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Google announces it will restrict political ad targeting



Google is changing the way it handles political ads. In a blog post Wednesday, the company said it will limit election ads’ audience targeting to age, gender, and location, while banning targeting by political affiliation (such as left-leaning, right-leaning, and independent) and public voter records (which was, until now, allowed in the U.S.). Read more…

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Porsche takes another swipe at Tesla with new ‘entry-level’ electric car



Porsche debuted the third model of its all-electric Taycan series, the “entry level” Taycan 4S, scheduled for release in 2020. The Taycan 4S has a shorter range than the Taycan Turbo, with an estimated 253 miles per charge compared to up to 280 miles. It also has a relatively cheaper starting price: $103,800. Read more…

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Janelle Monáe stars in trailer for slavery horror movie 'Antebellum'



Everything about the Antebellum teaser is so unsettling.

From the producers of Get Out and Us, Antebellum appears to be another deeply horrifying movie that touches on the United States’ history of violent racism. It’s hard to glean the full story from this trailer, but it appears that there’s a potentially paranormal family enslaving black people to reenact the brutal and despicable setting of the antebellum South, a period where slavery was rampant before the American Civil War. Or maybe it’s about connecting the experiences of people in the past with people in the present.

Starring Janelle Monáe, Antebellum arrives in 2020. Read more…

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NYC's YIVO Institute holds Jewish memories saved from destruction during the Holocaust — What’s in the Basement?



The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research maintains the world’s largest collection of documents and artifacts pertaining to Eastern European Jewish life. Its knowledge was not, however, always safe. Much of it was literally unearthed after brave researchers formed a brigade to smuggle it away from Nazis. Today at YIVO, that which was underground is finally being brought to light. Read more…

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Pornhub will sell a special lifetime membership for Black Friday



Die-hard Pornhub fans now have something to look forward to this holiday season.

The adult streaming service announced on Thursday that it is offering a limited time “LifePlan” — which is a lifetime membership — for a one-time fee of $299. The catch is that it’s only available to purchase between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

The site dropped one of their signature a tongue-in-cheek ads about the deal:

LifePlan includes all the perks of a standard Pornhub premium membership: over 100,000 exclusive videos, no ads, and content in 1080p, 4K, and VR.

“Every year for Black Friday — which is typically the busiest shopping day of the year — we’re inundated with doorbuster deals for electronics, clothes and more. While you’re stocking up on traditional gifts, make sure you treat those you love most with the gift they really want and need,” said Corey Price, VP of Pornhub, in a press release. “What’s hotter than a freshly fried latke and better than cuddling up to your yuletide cutie by the fire? A lifetime membership to Pornhub Premium.” Read more…

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Amazon launches a Dash Smart Shelf for businesses that automatically restocks supplies



Amazon may have stopped selling its Dash buttons for consumers, but it’s not done with dedicated Dash hardware: The company is launching its new Amazon Dash Smart Shelf today. Aimed at small businesses rather than individuals, the Dash Smart Shelf is also even more automated than the Dash buttons, as it uses a built-in scale to automatically place an order for re-stocking supplies based on weight.

Available in three different sizes (7″x7″, 12″x10″ and 18″x13″), the Dash Smart Shelf is just 1″ tall and can basically be placed under a pile of whatever stock of supplies you commonly run through while operating a business. That could mean printer paper, coffee cups, pens, paper clips, toilet paper, coffee or just about anything, really – and Amazon’s replenishment system can either be set to automatically place an order when it detects that on-hand supply has fallen below a certain weight, or you can just have it send someone in your organization a notification if you’d rather not have the order happen automatically.

The Dash Smart Shelf connects via built-in Wi-Fi, and can be powered either connected by cable to a power outlet, or via four AAA batteries, providing flexibility as to where you want to put it. Using the web or the Amazon app, you then sign in with your Amazon Business account and just pick what product you’re using on the scale that you want to top up. And if you find that your staff doesn’t like the coffee selection, for instance, you can easily change up the brand or product your’e re-ordering from your account, too.

Dash Smart Shelf isn’t available immediately for anyone to purchase directly, but instead Amazon is going to be working with select small businesses in a trial pilot this month, with the plan being to open up general availability to any Amazon Business customers that have a registered U.S. business license beginning next year. If people are keen on getting Smart Shelf into their business, they can sign up directly with Amazon to be noticed about availability.

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Jeanette Manfra, senior DHS cybersecurity official, to leave government



Jeanette Manfra, one of the most senior and experienced U.S. cybersecurity officials, is leaving government after more than a decade in the public sector.

Manfra, who served as assistant director for cybersecurity at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), will join the private sector in the New Year. CISA is Homeland Security’s dedicated civilian cybersecurity unit set up a year ago to respond to help protect against threats to U.S. critical infrastructure and foreign threats.

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Manfra said it was a “really hard time to leave,” but the move will give her successor time to transition into the role ahead of the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

She did not say what her new job will be, only that she will take time off to be with her family in the meantime. She will leave her post at the end of the year.

Manfra’s departure from government will be seen as largely unexpected. At Homeland Security, she has served three presidents and worked on numerous projects to improve relations with the private sector, which are considered crucial partners in defending U.S. cyberspace. She also saw the agency double down on election security, threats to the supply chain, and efforts to protect U.S. critical infrastructure like the power grid and water networks from nefarious attempts by nation states.

At TechCrunch Disrupt SF this year, Manfra also talked candidly about the ongoing threats to U.S. cybersecurity, including a skills shortage and the risks posed by another global “WannaCry-style” cyberattack, which in 2017 saw thousands of computers infected by file-locking malware, causing billions of dollars worth of damage.

Manfra joined Homeland Security in 2007 under then-president George W. Bush, half a decade after the department was founded in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Manfra described the early years as a time when there weren’t “a lot of people talking about cybersecurity.”

“It definitely was not really on the national stage at the time. It was, you know, there was still a lot of debate as to whether ‘cybersecurity’ was one word or two words,” she said.

But in the years past and as internet access and tech companies continued to grow, she said the U.S. saw several “wake up” calls that brought cybersecurity into the public mainstream. The hack of Sony Pictures in 2016 and the WannaCry global ransomware attack in 2017 were two, and both were blamed on North Korea. Another, she said, was the 2015 data breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which saw suspected Chinese hackers steal more than 21 million sensitive background check files of government employees who had sought security clearance.

The department’s cybersecurity presence started out as a “very small, frankly relatively unknown group of people,” she said. A decade later it had become a major force in managing crises like the OPM attack, a breach that she said helped to push government to better prioritize cybersecurity.

“[The OPM breach] forced us to make some changes across the government that’ve been good,” she said.

In the aftermath, the government took steps to bolster its own systems and networks to lower its attack surface by removing Kaspersky from its networks citing fears about Russian intelligence, and taking the lead rolling out HTTPS website encryption and email security protections across the federal domains — an effort still to this day largely neglected by some of the world’s wealthiest companies.

Election security, she said, was another major wake-up call for the government. Russia waged a widescale disinformation — or “fake news” — campaign during the 2016 election to sow discord and exploit divisions in communities across the U.S. But there were also fears that hackers could break in and modify the tallies in voting machines, a concern that never came to fruition but one that security experts say remains a threat. Lawmakers have been pushing for the removal of paperless and electronic-only voting machines to reduce the risk of hackers manipulate the votes in favor of a particular candidate.

“In 2016, it was our best judgment that the Russians were looking to undermine confidence,” Manfra told TechCrunch. “The public confidence is important, and we need to be thinking within the government about the adversaries’ ability and willingness to use those against us,” she said.

Manfra said the department knew it had to work closer with state and local election boards to figure out their needs following the 2016 election. “We had a lot of honest conversations with [election boards] about what they need, what do we do, and how can we help,” she said. “It’s the fastest I’ve ever seen a sector come together.”

Those partnerships with local elections have given Homeland Security unprecedented visibility into the nation’s election infrastructure, she said, going from “some coverage” in 2016 to near-absolute insight across the country.

“If we ever did again get technical indicators that an adversary was trying to do something, we would be able to move more quickly and much more expansively across the country,” she said.

That effort paid off. Last year’s midterm election was remarkably quiet compared to 2016. Both the Justice Department and Homeland Security said there was “no evidence” to support foreign interference during the midterms.

It’s that running theme of public-private collaboration that Manfra looked back on with pride. “We don’t have all the answers and we can’t do it alone.” Those partnerships across the industry verticals — from elections to finance, energy and manufacturing — are “crucial to everything that we do,” she said.

“It’s really easy to say how important it is to have the government in the private sector working together,” she said. “But to do it well, it’s actually really hard.”

Manfra said the government had to be “willing to open itself” to build trust with its partners. “We now have some of the largest companies in the country that we built trusted relationships when they know that they can give us sensitive information — and we can take that and use it to protect other people, but we’re not going to abuse that trust,” she said.

Speaking of her time at Homeland Security, Manfra said she was most proud of her team. “A lot of them have been with me since we started,” she said. “They could be working out in the private sector making a ton of money, but they’re dedicating their lives here,” she said.

But she said she was “forcing” herself to have no regrets during her time in government.

It’s not yet known who will replace Manfra or will take on her responsibilities. But her advice for her eventual successor: “Trust your team, trust your partners, and stay focused,” she said. “It’s such a broad mission. It’s easy to lose focus.”

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Emma Thompson answering random questions from little kids is hilariously adorable



Skilled interviewers may spend years honing their craft, but sometimes all you really need to unlock a person’s secrets is the quirky mind of a small child. Or in this case, several small children.

In the BBC Radio 1 segment above, Emma Thompson follows in the footsteps of Sarah Silverman and Tom Hardy by answering a series of “difficult questions” from kids — with topics ranging from the environment to what it takes to become rich.

8-year-old Finn from Glasgow is even cheeky enough to ask about the best onscreen kisser Thompson has ever encountered.

“Meryl Streep’s a very good snogger,” she responds. “I had to snog her in Angels in America and she was method about it.” Read more…

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Wonderbly launches Wonderbly Studios to let other brands use its personalisation API for printed books



Wonderbly, the personalised book publisher backed by Google Ventures and best known for the breakout hit “Lost My Name,” is unveiling Wonderbly Studios in a bid to make it easier for other brands to offer personalised and bespoke printed books on-demand.

Initially, Wonderfully Studios will work with select partners to provide access to its personalisation API and help create new books using its technology and expertise in the space. However, longer term Wonderbly co-founder and CEO Asi Sharabi tells me the plan is to continuing developing the platform and eventually open up the whole thing so that anybody can offer high-quality and data-infused personalised books via its API.

“Selling high quality personalised products – products that extend beyond the trivial “put my name on a mug” – is no easy task,” he says. “Meaningfully personalised products and businesses are still quite complex to operate at scale. You need a rendering stack, integration with a local print house, couriers, customer support and more. These technical and operational hurdles are a barrier to entry”.

Sharabi adds that although Wonderbly is aware of some “cool” personalised book ideas already on the market, he says that very few are reaching meaningful scale. “We hope to change all that with our personalisation platform and provide a fast, seamless experience with responsive previews and high fidelity physical products for multiple and complex personalisation logics,” he says.

The first project to come out of Wonderbly Studios is an interactive journal from Wizarding World (the Official Harry Potter Fan Club), which is a joint venture between Pottermore Ltd. and Warner Bros.

The “Keys and Curios” journal is described as full of interactive surprises and secrets that can be unlocked using the Wizarding World app. It incorporates a fan’s name, house traits and more to take them on a unique journey through the wizarding year.

The books contents were written and designed by the Wizarding World Digital team, and feature images from across the Wizarding World, artwork by illustrator Jim Kay and specially designed Hogwarts house covers by MinaLima (the graphic designer design team behind some of the visuals from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films).

Meanwhile, the personalisation technology, e-commerce integration and on-demand printing/logistics is powered by Wonderbly.

“The end customers interact via the partner’s e-commerce stack,” explains Sharabi. These stacks (e.g Shopify or Magento) were not built for personalised products and customisation. Adding this functionality is hard – we know, we’ve been doing it for 5 years. This is why we developed the Wonderbly Personalisation API”.

Products created on the Wonderbly platform can deliver “limitless amount of creativity, constrained only by imagination,” says the Wonderbly CEO. That’s because Wonderbly takes cares of a lot of the remaining heavy-lifting.

“Products are rendered in real-time at scale for customers as part of the shopping experience,” explains Sharabi. “The platform handles the complexities of integrating with e-commerce systems in a developer friendly way, making it a simple task to add a personalised product to a cart. When an order is completed a simple web hook ensures that the products are rendered, printed and shipped to the customer, while feeding into our partner’s systems for progress notification and customer support”.

With regards to what kind of personalised books we might see come to market as Wonderbly Studios opens up further, it is likely impossible to predict. That’s because the full range of potential experiences is likely something that no single person or team could ever imagine, which, of course is the whole point.

As Sharabi previously told TechCrunch, you can’t scale creativity in the same way as tech – you have to allow creativity to come from anywhere.

“What if you can create a customised art, poetry or recipes book at the same ease you make a Spotify playlist?” he asks rhetorically. “What would gaming printed yearbooks look like? What if travel guides and language acquisition become more personalised? What if you can order an ‘I was there’ personalised keepsake for live gigs and festivals? These and more are questions that get us very excited”.

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Route’s app auto-tracks all your packages, raises $12M



Between Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and indie merchants, it’s easy to lose track of when your online purchases will be delivered. And if you’re buying something pricey or important, a lack of shipping insurance can leave you anxious and constantly checking your porch.

But a fresh startup has found unprecedented growth by letting you monitor all your ecommerce orders in one app thanks to a Gmail extension. Plus, you can buy insurance for just 1% of an item’s cost. Meet Route, emerging from stealth today to become the Find My Friends for packages. By helping merchants handle post-purchase satisfaction while charging consumers for insurance, this year Route has grown to $8.85 million in revenue run rate and from 5 to 100 employees.

Now Route is announcing it’s raised $12 million in total through a quiet $500,00 January pre-seed round from Peak Venture Capital and a new seed round with the rest from Album VC and strategic partner in direct-to-consumer brands Pattern. The cash will help Route keep up with demand and add new features to its app. Route co-founder and CEO Evan Walker tells me consumers “no longer accept the unsatisfying status quo of not knowing exactly where their order is.”

Pizza Tracker But For Everything

Domino’s saw sales skyrocket thanks to its highly visual pizza tracker app that shows live updates as your pie goes in the oven, hits the road, and reaches your door. Route wants to bring that reassuring experience to all of ecommerce.

Route co-founder and CEO Evan Walker

Walker asks “How could I NOT build this company?” The 25-year ecommerce entrepreneur got his start selling video games online in 1994, and has founded seven companies since. The communications gap between customers and merchants always plagued his businesses.

“The big lightbulb moment happened when I was traveling in Italy a few years back” Walker recalls. Talking to a furniture shop owner, he heard about their troubles of shipping vintage trunks. “He mentioned he was having a lot of issues with these items breaking in transit and wished he had a solution for it.” Now there is one.

The Route iOS app for visually tracking orders officially launches today. Purchases from partnered merchants instantly show up in the app and its website via API, but all your other buys from Amazon etc can be automatically ingested by authorizing the Route Bot Gmail extension that scans for shipping updates. Route lays out all the orders on a map with immediate access to their latest status changes like when shipping info is received, an item goes out for last mile delivery, or there’s a problem. There’s no need to copy and paste tracking numbers across multiple websites.

The Route+ insurance program that lets customers pay for peace of mind is launching today too. Customers get the option to add it from partnered merchants, file claims for lost / damaged / stolen packages in one tap, and get reimbursement from respected Lloyd’s Of London.

Walker claims that merchants that offer Route+ (which is free for them) “have seen an increase in conversion, decreased spend on customer support teams, and an improved post-purchase customer experience due to Route’s ability to quickly handle customer claims.” Merchants can also opt to pay themselves for Route+ on every order

Route now works with 1600 merchants and 600 carriers and has overseen shipments to 1.3 million customers in 187 countries. John Mayfield from Peak Venture Capital says “Their phenomenal growth of acquiring over 600 clients in the first three months makes them one of the fastest growing companies we have ever seen.”

The Brown Box Wars

The biggest challenge for Route is overcoming the thick, thick crowd of competitors in the market. Rakuten’s Slice can pull orders from your email and also grabs you refunds if an item goes on sale after you buy it. 17Track lets you paste in big lists of tracking numbers in case they’re registered to someone else’s email. Parcel offers a barcode scanner. ‘Deliveries’ will set up calendar appointments for arrivals, and works on Mac and Apple Watch. ParcelTrack lets you forward it emails of purchases to monitor, and a $2.99 premium version offers live locations of your packages plus customizable push notifications.

Route’s strength is that it’s totally free for consumers unless they want to buy insurance, and does email tracking automatically, though it will lack manual tracking number input for a few more weeks. It’s managed a 90 percent customer satisfaction score. Still, the startup could be vulnerable to a major player in ecommerce like Amazon or Shopify barging into the space. There are also platform risks, such as if Gmail blocked its scanning for tracking numbers, though Google is currently partnered with Route to facilitate email scanning.

“The better that Amazon gets at providing similar services, the more other merchants need those tools in order to compete outside of Amazon” says Walker. “From the insurance side, we are pretty good at detecting risk before it becomes a major issue and we are insuring on an individual order basis so catastrophic incidences are minimized.” The company also has to keep a watchful eye out for fraudulent insurance claims.

The growing megatrend of purchase behavior shifting online means the once occasional activity of receiving a package has become a constant chore in need of streamlining. Plenty of merchants are meanwhile looking to offload the complexity of keeping impatient buyers happy. If Route conquers its first market, it could move into adjacent spaces ranging from merchant services like freight forwarding and financing to consumer features like physical mail scanning for electronic delivery.

“Ecommerce is in my blood. I feel like I’ve taken 25 years of experience and started to craft a really interesting product in this space” Walker concludes. “With commerce going more digital everyday, there is an opportunity to create a big dent.” Or in Route‘s case, an opportunity to insure your packages against big dents.

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