With Chrome 70, hundreds of popular websites are about to break

A lot of secure sites are set to grind to a halt with security error messages in the next version of Google Chrome, after the browser will drop trust for a major HTTPS certificate provider following a series of security incidents.

Chrome 70 is expected to be released on or around October 16, when the browser will start blocking sites that run older Symantec certificates issued before June 2016, including legacy branded Thawte, VeriSign, Equifax, GeoTrust and RapidSSL certificates.

Yet despite more than a year to prepare, many popular sites are not ready.

Security researcher Scott Helme found 1,139 sites in the top one million sites ranked by Alexa, including Citrus, SSRN, the Federal Bank of India, Pantone, the Tel-Aviv city government, Squatty Potty and Penn State Federal to name just a few.

Ferrari, One Identity and Solidworks were named on the list but recently switched to new certificates, escaping any future outages.

You can check any website by pulling up the console in Chrome on any website. (Image: TechCrunch)

HTTPS certificates encrypt the data between your computer and the website or app you’re using, making it near-impossible for anyone — even on your public Wi-Fi hotspot — to intercept your data. Not only that, HTTPS certificates prove the integrity of the the site you’re visiting by ensuring the pages haven’t been modified in some way by an attacker.

Most websites obtain their HTTPS certificates from a certificate authority, which abide by certain rules and procedures that over time become trusted by web browsers.

If you screw that up and lose their trust, the browsers can pull the plug on all of the certificates from that authority.

That’s exactly why Google called it quits on Symantec certificates last year. The search giant, and others, accused Symantec of issuing misleading and wrong certificates — and later, it was discovered that Symantec allowed non-trusted organizations to issue certificates without the required rigorous oversight. That has forced thousands of sites to trash their paid-for certificates and replace them with new ones to prevent their site from flagging up with error messages once the Chrome 70 deadline hits.

But, just as much as browsers can lose trust in a certificate authority, it can also gain the trust of new ones.

Let’s Encrypt, a provider of free HTTPS certificates, gained trust from all the major browser makers — including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla — earlier this year. To date, the non-profit has issued more than 380 million certificates.

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LinkedIn acquires employee engagement and retention platform Glint

LinkedIn, the social network for the working world with close to 600 million users and now under the wing of Microsoft, has announced an acquisition as it continues to work on expanding the ways that people already on the platform use it. It has acquired Glint, a startup that provides employment engagement and retention services for businesses and other organizations.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. For some context, Glint had raised nearly $80 million — including these rounds for $27 million and and $20 million in the last two years — was valued at around $220 million in its last round according to PitchBook.

The news was announced both by LinkedIn and Glint itself in blog posts.

Daniel Shapero, VP of Talent Solutions at LinkedIn, said that the team from Glint will join LinkedIn and continue to work as a salient entity within it under current Glint CEO and founder Jim Barnett.

One big focus for LinkedIn over the years has been how to expand the amount of engagement — and therefore revenue — it derives from paying customers, and in particular businesses that are on its platform. Today some of LinkedIn’s revenue generating products include premium memberships, recruitment (Talent Soutions) and education, by way of Lynda.com. Glint is another step ahead in that wider strategy to build out more services for those users, alongside existing services like educationCRM tools and, most recently, business intelligence.

And the blog post from Shapero is another indication of how this will fit into LinkedIn: today a business might use LinkedIn for recruitment. Now, tomorrow, it can continue to use LinkedIn for more services around those employees once they have been hired, with Glint’s current list of products including Employee EngagementEmployee LifecycleManager Effectiveness, and Team Effectiveness.

LinkedIn has already been building out solutions to help employees with their career development (for example with its educational products), and this will play a similar role on the company-wide front.

“We believe that Glint has uncovered a modern HR best practice that every company should do: Regularly gather employee feedback on work, culture, and leadership, and give leaders the tools they need to translate those insights into action,” Shapero writes. “At LinkedIn, as a customer of Glint, we’ve experienced the value that this brings first-hand. Glint provides executives with the tools to answer questions about the health and happiness of the talent they have, while giving managers at all levels the access and insight they need to improve.”

It looks like Glint might be shutting down its existing service, or at least transitioning current customers to its platform under LinkedIn, which now will be able to cross-sell other services to them. We’re contacting the companies to confirm what will happen.

The timing of this announcement is also notable: LinkedIn is kicking off its big Talent Solutions conference and this helps set the tone for where it’s hoping to take the division.

More to come.

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Walmart partners with MGM on original programming for Vudu

Walmart is teaming up with MGM and others on original content for a free, ad-supported streaming service operated by Vudu . According to reports from Variety, Reuters, and CNBC, Walmart-owned Vudu will license original series created by MGM for this service, which will be based on franchises from MGM’s film and TV catalog. The shows will be family-friendly in nature, and exclusive to Vudu.

The news follows rumors that Walmart was working on its own subscription video-on-demand Netflix competitor, but Vudu says there’s nothing planned on that front for the time being. However, it’s not being ruled out for the future, the company noted.

Instead, the focus for now will be on short-form originals that will debut on Vudu’s “Movies On Us” service. Launched two years ago in October 2016, “Movies On Us” was Walmart’s first foray into ad-supported free streaming. The service today includes 7,000 movies and TV shows that consumers can watch for free, interrupted by the occasional ad break. It complements Vudu’s rental and purchase library of 180,000 films.

The new original series from MGM will arrive in the first quarter of 2019, and were described as “family-friendly, advertiser-friendly content.” The size of Walmart’s investment was unknown, but Vudu did tell Variety that it’s not intending to be a studio or create hundreds of new series. In other words, Walmart is not trying to take on Netflix here, nor is it spending billions of dollars on this effort.

MGM and Vudu also didn’t disclose what sort of series are being developed, but MGM’s film and TV library offers a lot of options, as Variety noted. It includes movies like James Bond, Rocky, RoboCop, Pink Panther, 21 Jump Street and The Hobbit franchises, for example.

Vudu plans to license more shows from others beyond MGM, but didn’t disclose details about those plans at this time.

10/8/18, 11:30 AM ET: Updated with more current totals of films/shows on Vudu.

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Facebook launches Portal auto-zooming video chat screens for $199/$349

Facebook’s first hardware product combines Alexa (and eventually Google Assistant) with a countertop video chat screen that zooms to always keep you in frame. Yet the fancy gadget’s success depends not on functionality, but whether people are willing to put a Facebook camera and microphone in their home even with a physical clip-on privacy shield.

Today Facebook launches pre-sales of the $199 10-inch screen Portal, and $349 15.6-inch swiveling screen with hi-fi audio Portal+, minus $100 if you buy any two. They’ve got “Hey Portal” voice navigation, Facebook Messenger for video calls with family, Spotify and Pandora for Bluetooth and voice-activated music, Facebook Watch and soon more video content providers, augmented reality Story Time for kids, a third-party app platform, and it becomes a smart photo/video frame when idle.

Knowing buyers might be creeped out, Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo tells me “We had to build all the stacks — hardware, software, and AI from scratch — and it allowed us to build privacy into each one of these layers”. There’s no facial recognition and instead just a technology called 2D pose that runs locally on the device to track your position so the camera can follow you if you move around. A separate chip for local detection only activates Portal when it hears its wake word, it doesn’t save recordings, and the data connection is encrypted. And with a tap you can electronically disable the camera and mic, or slide the plastic privacy shield over the lens to blind it while keeping voice controls active.

As you can see from our hands-on video demo here, Facebook packs features into high-quality hardware, especially in the beautiful Portal+ which has a screen you can pull from landscape to portrait orientation and impressive-sounding 4-inch woofer. The standard Portal looks and sounds a bit stumpy by comparison. The Smart Camera smoothly zooms in and out for hands-free use, though their are plenty of times that video chatting from your mobile phone will be easier. The lack of YouTube and Netflix is annoying, but Facebook promises there are more video partners to come.

The $199 Portal comes in $20 cheaper than the less functional Amazon Echo Show (read our gadget reviewer Brian Heater’s take on Portal below), and will also have to compete with Lenovo and Google’s upcoming version that might have the benefit of YouTube. Portal and the $39 Portal+ go on sale today on Portal.Facebook.com, Amazon, and Best Buy in both black and white base colors. They ship in November when they’ll also appear in physical Amazon Books and Best Buy stores.

Hands-On With Portal

Deep inside Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, the secretive Building 8 lab began work on Portal 18 months ago. The goal was to reimagine video chat not as a utilitarian communication tool, but for “the feeling of being in the same room even if you’re thousands of miles apart” Facebook Portal’s marketing lead Dave Kaufman tells me. Clearly drinking the social network’s kool-aid, he says that “it’s clear that Facebook has done a good job when you’re talking about the breadth of human connection, but we’re focusing on the depth of connection.”

The saddening motive? 93% of the face-to-face time we spend with our parents is done by the time we finish high-school, writes Wait but Why’s Tim Urban. “It felt like punch in the gut to people working at Facebook” says Kaufman. So the team built Portal to be simple enough for young children and grandparents to use, even if they’re too young or old to spend much time on smartphones.

Before you even wake up Portal, it runs a slideshow of your favorite Facebook photos and videos, plus shows birthday reminders and notifications. From the homescreen you’ll get suggested and favorite Messenger contacts you can tap to call, or you can just say “Hey Portal, call Josh.” Built atop the Android Open Source framework, Facebook designed a whole new UI for Portal for both touch and voice.

Portal uses your existing social graph instead of needing to import phone numbers or re-establish connections with friends. You can group video chat with up to seven friends, use augmented reality effects to hide your face or keep children entertained, and transfer calls to and from your phone. 400 million Facebookers use Messenger video chat monthly, racking up 17 billion calls in 2017, inspiring Facebook to build Portal around the feature. Kaufman says the ability to call phone numbers is in the roadmap, which could make Portal more tolerant of people who don’t live on Messenger.

Once a video call starts, the 140-degree, 12-megapixel Smart Lens snaps into action, automatically zooming and recentering so your face stays on camera even if you’re bustling around the kitchen or playing with the kids. If a second person comes into view, Portal will widen the frame so you’re both visible. Tap on a person’s face, and Portal Spotlight crops in tight around just them. Unfortunately it can’t track pets, but that got so many requests from testers that Facebook wants to add it in.

Portal’s most adorable feature is called Story Time. It turns public domain children’s books into augmented reality experiences that illustrate the action and turn you into the characters. You’ll see the three little pigs pop up on your screen, and an AR mask lets you become the big bad wolf when you might impersonate his voice. Kids and grandparents won’t always have much to talk about, and toddlers aren’t great conversation partners, so this could extend Portal calls beyond a quick hello.

Beyond chat, Facebook has built a grip of third-party experiences into Portal. You can use Alexa to summon Spotify, Pandora, or IHeartRadio, and even opt to have songs play simultaneously on you and someone else’s Portal for a distant dance party. Portal+ in portrait mode makes a great playlist display with artwork and easy song skipping. The Food Network and Newsy apps let you watch short videos so you follow recipes or catch up on the world as you do your housework. And while you can’t actually browse the News Feed, Facebook Watch pulls in original premium video as well as some viral pap to keep you occupied.

Overall, Portal could replace your favorite Alexa device and add seamless video chatting without building a new social graph thanks to Messenger if you’re willing to pay the price. That’s both in terms of the higher cost, but also the ‘brand tax’ of welcoming the data-gobbling giant with a history of privacy stumbles into your home.

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Facebook tries its hand at hardware with Portal

Portal is not Facebook’s Echo Show. Call it a case of convergent evolution, wherein two companies arrived at similar looking products after approaching hardware from different angles. The problem Facebook sought to solve is one of face to face communication. It’s an attempt to remove the device from the act of video chatting.

That Facebook, Amazon and Google’s smart display partners all ended up at a similar place is no coincidence, of course. Like those smart displays, the home teleconferencing device is essentially a propped up tablet. With Portal, however, the system takes two distinct form factors.

There’s the standard Portal, which looks quite a bit like Lenovo’s recently released Google Assistant Smart Display, and the more compelling Portal Plus. That larger model, with a 15 inch display (1920 x 1080) brings to mind recent enterprise attempts at telepresence robotics. The base is stationary here, but the display orientation can be swiveled into landscape or portrait mode.

What’s most remarkable, of course, is that this is the first true Facebook-produced piece of consumer electronics. It was never really a question of whether Facebook would create its own hardware — it was more a question of when, and what shape it would take. Unlike feeds, text chats and likes, video is the first real aspect of the company’s social platform that can justify a standalone device.

During a meeting with TechCrunch, the company cited this 2015 piece as an inspiration for the product.  In it, Tim Urban lays out some pretty stark infographics pertaining to his own mortality. The piece also breaks down how much more face-to-face time the writer will ultimately spend with his parents, then in their mid-60s.

It’s kind of a bummer, honestly. Don’t read it on a plane. But here’s the takeaway:

“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93 percent of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”

I know, I know.

Portal’s creation dates back to the foundation of the hardware team two years ago. The team’s first product manager Rafa Camargo says there was some back and forth regarding whether it made sense for Facebook to finally launch first-party hardware in earnest.

“We spent six months trying to figure out how we expand the platforms Facebook has and toying with the idea of what we can do if we own the whole thing,” the former Googler tells TechCrunch. “Otherwise, what’s the point of hardware?”

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The idea initial spark for Portal was struck a year and a half ago, leading Facebook to build out the Building 8 product team. In the intervening months, speculation has ramped up that the company was building either a Facebook Phone or Amazon Echo competitor. The latter, of course, was much closer to the truth (a least for now), though in some ways, Portal and Portal Plus are their own beasts entirely.

Video chat is far and away the focus here — and the implementation in the demos we’ve seen are actually pretty remarkable. In fact, the product is so focused on that singular feature that much of the rest of the product has languished in comparison.

Portal is not going to be the next centerpiece of your next smart home, for example. And the UI is pretty barebones and the app store is utterly lacking. There’s no web browser, and in spite of the large screen, you can’t watch videos through Netflix or Hulu or YouTube.  In fact, ironically, this is one of the few pieces of consumer hardware on the market that won’t let you access your Facebook feed.

Of course, your Facebook account is still the key to logging in. By default (using the assorted array of algorithms), Portal will serve off up half a dozen people as your inner circle of communications. You can always tweak that list, however. Calling is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from these sorts of devices, albeit without the kind of overkill UX touches that many chat apps have.

It’s a full screen video, with a small overlay of what’s happening on your end. What’s most remarkable is the combination of AI and camera tricks that help the product focus on its subject. Portal identifies and tracks people, shifting the camera’s framing accordingly.

Facebook actually worked with a professional cinematographer there, to ensure smother transitions, panning the camera to track and zooming in an out (up to 10x) to fit as many people in frame as possible. The camera movement takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s well done and surprisingly smooth.

The other big aspect of the video is shared experiences. The simplest is using music apps like Spotify and Pandora to listen to songs simultaneously with someone however far away. While playing, there’s a visual overlay of the song, and the volume can be adjusted on either side of the conversation. There are also some early AR experiences, including Instagram filters and an adorable feature called Storytime, which feeds the narrator the text of a storybook via teleprompter, while overlaying visual aspects from the story.

All of this is very early stages, of course. Facebook has been demoing the device in private trials for roughly nine months with around 1,000 users. Part of that process is soliciting feedback for new features. At launch, the feature set will be fairly barebones, with additions rolling out over time.

The company isn’t disclosing a lot of information from a hardware perspective. The Plus has a 1080p screen, while the standard Portal is 720. There are decent sets of speakers on-board, along with a four mic array, which allows the systems to utilize Alexa for the assistant heavy lifting.

There is some native voice control, including the “Hey Portal” wake word, though interaction with the product is split between that and the touchscreen. There’s also an on-board button to switch off the camera when not in use, along with a lens cap for good measure.

The most surprising thing about the product (beyond its sheer existence) might actually be its price. The larger model runs $349 and the smaller is $199, putting it $20 below the Echo Show. There’s also a bundle that will get you two portals for $299. The device is clearly something of a loss leader for Facebook as the company explores hardware as an avenue for further engaging users.

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