Naughty Dog is donating the money from its ‘Jak and Daxter’ reissues

Money from the games (Jak and Daxter, Jak 2, Jak 3 and Jak X: Combat Racing), which were released with help from Limited Run Games, will support K9 for Warriors, Child’s Play, Surfrider Foundation, LGBT Center for Los Angeles, Able Gamers and DAGERS.

“We’re proud to lend our support to these groups advocating and advancing important work for accessibility, environmental conservation, veterans, the LGBTQ+ community, and children’s hospitals,” Naughty Dog President Evan Wells wrote in a blog post.

We don’t know exactly how much Naughty Dog is donating, but whatever the amount, it’s nice to see the gaming community giving back. Last month, Desert Bus for Hope raised $864,415.01 for the Child’s Play hospital charity, and earlier this year, Ubisoft pledged to donate $564,000 to help rebuild Notre-Dame.

If you’re inspired to do a little good, we’ve rounded up a few charities that deliver gifts to those in need.

'Disney Plus’ was Google’s top US trending search term in 2019

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Google today released its annual "Year in Search" data that takes a look back at some of the most notable searches of 2019. Specifically, Google looked at the biggest trends — meaning, search terms that saw the largest spikes in traffic over a sustained period in 2019 compared to 2018. In the U.S., Disney’s new streaming service "Disney Plus" was the biggest search trend of 2019, followed by Cameron Boyce, Nipsey Hussle, Hurricane Dorian, Antonio Brown, Luke Perry, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, iPhone 11, and Jussie Smollet.” data-reactid=”11″>Google today released its annual “Year in Search” data that takes a look back at some of the most notable searches of 2019. Specifically, Google looked at the biggest trends — meaning, search terms that saw the largest spikes in traffic over a sustained period in 2019 compared to 2018. In the U.S., Disney’s new streaming service “Disney Plus” was the biggest search trend of 2019, followed by Cameron Boyce, Nipsey Hussle, Hurricane Dorian, Antonio Brown, Luke Perry, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, iPhone 11, and Jussie Smollet.

“Game of Thrones” was also the biggest U.S. TV show search trend of the year, followed by Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “When They See Us,” then HBO’s “Chernobyl,” and Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian.”

On the global stage, Apple’s iPhone 11 was the fifth biggest trend of the year, one ahead of Game of Thrones (#6), but behind searches for “India vs South Africa,” which ranked No. 1. The rest of the list included (in order): Cameron Boyce (#2), Copa America (#3), Bangladesh vs India (#4), Avengers: Endgame (#7), Joker (#8), Notre Dame (#9), and ICC Cricket World Cup (#10).

Tech companies’ influence on Google’s Top Trends could also be found in the music category, where “Old Town Road” was the top trending Song globally and in the U.S. in 2019. The Lil Nas X hit song went viral on TikTok this year after the rapper himself uploaded it to the platform back in December 2018.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="In addition to topping Google's list, Lil Nas X was also the No. 1 artist on TikTok according to its own year-end round-up.” data-reactid=”22″>In addition to topping Google’s list, Lil Nas X was also the No. 1 artist on TikTok according to its own year-end round-up.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Elsewhere, online and tech-influenced trends could be found under the "What is…?" category in Google's top U.S. search trends. For example, the meme "Storm Area 51" which grew out of of a viral Facebook joke that turned into a real-world event led many this year to search "What is Area 51?"” data-reactid=”24″>Elsewhere, online and tech-influenced trends could be found under the “What is…?” category in Google’s top U.S. search trends. For example, the meme “Storm Area 51” which grew out of of a viral Facebook joke that turned into a real-world event led many this year to search “What is Area 51?”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="No. 2 was "What is a VSCO girl?" referring to the latest teen trend and meme whose name comes from the hipper-than-Instagram photo-editing app, VSCO. The VSCO girl dresses in oversized tees, Birkenstocks, wears her hair in a messy bun, and adorns herself with accessories like scrunchies, Burt’s Bees lip balm, puka shell chokers, and carries around a Hydro Flask water bottle.” data-reactid=”25″>No. 2 was “What is a VSCO girl?” referring to the latest teen trend and meme whose name comes from the hipper-than-Instagram photo-editing app, VSCO. The VSCO girl dresses in oversized tees, Birkenstocks, wears her hair in a messy bun, and adorns herself with accessories like scrunchies, Burt’s Bees lip balm, puka shell chokers, and carries around a Hydro Flask water bottle.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Also on the "What is…?" list were "momo" as in the "Momo Challenge," (an artistic sculpture turned viral hoax) and "What is a boomer?," referencing the latest teen insult for old people, "OK boomer." The latter also became a huge TikTok meme. ” data-reactid=”26″>Also on the “What is…?” list were “momo” as in the “Momo Challenge,” (an artistic sculpture turned viral hoax) and “What is a boomer?,” referencing the latest teen insult for old people, “OK boomer.” The latter also became a huge TikTok meme.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Various online cultures influenced Google's top U.S. outfit trends, too, including the No. 1 outfit idea of Egirl, a popular demographic found on TikTok that’s a sort of emo subculture (or perhaps an emo-anime-goth variation), followed by Eboy, Soft girl (another TikTok subculture, this time with a hyper-cute aesthetic), and finally Biker shorts and VSCO girl. (If you don’t know which one you are, don’t worry — there’s a BuzzFeed quiz for that, of course.)” data-reactid=”27″>Various online cultures influenced Google’s top U.S. outfit trends, too, including the No. 1 outfit idea of Egirl, a popular demographic found on TikTok that’s a sort of emo subculture (or perhaps an emo-anime-goth variation), followed by Eboy, Soft girl (another TikTok subculture, this time with a hyper-cute aesthetic), and finally Biker shorts and VSCO girl. (If you don’t know which one you are, don’t worry — there’s a BuzzFeed quiz for that, of course.)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Google's top trends are mainly a reflection of pop culture for the year, Google did take a longer look back this year with its "Decade in Search" retrospective, where it highlights the music, movies and people who influenced culture over the past 10 years.” data-reactid=”28″>Google’s top trends are mainly a reflection of pop culture for the year, Google did take a longer look back this year with its “Decade in Search” retrospective, where it highlights the music, movies and people who influenced culture over the past 10 years.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The company put together a busy visualization of the decade in music through Year in Search, for example.” data-reactid=”29″>The company put together a busy visualization of the decade in music through Year in Search, for example.

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Made with Flourish

It also points to some of the people who trended over the course of the decade, including Justin Bieber, Betty White, Lebron James, as well as long-lasting TV and movie trends, including “Toy Story”, “Iron Man,” and “The Walking Dead.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The full list of Google's Global Top Trends, which can be filtered by country, is here.” data-reactid=”44″>The full list of Google’s Global Top Trends, which can be filtered by country, is here.

'Disney Plus’ was Google’s top U.S. trending search term in 2019

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Google today released its annual "Year in Search" data that takes a look back at some of the most notable searches of 2019. Specifically, Google looked at the biggest trends — meaning, search terms that saw the largest spikes in traffic over a sustained period in 2019 compared to 2018. In the U.S., Disney’s new streaming service "Disney Plus" was the biggest search trend of 2019, followed by Cameron Boyce, Nipsey Hussle, Hurricane Dorian, Antonio Brown, Luke Perry, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, iPhone 11, and Jussie Smollet.” data-reactid=”11″>Google today released its annual “Year in Search” data that takes a look back at some of the most notable searches of 2019. Specifically, Google looked at the biggest trends — meaning, search terms that saw the largest spikes in traffic over a sustained period in 2019 compared to 2018. In the U.S., Disney’s new streaming service “Disney Plus” was the biggest search trend of 2019, followed by Cameron Boyce, Nipsey Hussle, Hurricane Dorian, Antonio Brown, Luke Perry, Avengers: Endgame, Game of Thrones, iPhone 11, and Jussie Smollet.

“Game of Thrones” was also the biggest U.S. TV show search trend of the year, followed by Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “When They See Us,” then HBO’s “Chernobyl,” and Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian.”

On the global stage, Apple’s iPhone 11 was the fifth biggest trend of the year, one ahead of Game of Thrones (#6), but behind searches for “India vs South Africa,” which ranked No. 1. The rest of the list included (in order): Cameron Boyce (#2), Copa America (#3), Bangladesh vs India (#4), Avengers: Endgame (#7), Joker (#8), Notre Dame (#9), and ICC Cricket World Cup (#10).

Tech companies’ influence on Google’s Top Trends could also be found in the music category, where “Old Town Road” was the top trending Song globally and in the U.S. in 2019. The Lil Nas X hit song went viral on TikTok this year after the rapper himself uploaded it to the platform back in December 2018.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="In addition to topping Google's list, Lil Nas X was also the No. 1 artist on TikTok according to its own year-end round-up.” data-reactid=”22″>In addition to topping Google’s list, Lil Nas X was also the No. 1 artist on TikTok according to its own year-end round-up.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Elsewhere, online and tech-influenced trends could be found under the "What is…?" category in Google's top U.S. search trends. For example, the meme "Storm Area 51" which grew out of of a viral Facebook joke that turned into a real-world event led many this year to search "What is Area 51?"” data-reactid=”24″>Elsewhere, online and tech-influenced trends could be found under the “What is…?” category in Google’s top U.S. search trends. For example, the meme “Storm Area 51” which grew out of of a viral Facebook joke that turned into a real-world event led many this year to search “What is Area 51?”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="No. 2 was "What is a VSCO girl?" referring to the latest teen trend and meme whose name comes from the hipper-than-Instagram photo-editing app, VSCO. The VSCO girl dresses in oversized tees, Birkenstocks, wears her hair in a messy bun, and adorns herself with accessories like scrunchies, Burt’s Bees lip balm, puka shell chokers, and carries around a Hydro Flask water bottle.” data-reactid=”25″>No. 2 was “What is a VSCO girl?” referring to the latest teen trend and meme whose name comes from the hipper-than-Instagram photo-editing app, VSCO. The VSCO girl dresses in oversized tees, Birkenstocks, wears her hair in a messy bun, and adorns herself with accessories like scrunchies, Burt’s Bees lip balm, puka shell chokers, and carries around a Hydro Flask water bottle.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Also on the "What is…?" list were "momo" as in the "Momo Challenge," (an artistic sculpture turned viral hoax) and "What is a boomer?," referencing the latest teen insult for old people, "OK boomer." The latter also became a huge TikTok meme. ” data-reactid=”26″>Also on the “What is…?” list were “momo” as in the “Momo Challenge,” (an artistic sculpture turned viral hoax) and “What is a boomer?,” referencing the latest teen insult for old people, “OK boomer.” The latter also became a huge TikTok meme.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Various online cultures influenced Google's top U.S. outfit trends, too, including the No. 1 outfit idea of Egirl, a popular demographic found on TikTok that’s a sort of emo subculture (or perhaps an emo-anime-goth variation), followed by Eboy, Soft girl (another TikTok subculture, this time with a hyper-cute aesthetic), and finally Biker shorts and VSCO girl. (If you don’t know which one you are, don’t worry — there’s a BuzzFeed quiz for that, of course.)” data-reactid=”27″>Various online cultures influenced Google’s top U.S. outfit trends, too, including the No. 1 outfit idea of Egirl, a popular demographic found on TikTok that’s a sort of emo subculture (or perhaps an emo-anime-goth variation), followed by Eboy, Soft girl (another TikTok subculture, this time with a hyper-cute aesthetic), and finally Biker shorts and VSCO girl. (If you don’t know which one you are, don’t worry — there’s a BuzzFeed quiz for that, of course.)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Google's top trends are mainly a reflection of pop culture for the year, Google did take a longer look back this year with its "Decade in Search" retrospective, where it highlights the music, movies and people who influenced culture over the past 10 years.” data-reactid=”28″>Google’s top trends are mainly a reflection of pop culture for the year, Google did take a longer look back this year with its “Decade in Search” retrospective, where it highlights the music, movies and people who influenced culture over the past 10 years.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The company put together a busy visualization of the decade in music through Year in Search, for example.” data-reactid=”29″>The company put together a busy visualization of the decade in music through Year in Search, for example.

Made with FlourishMade with Flourish
Made with Flourish

It also points to some of the people who trended over the course of the decade, including Justin Bieber, Betty White, Lebron James, as well as long-lasting TV and movie trends, including “Toy Story”, “Iron Man,” and “The Walking Dead.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The full list of Google's Global Top Trends, which can be filtered by country, is here.” data-reactid=”44″>The full list of Google’s Global Top Trends, which can be filtered by country, is here.

Twitter lets you upload iOS Live Photos as GIFs at last

While it’s nice to have another way to use Live Photos, Twitter’s a touch behind the curve here. Apple introduced Live Photos on iPhone 6s in 2015. That same year, Tumblr and Facebook started allowing people to share them on their platforms, while Google’s iOS app has been able to convert them into GIFs since 2016. In 2017, Apple offered a way to embed Live Photos on any website.

Twitter’s useful Live Photos feature arrives alongside other changes to how it handles images. It’ll also preserve JPEG encoding on photos of up to 16 megapixels you upload via the web, instead of transcoding them (which impacts image quality).

Here are the five Startup Battlefield finalists at Disrupt Berlin

Fourteen startups presented on-stage today at Disrupt Berlin, giving live demos and rapid-fire presentations on their origin stories and business models, then answering questions from our expert judges.

Now, with the help of those judges, we’ve narrowed the group down to five startups working on everything from productivity to air pollution.

These finalists will be presenting again tomorrow (at 2pm Berlin time, viewable on the TechCrunch website or in-person at Disrupt) in front of a new set of judges. The winner will receive $50,000 and custody of the storied Disrupt Cup.

Here are the finalists:

Gmelius

Gmelius is building a workspace platform that lives inside Gmail, allowing teams to get more bespoke tools without adding yet another piece of software to their repertoire. It slots into the Gmail workspace, adding a host of features like shared inboxes, a help desk, an account-management solution and automation tools.

Read more about Gmelius here.

Hawa Dawa

Hawa Dawa combines data sources like satellites and dedicated air monitoring stations to build a granular heat map of air pollutants, selling this map to cities and companies as a subscription API. While the company notes it’s hardware agnostic, it does build its own IoT sensors for companies and cities that might not have existing air quality sensors in place.

Read more about Hawa Dawa here.

Inovat

Inovat makes it much easier for travelers to get reimbursed for the value-added tax, through an app that employs optical character recognition and machine learning to interpret receipts, determine how much VAT you should be owed for your purchase, and prepare the requisite forms for submission online or to a customs officer.

Read more about Inovat here.

Scaled Robotics

Scaled Robotics has designed a robot that can produce 3D progress maps of construction sites in minutes, precise enough to detect that a beam is just a centimeter or two off. Supervisors can then use the software to check things like which pieces are in place on which floor, whether they have been placed within the required tolerances, or if there are safety issues like too much detritus on the ground in work areas.

Read more about Scaled Robotics here.

Stable

Stable offers a solution as simple as car insurance, designed to protect farmers around the world from pricing volatility. Through the startup, food buyers ranging from owners of a small smoothie shop to Coca-Cola employees can insure thousands of agricultural commodities, as well as packaging and energy products.

Read more about Stable here.

iOS 13.3 provides parental control over how kids communicate

The new iOS 13.3 update brings parental controls to track and limit how much time your child talks on the phone, FaceTimes, or text messages, as well as control your kid’s contact list. 

Communication Limits lets parents better manage how much time their kids spend on the phone by limiting how long they’re allowed to talk to their friends on the phone on a weeknight, for instance, or banning them from text messaging while they should be studying.

The feature also allows you full control over the contact list so you can see who communicates with your child. Parents can use the “Allowed Screen Time” feature to choose “everyone” or “contacts only” when it comes to who can communicate with your child via phone, FaceTime, text message, or iCloud.

The new Communication Limits feature is just one of many Screen Time iOS functions meant to limit the amount of time we are spending on our phones and our favorite apps, which also double as a means for parental control. 

Screen Time keeps track of how much time you spend on your phone, how much is spent in specific apps, and even how many times you pick up your phone every day. 

If you want to take a look at your Screen Time data, open Screen Time from Settings, then tap the graph to open the full report on your stats. From here, you can see when you used your phone, on which apps, and how for long for. Screen Time data shows up to 30 days of usage data, and you can compare week over week results as well.

App Limits on Screen Time allow you to combine specific apps or certain app categories — such as social media apps — that you can choose particular time limits.

iOS 13.3 was released as the ninth iteration of iOS 13, and the latest update features other handy improvements as well. You can now like or dislike news stories within Apple News, and there are now “breaking” and “developing” labels for top stories. 

Bug issues that were fixed include an issue that caused screenshots to look blurry when sent in a message, an issue where the missed call badge would not clear, and a bug that Cellular Data setting may incorrectly be shown as off. 

Editors’ Recommendations

Gtmhub raises $9M from CRV after posting 400% ARR growth in the last year

This week Gtmhub announced a $9 million Series A led by CRV. The investment was not a large round, even for an A. But the capital found its way into one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies that we’ve spoken with recently, which made it interesting all the same.

And, the firm was willing to talk about its financial performance in some detail. The combination made its Series A impossible to ignore.

TechCrunch caught up with Gtmhub’s CMO Seth Elliott this morning to learn more. 

What it does

Let’s start with OKRs. Objectives and key results, better known as OKRs, are a method for organizational planning. They are famous thanks to their roots in Google’s success, but have since broken free of the technology world and become a well-known planning method for corporations of all sizes and types.

Gtmhub deals with them, providing software and services around OKR implementation, training and tracking. (If you an OKR neophyte, head here for a quick overview of what they are.)

Making OKR software isn’t a differentiator in today’s market. Ally does it (it also raised capital recently), along with WorkBoard, Koan and Lattice, among others.

Given the crowded market, Gtmhub stressed during our call how it thinks of itself as differentiated. The company has three things that it hopes will give it an edge in the market. The first is a focus on enterprise customers. According to Elliot, enterprise-sized clients are his company’s “bread and butter,” from a revenue perspective. Instead of starting with a small or mid-sized business target market and later targeting enterprise-scale customers, Gtmhub is going after the top-end of the market first.

Second, the company’s software is designed to interface with external tooling, allowing for real-time OKR tracking as it ingests information to help teams vet how they are progressing against their goals. And, the firm is working on a marketplace where, over time, customers will be able to learn from existing OKR setups and leverage analytics setups that help with data importation and visibility.

In its own words, Gtmhub is an OKR-centric software company, while “provid[ing] a long-term vision and the execution process necessary to bridge the strategy/execution gap,” according to Elliot.

Notably, Gtmhub, despite its enterprise focus, is not abandoning smaller companies. According to Elliot, the startup is announcing a new, stripped-down, $1 per user per month plan next week called START, aimed at smaller firms.

If START is an attempt to onboard companies when they are small so they can be upsold later, or if it is more a contra-competitor move, isn’t clear. But the new, cheap plan (priced at about 10% of other Gtmhub tiers) could shake up the OKR software space by making table-stakes features worth less than they were before.

Gtmhub’s round

Gtmhub is a distributed company, with offices in Denver, Sofia, Berlin and London for its roughly 60 workers. You might think, given its global footprint and number of employees, that the company had raised lots of capital to fund its operations. The opposite, as it turns out.

The startup’s $9 million Series A dwarfs its preceding rounds, including about $3.2 million in seed capital raised over two rounds (one, two) in February of 2018. Aside from those checks and the new capital, all we know about Gtmhub’s fundraising history is that it picked up $100,000 in angel money in early 2017.

All told, Gtmhub has raised just over $12 million to date, making its Series A about 73% of its known raised capital. That’s not the mark of a company built on burn.

Of course, if Gtmhub kept a lid on its expenses by growing slowly, its parsimony might be more sin than virtue; after all, private companies backed with venture dollars are built for expansion.

The opposite, as it turns out.

Growth

Elliot shared a number of notable metrics with TechCrunch that we’ve prepared for you below, in an ingestible format:

  • ARR growth: Over 400% year-over-year (YoY)
  • Gross margin: Above 90%, up from over 80% YoY
  • ACV trends: +650% YoY

Take a moment and square those results with how much capital Gtmhub raised and ask yourself if the performance matches the raise. It doesn’t. I suspect that Gtmhub could have raised a lot more money than it chose to, given its growth rate and other marks of financial health.

But, after expanding to 60 people on less than $3.5 million in known venture, the company probably isn’t too unprofitable, and can do a lot with just $9 million. (Gtmhub could also raise more if it needed to, given its metrics.)

With Gtmhub and Ally each flush with new cash, it’s going to be enjoyable to watch the OKR and OKR-empowered software space grow over the next few years. There will be eventual consolidation, right?

Photo by Startaê Team on Unsplash

Google groups news results by story to show you relevant articles

The news reorganization is available now, starting with mobile devices for English speakers in the US. It’ll reach other countries and languages in the “coming months.”

Google’s shuffle comes as part of a larger effort to promote quality news and otherwise burnish its search engine’s reputation amid mounting concerns about misinformation. This isn’t just about improving your experience, in that light. It’s also meant to please governments worried about political meddling and publishers who have a less-than-friendly relationship with Google.

Many smart home device makers still won’t say if they give your data to the government

A year ago, we asked some of the most prominent smart home device makers if they have given customer data to governments. The results were mixed.

The big three smart home device makers — Amazon, Facebook and Google (which includes Nest) — all disclosed in their transparency reports if and when governments demand customer data. Apple said it didn’t need a report, as the data it collects was anonymized.

As for the rest, none had published their government data-demand figures.

In the year that’s past, the smart home market has grown rapidly, but the remaining device makers have made little to no progress on disclosing their figures. And in some cases, it got worse.

Smart home and other internet-connected devices may be convenient and accessible, but they collect vast amounts of information on you and your home. Smart locks know when someone enters your house, and smart doorbells can capture their face. Smart TVs know which programs you watch and some smart speakers know what you’re interested in. Many smart devices collect data when they’re not in use — and some collect data points you may not even think about, like your wireless network information, for example — and send them back to the manufacturers, ostensibly to make the gadgets — and your home — smarter.

Because the data is stored in the cloud by the devices manufacturers, law enforcement and government agencies can demand those companies turn over that data to solve crimes.

But as the amount of data collection increases, companies are not being transparent about the data demands they receive. All we have are anecdotal reports — and there are plenty: Police obtained Amazon Echo data to help solve a murder; Fitbit turned over data that was used to charge a man with murder; Samsung helped catch a sex predator who watched child abuse imagery; Nest gave up surveillance footage to help jail gang members; and recent reporting on Amazon-owned Ring shows close links between the smart home device maker and law enforcement.

Here’s what we found.

Smart lock and doorbell maker August gave the exact same statement as last year, that it “does not currently have a transparency report and we have never received any National Security Letters or orders for user content or non-content information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).” But August spokesperson Stephanie Ng would not comment on the number of non-national security requests — subpoenas, warrants and court orders — that the company has received, only that it complies with “all laws” when it receives a legal demand.

Roomba maker iRobot said, as it did last year, that it has “not received” any government demands for data. “iRobot does not plan to issue a transparency report at this time,” but it may consider publishing a report “should iRobot receive a government request for customer data.”

Arlo, a former Netgear smart home division that spun out in 2018, did not respond to a request for comment. Netgear, which still has some smart home technology, said it does “not publicly disclose a transparency report.”

Amazon-owned Ring, whose cooperation with law enforcement has drawn ire from lawmakers and faced questions over its ability to protect users’ privacy, said last year it planned to release a transparency report in the future, but did not say when. This time around, Ring spokesperson Yassi Shahmiri would not comment and stopped responding to repeated follow-up emails.

Honeywell spokesperson Megan McGovern would not comment and referred questions to Resideo, the smart home division Honeywell spun out a year ago. Resideo’s Bruce Anderson did not comment.

And just as last year, Samsung, a maker of smart devices and internet-connected televisions and other appliances, also did not respond to a request for comment.

On the whole, the companies’ responses were largely the same as last year. But smart switch and sensor maker Ecobee, which last year promised to publish a transparency report “at the end of 2018” did not follow through with its promise. When we asked why, Ecobee spokesperson Kristen Johnson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Based on the best available data, August, iRobot, Ring and the rest of the smart home device makers have hundreds of millions of users and customers around the world, with the potential to give governments vast troves of data — and users and customers are none the wiser.

Transparency reports may not be perfect, and some are less transparent than others. But if big companies — even after bruising headlines and claims of co-operation with surveillance states — disclose their figures, there’s little excuse for the smaller companies.

This time around, some companies fared better than their rivals. But for anyone mindful of their privacy, you can — and should — expect better.

Oculus is rolling out its expanded social VR features

They include messaging with your Oculus pals, along with photo and video sharing and livestreaming to Facebook. You can create events to set up a time to play games with your buddies or arrange meetups, and form parties that all your Oculus friends can join (parties were invite-only until now). Your Facebook friends will also be able to group up with you in VR when you send them links via Messenger.

Oculus says to use these features — and existing ones such as joining parties, adding friends and visiting people’s Homes — it’ll ask you to sign in with Facebook, which powers the social interactions. Facebook has updated the Oculus Privacy Policy to clarify that.

You won’t have to log in with Facebook to use the VR platform. If you do, you’ll still keep your existing Oculus friends, username and profile. You can decide to display your real name (as per your Facebook profile) on Oculus and whether to automatically add your Facebook friends as Oculus contacts. You’ll have control over what you share from Oculus to Facebook as well, along with who can see those posts.

It’s worth noting that if you do sign into Facebook on the VR platform, the former will tap into your Oculus data to power the social features, as well as recommendations and ad targeting. It might suggest things like VR events you might be interested in and ads for apps on the Oculus Store. The privacy policy changes won’t affect third-party apps and games. An FAQ spells out the types of data Oculus and Facebook will share if you connect the accounts.

The ties between Oculus and Facebook services will deepen over time, with new features such as Facebook Group sharing options and watch parties on Quest on the way. A beta for the Facebook Horizon social VR world is also slated for next year.