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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Lack of big tech GDPR decisions looms large in EU watchdog’s annual report

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 03:01 PM PST

The lead European Union privacy regulator for most of big tech has put out its annual report which shows another major bump in complaints filed under the bloc’s updated data protection framework, underlining the ongoing appetite EU citizens have for applying their rights.

But what the report doesn’t show is any firm enforcement of EU data protection rules vis-a-vis big tech.

The report leans heavily on stats to illustrate the volume of work piling up on desks in Dublin. But it’s light on decisions on highly anticipated cross-border cases involving tech giants including Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) began being applied across the EU in May 2018 — so is fast approaching its second birthday. Yet its file of enforcements where tech giants are concerned remains very light — even for companies with a global reputation for ripping away people’s privacy.

This despite Ireland having a large number of open cross-border investigations into the data practices of platform and adtech giants — some of which originated from complaints filed right at the moment GDPR came into force.

In the report the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) notes it opened a further six statutory inquiries in relation to “multinational technology companies' compliance with the GDPR” — bringing the total number of major probes to 21. So its ‘big case’ file continues to stack up. (It’s added at least two more since then, with a probe of Tinder and another into Google’s location tracking opened just this month.)

The report is a lot less keen to trumpet the fact that decisions on cross-border cases to date remains a big fat zero.

Though, just last week, the DPC made a point of publicly raising “concerns” about Facebook’s approach to assessing the data protection impacts of a forthcoming product in light of GDPR requirements to do so — an intervention that resulted in a delay to the regional launch of Facebook’s Dating product.

This discrepancy (cross-border cases: 21 – Irish DPC decisions: 0), plus rising anger from civil rights groups, privacy experts, consumer protection organizations and ordinary EU citizens over the paucity of flagship enforcement around key privacy complaints is clearly piling pressure on the regulator. (Other examples of big tech GDPR enforcement do exist. Well, France’s CNIL is one.)

In its defence the DPC does have a horrifying case load. As illustrated by other stats its keen to spotlight — such as saying it received a total of 7,215 complaints in 2019; a 75% increase on the total number (4,113) received in 2018. A full 6,904 of which were dealt with under the GDPR (while 311 complaints were filed under the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003).

There were also 6,069 data security breaches notified to it, per the report — representing a 71% increase on the total number (3,542) recorded last year.

While a full 457 cross-border processing complaints were received in Dublin via the GDPR’s One-Stop-Shop mechanism. (This is the device the Commission came up with for the ‘lead regulator’ approach that’s baked into GDPR and which has landed Ireland in the regulatory hot seat. tl;dr other data protection agencies are passing Dublin A LOT of paperwork.)

The DPC necessarily has to do back and forth on cross border cases, as it liaises with other interested regulators. All of which, you can imagine, creates a rich opportunity for lawyered up tech giants to inject extra friction into the oversight process — by asking to review and query everything. [Insert the sound of a can being hoofed down the road]

Meanwhile the agency that’s supposed to regulate most of big tech (and plenty else) — which writes in the annual report that it increased its full time staff from 110 to 140 last year — did not get all the funding it asked for from the Irish government.

So it also has the hard cap of its own budget to reckon with (just €15.3M in 2019) vs — for example — Google’s parent Alphabet’s $46.1BN in full year 2019 revenue. So, er, do the math.

Nonetheless the pressure is firmly now on Ireland for major GDPR enforcements to flow.

One year of major enforcement inaction could be filed under ‘bedding in’; but two years in without any major decisions would not be a good look. (It has previously said the first decisions will come early this year — so seems to be hoping to have something to show for GDPR’s 2nd birthday.)

Some of the high profile complaints crying out for regulatory action include behavioral ads serviced via real-time bidding programmatic advertising (which the UK data watchdog has admitted for half a year is rampantly unlawful); cookie consent banners (which remain a Swiss Cheese of non-compliance); and adtech platforms cynically forcing consent from users by requiring they agree to being microtargeted with ads to access the (‘free’) service. (Thing is GDPR stipulates that consent as a legal basis must be freely given and can’t be bundled with other stuff, so… )

Full disclosure: TechCrunch’s parent company, Verizon Media (née Oath), is also under ongoing investigation by the DPC — which is looking at whether it meets GDPR’s transparency requirements under Articles 12-14 of the regulation.

Seeking to put a positive spin on 2019’s total lack of a big tech privacy reckoning, commissioner Helen Dixon writes in the report: “2020 is going to be an important year. We await the judgment of the CJEU in the SCCs data transfer case; the first draft decisions on big tech investigations will be brought by the DPC through the consultation process with other EU data protection authorities, and academics and the media will continue the outstanding work they are doing in shining a spotlight on poor personal data practices.”

In further remarks to the media Dixon said: “At the Data Protection Commission, we have been busy during 2019 issuing guidance to organisations, resolving individuals' complaints, progressing larger-scale investigations, reviewing data breaches, exercising our corrective powers, cooperating with our EU and global counterparts and engaging in litigation to ensure a definitive approach to the application of the law in certain areas.

“Much more remains to be done in terms of both guiding on proportionate and correct application of this principles-based law and enforcing the law as appropriate. But a good start is half the battle and the DPC is pleased at the foundations that have been laid in 2019. We are already expanding our team of 140 to meet the demands of 2020 and beyond."

One notable date this year also falls when GDPR turns two — because a Commission review of how the regulation is functioning is looming in May.

That’s one deadline that may help to concentrate minds on issuing decisions.

Per the DPC report, the largest category of complaints it received last year fell under ‘access request’ issues — whereby data controllers are failing to give up (all) people’s data when asked — which amounted to 29% of the total; followed by disclosure (19%); fair processing (16%); e-marketing complaints (8%); and right to erasure (5%).

On the security front, the vast bulk of notifications received by the DPC related to unauthorised disclosure of data (aka breaches) — with a total across the private and public sector of 5,188 vs just 108 for hacking (though the second largest category was actually lost or stolen paper, with 345).

There were also 161 notification of phishing; 131 notification of unauthorized access; 24 notifications of malware; and 17 of ransomeware.

Ex-YC partner Daniel Gross rethinks the accelerator

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 03:01 PM PST

Amid skyrocketing operating expenses, remote work has become an obsession for Bay Area founders looking to have it both ways, accessing Silicon Valley’s networks of capital and opportunity without paying steep premiums for talent.

Daniel Gross has a deeper understanding than most of Silicon Valley’s opportunities. The Jerusalem native was one of Y Combinator’s early successes, joining with an AI startup that, at 23, he sold to Apple (we reported the deal was between $40-60 million). Gross served as a director of machine learning at Apple before returning to YC — this time as a partner.

At age 28, his role at YC behind him, Gross is now working to revamp the startup accelerator model for a remote future with his startup Pioneer. He’s received backing from Marc Andreessen and Stripe to build a program he hopes can give founders access to funding streams and talent networks that are nearly impossible to find outside Silicon Valley.

“In the way software is eating the world, remote is almost eating earth in the sense that it may very well be the way large companies are created, but also perhaps the way that venture funding takes place,” Gross told TechCrunch in an interview. “With Pioneer, the product experiment we’re running is an attempt to build a San Francisco or Mountain View — to build a city on the internet.”

GettyImages 604311102

Marc Andreessen, one of Pioneer’s early investors.

That lofty goal has required quite a bit of tinkering on Gross’s part over the past 18 months since he launched the startup. During that time, he’s shifted the program’s structure from a Reddit-like online contest to win cash grants to what he calls a “fully remote startup generator” that can help remote founders create companies that later apply to Y Combinator or raise money from Pioneer.

“People were really taking advantage of Pioneer as kind of an online accelerator almost organically,” Gross says. “We decided to kind of operationalize that inside and focus more on funding people that are working on things that will turn into companies and potentially offer them more funding.”

Pioneer has already backed more than 100 founders, who have created solutions like remote team product There, desktop app generator ToDesktop and software search engine Metacode.

Pioneer is hoping their efforts can provide opportunities to founders in underserved geographies and regions, but like other investors in Silicon Valley, the startup hasn’t been backing nearly as many female founders as their male counterparts. From funded entrepreneurs publicly announced on Pioneer’s blog, less than 15 percent are women.

“Pioneer is an engine for finding, funding and mentoring underrated people, many of whom I suspect are female. Our minds are constantly spinning on ways to raise awareness amongst female founders and we’re working with our community to improve female representation,” Gross wrote in an email response. “The world could stand to have many more founders like Mathilde Collin (of Front) and Laura Behrens Wu (of Shippo), and we are eager to find them."

One of Pioneer’s livestream discussions during its remote program.

Pioneer’s existence is partially the result of an advent of remote work and communication tools, but another real enabler is the competitive market for early stage investing. Mega VC funds are competing over pre-seed deals for the buzziest startups and Y Combinator’s batch sizes are ballooning, leaving little room for accelerators with similar pitches. As the world of early stage startup investing gets more crowded, investors are having to get creative. For Gross and his investors, Pioneer also represents an opportunity to scout deal flow earlier in the pipeline.

Gross has a weighty portfolio of his own angel investments including GitHub, Figma, Uber, Gusto, Notion, Opendoor, Cruise Automation and Coinbase.

An earlier structure gave Pioneer the right to invest up to $100K in startups emerging from the program if they went onto raise, but just 30% of grant awardees went on to found companies, Gross tells me. In its 2.0 form, Pioneer wants participants to give up 1% of their company to join the one-month remote program. The accelerator won’t give them cash but will help founders incorporate their startups, give them guidance via a network of experts, and toss some other substantial perks like $100K worth of cloud credits and a roundtrip ticket to San Francisco to inject a bit of face-to-face time into the process.

The biggest evolution is the more formalized investment structure for founders exiting the program. If Pioneer is excited about the progress of a particular startup, they may give it the option to raise directly from Pioneer upon completion, sticking it in one of three investment buckets and investing between $20K and $1 million.

Gross acknowledges that Pioneer will largely be making bets closer to the $20K mark as the accelerator scales its portfolio. Pioneer is relying an undisclosed amount of early funding from Gross, Andreessen and Stripe for both its investments and operating expenses. Gross says that the company has additional funding sources lined up to facilitate some of these larger investments, but that he’s reticent to raise too much too early. “This being my second rodeo, I’m well aware of the downsides of over-capitalizing and so I think we’re going to remain nimble and frugal,” Gross says.

Gross isn’t looking to replace Y Combinator, and realizes that for founders with plenty of options, Pioneer’s investments might not be the most enticing. Y Combinator invest $150K in startups for a 7% slice of equity, by comparison, a $20K investment from Pioneer will cost founders 5% of their company plus the 1% they gave up to join the accelerator in the first place. Nevertheless, Gross hopes that plenty of founders sitting on great ideas will want to take advantage of this deal.

“I think there are a lot of great companies that instead of being listed on the S&P 500 are stuck at the phase where they’re just a Python script.”

Snap accelerator names its latest cohort

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 02:32 PM PST

Yellow, the accelerator program launched by Snap in 2018, has selected ten companies to join its latest cohort.

The new batch of startups coming from across the U.S. and international cities like London, Mexico City, Seoul and Vilnius are building professional social networks for black professionals and blue collar workers, fashion labels, educational tools in augmented reality, kids entertainment, and an interactive entertainment production company.

The list of new companies include:

  • Brightly — an Oakland, Calif.-based media company angling to be the conscious consumer’s answer to Refinery29.
  • Charli Cohen — a London-based fashion and lifestyle brand.
  • Hardworkersa Cambridge, Mass.-based professional digital community built for blue-collar workers.
  • Mogul Millennial — this Dallas-based company is a digital media platform for black entrepreneurs and corporate leaders.
  • Nuggetverse — Los Angeles-based Nuggetverse is creating a children’s media business based on its marquee character, Tubby Nugget.
  • SketchAR — this Lithuanian company is developing an AI-based mobile app for teaching drawing using augmented reality.
  • Stipop — a Seoul-based sticker API developer with a library of over 100,000 stickers created by 5,000 artists.
  • TRASH — using this machine learning-based video editing toolkit, users can quickly create and edit high-quality, short-form video. The company is backed by none other than the National Science Foundation and based in Los Angeles.
  • Veam — another Seoul-based social networking company, Veam uses Airdrop as a way to create persistent chats with nearby users as a geolocated social network.
  • Wabisabi Design, Inc. — hailing from Mexico City, this startup makes mini games in augmented reality for brands and advertisers.

The latest cohort from Snap’s Yellow accelerator

Since launching the platform in 2018, startups from the Snap accelerator have gone on to acquisition (like Stop, Breathe, and Think, which was bought by Meredith Corp.) and to raise bigger rounds of funding (like the voiceover video production toolkit, MuzeTV, and the animation studio Toonstar).

Every company in the Yellow portfolio will receive $150,000 mentorship from industry veterans in and out of Snap, creative office space in Los Angeles and commercial support and partnerships — including Snapchat distribution.

"Building from the momentum of our first two Yellow programs, this new class approaches mobile creativity through the diverse lenses of augmented reality, platforms, commerce and media, yet each company has a clear vision to bring their products to life," said Mike Su, Director of Yellow. "This class shows us that there's no shortage of innovation at the intersection of creativity and technology, and we're excited to be part of each company's journey."

Gmail finally makes it easier to search your email

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 02:25 PM PST

Gmail’s search is getting a significant update that will allow users to more easily narrow results to help them find a specific email. Before today, users could type in search filters by hand (e.g. label:work, has:attachment, from:marketing@company.com, etc.) or use the drop-down box to perform an advanced search. But these options were less obvious, cumbersome and therefore under-utilized by many Gmail users. With the upgraded version of Gmail search, new filters — which Google calls “search chips” — will appear directly below the search box for simple, one-click access.

At launch, there are a variety of filters available, including those that will help you narrow down emails by sender, whether or not emails have an attachment, by time frame, and more. You also can use the new filters to exclude certain types of search results — like those that are calendar updates or chats, for example. And you can specify emails by attachment type, such as text, spreadsheet or PDF.

The filters can be used in combination, helping you to narrow down searches as you go. For instance, you could search an email with a colleague’s name, which included a PDF, and was sent last month, using just a few clicks on the filters.

As anyone who’s ever tried to dig up an email from their Gmail inbox knows, Google’s search system has needed improvement. Even Google acknowledged this was true, noting in an announcement that it had heard from users that searching Gmail “could be faster and more intuitive.”

Using search filters has for years felt like a power user Gmail hack, rather than something that should be accessible to everyone — including those who don’t think like engineers.

The Gmail update is rolling out starting today, February 19, to G Suite users, and may take up to 15 days to complete, Google says.

G Suite is often the first to get a new feature, but Google confirmed to TechCrunch the plan is to bring these new filters to consumer Gmail after the G Suite rollout completes. The company doesn’t have an exact ETA for the consumer launch, but doesn’t expect it to be too long after, we’re told.

Before:

 

 

After:

 

Netflix acquires Adam McKay’s asteroid comedy ‘Don’t Look Up,’ Jennifer Lawrence will star

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 01:21 PM PST

Netflix announced today that it has acquired “Don’t Look Up,” a comedy written and directed by Adam McKay, with Jennifer Lawrence attached to star.

The story sounds like a funhouse reflection of one of today’s other headlines, focusing on two “low-level astronomers” who try to warn the world about the dangers of an asteroid that’s approaching Earth. Netflix has an aggressive timeline in place, with shooting scheduled to start in April, followed by a planned release later this year.

While McKay started his career as a “Saturday Night Live” writer and then the director of Will Ferrell comedies like “Anchorman” (he and Ferrell also co-founded Funny or Die), the focus of his recent work has shifted to business and politics. He wrote (or co-wrote) and directed “The Big Short” and “Vice,” and he’s also an executive producer and director on “Succession.”

It’s also worth noting that McKay and Lawrence have another project in development — a movie about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes that’s based on John Carreyrou’s book “Bad Blood.”

“I'm so thrilled to make this movie with Jen Lawrence,” McKay said. “She's what folks in the 17th century used to call ‘a dynamite act.’ And the fact that Netflix sees this movie as a worldwide comedy sets the bar high for me and my team in an exciting and motivating way.”

Thomas Kurian on his first year as Google Cloud CEO

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 01:15 PM PST

“Yes.”

That was Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s simple answer when I asked if he thought he’d achieved what he set out to do in his first year.

A year ago, he took the helm of Google’s cloud operations — which includes G Suite — and set about giving the organization a sharpened focus by expanding on a strategy his predecessor Diane Greene first set during her tenure.

It’s no secret that Kurian, with his background at Oracle, immediately put the entire Google Cloud operation on a course to focus on enterprise customers, with an emphasis on a number of key verticals.

So it’s no surprise, then, that the first highlight Kurian cited is that Google Cloud expanded its feature lineup with important capabilities that were previously missing. “When we look at what we’ve done this last year, first is maturing our products,” he said. “We’ve opened up many markets for our products because we’ve matured the core capabilities in the product. We’ve added things like compliance requirements. We’ve added support for many enterprise things like SAP and VMware and Oracle and a number of enterprise solutions.” Thanks to this, he stressed, analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester now rank Google Cloud “neck-and-neck with the other two players that everybody compares us to.”

If Google Cloud’s previous record made anything clear, though, it’s that technical know-how and great features aren’t enough. One of the first actions Kurian took was to expand the company’s sales team to resemble an organization that looked a bit more like that of a traditional enterprise company. “We were able to specialize our sales teams by industry — added talent into the sales organization and scaled up the sales force very, very significantly — and I think you’re starting to see those results. Not only did we increase the number of people, but our productivity improved as well as the sales organization, so all of that was good.”

He also cited Google’s partner business as a reason for its overall growth. Partner influence revenue increased by about 200% in 2019, and its partners brought in 13 times more new customers in 2019 when compared to the previous year.

VCs to antitrust officials: We’d rather take our chances than see tech regulated

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 01:00 PM PST

Last week at Stanford, antitrust officials from the U.S. Department of Justice organized a day-long conference that engaged numerous venture capitalists in conversations about big tech. The DOJ wanted to hear from VCs about whether they believe there’s still an opportunity for startups to flourish alongside the likes of Facebook and Google and whether they can anticipate what — if anything — might disrupt the inexorable growth of these giants.

Most of the invited panelists acknowledged there is a problem, but they also said fairly uniformly that they doubted if more regulation was the solution.

Some of the speakers dismissed outright the idea that today’s tech incumbents can’t be outmaneuvered. Sequoia’s Michael Moritz talked about various companies that ruled the world across different decades and later receded into the background, suggesting that we merely need to wait and see which startups will eventually displace today’s giants.

He added that if there’s a real threat lurking anywhere, it isn’t in an overly powerful Google, but rather American high schools that are, according to Moritz, a poor match for their Chinese counterparts. “We’re killing ourselves; we’re killing the future technologists… we’re slowly killing the potential for home-brewed invention.”

Renowned angel investor Ram Shriram similarly downplayed the DOJ’s concerns, saying specifically he didn’t think that “search” as a category could never be again disrupted or that it doesn’t benefit from network effects. He observed that Google itself disrupted numerous search companies when it emerged on the scene in 1998.

Somewhat cynically, we would note that those companies — Lycos, Yahoo, Excite — had a roughly four-year lead over Google at the time, and Google has been massively dominant for nearly all of those 22 years (because of, yes, its network effects).

Equity shot: What’s going on with Tesla’s stock price?

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 12:22 PM PST

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch's venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is the first Equity Shot in what feels like a long time, so, let me explain. Most of the time Equity comes out on Friday. It’s a mix of news and chat and venture happenings. It’s fun! But sometimes, a topic comes up that demands more immediate attention. That’s what happened today as we stared at Tesla’s share price wondering what in the hell was going on.

Sure, Tesla isn’t a private company (yet, at least), but as the company made it into the first-ever episode of Equity, how can we resist a dive into what is going on today?

Shares of the electric car company are surging — again — today, pushing ever-closer to the $1,000 per-share mark. So, Danny, myself and Chris on the turntables got together to riff and chat about what is going on.

For those of you who want some links, here you go:

Today was all about fun. The main, more serious (kinda) show is back Friday. Stay cool!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Expanding its women’s health benefits offerings for employers, Maven raises $45 million

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 11:46 AM PST

Over the past 12 months, Maven, the benefits provider focused on women’s health and family planning, has expanded its customer base to include more than 100 companies, and grown its telehealth services to include 1,700 providers across 20 specialties — for services like shipping breast milk, finding a doula and egg freezing, fertility treatments, surrogacy and adoption.

The New York-based company, which offers its healthcare services to individuals, health plans and employers, has now raised an additional $45 million to expand its offerings even further.

Its new money comes from a clutch of celebrity investors, like Mindy Kaling, Natalie Portman and Reese Witherspoon, and institutional investors led by Icon Ventures and return backers Sequoia Capital, Oak HC/FT, Spring Mountain Capital, Female Founders Fund and Harmony Partners. Anne Wojcicki, the founder of 23andMe, is also an investor in the company.

"Maven is addressing critical gaps in care by offering the largest digital health network of women's and family health providers," said Tom Mawhinney, lead investor from Icon Ventures, who will join the Maven board of directors, in a statement. "With its virtual care and services, Maven is changing how global employers support working families by focusing on improving maternal outcomes, reducing medical costs, retaining more women in the workplace, and ultimately supporting every pathway to parenthood."

In the six years since founder Katherine Ryder first launched Maven, the company has raised more than $77 million for its service and she became a mother of two boys.

"You go through this enormous life experience; it's hugely transformative to have a child," she told TechCrunch after announcing the company’s $27 million Series B round, led by Sequoia. "You do it when your career is moving up — they call it the rush hour of life — and with no one supporting you on the other end, it's easy to say 'screw it, I'm going home to my family' … If someone leaves the workforce, that's fine, it's their choice, but they shouldn't feel forced to because they don't have support."

Some of Maven’s partners include Snap and Bumble to provide employees access to its women’s and family health provider network. The company connects users with OB-GYNs, pediatricians, therapists, career coaches and other services around family planning.

Zero Motorcycles unveils new SR/S — a full-fairing 124-mph sport EV

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 11:44 AM PST

California-based mobility startup Zero Motorcycles has a new e-moto in its lineup — the fully-faired SR/S, unveiled today in New York.

The company’s CEO Sam Paschel pulled the cover off the two-wheeled EV, which is based on the platform of the company’s SR/F, released last year.

The new SR/S has the same battery and drive-train, delivering similar stats to the SR/F: a 124-mph top-speed, up to 200 miles of range, 140 ft-lbs of torque and a charge-time of 60 minutes to 95%, Paschel told TechCrunch at the debut.

ZERO SR/SZero’s latest EV is an IoT motorcycle and manages overall performance — including engine output and handling characteristics — through digital riding modes.

The major differences on the SR/S over the SR/F are the addition of the full-fairing, a more relaxed riding position (through re-positioning of the bars and pegs) and a 13% improvement in highway range, from better aerodynamics.

The fairing brings around 20 pounds more weight to to the SR/S over the 485-pound SR/F.

On price, the base version of the SR/S is $19,995 — a dash over the SR/F’s $19,495 — and a premium SR/S (with a higher charging capacity) comes in at $21,995.

The SR/S starts shipping today to Zero’s global dealer network, which stands at 91 in the U.S. and 200 globally — the largest for any e-motorcycle company, according to Paschel.

He positioned the SR/S as more of a sport-touring machine than the the SR/F, which has a naked-bike set up that includes a more aggressive riding position and less aerodynamics on the highway.

Zero’s latest entries — the SR/F and the SR/S — come at a time when startups are pushing the motorcycle industry toward electric, though it’s not evident there’s enough demand to buy up all the new models.

The American motorcycle market has been stagnant for over a decade and is becoming crowded with EV offerings. New motorcycle sales in the U.S. dropped by roughly 50% since 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40 — and have never recovered, according to Motorcycle Industry Council stats.

In a bid to revive sales and the interest of younger riders, in 2019 Harley-Davidson became the first of the big gas manufacturers to offer a street-legal e-moto for sale in the U.S. — the LiveWire — which is a forerunner to an HD product-line of electric-powered two-wheelers.

Harley Davidson Livewire static 1

Harley-Davidson’s EV debut, the LiveWire

Harley's entry followed several failed electric motorcycle startups — Alta Motors, Mission Motors and Brammo — and put HD in the market with existing EV ventures, such as Zero.

That list is growing.

High-performance Italian EV company Energica has expanded marketing and sales in the U.S., along with Cake — a Swedish e-moto maker. This year should also see e-moto debuts by California-based Lightning Motorcycles and Fuell, a French and American-founded company with plans to release the $10,000, 150-mile range Flow.

Zero appears to have created an edge up on Harley’s LiveWire — coming in at $10,000 less than the $29,799 HD — though it’s hard to know how they stacked up against each other in 2019 since e-moto sales stats aren’t reliably tallied in the U.S.

Zero doesn’t release their sales numbers (though I tried my darnedest to pry them out of CEO Sam Paschel).

Zero SR/S That price advantage over Harley’s LiveWire will carry over on Zero’s new SR/S, which could find its biggest competition in the anticipated release of Damon’s Hypersport.

The Vancouver e-moto startup plans to go to market with a 200-mph e-motorcycle debut. The $24,995 Hypersport is targeted toward Tesla owners and brings proprietary digital safety technology and adjustable ergonomics that are absent in Zero’s offerings — and pretty much anything else on the motorcycle market.

Time, burn rate and sales will tell which companies can find market-traction and turn a profit across all these new e-moto offerings.

Zero doesn’t divulge financials, but among the startups, they could be furthest along. The company, with $120 million of VC in its rear-mirrors — per Crunchbase — has no plans to raise more, according to Paschel.

“We don’t need it,” he told TechCrunch, adding that the venture’s biggest challenge in 2019 was keeping production up to speed with buyer demand for their SR/F.

Zero is likely hoping for that good kind of a problem with its new SR/S in 2020.

Sling TV reports first-ever subscriber decline

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 11:41 AM PST

Increased competition from competitors like Hulu and YouTube TV and even Netflix has finally taken its toll on Dish’s live TV streaming service, Sling TV. This week, the company reported its first-ever decline in Sling TV subscribers, with a drop of 94,000 customers in the fourth quarter. In the year-ago Q4, Sling TV had gained 50,000 subscribers, for comparison. The streaming service ended the year with 2.59 million total subscribers, Dish says.

In prior quarters, Sling TV’s gains have helped offset some of the losses from Dish’s traditional pay-TV business. But in the fourth quarter of 2019, both sides of Dish’s business appear to be in jeopardy. On the pay-TV front, the company lost around 100,000 subscribers, in addition to 94,000 it lost from Sling TV.

By year-end 2019, Dish had 11.99 million total subscribers compared with the 12.32 million it reported at the end of 2018.

Although five-year-old Sling TV was one of the first TV streaming services to hit the market, in the years since it has battled for cord cutters’ dollars against a growing number of alternatives. In addition to YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV has also had to compete against niche live TV services like Philo and sports-focused fuboTV.

But Sling TV also today faces competition from other streamers, even if they’re not squarely aimed at cord-cutters who want access to live TV. After all, consumers have only so much money in the budget for entertainment — and today, there are so many options for streaming TV besides Netflix. CBS, for example, streams news, TV and sports via its CBS All Access service; premium channels like HBO, Cinemax, Starz and Showtime offer their own over-the-top subscriptions; Amazon Prime Video is wrapped into Amazon’s expensive annual membership; and now new services from Disney and Apple have also arrived.

In the months ahead, the market will expand even further as new streaming services Peacock (NBCU), HBO Max (WarnerMedia/AT&T) and Quibi prepare to launch.

Sling TV’s drop in subscribers follows a price hike announced in December which raised prices of its two tiers from $25 each to $30, or $45 for both. It also follows a number of programming changes to the Sling TV lineup, the company noted.

In Dish’s 10-K regulatory filing, it explained:

This decrease in net Sling TV subscriber additions is primarily related to increased competition, including competition from other OTT service providers, and to a higher number of customer disconnects on a larger Sling TV subscriber base, including the impact from Univision, AT&T and Fox RSNs' removal of certain of their channels from our programming lineup.

In June and November 2018, Univision removed channels from the Sling TV lineup, some of which were restored with a March 2019 agreement. In October 2018, AT&T removed HBO and Cinemax channels from the Sling TV lineup, which have not been restored. And in July 2019, Fox Regional Sports Networks removed its channels from the Sling TV lineup. The channels have since been acquired by Sinclair.

With programming in a constant state of flux, while subscription prices increase, many consumers don’t see the value in over-the-top television — especially when there’s so much to watch elsewhere and for much less.

In addition, Sling TV’s app isn’t as well-designed as those from rivals like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, or as innovative when it comes to the roll out of new features or personalization technology. Hulu, for example, customizes recommendations based on viewer behavior and now, explicit signals from new Like and Dislike buttons. Sling TV, meanwhile, didn’t bother with personalized recommendations until last year.

Dish is already diversifying, in light of the bad news ahead for pay-TV. As a part of its deal with T-Mobile and Sprint ahead of their merger, Dish is acquiring Sprint’s prepaid business, including Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile, plus all of Sprint’s 800 MHz spectrum. Dish will utilize T-Mobile and Sprint’s cell sites to run its own wireless business for seven years, while it builds its own 5G network, the agreement said. The company may also look for strategic partners as it grows its wireless business, the company noted on the earnings call today.

MIT system predicts the best way to deflect an Earth-bound asteroid

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 11:22 AM PST

We’re not in immediate danger of any asteroids colliding with Earth — at least not as far as anyone’s aware. But it’s not like it hasn’t happened before, and there is an expected near-miss coming up in 2029. Accordingly, it’s probably best to be prepared, and MIT researchers have developed a system that could help determine the best possible method to avoid a collision — long before the situation becomes desperate.

An MIT team led by former MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek describe a “decision map” in newly published research that would take into account the mass and relative momentum of an approaching asteroid, as well as the expected time we have before it enters into a so-called “keyhole” — basically a gravitational halo around Earth that, once entered, all but guarantees the asteroid will collide with the planet.

The MIT-developed decision map basically details three different choices in terms of how to deflect an approaching asteroid: Launching a projectile at it to alter its course; sending a scout first to get accurate measurements to inform the best possible development of said projectile; and sending two scouts, in order to get measurements and also potentially nudge the object using propulsion, setting it up for an easier projectile-based knockout later on.

Time is the key factor in the model based on simulations run using asteroids Apophis and Bennu, two known objects we know relatively a lot about, including the locations of their gravitational keyholes in terms of proximity to Earth. The tests showed that with five or more years, the best course is to send two scouts and then the projectile. Between two and five years out, you’re most likely to succeed with the single scout followed by a projectile fired from Earth. At one year or less, the bad news is that nothing seems all that likely to succeed.

The official plan for avoiding impacts from near-Earth objects involves potentially firing nuclear weapons at them, which is not a super-popular option. This method developed by MIT could help mean it never comes to that, provided our advanced detection methods are effective enough.

Announcing the final agenda for Robotics + AI — March 3 at UC Berkeley

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 10:45 AM PST

TechCrunch is returning to UC Berkeley on March 3 to bring together some of the most influential minds in robotics and artificial intelligence. Each year we strive to bring together a cross-section of big companies and exciting new startups, along with top researchers, VCs and thinkers.

In addition to a main stage that includes the likes of Amazon's Tye Brady, UC Berkeley's Stuart Russell, Anca Dragan of Waymo, Claire Delaunay of Nvidia, James Kuffner of Toyota's TRI-AD and a surprise interview with Disney Imagineers, we'll also be offering a more intimate Q&A stage featuring speakers from SoftBank Robotics, Samsung, Sony's Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, Nvidia and more.

Alongside a selection of hand-picked demos, we'll also be showcasing the winners from our first-ever pitch-off competition for early-stage robotics companies. You won't get a better look at exciting new robotics technologies than that. Tickets for the event are still available. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks at Zellerbach Hall.

Agenda

8:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Registration Open Hours

General attendees can pick up their badges starting at 8:30 am at Lower Sproul Plaza located in front of Zellerbach Hall. We close registration at 4:00 pm.

10:00 AM – 10:05 AM

Welcome and Introduction from Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch) and Randy Katz (UC Berkeley)

10:05 AM – 10:25 AM

Saving Humanity from AI with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

The UC Berkeley professor and AI authority argues in his acclaimed new book, Human Compatible, that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.

10:25 AM – 10:45 AM

Engineering for the Red Planet with Lucy Condakchian (Maxar Technologies)

Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades, and is about to send its sixth (!) robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian is general manager of robotics at Maxar and will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.

10:45 AM – 11:05 AM

Automating Amazon with Tye Brady (Amazon Robotics)

Amazon Robotics’ chief technology officer will discuss how the company is using the latest in robotics and AI to optimize its massive logistics. He’ll also discuss the future of warehouse automation and how humans and robots share a work space. 

11:05 AM – 11:15 AM

Live Demo from the Stanford Robotics Club 

11:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Book signing with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

Join one of the foremost experts in artificial intelligence as he signs copies of his acclaimed new book, Human Compatible.

11:35 AM – 12:05 PM

Building the Robots that Build with Daniel Blank (Toggle Industries), Tessa Lau (Dusty Robotics), Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics) and Brian Ringley (Boston Dynamics)

Can robots help us build structures faster, smarter and cheaper? Built Robotics makes a self-driving excavator. Toggle is developing a new fabrication of rebar for reinforced concrete, Dusty builds robot-powered tools and longtime robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics has recently joined the construction space. We'll talk with the founders and experts from these companies to learn how and when robots will become a part of the construction crew.

12:15 PM – 1:00 PM

Q&A: Corporate VC, Partnering and Acquisitions with Kass Dawson (SoftBank Robotics America), Carlos Kokron (Qualcomm Ventures) and Gen Tsuchikawa (Sony Innovation Fund)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with three of the top minds in corporate VC.

1:00 PM – 1:25 PM

Pitch-off 

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their wares.

1:15 PM – 2:00 PM

Q&A: Founding Robotics Companies with Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) and Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics)

Your chance to ask questions of some of the most successful robotics founders on our stage.

Investing in Robotics and AI: Lessons from the Industry's VCs with Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors), Kelly Chen (DCVC) and Eric Migicovsky (Y Combinator)

Leading investors will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. The investors bring a combination of early-stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing.

1:50 PM – 2:15 PM

Facilitating Human-Robot Interaction with Mike Dooley (Labrador Systems) and Clara Vu (Veo Robotics)

As robots become an ever more meaningful part of our lives, interactions with humans are increasingly inevitable. These experts will discuss the broad implications of HRI in the workplace and home.

2:15 PM – 2:40 PM

Toward a Driverless Future with Anca Dragan (UC Berkeley/Waymo), Jinnah Hosein (Aurora) and Jur van den Berg (Ike)

Autonomous driving is set to be one of the biggest categories for robotics and AI. But there are plenty of roadblocks standing in its way. Experts will discuss how we get there from here. 

2:15 PM – 3:00 PM

Q&A: Investing in Robotics Startups with Rob Coneybeer (Shasta Ventures), Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta Venture Partners) and Aaron Jacobson (New Enterprise Associates)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest investors in robotics and AI.

2:40 PM – 3:10 PM

Disney Robotics

Imagineers from Disney will present state of the art robotics built to populate its theme parks.

3:10 PM – 3:35 PM

Bringing Robots to Life with Max Bajracharya and James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute Advanced Development)

This summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be a huge proving ground for Toyota’s TRI-AD. Executive James Kuffner and Max Bajracharya will join us to discuss the department’s plans for assistive robots and self-driving cars.

3:15 PM – 4:00 PM

Q&A: Building Robotics Platforms with Claire Delaunay (Nvidia) and Steve Macenski (Samsung Research America)

Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest engineers in robotics and AI.

3:35 PM – 4:00 PM

The Next Century of Robo-Exoticism with Abigail De Kosnik (UC Berkeley), David Ewing Duncan, Ken Goldberg (UC Berkeley) and Mark Pauline (Survival Research Labs)

In 1920, Karl Capek coined the term “robot” in a play about mechanical workers organizing a rebellion to defeat their human overlords. One hundred years later, in the context of increasing inequality and xenophobia, the panelists will discuss cultural views of robots in the context of “Robo-Exoticism,” which exaggerates both negative and positive attributes and reinforces old fears, fantasies and stereotypes.

4:00 PM – 4:10 PM 

Live Demo from Somatic

4:10 PM – 4:35 PM

Opening the Black Box with Explainable AI with Trevor Darrell (UC Berkeley), Krishna Gade (Fiddler Labs) and Karen Myers (SRI International)

Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UC Berkeley’s Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs and Karen Myers from SRI will discuss what we’re doing about it and what still needs to be done.

4:35 PM – 5:00 PM 

Cultivating Intelligence in Agricultural Robots with Lewis Anderson (Traptic), Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) and Michael Norcia (Pyka)

The benefits of robotics in agriculture are undeniable, yet at the same time only getting started. Lewis Anderson (Traptic) and Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) will compare notes on the rigors of developing industrial-grade robots that both pick crops and weed fields respectively, and Pyka’s Michael Norcia will discuss taking flight over those fields with an autonomous crop-spraying drone.

5:00 PM – 5:25 PM

Fostering the Next Generation of Robotics Startups with Claire Delaunay (Nvidia), Scott Phoenix (Vicarious) and Joshua Wilson (Freedom Robotics

Robotics and AI are the future of many or most industries, but the barrier of entry is still difficult to surmount for many startups. Speakers will discuss the challenges of serving robotics startups and companies that require robotics labor, from bootstrapped startups to large-scale enterprises.

5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Unofficial After Party, (Cash Bar Only)

Come hang out at the unofficial After Party at Tap Haus, 2518 Durant Ave., Suite C, Berkeley

Final tickets available

We only have so much space in Zellerbach Hall and tickets are selling out fast. Grab your General Admission Ticket right now for $350 and save 50 bucks as prices go up at the door.

Student tickets are just $50 and can be purchased here. Student tickets are limited.

Startup Exhibitor Packages are sold out!

Google launches the first developer preview of Android 11

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 10:35 AM PST

With the days of desert-themed releases officially behind it, Google today announced the first developer preview of Android 11, which is now available as system images for Google’s own Pixel devices, starting with the Pixel 2.

As of now, there is no way to install the updates over the air. That’s usually something the company makes available at a later stage. These first releases aren’t meant for regular users anyway. Instead, they are a way for developers to test their applications and get a head start on making use of the latest features in the operating system.

With Android 11 we're keeping our focus on helping users take advantage of the latest innovations, while continuing to keep privacy and security a top priority,” writes Google VP of Engineering Dave Burke. “We've added multiple new features to help users manage access to sensitive data and files, and we've hardened critical areas of the platform to keep the OS resilient and secure. For developers, Android 11 has a ton of new capabilities for your apps, like enhancements for foldables and 5G, call-screening APIs, new media and camera capabilities, machine learning, and more.”

Unlike some of Google’s previous early previews, this first version of Android 11 does actually bring quite a few new features to the table. As Burke noted, there are some obligatory 5G features like a new bandwidth estimate API, for example, as well as a new API that checks whether a connection is unmetered so apps can play higher-resolution video, for example.

With Android 11, Google is also expanding its Project Mainline lineup of updatable modules from 10 to 22. With this, Google is able to update critical parts of the operating system without having to rely on the device manufacturers to release a full OS update. Users simply install these updates through the Google Play infrastructure.

Users will be happy to see that Android 11 will feature native support for waterfall screens that cover a device’s edges, using a new API that helps developers manage interactions near those edges.

Also new are some features that developers can use to handle conversational experiences, including a dedicated conversation section in the notification shade, as well as a new chat bubbles API and the ability to insert images into replies you want to send from the notifications pane.

Unsurprisingly, Google is adding a number of new privacy and security features to Android 11, too. These include one-time permissions for sensitive types of data, as well as updates to how the OS handles data on external storage, which it first previewed last year.

As for security, Google is expanding its support for biometrics and adding different levels of granularity (strong, weak and device credential), in addition to the usual hardening of the platform you would expect from a new release.

There are plenty of other smaller updates as well, including some that are specifically meant to make running machine learning applications easier, but Google specifically highlights the fact that Android 11 will also bring a couple of new features to the OS that will help IT manage corporate devices with enhanced work profiles.

This first developer preview of Android 11 is launching about a month earlier than previous releases, so Google is giving itself a bit more time to get the OS ready for a wider launch. Currently, the release schedule calls for monthly developer preview releases until April, followed by three betas and a final release in Q3 2020.

Founders Fund confirms $3 billion in new capital across two funds

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 10:22 AM PST

Founders Fund, the investment firm led by its controversial co-founder Peter Thiel and partners Keith Rabois and Brian Singerman, has closed on $3 billion in new capital across two investment funds, TechCrunch confirmed.

News of the firm’s latest fundraising close was first reported in Axios.

The firm’s $1.2 billion Founders Fund VII closed in December and follows on the heels of a $1.3 billion Fund VI, which closed in 2016. The firm’s first growth fund, which raked in $1.5 billion, closed on Monday as well, according to a spokesperson for the investment firm. An additional $300 million in commitments is coming from the firm’s partnership to round out the $3 billion figure.

Fundraising for the new investment vehicles was first reported in The Wall Street Journal last October. And it follows the reunion earlier in 2019 of Rabois and Thiel — two of the most notorious members of the “PayPal mafia” that’s produced a number of billionaire entrepreneurs and investors.

The speed with which Founders Fund has been able to raise new capital is matched by the firm’s alacrity in deploying new dollars, according to industry watchers. Rabois in particular has made a splash at Founders Fund since joining the firm — investing large sums in competitive rounds, investors said.

But the firm’s success in fundraising is likely due to the returns it has been able to reap for its limited partners. For its 2011-vintage fund four, Founders Fund has more than quadrupled every dollar that the fund committed, to $4.60, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal (thanks to investments in Airbnb and Stripe Inc.). That figure compares favorably to the industry average of $2.11. Meanwhile, the firm’s third fund saw its returns increase to $3.80, 75 cents more than the industry average.

Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister described how the firm’s investment practices differ from other venture capital investors in a wide-ranging interview with TechCrunch last year:

As for how decisions get made, Banister explained that the voting structure is dependent on the size of the check. "So you'd meet with one or two or three or four partners, depending on your [investing] stage," she told attendees. Because she's looking at very early-stage startups, for example, she doesn't have to meet with many people to make a decision. As "dollar amounts gets larger," she continued, "you're looking at full GP oversight," including the involvement of senior members like Brian Singerman and Keith Rabois, and "that can a little more difficult."

At Axios, Dan Primack reported that the growth fund would write checks of $100 million at least. The firm’s investment decisions would be structured with any two investment team members agreeing to back deals under $1.5 million. Any deal above $1.5 million requires approval from one partner and a general partner; deals above $5 million require one partner and two general partners; and deals above $10 million require approvals from two partners and the unanimous approval of Singerman, Thiel and Rabois. Any deal requiring the approval of the general partners means that the startup that is pitching has to at least talk on the phone or meet in person with the general partners.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that the firm’s Fund VII was $1.2 billion and its Growth Fund was $1.5 billion. 

Google Cloud opens its Seoul region

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 09:43 AM PST

Google Cloud today announced that its new Seoul region, its first in Korea, is now open for business. The region, which it first talked about last April, will feature three availability zones and support for virtually all of Google Cloud’s standard service, ranging from Compute Engine to BigQuery, Bigtable and Cloud Spanner.

With this, Google Cloud now has a presence in 16 countries and offers 21 regions with a total of 64 zones. The Seoul region (with the memorable name of asia-northeast3) will complement Google’s other regions in the area, including two in Japan, as well as regions in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but the obvious focus here is on serving Korean companies with low-latency access to its cloud services.

“As South Korea's largest gaming company, we’re partnering with Google Cloud for game development, infrastructure management, and to infuse our operations with business intelligence,” said Chang-Whan Sul, the CTO of Netmarble. “Google Cloud's region in Seoul reinforces its commitment to the region and we welcome the opportunities this initiative offers our business.”

Over the course of this year, Google Cloud also plans to open more zones and regions in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Jakarta, Indonesia.

Daily Crunch: Blue Apron might sell itself

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 09:42 AM PST

Blue Apron considers “strategic alternatives,” Facebook experiments with different News Feed formats and Twitter buys a startup focused on the Stories format. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 19, 2020.

1. Blue Apron is considering selling itself

Meal kit company Blue Apron has been struggling for a long time, with its lackluster debut on the public market, employee lawsuits and layoffs. So it should come as no surprise that the company announced that it’s exploring “strategic alternatives” like selling itself, merging or raising more capital.

“Our strategic alternatives process, together with our cost optimization initiatives, is intended to best position the company for the future, including to support our growth strategy,” said CEO Linda Findley Kozlowski in a statement. “These efforts reflect the commitment of the Board, management and myself to doing what's in the best interest of the business, Blue Apron's shareholders and other stakeholders."

2. Facebook prototypes tabbed News Feed with Most Recent & Seen

Facebook may make it easier to escape its ranking algorithm and explore the News Feed in different formats. The company has internally prototyped a tabbed version of the News Feed for mobile that includes the standard Most Relevant feed, along with the existing-but-buried Most Recent feed of reverse chronological posts and an Already Seen feed of posts that was only available on desktop via a largely unknown URL.

3. Twitter acquires Stories template maker Chroma Labs

Is a Twitter Stories format on its way? The company has just acquired Chroma Labs, a startup co-founded by Instagram Boomerang inventor John Barnett with an app to let you fill in stylish layout templates and frames for posting to Instagram Stories, Snapchat and elsewhere.

4. Adobe celebrates Photoshop's 30th anniversary with new desktop and mobile features

The marquee feature here is probably the addition of the Object Selection tool in Photoshop on the iPad. With this tool, Adobe is giving creatives a way to select and manipulate one or multiple objects in complex scenes.

5. Do trade shows still matter in the age of online business?

One of countless unintended consequences of the coronavirus-prompted cancellation of MWC will be a broader debate about trade shows in general. In many ways, it's an extension of a conversation that’s been going on for years: Are trade shows worth it? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Coinbase becomes a Visa Principal Member to double down on debit card

Cryptocurrency company Coinbase has been working with Paysafe to issue the Coinbase Card, a Visa debit card that works with your Coinbase account balance. The company is now a Visa Principal Member, which should help Coinbase rely less on Paysafe and control a bigger chunk of the card payment stack.

7. ForgePoint raises a massive new $450M fund for early-stage cybersecurity startups

The aim is to try to cash in early on an increasing number of startups in the cybersecurity space that could go on to become the next CrowdStrike or Cloudflare — which both saw massive exits last year when they went public at valuations of several billion apiece.

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.

Tim Draper puts $1M into the Aragon blockchain project to create digital courts

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 09:10 AM PST

In the murky world of crypto and blockchain, taking disputes to a traditional court would either land both the plaintiff and the defendant in jail or confuse the court to the point of total befuddlement. You can just imagine the scenario:

"What is a DAO?"

"It's a decentralized autonomous organization, your honor."

"Please speak in English!"

Meanwhile, blockchain-native “communities,” such as they are, find it almost impossible to settle disagreements using traditional courts. And it turns out capitalism runs on the law. So this limits the amount of business they can do on the internet. Oh, the irony.

A few years ago a project called Aragon came along. Aragon provided the framework and tools needed to create decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) ranging from structures created for thousands of users to simple ones designed for just a handful of people. Its so-called "court system" can handle “subjective disputes that require the judgment of human jurors,” according to them.

This is all well and good, but they also require genuine investors who know what they are doing.

Today to the company is announcing a small investment from Tim Draper, the billionaire VC who has previously backed Tesla, SpaceX, Coinbase and Baidu, but also went heavily into crypto a few years back.

Draper Associates is buying into the Aragon network's ANT token to the tune of $1 million. Not a lot in the “normal” tech investing world, but quite a lot in terms of the still very nascent blockchain world. Draper is the latest addition to Aragon's backers, which include New York-based firms Placeholder and CoinFund, and Silicon Valley-based firm BoostVC.

Draper is a big proponent of cryptocurrencies, and bought nearly 30,000 bitcoins from the government auction of seized assets from Silk Road in 2014, making him an even more wealthy man, and also a relatively smart predictor of the blockchain world.

Aragon, founded by entrepreneurs Luis Cuende and Jorge Izquierdo, aims to create what they call the world's first "digital jurisdiction," providing tools for the management of digital organizations, as well as an online dispute resolution service.

So far it counts more than 1,000 organizations created on its platform since its launch in late 2018. So it's not unlike registering a company on a database but also having a trusted third party in the case of legal disputes.

Aragon's token, ANT, is used for the governance of the network. The network's dispute resolution service, Aragon Court, has 247 real-world, human jurors on the platform, and counting. Presumably, they are independent. The Aragon Court started operating on February 10th.

"You don't get to create a new jurisdiction every day. After Aragon, the governing of the world will never be the same," said Draper in a statement.

Draper is known for being a promoter of government innovation, launching the Six Californias initiative and being involved in Estonia's eResidency program. Tim Draper will also join Aragon's advisory board and continue supporting the project.

ANT holders can use their tokens to participate in Aragon Court. More than one million ANT has already been deposited ahead of its launch.

"Aragon aims to become the internet's de facto jurisdiction, and Aragon Court is its backbone. We are extremely excited to work with Tim. If there is someone who can advise on building a new jurisdiction, it's Tim," said Cuende, whose previous startup in the Bitcoin industry was backed by Draper, too.

Aragon has also announced Aragon Chain, a blockchain built specifically for Aragon, after issues with Ethereum have arisen.

Tortoise co-founder Dmitry Shevelenko is bringing autonomous scooters to TC Sessions: Mobility

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 09:00 AM PST

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is gearing up to be a lit event. The one-day event, taking place May 14 in San Jose, has just added Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of an automatic repositioning startup for micromobility vehicles. Yes, that means we’ll be having autonomous scooters rolling around onstage — #2020.

Tortoise, which recently received approval to deploy its tech in San Jose, is looking to become an operating system of sorts for micromobility vehicles. Just how Android is the operating system for a number of mobile phones, Tortoise wants to be the operating system for micromobility vehicles.

Given the volume of micromobility operators in the space today, Tortoise aims to make it easier for these companies to more strategically deploy their respective vehicles and reposition them when needed. Using autonomous technology in tandem with remote human intervention, Tortoise's software enables operators to remotely relocate their scooters and bikes to places where riders need them, or, where operators need them to be recharged. On an empty sidewalk, Tortoise may employ autonomous technologies, while it may rely on humans to remotely control the vehicle on a highly trafficked city block.

Before co-founding Tortoise, Shevelenko served as Uber's director of business development. While at Uber, Shevelenko helped the company expand into new mobility and led the acquisition of JUMP Bikes . Needless to say, Shevelenko is well-versed to talk about the next opportunities in micromobility.

Other speakers at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 include Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana; Uber’s director of Policy, Cities & Transportation, Shin-pei Tsay; and Argo AI co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky.

Tickets are on sale now for $250 (early-bird status). After April 9, tickets go up, so be sure to get yours before that deadline. If you’re a student, tickets cost just $50.

Early-stage startups in the mobility space can book an exhibitor package for $2,000 and get four tickets and a demo table. Packages allow you to get in front of some of the biggest names in the industry and meet new customers. Book your tickets here.

TikTok introduces parental controls with new ‘Family Safety Mode’ feature, launching first in UK

Posted: 19 Feb 2020 08:48 AM PST

TikTok announced today the introduction of a new set of parental controls, called “Family Safety Mode,” designed to let parents set limits on their teenage children’s use of the TikTok mobile app. The suite of features includes screen-time management controls, limits on direct messages and a restricted mode that limits the appearance of inappropriate content.

According to TikTok, parents who want to enable Family Safety Mode must first create their own account on the app, which is then linked to the teen’s account. Once enabled, parents will be able to control how long the teen can spend on the app every day; turn off or limit who the teen can direct message; and choose to turn on TikTok’s “restricted” mode that will limit inappropriate content.

To be clear, these features were already available in the app for users to set for themselves. The new Family Safety Mode just puts a parent or guardian in charge of toggling the switches on or off for their teens, and prevents the settings from being changed without parents’ involvement.

It’s not clear how well TikTok’s restricted mode works, as TikTok doesn’t explain the screening process it uses. For an app of this scale, it’s likely based in large part on users flagging inappropriate videos, however. Parents should be aware, then, that restricted mode is not going to be a foolproof means of controlling the user experience.

The new set of parental controls is actually only a subset of the controls users can enable for themselves. For example, users can also choose to make their accounts private, turn off commenting or control who’s allowed to duet with them, among other things.

But the controls do tackle some of parents’ largest concerns around the addictive nature of TikTok’s app, the content being delivered and the private messages that parents can’t monitor.

The launch timing follows increased scrutiny by government regulators of TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.

In 2019, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fined the app Musical.ly (which had been acquired by ByteDance) $5.7 million for violation of U.S. children's privacy law COPPA. And in the U.K., TikTok has been under investigation by the U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for potential GDPR violations around the protection of children’s data.

Not coincidentally, TikTok says the new parental controls are first available in the U.K., starting today. They’ll roll out to other markets in the weeks ahead, TikTok says, but didn’t indicate which ones.

The parental controls, however, have been designed with European law in mind. In the U.S., TikTok offers the age-gate for younger users, but not controls for parents like this.

In addition to the launch of Family Safety mode, TikTok partnered with creators to produce a series of safety videos about screen-time management to encourage users to take a break from their phone. These are being added to the TikTop Tips video series and will also roll out in the app starting first in the U.K. today.

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