Category: Apps

We must consider secure online voting

The list of states delaying primaries and elections is quickly increasing, with New Jersey adding local elections to the list. Even Congress — in a break from tradition — is rethinking what it means to vote safely in this new paradigm, stirring calls for remote voting for its upcoming legislation around the pandemic.

This debate, however, lacks important context: Many U.S. citizens are already voting online at home and abroad. In fact, 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow some voters to return absentee ballots via email, while five others permit some voters to do so using a web portal.

We are election officials in two states that require us to offer an online method to some of our voters. For these voters, the argument is not an academic one, but an issue of necessity — traditional voting methods simply don’t work for those living abroad, deployed in the military or those with disabilities. As election officials, it’s our duty to stand up for the constitutional rights of our citizens, whatever their circumstances, and the reality is that online voting dramatically improves the opportunities for these two groups to engage with our democracy.

We should not be debating whether online voting should exist, but rather asking: What is the most secure way to facilitate electronic voting? Because it’s already being done. And because it’s needed by some voting groups — whose volume might expand in the near future.

As a country, we currently have three million eligible voters living abroad, and only 7% cast ballots in the 2016 elections, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s biennial Overseas Citizen Population Analysis. This same analysis found that removing logistical barriers to voting would raise participation by 30%. A different analysis separately found that while nearly one million active-duty military are eligible to vote, only around 23% of them actually did in 2018.

The traditional system of mailed-in absentee ballots and centralized polling places is failing these voters, and they aren’t alone among the disenfranchised. The turnout story is also grim for the 35 million U.S. voters with disabilities. An October 2017 Government Accountability Office report also found widespread barriers to disabled voting, such as machines that could have made it impossible to cast votes privately. It’s no wonder that, as a 2017 Rutgers University study found, disabled voting participation has declined in each of the last two presidential elections, dropping from 57.3% in 2008 to 55.9% in 2016.

New technologies offer promise to expanding and securing access for overseas citizens and voters with disabilities. Consider MacCene Grimmett, who is, at 106, Utah’s oldest voter. When she was born in 1913, women did not have the right to vote. Homebound since she broke her ankle two years ago and unable to hold a pen steadily, she was able to cast her ballot last year thanks to an app on a mobile device. The technology empowered her, helping her execute — independently, anonymously, securely and with dignity — her most basic duty as a citizen.

Pilots and tests are happening at different scales in localities around the country, and early results are demonstrating positive outcomes. In 2019,Utah County’s offering mobile-phone voting to overseas citizens resulted in a marked increase in participation rates. In fact, turnout rates for voters using the app overseas were higher than for those who went to the polls in-person on Election Day. Oregon also successfully permitted its citizens to use app-voting in 2019.

Importantly, all pilots include the ability to rigorously audit the results so we can ensure 100% accuracy along the way.

The challenge, ultimately, is how to continue leveraging technology in a secure and innovative way to maximize access. Safety is paramount: We are deeply aware that we live in an interconnected world where foreign adversaries and other malicious entities are using information technology to try to undermine our political system. It’s our responsibility to understand the environment in which we operate as we forge ahead.

But while these concerns can be valid, they should not outweigh both the necessity and potential benefits of internet-based voting. Just as we cannot place blind faith in the infallibility of our technologies, we also cannot fall into a senseless, all-encompassing mistrust that would both disenfranchise millions of voters and shake trust in our elections.

Rather than making sweeping judgments, we need to weigh each case individually. Why, for example, should Iowa’s failure, which involved poor training, lack of testing and trouble reporting caucus results on one specific technology platform by a political party adversely affect whether a disabled Utahn or an Oregonian soldier can cast their vote — and verify it — by app?

Expanding voter participation by ensuring ballot access for all citizens is paramount to protecting our democracy. In the 21st century, that will necessarily include electronic methods, particularly as we face challenges with voters abroad and contemplate emerging challenges at home like COVID-19, where large public gatherings — and long lines — spark new threats to consider.

We must continue trials and experiments to broaden access for voters, while hardening the system and making it more resilient, and that means beginning with small-scale pilots, seeing what works, stringently auditing the results and then employing that knowledge in new rounds of testing. App-based voting, for example, is already more secure than returning a ballot by email, and it also preserves voter anonymity in a way that email makes impossible (because whoever opens the email to hand-copy the vote onto a paper ballot for tabulation knows who sent it).

These are the everyday successes that internet-based voting is producing right now. And they ought to be driving the discussion as we move forward slowly, responsibly and confidently.

Apple sets restrictions for COVID-19-related apps

Apple today put in place more COVID-19-related safeguards — this time centered on its App Store. In a note posted to its developer community, the company explains that it will take steps to vet submissions of apps focused on the global pandemic that has begun to impact nearly every aspect of life across the globe.

“To help fulfill these expectations, we’re evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions,” the company explains. “Only developers from one of these recognized entities should submit an app related to COVID-19.”

In addition to assessing content and restricting the number of developers who can submit, the company is also barring the release of entertainment apps and games looking to capitalizing on the ubiquitous and life-threatening subject matter.

Apple has also asked developers to tick the “Time-Sensitive Event” option, in order to help expedite the submission, given that some may be aimed at helping users in time of crisis. The company will also be waiving some annual membership fees for non-profit orgs and government agencies looking to develop apps related to the outbreak.

A cursory search of “COVID” and “coronavirus” finds a number of apps using the terms, ranging from case trackers, news applications, a reminder to wash hands and some gaming titles.

Facebook fact-check feud erupts over Trump virus “hoax”

Who fact-checks the fact-checkers? Did Trump call coronavirus the Democrat’s “new hoax”?

Those the big questions emerging from a controversial “false” label applied to Politico and NBC News stories by right-wing publisher The Daily Caller. Its Check Your Fact division is a Facebook fact-checking partner, giving it the power to flag links on the social network as false, demoting their ranking in the News Feed as well as the visibility of the entire outlet that posted it.

Critics railed against Facebook’s decision to admit The Daily Caller to the fact-checking program last April due to its history of publishing widely debunked articles. Now some believe their fears of politically biased fact-checks are coming true.

Image via Judd Legum

This week, Check Your Fact rated two stories as false. “Trump rallies his base to treat coronavirus as a ‘hoax’ from Politico, and “Trump calls coronavirus Democrats’ ‘new hoax’” from NBC News, as highlighted by Popular Information’s Judd Legum. The fact-check explanation states that “Trump actually described complaints about his handling of the virus threat as a “hoax”.

Trump had said at a rally that (emphasis ours):

Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs . . . They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning, they lost, it’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax. But you know, we did something that’s been pretty amazing. We’re 15 people [cases of coronavirus infection] in this massive country. And because of the fact that we went early, we went early, we could have had a lot more than that . . . we’ve lost nobody, and you wonder, the press is in hysteria mode.

It’s hard to tell exactly what Trump means here. He could be calling coronavirus a hoax, concerns about its severity a hoax, or Democrats’ criticism of his response a hoax. Reputable fact-checking institution Snopes rated the claim that Trump called coronavirus a hoax as a mixture of true and false, noting “Despite creating some confusion with his remarks, Trump did not call the coronavirus itself a hoax.”

Image via Judd Legum

Perhaps Politico and NBC News’ headlines went too far, or perhaps the headlines fairly describe Trump’s characterization of the situation.

But the bigger concern is how Facebook has designed its fact-checking system to prevent other fact-checking partners from auditing the decision of The Daily Caller.

When asked about this, Facebook deflected responsibility, implying that audit process wouldn’t be necessary because all of its fact-checking partners have been certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network. This group publishes ethics guidelines that include an accuracy standard that requires checkers “maintain high standards of reporting, writing, and editing in order to produce work that is as error-free as possible.” Checkers are also supposed to follow criteria for determining story accuracy, and can apply  mid-point labels like “Partly False” or “False Headline” which The Daily Caller didn’t use here.

Facebook tells me that because it doesn’t think it’s appropriate for it to be the arbiter of truth, it relies on the IFCN to set guidelines. It also noted that there’s an appeals process where publishers can reach out to directly to a fact-checker to dispute a rating. But when I followed up, Facebook clarified that publishers can only appeal the fact-checker that labeled them, and can’t appeal to other fact-checkers for a second decision or audit of the original label.

fb arbiter of truth

That leaves very little room for controversial or inaccurate labels to be rolled back. A fact-checker would have to be formally rejected by the IFCN for violating its guidelines to lose its status as a Facebook partner.

If Facebook doesn’t want to be the arbiter of truth, it should still establish a process for a quorum of its fact-checking partners to play that role. If consensus amongst other partners is that a label was in accurate and a story might instead warrant a lesser label or none at all, that new decision should be applied. Otherwise, mistakes or malicious bias from a single fact-checker could suppress the work of entire news outlets and deprive the public of the truth.

How TikTok decides who to make famous

Part 2: The TikTok System

Read part one of this post, “Leveraging TikTok for growth,” on TechCrunch.

So what do we mean when we say “then, the post is reviewed by an AI?” TikTok is the most extensive content moderation system that has ever existed.

The 411 on content moderation

To make that claim, we need to understand the status quo in moderation today. Content moderation was one of the first product problems of user-generated content that computer-vision scientists were tasked with solving (ie. filtering out porn). With very little content moderation on one end of the spectrum (like 4chan) and heavy moderation on the other end (like TikTok), “what’s the right balance?” is a complex product question that touches all the major platforms today — especially when you as a consumer might not even be aware that it’s being filtered out because of the “content bubbles” we live in.

From a product perspective, designing for content usually only involves three variations on a theme:

  1. Search: goal-oriented, I know what I’m looking for (Google)
  2. Browse: aimless, not sure what I want, anything good? (Netflix)
  3. Contextual: finding something else along the way (Wikipedia)

These systems are present in some form or another in almost every piece of software we use. When browse-based systems are the priority in a product: algorithmic feeds or “discover” screens (like the FYP), the possibility of users living in a content bubble at scale is inherent in the design. We know that if platforms can influence your consumption of content if it’s viable and profitable to them… then, of course, they can influence public opinions.

Due to these content bubbles (like the FYP) In the last few years, the word “algorithm” has worked its way into the vernacular of non-nerds talking about their Facebook feeds, why their Insta post isn’t doing well or what Netflix and Spotify are serving them up to enjoy.

Censorship in Entertainment

This Week in Apps: YouTube TV cancels Apple’s rev share, more bad news for mobile voting, WhatsApp hits 2B users

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s recently released “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we look at YouTube TV’s decision to stop revenue-sharing with Apple, another mobile voting app with serious flaws, new Apple launches in coding and AR, Microsoft’s game-streaming service Project xCloud arrival on iOS and other notable app news and trends, including WhatsApp’s big 2 billion user milestone, and more.

Headlines

YouTube TV fights back against Apple’s cut of in-app subscription revenue

This week, YouTube emailed customers subscribed to its YouTube TV service by way of Apple’s in-app purchases to let them know that this subscription offering will be discontinued starting on March 13, 2020. Current subscribers will have their subscription canceled automatically on their billing date after March 13, the letter said.

This is a pretty severe way for Google to end its subscription revenue-sharing with Apple, however. Most companies that decide to shut off in-app subscriptions still continue to honor those from existing subscribers — they just stop selling to new customers. In YouTube TV’s case, it’s actually ending its relationship with all its customers on Apple devices with the hope they’ll return and resubscribe. That’s quite a risk, given that YouTube TV is not the only streaming TV service out there, and customers getting their subscription canceled may take this opportunity to shop around. The timing is also poorly thought-out, given that YouTube TV just picked up new subs following Sony’s PlayStation Vue shutdown — and now it’s kicking them out.

The move makes Google the latest company to rebel against Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app payments (which drops to 15% in year two). A growing number of app publishers are refusing to share a cut of their revenue with Apple — even saying that Apple’s decision to charge this fee is anti-competitive. For example, Spotify believes Apple’s fee makes it more difficult to compete with Apple’s built-in music service, and has raised the issue repeatedly to regulators. Netflix also stopped paying the “Apple tax” over a year ago.

Mobile voting app Voatz, used by several states, was filled with security flaws

Above: Voatz, via The NYT

Last week, we looked at how a smartphone app meant to tabulate votes from the caucuses really screwed things up in Iowa. This week, MIT researchers took a look at mobile voting app Voatz, which has been used to tally votes for federal elections in parts of West Virginia, Oregon, Utah and Washington as part of various mobile voting pilot programs. The researchers found the app was riddled with security flaws that would let attackers monitor votes or even change ballots or block them without users’ knowledge. Attackers could also create a tainted paper trail, making a reliable audit impossible — despite Voatz’s promise of using blockchain technology to increase security. One security expert, speaking to VICE, called the app “sloppy” and filled with “elementary” mistakes.

Coming on the heels of the Iowa caucus mobile voting disaster, this latest news delivers another huge blow to the promise of mobile voting in the U.S.

Siri will now answer your election questions

Apple’s built-in voice assistant won’t help you figure out who to vote for, but it will be able to update you on different races around the U.S. during election season as well as deliver live results as votes are counted. The new feature, announced today, is part of Apple News’ 2020 election coverage, which also includes a series of curated news, resources, and data from a variety of sources, with the goal of serving users on both sides of the political spectrum.

With the added Siri integration, you’ll be able to ask the assistant both informational queries, plus those requiring real-time information.

For example, you may ask Siri something like “When are the California primaries?,” which is a more straightforward question, or “Who’s winning the New Hampshire primaries?,” which requires updated information.

 

Siri will speak the answers to the question in addition to presenting the information visually, which makes the feature useful from an accessibility standpoint, too.

The live results are being delivered via the Associated Press, Apple says. The company is also leveraging the AP’s real-time results in its Apple News app in order to give county-by-county results and a national map tracking candidate wins by each state primary, among other things.

As it has done in previous years, Apple’s news editorial team has added special coverage of the U.S. election to its app, by working with news partners. This year, Apple’s coverage comes from news organizations inducing ABC News, CBS News, CNN, FiveThirtyEight, Fox News, NBC News, ProPublica, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today and others.

In Apple News, readers are able to learn about candidates and their positions, track major election moments — like the debates, conventions, and Super Tuesday — and stay on top of election news and analysis all the way through election night in the U.S. and the subsequent presidential inauguration. A partnership with ABC News announced in December will also bring video coverage, including real-time streams, into the app.

The Siri feature draws on Apple News for its answers and offers a link to “Full Coverage” in the Apple News app, if you want to learn more.

The feature appears to still be rolling out. In tests, Siri was able to answer some questions but defaulted to web results for others, as before. A staggered rollout is standard for Apple launches, however, as new features take time to reach all users.

Google Assistant now works with Tile to find your lost stuff

Google Assistant is today rolling out support for Tile’s Bluetooth tracker, designed to help you keep up with your often misplaced items — like your keys, purse, wallet, remote, and more. The new integration will allow Google Assistant users on any Nest device to ask questions like, “Hey Google, where is my purse?” They can instruct the Assistant to ring their device” by saying things like “Hey Google, make my backpack ring.”

Variations on these commands are also supported, like, “Hey Google, find my…” or “Hey Google, ring my…”

In addition, you can ask for the location of an item. If the item is in the house, the Assistant will return an appropriate location using Tile’s Bluetooth capabilities, by saying something like “your keys were last seen today at 9 PM near the Kitchen speaker.” If the item is out of Bluetooth range, the Assistant will instead return the item’s last known location, based on Tile’s location services.

 

Tile leverages its large network of Tile app users as a crowd-finding platform to help when items are missing. To date, the company has sold 22+ million Tile devices worldwide and is locating more than 5 million items per day across 230 countries.

Google announced its partnership with Tile back in September 2019, but had said at the time the feature would launch later that year.

The partnership arrives at a critical time for Tile’s business. Apple is reportedly preparing to launch a Tile competitor, possibly called AirTags, that integrates deeply with iOS. According to the latest forecast from well-known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple in the first half of 2020 will introduce the product. But unlike Tile, Apple’s are ultra-wideband tags that promise greater accuracy than Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi.

Evidence of Apple’s tags was already found in iOS 13 code, as well.

Apple’s plan to move into Tile’s business was one of the examples brought up in a recent congressional hearing about Apple’s anti-competitive practices. At the hearing, Tile general counsel Kirsten Daru commented on how hard it is to compete with Apple.

“You might be the best team in the league, but you’re playing against a team that owns the field, the ball, the stadium, and the entire league, and they can change the rules of the game at any time,” she said.

In this context, Tile’s move to partner with Google isn’t just about expanding its business — it’s also about saving it.

To take advantage of the new feature, you’ll need to set up your Tile to sync with the Google Home app.

Mobile payment app Lydia raises $45 million round led by Tencent

French startup Lydia is raising a $45 million Series B round (€40 million). Tencent is leading the round with existing investors CNP Assurances, XAnge and New Alpha also participating.

If you live in France, chances are you already know Lydia quite well. The company has become a ubiquitous mobile payment app, especially for people under 30 years old. Think about it as a sort of Square Cash or Venmo, but for France.

“At first, we wanted to raise less but we ended up raising more,” Lydia co-founder and CEO Cyril Chiche told me in a phone interview.

The company has managed to attract 3 million users in France. More impressive, 25% of French people between 18 and 30 years old have a Lydia account — and 5,000 people sign up every day. Lydia currently has 90 employees.

More recently, the company has expanded beyond peer-to-peer payment. First, the company wants to help you manage your money in many different ways with an important value — everything should happen in real time.

You can create multiple Lydia accounts to put some money aside or use money in that sub-account for a specific purpose. That feature alone turns the app into a versatile money management app.

For instance, you can associate a Lydia payment card with a Lydia account and a virtual card with another Lydia account — that virtual card works with Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and more. You can change those settings in real time.

You can share accounts with other Lydia users. And shared accounts are truly shared — everyone can top up and withdraw money from that account. You can spend directly from that account or withdraw money to another account.

You can also turn any Lydia account into a money pot account. In just a few taps, you can generate a link and share it with your friends so that they can add money using their regular payment card or a Lydia account.

More recently, the company has introduced “the market”, a marketplace of other financial products. From the Lydia app, you can borrow up to €1,000 in just a few seconds. You can also insure your phone and other mobile devices. You can get some free credit when you open a bank account, insure your home with Luko, switch to another electricity and gas provider, compare mobile phone and internet providers and more.

And that strategy is going to be key in the future. “We have an ambitious goal, which is turning Lydia into a mobile financial service app,” Chiche said.

He also pointed out that the company that has been the most successful when it comes to creating a mobile marketplace of financial products is Tencent with WeChat.

“Tencent is also the number one player in the video game industry, and there’s no industry with as much user engagement,” Chiche said. Tencent acquired Supercell, bought 40% of Epic Games, acquired Riot Games (League of Legends), invested in Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, Discord, etc. Lydia hopes that it can learn from Tencent on the user engagement front.

Compared to many fintech startups, Lydia doesn’t want to replace banks altogether — the company says it wants to build a meta-banking app. Peer-to-peer payments represent the top of the funnel and a great user acquisition strategy thanks to networking effects.

You can then connect your Lydia account with your bank account and your debit card. This way, you can send money back and forth between your Lydia accounts and your bank account. As a user, that strategy slowly pays off over time. After a while, you end up spending money directly from your Lydia account and relying more heavily on Lydia’s native payment features, with your bank account acting as a money back end.

At the bottom of the funnel, Lydia hopes that it can turn active Lydia users into paid customers with a handful of in-house and third-party financial products. In other words, Lydia doesn’t want to become a credit institution like a traditional bank, it wants to become a financial hub. Expanding the marketplace will be a big focus for the company going forward.

While Lydia is available in other European countries, Lydia is still massively used in its home market with other markets lagging behind. With today’s funding round, growth in foreign countries is going to be the second key topic.

Snapchat will launch Bitmoji TV, a personalized cartoon show

Snapchat’s most popular yet under-exploited feature is finally getting the spotlight in 2020. Starting in February with a global release, your customizable Bitmoji avatar will become the star of a full-motion cartoon series called Bitmoji TV. It’s a massive evolution for Bitmoji beyond the chat stickers and comic strip-style Stories where they were being squandered to date.

Creating original in-house shows for its Discover section that can’t be copied could help Snapchat differentiate from the plethora of short-form video platforms out there ranging from YouTube to Facebook Watch to TikTok. Bitmoji TV could also up the quality of Discover, which still feels like a tabloid magazine rack full of scantly clad women, gross-out imagery, and other shocking content merely meant to catch the eye and draw a click.

With Bitmoji TV, your avatar and those of your friends will appear in regularly-scheduled adventures ranging from playing the crew of Star Treky spaceship to being secret agents to falling in love with robots or becoming zombies. The trailer Snapchat released previews an animation style reminiscent of Netflix’s Big Mouth.

TechCrunch asked Snap for more details, including how long episodes will be, how often they’ll be released, whether they’ll include ads, and if the company acquired anyone or brought on famous talent to produce the series. A Snap spokesperson declined to provide more details, but sent over this statement: “Bitmoji TV isn’t available in your network yet, but stay tuned for the global premiere soon!”

The Snapchat Show page for Bitmoji TV notes it is coming in February 2020. Users can visit here on mobile to subscribe to Bitmoji TV so it shows up prominently on their Discover page, or turn on notifications about its new content.

Snap realizes Bitmoji’s value

Snap has had a tough few years as many of its core features have been ruthlessly copied by the Facebook family of apps. Instagram Stories killed Snap’s growth for years and effectively stole the broadcast medium from its inventor. Facebook also ramped up it augmented reality selfie filters, added more ephemeral messaging features, and launched Watch as a competitor to Snapchat Discover.

Two years ago I wrote that Facebook was crazy not to be competing with Bitmoji too. Six months later we were first to report Facebook Avatars was in the works, and this year they launched as Messenger chat stickers in Australia with plans for a global release in 2019 or early 2020. But Facebook’s slow movement here, Google’s half-assed entry, and Twitter’s lack of an attempt have given Snapchat’s Bitmoji a massive headstart. And now Snap is finally leveraging it.

“TV” is actually a return to Bitmoji’s roots. The startup Bitstrips originally offered an app for customizing the face, hair, clothes, and more of your avatar and then creating comic strips for them to appear in. Snap acquired Bitstrips back in 2016 for just $64.2 million — a steal not far off from Facebook snatching Instagram for under a billion. The standalone Bitmoji app blew up as soon as Snapchat began offering the avatars as chat stickers. It had over 330 million downloads as of April according to Sensor Tower despite Snapchat now letting you create your avatar in its main app.

Eventually, Snap began expanding Bitmoji’s uses. In 2017 Bitmoji went 3D and you could start overlaying them as augmented reality characters on your Snaps. The next year Snap improved their graphics, then launched the Snap Kit developer platform and Bitmoji Kit. This allows apps to build atop Snapchat login and use your Bitmoji as a profile pic. Soon they were appearing as Fitbit smart watch faces, alongside your Venmo transaction, and on Snapchat-sold merchandise from t-shirts to mugs. It’s part of a wise strategy to beat copycats by allowing allies to use real thing rather than building their own knock-off. That’s fueled the “Snapback” comeback which has seen Snap’s share price climb out of the gutter at $5.79 at the start of 2019 to $16.09 now.

One of Snap smartest innovations was Bitmoji Stories — the ancestor to Bitmoji TV. These daily Stories let you tap frame-by-frame through short comic strip-style interactions starring your avatar. Occasionally Bitmoji Stories would include rudimentary animation, but most frames were still images with text bubbles. Bitmoji could once again drive a narrative, rather than just being a communication tool. Still, they seem underutilized.

In 2019, Snapchat wised up. Bitmoji have become nearly ubiquitous amongst teens and Snapchat’s 210 million daily users. They’re the Google or Kleenex of cartoonish personalized avatars. Their goofy nature is also a perfect fit for Snapchat, and a reason they’re tough for stiffer and older tech giants to convincingly copy.

In April, Snap announced its new games platform inside its messaging feature that let you play as your Bitmoji against friends’ avatars in games ranging from Mario Party ripoff Bitmoji Party to tennis, shoot-em ups, and cooking competitions. Snap injects ads into the games, making Bitmoji key to its efforts to monetize its central messaging use case. Last month it launched custom and branded clothing for Bitmoji, which could open opportunities to earn money selling premium outfits or showing off brand sponsorships.

To truly take advantage of Bitmoji’s unique popularity, though, Snap needed to build longer-form experiences with the avatars at the center that . Stickers and Stories and games were fun, but none felt like must-see content. With Bitmoji TV, Snap may have found a way to get users to drag their friends into the app. Since everyone sees their own Bitmoji as the star, the cartoons could be more compelling then ones with impersonal characters you might find elsewhere around the web.

But Bitmoji TV’s success will depend largely on the quality of the writing. If your avatar is constantly getting into funny, meme-worthy situations, you’ll keep coming back to watch. But Snap’s teen audience has a keen nose for inauthentic bullsh*t. If the Shows feel forced, too childish, or boring, Bitmoji TV will flop. Snap would be savvy to invest in great Hollywood talent to produce the episodes.

High quality Bitmoji TV shorts could rescue Snapchat Discover from its own mediocrity. There are a few strong brands like ESPN SportsCenter on the platform, and Snap has several original Shows with over 25 million unique viewers. It’s also greenlit additional seasons of Shows like Dead Girls Detective Agency and new biopic clips from Serena Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still, a scroll through the Discover and Shows sections reveals plenty of trashy clickbait that surely scares away premium advertisers.

Bitmoji TV could offer video that’s not only fun and snackable, but out of reach for competitors who don’t have a scaled avatar platform of their own. As with the recent launch of Snapchat Cameos, the company has realized that the most addictive experiences center on its users’ own faces. Snapchat turned the selfie into the future of communication. Bitmoji TV could make an animated recreation of your selfie into the future of content.

Daily Crunch: Travis Kalanick is leaving Uber’s board

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Uber founder Travis Kalanick is leaving the company’s board of directors

Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick will officially resign from the board as of December 31, to “focus on his new business and philanthropic endeavors,” according to a company press release.

Kalanick, who was forced out as Uber CEO and eventually replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi, has been in the process of selling off his considerable ownership stake in the company. In fact, it looks like Kalanick has now sold all his remaining stock.

2. Plenty of Fish app was leaking users’ hidden names and postal codes

Dating app Plenty of Fish has pushed out a fix for its app after a security researcher found it was leaking information that users had set to “private” on their profiles. Before the fix, the app was silently returning users’ first names and postal ZIP codes, according to The App Analyst.

3. As DraftKings finds an exit, a reminder of what could have been

DraftKings, a betting service focused on fantasy sports, will go public via a reverse merger. Not too long ago DraftKings and its erstwhile rival FanDuel were ubiquitous on television; now the two companies are fractions of what they once were. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

4. Gift Guide: 13 last-minute subscription gifts for the people you totally didn’t forget

It’s too late to order things online, and brick-and-mortar stores are either closed for the week or absolutely slammed. So what can you do? Subscriptions!

5. Fyre Festival meets Mr. Bone Saw

Connie Loizos looks at the controversy around the three-day-long MDL Beast Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The event, promoted by a number of celebrities and social media influencers, aimed to promote the efforts of its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS).

6. A false start for foldables in 2019

A year from now, the Samsung Galaxy Fold’s turbulent takeoff may well be a footnote in the largest story of foldables. For now, however, it’s an important caveat that will come up in every conversation about the nascent product category. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Micro-angelo? This 3D-printed ‘David’ is just one millimeter tall

3D printing has proven itself useful in so many industries that it’s no longer necessary to show off, but some people just can’t help themselves. Case in point: this millimeter-tall rendition of Michelangelo’s famous “David” printed with copper using a newly developed technique.