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.

Toys R Us relaunches its website where online sales are powered by Target

Toys R Us is back online, thanks to a new deal with Target. Tru Kids, the parent company that acquired the defunct toy chain following its bankruptcy, has announced the relaunch of the ToysRUs.com website as it begins the process of opening its retail stores across the U.S. As a part of its comeback strategy, the Toys R Us website’s product pages will redirect to Target.com when consumers click the “buy” button to make an online purchase.

The retailers didn’t discuss the terms of the deal, but a revenue-sharing agreement is clearly involved in a scenario like this, given the mutual benefits. Toys R Us would be able to quickly establish cash flow from the still top-ranked, well-established domain name toysrus.com, while Target could get an influx of new sales from shoppers who visited ToysRUs.com, unaware of the toy chain’s bankruptcy and relaunch.

In addition to redirecting online shoppers to Target, the new website also features articles and videos about the latest toy trends and hot brands, plus in-depth product reviews, hot toy lists, and other brand experiences. These will be available on the ToysRUs website itself. Only when a customer is ready to make a purchase will they be sent over to Target for checkout.

The site’s “Buy” button is also clearly labeled so there’s no confusion at checkout. In Target’s red-and-white brand colors, it reads “buy now at [target].com” where the word “Target” is replaced with the Target logo icon.

Target shoppers sent to ToysRUs get the same benefits they would if shopping directly — meaning, they can place orders for delivery, curbside or store order pickup, and can earn loyalty points with Target Circle, or get 5% by paying with a Target REDcard.

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The new partnership between the retailers isn’t only focused on redirecting consumers’ traditional e-commerce product sales, however.

Target says it will also fulfill online sales when Toys R Us opens up its first experiential retail stores later this fall in Houston, Texas and Paramus, New Jersey.

Tru Kids had previously announced a deal with tech startup b8ta to create a modernized toy store experience featuring things like STEAM workshops, a treehouse for kids to play in, theaters for movies and games, and a way for brands to showcase their products in a more interactive environment.

At these stores, guests who want to purchase items that aren’t available in the store itself will be able to place their order with a store associate that gets fulfilled through Target.com.

“Target’s leadership in toys, digital and fulfillment are an unbeatable platform for ToysRUs to reconnect with their fans while we introduce them to the ease and convenience of shopping at Target,” said Nikhil Nayar, senior vice president of merchandising at Target, in a statement. “By applying our capabilities in a new way with ToysRUs, we can serve even more toy shoppers, drive new growth, and build on our toy leadership,” Nayar added.

The new deal with Toys R Us isn’t the only significant toy-related partnership Target has made in recent weeks. At the end of August, the retailer announced an agreement with Disney that sees it opening mini Disney stores within its retail stores, where shoppers can buy toys, apparel, collectibles, home items, and more. Twenty-five Disney “shop-in-shops” are open now and dozens more are planned for 2020.

“Our U.S. strategy is to bring back the ToysRUs brand in a modern way through a strong experiential and content-rich omnichannel concept,” Tru Kids CEO Richard Barry, a former Toys R Us exec, in a statement about the Target partnership.

“The foundation of that strategy requires the help of a retail industry leader and Target is the ideal retailer to support a new ToysRUs shopping experience, which is designed to provide families with endless ways to discover, play and enjoy toys. Target will help us deliver on that experience with its toy assortment, digital strength and ability to deliver orders to shoppers in a matter of hours,” he said.

 

YouTube to spend $100M on original children’s content

Creators of child-directed content will be financially impacted by the changes required by the FTC settlement, YouTube admitted today. The settlement will end the use of children’s personal data for ad-targeting purposes, the FTC said. To address creators’ concerns over their businesses, YouTube also announced a $100 million fund to invest in original children’s content.

The fund, distributed over three years, will be dedicated to the creation of “thoughtful” original content for YouTube and YouTube Kids globally, the company says.

“We know these changes will have a significant business impact on family and kids creators who have been building both wonderful content and thriving businesses, so we’ve worked to give impacted creators four months to adjust before changes take effect on YouTube,” wrote YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in a blog post. “We recognize this won’t be easy for some creators and are committed to working with them through this transition and providing resources to help them better understand these changes.”

YouTube plans to share more information about the fund and its plans in the weeks ahead.

In addition, YouTube said today it’s “rethinking” its overall approach to the YouTube kids and family experience.

This could go toward fixing some of the other problems raised by the consumer advocacy groups who prompted the FTC investigation. The groups weren’t entirely pleased by the settlement, as they believed it was only scratching the surface of YouTube’s issue.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the FTC isn’t requiring more substantive changes or doing more to hold Google accountable for harming children through years of illegal data collection,” said Josh Golin, the executive director for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a group that spearheaded the push for an investigation. “A plethora of parental concerns about YouTube – from inappropriate content and recommendations to excessive screen time – can all be traced to Google’s business model of using data to maximize watch time and ad revenue,” he added.

Google already began to crack down on some of these concerns, independent of an FTC requirement, however.

To tackle the scourge of inappropriate content targeting minors, YouTube in August expanded its child safety policies to remove — instead of only restrict, as it did before — any “misleading family content, including videos that target younger minors and their families, those that contain sexual themes, violence, obscene, or other mature themes not suitable for younger audiences.”

Separately, YouTube aims to address the issues raised around promotional content in videos.

For example, a video with kids playing with toys could be an innocent home movie or it could involve a business agreement between the video creator and a brand to showcase the products in exchange for free merchandise or direct payment.

The latter should be labeled as advertising, as required by YouTube, but that’s often not the case. And even when ads are disclosed, it’s impossible for young children to know the difference between when they’re being entertained and when they’re being marketed to.

There are also increasing concerns over the lack of child labor laws when it comes to children performing in YouTube videos, which has prompted some parents to exploit their kids for views or even commit child abuse.

YouTube’s “rethinking” of its kids’ experience should also include whether or not it should continue to incentivize the creation of these “kid influencer” and YouTube family videos, where little girls’ and boys’ childhoods have become the source of parents’ incomes.

YouTube’s re-evaluation of the kids’ experience comes at a time when the FTC is also thinking of how to better police general audience platforms on the web, where some content is viewed by kids. The regulator is hosting an October workshop to discuss this issue, where it hopes to come up with ways to encourage others to develop kid-safe zones, too.

Ahead of FTC ruling, YouTube Kids is getting its own website

Ahead of the official announcement of an FTC settlement which could force YouTube to direct under-13-year-old users to a separate experience for YouTube’s kid-friendly content, the company has quietly announced plans to launch its YouTube Kids service on the web. Previously, parents would have to download the YouTube Kids app to a mobile device in order to access the filtered version of YouTube.

By bringing YouTube Kids to the web, the company is prepared for the likely outcome of an FTC settlement which would require the company to implement an age-gate on its site, then redirect under-13-year-olds to a separate kid-friendly experience.

In addition, YouTube Kids is gaining a new filter which will allow parents to set the content to being preschooler-appropriate.

The announcement, published to the YouTube Help forums, was first spotted by Android Police.

It’s unclear if YouTube was intentionally trying to keep these changes from being picked up on by a larger audience (or the press) by publishing the news to a forum instead of its official YouTube blog. (The company tells us it publishes a lot of news the forum site. Sure, okay. But with an FTC settlement looming, it seems an odd destination for such a key announcement.)

It’s also worth noting that, around the same time as the news was published, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki posted her quarterly update for YouTube creators.

The update is intended to keep creators abreast of what’s in store for YouTube and its community. But this quarter, her missive spoke solely about the value in being an open platform, and didn’t touch on anything related to kids content or the U.S. regulator’s investigation.

However, it’s precisely YouTube’s position on “openness” that concerns parents when it comes to their kids watching YouTube videos. The platform’s (almost) “anything goes” nature means kids can easily stumble upon content that’s too adult, controversial, hateful, fringe, or offensive.

The YouTube Kids app is meant to offer a safer destination, but YouTube isn’t manually reviewing each video that finds its way there. That has led to inappropriate and disturbing content slipping through the cracks on numerous occasions, and eroding parents’ trust.

youtube kids website

Because many parents don’t believe YouTube Kids’ algorithms can filter content appropriately, the company last fall introduced the ability for parents to whitelist specific videos or channels in the Kids app. It also rolled out a feature that customized the app’s content for YouTube’s older users, ages 8 through 12. This added gaming content and music videos.

Now, YouTube is further breaking up its “Younger” content level filter, which was previously 8 and under, into two parts. Starting now, “Younger” applies to ages 5 through 7, while the new “Preschool” filter is for the age 4 and under group. The latter will focus on videos that promote “creativity, playfulness, learning, and exploration,” says YouTube.

Above: the content filter before

YouTube confirmed to TechCrunch that its forum announcement is accurate, but the company would not say when the YouTube Kids web version would go live, beyond “this week.”

The YouTube Kids changes are notable because they signal that YouTube is getting things in place before an FTC settlement announcement that will impact how the company handles kids content and its continued use by young children.

It’s possible that YouTube will be fined by the FTC for its violations of COPPA, as Musical.ly (TikTok) was earlier this year. One report, citing unnamed sources, says the FTC’s YouTube settlement has, in fact, already been finalized and includes a multimillion-dollar fine.

YouTube will also likely be required to implement an age-gate on its site and in its apps that will direct under-13-year-olds to the YouTube Kids platform instead of YouTube proper. The settlement may additionally require YouTube to stop targeting ads on videos aimed at children, as has been reported by Bloomberg. 

We probably won’t see the FTC issuing a statement about its ruling ahead of this Labor Day weekend, but it may do so in advance of its October workshop focused on refining the COPPA regulation — an event that has the regulator looking for feedback on how to properly handle sites like YouTube.

 

 

Roku launches a Kids & Family section on The Roku Channel, plus parental controls

Roku’s home entertainment hub, The Roku Channel, is expanding into kids’ programming. The company this morning announced plans to aggregate kids and family movies and TV alongside the channel’s other content, including its free, ad-supported movies and television, live TV, and subscriptions. In addition to the launch of the new “Kids & Family” section on The Roku Channel, Roku is also rolling out Parental Control features to give parents more control over what their kids can watch when accessing the channel.

The latter — while useful for families who don’t want the kids stumbling upon their HBO or Cinemax subscriptions — will also be a hindrance when the parents go to watch their own shows in The Roku Channel, due to Roku’s current lack of user profiles.

Meanwhile, the new kids section is not home to original content, but rather takes advantage of Roku’s ability to aggregate the streaming content on its own platform — including both free content from other channels and digital creators, as well as kid-friendly content from the family’s paid subscriptions.

At launch, the Kids & Family section will offer 7,000 free, ad-supported TV episodes and movies from 20 partners, including All Spark, A Hasbro Company, DHX Media, Happy Kids TV, Lionsgate, Mattel, Moonbug, and pocket.watch, and others. This will bring a mix of classic franchises and favorite characters to the channel, like Care Bears, The Cat in the Hat, Leapfrog, Little Baby Bum, My Little Pony, Rev & Roll, Super Mario Brothers, Thomas & Friends and more. 

This content will be mixed in with live, linear streams from Moonbug, pocket.watch, and XUMO-powered partners Ameba, BatteryPop, and KidGenius. There will also be five exclusive episodes of Ryan’s World by pocket.watch available.

In addition, the new section can pull in premium kids content from services like Blue Ant Media’s ZooMoo, CONtv, Dove Channel, HBO, Hopster, NOGGIN, Starz, or Up Faith.

That allows access to more well-known kids brands, like Bubble Guppies, Dora the Explorer, PAW Patrol, Peppa Pig, and family-friendly movies, including Adventures of Elmo in Groucholand, Muppets Take Manhattan and more.

In total, there are nearly 30 partners participating in the Kids & Family section. Notably absent, however, are top sources for kids’ shows, like Netflix and Hulu. These larger streaming services want to own the user experience end-to-end and collect their own data.

Screen Shot 2019 08 19 at 9.12.49 AMRoku says it will collect “non-user level data” from the new section, in order to see, in aggregate, which programs are popular. But it will not use data to personalize the experience for kids, target kids with ads, or make recommendations.

Instead, the content in the Kids & Family section is organized by age range, character, and theme in an interface that resembles Netflix’s Kids’ profile layout.

The ad load is also lighter than elsewhere on The Roku Channel, the company says.

“For The Roku Channel overall, we have on average, approximately half of the advertising time of traditional ad-supported linear TV. So it’s a really light ad load. And we think that something’s really resonated with users. When we look at a Kids & Family viewing experience, we want to even further reduce that advertising time. So we’re taking it down to 40% of the advertising time on traditional linear,” says Roku’s Vice President of Programming Rob Holmes.

He adds that the advertisers are kid-appropriate, and are vetted and served internally by Roku.

Ad revenue is the only way the new section will be monetized. Roku tells us the premium kids content will only be displayed to existing subscribers, as it’s not in the business of trying to upsell to children.

The launch follows several other recent developments for The Roku Channel, now one of Roku’s top five channels and a big selling point for Roku devices and TVs.

Since its 2017 launch which focused on aggregating free movies, the company has expanded into newssports, TV shows and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks, as well as paid subscriptions from networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, EPIX and more.

Roku closed out its second quarter with 30.5 million active accounts, up by 1.4 million from the prior quarter, and revenue up 59% year-over-year to $250.1 million. The company’s platform business is now the primary revenue driver, up 86% year-over-year to reach $167.7 million in the quarter. Users streamed 9.4 billion hours of content on Roku in Q2.

Media companies have been heavily investing in kids’ programming, especially in the cord-cutting era, which gives Roku a large library to tap into. However, the biggest names in kids’ streaming — like Netflix and soon, Disney (with Disney+) — will not participate in aggregated sections like this, which ultimately limits their ability to become a true one-stop-shop for everything you want to stream.

The Roku Channel is rolling out in the U.S. today, on Roku devices, the web, the Roku mobile app, and select Samsung smart TVs.

WW launches Kurbo, a hotly debated ‘healthy eating’ app aimed at kids

Kurbo Health, a mobile weight loss solution designed to tackle childhood obesity which was acquired for $3 million by WW (the rebranded Weight Watchers), has now relaunched as Kurbo by WW — and not without some controversy. Pre-acquisition, the startup was focused on democratizing access to research, behavior modification techniques and other tools that were previously only available through expensive programs run by hospitals or other centers.

As a WW product, however, there are concerns that parents putting kids on “diets” will lead to increased anxiety, stress and disordered eating — in other words, Kurbo will make the problem worse, rather than solving it.

The Kurbo app first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014. Founder Joanna Strober, a venture investor and board member at BlueNile and eToys, explained she was driven to develop Kurbo after struggling to help her own child. Mainly, she came across programs that cost money, were held at inconvenient times for working parents or were dubbed “obesity centers” — with which no child wanted to be associated.

Her child found eventual success with the Stanford Pediatric Weight Loss Program, but this involved in-person visits and pen-and-paper documentation.

Together with Kurbo Health’s co-founder Thea Runyan, who has a Master’s in Public Health and had worked at the Stanford center for 12 years, the team realized the opportunity to bring the research to more people by creating a mobile, data-driven program for kids and families.

They licensed Stanford’s program, which then became Kurbo Health.

FoodSystem Phone

The company raised funds from investors, including Signia Ventures, Data Collective, Bessemer Venture Partners and Promus Ventures, as well as angels like Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; Greg Badros, former VP Engineering and Product at Facebook; and Esther Dyson (EdVenture), among others.

At launch, the app was designed to encourage healthier eating patterns without parents actually being able to see the child’s food diary. Instead, parents set a reward that was doled out simply for the child’s participation. That is, the parents couldn’t see what the child ate, specifically, which allowed them to stop playing “food police.”

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Unlike adult-oriented apps like MyFitnessPal or Noom, kids wouldn’t see metrics like calories, sugars, carbs and fat, but instead had their food choices categorized as “red,” “yellow” and “green.” However, no foods were designated as “off limits,” as it instead encouraged fewer reds and more greens.

The program also included an option for virtual coaching.

As a WW product, the program has remained somewhat the same. There are still the color-coded food categorizations and optional live coaching, via a subscription. Parents are still involved, now with updates after coaching calls or the option to join coaching sessions. The app also now includes tools that teach meditation, recipe videos and games that focus on healthy lifestyles. Subscribers gain access to one-on-one 15-minute virtual sessions with coaches whose professional backgrounds include counseling, fitness and other nutrition-related fields.

However, there are also things like a place to track measurements, goals like “lose weight” and Snapchat-style “tracking streaks.”

Home Tracked Phone

While the original program was designed to be a solution for parents with children who would have otherwise had to seek expensive medical help for obesity issues, the association with parent company and acquirer WW has led to some backlash.

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Today, body positivity and fat acceptance movements have gone mainstream, encouraging people to be confident in their own bodies and not hate themselves for being overweight. The general thinking is that when people respect themselves, they become more likely to care for themselves — and this will extend to making healthier food and lifestyle choices.

Meanwhile, food tracking and dieting programs often lead to failure and shame — especially when people start to think of some food as “bad” or a “cheat,” instead of just something to be eaten in moderation. And excessive tracking can even lead to disordered eating patterns for some people, studies have found.

In addition, WW has already been under fire for extending its weight loss program to teens 13-17 for free, and the launch of what’s seen as a “dieting app for kids” as part of WW’s broader family-focused agenda certainly isn’t helping the backlash.

That said, when positive reinforcement is used correctly, it can work for weight loss. As TIME reported, the red-yellow-green traffic light approach was effective in adults in one independent study by Massachusetts General Hospital and another presented at the Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference worked in children, with 84% reducing their BMI after 21 weeks.

“According to recent reports from the World Health Organization, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. This is a global public health crisis that needs to be addressed at scale,” said Joanna Strober, co-founder of Kurbo, in a statement about the launch. “As a mom whose son struggled with his weight at a young age, I can personally attest to the importance and significance of having a solution like Kurbo by WW, which is inherently designed to be simple, fun and effective,” she said.

That said, it’s one thing for a parent to work in conjunction with a doctor to help a child with a health issue, but parents who foist a food tracking app on their kids may not get the same results. In fact, they may even cause the child to develop eating disorders that weren’t present before. (And no, just because a child is overweight, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re suffering from an “eating disorder.”)

There can be many other factors that could be causing a child’s unexpected weight gain, beyond just their interest in eating high-calorie foods. This includes health ailments, hormone or chemical imbalances, medication side effects, puberty and other growth spurts (which can’t always be determined through BMI changes, which are tracked in-app), genetics, and more.

Parents may also be part of the problem, by simply bringing unhealthy food into the house because it’s more affordable or because they aren’t aware of things like hidden sugars or how to avoid them. Or perhaps they’re putting money into a child’s school lunch account, without realizing the child is able to spend it on vending machine snacks, sodas or off-menu items like pizza and chips.

The child may also suffer from health problems like asthma or allergies that have become an underlying issue, making it more difficult for them to be active.

In other words, a program like this is something that parents should approach with caution. And it’s certainly one where the child’s doctor should be involved at every stage — including in determining whether or not an app is actually needed at all.

Nike launches a subscription service for kids’ shoes, Nike Adventure Club

Just in time for back-to-school shopping, Nike today officially announced its entry into the subscription service market with the launch of a “sneaker club” for kids called Nike Adventure Club. The new program is specifically designed to make shopping easier for parents who struggle to keep up with their quickly growing children’s shoe needs. Instead of taking kids to the store and trying on pair after pair to try to find something the child likes, the new Nike Adventure Club will instead ship anywhere from four pairs to a dozen pairs of shoes per year, depending on which subscription tier parents choose.

The club serves kids from sizes 4C to 7Y — or roughly ages 2 to 10.

Club pricing begins at $20 per month which will ship out new shoes every 90 days. For $30 per month, kids get 6 pairs per year. And for $50 per month, kids will get new shoes every month — a choice that may be excessive except for the most active kids who were their sneakers every day, play sports, or have a tendency to wreck their shoes in short order.

However, even the minimum of four pairs per year may be too frequent for some parents of older kids.

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, toddlers under 16 months grow more than one-half a foot size every two months. From 16 to 24 months, they grow an average of one-half a foot size every three months. From 24 to 36 months, it’s one-half a foot size every four months. Then things slow down.

Children over three years old grow one-half a foot size every 4 to 6 months. That means some older kids only need to replace their shoes twice per year, outside of excessive wear and tear.

That said, Nike allows parents to upgrade or downgrade their subscription at any time, or even put it on pause.

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Once signed up, parents will receive an email with a selection of over 100 styles of Nike and Converse shoes to choose from, which they can review with their kids. They then pick which shoes they want to receive, and these are shipped to the home in a box with the child’s name on it. This box also includes an “adventure kit” filled with activities and games for parents to do with their kids, stickers, plus a small gift. The kit is created in partnership with the nonprofit KaBoom, which is focused on encouraging kids to lead healthy lifestyles.

If the shoes are the wrong size, exchanges are free within a week of delivery.

Perhaps the best part of the program is the recycling component.

Twice a year, Nike will ship out a prepaid bag where parents can send back their kids’ worn shoes, which will either be donated to families in need if in good condition or recycled through Nike Grind, a program that separates out the rubber, foam, leather, and textile blends, grinds them into granules, and incorporates those into new products including footwear, apparel, and play surfaces.

“We see Nike Adventure Club sits as having a unique place within Nike, and not just for it being the first sneaker club for kids,” says Dave Cobban, VP of Nike Adventure Club, in a statement about the launch. “It provides a wide range of options for kids, while at the same time, it removes a friction point for parents who are shopping on their behalf.”

Nike has been testing the program since 2017, when it was known as Easy Kicks. The test reached 10,000 members, the company said.

Nike isn’t the first to launch a subscription focused on kids — and big retailers have taken note. This year, Foot Locker took a minority stake in kids’ clothing subscription Rockets of Awesome and Walmart partnered with children’s clothing startup Kidbox.

Stitch Fix also offers a kids’ styling service. And Amazon offers a try-before-you-buy shopping service without a subscription, Prime Wardrobe. Amazon’s variation offers both girls and boys options where parents can fill a box with apparel, shoes, and accessories for home try-on and easy returns.

Nike’s Adventure Club is launching today but is easing in new customers via a waitlist option.

Online community theAsianparent raises Series C to add e-commerce and expand into new markets

TheAsianparent, Southeast Asia’s largest online community and content platform for mothers with 23.5 million monthly active users, announced today that it has raised a Series C led by Fosun Group, the Chinese conglomerate. The amount was undisclosed, but a person familiar with the deal says it was between $10 million to $30 million. E-commerce giant JD.com also participated, along with ATM Capital, Redbadge Pacific and returning investors Global Grand Leisure and WHG Holdings.

The new funding will be used on theAsianparent’s new e-commerce business and its expansion into new markets in Asia and Africa, focusing first on Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Roshni Mahtani, the founder and CEO of Tickled Media, theAsianparent’s publisher, tells TechCrunch it looks for countries with high birth rates but relatively few online resources and communities for new parents. The site will have its own branding for African markets and launch first in Nigeria with localized content and a social network.

TheAsianparent, which currently has a team of 180 people across 12 countries and is headquartered in Singapore, will focus on building its e-commerce business in Asia markets first, specifically Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, with JD.com providing advice on things like logistics. TheAsianparent will start selling products through its site and launch its own direct-to-consumer brand later this year.

“The way I see it is that for media companies to be relevant, you need to have content, community and commerce, so that it becomes very easy for consumers to trust you for content and community, and also be able to buy products that you recommend and that have been created for their communities,” says Mahtani, who launched theAsianparent as a parenting blog in 2009.

TheAsianparent’s mobile app, which includes articles, community features and baby development trackers, launched in September 2018, has been installed 1.6 million times so far. Mahtani says the theAsianparent had a traffic growth rate of about 70 percent before funding and expects it to increase by a much faster rate now. It is expected to make $10 million in revenue this year and reach $100 million within the next five years.

In a prepared statement, Wilson Jin, the chairman of Fosun RZ Capital, said “TheAsianparent, as the largest maternal and child community in Southeast Asia, has won the trust of young mothers in Southeast Asia and has a huge commercial space. In the past few years, theAsianparent has fully verified its business development and product evolution capabilities , it is an outstanding entrepreneurial team.”

U.S. Senator and consumer advocacy groups urge FTC to take action on YouTube’s alleged COPPA violations

The groups behind a push to get the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate YouTube’s alleged violation of children’s privacy law, COPPA, have today submitted a new letter to the FTC that lays out the appropriate sanctions the groups want the FTC to now take. The letter comes shortly after news broke that the FTC was in the final stages of its probe into YouTube’s business practices regarding this matter.

They’re joined in pressing the FTC to act by COPPA co-author, Senator Ed Markey, who penned a letter of his own, which was also submitted today.

The groups’ formal complaint with the FTC was filed back in April 2018. The coalition, which then included 20 child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups, had claimed YouTube doesn’t get parental consent before collecting the data from children under the age of 13 — as is required by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, also known as COPPA.

The organizations said, effectively, that YouTube was hiding behind its terms of service which claims that YouTube is “not intended for children under 13.”

This simply isn’t true, as any YouTube user knows. YouTube is filled with videos that explicitly cater to children, from cartoons to nursery rhymes to toy ads — the latter which often come about by way of undisclosed sponsorships between toy makers and YouTube stars. The video creators will excitedly unbox or demo toys they received for free or were paid to feature, and kids just eat it all up.

In addition, YouTube curates much of its kid-friendly content into a separate YouTube Kids app that’s designed for the under-13 crowd — even preschoolers.

Meanwhile, YouTube treats children’s content like any other. That means targeted advertising and commercial data collection are taking place, the groups’ complaint states. YouTube’s algorithms also recommend videos and autoplay its suggestions — a practice that led to kids being exposed to inappropriate content in the past.

Today, two of the leading groups behind the original complaint — the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) — are asking the FTC to impose the maximum civil penalties on YouTube because, as they’ve said:

Google had actual knowledge of both the large number of child-directed channels on YouTube and the large numbers of children using YouTube. Yet, Google collected personal information from nearly 25 million children in the U.S over a period of years, and used this data to engage in very sophisticated digital marketing techniques. Google’s wrongdoing allowed it to profit in two different ways: Google has not only made a vast amount of money by using children’s personal information as part of its ad networks to target advertising, but has also profited from advertising revenues from ads on its YouTube channels that are watched by children.

The groups are asking the FTC to impose a 20-year consent degree on YouTube.

They want the FTC to order YouTube to destroy all data from children under 13, including any inferences drawn from the data, that’s in Google’s possession. YouTube should also stop collecting data from anyone under 13, including anyone viewing a channel or video directed at children. Kids’ ages also need to be identified so they can be prevented from accessing YouTube.

Meanwhile, the groups suggest that all the channels in the Parenting and Family lineup, plus any other channels or video directed at children, be removed from YouTube and placed into a separate platform for children. (e.g. the YouTube Kids app).

This is something YouTube is already considering, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal last week.

This separate kids platform would have a variety restrictions, including no commercial data collection; no links out to other sites or online services; no targeted marketing; no product or brand integration; no influencer marketing; and even no recommendations or autoplay.

The removal of autoplaying videos and recommendations, in particular, would be a radical change to how YouTube operates, but one that could protect kids from inappropriate content that slips in. It’s also a change that some employees inside YouTube itself were vying for, according to The WSJ’s report. 

The groups also urge the FTC to require Google to fund educational campaigns around the true nature of Google’s data-driven marketing systems, admit publicly that it violated the law, and submit to annual audits to ensure its ongoing compliance. They want Google to commit $100 million to establish a fund that supports the production of noncommercial, high-quality and diverse content for kids.

Finally, the groups are asking that Google faces the maximum possible civil penalties —  $42,530 per violation, which could be counted as either per child or per day. This monetary relief needs to be severe, the groups argue, so Google and YouTube will be deterred from ever violating COPPA in the future.

While this laundry list of suggestions is more like a wish list of what the ideal resolution would look like, it doesn’t mean that the FTC will follow through on all these suggestions.

However, it seems likely that the Commission would at least require YouTube to delete the improperly collected data and isolate the kids’ YouTube experience in some way. After all, that’s precisely what it just did with Tik Tok (previously Musical.ly) which earlier this year paid a record $5.7 million fine for its own COPPA violations. It also had to implement an age gate where under-13 kids were restricted from publishing content.

The advocacy groups aren’t the only ones making suggestions to the FTC.

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also sent the FTC a letter today about YouTube’s violations of COPPA — a piece of legislation that he co-authored.

In his letter, he urges the FTC take a similar set of actions, saying:

“I am concerned that YouTube has failed to comply with COPPA. I therefore, urge the Commission to use all necessary resources to investigate YouTube, demand that YouTube pay all monetary penalties it owes as a result of any legal violations, and instruct YouTube to institute policy changes that put children’s well-being first.”

His suggestions are similar to those being pushed by the advocacy groups. They include demands for YouTube to delete the children’s data and cease data collection on those under 13; implement an age gate on YouTube to come into compliance with COPPA; prohibit targeted and influencer marketing; offer detailed explanations of what data is collected if for “internal purposes;” undergo a yearly audit; provide documentation of compliance upon request; and establish a fund for noncommercial content.

He also wants Google to sponsor a consumer education campaign warning parents that no one under 13 should use YouTube and want Google to be prohibited from launching any new child-directed product until it’s been reviewed by an independent panel of experts.

The FTC’s policy doesn’t allow it to confirm or deny nonpublic investigations. YouTube hasn’t yet commented on the letters.