VLC prepares to add AirPlay support as it crosses 3 billion downloads

VLC, the hugely popular media playing service, is filing one of its gaps with the addition of AirPlay support as its just crossed an incredible three billion users.

The new feature was revealed by Jean-Baptiste Kempf, one of the service’s lead developers, in an interview with Variety at CES and it will give users a chance to beam content from their Android or iOS device to an Apple TV. The addition, which is due in the upcoming version 4 of VLC, is the biggest new feature since the service added Chromecast support last summer.

But that’s not all that the dozen or so people on the VLC development team are working on.

In addition, Variety reports that VLC is preparing to add enable native support for VR content. Instead of SDKs, the team has reversed engineered popular hardware to offer features that will include the option to watch 2D content in a cinema-style environment. There are also plans to bring the service to more platforms, with VentureBeat reporting that the VLC team is eying PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Roku devices.

VLC, which is managed by non-profit parent VideonLAN, racked up its 3 millionth download at CES, where it celebrated with the live ticker pictured above. The service reached one billion downloads back in May 2012, which represents incredible growth for a venture that began life as a project from Ecole Centrale Paris students in 1996.

An unsecured database exposed the personal details of 202M job seekers in China

The personal details belonging to more than 202 million job seekers in China, including information like phone numbers, email addresses, driver licenses and salary expectations, were freely available to anyone who knew where to look for as long as three years due to an insecure database.

That’s according to findings published by security researcher Bob Diachenko who located an open and unprotected MongoDB instance in late December which contained 202,730,434 “very detailed” records. The database was indexed in data search engines Binary Edge and Shodan, and was freely visible without a password or login. It was only made private after Diachenko released information about its existence on Twitter.

Diachenko, who is director of cyber risk research at Hacken, wasn’t able to match the database with a specific service, but he did locate a three-year-old GitHub repository for an app that included “identical structural patterns as those used in the exposed resumes.” Again, ownership is not clear at this point although the records do seem to contain data that was scraped from Chinese classifieds, including the Craigslist-like 58.com.

A 58.com spokesperson denied that the records were its creation. They instead claimed that their service had been the victim of scraping from a third-party.

“We have searched all over the database of us and investigated all the other storage, turned out that the sample data is not leaked from us. It seems that the data is leaked from a third party who scrape[d] data from many CV websites,” a spokesperson told Diachenko.

TechCrunch contacted 58.com but we have not yet received a response.

While the database has now been secured, it was potentially vulnerable for up to three years and there’s already evidence that it had been regularly accessed. Although, again, it isn’t clear who by.

“It’s worth noting that MongoDB log showed at least a dozen IPs who might have accessed the data before it was taken offline,” Diachenko wrote.

There’s plenty of mystery here — it isn’t clear whether 58.com was behind the hole, or if it is a rival service or a scraper — but what is more certain is that the vulnerability is one of the largest of its kind to be found in China.

Google makes $550M strategic investment in Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com

Google has been increasing its presence in China in recent times, and today it has continued that push by agreeing to a strategic partnership with e-commerce firm JD.com which will see Google purchase $550 million of shares in the Chinese firm.

Google has made investments in China, released products there and opened up offices that include an AI hub, but now it is working with JD.com largely outside of China. In a joint release, the companies said they would “collaborate on a range of strategic initiatives, including joint development of retail solutions” in Europe, the U.S. and Southeast Asia.

The goal here is to merge JD.com’s experience and technology in supply chain and logistics — in China, it has opened warehouses that use robots rather than workers — with Google’s customer reach, data and marketing to produce new kinds of online retail.

Initially, that will see the duo team up to offer JD.com products for sale on the Google Shopping platform across the word, but it seems clear that the companies have other collaborations in mind for the future.

JD.com is valued at around $60 billion, based on its NASDAQ share price, and the company has partnerships with the likes of Walmart and it has invested heavily in automated warehouse technology, drones and other ‘next-generation’ retail and logisitics.

The move for a distribution platform like Google to back a service provider like JD.com is interesting since the company, through search and advertising, has relationships with a range of e-commerce firms including JD.com’s arch rival Alibaba.

But it is a sign of the times for Google, which has already developed relationships with JD.com and its biggest backer Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese internet giant. All three companies have backed Go-Jek, the ride-hailing challenger in Southeast Asia, while Tencent and Google previously inked a patent sharing partnership and have co-invested in startups such as Chinese AI startup XtalPi.

VC firm SparkLabs launches a security token to let anyone invest in its accelerator programs

Ardent crypto enthusiasts believe ICOs and cryptocurrencies will replace venture capital, but what if VC investors absorb crypto into their existing operations?

That’s the thesis that SparkLabs, a U.S.-Korean firm that runs multiple global funds and early-stage accelerator programs, is putting to the test with the introduction of a security token today. The firm said it is aiming to “democratize” investment opportunities by essentially allowing anyone to buy into two of their accelerator program via the token, which will essentially let them become LP-like investors.

SparkLabs’ past successes include Siri (sold to Apple) and DeepMind (sold to Google), and it claims a portfolio of over 160 startups from more than 60 countries. Its accelerator program has graduated over 80 companies, 80 percent of which the firm said have gone on to raise funding at an average of $3.5 million.

The experiment covers two of SparkLab’s new accelerator programs: a six month IOT-focused initiative in Korean smart city Songdo and Cultiv8, an accelerator for agriculture and food tech in Australia.

The firm has already raised capital for both initiatives — $5.6 million for Cultiv8 and $500,000 for the IOT program — but it is aiming to bring in at least $6 million from the token. That’s the minimum sale, while the hard cap is $30 million.

SparkLabs is working with two crypto platforms to handle the token sale in terms of KYC, operations and tapping into audiences. They are Argon Group, which has a community of crypto investors, and Swarm, a platform that connects retail investors with crypto opportunities in PE and VC funds.

ICOs and tokens are in a precarious position in the U.S. while the SEC conducts an investigation into companies that raised money via ICOs and investors who backed them. Wary of that, SparkLabs is primarily targeted non-U.S.-based investors, but it said that the token is open to accredited investors in the U.S..

Unlike traditional LPs, who wait on the fund’s lifecycle to see financial returns unless they can sneak a secondary share sale, SparkLabs plans to introduce liquidity by listing the token on security exchanges in the future. That’ll make it tradeable. But the firm doesn’t advise U.S.-based investors to trade it since that is almost certain to violate the law.

Despite the legal grey areas, the firm is keen to experiment with a token, having backed a number of crypto-based companies via traditional equity investments since 2014 and also launched its SparkChain fund.

“We think the ICO market is here to stay, it’s an avenue for fundraising [that] we think will be complementary to Series B and Series C rounds,” SparkLabs co-founder and partner Jimmy Kim told TechCrunch in an interview. “As a fund, we believe in this space, and we thought we might as well dip our toes into the water and test it out.”

A number of 500 Startups’ recent batch of companies banded together to offer their own security token earlier this year, but SparkLabs may be the first established firm to adopt the strategy officially. Already it is seeing strong interest from crypto hedge funds and individuals who are looking to diversify their crypto assets, Kim said, but the theory is fairly untested so it will be interesting to see how it is received by the wider market.

Certainly, it could be the first of many.

“We’re opening the doors to investors that we wouldn’t usually reach out to,” Kim explained. “If it works out well, we’ll obviously do it with other funds in the future.”

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

ConsenSys, Enigma, Monaco, EximChain and Benetech join TechCrunch’s blockchain event

Let’s talk events… TechCrunch events: we’re confirming five more names for our upcoming blockchain show on July 6.

Joe Lubin, a co-founder of Ethereum and the founder of ConsenSys, Enigma founder and CEO Guy Zyskind, Monaco CEO and co-founder Kris Marszalek, EximChain CEO and co-founder Hope Liu, and Jim Fruchterman, CEO and founder of Benetech, will all join us for the show — the first TechCrunch event dedicated to the topic of blockchain.

TC Sessions: Blockchain takes place in Zug, the Swiss Canton located just outside of Zurich, which has come to be known as ‘Crypto Valley.’

Zug isn’t just a regulatory haven where startups come to file paperwork and leave, it’s becoming a destination that blockchain startups are moving into to take advantage of the growing community and a forward-thinking, fast-moving regulatory approach.

Beyond these fives names announced today, the event will also feature the following speakers:

  • Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum
  • Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance
  • Balaji Srinivasan, CTO of Coinbase
  • Roham Gharegozlou, the founder of smash-hit blockchain game CryptoKitties
  • Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project
  • Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO of Everledger
  • Jun Hasegawa, CEO and founder of Omise and OmiseGo
  • Mona El Isa, CEO and co-founder of Melonport
  • Colin Hanna, associate at Balderton Capital
  • Galia Benartzi, co-founder and head of Business Development at Bancor
  • Gert Sylvest, co-founder of Tradeshift and GM of Tradeshift Frontiers

You can get your hands on tickets for the event — they’re priced at 495 Swiss Francs, or around $500 — from the website here.

Jim Fruchterman — founder and CEO of Benetech

As founder and CEO of Benetech, Fruchterman is focused on exporting tech innovation outside of Silicon Valley. He is a former rocket engineer who founded two machine intelligence startups that were acquired by public companies.

Under Fruchterman’s leadership, Benetech has created and scaled multiple software for social good enterprises spanning human rights, education, and environmental conservation. Fruchterman continues to explore and develop new and exciting ways that software and data can address unmet needs and create lasting social change.

Hope Liu — co-Founder and CEO of EximChain

EximChain is a software development company focused on supply chain applications. From supplier credit to inventory management, Eximchain helps businesses connect, transact, and share information more efficiently and securely. Eximchain’s mission is to provide blockchain-enabled tools to transform the global supply chain by integrating SMEs and increasing transparency.

Liu has a B.A. from Peking University and MBA from MIT. Previously, she handled cross-border transactions at UBS Asia for 6.5 years. She is the Lab Lead of the North America Blockchain Association and has been working on Eximchain from the MIT Media Lab since 2015.

Joseph Lubin — co-founder of Ethereum and founder of ConsenSys

New York-based ConsenSys produces developer tools, decentralized applications, and solutions for enterprises and governments that tap into the potential of Ethereum.

Lubin graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. His past work has included stints with the Princeton Robotics Lab, Blacksmith Software Consulting and Goldman Sachs, while he has worked on projects that include the development of autonomous music composition tools, and autonomous mobile robots for a private research firm.

Lubin also spent time in Kingston, Jamaica, where he worked on music industry projects. Two years into that, he co-founded the Ethereum Project and he has been working on Ethereum and ConsenSys since January 2014.

1 May 2018; Joseph Lubin, Co-Founder of Ethereum & CEO, ConsenSys, on the Center stage during day one of Collision 2018 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Collision via Sportsfile

Kris Marszalek — co-founder and CEO of Monaco

Monaco is developing a crypto-enabled debit card and digital banking app. The company raised over $25 million in an ICO in 2017 and it says it is “rolling out” to Asia, Europe and North America. Monaco began offering its service in a closed beta in March, with plans to offer a Visa card and, further down the line, credit and investment products tied to crypto.

Hong Kong-based Marszalek previously exited two companies, including e-commerce platform BeeCrazy (sold to iBuy Group in 2013) and location-based platform YiYi, which was bought by Motorola in 2010. Following the BeeCrazy sale, he joined the management team of iBuy, which later became Ensogo.

Guy Zyskind — founder and CEO of Enigma

Enigma is a blockchain-based protocol that uses privacy technologies to enable scalable, end-to-end decentralized applications. The company was incubated at MIT Media Lab, and it raised around $45 million in an ICO last September.

Zyskind received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Tel-Aviv University. Before Enigma, he was CTO of Athena Wisdom (now Endor), an MIT spin-off focused on network analysis research and Big Data.

Catch Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao at TechCrunch’s blockchain event on July 6

Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance — the world’s largest crypto exchange — is the newest addition who will join us for TC Sessions: Blockchain, TechCrunch’s first event dedicated to blockchain technology, which takes place July 6 in Zug, Switzerland.

The event will bring together the startup/business world and blockchain community to explore the potential of the blockchain, where it is now, and much more. The location is Zug — the Swiss city know as “Crypto Valley” for its plethora of startups and forward-thinking governance — and our speaker list already includes standout names such as Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin, Coinbase CTO Balaji Srinivasan, and Hyperledger’s Brian Behlendorf.

Tickets are available now priced at 495 Swiss Francs, or around $500 — just head here. Don’t miss it!

Zhao, known as CZ, started Binance in July 2017 and it has enjoyed a meteoric rise. The exchange processes over $3 billion in crypto trades per day, which makes it the world’s largest by some margin, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Binance’s own token (BNB) is currently trading at over $14 — that’s up from an initial ICO price of around $0.10 and it gives it a total market cap of $1.6 billion.

Even in real-world financial times, Binance is huge. The company recorded a profit of around $150 million during its most recent quarter of business despite being less than a year ago.

Zhao himself started out in the world of financial trading, creating a company called Fusion Systems which enabled high-frequency trades for brokers. He got into crypto when he joined wallet app Blockchain.info, before moving on to Chinese exchange OkCoin for a stint as CTO. Spotting an opportunity for a new exchange, he exited to start Binance last year, raising $15 million in July to kick the project off.

There’s been controversy — including rumors of high listing fees and a legal spat with VC firm Sequoia — but Binance is the top dog and it remains the exchange that every crypto firm aspires to list on.

It is also pushing out overseas beyond Hong Kong. Binance has explored the global potential of crypto by moving its exchange to Malta, a country keen to woo blockchain giants, and inking deals to hire large numbers of staff in Uganda, Togo and Bermuda. It looks like that is just scratching the service for what Binance has planned.

“I could retire now and I’d be ok for a few lifetimes, but we are doing something I think is very meaningful,” Zhao, who ranks third on Forbes’ crypto rich list with an estimated worth of $1.1-$2 billion, told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.

Blockchain is the most disruptive new development in the technology space today, and we’re excited to host our first show that is solely dedicated to the blockchain. The event takes place in the Swiss city of Zug — widely known as “Crypto Valley” due to its sizable number of crypto companies and a progressive approach to regulation — and it will bring together top figures from the blockchain space, developer community and business and startup worlds.

Prominent speakers confirmed for the July 6 event include:

  • Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum
  • Balaji Srinivasan, Coinbase CTO
  • Roham Gharegozlou, the founder of smash-hit blockchain game CryptoKitties
  • Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project
  • Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO of Everledger
  • Jun Hasegawa, CEO and founder of Omise and OmiseGo
  • Mona El Isa, CEO and co-founder of Melonport
  • Colin Hanna, associate at Balderton Capital
  • Galia Benartzi, co-founder and head of Business Development at Bancor
  • Gert Sylvest, co-founder of Tradeshift and GM of Tradeshift Frontiers

You can get your hands on tickets now — they’re priced at 495 Swiss Francs, or around $500 — from the event website here.

If you’re interested in sponsoring the event, please contact us via this link.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.