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A ‘Perfect Storm’: Sharp Rise In Home Prices, Mortgage Rates Driving Working Americans Out Of The Market

A ‘Perfect Storm’: Sharp Rise In Home Prices, Mortgage Rates Driving Working Americans Out Of The Market

Authored by Michael Washburn via…

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A 'Perfect Storm': Sharp Rise In Home Prices, Mortgage Rates Driving Working Americans Out Of The Market

Authored by Michael Washburn via The Epoch Times,

The dramatic rise in home prices and mortgage rates in the early months of 2022 has had a relatively limited effect on wealthy buyers and sellers, but has had a severe impact on lower-income Americans - and the Democratic Party may pay a steep price for their frustrations in the November midterm elections and beyond, according to real estate analysts and commentators.

Average payments on mortgages went from 3 percent to 5 percent in the first three months of the year, and are now 38 percent higher than a year ago, according to a Politico report citing figures from real estate listing service Zillow.

Partly because of inflation, the average rate on 30-year mortgages this week hit 5.46 percent, the highest figure since August 2009, according to Bankrate statistics.

Rates are up across the board, including 30-year fixed rates, 15-year fixed rates, and 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) rates. As of April 2022, the median home price in America stood at $344,141, a 20.9 percent leap from a year before, Zillow states.

Inflation, driven by the pandemic and other factors including the government’s expansionist monetary and fiscal policies, has contributed to adverse market conditions where lower-income voters whom the Democratic Party claims to represent have it the hardest. The sharply rising mortgage rates, compounded by an inventory shortfall, are driving many prospective buyers out of the market, experts say.

President Joe Biden replies to questions from the media after delivering remarks on inflation and lower costs for working families in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

Lower-End Buyers Bear the Brunt

Some who work in real estate say that the competition for a limited number of houses has reached levels that they have rarely seen in years, and affects lower-income buyers above all.

“I think it probably does disproportionately affect the lower end. If you’re at the higher end of the market, and rates are in the 4s or 5s, that’s not a crazy number. But if you’re trying to get in, a fluctuation in the interest rates can price you out and make you not able to compete with the cash developers,” said Zachary Schorr, a real estate attorney based in Los Angeles.

“The real estate market has been going up and up, outpacing income. As that disparity keeps growing, it becomes increasingly difficult for the lower end to get into entry-level homes,” he said.

High inflation and global uncertainty fostered by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine are commonly offered as reasons for high mortgage rates, but they only partly explain why buyers have it so hard. The relatively low number of houses on the market is due partly to the fact that some homeowners who might otherwise be inclined to sell do not want to have to go looking for new homes in the current market, according to Mark Pruner, a sales executive at Compass Real Estate in Greenwich, Connecticut.

“One of the reasons we have low inventory is that many sellers, particularly ones who bought post-recession, have ‘silver handcuffs’ in that they have a very low-interest rate on their mortgage. If they were to list their house, i.e., add it to the inventory and alleviate pressure on buyers, they would be looking at higher prices, higher interest rates, and substantially higher monthly payments” on a new home they set out to acquire, Pruner explained.

Hence the market in which Pruner operates is far more favorable to wealthy buyers. In Greenwich, 50 percent of the home sales he handles are cash deals, and 20 percent take place without a mortgage contingency in the contract, because buyers are not worried about their ability to get financing.

The median price for sales in Pruner’s market is $384,400, and in 2021 the lowest value of a home sold through his agency was $450,000, he said.

Pictures of properties for rent or sale hang on the window of a real estate company on Sept. 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Buyers Give Up

In the face of these trends, some buyers are simply abandoning their plans.

“It’s gotten to a point where it is almost impossible for real estate brokers to do their job. There is such a lack of inventory, and so many more buyers than sellers,” said Mark Scheier, managing attorney of Scheier Katin & Epstein, an Acton, Massachusetts-based law firm with a focus on real estate.

“It just becomes a joke for a lot of people. After six or seven tries at buying a house, they just give up. I’ve had two clients in the last week tell me, because of increasing mortgage rates, that they’re out of the buying market and will continue to rent. I think you’re going to see a lot more of that,” Scheier added.

The current state of the market is highly favorable to cash buyers unaffected by changes to the interest on mortgage loans.

“I’ve never seen so many cash buyers in over four decades. They are a tremendous number,” Scheier said.

The lack of inventory is so severe that trying to be a real estate agent in this market exacts a toll, said Cara Ameer, a realtor at Coldwell Banker in Orange County, California.

“Real estate agents are worn out from having to vigorously monitor inventory 24/7 to be ready literally to pounce on a new listing the moment it hits,” she said. In addition, buyers feel enormous pressure to buy sight unseen or to commit to prices way beyond what they can reasonably afford in order to secure a property before cash purchasers snatch it up.

The rise in mortgage rates, and the higher monthly payments on homes, are likely to hit people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale the hardest even as they contemplate purchases in the mid-market range. In Acton and in Cape Cod, where Scheier handles large numbers of transactions, a $500,000 house is a relatively modest one.

“For the poor couple trying to scrape together $100,000 as a down payment, now they’re looking at an increase of $500 a month or more over what they would have paid three months ago. That’s going to create significant changes in the whole dynamics,” Scheier said.

Scheier has noted a number of changes in home-buying protocols in the markets where he works. Some buyers are foregoing spending money on inspections of homes prior to closing, even though inspections may be necessary to alert them to potentially serious damages or structural flaws that may be expensive to fix. Some are waiving mortgage contingencies, which are clauses in homebuying contracts that give buyers an out if financing falls through and provides that the seller will return their deposit and relist the home.

A home for sale in Mount Lebanon, Pa., on Sept. 21, 2021. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Thwarted Dreams

The pandemic of the past two-plus years inspired some people to reflect on how they live and on whether they might benefit from having a secondary property or a new primary residence, observed Ameer.

Besides remote working arrangements, the pandemic prompted some people to think about taking advantage of the relatively low mortgage rates of 2020-21. For some of these people, the changes to home prices and mortgage rates have hampered or altogether ruled out such moves.

“Prices have jumped very quickly, and in some cases completely priced buyers out of the market or caused them to readjust what they can afford and make some big compromises,” Ameer said.

“This trend, coupled with low inventory, is causing multiple offers across all price points which are driving prices up even further on top of some crazy asking prices to begin with. With rising interest rates, it is the trifecta of the perfect storm, unfortunately for buyers and would-be buyers who would sell their home if they could afford somewhere else to go,” she added.

Ameer described a market in which would-be buyers face heightened pressures all around. The rents that they currently pay have risen markedly, which prompts them to look seriously at buying, but the rapid changes to prices and interest rates have simply priced many of them out. The trend is the same across many of the biggest and most sought-after real estate markets throughout the country, from California to Massachusetts to Florida.

“I regularly talk with agents, many working with buyers, including first-time buyers. Yes, many are being priced out of the market,” said Francois Gregoire, a realtor and appraiser based in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Appraisals that Gregoire has undertaken recently in Pinellas County, Florida, provide a sense of just how acute the price hikes are in certain markets. In one area of southeast Clearwater, he noted, the median listing price rose by 17.9 percent from March 2021 to March 2022, from $427,500 to $504,000, and in an area of northwest St. Petersburg, the median rose 25 percent from April 2021 to April 2022, from $324,500 to $405,000.

Although some of the change is a function of sellers flipping and remodeling properties, Gregoire said, the change in listed prices is nevertheless dramatic.

Potential Remedies

Observers hold out hope that the most worrying trends are temporary, though whether they will abate before the midterm elections is highly uncertain.

“I think the Fed is doing its best right now to curb inflation. You have so many things going on in the world right now which leads to an inflation spiral. My sense is that it’s going to level off and then we’re going to get into a more normal economy,” Scheier, the real estate attorney, said.

Realtor Ameer sees a few possible ways to alleviate the inventory shortfall and level the field a bit in favor of buyers, especially those who are not super-wealthy. In her analysis, the trend in recent years of corporate purchasers buying up large rental portfolios has helped constrict the number of homes available for sale.

“Markets wax and wane, but perhaps some regulations can be put in place to limit the amount of residential properties any particular company can own in a given zip code, county, or city,” she said.

Ameer also sees a need to improve the prospects for buyers who plan to be owner-occupants but cannot compete with cash offers. Many first-time homebuyer programs are unavailable for buyers who make too much money to qualify for them, but not enough money to avoid getting outbid when they seek to buy a home or condo, she said. Moreover, changes to the appraisal process could also be made to ensure that the valuations of properties put forward by inexperienced appraisers do not stay on the books.

“The appraisal process has become antiquated and a huge wild card that often prevents buyers from being able to compete with cash offers,” Ameer said.

But to some observers, overregulation seriously compounds the lack of inventory. In realtor Gregoire’s view, it would be wise to slash regulatory red tape that currently inhibits development and construction and commonly results in a lag of five years between the concept for a building and its completion.

In the view of real estate sales executive Pruner, excessive federal largesse is another culprit.

“Washington poured $2 trillion into the economy, and that really drove up prices. It was too much relief, more than was needed. You ended up with classic supply-demand inflation, where there was far more demand for the available supplies that were out there,” Pruner said.

Tyler Durden Mon, 05/16/2022 - 11:24

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Economics

Majority Of C-Suite Execs Thinking Of Quitting, 40% Overwhelmed At Work: Deloitte Survey

Majority Of C-Suite Execs Thinking Of Quitting, 40% Overwhelmed At Work: Deloitte Survey

Authored by Naveen Anthrapully via The Epoch Times,

A…

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Majority Of C-Suite Execs Thinking Of Quitting, 40% Overwhelmed At Work: Deloitte Survey

Authored by Naveen Anthrapully via The Epoch Times,

A majority of C-suite executives are considering leaving their jobs, according to a Deloitte survey of 2,100 employees and C-level executives from the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia.

Almost 70 percent of executives admitted that they are seriously thinking of quitting their jobs for a better opportunity that supports their well-being, according to the survey report published on June 22. Over three-quarters of executives said that the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively affected their well-being.

Roughly one in three employees and C-suite executives admitted to constantly struggling with poor mental health and fatigue. While 41 percent of executives “always” or “often” felt stressed, 40 percent were overwhelmed, 36 percent were exhausted, 30 percent felt lonely, and 26 percent were depressed.

“Most employees (83 percent) and executives (74 percent) say they’re facing obstacles when it comes to achieving their well-being goals—and these are largely tied to their job,” the report says. “In fact, the top two hurdles that people cited were a heavy workload or stressful job (30 percent), and not having enough time because of long work hours (27 percent).”

While 70 percent of C-suite execs admitted to considering quitting, this number was at only 57 percent among other employees. The report speculated that a reason for such a wide gap might be the fact that top-level executives are often in a “stronger financial position,” due to which they can afford to seek new career opportunities.

Interestingly, while only 56 percent of employees think their company executives care about their well-being, a much higher 91 percent of C-suite administrators were of the opinion that their employees believe their leaders took care of them. The report called this a “notable gap.”

Resignation Rates

The Deloitte report comes amid a debate about resignation rates in the U.S. workforce. Over 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in April, with job openings hitting 11.9 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In the period from January 2021 to February 2022, almost 57 million Americans left their jobs.

Though some are terming it the “Great Resignation,” giving it a negative connotation, the implication is not entirely true since most of those who quit jobs did so for other opportunities. In the same 14 months, almost 89 million people were hired. There are almost two jobs open for every unemployed person in the United States, according to MarketWatch.

In an Economic Letter from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published in April, economics professor Bart Hobijn points out that high waves of resignations were common during rapid economic recoveries in the postwar period prior to 2000.

“The quits waves in manufacturing in 1948, 1951, 1953, 1966, 1969, and 1973 are of the same order of magnitude as the current wave,” he wrote. “All of these waves coincide with periods when payroll employment grew very fast, both in the manufacturing sector and the total nonfarm sector.”

Tyler Durden Sat, 06/25/2022 - 20:30

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Government

Doctors’ Group Urges Biden Administration To End Quarantine, Vaccine Recommendations For Children

Doctors’ Group Urges Biden Administration To End Quarantine, Vaccine Recommendations For Children

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch…

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Doctors' Group Urges Biden Administration To End Quarantine, Vaccine Recommendations For Children

Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A group of doctors is urging top government officials to quickly reverse recommendations that have left children in isolation for days and advice that virtually every child get a COVID-19 vaccine.

We strongly urge you to revise the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines with regards to testing, isolation, and vaccine recommendations for children to ensure that public health policies are not doing more harm than good,” the group, Urgency of Normal, wrote in a June 21 open letter to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The CDC’s guidelines say that people, including children, who are exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for at least five days, and encourage widespread COVID-19 testing.

The agency also recommends that all children 6 months of age or older get a COVID-19 vaccine, following the recent authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer shots for kids under 5.

The doctors noted that many European countries, U.S. states, and other areas have updated COVID-19 policies to greatly reduce periods of quarantine, COVID-19 testing frequency, and forced vaccination.

They’re asking U.S. officials to adapt to a “test-to-treat” approach, which would focus on recommending vaccination and treatments to those at the highest risk from COVID-19, which are primarily the elderly and others with serious underlying health conditions.

Read more here...

Tyler Durden Sat, 06/25/2022 - 17:30

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Spread & Containment

This Week in Apps: Twitter Notes, Instagram age verification, Spotify’s Live Events

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy….

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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry continues to grow, with a record number of downloads and consumer spending across both the iOS and Google Play stores combined in 2021, according to the latest year-end reports. Global spending across iOS, Google Play and third-party Android app stores in China grew 19% in 2021 to reach $170 billion. Downloads of apps also grew by 5%, reaching 230 billion in 2021, and mobile ad spend grew 23% year over year to reach $295 billion.

Today’s consumers now spend more time in apps than ever before — even topping the time they spend watching TV, in some cases. The average American watches 3.1 hours of TV per day, for example, but in 2021, they spent 4.1 hours on their mobile device. And they’re not even the world’s heaviest mobile users. In markets like Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea, users surpassed five hours per day in mobile apps in 2021.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours, either. They can grow to become huge businesses. In 2021, 233 apps and games generated over $100 million in consumer spend and 13 topped $1 billion in revenue. This was up 20% from 2020, when 193 apps and games topped $100 million in annual consumer spend and just eight apps topped $1 billion.

This Week in Apps offers a way to keep up with this fast-moving industry in one place, with the latest from the world of apps, including news, updates, startup fundings, mergers and acquisitions and suggestions about new apps to try, too.

Do you want This Week in Apps in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here: techcrunch.com/newsletters

Top Stories

Instagram to verify users’ ages in new test

Image Credits: Instagram

Instagram announced this week it’s testing a new set of features for verifying users’ ages in the app, including things like video selfies, vouching from adult friends and providing an ID. The tests, which will begin in the U.S., will apply to users who try to change their age to 18 or over after being previously set to under 18. These users may be trying to correct an earlier mistake or they could be teens trying to circumvent the app’s newer age-appropriate restrictions.

If users are prompted to provide an ID card, like a passport or driver’s license, Meta will store it on its servers for 30 days before deletion. If users choose the social vouching option, they’ll need at least three other adult friends to vouch for their age — and Instagram will choose a list of six people randomly who meet the criteria. Those users can’t have a new account or be vouching for others at the same time.

The company also said it’s using AI that can estimate users’ ages in video selfies. The company is working with the London-based digital identify firm Yoti which will examine the file, make an estimate, then delete the file.

Age verification is an increasingly common feature in social apps used by younger users as a result of tighter regulations. Another company catering to Gen Z users, Yubo, recently rolled out its own age estimating tech as well.

Twitter goes long form

TechCrunch broke the news that Twitter was testing a long-form writing feature called Twitter Notes. The next day after our report went live, Twitter announced it officially.

The news is one of Twitter’s more significant changes since doubling the character count from 140 to 280 characters, as it will allow users to write on Twitter directly, as if it’s a blogging platform. With Twitter Notes, users are able to create articles using rich formatting and uploaded media, which can then be tweeted and shared with followers upon publishing. The company also said it would merge its newsletter service, Revue, into Twitter Notes.

Users with access can create Twitter Notes from the “Write” link in Twitter’s navigation. For the time being, Twitter is testing Notes with a small group of writers in the United States, Canada, Ghana and the United Kingdom. The Notes can be up to 2,500 words in length.

The feature could encourage users to rely on Twitter Thread (tweetstorms) less in order to share their longer thoughts, ideas or stories with their Twitter followers, Community or Circle. It could also put an end to using a screenshot from the Notes app to tweet something longer than 280 characters. Meanwhile, Twitter Notes can tap into the potential for viral distribution that comes with posting to the platform. Like tweets, the Notes would have their own link and could be tweeted, retweeted, sent in DMs, liked and bookmarked. They can also be reported and must comply with Twitter’s rules.

It’s worth noting (ha!) that Twitter Notes also gives the company a new business and potential revenue stream as it further develops the product. The feature may allow the social platform to compete with established services, like Medium for blogging, or Substack’s newsletters.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

E-commerce

Image Credits: Twitter/Shopify

  • As part of its ongoing efforts to expand into e-commerce, Twitter announced a new partnership with Shopify. The deal will see Twitter launching a sales channel app that will be made available to all of Shopify’s U.S. merchants through its app store. The app allows merchants to onboard themselves to Twitter’s Shopping Manager, the dashboard offered by the social media company where sellers can access product catalog tools and enable other shopping features for their profiles. Merchants will be able to use the new sales channel app to connect their Twitter account to their Shopify admin then get set up with Twitter’s Shopping Manager and other free tools Twitter built for “Professionals.” This includes Twitter’s launch of a new feature called Location Spotlight, which allows local businesses in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia to display information like their street address, contact info and operating hours directly on their profile.

Augmented Reality

  • Walmart gave its app an AR upgrade with the launch of View in Your Space, which allows customers to see home décor and furniture in their own homes. The feature will be rolled out to over 300 items on Walmart’s iOS app by early July.
  • Tim Cook may have hinted at Apple’s AR headset plans when he told a Chinese state-run news outlet to “stay tuned” to see what Apple had in store next for AR in an interview. A later investor note by Ming-Chi Kuo also suggested the new hardware could arrive as soon as early 2023.
  • IKEA launched a new in-app design experience, called IKEA Kreativ, that lets U.S. shoppers visualize furniture in their own spaces using AR and AI. The feature can also remove the existing furniture from your room so you can better imagine the changes.
  • Snap shared some data about AR shopping trends, noting that there was a 32% increased use of shoppable AR during the pandemic and that 69% of consumers believed AR was a part of shopping’s future.

Fintech

  • Coinbase is shutting down its standalone Pro service by year’s end and replacing it with Advanced Trade across its website and app. The latter offers comparable features to the Pro service, which had lowered fees to traders who interacted directly with the Coinbase Exchange order book.
  • Facebook Pay formally rebranded to Meta Pay. The change had already been announced but is now rolling out in the U.S. before expanding globally.

Social

Image Credits: Twitter

  • Snapchat announced its first accelerator program for emerging Black creators, which will see 25 selected participants receive $10,000 per month to launch their careers across a total $3 million investment.
  • Instagram has been experimenting with a new feature that would allow users to leave notes for their friends at the top of the DM inbox. The feature could help users share urgent or more important messages that could be overlooked in Stories or in messages.
  • Meta announced more ways for creators to make money on Facebook and Instagram and the expansion of other monetization tools to more creators. The company will keep paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges and its upcoming independent news products free for creators until 2024, instead of 2023, as it had said before. Meta is also testing a designated place on Instagram where creators can get discovered by brands for partnerships; will launch a way for users to subscribe to Facebook Groups even for those who have paid for access on another platform; and is expanding the Reels Play Bonus program to more creators and making Facebook Stars available to all.
  • Twitter announced the return of its developer conference, Chirp. The event was first held in 2010 but was then canceled the next year. At the time, the event had been a reflection of Twitter’s attitude toward its developer community in general — disorganized and constantly in flux as the company’s business initiatives changed. Times have since changed and Twitter has been trying to woo back developers with its new API, even by promoting some apps on Twitter itself.

Messaging

  • Telegram said it now has over 700 monthly active users and announced Telegram Premium, a subscription that gives users access to exclusive features like doubled limits, 4 GB file uploads, faster downloads, exclusive stickers and reactions, improved chat management and more.

Photos

Dating

  • Match-owned Hinge added a new feature that allows users to share their “Dating Intentions” — meaning whether they’re looking for long-term, short-term, open relationships and more. The update changes Hinge’s focus as the company has historically been the app designed to connect people looking for more serious relationships, while Match-owned Tinder was aimed at those seeking casual encounters.

Streaming & Entertainment

Image Credits: Spotify

  • Spotify revamped its concert discovery feature with the launch of a new Live Events Feed. The personalized feature will allow users to find favorite artists’ events in your area and will now include artist imagery and more tour details. Local events will also be highlighted while streaming and soon, in other places in the Spotify app.
  • Clubhouse is testing a new feature called Houses, per Bloomberg, which are private rooms aimed at encouraging social interactions where anyone can unmute themselves and speak.
  • Reddit Talk, the company’s live audio Clubhouse-like feature, announced its Host program would launch on July 11th. The program will promote hosts’ audio across the site. Reddit Talk also gained new features like a soundboard and topic selector for discovery purposes.
  • Apple Music raised the price of its student plan in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. In the United States and Canada, the price for the plan has increased from $4.99 to $5.99. In the United Kingdom, the price has increased from £4.99 to £5.99.

Gaming

  • Epic Games has come up with a new system for game ratings. While these changes apply to its own online games store, it’s an example of why alternative app stores could be useful to provide competition with Apple’s own — they can be a ground to test out new ideas. In Epic’s case, random players who have played a game for over two hours will be asked to rate the game on a five-point scale. Over time, these will create the game’s Overall Rating. The system, which relies on random sampling, could cut down on review bombing and reviews left by those who aren’t actual players, the company notes.
  • China’s regulation of the mobile gaming market may be leading to declining use of the App Store in the country, according to Morgan Stanley. The firm’s latest analysis estimated that the App Store only saw 1% growth in June so far, compared with 6% growth in May.

Health & Fitness

  • Fitbit added a new premium feature, “Sleep Profile,” which will allow users to track their sleep patterns across 10 key metrics, including new data points like bedtime consistency, the time before sound sleep and disrupted sleep. The feature is rolling out to the Fitbit app’s Premium users and supports devices including Sense, Versa 3, Versa 2, Charge 5, Luxe or Inspire 2.

Travel & Transportation

  • Apple is planning to expand its CarPlay experience to China, according to a job posting.
  • Polestar has now added Apple CarPlay to its all-electric Polestar 2 sedan via an over-the-air software update, after previously only supporting Android Auto.
  • Car rental apps saw their MAUs grow 19% year-over-year in the U.S. in May, reported Apptopia, despite rising gas prices.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Government & Policy

  • TikTok offered a series of commitments in the EU to improve user reporting and disclosure requirements around ads/sponsored content as well as an agreement to boost transparency around its digital coins and virtual gifts. The agreement follows a series of complaints over child safety and consumer protection complaints filed back in February 2021.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice today entered into an agreement with Meta to resolve a lawsuit that alleged Meta engaged in discriminatory advertising in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As a result, Meta has agreed to develop a new system for housing ads and will pay a roughly $115,000 penalty, the maximum under the FHA.

Reading & News

  • India-based VerSe Innovation rolled out its news aggregator Dailyhunt in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, with over 5,000 content partners in the region.

Security & Privacy

  • Google Chrome for iOS gained a number of new features in a recent update, including access to Enhanced Safe Browsing to protect users from dangerous websites and malware, as well as the ability to make Google Password Manager your Autofill provider. Other additions include Chrome Actions (typed commands in the URL bar) and access to Google’s Discover feed on the main page.
  • Daycare apps including those from Brightwheel, HiMama and others were found to lack 2FA and other privacy protections, in an analysis.
  • Google threat researchers detailed a commercial spyware system called Hermit, used in Kazakhstan and Italy, which targeted both Android and iOS. The iOS version had six exploits, including two zero-days. Targeted victims are tricked into installing a malicious app — which masquerades as a legitimate branded telco or messaging app — from outside the app store.

Funding and M&A

Courier raised $35 million in a Series B funding round led by GV. The company provides an API for sending notifications across multiple channels, including email, text, web and mobile.

Ghana-based fintech Fido raised $30 million in equity investment and some undisclosed debt funding in a Series A round led by Israel-based private equity fund Fortissimo Capital. The round brings the total equity investment raised to date to $38 million. The startup says it’s adding savings and payment products to its portfolio later this year and will enter Uganda.

Twitter asked its shareholders to approve the $44 billion Elon Musk acquisition. At the time of its SEC filing, Twitter’s share price was around $38.12 — lower than Musk’s offer price of $54.20 a share. The company’s market cap had also dropped below $30 billion, making a $44 billion deal look very good.

Downloads

WatchTube

Image Credits: WatchTube

Well, here’s something kind of crazy: 9to5Mac this week highlighted the new app WatchTube, which lets you watch YouTube videos directly on your Apple Watch. Yes, really!

The app is not the best experience for watching videos, as you may have guessed, but it is pretty wild that it actually works. The app by default shows you top trending videos, but you can customize this so the videos that appear are selected from a particular genre, like Music, News, Gaming, Movies and more. While it would be enough to just accomplish bringing YouTube to the Watch, the developer also added other features like the ability to search for videos, save videos to the app’s local Library and subscribe to Channels. When you get back to your other devices, you can also scan a QR code to share the video back to your iPhone or iPad.

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