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Sat, 29 Sep 2018 22:15:43 +0000
Yahoo returns to messaging with IRC-inspired Yahoo Together
Farewell, Yahoo Messenger. Hello, Yahoo Together? Yep, Yahoo is returning to the messaging space today after closing its older app due to lack of use. Designed for group chats between family, friends, clubs and others, Yahoo Together tries to differentiate itself from others through its ability to organize group conversations into separate topics, similar to […]

Dressed in a Naruto t-shirt and a hat emblazoned with the phrase “lone wolf,” Ne-Yo slouches over in a chair inside a Holberton School classroom. The Grammy-winning recording artist is struggling to remember the name of “that actor,” the one who’s had a successful career in both the entertainment industry and tech investing.

“I learned about all the things he was doing and I thought it was great for him,” Ne-Yo told TechCrunch. “But I didn’t really know what my place in tech would be.”

It turns out “that actor” is Ashton Kutcher, widely known in Hollywood and beyond for his role in several blockbusters and the TV sitcom That ’70s Show, and respected in Silicon Valley for his investments via Sound Ventures and A-Grade in Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Bird and several others.

Ne-Yo, for his part, is known for a string of R&B hits including So Sick, One in a Million and Because of You. His latest album, Good Man, came out in June.

Ne-Yo, like Kutcher, is interested in pursuing a side gig in investing but he doesn’t want to waste time chasing down the next big thing. His goal, he explained, is to use his wealth to encourage people like him to view software engineering and other technical careers as viable options.

“Little black kids growing up don’t say things like ‘I want to be a coder when I grow up,’ because it’s not real to them, they don’t see people that look like me doing it,” Ne-Yo said. “But tech is changing the world, like literally by the day, by the second, so I feel like it just makes the most sense to have it accessible to everyone.”

Last year, Ne-Yo finally made the leap into venture capital investing: his first deal, an investment in Holberton School, a two-year coding academy founded by Julien Barbier and Sylvain Kalache that trains full-stack engineers. The singer returned to San Francisco earlier this month for the grand opening of Holberton’s remodeled headquarters on Mission Street in the city’s SoMa neighborhood.

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Holberton, a proposed alternative to a computer science degree, is free to students until they graduate and land a job, at which point they are asked to pay 17 percent of their salaries during their first three years in the workforce.

It has a different teaching philosophy than your average coding academy or four-year university. It relies on project-based and peer learning, i.e. students helping and teaching each other; there are no formal teachers or lecturers. The concept appears to be working. Holberton says their former students are now employed at Apple, NASA, LinkedIn, Facebook, Dropbox and Tesla.

Ne-Yo participated in Holberton’s $2.3 million round in February 2017 alongside Reach Capital and Insight Venture Partners co-founder Jerry Murdock, as well as Trinity Ventures, the VC firm that introduced Ne-Yo to the edtech startup. Holberton has since raised an additional $8 million from existing and new investors like daphni, Omidyar Network, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang and Slideshare co-founder Jonathan Boutelle.

Holberton has used that capital to expand beyond the Bay Area. A school in New Haven, Conn., where the company hopes to reach students who can’t afford to live in tech’s hubs, is in development.

The startup’s emphasis on diversity is what attracted Ne-Yo to the project and why he signed on as a member of the board of trustees. More than half of Holberton’s students are people of color and 35 percent are women. Since Ne-Yo got involved, the number of African American applicants has doubled from roughly 5 percent to 11.5 percent.

“I didn’t really know what my place in tech would be.”

Before Ne-Yo’s preliminary meetings with Holberton’s founders, he says he wasn’t aware of the racial and gender diversity problem in tech.

“When it was brought to my attention, I was like ‘ok, this is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed,'” he said. “It makes no sense that this thing that affects us all isn’t available to us all. If you don’t have the money or you don’t have the schooling, it’s not available to you, however, it’s affecting their lives the same way it’s affecting the rich guys’ lives.”

Holberton’s founders joked with TechCrunch that Ne-Yo has actually been more supportive and helpful in the last year than many of the venture capitalists who back Holberton. He’s very “hands-on,” they said. Despite the fact that he’s balancing a successful music career and doesn’t exactly have a lot of free time, he’s made sure to attend events at Holberton, like the recent grand opening, and will Skype with students occasionally.

“I wanted it to be grassroots and authentic.”

Ne-Yo was very careful to explain that he didn’t put money in Holberton for the good optics.

“This isn’t something I just wanted to put my name on,” he said. “I wanted to make sure [the founders] knew this was something I was going to be serious about and not just do the celebrity thing. I wanted it to be grassroots and authentic so we dropped whatever we were doing and came down, met these guys, hung out with the students and hung out at the school to see what it’s really about.”

What’s next for Ne-Yo? A career in venture capital, perhaps? He’s definitely interested and will be making more investments soon, but a full pivot into VC is unlikely.

At the end of the day, Silicon Valley doesn’t need more people with fat wallets and a hankering for the billionaire lifestyle. What it needs are people who have the money and resources necessary to bolster the right businesses and who care enough to prioritize diversity and inclusivity over yet another payday.

“Not to toot the horn or brag, but I’m not missing any meals,” Ne-Yo said. “So, if I’m going to do it, let it mean something.”


Mon, 17 Sep 2018 12:56:25 +0000
Ne-Yo wants to make Silicon Valley more diverse, one investment at a time
Ne-Yo made his first investment in the coding academy Holberton School about a year ago. This month, he visited the campus for its grand opening and spoke to TechCrunch about his Silicon Valley ambitions.

Altaba, the holding company of what Verizon left behind after its acquisition of Yahoo, said it has settled three ongoing legal cases relating to Yahoo’s previously disclosed data breaches.

In a Monday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the former web giant turned investment company said it has agreed to end litigation for $47 million, which the company said will “mark a significant milestone” in cleaning up its remaining liabilities.

The deal is subject to court approval, which attorneys for both sides asked the court to approve the deal within 45 days, according to a filing submitted Friday.

In case you missed it, Yahoo had two data breaches — one in mid-2013, where data on all of the company’s three billion users was stolen, and another breach a year later of 500 million accounts, including email addresses and passwords. The company blamed the attack on state-sponsored hackers, without citing any evidence or pointing any fingers.

Muddying the waters, the breach was discovered during Verizon’s bid to acquire the web giant and its assets for $4.83 billion. Verizon dropped its offer price by some $350 million after the scope of the breach was fully realized, and created Oath. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is also owned by Oath.)

Earlier this year, a federal judge said victims of the breach could sue Yahoo, despite Verizon’s best efforts to dismiss the claims.

A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Thu, 13 Sep 2018 19:55:06 +0000
Altaba to settle lawsuits relating to Yahoo data breach for $47 million
Altaba, the holding company of what Verizon left behind after its acquisition of Yahoo, said it has settled three ongoing legal cases relating to Yahoo’s previously disclosed data breaches. In a Monday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the former web giant turned investment company said it has agreed to end litigation for $47 […]

Watching the current price madness is scary. Bitcoin is falling and rising in $500 increments with regularity and Ethereum and its attendant ICOs are in a seeming freefall with a few “dead cat bounces” to keep things lively. What this signals is not that crypto is dead, however. It signals that the early, elated period of trading whose milestones including the launch of Coinbase and the growth of a vibrant (if often shady) professional ecosystem is over.

Crypto still runs on hype. Gemini announcing a stablecoin, the World Economic Forum saying something hopeful, someone else saying something less hopeful – all of these things and more are helping define the current market. However, something else is happening behind the scenes that is far more important.

As I’ve written before, the socialization and general acceptance of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial pursuits is a very recent thing. In the old days – circa 2000 – building your own business was considered somehow sordid. Chancers who gave it a go were considered get-rich-quick schemers and worth of little more than derision.

As the dot-com market exploded, however, building your own business wasn’t so wacky. But to do it required the imprimaturs and resources of major corporations – Microsoft, Sun, HP, Sybase, etc. – or a connection to academia – Google, Netscape, Yahoo, etc. You didn’t just quit school, buy a laptop, and start Snapchat.

It took a full decade of steady change to make the revolutionary thought that school wasn’t so great and that money was available for all good ideas to take hold. And take hold it did. We owe the success of TechCrunch and Disrupt to that idea and I’ve always said that TC was career pornography for the cubicle dweller, a guilty pleasure for folks who knew there was something better out there and, with the right prodding, they knew they could achieve it.

So in looking at the crypto markets currently we must look at the dot-com markets circa 1999. Massive infrastructure changes, some brought about by Y2K, had computerized nearly every industry. GenXers born in the late 70s and early 80s were in the marketplace of ideas with an understanding of the Internet the oldsters at the helm of media, research, and banking didn’t have. It was a massive wealth transfer from the middle managers who pushed paper since 1950 to the dot-com CEOs who pushed bits with native ease.

Fast forward to today and we see much of the same thing. Blockchain natives boast about having been interest in bitcoin since 2014. Oldsters at banks realize they should get in on things sooner than later and price manipulation is rampant simply because it is easy. The projects we see now are the Kozmo.com of the blockchain era, pie-in-the-sky dream projects that are sucking up millions in funding and will produce little in real terms. But for every hundred Kozmos there is one Amazon .

And that’s what you have to look for.

Will nearly every ICO launched in the last few years fail? Yes. Does it matter?

Not much.

The market is currently eating its young. Early investors made (and probably lost) millions on early ICOs but the resulting noise has created an environment where the best and brightest technical minds are faced with not only creating a technical product but also maintaining a monetary system. There is no need for a smart founder to have to worry about token price but here we are. Most technical CEOs step aside or call for outside help after their IPO, a fact that points to the complexity of managing shareholder expectations. But what happens when your shareholders are 16-year-olds with a lot of Ethereum in a Discord channel? What happens when little Malta becomes the de facto launching spot for token sales and you’re based in Nebraska? What happens when the SEC, FINRA, and Attorneys General from here to Beijing start investigating your hobby?

Basically your hobby stops becoming a hobby. Crypto and blockchain has weaponized nerds in an unprecedented way. In the past if you were a Linux developer or knew a few things about hardware you could build a business and make a little money. Now you can build an empire and make a lot of money.

Crypto is falling because the people in it for the short term are leaving. Long term players – the Amazons of the space – have yet to be identified. Ultimately we are going to face a compression in the ICO and, for a while, it’s going to be a lot harder to build an ICO. But give it a few years – once the various financial authorities get around to reading the Satoshi white paper – and you’ll see a sea change. Coverage will change. Services will change. And the way you raise money will change.

VC used to be about a team and a dream. Now it’s about a team, $1 million in monthly revenue, and a dream. The risk takers are gone. The dentists from Omaha who once visited accelerator demo days and wrote $25,000 checks for new apps are too shy to leave their offices. The flashy VCs from Sand Hill have to keep Uber and Airbnb’s plates spinning until they can cash out. VC is dead for the small entrepreneur.

Which is why the ICO is so important and this is why the ICO is such a mess right now. Because everybody sees the value but nobody – not the SEC, not the investors, not the founders – can understand how to do it right. There is no SAFE note for crypto. There are no serious accelerators. And all of the big names in crypto are either goldbugs, weirdos, or Redditors. No one has tamed the Wild West.

They will.

And when they do expect a whole new crop of Amazons, Ubers, and Oracles. Because the technology changes quickly when there’s money, talent, and a way to marry the two in which everyone wins.


Fri, 07 Sep 2018 14:10:50 +0000
It’s the end of crypto as we know it and I feel fine
Watching the current price madness is scary. Bitcoin is falling and rising in $500 increments with regularity and Ethereum and its attendant ICOs are in a seeming freefall with a few “dead cat bounces” to keep things lively. What this signals is not that crypto is dead, however. It signals that the early, elated period […]

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Tim Armstrong is in talks to leave Verizon as soon as next month.

Armstrong heads up the carrier giant’s digital and advertising division, Oath (formerly AOL, prior to the Yahoo acquisition and the subsequent merger of the two units). Oath also happens to be TechCrunch’s parent, of course.

We reached out to our corporate overlords for a confirm or deny on the newspaper report. A Verizon spokesperson told us: “We don’t comment on speculation and have no announcements to make.”

The WSJ cites “people familiar with the matter” telling it Armstrong is in talks to leave, which would mean he’s set to step away from an ongoing process of combining the two business units into a digital content and ad tech giant.

Though he has presided over several rounds of job cuts already, as part of that process.

Verizon acquired Armstrong when it bought AOL in 2015. The Yahoo acquisition followed in 2017 — with the two merged to form the odd-sounding Oath, a b2b brand that Armstrong seemingly inadvertently outted.

Building an ad giant to challenge Google and Facebook is the underlying strategy. But as the WSJ points out there hasn’t been much evidence of Oath moving Verizon’s growth needle yet (which remains tied to its wireless infrastructure).

The newspaper cites eMarketer projections which have Google taking over a third of the online ad market by 2020; Facebook just under a fifth; and Oath a mere 2.7%.

Meanwhile, Verizon’s appointment of former Ericsson CEO, Hans Vestberg, as its new chief exec in June, taking over from Lowell McAdam (who stepped down after seven years), suggests pipes (not content) remain the core focus for the carrier — which has the expensive of 5G upgrades to worry about.

A cost reduction program, intending to use network virtualization to take $10BN in expenses out of the business over the next four years, has also been a recent corporate priority for Verizon.

Given that picture, it’s less clear how Oath’s media properties mesh with its plans.

The WSJ’s sources told the newspaper there were recent discussions about whether to spin off the Oath business entirely — but said Verizon has instead decided to integrate some of its operations more closely with the rest of the company (whatever ‘integrate’ means in that context).

(Since the story broke, Verizon CFO Matt Ellis has expanded slightly on the ‘no comment’. Speaking during an appearance at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference this morning, he said: “Our commitment is as strong today to Oath as it has ever been… There’s a lot of good work going on there. It’s really setting the foundation of what we expect to do with the business going forward, and we still feel very strongly there’s a great opportunity there… So we continue to be very committed to Oath. There’s a significant opportunity for us there.”)

There have been other executive changes at Oath earlier this year, too, with the head of its media properties, Simon Khalaf, departing in April — and not being replaced.

Instead Armstrong appointed a COO, K Guru Gowrappan, hired in from Alibaba, who he said Oath’s media bosses would now report to.

“Now is our time to turn the formation of Oath into the formation of one of the world’s best operating companies that paves a safe and exciting path forward for our billion consumers and the world’s most trusted brands,” Armstrong wrote in a staff memo on Gowrappan’s appointment obtained by Recode.

“Guru will run day to day operations of our member (consumer) and B2B businesses and will serve as a member of our global executive team helping to set company culture and strategy. Guru will also be an important part of the Verizon work that is helping both Oath and Verizon build out the future of global services and revenue,” he added, saying he would be spending more of his time “spread across strategic Oath opportunities and Verizon… leading our global strategy, global executive team, and corporate operations”.

At the start of the year Oath also named a new CFO, Vanessa Wittman, after the existing officer, Holly Hess, moved to Verizon to head up the aforementioned cost-saving program.

Reaction to the rumour of Armstrong’s imminent departure has sparked fresh speculation about jobs cuts on the anonymous workplace app Blind — with Oath/AOL/Yahoo employees suggesting additional rounds of company-wide layouts could be coming in October.

Or, well, that could always just be trolling.


Tue, 28 Aug 2018 20:01:21 +0000
Verizon declines to comment on WSJ report saying Tim Armstrong is in talks to leave Oath
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Tim Armstrong is in talks to leave Verizon as soon as next month. Armstrong heads up the carrier giant’s digital and advertising division, Oath (formerly AOL, prior to the Yahoo acquisition and the subsequent merger of the two units). Oath also happens to be TechCrunch’s parent, of course. […]

You’re not the only one reading your emails.

A deep dive in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday dug out new details on a massive email scanning operation by Oath, the Verizon-owned subsidiary that’s the combined business of AOL and Yahoo. The email-scanning program analyzes over 200 million AOL and Yahoo inboxes for data that can be sold to advertisers. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon by way of Oath.)

The logic goes that by learning about its users, the internet giant can hone its ad-targeting effort to display the most relevant ads.

But where other major email providers have bailed from email scanning amid privacy scandals and security issues, Oath remains the outlier.

Google ended its ad-targeting email-scanning operation across its consumer Gmail service last year — a decision lauded after facing criticism for years over the practice — though the company still uses machine learning to help you reply to emails. Meanwhile, Microsoft told TechCrunch in a statement that it does “not use email content for ad targeting in any way, anywhere in Microsoft.” And Apple has never scanned its customers’ inboxes for advertising, though its privacy policy says it can access your data for law enforcement purposes or for more vague reasons like “issues of public importance.”

So it’s basically just Oath, then.

Scanning the inboxes of its hundreds of millions of email users is a gutsy move for the year-old internet giant, which prior to its rebranding was responsible for two data breaches at Yahoo exposing more than thee billion users’ data and a separate breach at AOL in 2014. Yahoo reportedly built a secret customer email-scanning tool at the behest of the U.S. intelligence community, which led to the departure of former Yahoo infosec chief Alex Stamos, who until recently was Facebook’s chief security officer.

Although the email scanning program isn’t new — announced earlier this year — it does go deeper than Gmail’s scanning ever did.

“Yahoo mined users’ emails in part to discover products they bought through receipts from e-commerce companies such as Amazon.com,” said the WSJ. “In 2015, Amazon stopped including full itemized receipts in the emails it sends customers, partly because the company didn’t want Yahoo and others gathering that data for their own use.”

Although some content is excluded from the scanning — such as health and medical information — it remains to be seen how (or even if) Oath can exclude other kinds of sensitive data from its customers’ inboxes, like bank transfers and stock receipts.

Yahoo Mail’s privacy policy says email accounts are subject to “manual review,” which allows certain Oath employees access to inboxes.

TechCrunch asked Oath and its parent Verizon about what assurances they could provide that confidential emails and information won’t be collected or used in any way. We also asked how consent was obtained from users in Europe, where data protection rules under the newly implemented GDPR regulations are stricter.

Neither Verizon or Oath responded by our deadline.

It should go without saying that email isn’t the most sensitive or secure communications medium, and inboxes should never be assumed to be private — not least from law enforcement and the companies themselves.

Deleting your account might be overkill, especially if you don’t want anyone to hijack your email address once it’s recycled. But if there’s ever been a time to find a better inbox, now might be it.


Wed, 15 Aug 2018 02:42:31 +0000
Yahoo still scans your emails for ads — even if its rivals won’t
You’re not the only one reading your emails. A deep dive in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday dug out new details on a massive email scanning operation by Oath, the Verizon-owned subsidiary that’s the combined business of AOL and Yahoo. The email-scanning program analyzes over 200 million AOL and Yahoo inboxes for data that […]

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 head of the firm’s AI research division. Now he becomes founding CEO of YC China while he’s also stepping into the role of Head of YC Research. YC will also expand its research team with an office in Seattle, where Lu has plenty of links.

There’s no immediate timeframe for when YC will launch its China program, which represents its first global expansion, but YC President Sam Altman told TechCrunch in an interview that the program will be based in Beijing once it is up and running. Altman said Lu will use his network and YC’s growing presence in China — it ran its first ‘Startup School’ event in Beijing earlier this year — to recruit prospects who will be put into the upcoming winter program in the U.S..

Following that, YC will work to launch the China-based program as soon as possible. It appears that the details are still being sketched out, although Altman did confirm it will run independently but may lean on local partners for help. The YC President he envisages batch programming in the U.S. and China overlapping to a point with visitors, shared mentors and potentially other interaction between the two.

China’s startup scene has grown massively in recent years, numerous reports peg it close to that of the U.S., so it makes sense that YC, as an ‘ecosystem builder,’ wants to in. But Altman believes that the benefits extend beyond YC and will strengthen its network of founders, which spans more than 1,700 startups.

“The number one asset YC has is a very special founder community,” he told TechCrunch . “The opportunity to include a lot more Chinese founders seems super valuable to everyone. Over the next decade, a significant portion of the tech companies started will be from the U.S. or China [so operating a] network across both is a huge deal.”

Altman said he’s also banking on Lu being the man to make YC China happen. He revealed that he’s spent a decade trying to hire Lu, who he described as “one of the most impressive technologists I know.”

Y Combinator President Sam Altman has often spoken of his desire to get into the Chinese market

Entering China as a foreign entity is never easy, and in the venture world it is particularly tricky because China already has an advanced ecosystem of firms with their own networks for founders, particularly in the early-stage space. But Altman is confident that YC’s global reach and roster of founders and mentors appeals to startups in China.

YC has been working to add Chinese startups to its U.S.-based programs for some time. Altman has long been keen on an expansion to China, as he discussed at our Disrupt event last year, and partner Eric Migicovsky — who co-founder Pebble — has been busy developing networks and arranging events like the Beijing one to raise its profile.

That’s seen some progress with more teams from China — and other parts of the world — taking part in YC batches, which have never been more diverse. But YC is still missing out on global talent.

According to its own data, fewer than 10 Chinese companies have passed through its corridors but that list looks like it is missing some names so the number may be higher. Clearly, though, admission are skewed towards the U.S. — the question is whether Qi Lu and creation of YC China can significantly alter that.


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.



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 […]
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