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Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever with a record 203 billion downloads in 2019 and $ 119 billion in consumer spending, according to preliminary year-end data by App Annie. People spend 90% of their mobile time in apps and more time using their mobile devices than watching TV. Apps aren’t just a way to waste idle hours — they’re big business, one that often seems to change overnight.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you to keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re back to look at the latest headlines from the app world, including Apple’s record holiday 2019 on the App Store, a look at the staying power of AR hit, Pokémon Go, how the app stores handled a UAE spying tool, stalled Instagram growth in the U.S., and more.


TechCrunch

Following swiftly on the heels of a Thanksgiving that broke records with $ 4.2 billion in online sales, Black Friday also hit a new high, although it just fell short of predictions. According to analytics from Adobe, consumers spent $ 7.4 billion online yesterday buying goods online via computers, tablets and smartphones. The figures were up by $ 1.2 billion on Black Friday 2018, but they actually fell short of Adobe’s prediction for the day, which was $ 7.5 billion.

Salesforce, meanwhile, said that its checks revealed $ 7.2 billion in sales (even further off the forecast).

Popular products included toys on the themes of Frozen 2, L.O.L Surprise, and Paw Patrol. Best selling video games included FIFA 20, Madden 20, and Nintendo Switch. And top electronics, meanwhile, included Apple Laptops, Airpods, and Samsung TVs.

A full $ 2.9 billion of Black Friday sales happened on smartphones. These conversions are growing faster than online shopping overall, so we are now approaching a tipping point where soon smartphones might outweigh web-based purchases through computers.

“With Christmas now rapidly approaching, consumers increasingly jumped on their phones rather than standing in line,” said Taylor Schreiner, Principal Analyst & Head of Adobe Digital Insights, in a statement. “Even when shoppers went to stores, they were now buying nearly 41% more online before going to the store to pick up. As such, mobile represents a growing opportunity for smaller businesses to extend the support they see from consumers buying locally in-store on Small Business Saturday to the rest of the holiday season. Small Business Saturday will accelerate sales for those retailers who can offer unique products or services that the retail giants can’t provide.”

Adobe Analytics tracks sales in real-time for 80 of the top 100 US retailers, covering 55 million SKUs and some 1 trillion transactions during the holiday sales period. Salesforce uses Commerce Cloud data and insights covering more than half a billion global shoppers across more than 30 countries.

One of the reasons we may be seeing slightly less fervent sales than the analysts had predicted is because the holiday sales season is starting earlier and earlier. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when many people have days off, has for a long time been seen by retailers as the start of holiday shopping season. That has changed as retailers hope to catch more sales over a longer period of time.

As more people shop, they are also shopping for more expensive items. Adobe noted that Average Order Value was $ 168, a new record level yesterday for Black Friday, up 5.9% on a year ago.

Smartphone sales were up 21% over last year and those who were not buying were, as a start, browsing, with whopping 61% of all online traffic to retailers coming from smartphones, up 15.8% since last year.

As with yesterday, e-commerce “giants” with over $ 1 billion in sales annually were doing better than smaller sites: they had more smartphone sales, and 66% conversions on browsers on smartphones, Adobe said. They have overall also seen a 62% boost in sales this season, versus 27% for smaller retailers.

As with the Thanksgiving sales patterns — when bigger retailers also appeared to do better than their smaller counterparts — there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the bigger sites have a wider selection of goods and can afford to take hits with deep discounts on some items, in order to lure users in to add other items to their shopping cars that are not as deeply discounted. Or, bigger online retailers can simply afford to give bigger markdowns.

The other is that the bigger stores often have more flexible delivery options. Adobe noted that those using click-and-collect orders, or buy online, pick up in store / curbside grew by 43 percent.

The story is not all rosy for big retailers, however. Edison Trends notes that some big platforms are actually seeing very mixed results this time around.

It will be interesting to see how and if patterns change for smaller retailers on Sunday, which is being dubbed “small business Sunday” to focus on buying from smaller and independent shops. Shoppers have already spent $ 470 million, and Adobe believes it will pass the $ 3 billion mark. Cyber Monday, the biggest of them all, is expected to make $ 9.4 billion in sales.


TechCrunch

The UK’s Information Commissioner is starting off the week with a GDPR bang: this morning, it announced that it has fined British Airways and its parent International Airlines Group (IAG) £183.39 million ($ 230 million) in connection with a data breach that took place last year that affected a whopping 500,000 customers browsing and booking tickets online. In an investigation, the ICO said that it found “that a variety of information was compromised by poor security arrangements at [BA], including log in, payment card, and travel booking details as well name and address information.”

The fine — 1.5% of BA’s total revenues for the year that ended December 31, 2018 — is the highest-ever that the ICO has levelled at a company over a data breach (previous “record holder” Facebook was fined a mere £500,000 last year by comparison).

And it is significant for another reason: it shows that data breaches can be not just just a public relations liability, destroying consumer trust in the organization, but a financial liability, too. IAG is currently seeing volatile trading in London, with shares down 1.5% at the moment.

In a statement to the market, the two leaders of IAG defended the company and said that its own investigations found that no evidence of fraudulent activity was found on accounts linked to the theft (although as you may know, data from breaches may not always be used in the place where it’s been stolen).

“We are surprised and disappointed in this initial finding from the ICO,” said Alex Cruz, British Airways chairman and chief executive. “British Airways responded quickly to a criminal act to steal customers’ data. We have found no evidence of fraud/fraudulent activity on accounts linked to the theft. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience this event caused.”

Willie Walsh, International Airlines Group chief executive, added in his own comment that “British Airways will be making representations to the ICO in relation to the proposed fine. We intend to take all appropriate steps to defend the airline’s position vigorously, including making any necessary appeals.”

The degree to which companies are going to be held accountable for these kinds of breaches is going to be a lot more transparent going forward: the ICO’s announcement is part of a new directive to disclose the details of its fines and investigations to the public.

“People’s personal data is just that – personal,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a statement. “When an organisation fails to protect it from loss, damage or theft it is more than an inconvenience. That’s why the law is clear – when you are entrusted with personal data you must look after it. Those that don’t will face scrutiny from my office to check they have taken appropriate steps to protect fundamental privacy rights.”

The ICO said in a statement this morning that the fine is related to infringements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect last year prior to the breach. More specifically, the incident involved malware on BA.com that diverted user traffic to a fraudulent site, where customer details were subsequently harvested by the malicious hackers.

BA notified the ICO of the incident in September, but the breach was believed to have first started in June. Since then, the ICO said that British Airways “has cooperated with the ICO investigation and has made improvements to its security arrangements since these events came to light.” But it should be pointed out that even before this breach, there were other examples of the company treating data protection lightly. (Now, it seems BA has learned its lesson the hard way.)

From the statement issued by IAG today, it sounds like BA will choose to try to appeal the fine and overall ruling.

While there are a lot of question marks over how the UK will interface with the rest of Europe over regulatory cases such as this one after it leaves the EU, for now it’s working in concert with the bigger group.

The ICO says it has been “lead supervisory authority on behalf of other EU Member State data protection authorities” in this case, liaising with other regulators in the process. This also means that these authorities where its residents were also affected by the breach will also have a chance to provide input on the ruling before it is completely final.


TechCrunch

Alphabet’s Loon is gearing up for its first big commercial trial later this year, but it’s also breaking records in terms of pure performance. The company announced today that it just retrieved P-496, one of its balloon flight systems that earned the notable distinction of breaking the record for longest time spent continuously in the air.

P-496 launched on November 18, 2018 from Puerto Rico, and spent a total of 223 days flying in the Earth’s stratosphere, where it did one whole circuit around the world, and also spent over half of its time aloft (140 continuous days) sticking to a defined area just off the west coast of South America, testing its ability to navigate a relatively fixed spot for a prolonged period, which is key to Loon’s goal of using these balloons to blanket underserved areas in high-speed cellular network connectivity.

223 days beats Loon’s previous record of 198 days in the air by nearly a month, which is great news for the company’s mission of being able to do this stuff with even more efficiency, which is huge for its ability to prove out the commercial viability of its method for delivering connectivity where it’s been difficult or impossible previously.

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Loon isn’t the only company aiming to turn stratospheric balloons into commercial success – startup World View intends to offer clients high-altitude balloons for a range of potential commercial services. Its own record flights pale in comparison to Loon’s, but it’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison since Loon is aiming very specifically at high-flying network infrastructure and World View is targeting high-altitude imaging and other applications including even potential stratospheric tourism.


TechCrunch

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