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Mozilla finds that most dating apps are not great guardians of user data | TechCrunch

Dating apps are not following great privacy practices and are collecting more data than ever in order to woo GenZ users, a new study by Mozilla pointed out. Researchers reviewed dating apps in terms of privacy in 2021. In the latest report, they noted that dating apps have become more data-hungry and intrusive.

The organization studied 25 apps and labeled 22 of them ” Privacy Not Included” — the lowest grade in Mozilla’s parlance. Mozilla only gave Queer-owned and operated Lex a positive review, with Harmony and Happn getting a passable rating.

Mozilla said 80% of the apps may share or sell your personal data for advertising purposes. The report noted that apps like Bumble have murky privacy clauses that might sell your data to advertisers.

“We use services that help improve marketing campaigns . . . Under certain privacy laws, this may be considered selling or sharing your personal information with our marketing partners,” an in-app popup says, as noted by Mozilla.

The report noted that the majority of apps, including Hinge, Tinder, OKCupid, Match, Plenty of Fish, BLK, and BlackPeopleMeet, had precise geolocation from users. Apps like Hinge collect location data in the background when the app is not in use.

“The collection of your geolocation may occur in the background even when you aren’t using the services if the permission you gave us expressly permits such collection. If you decline permission for us to collect your precise geolocation, we will not collect it, and our services that rely on precise geolocation may not be available to you,” Hinge’s policy states.

The insidious role of data brokers

Dating apps claim that they collect a significant amount of data to find better matches for users. However, if that data ends up with data brokers, there are grave consequences. Last year, the Washington Post reported that a U.S.-based Catholic group bought data from Grindr to monitor some members.

Notably, Grindr — which got one of the lowest ratings under Mozilla’s review — has had a record of lapses in privacy and security practices.

“If dating apps think people are going to keep handing over their most intimate data – basically, everything but their mother’s maiden name – without finding love, they’re underestimating their users. Their predatory privacy practices are a dealbreaker,” Zoë MacDonald, researcher and one of the authors of the report, said in a statement.

As per data from analytics firm, dating app downloads are slowing down. Separately, data from Pew Research published last year suggests that only three in 10 adults have ever used a dating site or an app — a figure that has stayed the same since 2019. Last month, The New York Times published a report noting that dating app giants Match Group and Bumble have lost more than $40 billion in market value since 2021.

Companies are now looking towards new ways to engage potential daters, including experimenting with AI-powered features. Match Group already said during its Q3 2024 earnings this year that it plans to leverage AI. In March, Platformer reported that Grindr plans to introduce an AI chatbot that could engage in sexually explicit language.

Mozilla said that apps already use AI to match algorithms. With the onset of generative AI, researchers are not confident that dating apps will have enough protections for user privacy.

Mozilla privacy researcher Misha Rykov said that, as dating apps collect more data, they have a duty to protect that data from being exploited.

“To forge stronger matches users have to write compelling profiles, fill out numerous interest and personality surveys, asses and charm matches, share pictures and videos — the whole experience is heavily dependent on how much information people share. By this virtue, dating apps must protect this data from exploitation,” he noted.

Earlier this year, Mozilla also evaluated a bunch of AI bots that could act as a romantic partner and found some serious concerns about security and data sharing practices of these bots.

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Quibi redux? Short drama apps saw record revenue in Q1 2024 | TechCrunch

Was Quibi just ahead of its time? Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg ultimately blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for the failure of his short-form video app, but maybe it was just too soon. New app store data indicates that the idea Quibi popularized — original shows cut into short clips, offering quick entertainment — is now making a comeback. In the first quarter of 2024, 66 short drama apps like ReelShort and DramaBox pulled in record revenue of $146 million in global consumer spending.

This represents an over 8,000% increase from $1.8 million in the first quarter of 2023, when just 21 apps were available, according to data from app intelligence firm Appfigures. Since then, 45 more apps have joined the market, earning approximately $245 million in gross consumer spending and reaching some 121 million downloads.

Image Credits: Appfigures

In March 2024 alone, consumers spent $65 million on short drama apps, a 10,500% increase from the $619,000 spent in March 2023.

It appears the revenue growth began to accelerate in fall 2023, per Appfigures data, leading to a huge revenue jump between February and March of this year, when global revenue grew 56% to reach $65.7 million, up from $42 million. In part, the revenue growth is tied to the larger number of apps available, of course, but marketing, ad spend and consumer interest also played a role.

The top apps by revenue — ReelShort (No. 1) and DramaBox (No. 2) — generated $52 million and $35 million in Q1 2024, respectively. That’s around 37% and 24% of the revenue generated by the top 10 apps, respectively.

The No. 3 app ShortTV grossed $17 million globally in Q1, or 12% of the total.

What’s interesting about these apps, compared with Quibi’s earlier attempt to carve out a niche in this space, is the content quality. That is, it’s much, much worse than Quibi’s — and Quibi’s was not always great. As TechCrunch wrote last year when describing ReelShort, the stories in the app are “like snippets from low-quality soaps — or as if those mobile storytelling games came to life.”

Regardless of the terrible acting and writing, the apps have seemingly found a bit of an audience.

Image Credits: Appfigures

By both installs and revenue, the U.S. is by far the leader in terms of top markets for this cohort. But overall, the charts vary in terms of which countries are downloading versus paying for the content.

By installs, the top markets after the U.S. are Indonesia, India, the Philippines and Brazil, while the U.K., Australia, Canada and the Philippines make up the top markets by revenue, beyond the U.S.

In Q1 2024, short drama apps were installed nearly 37 million times, up 992% from 3.4 million in Q1 2023. By downloads, ReelShort and ShortTV are the top two apps, with the former accounting for 37% of installs, or 13.3 million, and the latter with 10 million installs, or 27%. DramaBox, No. 2 by consumer spending, was No. 3 by installs with 7 million (19%) downloads.

Image Credits: Appfigures

Mirroring wider app store trends, the majority of the revenue (63%) is generated on iOS, while Android accounts for the majority (67%) of downloads.

Though there’s growth in this market, these apps see nowhere near the attraction that their nearest competitors — short-form video and streaming video — do. Short drama apps claimed a 6.7% share of the total across all three categories combined, up from 0.15% a year ago. But the wider video app market makes a lot more money.

For instance, the top 10 apps across the combined three categories, which include apps like TikTok and Disney+, made $1.8 billion in Q1.

Image Credits: Appfigures

Image Credits: Appfigures

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Lyrak to take on X by combining the best of Twitter with fediverse integration | TechCrunch

Threads. Mastodon. Bluesky. Substack Notes. Post. Nostr. Spoutible. There’s no shortage of X competitors in the months following the acquisition of the text-based social network formerly known as Twitter by Elon Musk. Now you can add one more startup to that lineup: Lyrak, a new X rival that aims to differentiate itself by focusing on real-time news and monetization options for creators, as on X, but with fediverse integrations, similar to Instagram’s Threads.

The fediverse refers to the open source social network of interconnected servers powered by the social networking protocol ActivityPub. Mastodon is the most well-known among the federated social apps, but even Meta has sensed a shift in the direction of the web and built its latest social network, Threads, with an eye toward ActivityPub integrations.

With Lyrak, the plan is to take the best of what Twitter has to offer and combine it with ActiviyPub integration, allowing users to interact with a wider audience on other federated social networks, like Mastodon and others.

That integration isn’t yet live, but the team says it’ll begin the work in a few months. Once live, Lyrak users will be able to see posts from Mastodon users and vice versa.

Image Credits: Lyrak

Founded by London-based web designer and marketer Rishi Siva, Lyrak is named for a lead character in the TV show “His Dark Materials,” Lyra. Siva says Lyra discovers new worlds, and because Lyrak is also striving to build something better, it seemed like a good source of inspiration.

The founder came up with the idea after spending time helping small businesses set up websites so they could make money on the web and attract customers. At one point, Siva also created a Thumbtack-like app, but the COVID-19 pandemic impacted its ability to grow as many local tradespeople were unable to work at the time.

Still, he expresses a desire to help users to better monetize their content and skills online.

“Our lower fees and sharing 50% ad revenue with creators further support this goal,” Siva notes.

By comparison, X doesn’t publicly share its percentage, which can vary based on the type of post, demographics, geography and other factors. Plus, revenue is only earned for ads shown to Verified users (paid subscribers).

Siva is also unhappy with the direction X is going and how it affects creators.

“After Musk took over Twitter, I saw a significant change in the way the platform behaved and the types of accounts it promoted. It’s disappointing to see that all the tech leaders I admire ignored this and still use Twitter [X],” he noted, pointing to the issues around far-right groups and antisemitic content on X’s platform.

However, he admits that Twitter/X still remains the best place for real-time news, which is why it remains sticky with users, despite the changes. Threads, meanwhile, isn’t prioritizing real-time news outside of sports; Siva dubs it “basically a text version of Instagram.”

He thinks Mastodon and Bluesky will ultimately be too complicated for regular users, but Lyrak could benefit from their networks through fediverse integrations. (Technically, Bluesky is not federated with Mastodon because it uses a different protocol, but work is being done to build bridges between the two.)

Image Credits: Lyrak

Lyrak says it will focus initially on getting journalists to join the network, to help it with becoming a real-time social app. To attract them, Lyrak will allow Verified journalists to share content to users’ home feeds based on their interests and offer tools to send them notifications to people who regularly click their links. (The latter is similar to Artifact — RIP — which would alert users to new articles from reporters and writers they followed.)

The startup will also try to attract people who sell digital products, with specific tools launching for this crowd later in May. Creators will be able to offer subscriptions to their followers as well as collect tips.

Another coming feature will involve AI tools, like an answer engine and user-generated AI characters, also planned for May.

The company plans to generate revenue through ads, like X, but also by taking a 10% cut from paid posts, subscriptions, tips, digital products and other AI features, in time.

To route around app store fees, Lyrak’s website will allow users to deposit funds to the app, which they can use to pay creators. (Funds added through in-app purchases will require paying Apple its 30% fee, however.)

Another idea, borrowed from sites like Reddit, is a reputation score that will reflect the value a user brings to the community through their comments, reposts, likes and inviting others to the platform. This will be combined with AI moderation efforts and human moderators to keep the app safe, the team promises.

Image Credits: Lyrak

“After our initial launch and a couple of weeks of bug fixes, we plan to regularly release new features,” Siva said. “The advantage of being a startup building a social app is that we have a fresh perspective on things. We’re not stuck in the old ways of thinking, which allows us to innovate and create features that truly benefit our users.”

Lyrak is being built by a team of five, most of whom are based in London. (The fifth person is soon moving to London, too.) The startup is currently bootstrapped and available for download on iOS.

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Substack now allows podcasters to sync and distribute their episodes to Spotify | TechCrunch

Substack announced on Thursday it’s introducing a few new features for podcasters on its platform. Most notably, the company is rolling out a Spotify integration that will allow podcasters on Substack to sync and distribute all of their free and paid episodes to Spotify’s streaming service. In addition, Substack is introducing new custom audio transcripts and captions, along with improvements to clip sharing and mobile video.

The launch of the new features comes as Substack has announced that podcasters on Substack are collectively earning more than $100 million in annual revenue and that this number has more than doubled in the past year. The number of active podcasters on the platform has also more than doubled in the same period.

The new integration with Spotify will make Substack podcasts discoverable via the streaming service, making it easier for podcasters to reach more listeners. Plus, the integration will allow Substack podcasters’ existing subscribers to listen to paid episodes on Spotify. Substack says the integration with Spotify has the potential to help podcasters earn more, as free listeners will be nudged to upgrade to a subscription.

Podcasters on Substack can set up a Spotify integration by going into their podcast settings, opening the Spotify dropdown and clicking the “Sync to Spotify” option to create a new feed with all current and future episodes. Paid episodes are labeled with a padlock, and listeners need to link their Substack account to Spotify to listen to paid episodes directly on the streaming service.

Image Credits: Substack

Creators can go to their Spotify for Podcasters account to see data about streams, unique listeners, playtime, demographics and more. Substack plans to make this data accessible via a creator’s Substack podcast stats page in the future.

As for the new custom audio transcripts and captions, podcasters can now upload their own transcript instead of using Substack’s automatically generated one, if they choose. Video podcasters can also opt to upload a separate audio track and free preview to distribute to podcast RSS feeds instead of using the default one extracted from the uploaded video.

Plus, podcasters and their listeners can now share a link to a podcast video at a specific timestamp or download a clip to post on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and X.

Substack says it’s making it easier to watch video podcasts on mobile, as video posts on iOS and Android now feature an inline player. This new capability lets users read and watch at the same time, while also keeping their place in a video they watched partway to revisit it at a later time.

The new features are available to all users starting today.

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Google brings AI-powered editing tools, like Magic Editor, to all Google Photos users for free | TechCrunch

Google Photos is getting an AI upgrade. On Wednesday, the tech giant announced that a handful of enhanced editing features previously limited to Pixel devices and paid subscribers — including its AI-powered Magic Editor — will now make their way to all Google Photos users for free. This expansion also includes Google’s Magic Eraser, which removes unwanted items from photos; Photo Unblur, which uses machine learning to sharpen blurry photos; Portrait Light, which lets you change the light source on photos after the fact, and others.

The editing tools have historically been a selling point for Google’s high-end devices, the Pixel phones, as well as a draw for Google’s cloud storage subscription product, Google One. But with the growing number of AI-powered editing tools flooding the market, Google has decided to make its set of AI photo editing features available to more people for free.

Image Credits: Google

There are some caveats to this expansion, however.

For starters, the tools will only start rolling out on May 15 and it will take weeks for them to make it to all Google Photos users.

In addition, there are some hardware device requirements to be able to use them. On ChromeOS, for instance, the device must be a Chromebook Plus with ChromeOS version 118+ or have at least 3GB RAM. On mobile, the device must run Android 8.0 or higher or iOS 15 or higher.

The company notes that Pixel tablets will now be supported, as well.

Magic Editor is the most notable feature of the group. Introduced last year with the launch of the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, this editing tool uses generative AI to do more complicated photo edits — like filling in gaps in a photo, repositioning the subject and other edits to the foreground or background of a photo. With Magic Editor, you can change a gray sky to blue, remove people from the background of a photo, recenter the photo subject while filling in gaps, remove other clutter and more.

Previously, these kinds of edits would require Magic Eraser and other professional editing tools, like Photoshop, to get the same effect. And those edits would be more manual, not automated via AI.

Image Credits: Google

With the expansion, Magic Editor will come to all Pixel devices, while iOS and Android users (whose phones meet the requirements) will get 10 Magic Editor saves per month. To go beyond that, they’ll still need to buy a Premium Google One plan — meaning 2TB of storage and above.

The other tools will be available to all Google Photos users, no Google One subscription is required. The full set of features that will become available includes Magic Eraser, Photo Unblur, Sky suggestions, Color pop, HDR effect for photos and videos, Portrait Blur, Portrait Light (plus the add light/balance light features in the tool), Cinematic Photos, Styles in the Collage Editor and Video Effects.

Other features like the AI-powered Best Take — which merges similar photos to create a single best shot where everyone is smiling — will continue to be available only to Pixel 8 and 8 Pro.

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Meta adds its AI chatbot, powered by Llama 3, to the search bar across its apps | TechCrunch

Meta’s making several big moves today to promote its AI services across its platform. The company has upgraded its AI chatbot with its newest large language model, Llama 3, and it is now running it in the search bar of its four major apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp) across multiple countries. Alongside this, the company launched other new features, such as faster image generation and access to web search results.

This confirms and extends a test that TechCrunch reported on last week, when we spotted that the company had started testing Meta AI on Instagram’s search bar.

Additionally, the company is also launching a new site for users to access the chatbot.

The news underscores Meta’s efforts to stake out a position as a mover and shaker amid the current hype for generative AI tools among consumers. Chasing after other popular services in the market such as those from OpenAI, Mark Zuckerberg claimed today that Meta AI is possibly the “most intelligent AI assistant that you can freely use.”

Meta first rolled out Meta AI in the U.S. last year. It is now expanding the chatbot in the English language in over a dozen countries, including Australia, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The company last week started testing Meta AI in countries like India and Nigeria, but notably, India was missing from today’s announcement. Meta said that it plans to keep Meta AI in test mode in the country at the moment.

“We continue to learn from our users tests in India. As we do with many of our AI products and features, we test them publicly in varying phases and in a limited capacity,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

New features

Users could already ask Meta AI for writing or recipe suggestions. Now, they can also ask for web-related results powered by Google and Bing.

Image Credits: Meta

The company said that it is also making image generation faster. Plus, users can ask Meta AI to animate an image or turn an image into a GIF. Users can see the AI tool modifying the image in real time as they type. The company has also worked on making image quality of AI-generated photos better.

Image Credits: Meta

AI-powered image-generation tools have been bad at spelling out words. Meta claims that its new model has also shown improvements in this area.

All AI things everywhere at once

Meta is adopting the approach of having Meta AI available in as many places as it can. It is making the bot available on the search bar, in individual and group chats and even in the feed.

Image Credits: Meta

The company said that you can ask questions related to posts in your Facebook feed. For example, if you see a photo of the aurora borealis, you could ask Meta AI for suggestions about what is the best time to visit Iceland to see northern lights.

Image Credits: Meta

Meta AI is already available on the Ray-Ban smart glasses, and the company said that soon it will be available on the Meta Quest headset, too.

There are downsides to having AI in so many places. Specifically, the models can “hallucinate” and make up random, often non-sensical responses, so using them across multiple platforms could end up presenting a content moderation nightmare. Earlier this week, 404 Media reported that Meta AI, chatting in a parents group, said that it had a gifted and academically challenged child who attended a particular school in New York. (Parents spotted the odd message, and Meta eventually also weighed in and removed the answer, saying that the company would continue to work on improving these systems.)

“We share information within the features themselves to help people understand that AI might return inaccurate or inappropriate outputs. Since we launched, we’ve constantly released updates and improvements to our models, and we’re continuing to work on making them better,” Meta told 404 Media.

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Exclusive: Buffet is tackling the loneliness epidemic by connecting people in the real world

If you’ve been feeling lonely over the past few years, you’re not alone. According to a 2023 report from the U.S. surgeon general, about half of U.S. adults reported feeling lonely, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. The report warns that loneliness and isolation can lead to physical consequences, such as a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.

A new app called Buffet is aiming to address the loneliness epidemic by helping users meet new people by quickly matching them with a person and a place to meet up (think Tinder + OpenTable). The app is designed to remove the barriers and hassles that come with meeting new people and then trying to find a place to hang out. Buffet aims to help users meet likeminded individuals, whether they’re looking for a new friend, romantic partner or gym buddy.

At launch, Buffet is available in Los Angeles, with expansions planned for additional cities later this year, starting with New York City.

The app is the brainchild of Buffet CEO Rich Hacking and COO Sean Emery. The pair worked as financial analysts before starting Buffet and came up with the idea for the app while they were on a business trip in Dubai.

“We started throwing this idea around, and thought, hey, there’s something there,” Hacking told TechCrunch. “We saw the loneliness epidemic and saw that the market was in need of something new. The massive incumbents have lacked innovation in the last decade. There was an obvious key opportunity for disruption. So we put one foot in front of the other and started building Buffet.”

To get started with Buffet, users enter five of their interests, such as motorcycles, horseback riding or reading. The app then asks a series of five questions to get a better understanding of their personality and what kinds of places and people they would be interested in.

Image Credits: Buffet

Buffet’s algorithm then pairs users. If interested, they can send an invite to the person they’re matched with; the matched pair can then message each other via the app to decide on a time and date to meet. Buffet is designed to allow people to do most of the talking and getting-to-know-each-other in-person. Buffet encourages people to go beyond a chatbox and digital communication and actually meet up in the real world.

If there’s a match with someone, but the app-suggested meeting place isn’t a good match, users can choose from a list of other places that might be more interesting. And if users aren’t interested in their match partners, they can refresh and get matched with someone else.

Buffet’s target demographic is people who have been affected by the loneliness epidemic the most: 18- to 25-year-olds. The app also wants to target young professionals in the late to early 30s. Hacking believes that if Buffet can win over the average 25-year-old female professional, it can win over anyone.

“The app will be free to use for the foreseeable future,” Hacking said. “We want to win over users. We want to build trust and right now, when you read the market, people are frustrated with all of the paywalls.”

In terms of the app’s business model, Buffet will leverage advertising. The company plans to build up an in-app community forum where local businesses would be able to advertise directly to users and promote happy hours and other discounts.

The app is currently only available on iOS, but the company plans to launch an Android app in the future.

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Messenger now lets you create shared albums, send HD photos and share larger files | TechCrunch

Meta announced on Tuesday it’s rolling out the ability for Messenger users to create shared albums in chats, send photos in high-definition, and share larger files up to 100MB in size. With these new features, Messenger is targeting people who tend to create shared albums or share HD images via services like Google Drive.

Up until now, users have only been able to see a list of photos shared in a specific Messenger chat and couldn’t group or organize them in any way. Now users can create albums of photos and videos in group chats, whether it’s to organize photos of a recent spring break or grandma’s 80th birthday celebration. To create an album in a group chat, you need to select multiple photos from your chat composer and then tap “create album.” You can also create an album by long-pressing a photo in a chat. If you want to add photos to an existing album, you can tap the “Add to album” option.

Everyone in a chat can view, add, delete, and download pictures and videos in an album. You can locate an album by tapping the “Media” button in a chat.

The launch of shared albums is likely to be a welcome addition for users, as the capability isn’t available on Meta’s other messaging services, WhatsApp and Instagram DMs.

Image Credits: Messenger

As for the new HD photo-sharing capability, users can now toggle an “HD” option after selecting an image from the chat composer. You can tap on additional photos to send multiple in HD. The launch of the new feature follows Meta’s rollout of support for HD photos on WhatsApp back in September 2023.

In addition, Messenger is offering an alternative to email for sending large files, as it’s now letting users send Word, PDF, Excel, and zip files directly in chats. Users can do so by tapping the + button in a chat and then selecting a file on their device.

Also new today is the launch of an option for users to connect with others by scanning a QR code, removing the need to type out someone’s name or number to start chatting with them on the app.

The new features are rolling out on mobile to all Messenger users.

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X adds support for passkeys globally on iOS | TechCrunch

X, formerly Twitter, is rolling out support for passkeys, a new and more secure login method compared with traditional passwords, to all iOS users globally. The option debuted in January, but only for iOS users in the U.S.

In an update to the X @Safety account on Monday, the company shared that passkeys are now available as a login option for global iOS users. Similar technology has already been added to other popular apps and services, including PayPalTikTokWhatsApp, GitHub and others. Google last fall made passkeys the default sign-in option for all users. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and other companies also support the option.

Passkey technology was initiated by Google, Apple, Microsoft and the FIDO Alliance, alongside the World Wide Web Consortium. The idea is to make passwordless logins available across different devices, operating systems and web browsers. Unlike traditional logins, which require a username and password combination, passkeys use biometric authentication like Face ID or Touch ID, a PIN or a physical security authentication key to validate logins. The process combines the benefits of two-factor authentication (2FA) into a single step, making logins more seamless while maintaining increased security.

For X, the addition could help users protect their accounts against hacks from bad actors. The social network has seen a number of high-profile hacks over the years, including one in January where the U.S. Securities and Exchange’s X account shared an unauthorized post regarding Bitcoin ETF approval. Donald Trump Jr.’s X account was also hacked to post a fake message saying that Donald Trump had passed away. There was also a 2020 crypto scam that saw many larger accounts compromised, including Apple’s, President Biden’s and X owner Elon Musk’s account, among others.

The addition could also help X users who previously relied on SMS 2FA to re-secure their accounts, as X announced last year that option would be removed for non-paying users. X had argued that the cost-cutting measure could be abused by bad actors, such as in the case of SIM swaps. But the reality is that it made X less secure.

X offers users instructions on how to get started with passkeys on iOS. There’s no word yet on when Android users will have the option.

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Robotic Automations owner Automattic acquires multiservice messaging app Beeper for $125M | TechCrunch owner Automattic is acquiring Beeper, the company behind the iMessage-on-Android solution that was referenced by the Department of Justice in its antitrust lawsuit against Apple. The deal, which was for $125 million according to sources close to the matter, is Automattic’s second acquisition of a cross-platform messaging solution after buying last October.

That acquisition made founder Kishan Bagaria Automattic’s new head of Messaging, a role that will now be held by Beeper founder Eric Migicovsky, previously the founder of the Pebble smartwatch and a Y Combinator partner.

Reached for comment, Automattic said it has started the process of onboarding the Beeper team and is “excited about the progress made” so far but couldn’t yet share more about its organizational updates, or what Bagaria’s new title would be. However, we’re told he is staying to work on Beeper as well.

Image Credits: Beeper

Beeper and’s teams of 25 and 15, respectively, will join together to take the best of each company’s product and merge it into one platform, according to Migicovsky.

“[] built an amazing app that’s more desktop-centric and iOS-centric,” he said. “So we’ll be folding the best parts of those into our app. But going forward, the Beeper brand will apply to all of the messaging efforts at Automattic,” he said, adding, “Kishan … I’ve known him for years now — there’s not too many other people in the world that are doing what we do — and it was great to be able to combine forces with them.”

The deal, which closed on April 1, represents a big bet from Automattic: that the future of messaging will be open source and will work across services, instead of being tied up in proprietary platforms, like Meta’s WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage. In fact, Migicovsky says, the eventual plan after shifting people to the Beeper cross-platform app for managing their messages is to move them to Beeper’s own chat protocol — something based on the open source protocol called Matrix.

Image Credits: Beeper

Automattic had previously made a strategic investment of $4.6 million in Element (previously New Vector), another company building on Matrix, and it contributes annually to, as does Beeper.

Matrix, a sort of “spiritual successor” to XMPP, as Migicovsky describes it, offers an open source, end-to-end encrypted client and server communications system, where servers can federate with one another, similar to open source Twitter/X alternative Mastodon. However, instead of focusing on social networking, like Mastodon, it focuses on messaging.

Migicovsky said the acquisition came about because running Beeper costs quite a bit of money and it was either time to raise more funding or find a buyer. To date, Beeper had raised $16 million in outside funding, including an $8 million Series A from Initialized. Other investors include YC, Samsung Next, and Liquid2 Ventures, and angels Garry Tan, Kevin Mahaffey, and Niv Dror, and the group SV Angel.

“I’ve known Matt [Mullenweg, Automattic founder and CEO] for years now,” Migicovsky said, adding that the founder had shown commitment to open source technology, like Beeper, where about half its product is already open source. “We were looking to find a partner that could financially support this. One of the reasons why there are no other people building this type of app is it costs a surprisingly large amount of money to build a damn good chat app,” Migicovsky noted.

As for Beeper’s products, the company has now briefed the DOJ on what happened when Apple blocked its newer app, Beeper Mini, which aimed to bring iMessage to Android. That solution is no longer being updated as a result of Apple’s moves.

Image Credits: Beeper

Beeper on Android launches to all

The company is instead releasing an updated version of its core app, Beeper, on Android. Unlike Beeper Mini, which focuses only on iMessage, the main app connects with 14 services, including Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Instagram DM, LinkedIn, Twitter/X, Discord, Google Messages and others. Android is its biggest platform by users, as 70% are on Google’s smartphone OS.

In this rewritten version of Beeper, the company is starting to roll out fully end-to-end encrypted messages across Signal. That will be soon followed by WhatsApp, Messenger and Google Messages.

Because of Apple’s restrictions, iMessage only works if you have an iPhone in the mix, Migicovsky says, and will not be a focus for Beeper, given the complications it saw with Apple’s shutdown of Beeper Mini. However, Beeper is hopeful regulations could change things, pointing to the DOJ lawsuit and FCC investigation. In the meantime, Beeper supports RCS, which solves iMessage to Android problems like low-res images and videos, lack of typing indicators and encryption.

With the launch out of beta, the new app includes a new icon, updated design, instant chat opens and sends, the ability to add and modify chat networks directly on Android (no desktop app needed), local caching of all chats on the device and full message search.

The 10,000 Android beta testers already on Beeper will need to download the new app manually from Google Play — it won’t automatically update.

Image Credits: Beeper

In addition, the 466,000 or so people on Beeper’s waitlist will now be able to try the product. They’ll join over 115,000 users who have already downloaded the app, which is now used by tens of thousands daily. The app runs on Android, iPhone, iPad, ChromeOS, macOS, Windows and Linux.

The team expects to have feature parity across platforms in a matter of months as they overhaul the iOS and desktop apps.

In time, they plan to add other services to Beeper as well, including Google Voice, Snapchat and Microsoft Teams. Beeper also offers a widget API so developers can build on top of Beeper. Plus, since Matrix is an open standard, developers will be able to build alternative clients for Beeper, as well.

The app will generate revenue via a premium subscription, where the final price may be a couple of dollars per month, but pricing decisions haven’t yet been fully nailed down. Beeper is currently free to use.

Like Automattic, Beeper’s team is remotely distributed, with employees in Brazil, the U.K., Germany and the U.S. At present, will continue to operate as the teams begin to integrate the two messaging apps.

Updated 4/9/24, 5:05 PM ET to clarify that Beeper’s chat protocol is based on Matrix. 

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