HBO’s mobile apps to gain a million new downloads courtesy of ‘Game of Thrones’ premiere

In addition to exciting its loyal legion of fans, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” premiere was also once again great news for installs of the network’s app for cord cutters, HBO NOW, which shot to the top of the App Store this weekend. The app this weekend saw a combined 300,000-plus new mobile subscribers in the U.S. across both Apple’s App Store and Google Play, according to preliminary estimates from Sensor Tower.

This is the highest the app has ranked on the U.S. iPhone App Store in three years, Sensor Tower notes, with its previous highest ranking on April 24, 2016 for the Season 6 “Game of Thrones” premiere. At that time, the app had seen 160,000 downloads on just the one day.

Sensor Tower expects to have more precise estimates of the premiere’s impact in the near future, as it wants to incorporate numbers from the fans who are getting a late start and downloading the app today.

Currently, the app is holding its No. 1 position on Apple’s App Store. If that continues, it could easily add another couple hundred thousand over the course of today (Monday, April 15, 2019), Sensor Tower estimates. That could see the app surpassing 500,000 new downloads across the three-day period.

To be clear, these numbers refer to users who have never before installed the app on their phone – not re-downloads.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a 1:1 correlation with new HBO NOW subscribers. Many fans watch the series on their TV’s big screen through an HBO app for devices like Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, and others. Or they may tune in to watch on the web, via their laptop. Still, it’s a notable number – especially considering how late it is in the series for the show to be gaining new fans.

HBO’s app for cable and satellite TV customers, HBO Go, also did well this weekend. It’s on track to exceed 400,000 installs over the same three-day period (the weekend of the Season 8 premiere, plus Monday). This is highest the app has ranked since the Season 7 premiere in July 2017, when it added 350,000 first-time users across both stores worldwide.

Combined, the two apps — HBO Go and HBO NOW — are poised to exceed over 1 million new installs in this three-day period, Sensor Tower forecasts.

However, fans’ interest in the long-awaited new season may have caused HBO’s apps to struggle some.

There have been reports from Down Detector and Business Insider of users who had issues streaming from the HBO apps, as well as Hulu. But these were nowhere on the scale of crashes we’ve seen in years past — as with the Season 4 “Game of Thrones” premiere, which had HBO issuing a public apology due to the size of the outage. (HBO has not responded to our requests for comment about the unconfirmed reports detailing last night’s issues. So the issues could be chalked up to users’ broadband connections, or other factors.)

Other TV apps had a few glitches, too, thanks to the premiere. For example, the TV-tracking social app TV Time temporarily struggled to load, shortly after the premiere’s airing last night. On its app, “Game of Thrones” is one of the most-tracked shows, where it has 4.3 million followers who post comments, photos, memes and more to the show’s in-app community. Today, there are some 6,200 comments in the show’s forum, from fans discussing the show.

Skedulo raises $28M for its mobile workforce management service

Skedulo, a service that helps businesses manage their mobile employees, today announced that it has raised a $28 million Series B funding round led by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund. Existing investors Blackbird and Castanoa Ventures also participated in this round.

The company’s service offers businesses all the necessary tools to manage their mobile employees, including their schedules. A lot of small businesses still use basic spreadsheets and email to do this, but that’s obviously not the most efficient way to match the right employee to the right job, for example.

“Workforce management has traditionally been focused on employees that are sitting at a desk for the majority of their day,” Skedulo CEO and co-founder Matt Fairhurst told me. “The overwhelming majority — 80 percent — of workers will be deskless by 2020 and so far, there has been no one that has addressed the needs of this growing population at scale. We’re excited to help enterprises confront these challenges head-on so they can compete and lean into rapidly changing customer and employee expectations.”

At the core of Skedulo, which offers both a mobile app and web-based interface, is the company’s so-called “Mastermind” engine that helps businesses automatically match the right employee to a job based on the priorities the company has specified. The company plans to use the new funding to enhance this tool through new machine learning capabilities. Skedulo will also soon offer new analytics tools and integrations with third-party services like HR and financial management tools, as well as payroll systems.

The company also plans to use the new funding to double its headcount, which includes hiring at least 60 new employees in its Australian offices in Brisbane and Sydney.

As part of this round, Priya Saiprasad, principal of M12, will join Skedulo’s board of directors. “We found a strong sense of aligned purpose with Priya Saiprasad and the team at M12 — and their desire to invest in companies that help reduce cycles in a person’s working day,” Fairhurst said. “Fundamentally, Skedulo is a productivity company. We help companies, the back-office and mobile workforce, reduce the number of cycles it takes to get work done. This gives them time back to focus on the work that matters most.”

Apple tells app developers to disclose or remove screen recording code

Apple is telling app developers to remove or properly disclose their use of analytics code that allows them to record how a user interacts with their iPhone apps — or face removal from the app store, TechCrunch can confirm.

In an email, an Apple spokesperson said: “Protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem. Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity.”

“We have notified the developers that are in violation of these strict privacy terms and guidelines, and will take immediate action if necessary,” the spokesperson added.

It follows an investigation by TechCrunch that revealed major companies, like Expedia, Hollister and Hotels.com, were using a third-party analytics tool to record every tap and swipe inside the app. We found that none of the apps we tested asked the user for permission, and none of the companies said in their privacy policies that they were recording a user’s app activity.

Even though sensitive data is supposed to be masked, some data — like passport numbers and credit card numbers — was leaking.

Glassbox is a cross-platform analytics tool that specializes in session replay technology. It allows companies to integrate its screen recording technology into their apps to replay how a user interacts with the apps. Glassbox says it provides the technology, among many reasons, to help reduce app error rates. But the company “doesn’t enforce its customers” to mention that they use Glassbox’s screen recording tools in their privacy policies.

But Apple expressly forbids apps that covertly collect data without a user’s permission.

TechCrunch began hearing on Thursday that app developers had already been notified that their apps had fallen afoul of Apple’s rules. One app developer was told by Apple to remove code that recorded app activities, citing the company’s app store guidelines.

“Your app uses analytics software to collect and send user or device data to a third party without the user’s consent. Apps must request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity,” Apple said in the email.

Apple gave the developer less than a day to remove the code and resubmit their app or the app would be removed from the app store, the email said.

When asked if Glassbox was aware of the app store removals, a spokesperson for Glassbox said that “the communication with Apple is through our customers.”

Glassbox is also available to Android app developers. Google did not immediately comment if it would also ban the screen recording code. Google Play also expressly prohibits apps from secretly collecting device usage. “Apps must not hide or cloak tracking behavior or attempt to mislead users about such functionality,” the developer rules state. We’ll update if and when we hear back.

It’s the latest privacy debacle that has forced Apple to wade in to protect its customers after apps were caught misbehaving.

Last week, TechCrunch reported that Apple banned Facebook’s “research” app that the social media giant paid teenagers to collect all of their data.

It followed another investigation by TechCrunch that revealed Facebook misused its Apple-issued enterprise developer certificate to build and provide apps for consumers outside Apple’s App Store. Apple temporarily revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate, knocking all of the company’s internal iOS apps offline for close to a day.

Equifax, Western Union, Priceline settle with New York attorney general over insecure mobile apps

New York’s attorney general has settled with five tech and financial giants, requiring each company to implement basic security on their mobile apps.

The settlements force Credit Sesame, Equifax (yes, that Equifax), Priceline, Spark Networks and Western Union to ensure data sent between the app and their servers are encrypted. Specifically, the attorney general said their apps “could have allowed sensitive information entered by users — such as passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account numbers — to be intercepted by eavesdroppers employing simple and well-publicized techniques.”

In other words, their mobile apps “all failed” to properly roll out and implement HTTPS, one of the barest minimum security measures in any modern app’s security.

HTTPS certificates (also known as SSL/TLS certificates) encrypt data between a device, like your phone or computer, and a website or app server, ensuring any sensitive data, like credit card numbers or passwords, can’t be intercepted as it travels over the internet — whether that’s someone on the same coffee shop Wi-Fi network or your nearest federal intelligence agency.

These certificates are more common than ever, not least because when they’re not incredibly cheap, they’re completely free — and most modern browsers these days will bluntly tell you when a website is “not secure.” Apps are no different, but without a green padlock in your browser window, there’s often very little to know for sure on the face of it that your data is traversing the internet securely.

At least, with financial, banking and dating apps — you’d just assume, right? Bzzt, wrong.

“Although each company represented to users that it used reasonable security measures to protect their information, the companies failed to sufficiently test whether their mobile apps had this vulnerability,” the office of attorney general Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “Today’s settlements require each company to implement comprehensive security programs to protect user information.”

The apps were picked out after an extensive batch of app testing in an effort to find security issues before incidents happen. Underwood’s office follows in the footsteps of federal enforcement in recent years by the Federal Trade Commission, which brought action against several app makers — including Credit Karma and Fandango — for failing to properly implement HTTPS certificates.

In taking action, the attorney general gets to keep closer tabs on the companies going forward to make sure they’re not flouting their data security responsibilities.

Family networking app Life360 acqui-hires PathSense team to boost location-based services

Life360, the app for networking families together via mobile devices, has acquired the developer team behind PathSense, responsible for the creation of a location-based mobile application toolkit, to build out its location-based offerings.

The San Francisco-based Life360 will see all of PathSense’s employees joining its staff, while the tech that PathSense developed will be licensed by the family networking and security monitoring service.

PathSense uses location software and sensing technologies that use less battery power than other GPS apps, according to the company.

“For Life 360 it is very critical to have accurate geofencing to locate assets especially family members and if they leave specific geofenced areas,” wrote Neil Shahe, an analyst for Counterpoint Research.

Specifically, Life360 is applying the technology to crash detection services for families in the event of an accident.

“The PathSense technology, and the team’s expertise in utilizing all of the sensors available on smartphones in a unique way, provides our users with a world-class car crash detection and response system,” said Alex Haro, co-founder and CTO of Life360. “This ensures we fulfill our vision to make every family member a safer driver and be there for them when accidents happen.”

That service will detect when an accident occurs and initiates a call to the phone of whichever subscriber was in the accident. If the user needs assistance, Life360 says it will notify emergency contacts and dispatch emergency services to a location.

The feature is part of the company’s Driver Protect subscription service — which also includes monitoring of phone usage in cars.

PathSense’s team, now a part of Life360 was behind the development of Trapster — a Waze -like app using crowd-sourced data to provide traffic and accident alerts.

As part of the talent acquisition, Life360 gets a new technology development hub in San Diego — which the company intends to continue to staff up as it develops new location-based applications.

PathSense will also remain a going concern and will look to bring on new clients in its Southern California office.

 

RecordGram thinks your phone is the new recording studio

 If RecordGram has its way, top record producers will all turn to their app, a kind of mobile recording studio, to find the next Justin Bieber or Nicki Minaj. And aspiring artists will all find beats, create songs and get signed to their first label through RecordGram. The company was a “wildcard” contender at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in New York today. Read More

Facebook on course to be the WeChat of the West, says Gartner

whatsapp-messenger It’s the beginning of the end for smartphone apps as we have known and tapped on them, reckons Gartner. The analyst is calling the start of a “post-apps” era, based on changes in consumer interactions that appear driven, in large part, by the rise of dominant messaging platforms designed to consume more and more of mobile users’ time and attention. Read More

PitchBook brings company financial data to its mobile app

welcome-to-pitchbook Finding financial data, particularly for private companies, is no small task. It usually requires a solid BS detector for researching online and a network of knowledgeable sources to bounce numbers off of — not something that can easily be done over coffee or in the middle of a meeting. PitchBook, a PE and VC database, is integrating financial data into its mobile app to chip away at… Read More

Waggle raises $2.3 million because the internet doesn’t have enough funny animal videos

Pablo of Coco & Pablo, rising stars on Waggle.TV. A startup called Waggle raised $2.3 million in seed funding to become the go-to destination for animal lovers and pet parents online, and for sharing all the cute pups and madcap kitteh adventures they have to offer. The New York City-based startup was incubated at Broadway Video Ventures, the venture arm of the production company behind premium comedy shows like 30 Rock, Portlandia… Read More

Starbucks adds a virtual barrista, sous vide eggs and a Tencent partnership to its menu

Starbucks is partnering with Tencent to enable "social gifting" and wechat pay in its mainland China cafes. At the Starbucks Biennial Investor Conference today, the coffee and retail giant revealed some plans for 2017, including new foods comings to its cafes, and features heading to its incredibly popular mobile app. Notably absent among its announcements were any media and entertainment-related plans. In terms of its tech, Starbucks announced artificial intelligence-enabled features will soon… Read More