To detect prying eyes in the sky, Dedrone raises $15 million


For better or worse, drones are about to become a lot more prevalent in US airspace. The FAA expects sales of drones to spike domestically from 2.5 million last year to 7 million by 2020. Now, a startup that detects drones and helps prevent unwanted aerial intrusions, Dedrone, has closed a $15 million Series B round of venture funding.

Investors in San Francisco-based Dedrone included Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers, and Felicis Ventures, which led the round. The founder and Managing Director of Felicis Ventures, Aydin Senkut, said the deal represents the largest check his firm has cut in a single round to-date.

Dedrone works with physical security companies to set up sensors, cameras and RF scanners on the ground and on rooftops at a given venue. Its technology has been used to monitor the skies over data centers, sports stadiums and the homes of high net-worth individuals and political figures. The company’s drone security product has only been available on the market for one year, but the company recently surpassed 200 installations, according to CEO Jorg Lamprecht.

The CEO said he loves the positive promise of unmanned aerial systems, which can produce beautiful aerial photography, enable hyper-convenient deliveries, and all frequent inspections of tall structures without putting workers on shaky scaffolding. But he also noted drones carry the risk of aerial espionage, contraband or drug smuggling across borders, and amateur accidents.

Dedrone can set up around cities where major events are scheduled, so the company often works with federal and city governments to monitor airspace. Its technology was used to detect drones, for example, over Davos, and two presidential debates.

According to Lamprecht, Dedrone will use its funding, primarily, to bring its existing technology to more businesses and government offices, with a special focus on companies operating data centers. Additionally, he said Dedrone will continue research and development in drone security.

Why the early uptake and continued focus on data centers? The CEO explained, “The data center is so vulnerable. Most have a rooftop installation with cooling elements. If a drone crashses into this, you can break down a whole data center in seconds. That’s with a $500 commercial drone flown by an amateur, or in a deliberate attack. They have had guards with machine guns on the ground, but now they need to watch the skies.”

Felicis’ Aydin Senkut tells TechCrunch his firm backed Dedrone because of its ability not just to spot drones in the sky, but precisely locate a drone’s operator on the ground, enabling a wide range of so-called “counter measures” to deal with unwanted drones.  Senkut said, “Everyone says if a drone flies where you don’t want it to be, why not just take  it down? Many are small and light but can still cause a lot of damage if you shot it out of the sky. It can be a safer option to communicate with the pilot first, depending on the situation.”

He also said Dedrone was an appealing investment because its technology remains useful no matter how regulations around drones or counter-drone measures may shift. It’s not clear that any business will be permitted to use lasers, nets, jammers or other systems to take down drones in their airspace. But, Senkut said, “To do anything with drones, or about the drones that you don’t want around, you need to just be able to accurately identify them first.”

Featured Image: dedrone

Google’s Valentine’s Day Doodle has one pangolin journeying to its soulmate

Why it matters to you

Monday’s Google Doodle is an effort to educate people about pangolins and how they range from vulnerable to critically endangered.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Google has an adorable Doodle game that also doubles as an awareness campaign to save the vulnerable and sometimes critically endangered pangolin.

Pangolins, according to the World Wildlife Fund, are the “most trafficked mammals in the world” due to high demand of their meat and unique scales. Monday’s Google Doodle is a game that focuses on a pangolin’s efforts to meet its long-distance soulmate for Valentine’s Day — but throughout the four chapters you learn “a thing or two” about the scaly mammals.

More: Google Keep for Chrome adds doodle functionality

The side-scrolling game has you collecting food to make a cake in Ghana. Once complete, the pangolin finds itself in India to “construct a lovely melody” for its soulmate; and then in China, the pangolin collects colorful fans to learn to dance; and finally in the Philippines, it collects flowers to build a bouquet.

“Once our pangolin heroes have found their hearts’ desire, show your own Valentine they’re the king or queen of hearts by sharing your score when the game is complete,” writes Jordan Thompson, software engineer for the Doodle team. “After all, Valentine’s festivities are always sweeter when they’re shared.”

More: Watch this astounding trip around the world, made entirely from Google Maps

The game’s home screen offers a search button that asks Google “what is a pangolin,” and Google’s blog post links to the World Wildlife Fund to help you learn more about the animal. The WWF says there are eight species of pangolin and all are under threat — two species are listed as critically endangered. A 2016 treaty signed by more than 180 governments announced an end to all legal trade of the mammals, but illegal trade continues.

You can play the game by visiting Google’s home page on a desktop, or mobile via the Google app or a mobile browser.

Tesla Goes Underground and Uber Takes to the Skies: The Birth of Magic

As in crazy short, in a very short period of time we have two very different companies looking at two very different ways to eliminate traffic. Tesla wants to tunnel under the ground to avoid traffic, while Uber wants to fly overhead.

Transportation has been a tad static for the last 40 years or so, and that apparently is about to change big time, as some folks even are reconsidering lighter-than-air transport.

This is just the start. There are amazing efforts cropping up all over the U.S., suggesting that we may be building a lot of things that truly are magical. I’ll share my thoughts on this coming industrial revolution and close with my product of the week: a very advanced, almost pocketable drone that is small enough for inside and powerful enough to fly outside.

The Death of Innovation

Both transportation and advancement have a mixed history. At the beginning of the 20th century, we moved from horses to cars. Ford even created one of the most reliable airliners in the world and was well down the path toward creating a flying car.

During the Great Depression, perhaps in response to an increase in regulations, advancements in personal transportation seemed to slow and become far more linear. Yes, cars in the 1960s were better than those in the 1930s — but given that we’d come from horses, the speed of advancement was far slower.

Air travel seemed to peak with the brief creation of supersonic transports, which proved uneconomical and unsafe. The current U.S. president, Donald Trump, is looking into why the next Airforce One is basically a plane that was designed back when Ronald Reagan was president and was considered obsolete in many ways even then.

Largely because of fuel shortages and regulations (sound, environmental, safety) we hit a wall in the 1970s in all forms of transportation. Trains in the U.S. are kind of an international embarrassment, given that we once were the leader in rail technology.

I still remember the $9M that California put into studies to determine that the monorail Walt Disney wanted to build to the airport, which was budgeted to cost just $3M, would be unprofitable. It was that kind of regulatory insanity that likely killed what once was the most innovative industry in the U.S.

It seemed that after we made it to the moon, we just stopped pushing the envelope — but that now seems to be changing, a lot.

Innovation Is Coming Back?!

I think what is going on, in part, is that a new breed is transforming the workforce — people who haven’t had it drummed into them that they couldn’t do something different. They’re not just filling entry positions, either. A large number of successful startups have come from trailblazers like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who, rather than asking “why?” effectively are asking “why not?”

It is fascinating that their ideas are all over the map. We suddenly are making advancements both above and below the ground. We are applying ever more intelligence to everything from toys to cars. The result is the emergence of what some are calling the “new industrial revolution.”

It is very difficult to see just how unprecedented this level of change is while we’re in the middle of it.

Consider this: In the 1990s Amazon started out as a bookseller in a garage in Seattle. Now it scares the crap out of Walmart. Google didn’t even exist until 1998, but it now is arguably the most powerful company in the world. And then there is Facebook.

Still, traditional industries like transportation were left alone until recently — that is, until Tesla popped in, made GM’s electric car efforts look foolish, and spun the auto market on its head.

Now, giant car companies all over the world are working to catch up, and Musk isn’t just running a car company. He has a solar energy company and a rocket ship company as well. Seriously, he has a rocket ship company, and he isn’t alone — Jeff Bezos has one too.

Wrapping Up: Thinking out of the Box

What’s happening is that folks like Bezos and Musk are forcing other CEOs to step their game up a lot. For instance, Michael Dell decided to build one of the most powerful tech companies in the world and make it private. He’s another guy who seems to be asking “why not?” and now his catch phrase is “go big or go home.” It kind of makes you wonder what he’ll do next.

Nvidia basically is building artificial brains in a box, and even Microsoft is attempting to alter the way we view reality.

This is the kind of competition that drives amazing change — and new above ground and underground transportation systems are just the start. It isn’t just transportation that is going nuts — it’s everything from the way we order and get products, to how we build them, to how we view and interact with the world — and even which world we live on. (Yes, we are going to Mars.)

This already has been an amazing decade, but what is even more amazing is that we likely are in the slow startup phase. What comes next will even be more amazing. Did I mention drone swarms?!?

I think we should call this “the birth of magic,” because what we’ll be able to do in a few short years will seem like magic to those of us living today. I can hardly wait.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

Apparently I am building a drone air force. My latest acquisition is the Zerotech Dobby Pocket Drone. At $400 for a small drone, this is no cheap date — but what makes it different is that is has the necessary hover sensors and a full 4K streaming camera.

The small form factor of this drone and the fact that you can fold up the arms to make it pocketable (jacket pocket, that is — this won’t go in your pants) make it a unique offering for a fully featured drone.

Zerotech Dobby Pocket Drone

Zerotech Dobby Pocket
Drone

This is an indoor/outdoor offering, in that it is stable and easy enough to fly indoors (once you get the hang of it) but powerful enough to deal with wind, so you can fly it outside.

If you set it up properly, it has core features like hover and automatic return home. Like most current generation mid-range drones, it uses WiFi and your phone or tablet for navigation. Like all small drones, battery life can be an issue, so you’ll want several spare batteries, which charge off a USB-C cellphone charger.

It has GPS positioning, so it knows where it is. It has a fixed camera — not a gimbal camera — so you don’t get the stability of a fully professional product. However, those tend to be big and far harder to transport — I know, I have two.

In the end, if you want a good transportable mid-range drone that you can carry easily, the Zerotech Dobby Pocket Drone is my recommendation, and it’s my product of the week.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.

Huawei Watch 2 news, rumors, and release date

The original Huawei Watch was long-considered one of the best-looking and classiest smartwatches out there — and for good reason. The device, however, was launched way back in early 2015 — we’re finally about to see a second-generation model.

What will the Huawei Watch 2 look like? And how much of an upgrade will it feature under the hood? Here’s everything we know about the Huawei Watch 2 so far.

More: Android Wear is back in business with two new watches from LG

Release date and availability

The Huawei Watch 2 will be unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of February, though it is not known if it will be available at that time or just announced. The news comes from Huawei’s CEO of Huawei Technologies Consumer Business Richard Yu, who announced it via a Weibo post.

Yu also added an image of a person wearing the watch, though it’s hard to tell what the smartwatch actually looks like.

Yu doesn’t explicitly say the smartwatch will be unveiled at MWC, but his post contains the hashtag “#MWC2017” so it’s safe to say we will learn more about the device at the conference.

Design

According to well-known leaker Evan Blass, who published a report on Venture Beat, the Huawei Watch 2 may take a different direction than the original device, making use of a slightly sportier design, with a 1.4-inch display and classic styling. There will also be both leather and stainless steel straps.

This follows a trend in the wearable technology market — many watchmakers are turning to slightly sportier designs as a way to try and entice those who use fitness trackers to instead opt for a smartwatch.

More: Will your watch get Android Wear 2.0? Read our guide to find out

Specs

According to the Venture Beat report, the Huawei Watch 2 will add one significant feature — cellular connectivity. The report notes that a version with a built-in SIM will be available. This will allow the device to make or take phone calls, as well as access the internet without needing connectivity to a phone.

Not much else is known about the Huawei Watch 2 just yet, but it’s likely that the device will run Android Wear 2.0 — Google’s next-gen wearable operating system that recently launched alongside two LG-built smartwatches.

We’ll update this article as we hear more.

Article originally published in January. Updated on 02-13-2017 by Julian Chokkattu: Added news that the Huawei Watch 2 will be unveiled at MWC. 

ACLU calls for tech firms to lobby for surveillance reform


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has put out a fresh call for tech companies to push for reform of the surveillance regime in the U.S., warning of the added urgency given new U.S. President Donald Trump — who has already been demonstrably hostile to foreigners’ privacy rights in his first few days in office.

Late last week one of the ACLU’s staff attorneys was cross-examined in the High Court in Ireland as an expert witness in a piece of litigation focused on Facebook’s use of a data transfer mechanism to authorize its processing of Europeans’ data in the U.S. The court hearing started last Tuesday and is expected to last for three weeks.

The complaint against Facebook pivots on whether US Government surveillance activity undermines European privacy protections — as the region’s top court, the CJEU, previously ruled to be the case regarding a prior data transfer mechanism (Safe Harbor).

The Irish High Court is considering whether to refer similar concerns about the legal robustness of so-called Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) — an alternative mechanism for authorizing EU-US personal data transfers — to the CJEU.

The Irish data protection commissioner is pushing for the referral, after reaching a provisional view in May 2016 that U.S. law does not adequately protect Europeans’ data. It’s not the only European body with serious concerns here, either.

Despite Facebook being the focus of the legal complaint, the case has much wider significance given scores of other companies also make use of SCCs to authorize transatlantic data flows — which means that should the mechanism fail, many businesses, not just Facebook, will need to change how they operate in order to comply with European law.

In a blog post discussing its role in the litigation, the ACLU makes this point, warning that: “If the European courts ultimately conclude that the U.S. surveillance regime lacks essential protections for E.U. citizens, companies like Facebook may have more difficulty transferring their users’ private data to the United States — at least until the U.S. adopts badly needed reforms to its surveillance laws.”

“There are several ways that tech companies could push for stronger protections for their users’ data in the face of U.S. government spying,” it adds, going on to suggest tech firms actively lobby members of Congress to enact surveillance reforms.

The ACLU is especially urging action on a portion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) called Section 702 — which has been used by US intelligence agencies to justify collecting data in bulk, such as via the NSA’s PRISM program — noting that Section 702 is due to expire this year.

(PRISM refers to the program whereby US intelligence agencies apparently tap the customer data of a raft of tech companies, including Facebook, though exactly how they gain access to user data remains unclear, given all tech firms named in the Snowden disclosures as being part of PRISM claimed to have no knowledge of it.)

“Tech companies, including Facebook, make contributions to dozens of candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate, including politicians who have introduced anti-privacy measures in the past or have advocated for the resurrection of mass surveillance programs. The message to lawmakers should be clear: If they do not support pro-privacy policies, they should no longer expect to receive Facebook support. Surveillance reform must remain a high priority for tech companies,” the ACLU writes.

“Now that President Trump has the keys to the US surveillance state, it’s more important than ever that tech companies work with us in the fight for surveillance reform,” it adds.

TechCrunch contacted Facebook for comment — and to ask whether it supports the ACLU’s calls to reform US surveillance law — but the company declined to make a statement. “As is an on-going legal case, we are not able to comment on what was said in court,” said a spokeswoman.

Facebook makes use of both SCCs and the newer EU-US Privacy Shield for authorizing its EU-US flows of personal data. And is arguing in the Irish court that safeguards and remedies available in the U.S. for EU citizens vis-a-vis their data privacy rights are at least equivalent to those provided by the EU.

Late last week the ACLU’s Ashley Gorski was called as an expert witness in the Irish High Court action on behalf of privacy campaigner Max Schrems — who filed the original PRISM-related complaints against Facebook. (An expert report compiled for the court by Gorski can be found online here.)

In comments to the court, Gorski described the U.S. Judicial Redress Act as a “significantly flawed remedy for EU persons” on account of it being designed as an extension of the U.S. Privacy Act which she noted contains “several significant exemptions”, including for classified information.

“The NSA effectively has exempted itself from the most significant protections afforded to individuals in the Privacy Act,” she said. “So… the Judicial Redress Act doesn’t… have the force that… the court may believe that it has based on some of the expert declarations.”

In her report she also argues against Facebook’s position, asserting that U.S. law fails to provide adequate safeguards for Europeans’ data protection rights on account of an “extremely permissive” surveillance regime, which also offers “no viable avenue to obtain meaningful redress for the rights violations resulting from this surveillance”.

On Section 702, she writes that it “effectively exposes every international communication — that is, every communication between an individual in the United States and a non-U.S. person abroad — to potential surveillance”, noting for example that it authorized the NSA’s Upstream surveillance program (which directly taps Internet infrastructure to siphon data).

“Through Upstream surveillance, the NSA has generalized access to the content of communications, as it indiscriminately copies and searches through vast quantities of personal metadata and content,” she writes. “Based on the public information concerning the scope of Upstream surveillance, I believe that there is a substantial likelihood that this surveillance results in the NSA’s accessing, copying, and searching of data transmitted from Facebook Ireland to Facebook in the United States.

“While some or all of this data may be encrypted, that would not prevent the NSA from copying, examining, and seeking to decrypt the intercepted Facebook data. As noted… above, when the agency collects encrypted communications under Section 702, it can retain those communications indefinitely, and public disclosures indicate that the NSA has succeeded in circumventing encryption protocols in various contexts.”

Gorski’s report also looks at the role of Executive Order 12333, signed by former US president Ronald Regan in December 1981, as the “primary authority under which the NSA gathers foreign intelligence”.

“Despite its breadth, surveillance under EO 12333 has not been subject to meaningful oversight by either the U.S. Congress or U.S. courts,” she argues. “Surveillance programs operated under EO 12333 have never been reviewed by any court. Moreover, these programs are not governed by any statute, including FISA, and, as the former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has conceded, they are not overseen in any meaningful way by Congress.

“EO 12333 and its accompanying regulations place few restrictions on the collection of U.S. or non-U.S. person information. The order authorizes the government to conduct electronic surveillance abroad for the purpose of collecting ‘foreign intelligence’ — a term defined so broadly that it appears to permit surveillance of any non-U.S. person, including surveillance of their communications with U.S. persons.”

Gorski argues that limitations on how the U.S. government can use data collected in bulk for surveillance purposes are “broadly defined” — resulting in the data being very broadly searchable, and the NSA being able to deploy “a wide array of keywords” to sift data it has acquired in bulk (aka “bulk searching”).

“Even “targeted” forms of EO 12333 surveillance are extremely permissive, as the executive order authorizes the government to target non-U.S. persons abroad for virtually any “foreign intelligence” reason, broadly defined,” she adds.

“Recent disclosures indicate that the U.S. government operates a host of large-scale programs under EO 12333, many of which appear to involve the collection of vast quantities of U.S. and non-U.S. person information. These programs have included, for example, the NSA’s collection of billions of cell-phone location records each day; its recording of every single cell phone call into, out of, and within at least two countries; and its surreptitious interception of data from Google and Yahoo user accounts as that information travels between those companies’ data centers located abroad.”

On PPD-28 — an executive branch directive issued by US president Obama in January 2014, which was viewed favorably by EC officials because it imposed certain constraints on use of bulk collected comms data, and on the retention and dissemination of the comms of non-U.S. persons — Gorski’s view is that the directive is ineffective, arguing it has “few meaningful reforms” that can also “easily be modified or revoked by the next U.S. President”.

Of PPD-28’s list of limitations, she writes: “Taken together, these categories are very broad and open to interpretation, and they effectively ratify the practice of bulk, indiscriminate surveillance.”

She also points out that its limitations do not extend to “other problematic types of mass surveillance”, such as data acquired in bulk and held for a short period — e.g. via the NSA’s Upstream program.

Her report goes on to consider barriers to Europeans’ being able to successfully seek redress for rights infringements resulting from the US surveillance regime, with Gorski arguing the government “routinely seeks to prevent individuals from obtaining redress for Section 702 and EO 12333 surveillance through civil litigation in U.S. courts”.

On this she says the U.S. government has invoked and interpreted the “standing” and “state secrets” doctrines in such as way as to block any adjudication of the lawfulness of its surveillance regime.

“Because virtually none of the individuals who are subject to either Section 702 or EO 12333 surveillance ever receive notice of that surveillance, it is exceedingly difficult to establish what is known as “standing” to challenge the surveillance in U.S. court,” she writes. “Without standing to sue, a plaintiff cannot litigate the merits of either constitutional or statutory claims.”

“Because Section 702 and EO 12333 surveillance is conducted in secret, the U.S. government routinely argues to courts that plaintiffs’ claims of injury are mere “speculation” and insufficient to establish standing,” she adds, pointing to a 2013 ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court that Amnesty International USA and nine other plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Section 702 “because they could not show with sufficient certainty that their communications were intercepted under the law”.

Another challenge in October 2015, brought by Wikimedia and others to Section 702 surveillance, was dismissed by a U.S. district court on the same grounds — i.e. that the plaintiffs lacked standing.

She further argues the U.S. government has “increasingly sought to use the state secrets privilege not merely to shield particular information from disclosure, but to keep entire cases out of court based on their subject matter”.

“To date, as a result of the government’s invocation and the courts’ acceptance of the standing and state secrets objections described above, no civil lawsuit challenging Section 702 or EO 12333 surveillance has ever produced a U.S. court decision addressing the lawfulness of that surveillance,” she writes.

Another of her points is that the U.S. government has generally taken the position that non-U.S. persons located abroad have no right to challenge surveillance under the U.S. Constitution — dubbing that a “significant” detail, given the crux of the legal challenge (i.e. whether or not Europeans are getting ‘essentially equivalent’ protection for their rights under US law).

She also touches on one of the newer developments vis-a-vis US-EU privacy law: the creation of an Ombudsperson position, as part of the Privacy Shield agreement reached between the EU and the US to replace the invalidated Safe Harbor mechanism.

While this addition is one of the changes the European Commission has pointed to to argue its view that Privacy Shield is legally robust, Gorski’s take is that the Ombudsperson’s “legal authority and ability to provide meaningful redress are severely limited”.

“Even where the Ombudsperson does find that data was handled improperly, she can neither confirm nor deny that the complainant was subject to surveillance, nor can she inform the individual of the specific remedial action taken,” she argues.

“There is no indication that the Ombudsperson can in fact require an executive-branch agency to implement a particular remedy. Nor is there any indication that she is empowered to conduct a complete and independent legal and factual analysis of the complaint — e.g., to assess whether surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment, as opposed to simply examining whether surveillance complied with the relevant regulations.”

She also questions the independence of the position, given the Ombudsperson is part of the State Department — and therefore “not entirely independent from the intelligence community” against whose operations it will be fielding complaints.

“In short, an individual who complains to the Ombudsperson is extremely unlikely to ever learn how his complaint was analyzed, or how any non-compliance was in fact remedied. He also lacks the ability to appeal or enforce the Ombudsperson’s decision,” she adds.

In a sign of how much high level political concern is being attached to the legal challenge, the U.S. government last year applied to be an amicus in the case — and was granted this status, with the judge writing the country has “a significant and bona fide interest in the outcome of these proceedings”.

While, a new tougher General Data Protection Directive is due to come into force in Europe next year — which may also have ramifications for the rules around authorizing transatlantic data flows.

This post was updated with additional details of Gorski’s testimony 

Birchbox to launch a second, more personalized beauty subscription service


Subscription beauty service Birchbox is launching a new, pricier tier to its service, offering customers the ability to better customize their monthly box of products, along with other perks. The service, which is only being offered to current subscribers for the time being, is $14 per month, compared with $10 per month for the original subscription.

The launch comes after a time when Birchbox had been in the press due to its struggles with achieving profitability. As Recode reported in August when the startup received a $15 million lifeline from investors in the form of a convertible note, the company had faced numerous challenges over the past year or so. This included a rash of newer competitors like Michelle Phan’s Ipsy as well as layoffs. The report also suggested there may have been struggles with customer churn as current subscribers tired of their boxes, and inefficient marketing spend. (Birchbox denies these claims.)

Birchbox had also shopped for a potential acquirer last year, The WSJ reported in June, but failed to achieve a deal.

The idea with Birchbox is to allow customers to sample beauty products – like makeup, hair and skin care items, among other things – through a monthly goodie box. Customers are then encouraged to buy the full-sized items online. But, as Recode noted, only 35 percent of Birchbox’s revenue came from the sale of full-priced products. (That 35 percent figure is still accurate, a Birchbox spokesperson confirmed.)

The company also has a retail store in New York, which contributes to sales.

In total, Birchbox has over 1 million subscribers, and 4 million total customers.

As for the new subscription itself, it appears to be aimed at sending customers more of the products they’re interested in, which would hopefully translate to more online sales.

new-birchbox-subscription

According to the Birchbox website’s description of the new service, the upgraded subscription still includes just five samples, but now allows customers to select which category of products they want to try or they can choose to receive a “fix-it” box (one focused on an individual issue, like acne, e.g. ) in lieu of the monthly sample box.

Customers can also swap boxes for points to be used while shopping online, receive special discounts and will be fast-tracked to “ACE” status (Birchbox’s VIP rewards program.)

These additions are meant to push Birchbox’s best customers to spend more shopping its online store, in an effort to grow its e-commerce sales.

The new service tier is launching in March, the website noted. It will not replace the $10 per month subscription when it arrives, but will be available as the next step up.

A Birchbox spokesperson confirmed the launch via the following statement:

We are always innovating to stay as relevant as possible to our customers; we introduced features like Sample Choice and, more recently, Ship with Box, to allow subscribers to have more control over their monthly experience. With the majority of our traffic coming from mobile, we rearchitected our mobile web design this past fall to make it faster and more seamless for customers to check out on their phones – resulting in our most successful holiday season to-date.

We are currently testing additional ways to allow subscribers to get the most out of their subscription. These new features have been in development for awhile and stem directly from customer research – we’re thinking strategically about what our subscribers want more of and how to execute on that in a way that makes sense for our business.

Get over yourselves! The world can’t handle more tech-hating hippie hermits

This weekend, if you find yourself washing clothes in a stream on a rocky mountain, surrounded by all the wonders of nature, you’d take a selfie, right? I would. Then I’d share it for lots of internet points. Soon, though, I’d probably be done with living it it up like it’s 1599, get in my car and drive back home.

Not Guardian journalist Mark Boyle. If he were by my side at the river, he’d no doubt shake his head at my devotion to such frivolous, modern distractions and conveniences. He wouldn’t follow me to my car either. You see, the mountain is his home, because he’s just started a crazy new lifestyle where he rejects technology to live like primitive man did. And oh boy, is he going all-out.

If the daily, constant flood of emails, Twitter notifications, SMS, and calls makes you want to throw your iPhone off the nearest tall building, it can be very tempting to embrace your inner Fred or Wilma Flintstone and disappear to live off the land, just like him. We’re here to urge you to think twice. It’s fine (although a bit weird) for one guy to do it, but if we all get the same idea, things could go very wrong, very quickly.

It’s simply not feasible, logical, or even responsible for us all to consider making a go of some hippy, tech-free lifestyle today.

Hardcore survivalist

It’s not the first time this type of experiment has been carried out. Many people have disconnected from the internet or lived without their phones for a week or two. There are even more of those crashing bores who chastise others for a perceived over-reliance on tech, after someone dared to use a phone in their presence. Boyle is different. His new life is no half-measure. He’s living in a cabin built from mud and rocks, with no electricity, no fixed water supply, no shower, no Netflix, no smartphone, no vehicle, no refrigerator, and one assumes, no sanitation.

I’m all for the responsible use of technology, but to shun it and the modern world, borders on madness.

He knows it’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, though, and isn’t saying everyone should rise up, overthrow oppressive virtual assistants, and run out into the fields laughing and smiling like extras from Little House on the Prairie. However, he paints a surprisingly attractive picture of a world without tech. You can almost hear the birds singing in the trees, and smell the fresh countryside in his words.

The spell breaks when you realize that life without technology, in Boyle’s view, means becoming a hermit. His brave old world seems to mean living like Obi-wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope. Just with the robots and lightsabers replaced by squirrels and branches. It’s this removal from society that is the most uncomfortable part of Boyle’s new lifestyle. It’s actually inevitable. Erasing oneself from both city and connected life today is the same as erasing oneself from the world. Even speaking as an introvert, this sounds pretty unpleasant.

It’s for the best he doesn’t make the whole thing too damn enticing, because as we’ll find out, that would be a very bad thing indeed.

What’s that hole for? Oh …

Let’s go back to me washing my clothes in that stream. I’m finished, and have loved it so much I’ve quickly constructed a hut, which I’ll call home from now on. What next? Food, probably. I’m not Ray Mears, so I have no idea what berries will be a nourishing meal and what berries will see me convulse on the ground in agony. Without the internet, I can’t check, either. Not to worry, my mate Boyle has left me some roots, so I’ll crunch those up. Soon after, I chuck him out so he can begin the long trudge back to his own cabin. It can’t be too close by because that would be convenient, and go against the hermit code.

Next on my list would be to dig a hole for you-know-what before bed, and because I don’t have a job, I have no money for things like toothpaste (I guess I’ll use some grass or something). Then I’ll sleep in close proximity to all the bugs humanity has worked hard to keep out of their houses for centuries. Sounds like camping, only permanently, and much, much worse.

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It all sounds like turning back the clock to before the Industrial Revolution. What was that like, you might wonder? Apparently, it wasn’t much fun. “Life for the average person was difficult, as incomes were meager, and malnourishment and disease were common,” says history.com. Sounds lovely.

Boyle’s new off-the-grid lifestyle may sound fascinating, but for rational people, his reality must surely be unpalatable.

The collapse of civilization

No matter how much you despise technology, whether it’s a phone, a car, or a power station, living entirely without modern technology would be incredibly drastic. We imagine you’d have to be really unsatisfied with life, escaping from who-knows-what, or be driven by some grand passion to push boundaries like Boyle to consider it.

Worse, tech haters are dead wrong about life being better if tech didn’t exist.

Tech haters are dead wrong about life being better if tech didn’t exist.

Philosopher Clay Shirky told The Atlantic imagining the world without the internet alone is to imagine it without civilization. “The only credible post-internet visions are all tied to civilizational collapse,” he said. That means things like pandemics, nuclear war, and other apocalyptic scenarios.

Technologist Kevin Ashton, writing in response to those who think technology is bad, says without it and even the most basic tools, most of us would be dead in a few days. “Our bodies,” he argues, “are not configured to survive without the aid of technology.” The humans before us had stronger jaws, big teeth, a lot more hair on our bodies, and considerably more robust digestive systems. You, me, and Boyle aren’t made that way anymore and have evolved in-line with the technology we’ve invented.

Even the residents of Green Bank, West Virginia — the National Radio Quiet Zone, where no connected or electrical devices are allowed — don’t exist in some time warp. They have modern homes, toilets, jobs, stores, vehicles, and, well, civilization. If you’re looking for a way to escape city life, and the pressures it sometimes brings, then arguably Green Bank and its surrounding towns is the right place to go.

Dead by dawn

Why would it be bad if we all headed out into the wilderness? One last time, let’s imagine I’m happy in my hut, have worked out what food makes me vomit, got myself a prime bit of grass and a little stream, and am slowly but surely converting others to mine and Boyle’s way of life. The cities are emptying, and the countryside is filling up, as we revert back to the way we were before. What a wonderful new world.

Well, perhaps not. Ashton says even if we do master the basic art of survival without technology, and everyone else wants the same thing, the world won’t be a better place. “Imagine doing all these things in competition with other people and species, all trying to find natural shelter, naturally potable water, digestible food, and to keep their families alive.’ He asks, “How long could you survive?”

Mark Boyle

Mark Boyle

I’ve seen enough episodes of The Walking Dead to know it probably wouldn’t be very long. The idyllic days of washing my clothes in that mountain stream would get a lot less idyllic if I’m constantly watching out for someone sneaking up behind me, ready to bash in my brains in for the seeds in my pocket.

I’m all for the responsible use of technology, but to shun it and the modern world, borders on madness. Boyle’s experiment is fascinating, but one I’ll watch from afar. It seems the rest of humanity would be wise to do the same.

PitchBook brings company financial data to its mobile app


Finding financial data, particularly for private companies, is no small task. It usually requires a solid BS detector for researching online and a network of knowledgeable sources to bounce numbers off of — not something that can easily be done over coffee or in the middle of a meeting. PitchBook, a PE and VC database, is integrating financial data into its mobile app to chip away at this problem.

The update is bringing financials for 266,000 companies, including revenue figures for 145,000 businesses, to its mobile app. That’s on top of the startup data the company provides that includes rounds, investors and other history. When available, PitchBook is also providing balance sheet summaries and valuations. The company is seeing growing demand for its mobile offerings. 25 percent of active PitchBook users are on mobile each month, a 54 percent increase from this time last year.

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Most of the private startups cataloged by PitchBook don’t have complete financial data. This means that, for most companies, you will only be able to see a sampling of revenue numbers and public SEC filings. The addition seems more about co-locating all known information about a given company.

It would be nice to see PitchBook and its competitors do more with natural language search. As of now you can’t search “Revenue for Uber” and get a result immediately. The design of the current mobile app prioritizes access to information over analysis. This move makes a lot of sense and fact checking probably covers a majority of use cases for accessing investment data on mobile. But in lieu of analytics features for power-users, the company should try to fully deliver on its promise to get financial data in the hands of decision makers as fast as possible.

“We’re working on tighter device integrations with SiriKit and trying to rank better within Spotlight search,” said Alex Legault, PitchBook’s lead product manager.

PitchBook has no shortage of competitors. CrunchBase, CB Insights, Mattermark and others all have solid databases for investors, but PitchBook’s relationship with Morningstar should help to differentiate it with solid offerings for investors across industries in both public and private markets.

Morningstar acquired PitchBook for $225 million back in October 2016. Legault says that PitchBook is feverishly adding non-tech companies to its database, a move that should be appreciated by the traditional PE subscribers of Morningstar.

But the larger corpus of businesses couldn’t come at a better time for PitchBook’s 2,000 clients and 7,000 active users. Even in early days, the number of non-tech companies involved in tech acquisitions is substantive and set to increase in the coming years.

Featured Image: PitchBook

Bargain alert: Grab a Valentine’s Day Honor 6X bundle for $250

Why it matters to you

A metal smartphone with a dual-lens camera that only costs $250? That’s the Honor 6X, and you need to know about it

Huawei’s Honor phones have always been strong competitors at their budget price points. Last year’s Honor 5X delivered exceptional cameras, a metal unibody, and a powerful processor for a palatable $250. At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Huawei’s keeping a good thing going with a new Honor phone — the Honor 6X.

How to buy one

Pricing starts at $250 for the Honor 6X 3GB and $300 for the Honor 6X 4GB. However, Honor regularly holds flash sales and sweetens the deal with special offers, so always check to see what’s available through the company’s own online store before buying one.

More: Our review of the Honor 6X

At the time of writing, there’s still time to pick up the Honor 6X as a special Valentine’s Day bundle, which will get you the phone and an Honor selfie stick, a case, and a pair of Honor Engine earbuds for $250. The offer is only found on Honor’s own online store.

In the United Kingdom, the 3GB/32GB Honor 6X costs 224 British pounds through Huawei’s vMall online store, or it can be purchased on Pay As You Go, or with a monthly contract with Three U.K. It’s priced at 200 British pounds on PAYG, or with monthly tariffs starting at 16 British pounds.

The Honor 6X comes in gold, silver, and gray. In addition to the United States and the United Kingdom, the phone is sold in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.

What you need to know about the Honor 6X

The Honor 6X was not a mystery, exactly. It launched at an October 2016 press event in China. But Huawei’s broadening its availability in January, beginning with the U.S. and Europe and expanding to other regions in the coming weeks.

More: Lenovo Moto Z and Z Force review

It’s a beauty to behold. The slim, sleek Honor 6X boasts a unibody aluminum design that weighs 162 grams and a curved glass edge that measures a mere 8.2mm in thickness. The display, a 5.5-inch full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) panel of the LCD variety, reaches 450 nits and has a 0.3-second response time — a 42 percent improvement from previous Honor models.

Under the Honor 6X’s machine-polished hood sits Huawei’s custom Kirin 655, an octa-core processor comprised of four high-powered cores clocked at 2.1GHz and a second set of energy-saving cores at 1.7GHz. A tertiary i5 coprocessor handles lighter tasks like speech recognition, music playback, sensor processing, and location tracking. Both are paired with up to 4GB of RAM and internal storage managed by Huawei’s smart file system, which automatically prevents file fragmentation and optimizes read and write speeds.

Three cameras

The Honor 6X’s silicon is not the only highlight. Huawei’s new handset packs a rear camera with a 1.25μm pixel size, built-in noise reduction algorithms, and a Sony sensor capable of honing on subjects in 0.3 seconds. And it’s the first in the Honor series to pack a dual-sensor rear camera; a 12-megapixel sensor handles color data, while an adjacent 2-megapixel monochrome snapper measures brightness levels. Its software combines the two to produce an image that Huawei says is much brighter and crisper in low-light conditions than your average phone camera.

More: Huawei’s Honor to launch modular smartphone with no speaker or camera

The dual-sensor design allows for other effects, too. The Honor 6X’s camera can refocus (within an aperture value of f/.95 to f/16) on subjects in the foreground after the picture has been taken, and automatically convert pictures to monochrome. Huawei’s accompanying software supports low-light shots, long exposure, and custom filters.

The front-facing camera and fingerprint sensors are nothing to scoff at, either. The Honor 6X’s 8-megapixel front camera features a 77-degree lens for wide-angle selfies and a built-in “Beauty” mode that recognizes and fixes blemishes. The Honor 6X’s fingerprint sensor also supports swipe gestures; swiping left and right flips through pics in a photo album, for instance, while a series of taps snoozes alarms and places calls.

All that technology is rather energy efficient, luckily. The Honor 6X’s 3,340mAh battery should last up to two days on a single charge, Huawei says, or up to 11.5 hours of video, 70 hours of music, and eight hours of gaming. And it supports 5V/2A power delivery, meaning fast recharge times.

The Honor 6X launched on the eve of the Honor brand’s third anniversary, which now reaches more than 74 different countries and regions, and topped $6 billion in global sales in 2016.

Article originally published in October 2016 by Kyle Wiggers. Updated on 02-13-2017 by Andy Boxall: Added in latest Honor offer, and news of the Honor 6X’s availability in the United Kingdom.

What happens when you dump the App Store?


In what amounts to one of the purest and most interesting experiments in assessing value of Mac OS’s App Store the founder of Rogue Amoeba posted a description of what happened when he pulled his app Piezo. The result? More revenue as a whole without much damage to sales.

The impetus for the move came Apple pulled the Dash app off of the App Store. In the 100 day period since the move, Dash maintained and even increased revenue and found that its users didn’t care which platform they were using – 84% of the customers simply moved over to the independent app license from the App Store license. The bottom line? “It feels great to have full control over my business and to avoid App Store installation/updating/purchasing issues,” wrote Dash creator Bogdan Popescu.

When Paul Kafasis tried to move away from the App Store he was worried he’d lose half of his sales. After all, many months saw about 50% of sales coming from the App Store directly. When he pulled the app a year ago, however, all of those App Store sales turned into direct sales through his website, a fact that surprised and amused Kafasis.

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“It appears that nearly everyone who would have purchased Piezo via the Mac App Store opted to purchase directly once that was the only option,” he said. “Far from the Mac App Store helping drive sales to us, it appears we had instead been driving sales away from our own site, and into the Mac App Store.”

“I certainly won’t state that every developer will have this same success if they remove a product from the Mac App Store and distribute it exclusively through their own site. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary,” he wrote. He cited the fact that maintaining the app for the app store was costly and much of his revenue went to paying the App Store a commission. Now, through direct sales, he can focus on the product and not the sales channel.

App Stores in general are a “good idea.” But having more than one sales channel is also massively important. Last summer I talked about something called the Ripple Rug and how this odd little product – basically a rug for cats – was facing arbitrage problems from drop shippers who were hiking up the price of the rug and simply buying it on Amazon and shipping it forward. Then the drop shippers would pass the cost of returns on to the Ripple Rug, thereby making cash when the sold the rugs and when customers complained. The result? The creators of the rug pulled it from the Amazon briefly but recently brought it back for more than they sell it on their site. To do this the Ripple Rug folks are selling updated version of the rug on the site and a different version on the Amazon store because Amazon does not allow you to sell directly for less than it appears on Amazon.

“I have to run two production lines just to sell on Amazon,” said Fred Ruckel, creator of the rug.

Why? It makes perfect sense. If you want access to the Ripple Rug – or anything, really – you can get it through the “quick and easy” Amazon store or you can go directly to the seller and get it cheaper. And most people wanted to get it on Amazon.

“I had to put together a really good strategy to survive amazon,” said Ruckel. “We basically pulled Fulfillment by Amazon. When Amazon fulfills products for people that’s when people arbitrage. But Ruckel knows he needs Amazon just as many app makers know they need the App Stores.

“It’s a double-edge sword,” he said. “You have to be on Amazon. Sixty-percent of shopping starts on Amazon. They typically associate Amazon with free shipping and great prices and you have to be on Amazon to be seen now.”

But you can fight back. In fact, Ruckel’s seems like a great strategy: charge more on the App Store as a convenience fee to those too lazy to click around a little to find it cheaper. We knew the Walled Garden would win way back in 2011. We just didn’t understand how.

App Stores are storehouses. They are great if you’re giving something away – you can grab lots of eyeballs quickly with the right strategy – but they definitely take a cut of revenue and could encroach on overall sales. The problem is that we’re stuck. We’re stuck selling through the iOS and Android app stores and, if you sell books, Amazon is the only way to go. When get locked into one way of sales we’d don’t see or accept alternatives and that hurts us.

In the end these three examples should not define a sales strategy. What they do show, however, is that for certain popular products there is little value in trusting any app store – be in Google’s, Apple’s, or Microsoft’s – to work in your favor. Direct sales are always and option and it’s quite important to figure out a strategy based on direct sales sooner than later. After all, in the end it probably won’t even matter if you pull your product from the App Store du jour.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch