Google has quietly added DuckDuckGo as a search engine option for Chrome users in ~60 markets

In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it’s expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.

Many governments are now actively questioning how competition policy needs to be updated to rein in platform power and help smaller technology innovators get out from under the tech giant shadow.

But in a note about the changes to chromium’s default search engine lists on an Github instance, Google software engineer Orin Jaworski merely writes that the list of search engine references per country is being “completely replaced based on new usage statistics” from “recently collected data”.

Their choices appear to loosely line up with top four marketshare.

The greatest beneficiary of the update appears to be pro-privacy Google rival, DuckDuckGo, which is now being offered as an option in more than 60 markets, per the Github instance.

Previously DDG was not offered as an option at all.

Another pro-privacy search rivals, French search engine Qwant, has also been added as a new option — though only in its home market, France.

Whereas DDG has been added in Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Bolivia, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, India, Iceland, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Moldova, Macedonia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Paraguay, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, US and Venezuela.

“We’re glad that Google has recognized the importance of offering consumers a private search option,” DuckDuckGo founder Gabe Weinberg told us when approached for comment about the change.

DDG has been growing steadily for years — and has also recently taken outside investment to scale its efforts to capitalize on growing international appetite for pro-privacy products.

Interestingly, the chromium Github instance is dated December 2018 which appears to be around about the time when Google (finally) passed the Duck.com domain to DuckDuckGo, after holding onto the domain and pointing it to Google.com for years.

We asked Google for comment on the timing of the changes to search engine options in chromium. At the time of writing the search giant had not responded.

We’ve also reached out to Qwant for comment on being added as an option in its home market.

 

Uber pays $2.6M to settle historical charges it violated Dutch taxi laws

Another fine for Uber’s historical playbook: The ride-hailing giant has agreed to pay around $2.6 million (€2.3M) to settle charges in the Netherlands related to violations of local taxi law, dating back to when it was operating a peer-to-peer ride-hailing service in contravention of local transport laws.

Uber offered its UberPop service in the Netherlands between July 2014 and November 2015, when it pulled the plug — saying the service “had become a blog to regulatory progress”. Which is a long-winded way of saying it wasn’t legal to operate it.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (DPPS) announced the settlement today, saying it consists of a €2,025,000 fine across the four Uber companies — Uber International BV, Uber Netherlands BV, Uber BV and Rasier Operations BV — in addition to €309,409 in “criminally earned capital”, via Uber’s 20% commission on rides, which is being clawed back.

The DPPS said it’s happy to settle with Uber as it believes the courts would have reached the same penalizing conclusion.

In a press release announcing the settlement it writes that the four named Uber entities “co-perpetrated” the violation of local taxi law, which requires transport services to have a taxi license to operate (whereas with UberPop Uber allowed anyone with a vehicle to sell a ride).

Uber BV has been given the maximum possible fine (€810,000). The other three entities have been fined half the maximum — as a result of smaller roles in the violation, the DPPS said.

“The person responsible for the rollout of UberPop in the Netherlands has performed a 90-hour [community service] penalty,” it adds.

Commenting on the settlement in a statement, an Uber spokesperson said: “We have changed the way we do business across the world, putting integrity in the core of everything that we do. We are committed to being a good partner to Dutch cities. We have shut down UberPOP services in 2015. Since then, we only allow professional and certified drivers on the app, through uberX, Van and Black services.”

Also since 2015: Europe’s top court judged Uber to be a transport company — firmly closing the regional book on any more attempts to circumvent taxi laws by claiming it’s ‘just a technology platform’.

Medal.tv’s clipping service allows gamers to share the moments of their digital lives

As online gaming becomes the new social forum for living out virtual lives, a new startup called Medal.tv has raised $3.5 million for its in-game clipping service to capture and share the Kodak moments and digital memories that are increasingly happening in places like Fortnite or Apex Legends.

Digital worlds like Fortnite are now far more than just a massively multiplayer gaming space. They’re places where communities form, where social conversations happen, and where, increasingly, people are spending the bulk of their time online. They even host concerts — like the one from EDM artist, Marshmello, which drew (according to the DJ himself) roughly 10 million players onto the platform.

While several services exist to provide clips of live streams from gamers who broadcast on platforms like Twitch, Medal.tv bills itself as the first to offer clipping services for the private games that more casual gamers play among friends and far flung strangers around the world.

“Essentially the next generation is spending the same time inside games that we used to playing sports outside and things like that,” says Medal.tv’s co-founder and chief executive, Pim DeWitte. “It’s not possible to tell how far it will go. People will capture as many if not more moments for the reason that it’s simpler.”

The company marks a return to the world of gaming for DeWitte, a serial entrepreneur who first started coding when he was 13 years old.

Hailing from a small town in the Netherlands called Nijmegen, DeWitte first reaped the rewards of startup success with a gaming company called SoulSplit. Built on the back of his popular YouTube channel the SoulSplit game was launched with DeWitte’s childhood friend, Iggy Harmsen, and a fellow online gamer, Josh Lipson who came on board as SoulSplit’s chief technology officer.

At its height, Soulsplit was bringing in $1 million in revenue and employed roughly 30 people, according to interviews with DeWitte.

The company shut down in 2015 and the co-founders split up to pursue other projects. For DeWitte that meant a stint working with Doctors Without Borders on an app called MapSwipe that would use satellite imagery to better locate people in the event of a humanitarian crisis. He also helped the non-profit develop a tablet that could be used by doctors deployed to treat Ebola outbreaks.

Then in 2017, as social gaming was becoming more popular on games like Fortnite, DeWitte and his co-founders returned to the industry to launch Medal .tv.

It initially started as a marketing tool to get people interested in playing the games that DeWitte and his co-founders were hoping to develop. But as the clipping service took off, DeWitte and co. realized that they potentially had a more interesting social service on their hands.

“We were going to build a mobile app and were going to load a bunch of videos of people playing games and then we’re going to load videos of our games,” DeWitte says. 

The service allows users to capture the last 15 seconds of gameplay using different recording mechanisms based on game type. Medal.tv captures gameplay on a device and users can opt-in to record sound as well.

It is programmed so that it only records the game,” DeWitte says. “There is no inbound connection. It only calls for the API [and] all of the things that would be somewhat dangerous from a privacy perspective are all opt-in.”

 

There are roughly 30,000 users on the platform every week and around 15,000 daily active users, according to DeWitte. Launched last May, the company has been growing between 5% and 10% weekly, according to DeWitte. Typically, users are sharing clips through Discord, WhatsApp and Instagram direct messages, DeWitte said.

In addition to the consumer-facing clipping service, Medal also offers a data collection service that aggregates information about the clips that are shared by Medal’s users so game developers and streamers can get a sense of how clips are being shared across what platform.

“We look at clips as a form of communication and in most activity that we see, that’s how it’s being used,” says DeWitte.

But that information is also valuable to esports organizations to determine where they need to allocate new resources.

“Medal.tv Metrics is spectacular,” said Peter Levin, Chairman of the Immortals esports organization, in a statement. “With it, any gaming organization gains clear, actionable insights into the organic reach of their content, and can build a roadmap to increase it in a measurable way.”

The activity that Medal was seeing was impressive enough to attract the attention of investors led by Backed VC and Initial Capital. Ridge Ventures, Makers Fund, and Social Starts, all participated in the company’s $3.5 million round as well, with Alex Brunicki, a founding partner at Backed, and Matteo Vallone, principal at Initial, joining the company’s board.

“Emerging generations are experiencing moments inside games the same way we used to with sports and festivals growing up. Digital and physical identity are merging and the technology for gamers hasn’t evolved to support that.” said Alex Brunicki, partner at Backed.vc, in a statement.

Medal’s platform works with games like Apex Legends, Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and Oldschool Runescape (where DeWitte first cut his teeth in gaming).

“Friends are the main driver of game discovery, and game developers benefit from shareable games as a result. Medal.tv is trying to enable that without the complexity of streaming” said Vallone, who previously headed up games for Google Play Europe, and now sits on the Medal board. 

 

Ohio becomes the first state to accept bitcoin for tax payments

Starting Monday, businesses in Ohio will be able to pay their taxes in bitcoin — making the state that’s high in the middle and round on both ends the first in the nation to accept cryptocurrency officially.

Companies who want to take part in the program simply need to go to OhioCrypto.com and register to pay whatever taxes their corporate hearts desire in crypto. It could be anything from cigarette sales taxes to employee withholding taxes, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, which first noted the initiative.

The brain child of current Ohio state treasurer, Josh Mandel, the bitcoin program is intended to be a signal of the state’s broader ambitions to remake itself in a more tech-friendly image.

Already, Ohio has something of a technology hub forming in Columbus, Ohio, home to one of the largest venture capital funds in the midwest, Drive Capital . And Cleveland (the city once called “the mistake on the lake”) is trying to remake itself in cryptocurrency’s image with a new drive to rebrand the city as “Blockland”.

Whether anyone will look to take advantage of Ohio’s newfound embrace of digital currencies is debatable.

The cryptocurrency market is currently in the kind of free-fall (or collapse, or implosion, or conflagration, or all-consuming dumpster fire) that’s usually reserved for tulips in Holland in February 1637.

Other states around the country in the southeast, southwest and midwest also considered accepting bitcoin for taxes, but those initiatives in places like Arizona, Georgia, and Illinois never got past state legislatures.

The state is working with the cryptocurrency payment startup BitPay to handle its payments, which will convert the bitcoin to dollars.

 

What President Trump Doesn’t Know About ZTE

After meeting with Chinese Vice Premiere Liu He this week, President Trump is still considering easing penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE over its violation of sanctions against Iran and North Korea. But what Mr. Trump may not realize is that ZTE is also one of the world’s most notorious intellectual property thieves — perhaps even the most notorious of all.

Since stopping Chinese theft of U.S intellectual property is one of the President’s most important trade objectives, Mr. Trump should refuse to ease sanctions against ZTE until it stops its high-tech banditry and starts playing by the rules in intellectual property (IP) matters.

To get a sense of just how egregious ZTE’s behavior truly is, we need only to consult PACER, the national index of federal court cases. A search of PACER reveals that in the U.S. alone, ZTE has been sued for patent infringement an astonishing 126 times just in the last five years. This number is even more shocking when you consider that only a subset of companies who believe their IP rights have been violated by ZTE has the means or the will to spend the millions of dollars needed to wage a multi-year lawsuit in federal courts.

But ZTE’s IP thievery is not confined just to the United States. According to one Chinese tech publication, ZTE has also been sued for patent infringement an additional 100 times in China, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, India, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and other countries. As an intellectual property renegade, ZTE certainly gets around.

Even when it’s not being sued, ZTE thumbs its nose at the traditional rules of fair play in intellectual proper matters, commonly engaging in delay, misrepresentation, and hold out when dealing with patent owners. While ZTE is more than happy to accept royalty payments for the use of its own intellectual property, it rarely if ever pays for the use of others’ IP.

Consider ZTE’s treatment of San Francisco-based Via Licensing Corp, a Swiss-neutral operator of patent pools covering wireless, digital audio, and other building-block components of complex products. Patent pools offer one-stop shopping for product makers to acquire licenses to patents from multiple innovative companies at once. Pools are generally a more efficient, and less litigious, way for product makers to acquire the IP rights they need at reasonable prices.

In 2012, ZTE joined Via’s LTE wireless patent pool, whose members also include Google, AT&T, Verizon, Siemens, China Mobile, and another Chinese tech powerhouse, Lenovo, maker of Motorola-branded smartphones. It helped set the royalty pricing of the pool’s aggregated patent rights, and even received payments from other product makers for their use of ZTE’s own patents within the pool.

But in 2017, precisely when it was ZTE’s turn to pay for its use of other members’ patents in Via’s LTE pool, it suddenly and without ceremony quit the patent pool. Via and its member companies are still trying to get ZTE to pay for its use of their intellectual property — and to abide by the very rules it helped establish in the first place.

Even among much-criticized Chinese companies, ZTE’s behavior is completely outside the norm. Despite what you may hear, some Chinese companies are actually good IP citizens — Lenovo for one. In fact, Via’s various patent pools include more than two dozen Chinese companies who play by the rules.

But ZTE is not one of them. It is a blatant serial IP violator who gives other Chinese companies a bad name. And our government should not reward such behavior.

Ease sanctions on ZTE only when it finally starts respecting intellectual property rights.

How 3D printing is revolutionizing the housing industry 

If you build it, they will come. And if you 3D-print it, they will come faster, cheaper and more sustainably.

We live in an era of overpopulation and mass housing shortages. Yet we also live in a time of phenomenal digital innovation. On the one hand we have major crises affecting the health, liberty and happiness of billions of people. But look at the other hand, where we have potential for life-changing technological breakthroughs at a rate never before seen on this planet.

Our challenges are vast, but our capabilities to produce solutions are even greater. In the future, we will remember this moment in time as a pivotal one. It is now — not tomorrow, and certainly not five years from now — when technology and innovation are disrupting multiple major industries, including those of housing and construction, at breathless and breakneck speed.

Innovators around the world are hard at work to change the way we design, build and produce our homes, and all of this will result in massive change to the housing status quo. Harnessing the revolutionary power of 3D printing, companies from Russia to China, the U.S. and the Netherlands have already proven that not only can a home be 3D-printed, it can be done cheaply, efficiently and easily.

Here are just a few ways 3D printing is already transforming the way we live.

Speed

In March 2017, Apis Cor, 3D-printing specialists with offices in Russia and San Francisco, announced they had produced a 3D-printed home in just 24 hours. That means that from the time you drank your coffee yesterday to the time you sat down for cereal this morning, they produced the self-bearing walls, partitions and building envelopes of an entire home, installed it on site and added the roof and interior finishings. It happened in the dead of winter in a tiny Russian town named Stupino, and it was done using Apis Cor’s on-site printer, which means that the massive cost and logistical hurdle of transporting parts and building materials from factories to a home site was almost entirely eliminated.

Think about the possibilities: You select the site where you want to build your home, Apis Cor brings in their 4.5-meter-long printer, the raw materials are set up and within one single day, your home is printed and ready for you. Compare that to the traditional six- or seven-month construction time the industry is used to, and you’ll begin to understand the scope of potential disruption.

The speed of technological innovation here is also exponential and mind-blowing; just one year before Apis Cor’s breakthrough, we in the 3D-printing industry were marveling over Chinese construction company HuaShang Tengda, who set their own record by 3D-printing a two-story home in a month and a half. Consider that, for a moment: This industry is moving so quickly that construction time has been slashed from 45 days to 24 mere hours in the span of a single year.

Image: shanelinkcom/iStock

Cost

Housing prices in America have skyrocketed over the past 50 years, with the average price for a home now surpassing $200,000. And remember, that’s just the average — if you live on the East or West Coast, chances are you’re going to be shelling out something closer to the half-million dollar mark (or more!).

According to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, a full one-third of people who live in cities will find decent housing out of their reach due to cost by the year 2025. And construction costs are the primary barrier — the report also states that it will take between $9 trillion and $11 trillion just to build the necessary houses to flip that supply-demand ratio and make housing affordable in that time.

Of course, that’s taking only traditional methods of construction into account. But Apis Cor’s 24-hour home was made for around $10,000. HuaSheng Tenga’s homes were made with only 40 percent of the materials traditional construction usually requires, in 30 percent of the time. That represents massive savings in labor and material costs. And these companies aren’t alone — dozens of other firms are exploring cheaper and less complicated methods for building the roofs we all need over our heads, and slashing prices in the process. 

New Story, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit that builds housing in the developing world, just unveiled a new 3D printer at SXSW that can print a house in less than a day for $4,000. DUS Architects — a Dutch architecture studio that has been 3D-printing houses since 2012 — has unveiled the KamerMaker, a huge 3D printer that can build using local recycled materials. This slashes transport, material and manufacturing costs, all driving down costs. 

The bottom line

What’s so revolutionary about 3D printing is that its potential is limited only by our imaginations. If the past few years have taught us anything about this industry, it’s that barriers of size, scope and material do not apply to the potential that 3D printing brings to the manufacturing market. From cars to food, to the houses we live in, the industry isn’t just gearing up for a shakeup. It’s in the throes of it already, because change is happening now.

MessageBird, a profitable rival to Twilio from Europe, introduces support for chat apps

messagebird Twilio’s IPO this month isn’t just good timing for the tech industry, which has been waiting for a promising public listing from one of its number, it has set up the perfect stage for a lesser-known European rival to boost its profile in the U.S.. Before it’s listing, few people knew much about services like Twilio, which operates an SMS and voice platform that powers, for… Read More