Online ticket marketplace Vivid Seats is looking to sell for $1.5 billion

Online secondary ticket marketplace Vivid Seats is looking for a buyer and they’re hoping to fetch a price of about $1.5 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

According to multiple sources, private equity firm Vista Equity Partners is working with Morgan Stanley to unload Vivid, which could net a tidy profit for the firm a little over a year after acquiring the business for about $850 million.

Vivid Seats might not have the same name recognition as Ticketmaster or StubHub, but the Chicago-based firm has been a force in selling seats at concerts, theaters and sports events. Founded in 2001, the company had grown to become the third-largest secondary ticket seller in the U.S. by the time it received its strategic investment from Vista early last year.

According to one source, tech companies like Amazon and Priceline had taken a look at Vivid Seats but decided not to acquire it. We also heard that eBay-owned StubHub is not interested.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported on its terminal that Vista was considering a sale “after receiving inbound interest,” but did not offer further detail.

 One challenge for Vivid is that it gets a large portion of its traffic from misleading affiliate sites. Customers are sometimes lured to a destination that’s not actually associated with the team or artist, a controversial practice within the industry.

It’s possible that Vivid Seats will not find a suitable strategic buyer and will sell to another private equity firm. One source mentioned Carlyle Group, but a different source suggested that would be unlikely because they own PrimeSport, a competitor in the space.

If Vivid can’t fetch its desired acquisition price, perhaps Vista will keep it in its portfolio until it grows its value.

When asked for comment, Vivid said “we don’t comment on industry rumors.”

Senators reintroduce a bill to improve cybersecurity in cars

Senators Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have reintroduced the Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act of 2017. They first introduced the bill, along with a similar bill for aircraft, during the last session.

The SPY Car Act places the onus for automotive cybersecurity and privacy standards on the shoulders of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The law would require critical software systems — those required for operation of the vehicle — to be isolated from noncritical systems. And then those isolated systems should be tested for security.

It also addresses securing personal information, including all data “collected by the electronic systems that are built into motor vehicles,” against unauthorized access. If there is a hacking attempt, the SPY Car Act calls for all cars to be equipped with the ability to detect the breach, report it and stop it from taking over the vehicle or collecting driving data. If a manufacturer doesn’t include this capability, under the law it would be fined $5,000 per car that didn’t have security technology built in.

So far, the SPY Car Act seems like something we’d expect to see. But then Sens. Markey and Blumenthal take another step in requiring a “cyber dashboard.” This would tell the driver how far above and beyond the basic requirements a car company has gone to secure the onboard electronic systems via an “easy-to-understand, standardized graphic.” So some kind of scorecard would be placed where anyone could see it.

 But wait, there’s more! The SPY Car Act also requires that every vehicle give “clear and conspicuous notice” to the driver about what driving data is being collected, if it’s being transmitted or saved, and how it’s being used. Once you know this, the law would require that manufacturers give you the right to opt out of data collection without interfering with your ability to use navigation tools. And that data can only be used for marketing to you if you choose to opt in.

The SPY Car Act does exempt black-box-type data collection. That basic data is still useful in the event of a crash, or to check the emissions history of a vehicle.

Vehicle tracking specialists Satrak Plant Security polled 2,000 people in the U.K. recently and found that 40 percent of respondents said hacking was a “fairly serious” concern, which echoes other polls of consumers’ attitudes toward automotive cybersecurity. Now that NHTSA has created guidelines for autonomous vehicles, maybe it can build on its best practices guidelines if the SPY Car Act is passed.

Parental control service “Circle with Disney” to help with distracted driving, social media, kids’ chores & more

Circle with Disney, a device that helps parents manage their home’s internet rules and restrictions, wants to be more than just a modern-day net nanny. Already, it had differentiated itself from competing software solutions, by offering a licensed selection of Disney content – like games, videos, trailers and more – to make its service more appealing. Today, it’s taking a step at becoming a more expansive “smart family” platform, through a series of integrations that let Circle work with services that reward kids for chores or meeting activity goals, those that limit distracted driving, those that filter social media, and more.

Amazon Alexa will also work with Circle, allowing parents to ask questions about their kid’s screen time usage. And kids can ask Alexa about their own time limits, as well.

The feature is called “Circle Connections,” but it’s not fully live at this time.

Instead, the company is the unveiling its larger roadmap of integrations planned for the upcoming year. Today, only the first integration – with FamilyTech apps – is actually available.

FamilyTech has a number of apps, including MotherShp, ChoreMonster, and Landra, which help kids earn rewards by performing chores around the house. With Circle, those rewards can now be added screen time or later bedtimes, at parents’ discretion.

Later this year, Circle will roll out more features to Circle Connections, including integrations with connected car service Automatic, automation assistant IFTTT, Misfit activity trackers, and social media filter Rakkoon.

Automatic’s integration is most interesting, as it allows Circle to extend its usefulness to households with older children – an area often overlooked by parental control apps today, which seem to focus more on protecting kids from adult content or limiting screen time.

With Automatic, parents will be able to filter distracting applications – like social media apps – from disturbing teen drivers when the car has started. Those restricted apps are then re-enabled when the car shuts off.

The Rakkoon integration, meanwhile, helps with teens and pre-teens, as it filters questionable content on social media, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even iMessage. It will also alert parents for things like sexting and bullying.

Misfit will work to reward activity with screen time.

IFTTT’s integration, however, appeals to geekier parents. It will let you do things like make your smart lightbulbs change color when bedtime begins, or connect a real world internet pause button to Circle’s service. Fun, perhaps, but not necessary.

Despite being a parent myself, I’ve been hesitant to utilize strict parental control software or hardware devices in the home, as they add another layer of complexity to internet setup and use.

Instead, I’ve favored a combination of on-device controls provided by the platform maker (e.g. Apple), those in apps (e.g. Google’s safe search filters), and a hefty dose of good old-fashioned parenting. That means we have rules like, no watching YouTube shows unless I approve the channel first, no downloading apps without approval, and limited device use in general.

But I also have the luxury of only having to parent one child. And I’m aware that, as she grows, it will become more difficult to constantly keep an eye on her activity. Integrations like these make a service like Circle seem more appealing, and maybe even worth the hassle of set up and configuration, which, frankly, is still a bit of a pain, if I’m telling the truth.

Circle is a $99 device and is sold online through its website, and on retailers’ sites, including Amazon, Target, Best Buy and Disney Store. It’s also available in Target and Best Buy retail stores.

Use Nintendo Switch controllers with the NES Classic with this adapter

Nintendo Switch controllers are flexible, if flawed — the latest hardware they work with is the NES Classic, via 8bitdo’s $17 Retro Receiver, and a new firmware update available now for that little dongle. The wireless accessory already lets you connect a range of Bluetooth controllers to your NES Classic, including 8bitdo’s own NES30 controller replica, and PlayStation 4, Wii U Pro and more.

The new firmware supports connecting both individual Joy-Con halves, as well as the Switch Pro controller. It’s also available for the version of the Retro Receiver that plugs into original NES and SNES consoles, letting you use your Switch input devices with your vintage gaming consoles, too.

This is great news for controller consolidation — these things tend to replicate like crazy if you happen to own multiple gaming systems — and especially awesome on the heels of the news that Joy-Cons and Pro controllers also work with Mac, PC and Android devices with little or no special software required.

 Of course, Nintendo still has its fair share of controller issues on its hands with the Switch: Many users are experiencing connection problems, specifically with the left Joy-Con that shipped with their console. They advise keeping it out of range of basically any wireless gadget, which is not practically possible in many cases, and sources suggest it might only be truly solvable with a hardware fix.

Still, it’s useful to have the option to make these controllers extra portable NES Classic accessories in a pinch.

How The Last Mile helped Kenyatta Leal walk from prison in San Quentin to a job in tech

One year after their release, more than 75 percent of California’s formerly incarcerated can’t find jobs. One former prisoner, Kenyatta Leal, was serving a life sentence in San Quentin prison and was determined to change that number.

 On this episode he talks about what led him to prison, the mentors he found inside and how The Last Mile teaches people to code with no internet.

Leal also discusses his release, and how the tech skills he learned in prison landed him a job. For Leal, those skills included being able to blog and express himself on Twitter and Quora with no internet. Finally, Leal emphasizes the importance of breaking the cycle of incarceration.

Since Leal’s release, he has been able to help several people get jobs in tech, including some of the prisoners with him during his time in San Quentin.

If you want to learn more about criminal justice reform, feel free to reach out to ruben@breakingintostartups.com and we can connect you with the right people.

Verizon Ventures and R/GA partner to launch a digital media ‘venture studio’

Verizon Ventures and R/GA are announcing a new program called the Verizon Media Tech Venture Studio.

Stephen Plumlee, R/GA’s global COO and managing partner of R/GA Ventures, explained that the interactive agency’s “venture studios” started out similar to other startup accelerator programs, but they’ve expanded to provide access to “financial capital, creative capital and client relationship capital.” In other words, startups don’t just get funding and advice — they also work on products and partnerships with R/GA’s creative staff and clients.

In this case, the Media Tech Venture Studio is a 14-week program for up to 10 companies, which will receive $100,000 in funding each and work out of Verizon’s new “open innovation” space in New York City. The company says it’s looking for startups in areas like content creation and personalization, virtual reality and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, content distribution, interactive advertising and e-sports.

“The idea is for Verizon to really get out there and see what’s going on in the market,” said Paul Heitlinger of Verizon Ventures. “What’s really compelling for the companies who participate is, they get to work directly with Verizon’s business units. … They get access to our technologies, our networks, all behind-the-scenes stuff.”

At the same time, Heitlinger said participating in the program “doesn’t mean you have to work exclusively with Verizon.”

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As for whether these startups are then teed up for additional funding from Verizon Ventures, he said, “We wouldn’t say no, we wouldn’t say yes. … If we feel that there’s a particular company that’s well-suited or well-aligned with Verizon’s business, just like any other startup we would invest.”

Verizon has been trying to move deeper into digital media, with initiatives like its go90 mobile video app, not to mention its acquisition of AOL (which owns TechCrunch) and the still in-progress Yahoo deal.

Instacart raises $400 million at a $3.4 billion valuation to deliver groceries on-demand

Grocery delivery startup Instacart has raised another $400 million in a new round of financing at a valuation of $3.4 billion, according to sources familiar with the deal. Axios broke news that Instacart was in talks to close the deal last week. Instacart executives declined to comment for this story.

Over the past year, Instacart has weathered a number of controversies after raising prices for consumers and cutting rates for its workers. Previously, the startup had raised around $260 million at a reported $2 billion valuation.

Some of its competitors have faltered significantly since Instacart last raised funding. Close to home, San Francisco-based organic food delivery startup Good Eggs went through a change in leadership, layoffs and general belt-tightening. In India, ridesharing operator Ola axed its grocery delivery service entirely.

To date, Instacart has operated solely within the U.S., where consumers spend more than $727 billion annually on food for consumption at home, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Instacart’s Aporva Mehta speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco

As TechCrunch has previously reported, Instacart has multiple revenue streams. The company charges customers a markup on groceries, plus a fee for delivering items to their doors. In addition, consumer packaged goods brands pay Instacart to advertise on its platform. And the startup strikes revenue share agreements with partners including grocery chains like Whole Foods.

The Wall Street Journal reported that early investor Sequoia Capital contributed $100 million to Instacart’s latest round of funding. A yet-to-be-named strategic investor also participated. Other investors in Instacart include Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Y Combinator, Dragoneer, Canaan Partners and Khosla Ventures, among others.

Emerging competitors like Shipt, Postmates and StorePower may be hard-pressed to raise funding following this round. Instacart will likely be able to outspend competitors for a good long while given this latest cash infusion.

Apple says most vulnerabilities in Wikileaks docs are already patched

Wikileaks today published a trove of documents, allegedly taken from the CIA, that detail the government’s efforts to hack popular devices like iPhones, Android phones, and Samsung smart TVs. But Apple is pushing back against claims that the CIA’s hoarded vulnerabilities for its devices were effective.

The documents, if they are indeed legitimate, include charts that detail iOS exploits that would allow the CIA to surveil iPhone users and, in some cases, control their devices. Some of the exploits may have been developed in-house, while others appear to have been purchased, copied or downloaded from non-governmental sources.

However, Apple says that many of the iOS exploits in the Wikileaks dump have already been patched and it is working to address any new vulnerabilities.

“Apple is deeply committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy and security. The technology built into today’s iPhone represents the best data security available to consumers, and we’re constantly working to keep it that way. Our products and software are designed to quickly get security updates into the hands of our customers, with nearly 80 percent of users running the latest version of our operating system. While our initial analysis indicates that many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS, we will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities. We always urge customers to download the latest iOS to make sure they have the most recent security updates,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch.

 The Wikileaks documents also contain exploits designed for Android. A Google spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

This isn’t the first time the CIA has targeted mobile phone manufacturers in an effort to spy on certain customers — the Intercept reported in 2015 that the agency had worked to compromise iPhones and iPads.

If you’re concerned about the security of your device, it’s always a good idea to keep your software up-to-date.

Leaked emails put spotlight on Snapchat sales tactics

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun safety and gun control nonprofit backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, faced an awkward decision while working with Snapchat last year, according to leaked emails obtained by Mic.

Everytown was collaborating with the Snapchat news team on a “Guns in America” Live Story tied to National Gun Violence Awareness Day. This prompted Snapchat’s head of political sales Rob Saliterman (who’d already been discussing an ad campaign with Everytown) to send an email to Everytown that said, “I would urgently like to speak with you about advertising opportunities within the story, as there will be three ad slots. We are also talking to the NRA about running ads within the story.”

The nonprofit said that the ads would be beyond its budget, and it also expressed concern about the possible NRA ads. Saliterman, who previously held a similar role at Google, said that “the story has the potential to be bought by any advertiser, including the NRA,” but added, “The advertising will not impact the editorial content within the story as our teams are independent.”

When we reached out to Snapchat’s parent company Snap Inc., a spokesperson argued there was no breakdown here in the division between the editorial and advertising teams. Instead, they said the editorial team created their calendar independently, then sent it to the ad team to sell advertising on those stories.

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The NRA then found out about the story through the normal sales channels and expressed interest in buying one of the ads, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis (assuming they meet Snapchat’s political guidelines). In Snap’s view, Saliterman was simply providing Everytown with information that it would want to know — it’s hard to imagine the organization have been happy if Snapchat ran NRA ads with the story and didn’t tell Everytown this was going to happen.

None of Snap’s account seems to be contradicted by Mic’s reporting. And to be clear, the article doesn’t really suggest that Snap let the ad team influence editorial. So why is this getting any attention at all? Perhaps because there’s something unseemly, or just plain gross, about considering an NRA ad for this particular Live Story — and then using that possibility as a negotiating point.

How did Everytown feel about this? While a spokesperson declined to comment, Snap said that the organization did end up contributing to the “Guns in America” story after all.

Box’s Levie touts positive cash flow

Cloud content management company Box posted fourth-quarter earnings after the bell on Wednesday with shares quickly plummeting in initial after-hours trading. They mostly recovered, trading down just 1 percent by late afternoon.

Box beat investor expectations with an adjusted loss of 10 cents per share versus the negative 14 cents forecast. Revenue for the quarter was also a beat at $109.9 million, versus the $108.9 million predicted, and a 29 percent increase from the same period last year.

The company celebrated its first quarter as a free cash flow (FCF) positive business, with CEO Aaron Levie characterizing this as an “inflection point” in a call with TechCrunch. FCF was $10.2 million for the quarter, which they say is a $30 million gain year-over-year.

But Wall Street was disappointed that Box cautioned its first-quarter earnings would likely lose 14 to 15 cents per share, worse than the negative 12 cents investors are watching for.

DFJ investor Josh Stein, a longtime investor in Box, took to Twitter to defend the company’s growth, while also taking a shot at competitor Dropbox.

On the call with TechCrunch, Levie didn’t criticize the competition, but was happy to point to Box’s favorable performance in the stock market in the past year. Shares are up more than 50 percent from the same time in 2016.

 Commenting on today’s after-hours stock movements, Levie said it’s “hard to look into the daily trading and read too much into it.”

The company is going to be focused on international growth in 2017, with Levie referencing Australia, Canada, Japan and Europe. Box’s enterprise customer base already includes 71,000 clients.

An all new Box Notes, a note-taking and productivity platform, was unveiled in the quarter. They also announced new integrations with Microsoft Office. They’ve been partnering with major telecommunications providers like AT&T, and will be adding more partnerships in that category, said Levie.

Security and compliance remain key focus areas for the company, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning.