Facebook Lasso app lead Brady Voss leaves for Netflix right after launch

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
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Google’s Project Fi gets an improved VPN service

Google’s Project Fi wireless service is getting a major update today that introduces an optional always-on VPN service and a smarter way to switch between Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

By default, Fi already uses a VPN service to protect users when they connect to the roughly two million supported Wi-Fi hotspots. Now, Google is expanding this to cellular connections, as well. “When you enable our enhanced network, all of your mobile and Wi-Fi traffic will be encrypted and securely sent through our virtual private network (VPN) on every network you connect to, so you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that others can’t see your online activity,” the team writes in today’s announcement. Google notes that the VPN also shields all of your traffic from Google itself and that it isn’t tied to your Google account or phone number. The VPN is part of what Google calls its
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Open sourcing analysis, plus US, China and HQ2

The big news today is that — finally — we have Amazon’s selection of cities for its dual second headquarters (Northern Virginia and NYC). Then some notes on China. But first, semiconductors and open sourcing analysis.

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here.

Pivot: Future of semiconductors, chips, AI, etc.

Last week, I focused on SoftBank’s debt and Form D filings by startups. On Friday, I asked what I should start to analyze next. There were several feedback hotspots, but the one that popped out to me was around next-generation chips and the battle for dominance at the hardware layer. As a software engineer, I know almost nothing about silicon (the beauty of abstraction). But
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Spotify officially launches its Apple Watch app

Following reports of its testing, Spotify today has launched its long-awaited Apple Watch app. The app allows users to control the playback of Spotify’s streaming service from their Watch’s screen, as well as connect to devices like their computer, Wi-Fi speaker and more through Spotify Connect, toggle on Shuffle, access music playlists and other recently played items, favorite tracks with a heart, and more.

The news was announced today on Spotify’s blog, where it details the app’s features, which also include the ability to play podcasts, in addition to music. “We know the importance of having music on the go, which is why we’re excited to bring a new Spotify app to our highly mobile users on Apple Watch,” the company said. “With this new app, users can enjoy an improved experience with better control and the ability to seamlessly connect to your speakers or devices.” The App
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Snapchat launches Bitmoji merch and comic strips starring your avatar

Snapchat is doubling down on its biggest differentiator by turning its personalized avatar Bitmoji into a revenue stream and a new source of content. Snapchat is launching a Bitmoji merchandise store you can customize with you and your friends’ cartoonified faces, Bitmoji Stories comic strips featuring you and friends’ avatars in fun scenes, and a new Friendship profile that collect all the content you and a friend have saved from your Snap message thread.

The new features could help earn Snapchat money to reduce its still-massive quarterly losses, get Snap’s brand out in public, and give people new ways to spend more time on Snapchat when it’s otherwise been losing users.

Snapchat, The Ecommerce Company

The Bitmoji merchandise store opens Thursday in the US on iOS only with $2 stickers, $15 coffee mugs, $16 standard t-shirts and notebooks, $22 triblend t-shirts $27 sweatshirts and more that you can personalize by
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Wattpad launches a new program offering paid access to exclusive stories

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
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Limiting social media use reduced loneliness and depression in new experiment

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
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Rakuten has SoftBank in its sights

This week, I’ve tried to do something new at TechCrunch with this experimental column — getting obsessed about a topic broadly in tech and writing a continuous stream of thoughts and analysis about it.

With my research consultant and contributor Arman Tabatabai, we’ve covered two topics: Form Ds, the filing that startups usually submit to the SEC after a venture round closes (although increasingly do not), and SoftBank, which faces all kinds of strategic pressure due to its debt binging. If you missed the other episodes, here are links to the editions from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here. Today, one final round of thoughts on
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Sneaker marketplace GOAT announces an AR-centric Black Friday giveaway

Black Friday giveaways have become a tradition for online sneaker marketplace GOAT. Today it’s announcing the details of this year’s campaign, which will be its first to incorporate augmented reality.

Director of Communications Liz Goodno described this as “the largest digital sneaker event of the year.” The company says it will be offering more than 1,000 prizes, including sneakers like the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Shattered Backboard, KAWSx Air Jordan 4 Retro Black, Pharrell x BBC x NMD Human Race Trail Heart/Mind, plus curated sneaker packs and up to $10,000 in GOAT credit. You can enter the drawing anytime between now and 11:59pm Pacific on Thursday, November 22, with the winners notified at noon on Black Friday. All participants will receive 100 tickets, but you can earn bonus tickets by visiting locations on an interactive GOAT map, which will highlight spots around the world that are tied
GOAT
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Chrome adds new security features to stop mobile subscription scams

Google today announced that Chrome will soon get a new feature that aims to stop mobile subscription scams. Those are the kind of sites that ask you for your phone number and that then, unbeknownst to you, sign you up for a mobile subscription that’s billed through your carrier. Starting with the launch of Chrome 71 in December, Google will pop up a prominent warning when a site doesn’t make it clear that users are signing up for a mobile subscription.

To make sure that developers who are legitimately using this flow to offer users a subscription don’t get caught up in this new system, Google also published a set of best practices for mobile billing today. Generally, developers are expected to make their billing information visible and obvious to users, display the actual cost and have a simple and straightforward fee structure. If that information is not available, Google
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Netflix’s hackathon produces a way to navigate its iOS app with ARKit and Face ID

Netflix’s internal hackathons have consistently produced fun and often silly hacks, from that “Netflixtendo” hack a few years ago that let you run Netflix on the original NES to the more recent “audiobook mode” that turned Netflix series into old school radio shows by way of Audio Descriptions. This year’s hackathon doesn’t disappoint either, with new hacks that are both as goofy and interesting as in years past, including a AR and Face ID-powered hack that lets you navigate Netflix with just your eyes, another designed for “Sharknado” fans, and more.

“Jump to Shark” lets viewers skip right to the good parts of the so-bad-it’s-good “Sharknado,” so they can watch the bloody action sequences with sharks, instead of having to sit through the movie’s actual plot. It’s pretty great, as the video shows. The AR hack, Eye Nav, is fairly impressive, too. The hack uses Apple’s ARKit and the technology
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Tinder doubles down on its casual nature, as Match invests in relationship-focused Hinge

Tinder has never really shaken its reputation among consumers as a “hook up” app, instead of one designed for more serious dating. Now, it seems Tinder is planning to embrace its status as the default app for younger users who aren’t ready to settle down. According to Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, speaking to investors on its Q3 earnings call this morning, Tinder is preparing to launch its first-ever brand marketing campaign that will promote the “single lifestyle” with billboard campaigns and other digital initiatives.

The move is something of an admission that Tinder isn’t working for helping people find long-term relationships. “Tinder was such a phenomenon when it launched and spread so quickly that the market defined th brand, versus the business defining the brand,” said Ginsberg, referring to its “hook up app” reputation. “Tinder’s brand particularly resonated with 18 to 25 year-olds because it provides a fun and easy
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Photomath raises $6 million for its math solving app

Photomath just raised a $6 million funding round from Goodwater Capital with Learn Capital also participating. Photomath has created a hugely successful mobile app for iOS and Android with 100 million downloads so far.

Photomath first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt London back in 2014. The company was working on text recognition technology. Photomath was just a demo app to promote that technology. But the startup accidentally created a consumer success. The app instantly attracted millions of downloads from many desperate students willing to learn math with their phones. Years later, the app is still one of the most downloaded apps in the App Store and Play Store. And the reason why it’s been so successful is that it’s a simple concept. After downloading the app, you just have to point your phone at a math problem. It can be in a book, or it can recognize your own handwriting. The
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Lydia launches mobile phone insurance

French startup Lydia is launching an insurance product for your mobile phone. For €4.29 per month ($4.89), you can insure your phone from the Lydia app.

Lydia is one of the most popular peer-to-peer payment apps in Europe with 1.5 million users. Think about it as a sort of Venmo or Square Cash for Europe. More recently, the company started offering more options to manage your money with a premium subscription and additional features. While Lydia doesn’t want to replace your bank and insurance company, the company is offering an insurance product for the first time. Lydia is partnering with its investor CNP Assurances — having an insurance company as an investor has a few advantages. So here’s what you get. You’re instantly covered against cracked screens, liquid damage and accidental damage. There’s no excess but you’re limited to one claim per year. Phones now cost a
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How to Play Classic Windows Games on Your Phone

I think the last time I played a Windows game—as in, a Microsoft game that comes baked into the Windows operating system—was back in Windows 95. Ah, FreeCell. That’s not to say that Microsoft’s games were bad, it’s just not very often that I find myself needing to strike up some Minesweeper to kill time. Read more...

Instagram prototypes bully-proof moderated School Stories

Instagram is considering offering collaborative School Stories that only a certain school’s students can see or contribute to. And to make sure these Stories wouldn’t become bullying cesspools, Instagram’s code shows a warning that “School stories are manually reviewed to make sure the community is safe.” School Stories could create a fun space for kids to share with their peers beyond the prying eyes of their parents or strangers, though they could also exacerbate teen culture issues around envy and exclusionary social scenes.

The code was first discovered by TechCrunch’s top tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Instagram declined to comment on the record regarding the code, though previous discoveries from its code that it also “no-comment’ed” — such as video calling and Nametags — went on to officially launch. But typically, Instagram confirms if it’s internally or externally testing features we spot, so if it ever decides to actually launch
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Facebook reorganizes Oculus for AR/VR’s long-haul

Facebook is again looking to whip Oculus into shape for its 10-year journey towards making virtual reality mainstream. According to two sources, Facebook reorganized its AR and VR team this week from a divisional structure focused around products to a functional structure focused around technology areas of expertise. While no one was laid off, the change could eliminate redundancies by uniting specialists so they can iterate towards long-term progress rather than being separated into groups dedicated to particular gadgets.

Facebook confirmed the reorg to TechCrunch, with a spokesperson providing this statement: “We made some changes to the AR/VR organization earlier this week. These were internal changes and won’t impact consumers or our partners in the developer community.” Oculus CTO John Carmack and Oculus co-founder/newly-promoted Head of PC VR Nate Mitchell will remain in their leadership positions within VP of AR/VR Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth’s hardware wing of the company. The shift
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The iPhone is reportedly getting 5G in 2020

The first 5G phones are set to start arriving next year. Motorola plans to bring next-gen connectivity via a Mod for the Z3, and companies like LG and OnePlus have promised to deliver the tech baked into handsets at some point in 2019. iPhone users, on the other hand, may have to wait a bit longer.

The technology is, of course, an inevitability for Apple (along with everyone else, really), so it’s just a question of when. A new report from Fast Company (via the Verge) puts the timing around a year and half out.

The “source with knowledge of Apple’s plans” put the 5G iPhone’s arrival at some point in 2020, with Intel supplying the tech this time out. Apparently Apple and Intel are going through a bit of a rough patch of late, courtesy of heat/battery issues with the 8060 5G modem. Of course, things aren’t rough

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Sequoia leads $10M round for home improvement negotiator Setter

You probably don’t know how much it should cost to get your home’s windows washed, yard landscaped, or countertops replaced. But Setter does. The startup pairs you with a home improvement concierge familiar with all the vendors, prices, and common screwups that plague these jobs. Setter finds the best contractors across handiwork, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and more. It researches options, negotiates a bulk rate, and with its added markup you pay a competitive price with none of the hassle.

One of the most reliable startup investing strategies is looking at where people spend a ton of money but hate the experience. That makes home improvement a prime target for disruption, and attracted a $10 million Series A round for Setter co-led by Sequoia Capital and NFX. “The main issue is that contractors and homeowners speak different languages” Setter co-founder and CEO Guillaume Laliberté tells me, “which results in unclear scopes of
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Match says Bumble is dropping its $400M lawsuit, but this battle isn’t over

Bumble and Match’s ongoing legal battles are continuing today. According to a statement released by Match Group this morning, Bumble is dropping its $400 million lawsuit against Match, which had claimed Match fraudulently obtained trade secrets during acquisition talks. However, Bumble is preparing to refile its suit at the state level, we’re hearing.

If you haven’t been following, the two companies have been doing battle in the court system for some time after Match Group failed to acquire Bumble twice — once in a deal that would have valued it at over $1 billion. Bumble claimed Match then filed a lawsuit against it to make Bumble appear less attractive to other potential acquirers. Match’s suit claims Bumble infringed on patents around things like its use of a stack of profile cards, mutual opt-in and its swiped-based gestures — things Tinder had popularized in dating apps. Bumble subsequently filed its own lawsuit
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