MoviePass strikes a deal with Landmark for e-ticketing and other perks – TechCrunch


MoviePass is going to start playing favorites. The company just announced a partnership to offer a set of exclusive perks through Landmark Theatres, the indie theater chain co-owned by Mark Cuban. The app’s two million users will now be able to take advantage of these features at Lan dmark’s 255 screens in 53 theaters.

The partnership is a pretty big deal for MoviePass subscribers, who up to this point have been encouraged to view local movie theaters as a kind of brand-agnostic all you can eat buffet. The deal will allow movie-goers to use the app for e-ticketing, seat selection and to make reservations for advanced screenings — all sorely missing features in the remarkable if at times glitchy MoviePass user experience.

“There is no better place to watch a movie than Landmark and now MoviePass customers will be able to enjoy all of our theaters,” Cuban said of the deal.

New perks considered, we’re inclined to agree. As a MoviePass user myself, I can say the service is a ridiculously good deal — at least until the company runs out of cash and has to start making some. The one catch is that the experience can be a little stressful. I love seeing movies, but I’m the kind of person who normally would buy tickets in advance for a showing a few hours away. Unfortunately, MoviePass requires that users show up to the theater to buy tickets IRL before a showing, and sometimes getting there super early isn’t an option. Still, it’s a small price to pay for the service’s heavily subsidized small price to pay.

Getting to the front of the ticketing line and being that jerk juggling your MoviePass card while fighting with the at times buggy check-in process detracts a bit from the otherwise seamless experience of seeing all the damn movies you want. Landmark’s new features could assuage those anxieties, particularly if they help subscribers plan a little further ahead. I know it’s enough to nudge me toward my city’s three Landmark-owned theaters and I suspect other MoviePass users will feel the same way.

Other theater chains will likely keep a close eye on that kind of behavior as those companies decide how cozy to get with the disruptive movie subscription service that’s keen on driving potential movie-goers back to the popcorn lines.



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On-demand shipping startup Shyp is shutting down – TechCrunch


After rocketing to a $250 million valuation in 2015 amid a massive hype cycle for on-demand companies, on-demand startup Shyp is shutting down today.

CEO Kevin Gibbon announced that the company would be shutting down in a blog post this afternoon. The company is ending operations immediately after, like many on-demand companies, struggling to find a scalable model beyond its launching point in San Francisco. Shyp missed targets for expanding to cities beyond its core base as well as pulled back from Miami. In July, Shyp said it would be reducing its headcount and shutting down all operations beyond San Francisco.

The company raised $50 million in a deal led by John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins back in 2015, one of his last huge checks as a variety of firms jumped onto the on-demand space. The thesis at the time was pretty sound: look at a strip mall, and see which businesses can come to you first. Shipping was a natural one, but there was also food, and eventually groceries. Today, there are only a few left standing, with Postmates, Instacart and DoorDash among the most prominent ones. Even then, Instacart is now under threat from Amazon, which is ramping up its own two-hour delivery after buying Whole Foods.

“At the time, I approached everything I did as an engineer,” Gibbon wrote. “Rather than change direction, I tasked the team with expanding geographically and dreaming up innovative features and growth tactics to further penetrate the consumer market. To this day, I’m in awe of the vigor the team possessed in tackling a 200-year-old industry. But, growth at all costs is a dangerous trap that many startups fall into, mine included.”

Shyp is now a casualty of the delivery space. Where it originally sought to make up the cost of delivery in the form of cheaper bulk costs for those deliveries, Shyp’s one-size-fits-all delivery — where you could deliver a computer or a bike — eventually ended up being one of the most challenging and frustrating elements of its business. It began adding fees to its online returns business and changing prices for its bulk shipments. As it turns out, a $5 carte blanche for delivery was not a model that really made sense.

Indeed, that growth-at-all-costs directive has cost many startups, with companies like Sprig shutting down and many companies getting slapped on the wrist for aggressive growth tactics like text spamming. It also meant that startups had to very quickly develop an effective playbook that, in the end, might not actually translate to markets beyond their core competency. Shyp pivoted to focusing on businesses toward the tail end of its lifetime, including a big deal with eBay, which we had heard at the time was doing well.

“We decided to keep the popular-but-unprofitable parts of our business running, with small teams of their own behind them,” he wrote. “This was a mistake—my mistake. While large, established companies have the financial freedom to explore new product categories for the sake of exploring, for startups it can be irresponsible.”

But Gibbon said the company kept parts of its popular but challenged models online – which may have also contributed to its eventual shut-down. The company expected to be in cities like Boston, Seattle and Philadelphia in early 2016, but that didn’t end up panning out. And Shyp increasingly felt the challenges of an on-demand model, trying to push the cost to the consumer as low as possible while handling the overheads and logistical headaches of a delivery business.

“My early mistakes in Shyp’s business ended up being prohibitive to our survival,” Gibbon wrote. “For that, I am sorry.”



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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will reportedly testify before Congress – TechCrunch


After declining a summons from a UK parliamentary committee that’s investigating how social media data is being used this morning, it appears that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may end up finally going before Congress to testify amid a wave of privacy debacles, according to a report by CNN.

The initial wave of this scandal began last week when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, had acquired information on more than 50 million Facebook users via an app that accessed that information through the Facebook platform several years ago. While Facebook is not unfamiliar with privacy snafus, this appeared to be one of the final straws, forcing Facebook CEO to issue a sort of non-apology-ish apology — as well as take out full page (in wildly not-very-engaging full text form, weirdly enough) ads in several major newspapers.

CNN reports that Zuckerberg has come to terms with the fact that he will have to testify, and that the testimony may come within a matter of weeks amid pressure from lawmakers, the media, and the public.

Zuckerberg in particular has been a face absent in front of Congress, but it appears the pressure from this incident may be too much for the company to handle without getting his face out there in order to neutralize the fallout. Facebook offered CTO Mike Schroepfer and chief product officer Chris Cox to meet with the committee, but Zuckerberg again was absent here. Indeed, it was several days following the reports that Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg made a formal appearance, as well as a number of interviews with various media outlets to try to explain themselves out of the situation

Last week, Zuckerberg said in one of those interviews that, “if it ever the case that I am the most informed person at Facebook in the best position to testify, I will happily do that.” Clearly, it appears that Congress wants the chief executive officer of the formerly-$500 billion advertising-driven business to be the one to do the explaining amid the increased fallout over the Cambridge Analytica debacle.

We reached out to Facebook for a comment and will update the post when we hear back.



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Follow along live from the Apple education event in Chicago – TechCrunch


Apple held an education focused event in Chicago today at Lane Technical High School. CEO Tim Cook took the stage and began his announcements with a nod to the student marches that occurred this week in support of gun control.

Cook praised Lane Tech High for having more PHDs coming out of it than any school in the country and highlighted its programming and robotics efforts.

Cook says that Apple has had an education focus for 40 years, from the early days of the company. “We believe that technology could help deliver a truly unique and personalized experience to students and teachers.”

Cook highlighted Apple’s efforts to increase coding efforts and opportunities to vocational schools and high schools including the City Colleges of Chicago with Swift and Swift playgrounds.

 

Cathleen Richardson ConnectED Program Development Executive at Apple works with classes and teachers to put Apple devices into classrooms. She took the stage to give some examples.

The program is clearly focused on Apple positioning itself as a global supplier of educational instruments and processes to classrooms. Programs in China and London were highlighted.

Apple’s Greg Joswiak took the stage to talk about iPad. Joz hasn’t been out on the platform for a hardware launch in a while. He continues the thread of talking about iPad in classrooms allowing students to use them for robotics, music and other kinds of projects. Joz quotes 200,000 ‘apps for education’ on the App Store.

Follow along and refresh this post for more.



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Mozilla’s new Firefox extension keeps your Facebook data isolated to the social network itself – TechCrunch


Mozilla this morning launched a Firefox browser add-on for those users not willing to delete their Facebook account, but also wanting some control over how much of their data Facebook can access. The “Facebook Container,” as the new extension is called, isolates your Facebook identity from the rest of the web. That means Facebook will not be able to use your other web activity to send your targeted advertising.

To be clear, this extension wouldn’t have saved users’ data from being compromised as it was in the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and it does nothing to prevent Facebook advertisers from diving into your profile and your activity while on the social network in order to target you with advertisements while browsing Facebook.

However, it is meant to plug at least one of the holes in Facebook’s leaky dam by offering a way for users to prevent Facebook from gaining even more data collected outside its service.

When you install the extension, it deletes your Facebook cookies and logs you out of the social network. The next time you open Facebook, you’ll notice it’s been opened in a blue-colored “container” tab.

From within that tab, you can continue to use Facebook normally. However, if you click a link that would take you to a page off of Facebook, it will load the URL outside the container. Similarly, if you click any Facebook Share buttons outside of Facebook, it will load those in the Facebook container. (But this will send information to Facebook about the website you shared them from, it should be noted.)

In addition, you may not be able to login to third-party apps with your Facebook credentials, and the embedded Facebook comments and Like buttons you see around the web won’t work either.

“This prevents Facebook from associating information about your activity on websites outside of Facebook to your Facebook identity,” explains The Firefox Frontier blog. “So it may look different than what you are used to seeing.”

Actually, it may surprise you to find out how widespread your use of Facebook was when outside the social network.

Facebook’s platform and its off-site advertising network allow other sites and apps to access users’ Facebook data even when users aren’t on Facebook itself. Facebook is hardly alone in terms of companies doing this. But it is making headlines over data mishandling, which means it’s a good time for Mozilla to capitalize on consumers’ concerns to share their messages – and tools – focused on data privacy.

Mozilla said it sped up its work on the Facebook Container add-on, which is based on technology it’s been developing over the past couple of years, as it’s seen increasing consumer demand for tools for managing privacy and security.

There are other tools available to help consumers with these issues today, as well, including the Ghostery anti-tracking extension now owned by Cliqz, ad blockers (including those bundled with browsers like Safari), and more.

However, single-purpose tools like this are useful because they allow people to limit some data-sharing activity, without having to take the drastic step of deleting Facebook.

The Facebook Container Extension is available here.



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TPCast unveils adapter to enable multiple wireless HTC Vive VR headsets – TechCrunch


Late last year, TPCast announced an adapter that cut the HTC Vive cords. The company is back with an enterprise version that delivers 2k content to several HTC Vive units with sub 2ms latency.

Unveiled at Nvidia’s GTC 2019 conference in San Jose, California, the product is aimed at VR uses cases where multiple people are sharing content across different VR headsets. The company says this includes medical, automotive, real estate, and training.

Like the consumer version, the units strap on the back of HTC Vive headsets and streams the content wirelessly from the connected PC to up to four VR headsets. At launch only the HTC Vive is supported though the company says it intends to support more models by the third quarter of 2018.

The unit, called the TPCAST Business Edition Wireless Adapter, will be available directly from TPCast at first and then available from retail channels. Pricing was not announced but it’s logical that it will cost significantly more then the $220 the company charges for the consumer version.



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Adobe wants to be your customer experience record keeping system – TechCrunch


For years, the goal of marketers was to understand the customer so well, they could respond to their every need, while creating content specifically geared to their wishes. Adobe Cloud Platform has long acted as a vehicle to collect and understand customer data inside the Adobe toolset, but today Adobe took that a step further.

The company hopes to transform Adobe Cloud Platform into a company’s experience record keeping system, a central place to collect all the data you may have about a customer from both the Adobe Cloud Platform and external data sources.

Suresh Vittal, vice president of platform and product at Adobe Experience Cloud says tools like CRM were intended to provide a record keeping system for the times, and they were fine in a period when entering and retrieving data was state of the art, but he thinks there needs to be something more.

“A lot of investments for past generations of software evolution have been around batch-based operational systems. While they were necessary back then, they are not sufficient where these brands are going today,” he told TechCrunch.

Adobe Systems world headquarters in San Jose, California USA Photo: Getty Images Lisa Werner / Contributor

Over time, as companies gather more and data, Adobe believes they need something that centers around the dynamic interactions brands are having with customers. “We believe every customer needs an experience system of record, a central [place to record] where the brand brings together experience data, content and a unified profile to power the next generation of experience,” he said.

To achieve this goal, the company is doing more than creating a new construct, it has built a new data model along with tools tools for data scientists to build custom data models.

Of course where there is data, there needs to be some machine learning and artificial intelligence to help process it, especially in a case where the goal is to pull disparate data into a central record. Adobe’s particular flavor of AI is called Sensei and the company is giving developers access to the some of the same AI algorithms it uses in-house to build its platform.

Any time you start pulling data together from a variety of sources to create a central record keeping system about a customer, there are huge privacy implications, and even more so with GDPR coming on line at the beginning of May in the EU. Vittal says the company has built in a governance and compliance layer into the toolset to help companies comply with various regulations around sharing data.

“You cannot turn all of this data into something useful without safeguards— semantics and control.” He says this involves creating a data catalogue, labeling data in the record and associating rules with each type. That way, data emanating from the EU will need to be handled a certain way, just as any personally identifiable information needs to be safeguarded.

This is where the machine learning comes in. “When you create data across the experience system of record, the data catalog recognizes [certain types of] data and and recommends labels based on types of data using machine learning.”

All of this is very likely an attempt to compete with Salesforce, which provides sales, marketing and customer service stitched together with their own artificial intelligence layer, Einstein. The recent $6.5 billion MuleSoft purchase will also help in terms of pulling data of disparate enterprise systems and into the various Salesforce tools.

The tools and services announced today give Adobe a fully intelligent, machine learning-driven solution of their own. The whole notion of a customer experience record, while a bit of marketing speak, also serves to help differentiate Adobe from the pack.



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Watch Huawei unveil the P20 live right here – TechCrunch


Huawei is about to unveil its brand new flagship smartphone — the P20. While many details have already leaked, this is going to be an interesting launch. The conference will begin at 3 PM in Paris, 9 AM in New York, 6 AM in San Francisco.

The company chose to unveil its new device at the magnificent Grand Palais in Paris. This is the first time Huawei chooses Paris to launch a major new device. Carriers and retailers in the U.S. have stopped selling Huawei devices. That might be the reason why the press conference is happening in Europe.

Huawei is now the second largest phone manufacturer in the world behind Samsung and just slightly above Apple. The P10 was a great device, so it’s clear that many Android fans will pay attention to today’s launch.



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Zuckerberg refuses UK parliament summons over Fb data misuse – TechCrunch


So much for ‘We are accountable‘; Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has declined a summons from a UK parliamentary committee that’s investigating how social media data is being used, and — as recent revelations suggest misused — for political ad targeting.

The DCMS committee wrote to Zuckerberg on March 20 — following newspaper reports based on interviews with a former employee of UK political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, who revealed the company obtained Facebook data on 50 million users — calling for him to give oral evidence.

Facebook’s policy staff, Simon Milner, previously told the committee the consultancy did not have Facebook data. “They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data,” said Milner on February 8. “It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

In his letter to Zuckerberg, the chair of the committee Damian Collins accuses Facebook officials of having “consistently understated” the risk of user data being taken without users’ consent.

“It is now time that I hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process,” Collins continues. “There is a strong public interest test regarding user protection.”

Regardless of rising pressure around what is now a major public scandal, Zuckerberg has declined the committee’s summons.

In a statement a Facebook spokesperson said it will be offering its CTO or chief product officer to answer questions.

“We have responded to Mr Collins and the DCMS and offered for two senior company representatives from our management team to meet with the Committee depending on timings most convenient for them. Mike Schroepfer is Chief Technology Officer and is responsible for Facebook’s technology including the company’s developer platform.  Chris Cox is Facebook’s Chief Product Officer and leads development of Facebook’s core products and features including News Feed.  Both Chris Cox and Mike Schroepfer report directly to Mark Zuckerberg and are among the longest serving senior representatives in Facebook’s 15 year history,” the spokesperson said.

Facebook declined to answer additional questions.

Collins made a statement before today’s evidence session of the DCMS committee, which is hearing from Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie — saying it would still like to hear from Zuckerberg, even if he isn’t able to provide evidence in person.

“We will seek to clarify with Facebook whether he is available to give evidence or not, because that wasn’t clear from our correspondence,” said Collins. “If he is available to give evidence, then we will be happy to do that either in person or by video link if that will be more convenient for him.”



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This DIY, Alexa-connected robotic tank will bring you a beer – TechCrunch


As we enter the upcoming Golden Age of connected robotics it’s important to stay well-lubricated. Thus we must invite the Walabeer tank, a DIY, Alexa-connected robotic tank that serves beer, into our homes and hearts.

The project uses a toy tank chassis connected to a Walabot, a device that lets your projects see through walls. Once all of this is connected to a Raspberry Pi and, in turn, Alexa, you can ask the Walabeer Tank to turn on its lights, open its cargo hold, and follow you around the house. The complex cargo lifting mechanism uses Erector Set pieces and a slow servo motor.

Balázs Simon created the tank as a proof-of-concept project and there is a full bill of materials and build description here.

“There are things that deep inside every man wants to have. Combining beer and tanks is one of these things! This project will be about this thing, a voice controlled tank that delivers beer to you with an autonomous “follow me” function or with an RC control. Let’s build the beer tank of our dreams!” wrote Simon.

While it’s unclear what this beer tank does when it runs out of beer – it cannot yet open the fridge, for example – it’s nice to know someone out there is watching out for our thirsty gullets as we rocket headlong into the future.



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