Facebook quietly relaunches apps for Groups platform after lockdown

Facebook is becoming a marketplace for enterprise apps that help Group admins manage their communities.

To protect itself and its users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook locked down the Groups API for building apps for Groups. These apps had to go through a human-reviewed approval process, and lost access to Group member lists, plus the names and profile pics of people who posted. Now, approved Groups apps are reemerging on Facebook, accessible to admins through a new in-Facebook Groups apps browser that gives the platform control over discoverability.

Facebook confirmed the new Groups apps browser after our inquiry, telling TechCrunch, “What you’re seeing today is related to changes we announced in April that require developers to go through an updated app review process in order to use the Groups API. As part of this, some developers who have gone through the review process are now able to access the Groups API.”

Facebook wouldn’t comment further, but this Help Center article details how Groups can now add apps. Matt Navarra first spotted the new Groups apps option and tipped us off. Previously, admins would have to find Group management tools outside of Facebook and then use their logged-in Facebook account to give the app permissions to access their Group’s data.

Groups are often a labor of love for admins, but generate tons of engagement for the social network. That’s why the company recently began testing Facebook subscription Groups that allow admins to charge a monthly fee. With the right set of approved partners, the platform offers Group admins some of the capabilities usually reserved for big brands and businesses that pay for enterprise tools to manage their online presences.

Becoming a gateway to enterprise tool sets could make Facebook Groups more engaging, generating more time on site and ad views from users. This also positions Facebook as a natural home for ad campaigns promoting different enterprise tools. And one day, Facebook could potentially try to act more formally as a Groups App Store and try to take a cut of software-as-a-service subscription fees the tool makers charge.

Facebook can’t build every tool that admins might need, so in 2010 it launched the Groups API to enlist some outside help. Moderating comments, gathering analytics and posting pre-composed content were some of the popular capabilities of Facebook Groups apps. But in April, it halted use of the API, announcing that “there is information about people and conversations in groups that we want to make sure is better protected. Going forward, all third-party apps using the Groups API will need approval from Facebook and an admin to ensure they benefit the group.”

Now apps that have received the necessary approval are appearing in this Groups apps browser. It’s available to admins through their Group Settings page. The apps browser lets them pick from a selection of tools like Buffer and Sendible for scheduling posts to their Group, and others for handling commerce messages.

Facebook is still trying to bar the windows of its platform, ensuring there are no more easy ways to slurp up massive amounts of sensitive user data. Yesterday it shut down more APIs and standalone apps in what appears to be an attempt to streamline the platform so there are fewer points of risk and more staff to concentrate on safeguarding the most popular and powerful parts of its developer offering.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has subsided to some degree, with Facebook’s share price recovering and user growth maintaining at standard levels. However, a new report from The Washington Post says the FBI, FTC and SEC will be investigating Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the social network’s executives’ testimony to Congress. Facebook surely wants to get back to concentrating on product, not politics, but must take it slow and steady. There are too many eyes on it to move fast or break anything.

Light is building a smartphone with five to nine cameras

Light, the company behind the wild L16 camera, is building a smartphone equipped with multiple cameras. According to The Washington Post, the company is prototyping a smartphone with five to nine cameras that’s capable of capturing a 64 megapixel shot.

The entire package is not much thicker than an iPhone X, the Post reports. The additional sensors are said to increase the phone’s low-light performance and depth effects and uses internal processing to stick the image together.

This is the logical end-point for Light. The company introduced the $1,950 L16 camera back in 2015 and starting shipping it in 2017. The camera uses sixteen lenses to capture 52 megapixel imagery. The results are impressive especially when the size of the camera is considered. It’s truly pocketable. Yet in the end, consumers want the convenience of a phone with the power of a dedicated camera.

Light is not alone in building a super cameraphone. Camera maker RED is nearing the release of its smartphone that rocks a modular lens system and can be used as a viewfinder for RED’s cinema cameras. Huawei also just released the P21 Pro that uses three lenses to give the user the best possible option for color, monochrome and zoom. Years ago, Nokia played with high megapixel phones, stuffing a 41 MP sensor in the Lumia 1020 and PureView 808.

Unfortunately addtional details about the Light phone are unavailable. It’s unclear when this phone will be released. We reached out to Light for comment and will update this report with its response.

All charges against ex-Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including lewd act on a child, dismissed by judge

All charges against former Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including a sexual abuse of a child, have been dropped. According to a statement from Jaffer’s representatives, San Mateo County Judge Stephanie Garratt dismissed the charges today. Jaffer was arrested last October and charged with several serious offenses, including a lewd act on one of his children, child abuse and battery on a police officer.

The dismissal is confirmed by San Mateo County Superior Court’s online records. The case (number 17NF012415A) had been scheduled to go to jury trial in late August.

Jaffer, whose full name is Zainali Jaffer, said in a statement that:

Being wrongfully accused of these crimes has been a terrible experience, which has had a deep and lasting impact on my family and the employees of my business. Those closest to me knew I was innocent and were confident that all of the charges against me would eventually be dismissed. I want to thank the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for carefully reviewing and considering all of the information and evidence in this case and dropping all the charges. I am also incredibly grateful for the continued and unwavering support of my wife and family, and look forward to spending some quality time with them.

Vungle, the fast-rising mobile ad startup Jaffer co-founded in 2011, removed him from the company immediately after they learned about the charges in October. TechCrunch has contacted Vungle and the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for comment.

Browser maker Opera has filed to go public

Norway-based company Opera Ltd has filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. According to its F-1 document, the company plans to raise up to $115 million.

In 2017, Opera generated $128.9 million in operating revenue, which led to a net income of $6.1 million.

While many people are already familiar with the web browser Opera, the company itself has had a tumultuous history. Opera shareholders separated the company into two different entities — the browser maker and the adtech operations.

The advertising company is now called Otello. And a consortium of Chinese companies acquired the web browser, the consumer products and the Opera brand. That second part is the one that is going public in the U.S.

Opera currently manages a web browser for desktop computers and a handful of web browsers for mobile phones. On Android, you can download Opera, Opera Mini and Opera Touch. On iOS, you’ll only find Opera Mini. More recently, the company launched a standalone Opera News app.

Overall, Opera currently has around 182 million monthly active users across its mobile products, 57.4 million monthly active users for its desktop browser, and 90.2 million users for Opera News in its browsers and standalone app. There’s some overlap across those user bases.

More interestingly, Opera only makes money through three revenue sources. The main one is a deal with two search engines. Yandex is the default search engine in Russia, and Google is the default search engine in the rest of the world. As the company’s user base grows, partners pay more money to remain the default search engine.

“A small number of business partners contribute a significant portion of our revenues,” the company writes in its F-1 document. “In 2017, our top two largest business partners in aggregate contributed approximately 56.1% of our operating revenue, with Google and Yandex accounting for 43.2% and 12.9% of our operating revenue, respectively.”

The rest is ads and licensing deals. You may have noticed that Opera’s speed dial is pre-populated with websites by default, such as Booking.com or eBay. Those are advertising partners. Some phone manufacturers and telecom companies also pre-install Opera browsers on their devices. The company is getting some revenue from that too.

The browser market is highly competitive and Opera is facing tech giants, such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. At the same time, people spend so much time in their browser that there is probably enough room for a small browser company like Opera. The company will be listed on NASDAQ under the symbol OPRA.

Original Stitch’s new Bodygram will measure your body

After years of teasing, Original Stitch has officially launched their Bodygram service and will be rolling it out this summer. The system can scan your body based on front and side photos and will create custom shirts with your own precise measurements.

“Bodygram gives you full body measurements as accurate as taken by professional tailors from just two photos on your phone. Simply take a front photo and a side photo and upload to our cloud and you will receive a push notification within minutes when your Bodygram sizing report is ready,” said CEO Jin Koh. “In the sizing report you will find your full body measurements including neck, sleeve, shoulder, chest, waist, hip, etc. Bodygram is capable of producing sizing result within 99% accuracy compared to professional human tailors.”

The technology is a clever solution to the biggest problem in custom clothing: fit. While it’s great to find a service that will tailor your clothing based on your own measurements, often these measurements are slightly off and can affect the cut of the shirt or pants. Right now, Koh said, his team offers free returns if the custom shirts don’t fit.

Further, the technology is brand new and avoids many of the pitfalls of the original body scanning tech. For example, Bodygram doesn’t require you to get into a Spandex onesie like most systems do and it can capture 40 measurements with only two full-body photos.

“Bodygram is the first sizing technology that works on your phone capable of giving you highly accurate sizing result from just two photos with you wearing normal clothing on any background,” said Koh. “Legacy technologies on the market today requires you to wear very tight fitting spandex suit, take 360 photos of you, and require a plain background to work. Other technologies gives you accuracy with 5 inches deviation in accuracy while Bodygram is the first technology to give you sub 1-inch accuracy. We are the first to use both computer vision and machine learning techniques to solve the problem of predicting your body shape underneath the clothes. Once we predicted your body shape we wrote our proprietary algorithm to calculate the circumferences and the length for each part of the body.”

Koh hopes the technology will reduce returns.

“It’s not uncommon to see clothing return rate reaching in the 40%-50% range,” he said. “Apparel clothing sales is among the lowest penetration in online shopping.”

The system can also be used to measure your body over time in order to collect health and weight data as well as help other manufacturers produce products that fit you perfectly. The app will launch this summer on Android and iOS. The company will be licensing the technology to other providers who will be able to create custom fits based on just a few side and front photos. Sales at the company grew 175% this year and they now have 350,000 buyers who are already creating custom shirts.

A number of competitors are in this interesting space, most notably ShapeScale, a company that appeared at TechCrunch Disrupt and promised a full body scan using a robotic scale. This, however, is the first commercial use of standard photos to measure your appendages and thorax and it’s an impressive step forward in the world of custom clothing.

Comcast starts throttling mobile video, will charge extra for HD streams

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile service is imposing new speed limits on video watching and personal hotspot usage, and the company will start charging extra for high-definition video over the cellular network.

The short version is that videos will be throttled to 480p (DVD quality) on all Comcast mobile plans unless you pay extra, while Comcast’s “unlimited” plan will limit mobile hotspot speeds to 600kbps. Only customers who pay by the gigabyte will get full-speed tethering, but the cost would add up quickly as Comcast charges $12 for each gigabyte.

Comcast last year began selling mobile plans with data, voice, and texting. Comcast doesn’t operate its own cellular network, so it resells Verizon Wireless service.

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Benchmark’s Mitch Lasky will reportedly step down from Snap’s board of directors

Benchmark partner Mitch Lasky, who has served on Snap’s board of directors since December 2012, is not expected to stand for re-election to Snap’s board of directors and will thus be stepping down, according to a report by The Information.

Early investors stepping down from the board of directors — or at least not seeking re-election — isn’t that uncommon as once-private companies grow into larger public ones. Benchmark partner Peter Fenton did not seek re-election for Twitter’s board of directors in April last year. As Snap continues to navigate its future, especially as it has declined precipitously since going public and now sits at a valuation of around $16.5 billion. Partners with an expertise in the early-stage and later-stage startup life cycle may end up seeing themselves more useful taking a back seat and focusing on other investments. The voting process for board member re-election happens during the company’s annual meeting, so we’ll get more information when an additional proxy filing comes out ahead of the meeting later this year.

Benchmark is, or at least was at the time of going public last year, one of Snap’s biggest shareholders. According to the company’s 424B filing prior to going public in March last year, Benchmark held ownership of 23.1% of Snap’s Class B common stock and 8.2% of Snap’s Class A common stock. Lasky has been with Benchmark since April 2007, and also serves on the boards of a number of gaming companies like Riot Games and thatgamecompany, the creators of PlayStation titles flower and Journey. At the time, Snap said in its filing that Lasky was “qualified to serve as a member of our board of directors due to his extensive experience with social media and technology companies, as well as his experience as a venture capitalist investing in technology companies.”

The timing could be totally coincidental, but an earlier Recode report suggested Lasky had been talking about stepping down in future funds for Benchmark. The firm only recently wrapped up a very public battle with Uber, which ended up with Benchmark selling a significant stake in the company and a new CEO coming in to replace co-founder Travis Kalanick. Benchmark hired its first female general partner, Sarah Tavel, earlier this year.

We’ve reached out to both Snap and a representative from Benchmark for comment and will update the story when we hear back.

AT&T’s low-cost TV streaming service Watch TV goes live

AT&T’s newly announced Watch TV, a low-cast live TV streaming service announced in the wake of the AT&T / Time Warner merger, is now up and running. The company already has one over-the-top streaming service with DirecTV Now, but this one is cheaper, has some restrictions, and doesn’t include local channels or sports to keep costs down.

At $15 per month, the service undercuts the existing low-cost leader Philo by a dollar, but offers a different lineup (Fomopop has a nice channel-by-channel comparison between the two, if you’re in the market.)

Both have 25 of the same channels in their packages, including A&E, AMC, Comedy Central, Food Network, Discovery, HGTV, History and others, but AT&T Watch is missing MTV, Nickelodeon, and Travl Channel.

In total, Watch TV has over 30 live TV channels, plus 15,000+ TV  shows and movies on demand, and allows you to subscribe by way of updated AT&T Wireless plans. Non-AT&T customers can subscribe for $15 per month directly.

AT&T has been monkeying around with its wireless plans to best take advantage of its Time Warner acquisition. With the new unlimited plans, it removed the previously free HBO perk and raised the entry-level plan by $5 per month, Ars Technica reported, detailing the changes that coincided with the launch of Watch TV. (Existing customers were grandfathered in to free HBO.)

Instead, wireless customers on the top-tier AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan can choose to add on another option – like HBO – for free. Other services they can opt for instead include Showtime, Starz, Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora Premium and VRV.

The company also quietly raised its “administrative fee” for postpaid wireless customers from $0.76 to $1.99 per month, Ars noted as well, citing BTIG Research. This will bring in $800 million of incremental service revenue per year, the analyst firm said.

Despite the price hikes and valid concerns over AT&T’s behavior, there’s likely going to be a market for this low-cost live TV service. The company’s DirecTV Now streaming service, launched in December 2016, reached 1.46 million subscribers in April. It’s catching up to longtime leader, Dish’s Sling TV, which debuted at CES back in January 2015 and now has 2.3 million subscribers. Other newer arrivals, like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, have subscribers in the hundreds of thousands.

AT&T’s Watch TV service will be available across platforms, including iOS, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV/Fire TV Stick, according to the service’s website. However, it only streams in high-def on the Premium wireless plan. It also doesn’t offer perks common to other live TV services, like a cloud DVR or support for multiple simultaneous streams.

The Watch TV apps are rolling out now. Early reviews note there’s some similarity in the layout to DirecTV Now. There are no reports of crashing as of yet, which are common to new launches like this.