Mobile savings and investment services Acorns is on track to do 1 billion trades in 2017


Acorns is quickly turning into an oak tree in the financial services space.

The company now boasts more than 2 million investment accounts (with 600,000 opened in 2017 alone) and is on track to do 1 billion trades in 2017 through the proprietary broker-dealer that it created.

Those are hefty numbers to post for any financial services company, especially considering that Fidelity (one of the nation’s largest money managers) will do approximately 60 million trades over the same period.

However, those numbers also aren’t directly comparable. Acorns relies on micro-transactions, based on its round-up savings and investment system which rounds up amounts of purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the difference in exchange-traded funds that it manages for its customers.

Still, the numbers were impressive enough to attract Bain Capital Ventures to commit another $35 million to the company, bringing Acorns total Series D financing to $70 million. Previous investors PayPal, Greycroft Growth Fund, e.Ventures Growth Fund, NYCA, Capital Group, Rakuten, Point72 and Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures also participated in the round.

With the new money, Acorns is looking at potential acquisitions, according to chief executive Noah Kerner. “The areas of interest to us are the questions about how to make Acorns more personalized,” he said.

One area of particular interest is responsible spending,” Kerner tells me. “It’s a huge area of concern for our customers, and part and parcel of the Acorns experience is connecting spending with responsible saving, so we’re looking at that area. Two of the big-ticket questions… How does a customer spend responsibly and what do they do with the money they have left over.”

The company is also pushing heavily to staff up, adding some heavy-hitters to its staff. Recent additions include Gahl Berkooz as chief data officer.

The former global chief of analytics for General Motors, Berkooz will likely be tasked with organizing, managing and cleaning up data for Jike Chong, another new hire. Chong was the former chief data scientist at Yirendai, China’s massive peer-to-peer lending company, which listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

And while snatching up Berkooz and Chong are impressive, what’s more impressive is the fact that Acorns also managed to snag Chris Jones, the former chief investment officer at BlackRock, a $4.7 trillion money management firm (the world’s largest). That is a big deal. A very big deal.

What Jones brings is more than just a fancy title. Those kinds of numbers are an indication of the outsized ambitions that Acorns has set for itself as it tries to be the financial service of record for the millennial set.

Still, the company faces some stiff competition from direct and indirect competitors, including businesses like Stash Invest (direct), and Wealthfront, Betterment and Robinhood (indirect).

Stash, which just raised $40 million, is Acorns’ closest competitor and has also had a banner year by all accounts. The company said that it’s now servicing more than 850,000 users accounts, adding roughly 500,000 new accounts in 2017.

Meanwhile, Wealthfront and Betterment are also making moves. Both firms have joined the online investor Motif in pushing socially responsible investments.

Not everyone is convinced that Acorns is the best route for people looking to build out an investment portfolio. While some hail it as the “perfect investing app,” other sites have warned consumers to “beware of spare change investments.

However, the company does charge fees for folks with a minimum balance under $5,000, and in many cases those fees can be higher than their competitors, according to an analysis by PolicyGenius:

Acorns fees are $1 per month for all accounts with a balance under $5,000 and .25%of the balance per year on accounts over $5,000. Compared to traditional management, mutual funds, and DIY ETFs, this fee is incredibly low. Other portfolio advisory services, like Amerivest, charge as much as 1.25% and require a minimum investment of $25,000.

Betterment only charges .25%per year for its baseline price tier, amounting to a fee of mere cents per month while you are building up your portfolio.

And what about Wealthfront, another robo-advisor? They require a minimum balance of $500. They do, however, manage the first $10,000 of every account for free.

Funds like Betterment may charge .25 percent for accounts, but don’t offer the same roundup feature that Acorns does.

Where the $1 fee can hurt is when people don’t meet the company’s $5,000 threshold. Over the first months or years of savings, that fee can add up.

Still, as a step on the road to financial stability, folks could do far worse. And Kerner is committed to helping people become better with their finances. That passion shines in every conversation I’ve had with the young chief executive. He’s obsessed with helping people manage their money more responsibly.

“A lot of people know Acorns as a round-up app,” he tells me, but the stat he’s most proud of is that more than 50 percent of customers are using the recurring investment feature. That tool will bring most of Acorns’ customers over that $5,000 threshold… and get them the benefits of money manager at a significantly lower price.

This new hologram could make Star Wars chess a reality

The holographic chess match played between the droid R2-D2 and Chewbacca in Star Wars: A New Hope could become possible in the near future.

Researchers from the University of Utah have developed an inexpensive way to create full-color 2D and 3D holograms. The scientists are able to produce brighter holograms than currently available and can be viewed at almost any angle, making them appear more realistic than ever before.

Rajesh Menon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, led the team. Their research paper, “Full Color, Large Area, Transmissive Holograms Enabled by Multi-Level Diffractive Optics”, was published in Scientific Reports on Wednesday. 

Menon and his team read recent papers on hologram production and realized that they could do a significantly better job at a lower cost. Once the team got rolling, it only took them about two months to complete the project.

“Conventional holograms suffer from two big problems.”

“Conventional holograms suffer from two big problems. First, their efficiency over a full color range is quite low. This results in holograms that are very dim. Second, the image projected by conventional holograms changes with viewing angle,” said Menon, the lead researcher. 

“We solved these problems by coming up with new ways of designing the nanostructures that make up the hologram and with new more precise ways of manufacturing these nanostructures,” he added.

Basically, they use new algorithms to recycle white light by redirecting it, so it won’t be absorbed into  material nearby. Because none of the light is absorbed, it’s all reused in the image, giving you brighter colors and a more realistic hologram. 

Everyone on the team has always been fascinated by holograms, and Star Wars was one of their biggest inspirations. They believe that the new technology could even make the Chewbacca and R2-D2 chess game a reality.

These holograms could also be awesome additions to amusements rides and other entertainment, like the chess game, holographic photos and videos for advertising, and moving 3-D video. But it could also have larger implications beyond Hollywood. 

Menon and his team believe the new holograms could be used to improve currency and identification badgers. They could create full-color photographs on foreign money to make them more identifiable. And if they were integrated into personal identification badges, like passports and driver’s licenses, all an official would have to do is point a flashlight at them to make sure they’re legitimate. 

Because these holograms use less complicated technology than other holograms, it also means that they can be created more easily and at a lower cost. 

“Its hard to predict costs because of many parameters that are outside the control of the technologist. Nevertheless, I am confident that the costs will be quite low, especially at high volumes,” said Menon. “The manufacturing process that we can use for these holograms is similar to the ones used in security holograms in currency notes, credit cards, and ID cards. Therefore, we believe that the costs can be quite low.”

Rajesh Menon is the team lead on the project.

Rajesh Menon is the team lead on the project.

Image: university of utah college of engineering 

Although the team’s holograms were only created in two dimensions, Menon thinks there is a lot of potential for more. It should be pretty straightforward to extend them into 3D and then 4D, which Menon described as 3D and time to create a holographic video.

“These can even be incorporated into virtual-reality or augmented-reality experiences in the future,” said Menon. “I strongly believe that technologies such as these can dramatically enhance education, entertainment and many other fields in the future.”

Menon also created a company called PointSpectrum to research the new technology and more commercial uses for it. If this invention really gets underway, look out for holograms to start becoming a part of almost every aspect of your life. 

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Uber’s SVP of leadership and strategy says she hasn’t seen any toxicity


Uber SVP of Leadership and Strategy Frances Frei is optimistic about the future of Uber, despite the allegations of sexual harassment, greyballing and an executive accessing a rider’s medical records. In fact, Frei wears an Uber t-shirt every day and plans to wear one every day until every single one of Uber’s 15,000 employees feels proud about wearing one, she said at a live taping of Recode Decode last night.

Frei has been Uber’s SVP of Leadership and Strategy since early June. In that short time, a lot has happened at Uber, between the company firing more than 20 people over the harassment probe to CEO Travis Kalanick resigning after receiving pressure from a handful of investors to do so. But Frei says since joining the company, she has not seen any toxicity.

“I read the newspapers and I thought there was no chance they were going to be the good guys,” Frei said about her perception prior to joining Uber. “No chance. And every single person I spoke with, I then started looking for, where is the toxicity? I found a lot of people looking for the secret memo on how to behave and if you gave them the secret memo they behaved that way. I didn’t find toxicity.”

Swisher, of course, did not let Frei off the hook, referencing things like the greyballing, geofencing Apple, tricks around regulations and the Miami letter. That’s when Frei said there’s some shame at the company.

“I’m ashamed because I’m now a part of the company,” Frei said. “I share that.”

But Frei then went on to talk about redemption, and how that’s her favorite trait in the world.

“The vast majority when there’s bad behavior, it’s good people behaving badly,” she said. “And I know that leaders can make a difference there.”

Speaking of leaders, Uber is lacking quite a few of them. Uber is without a CEO, a COO and a CFO. Regarding Uber’s hunt for a CEO, Frei said the person needs to have “reverence for the international nature of the business.” The person also needs to recognize that Uber is both a tech company and an operations company, and needs to “be able to hold both of those thoughts” in their mind.

“I don’t think you can have one be more important than another,” Frei said.

Finally, the next CEO will need to understand that Uber is “an organization of 15,000 people who have been through a lot.” This is absolutely an inflection point for Uber, Frei said, recognizing the company has gone through one crisis after the other.

“I am entirely confident we’re going to come out much stronger and much better,” Frei said. “Honestly in part because of the spotlight that’s on [Uber].”

Frei, just a couple of months into her role at Uber, sees achieving success as getting to a point where drivers love driving for the company because they want to, not because they feel like they have to, she said. Success will be when riders feel proud to use Uber and when shareholders are proud to be involved with the company, Frei said.

“It’s measuring all eight [constituencies] in a pull, not push way,” Frei said. “When all eight of those constituencies are super excited about us. I’m very sure that the business and the financials will have taken care of themselves.”

Featured Image: TechCrunch/Megan Rose Dickey

Has Photobucket Painted Itself Into a Corner?

Various celebrities over the years have “broken the Internet” when risqué photos or shocking revelations surfaced, with or without their knowledge or approval. Photo hosting service Photobucket may have surpassed Kim Kardashian’s most notorious stunts, though. The company recently changed its user agreement for the hosting of images on third-party sites, and as a consequence truly may have broken the Internet.

Photobucket users in recent weeks have been receiving emails with this message: “Some features on your account will be disabled. Your account has been restricted for excessive usage and 3rd party hosting. In order to restore 3rd Party Hosting, please upgrade to the Plus500 Membership Plan.”

On the surface, this seems like business as usual for an online service, because nowhere in the email does Photobucket mention that its Plus500 Membership Plan requires a nearly US$400 a year subscription! Worse, users were given no advance notice, while all images hosted on Photobucket were replaced by a graphic that suggested third-party hosting was at 100 percent.

It didn’t matter if a user had a single image or hundreds that were posted to third-party sites — those who had not subscribed to the Plus500 plan suddenly found they had reached 100 percent usage!

Hosting of Images

To understand why this is such a problem, one needs only to look at Internet forums, eBay, Etsy, Amazon’s third-party sellers and the plethora of blogs out there. For more than 100 million users, Photobucket has been the de facto photo and image hosting service.

Since its founding back in 2003, the service has been an online “Great Library” of images from around the world, and the service today hosts billions of photos.

Photobucket’s messages telling users their accounts had reached full capacity for third-party images were more than a bit disingenuous, given that it didn’t matter how many images were hosted on third-party sites. In fact, according to the new terms of the user agreement, anyone with a free account is still allowed 2 GB of free storage — but the free accounts no longer allow users to link any images to third-party sites.

The user agreement states that those interested in image linking and/or third-party hosting need to subscribe to one of the Plus Accounts — but in fact it is only the P500 level — the most expensive option — that allows for such hosting.

Where it becomes more confusing is that those who already had paid for lower-tier accounts and were in good standing as of June 1, 2017, would still be allowed to utilize third-party hosting until the end of 2017. This in essence makes an exception for those who already were paying for service — and understandably so, given that the Internet community has taken Photobucket’s move as tantamount to extortion.

Even those who have been paying for hosting will have to upgrade at the end of the year or they will lose their images — but at least they have time to find another solution.

Photobucket’s Side of the Story

Criticism has been heaped on Photobucket since it updated its user agreement last month, especially for giving users little notice.

However, from the company’s perspective, “this path to a more sustainable business model allows us to develop an even more robust product to meet our customers’ needs,” Photobucket CEO John Corpus said, according to The Denver Post.

Photobucket’s chief problem is that it is a small shop, with 50-some employees and little way to make a profit. About 75 percent of Photobucket’s costs come from hosting non-paying users’ photos on third-party websites.

Historically, Photobucket largely was supported by ads — but in recent years the site has received almost zero revenue from non-paying users, who typically ignore the ads.

Extreme Business Strategy

This move to charge for third-party hosting of images essentially has left users with few options, and many forum administrators have advised seeking another hosting service. The problem is that the “next Photobucket” — assuming it operated the same way — would suffer from the same lack of revenue. Switching could create a domino effect that would bring down more services.

Photobucket’s decision to charge $399 a year actually might not be such a bad move — and reports that this is the death knell for Photobucket might be a bit exaggerated. Consider this: If just 1 percent of those 100 million-plus users agree to pay up, the service could reap nearly $400 million in revenue that it previously didn’t have.

That also would allow Photobucket to clear out a lot of its free users. As with much of the Internet, people simply don’t like paying for what once was free, but ads can’t support everything — especially if people are so quick to tune out.

A better strategy for Photobucket might have been to add third-party hosting tiers instead of making it an all-or-nothing play. Only the top-tier plan now provides third-party hosting, but $399 a year is a steep sum for casual users to pay. Offering a $99 option, for example, might have made it easier for some disgruntled users to adjust to the new reality and stick around — or come back later.

What makes Photobucket’s strategy so confusing it now can’t back down without burning the loyal minority. At this point, it isn’t clear how many people have agreed to pay the $399 a year, but even if the number of paid users is less than 1 percent, Photobucket is a lean shop with little overhead apart from server space.

The company’s decision could be a good move in the long term, as it will have fewer important customers to keep happy, as well as lower operating costs. The move to a paid model isn’t a bad one — it’s the execution that’s been lacking.

Future of Hosted Images

In the short term, the name “Photobucket” will trigger cursing across the Internet, as blogs and forums — as well as eBay, Etsy and Amazon — suddenly are filled with the same annoying graphic. This won’t represent an opportunity for another hosting service either. If Photobucket can’t make money by hosting third-party images for free, then no other service is likely to embrace a similar model.

The big winner could be Facebook, which already provides the hosting for forum-like interest group pages. Facebook already has proven that it can offer hosting of images, and it has enough revenue to afford it.

The big losers are going to be forums and forum users. The sharing of images of stamps, collectibles and other items of interest is going to cost more. Some forums already have responded by banning the use of third-party hosting, but members of those forums are being asked to cough up to cover the image-hosting costs.

What this signals is something that the media world has been dealing with for almost 20 years. Users think that everything online should be free, but no one has the slightest clue as to how all those freebies can be paid for — and anytime a subscription model is introduced, anger follows.

If I were running Photobucket, my message would have been more honest and to the point: “Look, hosting images is really expensive, and the current business model meant we’d go out of business eventually. That would leave a broken Web with lost images, but we’re trying to offer an alternative. We hope we can convince some of you to take advantage of the benefits we’re offering.”


Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.
Email Peter.

Cargo wants to put a vending machine in every Uber


How many times have you been in an Uber or Lyft and wanted a few Advil, or a 5-hour Energy? While some enterprising ridesharing drivers occasionally try to sell essentials (or non-essentials like tablets and digital cameras), there really isn’t a structured way to facilitate this… until now.

Enter Cargo, a startup that wants to turn drivers’ vehicles into little mobile shops. The startup has raised $1.75 million in seed funding from Techstars, Detroit Venture Partners, Fontinalis Partners and Rosecliff Ventures.

Here’s how it works:

After drivers sign up for free, Cargo sends them a custom display that rests on the center console and holds a selection of snacks and essentials. On the top of the display case is a URL and identification number that is different for each car.

Passengers go to the URL, enter the vehicle code and browse the menu and checkout using a credit card or mobile payment option like Apple Pay. Once they pay, the driver gets a notification on their phone that the transaction is complete, and can pass the items back to the passenger.

The setup is essentially a business in a box, letting enterprising drivers earn more money without having to lay out funds or manage any inventory. Cargo tracks sales and automatically sends a replenishment of inventory when supply is running low.

Drivers get paid $.50 cents for each item they distribute — which adds up. The top 30 percent of drivers sell about 500 items a month, and the majority make at least $100 a month on average, which is, of course, on top of what they make from driving.

Cargo pays per item instead of a percentage of sales because some of the items distributed are free for riders. Jeff Cripe, co-founder and CEO of Cargo, explained that the startup is working with brands looking for a new way to distribute new items and samples to an engaged audience. So some of the snacks available for passengers may be free, with Cargo and drivers still getting paid by the brand. 

Because riders still order those free items through the mobile menu, Cargo knows the demographics surrounding that transaction, like time of day and location where the item was requested, which they can share with the brand. For example, wouldn’t Trident want to know that their new gum flavor is most requested after 10pm right before riders are dropped off downtown at a club?

The startup is operating in New York, Chicago and Boston — but has gotten driver requests from 49 states.

The IAB finalizes its new ad standards


The Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group representing online publishers and advertisers, has released new standards around mobile and web advertisers.

Not every publisher and advertiser will follow these standards, but the standards important because they help establish best practices around what is and isn’t acceptable for the industry. If done right, they help maintain a balance where publishers can make money and users aren’t so annoyed that they rush to download ad blockers.

Alanna Gombert, the general manager of the IAB Tech Lab, said that these new standards have been in development for the past four years. Today’s release represents the finalized version of what was published last fall for public comment.

“It’s really about, how do we create a new ad portfolio that’s with the times, that’s easier to implement and customizable?” Gombert said.

One of the big changes is a move away from fixed sizes for the various ad units — instead, each unit has been given a minimum and maximum width and height. Gombert said this change reflects the shift to cross-screen and responsive advertising, where the ad size can adjust to the size of the window.

She added that the IAB is “sunsetting” certain ad formats, like giant interstitial ads that take over your screen and preventing you from clicking through to the content.

Advertisers are also looking at new technologies, so the IAB is offering guidelines around augmented reality, virtual reality, social media and even emoji ads. Everything is designed to comply with the organization’s LEAN principles, which means they should be lightweight, encrypted and support AdChoices privacy controls.

Gombert acknowledged that there were some “contentious” discussions, for example around autoplaying video and audio. The IAB does have standards around when ads don’t have to start out muted (the sound on your device has to be turned on, and the ad has to have “100% share of screen”), but Gombert said her team will “dive deeper” in the coming months to create more detailed guidelines.

More broadly, she said we can expect the standards to be updated much more quickly in the future.

“Part of my charter was to create a workflow and a framework to release changes to all of our products, including the ad portfolio, in a very quick and seamless fashion,” Gombert said. “We’re not going to have another four-year-long process.”

Featured Image: Mix3r/Shutterstock

Legendary Pokémon are headed to Pokémon Go

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Pokémon Go’s getting Legendary Pokémon, those ultra rare, ultra powerful pocket monsters that typically figure prominently in the narrative arc for the main series console games. The Legendary Pokémon will appear as Eggs at gyms, and they’ll act as bosses for the new Raids that the game recently introduced – once defeated, you’ll get a chance to catch them, much like you can in main franchise titles.

Legendary Pokémon are indeed extra tough and powerful vs. the ordinary variety, and there are some caveats to using them that go along with that – you can use them in Raids, Boss fights and Gym battles, but they can’t be assigned to defend a gym, as can ordinary Pokémon, likely because that would be a game-breaking balance issue.

As for when you can start to find, fight and capture Legendary Pokémon in Go, mark your calendars for July 22: That’s when Pokémon Go Fest is taking place in Grant Park in Chicago, and if players there and world-wide capture enough Pokémon during the ‘challenge window’ taking place during that event, the first Legendary Pokémon will make its appearance in Grant Park. Then, if the Chicago trainers take that down in a collective raid, it’ll unlock the Legendary Pokémon for Raids worldwide.

Niantic and Pokémon are smart to make this an unlock that the community has to come together to earn – it’s a great mechanic for this and future events. Super cool. I’m not sure it’s something that will bring lapsed players back to the platform, but it’s bound to be great for retaining existing fans.

Anti-drone radio wave startup SkySafe secures $11.5M from Andreessen


Drones are a threat to both military and public safety, whether flown by a terrorist or just a reckless pilot. SkySafe’s radio wave technology can detect and stop rogue drones from entering unauthorized areas like military bases, stadiums, prisons and airports. SkySafe’s radio frequency signals are projected from a perimeter of nodes or even a Jeep, and force unapproved drones to leave or land while allowing permitted drones to fly.

Now just two years after launch, SkySafe has raised an $11.5 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz, whose partner Lars Dalgaard will join the board. It adds to the $3 million seed led by Andreessen last year.

Meanwhile, SkySafe has secured a $1.5 million Department of Defense contract with Naval Special Warfare to provide counter-drone tech to the Navy Seals. SkySafe’s mobile defense vehicle can accompany armed forces in the field to protect a moving perimeter from drone attacks or surveillance.

SkySafe CEO Grant Jordan started SkySafe after graduating MIT and working on anti-drone technology for four years in the Air Force Research Lab. He writes that “we are rolling out a series of demonstrations, tests, and exercises for DoD customers over the next year and plan to have systems in the field in 2018.”

SkySafe’s radio wave solution could prove simpler to deploy than alternative drone defenses. Laser-based weapons that shoot down drones may be dangerous and complicated to operate. Net guns that ensnare stray drones may have limited effective ranges. SkySafe claims its RF waves can detect and deter drones at the same maximum range a drone can travel from a pilot.

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Defense technologies like SkySafe are an important check against the inevitable democratization of violence. As technology improves, the destructive power available to any single human increases. From hand-to-hand combat to firearms to drones and nuclear weapons, the rapid progress of weaponry will pose new challenges for our species. Defense technology must keep up in order to maintain public safety.

Wire launches e2e encrypted team messaging in beta


End-to-end encrypted messaging platform Wire is targeting Slack’s territory with a new messaging for teams product, called Teams.

It announced a beta launch yesterday, and is offering teams a 30-day free trial — with pricing starting at €5 per user per month thereafter, or custom pricing for enterprise installations offering extras such as self-hosted servers and an integration API.

Co-founder Alan Duric tells TechCrunch that demand for the team messaging launch is being driven “primarily” by Wire’s existing user base.

Alex, a TC reader and Wire user who tipped us to the beta launch, is one of those existing users with an interest in the new team messaging feature — although he says his team won’t be signing up until the product exits beta.

Explaining how his team originally started using Wire, Alex says: “One of the team was traveling and visited China where we found the firewall was blocking basically everything. Skype would randomly keep crashing / lagging under a VPN, though Wire simply worked there. We decided just to stick with it.”

The Wire Teams product supports logging in with multiple accounts, so users can maintain a personal Wire messaging account separate from a Wire work account, for example.

There’s also support for adding guests to projects to allow for collaboration with outsiders who don’t have full Wire accounts of their own.

And, in future, Teams users will be able to switch off notifications for different accounts — so they could turn off work alerts for the weekend, for example.

“More and more businesses and international organizations have started using Wire for work since we launched end-to-end encryption. Teams make it easy to organize work groups and related conversations,” it writes in a blog post announcing the beta.

While the company started by offering a more general comms app, launched in late 2014 and backed by Skype co-founder Janus Friis, in recent years it’s shifted emphasis to focus on privacy — rolling out end-to-end encryption in March last year — perhaps calculating this makes for a better differentiator in the crowded messaging platform space.

When it comes to team messaging, services offering end-to-end encryption are certainly a relative rarity. Slack’s data request policy, for example, notes that it will turn over customer data “in response to valid and binding compulsory legal process”.

In its blog about Teams, Wire includes a comparison graphic across a range of team comms products and messaging apps, such as Slack, Skype for business, WhatsApp and Signal, which shows its commercial positioning and marketing at work.

As well as flagging as a plus its use of e2e encryption — which extends to securing features such as group calls, screen-sharing and file sharing — other differentiating advantages it’s claiming include its business having a European base (specifically it’s based in Switzerland, which has a legal regime that’s generally perceived as offering some of the most robust data protection and privacy laws in Europe); and its code being open sourced (unlike, for example, the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform).

Wire also suggests e2e encryption for team messaging could be a way for companies to ensure compliance with incoming European privacy legislation. The General Data Protection Regulation, which ramps up fines for data breaches, is due to come into force in May next year.

“Businesses affected by the EU’s upcoming GDPR rules benefit from end-to-end encryption, as it automatically protects the data they share with the team from third party access,” Wire claims.

Earlier this year the company published an external audit of its e2e encryption. This uncovered some flaws and issues but generally found the reviewed components to have a “high security”.

Although a third layer of security review — to consider Wire’s complete solution in the round — remained outstanding at that point.

At the time Wire published the audit it committed to ongoing security reviews of “every major development” of its product.

So — presumably — that should include one for the Teams addition when it launches.

Wire hosts its open sourced code on GitHub.

Apple patent surfaces for iPhone ‘panic button’ using Touch ID tech

Why it matters to you

Having a quick way to trigger emergency services discreetly is a tremendously useful resource all phones should have, and this was at one time Apple’s proposed solution.

An Apple patent dating back to 2013 that uses the iPhone’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor in an interesting way has surfaced this week. The proposal would turn the device’s home button into a “panic button” for scenarios when the user is in danger.

Called “Biometric Initiated Communication,” the technology relies on Touch ID’s ability to distinguish between different fingers, as well as the strength or position of each press of the home button. Apple was seemingly at one point considering allowing users to record certain fingers or patterns as a panic response, according to SlashGear. That trigger could be used to directly and discreetly alert emergency services, theoretically without alerting an assailant.

Personal safety has become an increasingly important consideration of mobile devices — particularly phones, as we carry them around with us all day. While this patent is roughly four years old at this point, Touch ID may not have been dependable enough at the time for Apple to launch such a feature, or it may have been scrapped for other reasons. As always with patents, there is the possibility it might eventually materialize for consumers one day — perhaps in the iPhone 8.

Granted, it’s not a perfect proposal, and maybe Apple felt it wasn’t effective enough at what it set out to do. There’s always the threat of accidentally setting off the panic function, if it’s too simple. However, a pattern or scheme that’s overly complex could be too difficult to trigger in a potential life-or-death situation. It’s a delicate balance to strike, and hopefully a phone maker will eventually stumble upon the right one.

In April 2016, India mandated that all smartphones must come equipped with a panic button of some sort before the end of the year. The law came as part of the government’s efforts to improve women’s safety and stamp out sexual assault. Eventually, the “button” arrived in several forms — one of which was a new national emergency number, 112, as India previously lacked a centralized emergency hotline, CNN reported at the time. The country’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology also worked with phone manufacturers to make quickly pressing the power button three times another way to notify authorities.