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Amazon launches a new grocery delivery subscription in the U.S | TechCrunch


Amazon said today that it has launched a new grocery delivery subscription for Prime Members and customers with an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) in the U.S. across 3,500 cities and towns.

The company started testing grocery delivery in three locations last year, including Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; and Columbus, Ohio

The subscription costs $9.99 per month for Amazon Prime users and $4.99 per month for Amazon-registered EBT card holders.

The company said that with this subscription, users can avail of free delivery for grocery orders over $35 across Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods Market, and other local grocery and specialty retailers on the Amazon site. Users will get a 30-day free trial before paying up.

the story is developing…

 

 


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Ecosia launches a cross-platform browser, starts an affiliate link program | TechCrunch


Tree planting search engine Ecosia launched a new cross-platform browser today to increase its online footprint.

The new browser, available for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android, is built on top of Chromium. That’s why there aren’t many feature differences from Chrome. The company sees that as a good thing as people might be tempted to switch over without letting go of their web browsing routine. However, you can customize the landing page and remove sections — such as top sites or climate impact — that are not to your liking.

Image Credits: Ecosia

Michael Metcalf, Ecosia’s chief product officer, told TechCrunch over a call that the company built a browser to expand its sustainable presence.

“The main reason we are building a browser is because we want to go where our users are and start to expand the footprint of where they can be sustainable. Right now, our main use case is around search, but we want to expand into parts of browsing experiences,” Metcalf said.

Ecosia is also starting an affiliate shopping program with the launch of this new browser. Users will see links to shopping sites like Amazon, eBay, and Decathlon under the sponsored links section.

The company said all the money earned through affiliate revenues will go towards planting trees and backing other green projects. Through this kind of investment, Ecosia has committed to generating 25Wh of clean energy per user each day they browse.

Metcalf said that while the company promotes lower consumption, it is aware that people shop frequently, and with the affiliate program, they have an opportunity to give back.

In the future, the company wants to improve the affiliate shopping interface, integrate its AI chatbot, and add more customization to the browser.

It’s tough to ask people to change their browsers, so the company aims to target its current user base of 20 million initially, along with marketing targeted towards casual green users. The company said that it was happy with the retention rate in its early beta testing. However, it doesn’t have any data on whether there was any impact on the amount of Ecosia searches when a user switches to the company’s browser.

Ecosia made a few structural changes to its search engine last year. After years of using Bing as a sole search provider, the company started experimenting with Google search in markets like Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, and the Philippines. The company uses System1, which syndicates search results from Microsoft Bing, Startpage, and Info.com in other geographies.

Earlier this year, Ecosia also crossed the mark of planting more than 200 million trees across 95,000 locations worldwide.


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Seraphim Space launches second VC fund with nine investments already under its belt | TechCrunch


Seraphim Space, the UK-based space tech investment group is formally launching its second VC fund following its first close with limited partners including Airbus, TechCrunch learned exclusively. The early stage fund will build a global portfolio of 30 startups that will be backed at the seed and Series A stages.

CEO and manager Mark Boggett declined to disclose the percentage reached and fund’s targeted size, but said it should be larger than Seraphim Space’s 2017 £70 million VC fund (around $90 million at the time.)

Like its predecessor, Seraphim’s second VC fund, SSV II, is backed by major players from the aerospace sector looking to keep up with innovation.

This time around, Seraphim will also be operating in a busier and more competitive market.

Investors have become increasingly aware of space startups and the broader market, which could be worth $1.8 trillion by 2035, up from $630 billion in 2023, according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey. The number of funds willing to invest in space tech has increased compared to 2017, including both generalists and specialists such as Space Capital, SpaceFund, Starbridge Venture Capital and Starburst Aerospace.

Seraphim Space hopes to stand out with its track record.Its first fund returned three times the original investment, which helped dispel the cliché that space investment is “super high risk and super long term,” Boggett said.

Returns from its last fund were partly fueled by five exits — the trade sale of chip company UltraSoC to Siemens and four IPOs: Arqit, AST SpaceMobile, Nightingale and Spire Global.

However, today’s public market is a different world compared to 2021, especially for tech listings. This affects both Seraphim Space’s portfolio companies that went public and the investment group itself.

The firm’s growth fund Seraphim Space Investment Trust (SSIT) listed on the London Stock Exchange in July 2021 with £250 million in gross proceeds (some $300 million at the time.) After an all-time low in July 2023, its market cap is now £130 million, or $162 million, despite the fact that SSTI’s largest holding, ICEYE, became EBITDA profitable last year.

These market conditions forced the cash-strapped SSTI to focus on follow-on investments rather than new deals, and suggested that getting funding through the LSE for early-stage, non-profitable bets would be even harder.

“With VC funds, we’re able to make mistakes and have failures and high levels of risk over a longer period of time than the public market is comfortable with,” Boggett told TechCrunch. And while it didn’t help that SSIT was trading at a markdown, its existence has been helpful in other ways.

Through an approach known as a warehouse arrangement, SSIT funded the nine investments that SSV II already made before its first close. This helped show prospective limited partners that its investment thesis goes beyond what space is usually conflated with such as. launching rockets and satellites.

Wide space

The market growth anticipated by the World Economic Forum reflects that space tech has applications in other industries.

“All of the big trends that are underway are really being enhanced by space,” Boggett said, likening it to AI in the sense that “it’s really an enhancing capability, a facilitating capability for every other sector.”

The application of AI to space data is one of main themes SSV II will invest in. In fact, it already has done so by backing insurtech startup Delos and carbon credit verification platform Renoster. Both companies use large troves of data and modeling to address issues related to climate change.

Seraphim Space’s enthusiasm for companies like Delos is two-fold: the tech could have a real impact beyond monitoring and they have the potential for high valuations (and returns).

“They’re addressing some of the biggest problems that we are faced with.”

The fund’s third area of focus will be in-orbit computing. It sounds a bit more abstract, but also has the potential to have an impact on sectors such as agriculture and infrastructure. For instance, this category includes Aethero, a company that develops edge computers that would eventually support autonomous decision-making on orbit.

SSV II is also targeting space-enabled communications, with one portfolio company so far: Hubble Network, which wants to connect a billion devices through a space-based Bluetooth network. Its CEO, Alex Haro, knows a thing or two about locators: He previously co-founded Life360, which acquired Tile in 2021.

SSV II’s fourth theme, microgravity for science, reminded us of a company outside of its portfolio: Varda Space Industries, which is making orbital drug manufacturing a reality, and raised a $90 million Series B round a few weeks after its first capsule returned from orbit. Biopharma aside, other applications include research around new materials, Boggett said.

Defense isn’t highlighted as an investment theme, despite its recent tailwinds among funds, but Boggett acknowledged its ubiquity in space tech.

“The vast majority of space companies are dual use companies,” he said. But, he quickly added, “the bigger market opportunity is in the commercial market as they move into the broader underlying sectors.”


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Arc browser launches Live Folders to auto-update tabs for you | TechCrunch


Fresh off the heels of raising $50 million at a $550 million valuation in March, The Browser Company continues to bring in more features to its Arc browser, set up to provide a genuine alternative to Chrome and other dominant players in the internet browser market. Today it is introducing a new feature called Live Folders, which will automatically create and update tabs in a folder based on events like someone adding a file to a shared folder.

Live Folders comes as the company also builds out more AI-powered features to create more dynamic and automated user experiences. One plan has been to build an AI agent that browses the web on your behalf, although this has yet to launch.

The company is launching Live Folders initially with GitHub pull request support. When a user creates a GitHub pull request, Arc automatically creates a Live Folder in the sidebar.

The folder will automatically update tabs based on pull requests you have created, assigned to, requested a review for or mentioned. The folder will automatically clear out tabs with completed requests and tasks.

If there is a new pull request when your Live Folder is collapsed, the browser will peek it out to highlight the new request to you.

Image Credits: Arc Browser (screen capture)

Arc is aiming to build a new kind of tracking system with this feature to help users with their daily work. The company teased this feature in February. When it asked users about support for types of systems for the Live Folders feature, GitHub was the top requested service.

The company said it is focused on integrating services to Live Folders that are treated toward collaboration, such as Google Calendar, Google Drive and Figma. It added that the tech behind Live Folders is flexible, so it could also adopt things like updates from RSS feeds.

Earlier this month, the startup’s CEO, Josh Miller, announced that the company had hired former Safari designer Charlie Deets and former WhatsApp designer Christine Rode to build different interface designs.


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DuckDuckGo launches a new subscription to bundle VPN and identity theft protection | TechCrunch


Privacy-focused consumer tech company DuckDuckGo launched a new Privacy Pro subscription on Thursday that bundles a VPN service, personal information removal and identity theft restoration.

The plan, which costs $9.99 per month or $99 per year, is currently available only to people in the U.S. This is the company’s first move toward a subscription service built into the DuckDuckGo browser.

DuckDuckGo has been profitable since 2014, but has so far relied on ad revenue. The subscription service opens up a new avenue for the company to make money.

Image Credits: DuckDuckGo

The VPN uses the open source WireGuard protocol to protect your identity while you visit different sites on the web. The company said that all DNS queries are also routed through DuckDuckGo’s own DNS resolvers, so internet service providers (ISPs) can’t snoop on your browsing history.

With its personal information removal service, DuckDuckGo scans dozens of data broker sites to find details like your name and address. If the service finds your details on any of these sites, it requests removal and also handles email correspondence with them.

Image Credits: DuckDuckGo

The company says that this feature builds on Removaly’s tech, a startup DuckDuckGo acquired in 2022. (At that time, Removaly’s founder, Kyle Krzeski, posted on X that a privacy company acquired the startup without naming it.)

The third feature of DuckDuckGo’s privacy pro plan is identity theft restoration, where an advisor would help you recover your identity-related loss around the clock. This includes financial losses, fixing credit reports by even freezing the report until identity is restored, and replacing and canceling items like driver’s licenses, bank cards, and passports. The company said that the recovery agent would work with you, deal with all the formalities, and follow up with various companies.

Image Credits: DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo says that to ensure user privacy, it maintains no logs of users’ VPN activity, stores data provided during personal information removal on the local device and the company assigns a random ID when users sign up for the Privacy Pro service.

Earlier this year, DuckDuckGo added cross-device syncing for passwords and bookmarks for easy access to this information.

Earlier this year, court filings in the U.S. Department of Justice vs. Google revealed that DuckDuckGo accounted for only 2.5% of general search queries in the U.S. in 2021 and between 0.5% to 2.5% in Europe in 2023.




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Truecaller launches a web client for its Android users | TechCrunch


Truecaller has launched a web version of its eponymous caller ID application that brings a range of features, including SMS and chat mirroring, call notifications, and number search functionality to the desktop. Initially, the web version, called Truecaller for Web, will only be made available to Android users globally, the company said, but it plans to roll out the support on iOS in the future.

All Truecaller for Android users across the world can now link their devices to the web client on a PC or a Mac through a QR code. At the moment, Truecaller is limiting the number of active web sessions to one and is also automatically signing out users after 30 days of no usage. Users can manually de-link a browser from settings as well. This is akin to linking the web version of a messenger like WhatsApp or Telegram.

Truecaller, which counts India as its biggest market with nearly 259 million users, is quite late in offering the SMS and chat-mirroring feature. Notably, Microsoft provides SMS mirroring for both Android and iPhone users on Windows through its Phone Link functionality. Nonetheless, this functionality could provide its users some convenience in quickly replying to a text or accessing one-time passwords (OTPs) for login.

Truecaller also already offers users the ability to look up a phone number on its website, though with some rate limits. Now users will be able to look up numbers without any such limitations on the web client, the company said. The web client also displays real-time caller ID notifications when a user receives a call.

The company said that there are 80 million people who receive SMS pop-up summary notifications every day. This means that these users haven’t denied Truecaller permission to read SMS. But it’s not clear if these folks are using Truecaller as their primary SMS client.

Over the last few months, Truecaller has focused on introducing more AI-powered features. Last month, it launched a “Max” feature update for Android users to block all calls from unapproved contacts or spam detected by AI. In February, the company also brought call recording and AI-powered transcription features to India after launching the feature in the U.S. last year.

After registering lower revenues for the quarter, the company had a 32% stock dip in October 2023. However, the stock has recovered from the low price of SEK24.47 ($2.32) to trading around SEK31.68 ($3) at the time of writing.

After the publication of the story, Truecaller said that it began rolling out the feature globally and not just in India. The story has been reflected to update that.


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Fairphone launches easy-to-repair earbuds | TechCrunch


The right to repair has been a hot topic for several years now, hitting a kind of critical mass with domestic and international legislation. Advocates note that these proposals give users more control over their own property, while expanding products’ shelf life and reducing e-waste.

Fairphone is, perhaps, the most prominent hardware company to make repairability the foundation of its consumer electronic design ethos, rather than a simple afterthought. To date, the European startup has released several handsets and a pair of over-ear headphones. This week, it’s adding earbuds to that list.

While Bluetooth buds have rapidly become a commodity, user repairability has been something of a non-starter, owing to their compact size. They’re also relatively cheap to produce, making it easy to toss a pair when it stops working for some reason. If you’re going to make a product like this repairable, you have to make it a foundational feature — which, thankfully, is kind of Fairphone’s whole deal.

Image Credits: Fairphone (screenshot)

In this case, the company centered on battery life. Users can easily open the buds and case to remove the batteries once they’ve worn down. The company calls Fairbuds, “the world’s most repairable premium earbuds.” They’re certainly easier to crack open and swap out parts than competitive products from the likes of Apple and Samsung.

The €149 ($162) price puts them somewhere in the mid-tier of the earbud world. You can, of course, get buds for significantly less these days. And while the company is promoting features like active noise canceling and 11mm titanium drivers, the truth is that repairability and battery longevity need to be high up on your list of requirements to pick these out of an extremely crowded field.

In the consumer electronics world, right to repair has largely focused on handsets and PCs. Given the lower price point and smaller footprint, it seems unlikely that they’ll find their way into many laws in the near future. But anything that can help reduce e-waste and give users more control over these products is probably a net positive.


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YouTube launches new Shopping features to help creators market products and grow their earnings | TechCrunch


YouTube announced on Tuesday that it’s launching new Shopping features that allow creators to curate shoppable collections, better plan their shoppable videos, quickly monetize older videos and more.

The launch of the new features come as TikTok Shop is seeking to take on YouTube Shopping and other competitors in the space. TikTok is reportedly aiming to grow the size of its TikTok Shop U.S. business tenfold, to as much as $17.5 billion this year.

YouTube is launching “Shopping Collections” to allow creators to curate products from their favorite brands for users to browse through. Creators can pick a selection of products based on a theme, such as an everyday makeup look or a capsule wardrobe. The collections will appear in a creator’s product list, Store tab and video description. At launch, creators will be able to make Collections on the Studio app on their phone. YouTube plans to launch the feature on desktop soon.

Image Credits: YouTube

In addition, YouTube is launching a new Affiliate Hub in its app to make it easier for creators to find information about the latest list of Shopping partners, competitive commission rates and promo codes. Creators will also be able to use the hub to request samples from top brands. YouTube says the idea behind the new hub is to make it easier for creators to plan their next shoppable video.

YouTube is also adding Fourthwall, a website builder that helps creators build shops, to its list of integrated platforms. By allowing users to connect their Fourthwall shop, YouTube is making it easier for users to create and manage their content directly in YouTube Studio. YouTube already offers integrations with Shopify, Spreadshop and Spring.

Image Credits: YouTube

Last year, YouTube launched features that allow creators to tag products across their video library in bulk based on products added to the video’s description. YouTube is now expanding this feature to all Shopping creators. The company notes that this feature can help creators earn more revenue from their older content if it’s still getting high traffic.

As part of Tuesday’s announcement, YouTube revealed that users watched over 30 billion hours of shopping-related videos in 2023. The platform saw a 25% increase in watch time for videos that help people shop on YouTube.


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Klarna credit card launches in the US as Swedish fintech grows its market presence | TechCrunch


Klarna is launching its credit card in the United States, the Swedish fintech giant told TechCrunch in an exclusive interview.

“It was one of our most asked for products,” said David Fock, Klarna’s chief product officer, “and will allow people to pay in the Klarna way but with a card.”

By “Klarna way,” Fock means in installments. While the company’s offerings have evolved over the years, it started out as a buy now, pay later business, giving consumers a way to spread out payments over time.

Klarna launched a credit card in the EU several years ago but this will be the first time consumers in the U.S. can apply for one.

With the Klarna credit card, the company is now competing with the likes of Apple and more recently, Robinhood as well as rival BNPL player Affirm in offering a credit card in the United States. It is partnering with Salt Lake City-based WebBank in the effort. There is no annual fee for the card, and no foreign transaction fees.

Users can earn up to 10% cash back on selected merchants when using the card in its app and the card integrates with the company’s AI assistant to find deals on planned purchases, he said. Klarna’s virtual Visa card is compatible with Google and Apple Pay.

For now, people can apply to be on a waitlist for the card, which will be rolling out in coming months. Customers can pay for purchases either in stores or online. They will have the option after the fact to spread out the payments for a larger purchase across 3 to 6 months, with an interest rate of 33.9%. Or, they can extend the due date by one month, also paying 33.9% on that purchase. While that interest rate isn’t unheard of for BNPL offerings (though it can be far lower), it is high compared to typical credit cards, which tend to be closer to 30% at the high end, according to Nerdwallet.

“We want to offer payment option flexibility but we don’t want it to be like a credit card that builds revolving credit for consumers,” Fock told TechCrunch. “We see it as a problem that the credit card debt in the U.S. is hitting record levels, and we believe our options are healthier and more sustainable.”

Affirm’s debit card also provides consumers with the flexibility to pay upfront or request to pay over time via the Affirm app. And Apple too gives the option to pay in installments (though Apple’s APR taps out at 29.49%). Where Affirm differs from BNPL cards issued by competitors is that Affirm underwrites transactions made using its debit card, according to Affirm’s head of product, Vishal Kapoor.

Like other credit cards, or other Klarna BNPL options, if users pay off their balances before they are due, they’ll avoid paying interest, Fock says. “Our customers are typically looking for the free option,” he said. “We really want this to be an extension of how customers are used to using Klarna.”

Naturally, Klarna will earn interchange revenue as well as any interest collected.

The Stockholm-based company has seen success in expanding to the U.S., telling TechCrunch in February of 2023 that the country was its biggest market by revenue. (As of last November that momentum had continued with Klarna saying it had over 37 million users in the country alone). Today, Klarna said the U.S. and Germany represent its largest markets but that “the US is gaining all the time and is often largest on a quarterly basis.”

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Google launches Code Assist, its latest challenger to GitHub's Copilot | TechCrunch


At its Cloud Next conference, Google on Tuesday unveiled Gemini Code Assist, its enterprise-focused AI code completion and assistance tool.

If this sounds familiar, that’s likely because Google previously offered a similar service under the now-defunct Duet AI branding. That one became generally available in late 2023, but even then, Google already hinted that it would move the service away from its Codey model to Gemini in the near future. Code Assist is both a rebrand of the older service as well as a major update.

Code Assist, which Google Cloud demoed at its 30,000-attendee conference in Las Vegas, will be available through plug-ins for popular editors like VS Code and JetBrains.

Even more so than the Duet AI version, Code Assist is also a direct competitor to GitHub’s Copilot Enterprise and not so much the basic version of Copilot. That’s because of a few Google-specific twists.

Among those is support for Gemini 1.5 Pro, which famously has a million-token context window, allowing Google’s tool to pull in a lot more context than its competitors. Google says this means more-accurate code suggestions, for example, but also the ability to reason over and change large chunks of code.

“This upgrade brings a massive 1 million-token context window, which is the largest in the industry. This allows customers to perform large-scale changes across your entire code base, enabling AI-assisted code transformations that were not possible before,” Brad Calder, Google’s VP and GM for its cloud platform and technical infrastructure, explained in a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

Image Credits: Google

Like GitHub Enterprise, Code Assist can also be fine-tuned based on a company’s internal code base.

“Code customization using RAG with Gemini Code Assist significantly increased the quality of Gemini’s assistance for our developers in terms of code completion and generation,” said Kai Du, Director of Engineering and Head of Generative AI at Turing. “With code customization in place, we are expecting a big increase in the overall code-acceptance rate.”

This functionality is currently in preview.

Image Credits: Frederic Lardinois/TechCrunch

Another feature that makes Code Assist stand out is its ability to support codebases that sit on-premises, in GitLab, GitHub and Atlassian’s BitBucket, for example, as well as those that may be split between different services. That’s something Google’s most popular competitors in this space don’t currently offer.

Google is also partnering with a number of developer-centric companies to bring their knowledge bases to Gemini. Stack Overflow already announced its partnership with Google Cloud earlier this year. Datadog, Datastax, Elastic, HashiCorp, Neo4j, Pinecone, Redis, Singlestore and Snyk are now also partnering with Google through similar partnerships.

The real test, of course, is how developers will react to Code Assist and how useful its suggestions are to them. Google is making the right moves here by supporting a variety of code repositories and offering a massive context window, but if the latency is too high or the results simply aren’t that good, none of those features matter. And if it’s not significantly better than Copilot, which had quite a headstart, it may end up suffering the fate of AWS’ CodeWhisperer, which seems to have close to zero momentum.

It’s worth noting that in addition to Code Assist, Google today also announced the launch of CodeGemma, a new open model in its Gemma family that was fine-tuned for code generation and assistance. CodeGemma is now available through Vertex AI.

Image Credits: Frederic Lardinois/TechCrunch

Cloud Assist

In addition to Code Assist, Google also today announced Gemini Cloud Assist to help “cloud teams design, operate, and optimize their application lifecycle.” The tool can generate architecture configuration that are tailored to a company’s needs, for example, based on a description of the desired design outcome. It can also help diagnose issues and find their root causes, as well as optimize a company’s cloud usage to reduce cost or improve performance.

Cloud Assist will be available through a chat interface and embedded directly into a number of Google Cloud products.


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