Google’s Work Insights helps businesses better understand how they work

At an event in Tokyo, Google today announced the launch of Work Insights, a new tool that gives businesses more insights into how their employees use the company’s G Suite productivity tools and how teams collaborate using those tools.

In addition, Google is also launching its investigation tool for helping business better secure their data in G Suite into general availability.

“Work Insights is a tool built specifically to help businesses measure and understand the impact of digital transformation within their organizations, driven by G Suite,” Reena Nadkarni, a group product manager for G Suite, explains in today’s announcement. Data is aggregated at the team level (where a team needs to have 10 people or more) to help businesses understand how their employees are adapting G Suite apps.

As enterprises bet on one vendor or the other, there’s always a bit of a transition period and not everybody makes the move quite as quickly as others. Most of these tools, though, only really work when the whole company adopts them. That’s especially true for communication tools like Slack, Hangouts Chat/Meet or Microsoft Teams, but also for productivity tools like G Suite.

The other use cases here, though, is actually far more interesting. Work Insights will also give companies a view of how users on different teams interact with each other (think the marketing and sales teams). If they are working on documents together, then they are probably working well together, too (or just leaving acerbic comments on marketing presentations, but you get the general idea here).

“This insight can help executives identify opportunities to strengthen collaboration and reduce siloes,” Nadkarni writes. Since few executives ever say that they want less collaboration and more siloes, chances are we’ll see quite a few companies adopt these tools.

 

Google launches new AI initiatives in Japan

It’s no surprise that Google used its Cloud Next 2018 event in Tokyo today — one of a number of international Cloud Next events that follow its flagship San Francisco conference — to announce a couple of new initiatives that specifically focus on the Japanese market.

These announcements include a couple of basic updates like translating its Machine Learning with TensorFlow on Google Cloud Platform Coursera specialization, its Associate Cloud Engineer certification and fifty of its hands-on Qwiklabs into Japanese.

In addition, Google is also launching an Advanced Solutions Lab in Tokyo as well. Previously Google opened similar labs in Dublin, Ireland, as well as Sunnyvale and New York. These labs offer a wide range of machine learning-centric training options, collaborative workspaces for teams that are part of the company’s four-week machine learning training program, and access to Google experts.

(Photo by Hitoshi Yamada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The company also today announced that it is working with Fast Retailing, the company behind brands like Uniqlo, to help it adopt new technologies. As its name implies, Fast Retailing would like to retail faster, so it’s looking at Google and its G Suite and machine learning tools to help it accelerate its growth. The code name for this project is ‘Ariake.’

“Making information accessible to all our employees is one of the foundations of the Ariake project, because it empowers them to use human traits like logic, judgment, and empathy to make decisions,” says Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing. “We write business plans every season, and we use collaborative tools like G Suite make sure they’re available to all. Our work with Google Cloud has gone well beyond demand forecasting; it’s fundamentally changed the way we work together.”

Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent.

The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives.

The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from the cloud. As a result, user data is processed on the device itself, acting as a potentially stronger guarantor of privacy. Unlike centralized assistants like Alexa and Google, Snips knows nothing about its users.

Its approach is convincing investors. To date, Snips has raised €22 million in funding from investors like Korelya Capital, MAIF Avenir, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. Created in 2013 by 3 PhDs, and now employing more than 60 people in Paris and New York, Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white-labelled solution for enterprise device manufacturers.

It’s tested its theories about voice by releasing the result of a consumer poll. The survey of 410 people found that 66% of respondents said they would be apprehensive of using a voice assistant in a hotel room, because of concerns over privacy, 90% said they would like to control the ways corporations use their data, even if it meant sacrificing convenience.

“Сonsumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage,” says Dr Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO at Snips. “However, emerging technologies like blockchain are helping us to create safer and fairer alternatives for voice assistants.”

Indeed, blockchain is very much part of Snip’s future. As Hindi told TechCrunch in May, the company will release a new set of consumer devices independent of its enterprise business. The idea is to create a consumer business that will prompt further enterprise development. At the same time, they will issue a cryptographic token via an ICO to incentivize developers to improve the Snips platform, as an alternative to using data from consumers. The theory goes that this will put it at odds with the approach used by Google and Amazon, who are constantly criticised for invading our private lives merely to improve their platforms.

As a result Hindi believes that as voice-controlled devices become an increasingly common sight in public spaces, there could be a significant shift in public opinion about how their privacy is being protected.

In an interview conducted last month with TechCrunch, Hindi told me the company’s plans for its new consumer product are well advanced, and will be designed from the beginning to be improved over time using a combination of decentralized machine learning and cryptography.

By using blockchain technology to share data, they will be able to train the network “without ever anybody sending unencrypted data anywhere,” he told me.

And ‘training the network” is where it gets interesting. By issuing a cryptographic token for developers to use, Hindi says they will incentivize devs to work on their platform and process data in a decentralized fashion. They are starting from a good place. He claims they already have 14,000 developers on the platform who will be further incentivized by a token economy.

“Otherwise people have no incentive to process that data in a decentralized fashion, right?” he says.

“We got into blockchain because we’re trying to find a way to get people to participate in decentralized machine learning. We’ve been wanting to get into consumer [devices] for a couple of years but didn’t really figure out the end goal because we had always had this missing element which was: how do you keep making it better over time.”

“This is the main argument for Google and Amazon to pretend that you need to send your data to them, to make the service better. If we can fix this [by using blockchain] then we can offer a real alternative to Alexa that guarantees Privacy by Design,” he says.

“We now have over 14000 developers building for us and that’s really completely organic growth, zero marketing, purely word of mouth, which is really nice because it shows that there’s a very big demand for decentralized voice assistance, effectively.”

It could be a high-risk strategy. Launching a voice-controlled device is one thing. Layering it with applications produced by developed supposedly incentivized by tokens, especially when crypto prices have crashed, is quite another.

It does definitely feel like a moonshot idea, however, and we’ll really only know if Snips can live up to such lofty ideals after the launch.

Google partners with Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi to put Android into millions of vehicles

Google will partner with Renault -Nissan-Mitsubishi, the largest auto alliance in the world by vehicle sales, to put Android-based infotainment systems into millions of cars, the companies told Wall Street Journal. The alliance’s next-generation infotainment system and dashboard displays will use Android and launch in 2021.

Drivers will be able to access Google’s maps, app store and voice assistant from their vehicle’s dashboards. The new partnership is a giant step forward for Google’s ambitions to get its operating system into more cars (the alliance sold a combined 5.5 million vehicles in the first half of this year, putting it ahead of Volkswagen and Toyota Motor).

The alliance’s executives told WSJ that they decided on the partnership because many of their customers are accustomed to using Google Maps and other apps and prefer sticking with them instead of using software developed by automakers when they drive.

Auto executives have also become more comfortable with Google, which made its software open source in 2007. Kal Mos, the alliance’s vice president of connected vehicles, told the Wall Street Journal that “the trust was built in the last few years.”

By partnering with Google, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi ups the ante on rival automakers to partner with tech companies instead of developing their own software ecosystems. While this may win customers over, it also means potentially ceding control over valuable user data to companies like Google and Apple. Mos told WSJ that Google will have access to data collected from its in-car apps, but must ask for user permission first.

Other automakers that are already integrating Google apps into their vehicles include Volkswagen, which put Google Earth into the Audi’s in-car navigation system, and Volvo Cars, which said its next in-car infotaintment system will run on Android.

Go-Jek plans to raise $2B more for Southeast Asia ride-hailing battle

Indonesia’s Go-Jek is planning to raise $2 billion from investors to fuel its ride-hailing battle with Grab in Southeast Asia.

Go-Jek raised $1.5 billion earlier this year from investors that include Chinese trio Tencent, Meituan and JD.com, as well as Google, Allianz and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek. Now it is planning to raise a further $2 billion, two sources with knowledge of details told TechCrunch, as it seeks to expand on numerous fronts.

Those plans include both extending the scope of its services in Indonesia — where beyond rides it offers services on demand and financial products — and moving into new markets. The company recently went live in Vietnam, its first expansion, and it has plans to enter Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore this year.

Bloomberg first reported the fundraising plans, although a source told TechCrunch that the deal is far from being done. Existing investors — which also include KKR and Warburg Pincus — are likely to provide the new capital.

Word of Go-Jek’s financing plan comes after Grab raised $2 billion this summer, including a $1 billion contribution from Toyota. The Singapore-based company — which bought out Uber’s business earlier this yearrecently said it plans to raise a further $1 billion before 2018 is out.

That money is likely to be spent on Grab’s ongoing strategy to broaden into services. That’s seen Grab follow Go-Jek’s lead and move into groceries, on-demand services and fintech as part of a desire to be Southeast Asia ‘super app’ for a broad range of local services.

Grab is also doubling down on Indonesia, where it recently announced plans to invest $250 million in local startups. While Go-Jek is largely seen as the dominant player in Indonesia, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous country, Grab claims to handle 65 percent of all rides and transactions in the country.

Go-Jek’s most recent valuation was $5 billion. Investors valued Grab at $11 billion when its recent round closed in August.

Mobile social network Path, once a challenger to Facebook, is closing down

It’s that time again, folks, time to say goodbye to a social media service from days past.

Following the shuttering of Klout earlier this year, now Path, the one-time rival to Facebook, is closing its doors, according to an announcement made today.

The eight-year-old service will close down in one month — October 18 — but it will be removed from the App Store and Google Play on October 1. Any remaining users have until October 18 to download a copy of their data, which can be done here.

Path was founded by former Facebook product manager Dave Morin, and ex-Napster duo Dustin Mierau and Shawn Fanning . The company burst onto the scene in 2010 with a mobile social networking app that was visually pleasing and — importantly — limited to just 50 friends per user. That positioned it as a private alternative to Facebook with some additional design bells and whistles, although the friend restriction was later lifted and then removed altogether.

At its peak, the service had around 15 million users and it was once raising money at a valuation of $500 million. Indeed, Google tried to buy it for $100 million when it was just months old. All in all, the startup raised $55 million from investors that included top Silicon Valley names Index, Kleiner Perkins and Redpoint.

Facebook ultimately defeated Path, but it stole a number of features from its smaller rival

But looks fade, and social media is a tough place when you’re not Facebook, which today has over 1.5 billion active users and aggressively ‘borrowed’ elements from Path’s design back in the day.

Path’s road took a turn for the worse and the much-hyped startup lost staff, users and momentum (and user data). The company tried to launch a separate app to connected businesses and users — Path Talk — but that didn’t work and ultimately it was sold to Korea’s Kakao — a messaging and internet giant — in an undisclosed deal in 2015. Kakao bought the app because it was popular in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest population where Path had four million users, and the Korean firm was making a major play for that market, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and a growing market for internet users.

However, Path hasn’t kicked on in the last three years and now Kakao is discarding it altogether.

“It is with deep regret that we announce that we will stop providing our beloved service, Path. We started Path in 2010 as a small team of passionate and experienced designers and engineers. Over the years we have tried to lay out our mission: through technology and design we aim to be a source of happiness, meaning, and connection to our users,” the company said in a statement.

Thanks Aulia

Everyday home gear made smart

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

If you only have one smart home device, it’s likely something simple and fun like a voice-controlled speaker or color-changing LED light bulb. As you expand your smart home setup, you can begin to swap out gear that isn’t as flashy but you still use everyday.

Switching to connected locks, power outlets and smoke alarms are all simple installs that can improve your safety and comfort in your own home. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite essentials made smart for anyone looking to upgrade.

Smart lock: Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen

The Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen is the most versatile smart lock that we’ve tested. Whether you prefer to use a wireless fob, smartphone app or key, you’ll be able to control the lock with all of them. When we compared it to similar models, the Kevo’s Bluetooth-activated tap-to-unlock mechanism was the easiest to use.

The second generation of the Kevo improved on security and has all-metal internal components for better protection against forced break-in attempts. With the optional Kevo Plus upgrade, you’ll add the ability to control the lock remotely and receive status-monitoring updates.

Photo: Liam McCabe

Robot Vacuum: iRobot Roomba 960

If cleaning is neither your forte or preferred pastime, a robot vacuum will come in handy. Our upgrade pick, the iRobot Roomba 960, is one of the most powerful models that we tested. It can be controlled through the iRobot Home app and uses a bump-and-track navigation system that helps vacuum an entire floor without missing spots.

If its battery is running low during a session, it’ll return to its dock to power up before finishing the job. It’s easy to disassemble for maintenance and is equipped with repairable parts that make it worth its price over some of our less serviceable picks.

Photo: Rachel Cericola

Plug-in Smart Outlet: Belkin Wemo Mini

We tested 26 smart outlet models over more than 45 hours and chose the Belkin Wemo Mini Wi-Fi plug as our top pick. If you’ve ever thought it’d be nice to remotely turn on or off home essentials such as lamps, air conditioners and fans from your smartphone, plugging them into a smart outlet makes it possible.

The Wemo Mini has proven to be reliable throughout long-term testing, it doesn’t block other outlets on the same wall plate and it’s compatible with iOS and Android devices and assistants, including HomeKit/Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. The interface of the Wemo app is intuitive and easy to use. You can view all of your connected devices on one screen, set powering timers and from anywhere power on or off a device plugged into the Wemo outlet.

Photo: Jennifer Pattison Tuohy

Smart Thermostat: Nest Thermostat E

For a smart thermostat that’s affordable and doesn’t require extensive programming, we recommend the Nest Thermostat E. After about a week, it creates a schedule after learning cooling and heating preferences that you’ve set. It isn’t compatible with as many HVAC systems as similar Nest models, but it’s easy to install and doesn’t lack any features we expect.

It does come with Eco Mode — an energy-saving geofencing feature that detects when your home is empty (or when your smartphone is nowhere near your house). The Nest app uses the same technology to set the thermostat to a preferred temperature when it senses you’re on your way home. If you don’t have your smartphone on hand, you can still operate the Thermostat E by turning its outer ring and pressing selections on its touchscreen.

Photo: Michael Hession

Smart Smoke Alarm: Nest Protect

A smoke alarm is one of the most relied-upon safety devices in every home. Nonetheless, it’s easy to forget to do routine checks to ensure it’s in tip-top shape and functioning properly. With a smart smoke alarm like the Nest Protect, we found that its simple app, self-tests, monthly sound checks and consistent alerts are enough to keep fire safety worries at bay.

It isn’t difficult to install, has a sleek design and integrates with other smart home devices like the Nest Cam (which can record video of a fire) and the Nest Learning Thermostat (which shuts down HVAC systems that may be the cause of a fire). It’s sensitive to fast- and slow-burning fires, plus it monitors homes for both smoke and carbon monoxide.

These picks may have been updated by Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

The new iPhone’s here, so Google wants to talk Pixel 3

In the off-chance you haven’t already had your fill of phone news for the week, Google just offered up a few friendly reminders that it’s got its own handset coming out in the not so distant future.

The company’s event isn’t happening until early next month, but Google’s started with the teasers. Here’s a site with a big number 3, while over here a “coming soon” placeholder shows off the rough outline of what one assumes is the new phone.

It’s pretty bare bones at the moment, but a click of the “G” logo unleashes a slow, steady stream of confetti. As Android Police handily notes, the phone’s silhouette is shown in three colors — black, white and a kind of mint green.

The former have already been leaked like crazy all over the internet. The pale green, on the other hand, could be a surprise — well, a “surprise,” I suppose. Companies love to whet the tech press’s collective palate with a hint or two.Though we’ve been burned in the past.

Remember when the popsicle wallpaper appeared to be a nod to the upcoming Android P name? The truth of the matter was a bit more dull. That said, there’s no shortage of Pixel 3 information out in the world right now. We’ve already seen about as much of the upcoming handset as we have Apple’s new devices.

Whatever the case, all will be revealed on October 9.