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thumbnailBeyond sexting: We should celebrate Snapchat and encourage ephemeral communication May 22nd 2013, 18:26
ss-shocked-man-on-phone-snapchatTarun Wadhwa is a writer, researcher, and entrepreneur working at the intersection of technology and public policy.You would think that it would be a terrible idea for a company accused of helping teenagers send each other sexually explicit images to feature bikini-clad young girls in their marketing. Most would avoid such direct associations, for good reason – it’s immature, and edgy when it doesn’t need to be.

But not the makers of the enormously popular app, Snapchat, which allows people to send images and videos that “self-destruct” after a few seconds.

The company claims messages are deleted once they are opened, but there have been a series of recent scandals showing that this may not be completely accurate. Their product is far from perfect, and there are several ways to compromise the protection they offer. It is never a good idea to send something over the internet that would damage you or your reputation if it became public. While this may be common sense, it has little to do with how we actually act online.

The makers of Snapchat are right to reject the “sexting app” label — it’s not clear that this is what it is even being used for, and everyone deserves the option to communicate privately when they want, without automatically being branded as a pervert.

snapchatWithin a few months of launching, the company has made an enormous and lasting impact on the culture of communication on the Internet, and we should all be grateful.

They have simplified a security process enough to the point that anybody can use it, while validating the market of the next generation of privacy-preserving ephemeral communication. Most importantly, we may finally get a break from the forced permanence of the Facebook and Google world, where everything you do and share is a data point to be monetized and re-sold to the highest bidder.

And Snapchat isn’t even the best product out there — there’s a whole slew of communication tools that are more secure and functional making their way into the public eye.

One of those is Wickr, created by RSA veteran Nico Sell, a more serious security-focused app that uses “military-grade” encryption to send text, video, voice, and document files that can self-destruct after a given period of time. Hospitals and law enforcement have expressed interest in a similarly functioning Android app, Gryphn. Although it’s not “self-destructing,” keep an eye on the exciting and powerful suite of communication apps developed by encryption legend Phil Zimmermann’s Silent Circle company – they are not for “average” users, but they could provide enterprise and more serious clients a massive improvement in security.

What apps like these do is allow us a little bit more freedom to be ourselves, for better or worse.

In the copycat world of Silicon Valley startups and funding, expect to see a lot more “Snapchat for _____” type companies. Finally, the lack of app creativity may work in the favor of consumers. We have accepted the notion that what you do on the internet is permanent – a statement that is partially a truthful observation, and partially a threatening promise from the companies and entrepreneurs who are making it a reality – but it doesn’t have to be that way for everything.

Perhaps the greatest impact of this rising industry will be when the giants try to co-opt them, as Facebook attempted with Poke. The issue of trust in these companies aside, it would be a winning situation for everyone for ephemeral features to be built into the services we already use.

We need more human-behavior-friendly default settings.

Privacy is complicated, and nothing is ever completely secure. Nobody is immune from this, as Nicholas Weaver wrote in Wired, “even the head of the CIA can’t email his mistress without being identified by the FBI.” But in the billions of messages already sent through Snapchat are a few people who didn’t have their lives ruined because of something they shouldn’t have shared.

The media can continue to ridicule the “sexting app” that so many young people are using, but they are entirely missing the point. The same generation being blamed for the supposed “death of privacy” has become wiser than those who are criticizing them.

In a candid admission at the Milken Conference this year, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, when recalling his college days playing in a band, , “thank God social media didn’t exist then, because if it did, I wouldn’t be here.” The Internet wasn’t built with security in mind, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of that. The next generations are going to be the ones who pay the true cost of the design decisions we make today.

Tarun Wadhwa is a writer, researcher, and entrepreneur working at the intersection of technology and public policy. You can follow him on Twitter – VB. Also, check out his upcoming book, Identified, which will be out later this year.

Image credit: Shutterstock/Shocked man

Filed under: Business, Lifestyle, Media, Mobile, Social

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Fashion & beauty startup Zalora scores $100M investment to grow in Southeast Asia May 22nd 2013, 15:58
fashion-beautyZalora, the Zappos-like fashion and beauty store for Southeast Asia, announced this morning that it has closed a $100 million financing round.That’s a lot of lipstick and high heels.

Zalora focuses on 10 countries in Asia: Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. The year-old startup says it has already achieved “annualized double-digit million USD revenues.”

“Our company is one of the fastest growing e-commerce companies in Southeast Asia and has bright prospects,” said managing director Michele Ferrario. “It is an honor for us that investors of such great repute have invested into an e-commerce company as young as Zalora”

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It is indeed an honor when a year-old startup with two or three million dollars in annualized revenue scores a $100 million investment. And it’s an unusual honor as well. But there’s method behind the madness.

The investment was secured by the German holding company that owns Zalora, Rocket Internet, which claims to be “the largest, fastest and most successful international online venture builder.” Founded by the infamous Samwer brothers — who Jason Calacanis has called “despicable thieves” — its modus operandi has been to take successful models from American startups and apply them globally.

Genius, perhaps, if not very original. And very, very successful.

Rocket Internet sold Groupon clone CityDeal to Groupon for $126 million in 2010 and eBay clone Alando to eBay for $50 million, among many other lucrative deals. That history is undoubtedly part of what led the investment group, led by Summit Partners, Investment AB Kinnevik, and the Verlinvest and Tengelmann Group, to participate in this $100 million round.

Rocket Internet's impressive portfolio of companies Source: Rocket Internet

Rocket Internet’s impressive portfolio of companies

A big chunk, 25 percent, of Zalora’s revenue comes from mobile commerce, and the company says its app is the top lifestyle app in all the countries it serves, and the top app overall for Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

In other words, Rocket Ventures saw an opportunity to take a big slice of an emerging market, and is moving rapidly — and with massive investment — to own the space.

The capital will be used, Zalora said, to scale up operations and grow the number of local and international brands it carries.

The company has just delivered its millionth order.

photo credit: AehoHikaruki via photopin cc

Filed under: Business, Deals, Entrepreneur, Lifestyle, Mobile

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MyShoeBox offers unlimited photo storage, backup, and sharing — for free May 22nd 2013, 14:50
1-unify-screenshotA few months ago I bought an external 3TB hard disk for our home computer, mostly for my wife’s 53,000 photos. Turns out that if I had just waited, I could have simply uploaded them all to MyShoeBox.“We offer unified photo storage across all your devices, for free, at 1,024-pixel quality,” founder Steve Cosman told me a few weeks ago in Toronto. “Or you can pay $5/month for unlimited resolution.”

Tomorrow MyShoeBox is launching version two of its photo backup and sharing service, with a new iPad app, updated mobile apps, and a new shared galleries feature that you use to build grouped sets of photos with people you went on vacation with or family members who shared an event such as a wedding.

The freemium model has helped the company get a quick start.

Search and self-quantification Source: MyShoeBox
Search and self-quantification

After exiting from Toronto accelerator Extreme Startups in the fall, the service saw 13.4 million photos uploaded in November, its first month. And, Cosman says, MyShoeBox users upload far more photos than Facebook or Flickr users — 3,200 each, compared to Facebook’s 220 and Flickr’s 320.

But the value proposition is much more than photo backup.

Instead, MyShoeBox is a way to enjoy all of your photos, all of the time, on any device you have. Frankly, for most people, their photos are strewn around their main computer (photos from their actual, official, camera), their phone (snapshots from their built-in camera), and their social networks (uploaded from wherever you happened to be at the time). There’s no unified view, no way to see — and search — all your photos at once.

Using MyShoeBox for the first time syncs your photos up to the cloud-based service automatically, in the background, and installing the services’ mobile apps on your Android or iOS-based phone will do the same.

That’s helpful, because we often want to see more of our photos on our mobile devices.

“Our new iPad app is an incredible way of browsing your entire photo collection,” Cosman says. “And it’s one of the only ways you can get your full photo collection on your iPad … most people don’t have enough space.”

What most interested me when I chatted to Cosman is MyShoeBox’ solution to a problem that I think I share with many other digital photographers: enjoying your own work and finding photos. A former program manager for Microsoft’s augmented reality team for Windows Phone, Cosman has placed special emphasis on automated sorting, tagging, and exploring features.

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“So many people that have given up the concept of a photo collection,” he says. “Faces, places, and things are important ways to automatically categorize photos. And they keep getting smarter every day.”

So MyShoeBox highlights places you’ve been, photos you took last year at this time, events, cameras you used, and more, creating what the company calls “an interactive infographic” of your life. That includes personal quantification data like the top times you take photos, and your most photographed neighborhoods.

And if you want to search your photo collection, MyShoeBox has just rewritten its search features to be much faster and more powerful as its power users often have more than 15,000 photos each.

“iOS, Android, Windows, Mac … it works pretty much anywhere,” Cosman says. “And once together, it’s automatically organized.”

MyShoeBox is based in Toronto, Canada, and is currently raising a financing round. Its new iPad, iPhone, and Android apps will be live in Google Play and the app store tomorrow.

Image credits: MyShoeBox

Filed under: Business, Cloud, Lifestyle, Mobile, Social
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HTC loses its Asia CEO as high-level execs continue to abandon ship May 22nd 2013, 14:41
MobileBeat 2013 July 9-10, 2013
San Francisco, CAEarly Bird Tickets on Sale

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The “Quietly Brilliant” HTC is in the middle a not-so-quiet battle for its future.

Burned by a string of recent failures, the smartphone marker has lost both Asia CEO Lennard Hoornik, who joined the company in 2011, and chief product officer Kouji Kodera. Joining them are the executives from HTC’s communications, marketing, and digital marketing teams — all of whom have left the company in recent weeks.

The departures come as HTC’s future is looking increasingly dim. The Facebook Home-equipped HTC First is, by many metrics, a failure, and there’s no indication that sales of the HTC One are anything spectacular either — which is a crime considering just how amazing the device is.

HTC’s recent earnings paint a similar picture. The company’s profit was down 98 percent in the first quarter, and while it predicts second quarter revenue will hit $2.4 billion this quarter, something tells me that’s going to be tough to pull off.

Overall, HTC’s troubles emerge from a combination of internal and external forces. On the marketing side, HTC just can’t get its act together, which likely explains why the company’s communications arm is being hit so hard by departures. It’s telling that HTC months ago retired its “Quietly Brilliant” tagline (which is a clear window into its current problems, by the way), the slogan still appears when you boot up the HTC One. Something’s wrong there.

Externally, HTC’s eternal foil remains Samsung, which is still sucking up all the revenue in the Android despite the sad reality that its products are fairly tasteless and boring. While HTC has the design prowess, Samsung has the marketing dollars. And right now, marketing is winning.

Filed under: Mobile

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Keas partners with nutrition experts to encourage employee wellness May 22nd 2013, 00:34
keasThe typical employer pays an average of $10,000 a year per employee for healthcare.Keas announced at Healthbeat today two new content partnerships with My Healthy Dish and Noshtopia that will help employees make wiser nutritional choices and save employers money on health care costs.

Businesses use Keas to create and manage their workplace health programs. The system promotes healthy behavior and teamwork by rewarding people for achieving simple exercise and nutrition goals through games and social motivation. Keas’ CEO Josh Stevens said that seventy to eighty percent of health care costs are preventable, like those caused by smoking and over-eating, or conditions triggered by certain habits and behaviors. Unhealthy habits can lead to lower productivity and the business bears the brunt of these costs. Keas uses gamification to make losing weight and making healthy choices a fun, social, and mobile experience.

“It is in employers’ best interest to motivate their employees to do the right thing,” Stevens said. “Healthcare costs are rising and every time an employee takes personal time off to visit a doctor or fill a prescription can result in $250-$500 in productivity costs. The productivity savings of health employees are huge.”

Stevens said his goal is to provide solutions for the “99 percent of a patient’s life when they are not a patient.” Often this means supporting actions like eating more fruits and vegetables and reducing stress. Obesity-related conditions cost around $150 billion a year and a nutritious diet is a central element of overall wellness.

Keas recently conducted a survey to track employee sentiment towards nutrition and gain insight into what it can do to improve workforce habits. The survey found that 73 percent of the U.S. workforce frequently or always reads nutrition labels, 86 percent is eating breakfast at least 5 days a week, and 94 percent is increasing the daily intake of fruits and vegetables. 63 percent believe that fast food and junk food are leading causes of obesity, and an increasing number of people are turning to home-cooking in an effort to eat healthier.

The partnerships with My Healthy Dish and Noshtopia will help employees do things like prepare green smoothies for the morning and provide inspiration for simple-to-prepare healthy dinners.

“These are the folks that publish best content in nutrition,” Stevens said. “They provide meal planning and recipe ideas from experts that employees can use for inspiration. We want to bring everyone together, including CFOs, HR teams, wellness experts, and employees in one central portal.”

The easier it is to integrate nutritious eating into every day life, the healthier employees will be and the less employers will have to pay. It seems like a win-win, except for, maybe, the fast food franchises.

Photo Credit: Michael O’Donnell/VentureBeat

Filed under: Enterprise, Health, Mobile, Social
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