Workwell wants to be the companion app for your office building

French startup Workwell has released a major update to its platform. The company now provides an app to manage as many things related to your office building as possible from your phone.

The company started with a sort of intranet replacement. You could book meeting rooms, get a map of the office and contact your co-workers from the app. Workwell now wants to create a more flexible platform that expands beyond your company and beyond a single office building.

“The goal is to become the digital layer of every building,” co-founder and CEO Marie Schneegans told me. “We consider Workwell as an infrastructure product for buildings, just like water, electricity and internet. Workwell provides an interface to interact with the building, its services and people.”

Instead of a traditional service-based interface, Workwell is now organized by actions. If you want to book something, you tap on the booking button to book a meeting room, a parking spot or a gym class for instance. Similarly, the inbox has been unified to interact with both people and services in a single messaging interface.

Each person belongs to multiple circles. For instance, you can be part of a company with multiple offices around the world, part of a building and part of a co-working space. Each entity can have its own sets of services and features. It creates a more cohesive experience for the end user. It’s like being able to sign in to multiple Slack workspaces.

This way, you can use the app to badge in when you’re traveling to another city for some meetings with colleagues working in another city.

Eventually, Workwell wants to collaborate with real estate developers to integrate its app from day one. Imagine there’s a new office tower in town. Workwell could integrate with the AC system, elevators and parking sensors to improve the experience for all the companies working in that new building.

Real estate developers can integrate Workwell for free and hand it out to companies working in the building. Companies can then choose to add their own services by becoming a paid Workwell customer. Workwell is already partnering with Hines, Mirvac and Grand Paris Aménagement for new buildings.

iOS 12.2 beta includes new Animojis and fake 5G logo

Apple released a new beta version of iOS 12.2 yesterday. While the final version isn’t available just yet, here’s what you should expect: new Animojis and a fake 5G logo if you’re an AT&T customer.

If you have an iPhone X, XS, XS Max or XR, you’ll see new animals in the Animoji collection. As 9to5mac spotted, you will be able to record a video message and replace your head with a giraffe, an owl, a shark or a warthog. These Animojis will also work during FaceTime calls.

Here’s a picture from 9to5mac with the new lineup:

More interestingly, Apple succumbed to AT&T’s marketing plot to rename 4G to 5G. MacRumors noticed that some AT&T users now have a “5G E” icon in the top-right corner when they upgrade to the beta version of iOS 12.2. Some Android phones already show a 5G E icon after an AT&T update.

But don’t get fooled, this isn’t 5G — this icon replaces the LTE icon. AT&T has basically rebranded LTE with carrier aggregation as 5G Evolution. But it still runs on the same network.

Here’s a picture from the MacRumors forums:

The same thing happened in the U.S. during the transition from 3G to 4G. AT&T decided to rebrand its 3G HSPA+ network to 4G. It’s the reason why many carriers talk about LTE instead of 4G.

AT&T confused everyone back then, and the company is about to do the same again. It’s too bad Apple is helping AT&T with this iOS update.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

Sonos unveils in-ceiling, in-wall and outdoor speakers

Sonos is partnering with Sonance for a new lineup of passive speakers. You can now pre-order in-ceiling, in-wall and outdoor Sonos speakers.

These are weird products as you still need to connect those speakers with a Sonos Amp. In other words, you can’t control those speakers from the Sonos app without the Sonos Amp.

But if you’re building a house and you want to put Sonos speakers around the house, this lineup is a good way to make sure that everything will be optimized for the Sonos ecosystem.

The in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are designed to blend in with your walls. You can even paint on the grilles to make them disappear even more. They’ll start shipping on February 26 and you can pre-order them now — each pair of speakers cost $599.

Outdoor speakers also come as a pair. They aren’t available just yet, but they’ll cost $799 a pair whenever they ship. And they should resist extreme temperatures, water and UV rays.

According to the company, you can plug three pairs of speakers into a single Sonos Amp. If you plan to build a giant house, you can still buy multiple Amps and stack them up.

Like other Sonos speakers, you can tune them using TruePlay. This process uses your iPhone or iPad microphone to analyze the size of your room and how your furniture affects your speaker. Sonos then adjusts speaker settings. Update: TruePlay will be available for in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.

Bots are cheap and effective. One startup trolls them into going away

Bots are ruining the internet.

When they’re not pummeling a website with usernames and passwords from a long list of stolen credentials, they’re scraping the price of hotels or train tickets and odds from betting sites to get the best data. Or, they’re just trying to knock a website offline for hours at a time. There’s an entire underground economy where bots are the primary tools used in automating fraudulent purchases, scraping content and launching cyberattacks. Bots are costing legitimate businesses money by stealing data, but also hogging system resources and costly bandwidth.

Clearly, the existing approach of playing bot Whac-A-Mole isn’t working.

“Until now you just had to suck it up as a cost of doing business,” said Johnny Xmas, director of field engineering at Kasada, an anti-bot startup that strikes at the heart of the bot economy itself by frustrating bots with complex tasks.

Their system is simple enough. Bots, said Xmas, are the “white noise” of the internet. Once a bot is started, they keep going until they’re told to stop or their job is done. Kasada tricks bots into thinking that their job is never done. By serving up a small but difficult math puzzle before the site even loads, it tricks the bot into spending its time solving the puzzle and not scraping the site as it thinks it’s doing.

Weeks earlier, Xmas tweeted a photo of Kasada’s proprietary platform Polyform. A single bot made close to four million requests to a website in a single day. Instead of loading the target website, Kasada pushed its randomly generated JavaScript code that loads silently in the browser to the bot instead. For more than 24 hours, the bot was sinking all of the cloud processing resources into trying to solve an impossible math challenge.

“This guy’s [cloud] bill is going to be nuts,” he tweeted.

The company’s aim isn’t to defeat the bot, but the reason for starting it in the first place, said Sam Crowther, Kasada’s co-founder, in a call with TechCrunch. “We cost them money, making their projects not fiscally viable,” he said.

Here’s how it works. Each time someone — or something — visits a website, Kasada accurately fingerprints the requester, using several methods to determine if it’s a bot or not. If not, the site loads as if nothing happened, taking only a few milliseconds off the load time. If it’s a bot, Kasada throws the bot the puzzle, keeping it busy. The bot thinks the website has loaded and doesn’t trigger any warnings on the back-end, all while busily plunging its resources into trying to understand and solve the math problem. “You don’t want to alert the person behind the bot, or they’ll just keep trying,” said Crowther. That’s when the bot starts churning more and more of its resources, and eventually topping out. “The human launches the bot and walks away,” he said. “Often the account maxes out and runs out of money long before the human comes back.” Even if the bot is automatically adding more resources, it won’t ever solve the puzzle. All while the processor usage is spiking, the bots don’t have the resources to target other sites — whether it’s a paying customer or not, said Crowther.

“We’re cleaning up the internet,” said Xmas. “We want to disenfranchise bots from operating to begin.”

False positives are rare — just 0.07 percent of all requests are mistakenly flagged. The team often found that more often than not it’s an old, legacy browser that’s mistakenly flagged its fingerprinting, or that the browser is exhibiting bot-like behaviors through a malicious Chrome extension, for example. Xmas said the service sends a CAPTCHA puzzle to solve in case, allowing the human through.

Bot authors take weeks or even months to develop code that will target specific kinds of sites hoping for a big eventual payoff, Crowther explained. Retail outlets, hotels, major financial institutions and realty listings — all revenue-making customers in the company’s portfolio — are at risk of bots that, if successful, could reap a huge reward.

“One bot targeted a betting company we protected, grabbing odds so that the most cost-effective bets are being placed at the micro-level — like stock trading,” said Xmas. “They’ll put months into a bot that’ll defeat every bot detection system.”

But already the team is finding some bot owners meeting their match.

In one case, Crowther and Xmas — both based in the company’s Chicago office — said they had one company, which they declined to name, was the target of account fraud and scraping. The company came in and stopped the automated logins and scraping of identity documents — preventing a wider attack hitting some 30,000 consumers from identity theft.

“One case we had a betting site where 95 percent of the traffic were bots,” said Xmas. “Think of that. You’re paying for tons of servers, tons of bandwidth because you think you’re doing a ton of business — and you’re making a lot of money so it seems rational,” he said. “Then you find out that 95 percent of that was trash.”

“At first we thought, ‘oh shit, what did we break?’,” he said. “It turns out we broke an insane botnet.”

The two recalled how one suspected bot operator was so frustrated by the company’s anti-bot countermeasures, he sent an abusive note to the company.

“The guy who was running some bots figured out it was us who was stopping them,” said Xmas. “And he went to our website, hit the contact us button, and wrote a very angry letter.” Crowther said that the company caught the bot controller’s IP address because he submitted the “not very nice email” through its contact form. “We found out that he was located in Sydney,” where one of the company’s offices is located. Xmas joked that he told Crowther, knowing who the bot operator was, to “send him a t-shirt.”

Or, better yet, Xmas said, “take that angry email, blow it up, and make it the wallpaper in our Sydney office.”

Little Spoon gets $7M for its organic baby food delivery service

Little Spoon, a startup producing modular packages of nutritional, direct-to-consumer baby food, has raised a $7 million round of funding lead by Vaultier7.

The subscription-based service delivers meals — a fixed $3 apiece — to customers’ doorsteps. To date, Little Spoon said it has delivered 1 million meals. Other investors in the round include Kairos, Chobani’s executive vice president of sales Kyle O’Brien, Tinder founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, Interplay Ventures, the San Francisco 49ers and SoGal Ventures.

Among the business’s co-founders are Michelle Muller, chief executive officer Ben Lewis, chief product officer Angela Vranich and chief marketing officer Lisa Barnett, a former partner at Dorm Room Fund and Sherpa Foundry. The four launched the company a little over a year ago out of New York. Today, the site offers a rotating menu of 50 different recipes and 80 different ingredients.

“Our success is a testament to what we are seeing more broadly in the parenting space,” Barnett told TechCrunch. “There are a lot of demands for brands from this generation of parents.”

As an investor privy to rising trends within the technology and entrepreneurship space, Barnett became interested in the growing parenting tech sector.

“There has definitely been an eruption in the space,” she said. “I think there’s going to be the next big brand in this parenting space and I think that is what Little Spoon can be and is working toward becoming.”

Little Spoon members are given a personalized meal plan when they register with the service. The startup’s packaging is 100 percent recyclable, spoon included, which they say is a “developmentally advantageous form factor that promotes improved motor skills and mindful eating habits.”

The startup plans to use the capital to expand its line of baby meals.

And if you’re wondering why the 49ers invested in a baby food startup… “The 49ers were looking to partner with startups that drive innovation in and access to healthier lifestyles,” Lewis told TechCrunch. “They look for companies making it easier for the average American to live a healthier life, and we found a shared passion in our vision to make quality nutrition accessible to children everywhere.”