Blockchain gaming gets a boost with Mythical Games’ $16M Series A

Fortnite, the free multi-player survival game, has earned an astonishing $1 billion from in-game virtual purchases alone. Now, others in the gaming industry are experimenting with how they too can capitalize on new trends in gaming.

Mythical Games, a startup out of stealth today with $16 million in Series A funding, is embracing a future in gaming where user-generated content and intimate ties between players, content creators, brands and developers is the norm. Mythical is using its infusion of venture capital to develop a line of PC, mobile and console games on the EOSIO blockchain, which will also be open to developers to build games with “player-owned economies.”

The company says an announcement regarding its initial lineup of games is on the way.

Mythical is led by a group of gaming industry veterans. Its chief executive officer is John Linden, a former studio head at Activision and president of the Niantic-acquired Seismic Games. The rest of its C-suite includes chief compliance officer Jamie Jackson, another former studio head at Activision; chief product officer Stephan Cunningham, a former director of product management at Yahoo; and head of blockchain Rudy Kock, a former senior producer at Blizzard — the Activision subsidiary known for World of Warcraft. Together, the team has worked on games including Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Marvel Strike Force and Skylanders.

Galaxy Digital’s EOS VC Fund has led the round for Mythical. The $325 million fund, launched earlier this year, is focused on expanding the EOSIO ecosystem via strategic investments in startups building on EOSIO blockchain software. Javelin Venture Partners, Divergence Digital Currency, cryptocurrency exchange OKCoin and others also participated in the round.

It’s no surprise investors are getting excited about the booming gaming business given the success of Epic Games, Twitch, Discord and others in the space.

Epic Games raised a $1.25 billion round late last month thanks to the cultural phenomenon that its game, Fortnite, has become. KKR, Iconiq Capital, Smash Ventures,Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Lightspeed Venture Partners and others participated in that round. Discord, a chat application for gamers, raised a $50 million financing in April at a $1.65 billion valuation from Benchmark Capital, Greylock Partners, IVP, Spark Capital and Tencent. And Dapper Labs, best known for the blockchain-based game CryptoKitties, even raised a VC round this year — a $15 million financing led by Venrock, with participation from GV and Samsung NEXT.

In total, VCs have invested $1.8 billion in gaming startups this year, per PitchBook.

Walmart passes Apple to become No. 3 online retailer in U.S.

Walmart has overtaken Apple to become the No. 3 online retailer in the U.S., according to a report this week from eMarketer. While Amazon still leads by a wide margin, accounting for 48 percent of e-commerce sales in 2018, Walmart – including also Sam’s Club and Jet.com – is poised to capture 4 percent of all online retail spending in the U.S. by year-end, totaling $20.91 billion.

The news of the shift in e-commerce rankings comes alongside Walmart’s strong earnings which saw the retailer reporting a 43 percent increase in online sales and upping its year-end forecast for both earnings and sales.

The company had beat Wall St.’s expectations in its fiscal third quarter, with $1.08 earnings per share instead of the expected $1.01. However, it fell short on revenue with $124.89 billion versus the $125.55 billion expected, due to currency complications, it said.

eMarketer had estimated in July that Walmart would capture a 3.7 percent e-commerce share in the U.S. this year, but increased that to 4 percent based on its quickly growing online sales.

This year, Walmart’s online sales will grow by 39.4 percent – just slightly behind the growth rate for online furniture and home goods retailer Wayfair, which is expected to see sales grow by 40.1 percent, the firm also noted.

Apple, meanwhile, will grow just over 18 percent in 2018 – a slowdown related to slowing domestic sales for smartphones and other devices. Its portion of the e-commerce market is relatively unchanged from 2017 to 2018, going from 3.8 percent to 3.9 percent.

Walmart, by comparison, is increasing its share from 3.3 percent to 4.0 percent.

But both are behind eBay, now at 7.2 percent. And they’re both vastly outranked by Amazon, which will account for a whopping 48 percent of the U.S. e-commerce market in 2018, up from 43.1 percent last year.

Amazon will take in more than $252.10 billion domestically this year, eMarketer said.

“Walmart’s e-commerce business has been firing on all cylinders lately,” said eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman, said in a statement. “The retail giant continues to make smart acquisitions to extend its e-commerce portfolio and attract younger and more affluent shoppers. But more than anything, Walmart has caught its stride with a fast-growing online grocery business, which is helped in large part by the massive consumer adoption of click-and-collect.”

The Boring Company goes brick-and-mortar with The Brick Store

Elon Musk has shot out some crazy, unbelievable tweets over the last year, but he wasn’t joking about the bricks. Musk has started a company called The Brick Store LLC to produce and sell bricks, according to public documents obtained by TechCrunch.

The new company, which was founded in July, will be managed by Steve Davis, the ex-SpaceX engineer who is also running The Boring Company (TBC).

TBC is developing new tunneling and transportation technologies, and the bricks will be made from soil displaced by the company’s tunnel-boring machines. Elon Musk has tweeted that the bricks could cost as little as 10 cents each, and might even be given away to affordable housing projects.

The Brick Store’s first physical outlet will be a far cry from Tesla’s sleek, designer showrooms. Planning documents submitted to Hawthorne, a city in southwestern Los Angeles County, show a rundown stucco building about a mile from TBC and SpaceX’s headquarters. Forbidding black steel security grilles “will be utilized … to accent the entrances and windows,” TBC wrote in its application to repaint the building.

Despite these design flourishes, TBC did not select the building for its aesthetic appeal. The building — formerly housing a kitchen cabinet business — is located above an exit tunnel that TBC is digging to extract the boring machine from its first test tunnel. This is intended to showcase Loop, a proposed underground transportation system carrying people or cars on self-contained electric skates traveling at up to 150 miles per hour.

The tunnel was originally planned to stretch around two miles under public roads from a parking structure next to SpaceX. However, in April this year, TBC used a subsidiary to quietly buy the Hawthorne corner lot, which sits about halfway along the planned route, for $2 million.

In July, TBC asked Hawthorne for permission to use that lot to build an access shaft to extract its tunnel-boring machine, which, because it cannot move backwards, would otherwise have been abandoned at the end of the excavation.

The same month, Musk founded The Brick Store, whose purpose, according to state filings, is the “manufacture and sale of bricks.” TBC has already produced some structures from bricks made from tunnel spoil, and Musk tweeted yesterday that they would be used to build a watchtower at the entrance to the tunnel.

The Boring Company is building a watchtower in LA out of dirt bricks & we need a knight to yell insults at people in a French accent https://t.co/VChOVXXVaz

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 15, 2018

Turning tunnel waste into a valuable commodity fits in with Musk’s environmental leanings — and will save TBC from the cost of disposing all that dirt. TBC has even suggested that the bricks could potentially be used as part of the tunnel lining itself. Musk has previously said that the tunnel would officially open on December 10.

TBC did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

Bricks made from everyday soil, usually called compressed earth blocks (CEB), date back to ancient times. CEBs are still used in developing countries today, and are part of building codes in California and New Mexico. But even there, the market for them is tiny — possibly because CEB buildings can be awkward to build, wire and insulate. BC has even suggested that the bricks could potentially be used as part of the tunnel lining itself.

Dwell Earth sells machines that produce CEBs by applying pressure to a mixture of earth and a little cement.

“Elon seems to have a way of bringing energy and talent to big challenges, and we are happy to see that he may be as excited about [CEBs] as we are,” Dwell Earths founder Bob de Jong told TechCrunch.

The Boring Company

TBC received around $112 million from Musk earlier this year. These funds will be used to build a number of tunnels around the country, including a Loop to connect Dodger Stadium to the subway in L.A., one that would link Chicago and O’Hare airport, as well as an ambitious commuter Loop between Washington, D.C. and Maryland.

These projects could be thwarted, or at least delayed, because of an increasingly heated trade war between the U.S. and China.

TBC lawyers wrote to the United States Trade Representative in July that the tariffs imposed by President Trump on Chinese-tunneling machine parts, among other products, would delay its projects by up to two years and mean lost job opportunities. The company asked for an exemption from the tariffs that has not yet been granted.

If there’s anyone who can re-brand dirt and build a market for CEBs, it’s Elon Musk. But even if The Brick Store’s bricks don’t raise enough money for a Mars mission or save the planet, at least they are a little more practical than a novelty “not a flamethrower.”

Unicorns aren’t special anymore

When Aileen Lee, the former Kleiner Perkins partner and founder of the seed-stage venture capital firm Cowboy Ventures, coined the term “unicorn” in 2013 on this very site, there were just 39 companies that had earned the title.

She called them “the lucky/genius few.” Her definition: U.S. software startups launched since 2003 worth more than $1 billion. When she authored the viral post, just four companies were garnering valuations that high each year, according to her calculations. Five years later, the rate at which startups are becoming unicorns has increased 353.1 percent, according to PitchBook’s latest research.

Today, there are 145 “active unicorns” in the U.S. alone, worth an aggregate valuation of $555.9 billion.

Why? A couple of reasons. Namely, because companies are staying private longer and longer, allowing the unicorn count to continue to swell with very few companies transitioning out and into another club — the public markets club. Plus, there is so much capital available in the market, $80.1 billion, to be exact, that late-stage companies are opting for “mini-IPOs” sponsored by SoftBank instead of airing their dirty laundry in an S-1 filing.

There are no signs pointing to a slowdown in new unicorns. The latest data shows that it only took the average U.S. unicorn six years to achieve such status, versus 7.5 years only three years ago. I can think of several examples of companies that did it much faster than that: Brex, Lime and Bird are some recent companies to be worth $1 billion or more in record time.

Valuation step-ups are meatier than ever, too. The median late-stage valuation has increased by 50.7 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, early-stage and seed-stage median valuations have jumped roughly 28 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Not to mention venture capital investment in 2018 is expected to reach highs not seen since the dot-com boom.

At the end of the day, a startup’s valuation, regardless of how large it is or how quickly it reached the billion-dollar milestone, shouldn’t matter. But these are metrics in which others in the startup ecosystem measure success and they determine the worth of a company — or at least the amount an investor is willing to pay for a piece. 

As much as I’d like to do away with the term, even the concept entirely, the proliferation of billion-dollar companies isn’t something I can ignore.

Feeling left out of a hot market? This new outfit has a fund with shares of 30 top ‘unicorns’ to sell you

When Equidate, a venture-backed secondaries marketplace based in San Francisco, closed its most recent round of funding with $50 million four months ago, it was hardly a surprising bet on the part of its backers. As startups linger ever longer as private companies, more people are looking to lock up shares wherever they can find them.

Investors have plenty of platforms from which to choose. In addition to Equidate, other companies that match investors with “pre-IPO” company shares include EquityZen, SharesPost and Seedrs. Still, individual investors have mostly been relegated to choosing this or that company on a piecemeal basis as shares have become available. Among few exceptions to this rule include investors in venture funds like 137 Ventures, whose express aim is creating a portfolio of secondary shares that have been acquired from earlier investors, founders, and employees, or in Industry Ventures, which has been buying up later-stage secondary shares since its founding in 2000. (Investing in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which is piecing together a portfolio of unicorn companies, might be another option for people with enough access, though it comes with certain strings attached.)

No wonder Equidate thinks there’s a better way. And with the financial wind at its back, it just began testing out its theory. How? By spinning off a new asset management business whose sole purpose is to acquire shares in the “top” companies that are currently valued at more than a billion dollars but that still trade privately.

It isn’t going to buy five or 20 or 100 stakes. Instead, the portfolio will maintain positions in exactly 30 companies, and these will be adjusted on a quarterly basis, led by the person leading this new spin-off: Ziad Makkawi, a longtime investment advisor who recently spent two years as CEO of Qatar First Bank.

As Equidate founder and president Sohail Prasad sees it, his company is already spending time learning an awful lot about Palantir and Stripe and WeWork and Pinterest. It tracks bid and ask activity, along with how pricing and valuations are reflected by both new transactions and time decay. To underscore how much data is coursing through Equidate, he says that company now sees $1 billion in transaction volume on its platform annually.

After a point, he and the rest of Equidate’s management concluded that it made sense to create an index to track the health of these companies in a way that makes it easier to understand their performance relative to their peers (it rolled this out yesterday). It also decided to create a product around the index. Enter its new fund and accompanying asset management firm.

“We’re excited,” says Prasad. “This is going to let people buy for the first time a basket of all of these companies, which are vetted and that are already in their growth stages and in, really, in previous years, would have been public already.”

It’s easy to see other investors getting excited about a kind of exchange-traded fund filled with unicorns, too. But first things first. The new fund is still being raised, sounds like. It’s looking to close with between $50 million and $100 million in capital. It’s also worth noting that although SEC Chairman Jay Clayton has said he’d like the agency to allow more retail investors a shot at companies that have been out of their reach, Equidate’s new spin-off, Equiam, will still only accept checks from accredited investors, and they need to invest at least $250,000.

There’s also the prickly question of whether the companies that investors want most are accessible to Equiam. Unsurprisingly, Prasad, argues that it’s not an issue. “Because we’ll be a larger fund, we’ll be able to buy blocks of preferred stock where traditionally a person might not have access. We do have access at this scale.”

Well, if it’s able to raise its fund, maybe.

As for what Equiam is charging in management fees, the fund is “incredibly low cost,” says Prasad. Investors will have to decide whether they agree, but those who write the fund a $1 million or bigger check will pay a 1.5 percent management fee. Investors who come in at between $250,000 and $1 million will pay a 2.5 percent management fee.

If you’re curious, you can learn more by checking out Equiam’s site here.

Tidal arrives on the Amazon Echo

One key thing the HomePod has on the competition: streaming service synergy. It’s an important advantage at the heart of the premium smart speaker. While both Amazon and Google have their own streaming options, they pale in comparison to the top services, so third-parties are really the way to go.

Amazon’s just added another key offering to its arsenal. Tidal, the music streaming service that Jay-Z built, is now available on Echo devices courtesy of Amazon’s recently introduced Music Skill API. The move is likely to be more of a boon for Tidal than Amazon, of course, but the more options the better, naturally.

The service has been making an aggressive push to make its way to more devices, including the recent addition of a Samsung Wearable app. Tidal is clearly looking toward strategic outreach on Apple’s chief competition. The enemy of my enemy is my hardware partner and all of that good stuff.

The new skill makes it possible to set Tidal as your default Echo streaming service, so long as you’ve got a premium account.

Tinder tests ‘Swipe Surge’ in US to connect users during peak times

Tinder today announced the test of a new in-app experience it’s calling “Swipe Surge,” that will send notifications to users when there’s a spike in Tinder usage in their area. The feature is designed to allow Tinder to better capitalize on real-world events that drive increased usage – like music festivals, parties, or spring break holidays, for example.

The company says that it tested out sending push notifications to alert users about surge periods in its app back in 2016, and found that it resulted in users forming 2.5x more matches during a swipe surge.

Users also received nearly 20 percent more right swipes during these events, and they were 2.6x more likely to receive a message, Tinder noted.

Now it’s turning these push notifications into a real product with Swipe Surge.

In addition to the alerts designed to draw Tinder users into the app at the same time, the app will include “Swipe Surge” branding during the event. People who already joined the surge by responding to the push notification will then move to the front of the match queue, and Tinder will show you who’s currently active in the app.

Tinder says that activity during a surge is 15x higher overall, and increases matchmaking potential by 250%.

The company has been working to promote Tinder as a dating app for the younger demographic in recent months, with its marketing campaign focused on the “single lifestyle,” media publication “Swipe Life,” and a test expansion of Tinder U, its college student product.

The Swipe Surge test is underway now in major U.S. markets, says Tinder.

 

Shyft raises $6.5M to help retail and service workers swap shifts

Anyone that has experience in the service or retail industry knows swapping shifts can be a logistical nightmare that leaves employees in trouble with management or stuck working during a friend’s birthday party. As a former Old Navy “sellebrity” myself, I can confirm there’s a huge need for an efficient tool to solve this problem.

That’s where Shyft, a Seattle-based startup that helps connect shift workers, comes in. Using Shyft, employees can message each other, pick up each other’s shifts and ultimately earn more money by picking up available slots that might have otherwise gone unstaffed.

The startup has raised a fresh round of funding — a $6.5 million Series A co-led by Ignition Partners and Madrona Venture Group — to continue developing its workforce management tool. As part of the financing, Ignition managing partner Bob Kelly and Madrona managing director S. Somasegar will join its board of directors.

Shyft co-founder and chief executive officer Brett Patrontasch got the idea for the web and mobile app for workers from his last company, called Scholars at your Service, which employed 250 students-turned house painters. The students had no way of messaging or communicating with one another aside from their personal phone lines.

“It kind of seemed obvious that enterprise social should extend to shift workers,” Patrontasch told TechCrunch. “We are trying to bring a really consumer-friendly mobile experience to the front lines. [Employees] need products that solve their problems and we are really dedicated to helping that worker.”

So far, Shyft has partnered with Gap Inc. to provide the service to workers at its fleet of retail stores, which include Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta. Patrontasch says Shyft works with a “handful” of other national retailers, too.

Shyft, a Techstars accelerator graduate, has previously raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Madrona, Flying Fish Partners’ co-founder Heather Redman, former Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Russell Okung and former Major League Baseball player Edgar Martinez.

Amazon launches ‘Alexa-hosted skills’ for voice app developers

Amazon on Thursday launched a new service aimed at Alexa developers that automatically provisions and helps them to manage a set of AWS cloud resources for their Alexa skill’s backend service. The service is intended to help developers speed the time it takes to launch their skills, by allowing them to focus on their skills’ design and unique features, and not the cloud services they need.

“Previously you had to provision and manage this back-end on your own with a cloud endpoint, resources for media storage, and a code repository,” explained Amazon on its company blog post, announcing the new service. “Alexa-hosted skills offer an easier option. It automatically provisions and hosts an AWS Lambda endpoint, Amazon S3 media storage, and a table for session persistence so that you can get started quickly with your latest project.”

Developers will also be able to use a new code editor in the ASK Developer Console to edit their code, while AWS Lamdba will handle routing the skill request, executing the skill’s code, and managing the skill’s compute resources.

Amazon S3, meanwhile, can be used for things the skill needs to store – like media files, such as the images being used for the skill’s Echo Show, Echo Spot and Fire TV versions.

The service comes at a time when Amazon Alexa and Google Home are in a race to grab market share – and mind share – in the smart speaker industry. A lot of this will come down to how useful these devices are for customers – and well-designed skills are a part of that.

Smart speaker adoption is growing fast in the U.S., having recently reaching 57.8 million adults, according to a report from Voicebot. But in terms of third-party development of voice apps, Amazon leads Google Home, having passed 40,000 U.S. skills in September.

Amazon says Alexa-hosted skills are available to developers in all Alexa locales. Developers can apply to join the preview here.

Walmart and Target embrace in-store mobile checkout for the holidays

Two of the U.S.’s largest brick-and-mortar retailers, Walmart and Target, are launching new mobile checkout systems in their stores to accommodate the influx of shoppers expected during the 2018 holiday season. Walmart says it’s expanding its “Check Out With Me” service to every Supercenter by Black Friday, while Target’s recently launched “Skip the Line” mobile checkout service is available nationwide and will have extra staff throughout the store during the busier shopping days.

Walmart first began testing Check Out With Me in April this year across hundreds of U.S. stores.

The system involves store staff wearing a small carrying case equipped with a Bluetooth receipt printer, and a cellular device that works as both a barcode scanner and credit card swiper for transactions.

Initially, Walmart tested the solution in its Lawn & Garden centers across 350 stores, where there’s more need for a mobile checkout solution.

Instead of customers having to lug heavy items – like bags of mulch and potted plants – to a checkout station, a Walmart team member could instead just scan the item on the shelf, so it can be loaded directly into the customer’s car afterwards.

Now that checkout system will make its way to Walmart’s over 3,000 Supercenters across the U.S. Starting on Black Friday, store associates will be positioned in the busiest areas of the stores, including not only the garden center as before, but also in other high-traffic areas like electronics and “action alley” – the areas featuring special promotions in the aisles.

“Associates will help customers pay and go by simply swiping their credit card and providing them with a paper or electronic receipt for their purchase,” the retailer explained.

The expansion of mobile checkout was one of several holiday plans Walmart announced, including also an expanded assortment of brands, digital maps inside the Walmart app, the updated Walmart.com website, free two-day shipping from marketplace sellers, and more.

Meanwhile, Target is recently said it’s launching mobile checkout in its stores in time for the holidays, as well.

The company had begun testing its “Skip the Line” mobile checkout experience in select stores in February 2018, but has expanded that as of last month to all Target stores nationwide.

Similar to Walmart, Target’s solution includes equipping store staff with special handheld devices they can use to scan merchandise and process payments. From this same device, staff can also help customers place online orders if the store doesn’t carry an item they want.

During peak events – like Thanksgiving, Black Friday and others – team members will be positioned in the busiest areas of the store, including at the front-of-the-store and in the electronics department, the retailer says.

Today, more consumers are turning to e-commerce – and particularly to Amazon – for their holiday shopping needs out of convenience.

Now, those customers are looking for similar conveniences when they shop brick-and-mortar retailers, too. Stores are now catering to customer demand for faster, easier shopping by offering services like ship-to-store for online order pickup, same day order pickup (and driveup), and more.

With mobile checkout, retailers can address one of the remaining challenges of shopping in-store – those long checkout lines – without having to invest in expensive Amazon Go-like technology like camera systems and shelf sensors for a cashier-less experience.

 

A leaky database of SMS text messages exposed password resets and two-factor codes

A security lapse has exposed a massive database containing tens of millions of text messages, including password reset links, two-factor codes, shipping notifications and more.

The exposed server belongs to Voxox (formerly Telcentris), a San Diego, Calif.-based communications company. The server wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone who knew where to look to peek in and snoop on a near-real-time stream of text messages.

For Sébastien Kaul, a Berlin-based security researcher, it didn’t take long to find.

Although Kaul found the exposed server on Shodan, a search engine for publicly available devices and databases, it was also attached to to one of Voxox’s own subdomains. Worse, the database — running on Amazon’s Elasticsearch — was configured with a Kibana front-end, making the data within easily readable, browsable and searchable for names, cell numbers and the contents of the text messages themselves.

An example of one text message containing a user’s phone number and their Microsoft account reset code. (Image: TechCrunch)

Most don’t think about what happens behind the scenes when you get a text message from a company, whether it’s an Amazon shipping notification or a two-factor code for your login. Often, app developers — like HQ Trivia and Viber — will employ technologies provided by firms like Telesign and Nexmo, either to verify a user’s phone number or to send a two-factor authentication code, for example. But it’s firms like Voxox that act as a gateway and converting those codes into text messages, to be passed on to the cell networks for delivery to the user’s phone.

After an inquiry by TechCrunch, Voxox pulled the database offline. At the time of its closure, the database appeared to have a little over 26 million text messages year-to-date. But the sheer volume of messages processed through the platform per minute — as seen through the database’s visual front-end — suggests that this figure may be higher.

Each record was meticulously tagged and detailed, including the recipient’s cell phone number, the message, the Voxox customer who sent the message and the shortcode they used.

Among our findings from a cursory review of the data:

  • We found a password sent in plaintext to a Los Angeles phone number by dating app Badoo;
  • Several Booking.com partners were sent their six-digit two-factor codes to log in to the company’s extranet corporate network;
  • Fidelity Investments also sent six-digit security codes to one Chicago Loop area code;
  • Many messages included two-factor verification codes for Google accounts in Latin America;
  • A Mountain View, Calif.-based credit union, the First Tech Federal Credit Union, also sent a temporary banking password in plaintext to a Nebraska number;
  • We found a shipping notification text sent by Amazon with a link, which opened up Amazon’s delivery tracking page, including the UPS tracking number, en route to its destination in Florida;
  • Messenger apps KakaoTalk and Viber, and quiz app HQ Trivia use the service to verify user phone numbers;
  • We also found messages that contained Microsoft’s account password reset codes and Huawei ID verification codes;
  • Yahoo also used the service to send some account keys by text message;
  • And, several small to mid-size hospitals and medical facilities sent reminders to patients about their upcoming appointments, and in some cases, billing inquiries.

“Yeah, this is very bad,” said Dylan Katz, a security researcher, who reviewed some of the findings.

The exposure to personal information and phone numbers notwithstanding, the ability to access two-factor codes in near-real-time could have put countless number of accounts at risk of hijack. In some cases, websites will only require a phone number to reset an account. With access to the text message through the exposed database, hijacking an account could take seconds.

“My real concern here is the potential that this has already been abused,” said Katz. “This is different from most breaches, due to the fact the data is temporary, so once it’s offline any data stolen isn’t very useful.”

Kevin Hertz, Voxox’s co-founder and chief technology officer, said in an email that the company is “looking into the issue and following standard data breach policy at the moment,” and that the company is “evaluating impact.”

Many companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have rolled out app-based two-factor authentication to thwart SMS-based verification, which has long been seen as vulnerable to interception.

If ever there was an example, this latest exposure would serve well.

E3 slouches towards irrelevance again as Sony announces it’s skipping the show

I like E3 . I really do. But it’s also monumentally dumb: game companies spending millions to show off essentially faked content to an increasingly jaded audience. And it’s increasingly out of step with how the gaming industry works. So it should come as no surprise that Sony will be skipping the show more or less altogether this year, joining Nintendo in taking a step back from spectacle.

Sony has been a part of CES for 20 years and this will be the first one it’s ever missed. I’ve gone to their events every time I’ve attended; I was there for their historic putdown of Microsoft after the latter announced some hugely unpopular restrictions on used games. I think you can actually see me near the front in the broadcast of that one. (You can! I’m at 1:29.)

And E3 has been a part of Sony’s yearly cadence as well. Like other companies, for years Sony hoarded information to debut at E3, TGS and Gamescom, but E3 was generally where you saw new consoles and flagship titles debut. But as even E3’s organizers have admitted over and over again, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Too often we have seen half-finished games onstage at E3 that end up cancelled before the year is out, or commitments made to dates the companies can’t possibly keep. Assigning a complex, creative industry to a yearly schedule of major announcements is a great way to burn them out, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

Variety first noticed Sony’s absence from ESA communications. In a statement issued to multiple outlets, Sony said:

As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community. PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can’t wait to share our plans with you.

They won’t be alone. Nintendo hasn’t had a real proper E3 press conference in years. Instead, they host a live stream around the event and have a big booth where people mainly just play games. Their Nintendo Direct videos come out throughout the year, when the titles and developers are good and ready.

Microsoft is still there, and still puts on quite a show. I remember the original announcement of the Kinect, probably one of the weirdest and dumbest things I’ve ever taken part in. It was memorable, at least.

But Microsoft is also doing its own thing, announcing throughout the year and on its own terms. The Xbox One X was only hinted at during E3, and announced in full much later. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft also announced they were taking it easy this year at E3 — though this might also be a good opportunity for them to double down. With the schedules these huge shows go on, they might already be committed to one course or another.

Sony actually has its own PlayStation Experience event where it announces things and lets gamers and press play the latest, but even that was cancelled ahead of its expected December date. Is Sony just getting shy?

More likely they are leveraging their dominance in the console market to be a market leader and “decider,” as they say. They have no shortage of amazing games coming out, including lots of hot-looking exclusives. What have they got to prove? Although Sony itself is not participating in E3, the developers it backs will almost certainly be there. What better way to school the competition than to not show up and still have everyone talking about you?

With the PS4 Pro out there and a solid line-up already confirmed, Sony is sitting pretty for 2019, and the company probably feels this is a safe time to experiment with “inventive opportunities to engage the community,” as the statement put it. E3 will still be big, and it will still be fun. But the trend is clear: it just won’t be necessary.

Cassette decks from Crosley take aim at tape-hoarding nostalgia-seekers

Crosley, makers of the “good enough” record players you see in Urban Outfitters and Target, have turned their retro novelty eye on the next obvious format: cassettes. These two new decks from the company have all the latest features from 1985, but also a handful of modern conveniences.

Let’s get one thing clear at the outset: these are certainly ridiculous. And yes, you can buy a boom box with a cassette deck right now, new, for $30 or so. But having browsed the stock I can tell you that most of them are pretty ugly. There are vintage ones too, but not all have aged well and may have unfixable issues like corrosion or motor problems.

And believe it or not, tapes are still around. People are manufacturing and recording on them because they’re fun and retro and analog. I’ve bought a few myself at shows in the last year.

So there is actually a market for a new, decent-looking, portable cassette player and radio.

The Crosley devices are pretty straightforward. There are two models; each has a big mono speaker, a single-direction deck (meaning you’ll have to flip the tape), an AM/FM radio and a built-in mic. The $60 CT100 model (top) has shortwave radio bands as well, and the capability to play music from an SD card or USB drive, while the $70 CT200 has treble and bass dials and a VU meter for easier recording of cassette-based podcasts. Both have handles.

Of the two I’d definitely go with the CT100, since presumably you can use the SD/USB player to record mixtapes of stuff you’ve downloaded. Record a little intro with the mic or pretend you’re the DJ between songs, and boom, it’s like you’re me in 1994. Plus you never know when shortwave will come in handy.

It’s silly, but it’s a silly world we live in. Silly and horrible. Maybe bringing back cassettes will help. Keep an eye out for these players wherever fake Ray-Bans plaid scarves are sold.