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December 14, 2018
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Internet

JioSaavn becomes India’s answer to Spotify and Apple Music

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India finally has its answer to Spotify after Reliance Jio merged its music service with Saavn, the startup it acquired earlier this year.

The deal itself isn’t new — it was announced back in March — but it has reached its logical conclusion after two apps were merged to create a single entity, JioSaavn, which is valued at $1 billion. For the first time, India has a credible rival to global names like Spotify and Apple Music through the combination of a venture capital-funded business — Saavn — and good old-fashioned telecom, JioMusic from Reliance’s disruptive Jio operator brand.

This merger deal comes days after reports suggested that Spotify is preparing to (finally) enter the Indian market, a move that has been in the planning for over a year as we have reported.

That would set up an interesting battle between global names Spotify and Apple and local players JioSaavn and Gaana, a project from media firm Times Internet which is also backed by China’s Tencent.

It isn’t uncommon to see international firms compete in Asia — Walmart and Amazon are the two major e-commerce players while Chinese firms Alibaba and Tencent have busily snapped up stakes in promising internet companies for the past couple of years — but that competition has finally come to the streaming space.

There have certainly been misses over the years.

Early India-based pioneer Dhingana was scooped by Rdio back in 2014 having initial shut down its service due to financial issues. Ultimately, though, Rdio itself went bankrupt and was sold to Pandora, leaving both Rdio and Dhingana in the startup graveyard.

Saavn, the early competitor too Dhingana, seemed destined to a similar fate, at least from the outside. But it hit the big time in 2015 when it raised $100 million from Tiger Global, the New York hedge fund that made ambitious bets on a number of India’s most promising internet firms. That gave it the fuel to reach this merger deal with JioMusic.

Unlike Dhingana’s fire sale, Saavn’s executive team continues on under the JioSaavn banner.

The coming-together is certainly a far more solid outcome than the Rdio deal. JioSaavn has some 45 million songs — including a slate of originals started by Saav — and access to the Jio network, which claims over 250 million subscribers.

JioSaavn is available across iOS, Android, web and Reliance Jio’s own app store

The JioMusic service will be freemium but Jio subscribers will get a 90-day trial of the ad-free ‘Pro’ service. The company maintains five offices — including outposts in Mountain View and New York — with over 200 employees while Reliance has committed to pumping $100 million into the business for “growth and expansion of the platform.”

While it is linked to Reliance and Jio, JioMusic is a private business that counts Reliance as a stakeholder. You’d imagine that remaining private is a major carrot that has kept Saavn founders — Rishi Malhotra, Paramdeep Singh and Vinodh Bhat — part of the business post-merger.

The window certainly seems open for streaming IPOs — Spotify went public this past April through an unconventional listing that valued its business around $30 billion while China’s Tencent Music is in the process of a listing that could raise $1.2 billion and value it around that $30 billion mark, too. JioSaavn might be the next streamer to test the public markets.

News Source = techcrunch.com

A new ‘smart firewall’ iPhone app promises to put your privacy before profits

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For weeks, a small team of security researchers and developers have been putting the finishing touches on a new privacy app, which its founder says can nix some of the hidden threats that mobile users face — often without realizing.

Phones track your location, apps siphon off our data, and aggressive ads try to grab your attention. Your phone has long been a beacon of data, broadcasting to ad networks and data trackers, trying to build up profiles on you wherever you go to sell you things you’ll never want.

Will Strafach knows that all too well. A security researcher and former iPhone jailbreaker, Strafach has shifted his time digging into apps for insecure, suspicious and unethical behavior. Last year, he found AccuWeather was secretly sending precise location data without a user’s permission. And just a few months ago, he revealed a list of dozens of apps that were sneakily siphoning off their users’ tracking data to data monetization firms without their users’ explicit consent.

Now his team — including co-founder Joshua Hill and chief operating officer Chirayu Patel — will soon bake those findings into its new “smart firewall” app, which he says will filter and block traffic that invades a user’s privacy.

“We’re in a ‘wild west’ of data collection,” he said, “where data is flying out from your phone under the radar — not because people don’t care but there’s no real visibility and people don’t know it’s happening,” he told me in a call last week.

At its heart, the Guardian Mobile Firewall — currently in a closed beta — funnels all of an iPhone or iPad’s internet traffic through an encrypted virtual private network (VPN) tunnel to Guardian’s servers, outsourcing all of the filtering and enforcement to the cloud to help reduce performance issues on the device’s battery. It means the Guardian app can near-instantly spot if another app is secretly sending a device’s tracking data to a tracking firm, warning the user or giving the option to stop it in its tracks. The aim isn’t to prevent a potentially dodgy app from working properly, but to give users’ awareness and choice over what data leaves their device.

Strafach described the app as “like a junk email filter for your web traffic,” and you can see from of the app’s dedicated tabs what data gets blocked and why. A future version plans to allow users to modify or block their precise geolocation from being sent to certain servers. Strafach said the app will later tell a user how many times an app accesses device data, like their contact lists.

But unlike other ad and tracker blockers, the app doesn’t use overkill third-party lists that prevent apps from working properly. Instead, taking a tried-and-tested approach from the team’s own research. The team periodically scans a range of apps in the App Store to help identify problematic and privacy-invasive issues that are fed to the app to help improve over time. If an app is known to have security issues, the Guardian app can alert a user to the threat. The team plans to continue building machine learning models that help to identify new threats — including so-called “aggressive ads” — that hijack your mobile browser and redirect you to dodgy pages or apps.

Screenshots of the Guardian app, set to be released in December (Image: supplied)

Strafach said that the app will “err on the side of usability” by warning users first — with the option of blocking it. A planned future option will allow users to go into a higher, more restrictive privacy level — “Lockdown mode” — which will deny bad traffic by default until the user intervenes.

What sets the Guardian app from its distant competitors is its anti-data collection.

Whenever you use a VPN — to evade censorship, site blocks or surveillance — you have to put more trust in the VPN server to keep all of your internet traffic safe than your internet provider or cell carrier. Strafach said that neither he nor the team wants to know who uses the app. The less data they have, the less they know, and the safer and more private its users are.

“We don’t want to collect data that we don’t need,” said Strafach. “We consider data a liability. Our rule is to collect as little as possible. We don’t even use Google Analytics or any kind of tracking in the app — or even on our site, out of principle.”

The app works by generating a random set of VPN credentials to connect to the cloud. The connection uses IPSec (IKEv2) with a strong cipher suite, he said. In other words, the Guardian app isn’t a creepy VPN app like Facebook’s Onavo, which Apple pulled from the App Store for collecting data it shouldn’t have been. “On the server side, we’ll only see a random device identifier, because we don’t have accounts so you can’t be attributable to your traffic,” he said.

“We don’t even want to say ‘you can trust us not to do anything,’ because we don’t want to be in a position that we have to be trusted,” he said. “We really just want to run our business the old fashioned way. We want people to pay for our product and we provide them service, and we don’t want their data or send them marketing.”

“It’s a very hard line,” he said. “We would shut down before we even have to face that kind of decision. It would go against our core principles.”

I’ve been using the app for the past week. It’s surprisingly easy to use. For a semi-advanced user, it can feel unnatural to flip a virtual switch on the app’s main screen and allow it to run its course. Anyone who cares about their security and privacy are often always aware of their “opsec” — one wrong move and it can blow your anonymity shield wide open. Overall, the app works well. It’s non-intrusive, it doesn’t interfere, but with the “VPN” icon lit up at the top of the screen, there’s a constant reminder that the app is working in the background.

It’s impressive how much the team has kept privacy and anonymity so front of mind throughout the app’s design process — even down to allowing users to pay by Apple Pay and through in-app purchases so that no billing information is ever exchanged.

The app doesn’t appear to slow down the connection when browsing the web or scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, on neither LTE or a Wi-Fi network. Even streaming a medium-quality live video stream didn’t cause any issues. But it’s still early days, and even though the closed beta has a few hundred users — myself included — as with any bandwidth-intensive cloud service, the quality could fluctuate over time. Strafach said that the backend infrastructure is scalable and can plug-and-play with almost any cloud service in the case of outages.

In its pre-launch state, the company is financially healthy, scoring a round of initial seed funding to support getting the team together, the app’s launch, and maintaining its cloud infrastructure. Steve Russell, an experienced investor and board member, said he was “impressed” with the team’s vision and technology.

“Quality solutions for mobile security and privacy are desperately needed, and Guardian distinguishes itself both in its uniqueness and its effectiveness,” said Russell in an email.

He added that the team is “world class,” and has built a product that’s “sorely needed.”

Strafach said the team is running financially conservatively ahead of its public reveal, but that the startup is looking to raise a Series A to support its anticipated growth — but also the team’s research that feeds the app with new data. “There’s a lot we want to look into and we want to put out more reports on quite a few different topics,” he said.

As the team continue to find new threats, the better the app will become.

The app’s early adopter program is open, including its premium options. The app is expected to launch fully in December.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Snapchat now has cat lenses. (Yes, for your cat.)

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It’s 8:00 PM on Friday night and you’re home alone and already drunk. Oh, is that just me? Well no matter. Snapchat has made lenses for your cat now. Yes, that’s right. Your cat! This is what the internet is made for, friends. Not all that fake news and trolling. Not having to read tweets where people use words like “woke” unironically. Cat lenses! 

So technically, I guess, Snapchat added the ability to recognize things in your photos last November, like food, sports, and even pets, then suggest appropriate filters – like a sticker that says “IT’S A PAWTY” above a photo of a dog.

But now you can put a set of matching glasses on yourself and your cat.

Or give you and your cat rainbow unicorn horns.

Or give Mr. Fluffypants some big ol’ googley eyes.

Or put a piece of toast over his face, which makes him look even less amused than usual.

What the actual f***

You can even give you and kitty big, fat lips as you kissy face the camera.

You can be the angel, while the cat gets devil horns and wings, as is – of course, appropriate.

I mean, this may or may not solve Snap’s long list of problems, like its rushed redesign, the mess that’s Snapchat Discover, its inability to attract adult users, falling share price, and ooooh, all that money it’s bleeding. ($353M last quarter!)

And that Saudi money, don’t forget that! (No, seriously, don’t.)

But I mean, c’mon. C’MON. 

Internet, we deserve this.

This is what 2018 needs.

Cat lenses.

Cat lenses to make everything better.

Cat lenses, and this here drink.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Internet Bill of Rights is just one piece of our moral obligations

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Congressman Ro Khanna’s proposed Internet Bill of Rights pushes individual rights on the Internet forward in a positive manner. It provides guidelines for critical elements where the United States’ and the world’s current legislation is lacking, and it packages it in a way that speaks to all parties. The devil, as always, is in the details—and Congressman Khanna’s Internet Bill of Rights still leaves quite a bit to subjective interpretation.

But what should not be neglected is that we as individuals have not just rights but also moral obligations to this public good—the Internet. The web positively impacts our lives in a meaningful fashion, and we have a collective responsibility to nurture and keep it that way.

Speaking to the specific rights listed in the Bill, we can likely all agree that citizens should have control over information collected about them, and that we should not be discriminated against based on that personal data. We probably all concur that Internet Service Providers should not be permitted to block, throttle, or engage in paid prioritization that would negatively impact our ability to access the world’s information. And I’m sure we all want access to numerous affordable internet providers with clear and transparent pricing.

These are all elements included in Congressman Khanna’s proposal; all things that I wholeheartedly support.

As we’ve seen of late with Facebook, Google, and other large corporations, there is an absolute need to bring proper legislation into the digital age. Technological advancements have progressed far faster than regulatory changes, and drastic improvements are needed to protect users.

What we must understand, however, is that corporations, governments, and individuals all rely on the same Internet to prosper. Each group should have its own set of rights as well as responsibilities. And it’s those responsibilities that need more focus.

Take, for example, littering. There may be regulations in place that prevent people from discarding their trash by the side of the road. But regardless of these laws, there’s also a moral obligation we have to protect our environment and the world in which we live. For the most part, people abide by these obligations because it’s the right thing to do and because of social pressure to keep the place they live beautiful—not because they have a fear of being fined for littering.

We should approach the protection of the Internet in the same way.

We should hold individuals, corporations, and governments to a higher standard and delineate their responsibilities to the Internet. All three groups should accept and fulfill those responsibilities, not because we create laws and fines, but because it is in their best interests.

For individuals, the Internet has given them powers beyond their wildest dreams and it continues to connect us in amazing ways. For corporations, it has granted access to massively lucrative markets far and wide that would never have been accessible before. For governments, it has allowed them to provide better services to their citizens and has created never before seen levels of tax revenue from the creation of businesses both between and outside their physical borders.

Everyone — and I mean everyone — has gained (and will continue to gain) from protecting an open Internet, and we as a society need to recognize that and start imposing strong pressure against those who do not live up to their responsibilities.

We as people of the world should feel tremendously grateful to all the parties that contributed to the Internet we have today. If a short-sighted government decides it wants to restrict the Internet within its physical borders, this should not be permitted. It will not only hurt us, but it will hurt that very government by decreasing international trade and thus tax revenue, as well as decreasing the trust that the citizens of that country place in their government. Governments often act against their long-term interests in pursuit of short-term thinking, thus we have 2 billion people living in places with heavy restrictions on access to online information.

When an Internet Service Provider seeks full control over what content it provides over its part of the Internet, this, again, should not be allowed. It will, in the end, hurt that very Internet Service Provider’s revenue; a weaker, less diverse Internet will inevitably create less demand for the very service they are providing along with a loss of trust and loyalty from their customers.

Without the Internet, our world would come grinding to a halt. Any limitations on the open Internet will simply slow our progress and prosperity as a human race. And, poignantly, the perpetrators of those limitations stand to lose just as much as any of us.

We have a moral responsibility, then, to ensure the Internet remains aligned with its original purpose. Sure, none of us could have predicted the vast impact the World Wide Web would have back in 1989—probably not even Sir Tim Berners-Lee himself—but in a nutshell, it exists to connect people, WHEREVER they may be, to a wealth of online information, to other people, and to empower individuals to make their lives better.

This is only possible with an open and free Internet.

Over the next five years, billions of devices—such as our garage door openers, refrigerators, thermostats, and mattresses—will be connected to the web via the Internet of Things. Further, five billion users living in developing markets will join the Internet for the first time, moving from feature phones to smartphones. These two major shifts will create incredible opportunities for good, but also for exploiting our data—making us increasingly vulnerable as Internet users.

Now is the time to adequately provide Americans and people around the world with basic online protections, and it is encouraging to see people like Congressman Khanna advancing the conversation. We can only hope this Internet Bill of Rights remains bipartisan and real change occurs.

Regardless of the outcome, we must not neglect our moral obligations—whether individual Internet users, large corporations, or governments. We all shoulder a responsibility to maintain an open Internet. After all, it is perhaps the most significant and impactful creation in modern society.

News Source = techcrunch.com

E-commerce drives Southeast Asia’s Sea to record revenue but big losses remain

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Sea, one of Southeast Asia’s largest internet companies, continues to see losses although its growing e-commerce business helped it hit record revenue.

The Tencent-backed company went public back in October when it raised around $1 billion through an NYSE listing. Its latest earnings released today show revenue broke $200 million for the first time ($219.6 million) but losses continue to pile up. Revenue was up 71 percent year-on-year to hit the record figure but Sea’s losses continue to stack up. The company lost $250.8 million in Q2, up significantly from a $92.1 million loss one year previous and $216.2 million negative in the previous quarter.

Sea’s main business, its Garena gaming unit, grew 19 percent to reach $116.9 million in revenue, but the firm is placing a lot of emphasis on its Shopee e-commerce service — which is the benefactor of a recent $500 million capital raise — and its growth continues to be promising.

Shopee GMV, the total value of all goods sold on the service, grew 171 percent to $2.2 billion. That doesn’t include take-home revenue, but for the first time that figure has been broken: Shopee grossed $58.8 million in sales. That figure is up over 2,000 percent annually, but Sea has only just begun to monetize the service which is reflected in the huge rise.

For now, a lot of that revenue looks to be based on aggressive user acquisition as Shopee battles with rivals that include Lazada, the e-commerce service owned by Alibaba that has a large budget to work with.

Sea’s cost of marketing across all services — Shopee, Garena and its AirPay service — jumped 131 percent year-on-year to reach $175.2 million in Q2. But, it pointed out that sales and marketing as a percentage of GMV shrunk to 6.2 percent from 6.8 percent and 6.6 percent in the previous two quarters.

“Shopee continued to expand rapidly across all markets, strengthening its leadership in the region. Our monetization strategy for Shopee is delivering ahead of expectations, even at this early stage,” said Sea CEO Forrest Li in a statement.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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