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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Cheer’ provides a gripping, painful look at competitive cheerleading

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 02:59 PM PST

“Cheer,” a new documentary series on Netflix, may be singlehandedly changing the way many people think about cheerleading.

The show follows the competitive cheerleading team at Navarro College in Texas as they prepare to compete once more in the national championships, and it quickly becomes clear that this is a physically demanding sport, requiring extraordinary strength and coordination — and resulting in serious injuries when things go wrong.

Those injuries have spurred a broader conversation about whether or not coach Monica Aldama, along with the organizations and institutions that behind competitive cheerleading, are doing enough to protect the cheerleaders. We had very different opinions on the issue, and on Aldama herself, leading to an extended debate on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast.

One thing that we all agreed on, however, is that the documentary offers an illuminating look at a world that most of us only knew through the teen comedy “Bring It On.” It’s filled with compelling characters — not just Aldama, but also many of the students on her team, with the show taking the time to sketch out their often difficult or even tragic childhoods.

Before our review of “Cheer,” we also discuss a report that Netflix laid off part of its marketing team as part of a broader shift in promotional strategy.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:43 Netflix marketing news
8:27 “Cheer” spoiler-free review
43:27 “Cheer” spoiler discussion

Everyone loves the coronapocalypse

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 12:16 PM PST

The 2019-nCoV coronavirus is a global public health emergency of significant concern. It is also, simultaneously, a fount of misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, and both over- and under-reactions. Whose fault is this? So glad you asked. I happen to have a little list.

Purveyors of misinformation. As archly observed by The Atlantic, that misleadingly-self-described Harvard epidemiologist who tweeted “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD” followed by math errors was … well … wrong.

However he pales in comparison to the bioweapon theorists at Zero Hedge (who were banned from Twitter as a result, apparently for doxxing a Chinese scientist) and let’s not forget to shake a finger of blame at the people who posted / linked to the much-debunked, non-peer-reviewed “signs of HIV insertions in the coronavirus” paper online.

Science itself. Why would people link to that paper? Well, because non-peer-reviewed preprints are often mistaken by the general public for peer-reviewed science. Why are preprints so increasingly important? In part because awful, predatory scientific publishers massively overcharge for access to scentific papers, often even when they’re funded by public money.

Social media. Not to belabor my dead horse here, but what you see on your social media is determined by algorithms optimized for engagement, which frequently means outrage. That viral HOLY MOTHER OF GOD tweet would have been more of a minor blip if Twitter still kept to strict chronological timelines. Note that this would also make “good” tweets far less viral. That would be the price we pay for abandoning the engagement algorithms, but it seems at least plausible that it would overall lead to a better world.

General innumeracy: I mentioned that people were underreacting, too. I have seen so many self-identified galaxy-brain thinkers notifying others that it’s silly to be so concerned about the coronavirus when the flu is far more dangerous. I’ve even seen a handy Myths and Facts infographic wandering all over Facebook, ‘informing’ us all that “the common flu kills 60 times more people annually than Corona.”

People, the flu and nCoV-2019 are not comparable. It’s apples to zebras. We know what to expect from the flu: we don’t yet know what to expect from this new virus. That’s why it’s of concern. You especially cannot compare annual death tolls, since we don’t know what this new virus’s is, since it’s only existed in humans for two months. Sheesh.

Human nature. This is arguably the big one. On some level, everyone loves an apocalypse, in that it’s a narrative they completely understand, one they can envision and have envisioned for themselves. So anything in the real world associated with an apocalypse gets clicks, commentary, and reshares.

I should know: when not writing for TechCrunch I happen to be the director of the GitHub Archive Program, which includes a whole bunch of present-day archiving, as well as very-long-term 1,000-year storage which is primarily intended for historical or recovering-abandoned-technologies usage … and yet everyone’s mind, whenever I talk about it, immediately jumps to “Canticle for Leibowitz”-style postapocalyptic scenarios, and stays there.

Which is fine! I mean, I appreciate that everyone’s interested in the project and has ideas about it, just as I appreciate that the coronavirus is a global public health emergency, and people should be paying close attention to it. But our collective fondness for apocalyptic narratives, combined with the other contributors above, may, if we’re not careful, transmute that attention into belief in wacky conspiracy theories and blatant misinformation. Please stop to think before you believe, and before you share.

Red teams OK to push ethical limits but not on themselves, study says

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 12:00 PM PST

Wake up, make breakfast, get the kids to school, drive to work, break into the chief financial officer’s inbox and steal the entire company’s employee tax records. Maybe later you’ll grab a bagel from across the street.

For “red teams” — or offensive security researchers — it’s just another day at work.

These offensive security teams are made up of skilled hackers who are authorized to find vulnerabilities in a company’s systems, networks but also their employees. By hacking a company from within, the company can better understand where it needs to shore up its defenses to help prevent a real future hacker. But social engineering, where hackers manipulate their targets, can have serious consequences on the target. Although red team engagements are authorized and are legal, the ethics of certain attacks and efforts can go unconsidered.

Newly released research looks at the ethics involved in offensive security engagements. Is it ethically acceptable to send phishing emails, bribe a receptionist, or plant compromising documents on a person’s computer if it means preventing a breach down the line?

The findings showed that security professionals, like red teamers and incident responders, were more likely to find it ethically acceptable to conduct certain kinds of hacking activities on other people than they are with having those activities run against themselves.

The research — a survey of over 500 people working in both security and non-security positions, presented for the first time at Shmoocon 2020 in Washington DC this week — found that non-security professionals, such as employees working in legal, human resources, or at the reception desk, are nine-times more likely to object to receiving a phishing email as part of a red team engagement than a security professional, such as a red teamer or incident response.

It is hoped the findings will help start a discussion about the effects of a red team’s engagement on a company’s morale during an internal penetration test, and help companies to help understand the limits of a red team’s rules of engagement.

“When red teamers are forced to confront the fact that their targets are just like themselves, their attitude about what it’s OK to do to another person about testing security on other people changes dramatically after they confront the fact that it could happen to them,” said Tarah Wheeler, a cybersecurity policy fellow at New America and co-author of the research.

The survey asked about a range of potential tactics in offensive security testing, such as phishing, bribery, threats, and impersonation. The respondents were randomly assigned one of two surveys containing all the same questions, except one asked if it was acceptable to conduct the activity and the other asked if it was acceptable if it happened to them.

The findings showed security professionals would object as much as four-times if certain tactics were used against them, such as phishing emails and planting compromising documents.

“Humans are bad at being objective,” said Wheeler.

The findings come at a time where red teams are increasingly making headlines for their activities as part of engagements. Just this week, two offensive security researchers at Coalfire had charges dropped against them for breaking into an Iowa courthouse as part of a red team engagement. The researchers were tasked and authorized by Iowa’s judicial arm to find vulnerabilities in its buildings and computer networks in an effort to improve its security. But the local sheriff caught the pair and objected to their activities, despite presenting a “get out of jail free” letter detailing the authorized engagement. The case gave a rare glimpse into the world of security penetration testing and red teaming, even if the arrests were universally panned by the security community.

The survey also found that security professionals in different parts of the world were more averse to certain activities than others. Security professionals in Central and South America, for example, object more to planting compromising documents whereas those in the Middle East and Africa object more to bribes and threats.

The authors of the research said that the takeaways are not that red teams should avoid certain offensive security practices but to be aware of the impact they can have on the targets, often which include their corporate colleagues.

“When you’re setting up a red team and scoping your targets, consider the impact on your co-workers and clients,” said Roy Iversen, director of security engineering and operations at Fortalice Solutions, who also co-authored the research. Iversen said the findings may also help companies decide if they want an outside red team to carry out an engagement to minimize any internal conflict between a company’s internal red team and the wider staff.

The researchers plan to expand their work over the next year to improve their overall survey count and to better understand the demographics of their respondents to help refine the findings.

“It’s an ongoing project,” said Wheeler.

The case for cooperative tech startups

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 09:33 AM PST

When Uber and Lyft went public, it wasn’t the drivers who got rich — it was the executives, investors and some early employees. In an era when it has become clear that tech executives and investors are frequently the only ones who’ll reap rewards for a company’s success, cooperative startups are getting more attention.

Depending on how it’s set up, a cooperative model offers workers and users true ownership and control in a company; any profits that are generated are returned to the members or reinvested in the company.

Co-ops aren’t new: The nation’s longest-running example is The Philadelphia Contributionship, a mutually owned insurance company founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1752. In 1895, the International Co-operative Alliance formed to serve as a way to unite cooperatives across the world. Some colleges have student-run housing co-ops where cleaning, food preparation and other responsibilities are shared. Today, there are many well-known large-scale co-ops, including outdoor recreation store REI, Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco and Blue Diamond Growers, one of the world’s largest tree-nut processors.

What’s novel, however, is applying the co-op model to technology startups., an accelerator for cooperative startups, is just one group trying to facilitate that practice.

Why VCs are dumping money into insurance marketplaces

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 09:00 AM PST

Following our look at why so many startups are building OKR-focused software and why venture capitalists are pouring capital into their efforts, today we’re asking a similar question about insurance marketplace startups.

This month, Insurify raised a $23 million Series A that TechCrunch covered here. And even more recently, Gabi, a competitor, raised $27 million. The two rounds added up to $50 million for the insurance marketplace startup space in less than two weeks.

But there was more to come. Late in the wek, Policygenius, another participant in the space, added $100 million to its accounts. With that round, the total venture tally for insurance marketplace startups rose to $150 million for the month of January.

What the hell is going on, and why has so much been invested in the space recently? Let’s try to answer those questions by looking at who competes in the space, how much they have raised individually, and then unpack what has attracted all the fresh capital. Hint: As always, it’s about market size and economics.


Justin Kan opens up (Part 2)

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 08:35 AM PST

Justin Kan was talking about the systems in his life. The serial entrepreneur/founder, who recently announced a pivot and significant layoffs at Atrium, his latest venture, came to speak at last fall's TechCrunch Disrupt in high-fashion black sweats and an extremely colorful pair of Nikes.

After Kan wrapped up his panel, we sat down for a wide-ranging and philosophical interview. And as we left off in part one of our conversation, Kan was explaining his self-described Buddhist philosophy of life.

But in the second part of our interview, I wanted to focus more on Kan's thoughts about systems in society as a whole. There's a difference, after all, between working mindfully to change oneself and doing so to change society. As we've seen with Adam Neumann, among others, there is a certain class of "spiritual" Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who use their platform in tech to assuage their own inner suffering — and perhaps gain influence by helping similarly influential people alleviate their own. WeWork, for example, cultivated associations with everything from Kabbalah to Deepak Chopra to mindful eating before the company melted under the heat of its own ethical challenges.

I don't know that there is evidence to place Kan in the above category; maybe he is better understood as a legitimate, if unconventional, Big Thinker. But either way, it would be important to ask: What good is it when tech leaders like Kan seek a Buddhist alleviation of suffering, if the industries that sustain them are, at scale, currently creating enormous and very tangible suffering for countless millions of less fortunate people?

Watch this year’s tech-themed Super Bowl ads from Amazon, Google and more

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 06:00 AM PST

Many of the companies spending big bucks on today’s big game have already released their ads (or teasers for those ads) on YouTube. So if you’re curious about what how tech companies will be promoting themselves tonight, this is the roundup for you.

Some of these ads come from tech giants like Amazon and Facebook, who have hired big stars to promote their products. Meanwhile, Dashlane found a fun way to remind viewers of the nightmare of life without a password manager, while Squarespace enlisted Winona Ryder to build a website on the platform.

The Super Bowl also provides an opportunity for automotive companies like Hyundai to put new technology front-and-center in their marketing, and for SodaStream to take viewers into space. And while voice assistants don’t seem to be as big a theme as they were last year, at least we’re getting a killer robot, courtesy of Pringles and “Ricky and Morty.”

You can watch the ads in alphabetical order below. And I’ll update this post as more ads become available online.




Facebook (teaser)









Week in Review: Ad Nauseam

Posted: 02 Feb 2020 05:00 AM PST

Hey everyone, welcome back to Week in Review where I dive deep into a bit of news from the week or just share some thoughts and go over some of the more interesting stories of the week.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.

The big story

Don’t talk about the ads, the ads don’t exist.

Nobody sells ads anymore, Facebook doesn’t and Google especially doesn’t. Ads don’t look like ads, it’s all information. Last week, Google announced some changes to its web search results that wildly reduce the visibility of what results were stuck into the feed with ad spend.

Information becoming pay-to-play in your mental space should make people on the web feel passionate. People who boycotted Star Wars Battlefront II because micro-transactions could shift the tides should get equally pissed here. This decision seemed to move the needle in frustrating consumers, and on Friday, The New York Times reported that Google was taking another look at the design changes and rolling some elements back.

It was undoubtedly a small victory, but also showcased how just as ads have evolved alongside the web, there are limits to how fast those evolutions can come and modern web consumers still have breaking points.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • IBM’s head of cloud is taking over the whole company
    One of the week’s most surprising bits of news was that IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is set to be replaced in April as the head of the company. In just one more crystal clear indicator that the cloud is IBM’s future, senior vice president for Cloud and Cognitive Software Arvind Krishna will be taking the reins. Read more here.
  • Apple ordered to pay up nearly $1 billion
    There’s never a dull moment when it comes to Apple’s legal escapades. This week, the cards weren’t in the company’s favor as a judge ordered them to pay up big time in a patent infringement suit filed by the California Institute of Technology regarding the wireless chips in Apple’s products. Read more about Apple’s next moves in our coverage.
  • Facebook rolls out more privacy controls
    Facebook’s privacy reputation isn’t the greatest lately, this, despite Zuckerberg’s efforts to rebrand the social network with privacy at its core. Well, this week the company rolled out new controls meant to let users visualize and restrict how their activity off-Facebook is stored.. Read more here.

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription business had another great week of content. My colleague Romain Dillet talked a bit about the security dangers facing small startups and how founders can be more mindful of staying secure from the beginning.

Some essential advice for securing your small startup

“Jeff Bezos' phone was hacked. And if the richest person in the world is vulnerable, chances are good that your startup could get hacked, too.

The good news is that, as a tiny company, you're not a big target. But as soon as you hire your first employee, it's time to think about adopting basic security practices to ensure that you're less vulnerable. Nothing is perfectly secure on the internet, but you can mitigate risk…”

Sign up for more newsletters, including my colleague Darrell Etherington’s new space-focused newsletter Max Q, here.

Report: WeWork has a new CEO and he’s a real estate — not a tech — exec

Posted: 01 Feb 2020 06:33 PM PST

If WeWork wanted to cement the impression that it no longer strives to be viewed as a tech company but rather as a real estate giant focused on leasing space, it would probably choose a veteran from the real estate world.

That’s just what it has done, too, according to a new story from the WSJ that says the company, which was famously forced to pull its initial public offering last fall, has settled on Sandeep Mathrani as its new top banana.

Mathrani, has spent the last 1.5 years as the CEO of Brookfield Properties’ retail group and as a vice chairman of Brookfield Properties. Before joining the Chicago-based company, he spent eight years as the CEO of General Growth Properties. It was one of the largest mall operators in the U.S. until Brookfield acquired it for $9.25 billion in cash in 2018.

Mathrani also spent eight years as an executive vice president with Vornado Realty Trust, a publicly traded real estate company with a market cap of $12.5 billion. (Brookfield is slightly smaller, with a market cap of roughly $8 billion.)

Mathrani will reportedly relocate to New York from Miami, where according to public records, he owns at least one high-rise apartment that he acquired last year.

He’ll be reporting to Marcelo Claure, the SoftBank operating chief who was appointed executive chairman of WeWork in October in order to help salvage what Claure has himself said is an $18.5 billion bet on WeWork by SoftBank.

Specifically, Claure told nervous employees at an all-hands meeting shortly after his appointment, “The size of the commitment that SoftBank has made to this company in the past and now is $18.5 billion. To put the things in context, that is bigger than the GDP of my country where I came from [Bolivia]. That's a country where there's 11 million people."

Claure — who earlier spent four years as the CEO of SoftBank-backed Sprint —  was reportedly trying to hire T-Mobile CEO John Legere for the CEO’s post. Legere later communicated through sources that he had no plans to leave T-Mobile, yet just days later, in mid-November, Legere, who joined T-Mobile in 2012, announced that he’s stepping down as CEO after all, though he will remain chairman of the company. (According to the Verge, his contract is up April 30.)

Sprint and T-Mobile were expected to merge, though 13 states, led by the attorneys general of New York and California, are suing to block the deal over concerns that the merger would hurt competition and raise prices for users’ cell service.

Either way, Mathrani is a stark contrast to WeWork’s cofounder and longtime CEO Adam Neumann, who was pressured to resign from the company after his sweeping vision for it as a tech company that enables customers to seamlessly shift from one WeWork location to another while also paying for software and services, was met with extreme skepticism by public market investors.

Indeed, though SoftBank marked up the company’s value over a number of private funding rounds — all the way to a brow-raising $47 billion — public investors began raising questions about its real value, and WeWork’s governance, as soon as WeWork publicly released the paperwork for its initial public offering.

Between the in-depth look its S-1 provided into the company’s spiraling losses; the degree of control held by Neumann (not fully understood previously); and a series of unflattering reports about his leadership style, including beginning with the WSJ; it didn’t take long before the company was forced to abandon its IPO dreams.

No doubt it’s now Mathrani’s job to eventually resuscitate those.

According to the WSJ, SoftBank has already established a five-year business plan that it expects will get the company to profitability and allow it to be cash-flow positive by some time next year.

Part of that plan clearly involved layoffs; it cut 2,400 employees in late November, shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. It has also been selling off companies that were acquired at Neumann’s direction but are seen as non-core assets.

What WeWork does not intend to curtail, reportedly, are its efforts to open new locations, even if it acquires them at a slower pace than in previous years.

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