India-based music streaming service Gaana raises $115M led by Tencent


Chinese internet giant Tencent is continuing to put its money in India and in music streaming services after it agreed to lead a $115 million investment in India’s Gaana.

Gaana is a music streaming service that was started by Times Media, the company behind the Times of India newspaper and tech incubator Times Internet among other things, seven years ago. Gaana didn’t reveal its user metrics, but CEO Prashan Agarwal said the company is “only 10 percent of the way towards building a business useful for 500 million Indians.”

The company plans to use this new capital develop artificial intelligence to create more personalized services and features for listeners. It said also it will develop its paid-user service, too. Aside from a Spotify-like subscription offering, it also provides an ad-based service which is available for free.

Times Internet is already an existing backer and it is the other investor in the deal. Tencent’s involvement represents the first ‘outside’ investment money raised for Gaana, which counts Saavn — a firm that raised money from Tiger Global and others — and Xiaomi-backed Hungama among its competition.

Spotify has spent the past year assessing the Indian market over a potential move, sources close to the company told TechCrunch. But, with a U.S. public listing happening at the end of March, it isn’t likely to make the move soon.

Tencent’s investment in Gaana follows a deal with Spotify which saw both companies swap shares in December. Tencent Music Entertainment (TME), the Chinese firm’s subsidiary that manages its music streaming and karaoke services, made an undisclosed minority investment in Spotify through new shares, while Spotify bought a similar undisclosed stake in TME. Added to that, Tencent bought into Spotify by purchasing secondary shares.

While not as prolific as arch-nemesis Alibaba, Tencent — which recently became Asia’s first $500 billion company — has steadily upped its investment in India in recent times. Companies in the country that it has backed include chat app Hike, Amazon rival Flipkart, Uber competitor Ola, medical platform Practo, and education startup BYJU’s.

Given its other music businesses and investments — which include Joox in Southeast Asia and karaoke app Smule — and the fact that TME is widely-tipped to head for an IPO this year, it isn’t a huge surprise to see Tencent expand its India focus with this move into music streaming.

“We are happy to welcome Tencent as a partner in Gaana and benefit from their global learnings. Tencent operates the largest music streaming business in China, and we look forward to working closely with them to continue to innovate and drive the digital music market in India,” Gautam Sinha, CEO of Times Internet, said in a statement.

“As more affordable mobile data plans are driving smartphone penetration in India, we believe growth in the music streaming market will accelerate. By investing in and collaborating with Gaana, we look forward to bringing more innovation and better experiences to all Indian music lovers,” added Tencent President Martin Lau.

Featured Image: Shutterstock

Senator calls on Tinder to fix a security flaw that lets randos snoop through your dates


Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is nervous about Tinder. He may not be swiping on the service this Valentine’s Day, but with a new letter demanding that Tinder resolve some security issues, Wyden is looking out for everyone who is.

Last month, a security report surfaced what it deemed “disturbing vulnerabilities” in the dating app. Wyden’s letter cites the research, demanding a fix for a security loophole that allows would-be attackers to view nearly everything about a user’s Tinder experience via an attack over unsecured wifi.

“Tinder can easily enhance privacy to its users by encrypting all data transmitted between its app and servers, and padding sensitive information to thwart snooping,” Wyden writes.

As the security firm Checkmarx explains:

“The vulnerabilities, found in both the app’s Android and iOS versions, allow an attacker using the same network as the user to monitor the user’s every move on the app. It is also possible for an attacker to take control over the profile pictures the user sees, swapping them for inappropriate content, rogue advertising or other type of malicious content (as demonstrated in the research).”

The report notes that stolen credentials are unlikely, but the vulnerability is a recipe for blackmail. TechCrunch reached out to Tinder for comment on Sen. Wyden’s letter and its plans to fix its security concerns but the company has not responded.

“Americans expect their personal information to remain private online,” Wyden writes. “To that end, I urge Tinder to address these security lapses, and by doing so, to swipe right on user privacy and security.”

Instagram is testing screenshot alerts for stories


Instagram is testing a feature that will show users when someone else takes a screenshot of their story. Users included in the test are getting a warning that the next time they take a screenshot of a friend’s story the friend will be able to see it, as shown below:

And users who are participating in the test can see who took a screenshot of their story by going to the list of story viewers and seeing a new camera shutter logo next to anyone who took a screenshot of their photo. To be clear, creators won’t get a specific notification when someone takes a screenshot of their story, it will only show up in their list of story viewers.

In a statement provided to TechCrunch Instagram acknowledged the test, saying “we are always testing ways to improve the experience on Instagram and make it easier to share any moment with the people who matter to you.” 

Instagram is likely using this test to see if the feature has any noticeable impact on engagement, before deciding whether or not they’ll roll it out to all users. For example, there’s a chance that some users may end up watching less stories over time if they aren’t able to take screenshots without notifying the creator.

Prior to this test the only screenshot notifications on Instagram were when someone took a screenshot of a private direct message. Anyone could take a screenshot of someone’s photo or story without notifying the creator. Notably, users can rewatch stories as many times as they want within 24 hours, with the creator unable to see exactly how many times one person watched it.

If rolled out, this feature would essentially align Instagram with Snapchat in terms of how the platform deals with screenshots. Any screenshot of a direct message triggers a notification to the sender, but a screenshot of a story will just result in a notation being placed next to the offender’s name in the viewer analytics tab.

There’s no App Store ’emoji apocalypse,’ just inconsistent policy enforcement


A number of iOS app developers have been mystified by a new wave of app rejections related to their use of Apple’s emojis. They’ve suspected that a new App Store crackdown is underway. However, the company hasn’t changed its policy on Apple emoji usage in apps, nor its enforcement, according to sources familiar with the App Store review team’s processes. The policy does seem to be inconsistently enforced at times, though.

That’s led to previously approved apps receiving rejections, while other apps in breach of policy have been let in.

Specifically, Apple told some developers who used its emoji in their apps that they were in violation of the 5.2.5 “Intellectual Property” guideline.

For example, one rejection notice read:

“Your app and app’s metadata include Apple emoji which creates a misleading association with Apple products.”

The site Emojipedia, which covers the broader emoji ecosystem, recently detailed some of the newer examples of apps facing rejections, including Github client GitHawk, bitcoin wallet tracker Bittracker,matching game Reaction Match, emoji-based game Moji Match, and others.

As Emojipedia had determined, we’ve confirmed that Apple will only allow apps using emojis in specific contexts, like in a text field.

Meanwhile, any other usage should be banned by App Review, including when emoji are used as elements in a game, as replacements for buttons or other parts of the app’s user interface, as sticker packs, in app logos or icons, or in promotional images, also as Emojipedia had suspected, based on the pattern of rejections.

While emojis exist as part of the Unicode standard, Apple’s implementation of that standard is copyrighted. That means the company is within its legal right to control the usage of their own emoji designs, especially in their own App Store.

However, Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge takes issue with the fact that Apple should have such a policy around its emoji at all.

“It seems reasonable to me that Apple would want some level of control over emoji use in the App Store, but banning it outright from anything other user-inputted text feels a step too far in my opinion,” he says.

That said, Apple’s decision to reject apps based on their use of Apple emoji is not a new occurrence. If you go back far enough on Twitter, you’ll findmany examples of developerscomplaining about the same thing over the past couple of years.

Adding to the more recent confusion, as Emojipedia also pointed out in its reporting, was the fact that Apple’s own app development course on coding using Swift offers an example of an app with emojis that seems to breach its policy.

The real issue here is that the App Review team has not consistently enforced the policies around Apple emoji use. In addition, Apple it doesn’t speak up to clear the air when it’s aware developers are confused.

That leads to a situation where developers will just try to sneak their app through, even though it seems to be in violation of the guidelines. (That sometimes works, too.)

But in the end, it wastes developers’ time because they later may get caught by App Review. They then have to go back and overhaul their app to address the problem at a much later stage of development.

Apple declined to comment about the emoji-related rejections.

Featured Image: Frank Behrens/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE

Chat app Line announces plan for cryptocurrency services, loans and insurance


Line, the messaging app with around 200 million monthly users, is embracing bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to fend off increased competition from Facebook and others.

The Japanese company told announced the creation of a new financial services division which will spearhead a move into cryptocurrencies and other services including loans and insurance. Line already operates a payment service — which claims 40 million users $4 billion in annual GMV — but now it plans to do much more.

Line said it has applied for a cryptocurrency license in Japan — where more than a dozen exchange and other businesses have been approved — which is currently under review.

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Line was considering a move into crypto, but at this point it isn’t clear exactly what that will entail. From the announcement, Line said it will operate a marketplace inside its app where people can trade crypto and get loans or insurance. It said, too, that it will look into how it can use blockchain technology within its services.

Loans and insurance, while not as attention-grabbing a crypto, may prove to be lucrative ventures in markets where Line has strong recognition among consumers.

The company is need of something fresh to revitalize its business in the wake of increasing competition from Facebook, which operates WhatsApp and Messenger, the world’s most popular messaging apps with over one billion monthly users each.

Prior its $1.1 billion U.S.-Japan IPO in 2016, Line had targeted a global audience via its messaging service — which pioneered the concept of stickers — and a connected games business. Its international expansion didn’t go according to plan, however, and the company refocused efforts on its four core markets of Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia, which account for 168 million of its active users.

In those markets, it offers a range of localized services that include a video streaming, manga cartoons, shopping, ride-hailing and other on-demand services. Last year, it began to sell smart hardware and AI to offer its own cartoony alternative to Amazon’s Echo range and Google Home devices. In some markets, it also offers a Line-branded mobile phone/data service.

There’s plenty of pressure, however. Facebook’s global popularity makes Messenger an option for most internet users on the planet while the company is busy in other areas. WhatsApp recently moved into business solutions that allow companies to correspond with users via its service, and it is tipped to move into payments soon. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also pledged to look into whether Facebook can make use of blockchain technology.

Line will hope these new services can boost its business in its strongest markets and pick up new users in other countries.

Line might well be the largest consumer-focused business to adopt crypto to date. It is far from the only chat app, though. Kik raised $100 million in an ICO earlier this year, while there are also newer blockchain-based solutions such as Status. Then there’s Telegram, a chat app that has over 150 million users that is popular among the crypto community, which is planning a much-anticipated ICO that could raise upwards of $1.2 billion.

Line’s announcement comes as the price of bitcoin dropped below $10,000 for the first time since the end of November, according to Coindesk’s price tracking service.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.