Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Expanse, which offers real-time visibility into the ways its customers’ digital assets aren’t safe, has raised $70 million in new funding

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 03:08 PM PDT

Expanse, a six-year-old, San Francisco-based company that helps its clients understand and monitor what it calls their “global internet attack surface,” has received a $70 million vote of confidence from its earlier backers, as well as some notable individual investors.

Previous investor TPG Growth led the Series C round, with participation from other earlier investors that include NEA, IVP and Founders Fund. But the company also drew checks directly from Founders Fund cofounder Peter Thiel, Michael Dell, Former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano, media entrepreneur Arianna Huffington, and Turner Enterprise CEO Taylor Glover.

What they find so interesting about Expanse, which was formerly known as Qadium? Its traction, for starters. It turns out that when you start indexing global internet protocol addresses before everyone else — meaning the numerical labels assigned to each device connected to a computer network — it's hard for competitors to catch up.

Indeed, numerous big organizations, including CVS and PayPal are among others that now use the company's software-as-a-service to help manage their far flung digital assets connected to the public internet. According to cofounder and CEO Tim Junio, Expanse has been tripling its sales year over year —  and quadrupling the terms of its contracts. Toward that end, he says it now has more than 10 customers that have signed up for $1 million-plus contracts. "VCs like to look at how long it takes to go from $1 million to $10 million in [annual recurring revenue].  It took us 22 months," he says, "about as fast as [the now-public cloud-storage company] Box."

Much of that revenue is also coming from U.S. federal agencies, including the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy,  the U.S. Air Force, along with the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Department of Energy, which collectively account for more than $100 million in contracts with Expanse, it says.

Asked if Thiel – – who advised Donald Trump leading up to his election as president, and whose former chief of staff, Michael Kratsios, is now the country’s chief technology officer — has played a role in making introductions, Junio says that all of Expanse’s investors have helped in making customer introductions and pours water on any suggestion that Thiel has done special favors for the company.

Meanwhile, though the company is known for its work in helping customers identify security risks they don’t know about on their networks —  like an IoT device that hasn’t been patched —  it’s now going after adjacent problems that are bigger-spend problems, including looking at its customers’ critical suppliers to sure that they aren’t introducing vulnerabilities, including across their commercial cloud providers and cohosting facilities.

Eventually, it’s easy to see a day when Expanse sells some of the aggregated data it’s seeing, perhaps on a sector by sector basis, though Junio says that Expanse “isn’t going in that direction” currently.  For now, he says, the biggest trend that's driving the business today is the digital transformation of every type of company, which is resulting in plenty of insecurity.  As more businesses move to the cloud, there is always the danger that employees — their own or those acquired through mergers — won’t always know or follow policies, and that they’ll move sensitive data where they should not.

It’s a trend with no end sight, too, which goes a long way in explaining the momentum of Expanse. Already, the company has 150 employees across offices in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York, and Atlanta. With its newest round – –  a sum that brings Expanse’s total funding to $135 million altogether —  the plan is partly to move into new international markets beyond where it already operates.  Those market include the U.K., Canada, Australia, and Japan.

The government is about to permanently bar the IRS from creating a free electronic filing system

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 02:38 PM PDT

Thanks to pressure from tax preparation industry, Congress is getting ready to ban the Internal Revenue Service from ever building a free electronic tax filing system.

As ProPublica reports, the effort is a bipartisan one. The House Ways and Means Committee, led by Massachusetts Democrat, Richard Neal, passed the Taxpayer First Act.

The bill would make changes to the IRS and is sponsored by Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis and Mike Kelly, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

One of its stipulations would make it illegal for the IRS to create its own online system for tax filing. That’s right, members of Congress are prohibiting a branch of the federal government from providing a much-needed service that would make the lives of all of their constituents much easier.

And why is Congress taking the step? Because companies like Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, and H&R Block have been lobbying lawmakers for years to take the step.

In other countries, the agencies in charge of taxes have their own programs which make filing taxes more efficient — and free — for citizens. But that would eat into the profits for the tax prep industry, which was estimated to pull in $11 billion in 2018.

"This could be a disaster. It could be the final nail in the coffin of the idea of the IRS ever being able to create its own program," Mandi Matlock, a tax attorney who does work for the National Consumer Law Center, told ProPublica.

There are a number of ways that the IRS could make tax preparation easier for taxpayers dealing with the only certainty in life other than death.

The IRS could develop a free online system. It could also submit pre-prepared tax returns for people to approve and then file based on the salary data the agency already has.

Roughly 70% of American taxpayers are already able to file for free online, but only 3% do, according to data from the taxpayer advocacy organization, The Taxpayer Advocate Service.

Americans who make less than $66,000 can access the Free File Inc. software online through the website and all taxpayers can download electronic versions of IRS paper forms through the service.

Back in 2002, the IRS entered into an agreement with a consortium fo tax software companies, which was known as Free File, Inc.  As part of that deal, the companies agreed to open up access to filing software for about taxpayers who make less than $66,000 and the IRS agreed not to compete with the companies by developing its own software.

That deal has been renewed for over a decade and the new bill before Congress would make it permanent. One reason why folks Congress could be pushing this through is all of the money that H&R Block and Intuit spent to lobby Senators and Representatives. ProPublica estimates that the tax prep industry has spent $6.6 million to advocate for the IRS filing deal. The Ways and Means chair, Neal, received $16,000 in contributions from the two companies in the last two election cycles, according to the ProPublica report.

Apigee jumps on hybrid bandwagon with new API for hybrid environments

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 02:37 PM PDT

This year at Google Cloud Next, the theme is all about supporting hybrid environments, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Apigee, the API company it bought in 2016 for $265 million, is also getting into the act. Today, Apigee announced the Beta of Apigee Hybrid, a new product designed for hybrid environments.

Amit Zavery, who recently joined Google Cloud after many years at Oracle, and Nandan Sridhar, describe the new product in a joint blog post as “a new deployment option for the Apigee API management platform that lets you host your runtime anywhere—in your data center or the public cloud of your choice.”

As with Anthos, the company’s approach to hybrid management announced earlier today, the idea is to have a single way to manage your APIs no matter where you choose to run them.

“With Apigee hybrid, you get a single, full-featured API management solution across all your environments, while giving you control over your APIs and the data they expose and ensuring a unified strategy across all APIs in your enterprise,” Zavery and Sridhar wrote in the blog post announcing the new approach.

The announcement is part of an overall strategy by the company to support a customer’s approach to computing across a range environments, often referred to as hybrid cloud. In the Cloud Native world, the idea is to present a single fabric to manage your deployments, regardless of location.

This appears to be an extension of that idea, which makes sense given that Google was the first company to develop and open source Kubernetes, which is at the forefront of containerization and Cloud Native computing. While this isn’t pure Cloud Native computing, it is keeping true to its ethos and it fits in the scope of Google Cloud’s approach to computing in general, especially as it is being defined at this year’s conference.

Digital health investors are missing out on a big opportunity to bring healthtech to public schools

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 02:00 PM PDT

I first got a glimpse of technology's potential back in 2010. As a pediatrician at Miami Children's Health System, I flew to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake to help treat children. Many suffered trauma, but I found myself caring for little ones with chronic conditions, as well. Along with my stethoscope, my computer and smartphone quickly became essential tools in my medical bag, as I sent emails and images to colleagues in Miami for consultations.

Back home, I became acutely aware of how we lagged behind in using technology in pediatric settings. I'm a doctor to the iGeneration. I have patients as young as two who seem instinctively adept at manipulating an iPad, yet their school remains largely stuck in a sepia-tone world.

There's no excuse. The 2009 HITECH Act brought electronic health records to hospitals and doctors’ practices and the 2010 Affordable Care Act jumpstarted innovation across the healthcare spectrum. Funding in digital health startups continues at a record-breaking pace, with venture capitalists investing $8.1 billion last year, according to Rock Health. The money targeted healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and consumers. By comparison, only a tiny fraction — just under $60 million — went to pediatric-related technology in 2018. Young companies and their backers have largely overlooked what I consider the front line of health: our public schools.

Yet legislation on that front should help, as well. Poor health is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism, and the latter is linked to low academic performance. To hold schools accountable, most states have selected absenteeism as a measure of performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. That can translate into millions of dollars in reduced state funding for school districts, which should motivate officials to address the reason one in six students misses class repeatedly.

Our children spend an average of 14 percent of their time in school from kindergarten through 12th grade. Any public school parent knows the drill: fill out the same paper forms at the beginning of each year authorizing the school nurse to administer medications with the approval of the child's pediatrician. Vaccinations, of course, need to be up to date. The nurse, who typically oversees multiple schools, gets overwhelmed trying to screen children who suffer from serious chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes and seizures, from a pool of hundreds of students.

Technology is advancing in everyday life, but schools are being left behind because health programs still rank at the bottom of budget priorities.

Inevitably, some fall through the cracks. More than six million children under the age of 18 suffer from asthma; it is the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under 15 and a major reason for school absenteeism. I've had children with asthma under my care where the school nurse is unaware of their condition. Those who suffer acute attacks are on oral steroids and need their medications more frequently — a situation schools often don't properly monitor. As a result, some students end up in the intensive care unit requiring more aggressive therapy. It's very frustrating for pediatricians, and devastating for families.

That is a prime example of why we need technology in schools. Lack of data-sharing among schools, pediatricians and families is especially exacerbated, because charts are often paper-based or locked in the school's system. An electronic medical record can facilitate quicker access to information for monitoring and care coordination. It could prevent potential tragedies, absenteeism and unnecessary costs.

Telehealth can also play a role. Students, especially from low-income households, often don't have a pediatrician, and so the school becomes by default their clinic. In my former role as medical director of telehealth Florida at Nemours Children's Health System, we were encouraged by the results of an analysis we did on 1,000 telehealth visits. Sixty-seven percent of parents said they would have taken their child to an emergency room, urgent care center or retail clinic if they didn't have access to remote consultation. This was outside of the school setting, but the study points to an opportunity for deployment in schools.

Technology is advancing in everyday life, but schools are being left behind because health programs still rank at the bottom of budget priorities. The American Academy of Pediatrics has for years advocated for a full-time nurse on campus, but that's not always the reality. As the father of a four-year-old boy who's prone to seizures, I worry.

Schools need to realize they're not only in the business of education, they're also in the healthcare business. The two go hand in hand.

Amazon Alexa now offers long-form news coverage in addition to Flash Briefings

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 01:53 PM PDT

One of the top use cases for Amazon Alexa is its ability to quickly summarize the day’s headlines via its customizable “Flash Briefing” skill. Now, Amazon is rolling out a new feature that will allow Alexa device owners to get more in-depth news from their preferred news provider, with this week’s launch of “long-form news.” Currently, the new feature works with news from Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, Newsy and NPR, Amazon says.

Getting the news is already a top voice activity among smart-speaker owners. According to a 2018 Adobe survey, 46 percent of voice assistant users ask their smart speaker for news. And today’s Alexa Skill Store lists more than 5,000 voice apps in its News category, which indicates some level of consumer demand for this sort of content.

But sometimes users want more than just a set of quick headlines. That’s where Alexa’s in-depth news feature aims to help.

Amazon says that voice commands like “Alexa, tell me the news,” “Alexa play news” or “Alexa play news from…” followed by the source’s name, will now launch in-depth news sessions featuring stories curated by the news provider. This can include stories from NPR’s most popular radio shows, CNN’s top headlines, Newsy’s video news and others.

Both Newsy and CNBC will offer video news stories on Alexa devices with a screen, like the Echo Show and Echo Spot. The rest will be audio-only.

Customers can listen or watch all the news stories or move through the different stories with verbal commands like “Alexa, next” or “Alexa, skip” to jump ahead.

When you ask Alexa for the news for the first time, the assistant will ask for your preferred provider. You’ll also be able to change this later in the same Settings screen where you currently configure your Flash Briefing preferences.

This is a little confusing because the section is still labeled Flash Briefing, instead of something more appropriate, like “News” or “News settings,” for example.

In addition, the process of using the new feature is a bit different for those customers who have already been using Flash Briefing, which is also confusing.

If a Flash Briefing user asks Alexa for the news, the assistant will continue to play the Flash Briefing you’ve already configured and are used to accessing by saying things like “Alexa what’s the news?” or “Alexa, tell me the news,” among other things.

If you want to instead now hear the long-form version of the news, you’ll need to specify a source by saying the specific command: “Alexa, play the news from CNN” (or whichever news provider you prefer.)

Amazon seems to understand this process is a little clunky, telling us it’s still “early days” for the feature and it will “continue to listen to customer feedback and evolve the experience over time.”

The launch is a big bet that smart-speaker owners want to do more than stream music, control their smart home or perform other minor tasks, like setting alarms and timers, or using lists, for instance. Instead, it sees Amazon Alexa, to some extent, taking the place of watching a nightly news telecast. That’s an option that many of today’s cord cutters don’t have, as they’ve given up pay TV for just Netflix or some other mix for streaming apps.

Longer-form content could also give Amazon a place to put ad units in the future, if it wanted to go that route.

The long-form news feature began rolling out to customers in the U.S. on Monday.

‘Hateful comments’ result in YouTube disabling chat during a live-streamed hearing on hate

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 01:19 PM PDT

At today’s House Judiciary hearing addressing “Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism,” hate appears to have prevailed.

As the hearing’s live stream aired on the House Judiciary’s YouTube channel, comments in the live chat accompanying the stream were so inflammatory that YouTube actually disabled the chat feature mid-hearing. Many of those comments were anti-Semitic in nature.

Unsurprisingly, the hearing struggled to balance its crowded witness list, which included Facebook public policy director Neil Potts and Google public policy lead Alexandria Walden. Potts emphasized that Facebook recently righted its course with regard to white nationalism, though this shift is still in its earliest days.

“Facebook rejects not just hate speech, but all hateful ideologies,” Potts said in the hearing. “Our rules have always been clear that white supremacists are not allowed on our platform under any circumstances.”

The hearing was probably ill-fated from the start. As Democrats attempt to grapple with the real-world effects of white supremacist violence, voices on the far right — recently amplified by figures in Congress — denounce that conversation outright. When political parties can’t even agree on a hearing’s topic, it usually guarantees a performative rather than productive few hours and, in spite of some of its serious witnesses, this hearing was no exception.

Hours after the hearing, anti-Semitic comments continue to pour into the House Judiciary YouTube page, many focused on Rep. Jerry Nadler, the committee’s chair. “White nationalism isn’t a crime its [sic] a human right,” one user declared. “(((They))) are taking over our government,” another wrote, alluding to widespread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Many more defended white nationalism as a form of pride rather than a hate-based belief system tied to real-world violence.

“… Hate speech and violent extremism have no place on YouTube,” YouTube’s Walden said during the hearing. “We believe we have developed a responsible approach to address the evolving and complex issues that manifest on our platform.”

Accenture announces intent to buy French cloud consulting firm

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 11:50 AM PDT

As Google Cloud Next opened today in San Francisco, Accenture announced its intent to acquire Cirruseo, a French cloud consulting firm that specializes in Google Cloud intelligence services. The companies did not share the terms of the deal.

Accenture says that Cirruseo's strength and deep experience in Google’s cloud-based artificial intelligence solutions should help as Accenture expands its own AI practice. Google TensorFlow and other intelligence solutions are a popular approach to AI and machine learning, and the purchase should help give Accenture a leg up in this area, especially in the French market.

"The addition of Cirruseo would be a significant step forward in our growth strategy in France, bringing a strong team of Google Cloud specialists to Accenture," Olivier Girard, Accenture's geographic unit managing director for France and Benelux said in a statement.

With the acquisition, should it pass French regulatory muster, the company would add a team of 100 specialists trained in Google Cloud and G Suite to the an existing team of 2,600 Google specialists worldwide.

The company sees this as a way to enhance its artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise in general, while giving it a much stronger market placement in France in particular and the EU in general.

As the company stated, there are some hurdles before the deal becomes official. “The acquisition requires prior consultation with the relevant works councils and would be subject to customary closing conditions,” Accenture indicated in a statement. Should all that come to pass, then Cirruseo will become part of Accenture.

Proposed bill would forbid big tech platforms from using dark pattern design

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 11:19 AM PDT

A new piece of bipartisan legislation aims to protect people from one of the sketchiest practices that tech companies employ to subtly influence user behavior. Known as “dark patterns,” this dodgy design strategy often pushes users toward giving up their privacy unwittingly and allowing a company deeper access to their personal data.

To fittingly celebrate the one-year anniversary of Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) have proposed the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act. While the acronym is a bit of a stretch, the bill would forbid online platforms with more than 100 million users from “relying on user interfaces that intentionally impair user autonomy, decision-making, or choice.”

"Any privacy policy involving consent is weakened by the presence of dark patterns,” Senator Fischer said of the proposed bipartisan bill. “These manipulative user interfaces intentionally limit understanding and undermine consumer choice.”

While this particular piece of legislation might not go on to generate much buzz in Congress, it does point toward some regulatory themes that we’ll likely hear more about as lawmakers build support for regulating big tech.

The bill, embedded below, would create a standards body to coordinate with the FTC on user design best practices for large online platforms. That entity would also work with platforms to outline what sort of design choices infringe on user rights, with the FTC functioning as a “regulatory backstop.”

Whether the bill gets anywhere or not, the FTC itself is probably best suited to take on the issue of dark pattern design, issuing its own guidelines and fines for violating them. Last year, after a Norwegian consumer advocacy group published a paper detailing how tech companies abuse dark pattern design, a coalition of eight U.S. watchdog groups called on the FTC to do just that.

Beyond eradicating dark pattern design, the bill also proposes prohibiting user interface designs that cultivate “compulsive usage” in children under the age of 13 as well as disallowing online platforms from conducting “behavioral experiments” without informed user consent. Under the guidelines set out by the bill, big online tech companies would have to organize their own Institutional Review Boards. These groups, more commonly called IRBs, provide powerful administrative oversight in any scientific research that uses human subjects.

"For years, social media platforms have been relying on all sorts of tricks and tools to convince users to hand over their personal data without really understanding what they are consenting to,” Senator Warner said of the proposed legislation. "Our goal is simple: to instill a little transparency in what remains a very opaque market and ensure that consumers are able to make more informed choices about how and when to share their personal information."

The full text of the legislation is embedded below.

France’s tax on tech giants passes first vote

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 10:19 AM PDT

The lower house of the French parliament has voted in favor of the new tax on tech giants without any modification. Big tech companies that generate significant revenue in France will be taxed on their revenue generated in France.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has been lobbying other European countries so that big tech companies would stop optimizing their European corporate structure to lower their effective tax rate.

But changing taxation rules in Europe is a tough road. You need to convince every single member of the European Union and get a unanimous vote. Some European countries that attract a lot of regional headquarters for tech giants weren't on board.

The French government didn't want to wait and wrote this new piece of legislation. So here's what's happening. If you're running a company that generates more than €750 million in global revenue and €25 million in France, you will have to pay 3 percent of your French revenue in taxes.

This tax is specifically designed for tech companies in two categories — marketplace (Amazon's marketplace, Uber, Airbnb…) and advertising (Facebook, Google, Criteo…).

It's a weird taxation model, as it is based on revenue and not profit. It'll also require some work from the taxation administration, as French revenue means that it involves all transactions with somebody with a French mailing address or a French IP address. France expects to generate €400 million in revenue with this new tax in 2019.

Eventually, Le Maire hopes that other European countries will change their attitudes. The OECD has also been working on a way to properly tax tech companies with a standardized set of rules.

If the European Union or the OECD find a way to properly tax tech companies in countries where they operate, the French government says that it would replace today's new tax.

The upper house of the French parliament will now debate and vote for the plan. But it seems like it'll be an easy one.

Labelbox raises $10 million for its services to support machine learning applications

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 10:02 AM PDT

Labelbox, a provider of services to create, manage and maintain data sets for machine learning applications, has raised $10 million in a new round of funding.

The financing came from Gradient Ventures, Google's AI-focused venture fund, with participation from previous investors Kleiner Perkins, First Round Capital and Sumon Sadhu, an angel investor.

Labelbox manages the process of outsourcing data labeling for organizations and provides toolkits for companies or organizations to manage the data they’re receiving and ensuring the quality of that data, according to chief executive Manu Sharma.

For the Labelbox founders — Sharma; Dan Rasmuson, the company’s chief technology officer; and Brian Rieger, the chief operating officer — the tools they developed are simply an extension of the services they’d needed at their previous employers — companies like DroneDeploy, Planet Labs and Boeing.

Financing from the round will be used to double the size of its team from 11 employees to 22, and build out its sales and marketing teams.

Labelbox counts around 50 customers for its service and charges them based on the volume of data that companies upload and the breadth of services they use, Sharma said. Some named customers include FLIR Systems, Lytx, Airbus, Genius Sports and KeepTruckin.

As we’d reported when Labelbox launched from stealth last year, anyone can use the company’s toolkit for free. Companies are charged once they hit a certain usage threshold. Lytx, for instance, uses Labelbox for its DriveCam, a system installed on half a million trucks with cameras that use AI to detect unsafe driver behavior so they can be coached to improve. And the media and publishing giant Conde Nast is using Labelbox to match runway fashion to related items in their archive of content.

“Labelbox substantially reduces model development times and empowers data science teams to build great machine learning applications,” said Sharma in a statement. “With the new funding, Labelbox will continue to double down on bringing data labeling infrastructure to the machine learning teams with powerful automation, collaboration, and enterprise-grade features.”

Gradient Ventures was interested enough in the technology to invest, and sees promise in the company’s ability to support the development of machine learning tools globally.

"Labelbox is well-positioned to fuel the industrialization of machine learning across many sectors, such as manufacturing, transportation and healthcare. In doing so, they will unlock the potential of AI for companies across the globe," said Anna Patterson, founder and managing partner at Gradient Ventures.

The Lone Star State has more capital, as LiveOak closes its newest fund with $105 million

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 10:01 AM PDT

Texas may have suffered a heartbreaking defeat during last night’s NCAA men’s championship basketball game, but the state does have something to celebrate today. Local outfit LiveOak Venture Partners, a venture firm focused exclusively on Texas-based startups, has closed a new fund with $105 million in capital commitments.

It’s the second vehicle for the firm, formed in 2013 by longtime investors Venu Shamapant, Krishna Srinivasan and Ben Scott, all of whom met while working together at Austin Ventures in 2000 — and who seem to know what they’re doing as a team.

LiveOak has already seen two of its portfolio companies sell for meaningful amounts (Digital Pharmacists sold last month to K1 Investment Management for more than $100 million; Opcity was snatched up last summer by News Corp. for $210 million). They also have at least two portfolio companies whose valuations have risen considerably since LiveOak funded them, including CS Disco, which raised $83 million in January, and OJO Labs, which raised $45 million just a few weeks ago.

We were in touch with the trio late last week to learn more about what they are seeing on the local startup scene.

TC: You’ve all been based in Austin for a very long time. What are the biggest shifts you’ve seen since meeting each other 19 years ago, during the peak of the dot-com bubble?

KS: There are three primary dimensions where Texas has evolved since 2000. Talent is perhaps the most significant improvement since 2000. There’s been a massive inflow of strong talent — in particular from the coasts — and we also have a maturation of locally cultivated talent. [Both have created a] critical mass of people across functions and industries that have been through a startup cycle.

While, like any other market, Texas had plenty of local capital in 2000, that quickly dried up, leaving Austin Ventures, where we worked at the time, as the only really meaningful source of local capital in Texas. [After the more recent financial crisis], between 2009 and 2012, all local early-stage capital really dried up, in contrast with the continued growth in the talent. But that created the opportunity for us to start LiveOak and today, there’s strong capital availability locally and from outside, setting up a really vibrant entrepreneurial scene in town.

I’d also say that while Texas is certainly more skewed toward the enterprise / B2B market, it has become much more diversified than in 2000. We have completely [moved] away from semiconductors and hardware and heavily accelerated into verticalized software and tech-enabled services. Some of the leaders in our portfolio are players in legal tech, real estate tech, health tech. We’re also seeing some early growth in consumer, but that’s an area where we’ll need to import talent heavily.

TC: How has the founder profile changed, if at all?

KS: While we haven't reached peak Texas by any means, we have seen a tipping point in terms of cost-of-living factors in coastal states bringing in serial entrepreneurs to start and scale companies that would have otherwise been founded in other parts of the country in past years. In fact, over half of the six investments we’ve already made out of our new fund were founded by entrepreneurs who moved to Texas in the past five years.

TC: And what’s happening in terms of valuations? Any trends you’ve observed over the last year or two?

VS: Valuations in Texas companies are very dependent on the stage of the company. For early-stage companies, while there has been some uptick in valuations, on average, they continue to be at a discount to national valuation trends. For later-stage capital, where these companies target the same national investor base, the valuations tend to converge towards national levels of valuations.

TC: What size checks are you writing, and has that changed with this new fund? 

KS: Our strategy is to be one of the first institutional investors in a company. For post seed-stage companies that are raising their first institutional round of financing, our first check can range from $1.5 million to $4 million. Over the life cycle of a company, we’re comfortable investing from $8 million to $10 million [altogether].

Can the law be copyrighted?

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 10:00 AM PDT

UpCodes wants to fix one of the building industry's biggest headaches by streamlining code compliance. But the Y Combinator-backed startup now faces a copyright lawsuit filed against it by the International Code Council, the nonprofit organization that develops the code used or adopted in building regulations by all 50 states.

The case may have ramifications beyond the building industry, including for compliance technology in other sectors and even individuals who want to reproduce the law. At its core are several important questions: Is it possible to copyright the law or text that carries the weight of law? Because laws and codes are often written by private individuals or groups instead of legislators, what rights do they continue to have over their work? Several relevant cases, including ones involving building codes, have been decided by different circuits in the United States Court of Appeals, which means the UpCodes lawsuit may potentially be heard by the Supreme Court.

Brothers Scott and Garrett Reynolds founded UpCodes in 2016. While working as an architect, Scott says he realized how laborious code compliance is for builders, who are required by law to follow codes that determine things like the height of handrails from the ground, minimum width of openings for bedroom windows, placement of light switches or how many electrical outlets to have in a hallway.

These details are important to ensure buildings are safe and accessible and an oversight may subject builders and property owners to legal penalties, fines and costly rebuilding. Firms that can afford to do so hire code consultants, but on an industry-wide level, the process of code compliance has been cited as a key reason for reduced productivity in the construction industry and rising home prices.

Scott decided to leave architecture to develop tools that would simplify the process, and was joined by his brother Garrett, then a software engineer at construction management software company PlanGrid. The two completed Y Combinator's accelerator program in 2017 and so far have announced $785,000 in funding from angel investors, Y Combinator and Foundation Capital.

Brothers Scott and Garrett Reynolds, who founded UpCodes to streamline building code compliance

UpCodes' first product, an online database, gives free access to codes, code updates and local amendments from 32 states, as well as New York City. For building professionals and others who want more advanced search tools and collaboration features, UpCodes sells individual and team subscriptions. In 2018, UpCodes released its second product, called UpCodes AI. Described as a "spellcheck for buildings," the plug-in scans 3D models created with building information modeling (BIM) data and highlights potential errors in real time.

Just as technology has dramatically streamlined the compliance process in other highly regulated sectors, including finance and healthcare, Scott and Garrett Reynolds say tools like UpCodes’ can increase productivity in the building industry. The startup currently has more than 200,000 monthly active users, and has served over 10 million page views and 2 million users since launch.

It argues that its use of building codes is covered by fair use. The ICC, on the other hand, claims that products like UpCodes' database harm its ability to make revenue and continue developing code. The ICC wants UpCodes to take down the building code on which it claims copyright, and has also sued for damages.

Making building codes more accessible

Served on UpCodes in September 2017 by the ICC and the American Society of Construction Engineers (ASCE), the lawsuit also names each of the brothers as a defendant. (UpCodes settled out of court with the ASCE).

'We have a very long tradition that in a society governed by the rule of law, people have the right to access the law by which they are governed.' Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

The brothers say they were shocked because they believed they were covered by the fair use doctrine. In the US, fair use is determined using four factors: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken and the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. In one of the circuit court cases that involved building code, Veeck v Southern Building Code Congress International (2002), the judges ruled that when model codes are enacted into law, they enter the public domain.

“The people who are impacted are obviously architects, engineers, industry professionals, but also any homeowners or people living in a house or apartment are affected, too,” says Scott Reynolds. “If you want to do a renovation or move a wall or add an extension to your house, it is the exact same law that governs those as well. It's a pretty dangerous precedent to set, copyrighting law in a democracy.”

The brothers see their database as an easy-to-use resource for anyone who wants to research building code. For example, they say they heard from an older couple who used UpCodes’ free access to confirm they had the right to demand a broken elevator in their building be fixed within a certain timeframe.

Formed in 1994 by the merger of three regional model code groups, the International Code Council is a nonprofit with 64,000 members headquartered in Washington DC. Its model codes and standards are developed by committees made up of volunteers from its membership and ICC staff. The ICC lobbies for the code to be enacted into law, and earns revenue by selling code books and running accreditation programs.

Some places, including Michigan, direct people who want to research building codes to buy the books from the ICC’s site. The ICC's website has code posted for free viewing, but copy and paste, highlighting, printing and other functions are disabled unless users pay a subscription fee. Scott and Garrett Reynolds say this makes it more difficult to research code compliance, especially for non-professionals. UpCodes uploads building codes from various sources, including government websites, the ICC's site and ICC code books ordered online, scanned and put into its database. The ICC argues that this violates its copyright and hurts the organization's ability to raise revenue through code book sales.

“What is really at the crux of this lawsuit is that we develop the highest quality codes that are adopted and used by governments at essentially no cost to the taxpayers and UpCodes is misappropriating ICC codes to generate their for-profit business,” says Mel Oncu, ICC's general counsel.

When adopting code, many jurisdictions look at what others are doing, which has helped increase the use of ICC’s code. But codes still vary between cities and states, with the Economist reporting in 2017 that American counties and municipalities use a combined total of 93,000 different building codes, and are updated frequently, adding another layer of complexity to the compliance process.

Corynne McSherry, legal director of digital liberties advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says at stake in the case is the principle of access to the law.

"Many of us don't think about this area of law, but it's one of the most influential to our daily lives. We think of law in terms of what we see onscreen, but not too many of us normally have to engage with a crucial constitutional problem like those portrayed in movies. Hopefully most of us don't have to encounter criminal law that much. But building codes actually shape our daily lives in incredibly concrete ways," McSherry says.

Because the codes are legally binding, "that makes a pretty significant difference under copyright law and under fundamental constitutional law. We have a very long tradition that in a society governed by the rule of law, people have the right to access the law by which they are governed,” she adds.

An issue that’s come up before

Questions surrounding copyright and access to the law have been litigated several times in the United States courts of appeals. Two cases in particular may help UpCodes' argument: Building Officials and Code Administration (BOCA) v Code Technology (1980) and Veeck v Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) (2002). Two more recent cases involving, a nonprofit group that publishes public domain materials to its website, may also bolster UpCodes’ position: Code Revision Commission v (2017) and American Society for Testing and Materials et al. v (2018).

BOCA (one of the three groups that merged into ICC in 1994) developed a model building code that was adopted by Massachusetts, with some minor modifications, which BOCA then published as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Building Code. When private publisher Code Technology began publishing and selling its own edition of the code, BOCA sued. The case made it to the First Circuit, which ruled in Code Technology’s favor, stating that it was "far from persuaded that BOCA's virtual authorship of the Massachusetts building code entitles it to enforce a copyright monopoly over when, where and how the [code] is reproduced and made publicly available."

Then more than two decades later, another case resulted in a similar ruling. The Southern Building Code Congress International, another one of the three regional groups that formed the ICC, published a model building code adopted by local governments, including the towns of Anna and Savoy in Texas. Peter Veeck, who ran a website with free information about North Texas, bought copies of the code from the SBCCI, then scanned and uploaded them.

When the SBCCI demanded he stop, Veeck responded in a court filing that posting the code did not violate the Copyright Act and was covered by fair use. The SBCCI counterclaimed for copyright infringement. While the district court ruled in the SBCCI's favor, the appeal made it to the Fifth Circuit, where Judge Edith Jones wrote in her opinion for the nine-judge majority that "as law, the model codes enter the public domain and are not subject to the copyright holder's exclusive prerogatives." The SBCCI’s attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court was denied.

The Economist reports there are 93,000 building codes in use between American jurisdictions and municipalities

Building codes and copyright were also at the center of the two cases involving A lawsuit filed by the state of Georgia's Code Revision Commission in 2015 sought to stop it from publishing the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) after founder Carl Malamud purchased a hard copy of the OCGA, scanned it and sent copies on USB sticks to Georgia legislators. The Code Revision Commission argued that the annotations they wrote placed it under state copyright, but the Eleventh Circuit ruled in's favor last year.

In another recent case, six industry groups, including the American Society for Testing and Materials, sued for scanning and publishing building, fire and safety codes they considered their copyrighted property. After the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against, the case went on appeal to the DC Circuit. In July 2018, a three-judge panel reversed the decision, and sent the case back to the district court for further consideration, stating that "in many cases, it may be fair use for PRO to reproduce part or all of a technical standard in order to inform the public about the law."

One difference between the cases and UpCodes' is that is a non-commercial group, a fact that strengthens their fair use argument. UpCodes, on the other hand, is a commercial company, which will become part of the fair use analysis if their case makes it to trial. But that is not a decider, says McSherry, who represented in both cases, and the judges are likely to consider the cases, as well as the Veeck and other building code cases.

Because the Veeck case never made it to the Supreme Court, that means it hasn't heard a case on the copyright availability of legal codes, or codes with the force of law, in a very long time, says Joe Gratz, a lawyer who has litigated several high-profile internet copyright and trademark disputes and is representing UpCodes and the Reynolds brothers. This opens the possibility of the ICC lawsuit making it to the Supreme Court.

"So now you have at least three of the circuits — DC, Fifth and Eleventh — all totally lined up, effectively saying that Veeck was right," Gratz adds.

The ICC’s argument

But the ICC's position is that the Veeck case is “bad law,” says Oncu, adding that the decision was made two decades ago, before developments in technology allowed the organization to host free access to codes on its own website.

The ICC's lawyers note that the organization also works with third-party distributors that license the code. "UpCodes could have come to ICC at any point and asked to lawfully reproduce the codes that we own. The idea that they can't accomplish their mission without violating our copyright doesn't make much sense to me," says Oncu.

(In response, Garrett Reynolds says “It’s absurd to license the law.  ICC thinks they’re the gatekeepers and anyone wanting to share the law needs to pay their toll.  ICC doesn’t get to decide who’s allowed to create new innovations to help people follow the law.” UpCodes did not ask ICC to license the code.)

There are two copyright cases, decided in circuit court, that support ICC's position, says lawyer Kevin Fee, a Morgan Lewis partner who is representing the organization: CCC Information Services v. Maclean Hunter Market Reports (1994) and Practice Management Information v. American Medical Association (1998).

'The idea that they can't accomplish their mission without violating our copyright doesn't make much sense to me.' Mel Oncu, International Code Council's general counsel

In 1994, the Second Circuit sided with Maclean, publisher of used car valuation reference Red Book, which alleged CCC, a data and service provider for the automotive industry, violated its copyright by uploading information from the guide to its online network. In its decision, the court said “We are not prepared to hold that a state's reference to a copyrighted work as a legal standard for valuation results in loss of the copyright.”

In the second case, Practice Management Information, a medical coding products company, sued the American Medical Association over the use of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT), a medical code set that is required by Medicare and HIPAA and appears in the Federal Register. Practice Management claimed that this meant AMA’s copyright was invalid, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed, writing in its 1997 decision that "the AMA's right under the Copyright Act to limit or forgo publication of the CPT poses no realistic threat to public access."

The ICC claims that its training and education certification business isn't enough to fund code development.

"Copyright protection of our codes is essential to our ability to continue to update our codes," says Oncu. She adds that the ICC believes if the lawsuit is ruled in UpCodes' favor, it may potentially set a precedent that will make it difficult for it to have a revenue stream and continue creating high-quality codes.

Scott and Garrett Reynolds, however, say that the ICC appears to have healthy revenue. In its 2016 annual report, the ICC said its consolidated revenue in 2015 was $66 million, an increase of $4.3 million compared to 2014, and that it “consistently records over $1 million in sales per month” through its online store. Then from 2015 to 2016, ICC’s revenue increased by $12 million, according to a report presented by chief executive officer Dominic Sims at an annual meeting. (The ICC did not disclose an amount for consolidated revenue in its 2017 annual report, and hasn’t released its 2018 annual report yet.)

The UpCodes founders also note that Sims, the ICC’s CEO, was paid $709,000 in 2016, according to a tax filing, much more than the $104,000 median annual salary for nonprofit CEOs. (Oncu says that ICC's salaries are comparable to other standards organizations.)

Potential implications for innovation

One of UpCodes’ angel investors, Cyrus Lohrasbpour, decided to back the company when he saw them present during Y Combinator's Demo Day. Lohrasbpour says he was impressed by the accessibility of the website and its team collaboration tools.

"I immediately understood the value proposition of the company," he says. "It was hard for me to understand why building codes didn't have something like this already." Lohrasbpour was one of two investors deposed by the ICC as part of the lawsuit, but despite being questioned for five hours by lawyers, he says the experience made him more determined to support UpCodes. "If you invest in a company that will disrupt an incumbent, there is always a chance that something like this occurs."

Scott and Garrett Reynolds say that lawsuits like the one they are facing may potentially deter other developers from working on tools to automate building and safety processes, such as calculating fire resistance in walls. The UpCodes suit, and the other cases that came before it, aren’t just relevant to builders. Technology has been able to streamline the process of regulatory and legal compliance in several industries, but innovation may slow if would-be founders are unclear about how copyright law applies to them.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation takes on clients like pro bono because "lawsuits can be a way of shutting down innovation in its infancy," says McSherry. "It can be intimidating to people trying to experiment in this space."

ICC's stance is that it is already making its code more accessible by putting it online.

"Code compliance has never been easier. If you wanted to access the codes before the internet, you had to buy a hard copy of the codes or go to the library to figure it out. Now ICC has made its codes available online for free. All you need is a phone in your hand or internet access to know what the codes say," says Fee.

But UpCodes' argument is that part of the value of their product is its ease of use, including the ability to cut, paste and highlight text, which ICC's online codes lack unless you pay a subscription fee. At the same time, the government website of many municipalities direct residents to the ICC's website to read or purchase code, including Michigan and California.

"I think citizens being able to freely access and discuss laws is critical to democracy and to hold the government accountable," says Garrett Reynolds. "If one private entity controls access to the law and they get to decide who can access it when and how, it might be appropriate in a dictatorship, but not in a democracy. The people are the owners of the law."

Uber, Lyft and the challenge of transportation startup profits

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:35 AM PDT

How much does transportation cost you?

In most cities, bus or subway fare might set you back $3 or so. A tank of gas, maybe $30 or $40 depending on your car. An hour of street parking? Sometimes it's free, sometimes it's a few bucks. And you can usually snag an economy seat on a round-trip U.S. domestic flight for less than $300.

These numbers probably ring true for most people. There's just one problem: Everything you know about the cost of transportation is wrong.

Despite a massive infusion of venture capital into the transportation sector over the past few years, mobility startups are starting to learn what every transportation business has known for generations: transportation profits are elusive, and the system is mainly held together by subsidies. Will this be the first generation of transportation businesses to escape history?

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron at TC Sessions: Mobility on July 10

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:34 AM PDT

Some of the first users of autonomous taxis are senior citizens living in a massive retirement community in Florida.

It’s there, in a 40-square-mile area known as The Villages, that autonomous driving startup Voyage has planted its flag. Once the door-to-door self-driving taxi service is fully operational, all 125,000 residents will have the ability to summon a self-driving car to their doorstep using the Voyage mobile app.

Voyage’s strategy to target retirement communities makes the startup, and its founders, stand out in a sea of emerging competitors. And now, TechCrunch is excited to announce an opportunity to gain insight into Voyage, its mission and plans for the future.

Co-founder and CEO of Voyage Oliver Cameron will participate in TechCrunch’s inaugural TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day event on July 10, 2019 in San Jose, Calif., that is centered around the future of mobility and transportation.

Cameron previously led the autonomous vehicle, artificial intelligence and deep learning curriculum at Udacity . Voyage spun out of Udacity in 2017. Since then, Voyage has piloted its autonomous taxi services in two retirement communities, one in San Jose and another in Florida. And more will likely follow.

TC Sessions: Mobility will present a day of programming with the best and brightest founders, investors and technologists who are determined to invent a future Henry Ford might never have imagined. In case you missed it, Nuro co-founder and CEO Dave Ferguson was our first announced guest for TC Sessions: Mobility.

TC Sessions: Mobility aims to do more than highlight the next new thing. We'll dig into the how and why, the cost and impact to cities, people and companies, as well as the numerous challenges that lie along the way, from technological and regulatory to capital and consumer pressures.

Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $45.

Daily Crunch: China considers Bitcoin mining ban

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:28 AM PDT

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Regulators in China are weighing a ban on Bitcoin mining

Cryptocurrency mining has become the latest target for the Chinese government seeking to phase out industries considered to be a drag on the country's economy.

The National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic planning agency in the world's largest market for bitcoin mining, released a list of sectors it plans to promote, restrict or eliminate. Crypto mining, the process of creating Bitcoin and other digital currencies through the use of computing power, was namechecked.

2. To cut down on spam, Twitter cuts the number of accounts you can follow per day

The idea with the new limit is that it helps prevent spammers from rapidly growing their networks by following then unfollowing Twitter accounts in a "bulk, aggressive or indiscriminate manner" — something that's a violation of the Twitter Rules.

3. Apple could release a 31.6-inch 6K external display this year

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has released a new report about future Apple products.

(From left to right) David Liu, Chief Product Officer; Bernie Xiong, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder; Anita Ngai, Chief Revenue Officer; Eric Gnock Fah, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder; Ethan Lin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder (PRNewsfoto/Klook)

4. Travel activities platform Klook raises $225M led by SoftBank's Vision Fund

Klook was founded in 2014 and it serves as an activities platform for users who travel overseas. That covers areas like visits to adventure parks, scuba diving, more localized tours or basics — all of which can be found and paid for using Klook's platform.

5. UK sets out safety-focused plan to regulate internet firms

The government is now proposing a mandatory duty for platforms to take reasonable steps to protect their users from a range of harms — including but not limited to illegal material such as terrorist and child sexual exploitation and abuse.

6. Don't worry, RED's $1,595 titanium Hydrogen One is finally shipping

Fear not, the Titanium version of RED's wholly ridiculous Hydrogen One is finally here. And yes, it costs as much as you remember.

7. Dote raises $12M and introduces live-streamed Shopping Parties

Shopping Party allows influencers to share live video while browsing different products on Dote and chatting with fans.

Walmart to expand in-store tech, including Pickup Towers for online orders and robots

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:26 AM PDT

Walmart is doubling down on its technology innovations in its brick-and-mortar stores in an effort to better compete with Amazon. The retailer today announced the expanded rollout of several technologies — ranging from in-store Pickup Towers to help customers quickly grab their online orders to floor-scrubbing robots. These jobs were, in many cases, previously handled by people instead of machines.

The retailer says it will add to its U.S. stores 1,500 new autonomous floor cleaners, 300 more shelf scanners, 1,200 more FAST Unloaders and 900 new Pickup Towers.

The “Auto-C” floor cleaner is programmed to clean and polish the store’s floor after the area is first prepped by associates. Publicly introduced last fall, the floor cleaner uses assisted autonomy technology to clean the floors instead of having an associate ride a scrubbing machine — a process that today eats up two hours of an employee’s time per day.

Built in partnership with Brain Corp., Walmart said in December it planned to deploy 360 floor-cleaning robots by the end of January 2019. It’s now bumping that rollout to include 1,500 more this year, bringing the total deployment to 1,860.

The Auto-S shelf scanners, meanwhile, have been in testing since 2017, when Walmart rolled out 50 robots to U.S. stores. It’s now adding 300 more to production to reach a total of 350.

These robots are produced by California-based Bossa Nova Robotics, and roll around aisles to scan prices and check inventory. The robots sit in a charging station until given a task by an employee — like checking inventory levels to see what needs restocking, identifying and finding misplaced items or locating incorrect prices or labeling.

In the backroom, Walmart has been testing FAST Unloaders that are capable of unloading a truck of merchandise along a conveyor belt in a fraction of the time it could be done by hand. The machines automatically scan and sort the items based on priority and department to speed up the process and direct items appropriately.

Unloading, the company noted earlier in testing, was also a heavily disliked job — and one it had trouble keeping staffed. Last summer, Walmart said it had 30 unloaders rolled out in the U.S. and was on pace to add 10 more a week.

Now, 1,200 more are being added to stores, bringing the total to 1,700.

The Pickup Towers have also been around since 2017, when they arrived in 200 stores. A sort of vending machine for online orders, the idea is that customers could save on orders by skipping last-mile deliveries, as shipping to a store costs Walmart less. Customers then benefit by getting a better price by not paying for shipping, and could get their items faster.

In April 2018, Walmart rolled out 500 more towers to U.S. stores. It’s now adding 900 more, which will see 1,700 total towers in use across its stores.

The company claims all this tech will free up its employees’ time from focusing on the “more mundane and repetitive tasks” so they can instead serve customers face-to-face.

Of course, that’s what they all say when turning over people’s jobs to robots and automation — whether that’s fancy coffee-making robotic kiosks, burger-flipping robots or restaurants staffed by a concierge but no kitchen help besides machines.

Walmart, however, claims to still have plenty of work for its staff — like picking groceries for its booming online grocery business, for example. Grocery shopping, generally, accounts for more than half its annual sales, and more of that business is shifting online.

The company also said that many of the jobs it automated were those it struggled to find, hire and retain associates to do, and by taking out the routine work, retention has improved.

“What we're seeing so far suggests investments in store technology are shaping how we think about turnover and hours. The technology is automating pieces of work or tasks, rather than entire jobs,” a Walmart spokesperson said. “As that's happening, we have been able to use many of the hours being saved in other areas of the store — focused more on service and selling for customers,” they continued.

“We have now added over 40,000 jobs for the online grocery picking role in stores over the last year and a half. These jobs didn't exist a short time ago. The result so far: we've seen our U.S. store associate turnover reduced year-over-year,” the spokesperson added.

The tech announced today will roll out to U.S. stores “soon,” Walmart says, but didn’t provide exact dates.

Talk key takeaways from Google Cloud Next with TechCrunch writers

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:19 AM PDT

Google’s Cloud Next conference is taking over the Moscone Center in San Francisco this week and TechCrunch is on the scene covering all the latest announcements.

Google Cloud already powers some of the world’s premier companies and startups, and now it’s poised to put even more pressure on cloud competitors like AWS with its newly-released products and services. TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois will be on the ground at the event, and Ron Miller will be covering from afar. Thursday at 10:00 am PT, Frederic and Ron will be sharing what they saw and what it all means with Extra Crunch members on a conference call.

Tune in to dig into what happened onstage and off and ask Frederic and Ron any and all things cloud or enterprise.

To listen to this and all future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free.

New privacy assistant Jumbo fixes your Facebook & Twitter settings

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:09 AM PDT

Jumbo could be a nightmare for the tech giants, but a savior for the victims of their shady privacy practices.

Jumbo saves you hours as well as embarrassment by automatically adjusting 30 Facebook privacy settings to give you more protection, and by deleting your old tweets after saving them to your phone. It can even erase your Google Search and Amazon Alexa history, with clean-up features for Instagram and Tinder in the works.

The startup emerges from stealth today to launch its Jumbo privacy assistant app on iPhone (Android coming soon). What could take a ton of time and research to do manually can be properly handled by Jumbo with a few taps.

The question is whether tech’s biggest companies will allow Jumbo to operate, or squash its access. Facebook, Twitter and the rest really should have built features like Jumbo’s themselves or made them easier to use, since they could boost people’s confidence and perception that might increase usage of their apps. But since their business models often rely on gathering and exploiting as much of your data as possible, and squeezing engagement from more widely visible content, the giants are incentivized to find excuses to block Jumbo.

“Privacy is something that people want, but at the same time it just takes too much time for you and me to act on it,” explains Jumbo founder Pierre Valade, who formerly built beloved high-design calendar app Sunrise that he sold to Microsoft in 2015. “So you’re left with two options: you can leave Facebook, or do nothing.”

Jumbo makes it easy enough for even the lazy to protect themselves. “I’ve used Jumbo to clean my full Twitter, and my personal feeling is: I feel lighter. On Facebook, Jumbo changed my privacy settings, and I feel safer.” Inspired by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he believes the platforms have lost the right to steward so much of our data.

Valade’s Sunrise pedigree and plan to follow Dropbox’s bottom-up freemium strategy by launching premium subscription and enterprise features has already attracted investors to Jumbo. It’s raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller and Nextview Ventures’ Rob Go, who “both believe that privacy is a fundamental human right,” Valade notes. Miller sold his link-sharing app Branch to Facebook in 2014, so his investment shows those with inside knowledge see a need for Jumbo. Valade’s six-person team in New York will use the money to develop new features and try to start a privacy moment.

How Jumbo works

First let’s look at Jumbo’s Facebook settings fixes. The app asks that you punch in your username and password through a mini-browser open to Facebook instead of using the traditional Facebook Connect feature. That immediately might get Jumbo blocked, and we’ve asked Facebook if it will be allowed. Then Jumbo can adjust your privacy settings to Weak, Medium, or Strong controls, though it never makes any privacy settings looser if you’ve already tightened them.

Valade details that since there are no APIs for changing Facebook settings, Jumbo will “act as ‘you’ on Facebook’s website and tap on the buttons, as a script, to make the changes you asked Jumbo to do for you.” He says he hopes Facebook makes an API for this, though it’s more likely to see his script as against policies.


For example, Jumbo can change who can look you up using your phone number to Strong – Friends only, Medium – Friends of friends, or Weak – Jumbo doesn’t change the setting. Sometimes it takes a stronger stance. For the ability to show you ads based on contact info that advertisers have uploaded, both the Strong and Medium settings hide all ads of this type, while Weak keeps the setting as is.

The full list of what Jumbo can adjust includes Who can see your future posts?, Who can see the people?, Pages and lists you follow, Who can see your friends list?, Who can see your sexual preference?, Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos?, Who can post on your timeline?, and Review tags people add to your posts the tags appear on Facebook? The full list can be found here.

For Twitter, you can choose if you want to remove all tweets ever, or that are older than a day, week, month (recommended), or three months. Jumbo never sees the data, as everything is processed locally on your phone. Before deleting the tweets, it archives them to a Memories tab of its app. Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to export the tweets from there, but Jumbo is building Dropbox and iCloud connectivity soon, which will work retroactively to download your tweets. Twitter’s API limits mean it can only erase 3,200 tweets of yours every few days, so prolific tweeters may require several rounds.

Its other integrations are more straightforward. On Google, it deletes your search history. For Alexa, it deletes the voice recordings stored by Amazon. Next it wants to build a way to clean out your old Instagram photos and videos, and your old Tinder matches and chat threads.

Across the board, Jumbo is designed to never see any of your data. “There isn’t a server-side component that we own that processes your data in the cloud,” Valade says. Instead, everything is processed locally on your phone. That means, in theory, you don’t have to trust Jumbo with your data, just to properly alter what’s out there. The startup plans to open source some of its stack to prove it isn’t spying on you.

While there are other apps that can clean your tweets, nothing else is designed to be a full-fledged privacy assistant. Perhaps it’s a bit of idealism to think these tech giants will permit Jumbo to run as intended. Valade says he hopes if there’s enough user support, the privacy backlash would be too big if the tech giants blocked Jumbo. “If the social network blocks us, we will disable the integration in Jumbo until we can find a solution to make them work again.”

But even if it does get nixed by the platforms, Jumbo will have started a crucial conversation about how privacy should be handled offline. We’ve left control over privacy defaults to companies that earn money when we’re less protected. Now it’s time for that control to shift to the hands of the user.

Watch Google Cloud Next developer conference live right here

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:02 AM PDT

If you can't stop dreaming about NoSQL databases, Google's Cloud Next conference is the closest thing to heaven that you'll find today. At 9 AM PT, 12 PM ET, 5 PM GMT, some of the brightest minds in cloud computing are going to introduce the upcoming features of Google Cloud.

Along with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, Google is building the infrastructure of the web. Countless startups use Google Cloud as their only hosting provider. And there are now more and more specialized and niche services launching. So it's going to be interesting to see what Google has in store to beat their competitors on the cloud front.

We'll have a team on the ground covering all the announcements and explaining what it means.

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Red Antler

Posted: 09 Apr 2019 09:00 AM PDT

In 2007, Emily Heyward, JB Osborne, and Simon Endres began their own entrepreneurial journey and left their corporate jobs to start a brand design agency called Red Antler. They not only believed in the power of branding to drive growth and scale, but they also wanted to work exclusively with startups. Since then, Red Antler has become an industry powerhouse designing and launching brand identities for companies, like Casper and Brandless, into the world. We spoke with Emily, Red Antler's Chief Brand Officer, to learn more about why they love collaborating with founders, what entrepreneurs can expect from partnering with them, and more.

Plus: Read Emily's guest post about how branding drives success for early-stage companies.

Why Emily and her co-founders started Red Antler:

"We saw that there was an incredible opportunity to add value by thinking about brand from the very start. We started Red Antler with the vision, from day one, that brand could be a driver of business growth and that the earlier you think about brand, the better positioned you are to launch, compete, and scale.

"Red Antler was like our 6th co-founder. They helped us name & do the visual identity for Casper early on and have always been useful since as thought partners." Philip Krim, NYC, Co-founder & CEO, Casper

On collaborating with entrepreneurs:

"My favorite thing about our clients is their passion. These are people who are starting companies because they believe that this company needs to be in the world and that it’s going to add value to people's lives. We work with people who see a problem that they cannot help but devote their life to solving. To me, that energy is so infectious, and it’s what makes our jobs so rewarding. We're able to put our creative power behind pursuits that are worthwhile."


Below, you'll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven't already. 

Interview with Red Antler's Chief Brand Officer Emily Heyward

Yvonne Leow: Let’s talk about your path to design. Could tell us a bit about your backstory?

Emily Heyward: I started my career in advertising right out of college as an account planner at a big, global agency, working on massive global brands like General Mills, Procter & Gamble and De Beers. While I learned an incredible amount and met some of the smartest, most creative people I know, I ultimately grew frustrated with solving the wrong problems. We were responsible for coming up with communications about a business, but we weren’t able to affect the business itself in any meaningful way.

With Red Antler, my co-founders and I wanted to make sure that we were actually helping to create things that the world needs, not just trying to come up with new stories about old, broken stuff.

Yvonne Leow: Right, and what inspired the creation of Red Antler?

Emily Heyward: My co-founder JB and I were leading the New York office for a New Zealand ad agency that was looking to expand to the States. The startup scene in New York was just getting going, and because we were small, we started getting introduced to other small teams of entrepreneurs. We’d sit down with these founders, and what we realized is the last thing they should be thinking about at that stage was big ad campaigns.