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WhatsApp limits message forwarding in bid to reduce spam and misinformation

In a bid to cut down on the spread of false information and spam, WhatsApp recently added labels that indicate when a message has been forwarded. Now the company is sharpening that strategy by imposing limits on how many groups a message can be sent on to.

Originally, users could forward messages on to multiple groups, but a new trial will see that forwarding limited to 20 groups worldwide. In India, however, which is WhatsApp’s largest market with 200 million users, the limit will be just five. In addition, a ‘quick forward’ option that allowed users to pass on images and videos to others rapidly is being removed from India.

“We believe that these changes — which we’ll continue to evaluate — will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app,” the company said in a blog post.

The changes are designed to help reduce the amount of information that goes viral on the service, although clearly this isn’t a move that will end the problem altogether.

The change is in direct response to a series of incidents in India. The BBC recently wrote about an incident which saw one man dead and two others severely beaten after rumors of their efforts to abduct children from a village spread on WhatsApp. Reportedly 17 other people have been killed in the past year under similar circumstances, with police saying false rumors had spread via WhatsApp.

In response, WhatsApp — which is of course owned by Facebook — has bought full-page newspaper ads to warn about false information on its service.

Beyond concern about firing up vigilantes, the saga may also spill into India’s upcoming national general election next year. Times Internet today reports that Facebook and WhatsApp plan to introduce a fake news verification system that it used recently in Mexico to help combat spam messages and the spreading of incorrect news and information. The paper said that the companies have already held talks with India’s Election Commission.

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AnyVision AI startup locks in 28M for its body and facial recognition tech

As image recognition advances continue to accelerate, startups with a mind towards security applications are seeing some major interest to turn surveillance systems more intelligent.

AnyVision is working on face, body and object recognition tech and the underlying system infrastructure to help companies deploy smart cameras for various purposes. The tech works when deployed on most types of camera and does not require highly sophisticated sensors to operate, the company says

“It’s not just how accurate the system is, it’s also how much it scales,” Etshtein tells TechCrunch. “You can put more than 20 concurrent full HD camera streams on a single GPU.”

The Tel Aviv-based AI startup announced today that it has closed a $28 million Series A funding round led by Bosch. The quickly growing company already has 130 employees and has plans to open up three new offices by the year’s end.

Right now, AnyVision is working on products in a few different verticals. Its security product called “Better Tomorrow” has been a key focus for the company.

Even as tech giants in the U.S. like Amazon and Google are scrutinized for contracts with government orgs that involve facial recognition tech, Etshtein believes that their company’s solution will be an improvement over existing video surveillance technologies in terms of protecting the public’s privacy.

“Today, the video management systems basically record everything and you can see individuals faces, you can see everything.”Etshtein says. “Once our system is installed it pixelates all the faces in the stream automatically, even the operator in the control center cannot see your face because the mathematical models just represent the persons of interest.”

The company also recently released a product called FaceKey that leverages the company’s facial recognition tech for verification purposes, allowing customers with phones that are not just the iPhone X to use their face as a two-factor authentication method in things like banking apps. Now, there have certainly been a lot of issues with maintaining the needed accuracy which is exactly what has made FaceID so novel, but AnyVision CEO Eylon Etshtein claims to have “cracked the problem.”

Other products AnyVision is working on include some new efforts in the sports and entertainment spaces as wel

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Public shareholders got high today on Tilray the first marijuana company to IPO on Nasdaq

Tilray, a five-year-old, British Columbia-based medical cannabis company that sells its products to patients, researchers, pharmacies and even governments, saw its shares get high (sorry) on the Nasdaq today, after the company priced 9 million shares at $17 apiece and watched them soar, closing at $22.39, a jump of slightly more than 32 percent.

The company raised $153 million in the offering, capital it will reportedly use in part to fuel its marijuana growing and processing facilities in Ontario.

It was a huge win for the cannabis industry, which has been growing like a weed (sorry again). Related startups attracted $593 million in funding last year, twice what they raised in 2016 and a meaningful jump from the $121 million invested in related startups in 2014, according to CB Insights. Among the different types of companies to garner investor dollars, shows CB Insights’ research, are: startups focused on research or distribution of medical marijuana products (as with Tilray); tools for ensuring compliance with state and federal marijuana laws; startups focused on payments for marijuana companies; startups collecting data and producing marketing insights about the industry; and companies creating novel strains and types of marijuana using new farming techniques.

Tilray’s performance today is also a very positive signal for Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that owned 100 percent of the startup as it headed into its offering. In fact, Privateer’s CEO, Brendan Kennedy, is also the CEO of Tilray. (Cannabis companies are weird.)

Privateer has itself raised more than $200 million since its founding in 2010, including from Founders Fund and Subversive Capital, and it has used that money to finance, acquire and incubate companies. While it incubated Tilray, for example, it also owns Leafly, a large cannabis information resource that it acquired in 2011. Another of its portfolio companies is Marley Natural, a Bob Marley-branded cannabis line that it launched in partnership with the Marley’s estate and that sells a line of cannabis strains, smoking accessories and even body care products.

It isn’t exactly clear how much Privateer had sunk into Tilray (we have a press request into the company). Tilray announced C$60 million in Series A funding back in February, money it said had come from a “group of leading global institutional investors.&rdqu

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Walmart acquiring Shopify is no longer a laughable idea

Sujay Seetharaman Contributor Share on Twitter Sujay Seetharaman is a Customer Success Manager and a Market Analyst at eCommerce market intelligence firm PipeCandy

As competition between Walmart and Amazon intensifies, the acquisition of Shopify’s merchant marketplace may be the boost that the Walton family’s juggernaut needs to move ahead.

In May this year, Amazon published its small business impact report, in which it disclosed there are 20,000 small and medium-sized businesses that make a million dollars or more in sales on its platform.

Amazon boasts about 5 million third-party sellers on its marketplace today, with an estimated 100,000 sellers hopping on-board every month.

At 100,000 sellers a month over the next five years, there could be an estimated 11 million sellers on Amazon’s marketplace by 2023.

E-commerce intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse estimates Amazon’s gross merchandise volume, or GMV, for 2018 at $280 billion, set to triple over a five-year period, concluding that the marketplace contribution to Amazon’s GMV would surpass 70 percent by 2023.

Combined with Prime and FBA, this high-level picture sounds like Amazon can afford to not worry about its marketplace. But an uneasy trend seems to simmer within its 5 million cohort. Looking at Feedvisor’s survey of Amazon marketplace merchants from 2017 and 2018 and some interesting trends surface. 

Marketplace merchants are looking to keep their advertising costs low and are worried about rising fees on the Seattle-based company’s e-commerce platform. They’re also concerned about competition coming from Amazon as it continues to launch its own brands. Indeed, 60 percent of merchants told Feedvisor in 2017 that they planned to diversify to other channels. Walmart emerged as the most preferred channel, followed very closely by Shopify and eBay. 

About 10 percent of those surveyed in 2017 were making a million dollars or more in annual sales. A year on, this figure is up to 19 percent. One can tell where these first-time millionaires are heading when we see that Walmart today supports 9 percent more Amazon merchants than it did in 2017.

In its pursuit for parity with Amazon, Walmart has clearly overtaken eBay in merchant preference. The latter supports 12 percent fewer Amazon merchants today than it di

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Autonomous trucking startup Embark lands 30 million in funding

Embark Trucks has raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Sequoia Capital in its bid to be the first to develop and launch a commercially viable driverless truck.

Sequoia partner Pat Grady has joined Embark’s board. Existing investors including Data Collective, YCombinator, SV Angel and AME Cloud also participated in the round, Embark announced Thursday.

Embark, which was founded in 2016, has raised $47 million to date.

The autonomous trucking field is starting to become crowded. A number of companies, and more it seems every day, are all developing and testing autonomous trucks, including TuSimple, Starsky Robotics, Anthony Levandowski’s new company Kache.ai, Waymo, and Uber.

Each competitor in this emerging industry has a slightly different approach with the same general aim.

Embark, for instance, doesn’t want to replace the driver completely. The company, which emerged publicly in February 2017, envisions local drivers on the two tail ends of a long haul journey. A local driver would handle the piece from a warehouse to the interstate. From there, the driver would drop its freight and Embark’s self-driving system takes over, with a completely autonomous stint on the freeway. A local driver at the end of the trip would the freight to its final drop off point.

The company believes its tech, once deployed, will help decrease the number of drivers needed for long-haul trips.

Despite its relatively small size—there are just 35 employees—Embark has made considerable headway.

Embark has now added operations in Los Angeles suburb Ontario, according to co-founder and CEO Alex Rodrigues who published Thursday a post on Medium on its new funding. The added operations places Embark in the middle of the West Coast’s biggest freight hubs, Rodrigues wrote, adding that the company’s presence in the region was the key to hitting its milestones for the first half of 2018.

Embark is now running a daily service on its freight route from Los Angeles to Phoenix and now. “As of June, our system can complete the route end-to-end with no disengagements,” Rodrigues wrote. “This includes lane changes, merges, on-ramps, off-ramps and lots of LA-metro traffic.”

In February, Embark completed a 2,400-mile drive from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida. The drive, which included a safety driver on boar

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