Tanda, an alternative to credit cards
Yahoo Finance today launched a new app called Tanda that allows small groups of either five or nine people to save money together for short-term goals. The app uses the concept of a “money pool” – that is, everyone participating in one Tanda’s collaborative savings circles will pay a fixed amount to the group’s savings […]

Verizon will no longer be the exclusive U.S. mobile carrier for watching NFL games on smartphones and tablets. According to an announcement this morning, the company – and TechCrunch’s parent, by way of Oath – says that it has closed a new deal with the National Football League that will allow it to stream live games to fans regardless of mobile network.

The deal includes in-market and national games, including national pre-season, regular season, playoff games, and the Super Bowl nationwide. It doesn’t include the Sunday afternoon out-of-market games, which AT&T’s DirecTV has through the end of the 2022-23 season.

However, thanks to the new deal, nearly all NFL games will now be available across a number of digital and media platforms, including Yahoo, Yahoo Sports, AOL, Verizon’s g90 streaming app, and the NFL mobile app.

In addition to the live games themselves, the new agreement will also include NFL highlights and other weekly content, plus jointly developed original content.

The full deal goes into effect in the 2018-19 season, but some NFL postseason games will hit Yahoo, Yahoo Sports, go90 and the NFL Mobile app in January, 2018.

Verizon says its combination of digital and mobile properties reach over 200 million monthly unique users in the U.S. – an increased reach for the NFL, while also serving as a way for Verizon to better take advantage of the platforms it acquired via AOL and Yahoo (the combination that’s now called Oath).

And notably, the NFL is paying more for that expanded reach, too, according to reports. Recode’s sources say the new deal will cost Verizon over $1.5 billion over five years. The WSJ says the deal is worth more than $2 billion, and that Verizon’s annual rights and sponsorship fee to the NFL will rise from its current $250 million to more than $450 million.

Verizon says that it will continue to be an Official Sponsor of the NFL, and is also working with NFL teams on Smart Stadium technology to improve stadium operations.

The move comes at a time when the NFL, along with other sports leagues, are trying to reach the new, younger audience who often don’t watch live sports through traditional pay TV. The cord cutters and “cord nevers” instead turn to over-the-top streaming services like Sling TV to catch sports on ESPN, for example, or they might hook up a digital antenna for local channels. Some streaming services are even betting on the fact that many would prefer to pay less for access to TV by removing the costly channels carrying live sports, as is the case with newcomer Philo.

Meanwhile, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are also trying to snag some of that sports action for themselves. Facebook, for instance, did a deal with the NFL earlier this year to distribute highlights and recaps. Other big tech companies are vying for NFL games, too, like Amazon, which paid $50 million to stream 10 games for Prime members.

“We’re making a commitment to fans for Verizon’s family of media properties to become the mobile destination for live sports,” said Lowell McAdam, Chairman and CEO of Verizon Communications, in a statement. “The NFL is a great partner for us and we are excited to take its premier content across a massive mobile scale so viewers can enjoy live football and other original NFL content where and how they want it. We believe that partnerships like this are a win for fans, but also for partners and advertisers looking for a mobile-first experience,” he said.


Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:13:59 +0000
The NFL and Verizon’s new streaming deal will bring games to all mobile carriers
Verizon will no longer be the exclusive U.S. mobile carrier for watching NFL games on smartphones and tablets. According to an announcement this morning, the company – and TechCrunch’s parent, by way of Oath – says that it has closed a new deal with the National Football League that will allow it to stream live […]

Firefox’s default search engine has become the subject of a hotly contested legal battle, a few weeks after Mozilla announced it would be moving from Yahoo to Google. Yahoo’s new parent Oath filed a complaint against Mozilla in a California court on December 1, alleging a breach of contract. Now Mozilla has filed a counter complaint, stating that the switch back was in line with a deal struck between the two companies.  

Sounds like a small thing, sure, but we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars here. Back in 2014, Yahoo struck a deal that would make its search engine the default for Mozilla’s popular, if struggling, browser, to the tune of $375 million a year.

Details of the deal were only made public last year, as CEO Marissa Mayer’s time at the company came under the microscope while it prepared to sell itself to Verizon. For its many faults, the Verizon deal went through, of course, forming Oath in the process (the Yahoo/AOL hybrid under which TechCrunch resides). Along with it, Verizon inherited an annual payment of $375 million through 2019.

Not a bad deal for Mozilla, especially when one considers this little gem: Yahoo (or whoever owns Yahoo) is obligated to continue payments, even if Mozilla were to, say, drop the search engine as its default. Mozilla was given a contractual right to terminate the agreement, if Yahoo was found unacceptable for some reason.

That precise thing occurred just a few weeks back, as the company launched its new Quantum browser, switching back to Google in the process. The latest version of Firefox has been warmly regarded by many as a return to form for a company that had previously been lost in the woods, rapidly losing marketshare to Chrome in the process. Naturally, Oath/Yahoo want a piece of that action.

In yesterday’s counter-complaint, Mozilla explains that it took another long look at the deal post-Verizon acquisition and was no longer in love with its choice of Yahoo as the default engine.

“Immediately following Yahoo’s acquisition, we undertook a lengthy, multi-month process to seek assurances from Yahoo and its acquirers with respect to those factors,” the company explained in a blog post yesterday. “When it became clear that continuing to use Yahoo as our default search provider would have a negative impact on all of the above, we exercised our contractual right to terminate the agreement and entered into an agreement with another provider.”

Oath has not yet issued an official response to Mozilla’s official response.


Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:40:04 +0000
Oath and Mozilla are suing each other after Firefox switches back to Google search
Firefox’s default search engine has become the subject of a hotly contested legal battle, a few weeks after Mozilla announced it would be moving from Yahoo to Google. Yahoo’s new parent Oath filed a complaint against Mozilla in a California court on December 1, alleging a breach of contract. Now Mozilla has filed a counter […]

A Canadian citizen has pleaded guilty to aiding Russian intelligence officers in a 2014 hack of Yahoo that exposed as many as 500 million accounts. The defendant, 22-year-old Karim Baratov, is the only arrest to come out of the Yahoo hack as the three other individuals facing charges live in Russia, which obviously has no interest in extraditing them to the United States.

Prosecutors have stated that two of those charged are officers in Russia’s spy agency, the FSB, while the other is known Russian hacker Alexsey Belan. They believe that FSB officers Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin directed the hack and contracted Baratov when their targets used email accounts outside of Yahoo’s system. The summary issued by the Northern District of California’s U.S. Attorney’s Office details the scope of these charges:

According to his plea agreement, Baratov’s role in the charged conspiracy was to hack webmail accounts of individuals of interest to the FSB and send those accounts’ passwords to Dokuchaev in exchange for money. As alleged in the indictment, Dokuchaev, Sushchin, and Belan compromised Yahoo’s network and gained the ability to access Yahoo accounts. When they desired access to individual webmail accounts at a number of other internet service providers, such as Google and Yandex (based in Russia), Dokuchaev tasked Baratov to compromise such accounts.

According to his testimony, Baratov placed ads for his services on Russian-language websites. Once contracted, he gained access to his victims’ accounts by spearphishing them with faked correspondences designed to appear as though they were sent from the relevant email host.

Baratov pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and eight counts of aggravated identity theft.


Thu, 16 Nov 2017 17:30:19 +0000
Canadian hacker pleads guilty in huge Yahoo hack case
A Canadian citizen has pleaded guilty to aiding Russian intelligence officers in a 2014 hack of Yahoo that exposed as many as 500 million accounts. The defendant, 22-year-old Karim Baratov, is the only arrest to come out of the Yahoo hack as the three other individuals facing charges live in Russia, which obviously has no interest in extraditing them to the United States.

Verizon has initiated another round of layoffs as a result of its acquisition of Yahoo and subsequent combining of the company with its existing business property AOL to form a new division — called Oath, led by CEO Tim Armstrong. (Reminder: TechCrunch was owned by AOL which makes Oath our new parent company too.)

We understand the latest job cuts affect less than four per cent of Oath staff globally — which suggests fewer than 560 jobs are being cut in this round as it’s also our understanding that Oath has in the region of 14,000 staff globally at this point.

As well as being spread across the division’s global footprint, the job cuts affect different Oath business units — including ad sales, engineering and product development.

Yesterday Business Insider also reported that editorial staff had been affected at Oath’s UK business.

Verizon’s $4.5BN Yahoo acquisition closed in June. And just prior to that closing we confirmed that around 15 per cent of staff were being cut from the merged unit — or up to 2,100 jobs.

Adding in the latest round of layoffs, it looks like ~2,600 jobs have been lost so far as Verizon works to integrate the two businesses and merge their respective company cultures and media brands into a single, streamlined unit. No small task, clearly.

Asked for comment on the latest layoffs at Oath, a spokesperson provided the following statement:

Oath’s strategy is to build brands one billion users around the world love. We’re about four months post-close of Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo, and we’ve made these changes to our team to further align our global organization to our 2018 roadmap. Oath remains committed to building a company talent loves and we continue to hire across our priority business units.



Latest round of Verizon layoffs at Oath affects <4% of staff globally
Verizon has initiated another round of layoffs as a result of its acquisition of Yahoo and subsequent combining of the company with its existing business property AOL to form a new division -- called Oath.
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