Over the weekend, Matt Mullenweg announced on Twitter that Apple’s App Store had blocked Automattic from shipping updates to WordPress’ official iOS app. Automattic doesn’t sell anything for WordPress.com or Jetpack inside the mobile apps, but the app included external purchasing methods that bypassed Apple’s requirement of selling via in-app purchases.
On the surface it seemed Apple was forcing a free app to add in-app purchases solely to extract its 30% cut of the revenue. The problem was if users drilled down deep enough into web help pages, they could find a window to escape the walled garden. While this seems like an unlikely way that a user would purchase an upgrade, Apple held the app’s updates hostage in order to gain full compliance from Automattic.
In a rare congenial response from Apple, the company apologized and reversed course 24 hours later, but not before Automattic had already acquiesced to adding in-app purchases. In a statement provided to MacRumors, Apple said the issue has been resolved, although it did not specify if this happened weeks ago:
We believe the issue with the WordPress app has been resolved. Since the developer removed the display of their service payment options from the app, it is now a free stand-alone app and does not have to offer in-app purchases. We have informed the developer and apologize for any confusion that we have caused.
The Official WordPress Apps Need to Be Separate from Automattic’s Commercial Interests
Automattic’s control of WordPress’ official mobile apps has long been a controversial issue in the open source community. Since the company heavily subsidizes the apps’ development, its agenda for the apps goes completely unrivaled. This is why the official apps contain WordPress.com and Jetpack-specific features that are unnecessary for many self-hosted site owners.
Although the apps are open source, historically, they have rarely received contribution from developers outside Automattic due to the complexity of the code. This hasn’t changed. In 2016, when version 5.7 of the apps came out for iOS and Android, it looked like Automattic was pushing forward on building an upgrade path for WordPress.com plans. At that time, features for self-hosted sites began to lag behind significantly. Automattic mobile engineer Maxime Biais said the commitment to support both was equal.
“WordPress.com features are not prioritized over self hosted,” he said. “When we can implement things for both we do it, but when we can’t (like when we don’t have the XMLRPC endpoint) we do it for WordPress.com and usually ask Core to do the changes so we can implement the same feature for self-hosted users.”
Developing the app for self-hosted users and Automattic’s customers at the same time was always a delicate balance. This situation with the App Store underscores the need for the official open source apps to be separate from the control of any commercial entity, but the reality is that these apps would not exist without Automattic. Their continued maintenance is entirely funded by the company. Unfortunately, attracting outside contributions from the broader community has been difficult given that Automattic is the only company whose products are allowed to be built into the official WordPress apps.
Prior to Apple backing off of its requirement for Automattic to add in-app purchases, the company had presumably exhausted every other option before giving in to Apple’s demands. At that point Mullenweg started crowd sourcing ideas from his followers on Twitter to look for a way forward for the community. This seemed to mark a new era for the apps where Mullenweg was willing to consider adding other companies’ products into the apps alongside his own and then passing the revenue along.
“New name: The app has always done a ton of work to support WordPresses hosted anywhere, using the XML-RPC API included in core WP since WP 2.6 was released in 2008,” he said. “That’s why we called it ‘WordPress’ and not ‘WordPress.com’ or ‘Jetpack.’
“I am a big believer in the sanctity of licenses. (Open source relies on licenses and copyright.) We agreed to this license when we signed up for (and stayed in) the app store, so going to follow and abide by the rules. Not looking to skirt it, hence doing what they asked us to.
“Allow others IAP: All of the code is open source, if other hosts or plugins wanted to support in-app purchases for their plans we could accept patches and have Automattic pass through the revenue.”
The idea of Automattic becoming the arbiter of which companies have access to selling through the official mobile apps introduces even more conflicts of interest into what was already a murky entanglement. This setup would be wholly objectionable to many in the open source community. For the sake of clarity and simplicity, WordPress’ official mobile apps need to be free from commercial interests.
At the moment, given Apple’s apology, the liberation of the mobile apps is no longer a matter of immediate necessity. Mullenweg seems satisfied with the outcome for now, but the original conflicts of interest in the app remain.
“I did not expect the previous tweet to get attention outside the WP community,” Mullenweg said. “My understanding was the previous decision was final, and we had already made many of the arguments people suggested privately over the several weeks the app was locked.
“We will continue to be responsive and do our best to be within both the spirit and letter of the app store rules, including closing any webview loopholes that pop up. This also made me appreciate the freedom of the open and independent web.”
Paypal to allow users to buy, hold and sell four cryptocurrencies
“The shift to digital forms of currencies is inevitable, bringing with it clear advantages in terms of financial inclusion and access; efficiency, speed and resilience of the payments system; and the ability for governments to disburse funds to citizens quickly,” said Dan Schulman, president and CEO, PayPal.“Our global reach, digital payments expertise, two-sided network, and rigorous security and compliance controls provide us with the opportunity, and the responsibility, to help facilitate the understanding, redemption and interoperability of these new instruments of exchange. We are eager to work with central banks and regulators around the world to offer our support, and to meaningfully contribute to shaping the role that digital currencies will play in the future of global finance and commerce.”
This is great news for crypto but I’m told it shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected In June, there was a report that Paypal was working on direct crypto sales.
Nokia awarded contract to build 4G network on the moon
Nokia has been awarded a contract to establish a 4G network on the moon. The contract is one of several that NASA is awarding to companies as it plans a return to the moon.
The $14.1 million contract was given to Nokia’s US subsidiary and is a small part of the $370 million total awarded to companies such as SpaceX. The cellular service will allow astronauts, rovers, lunar landers, and habitats to communicate with one another according to Jim Reuter, the Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space.
The 4G network that Nokia will build will be miles superior to the form of communication that was used during the early missions to the moon.
This is not Nokia’s first attempt to launch an LTE network on the moon. It planned to do so in 2018 in collaboration with PTScientists, a German space firm, and Vodafone UK to launch an LTE network at the site of the Apollo 17 landing but the plan never came to fruition.
Stripe acquires Nigeria’s Paystack for $200M+ to expand into the African continent
When Stripe announced earlier this year that it had picked up another $600 million in funding, it said one big reason for the funding was to expand its API-based payments services into more geographies. Today the company is coming good on that plan in the form of some M&A.
Stripe is acquiring Paystack, a startup out of Lagos, Nigeria that, like Stripe, provides a quick way to integrate payments services into an online or offline transaction by way of an API. (We and others have referred to it in the past as “the Stripe of Africa.”)
Paystack currently has around 60,000 customers, including small businesses, larger corporates, fintechs, educational institutions and online betting companies, and the plan will be for it to continue operating independently, the companies said.
Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but sources close to it confirm that it’s over $200 million. That makes this the biggest startup acquisition to date to come out of Nigeria, as well as Stripe’s biggest acquisition to date anywhere. (Sendwave, acquired by WorldRemit in a $500 million deal in August, is based out of Kenya.)
It’s also a notable shift in Stripe’s strategy as it continues to mature: Typically, it has only acquired smaller companies to expand its technology stack, rather than its global footprint.
The deal underscores two interesting points about Stripe, now valued at $36 billion and regularly tipped as an IPO candidate. (Note: It has never commented on those plans up to now.) First is how it is doubling down on geographic expansion: Even before this news, it had added 17 countries to its platform in the last 18 months, along with progressive feature expansion. And second is how Stripe is putting a bet on the emerging markets of Africa specifically in the future of its own growth.
“There is enormous opportunity,” said Patrick Collison, Stripe’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview with TechCrunch. “In absolute numbers, Africa may be smaller right now than other regions, but online commerce will grow about 30% every year. And even with wider global declines, online shoppers are growing twice as fast. Stripe thinks on a longer time horizon than others because we are an infrastructure company. We are thinking of what the world will look like in 2040-2050.”
For Paystack, the deal will give the company a lot more fuel (that is, investment) to build out further in Nigeria and expand to other markets, CEO Shola Akinlade said in an interview.
“Paystack was not for sale when Stripe approached us,” said Akinlade, who co-founded the company with Ezra Olubi (who is the CTO). “For us, it’s about the mission. I’m driven by the mission to accelerate payments on the continent, and I am convinced that Stripe will help us get there faster. It is a very natural move.”
Paystack had been on Stripe’s radar for some time prior to acquiring it. Like its U.S. counterpart, the Nigerian startup went through Y Combinator — that was in 2016, and it was actually the first-ever startup out of Nigeria to get into the world-famous incubator. Then, in 2018, Stripe led an $8 million funding round for Paystack, with others participating, including Visa and Tencent. (And for the record, Akinlade said that Visa and Tencent had not approached it for acquisition. Both have been regular investors in startups on the continent.)
In the last several years, Stripe has made a number of investments into startups building technology or businesses in areas where Stripe has yet to move. This year, those investments have included backing an investment in universal checkout service Fast, and backing the Philippines-based payment platform PayMongo.
Collison said that while acquiring Paystack after investing in it was a big move for the company, people also shouldn’t read too much into it in terms of Stripe’s bigger acquisition policy.
“When we invest in startups we’re not trying to tie them up with complicated strategic investments,” Collison said. “We try to understand the broader ecosystem, and keep our eyes pointed outwards and see where we can help.”
That is to say, there are no plans to acquire other regional companies or other operations simply to expand Stripe’s footprint, with the interest in Paystack being about how well they’d built the company, not just where they are located.
“A lot of companies have been, let’s say, heavily influenced by Stripe,” Collison said, raising his eyebrows a little. “But with Paystack, clearly they’ve put a lot of original thinking into how to do things better. There are some details of Stripe that we consider mistakes, but we can see that Paystack ‘gets it,’ it’s clear from the site and from the product sensibilities, and that has nothing to do with them being in Africa or African.”
Stripe, with its business firmly in the world of digital transactions, already has a strong line in the detection and prevention of fraud and other financial crimes. It has developed an extensive platform of fraud protection tools, but even with that, incidents can slip through the cracks. Just last month, Stripe was ordered to pay $120,000 in a case in Massachusetts after failing to protect users in a $15 million cryptocurrency scam.
Now, bringing on a business from Nigeria could give the company a different kind of risk exposure. Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa, but it is also one of the more corrupt on the continent, according to research from Transparency International.
And related to that, it also has a very contentious approach to law and order. Nigeria has been embroiled in protests in the last week with demonstrators calling for the disbanding of the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, after multiple accusations of brutality, including extrajudicial killings, extortion and torture. In fact, Stripe and Paystack postponed the original announcement in part because of the current situation in the country.
But while those troubles continue to be worked through (and hopefully eventually resolved, by way of government reform in response to demonstrators’ demands), Paystack’s acquisition is a notable foil to those themes. It points to how talented people in the region are identifying problems in the market and building technology to help fix them, as a way of improving how people can transact, and in turn, economic outcomes more generally.
The company got its start back when Akinlade, for fun (!) built a quick way of integrating a card transaction into a web page, and it was the simplicity of how it worked that spurred him and his co-founder to think of how to develop that into something others could use. That became the germination of the idea that eventually landed them at YC and in the scope of Stripe.
“We’re still very early in the Paystack payments ecosystem, which is super broken,” said Akinlade. The company today provides a payments API, and it makes revenue every time a transaction is made using it. He wouldn’t talk about what else is on Paystack’s radar, but when you consider Stripe’s own product trajectory as a template, there is a wide range of accounting, fraud, card, cash advance and other services to meet business needs that could be built around that to expand the business. “Most of what we will be building in Africa has not been built yet.”
Last month, at Disrupt, we interviewed another successful entrepreneur in the country, Tunde Kehinde, who wisely noted that more exits of promising startups — either by going public or getting acquired — will help lift up the whole ecosystem. In that regard, Stripe’s move is a vote of confidence not just for the potential of the region, but for those putting in the efforts to build tech and continue improving outcomes for everyone.
Research4 days ago
iPhone 12’s four models compared: Differences between iPhone 12, Pro, Pro Max and Mini
Internet4 days ago
WhatsApp is getting a huge update — and Zoom should be worried
Security4 days ago
‘Infamous’ GravityRAT spyware now hits Macs as well as Windows
Tech News4 days ago
Paypal to allow users to buy, hold and sell four cryptocurrencies