Author: Jon Russell

Fitbit’s newest fitness tracker is just for employees and health insurance members

Fitbit has a new fitness tracker, but it’s one that you can’t buy in stores. The company quietly uncorked the Inspire on Friday, releasing its first product that is available only to corporate employees and health insurance members. The idea is to offer a fully subsidized wearable that helps the company dig deeper into the corporate and business worlds. The new devices are available as a wristband with the option of a clip. The basic tracker’s features are pretty standard and include activity and sleep tracking, calory burn and alerts from a connected phone. A higher specced model includes heart rate tracking, GPS for fitness tracking and deeper analytics on sleep. No prices are displayed on the website, but eligible customers won’t need to pay. In an interview with CNBC, CEO James Park said the company has 6.8 million users on wellness programs include Fitbit devices via employers, health plans or hospital programs. In offering the Inspire — which is Fitbit’s cheapest device yet — the goal is to grow that number further still. Indeed, Park said Fitbit is a named covered fitness benefit in 42 Medicare Advantage plans across 27 U.S. states while it is working with insurance firms like UnitedHealth. It makes sense that Fitbit is moving into that space because the consumer market is a tough one. Wearables are no longer an early novelty and competition is fierce. Apple dominates at...

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Netflix reportedly paid $10M for campaign documentary featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Freshman Congresswomen and meme queen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is headed to Netflix. The streaming service said this week that it has snapped up ‘Knock Down the House,’ a Sundance award-winning documentary profiling the campaigns of four female progressive candidates, including Ocasio-Cortez, in the 2018 midterm election. The documentary raised money via a Kickstarter campaign last year and it grabbed the Festival Favorite Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, beating 121 other contenders to land the highest number of audience votes. That acclaim and the rising star of Ocasio-Cortez looks to have made the picture a hot commodity. Deadline reports that Netflix is spending $10 million to secure the film, a price that — if true — would make it the most expensive Sundance documentary deal to date. It apparently beat off competition from NEON, Focus, Hulu and Amazon to land the production, according to Deadline. [embedded content] ‘Knock Down the House’ is produced by New York’s Jubilee Films and it profiles the campaigns of Las Vegas businesswoman Amy Vilela, Saint Louis nurse Cori Bush, coal miner’s daughter Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia and New York-based Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who worked double shifts at restaurants to pay her family’s bills. None of the women had previous political experience, but they gained attention after taking on heavyweight incumbents because they believed that the American system needed to change. Of the challengers, only Ocasio-Cortez won the vote and made it to Washington....

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Ambitious Singapore startup Delegate wants to bring its event booking platform to the US

It’s not often that you hear about a startup from Singapore with ambitions to expand to the U.S, but that’s exactly the goal for event booking service Delegate. Founded in August 2015, the company aims to be a one-stop shop for booking an event, that covers corporate and professional functions, celebrations like weddings and more personal events such as birthdays or get-togethers. Beyond the essential step of securing a venue, Delegate’s platform covers a range of different needs that include: food and beverage, photography and videography, flowers and decor, entertainment such as bands, invitation and gifts, event staff, production equipment and transport. “We saw a huge gap in the market,” co-founders Melissa Lou and Jacqueline Ye, who both worked in the event industry prior to starting Delegate, told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “There was no one resource for finding events and resources.” The Delegate platform covers venue booking, catering, staffing, entertainment and more. But, beyond being a booking platform for consumers, Delegate has a smart hook that attracts those on venue and event hosting side. In addition to helping them generate bookings via its sites, Delegate offers a subscription ‘Pro’ product that helps them manage daily operations, generate leads, collect bookings and handle collaborations with others in their supply chain. There’s also an element of granularity with the consumer side of the business. Delegate has set up options to make the myriads of suppliers,...

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AMI defends ‘good faith negotiations’ with Jeff Bezos but will investigate blackmail allegation

It’s the morning after the night before for AMI. And what a night it was. The company is officially in damage control mode after it released a short statement defending its communication and behavior with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who published evidence of blackmail that used leaked messages and nude photos of the billionaire that AMI had acquired. AMI today defended its efforts. It claimed it had “acted lawfully” with its reporting of Bezos and that it engaged in “good faith negotiations” with him. Still, despite those claims, it said it has launched an investigation into the incident. Here’s the statement:...

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Opera adds a free VPN to its Android browser app

Opera became the first browser-maker to bundle a VPN with its service, and now that effort is expanding to mobile. The company announced today that its Android browser app will begin offering a free VPN. The feature will be rolled out to beta users on a gradual basis. The VPN is free and unlimited, and it can be set to locations in America, Europe and Asia as well as an ‘optimal’ setting which hooks up the faster available connection. Switching on the VPN means that user traffic data isn’t collected by Opera, while it makes it harder for websites to track location and user data. There are granular settings too, which include limiting VPN usage to private tabs and switching it off for search engines to get more local results. Opera previously offered a free VPN app for Android and iOS but that project was closed last year. The new strategy, it seems, was to bake that technology directly into the browser to give it a more competitive advantage and use the tech to bring more users into the Opera ecosystem. There’s no word on an iOS launch. “The reason why we are including this built-in VPN in our Android browser is because it gives you that extra layer of protection that you are searching for in your daily mobile browsing,” the company — which listed on the Nasdaq last...

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Skype can now blur the background during video calls

Thanks to the rise of WhatsApp and other free calling and messaging apps, Skype is no longer the go-to service it once was for many people. But the company just added a new feature which might raise its appeal among users. The Microsoft-owned service’s latest addition is a screen-blurring feature designed to obscure your messy room or any other background details that you’d rather weren’t on display to the other party on the line. Skype said that the feature — which is similar to the blurring added to Microsoft Teams last year — uses artificial intelligence to keep the focus...

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Musiio raises $1M to let digital music services use AI for curation

Musiio, a Singapore-based startup that uses AI to help digital music companies with discovery and creation, has pulled in a $1 million seed round. The capital comes from Singapore’s Wavemaker Partners, U.S. investor Exponential Creativity Ventures and undisclosed angels. The deal represents the first outside round for Musiio, which was founded at the Entrepreneur First program in Singapore where CEO Hazel Savage, a former streaming exec, met CEO Aron Pettersson. It also makes Musiio the first venture capital-backed music AI startup in Southeast Asia and one of the most notable EF graduates from its Asian cohorts. We first wrote about Musiio last April when it had raised SG$75,000 ($57,000) as part of its involvement in EF, the London-based accelerator that has big ambitions in Asia. Since then, it has increased its team to seven full-time staff. The company is focused on reducing inefficiencies for music curation using artificial intelligence by augmenting the important work of human curators. In short, it aims to give those without the spending power of Spotify the opportunity to automate or partially automate a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to scouring through music. “Musiio won’t replace the need to have people listening to music,” Savage told TechCrunch last year. “But we can delete the inefficiencies.” The Musiio team at its office in Singapore The company’s first public client is Free Music Archive (FMA), a Creative Commons-like free music site developed...

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Spotify buys Gimlet and Anchor in podcast push, earmarks $500M for more deals

Spotify is going after podcasts in a major way in 2019. The music streaming service today confirmed that it has snapped up two podcast networks — Gimlet and Anchor — in undisclosed deals. But that’s not all, the firm said it has plans to spend a further $400-$500 million “on multiple acquisitions in 2019” to get even deeper into the space. The Gimlet is said to be upwards of $200 million, according to Recode — which broke news of the deal last week — but it isn’t yet clear how much the company has spent on Anchor, which helps podcasters...

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