FTC fines kids’ app developer HyperBeard $150K for use of third-party ad trackers

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today announced a settlement of $150,000 with HyperBeard, the developer of a collection of children’s mobile games over violations of U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act Rule (COPPA Rule). The company’s applications had been downloaded more than 50 million times on a worldwide basis to date, according to data from app intelligence firm Sensor Tower.

A complaint filed by the Dept. of Justice on behalf of the FTC alleged that HyperBeard had violated COPPA by allowing third-party ad networks to collect personal information in the form of persistent identifiers to track users of the company’s child-directed apps. And it did so without notifying parents or obtaining verifiable parental consent, as is required. These ad networks then used the identifiers to target ads to children using HyperBeard’s games.

The company’s lineup included games like Axolochi, BunnyBuns, Chichens, Clawbert, Clawberta, KleptoCats, KleptoCats 2, KleptoDogs, MonkeyNauts and NomNoms (not to be confused with toy craze Num Noms).

The FTC determined HyperBeard’s apps were marketed toward children because they used brightly colored, animated characters like cats, dogs, bunnies, chicks, monkeys and other cartoon characters, and were described in child-friendly terms like “super cute” and “silly.” The company also marketed its apps on a kids’ entertainment website, YayOMG, published children’s books and licensed other products, including stuffed animals and block construction sets, based on its app characters.

Unbelievably, the company would post disclaimers to its marketing materials that these apps were not meant for children under 13.

Above: A disclaimer on the NomNoms game website. 

In HyperBeard’s settlement with the FTC, the company has agreed to pay a $150,000 fine and delete the personal information it illegally collected from children under the age of 13. The settlement had originally included a $4 million penalty, but the FTC suspended it over HyperBeard’s inability to pay the full amount. But that larger amount will become due if the company or its CEO, Alexander Kozachenko, are ever found to have misrepresented their finances.

HyperBeard is not the first tech company to be charged with COPPA violations. Two high-profile examples preceding it were YouTube and Musical.ly (TikTok)’s settlements of $170 million and $5.7 million, respectively, both in 2019. By comparison, HyperBeard’s fine seems minimal. However, its case is different from either video platform as the company itself was not handling the data collection — it was permitting ad networks to do so.

The complaint explained that HyperBeard let third-party advertising networks serve ads and collect personal information in the form of persistent identifiers, in order to serve behavioral ads — meaning, targeted ads based on users’ activity over time and across sites.

This requires parental consent, but companies have skirted this rule for years — or outright ignored it, like YouTube did.

The ad networks used in HyperBeard’s apps included AdColony, AdMob, AppLovin, Facebook Audience Network, Fyber, IronSource, Kiip, TapCore, TapJoy, Vungle and UnityAds. Despite being notified of the issue by watchdogs and the FTC, HyperBeard didn’t alert any of the ad networks that its apps were directed towards kids, not to make changes.

The issues around the invasiveness of third-party ad networks and trackers — and their questionable data collection practices — have come in the spotlight thanks to in-depth reporting about app privacy issues, various privacy experiments, petitions against their use and, more recently, as a counter-argument to Apple’s marketing of its iPhone as a privacy-conscious device.

Last year, these complaints finally led Apple to ban the use of third-party networks and trackers in any iOS apps aimed at kids.

HyperBeard’s install base was below 50 million at the time of the settlement, we understand. According to Sensor Tower, around 12 million of HyperBeard’s installs to date have come from its most popular title, Adorable Home, which only launched in January 2020. U.S. consumers so far have accounted for about 18% of the company’s total installs to date, followed by the Chinese App Store at 14%. So far, in 2020, Vietnam has emerged as leading the market with close to 24% of all installs since January, while the U.S. dropped to No. 7 overall, with a 7% share.

The FTC’s action against HyperBeard should serve as a warning to other app developers that simply saying an app is not meant for kids doesn’t exempt them from following COPPA guidelines, when it’s clear the app is targeting kids. In addition, app makers can and will be held liable for the data collection practices of third-party ad networks, even if the app itself isn’t storing kids’ personal data on its own servers.

“If your app or website is directed to kids, you’ve got to make sure parents are in the loop before you collect children’s personal information,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement about the settlement. “This includes allowing someone else, such as an ad network, to collect persistent identifiers, like advertising IDs or cookies, in order to serve behavioral advertising,” he said.

Kids now spend nearly as much time watching TikTok as YouTube in U.S., U.K. and Spain

A new study on kids’ app usage and habits indicates a major threat to YouTube’s dominance, as kids now split their time between Google’s online video platform and other apps, like TikTok, Netflix, and mobile games like Roblox. Kids ages 4 to 15 now spend an average of 85 minutes per day watching YouTube videos, compared with 80 minutes per day spent on TikTok. The latter app also drove growth in kids’ social app use by 100% in 2019 and 200% in 2020, the report found.

The data in the annual report by digital safety app maker Qustodio was provided by 60,000 families with children ages 4 to 14 in the U.S., U.K., and Spain, so it’s data isn’t representative of global trends. The research encompasses children’s online habits from February 2019 to April 2020, takes into account the COVID-19 crisis, and specifically focused on four main categories of mobile applications: online video, social media, video games, and education.

YouTube, not surprisingly, remains one of the most-used apps among children, the study found.

Kids are now watching twice as many videos per day as they did just four years ago. This is despite the fact that YouTube’s flagship app is meant for ages 13 and up — an age-gate that was never truly enforced, leading to the FTC’s historic $170 million fine for the online video platform in 2019 for its noncompliance with U.S. children’s privacy regulations.

The app today is used by 69% of U.S. kids, 74% of kids in the U.K., and 88% of kids in Spain. Its app for younger children, YouTube Kids, meanwhile, is only used by 7% of kids in the U.S., 10% of kids in the U.K., and wasn’t even on the radar in Spain.

The next largest app for online video is Netflix, watched by 33% of U.S. kids, 29% of U.K. kids, and 28% of kids in Spain.

In early 2020, kids in the U.S. were spending 86 minutes on YouTube per day, down from 88 minutes in 2019. In the U.K., kids are watching 75 minutes per day, down from 77 minutes in 2019. And in Spain, kids watch 63 minutes per day, down from 66 minutes in 2019.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the time spent increased quite a bit, as you could imagine. In the U.S., for example, kids in mid-April spent 99 minutes per day on YouTube.

In part, the decline in total YouTube minutes could be due to the growing number of daily minutes kids spend on TikTok. The Beijing-owned short-form video app could gain further traction if more YouTube creators leave Google’s video platform as a result of the increasing regulations and the related losses in monetization. More creators would broaden TikTok’s appeal, as it expands its content lineup.

Last year, TikTok became one of the top five most-downloaded apps globally that wasn’t owned by Facebook, and it has continued to grow among all age demographics.

From May 2019 through February 2020, the average minutes per day kids spent on TikTok increased by 116% in the U.S. to reach 82 minutes, went up by 97% in the U.K. to reach 69 minutes, and increased 150% in Spain to reach 60 minutes.

In February 2020, 16.5% of U.S. kids used TikTok, just behind the 20.4% on Instagram, and ahead of the 16% on Snapchat. In the U.K. and Spain, 17.7% and 37.7% of kids used TikTok, respectively.

Time spent on TikTok increased during COVID-19 lockdowns, as well, leaving the app now only minutes away from being equal to time spent on YouTube. In the U.S., for example, kids’ average usage of TikTok hit 95 minutes per day during COVID-19 lockdowns compared with just 2 minutes more — 97 minutes — spent on YouTube

In terms of online gaming, Roblox dominates in the U.S. and U.K., where 54% and 51% of kids play, respectively. In Spain, only 17% do. Instead, kids in Spain currently prefer Brawl Stars.

Similarly, Minecraft is used by 31% of kids in the U.S., 23% in the U.K., and only 15% in Spain.

Roblox isn’t just a minor diversion. It’s also eating into kids’ screen time.

In February 2020, this one game accounted for 81 minutes per day, on average, in the U.S., 76 minutes per day in the U.K., and 64 minutes per day in Spain. On average, kids play Roblox about 20 minutes longer than any other video game app. (Take that, Fortnite!)

During COVID-19 lockdowns, the kids who played Roblox increased their time spent in the game, up 31%, 17%, and 45% respectively in the U.S., the U.K., and Spain. But lockdowns didn’t increase the percentage of kids who used gaming apps, as it turned out.

Education apps, as a whole, did not see much growth from 2019 to early 2020 until the COVID-19 lockdowns. But then, Google Classroom won in two of the three markets studied, with 65% of kids now using this app in Spain, 50% in the U.S., but only 31% in the U.K. (Show My Homework is more popular in the U.K., growing to 42% usage during COVID-19.)

All these increases in kids’ app usage may never return to pre-COVID-19 levels, the report suggested, even if usage declines a bit as government lockdowns lift. That mirrors the findings that Nielsen released today on connected TV usage, which has also not yet fallen to earlier, pre-COVID levels even as government restrictions lift.

“We now live in a world with an estimated 25 billion connected devices worldwide. Many of those in the hands of children,” Qustodio’s report noted. “Today, on average, a child in the U.S. watches nearly 100 minutes of YouTube per day, a child in the U.K. spends nearly 70 minutes on TikTok per day, a child in Spain plays Roblox over 90 minutes a day,” it said. “The world is not going to return to the way things were, because screen-time rates were already increasing. COVID-19 just accelerated the process,” the firm concluded.

Google launches ‘Read Along,’ a free app that helps young children practice reading

Google today is launching a new app, Read Along, that aims to help elementary school students practice their reading skills and stay educationally engaged amid school closures due to coronavirus. The new Android app is based on Google’s existing application, Bolo, which launched in India last year with a catalog of read-along stories in both English and Hindi. The updated and rebranded version is now globally available with support for 9 languages. 

Like Bolo, Read Along also leverages Google’s speech recognition and text-to-speech to help kids learn to read.

The app includes a built-in reading assistant named Diya. As kids read aloud, Diya detects if the child is struggling with a passage and can jump in with positive reinforcement or help. At any time, the child can ask Diya to help them read a sentence or pronounce a word they don’t know.

As children progress in the app, they’re presented with mini word games and earn in-app prizes as they improve their skills.

Google says the app was built with children’t privacy in mind and is able to work without either Wi-Fi or data. The voice data is analyzed in real-time on the device, and is not synced, stored or analyzed on Google’s servers. The company also stresses that it’s not using a voice sample from the kids to make the product better.

The app doesn’t include advertising or in-app purchases, either. Parents can opt to connect to the internet if they want to download additional stories, but there isn’t a charge.

At launch, Read Along offers around 500 stories and the catalog is continually expanded with new books.

Since its debut as Bolo in March 2019, Google says feedback from parents was encouraging, prompting it to bring the app to new markets. While in India, “Bolo” is broadly understood to mean “speak,” Google rebranded the app to Read Along to resonate with parents and children around the world. The app has also been updated with an enhanced library, new games and other user interface improvements since launch.

The new Read Along app is now globally available, except in the Philippines, Colombia and Denmark and offers stories in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.

The app is a free download on Google Play for children ages 5 and up.

National Geographic launches a homeschool hub for parents and teachers, [email protected]

The COVID-19 outbreak has closed schools across most of the U.S., impacting over 55 million students who are now learning at home. That’s created an increased demand for homeschool resources. Today, National Geographic is responding to that need with the launch of a new online hub, [email protected], which pulls together all of National Geographic’s family-friendly educational content into a one-stop shop for parents and teachers alike.

The free digital resource combines the educational content from the National Geographic Society with those from National Geographic Kids, and other tools and services. This includes access to the National Geographic Society’s Learn at Home portal, where you’ll find educational content like articles, lessons, videos, other online activities, and more.

The content on the site, aimed at K-12 students, is organized by grade and tagged as either “read,” “watch,” or “play,” depending on whether it’s an article, video or activity. There are also lesson plans available which parents and teachers can favorite to save to their library, if signed in.

The new site is also home to the Explorer Classroom, which offers live video talks from conservationists, scientists, filmmakers, explorers, and other experts, that will air weekdays at 2 PM EDT. The talks will cover topics like wildlife, ocean conversation, photography, space exploration and more.

In addition to the educational resources, the portal offers families advice and information about how to navigate online learning and talking to kids about COVID-19. Some of its recent stories include a how-to on working from home with kids and a Coronavirus 101 explainer for parents who need help in better understanding the complicated health crisis themselves so they can answer questions from their children.

The portal will also be featured as a part of #DisneyMagicMoments, Disney’s new family website that pulls together stories, videos, and activities from across Disney’s properties, including Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and National Geographic.

“Juggling your work life and your kid’s school life is hard enough. When those two worlds collide, as they have for so many families, it adds so many layers of challenges,” said Rachel Buchholz, editor in chief and vice president of National Geographic Kids, in a statement about the launch. “That’s why our goal here is to keep kids of all ages educated, entertained, and inspired, helping them become global stewards of the future,” she added.

Disney is not the only organization to have launched a set of homeschool resources in recent days. Children’s media nonprofit Common Sense just last week debuted Wide Open School, a comprehensive collection of resources for parents and teachers that included age-appropriate educational activities as well as daily schedules. National Geographic was one of the partners in that effort.

Apple, a Wide Open School partner, also launched the Apple Education Learning Series, a collection of videos designed to help schools and educators make the most of remote learning using Apple devices. And Comcast made nearly 2,000 hours of educational programming available to Xfinity subscribers, also in partnership with Common Sense.

In NatGeo’s case, its educational content was already being used by a number of educators across the U.S. to supplement classroom learning before the COVID-19 outbreak, so it makes sense for the organization to step up to fill the gaps in homeschool curriculums, as well.

[email protected] is currently available for free, though that could change at some point in the future when schools re-open.

Wide Open School organizes free educational resources to help parents and teachers homeschool

Nearly 300 million kids are missing school worldwide because of the coronavirus outbreak, including some 54 million in the U.S. alone. That’s left parents scrambling for resources to help continue their children’s education, often while also working from home themselves — an almost insurmountable challenge. Today, the non-profit media organization Common Sense is launching a site to help parents called Wide Open School (WideOpenSchool.org), which combines the best educational resources for publishers, nonprofits, and education companies in one place.

At launch, this free resource includes content from the American Federation of Teachers, Amplify, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Head Start, Khan Academy, National Geographic, Noggin, PBS, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop, Time for Kids, XQ Institute, and even YouTube.

All the content offered through Wide Open School is freely available.

But it’s not just a list of helpful websites. Instead, Wide Open School actually programs a full school day for the child by grade level, to ensure they’re getting a mix of educational material that aligns with what their day would have been when attending school.

For example, a 4th grader may be pointed to Prodigy’s math games, YouTube art tutorials, and Khan Academy reading resources in the morning, then instructed to read a book, draw, or listen to music during their screen-free lunch break. In the afternoon, they may take social studies via Google Earth, study science through Amplify, and take P.E. by way of GoNoodle.

The site even suggests evening activities that can be done as a family, like bedtime reading or movies to stream, among other things.

In addition, Wide Open School offers a guide to getting started with learning at home, a collection of virtual field trips, a collection with resources for art and music, and one with resources for emotional well-being — the latter especially critical at a time when anxiety levels are high among parents and kids alike.

There’s also a section dedicated to parents of children with special needs

Everything is organized in a colorful grid with picture images so it can be easily used by children on their own.

For struggling parents new to homeschooling, a resource like this will likely be welcome.

However, Common Sense is opening up the tools to educators, as well. Though many U.S. school systems already offer their students a set of digital resources through direct relationships with educational companies, like Nat Geo or Scholastic, those resources were typically meant to supplement the education the child was receiving at school, not replace it. There may still be large holes in the child’s education that aren’t being addressed.

Common Sense says on the new Wide Open School website has been curated for educational quality.

This taps into the organization’s key strength, as its focus has always been on promoting safe technology and media for children. Today, its main website is known for its trusted reviews of TV, movies, books, games, and apps that help parents understand a given piece of content’s age-appropriateness, as well as concerns with the title in question, if any.

To create the new Wide Open School, Common Sense was able to tap into its existing understanding of the educational media available for families, and then organize it by grade level.

Common Sense says it also worked with key distribution and technology partners Apple, Google, Zoom, Comcast, Salesforce, and Zoom, which have also suggested tools and resources, to ensure they’re aware of and can access the content.

“The coronavirus pandemic has elevated the need for quality learning materials all in one place for families and educators, and Common Sense is proud that trusted experts and partners have joined together to launch Wide Open School so quickly,” said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense, in a statement about the launch.

“Many organizations have moved swiftly to respond to this crisis with incredible resources and special offers for educators and families. We wanted to use our nearly 20 years of experience as an expert reviewer and curator to create the go-to source of quality content that will provide educators with the support they need to shift to remote teaching and a one-stop, trusted place for families to engage kids who are now learning from home,” he added.

Though many U.S. schools are moving towards remote learning, some aren’t yet ready or fully rolled out. And even those schools that have shifted online aren’t necessarily programming the equivalent of a full school day for the students. That can be difficult for parents working from home, as kids complete their more limited educational activities, then look to be entertained. Left on their own, that’s meant full days of gaming or binging YouTube — much to the exacerbation of parents who don’t consider coronavirus cancellations just an early start to summer break.

Wide Open School can supplement whatever remote learning is taking place, as well, or can be used by teachers who are creating online lessons for the first time.

The new website launched publicly today, but is still considered a beta — meaning it’s not the final product.

Common Sense is still working to expand the site and is forging additional educational partnerships with media and education companies, nonprofits, and teachers, in order to add more content, it says.

The site will be available across platforms, including mobile, desktop and TV, in order to allow everyone — even low-income families — to access its resources.

It’s working to add other resources to aid low-income families as well, including information about accessing free or discounted broadband services, as well as resources for more urgent needs to address health, hunger, shelter, and psychological needs.

Amazon Prime Video is streaming kids movies and TV for free, no Prime membership required

Amazon is making a selection of family-friendly and kids programming available for free streaming on Prime Video, as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis which has people trapped at home. The content is available to all Amazon customers, and includes a mix of Amazon Original kids and family shows as well as select third-party family movies and TV series licensed from studio partners.

Amazon says it’s continuing to work with content partners to widen the selection over time.

At launch, the U.S. version of the free service includes the following Amazon Originals: “Click, Clack, Moo: Christmas at the Farm,” “Big Diaries,” “Costume Quest,” “Creative Galaxy,” “Danger and Eggs,” “Dangerous Book for Boys,” “Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street,” “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie,” “Jessy and Nessy,” “Just Add Magic,” “Just Add Magic: Mystery City,” “Little Big Awesome,” “Lost in Oz,” “Niko and the Sword of Light,” “Pete the Cat,” “Sigmund and the Sea Monster,” “The Snowy Day,” “The Stinky and Dirty Snow,” “The Kicks,” “Tumble Leaf,” and “Wisenpoof.”

Among the licensed content in the U.S., you’ll find: “Arthur,” “Bali,” “Calliou,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” “Design Squad,” “Dinosaur Train,” “FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman,” “Kraft’s Creatures,” “Martha Speaks,” “Nature Cat,” “Odd Quad,” “Peep and the Big Wide World,” “Peg + Cat,” “Postcards from Buster,” “Reading Rainbow,” “Ready Jet Go!,” “Wild Kratts,” “WordGirl,” “WorldWorld,” “Zoboomafoo,” “Rugrats All Grown Up,” and “Knight Squad.”

Amazon confirmed to TechCrunch that Amazon Original kids and family TV series will be available for free worldwide, but licensed content will vary by country.

The majority of the content, at present, is aimed at the preschool crowd up to younger school-agers. The selection doesn’t include recently released movies or other popular G-rated or PG-rated box office hits that parents will also enjoy. But the offering will help parents who are struggling to work from home and using the TV as a babysitter of sorts to keep little ones occupied.

Typically, Amazon makes free TV and movies available only to Prime subscribers, as one of the many perks of Amazon’s Prime membership program. But in this case, consumers will only need to create a free Amazon.com account, if they don’t already have one, in order to watch the free programs.

Amazon isn’t the first streamer to add free content to help families staying in quarantine and self-isolating during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, Sling TV launched free streaming that included news and entertainment, as well as kids TV. Hulu added free live TV news to its on-demand service on Friday. Elsewhere, studios are breaking the theatrical window to deal with ticket sale losses as theaters close down. NBCU recently said it was bringing “The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man,” and “Emma,” to home viewers.

Disney, meanwhile, is making its own movies available early as well, including through its streaming service, Disney+, where both “Frozen II” and “Onward” are arriving ahead of schedule. (“Frozen II” is live now. “Onward” arrives on April 3).

Amazon says the new free programs will be available on the Prime Video app, which is a free download on  compatible smart TVs, mobile devices, Fire TV, Fire TV stick, Fire tablets, Apple TV, game consoles, Chromecast or via Prime Video on the web.

TikTok introduces parental controls with new ‘Family Safety Mode’ feature, launching first in U.K.

TikTok announced today the introduction of a new set of parental controls, called “Family Safety Mode,” designed to let parents set limits on their teenage children’s use of the TikTok mobile app. The suite of features includes screen time management controls, limits on direct messages, and a restricted mode that limits the appearance of inappropriate content.

According to TikTok, parents who want to enable Family Safety Mode must first create their own account on the app, which is then linked to the teen’s account. Once enabled, parents will be able to control how long the teen can spend on the app every day; turn off or limit who the teen can direct message; and choose to turn on TikTok’s “restricted” mode that will limit inappropriate content.

These features were already available in the app for users to set for themselves, to be clear. The new Family Safety Mode just puts a parent or guardian in charge of toggling the switches on or off for their teens, and prevents the settings from being changed without parents’ involvement.

It’s not clear how well TikTok’s restricted mode works, as TikTok doesn’t explain the screening process it uses. For an app of this scale, it’s likely based in large part on users flagging inappropriate videos, however. Parents should be aware, then, that restricted mode is not going to be a foolproof means of controlling the user experience.

The new set of parental controls is actually only a subset of the controls users can enable for themselves. For example, users can also choose to make their accounts private, turn off commenting, or control who’s allowed to duet with them, among other things.

But the controls do tackle some of parents’ largest concerns around the addictive nature of TikTok’s app, the content being delivered, and the private messages that parents can’t monitor.

The launch timing follows increased scrutiny by government regulators of TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.

In 2019, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fined the app Musical.ly (which had acquired by ByteDance. ), $5.7 million for violation of U.S. children’s privacy law COPPA. And in the U.K., TikTok has been under investigation by the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for potential GDPR violations around the protection of children’s data.

Not coincidentally, TikTok says the new parental controls are first available in the U.K., starting today. They’ll roll out to other markets in the weeks ahead, TikTok says but didn’t indicate which ones.

The parental controls, however, have been designed with European law in mind. In the U.S., TikTok offers the age-gate for younger users, but not controls for parents like this.

In addition to the launch of Family Safety mode, TikTok parented with creators to produce a series of safety videos about screen time management to encourage users to take a break from their phone. These are being added to the TikTop Tips video series and will also roll out in the app starting first in the U.K. today.

 

 

Kidtech startup SuperAwesome raises $17M, with strategic investment from Microsoft’s M12 venture fund

Kidtech startup SuperAwesome has raised an additional $17 million in funding, which includes a new strategic investment from Microsoft’s venture fund, M12. Others participating in the round include existing investors, Mayfair Equity, Hoxton Ventures, and Ibis, along with other angels.

To date, SuperAwesome has raised $37 million in outside investment.

SuperAwesome has been tapping into the need for more kid-friendly technology on the web that’s now used just as much by younger children as it is by adults.

“Historically the internet was designed to be used by adults but now over 40% of new users are kids,” said SuperAwesome CEO Dylan Collins. “We’re in the middle of a structural shift in the composition of the internet that requires investment in privacy and kidtech to support children. This is as big a transition as mobile was for the desktop internet,” he noted.

The company’s platform includes products for kid-safe advertising, social engagement tools, authentication, and parental controls. The breadth of this lineup has attracted big-name kids’ brands as customers, including Activision, Hasbro, Mattel, LEGO, Cartoon Network, Spin Master, Nintendo, Bandai, WB, Shopkins maker Moose Toys, WPP, Omnicom, Dentsu, Niantic, Wildworks, among others.

Today, the company has over 300 customers in total.

SuperAwesome’s technology has arrived at a critical time for many working in the kids’ app space, as governments are newly enacting and enforcing a range of kids’ privacy laws like COPPA (the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) and GDPR-K in the E.U., as well as other laws in major markets like China, Brazil, and India. In the U.S., for example, the FTC has slapped apps like Musical.ly (now TikTok) and YouTube with record fines for violations of children’s privacy regulations.

These changes have been a boon to SuperAwesome, which is now fully profitable and powering over 12 billion kids digital transactions per month. Last year, the company pulled in $55 million in revenue and is on track for $80 to $90 million in revenue in 2020, Collins told TechCrunch.

SuperAwesome and Microsoft aren’t yet talking in detail about how the two companies will be teaming up, following the strategic investment. One thing being discussed by the two, however, are the opportunities around family identity, we’re told. In addition, Microsoft today is focused on both privacy and kids across its products — for example, with its web browser as well as with its educational efforts involving Minecraft, among other things.

“After we spent time with the M12 team and folks in Microsoft, it was clear we shared the same vision of where the internet is going: more kids and more privacy,” Collins said.

“We are proud to welcome the SuperAwesome team to the M12 portfolio. Dylan has cultivated a mission-driven team dedicated to keeping the internet safer for kids—a critical priority for digital-first generations,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Global Head of M12, in a statement about the funding. “Given Microsoft’s footprint in the identity management space, we’re excited to explore opportunities for partnership with SuperAwesome as well,” Kashyap added.

Fabric’s new app helps parents with the hard stuff, including wills, life insurance & shared finances

A new app called Fabric aims to make it simpler for parents to plan for their family’s long-term financial well-being. The goal is to offer parents a one-stop-shop that includes the ability to ability for term life insurance from their phone, create a free will in about five minutes, and collaborate with a spouse or partner to organize key financial accounts or other important documents. In addition, parents are able to coordinate with beneficiaries, children’s guardians, attorneys, financial advisors, and others right from the app.

Fabric was originally founded in 2015 by Adam Erlebacher, previously the COO at online bank Simple, and Steven Surgnier, previously the Director of Data at Simple. The company last year raised a $10 million Series A led by Bessemer Venture Partners, after having sold life insurance coverage to thousands of families.

Since launch, Fabric has expanded beyond life insurance to offer other services, like easy will creation and the addition of tools that help families organize their financial and legal information in one place. The idea, the company explained at the time, was to offer today’s busy parents a better alternative to meetings with agents to discuss complicated life insurance products. Instead, the company offers a simple, 10-minute life insurance application and the option to connect with a licensed team if they need additional help, as well as a similarly simplified will creation workflow.

As with the founders’ earlier company, Simple, which offered a better front-end to banking while actual bank accounts were held elsewhere, Fabric’s life insurance policies are issued by “A” rated insurer, Vantis Life, not Fabric itself.

However, until now, Fabric’s suite of services were only available on the web. They’re now offered in an app for added convenience. The app is initially available on iOS with an Android version in the works.

“Money can be especially stressful when you’re trying to build a family and a career,” said Fabric co-founder and CEO Adam Erlebacher. “In one survey by Everyday Health, 52% of respondents said financial issues regularly stress them out, and people between the ages of 38 to 53 were the most stressed out financially. Parents want to have more control over their families’ long-term financial well-being and today’s dusty old products and tools are failing them,” he added.

Using the Fabric app, parents can take advantage of any of its offerings, including the option to apply for life insurance from the phone and get immediate approval. The app also makes it possible to share the policy information with beneficiaries, so it doesn’t get lost.

Another feature lets you create your will for free, and share that information with key people as well, including the witnesses you need to coordinate with in order to finalize the will, for example. And a spouse can choose to mirror your will, which speeds up the process of creating a second one with the same set of choices.

Fabric also helps to address an issue that often only comes up after it’s too late or in other emergency situations — organizing both parents’ finances in a single place. Many working adults today have not just a bank account, but also have investment accounts, 401Ks, IRAs, and credit cards, or a combination of those. But their partner may not know where to find this information or where the accounts are held.

The app, which we put through its paces (but didn’t purchase life insurance through), is very easy to use. It starts off with a short quiz to get a handle on your financial picture. It then delivers you to a personalized homescreen with a checklist of suggestions of what to do next. Naturally, this includes the life insurance application, as this is where Fabric’s revenue lies. And if you’re lacking a will and have other fiances to organize, these are featured, too.

The online forms are easy to fill out, despite the smartphone’s reduced screen space compared with a web browser, and Fabric has taken the time to get the small touches right — like when you enter a phone number, the numeric keypad appears, for example, or the integration of address lookup so you can just tap on the match and have the rest autofill. It also saves your work in progress, so you can finish later in case you get interrupted — as parents often do. And it explains terms, like “executor,” so you know what sort of rights you’re assigning.

Given its focus, Fabric protects user information with bank-grade security, including 256-bit encryption, two-factor authentication, automatic lockouts, biometrics, and other adaptive security features.

Fabric isn’t alone in helping parents and others financially plan wills and more from their iPhone. Other apps exist in this space, including will planning apps from Tomorrow, LegalZoom, Qwill, and others. Plus many insurers offer a mobile experience. Fabric is unique because it puts wills, insurance, and other tools into a single destination, without complicating the user interface.

Fabric’s app is a free download on the App Store. 

CBS All Access launches kids’ programming, soon to include Nickelodeon shows

CBS’s over-the-top streaming service, CBS All Access, is the latest to counter the threat from Disney+ by investing in children’s programming. Today, the company is launching a kids’ programming lineup including original shows and other library content. Plus, in one of the first major content integrations ahead of the ViacomCBS merger, the CBS streaming service will soon add a selection of Nickelodeon children’s TV shows to its catalog.

The first Nickelodeon titles will roll out in January, the company says.

In August, CBS had announced plans to launch children’s programming on its service by way of deals with WildBrain (formerly DHX Media) and Boat Rocker Studios. From WildBrain, CBS licensed the kids’ TV series “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” produced with Sony Pictures Animation. And from Boat Rocker, CBS licensed the new “Danger Mouse,” produced with BBC Children’s Productions.

The two shows are the first original children’s series on the service, which today is better known for its original programming aimed at adults, like “Star Trek: Discovery,” “The Good Fight,” “The Twilight Zone,” and soon “Star Trek: Picard.”

Today, the two originals are now live for subscribers alongside a library of kids’ content that includes “Bob the Builder,” “Inspector Gadget,” “Madeline,” “Heathcliff,” “The Adventures of Paddington Bear,” and the original “Danger Mouse.”

Over the next several weeks, CBS says it plans to grow its kids’ library to over 1,000 episodes as more TV series are added.

“Bringing children’s programming to CBS All Access is a significant step toward providing even more value for our subscribers and now for their children as well,” said Marc DeBevoise, President and COO, CBS Interactive, in a statement. “We’re bringing to market a fantastic roster of exclusive originals along with a library of marquee series for families, and we look forward to continuing to expand our children’s programming offering, especially with the future addition of incredible programming from Nickelodeon.”

The company did not specify which titles from Nickelodeon would come to CBS All Access, but it’s possible the lineup could include shows like “SpongeBob SquarePants” or “Dora the Explorer,” which went over to Amazon Prime Video after Viacom pulled them off Netflix back in 2013. Today, some of the early seasons of those shows and others are available as part of Amazon Prime’s free streaming perk, while later seasons can only be rented or purchased.

“Spongebob,” “Dora,” and other classic Nickelodeon kids’ shows are not included in Nickelodeon’s new agreement with Netflix, which is focused on new, original content using both well-known characters and all-new IP. According to The NYT, that deal was valued at $200 million.

It would make sense for CBS All Access to eventually absorb Viacom’s kids’ streaming service Noggin, which is where you can today find “Dora,” along with other shows like “PAW Patrol,” “Peppa Pig, “Team Umizoomi,” “Wallykazam,” “Bubble Guppies,” “Rusty Rivets,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Blaze,” “Shimmer & Shine,” “Max & Ruby,” “Wonder Pets,” “Nia Hao, Kai-Lan,” and several others. This would round out CBS All Access as a more family-friendly streaming service with a wide catalog, which would help it to better compete with Netflix, Hulu and of course, Disney+.

As a combined entity, it doesn’t make sense for ViacomCBS to ask its customer base to subscribe to both services or choose between them. And Noggin, in particular, doesn’t make sense given the higher churn rate for a service which only appeals to families with younger kids — who age out of the service after a few years. It would be better to put these shows in front of the larger CBS All Access audience, helping it to tout a larger catalog in marketing materials and attract a wider group of cord-cutting consumers.