Google launches its first WeChat mini program as its China experiments continue

Google is continuing to test new strategies in China after the U.S. search giant released its first mini program for WeChat, the country’s hugely popular messaging app. WeChat is used by hundreds of millions of Chinese people daily for services that stretch beyond chat to include mobile payments, bill paying, food delivery and more. Tencent, the company that operates WeChat, added mini programs last year and they effectively operate like apps that are attached to the service. That means that users bypass Google Play or Apple’s App Store and install them from WeChat. Earlier this year, Tencent added support for games — “mini games” — and the Chinese firm recently said that over one million mini programs have been created to date. Engagement is high, with some 500 million WeChat users interacting with at least one each month. WeChat has become the key distribution channel in China and that’s why Google is embracing
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Kindly Care scores $5.4 million to vet and place caregivers, then help families pay them correctly

There are roughly 45 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States, according to the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau. It’s tough on these family caregivers, many of whom are working women who are also raising their own children. There are alternatives. For example, there is no shortage of agencies willing to place a rotating cast of caregivers into the homes of the elderly, though they can be prohibitively expensive for many families. There are also upstarts trying to address the challenge — and opportunity — that an aging American population presents. One startup, Honor, places full-time employees in the homes of seniors with an eye on maintaining a consistent experience for the seniors with whom they work. Another, HomeHero, partners with hospitals to connect home care providers to patients. (It also has a mobile app that helps family members monitor the health of those under HomeHero’s care.
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Undercover report shows the Facebook moderation sausage being made

An undercover reporter with the UK’s Channel 4 visited a content moderation outsourcing firm in Dublin and came away rather discouraged at what they saw: queues of flagged content waiting, videos of kids fighting staying online, orders from above not to take action on underage users. It sounds bad, but the truth is there are pretty good reasons for most of it and in the end the report comes off as rather naive. Not that it’s a bad thing for journalists to keep big companies (and their small contractors) honest, but the situations called out by Channel 4’s reporter seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the moderation process rather than problems with the process itself. I’m not a big Facebook fan, but in the matter of moderation I think they are sincere, if hugely unprepared. The bullet points raised by the report are all addressed in a letter from
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Niantic acquires Seismic Games

Niantic — the company behind Pokémon GO — is back at it with another acquisition. After acquiring Escher Reality back in February and Matrix Mill back in June, this morning the company announced it’s acquiring Seismic Games. Seismic Games is probably best known for its work on Marvel: Strike Force, a mobile, turn-based RPG that has players build battle teams made up of all the big names from the Marvel comic universe. Niantic’s two biggest games of the foreseeable future — Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite — both rely heavily on licensed IP. So acquiring a team that already has a wealth of experience with licensed IP — specifically, a team that can walk that fine line of building enough new content to keep the players happy without doing something that sets off the IP owners — makes sense. No terms of the deal were disclosed.

Nest’s CEO is stepping down

Five months ago, Google decided to rein Nest in. After 4 years as a mostly independent division of the company, Nest was rolled into Google’s hardware team. Today, more big changes: Nest CEO Marwan Fawaz is stepping down, according to a report by CNET. The reason? Employees at Nest had reportedly been pushing for a change, hoping for someone who had more leadership experience. This news comes just a little over two years after Fawaz took over the role after the departure of co-founder Tony Fadell. Fawaz is said to be staying on in an advisory role, with Nest pushing forward under Rishi Chandra, who’s been overseeing most of Google’s hardware efforts (Home, Chromecast, Google WiFi, etc) as VP of Home Products for over 3 years. So what does all this mean for Nest? Further integrations between Nest’s hardware and Google’s other offerings are likely; in the past few months
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Bitcoin price passes $7K bringing all 100 top coins up with it

Bitcoin is moving up, and it’s taking 99 of its best friends along for the ride. In the last 24 hours, every one of the top 100 coins by market cap was in the green with 84 of them posting gains of over 5 percent. At the time of writing, Bitcoin was sitting at $7,310, up 14 percent in the last 7 days and up almost 10 percent in the last 24 hours.

CoinMarketCap Top 100

Bitcoin itself crossed the $7,000 mark for the first time in the last month, an indication but no sure sign that it might be shaking off a summer slump that’s seen prices plunge below $6,000 on more than one occasion. Bitcoin is quickly moving back toward early June norms around $7,500 though may meet resistance at $7,750. In March, Bitcoin dipped below the $10,000 mark and it’s been unable to mount a rally back
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Self-driving car startup Zoox is raising $500 million at a $3.2 billion valuation

Zoox, a once-secretive self-driving car startup, is closing a $500 million at a $3.2 billion post-money valuation, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Prior to the deal, Zoox was valued at $2.7 billion, Zoox confirmed to TechCrunch. The round, led by Mike Cannon-Brookes of Grok Ventures, brings its total amount of funding to $800 million. Zoox’s plan, according to Bloomberg, is to publicly deploy autonomous vehicles by 2020 in the form of its own ride-hailing service. The cars themselves will be all-electric and fully autonomous. Meanwhile, ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft are also working on autonomous vehicles, as well as a number of other large players in the space. Zoox, which turned four years old this month, is a 500-person company founded by Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson. In the meantime, head over to Bloomberg for the full rundown.

Slack acquires Missions to help users automate work tasks inside chat

As Slack continues to grow its paid business users, the company is looking for ways to help customers build integrations that make sense for the work they do. Slack announced today that it has acquired Robots and Pencils’ Missions, an app that allows Slack users to build tools to automate simple routines without code. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Paid users are already big fans of Slack integrations.There are currently 1,500 apps available in the Slack app directory. The company says that 94 percent of users in that bracket use apps and integrations, while 65 percent of teams have built their own. Building an integration certainly isn’t an easy process for non-tech teams to handle, Missions is focused on a more visual flow that ditches some of the complexity. Missions’ technology lets people create workflows for tasks that they might normally have to talk about inside Slack and
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No Man’s Sky Next seeks to right the game’s wrongs

For a certain kind of gamer, the premise of No Man’s Sky, that of an endless procedurally generated space universe teeming with life, was intoxicatingly perfect, almost too good to be true. After overselling that dream to the disappointment of just about everybody, Hello Games is back to make amends with a major new update: No Man’s Sky Next. No Man’s Sky Next will introduce a spate of updates, including long-awaited full multiplayer gameplay, a visual update to improve textures and add detail, first to third-person perspective switching, unlimited base building and command freighters that allow you to create, upgrade and dispatch a fleet of ships from the comfort of your own bridge. You can see a few of those changes implemented in the trailer below. The update, which will hit on July 24 as a free update to PlayStation and PC, also brings the advent of No Man’s
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Peelable circuits make it easy to Internet all the things

Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Virginia are now able to create “tiny, thin-film electronic circuits peelable from a surface,” the first step in creating an unobtrusive Internet-of-Things solution. The peelable stickers can sit flush to an object’s surface and be used as sensors or wireless communications systems. The biggest difference between these stickers and traditional solutions is the removal of the silicon wafer that manufacturers use. Because the entire circuit is transferred right on the sticker there is no need for bulky packages and you can pull off and restick the circuits as needed. “We could customize a sensor, stick it onto a drone, and send the drone to dangerous areas to detect gas leaks, for example,” said Chi Hwan Lee, Purdue assistant professor. From the release:
A ductile metal layer, such as nickel, inserted between the electronic film and the silicon wafer, makes the peeling possible
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Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman moves into Chairman role

Scott Heiferman, Meetup CEO and cofounder, is today moving into the Chairman role at the community-building startup. Meetup launched in 2003 with a simple goal: to give communities an easy way to meet up in real life. Since, the company has grown to 40 million members, with 320,000 Meetup groups and around 12,000 Meetups per day around the world. Late last year, WeWork acquired Meetup for a reported $200 million. According to WeWork, thousands of Meetups were already happening in WeWork locations. Plus, WeWork has been holding its own events focused on community building, so the acquisition seemed like a natural fit. That said, Heiferman has spent 16 years running Meetup on a day to day basis, and is ready to move into a visionary role and appoint someone else to take over leading the team and scaling the company out further. Meetup cofounder Brendan McGovern is moving on from
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BMW’s ReachNow adds ride hailing to its car-sharing app

ReachNow can’t be described as a car-sharing service anymore. The BMW-owned division is now a ride-hailing service too, putting it in direct competition with Uber and Lyft. At least in Seattle. ReachNow launched Tuesday a new app that combines car sharing and ride hailing using a single shared fleet of cars. The service is live in Seattle as of Tuesday. And there are plans to expand into other U.S. cities. The app aims to be a one-stop shop for users looking for the best way to get from Point A to Point B—and each choice providing a consistent BMW brand experience. ReachNow’s car-sharing fleet is a mix of BMW i3 electric cars, BMW 3 Series, BMW X1 SAV, MINI Clubman, MINI 2-door hardtop and MINI 4-door hardtop models. The app offers users the option to rent one of its vehicles by the minute or for multiple days. For instance,
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CrunchMatch at Disrupt SF 2018 opening soon for founders and investors

Excuse us as we mangle U.S. history (apologies to Paul Revere), but “CrunchMatch is coming! CrunchMatch is coming! CrunchMatch is TechCrunch’s free business match-making service that connects early-stage startup founders and investors who share similar business interests and profiles. And if you bought — or plan to buy — Founder, Investor or Insiders passes to Disrupt San Francisco 2018, you get access to this awesome time-saving tool. CrunchMatch kicks off in two weeks, when you’ll receive an invitation to fill out your business profile. CrunchMatch is an indispensable tool to have at your fingertips while you attend Disrupt SF 2018 — our biggest Disrupt event ever. We’ve moved to Moscone Center West, which provides three times the floor space. And we’ll need every square foot of it to accommodate 10,000+ attendees and the more than 1,200 exhibitors and sponsors you’ll find in Startup Alley, the show floor
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Google’s new ‘Grab and Go’ project helps business loan Chromebooks to their employees

At Google, the company offers a ‘Grab and Go’ program that allows employees to use self-service stations to quickly borrow and return Chromebooks without having to go through a lengthy IT approval process. Now, it’s bringing this same idea to other businesses. Chromebooks have found their place in education and a number of larger enterprise companies are also getting on board with the idea of a centrally managed device that mostly focuses on the browser. That’s maybe no surprise, given that both schools and enterprises are pretty much looking for the same thing from these devices. At Google, the system has seen more than 30,000 users that have completed more than 100,000 loans so far. While Google wants others to run similar programs (and use more Chromebooks in the process) it’s worth noting that this is a limited preview program and that Google isn’t building and selling racks or
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Google builds its own subsea cable from the US to France

Google, like all major internet companies, often participates in building new subsea cables because it wants to own the connectivity between its data centers around the world. Those cables are typically built and owned by a consortium of companies (and sometimes shared by competitors). Now, however, Google is building its own cable that will span from Virginia Beach in the U.S. to the Atlantic coast of France. This marks Google’s fourth private cable. Its first two efforts spanned significantly shorter distances, though its ‘Curie’ cable connects Los Angeles and Chile. Over the course of the last few years, Google has also made significant investments in consortium-driven cables that span the Atlantic and the Pacific, and quite a few of these will go online in 2019. The new so-called ‘Dunant’ cable (named after the first Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Red Cross) will likely go online in
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IBM’s Dario Gil will showcase quantum computing progress at Disrupt SF

After a few quiet years, the hype around quantum computing is reaching a new crescendo. Quantum supremacy now feels like an achievable goal. Among the large tech firms, IBM — and specifically the IBM Q lab —  has long been at the forefront of the quantum revolution. Last year, the company showed off its 50-qubit quantum computer and you can already start building software for it using the company’s developer kit. At Disrupt, we’ll sit down with Dario Gil, the head of IBM’s AI research efforts and quantum computing program to talk about the current state of quantum computing. We may even see a demo or two of what’s possible today and use that to separate hype from reality. With a bit of luck, we may even get a better understanding of what quantum computing is all about. It’s a technology, after all, that’s far from intuitive and outside of the
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Ocean Solutions Accelerator names its first wave of conservation startups

Early this year the Sustainable Oceans Alliance announced it would be starting its own accelerator with a focus on conservation. The nonprofit has just announced the Ocean Solutions Accelerator’s first wave of startups: a particularly varied and international lineup that’s easy to root for. You may also remember that the SOA was one of the beneficiaries of the mysterious Pineapple Fund, administered by a mysterious cryptocurrency multimillionaire. No doubt that has helped get the accelerator on its feet in good time. The startups — which I’m getting to, be patient — will receive an initial investment to cover the cost of relocating to the Bay Area for eight weeks this summer. There they will receive the loving care of the collection of academics, founders, officials and others in or around the Alliance, plus some important “personal development and executive training” intended to keep your company alive long enough to
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Acorns co-founder nabs another $5 million for Blast, a startup that saves while you game

“It just started as a grand experiment,” says Walter Cruttenden, the serial fintech entrepreneur, of his latest foray into the world of low finance. “Let’s see if we can reach people through games.”

Cruttenden, the founder of Roth Capital Partners, co-founder of the micro-investment application Acorns, and the former head of eTrade’s investment banking arm, has managed to raise another $7 million for his startup, Blast — which wants to give users a way to save money while playing video games.

“When I was in the securities business we talked about gamifying investing and saving,” said Cruttenden. Now, with Blast, Cruttenden is flipping the script and providing investment perks for people who’re playing video games.

Using Blast, gamers can save in two ways. The first is by siphoning off money (ranging from one cent to ten cents) while they play games. They can also make money for trying new

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House Rep suggests converting Facebook into a public utility

Amidst vague and uninformed questions during today’s House Judiciary hearing with Facebook, Google, and Twitter on social media filtering practices, Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) dropped a bombshell. “What about converting the large behemoth organizations we’re talking about here into public utilities?” King’s suggestion followed his inquiries about right-wing outlet Gateway Pundit losing reach on social media and how Facebook’s algorithm worked. The insinuation was that these companies cannot properly maintain fair platforms for discourse. The Representative also suggested that there may be need for “review” of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that protects interactive computer services from being treated as the publisher of content users post on their platforms. If that rule was changed, social media companies could be held responsible for illegal content from copyright infringement or child pornography appearing on their platform. That would potentially cripple the social media industry, requiring extensive pre-vetting of any
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Founder and investor Elad Gil has a new book that aims to help startups with their later-stage challenges — before they get to that point

Serial entrepreneur and angel investor Elad Gil has become renowned in Silicon Valley startup circles, largely because he not only funds startups but he advises many, too. Some of the tech companies he has logged time with include Airbnb, Twitter, Google, Instacart, Coinbase, Stripe, and Square. All have evolved into massive growth companies, and because Gil says he has seen common challenges emerge as each has taken off, he decided to write about how to address some of these challenges in a book that’s being released today called The High Growth Handbook. Interestingly, Stripe, the online payments company, is the publisher, having recently added book publishing to the list of services it offers. We talked with Gil about the book recently to learn more. TC: What was the impetus for this project? You were tired of repeating yourself when talking with founders? EG: I decided to write it after seeing
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