Updated: Mozilla, Deutsche Telekom won’t release “privacy phone”

Update: Mozilla has told TechCrunch that the WSJ’s framing of this as a partnership around an actual phone was inaccurate. In other words, there’s absolutely no news here beyond the more general Firefox OS collaboration that we reported on one year ago to the day. For the record, I did contact Mozilla’s representatives to seek comment before publishing my original piece, but received no reply.

That original story follows thusly:

A year back, Deutsche Telekom and Mozilla said they were working together on privacy-centric features for Firefox OS, including “location blurring” (fine-grained control of how much location information to give to each app), guest mode, and a registration-free “find my phone” tool. It looks like that collaboration is about to bear fruit: According to a Wall Street Journal piece on Tuesday, the companies will unveil a “privacy phone” at the upcoming Mobile World Congress that will include such features. The article also notes how the T-Mobile parent and other German carriers are lobbying against the last-minute watering-down of strict new EU data protection rules that will cover web service providers such as Google and Facebook.

Here’s why new competitors can’t do what Hotel Tonight does

HotelTonight, the app for booking a hotel stay on the go, has introduced new personalized price cuts, one called a “bonus rate” and the other called a “rate drop.”

Bonus rate: left; Rate drop: right

Rate drop: left; Bonus rate: right

The apps will analyze your phone’s location and offer you added discounts for hotels in specific other cities, a deal it’s calling a “bonus rate.”

For example, if you’re in San Francisco you may see that a same-day $145 room at a Los Angeles hotel is now discounted to $85. But if you’re in Munich, you’ll only see the original HotelTonight price. HotelTonight is trying to tempt people who might not otherwise travel or stay in a hotel to change their minds. “Some people value price and flexibility over the certainty of where they’re staying,” CEO Sam Shank told me. “At some point I hit my price point.”

Conversely, the app is also introducing a price cut known as a “rate drop” that can only be seen by people in close proximity to a specific hotel. Once again, the idea is to tempt people that might not otherwise spend the night in a place to change their mind. “People who weren’t thinking of booking a hotel in advance. Perhaps the other option was to stay with a friend or get a train home,” Shank said.

The hotels don’t want to cannibalize their business by slashing their rates on their websites on a day to day basis. Then they’d lose money from people who might have booked at the full price anyways. But by using cell phone location coordinates, the hotels can target new customers through HotelTonight that they might not otherwise snag, without losing their brand loyalists who would pay full price. “It’s about growing the market,” Shank said.

As anyone who uses HotelTonight already knows, the app offers the cheapest possible prices for same day booking. Hotels actually have to bid the lowest fee for their type of accommodation in order to be featured in the app. The companies most willing to do that are those with a lot of empty rooms they need to fill up.

This is a feature that HotelTonight’s bigger competitors, companies like Expedia and Priceline, have been able to imitate once they saw it worked. With bigger brand awareness, it’s a worthy foe for the comparably scrappy startup.

But the latest bonus rate and rate drop features aren’t going to be quite as easy for the travel giants to rip off. For them to work, they require up-to-the-minute information on a person’s location, down to specific mileage. As a result, customers have to be accustomed to checking hotel rates and booking rooms from their phone, a concept that HotelTonight’s clientele is obviously on board with, but Expedia’s legacy user base, maybe not so much.

Shady but smart: Secret’s CES feed copies Yik Yak for a new crowd

That savvy Secret. The anonymous sharing network, which recently redesigned its entire product to save itself, isn’t going quietly into that dark night.

It unrolled a new feature Monday allowing people at CES to view and post to an exclusive CES feed on Secret. Only those in the Las Vegas area can add content, turning Secret into a geofenced members-only club for whining about Mandalay Bay Wi-Fi, discovering the best after party, and mocking Samsung’s keynote.

A location based social feed — it’s like Twitter circa SXSW 2007. But where Twitter grew too large and noisy to deliver on its initial events flair, Secret’s geofencing makes sure the party stays small.

Yik Yak peek feature

Yik Yak’s Peek Anywhere list, with featured themes and events at the top

As others have said, it’s a “fun experiment“, one that “could give Secret an edge over Yik Yak.” There’s just one caveat: Yik Yak already has this feature. It created it months ago. (For a primer on Yik Yak, a college campus staple, read here).

In its “Peek Anywhere” section, Yik Yak users are prompted to check out feeds from geofenced areas around events like college football games and music festivals. The Featured peeks change day-by-day depending on what’s happening, and allow people to get a glimpse of the action on the ground somewhere. Yik Yak, in turn, probably got its Featured Peeks idea from Snapchat’s Featured Stories.

Secret, for its part, says it has been thinking about event-based feeds since March 2013, when it played with a location feature at SXSW. When I asked Secret co-founder Chrys Bader whether Secret copied Yik Yak with its redesign a few weeks ago, he deferred.

“If you look at any text-based social network, it’s all text,” Bader pointed out. “I suspect Yik Yak and Secret will diverge a lot over the next six months.” He wouldn’t elaborate, but hinted that Secret’s upcoming design and feature changes will focus on other contexts besides location.

Regardless of whether Secret is ripping off Yik Yak, it’s a time honored truism that the tech company that succeeds is the one that executes the best, not necessarily the one that executes first (see: Facebook v. MySpace; iPad v. many tablets that came before).

If Secret can spread through the tech crowd to other demographics, perhaps it could beat Yik Yak at its own game. After all, Yik Yak has largely ignored the Silicon Valley audience until this point. Instead, it has grown virally the way Facebook did, through college campuses.

By launching an events based feed at CES, Secret might get a leg up on the early adopter audience. Assuming that Twitter circa SXSW 2007 is still something people in tech want.

Secret tries to save itself by imitating Yik Yak

Secret’s “dramatic” app update (which I foreshadowed earlier this month) has arrived. The Verge has published an in-depth look at the confessional app’s attempt to relaunch itself after user downloads and app engagement plummeted.

Secret now looks and operates a whole lot more like its rising competitor Yik Yak. Images no longer dominate the feed. Instead, it’s primarily text-based, with the pictures appearing as thumbnails. It has turned away from the media emphasis of its nemesis Whisper and has abolished the website that curated the popular Secrets.

Power Secret users (if there are any left) will cheer about the new addition of one-to-one messaging. In the first version of Secret, users wanted a chatting tool so badly they turned en masse to alternative service Anonyfish, which was created to address the hole in the Secret product. But now when someone posts a Secret, others can directly chat them, keeping their anonymity.

The biggest change in Secret’s relaunch is that users’ feeds will be divided into “friends” and “nearby” instead of “friends” and “explore.” The nearby function shows posts from anyone within set locations, like cities or universities. “It’s more important what is said than who said it,” Secret CEO David Byttow told The Verge. “Our goal is to facilitate conversation — either in a physical location, or socially, with your friends.”

That’s a total ripoff of Yik Yak’s core function, but before you scoff at the move you should know Secret isn’t the only one doing so. Twitter previewed a nearly identical feature itself during its recent earnings call and is reportedly working with Foursquare to power it. Take a look at the three product comparisons: Yik Yak first, Twitter second, and Secret third. See some similarities?

Screenshots of Yik Yak's location based post tool

Screenshots of Yik Yak’s location-based post tool

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

Screenshot of Secret's new feed, via The Verge

Screenshot of Secret’s new feed, via The Verge

Yik Yak clearly has these other social apps on the run, lest they get overtaken by a newcomer. Since Yik Yak’s appearance, it has skyrocketed through the app download charts, gone viral in college communities (much the way [company]Facebook[/company] did), and raised $62 million from WhatsApp backer Sequoia in late November. Its location-feed premise is by no means proven, but it has shown enough traction to worry far bigger companies.

When I wrote a feature on Yik Yak in October, I asked “Could Yik Yak be the real winner among anonymity apps?” It looks as if the answer may be yes.

Rumored Twitter-Foursquare partnership shows Yik Yak is a threat

Twitter is reportedly teaming up with Foursquare to power location-based tweets, according to Business Insider.  Location features are key to Twitter’s product roadmap, because the company believes such contextual information will make the service more useful for people.

But there’s lots of product changes that would make Twitter more useful to people, particularly new user onboarding tools. So why is Twitter focusing on location-based tweeting, arguably a departure from its core service, now?

It may have to do with new competitor Yik Yak. Yik Yak spread virally through colleges with a product that’s similar to Twitter, except your feed is composed of posts from people near your location. The app has had a stunning rise through the charts, and just raised $62 million in new funding from Sequoia (the main backer of WhatsApp). Although it’s frequently grouped in with the Secrets and Whispers of the world, Yik Yak sees Twitter as its big competitor. With Twitter now taking geolocation so seriously, it appears the feeling is mutual.

BI didn’t get the scoop on what, exactly, the Foursquare-enabled Twitter feature would look like, but sources told the publication we could see it as early as the first quarter of 2015.

We can look to Twitter’s recent Analyst Call for some idea. During that time, Twitter showcased a wide array of preview products — ones it was planning but hadn’t finished building. Location-based tweet organization was one such feature.

In the slides Twitter showed, people could navigate to micro tweet areas, seeing all the tweets coming out of, say, Grand Central Terminal or Olive Garden, Times Square. Yik Yak’s Peek Anywhere tool is similar, although it’s based on pin dropping, as you can see below:

Twitter's location curated timelines

Twitter’s location curated timelines

 

Screenshots of Yik Yak's location based post tool

Screenshots of Yik Yak’s location based post tool

It was hard to tell from the Analyst Call, where a ton of product previews were dumped, how much Twitter was prioritizing this feature. But if it’s working alongside Foursquare to introduce it as early as January – March 2015, it’s clear this matters. It will be one of the biggest changes to Twitter’s product since its inception. And if users adopt it, it could pose significant problems for Yik Yak.

 

 

 

Can another company deliver on the promise of Foursquare?

Foursquare may be struggling, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t jostling to take its place. A new app, Connect, just raised a $10.3 million Series A, in a round including Marc Benioff, to give it a shot. It calls itself a “living address book.” It’s a digital address book that syncs all your social contacts together, but it’s also a new take on Foursquare’s check-in feature.

The app shows you a map of your city with little face bubbles telling you where your friends are hanging out. There’s a key difference though. Unlike Foursquare, which requires people to “check-in”, Connect extracts data from people’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Foursquare feeds to tell you where they’re located. The black circles represent their main city, pulled from their social profile information, and the red circles represent where a person has recently posted they are. For example, if you post a status about “Having a great time at Dolores Park,” Connect will place you at Dolores Park in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. When Facebook latently notes your location for its “friends nearby” feature, Connect will pull that too.

Screenshots from Connect app

Screenshots from Connect app

The automatic information drawing removes the friction of the check-in to make your friends’ location data more readily available. You receive notifications when an out-of-town friend is visiting your city. The lead investor in Connect, Brad Bao from Kinzon Capital, told me he invested in the app because it solves a connection problem people didn’t necessarily know they had. “In a way, its similar to Uber before Uber existed,” Bao said. “There’s no way to [latently] inform my friends where I’m at.”

CEO Ryan Allis told me he spent a year and a half building the technology. We already had our surge in geolocation networking in 2011-2012. With Foursquare’s pivot, it appears the heyday might be over. But Connect’s premise intrigued me enough to try it. I liked Facebook’s “friends nearby” feature, despite its creepy vibe. It has almost resulted in me getting together with a friend I wouldn’t otherwise…such promise. Why not expand that to other networks?

But the vision of Connect seems to be a little behind the execution. On my map, there weren’t many friends in San Francisco, despite the fact that Facebook’s app clearly told me no less than three friends were all in my vicinity. That lapse in communication between the apps may be the result of some Facebook’s users privacy settings.

One of the friends the Connect app did show as being in San Francisco isn’t actually here. I texted her to double-check, and sure enough, she’s back in Boston (where she lives full time).

The promise of Foursquare — to know where your friends were so you could connect serendipitously — was so appealing, but technologically we may just not be there yet.