Millions of Venmo transactions scraped in warning over privacy settings

A computer science student has scraped seven million Venmo transactions to prove that users’ public activity can still be easily obtained, a year after a privacy researcher downloaded hundreds of millions of Venmo transactions in a similar feat.

Dan Salmon said he scraped the transactions during a cumulative six months to raise awareness and warn users to set their Venmo payments to private.

The peer-to-peer mobile payments service faced criticism last year after Hang Do Thi Duc, a former Mozilla fellow, downloaded 207 million transactions. The scraping effort was possible because Venmo payments between users are public by default. The scrapable data inspired several new projects — including a bot that tweeted out every time someone bought drugs.

A year on, Salmon showed little has changed and that it’s still easy to download millions of transactions through the company’s developer API without obtaining user permission or needing the app.

Using that data, anyone can look at an entire user’s public transaction history, who they shared money with, when, and in some cases for what reason — including illicit goods and substances.

“There’s truly no reason to have this API open to unauthenticated requests,” he told TechCrunch. “The API only exists to provide like a scrolling feed of public transactions for the home page of the app, but if that’s your goal then you should require a token with each request to verify that the user is logged in.”

He published the scraped data on his GitHub page.

Venmo has done little to curb the privacy issue for its 40 million users since the scraping effort blew up a year ago. Venmo reacted by changing its privacy guide and, and later updated its app to remove a warning when users went to change their default privacy settings from … Read the rest

Amazon Spark, the retailer’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, has shut down

Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.

Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FoundItOnAmazon.

Amazon Spark had been a fairly bland service, if truth be told. Unlike on Instagram, where people follow their friend, interests, brands like they like, and people they find engaging or inspiring, Spark was focused on the shopping and the sale. While it tried to mock the Instagram aesthetic at times with fashion inspiration images or highly posed travel photos, it lacked Instagram’s broader appeal. Your friends weren’t there and there weren’t any Instagram Stories, for example. Everything felt too transactional.

Amazon declined to comment on the apparent shutdown of Spark, but the service is gone from the website and app.

The URL amazon.com/spark, meanwhile, redirects to the new #FoundItOnAmazon site — a site which also greatly resembles another Amazon product discovery tool, Interesting Finds.

Interesting Finds has been around since 2016, offering consumers a way to browse an almost Pinterest-like board of products across a number of categories. It features curated “shops” focused on niche themes, like a “Daily Carry” shop for toteable items, a “Mid Century” shop filled with furniture and décor, a shop for “Star Wars” fans, one for someone who loves the color pink, and so on. Interesting Finds later added a layer of personalization with the introduction of a My Mix shop filled with recommendations tailored to your interactions and likes.

The Interesting Finds site … Read the rest

Walmart Grocery is now offering a $98 per year ‘Delivery Unlimited’ subscription

Walmart is taking aim at Instacart, Target’s Shipt and Amazon Prime Now/Whole Foods with a new grocery delivery subscription service called simply, “Delivery Unlimited.” Before, Walmart shoppers could order groceries online and pick them up at their local store for free or they could opt to pay the $9.95 (or sometimes less) per-order delivery fee. Delivery Unlimited is a third option that offers consumers a way to skip the per-order fee in favor of a monthly or annual subscription.

Currently, the retailer is offering a $12.95 per month plan or a $98 per year subscription, both of which include a 15-day trial period (see below).

Everything else about the service is the same.

You’ll still shop online or in the Walmart Grocery app, build a basket and pick a time slot for your order. There aren’t any restrictions on delivery times, either. It’s just another way to pay for your online orders — and one that could potentially save you money if you order groceries online from Walmart more than once per month.

At $98 per year, Walmart’s Delivery Unlimited service is competitively priced.

Shipt today charges $99 annually, and Target just this week announced a way for Shipt shoppers to pay a per-order fee of $9.99 for the first time, with a Shipt integration on Target.com. Instacart, meanwhile, cut its annual fee to $99 in November. Prime Now is the most expensive option at $119 per year. But of course, it includes more than just grocery delivery — Prime is a comprehensive benefits program that includes fast shipping from Amazon.com, access to streaming services, free e-books and more.

It’s unclear how broadly available Delivery Unlimited is today. The FAQ on Walmart’s website only vaguely answers a question about availability, saying that “there’s a good chance Delivery Unlimited Read the rest

Days after pledging to expand internet, Ethiopia’s government shuts it off

Days after Ethiopian ICT officials made public pledges to improve net access, the government began playing on-again, off-again with the internet — shutting it down (almost completely) to coincide with the country’s national exams.

Data provided to TechCrunch from Oracle’s Internet Intelligence confirmed intermittent net blackouts from June 11 to 14, with connectivity returning for brief periods during that time-span.

Sources on the ground, including in the country’s tech community, confirmed to TechCrunch internet stoppage over the period.

Mobile and IP connectivity in Ethiopia is managed by state-owned Ethio Telecom, though the government — led by newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle-Work Zewde — has committed to break up the telecom and privatize it.

On the reason for the outage, the government of Ethiopia has not issued a statement and a government official in charge of ICT policy did not respond to a TechCrunch inquiry.

Press reports, and a source speaking to TechCrunch on background, said Ethiopia’s internet stoppage was done to stop students from cheating on national exams, which took place this week.

Earlier this week I attended Ethiopia’s ICT Expo and first Startup Ethiopia event, moderating and sitting on panels with Ethiopian government representatives to discuss the country’s startup community and internet landscape. Several officials, such as State Minister of Innovation and Technology Jemal Beker, named specific commitments to improve the country’s internet quality, access and choice within the next year.

Ethiopia took policy steps in that direction, announcing steps this week to issue individual telco licences by the end of 2019.

The East African nation of 100 million with the continent’s seventh largest economy is bidding to become Africa’s next startup hub.

Ethiopia has a budding tech scene, but lags the continent’s tech standouts — like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa — … Read the rest

Google’s Game Builder turns building multiplayer games into a game

Google’s Area 120 team, the company’s in-house incubator for some of its more experimental projects, today launched Game Builder, a free and easy to use tool for PC and macOS users who want to build their own 3D games without having to know how to code. Game Builder is currently only available through Valve’s Steam platform, so you’ll need an account there to try it.

After a quick download, Game Builder asks you about what screen size you want to work on and then drops you right into the experience after you tell it whether you want to start a new project, work on an existing project or try out some sample projects. These sample projects include a first-person shooter, a platformer and a demo of the tool’s card system for programming more complex interactions.

The menu system and building experience take some getting used to and isn’t immediately intuitive, but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it. By default, the overall design aesthetic clearly draws some inspiration from Minecraft, but you’re pretty free in what kind of game you want to create. It does not strike me as a tool for getting smaller children into game programming since we’re talking about a relatively text-heavy and complex experience.

To build more complex interactions, you use Game Builder’s card-based visual programming system. That’s pretty straightforward, too, but also takes some getting used to. Google says building a 3D level is like playing a game. There’s some truth in that, in that you are building inside the game environment, but it’s not necessarily an easy game either.

One cool feature here is that you can also build multiplayer games and even create games in real time with your friends.

Traditionally, drag-and-drop game builders feel pretty limited. The Area 120 … Read the rest