“The tech industry is, frankly, being greedy. They are going back and asking for changes to language they helped write and blatantly trying to roll back requirements that give high-skilled American workers a fair shot at getting a job,” said AFL-CIO legislative Representative Andrea Zuniga DiBitetto about new proposals to ease the hiring of high-skilled foreign workers.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reportedly called Senator Orin Hatch to push more tech-friendly changes to the comprehensive immigration reform bill. Among Hatch’s most contentious suggestions is an end to a 90-day wait period before companies can solicit applicants with a foreign work visa. According to Reuters, under Hatch’s amendment, employers would only have to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans.
While, conceptually, comprehensive immigration reform has strong bi-partisan support, its passage is far from certain. Reuters could not report whether unions would support the bill, should Hatch’s changes go through.
Many unions have been long-time opponents of high-skilled immigration reform. Most recently, the union-backed Economic Policy Institute published (and criticized) a study on why the need for high-skilled immigrants was a myth.
Should the unions lose this latest battle in the Senate, it will demonstrate their decline relative to the tech industry.
In the interest of protecting children, a new iOS application called AppCertain has debuted a monitoring application aimed at parents. The app, whose goal is to alert parents about the nature of the applications their kids are downloading, involves the use of a “configuration profile” – special software Apple originally intended for enterprise use, not consumer-facing apps sold through its App Store marketplace.
But Apple reviewed the application – for longer than most, founder and CEO Spencer Whitman tells us – and subsequently approved it. For how long that will remain the case is, however, unknown.
“We think we are on a gray line with respect to Apple, but we don’t really know,” Whitman admits.
Configuration profiles, for those unfamiliar, were designed for the enterprise environment, allowing I.T. departments to manage the iPhones and iPads used by a company’s employees. They’re typically employed by Mobile Device Management solutions, for example, which use the software to configure, track and/or restrict a number of system-level settings like Wi-Fi, VPNs, app settings, permissions, and more.
But more recently, a handful of startups have started using these same profiles to work around Apple’s App Store’s restrictions in order to accomplish tasks which wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Apple is aware this is happening, and seems to be handling each app submission on a one-off basis for now.
We’ve seen mobile data compression utilities like Onavo and Snappli take advantage of the technology to intercept, re-route, and compress web data in order to save users’ bandwidth, for instance. Social search engine Wajam also uses a configuration profile to inject its own search results into Safari, though this is done outside of the Apple App Store.
Onavo is still live on the Apple App Store today, though Snappli has since disappeared. (We reached out to the company for details, but have yet to hear back. It’s possible that Apple simply didn’t care for the fact that Snappli had publicly shared data showing how iOS users were dumping the then newly-launched Apple Maps application.)
But frankly, it seems odd that Apple would knowingly ever let these types of applications into its consumer-facing app store in the first place, given the security risks they could pose. If used unscrupulously, a malicious configuration profile could remote control a user’s device, manipulate user activity, and hijack their sessions, or so explained security researchers at Skycure back in March.
AppCertain isn’t a malicious developer, though, and its intentions are not to control or restrict how an Apple device is used, which would then be stepping on top of Apple’s own, built-in Parental Control features. Instead, it only monitors app downloads and reports back to parents via email that an app was downloaded, explaining what the app does, as well as what sorts of permissions it requests, and more.
The idea is to alert parents about the apps their child uses, including whether or not they have educational value. It doesn’t prevent the child from actually downloading or installing apps.
Whitman explained at the time that the company wanted to help busy parents, who often have a hard time keeping up with what their children are installing and using. It’s not only a problem that affects tech novices, he had said. Even savvy parents often forget or get too busy to keep a close eye on their children’s devices. And these devices, little mini-computers that they are, are not without risks.
Parental Controls Outside Of Apple’s Control
While AppCertain is trying to go the official, Apple-approved route with its creation, another company, a small German app consultancy called Mocava, is not. Its new Parental Control application is an over-the-air install only, knowing that Apple would never approve it for App Store download.
Mocava owner Vinh Phuc Dinh says that he created the app to address a situation he found himself in all the time. “I have many nephews, and would pass on my device for them to play,” he tells us. “Unfortunately, there is no easy way to restrict access on the iPhone and save the desired preferences. So we built it ourselves.”
What he means is that though Apple offers parental control features, it’s not the right solution for those who only need controls on occasion. With his Parental Control App, you can quickly turn on restrictions without having to reconfigure them from scratch them each time you hand your phone or iPad to a child. Even if Apple’s restrictions are turned off, the tool will remember your settings.
You can restrict certain default apps from being accessed or certain content from being viewed. You can disable in-app purchases, or specify that an App Store password is always required, and more. To get started, you configure your settings on the web, then download the profile the company provides.
The mere fact that this app and AppCertain even exist speaks to one of the problems with Apple’s strict control over its OS. Unlike on Android where apps like KIDO’Z, Kytephone, Play Safe, Kid Mode and others allow parents more granular control and insight, Apple’s settings are cumbersome. If you turn on age restrictions, for example, the child can’t watch Netflix. You can disable the web browser, but not whitelist websites, and so on.
These devices are computers, and while parents may disagree on what level of involvement is necessary, it’s fair to say that as with “real” computers, children – especially young children – shouldn’t be given free rein with no parental oversight. Too many parents think of iPads as toys, blindly typing in passwords every time their kid begs for a new app. They perhaps put too much trust in Apple’s “family friendly” policies – just because apps are rated and ranked, pornography or gore-free, that doesn’t make everything appropriate for a every child.
It will be interesting to see how far Apple allows these companies to push into this new territory, before it decides to crack down or otherwise change its policies.
AppCertain is available for download here on iPhone and iPad.
Google users are experiencing problems with accessing their Google Docs files on Google Drive as of around 2:45 PM EST on Friday. It’s currently unclear how widespread the issue is, though TNW staff can’t access documents on multiple accounts, both personal and via Google Apps.
It appears that the actual documents are still available if you access them from mobile or via direct link. The problem appears to be on the main Drive homepage: the documents are simply not being listed.
Here’s what we’re seeing:
As you can see, there’s an error at the top that simply says “The server encountered an error. Please try again later.” followed by a “Dismiss” link. Clicking it doesn’t do much as the message simply comes back when you reload the page.
There are no additional details given, which is rather frustrating as users aren’t sure where to go to find out more. Google thus has two problems on its hands here: a broken Drive service and a rather useless error message.
At about 3:00 PM EST, Google updated its Apps Status page to confirm the problem. No further details are given beyond the fact that Drive is experiencing a “partial service disruption”:
We have contacted Google about the issue. We will update this article if we hear back.
Update at 3:15 PM EST: The problem has been resolved.
Hat tip: Gabe Rivera
Top Image credit: Pawel Kryj
Continue reading here: Brief Google Drive server errors that made Google Docs inaccessible have been fixed
Today is just jam-packed full of acquisition-shutdowns. Just hours ago, word broke that Yahoo! had acquired both MileWise and GoPollGo, with plans to discontinue both. Next up on the happy-now-sad-users-later train: Clipboard, the bookmarklet-based web clipping service we covered previously here.
According to a notice e-mailed to its users, Clipboard has been acquired by Salesforce and will be shutdown in a bit over a month.
[Disclosure: Clipboard was backed by CrunchFund, the venture capital firm headed by TC founder Michael Arrington. While Mike — nor anyone else involved with CrunchFund — has ever even mentioned Clipboard to me in passing, we try to be transparent about these things.]
While terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, we’re hearing that the final figure was in the “double digit millions” — UPDATE: We’re now hearing from a very, very solid source that the purchase price was $12 Million. Leading up to today, the company had raised $2.5M from Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, CrunchFund, SV Angel, Betaworks, DFJ, First Round and others.
Wondering what the heck Clipboard is — or, soon, was? Not unlike Pinterest, Snip.it, or the myriad other web clipping services that popped up around 2010/2011, Clipboard let you highlight things from around the web and “clip” them into a digital storage locker for later perusal. Once in their backend, clipped content could be annotated, shared, or just browsed at a later date. Given the similarities to existing services like Pinterest and Evernote, both with huge traction themselves, Clipboard had yet to find a substantially sized audience for its service.
Prior to the acquisition, the company had grown to around 100,000 users, and was seeing growth rates of 40 percent month-over-month. In January, it reported having reached 1.7 million+ clips since it had opened its private beta, back in October 2011.
The company had some interest in the education space, however. At the beginning of the year, it received a strategic investment from ed-tech company Scientia. But following the Salesforce buyout, the product itself will be shut down and discontinued on June 30th, 2013, so those earlier plans to further develop the product for use in the education space will be discontinued as well.
While the notice itself makes no mention of what’s next for the team, an acquisition FAQ on their site lays it all out: Clipboard founder and CEO Gary Flake will be joining Salesforce as VP of Engineering, and much of the service’s design and engineering team will still be working under his guidance out of Salesforce’s Seattle office.
Clipboard is giving users until the end of June to say goodbye to the service and get their data out through a provided export tool. Come June 30th, that data heads for a server farm in the sky (read: it’s getting destroyed).
The full text of the e-mail:
We have some bittersweet news. We are extremely happy to announce that salesforce.com has signed an agreement to acquire Clipboard, allowing us to pursue our mission of saving and sharing the Web on a much larger scale. But at the same time we’re also sad to see this stage of our adventure come to an end, especially since it means that our relationship with you, our users, will irreversibly change. The Clipboard service at clipboard.com will be discontinued on June 30, 2013.
But we have your backs. If you want it, all of your data will be preserved into a personal archive from which you can view your clips and boards offline. And if you want your clips destroyed, we can handle that as well. All of the details for what comes next are in the FAQ and some more personal reflections are on our blog.
In nearly two years, 140,000 of you created nearly 3 million clips while over a million of you interacted with them. Thank you for joining us on this journey. We will dearly miss seeing all of you on Clipboard, but we hope you’ll support us in the next leg of our journey.
The Clipboard Team
If you’ve flirted with vegetarianism like I have, then you’re probably aware of a range of meat substitutes, all of which pale in comparison to the real thing. But now Beyond Meat CEO and founder Ethan Brown says that mock meat is about 80 percent of the way to being able to sub in for the real thing without anyone being the wiser, in terms of taste, texture and appearance.
Brown made that claim on stage today at the WIRED Business Conference, where he was discussing the role of proteins in our diet in general and how Silicon Valley investment-backed startups like his own are trying to shake up perhaps one of the oldest and most entrenched industries: the meat market.
Beyond Meat grabbed headlines as an unlikely target for investment by Obvious Corp., the investment vehicle/incubator/idea factory co-founded by Biz Stone and Evan Williams of Twitter fame. In a blog post from August, Stone outlined exactly why Obvious felt that Beyond Meat was a prime investment target, and how it aligned with the Obvious vision.
Beyond Meat will become the market leader in the development and introduction of new plant protein products. Together, we are focused on perfectly replacing animal protein with plant protein where doing so creates nutritional value at lower cost. Aside from the fact that the products are healthy, sustainable, kind, and delicious, we are involved because with one company, we have an impact on climate change, resource scarcity, human health, animal welfare, and more. With this company, we can move into new territory while staying true to Obvious’ mission.
The Obvious goal is to “build systems that help people work together to make the world a better place,” and Beyond Meat definitely fits within that broad aim. On stage, Brown talked about the time saved in raising non-meat protein versus that which comes from animal sources, which is a comparison of minutes for his company’s products to days for even the fastest-grown animal protein, which doesn’t even begin to get into ethical concerns.
For Brown, a big part of winning the war with the consumer over meat alternatives is convincing them to try it to begin with, and that starts with giving them a recognizable product. Already, he says people find it challenging to identify Beyond Meat’s own chicken substitute as something other than chicken, except when it’s placed side-by-side with the real thing. But the key to wide adoption, and winning over a much bigger percentage of the roughly $177 billion annual animal protein market that exists today, will be achieving full verisimilitude. And part of that means getting equal billing with the red and bloody stuff.
“The meat counter for me is about an unlevelled playing field,” Brown explained on stage at the Wired event today. “They should be selling protein, not meat and meat alternatives. So when you go back to that section in the store it should be about protein, because often when you go back and are looking for a meat alternative, those products are off in a penalty box in the corner.”
Many vegetarians claim not to want meat substitutes that look, feel and taste like the real thing, but there’s an even larger market of people who are trying to limit their meat intake for health purposes but don’t want to leave the satisfaction of biting into a chicken breast or flank steak behind. That’s what has helped Beyond Meat’s business grow at a rate of 60 percent this past quarter, and 30 percent in the last month alone, according to Brown.
Solving the meat eater’s dilemma is a tech problem, and so it makes sense that investors like Obvious Corp., Vinod Khosla, and many others are interested in the space. But will we ever really get to a singularity point where we can’t tell our turkey from our Tofurky? Or will we all fall down in the uncanny valley just short of finding a perfect copy? Either way, it’s bound to be an exciting space to watch.