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Microsoft rolls out Spend, an expense tracker for iOS

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Microsoft has rolled out a preview of a new expense-tracking application. Developed by some of the people involved in Mobile Data Labs (the makers of MileIQ mileage-tracking app), the new app, called Spend, is considered one of the Microsoft Garage incubation projects.


Credit: Microsoft

(Microsoft bought Mobile Data Labs in 2015 for an undisclosed amount.)

Spend is designed to track users’ business and/or personal expenses for reimbursement or taxes. Users can get a weekly or monthly report about their expenses in spreadsheet or PDF form. Spend lets users match receipts to purchases and categorize and tag their expenses, as well.

The Spend preview, available for download from Apple’s app store, works on iOS 10.0 or later and works on iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices only (so far).

Because Spend is a Microsoft Garage app, it’s considered experimental. Microsoft sometimes commercializes its Garage apps and sometimes it simply discontinues them, based on feedback and demand.

(Thanks to OnMSFT for the heads-up about Spend.)

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WhatsApp is adding new privacy options, including screenshot blocking and a stealth mode – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp is introducing a small flurry of privacy-minded tweaks into the messaging app, the company announced on Tuesday. The Meta-owned globally ubiquitous messaging service says the changes aim to give users more control over their experience while introducing “added layers” to protect their private communications.

WhatsApp will introduce an option for users to privately use the app without being visibly online, something it calls “online presence control.” The feature, which rolls out to everyone this month, will let WhatsApp users curate which contacts can see their online status while hiding it from others. The list of contacts who can view your online status doesn’t have a cap and you can swap people in and out at any time. The company says that the update will come to both its desktop and mobile app offerings.

The company is also testing screenshot blocking for “view once” messages, which disappear after being opened a single time. WhatsApp introduced a disappearing media option a year ago, reminding users at the time that they wouldn’t be able to know if the recipient was saving any shared photos and videos as screenshots. The feature is in testing for now but the company hopes to get it out to users broadly “soon.” (It’s worth remembering that anyone can still take a photo of their screen with a different device, which should make you think twice about getting too comfy on apps with disappearing messaging.)

The last change is another small quality of life update, but a notable enough one. This month, WhatsApp will allow users to leave groups privately without sending out a mass notification that they bailed. Group admins will still get notified, but generally this change should make moving through groups on the app more fluid and less awkward. This change will also roll out to both the desktop and mobile version of the app.

WhatsApp Head of Product Ami Vora described the additions as a boost to the app’s “interlocking layers of protection,” which aim to bolster its status as a prominent encrypted messaging option.

The company has made other efforts over the years. Last fall, it closed one possible weak spot in its encrypted messaging service, adding end-to-end encryption for backups stored in the cloud.

“We’ll keep building new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversation,” Meta Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said of the new features.

The company’s own messaging isn’t always as tight though: A confusing privacy policy update in early 2021 prompted a backlash, sending users to rival apps. That same update is still reverberating more than a year later, and the European Commission launched a formal investigation into its concerns about the app’s consumer protections earlier this year.

 

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Big funds ‘screwing with Series A market but not seed market’ says veteran VC Mike Hirshland – TechCrunch

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Mike Hirshland is enjoying 2022. Despite the market’s zigs and zags, he has spent much of his time this past summer in Rhode Island, where relatives from afar have gathered on and off for an extended family reunion. He and partner Raanan Bar-Cohen were also able to close their fifth fund with $150 million in capital commitments at winter’s end —  ahead of the stock market collapse that would follow. Indeed, the two now have around $375 million in assets under management at their 11-year-old venture firm, Resolute Ventures.

Yet another reason to feel cheery is what’s happening at their stage of the market, where after a rapid run-up, valuations are slowly but surely coming back down to earth, suggests Hirshland. He says that while Resolute’s pace has been “remarkably consistent,” leading to roughly 10 investments each year that draw initial checks from the firm in the $1 million to $1.5 million range, the “biggest departure” in its history was last year. It was then that both round sizes and valuations ballooned, prompting the firm to write bigger checks while also forcing it to walk away from “really big, really pricey seed rounds” with valuations so lofty that Hirshland feared their next round would be problematic.

That’s not to say it’s all been a walk in the park. Some of Resolute’s best-performing portfolio companies, including Opendoor and Bark & Co., have had their struggles since going public through tie-ups with special purpose acquisition companies.

Another of Resolute’s bets, Clutter — which is also backed by Sequoia Capital and SoftBank — has also found it harder to grow its business than it might have imagined earlier. The outfit merged with a rival in February to bolster its odds of succeeding, but Hirshland, who remains “quite bullish” on Clutter, admits that it isn’t always easy to profitably “move atoms.”

What is not a concern for Hirshland, he insists, is competition. He says Resolute backs founders based largely on their vision and the firm’s belief that the team can build something compelling. (“I’m essentially indifferent if it’s day 1 or day 365, when they can show me some code,” he says.) He argues that other firms, no matter their public messaging, aren’t quite as open-minded, especially not right now.

In fact, asked about later-stage firms like Tiger Global and Insight Partners that have been shifting more of their attention to younger startups, Hirshland, talking with TechCrunch over Zoom, shrugs his shoulders. “Big funds are really screwing with the Series A market,” he says, “but in the seed market, we’re not seeing these guys come that far down.”

Even if they did, adds Hirshland, it wouldn’t last long. “You always see firms announce these big seed initiatives because when things get competitive, people move earlier. But when the shit hits the fan, they go back to focusing on their bread and butter and the cycle just continues.”

Resolute has so far invested roughly $10 million in initial checks from its newest fund. Some of its more recent investments include Signl, a startup that sells business intelligence tools to investors and whose founders sold an earlier company, Bitium, to Google in 2017.

Resolute also recently invested in Nobl9, a so-called service level objective platform whose founders also sold a previous company (Orbitera) to Google.

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Hold-outs targeted in fresh batch of noyb GDPR cookie consent complaints – TechCrunch

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Just over a year after launching a major project targeting thousands of sites blatantly flouting cookie tracking rules in Europe, local privacy campaign group noyb has fired off another batch of complaints targeting a hardcore of website operators that it says have ignored or not fully acted upon earlier warnings to bring their cookie consent banners into compliance with the EU’s legal standard for consent, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Noyb says the latest batch of 226 complaints have been lodged with 18 data protection authorities (DPAs) around the bloc.

As with earlier actions by noyb, all the complaints relate to the most widely used cookie banner software, made by OneTrust. But it’s not the software itself that’s the issue — rather the complaints target deceptive settings it found being applied. Or even no choice at all being offered to site users to deny tracking in a clear breach of the law around consent.

Deceptive cookie pop-ups have had a corrosive impact not only on the privacy rights of web users in the region, systemically stripping people of their right to protect their information, but they have also been very damaging for the reputation of EU data protection rules like the GDPR — enabling critics to blame the regulation for spawning a tsunami of annoying cookie banners despite the fact the law clearly outlaws consent theft via cynical tactics like injecting one-way friction or offering users zero opt-out ‘choice’.

The vast scale of cookie consent violations has, nonetheless, posed a major enforcement challenge for the bloc’s network of under-resourced data protection authorities — hence noyb stepping in with a smart and strategic approach to help clean up the “cookie banner terror” scourge, as its campaign couches it.

Given noyb’s focus on impact, and the extremely widespread nature of cookie consent problems, the campaign group has sought to minimize how many formal complaints it’s filing with regulators — so its partially automated compliance campaign entails sending initial complaints to the offending sites in question, offering help to rectify whatever dark patterns (or other bogus consent issues) noyb has identified.

It’s only sites that have repeatedly ignored these nudges and step-by-step compliance guidance that are being targeted for formal complaints with the relevant oversight body now.

“We want to ensure compliance, ideally without filing cases. If a company however continues to violate the law, we are ready to enforce users’ rights,” said Max Schrems, chairman at noyb, in a statement.

“After one year, we got to the hopeless cases that hardly react to any invitation or guidance. These cases will now have to go to the relevant authorities,” he added.

Thus far, noyb credits its cookie consent campaign with generating what it couches as a “large spill-over effect” — with, not only directly targeted violating consent banners being amended but some non-targeted sites also adapting their settings after they heard about the complaints. “This shows that enforcement ensures compliance beyond the individual case,” argues Schrems. “I guess many users have realized that for example more and more ‘reject’ buttons gradually appeared on many websites in the last year.”

Discussing progress to date, a spokeswoman for noyb also told us: “We have seen an increasing compliance rate in our regular scans (where we scan several thousands websites in Europe using the CMP OneTrust) after our first round of warnings last May. This is probably due to an increased awareness due to our complaints, the ‘fear’ that this law might actually be enforced and because Onetrust proactively informed their customers about our complaints and adjusted their standard settings to be ‘noyb compliant’.

“Therefore we consider those websites that still violate the GDPR despite all warnings as ‘hopeless’ cases. All of them are new cases, so none of the companies targeted already last year are in that batch.”

The so-called “hopeless” cases include a mix of (smaller) media sites, popular retailers and local pages, per noyb’s spokeswoman.

Asked for examples of pages which still violate “almost everything” (i.e. where cookie consent rules are concerned) more than a year after the group’s compliance campaign kicked off, she pointed to media sites including https://www.elle.com/ and https://www.menshealth.com/; recipe site www.delish.com; online travel agency booking.com; and fashion retailer aboutyou (in various EU countries).

Other high profile sites that are being targeted for formal complaints now — and which have remedied “at least some violations” (though not others), in noyb’s assessment — include football site fifa.com; cosmetics retailers rituals.com and clinique.at/de; and streaming giant hbo.com.

While noyb says “most” of the sites it’s formally complaining about now don’t provide users with an option to withdraw their consent to tracking, its spokeswoman noted: “Others have implemented a reject button (30% of all warned websites) but are still ignoring other aspects like deceptive designs.”

Noyb’s cookie complaints have already led to some regulatory action, with the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) establishing a special taskforce last year to coordinate responses to what the group suggests could end up as as many as 10,000 cookie consent complaints being filed — although the first DPA decisions related to complaints it lodged last year are still pending.

“We hope for the coordinated approach by the EDPB taskforce,” said its spokeswoman, adding: “The Austrian DPA so far has been the most active one in processing the complaints followed by some of the German DPAs. We hope to receive the first decisions by the end of this year.”

Now that this final round of OneTrust complaints has been filed, the not-for-profit group says it will move onto sites using other so called consent management platforms (CMPs) — expanding the scope of its automated complaint-cum-compliance platform to cover rival CMPs, such as TrustArc, Cookiebot, Usercentrics and Quantcast.

So scores more sites which haven’t been caught up in noyb’s sweeps yet, despite operating blatantly bogus consent banners, will be on the receiving end of a pointed letter vis-a-vis their cookie compliance in the near future.

In parallel with firing off lots of these letters over the past year+, noyb has also been gathering data on the impact of the cookie complaint project — and plans to issue a report on what it’s learned later this year.

Separately, France’s DPA, the CNIL, has been pretty active on cookie consent enforcement — taking some tough action against a number of tech giants (Amazon, Facebook and Google), under the ePrivacy Directive, that has enabled it to issue some major fines over abusive cookie tracking practices — and which appears to have forced (some) reform.

The ePrivacy legal route has allowed the CNIL to circumvent the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism, which critics blame for undermining enforcement of the bloc’s flagship data protection regulation, especially against Big Tech, by funnelling (and bottlenecking) complaints through a handful of so-called lead DPAs (Ireland being the biggest) on account of a handful of markets having large numbers of tech giants regionally located on their soil.

noyb’s approach of filing large batches of thematic GDPR complaints is another strategy to push back against enforcement delays by simultaneously looping in DPAs across the bloc to tackle an issue, encouraging coordination, joint working and (it hopes) a pipeline of decisions that defend European citizens’ rights.

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