Revolut launches in Australia as a beta release

Fintech startup Revolut is expanding beyond Europe for the first time. The service is going live for some users in Australia starting today.

Revolut isn’t opening its doors to all customers at once. The company calls this a beta release and plans to gradually on-board new users every day. There are currently 20,000 people on the waitlist in Australia.

You also don’t get the full Revolut experience for now. Cryptocurrency exchange, metal cards and business accounts aren’t available just yet. But you can open an account, get a card, send and receive money — all the basic stuff.

A new country also means a new group of users with a different currency. Families living on different continents could switch to Revolut to send money back and forth between Australia and the U.K., or Australia and Europe.

Sending money from one Revolut account to another is instant and free. Users can then choose to keep money in a foreign currency or convert it to their local currency from the app.

For instance, converting GBP to AUD is free during weekdays and below £5,000 per month (9,150 AUD, 5,600 EUR, 6,340 USD…). It costs 0.5 percent for bigger amounts (unless you’re a Premium or Metal customer), and you need to add 0.5 percent on top of that if you exchange money on the weekend.

If I try to convert 2,000 GBP in the Revolut app right now, I’d get 3,660.50 AUD. A similar transaction on TransferWise would give me 3,647.27 AUD. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the day of the week, the amount you’re converting, etc.

Revolut currently has a team in Melbourne but doesn’t exclude putting together teams in Sydney and Perth as well. Eventually, the company plans to hire 30 people in Australia.

The startup has previously announced plans to expand to other countries, such as the U.S., Canada, Singapore, Japan and New Zealand.

China’s Didi kicks off expansion in Latin America with moves into Chile and Colombia

The wheels are turning on Didi Chuxing’s first major expansion in Latin America after the Chinese ride-hailing firm announced moves into Chile and Colombia to double its presence in the region.

Didi said it rolled into Valparaiso, Chile’s third largest metropolis, and Colombian capital city Bogota this week. The company plans to expand beyond those cities over time, and, in terms of services, it said that it will add dedicated licensed taxis in Colombia this year.

Anchored in China, where it is the country’s dominant ride-hailing service, Didi began to place focus on international expansion last year and Latin America is a key part of its global ambitions.

In the region, Didi currently operates in Brazil — where it acquired local player 99 for $1 billion — and Mexico, but recent reports have linked it with more countries in Latin America. In February, Reuters reported that the company was hiring for operational staff in Chile, Peru and Colombia. Other reports have put its total headcount in Latin America at over 1,000 staff, that’s a clear indication of its intent for the region.

In a statement, Mi Yang — who leads Didi’s operations in Central and South America — called Chile and Colombia “two important centers of growth and innovation in the region.”

Outside of Latin America and its homeland, Didi is present in Taiwan and Australia, where it has other global connection through its investment deals. The company owns a significant stake in Southeast Asia-based Grab it doubled down with a $2 billion investment alongside SoftBank in 2017 — as well as Bolt (formerly known as Taxify) across Europe and Africa, Ola in India and Lyft in the U.S.

Didi also has relations with Uber as a mutual investment was part of the deal that saw it acquire the Uber China business in 2016, and it invested in Middle East-based Careem, which is being acquired by Uber.

That’s a pretty complicated web of relationships and, with Didi’s global expansion, it often pits the Chinese company against its investments. In Australia, for example, Didi is up against Uber, Bolt AND Ola.

In Latin America, Uber is again a competitor and others the field include local players Cabify, Easy Taxi and Beat from Greece — companies that Didi hasn’t backed.

On offer is a market with vast growth potential. Latin America is the world’s second-fastest-growing mobile market. In a region of approximately 640 million people, there are more than 200 million smartphone users and, by 2020, predictions say that 63% of Latin America’s population will have access to the mobile Internet.

Didi’s globetrotting comes at a challenging time for its domestic business, where it is still reeling from the murder of two passengers last year.

As TechCrunch reported last month, Didi is revamping its security systems to put an increased focus on passenger security in the wake of those tragic deaths. That’s come at significant cost and it is said to have pushed back plans to take the company. Uber and Lyft have, of course, completed IPO this year, but Didi’s own timeline for doing so is unclear.

More generally, Didi is far from the first Chinese company to head to Latin America with ambitions of dizzying growth. Earlier this decade, Baidu made a major push to own the nascent web and search business in Brazil — which culminated in an acquisition — while Tencent has backed fintech unicorn Nubank and it is trying sniff out other potential giants-in-waiting as the region’s ecosystem matures.

Tinder adds sexual orientation and gender identity to its profiles

Tinder is adding information about sexual orientation and gender identity to its profiles.

The company worked with the LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD on changes to its dating app to make it more inclusive.

Users who want to edit or add more information about their sexual orientation can now simply edit their profile. When a Tinder user taps on the “orientation” selection they can choose up to three terms that describe their sexual orientation. Those descriptions can either be private or public, but will likely be used to inform matches on the app.

Tinder has also updated the onboarding experience for new users so that they can include their sexual orientation as soon as they sign up for the dating app.

Tinder is also giving users more control over how they order matches. In the “Discovery Preferences” field Tinderers can choose to see people of the same orientation first.

The company said this is a first step in its efforts to be more inclusive. The company will continue to work with GLAAD to refine its products and is making the new features available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, India, Australia and New Zealand throughout June.

 

Flipboard hacks prompt password resets for millions of users

Social sharing site and news aggregator Flipboard has reset millions of user passwords after hackers gained access to its systems several times over a nine-month period

The company confirmed in a notice Tuesday that the hacks took place between June 2, 2018 and March 23, 2019 and a second time on April 21-22, 2019, but the intrusions were only detected a day later on April 23.

Hackers stole usernames, email addresses, passwords and account tokens for third-party services. According to the notice, “not all” Flipboard users’ account data were involved in the breaches but the company declined to say how many users were affected.

Flipboard has more than 150 million monthly users.

“We’re still identifying the accounts involved and as a precaution, we reset all users’ passwords and replaced or deleted all digital tokens,” the notice read.

Although the passwords were unreadable, Flipboard said passwords prior to March 14, 2012 were scrambled using the older, weak hashing SHA-1 algorithm.. Any passwords changed after are scrambled using a much stronger algorithm that makes it far more difficult to reveal in a usable format.

The hacks also exposed account tokens, which gives Flipboard access to data from accounts on other services, like Facebook, Google, and Samsung.

“We have not found any evidence the unauthorized person accessed third-party account(s) connected to users’ Flipboard accounts,” said the statement. “As a precaution, we have replaced or deleted all digital tokens.”

Flipboard becomes the latest tech giant to be hit by hackers in recent months. Developer platform Stack Overflow earlier this month confirmed a breach involved some user data. Canva, one of the biggest sites on the internet, was also hacked. Last week, the Australia-based company admitted close to 140 million users had data stolen following the breach.

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Australia’s design unicorn, Canva, picks up two free image-sharing services, and launches new photo product

Canva, the design and publishing platform taking on Adobe, PowerPoint, and others, has acquired the free stock image providers Pexels and Pixabay and launched a new subscription service for its premium image marketplace, Photos Unlimited.

Taken together, the new strategic moves represent a concerted effort by the company to add more graphic options to its design toolkit.

“With over 1 million images downloaded over 500 million times on their platforms combined, both Pexels and Pixabay have proven that there is a huge demand for free, quality content from small businesses, social media marketers and others — not just from designers and companies with big budgets,” said Canva chief executive Melanie Perkins, in a statement.

Perkins declined to disclose how much Canva spent on the two stock image services.

As a result of the acquisition, Canva users will have access to Pexels and Pixabay’s images through the Canva platform free of charge. Photographs on the respective sites will continue to be free for all users as well, according to Perkins.

“No other design platform truly believes in the mission of empowering the world to design like Canva, and providing free stock content is central to their mission. Today’s announcement signifies a huge step forward in the right direction,” said Pexels co-founder, Ingo Joseph, in a statement. “We’re on our way to put an end to cheesy stock photos and open the doors to more authentic, trending content for free.”

In addition to the free services, Canva is rolling out Photos Unlimited, a subscription service for $12.95 per-month or $120 per-year for the company’s own premium stock photos. That’s in addition to the $1 per-image, per-use, or $20 for lifetime use of images that Canva charges for through its platform.

Canva has over 15 million monthly active users who have made over 1 billion designs since the company launched in 2013.

The Australian company has raised $86.6 million from institutional investors like Australia’s own Blackbird Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Matrix Partners, and Sequoia Capital, alongside celebrity investors including Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson. Canva’s currently valued at over $1 billion.

 

Amazon leads $575M investment in Deliveroo

Amazon is taking a slice of Europe’s food delivery market after the U.S. e-commerce giant led a $575 million investment in Deliveroo .

First reported by Sky yesterday, the Series G round was confirmed in an early UK morning announcement from Deliveroo, which confirmed that existing backers including T. Rowe Price, Fidelity Management and Research Company, and Greenoaks also took part. The deal takes Deliveroo to just over $1.5 billion raised to date. The company was valued at over $2 billion following its previous raise in late 2017, no updated valuation was provided today.

London-based Deliveroo operates in 14 countries, including the U.K, France, Germany and Spain, and — outside of Europe — Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and the UAE. Across those markets, it claims it works with 80,000 restaurants with a fleet of 60,000 delivery people and 2,500 permanent employees.

It isn’t immediately clear how Amazon plans to use its new strategic relationship with Deliveroo — it could, for example, integrate it with Prime membership — but this isn’t the firm’s first dalliance with food delivery. The U.S. firm closed its Amazon Restaurants UK takeout business last year after it struggled to compete with Deliveroo and Uber Eats. The service remains operational in the U.S, however.

“Amazon has been an inspiration to me personally and to the company, and we look forward to working with such a customer-obsessed organization,” said Deliveroo CEO and founder Will Shu in a statement.

Shu said the new money will go towards initiatives that include growing Deliveroo’s London-based engineering team, expanding its reach and focusing on new products, including cloud kitchens that can cook up delivery meals faster and more cost-efficiently.

[Center] Will Shu, Deliveroo CEO and co-founder, on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt London

Amazon leads $575M investment in Deliveroo

Amazon is taking a slice of Europe’s food delivery market after the U.S. e-commerce giant led a $575 million investment in Deliveroo .

First reported by Sky yesterday, the Series G round was confirmed in an early UK morning announcement from Deliveroo, which confirmed that existing backers including T. Rowe Price, Fidelity Management and Research Company, and Greenoaks also took part. The deal takes Deliveroo to just over $1.5 billion raised to date. The company was valued at over $2 billion following its previous raise in late 2017, no updated valuation was provided today.

London-based Deliveroo operates in 14 countries, including the U.K, France, Germany and Spain, and — outside of Europe — Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and the UAE. Across those markets, it claims it works with 80,000 restaurants with a fleet of 60,000 delivery people and 2,500 permanent employees.

It isn’t immediately clear how Amazon plans to use its new strategic relationship with Deliveroo — it could, for example, integrate it with Prime membership — but this isn’t the firm’s first dalliance with food delivery. The U.S. firm closed its Amazon Restaurants UK takeout business last year after it struggled to compete with Deliveroo and Uber Eats. The service remains operational in the U.S, however.

“Amazon has been an inspiration to me personally and to the company, and we look forward to working with such a customer-obsessed organization,” said Deliveroo CEO and founder Will Shu in a statement.

Shu said the new money will go towards initiatives that include growing Deliveroo’s London-based engineering team, expanding its reach and focusing on new products, including cloud kitchens that can cook up delivery meals faster and more cost-efficiently.

[Center] Will Shu, Deliveroo CEO and co-founder, on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt London

Uber is facing Australian class action suit alleging ‘unlawful conduct’

As it gears up to go public Uber is facing legacy baggage down under: A class action lawsuit has been filed in Australia on behalf of around 6,000 taxi and hire car drivers and license owners, Reuters reported Friday.

The suit was filed Friday at the Victoria Supreme Court by personal injury and compensation law firm, Maurice Blackburn. It’s seeking compensation on behalf of thousands of taxi and hire car drivers and operators who believe they lost income or saw a fall in the value of their licence as a result of what it dubs “Uber’s unlawful conduct”.

The firm is still registering additional participants online — specifically those who were licensed to operate in four states, Victoria, Western Australian, New South Wales and Queensland, between a selection of dates spanning 2014 to 2017.

The argument behind the case is that Uber started operating illegally in the four states in 2014, by offering its UberX service which used vehicles and drivers without “the proper licences, accreditations and authorizations”, as it puts it — thereby leading to a drop in income and licence value for the plaintiffs in the class action. 

State laws were subsequently changed to put ride-hailing on a lawful footing so the case is focused on Uber’s past business conduct, with Maurice Blackburn alleging it operated unlawfully in each of the states for a period of time — hence the varying dates for registering participants. 

In a press release the firm writes that the case has been about 18 months in the making, noting too that the ‘no win, no fee’ class action is being underwritten by “one of the world’s largest litigation funders, Harbour”.

“Make no mistake, this will be a landmark case regarding the alleged illegal operations of Uber in Australia and the devastating impact that has had on the lives of hard-working and law-abiding citizens here,” said Maurice Blackburn’s national head of class actions, Andrew Watson, in a statement.

“It is not acceptable for a business to place itself above the law and operate illegally to the disadvantage of others. We’ve got a strong case, a strong team and substantial support from thousands of drivers, operators and licence owners nationwide,” he added.

The firm takes the view it has a better chance of winning compensation for plaintiffs by suing Uber, rather than the government for failing to enforce relevant regulations — pointing, for example, to Uber’s use of the controversial ‘Greyball’ software, which it describes as a “devious program”.

In 2017 the New York Times reported that Uber was using the software to identify members of code enforcement authorities or city officials trying to gather data about it offering service in areas where it’s prohibited and block their access to prevent their ability to enforce local rules.

“Uber sells the idea that it does things differently, but in reality and as we allege, this has meant operating unlawfully, using devious programs like ‘Greyball’. All of this caused extensive loss and damage to law-abiding taxi and hire car drivers, operators and licence holders across the country,” said senior associate at Maurice Blackburn, Elizabeth O’Shea, in another supporting statement.

“Uber came in and exploited people by operating outside of regulations and it was Uber’s conduct that led to horrible losses being suffered by our group members. For those reasons, we are targeting the multi-billion dollar company Uber and its associated entities to provide redress to those affected.”

The firm’s PR also includes a statement from lead plaintiff, Nick Andrianakis, a taxi driver, operator and licence owner from Brunswick, Melbourne, describing the impact of “a life’s work being stripped away from you”.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on the class action suit.

In a statement given to Reuters the company denied it operated illegally, telling the news agency: “Uber denies this allegation and, if a claim is served making it, the claim will be vigorously defended.”

The law firm told the news agency that the level of damages being sought could run into “hundreds of millions of dollars” — while emphasizing that any compensation would be determined as part of the case or via settlement negotiations.

While Uber’s statement to Reuters implies it has no intention of seeking a settlement to make this latest legacy legal headache go away, two months ago it did just that in the case of a separate US class-action focused on driver pay and benefits.

In that case Uber agreed to pay $20 million to settle a suit, brought six years ago, which had claimed Uber classified its drivers as contractors to avoid paying them a minimum wage and providing benefits.

Though $20M is considerably less than Uber might have been on the hook for had an appeals court not overturned an earlier decision to grant class-action status to hundreds of thousands of drivers in California and Massachusetts — ruling instead that its arbitration agreements were valid and enforceable.

That decision reduced the number of drivers in the suit to around 13,600.

Spotify’s leanback instant listening app Stations hits iOS

Spotify has launched its instant listening app Stations on iOS, but only in Australia for the time being. The release comes nearly a year and a half after the Stations app first arrived on the market, initially for Android users in Australia. Dubbed an “experiment,” the app allows users to jump right into streaming instead of having to curate their own playlists or stations, or save favorite music to their library.

Unlike Spotify’s flagship application, the Stations app presents users with a minimalist interface where available playlists are displayed with an oversized font. You can scroll up and down between the playlists to select one, instead of typing in a search box or searching through voice commands.

When launching Stations, music begins playing automatically — a feature that had some calling it a “Pandora copycat” at the time of launch, given that instant music playback is something that Spotify’s rival Pandora already supports.

Stations was largely designed for those who want a more radio-like experience that involves less manual input. Free users will hear ads, be able to thumbs up and down songs, but can’t skip tracks. Premium users who download Stations get unlimited skips and ad-free listening.

The Stations app today features a range of playlists by genre, decade, activity and more, but also becomes personalized to the end-user over time. You can also opt to create your own stations by selecting from favorite artists in an experience that’s reminiscent of the customization offered today by YouTube Music — right down to the rounded artist profile photos you tap on.

As you listen to music on Stations, you can thumbs up and down songs in order to have it create custom stations personalized to you — including a Discover Weekly playlist, Release Radar, and a Favorites playlist.

Not much had been heard about Stations since its January 2018 debut. And its limited release — it never hit the U.S., for example — could have indicated it was an experiment that didn’t quite pan out.

But it now seems that’s not the case, given the new expansion to iOS.

By offering the app to more users, Spotify has the chance to learn and collect data from a larger and more representative group of people. Whether or not it takes any ideas from Stations to its main app remains to be seen.

The company declined to comment on its plans, when asked.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a spokesperson said. “Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We aren’t going to comment on specific tests at this time,” they added.

Stations is live now on iOS in Australia. More information on the app is on the (newly updated) Help site here.

Inspection robots are climbing the walls to monitor safety conditions in hazardous locations

Down in Christchurch, New Zealand a team of roboticists at Invert Robotics has commercialized an inspection robot that uses tiny suction cups on a series of treads and a specialty chemical to create a technology that has robots literally climbing the walls.

Meanwhile, a world away in Pittsburgh, Gecko Robotics is tackling much the same problem with high-powered magnets and an inspection robot of its own.

Both companies have recently closed on new financing, with Invert raising $8.8 million from investors including Finistere Ventures and Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley, and Gecko Robotics wrapping up a $9 million round, which began fundraising last June, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

For the food-focused investment fund, Finistere Ventures, the benefit of a wall-climbing robot is apparent in looking at supply chain issues, according to co-founder and partner Arama Kukutai .

“The immediate value of Invert Robotics across the global food supply chain – from ensuring food and beverages are stored and transported in safe, pathogen-free environments, to avoiding catastrophic failures in agrichemical-industry containers and plants – is undeniably impressive,” Kukutai said in a statement. “However, we see the potential applications as almost limitless.”

Plant inspections in the food, chemicals and aviation industry are dangerous endeavors, and automation can make a significant improvement in how companies address the critical function of quality assurance, according to investors and entrepreneurs.

“There has been virtually no innovation in industrial services technology for decades,” Founders Fund  partner Trae Stephens told TechCrunch in a statement. “Gecko’s robots massively reduce facility shutdown time while gathering critical performance data and preventing potentially fatal accidents. The demand for what they are building is huge.”

While Gecko uses powerful magnets to secure its robots to surfaces, Invert Robotics uses powerful suction to enable its robots to climb the walls.

“If you think of a plunger and how a plunger adheres to a surface… it creates a perfect seal with the surface, you find it very hard to lift the plunger off the surface,” said managing director, Neil Fletcher. “We’ve taken that concept and we’ve made it able to slide along the surface without losing the vacuum. It’s a fine balance between maintaining the vacuum that we’ve created and leaking enough air into the vacuum to allow the unit to slide along and we coat the suction cups with a special chemical that reduces the friction.”

Both agriculture and chemicals represent billion-dollar markets for non-destructive testing, Fletcher said, and the company is already working with companies like Dow Chemical and BASF to assess their processing assets and ensure that they’re fit for use.

Yamaha has a strategic interest in developing these types of robotics systems, which prompted the investment from the firm’s skunkworks and investment shop out of Silicon Valley.

“As part of Yamaha’s long-term vision supporting the development of advanced robots to improve workplace efficiency and safety, Invert Robotics’ technology and its value proposition made a positive impression on our investment committee,” added Craig Boshier, partner and general manager for Yamaha Motor Ventures in Australia and New Zealand. “Importantly, the robotic technology’s adaptability to different environments and industries is well supported by an engaged team. That combination, with proper capitalization, positions Invert Robotics for success in its global market expansion.”

Pittsburgh’s own Gecko Robotics has similar aspirations, and an investor base including Mark Cuban, Founders Fund, The Westly Group, Justin Kan and Y Combinator.

Since 2012, the company has been working on its technology using ultrasound transducers and a high-def camera to scan boiler walls as the company’s robot would scale them.

Given the billions of dollars in demand, and the potential life-saving applications, it’s no wonder investors are clambering to get a piece of the market.