Announcing TechCrunch Sessions, a new series of events focused on a single topic

Big news, folks! Today, TechCrunch is announcing a new series of events: Sessions. These events will dive deep on a single topic, bringing together experts in the field and those interested in the theme to discuss what matters.

Obviously, this is going to be huge!

These events will be single-day affairs with limited seating. Some will have intimate discussions with audience participation. Others will have interactive demos of the latest robotic and augmented reality technology. Yet at all the events we’re dropping the barrier between speaker and attendee, and allowing for plenty of interaction with networking time and a big reception at the end of the day.

There are a few Sessions planned for this year and they will be announced in the coming days and weeks.

Disrupt is not going anywhere and remains our flagship event. Disrupt NY is a few months away and the agenda is already packed with amazing speakers and panels. Disrupt SF hits San Francisco this September, and we’re returning to Berlin this December.

But each time one of our editors or writers walks off stage after a Disrupt fireside, all they want is more time to ask more questions. We can’t very well extend each Disrupt chat, but we can set aside a day a few times each year to dive into a topic and get our hands dirty.

 Whether it’s social justice, robotics, fintech, AR/VR, AI or something that’s yet to be unveiled to the world, it’s important that we take the time to fully understand the issues that loom on the horizon. Sessions will allow us to do that.

Every year, when planning Disrupt and our editorial coverage, we end up seeing a variety of big themes surface during the conference, but there’s not enough time to fully explore the area. With Sessions, we will bring together key individuals, companies, students, researchers and government agencies to discuss these issues at length.

As at Disrupt, TechCrunch editorial staff are programming these events. Hit us up with comments and suggestions.

We’ll be announcing our first topics soon! Can’t wait to see you at the next Session!

Private pictures and video of Emma Watson and other celebrities leak online

Photos apparently stolen from Emma Watson, Amanda Seyfried and other female celebrities have been posted on 4chan and Reddit, drawing comparisons to a 2014 hack, grossly dubbed “The Fappening” that exposed nude photos and video of several celebrities. The hacker in that case, Ryan Collins, obtained the pictures from iCloud accounts via a phishing scheme and was sentenced last fall to 18 months in prison.

The images range from benign snapshots from clothing fittings to sexually explicit material. Several of the posts alleged that photos of other women might be leaked, as well.

“Photos from a clothes fitting Emma had with a stylist a couple of years ago have been stolen. They are not nude photographs. Lawyers have been instructed and we are not commenting further,” a spokesperson for Watson told the BBC.

After addressing the United Nations about gender equality, Watson said in 2015 she was threatened with a leak of nude photos. “I knew it was a hoax. I knew the pictures didn’t exist,” she said. “If anything, it made me so much more determined. I was just raging. It made me so angry that I was just like … ‘This is why I have to be doing this!’… So if anything, it actually, if they were trying to put me off it, they did the opposite.”

 Phishing scams have been behind several high-profile hacks, including that of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta during the 2016 election cycle. Hackers trick victims by sending links that appear to be from email providers that ask victims to enter their login details. The usernames and passwords are then stolen and used to log in to victims’ accounts and back up their data.

The methodology used here is not yet clear, but chatter on the 4chan message board, where many of the images began to be posted on Tuesday, indicate that they’re coming from private image sharing groups. Private groups of phisher/hacker collectors were involved in the last major celebrity hacking, as well. Salacious images of public figures tend to get traded around amongst these collectors and used as currency to expand their private stash.

Every once in a while, dumps of these images spill over into the mainstream, triggering public attention and investigation.

What Should I Do To Optimize My Company’s Conversion Rates?

Many if not most business owners want their companies to become as profitable as possible. If this is one of your company goals, now is the time to focus on finding out which business strategies will help you optimize your organization’s bottom line. Here are three that may assist you in the conversion optimization process:

Image result for What Should I Do To Optimize My Company's Conversion Rates?

  1. Hire A Business Consulting Organization.

One great way to optimize your conversion rates is by hiring a business consulting organization. This step will help ensure that a team of skilled, knowledgeable professionals will be able to analyze and optimize your company’s daily operations and employee development processes. Consulting firms can also implement leadership development strategies. All of these efforts can translate into more sales for your company. Firms such as KEYGroup Consulting are pleased to offer a wide range of services that can help you increase your conversion rates. An example would be providing you with a team of executive coaching consultants.

  1. Utilize Content Marketing Services.

In addition to hiring a business consulting organization, make sure that you begin utilizing content marketing services. These services ensure that you can develop a strong online presence by providing your target market with informative, up-to-date data about your product or service line. A content marketing organization will typically be able to produce and manage most or all of the following content forms:

-blog posts

-web articles

-YouTube videos

-pictures

Once you have outstanding content available to prospective clients at all times, your conversion rates will likely improve!

  1. Optimize The Office Setting.

You might be surprised to learn that the quality of your office environment can have a profoundly powerful impact on staff productivity. Now that you understand this principle, it’s time to think about which strategies you can implement to optimize the office setting. One great strategy is updating your break room. Because the break room enables staff members to relax and then return to work rejuvenated and ready to get things done, it’s important to make this region of the business property conducive to relaxation. There are many things you can do to make this happen, such as purchasing a super comfy couch where employees can sit as they drink their coffee. This strategy can translate into increased conversion rates because a well-rested, energized staff is more likely to get things done quickly and correctly. When this happens, they’ll oftentimes be able to do more in less time, close more sales, etc.

Start Optimizing Conversion Now!

If conversion optimization is one of your primary goals for 2017, now is the time to start implementing strategies that will help you optimize your bottom line. You can implement some or all of the techniques outlined above to accomplish this objective!

Yelp is making it possible to find businesses with gender-neutral bathrooms

Yelp is rolling out the ability to see if restaurants and other businesses have gender-neutral bathrooms. In the next couple of weeks, people will also be able to search for businesses on Yelp that have gender-neutral restrooms. To be clear, gender-neutral bathrooms are single-stall bathrooms that lock and are accessible to all genders.

In order for this to work, Yelp will start asking people who check into a business or review it if they offer gender-neutral bathrooms. Business owners on Yelp will also be able to edit their profiles to indicate they have gender-neutral restrooms. Given that Yelp is relying on users and business owners to submit this information, it might take a while before the tool is reaches its full capabilities. In the meantime, those looking to find gender-neutral bathrooms can utilize REFUGE Restrooms, an open-source database “that seeks to provide safe restroom access for transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals.”

Yelp’s new feature comes shortly after the Trump administration rescinded protective guidance for transgender students. Just yesterday, Yelp, along with 52 other tech companies, joined an amicus brief in support of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who filed a lawsuit against his school board for denying him the use of the boy’s bathroom. Rachel Williams, Yelp’s head of diversity and inclusion, says the product feature is a direct response to recent events.

“In response to the news of the last few days — and I’m super proud that the head of diversity and inclusion had nothing to do with it — people in this company were so incensed by what’s going on in our country, and to potential employees and customers, that they wanted to do something to support,” Williams told me. “The product team got it done within a couple of days. They dropped everything to add this feature. I’m overjoyed and proud.”

As Williams mentioned, she had nothing to do with the idea nor the development of the product. Even though there are no LGBTQIA people on the product team, they drove this initiative, which included reaching out to Yelp’s LGBTQIA employee resource group and the Human Rights Campaign, and “opted to drop revenue-generating product features,” she said with a laugh. She added that she was pleased she didn’t have to do “finger-wagging or anything like that.”

Williams said she had a similar experience with Yelp’s involvement in the amicus brief.

“I have ongoing group texts that are very annoying but necessary with other diversity leaders,” Williams said. “When we heard about [the amicus brief] we were like, ‘we’re doing this, right? Right?!?’” Williams relayed to me, chuckling. But by the time Williams got in touch with Yelp’s legal team, they said they were already on it.

“The culture is changing,” Williams said. “That is what the big indicator is. Rightly or wrongly, this new administration has galvanized the folks. People are excited and fired up.”

NBCUniversal invests $500 million in Snap

NBCUniversal is now the only U.S. media company that has an official stake in Snap. Today, NBC Universal (which is a unit of Comcast) revealed that it invested $500 million in Snap as a strategic investment partnership during yesterday’s IPO.

Snap shares popped 44 percent in the first day of trading.

NBCUniversal has been pursuing digital media aggressively in the past year, including investments in Buzzfeed, Vox, and acquisitions of SportsEngine and Awesomeness TV. According to CNBC, NBC has spent approximately $1.5 billion on digital media assets in the last 18 months.

While Snapchat has continued to grow in popularity among teens and young adults — partially through funny photo filters and stylish recording sunglasses called Spectacles — the company’s content push hasn’t been quite as well-received.

Discover, Snapchat’s ‘news’ platform, requires publishers to write and format content specifically for Snapchat, and all of these stories have only 24 hours to live on the platform before disappearing.

The investment from NBC Universal may signal changes to Snap’s media strategy.

Given the current climate around the media — cough Fake News! cough — it would be interesting to see Snapchat position itself against Facebook as the place for ‘verified’ news information. Imagine if Discover focused on giving you direct access to journalists and broadcasters for their professional take on today’s breaking news.

Of course, NBCUniversal could have invested in Snap as a way to move forward its entertainment businesses, such as NBC programming and Universal Studios films.

That seems far more likely than the news play, considering that NBC has already worked with Snap for projects like the Rio Olympics, with other series (such as SNL, The Voice, and more), which are in the works to air on Snapchat.

I am writing to share some exciting news. Yesterday, NBCUniversal made a strategic investment of $500 million in Snap as part of its initial public offering. This is a significant milestone in our growing partnership with Snap, and we look forward to participating in Snap’s success as an investor and continuing to work closely with them for years to come.

Evan Spiegel and his talented team have done an outstanding job building Snap into an extremely innovative and relevant company, attracting a massive, dedicated and young audience. Over the last year, we have partnered with Snap frequently. Most notably, we produced a pop-up Discover channel which featured Olympic content produced by BuzzFeed. Throughout the Rio Games, this content generated over two billion views. On the heels of that success, we are already planning an expanded partnership with Snapchat and BuzzFeed for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. Our entertainment programs have been among the first shows to launch a Snapchat series, including The Voice, SNL and E! News’ The Rundown. We expect to launch even more Snapchat shows with additional NBCU brands in the coming weeks.

Our partnership with Snap builds on our strategy to drive digital growth for our business, both organically and through investments and acquisitions. In the last year and a half, we have invested $400 million in BuzzFeed, $200 million in Vox, and launched key initiatives with both companies. We also acquired SportsEngine, a digital business that is revolutionizing the way youth sports are managed online.

Through our acquisition of DreamWorks, we became a majority owner of Awesomeness TV, a popular entertainment brand with one of the top channels on YouTube. Fandango has acquired Flixster, Rotten Tomatoes and several ticketing and video on-demand services.

In addition to these investments, in the last year we have launched two OTT channels — Seeso and Hayu — broadening our reach among passionate, niche audiences. We also formed the Digital Enterprises group under Maggie Suniewick. Maggie and her team are helping us forge deeper partnerships with major platforms, as well as looking for opportunities to invest and create new businesses.

Many of our existing digital businesses associated with our TV brands are also showing strong growth, such as NBC Entertainment, NBC News, E!, CNBC, NBC Sports and the Golf Channel’s GolfNow. Finally, we have participated in the rapid growth of Hulu through our 30 percent ownership stake.

I am proud of the strides we have made in the digital space recently. With the Snap investment, we have invested over $1.5 billion in promising digital businesses in the last 18 months. Importantly, we have become a better, more digitally-focused company as a result.

Looking forward, we will continue to be aggressive as digital content consumption increases. Investing in Snap is a key step in that direction, and I am pleased to share this exciting news with you. It is rare to have the opportunity to invest at this stage in a company as visionary and dynamic as Snap, and it is a compliment that they chose NBCU as a partner.

Facebook Acknowledges Error That Locked Some Users Out of Their Accounts

A number of Facebook users across the globe on Friday and Saturday were locked out of their accounts due to an error in the system, triggering a security threat among those affected, a report said on Saturday.

Facebook Acknowledges Error That Locked Some Users Out of Their Accounts

According to the report in Mashable, Facebook was quick to assure that the problem was a technical one and there was no security problems.

“An error in one of our systems designed to help prevent suspicious account access sent a small set of people to our account recovery flow unnecessarily,” a Facebook spokesperson was quoted as saying.

“We have fixed the issue and are in the process of clearing the affected accounts from this recovery flow,” it added.

However, it could not be verified how many accounts were affected due to the snag on Friday. Facebook also clarified to the publication that the error was not due to the Cloudflare leak that was recently patched by the content delivery network and Internet security services provider. Unofficially christened Cloudbleed, the bug was similar to Heartbleed in that it leaked user data.

Notably, users of various Google services were affected by a Google Accounts engine issue and were similarly locked out earlier this week.

Separately, Facebook announced on Saturday it has recorded 300 billion Reactions on posts and the Love reaction was used maximum times by its over 1.79 billion users.

On February 24 last year, Facebook enhanced conversations by implementing Reactions – a group of emojis that has Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry emoticons – that joined the famous Like button.

Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom Launch Delayed Until Q2 2017; Specifications to Be Upgraded

After revealing the pricing of smartphone earlier this month, Asus has now delayed the smartphone release to Q2 2017 in order to upgrade its specifications.

Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom Launch Delayed Until Q2 2017; Specifications to Be Upgraded

The Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom was due become available starting February, while US was due to receive the smartphone sometime in Q1 price at $399 (roughly Rs. 26,600). In response to a customer’s query on Facebook, Asus North America said that the ZenFone 3 Zoom has been delayed until Q2 [2017], as pointed out in a report by PhoneArena. “We’re reworking it with better specs so you and many others can have an awesome smartphone to use,” Asus said.

It’s unclear whether the delay applies to all regions, but with just a few days left in the month – it appears regions apart from the US will see a delay as well, apart from reworked specifications. Earlier this month, Asus announced that the Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom has been priced at CNY 3,699 (roughly Rs. 36,400) – specifically, for the top-end 128GB inbuilt storage variant with 4GB of RAM. The China price details of cheaper SKUs were not revealed by the company.

Asus has called ZenFone 3 Zoom as the “thinnest and lightest” smartphone that features a 5000mAh battery. The smartphone is 7.9mm thick, and weighs 170 grams. It sports a 5.5-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) AMOLED display and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor. The camera-focused smartphone comes with a dual rear camera setup, with one 12-megapixel rear camera with Sony IMX362 sensor and an f/1.7 aperture, and the other 12-megapixel rear camera featuring 2.3x optical zoom.

Just like the Asus ZenFone AR, the ZenFone 3 Zoom features a TriTech+ autofocus system, dual-PDAF, 4-axis OIS, and 3-axis EIS. At front, the smartphone sports a 13-megapixel camera with a Sony IMX214 sensor, an f/2.0 aperture, and a screen flash feature.

5 Gifts for the Military Man In Your Life

It can be difficult to find gifts for military men, especially if their hobbies and interests revolve around their service. What can you buy them that they don’t already have? What will be fun without being frivolous? If you’re looking for high-quality presents for your Army Ranger, Navy SEAL or Recon Marine, here are just a few ideas.

Image result for 5 Gifts for the Military Man In Your Life

  1. Waterproof Gear

He may have a ton of survival equipment already, but is it <i>waterproof</i> equipment? Most men don’t think about this kind of thing when they’re shopping, or if they do, they aren’t willing to shell out the extra money for it. You can splurge on his behalf and save him a lot of trouble during his next outdoor expedition when you buy him things like waterproof matchboxes and moisture-resistant jackets.

  1. Lock Picks

Lock picks are both entertaining and practical. Not only will you have valuable tools on hand in case of accidents and emergencies, but you’ll also get to spend a lot of time together as you figure out the clicks and gives of your household locks. Everybody wins when you buy a lock pick set!

  1. Field Manuals

Military field manuals have been created and distributed since humans first mastered the power of the printing press. It’s these vintage pieces that are especially interesting to today’s military men. Authentic manuals can be tracked down through online auction sites; modern reprints and reproductions can be found in any militia store.

  1. Bumper Stickers

Stickers and decals are great gifts if you want to showcase your thoughtfulness without breaking the bank. If he’s patriotic, he’ll love some stars and stripes to decorate his vehicle. If you know his political leanings, you can purchase something that supports or condemns a candidate he always talks about.

  1. Surgical Kits

Surgical kits are more extensive versions of the first-aid kits that your mom always stored in the medicine cabinet. In addition to the usual items like bandages and tweezers, surgical kits also come with specialty tools such as scalpel blades, needle probes and hemostats. They’ll make sure that your man always comes home from his missions.

These are just five great gifts for the military man in your life. Whether he’s a hard-broiled action hero or a super-smart computer tech, these presents will show him how much you appreciate his service.

Dual-camera toting Huawei Honor 8 Pro could be unveiled at MWC 2017

With the MWC 2017 quickly approaching, there’s still some speculation as to what the manufacturers will have to show off. While the likes of LG are expected to launch the LG G6, we are now hearing that Huawei will unveil the Honor 8 Pro during the course of the event.

The smartphone will apparently come with dual-rear cameras, which has been an industry trend for the past couple of years or so. It is said that the Honor 8 Pro will be known as the Honor V9 when it breaks cover in China. The handset has already been approved in China, which means we don’t have to wait for the official launch for the confirmation of the hardware specs.

As per TENAA’s listing, the smartphone comes with a 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) panel, and an octa-core processor with a clock speed of 2.4 GHz. However, the exact make of the processor is not known at this point.

Huawei is one of the top manufacturers in the world right now, thanks mainly to its high power cost effective handsets. It is not yet known if this new offering will go easy on the wallets, but one can hope that the company won’t drastically change its policies for this particular device.

Hardware specifications of the Huawei Honor 8 Pro:

Display: 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) panel
Processor: 2.4 GHz octa-core (make unknown)
Camera: 12MP dual-rear cameras, 8MP front camera
RAM: 4/6GB
Storage: 64/128GB
OS: Android 7.0 Nougat
Battery: 3,900mAh
Connectivity: 4G LTE

ASUS ZenFone 3 Go with soft front LED flash and budget hardware leaked

Seems like ASUS is focusing heavily on the budget market segment this year, continuing the trend that began a couple of years ago. A new smartphone, known as the ZenFone 3 Go has leaked out in a pretty official fashion, revealing most of the hardware specifications of the device.

The highlight here is the presence of a front facing “soft” LED flash for that added illumination in low light situations. The company is using a moderate 5MP camera on the front, though. Interestingly, the company hasn’t swayed too much from the ZenFone 3 design language, which is apparent from this leak.

The rest of the hardware specifications are nothing to write home about, which is to be expected considering the kind of market that ASUS wants to target here. It’s a pretty exciting device, but that will depend heavily on the price tag that ASUS will assign to this particular smartphone.

The handset is using the quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor, which has featured in a handful of budget devices from 2016. There’s no word on the Android version it’s running, but since it’s a new device, we can expect it to feature Android 7.0 Marshmallow.

Hardware specifications of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Go:

Display: 5-inch HD (1280×720) panel
Camera: 13MP rear camera, 5MP front camera with soft LED flash
Processor: Quad-core Snapdragon 410
RAM: 2GB
Storage: 16GB (expandable via microSD)
OS: Android 7.0 Nougat (expected)
Connectivity: 4G LTE