Technology

15 awesome gifts for your awesome Mom and Dad

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Welcome to the 2017 TechCrunch Holiday Gift Guide! We check out a lot of really cool stuff here at TechCrunch, so we figured we ought to put that experience to good use and help you get your holiday shopping done quickly. This is our first guide of the year, but we’ll have many more rolling out over the coming weeks… so check back often!

It’s that time again! It’s time to sit down, bust out the wallet and figure out what the heck you’re getting your parents for Christmas.

This year we focused on the practical — the things they’ll still be using next December. No gimmicks, no junk — just solid, useful gifts that Mom and/or Dad will be thrilled to get.

Tap that right arrow to get started, or, if you’re on mobile, just scroll.

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Germany bans smartwatches for kids over spying concerns

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Germany’s Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) issued a blanket ban on smartwatches aimed at children this week — and asked parents who’d already purchased such a device to destroy them, for good measure. The aggressive move is a response to growing privacy concerns surrounding devices aimed at minors.

“Via an app, parents can use such children’s watches to listen unnoticed to the child’s environment and they are to be regarded as an unauthorized transmitting system,” the agency’s president Jochen Homann said in a statement provided to the BBC. The FNA also urged educators to pay closer attention to students’ watches, as, “according to our research, parents’ watches are also used to listen to teachers in the classroom.”

Such concerns have been growing in recent years, as kid-targeted wearables have become more popular, along with their adult counterparts. Just last month, European watch dog group, Norwegian Consumer Council, issued a strongly worded report warning of safety concerns over GPS-enabled devices. That report went beyond tracking on the part of the parents, outlining the potential for simple hacking by outside parties.

“Any consumer looking for ways to keep their children safe and secure might want to think twice before purchasing a smartwatch as long as the faults outlined in these reports have not been fixed,” the NCC wrote.

That report specifically highlighted four kids’ smartwatch brands — Gator 2, Tinitell, Viksfjord and Xplora. The Federal Network Agency’s new rules, meanwhile, take things much further, banning the category at large. The decision follows a similar move last February, when the agency banned and ordered the destruction of the My Friend Cayla doll, after concerns were raised over the toy’s built-in microphone and Bluetooth connectivity.

Like that doll, the smartwatches have been classified as illegal spying devices by the agency.

Featured Image: SementsovaLesia/iStock

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Identity solutions business SailPoint up 8% following IPO

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SailPoint, the enterprise identity solutions business, went up eight percent in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange Friday. The company raised $240 million; after pricing its shares at $12, it saw them rise to $13 on its first day of trading.

The Austin, Texas-based company works with businesses like Sallie Mae and Weight Watchers to keep information secure and helps verify identities of employees and others who are looking to access the network.

SailPoint co-founder and CEO Mark McClain described his business as “the control room behind the badge reader,” where it helps companies determine who should be granted access. He characterizes other identity management companies like Duo as “the badge itself” and Okta as “the sign-in.”

The company considers its competitors to be incumbents like CA Technologies, IBM and Oracle. “Identity has been around for a long time but it was not as well understood,” said McClain. “They struggled to keep up with a rapidly evolving landscape.”

The company brought in $118.3 million in revenue for fiscal 2017. This is up from $88.1 million last year. Net losses for 2017 were $13 million, compared to $6.5 million in 2016.

In the “risk factors” section of the IPO filing, SailPoint warned “we have a history of losses, and we may not be able to generate sufficient revenue to achieve and sustain profitability.”

Private equity firm Thoma Bravo owned more than 80 percent of the company prior to IPO. Lightspeed Venture Partners, Austin Ventures and Origin Ventures previously invested in the early days of the company. SailPoint has been around since 2005.

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Apple’s first vice president of diversity stepping down after six months in the job, report says

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Apple Vice President of Worldwide Human Resources Denise Young Smith speaks on stage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 27th Annual Awards Gala at the Washington Hilton on November 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 16: Apple Vice President of Worldwide Human Resources Denise Young Smith speaks on stage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 27th Annual Awards Gala at the Washington Hilton on November 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund) (2015 Getty Images)

Apple’s first-ever vice president of diversity is leaving the company at the end of the year, TechCrunch reports.

Denise Young Smith, who joined Apple in 1997, became the tech giant’s vice president of diversity and inclusion in May. She was the company’s head of human resources before taking the diversity role.

Christie Smith, a 17-year veteran of consulting giant Deloitte, will be taking over the role, according to TechCrunch. Citing an unnamed source, TechCrunch reports that Young Smith had been discussing the next stage of her career and life with Apple CEO Tim Cook since roughly a year ago. The personnel change, it said, is a “planned departure.”

APPLE DELAYS HOMEPOD RELEASE UNTIL 2018

Young Smith was recently in the spotlight after comments she made at a conference in Bogota, Colombia, sparked controversy. “There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation,” she said, according to Quartz.

With Apple looking to boost diversity among its workforce, the comments attracted criticism. Young Smith reportedly apologized for the comments in a memo to Apple staff.

According to a diversity report released by Apple earlier this month, the iPhone maker’s workforce is 32 percent female, the same figure as in 2016. Some 54 percent of Apple employees are white, compared to 56 percent in 2016. The company’s workforce is 21 percent Asian (up 2 percentage points on 2016), 9 percent black (the same as last year), 13 percent Hispanic (up 1 percentage point from 2016) and 3 percent multiracial (up 1 percentage point from last year).

IPHONE X FACE ID ALREADY TRICKED BY $200 MASK

Fox News has reached out to Apple for comment on this story.

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Stitch Fix up just 1% on first day of trading, after reducing size of IPO

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Stitch Fix went up just 1 percent on its first day of trading. After pricing at $15, the company closed at $15.15. It’s also below the opening trade of $16.90.

The company didn’t raise as much money as it had been hoping for. It raised $120 million, after pricing at $15, below the expected range of $18 to $20. The company also reduced the size of its IPO from 10 million shares to 8 million.

Stitch Fix markets itself as an affordable fashion stylist. Customers are able to order boxes of items designed to fit their measurements and style preferences.

Users can opt to purchase favorite items and send back the rest. The boxes can be ordered on a subscription basis or on the customer’s whims.

The bull case for Stitch Fix is that it’s been able to grow to $977.1 million in annual revenue in just six years since it was started by CEO Katrina Lake. This is up from $730.3 million in fiscal 2016 and $342.8 million the year before. The top line is growing fast.

It’s achieved profitability in some years, although it turned to a small loss of $594,000 for 2017. Last year saw $33.2 million in net income.

But it’s a very competitive landscape. Others in the category include Le Tote, Trunk Club,Wantable, Boon + Gable and Dia & Co. Rent the Runway has also been rolling out subscription boxes and Rocksbox has a similar model for jewelry.

And it’s competing with malls and other online retailers. While consumers increasingly enjoy the convenience of having items sent to their home, Amazon and others in the e-commerce world have made it easier than ever to find customized fashion.

It also may be hard to predict growth, an important task for public companies, which are expected to provide investors with quarterly updates.

Stitch Fix users can order boxes on demand, and it’s hard to say whether users will order with consistent frequency. It’s difficult to determine how many items they will opt to buy.

But it’s undoubtedly a win for Baseline Ventures, which owned 28.1 percent of the company prior to the IPO. Benchmark Capital Partners owned 25.6 percent and Lightspeed Venture Partners owned 11.8 percent.

Over the summer, TechCrunch broke the news that Stitch Fix had filed for IPO.

Featured Image: Nasdaq

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Shasta Ventures promotes three to partner

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Shasta Ventures is promoting three of its principals to partner. Nikhil Basu Trivedi, Jacob Mullins and Nitin Chopra have all made it to this coveted venture capital milestone.

Shasta has about $1.3 billion under management across its five funds. Notable exits include Dollar Shave ClubNest, Apptio, SteelBrick and Skycure. 

The group likes to invest in Series A rounds and places a particular focus on enterprise, consumer and emerging technology like virtual reality. Each of its new partners has an expertise in one of these categories.

Basu Trivedi has been looking at consumer opportunities, with an emphasis on subscription commerce. He currently sits on the board of The Farmer’s Dog and previously co-founded Artsy.

Mullins, who founded Exitround, has been very active in the VR and AR space. He’ll also be looking at emerging categories like the connected home and robotics. Mullins sits on the board of Camera IQ.

Chopra has carved out a niche in enterprise software and also invests in big data. He’s on the board of SlamData and previously worked for BlackBerry at RIM.

Team Shasta believes that it’s important to “bring people up in the culture of the firm and move people along,” said Rob Coneybeer, co-founder and managing director at Shasta Ventures. “We’re really excited about these folks.”

At many venture firms, promotions to partner are rare. The associate job is often described as a “two-year gig,” where the typical next steps are business school or a role at a portfolio company.

Titles differ from firm to firm, but those who make it to principal usually have a better shot at reaching partner status.

Shasta was founded in 2004 and makes investments across the United States. In addition to San Francisco, the group has been looking at opportunities in Austin, Denver, Seattle and New York.

Featured Image: Christian Richards / EyeEm/Getty Images

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Black Friday’s best tech bets

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As always, Amazon’s got a deluge of deals on its own electronics. The company’s offering $15 off the Fire TV Stick and $30 off various Kindle products. Given that the Echo line is likely to be one of the biggest sellers this holiday, let’s focus on that. The new Echo and Echo Plus have been discounted $20 and $30, respectively, with the Tap getting an even deeper $50 — which could signal the fact that the company is trying to clear out stock on the non-Echo-branded device. The Dot, meanwhile, gets a $20 discount, putting the most affordable Echo at $30.

Buy: Amazon Echo Dot 

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YouTube terminates exploitive ‘kids’ channel ToyFreaks, says it’s tightening its child endangerment policies

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Following consumer outrage over YouTube’s handling of disturbing videos aimed at children on its network, the company has now banned one of the more controversial kid channels it hosted, Toy Freaks. The channel, the 68th largest on YouTube with over 8.5 million subscribers, was often criticized for its vile and seemingly exploitive videos featuring a dad and his daughters, which many said bordered on abuse.

YouTube tells TechCrunch the ban is part of a new tightening around the enforcement of its child endangerment policies. It says it will now remove videos to protect “viewers, uploaders and children” when the company receives signals that cause concern.

The removal is part of a broader review of similar content on YouTube, the company also said.

If you’re not familiar with ToyFreaks, consider yourself lucky.

Past videos on the channel included the dad filming the girls in obvious distress, screaming or crying, for example. In one video, the dad follows his daughter into the bathroom, as she cries with a mouthful of blood from a tooth falling out. In another, he sneaks into the bathroom and dumps a bucket of frogs in the tub while the girls are bathing in order to scare them. More videos show the school-aged kids dressed as babies with pacifiers in their mouths, or spitting up on one other.

The videos are presumably scripted, and focus on gross-out humor, but they’ve still disturbed a number of viewers as it’s not clear to what extent a child can knowingly consent to participate in videos like this. It also appears the children are actually in distress at times, and that’s being used as fodder for views. (Way to go, dad.)

The channel was specifically mentioned in the recently viral Medium post by James Bridle as one of the more troubling examples of videos targeted towards children that seem to cross a line. Notably, it has for a long time served as one of the origin points for many of the copycat videos that now spread across YouTube.

Today, Toy Freaks is gone.

In its place is a message that “This account has been terminated for violating YouTube’s Video Guidelines.”

The ban follows other actions YouTube has taken following Bridle’s analysis of the YouTube problem and a report from The New York Times.

Bridle’s post was largely speaking about “kid’s YouTube” – meaning video content aimed at children on YouTube – and not necessarily the standalone YouTube Kids mobile app.

Today’s YouTube can be scary and weird for children. They’re often targeted with inappropriate content thanks to video creators who are gaming YouTube’s recommendation technology to increase their views – even when kids are harmed.

And though YouTube Kids (the app) offers some basic filtering (and a way to turn off search), many disturbing videos have slipped through, The NYT reported.

In response to these reports, YouTube implemented a new policy to age-restrict inappropriate videos – like those that make inappropriate use of family friendly characters – so they wouldn’t make their way over to the YouTube Kids app.

To outright ban a popular YouTube channel, however, is a much bigger step on Google’s part.

Tubefilter and The Outline were the first to spot Toy Freaks‘ takedown.

The Outline also noted KiddieToysReview, which had nearly a million subscribers, had two clips removed – one which had over 62 million views. And Freak Family Vlogs, which is the sister channel to Toy Freaks, has been cut down to just one video, the report also said.

Google responded to a request for comment about its actions with the following statement:

“We take child safety extremely seriously and have clear policies against child endangerment. We recently tightened the enforcement of these policies to tackle content featuring minors where we receive signals that cause concern. It’s not always clear that the uploader of the content intends to break our rules, but we may still remove their videos to help protect viewers, uploaders and children. We’ve terminated the Toy Freaks channel for violation of our policies. We will be conducting a broader review of associated content in conjunction with expert Trusted Flaggers.”

 Greg Chism (of Toy Freaks) has provided the following statement:
Earlier this week, YouTube informed me of concerns that my videos were attracting audience members who do not have childrens’ best interests in their hearts. Many YouTube community members expressed similar concerns, and their willingness to reach out to protect my children and all children from exploitation reinforces my faith in the YouTube community. Victoria, Annabelle and I want to thank our supporters as my girls have had the opportunity to develop their creativity and self-confidence over the past few years. Their future is bright. While it is disturbing to me that anyone would find inappropriate pleasure in our video skits, I deeply appreciate YouTube’s concerns for my family and I could not be happier with having had this remarkable experience.
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Artland is a social art market that connects galleries and buyers

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Danish startup Artland is building a social marketplace for the art world and its key players: Galleries and professional collectors, while also hoping an app-based approach helps onboard a new generation of art buyers.

The team’s overarching mission is to make art buying more accessible and thus widen the sales pipe. The core problem being that galleries aren’t typically short of artworks to hang on their walls. What they really need is more buyers’ eyes in front of exhibited works.

On a more abstract level, galleries do probably also need to up their sales game to compete in an era of selfie culture and trivial digital generation providing plenty of low cost, taste-customized printable fodder for consumers to fill up their walls. (Not that you’d call it art, but, well, wall space is finite.)

“The art market is a complex and regulated market meaning there’s a lot of players in there, and it’s difficult to understand what it’s all about,” says co-founder Mattis Curth, who along with his brother and co-founder Jeppe only stepped foot in a gallery for the first time in early 2016. That experience led them to the idea for Artland as they felt the art market lacked transparency and could be more welcoming to newcomers.

“The vision of Artland is to make art more accessible to a broader audience. And lower the barrier to enter the market,” he adds. “What we do is to build on the principles of social media. Because that is how we can target the new generation of art buyers.

“Right now we position ourselves as the only social art market… That means we are the place for collectors to connect with each other and the first place for collectors to share their collections online.”

There are some pretty sizable players in the online art market space these days. New York based Artsy, founded back in 2009, pulled in a $50M funding round this summer, for example, for an auction-focused art marketplace that’s valued at $275M.

Plenty of other art e-tail businesses are also well established selling artworks online — such as the curated, contemporary selection offered by a site like Rise Art.

There are even some more recent no-barrier-to-entry startup approaches, like ‘Tinder for art’ startup Wydr — which lets anyone upload artworks for sale, and directly connects those artist/artwork owners with potential buyers who get to swipe through photos of the works in its app (effectively playing the gallery role itself, just without any curation).

Artland’s positioning is definitely not another ‘Tinder for art’. All the artworks for sale on its platform are by artists who have gained gallery representation already so are likely more established (and thus probably also of more interest to professional art buyers/collectors).

Though users of the app can view a wider selection of artworks via the app too, not just those available to buy, as collectors can publicly share uploaded images of the works they own with the community.

Curth says the difference in positioning between Artland and Artsy is a focus on collectors — with Artland offering free tools for art collectors to register and manage their collections.

  1. Artland User Profile

  2. Buy from partner galleries

  3. Artland art calendar

The 2016-founded startup launched its iOS and Android apps this September — and has around 10,000 registered users at this early stage, plus 60 galleries onboarded.

The team is seed funded, though it’s not publicly disclosing how much money it’s taken in yet. It will say it counts prominent art collectors from the Nordic region among its investors, as well as business angels.

The aim, say the co-founders, is to serve rather than disrupt existing players in the art space. Artland’s business model is thus firmly attached to galleries — selling a subscription service for which they also get to showcase the works they have for sale in their galleries on its platform (to sweeten the deal, it says it only starts charging the monthly fee after a gallery sells their first work).

Galleries also get to be listed and visible to the app’s community of art enthusiasts and buyers, and can add details of their upcoming exhibitions and events.

Artland’s other focus is on serving art collectors’ needs — via free tools to create a digital register of their collections — as this is the group it most needs to join the community to drive art sales and encourage galleries to pay its monthly fee. There could also potentially be additional future revenue streams attached to this group by cross-selling insurance services.

The app is free for collectors to upload content, or for anyone to browse. Collectors uploading works also get visibility controls which let them maintain a private register within the app, should they prefer, or share access to their collection — including selectively.

They can also make their collections public for all other users of the app to browse and comment on if they choose.

“The main pain point [for art collectors] is the registration of collection,” says Curth. “What many of them try to do is to do it in a spreadsheet… but it’s so difficult for them to keep doing that. Because it’s complex or it’s irritating to do. And what has been built into the product from the beginning has been this privacy that needed for them to do that.

“That means you can be totally private, which means the other [user] has to request and be accepted to get inside and see what you have. You can be public of course, or you can be an alias or choose between those things — and that’s where one of the sweet spots are, is that we can help them with insurances. And insurance companies can manage the portfolio through that.”

After a collector uploads a picture of a work and adds the artist’s name, the platform foregrounds any other collectors with works by the same the artist, as well as highlighting all galleries, exhibitions and works on the platform by the same artist.

“This gives you an overview of all data that is available in combination with your own data. You will no longer be searching for information they come to you,” adds Curth.

So again the focus is on serving a community of art enthusiasts by helping them connect with each other and discover relevant content.

Plus, of course, if a collector already knows an artist’s work they may well feel more comfortable buying another of their works remotely via the app — i.e. without having to see it in person, via a physical gallery visit. Familiarity and quality are important sales factors here too given artworks can be expensive.

Many art buyers may well already be trawling mainstream social networks like Instagram seeking new art to feed their passion. Artland’s conviction is that this group can be persuaded to take to a dedicated social network to aid the art discovery process via familiar social media mechanisms (likes, comments, follows and so on). As well as because of the free tools it’s giving them to manage their collections.

For artists, the platform offers at least another place for showcasing their work by letting them upload a viewable (though not directly sellable) portfolio — potentially helping them build relationships with galleries and art collectors which could lead to sales down the line (but again, the only artworks that can be bought via the app are those galleries are exhibiting).

“There are many leads but not enough relations,” says Curth of the general dynamic of the art market — an imbalance Artland is hoping its platform can address.

“If you look at the art market as such it’s a €54M euro market. The online market has just started to grow — 20 per cent last year… and the galleries know they have to be a part of it. The buyers know there has to be solutions. So there are very, very huge opportunities right now,” he adds.

Another quirk of the art market is that many artists are also art collectors themselves — as a consequence of swapping their own works for works by other artist friends. So Artland reckons they too might value the app’s free collection management tools, giving them further incentive to join its community.

While for newcomers to art buying and collecting the app can also function as a bit of an art history database — offering info on artists and art movements, as well as the ability to browse others’ collections for inspiration and view core market info (so those upcoming exhibitions and art fairs).

Here Artland is also serving its core customer again by featuring interviews with listed gallery owners, as another relationship building strategy to help buyers and artists get to know them.

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Media startup Axios raises another $20 million

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There’s a glimpse of hope in new media as Axios just raised $20 million less than a year after its launch, the Wall Street Journal reported. The company already had a pretty big list of investors, and most of the startup’s existing investors are putting more money into Axios.

Existing investors Greycroft Partners and Lerer Hippeau Ventures are co-leading today’s founding round (Lerer Hippeau Ventures previously invested in both BuzzFeed and HuffPost). NBCUniversal, Emerson Collective and Greg Penner are investing once again. And WndrCo is putting some money in Axios for the first time.

Axios launched in January 2017. It was founded by three former Politico team members — Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei, Politico’s White House correspondent Mike Allen and Politico Chief Revenue Officer Roy Schwartz.

It isn’t yet another new media company churning out social videos and live streams. Axios has been focusing on brevity so that big executives can quickly learn everything they need to know about the news in just a few minutes.

Many articles feature bullet points so that they are easier to scan. A post is typically shorter than 300 words. Axios also sends daily and weekly newsletters. The company has been covering business, technology and politics.

Surprisingly, the WSJ says that it has generated more than $10 million in revenue during its first seven months. The company has been running native advertising in the middle of the feed.

There are already 89 people working for Axios, and the company plans to hire a lot more people. By the end of 2018, the startup wants to work with 150 people, launch new verticals and a paywall.

Yesterday, Ziff Davis acquired Mashable for $50 million. This is a disappointing ending as the company was valued $250 million in early 2016. BuzzFeed is also going to miss its revenue target, which could delay its initial public offering. And our own parent company Oath is laying off around 4 percent of staff globally. Starting a media company is hard. It requires a ton of cash, big teams and years of hard work.

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