FCC slaps robocaller with record $120M fine, but it’s like ’emptying the ocean with a teaspoon’

Whoever thought we would leave telemarketing behind in this brave new smartphone world of ours lacked imagination. Robocalls are a menace growing in volume and even a massive $120 million fine leveled against a prominent source of them by the FCC likely won’t stem the flood.

The fine was announced today during the FCC’s monthly open meeting: a Mr Adrian Abramovich was responsible for nearly 100 million robocalls over a three-month period, and will almost certainly be bankrupted by this record forfteiture.

“Our decision sends a loud and clear message,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “This FCC is an active cop on the beat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms consumers.”

That sounds impressive until you hear that these calls took place in 2016, and meanwhile there were 3.4 billion robocalls made last month alone. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel applauds the fine, but questions the practicality of pursuing damages when actions need to be taken to prevent the crimes in the first place.

“Let’s be honest,” she wrote in a statement, “Going after a single bad actor is emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.”

She points out that a set of rules designed to prevent robocalls was overturned a couple months ago, and that 20 petitions to the FCC under those rules for legal exemptions and such have yet to be addressed. And a technology designed to prevent robocalls altogether, recommended in a report more than a year ago and currently set to be implemented in Canada in 2019, has no such date here in the States.

As someone who gets these robocalls all the time, I fully support both this fine and the more serious measures Rosenworcel suggests. And the faster the better, I literally got one while writing this story.

Apple pulls the plug on its €850M data center project in Ireland over planning delays

Dark clouds have gathered and broken over Apple’s plans to build a data center in Ireland. Three years ago, Apple announced that it would invest $2 billion into building a pair of new, green data centers in Ireland and Denmark. But today, the iPhone giant confirmed that it was cancelling the first of those two projects, after too many delays in the approval process, which today appeared to be extending in a way that could go on for a long time to come.

“We’ve been operating in Ireland since 1980 and we’re proud of the many contributions we make to the economy and job creation.  In the last two years we’ve spent over €550 million with local companies and, all told, our investment and innovation supports more than 25,000 jobs up and down the country.  We’re deeply committed to our employees and customers in Ireland and are expanding our operations in Cork, with a new facility for our talented team there,” the company said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Several years ago we applied to build a data centre at Athenry. Despite our best efforts, delays in the approval process have forced us to make other plans and we will not be able to move forward with the data centre. While disappointing, this setback will not dampen our enthusiasm for future projects in Ireland as our business continues to grow.”

Apple had planned for the data center — which would cover 166,000 square metres — to go online in 2017.

(The first phase of the Danish center announced at the same time, incidentally, is nearly completed and Apple is now working on a second center in the country. We’ve confirmed with sources that this second center is not the “other plan” that Apple refers to in its statement above, meaning another data center announcement from Apple in the region may be coming.)

As originally conceived, the facility in Ireland was planned to be built on land previously used for growing and harvesting non-native trees. As part of its CSR in building the facility on that land, Apple also pledged to “restore native trees to Derrydonnell Forest,” as well as build an outdoor education space an a walking trail.

But within months of Apple announcing the project, issues started to arise around the potential environmental impact and what effect the building of the data center would have on the national electric grid. Initially, the Galway County Council asked for more details from Apple about how the data center would work.

Then, when Apple provided it and the council granted permission to build the center six months later, individual objections started to surface, including from a local environmental engineer called Allan Daly, who has become something of the public face of the opposition to the plans.

Daly’s main argument was that Apple’s data center, particularly at its fullest-possible size, would put too much strain on Ireland’s power grid, including in the building of them. Apple has maintained that its data centers are powered on renewables, that it gives back over time, and that it wouldn’t over-build.

Last October, Apple won a case in the Irish High Court that appeared to give the company the green light it needed to proceed with its plans. But from what we understand, there was still some uncertainty that lingered, because opposition could have still taken the case to the Supreme Court to appeal once again.

That continued uncertainty was the final straw for Apple. With no guaranteed end in sight, Apple finally made the choice to “move on”, as one source close to the situation told TechCrunch.

The whole case underscores some of the ongoing issues that apparently exist in Ireland over how data centers are planned and approved by local authorities.

“There is no disputing that Apple’s decision is very disappointing, particularly for Athenry and the West of Ireland,” Ireland’s Minister for Business and Enterprise Heather Humphreys said in a statement provided to Reuters.

There is talk of reforming that whole process, but that is not something Apple will get involved with at this point.

The company has had a rather complex relationship with the country.

Like many tech companies, Apple has made a lot of investment into operations based out of Ireland, including housing its European headquarters in Cork. But the country has also been the subject of a large tax debate, which has seen Apple just weeks ago finally settle on paying some €13 billion ($15.4 billion) in back taxes to Ireland starting this month, after the EU ruled that the existing tax scheme was illegal.

Ironically, Ireland was on Apple’s side in trying to resist the payment — perhaps in part because it all too well understands its relationship to the companies that subsequently pump hundreds of millions of euros in investment and jobs into their economies.

It’s odd timing, therefore, that we’d hear about Apple pulling out of the data center in Ireland now, although from what I’ve been told the two are very distinct, unrelated issues.

Tailor Brands raises $15.5M for AI-driven logo creation and more

Tailor Brands, a startup that automates parts of the branding and marketing process for small businesses, announced this morning that it has raised $15.5 million in Series B funding.

CEO Yali Saar has said the company sits at the intersection of design and machine learning. The idea is to create technology that understands the best practices of logo design, copywriting and social media strategy.

It’s the automated design that’s most immediately eye-catching, and that’s the big feature highlighted on the Tailor Brands website. You’ll need to pay to get access to high-quality image files, but before that, you can actually try creating a logo for free, just by entering some basic information about your company and identifying the designs you prefer.

Related: What do you guys think of the new TechCrunch logo?

techcrunch tailor brands

Tailor Brands, which launched at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in 2014, said the technology has already been used to create 45 million logos. The company says it had 3.86 million customers last year, and is adding half a million new businesses to the platform each month.

The new funding was led by Pitango Venture Capital Growth Fund and British Armat Group, with participation from Disruptive Technologies and Mangrove Capital Partners. The company has now raised a total of $20.6 million and says it will use the money to expand globally, add more languages and introduce more tools to its full branding suite.

Amazon opens showrooms in model homes to demo, sell smart home products

Last week, we reported on how Amazon was leveraging a new relationship with home builder Lennar to expand its smart home business, specifically in the sale of home security services. Today, Amazon is taking the next step forward in that strategy: it’s launching a new chain of showrooms it’s calling the Amazon Experience Centers across Lennar model homes to demo and help sell its smart home devices, Amazon Dash Buttons, and other consumer electronics services such as streaming Prime Content with Fire TV.

The model homes will be fully connected up as Alexa-enabled smart homes, Amazon says, with customers able to walk through and see the full effect of being able to use Alexa to control all electronic and connected kit, from TVs and lights to thermostat and window blinds.

These Experience Centers will also become places where people can go to arrange for and order home services through Amazon Home Services, the company’s Thumbtack-style marketplace that lets people search for and book a range of in-home contractors for cleaning, fixing or helping in other ways.

The centers will open first in 15 model homes in the cities of Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC, and Amazon will be looking to strike deals with other home builders to replicate the model.

The Experience Centers, and the other work that Amazon is doing to provide a more in-person angle to its smart home strategy specifically is particularly important to the company’s smart home and consumer electronics strategy. If people are buying products to put into their homes, and many of those products represent the next generation of consumer electronics, it’s important for Amazon to provide more real-world touchpoints both to better sell and explain the services, and to help make consumers — the majority of whom will not be early adopters — more comfortable with the purchases.

“We wanted customers to experience a real home environment that showcases the convenience of the Alexa smart home experience, great entertainment available with Prime, and Home Services,” said Bhavnish Lathia, general manager, Amazon Services, in a statement. “We are excited to extend our relationship with Lennar with the launch of Amazon Experience Centers. As one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, Lennar offers the potential to enable this experience within easy driving distance of millions of customers.”

The launch of these Experience Centers is also just the latest move by Amazon to bring its online marketplace and virtual salesrooms into more physical, brick-and-mortar environments. Other efforts have included Go, Amazon’s cashier-free shopping experience launched at the end of last year, and its university campus-based stores, which have been around now for several years. All of these also complement the major investment that Amazon has made in another physical sales environment: last year the company acquired the Whole Foods chain of supermarkets for $13.7 billion.

As with the company’s home services specialists, the people who will staff the Experience Centers will also be employees of Amazon, “experts” in the company’s parlance, “employees who are specially trained on the latest technology and are passionate about helping customers.”

For Lennar, the idea will be to use the format to help it sell more of its homes, as well as the premium packages to add on the numerous extras of making them into high-end smart homes. The company controversially once worked with Apple as its smart home partner but more recently swapped to working with Amazon, reportedly because Amazon sold not only its own devices, but those of third parties.

“Amazon’s ability to bring a home to life with Alexa smart home experiences, entertainment and services – coupled with their obsession with customer experience – is a natural extension of our Everything’s Included approach to homebuilding,” said David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, in a statement. “We picked Amazon because of our shared commitment to customers, their Amazon experts across the country, and their ability to connect customers with thousands of service providers through Amazon Home Services.”

Whoops: SoftBank CEO reveals Walmart has acquired Flipkart

Here’s one way to make sure Amazon doesn’t get control of Flipkart in India by outbidding you for a majority stake: buy it outright. Today during SoftBank’s earnings presentation, it looks like CEO Masayoshi Son slipped in a little scoop: he announced that Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, on Tuesday night reached a deal to buy Flipkart, the leading e-commerce retailer in India, putting an end to months (and actually years) of speculation. SoftBank is currently one of Flipkart’s biggest investors.

Walmart is purchasing Flipkart,” Son said in the presentation (he spoke in Japanese with a real-time translation provided by a SoftBank representative). “Last night there was the official announcement.”

Very soon after, there was a quick and slightly messy recovery: a second gentleman approached Son during the Q&A section of his presentation and slipped him a note, after which point the CEO read it, and then said an announcement had not yet been confirmed.

“With regards to Flipkart, it’s not officially announced yet,” he said with a weak smile. “Maybe I should not have mentioned that … Well, I can’t take it out!”

“Not yet announced” is also the line that SoftBank spokespeople are also taking, and we have yet to hear back from Flipkart and Walmart with their comments. Yet it could come very soon, though: we’ve been told by a source that the official news will be released at 5pm India time.

If Masa’s first statement was accurate, Walmart’s acquisition would end a long-running saga.  For months now, there have been rumors that the world’s largest retailer was gearing up to acquire a sizeable stake in the Indian company to get its foot into India — with reports putting the size of the stake at anywhere between 51 percent and around 70 percent, and at a value of between $15 billion and $20 billion, with additional investors potentially including Google.

But in the last week, alternative reports started to emerge that Amazon would try to gazump Walmart and take a pole position as a shareholder.

Walmart and Amazon have been hotly competing against each other in other markets, specifically the US — where Amazon dominates in online sales but Walmart continues to lead the charge in brick-and-mortar, despite many aggressive moves from Amazon, such as its acquisition of Whole Foods.

Meanwhile, India — Asia’s second-largest economy after China and one of the world’s fastest-growing markets — has become a key country for Amazon over the last several years, with billions already ploughed into its operations there and billions more earmarked for future investment. So when it appeared that Walmart was also going to try to muscle in by taking a stake in the country’s largest homegrown online retailer, Flipkart became the latest battleground between the two U.S. giants.

Walmart clearly was not ready to give up, though. As we pointed out last week, Walmart divesting its stake in Asda in the UK to Sainsbury’s would pave the way for the company to make a bigger move in India, and that seems to be what has happened here.

It’s still not clear if Walmart will buy out all investors with this deal, or whether it will take just a controlling share, and continue to involve other third parties.

Flipkart has raised around $7.3 billion in funding since being founded in 2007, with other investors including Microsoft, eBay, Naspers, Tencent, Tiger Global, Accel and many more, and it has been a consolidator of sorts itself, buying eBay India last year.

But although it is the country’s biggest online retailer, it has had a rocky time in terms of its valuation, which at one point was over $15 billion but dipped to $11.6 billion in its last round in 2017, in part because of fierce competition from Amazon, Snapdeal and more.

Interestingly, we should point out that this is not the first time that Son has “announced” an India-based tech deal ahead of time.

Two years ago during another quarterly presentation, the SoftBank boss let slip that OYO — the hotel aggregator service that counts SoftBank as an investor — had acquired rival Zo Rooms, a deal that had been much-speculated in India at the time.

Despite his reveal, the OYO-Zo deal actually never happened. In fact, the two were at loggerheads and even went to court as the relationship soured following the breakdown of the proposed deal.

The scale of the Flipkart-Walmart tie-up is many orders of magnitude higher, with Flipkart’s India’s highest-valued startup and a poster child for the tech industry. Let’s hope Mr. Son got it right this time.

Google previews what’s next for Android Auto

Over the course of the last few days, Google teased a few updates to Android Auto, its platform for bringing its mobile operating system to the car. At its I/O developer conference, the company showed off what the next version of Android Auto will look like and how developers can start preparing their applications for it.

Earlier this week, Google announced that Volvo would build Android Auto directly into its head units, making it one of the first car manufacturers to do so. Typically, Android Auto essentially mirrors your phone — with a special on-screen interface designed for the car. By building Android Auto right into the car, you won’t need a phone. Instead, it’ll be a stand-alone experience and thanks to that, the car manufacturer can also offer a number of custom elements or maybe even support multiple screens.

As the Android Auto team noted during its I/O session, in-car screens are starting to get bigger and popping up in different sizes and aspect rations. At the same time, input methods are also evolving and while Google didn’t say so today, it appears the team is looking at how it can support features like a touchpad in the car.

Unsurprisingly, the team is now looking at how it can evolve the Android Auto UI to better support these different screens. As the team showed in today’s session, that could mean using a wide-screen display in the car to show both the Google Maps interface and a media player side-by-side.

Developers won’t have to do anything to support these new screen sizes and input mechanisms since the Android Auto platform will simply handle that for them.

The new concept design for a built-in Android Auto experience the company showed today looks quite a bit like its integration with Volvo. It relies on a large vertical screen and a user interface that is deeply integrated with the rest of the car’s functions.

“The goal of this concept is to adapt Android Auto’s design to a vehicle-specific theme,” Google’s Lauren Wunderlich said in today’s session. “This includes additional ergonomic details and nods to the vehicle’s interior design.”

As part of today’s preview, Google showcased a few new features, including an improved search experience, which developers will have to support in their apps. This new experience will allow developers to group results by groups, say playlists and albums in a music app, for example (and interesting, Google mostly highlighted Spotify as a music app in today’s session and not its own Google Play Music service).

Google also promises a better messaging experience with support for the new RCS standard.

Google is also introducing a couple of new user interface elements in the media player like an explicit content warning and an icon that lets you see when a playlist has been downloaded to your device, for example.

But Google also briefly showed a slide with a few more items on its roadmap for Android P in the car. Those include support for things like integrations between driver assistant systems and Maps data, for example, as well as ways to suspend Android Auto to RAM for, I assume, the built-in version.

Google hasn’t shared any exact numbers that would allow us to quantify the popularity of Android Auto, but the team did say that “thousands of apps” now support the platform, a number that’s up 200 percent since last year. As more car manufacturers support it, the number of overall users has also increased and the team today reported over 300 percent user growth in the last year.

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank, now lets you pay ‘Nearby Friends’

Monzo, one of a plethora of U.K. fintech startups aiming to re-invent current account banking, has launched a new feature that makes it even more frictionless to transfer money to friends. Dubbed ‘Nearby Friends’, the new geolocation functionality uses Bluetooth to let you see anyone else that uses Monzo who is nearby so that you can initiate a payment without needing their phone number to be in your contact book first.

One of the ways Monzo has increased its virality from the get-go is by making friend-to-friend payments easy, either to people who already bank with the startup, or via the Monzo.me service, which gives users a payment link to share with friends. The idea, as Monzo co-founder often explains, is that unlike traditional incumbent banks that basically have zero network effects (perhaps beyond joint accounts), the challenger bank is designed to become more useful the more people who join it.

Revolut has a similar feature called 'Near Me'

Revolut has a similar feature called ‘Near Me’

“Thanks to the magic of Bluetooth, you can see anyone else that uses Monzo nearby. To protect people’s privacy, you’ll only find people who also have the feature open at the same time. With just a couple of taps, you can send people money, without the need to swap numbers or do any other admin,” writes Andy Smart, iOS Platform Lead at Monzo, on the company’s blog.

Under the hood, Monzo’s ‘Nearby Friends’ uses Google Nearby, Google’s peer-to-peer networking API that allows apps to “easily discover, connect to, and exchange data with nearby devices in real-time, regardless of network connectivity”. Specifically, here is how Monzo says its implementation works:

  1. When you open Nearby Friends, we send an anonymous token (a random string of text) to Google
  2. That token is broadcast via Bluetooth to devices nearby
  3. At the same time, your Monzo app starts searching for other devices near you
  4. When your Monzo app discovers a device nearby, it receives the device’s token. Using the Monzo API, it exchanges that token for your friend’s name and profile picture
  5. We also receive an identifier which we can use to work out who to make the payment to

The token does not identify you personally outside of Monzo’s systems, which means we don’t share any of your personal information with third parties during the process. The token we send to Google expires after a short period of time, meaning your personal data is unidentifiable.

Meanwhile, competitor Revolut recently — and relatively quietly by its standards — rolled out a very similar feature, as it is wont to do. Called ‘Near Me’, I understand it will be formally unannounced in a company blog post as soon as tomorrow and is another clear sign of how fast the $1.7B valued banking startup is moving.

Fantasmo is a decentralized map for robots and augmented reality

“Whether for AR or robots, anytime you have software interacting with the world, it needs a 3D model of the globe. We think that map will look a lot more like the decentralized internet than a version of Apple Maps or Google Maps.” That’s the idea behind new startup Fantasmo, according to co-founder Jameson Detweiler. Coming out of stealth today, Fantasmo wants to let any developer contribute to and draw from a sub-centimeter accuracy map for robot navigation or anchoring AR experiences.

Fantasmo plans to launch a free Camera Positioning Standard (CPS) that developers can use to collect and organize 3D mapping data. The startup will charge for commercial access and premium features in its TerraOS, an open-sourced operating system that helps property owners keep their maps up to date and supply them for use by robots, AR and other software equipped with Fantasmo’s SDK.

With $2 million in funding led by TenOneTen Ventures, Fantasmo is now accepting developers and property owners to its private beta.

Directly competing with Google’s own Visual Positioning System is an audacious move. Fantasmo is betting that private property owners won’t want big corporations snooping around to map their indoor spaces, and instead will want to retain control of this data so they can dictate how it’s used. With Fantasmo, they’ll be able to map spaces themselves and choose where robots can roam or if the next Pokémon GO can be played there.

“Only Apple, Google, and HERE Maps want this centralized. If this data sits on one of the big tech company’s servers, they could basically spy on anyone at any time,” says Detweiler. The prospect gets scarier when you imagine everyone wearing camera-equipped AR glasses in the future. “The AR cloud on a central server is Big Brother. It’s the end of privacy.”

Detweiler and his co-founder Dr. Ryan Measel first had the spark for Fantasmo as best friends at Drexel University. “We need to build Pokémon in real life! That was the genesis of the company,” says Detweiler. In the meantime he founded and sold LaunchRock, a 500 Startups company for creating “Coming Soon” sign-up pages for internet services.

After Measel finished his PhD, the pair started Fantasmo Studios to build augmented reality games like Trash Collectors From Space, which they took through the Techstars accelerator in 2015. “Trash Collectors was the first time we actually created a spatial map and used that to sync multiple people’s precise position up,” says Detweiler. But while building the infrastructure tools to power the game, they realized there was a much bigger opportunity to build the underlying maps for everyone’s games. Now the Santa Monica-based Fantasmo has 11 employees.

“It’s the internet of the real world,” says Detweiler. Fantasmo now collects geo-referenced photos, scans them for identifying features like walls and objects, and imports them into its point cloud model. Apps and robots equipped with the Fantasmo SDK can then pull in the spatial map for a specific location that’s more accurate than federally run GPS. That lets them peg AR objects to precise spots in your environment while making sure robots don’t run into things.

Fantasmo identifies objects in geo-referenced photos to build a 3D model of the world

“I think this is the most important piece of infrastructure to be built during the next decade,” Detweiler declares. That potential attracted funding from TenOneTen, Freestyle Capital, LDV, NoName Ventures, Locke Mountain Ventures and some angel investors. But it’s also attracted competitors like Escher Reality, which was acquired by Pokémon GO parent company Niantic, and Ubiquity6, which has investment from top-tier VCs like Kleiner Perkins and First Round.

Google is the biggest threat, though. With its industry-leading traditional Google Maps, experience with indoor mapping through Tango, new VPS initiative and near limitless resources. Just yesterday, Google showed off using an AR fox in Google Maps that you can follow for walking directions.

Fantasmo is hoping that Google’s size works against it. The startup sees a path to victory through interoperability and privacy. The big corporations want to control and preference their own platforms’ access to maps while owning the data about private property. Fantasmo wants to empower property owners to oversee that data and decide what happens to it. Measel concludes, “The world would be worse off if GPS was proprietary. The next evolution shouldn’t be any different.”

Emily Weiss and Kirsten Green will join us on the Main Stage at TC Disrupt SF

Since forever, companies have made products for people to buy, but the evolution and reach of the internet has given rise to entirely new brands, some of which are growing at unprecedented speeds thanks to platforms like Instagram and other social media channels — not to mention strong storytelling.

Two of the people leading the e-commerce charge are Glossier’s Emily Weiss and Forerunner Ventures founding partner and managing director Kirsten Green . We’re thrilled to announce that both of them will sit down on stage at TC Disrupt SF to discuss Glossier’s continued rise and the evolution of e-commerce.

Emily Weiss – Glossier

Glossier isn’t even four years old yet, and the brand has already become a household name. The company was launched in 2014 off the back of Weiss’ staggeringly successful beauty blog Into The Gloss.

The premise of the brand is simple. Glossier products are designed for women who love makeup but don’t love looking garish. Part of selling that effortlessly beautiful aesthetic centers on marketing  a narrow product line, one that’s focused on skin care products; a handful of lipsticks, cream cheek colors, and eyebrow mascaras; and well as a single fragrance called “You” that comes in both liquid and solid form.

Beyond the success of the products, Weiss has become a role-model, even a superstar, to many of Glossier’s young customers. Weiss built a foundation of trust with her audience on Into The Gloss, and that has carried over to the Glossier brand.

The originally direct-to-consumer company has also started an offline business with a pop-up shop in NYC, a now converted Dunkin Donuts that generates more sales revenue per square foot than the average Apple Store, according to Weiss.

Glossier has attracted a number of large investments from VCs like Index Venture Partners, Thrive Capital and Forerunner Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to more than $86 million. And sitting on the board is none other than Kirsten Green.

Kirsten Green – Forerunner Ventures

Eight years ago, Kirsten Green launched Forerunner Ventures. Since then, she’s risen to be one of the most prominent and successful investors in Silicon Valley and beyond, with a particular knack for e-commerce investments.

Green has raised more than $300 million and invested in more than 50 companies. Portfolio companies include Glossier, Outdoor Voices, Ritual, Inturn and Indigo Fair, as well as exited companies like Jet.com, Dollar Shave Club, and Bonobos.

She’s a founding member of All Raise, a female mentorship collective, and has been named one of Time’s 100 Most influential people, in Forbes’ 2017 and 2018 Midas List and World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. And lest we forget, she was also named VC of the year at the 2017 Crunchies Awards.

Green’s ability to identify stellar founders and foster e-commerce brands is unparalleled across the ecosystem, and we’re thrilled to learn from her on the Disrupt SF stage.

On Fridays, HQ Trivia will let you see your friends’ answers during the game

HQ, the live trivia game that is now seeing up to 2 million players per game, is introducing some new social features, including answer sharing with friends.

The company has been testing this feature across a small group of users already, but on Friday the feature will roll out to all HQ users.

Here’s how it works: Users can connect their address book to HQ and add their friends. Once they have added friends, they can see which of their friends are playing the game alongside them. Users can put their own avatar on the answer to a question to share their choice, which is viewable by friends.

The idea is that answer sharing mimics what many people do while playing HQ IRL, yelling out answers to their coworkers in the office or sharing with their friends and family in a bar or at home.

“We understand the power of the crowd and playing together,” said HQ product manager James Ruben. “That doesn’t necessarily exist everywhere. Our goal is to spread that power to people who maybe aren’t playing in the office together.”

This comes on the heels of HQ’s introduction of “Friends on HQ” from April, which let users see friends playing in the same quiz and see their progress through the game. Answer sharing simply takes that a step further.

Interestingly, answer sharing won’t be available on each HQ Trivia quiz. Instead, the feature will debut on Friday of this week, and continue to be available on Friday games.

“We understand that it’s a change to the game play,” said Ruben. “Friday is an interesting time to experiment and try out answer sharing because Fridays tend to be a bit more social than other days.”

Alongside answer sharing, HQ is also adding yet another social layer to the game with Nearby Friends. The feature will allow HQ players to see other people (not in their address book) who are in the same quiz as them and physically nearby, perhaps in the same office building or in the same bar or restaurant.

Finally, HQ is making it easier to upload the address book and connect with friends on the app.

HQ is an interesting business in that it’s taking an almost old-school approach to advertising/sponsorship. As opposed to social networks like Facebook, which collect as much data as possible about users to sell advertisements against that data, HQ is focused more on getting as many engaged eyeballs in the same place as possible, a bit like television advertising.

HQ doesn’t have that much information on users beyond their phone number, device type, username, and other basic information commonly gleaned by app developers. With the introduction of Friends on HQ, the company gets a bit more insight into users. But that’s not necessarily the reason for the update.

Instead, HQ wants to make these games as engaging as possible, and what’s more engaging than competing with or cheering along your friends and family.

The company is also taking a measured approach to advertising and sponsorship, working with partners that make sense for the HQ community and making those sponsorships as native as possible.

For example, HQ recently ran a $250,000 game with Warner Brothers as a sponsor, plugging the film Ready Player One within the graphics and even in some of the questions. The company also had Duane “The Rock” Johnson host a $300,000 game as part of the actor’s promotion of his upcoming movie Rampage.

Answer sharing will be available to everyone on Friday, but easier address book upload and Nearby Friends are soon to come for Android users.