Two of the U.S.’s largest brick-and-mortar retailers, Walmart and Target, are launching new mobile checkout systems in their stores to accommodate the influx of shoppers expected during the 2018 holiday season. Walmart says it’s expanding its “Check Out With Me” service to every Supercenter by Black Friday, while Target’s recently launched “Skip the Line” mobile checkout service is available nationwide and will have extra staff throughout the store during the busier shopping days.
Walmart first began testing Check Out With Me in April this year across hundreds of U.S. stores.
The system involves store staff wearing a small carrying case equipped with a Bluetooth receipt printer, and a cellular device that works as both a barcode scanner and credit card swiper for transactions.
Initially, Walmart tested the solution in its Lawn & Garden centers across 350 stores, where there’s more need for a mobile checkout solution.
Instead of customers having to lug heavy items – like bags of mulch and potted plants – to a checkout station, a Walmart team member could instead just scan the item on the shelf, so it can be loaded directly into the customer’s car afterwards.
Now that checkout system will make its way to Walmart’s over 3,000 Supercenters across the U.S. Starting on Black Friday, store associates will be positioned in the busiest areas of the stores, including not only the garden center as before, but also in other high-traffic areas like electronics and “action alley” – the areas featuring special promotions in the aisles.
“Associates will help customers pay and go by simply swiping their credit card and providing them with a paper or electronic receipt for their purchase,” the retailer explained.
The expansion of mobile checkout was one of several holiday plans Walmart announced, including also an expanded assortment of brands, digital maps inside the Walmart app, the updated Walmart.com website, free two-day shipping from marketplace sellers, and more.
Meanwhile, Target is recently said it’s launching mobile checkout in its stores in time for the holidays, as well.
The company had begun testing its “Skip the Line” mobile checkout experience in select stores in February 2018, but has expanded that as of last month to all Target stores nationwide.
Similar to Walmart, Target’s solution includes equipping store staff with special handheld devices they can use to scan merchandise and process payments. From this same device, staff can also help customers place online orders if the store doesn’t carry an item they want.
During peak events – like Thanksgiving, Black Friday and others – team members will be positioned in the busiest areas of the store, including at the front-of-the-store and in the electronics department, the retailer says.
Today, more consumers are turning to e-commerce – and particularly to Amazon – for their holiday shopping needs out of convenience.
Now, those customers are looking for similar conveniences when they shop brick-and-mortar retailers, too. Stores are now catering to customer demand for faster, easier shopping by offering services like ship-to-store for online order pickup, same day order pickup (and driveup), and more.
With mobile checkout, retailers can address one of the remaining challenges of shopping in-store – those long checkout lines – without having to invest in expensive Amazon Go-like technology like camera systems and shelf sensors for a cashier-less experience.
The FCC’s space-focused meeting today had actions taken on SpaceX satellites and orbital debris reduction, but the decision most likely to affect users has to do with Galileo . No, not the astronomer — the global positioning satellite constellation put in place by the E.U. over the last few years. It’s now legal for U.S. phones to use, and a simple software update could soon give your GPS signal a major bump.
Galileo is one of several successors to the Global Positioning System that’s been in use since the ’90s. But because it is U.S.-managed and was for a long time artificially limited in accuracy to everyone but U.S. military, it should come as no surprise that European, Russian and Chinese authorities would want their own solutions. Russia’s GLONASS is operational and China is hard at work getting its BeiDou system online.
The E.U.’s answer to GPS was Galileo, and the 26 (out of 30 planned) satellites making up the constellation offer improved accuracy and other services, such as altitude positioning. Test satellites went up as early as 2005, but it wasn’t until 2016 that it began actually offering location services.
A Galileo satellite launch earlier this year.
Devices already existed that would take advantage of Galileo signals — all the way back to the iPhone 6s, the Samsung Galaxy S7 and many others from that era forward. It just depends on the wireless chip inside the phone or navigation unit, and it’s pretty much standard now. (There’s a partial list of smartphones supporting Galileo here.)
When a company sells a new phone, it’s much easier to just make a couple million of the same thing rather than make tiny changes like using a wireless chipset in U.S. models that doesn’t support Galileo. The trade-off in savings versus complexity of manufacturing and distribution just isn’t worthwhile.
The thing is, American phones couldn’t use Galileo because the FCC has regulations against having ground stations being in contact with foreign satellites. Which is exactly what using Galileo positioning is, though of course it’s nothing sinister.
If you’re in the U.S., then, your phone likely has the capability to use Galileo but it has been disabled in software. The FCC decision today lets device makers change that, and the result could be much-improved location services. (One band not very compatible with existing U.S. navigation services has been held back, but two of the three are now available.)
Interestingly enough, however, your phone may already be using Galileo without your or the FCC’s knowledge. Because the capability is behind a software lock, it’s possible that a user could install an app or service bringing it into use. Perhaps you travel to Europe a lot and use a French app store and navigation app designed to work with Galileo and it unlocked the bands. There’d be nothing wrong with that.
Or perhaps you installed a custom ROM that included the ability to check the Galileo signal. That’s technically illegal, but the thing is there’s basically no way for anyone to tell! The way these systems work, all you’d be doing is receiving a signal illegally that your phone already supports and that’s already hitting its antennas every second — so who’s going to report you?
It’s unlikely that phone makers have secretly enabled the Galileo frequencies on U.S. models, but as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out in a statement accompanying the FCC action, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening:
If you read the record in this proceeding and others like it, it becomes clear that many devices in the United States are already operating with foreign signals. But nowhere in our record is there a good picture of how many devices in this country are interacting with these foreign satellite systems, what it means for compliance with our rules, and what it means for the security of our systems. We should change that. Technology has gotten ahead of our approval policies and it’s time for a true-up.
She isn’t suggesting a crackdown — this is about regulation lagging behind consumer tech. Still, it is a little worrying that the FCC basically has no idea, and no way to find out, how many devices are illicitly tuning in to Galileo signals.
Expect an update to roll out to your phone sometime soon — Galileo signals will be of serious benefit to any location-based app, and to public services like 911, which are now officially allowed to use the more accurate service to determine location.
Facebook secretly retracted messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, TechCrunch reported seven months ago. Now for the first time, Facebook Messenger users will get the power to unsend too so they can remove their sent messages from the recipient’s inbox. Messages can only be unsent for the first 10 minutes after they’re delivered so that you can correct a mistake or remove something you accidentally pushed, but you won’t be able to edit ancient history. Formally known as “Remove for Everyone,” the button also leaves a “tombstone” indicating a message was retracted. And to prevent bullies from using the feature to cover their tracks, Facebook will retain unsent messages for a short period of time so if they’re reported, it can review them for policy violations.
The Remove feature rolls out in Poland, Bolivia, Colombia and Lithuania today on Messenger for iOS and Android. A Facebook spokesperson tells me the plan is to roll it out globally as soon as possible, though that may be influenced by the holiday App Store update cut-off. In the meantime, it’s also working on more unsend features, potentially including the ability to preemptively set an expiration date for specific messages or entire threads.
“The pros are that users want to be in control . . . and if you make a mistake you can correct it. There are a lot of legitimate use cases out there that we wanted to enable,” Facebook’s head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky tells me in an exclusive interview. But conversely, he says, “We need to make sure we don’t open up any new venues for bullying. We need to make sure people aren’t sending you bad messages and then removing them because if you report them and the messages aren’t there we can’t do anything.”
Facebook claimed this was to protect the privacy of its executives and the company’s trade secrets, telling me that “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications. These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger.” But it seems likely that Facebook also wanted to avoid another embarrassing situation like when Zuckerberg’s old instant messages from 2004 leaked. One damning exchange saw Zuckerberg tell a friend “if you ever need info about anyone at harvard . . . just ask . . . i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns.” “what!? how’d you manage that one?” the friend replied. “People just submitted it . . i don’t know why . . . they ‘trust me’ . . . dumb fucks” Zuckerberg replied.
The company told me it was actually already working on an Unsend button for everyone, and wouldn’t delete any more executives’ messages until it launched. Chudnovsky tells me he felt like “I wish we launched this sooner” when the news broke. But then six months went by without progress or comment from Facebook before TechCrunch broke the news that tipster Jane Manchun Wong had spotted Facebook prototyping the Remove feature. Then a week ago, Facebook Messenger’s App Store release notes accidentally mentioned that a 10-minute Unsend button was coming soon.
So why the seven-month wait? Especially given Instagram already allows users to unsend messages no matter how old? “The reason why it took so long is because on the server side, it’s actually much harder. All the messages are stored on the server, and that goes into the core transportation layer of our how our messaging system was built,” Chudnovsky explains. “It was hard to do given how we were architected, but we were always worried about the integrity concerns it would open up.” Now the company is confident it’s surmounted the engineering challenge to ensure an Unsent message reliably disappears from the recipient.
“The question becomes ‘who owns that message?’ Before that message is delivered to your Messenger app, it belongs to me. But when it actually arrives, it probably belongs to both of us,” Chudnovsky pontificates.
How Facebook Messenger’s “Remove for Everyone” button works
Facebook settled on the ability to let you remove any kind of message — including text, group chats, photos, videos, links and more — within 10 minutes of sending. You can still delete any message on just your side of the conversation, but only messages you sent can be removed from their recipients. You can’t delete from someone else what they sent you, the feature’s PR manager Kat Chui tells me. And Facebook will keep a private copy of the message for a short while after it’s deleted to make sure it can review if it’s reported for harassment.
To use the unsend feature, tap and hold on a message you sent, then select “Remove.” You’ll get options to “Remove for Everyone” which will retract the message, or “Remove for you,” which replaces the old delete option and leaves the message in the recipient’s inbox. You’ll get a warning that explains “You’ll permanently remove this message for all chat members. They can see that you removed a message and still report it.” If you confirm the removal, a line of text noting “you [or the sender’s name] removed a message” (known as a tombstone) will appear in the thread where the message was. If you want to report a removed message for abuse or another issue, you’ll tap the person’s name, scroll to “Something’s Wrong” and select the proper category such as harassment or that they were pretending to be someone else.
Why the 10-minute limit specifically? “We looked at how the existing delete functionality works. It turns out that when people are deleting messages because it’s a mistake or they sent something they didn’t want to send, it’s under a minute. We decided to extend it to 10, but decided we didn’t need to do more,” Chudnovsky reveals.
He says he’s not sure if Facebook’s security team will now resume removing executive messages. However, he stresses that the Unsend button Facebook is launching “is definitely not the same feature” as what was used on Zuckerberg’s messages. If Facebook wanted to truly respect its users, it would at least insert the tombstone when it erases old messages from executives.
Messenger is also building more unsend functionality. Taking a cue from encrypted messaging app Signal’s customizable per thread expiration date feature, Chudnovsky tells me “hypothetically, if I want all the messages to be deleted after six months, they get purged. This is something that can be set up on a per thread level,” though Facebook is still tinkering with the details. Another option would be for Facebook to extend to all chats the per message expiration date option from its encrypted Secret messages feature.
“It’s one of those things that feels very simple on the surface. And it would be very easy if the servers were built one way or another from the very beginning,” Chudnovsky concludes. “But it’s one of those things philosophically and technologically that once you get to the scale of 1.3 billion people using it, changing from one model to another is way more complicated.” Hopefully in the future, Facebook won’t give its executives extrajudicial ways to manipulate communications… or at least not until it’s sorted out the consequences of giving the public the same power.
Mobile gaming company Jam City is announcing a multi-year deal to create mobile games based on Pixar and Walt Disney Animation characters and films.
As part of the agreement, Jam City is taking over development of the match-three puzzle game Disney Emoji Blitz, which launched in 2016. Jam City says that everyone at Disney’s Glendale game studio who’s affected by this will be offered new jobs at the company to continue working on the title.
The first new game, meanwhile, will be based on the upcoming sequel to “Frozen” (that’s right, there’s going to be a “Frozen 2”), though the companies aren’t revealing any details, like the type of gameplay or the release date.
“While our licensing business for Disney Animation and Pixar games has grown over the last year and we have several top developers creating Disney games, this deal with Jam City represents a significant long-term opportunity for our games business and for the future slate of Disney and Pixar games,” said Kyle Laughlin, Disney’s senior vice president of games and interactive experiences, in a statement.
Jam City was founded in 2009 by Chris DeWolfe (who previously cofounded and served as CEO of MySpace) and former Fox executive Josh Ygaudo. It was initially focused on social games and was known as MindJolt before becoming the Social Gaming Network (named after a company it acquired) and then rebranding again two years ago as Jam City.
While Jam City has created its own games like Cookie Jam and Panda Pop, it’s also been releasing titles based on well-known franchises and intellectual property, such as “Snoopy Pop” and “Marvel Avengers Academy.” Earlier this year, it launched “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery,” a game that allows players to enroll in J.K. Rowling’s famous school for wizards and features the voices of several actors from the films.
Truecaller first started as a call screening app. Some countries are more affected than others. But it’s clear that text and call spam is the most intrusive form of spam.
The Swedish company then leveraged this user base to quietly turn the app into a full-fledged messaging app with one focus in particular — India.
With the acquisition of Chillr, the company shows that it wants to recreate a sort of WeChat for India. The company launched payment features — Truecaller Pay lets you pay other Truecaller users as well as pay your bills.
Eventually, Truecaller wants to open up its platform to third-party services. Back in April, the company reported that it had 100 million daily active users.
If you’re impressed by Truecaller’s growth strategy, you should buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.
In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.
CEO & Co-founder, Truecaller
Alan Mamedi is the CEO and Co-founder of Truecaller. Truecaller is one of the leading communication apps in the world with services in messaging, payment, caller ID, spam detection, dialer functionalities, and has more than 300 million users globally. In this position, Alan focuses on product development and innovation, and charting the strategic roadmap for the company’s success. To date, Truecaller has raised 80 million USD from Sequoia Capital, Atomico, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Facebook Lasso has a steep uphill climb ahead as it hopes to chase the musical video app it cloned, China’s TikTok (which merged with Musically). Lasso lets you overlay popular songs on 15-second clips of you lip syncing, dancing, or just being silly — kind of like Vine with a soundtrack. It’s off to a slow start since launching Friday, having failed to reach the overall app download charts as it falls from #169 to #217 on the US iOS Photo and Video App chart, according to App Annie.
Forme Facebook Lead Product Designer Brady Voss
And now one of the Lasso team’s bosses Brady Voss is leaving Facebook for a job at Netflix. He’d spent five years as a lead product designer at Facebook working on standalone apps like Hello and major feature launches like Watch, Live, 360 video, and the social network’s smart TV app. He previously designed products for TiVo and Microsoft’s XBox.
“After five life-changing years at Facebook, my last day will be this Friday, 11/16” Voss wrote on Facebook. “Following our launch of our new app, Lasso, a project I’ve been working on for a while now, the timing works well to explore what’s coming next . . . As for what’s next? I have accepted a position at Netflix in Los Gatos, California.” A Facebook spokesperson responded that “Yes, I can confirm that Brady is leaving Facebook.”
Voss added some color about joining Facebook, noting “There was actually a discussion about whether or not I’d be a great culture fit because I wore a tie to my interviews–which is funny because we don’t believe dressing like that is what enables people to bring their best everyday. Thankfully, they saw past the common clichés–because suits and ties are not me.” As for Facebook’s troubles, he wrote that “I was even there for the big freak out moments along the way–we’ll keep them unnamed ”, which could refer to his work on Facebook Live that spawned big problems with real-time broadcasts of violence and self-harm.
While it’s reasonable for anyone to want a change of pace after five years, especially after the brutal year Facebook’s had in the press, his departure just a week after Lasso’s launch doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in the app’s trajectory. It might have been a sensible stopping point haven gotten the app out the door, but you’d also think that if Lasso had a real shot at popularity, he’d have wanted to stick around to oversee that growth.
TechCrunch asked the company for some more details about the Lasso roadmap. A spokesperson told me that Facebook will be evolving Lasso and adding new features with time, and may test a feature for uploading videos instead of being restricted to shooting them in-app right now. Voss’ departure post includes a “Made With Lasso” video featuring an augmented reality effect with him conjuring Facebook Like thumbs-ups out of his hand. [Update: He tells me he added this in AfterEffects, but it shows that Facebookers think AR should be part of Lasso.]
As for monetization, Facebook tells me there are no plans to show ads right now. Typically, Facebook tries to build products to have hundreds of millions of users before it potentially endangers growth by layering in revenue generators. I asked if users might be able to pay their favorite video creators with tips, and the company says that while that’s not currently available, it hopes to explore ways to allow creators to earn money in the future. Instagram said the same thing about IGTV when it launched in June, and we still haven’t heard anything on that front. Facebook likely won’t be able to lure creators to new platforms with smaller audiences than their main channels unless it’s going to let them earn money there.
If Facebook is truly serious about challenging TikTok, it may need to build closer ties between Lasso and Instagram. Facebook left its previous standalone video apps like Slingshot and Poke out to dry, eventually shuttering them after providing little cross promotion. Given the teen audience Lasso craves is already on Instagram, it will be fascinating to see if former VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri who’s now running Instagram will insert some links to Lasso. A Facebook spokesperson says that Facebook may investigate promoting Lasso on its other apps down the line.
And one final concern regarding Lasso is that Facebook isn’t doing much to prevent underage kids below 13 from getting on the app. Tweens flocked to Musically, leading to some worrisome content. 10-year-old girls in revealing clothing singing along to the scandalous lyrics of pop songs frequently populated the Musically leaderboard. That prompted me to question Musically CEO Alex Zhu on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 about whether his app violated the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that prohibits online services from collecting photos or videos of kids under 13. He denied wrongdoing with flimsy excuses, claiming parents were always aware of what kids were doing, and stormed out of the backstage area after our talk.
So I asked Facebook how it would prevent such issues on Lasso, where all content is public and adults can follow children. A spokesperson told me that you need a Facebook or Instagram account to sign up for Lasso, and those services require people to be 13 older. But “require” isn’t exactly the right word. It asks people to state they’re of age, but doesn’t do anything to confirm that. Lasso does have a report button for flagging inappropriate content, and the company claims to be taking privacy and safety seriously.
But if the tech giants are going to build apps purposefully designed for young audiences, asking for kids to merely promise they’re old enough to join may not be sufficient.
Steve Jobs famously once said that people don’t read anymore, but it turns out younger people are, in fact, reading quite a lot – just in different ways than expected. Case in point: 70 million readers log in to online community Wattpad each month, where they spend over 22 billion minutes engaged in its original stories. 80 percent of that user base is either Millennial or Gen Z and 70 percent are female. Today, Wattpad is going after its most avid readers with the launch of new program offering exclusive stories, called Wattpad Next.
Currently in beta, Wattpad Next will initially be available to Wattpad’s 13 million monthly users in the U.S. It will then roll out to Spanish-speaking countries, followed by a global launch in 2019.
The company has also tested the program before today in Canada, Great Britain, Mexico, and the Philippines.
The program offers users a new way to support favorite writers by offering a selection of stories that you have to pay to read.
The stories span genres and completion status, as some are still being written in the serialized format known to Wattpad readers, while others are finished.
These are purchased using Wattpad’s new virtual currency called Coins, which are bought in-app in packs starting at 99 cents for 9 coins and ranging up to $7.99 for 230 coins. Users can then choose to purchase the stories by chapter, or in full for those works that are completed.
At launch, there are 50 exclusive stories available, with plans to further grow that selection and participating writers in early 2019.
Writers are being invited to join Next – they can’t choose to sign up. Wattpad says it selected stories based on data science.
“Specialists from our Story DNA machine learning teams collaborated with our editorial experts to find stories and writers with exceptional potential for Wattpad Next,” a spokesperson said.
The revenue generated by the stories goes largely to the writers, but the company declined to disclose the split.
“Wattpad users around the world have overwhelmingly embraced the chance to support their favorite writers through the Wattpad Next (beta) program,” said Allen Lau, Wattpad CEO and co-founder, in a statement.
“This program is part of our commitment to helping writers earn money from their stories, monetizing stories both on and off of Wattpad. Along with opportunities to connect with brands, and work with Wattpad Studios to turn their stories into books, TV shows, films, and digital projects, writers can now make money directly from the fans that have supported them since their first page. The beta phase of Wattpad Next is just the beginning, as we look at new ways to help support Wattpad writers around the world,” he said.
Wattpad Next is one of several ways the company has chosen to generate revenue. The company also monetizes via ads, which users can opt out of by subscribing to Wattpad Premium.
Wattpad declined to say how many members have converted to that program, but notes it “exceeded expectations.”
The company has gotten involved in Hollywood deal-making through its studio arm, too, and has turned some of its top stories into books.
This has led to nearly a thousand of its stories to date being published as books or turned into TV shows, movies, and other digital media projects, the company claims. A few of its recent high-profile wins on that front include Wattpad’s co-producing of Hulu’s “Light as a Feather” with AwesomenessTV; the Netflix success story that was “The Kissing Booth” movie; and Sony Pictures Television acquisition of the rights to Wattpad story “Death is my BFF,” which was read more than 92 million times.
Wattpad this year raised $51 million from Tencent and others, and has signed new partnerships with iflix, Sony, SYFY, and others.
Wattpad Next (beta) is available on the web, iOS and Android.
The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one, but little has been done by researchers to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies are at best suggestive. A new experimental study out of Penn State, however, directly links more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to better.
To be clear on the terminology here, a simple survey might ask people to self-report that using Instagram makes them feel bad. A correlative study would, for example, find that people who report more social media use are more likely to also experience depression. An experimental study compares the results from an experimental group with their behavior systematically modified, and a control group that’s allowed to do whatever they want.
This study, led by Melissa Hunt at Penn State’s psychology department, is the latter — which despite intense interest in this field and phenomenon is quite rare. The researchers only identified two other experimental studies, both of which only addressed Facebook use.
One hundred and forty-three students from the school were monitored for three weeks after being assigned to either limit their social media use to about 10 minutes per app (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) per day or continue using it as they normally would. They were monitored for a baseline before the experimental period and assessed weekly on a variety of standard tests for depression, social support and so on. Social media usage was monitored via the iOS battery use screen, which shows app use.
The results are clear. As the paper, published in the latest Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, puts it:
The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.
Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.
It’s not the final word in this, however. Some scores did not see improvement, such as self-esteem and social support. And later follow-ups to see if feelings reverted or habit changes were less than temporary were limited because most of the subjects couldn’t be compelled to return. (Psychology, often summarized as “the study of undergraduates,” relies on student volunteers who have no reason to take part except for course credit, and once that’s given, they’re out.)
That said, it’s a straightforward causal link between limiting social media use and improving some aspects of emotional and social health. The exact nature of the link, however, is something at which Hunt could only speculate:
Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.
When you’re not busy getting sucked into clickbait social media, you’re actually spending more time on things that are more likely to make you feel better about your life.
The researchers acknowledge the limited nature of their study and suggest numerous directions for colleagues in the field to take it from here. A more diverse population, for instance, or including more social media platforms. Longer experimental times and comprehensive follow-ups well after the experiment would help, as well.
The 30-minute limit was chosen as a conveniently measurable one, but the team does not intend to say that it is by any means the “correct” amount. Perhaps half or twice as much time would yield similar or even better results, they suggest: “It may be that there is an optimal level of use (similar to a dose response curve) that could be determined.”
Until then, we can use common sense, Hunt suggested: “In general, I would say, put your phone down and be with the people in your life.”