Pact Coffee founder steps down from CEO role as London startup looks to B2B for growth

Pact Coffee, the U.K. subscription service that delivers freshly roasted “specialty coffee” to your door, has seen a change of leadership as the company plans to focus more on the B2B side of its business.

After 5 years running Pact, TechCrunch understands that founder Stephen Rapoport has stepped down from his role as CEO and instead will act as Chairman going forward. He’s being replaced by new MD Paul Turton, who has a background in B2B retail sales and management.

In a call with Rapoport on Sunday, he confirmed Pact Coffee’s change of leadership, but says he will remain a “very active” Chairman, supporting the new Managing Director. He also candidly explained that even though the startup has seen some success with its longer-running direct-to-consumer offering — having sold speciality coffee to over 300,000 U.K. households — it overestimated the size of the market for consumers who want speciality coffee delivered on a subscription basis. Instead, it is the newer “Pact at Work” B2B service where the startup is eyeing up future growth.

Rapoport sent TechCrunch the following statement:

From today I’m taking on the [role of] Chairman at Pact, having run the company as CEO for five years. The timing is perfect; the team and I have built a D2C business that is market-leading and stable. Going forward, we’re focussing on making whole teams happier and more productive by upgrading their office coffee stack – it’s called Pact at Work. I wanted to hire an MD with a long track record of winning with B2B models, which is what we have found in Paul Turton, who joins the business today. I anticipate this being a very active Chairmanship, ensuring Paul, the management team and the board have everything they need to succeed.

Launched in 2012, Pact Coffee was a noble attempt to make specialty coffee accessible to the mass market. Customers subscribe to the service — a classic e-commerce subscription play — and get freshly roasted coffee from around the world via next day delivery. The startup is unapologetically mission-driven, too, placing emphasis on giving coffee growers a fairer price.

To that end, Rapoport told me the startup has helped nurture an entrepreneurial community of over 150 coffee growers in seven countries. Last year I’m told it paid coffee growers more than double the Fairtrade rate.

Meanwhile, Pact Coffee’s investors include MMC Ventures, Connect Ventures, and Robin Klein’s LocalGlobe. In addition, a number of angels have backed the coffee startup, such as Songkick founder Ian Hogarth and TransferWise founder Taavet Hinrikus. In total, it has raised £6.4 million in four rounds of VC and debt.

Most recently, the startup took on £1 million in venture debt, following an aborted equity crowdfunding round in March 2016 and deciding not to proceed with a nearly-closed Series B round. Shortly after that decision, Pact made a number of layoffs to its workforce, and has since slashed other costs, including by moving into smaller offices.

Authorities serve Apple a warrant for Texas shooter’s iPhone

Two weeks ago today, 26 people were killed by a gunman at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Two phones were discovered at the scene: older push-button LG and what local news described as a “blood spattered” Apple iPhone SE. Now local law enforcement has served Apple with a search warrant in order to retrieve information from the smartphone.

The news has echoes of a recent spat between Apple and the FBI over a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, in late 2015. Apple appears to have been proactive this time around. The Tuesday following the murders, the FBI held a press conference noting the existence of one of two phones, without revealing the make, as it didn’t want to “tell every bad guy out there what phone to buy.”

As reported by The Washington Post, the mystery handset was indeed an iPhone. Apple reached out to law enforcement after the press conference, offering technical assistance in getting onto the device. The company, it seems, could have provided help early on, without much legal wrangling or more software controversial backdoors.

For one thing, as morbid as it may be, TouchID (unlike FaceID, apparently) can be used to unlock a phone even after the owner of a fingerprint has died. In spite of issuing a warrant dated November 9 (two days after the press conference), however, an Apple spokesperson has since confirmed with TechCrunch that as of this writing, law enforcement has yet to contact the company for technical assistance in helping unlock the device.

The offer is likely still on the table, if law enforcement is willing to accept. Apple no doubt would like to be in a position of assisting in uncovering a potential motive or other useful information without having to employee the encryption-breaking tactics that were asked of the company in the wake of San Bernadino. After that event, Tim Cook issued an open letter, stating,

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

In that case, the FBI ultimately withdrew its court order, after discovering an alternative method for unlocking the device. Given the assistance Apple could potentially offer up, having to create an exploitable backdoor could perhaps be avoided once again.

Nuraphones’ custom profiles bring out new detail in familiar songs

I went to a cabin in the woods last week. After 14 years in the city, you need to get away from time to time — just shut everything off to keep the world from closing in on you.

I promised myself I wouldn’t read any work email (I failed), wouldn’t tweet (failed) and wouldn’t bring along any homework — I failed there too, but that one I don’t actually feel bad about. We’ve been following the progress of Nura headphones since they were an unsightly jumble of wires, with an exterior control box that did most of the heavy lifting.

The product’s customized sound profiles were a compelling idea executed well, but frankly, I had my doubts that the Australian startup would be able to connect all the dots required to get the product to market.

Of course, $4.6 million in seed funding and a $1.8 million Kickstarter go a long way when you’re building a pair of headphones. Early last month, the company popped by our San Francisco office to show us the final, shipping product. It looked and sounded impressive — and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a pair. Thankfully, they delivered them just in time for my trip.

The Nuraphones have some pretty lofty aspirations and an equally high $399 price tag. They’re also far from the first pair of headphones to promise a custom sound profile — that seems to be all the rage in the industry these days. But even taking all of that into account, Nura’s first product hits the mark. Hardware is, as they say, hard — but while the startup seems built around one (admittedly cool) feature, it’s clear the company has put a lot of time, care and money into product execution.

That thoughtfulness (and did I mention $4.6 million in seed funding and an $1.8 million Kickstarter?) encompasses most of the product experience, right down to the packaging. The Nuraphones shipped in a nondescript cardboard box, with a paper foam container inside that looks a bit like a cardboard brain. Inside that is a large, hard case for the headphones themselves. It occupies a LOT of space in your backpack (the headphones aren’t collapsable, mind), but it’ll keep the headphones plenty safe and has a magnetic strap that snaps into place to keep it all closed.

The box has two compartments with four pouches inside, each sporting a cable designed for the headphones’ proprietary jack. There’s USB-C, microUSB and Lightning. The case itself has a silicone pouch with the charging cable inside. You’re going to want to keep those in sight, because you won’t be able to pop into the local electronics store to pick up a replacement.

A lot of thought clearly went into the headphone designs themselves, as well. They’re big, but not flashy. They’re all matte black, with round cups and a classically styled metal headband that echoes some of Sennheiser’s more understated over ear designs. Inside the rubbery cups are the Nuraphones’ strangest physical feature: small earbuds. Sort of the headphone behind the headphone. They’re malleable, but still make getting a good fit a bit a bit tough, especially during the setup process, which requires a perfect seal.

The free app will guide you through that process, with graphics indicating how well the headphones are positioned on your ear. I got it right almost immediately the first time I tried, but found myself constantly readjusting when I tried it again. Be warned, it can be a pretty frustrating process after the fifteenth time you’ve repositioned the cups on your ears.

The rest of the process is pretty straight-forward — the app walks you through it, essentially beaming a sound into your ears to get an idea of what it’s working with. Here’s a quick rundown of what it’s doing straight from the horse’s mouth,

The nuraphone plays a range of tones into the ear, and then measures a very faint sound that your ear generates in response to these tones called the Otoacoustic Emission (OAE). This tiny signal originates in the cochlea and vibrates the ear drum, turning it into a speaker and playing sound back out of your ear. Yes our ears make sound! This sound is about 10,000 times smaller than the sound that went in.

All of which is a complicated way of saying the headphones listen back for a faint sound reflected back from your ear in order to create a custom profile. The app also shows you a unique “hearing profile,” a sort of color-coded fingerprint of your hearing. Admittedly the image doesn’t mean much, and the app doesn’t really explain it. The site is a bit more helpful (but not much). “The shape is our hearing sensitivity wrapped around a circle. Low notes at 12 o’clock and higher notes as the dial travels clockwise. The further away from the centre, the more sensitive you are to those frequencies.”

You can create multiple profiles on a single pair — in fact, that’s half the fun, hearing how friends and loved ones hear differently. In my own experience with the things, basically everyone else’s profile sounds terrible but your own. Ditto for the “generic” setting, which you can access by touching the metal on the left cup. The company also has a beta feature that will automatically detect the wearer when placed over their ears.

When it’s up and running and personalized, it sounds great. Individual instruments are far easier to make out and small, unfamiliar touches stand out in music you’ve heard a million times before. Maybe it’s an instrument buried low in the mix or the sound of a singer breathing or crowd chatter in a live recording. It’s remarkable, really, and hasn’t lost its novelty in the week and change that I’ve been playing with the headphones.

On top of that, the over ear cups provide what the company refers to as an “immersion mode,” which uses drivers to add a more encompassing bass sound, to simulate a live setting. There’s a slide in the app that lets you adjust from “gentle” to “front row.” I found myself however right around the middle at “normal” for most of my testing.

Taken together, it’s an impressive experience from a really differentiated product. The care and quality is quite high for a first time product from a brand new startup. Even so, $399 is a lot to ask for most users. I’d recommend getting a demo in person before diving in, if possible. Like most listeners, you’ll probably be pretty impressed with the results.

17 STEM-focused gifts to inspire kids to learn coding and love robotics

This is the thirdyear we’ve run a STEM-focused gift guide — and if you’re intending to buy a child something fun and quasi-educational in holiday season 2017 it’s fair to say there has never been so many programmable bots and kits to choose from, all pledging to spark or sustain an interest in coding and electronics.

This year’s guide reflects this boom in ‘educational’ techie toys — featuring programmable and controllable robots of all stripes and shapes, as well as some fully fledged learn-to-code computers and a few lower tech alternatives for variety (and those not wanting to give yet another gadget).

Gadget makers are piling into this space because of the ability to charge top dollar for toys that can claim a few STEM smarts. And it’s clear the line between connected devices and learn to code tools is being increasingly blurred — although the jury’s still out on how much lasting educational value any of these gizmos can offer vs more structured learning and guidance.

The impact of a STEM toy will obviously vary from child to child. But the theory at least is that if kids are having fun with technology they’re more likely to be inspired by the topic and want to learn more.

Click that right arrow key to view the gallery (or, if you’re on mobile, just scroll) to see our round up of 2017 gift ideas for budding coders and would-be roboticists. We’ve aimed to cover a full spectrum of age ranges, as well as including options to suit different budgets. Expect robots, lots and lots of robots…

100 cryptocurrencies described in four words or less

Nate MurrayContributor

Nate Murray is a programmer, musician and beekeeper. He works at IFTTT and has been working with terabyte-scale data since 2009.

This list describes cryptocurrencies.

Each gets four words. There are many.

Some are landmarks. Some are scams.

Hopefully this provides orientation.


Name | Sym. | Description ----------------|-------|------------------------------------------Bitcoin | BTC | Digital gold Ethereum | ETH | Programmable contracts and money BitcoinCash | BCH | Bitcoin clone Ripple | XRP | Enterprise payment settlement network Litecoin | LTC | Faster Bitcoin Dash | DASH | Privacy-focused Bitcoin clone NEO | NEO | Chinese-market Ethereum NEM | XEM | Batteries-included digital assets Monero | XMR | Private digital cash EthereumClassic| ETC | Ethereum clone IOTA | MIOTA | Internet-of-things payments Qtum | QTUM | Ethereum contracts on Bitcoin OmiseGO | OMG | Banking, remittance, and exchange Zcash | ZEC | Private digital cash BitConnect | BCC | Madoff-like investment fund Lisk | LSK | Decentralized applications in JavaScript Cardano | ADA | Layered currency and contracts Tether | USDT | Price = 1 USD StellarLumens | XLM | Digital IOUs EOS | EOS | Decentralized applications on WebAssemblyHshare | HSR | Blockchain switchboard Waves | WAVES | Decentralized exchange and crowdfunding Stratis | STRAT | Decentralized applications in C# Komodo | KMD | Decentralized ICOs Ark | ARK | Blockchain switchboard Electroneum | ETN | Monero clone Bytecoin | BCN | Privacy-focused cryptocurrency Steem | STEEM | Reddit with money voting Ardor | ARDR | Blockchain for spawning blockchains BinanceCoin | BNB | Pay Binance exchange fees Augur | REP | Decentralized prediction market Populous | PPT | Invoice trading futures Decred | DCR | Bitcoin with alternative governance TenX | PAY | Cryptocurrency credit card MaidSafeCoin | MAID | Rent disk space BitcoinDark | BTCD | Zcoin close BitShares | BTS | Decentralized exchange Golem | GNT | Rent other people's computers PIVX | PIVX | Inflationary Dash clone Gas | GAS | Pay fees on Neo TRON | TRX | In-app-purchases Vertcoin | VTC | Bitcoin clone MonaCoin | MONA | Japanese Dogecoin Factom | FCT | Decentralized record keeping BasicAttention | BAT | Decentralized ad network SALT | SALT | Cryptocurrency-backed loans KyberNetwork | KNC | Decentralized exchange Dogecoin | DOGE | Serious meme bitcoin clone DigixDAO | DGD | Organisation manages tokenized gold Veritaseum | VERI | Vaporware Walton | WTC | IoT Blockchain SingularDTV | SNGLS | Decentralized Netflix Bytom | BTM | Physical assets as tokens ByteballBytes | GBYTE | Decentralized database and currency GameCredits | GAME | Video game currency MetaverseETP | ETP | Chinese Ethereum plus identity GXShares | GXS | Decentralized Chinese Equifax Syscoin | SYS | Decentralized marketplace Siacoin | SC | Rent disk space Status | SNT | Decentralized application browser 0x | ZRX | Decentralized exchange Verge | XVG | Privacy Dogecoin Lykke | LKK | Digital asset exchange Civic | CVC | Identity and Authentication App Blocknet | BLOCK | Decentralized exchange Metal | MTL | Payments with rewards program Iconomi | ICN | Digital asset investment funds Aeternity | AE | Decentralized apps (prototype) DigiByte | DGB | Faster Bitcoin Bancor | BNT | Token Index Funds RipioCredit | RCN | Co-signed Cryptocurrency Loans ATMChain | ATM | Advertising network Gnosis | GNO | Decentralized prediction market VeChain | VEN | Supply chain item IDs Pura | PURA | Cryptocurrency Particl | PART | Privacy marketplace and chat KuCoinShares | KCS | Profit-sharing exchange fees Bitquence | BQX | Mint for cryptocurrency investments FunFair | FUN | Decentralized casino ChainLink | LINK | External data for contracts PowerLedger | POWR | Airbnb for electricity Nxt | NXT | Cryptocurrency and marketplace Monaco | MCO | Cryptocurrency credit card Cryptonex | CNX | Zerocoin clone MCAP | MCAP | Mining investment fund Storj | STORJ | Rent disk space ZenCash | ZEN | Privacy-focused Bitcoin clone Nexus | NXS | Bitcoin clone Neblio | NEBL | Decentralized application platform Zeusshield | ZSC | Decentralized insurance StreamrDATAcoin| DATA | Real-time data marketplace ZCoin | XZC | Private digital cash NAVCoin | NAV | Bitcoin with private transactions AdEx | ADX | Advertising exchange OpenTrading | OTN | Decentralized exchange SmartCash | SMART | Zcoin clone with rewards Bitdeal | BDL | Bitcoin clone Loopring | LRC | Decentralized exchange Edgeless | EDG | Decentralized casino FairCoin | FAIR | Bitcoin that rewards savers

Coin ranking from

Inspired by Greg Wilson.

Featured Image: Li-Anne Dias

Ello Again…

Remember Ello? It would like you to know it is not dead. It is now a place for creative types. Let me explain.

The social networking platform splashed onto the tech scene promoting itself as an ad-free rival to Facebook. Soon millions of people (including yours truly) signed on just to see what all the fuss was about.

The platform quickly ballooned to nearly 3 million community members in a short few months. The problem was no one knew what the hell this thing was.

The logo was just a black dot with a line to make a smiley face, the UI was sparse and confusing, people couldn’t connect with each other and it wasn’t clear how it was anything like Facebook.

Soon interest waned and Ello was left scrambling. Tech reporters were hounded by weak pitches from Ello PR and it became a bit of a joke that this, whatever it was, could take on any social networking platform.

Well, now Ello has a new CEO, Todd Berger, who helped co-found the company. He admits all of that Facebook stuff was a huge mistake.

“Needless to say I lost a lot of sleep over that window of time,” Berger told TechCrunch.

But the site was never meant to go after Facebook, he says. Instead, it was originally created as a place for artists to share their work.

“The first thing I did since taking over is keep everyone quiet and tell them to stop pitching ourselves to the media as some alternative to Facebook,” Berger said. “It always felt silly and naive to me and was an internal struggle as a co-founder.”

As for that other CEO, I’m told he’s gone off quietly to another section of the Ello office somewhere. But he’s definitely no longer in charge.

So, what happens when your site blows up and then comes crashing down around you and everyone thinks it died? You pick yourself up and try again.

Ello has since stepped back, taken a good look in the mirror and gotten in touch with its roots as a place for creatives.

It also now calls itself “The Creators Network” and has teamed up with design platform Dribbble to help artists show off their work.

This new directive for the company is aimed at helping ad agencies and others spot talented contributors and connect them to a network of creative types eager to show what they’re capable of.

Instead of the stark and confusing layout that once was, visitors will now come upon something more akin to a digital magazine, chock-a-block with content and focused on the artists that contribute to the site.

You’ll see a “Discover” section at the top of the home page. Click it and you’ll come to a page where you can dive deeper into art, photography, written works, illustration and a bunch of other types of creative outlets. You can then dive into individual artist portfolios from there.

The battle for control of data could be just starting

Companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon happily take our data in exchange for convenience, lower prices or free services, but individuals and businesses are beginning to understand the value of controlling their data instead of simply handing it over to the world’s largest technology companies. The battle to regain control over that data could be starting in earnest.

I saw a couple of examples of this in stories I wrote this past week. For starters, the GDPR data protection rules are coming to the EU next spring, and when they do, they are going to begin putting control of data into the hands of individual EU citizens.

Segment is a company helping businesses track the customer journey across the myriad of touch points, pulling the information out of data silos and putting it in a single customer record. If GDPR is about putting EU citizens in control of their data, that means if you want them to stop collecting that data, they have to do it. If you want them to erase your data as though it never existed, they have to do that too. Segment announced a product this week to help companies comply with those requests.

That helps solve one piece of the puzzle, but what about if the business doesn’t want to share their customer data with Amazon, Facebook or Google? In another example this week, we saw how this could work when Roxy, a company building customized voice-enabled devices for business landed $2.2 million in seed money.

One of the reasons that co-founder and CEO Cam Urban found customers want a customized device instead of one off the shelf from one of the big vendors, is that these businesses don’t want to give their customer information to Google or Amazon. They want to keep those interactions between them and the customer, while continuing to own that customer relationship. If they were to use an Amazon Echo or Google Home instead of the Roxy device, not only would they not get a device customized for their business, they would lose control of those interactions.

Both of these examples show that not everyone wants to simply give their data to the largest tech companies. GDPR could just be the beginning when it comes to stricter control over individual data as other countries outside of the EU begin to create similar laws to put data in control of the individual instead of the company and companies like Segment build tools to help them comply with these regulations.

As for businesses, they may want to start looking for alternatives that don’t involve sharing the data with the biggest companies for the sake of convenience, and there could be a big opportunity for companies like Roxy that can give that to them.

Featured Image: fandijk/Getty Images

A decade of Amazon Kindle

Ten years ago this week, Amazon released the first Kindle. It was big and clunky and kind of ugly, with an awkward physical keyboard and 250 MB of on-board storage, priced at a lofty $399. It sold out in less than six hours and would remain that way until the following April. Amazon, it seemed, was really onto something.

The decade since the release of the first Kindle has been a turbulent one for publishing. Barnes & Noble — once a large enough threat to local bookstores that it served as the basis of a Meg Ryan rom-com — has shuttered locations at a steady clip. Borders, meanwhile, shut down altogether. And the big publishers have become increasingly consolidated.

Amazon was already well on its road to dominance by the time the Kindle rolled around, but, the runaway success of the company’s e-reader has only served to cement the online retailer’s stranglehold on publishing — a recent report showed that Amazon accounts for more than 80 percent of e-book sales.

The rise of the e-reader initially appeared to be the beginning of the end for physical books as we knew them. It was impossible not to draw parallels to the ailing music industry, which had seen it all before, with the reverberations of early P2P services like Napster still echoing across the industry today.

The sale of physical books dropped precipitously and steadily in the intervening years. According to Nielsen Bookscan, print sales dropped 9 percent in both 2011 and 2012, while digital sales were on the rise. By 2010, Amazon was selling more e-books than hardcovers — in the two years prior, e-book sales rocketed up a staggering 1,260 percent.

Things are never that simple, of course. Many of the same forces that declared print dead back in 2009 are now saying the same about e-readers, as print sales made a comeback in recent years, while e-book sales have actually taken a small dip. CNN was quick to declare print the “new vinyl,” and a Guardian piece painted e-readers the “clunky and unhip” relic of a bygone tech fad.

The field thinned out, too. One-time top player Sony backed out of the e-reader market altogether, and Barnes & Noble appeared to follow suit. (But maybe not. Honestly, who the hell knows what’s going on with Barnes & Noble these days?)

A few players are still kicking in the space, most notably Kobo, the RC Cola to the Kindle’s Coke. But as it does in so many other areas, Amazon continues to dominate. Like the iPod before it, Kindle has since become synonymous with its category. You know you’ve made it when flight attendants namecheck your product during takeoff.

Last month, the release of the new Kindle Oasis gave the company opportunity to both reconfirm its commitment to the space and share a few numbers aimed at addressing rumors of the category’s demise. As the company noted in its press material, this past Prime Day was the best ever day for Kindle sales both in the U.S. and globally. Of course, calling something the “best ever” isn’t the same as sharing real sales numbers, and the company doesn’t go public with any data except when it puts the company in a good light. So take it as you will.

Another key part of the Kindle’s legacy is Kindle Direct Publishing, introduced the same year as the e-reader. It was another shot across the bow of the publishing industry, giving writers a platform that bypassed the rejection letters and slush piles, affording them the opportunity to get their stories and ideas out into the world.

For example, Hugh Howey used Kindle Direct to publish his Wool series of dystopian novels, and a few years ago, he said his titles were bringing in six figures in revenue most months — leading to a big publishing deal where Howey was able to keep the e-book rights for himself. And before The Martian became a blockbuster film, it first attracted attention when author Andy Weir made the book available as a 99 cent download via Kindle Direct.

It’s probably safe to assume that the vast majority of Kindle Direct titles aren’t seeing Howey- or Weir-level success — but then, most traditionally published authors aren’t selling as many copies as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

The field has grown explosively in recent years. Between 2010 and 2015 alone, the number of ISBN registered titles jumped 375 percent, from 152,978  to 727,125. (Amazon’s CreateSpace accounts for the largest share of that growth, but the numbers exclude Kindle Direct, which allows authors to publish without an ISBN. ) In fact, growth in e-book sales for smaller publishers and independent authors has gone some way towards making up for declines from the bigger players.

The format has also thrown off any the traditional stigma of self-released media, with the company quickly recruiting some of the top names in publishing for its Kindle Singles program, even as competition like the Macmillan-owned Pronoun was forced to shut it doors.

That, perhaps, highlights a larger problem. Publishing has been an essential piece of Amazon’s DNA since its earliest days — but as it has with so many other categories, the company has become a monolith. In the years since launching the Kindle, Amazon has purchased audiobook giant Audibledigital comic book store Comixology and Goodreads, the go-to social network for readers.

And even as publishers and bookstores have proven more durable than tech pundits may have initially predicted, It’s become increasingly easy to paint Amazon as the bad guy, or even the bully, in its periodic disputes. (Apple, however, was the one to pay a big price for its attempts to work with publishers to weaken Amazon’s pricing power.)

Regardless of where the business goes from here, the Kindle can take credit for doing the lion’s share in changing our perception of what a book is. E-books may not be the one true future of reading, but for millions of people, they’ve become the main way to engage with the written word.

Maybe books will have a home in stores and libraries, with printed copies on physical shelves, for the rest of our lives. But they’ll be on our computers, our phones and our Kindles, too.

Mom’s iPhone unlocked using 10-year-old son’s face
Lance Ulanoff, chief correspondent for, demonstrates features on Apple's new smartphone which went on sale on Friday.

Getting hands-on with the new iPhone X

Lance Ulanoff, chief correspondent for, demonstrates features on Apple’s new smartphone which went on sale on Friday.

A precocious 10-year-old boy has hacked the Face ID of his parents’ iPhone X.

When New York City residents Attaullah Malik and Sana Sherwani received their brand new iPhones earlier this month, Sherwani told her son that “there’s no way you’re getting access to this phone.”

But the boy, Ammar Malik, who looks like his mother, picked up the phone without knowing it was hers and after a second staring at it, unlocked it. He found it funny, but his parents weren’t as amused.

Rather than a password or a fingerprint, Apple’s Face ID uses biometric technology to take precise measurements of the owner’s face as a form of security. Nevertheless, as the tech giant has conceded, even its latest innovation can be thwarted by identical twins or non-identical family members.

“My wife and I text all the time and there might be something we don’t want him to see. Now my wife has to delete her texts when there’s something she doesn’t want Ammar to look at,” Malik told Wired.


Previously, hackers in Vietnam say they defeated Face ID by building a mask out of 3-D printed plastic, silicone, makeup and paper.

Malik told Wired that although his son is a “good kid,” it’s still concerning.

“If my son had access to my wife’s phone and she had that app on it, he could order ice cream for himself whenever he wanted,” he told the technology publication.

After Sherwani registered her face in the phone, her son was able to consistently unlock it, as shown in a video above and in a post on LinkedIn.


Oddly enough, when Ammar tried to unlock his father’s phone, he could only do it one time. Malik told Wired that left him puzzled because his son’s face is smaller than his wife’s.

“People generally say he looks more like me,” said Malik.

Malik pointed out that parents may want to try Face ID on their children after setting it up.

“You should probably try it with every member of your family and see who can access it,” he said.

Cultural accumulation vs. cultural decay

Don’t worry; I’m not getting all moralistic on you here. When I talk about cultural decay I’m talking about something I think we need more of. We have too much culture to have a culture, you see, and that’s basically all tech’s fault — but it’s not necessarily a problem.

No, stop, wait, listen, I can explain. Have you noticed that it’s a whole lot easier to make music and movies these days? Have you noticed that anyone can write a book, publish it, and make it available to the whole world, basically for free?

And have you noticed that as these tools of cultural production have become democratized, their skills have, too? Colleges keep churning out people with degrees in the arts, who are collectively making more movies, recording more music, and writing more books than any generation before. (Not that you need a degree. My own degree is in electrical engineering and I’ve written five traditionally / mass-market published novels and a DC/Vertigo graphic novel.) When it comes to the art, any art, we are spoiled for choice.

Which is great! Of course! But, curiously, at the same time, another thing is happening: art lasts longer. It’s not unusual to walk into a cafe or bar and hear songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I’m told that it was awfully weird to walk into a bar in the 70s and hear songs from the 20s, 30s and 40s. The biggest movie of this year will be a continuation of a 40-year-old franchise, whereas no 1937 franchises were still thriving in 1977.

As for books, well, if you’re a literary type, you’re no less vaguely expected (with good reason!) to read Austen and Dostoevsky than you were forty years ago — even though the canon has grown considerably since. TV? By universal acclaim we live in the golden age of television — and yet, the ratings for even a smash hit TV show today are the same ratings that would probably have gotten a show cancelled in a matter of weeks thirty years ago. Isn’t that kind of weird?

The reasons are the same, in all cases: technology has demolished the gatekeepers of consumption in the same way it annihilated the gatekeepers of production. Which, again, is obviously a great thing! But the net effect is that the rate of cultural accumulation in our society, the rate at which we generate lasting, important, canonical art, has exceeded the rate of cultural decay, i.e. the rate at which that art becomes irrelevant and no longer speaks to us. Vastly exceeded, I would argue.

As a result we no longer really have a common cultural canon. There’s simply too much good, important stuff out there. Which is a very nice problem to have, but is still in fact a problem, or at least a complication. The net effect is that we don’t have near as many universally shared cultural references as we used to. If you wonder why our society seems to be fragmenting into so many different little fiefdoms, well, I’m not pretending that this is the only reason — but it’s a big one.

Art is the cultural equivalent of a river carving its path; slow and subtle, but extraordinarily powerful over time, and capable of precipitating sudden and massive changes. Of late, though, our cultural river appears to have become a delta, and it’s anyone’s guess what kind of ocean it will open up into.