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Goalsetter raises $3.9 million to teach financial literacy to kids



Goalsetter, a platform that helps parents teach their kids financial literacy, announced the raise of a $3.9 million seed round this morning, led by Astia.

PNC Bank, Mastercard, US. Bank, Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, Elevate Capital, Portfolia’s First Step and Rising America Fund and Pipeline Angels also participated in the round. The round also saw participation from a handful of individual investors including Robert F Smith, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Sterling K. Brown, Ryan Bathe, CC Sabathia and Amber Sabathia.

Goalsetter launched in 2019 out of the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator. Founded by Tanya Court, who lost over $1 million in the 2001 bubble burst, the platform teaches financial literacy to children of all ages, helping them learn economic concepts, lingo and the principles of financial health.

After long stints at Nickelodeon and ESPN, Court understands deeply how kids learn and what keeps their attention. She vowed to make sure that her children were never ignorant of what it takes to protect their wealth and create more.

The app also allows parents to give allowance through the app, and even pay out their own specified amount for every quiz question the kid gets right in the app. Plus, family and friends can give ‘goal cards’ instead of gift cards, helping kids save for the things they really want in the future.

The company recently launched a debit card for kids, as well, letting parents control the way the card is used and even lock it until their kids have passed the week’s financial literacy quiz.

Families save an average of $120 a month on the platform, and Court says that two families saved over $10,000 in the last year.

The company is also launching a massive campaign next week for Black History Month with the goal of closing the wealth gap among Black children and kids of color through financial education.

“It’s one thing to put a debit card into your teenager’s hands,” said Court. “That’s great. That teaches them how to spend money. It’s another thing to teach kids the core concepts about how to build wealth, or to know the difference between putting your money into an investment account, or putting your money into a CD versus a mutual fund versus a savings account. We teach what interest rates are, and what compound interest means. Our focus is on is financial education because it’s not enough to teach kids how to spend.”

Goalsetter raised $2.1 million in 2019 and now adds this latest round to that for a total of $6 million raised. This latest round was oversubscribed, giving Court the opportunity to be super selective about her investors.

“Every single one of these investors has a demonstrated commitment prior to people marching in the streets in April, to social justice and to investing in diversity and inclusion initiatives and people,” said Court. “Every single one of them. That was really important because we were oversubscribed and we had the luxury of being able to pick who our investors were. Every one of the investors that we invited to our table were investors who we knew invited folks who look like us in 2019 and 2018 and 2017 to their table.”

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Apple TV+ delivers some trailer hype for 'The Snoopy Show,' out Feb. 5



Peanuts fans already know that Apple TV+ is the place to go for all things Snoopy and Charlie Brown. But Feb. 5 brings the streaming service’s biggest Peanuts project yet: The Snoopy Show.

This trailer highlights what to expect from the upcoming six-episode season, which brings back the whole gang from creator Charles Schulz. I’ve seen the season already, and what this trailer doesn’t tell you is just how delightfully wholesome (and musical!) it all is. Each episode breaks down into three standalone vignettes that bring us tales of Snoopy and his various human friends.

If you’re familiar with Peanuts specials of yore, The Snoopy Show should feel immediately familiar. It’s got the same gentle spirit and commitment to just letting kids be kids that the series has always embraced. Look for it on Apple TV+ starting Feb. 5. Read more…

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BlackCart raises $8.8M Series A for its try-before-you-buy platform for online merchants



A startup called BlackCart is tackling one of the key challenges with online shopping: an inability to try on or test out the merchandise before making a purchase. That company, which has now closed on $8.8 million in Series A funding, has built a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with e-commerce storefronts, allowing customers to ship items to their home for free and only pay if they choose to keep the item after a “try on” period has lapsed.

The new round of financing was led by Origin Ventures and Hyde Park Ventures Partners, and saw participation from Struck Capital, Citi Ventures, 500 Startups, and several other angel investors including Christian Sullivan of Republic Labs, Dean Bakes of M3 Ventures, Greg Rudin of Menlo Ventures, Jordan Nathan of Caraway Cookware, and First National Bank CFO Nick Pirollo, among others.

Image Credits: BlackCart

BlackCart founder Donny Ouyang had previously founded online tutoring marketplace Rayku before joining a seed stage VC fund, Caravan Ventures. But he was inspired to return to entrepreneurship, he says, after experiencing a personal problem with trying to order shoes online.

Realizing the opportunity for a “try before you buy” type of service, Ouyang first built BlackCart in 2017 as a business-to-consumer (B2C) platform that worked by way of a Chrome extension with some 50 different online merchants, largely in apparel.

This MVP of sorts proved there was consumer demand for something like this in online shopping shopping.

Ouyang credits the earlier version of BlackCart with helping the team to understand what sort of products work best for this service.

“I think, in general, for try-before-you-buy, anything that’s moderate to higher price points, lower frequency of purchase, where the customer makes a considered purchase decision — those perform really well,” he says.

Two years later, Ouyang took BlackCart to 500 Startups in San Francisco, where he then pivoted the business to a B2B offering it is today.

Image Credits: BlackCart

The startup now provides a try-before-you-buy platform that integrates with online storefronts, including those from Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, Big Commerce, SalesForce Commerce Cloud, WordPress, and even custom storefronts. The system is designed to be turnkey for online retailers and takes around 48 hours to set up on Shopify around a week on Magento, for example.

BlackCart has also developed its own proprietary technology around fraud detection, payments, returns, and the overall user experience, which includes a button for retailers’ websites.

Because the online shoppers aren’t paying upfront for the merchandise they’re being shipped, BlackCart has to rely on an expanded array of behavioral signals and data in order to make a determination about whether the customer represents a fraud risk. As one example, if the customer had read a lot of helpdesk articles about fraud before placing their order, that could be flagged as a negative signal.

BlackCart also verifies the user’s phone number at checkout and matches it to telco and government data sets to see if their historical addresses match their shipping and billing addresses.

Image Credits: BlackCart

After the customer receives the item, they are able to keep it for a period of time (as designated by the retailer) before being charged. BlackCart covers any fraud as part of its value proposition to retailers.

BlackCart makes money by way of a rev share model, where it charges retailers a percentage of the sales where the customers have kept the products. This amount can vary based on a number of factors, like the fraud multiplier, average order value, the type of product and others. At the low end, it’s around 4% and around 10% on the high-end, Ouyang says.

The company has also expanded beyond home try-on to include try-before-you-buy for electronics, jewelry, home goods, and more. It can even ship out makeup samples for home try-on, as another option.

Once integrated on a website, BlackCart claims its merchants typically see conversion increases of 24%, average order values climb by 51%, and bottom-line sales growth of 27%.

To date, the platform been adopted by over 50 medium-to-large retailers as well as e-commerce startups, like luxury sneaker brand Koio, clothing startup Dia&Co, online mattress startup Helix Sleep, cookware startup Caraway, among others. It’s also under NDA now with a top 50 retailer it can’t yet name publicly, and has contracts signed with 13 others who are waiting to be onboarded.

Soon, BlackCart aims to offer a self-serve onboarding process, Ouyang notes.

“This would be later, end of Q2 or early Q3,” he says. “But I think for us, it will still be probably 80% self-serve, and then larger enterprises will want to be handheld.”

With the additional funding, BlackCart aims to shift to paying the merchant immediately for the items at checkout, then reconciling afterwards in order to be more efficient. This has been one of merchants’ biggest feature requests, as well.

Image Credits: BlackCart; team photo

The funding will also allow BlackCart to expand its remotely distributed 10-person team to around 50 by year-end, including engineers, product specialists, customer support staff, and sales.

More broadly, it aims to quickly capitalize on the growth in the e-commerce market, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[We want to] take advantage of the favorable macroeconomic situation to scale as quickly as possible,” Ouyang explains. “We’re hoping to get to around $250 million in transactions through our platform by the end of 2021. And this would be driven by both engineering and sales hires, and just pushing it up,” he says.

Longer-term, Ouyang envisions adding more consumer-facing features to BlackCart’s platform, like on-demand returns where a courier comes to the house to pick up your return, for example.

“Our firm is excited to partner with BlackCart as it makes try-before-you-buy the standard in online shopping,” said Prashant Shukla of Origin Ventures, who now sits on BlackCart’s board, as result of the new financing. “Its underwriting technology provides merchants with peace of mind, and its best-in-class consumer experience delivers significant sales and conversion lifts. Digital Native generations expect to be able to shop online exactly as they would in a retail store, and BlackCart is the only company providing this experience,” he adds.

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Early-stage African VC firm, Microtraction reports portfolio boom despite the weight of COVID-19



In a year marred by the coronavirus pandemic, it seems that early-stage startups on the African continent are continuing to see some notable growth, both in terms of their business and from investors looking to back them. 

Microtraction, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Lagos, Nigeria, saw funding nearly quadruple for its portfolio.

In a review of the year published last week, the firm noted that 21 companies in its portfolio have raised more than $33 million in funding. This represents nearly four-fold growth over a year ago when its portfolio raised $6 million (and just $3 million in 2018). The companies’ combined valuation stands at over $147 million according to the firm.

Founded by Yele Badamosi in 2017, Microtraction arrived on the continent’s early-stage investment scene with all intent to be “the most accessible and preferred source of pre-seed funding for African tech entrepreneurs.”

Badamosi, who returned to Nigeria from the UK in 2015, worked as the general manager for Starta Africa, an online community for African tech entrepreneurs. After his stint there, he saw the need to plug the gap of early-stage funding in Nigeria and the continent at large with Microtraction.

Microtraction does not specify the size of its fund, but what is more clear is that it has attracted a great deal of attention and has built a strong network in part because of who backs it. 

Michael Seibel, the CEO of Y Combinator, is a global advisor and an investor in the firm, and so is Andy Volk, the head of ecosystem for Google Sub-Saharan Africa. Other investors include Pave Investments and US-based angel investor, Chris Schultz.

Being entrepreneurs in the past, some of these investors know what it takes to build a startup in the U.S. But it’s completely different in Africa. With no on the ground know-how as to which startups to fund but an interest to do so, for portfolio diversification and other personal reasons, Microtraction and a few other early-stage investors present the best bets to accomplish this goal.

At first, Microtraction’s standard deal was to offer portfolio startups $15,000 in exchange for a 7.5% equity. But as a sign of how the market is firming up, that changed last year and now the firm invests $25,000 for 7% equity.

Microtraction revealed that it accepted over 500 applications from startups in Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, and Mauritius in its first full year of operation. Though, just eight of those companies got investments.

The introductory batch was all Nigerian. Four fintech startups — Cowrywise, Riby, Wallets Africa, and ThankUCash; a crypto-exchange startup, BuyCoins; a SaaS platform, Accounteer; an edtech startup, Schoolable; and healthtech startup, 54gene.

2019 saw the local VC firm invest in six companies. This time there was a representative outside Nigeria — Ghanaian fintech startup, Bitsika. The Nigerian startups included social commerce startup, Sendbox; events startup, Festival Coins; communications-as-a-service platform, Termii. The rest were unannounced.

Half of its portfolio companies are backed by YC and other global accelerators

Last year (the one this latest review covers), Microtraction announced seven startups. The latest selection includes Nigerian fintech startups, Evolve Credit and Chaka; edtech startup, Gradely; bus-hailing platform, PlentyWaka; and Kenyan credit data marketplace, CARMA.

Of the total investments raised in 2019 and 2020, 54gene contributed more than half of those numbers by raising $4.5 million in seed and $15 million Series A investment. With an ingenious solution to solve the underrepresentation of African genomics data in global genomics research, 54gene got accepted into the winter batch in January 2019, the same month it officially launched.

Excluding 54gene, there were six other African-focused startups in the YC W19 batch. Two out of the six, Schoolable and Wallets Africa, were Microtraction portfolio companies. Others accepted into YC before and after included BuyCoins, Cowrywise, Termii, and two unannounced startups.

Microtraction-backed ThankUCash and a second unannounced startup have also joined cohorts at 500 Startups. On the other hand, Festival Coins is the only startup to be selected into Google for Startups Accelerator. With all accounted for, 11 out of the 21 startups are either backed by Y Combinator, 500 Startups, or Google for Startups.

The Microtraction team with founding partner, Yele Badamosi (far right)

Getting into these global accelerators is a surefire way to receive follow-up investment, ranging from $125,000 to $150,000. From the outside in, startups see Microtraction and other early-stage VC firms like Ventures Platform as a means to that end. There have also been arguments that these firms build startups to be “YC or any global accelerator ready.”

However, Dayo Koleowo, a partner at Microtraction alongside Chidinma Iwueke, debunks it saying there’s no formula behind the numbers we see. He believes YC and other accelerators share the same fundamentals with Microtraction which revolves around the team, the market, and traction.

“We love super technical teams, understand the industry they are in and are likely to succeed without us. We are always looking for companies that are solving huge problems that a lot of people face,” he told TechCrunch. “Also, the tech and startup world moves fast, so we like teams that understand that and can show in real-time that they can execute. I believe that these global accelerators look for these same things.”

Typically, YC and other accelerators may perform extended due diligence and risk assessments before cutting cheques for any African startup without a local backer. Koleowo points out that this might be why Microtraction portfolio companies get accepted quicker. “The icing on the cake is that there is a level of de-risking that has been done by Microtraction and other local investors on the ground before these global accelerators step in,” he added.

That said, there’s no denying the significance of Microtraction’s advisory board in playing a part as to why half the firm’s portfolio are in global accelerators. Besides the names mentioned earlier, Lexi Novitske, PIO at Singularity Investments and Dotun Olowoporoku, managing partner at Starta act as regional advisors, and Monique Woodward, a venture partner at 500 Startups is a global advisor.

And with the growing trends of globalization, plus the acceptance of a more decentralised approach to building and operations in the tech industry because of COVID-19, it’s a trend that might continue for a while.

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Apple hit with another European class action over throttled iPhones



A third class action lawsuit has been filed in Europe against Apple seeking compensation — for what Italy’s Altroconsumo consumer protection agency dubs “planned obsolescence” of a number of iPhone 6 models.

The action relates to performance throttling Apple applied several years ago to affected iPhones when the health of the device’s battery had deteriorated — doing so without clearly informing users. It later apologized.

The class action suit in Italy is seeking €60M in compensation — based on at least €60 in average compensation per iPhone owner. Affected devices named in the suit are the iPhone 6, 6S, 6 Plus and 6S Plus, per a press release put out by the umbrella consumer organization, Euroconsumers, which counts Altroconsumo a a member.

The suit is the third to be filed in the region over the issue — following suits filed in Belgium and Spain last month.

A fourth — in Portugal — is slated to be filed shortly.

The tech giant settled similar charges in the US last year — where it was accused of intentionally slowing down the performance of older iPhones to encourage customers to buy newer models or fresh batteries — shelling out $500M, or around $25 per phone, to settle that case (while denying any wrongdoing).

“When consumers buy Apple iPhones, they expect sustainable quality products. Unfortunately, that is not what happened with the iPhone 6 series. Not only were consumers defrauded, and did they have to face frustration and financial harm, from an environmental point of view it is also utterly irresponsible,” said Els Bruggeman, Euroconsumers’ head of policy and enforcement, in a statement.

“This new lawsuit is the latest front in our fight against planned obsolescence in Europe. Our ask is simple: American consumers received compensation, European consumers want to be treated with the same fairness and respect.”

Euroconsumers has produced a video (embedded below) to drum up wider support for the class actions in which it satirizes Apple’s “genius” in coming up with clever ways to accelerate its products’ end of life…

Apple has been contacted for comment on the European class actions.

Almost a year ago the company was fined €25M by France’s competition watchdog over an iOS update that capped performance of aging devices. It was also made to display a statement regarding the action on its website for a month.

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Taboola is going public via SPAC



Taboola is the latest company seeking to go public via special purpose acquisition corporation — more commonly known as a SPAC.

To achieve this, it will merge with ION Acquisition Corp, which went public in 2020 with the aim of funding an Israeli tech acquisition (Haaretz reported last month that Taboola was in talks with ION). The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter, and the combined company will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol TBLA.

Founded in 2007, Taboola powers content recommendation widgets (and advertising on those widgets) across 9,000 websites for publishers including CNBC, NBC News, Business Insider, The Independent and El Mundo. It says it reaches 516 million daily active users while working with more than 13,000 advertisers.

The company had previously planned to merge with competitor Outbrain before the deal was canceled last fall, with sources pointing to the market impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a “challenging culture fit” and regulatory issues to explain the deal’s end.

Taboola’s founder and CEO Adam Singolda (pictured above) told me that this didn’t lead directly the SPAC deal. But he said, “I always wanted to go public,” which wasn’t possible while the merger was in the works. Once that deal was called off, and with 2020 turning out to be a strong year for Taboola — it’s projecting revenue of $1.2 billion, including $375 million ex-TAC revenue (revenue after paying publishers), with over $100 million in adjusted EBITDA — the time seemed right, and ION seemed like the right partner.

“We believe Taboola is an open web recommendation leader which is well positioned to challenge the walled gardens,” said ION CEO Gilad Shany in a statement. “We were looking to merge with a global technology leader with Israeli DNA and we found that in Taboola. The combination of long-term partnerships built by the company with thousands of open web digital properties, their direct access to advertisers, massive global reach and proven AI technology, allows Taboola to provide significant value to their partners while also achieving attractive unit economics as the company grows.”

The deal will value Taboola at $2.6 billion. Through this transaction, the company plans to raise a total of $545 million, including $285 million in PIPE financing secured from Fidelity Management & Research Company, Baron Capital Group, funds and accounts managed by Hedosophia, the Federated Hermes Kaufmann Funds and others.

Singolda said that the company plans to invest $100 million in R&D this year, and that he hopes to expand the technology into areas like e-commerce and TV advertising, with the goal of moving “beyond the browser.” More broadly, he said he wants Taboola to be be “a strong public company that champions the open web.”

“The open web is a $64 billion advertising market [according to Taboola estimates], but there’s no Google for the open web,” he said.

Yes, Google itself spends plenty of time talking about similar ideas, but Singolda argued that while Google has consumer products like search and YouTube that compete with other publishers for time and attention, “Taboola is not in the consumer business … We serve our partners, and it’s in our identity to drive audience growth, engagement and revenue.”

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Wolt closes $530M round to continue expanding beyond restaurant delivery



Wolt, the Helsinki-based online ordering and delivery company that initially focused on restaurants but has since expanded to other verticals, has raised $530 million in new funding. The round was led by Iconiq Growth, with participation from Tiger Global, DST, KKR, Prosus, EQT Growth and Coatue.

Previous backers 83North, Highland Europe, Goldman Sachs Growth Equity, EQT Ventures and Vintage Investment Partners also followed on. The new round takes the total amount of financing Wolt has raised to $856 million. Wolt declined to disclose the company’s latest valuation, although we know from the previous D round that the company is one of Europe’s so-called unicorns.

“We operate in an extremely competitive and well-funded industry, and this round allows us to have a long-term mindset when it comes to doubling down on our different markets,” says co-founder and CEO Miki Kuusi in a statement. “Despite the turbulence of 2020, we’ve remained focused on growth, tripling our revenue to a preliminary $330 against a net loss of just $38 million. Compared to the $670 million in new capital that we’ve raised during this year, this puts us into a strong position for investing in our people, technology, and markets when thinking about the next few years ahead”.

Since launching with 10 restaurants in its home city in 2015, five years on Wolt has expanded to 23 countries and 120 cities, mostly in Europe but also including Japan and Israel. More recently, like others in the restaurant delivery space, Wolt has expanded beyond restaurants and takeout food into the grocery and retail sectors. This, says the company, sees it offer anything from cosmetics to pet food and pharmaceuticals on its platform.

“This was mostly a primary raise,” Kuusi tells me when I ask if the new round includes secondary funding (i.e. shareholders that exited to new investors). “We’re not looking to disclose the valuation at this time, but we’ve previously shared that the Series D round that we raised in early 2020 valued that company at above €1 billion,” he adds.

Kuusi says that the latest funding round is based on the belief that local services in the offline world will gradually be brought online by players “that can execute and maintain a great customer experience”. “We started with an exclusive focus on the restaurant, as it’s the biggest local service with an underlying high-frequency use case,” he says. “We quickly learnt that the magical product market fit for bringing the restaurant online was to offer a quick and predictable delivery experience from restaurants that didn’t use to be available for delivery. We do this by handling the complexity of the delivery on the restaurant’s behalf”.

However, this was especially difficult to do efficiently and sustainably in small and difficult home market in the Nordics. To solve this, Wolt needed to build an “optimization-heavy logistics setup for last-mile delivery” that Kuusi says lets the service operate even in “very small cities with low income disparity, limited population density and high labor costs”.

“This means that we can operate efficiently even with relatively low order volumes, enabling us to grow and expand rapidly with much less financing than some of the other players in the market. We simply had no other choice than to do it this way was we came from such a difficult home market”.

On this foundation, Wolt is expanding into other ordering and local delivery verticals, aiming to be what Kuusi dubs as “the everything app” of goods and services. “Today, Wolt is much more than a restaurant delivery service, you can order groceries, electronics, flowers, clothes and many other things on our platform,” he explains. “We believe that the future of how people buy Nike shoes is a few taps on Wolt and some 30 minutes later you get any pair of shoes brought to your door. This is what we strive to make into a reality with our team at Wolt”. (I’m an Adidas guy myself, steadfastly European.)

Asked what he thinks about all the money being pumped into the dark convenience store model, Kuusi says Wolt is investing into its own dark store operation called Wolt Market. “It’s not surprising to also see a growing amount of financing going into this sector,” he admits. “We’re huge believers in a hybrid model where there will be both offline/online retailers as well as focused online retailers in the mix. Obviously the latter category is only getting started, and we should see a massive amount of growth for the coming years ahead”.

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TikTok has until Friday to respond to Italy’s order to block users it can’t age-verify after girl’s death



TikTok has until Friday to respond to an order by Italy’s data protection agency to block users whose age it cannot verify, TechCrunch has learned.

The GPDP made an ‘immediate’ order Friday in response to the death of a 10-year-old girl from Palermo who died of asphyxiation after participating in a ‘blackout challenge’ on the social network, according to reports in local media.

The agency said the ban would remain place until February 15 — suggesting it would make another assessment about any additional action at that point.

At the time of writing it does not appear that TikTok has taken action to comply with the GPDP’s order.

A spokeswoman told us it is reviewing the notification. “We have received and are currently reviewing the notification from Garante,” she said. “Privacy and safety are top priorities for TikTok and we are constantly strengthening our policies, processes and technologies to protect all users, and our younger users in particular.”

The GPDP had already raised concerns about children’s privacy on TikTok, warning in December that its age verification checks are easily circumvented and raising objections over default settings that make users’ content public. On December 22 it also announced it had opened a formal procedure — giving TikTok 30 days to respond.

The order to block users whose age it cannot verify is in addition to that action. If TikTok does not comply with the GPDP’s administrative order it could face enforcement from the Italian agency, drawing on penalty powers set out in the GDPR.

TikTok’s spokeswoman declined to answer additional questions about the order — which prohibits it from further processing user data “for whom there is no absolute certainty of age”, per GPDP’s press release Friday.

The company also did not respond when we asked if it had submitted a response to the agency’s formal procedure.

In a statement last week following the girl’s death the company said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the girl’s family and friends. At TikTok, the safety of our community — in particular our younger users — is our priority, and we do not allow content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies dangerous behaviour that might lead to injury. We offer robust safety controls and resources for teens and families on our platform, and we regularly evolve our policies and protections in our ongoing commitment to our community.”

TikTok has said it has found no evidence of any challenge involving asphyxiation on its platform.

Although, in recent years, there have been a number of previous reports of underage users hanging themselves (or attempting to) after trying to copy things they saw on the platform.

Users frequently create and respond to content challenges, as part of TikTok’s viral appeal — such as (recently) a trend for singing sea shanties.

At the time of writing, a search on the platform for ‘#blackoutchallenge’ returns no user content but displays a warning that the phrase “may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines”.

Screengrab of the warning users see if they search for ‘blackout challenge’ (Image credit: TechCrunch)

There have been TikTok challenges related to ‘hanging’ (as in people hanging by parts of their body other than their neck from/off objects) — and a search for #hangingchallenge does still return results (including some users discussing the death of the 10-year-old girl).

Last year a number of users also participated in an event on the platform in which they posted images of black squares — using the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday — which related to Black Lives Matters protests.

So the term ‘blackout’ has similarly been used on TikTok in relation to encouraging others to post content. Though not in that case in relation to asphyxiation.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, which has been lined up as TikTok’s lead data supervisor in Europe — following the company’s announcement last year that its Irish entity would take over legal responsibility for processing European users’ data — does not have an open inquiry into the platform “at present”, per a spokesman.

But TikTok is already facing a number of other investigations and legal challenges in Europe, including an investigation into how the app handles users data by France’s watchdog CNIL — announced last summer.

In recent years, France’s CNIL has been responsible for handing out some of the largest penalties for tech giants for infringing EU data protection laws (including fines for Google and Amazon).

In December, it also emerged that a 12-year-old girl in the UK is bringing a legal challenge against TikTok — claiming it uses children’s data unlawfully. A court ruled she can remain anonymous if the case goes ahead.

Last month Ireland’s data protection regulator put out draft guidelines on what it couched as “the Fundamentals for a Child-Oriented Approach to Data Processing” — with the stated aim of driving improvements in standards of data processing related to minors.

While the GDPR typically requires data protection complaints to be funnelled through a lead agency, under the one-stop-shop mechanism, Italy’s GPDP’s order to TikTok to cease processing is possible under powers set out in the regulation (Article 66) that allow for ‘urgency procedures’ to be undertaken by national watchdogs in instances of imperative risk.

Although any such provisional measures can only last for three months — and only apply to the country where the DPA has jurisdiction (Italy in this case). Ireland’s DPC would be the EU agency responsible for leading any resulting investigation.

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Shudder's creepy 'The Dark and the Wicked' trailer is some serious nightmare fuel



The strange death of an elderly relative. The discovery of an old diary. Creepy phone calls. 

Shudder dropped the trailer for Bryan Bertino’s upcoming creep fest The Dark and the Wicked on Sunday, and it’s ticking all sorts of horror boxes.

Written and directed by Bertino, who was behind popular horrors The Strangers and The Monster, The Dark and the Wicked tells the story of a man returning to his rural farm home to visit his dying father. Needless to say, though, spooky goings on quickly ensue.

The Dark and the Wicked drops on Shudder Feb. 25. Read more…

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Virtual social network IMVU raises $35M from China’s NetEase and others



The line between social networking and gaming is increasingly blurring, and internet incumbents are taking notice. NetEase, the second-largest gaming company in China behind Tencent, is among a group of investors who just backed IMVU, an avatar-focused social network operating out of California.

Menlo Park-based Structural Capital among other institutions also joined in the strategic round totaling $35 million. IMVU has raised over $77 million from five rounds since it was co-founded by The Lean Startup author Eric Ries back in 2004. The company declined to disclose its post-money valuation.

The fresh investment will be used to fund IMVU’s product development and comes fresh off a restructuring at the company. A new parent organization called Together Labs was formed to oversee its flagship platform IMVU, in which users can create virtual rooms and chat with strangers using custom avatars, a product that’s today considered by some a dating platform; a new service called Vcoin that lets users buy, gift, earn and convert a digital asset from the IMVU platform into fiat; among other virtual services.

“NetEase operates some of the most successful, biggest in scale, and evergreen MMO [massively multiplayer online] games in China and they see in IMVU business highlights echoing theirs,” Daren Tsui, chief executive officer at Together Labs, told TechCrunch.

“IMVU operates one of the world’s oldest, yet most vibrant and young — in terms of our user base — metaverses. We have many shared business philosophies and complementary know-how. It is a natural fit for us to become partners,” he added.

Founded in 2005, NetEase is now known for its news portal, music streaming app, education products, and video games that compete with those of Tencent. It has over the years made a handful of minority investments in companies outside China, though it’s not nearly as aggressive as Tencent in terms of investment pace and volume.

A NetEase spokesperson declined to comment on the investment in IMVU.

The partnership, according to Tsui, would allow the virtual networking company to tap NetEase’s game development and engineering capabilities as well as leverage NetEase’s knowledge in global market strategy as Together Labs launches future products, including one called WithMe.

In 2020, IMVU saw record growth with over 7 million monthly active users and 400,000 products created every month by IMVU users. The service currently has a footprint in over 140 countries and is “always looking to expand” in existing markets, including Asia, in which it already has a localized Korean app, according to Tsui.

“With IMVU’s accelerating growth over recent years, the launch of VCOIN, and the development of the new WithMe platform, we felt timing was right to bring all of these products under a new roof to reinforce our commitment for creating authentic human connections in virtual spaces,” said the chief executive.

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