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Music app AmpMe lowers pricing after accused of being an App Store scammer

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Music app AmpMe lowers pricing after accused of being an App Store scammer

Around the same time Apple was touting its sizable App Store revenue growth this week, developer and noted App Store critic Kosta Eleftheriou brought to light what appeared to be yet another App Store scammer hiding in plain sight. On Twitter, Eleftheriou documented the earnings for a music syncing app called AmpMe, which claims to boost your music’s volume by syncing it across devices, including friends’ phones, Bluetooth speakers and computer speakers. AmpMe, he found, had been charging an incredible $10 per week for this basic service, which it had been promoting on the App Store by way of fake reviews.

The AmpMe iOS app doesn’t require a subscription to use some of its features, but does if you want to synchronize your music to other devices — the main reason users likely downloaded the app in the first place.

Eleftheriou noted this offering was priced at what he called “an absurd $10/week (~$520/year).” The subscription also auto-renews, as most in-app subscriptions do. And while Apple makes it easy to sign up and stay subscribed, subscription cancelations can only be performed from your Account page’s Subscriptions section, which you can get to from the App Store or the iPhone’s Settings app. You can’t cancel inside the app itself.  

AmpMe hadn’t been trying to trick users about its pricing, at least. The sign-up page clearly stated its free trial was offered for just three days and would then be followed by a $9.99 per week subscription.

But where the app ran afoul of the App Store’s rules was how it marketed itself to potential customers.

AmpMe had purchased a ton of fake reviews, as evidenced by its large slate of five-star ratings associated with nonsensical names. These names — like Nicte Videlerqhjgd or Elcie Zapaterbpmtl, for example — looked like someone just mashed buttons on a keyboard. But the reviewers were sure to have left positive feedback, like “It’s sooo good!” or “super useful” or “Don’t need any other music apps!”

(Interestingly, these same reviewers left glowing five-star reviews on other apps, too, and all on the same day! That’s suspicious!)

The fake reviews gave the app an overall rating of 4.3 stars on the App Store, making it seem like a legitimate and useful music syncing tool. Meanwhile, the real reviews — where legitimate App Store customers complained about the outrageous pricing, basic functionality or the obvious fake reviews — were drowned out by the spam.

Apple had not taken action on this deceptively marketed app for years. And to make matters worse, it had even promoted it several times through App Store editorial collections, Eleftheriou pointed out. 

The conclusion he draws from this is that not only is Apple lax on hunting down App Store scammers, it may actually be disincentivized to do so because of scam apps’ earnings potential. (The only other possible conclusion here is that Apple is just inept when it comes to keeping the App Store safe for consumers… which isn’t really a good look either.)

Citing data from Appfigures, Eleftheriou notes AmpMe has pulled in $13 million in lifetime revenue on the App Store, after Apple’s cut.

Another firm puts the figure even higher. Apptopia told TechCrunch the app has earned $16 million since it began monetizing through in-app purchases in October 2018; $15.5 million of that was through the App Store and another $500,000 came through Google Play. The majority (or 75%) of the in-app purchase revenue came from consumers in the U.S. To date, AmpMe has seen 33.5 million lifetime installs, 38% of which are from the U.S.

In a response provided to TechCrunch, AmpMe disputed some of the claims being made.

The company said its users aren’t paying $520 per year — what a $10 per week subscription would add up to if users stayed subscribed. Instead, AmpMe said across its paying users, its average yearly subscription revenue is around $75. This would indicate users are taking advantage of the free trial then canceling the subscription after some time. AmpMe also said that, internally, this reinforced its belief that its pricing is transparent and its opt-out procedures are easy.

The company did not, however, have a great answer as to why its App Store Listing is filled with fake reviews, opting to toss blame on an anonymous third party instead.

“Through the years, like most startups, we’ve hired outside consultants to help us with marketing and app store optimization. More oversight is needed and that’s what we are currently working on,” a statement sent by an unnamed AmpMe representative said. (They had signed the email “The AmpMe Team.”)

In addition, the company said it was responding to this recent feedback by releasing a new version of the app with a lower price point.

“We always adhere to Apple’s subscription guidelines and are continually working to ensure their high standards are met,” the email read. “We also respect and value the community’s feedback. Therefore, a new version of the app with a lower price has already been submitted to the App Store for review.”

That version has since gone live and sees the weekly subscription reduced to $4.99 from $9.99.

Today, Eleftheriou tells us it looks like a manual cleanup of the fake reviews is now underway.

On Monday at 11 AM, he documented the app had 54,080 reviews. By Tuesday at 9 PM, after AmpMe saw a fair bit of bad press, the app’s review count had dropped to 53,028. By 7 AM on Wednesday, the review count dropped again to 50,693. But the app’s overall rating hasn’t been meaningfully impacted. This could be because the reviews being removed are those submitted by the fake App Store users instead of the ones where the app was given a five-star rating but no review text or reviewer name is visible. That means the cleanup process will make it less obvious the app had purchased fake reviews. 

Also of interest, perhaps, is AmpMe’s CEO: the Canadian technology entrepreneur Martin-Luc Archambault. His Wajam software-turned-adware was previously investigated by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC), and found to have violated Canadian internet privacy laws by collecting user data without consent. It also used several methods to evade detection by antivirus software, reports claimed at the time. When the OPC announced its findings, Archambault claimed the Canadian user data in question had been destroyed and Wajam had sold its assets to a Chinese company. Over its lifetime, the adware had been installed millions of times, the OPC’s report said.

In other words, this does not sound like someone who would be opposed to buying some fake reviews!

AmpMe hasn’t responded to further follow-up questions beyond its original statement, and Apple has not responded to a request for comment.

To date, AmpMe had raised $10 million in VC funding, per Crunchbase data.

Source: Tech

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Paack pulls in a $225M Series D led by SoftBank to scale its E-commerce delivery platform

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By now, many of us are familiar with the warehouse robots which populate those vast spaces occupied by the likes of Amazon and others. In particular, Amazon was very much a pioneer of the technology. But it’s 2021 now, and allying warehouse robots with a software logistics platform is no longer the monopoly of one company.

One late-stage startup which has been ‘making hay’ with the whole idea is Paack, an e-commerce delivery platform which a sophisticated software platform that integrates with the robotics which are essential to modern-day logistics operations.

It’s now raised €200m ($225m) in a Series D funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. The capital will be used for product development and European expansion.

New participants for this round also include Infravia Capital Partners, First Bridge Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst. Returning investors include Unbound, Kibo Ventures, Big Sur Ventures, RPS Ventures, Fuse Partners, Rider Global, Castel Capital, and Iñaki Berenguer.

This funding round comes after the creation of a profitable position in its home market of Spain, but Paack claims it’s on track to achieve similar across its European operations, Such as in the UK, France, and Portugal.

Founded by Fernando Benito, Xavier Rosales and Suraj Shirvankar, Paack now says it’s delivering several million orders per month from 150 international clients, processing 10,000 parcels per hour, per site. Some 17 of them are amongst the largest e-commerce retailers in Spain.

The startup’s systems integrate with e-commerce sites. This means consumers are able to customize their delivery schedule at checkout, says the company.

Benito, CEO and Co-founder, said: “Demand for convenient, timely, and more sustainable methods of delivery is going to explode over the next few years and Paack is providing the solution. We use technology to provide consumers with control and choice over their deliveries, and reduce the carbon footprint of our distribution.” 

Max Ohrstrand, Investment Director at SoftBank Investment Advisers said: “As the e-commerce sector continues to flourish and same-day delivery is increasingly the norm for consumers, we believe Paack is well-positioned to become the category leader both in terms of its technology and commitment to sustainability.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum (WEF), the last-mile delivery business is expected to grow 78% by 2030, causing a rise in CO2 emissions of nearly one-third.

As a result, Paack claim it aims to deliver all parcels at carbon net-zero by measuring its environmental impact, using electric last-mile delivery vehicles. It is now seeking certification with The Carbon Trust and United Nations.

In an interview Benito told me: “We have a very clear short term vision which is to lead sustainable e-commerce delivers in Europe… through technology via what we think is perhaps the most advanced tech delivery platform for last-mile delivery. Our CTO was the CTO and co-founder of Google Cloud, for instance.”

“We are developing everything from warehouse automation, time windows, routing integrations etc. in order to achieve the best delivery experience.”

Paack says it is able to work with more than one robotics partner, but presently it is using robots from Chinese firm GEEK.

The company hopes it can compete with the likes of DHL, Instabox, and La Poste in Europe, which are large incumbents.

Source: Tech

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Infermedica raises $30M to expand its AI-based medical guidance platform

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Infermedica, a Poland-founded digital health company that offers AI-powered solutions for symptom analysis and patient triage, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by One Peak and included participation from previous investors Karma Ventures, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Heal Capital and Inovo Venture Partners. The new capital means the startup has raised $45 million in total to date.

Founded in 2012, Infermedica aims to make it easier for doctors to pre-diagnose, triage and direct their patients to appropriate medical services. The company’s mission is to make primary care more accessible and affordable by introducing automation into healthcare. Infermedica has created a B2B platform for health systems, payers and providers that automates patient triage, the intake process and follow-up after a visit. Since its launch, Infermedica is being used in more than 30 countries in 19 languages and has completed more than 10 million health checks.

The company offers a preliminary diagnosis symptom checker, an AI-driven software that supports call operators making timely triage recommendations and an application programming interface that allows users to build customized diagnostic solutions from scratch. Like a plethora of competitors, such as Ada Health and Babylon, Infermedica combines the expertise of physicians with its own algorithms to offer symptom triage and patient advice.

In terms of the new funding, Infermedica CEO Piotr Orzechowski told TechCrunch in an email that the investment will be used to further develop the company’s Medical Guidance Platform and add new modules to cover the full primary care journey. Last year, Infermedica’s team grew by 80% to 180 specialists, including physicians, data scientists and engineers. Orzechowski says Infermedica has an ambitious plan to nearly double its team in the next 12 months.

Image Credits: Infermedica

“We will invest heavily into our people and our products, rolling out new modules of our platform as well as expanding our underlying AI capabilities in terms of disease coverage and accuracy,” Orzechowski said. “From the commercial perspective, our goal is to strengthen our position in the US and DACH and we will focus the majority of our sales and marketing efforts there.”

Regarding the future, Orzechowski said he’s a firm believer that there will be fully automated self-care bots in 5-10 years that will be available 24/7 to help providers find solutions to low acuity health concerns, such as a cold or UTI.

“According to WHO, by 2030 we might see a shortage of almost 10 million doctors, nurses and midwives globally,” Orzechowski said. “Having certain constraints on how fast we can train healthcare professionals, our long-term plan assumes that AI will become a core element of every modern healthcare system by navigating patients and automating mundane tasks, saving the precious time of clinical staff and supporting them with clinically accurate technology.”

Infermedica’s Series B round follows its $10 million Series A investment announced in August 2020. The round was led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and digital health fund Heal Capital. Existing investors Karma Ventures, Inovo Venture Partners and Dreamit Ventures also participated in the round.

Source: Tech

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KKR invests $45M into GrowSari, a B2B platform for Filipino MSMEs

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A sari-sari store owner who uses GrowSari

GrowSari, the Manila-based startup that helps small shops grow and digitize, announced today that KKR will lead its Series C round with a $45 million investment. The funds will be used to enter new regions in the Philippines and expand its financial products. The Series C round is still ongoing and the startup says it is already oversubscribed, with the final composition currently being finalized. 

Before its Series C, GrowSari’s total raised was $30 million. TechCrunch last wrote about GrowSari in June 2021, when it announced its Series B. Since then, it has expanded the number of municipalities it serves from 100 to 220, and now has a customer base of 100,000 micro, small and mid-sized enterprise (MSME) store owners. 

Founded in 2016, GrowSari is a B2B platform that offers almost every kind of service that small- to medium-sized retailers, including neighborhood stores that carry daily necessities (called sari-saris), roadside and market shops and pharmacies, need.

For example, it has a wholesale marketplace with products from major fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands like Unilever, P&G and Nestle. It partners with over 200 providers, like telecoms, fintechs and subscription plans, so sari-saris can offer services like top-ups and bill payments to their customers. 

Sari-sari operators can also use GrowSari to launch e-commerce stores and access short-term working capital loans to buy inventory. The startup’s other financial products include digital wallets and cash-in services, and it is looking at adding remittance, insurance and loans in partnership with other providers. 

The new funding will be used to expand into the Visayas and Mindanao, the two other main geographical regions in the Philippines, with the goal of covering all 1.1 million “mom and pop” stores in the Philippines. 

Source: Tech

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