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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Wefunder launches campaign to help coronavirus-impacted small businesses crowdfund loans

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 04:17 PM PDT

With the COVID-19 crisis, startups across Silicon Valley are looking for opportunities where they can both increase the visibility of their services and be helpful to people and businesses deeply affected by the pandemic.

Wefunder, an investment crowdfunding platform, announced an initiative Tuesday to help small businesses impacted by the coronavirus secure loans through its platform on friendlier terms.

The goal of the Coronavirus Crisis Loan program is to “provide critical cash flow during this economic crisis at a reduced interest rate,” a release from the company detailed. Loans can be structured in amounts ranging from $20,000 to $1 million with payments deferred until 2021 and flexible depending on revenue. The startup has a pretty simple calculator on its site to help businesses estimate what their payment structure would look like.

For Wefunder’s part, it’s not charity, they’re still taking a slice of the total volume raised, though they are halving their usual percentage from 7.5% to a 3.75% take. Wefunder also charges individuals a 2% cut from their contribution.

Wefunder was founded in 2011 and has raised just over $9 million in funding from investors including Visary Capital and Y Combinator. In recent years, legislation passed that has made it possible for companies to raise smaller amount of money — about $1 million or less in total — from non-accredited investors. The company says that businesses have raised $130 million to date through the platform.

Back in 2016 when the legislation was first introduced, equity crowdfunding was a pretty hot topic of discussion, but for the most part, equity crowdfunding hasn’t become commonplace. Part of this is the result of prevalent seed capital, something that has likely increased the riskiness of the startups that seek funding through platforms like these. This is obviously less of an issue when a good deal of the motivation to invest in a small business is because of the social good component, as might be the case with investors backing businesses taking advantage of this new program.

Alongside its loan program, Wefunder has also announced a three-month startup accelerator program focused on startups that can help tackle problems that will result from the crisis. They’ve notably cast a pretty wide net for the startups they are looking for, everything from remote collaboration to telemedicine to homeschooling, but they will invest $50K in each company and then help them raise more money through their platform on demo day.

Looking back at Zoom’s ascent a year after it filed to go public

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 03:34 PM PDT

Zoom, a video chat service then popular with corporations, filed to go public on March 22, 2019.

Best known in venture and corporate circles, Zoom was far from a household name at the time. However, the groundwork for its 2020-era consumer breakthrough during the novel coronavirus epidemic was detailed during its IPO march in the years leading up to its public debut.

The company didn't begin trading until mid-April last year, but it was through its March 2019 IPO filing that its name took on new prominence; here was a quickly growing software as a service (SaaS) business that was posting profits at the same time. As the rate at which unprofitable companies went public set records, Zoom's growth and positive net income helped it gain brand recognition even before its shares began to trade.

Investors certainly recognized this was a rarity among SaaS companies, sending its IPO share price up 72% in its first day. The company's equity has risen more than 100% since that first close, more than doubling in less than a year. Not bad in a market that has turned ice-cold in recent weeks.

To understand how Zoom became so valuable as a business — and later as a consumer product — let's go back in time to consider its product and business strategies. As we'll see, to become the video chat tool that everyone is using today, Zoom had to beat a host of entrenched competition. And it did so while making money, helping set the financial stage for its prominence today.

Product history

Volvo’s Polestar begins production of the all-electric Polestar 2 in China

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 02:58 PM PDT

Polestar has started production of its all-electric Polestar 2 vehicle at a plant in China amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended the automotive industry and triggered a wave of factory closures throughout the world.

The start of Polestar 2 production is a milestone for Volvo Car Group’s standalone electric performance brand  — and not just because it began in the midst of global upheaval caused by COVID-19, a disease that stems from the coronavirus. It’s also the first all-electric car under a brand that was relaunched just three years ago with a new mission.

Polestar was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. In 2017, the company was recast as an electric performance brand aimed at producing exciting and fun-to-drive electric vehicles — a niche that Tesla was the first to fill and has dominated ever since. Polestar is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China. Volvo was acquired by Geely in 2010.

COVID-19 has affected how Polestar and its parent company operate. Factory closures began in China, where the disease first swept through the population. Now Chinese factories are reopening as the epicenter of COVID-19 moves to Europe and North America. Most automakers have suspended production in Europe and North America.

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said the company started production under these challenging circumstances with a strong focus on the health and safety of its workers. He added that the Luqiao, China factory is an example of how Polestar has leveraged the expertise of its parent companies.

Extra precautions have been taken because of the outbreak, including frequent disinfecting of work spaces and requiring workers to wear masks and undergo regular temperature screenings, according to the company. Polestar has said that none of its workers in China tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of its efforts.

COVID-19 has also affected Polestar’s timeline. Polestar will only sell its vehicles online and will offer customers subscriptions to the vehicle. It previously revealed plans to open "Polestar Spaces," a showroom where customers can interact with the product and schedule test drives. These spaces will be standalone facilities and not within existing Volvo retailer showrooms. Polestar had planned to have 60 of these spaces open by 2020, including in Oslo, Los Angeles and Shanghai.

COVID-19 has delayed the opening of the showrooms. The company will have some pop-up stores opening as soon as that situation improves, so people can go see the cars and learn more while the permanent showrooms are still under construction, TechCrunch has learned.

It’s not clear just how many Polestar 2 vehicles will be produced; Polestar has told TechCrunch that it is in the “tens of thousands” of cars per calendar year. Those numbers will also depend on demand for the Polestar 2 and other models that are built in the same factory.

Polestar 2 EV

Image Credits: Screenshot/Polestar

Polestar also isn’t providing the exact number of reservations until it begins deliveries, which are supposed to start this summer in Europe, followed by China and North America. It was confirmed to TechCrunch that reservations are in the “five digits.”

The Polestar 2, which was first revealed in February 2019, has been positioned by the company to go up against Tesla Model 3. (The company's first vehicle, the Polestar 1, is a plug-in hybrid with two electrical motors powered by three 34-kilowatt-hour battery packs and a turbo and supercharged gas inline 4 up front.)

But it will likely face off against other competitors launching new EVs in 2020 and 2021, including Volkswagen, GM, Ford and startups Lucid Motors and even adventure-focused Rivian.

Polestar is hoping customers are attracted to the tech and the performance of the fastback, which produces 408 horsepower, 487 pound feet of torque and has a 78 kWh battery pack that delivers an estimated range of 292 miles under Europe’s WLTP.

The Polestar 2's infotainment system will be powered by Android OS and, as a result, bring into the car embedded Google services such as Google Assistant, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. This shouldn't be confused with Android Auto, which is a secondary interface that lies on top of an operating system. Android OS is modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. But instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars.

YouTube defaults to SD quality worldwide to tame bandwidth surge

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 02:43 PM PDT

YouTube has announced that videos on the site will default to standard definition (SD) quality for the next month in order to cope with demand from the bored, housebound masses. Similar measures were undertaken by the company in Europe last week, and other big consumers of bandwidth are likewise taking steps to minimize their impact.

Bloomberg first reported the new, or rather expanded, policy of limiting stream quality by default. In a statement, Google wrote that “we continue to work closely with governments and network operators around the globe to do our part to minimize stress on the system during this unprecedented situation.”

Users will still be able to select higher-quality streams, but having the default be the considerably lower bandwidth may save quite a few bits and bytes if people don’t notice or mind the difference. The changes should roll out gradually starting today.

There are already plenty of safeguards in place to make sure that YouTube isn’t stressing the pipes. “We have measures in place to automatically adjust our system to use less network capacity,” a YouTube representative told TechCrunch last week.

Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming providers have likewise opted to limit the bandwidth they use to prevent users from experiencing skipping and buffering should demand outstrip supply. Microsoft and Sony are slowing down and delaying game downloads and updates so as not to saturate connections during peak hours.

I’ve reached out to YouTube for more details on the new policy and will update this post when I hear back.

FDA now allows treatment of life-threatening COVID-19 cases using blood from patients who have recovered

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 02:43 PM PDT

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its rules around use of experimental treatments for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to include use of “convalescent plasma,” in cases where the patient’s life is seriously or immediately threatened. This isn’t an approval of the procedure as a certified treatment, but rather an emergency clearance that applies only on a case-by-case basis, and only in extreme cases, as a means of helping further research being done into the possible efficacy of plasma collected from patients who have already contracted, and subsequently recovered from, a case of COVID-19.

Plasma is a component of human blood — specifically the liquid part — which contains, among other things, antibodies that contribute to a body’s immune response. Use of plasma, through direct transfusion into a patient, like every other proposed treatment for COVID-19 (and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes it), has not undergone the clinical studies needed to show that it’s actually safe and effective in combating the disease.

Despite a lack of completed clinical trials, the FDA has granted this temporary authorization under its Investigational New Drug Applicants (eINDS) exemption, in light of the extent and nature of the current public health threat that COVID-19 represents. A number of pre-clinical and clinical trials around use of plasma from patients who have recovered are underway, however, and there are some promising signs that convalescent plasma could indeed be effective against SARS-CoV-2.

This is hardly the first time that convalescent plasma has been proposed or attempted to fight off a disease. People who have had a virus and subsequently recovered from it typically build up an immunity to it — either long-term, as with chicken pox, or short-term, as with the seasonal flu. Logically, it stands to reason that it should be possible, at least in theory, to take the antibodies from one individual who has already developed them, and transfuse them into a patient whose immune system is not doing a good enough job producing its own.

Convalescent plasma transfusions have been used in previous outbreaks, including against the H1N1 flu, as well as the original SARS and MERS epidemics, with varying results.

A number of research projects are underway regarding use of plasma against COVID-19, including a study by a team of Chinese medical professionals published in pre-print format (prior to any peer review) that studied 10 severe patients who received donations from recently recovered patients. That study found that in five of the 10 cases, the level of antibodies “increased rapidly” immediately post-transfusion (four other patients already had a high level of antibodies, and that persisted), and that within a week, the presence of the virus was undetectable in seven patients.

That still isn’t a formal clinical study, but other small-scale investigations from clinical practice have shown similar results. A group of doctors and researchers have also put together a set of protocols for use by doctors working with both donors and recipients to help align efforts across investigations and ensure that everyone working on this problem in the medical science community is working from the same playbook.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that state health agencies would be beginning a convalescent plasma trial this week, and it was cited by FDA Director Dr. Stephen Hahn as an area of early promise last week during a White House coronavirus task force briefing.

All donor patients would have to be tested to confirm that they are not at risk of transmitting the virus, and they must also qualify as a blood donor under the existing rules in place by state and federal agencies. While some early studies have shown that plasma transfusions could be effective in prophylactic use (meaning treating healthy people before they encounter the virus), this FDA specifically prohibits any prophylactic use.

As with all the treatments currently under development, this will take a lot of testing and research both to validate, and then to certify for general use — though there are a lot of researchers working on those challenges, because work to date shows this is likely to be more effective as a strategy in cases that haven’t yet progressed to the severe symptom stage. Convalescent plasma treatment isn’t new, or even all that sophisticated, but it does have the advantage of being relatively safe (in line with standard blood transfusions, once a person is confirmed to no longer be carrying any active virus), so this could be something to watch for more active updates versus some of the longer-lead treatment technologies in development.

Swiss startup Creal is building display tech for the next generation of AR/VR headsets

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 02:10 PM PDT

After years of hype, the AR/VR space has certainly grown quieter as of late, but some investors are still coalescing behind a vision that the technologies could one day replace mobile if the technical kinks can be worked out.

Creal is a Swiss startup that’s working on some fundamental display technologies that could make VR and AR headsets more comfortable with more life-like optics.

The startup raised a $7.4 million Series A last year from Investiere and DAA Capital Partners. The company announced this week that they received grant funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program to continue working on their light-field display tech.

Light-field displays are a category of displays that are quite a bit different than anything you’ve seen. While existing AR and VR headsets can show you stereoscopic 3D by displaying slightly different images to each of your eyes, future headsets will allow you to change what’s in and out of focus based on where your eyes are looking. The big optics issue this solves for is called the vergence-accommodation conflict, and it allows for interacting with objects closer to your face and functionally makes reading in VR quite a bit more effective as well.

Here’s a “through-the-lens” demo of the startup’s technology from a video posted last year:

There are varying degrees of how the technology is implemented. Magic Leap rolled out a lightweight version of its technology in its headset that leverages a pair of focal planes that are switched between with eye-tracking. This “varifocal” approach is also something that Facebook is investing in; they’ve showcased prototype headsets that allow users to shift their focus between multiple planes.

Creal is having to deal with some of the same struggles as its big company counterparts have when it comes to making sacrifices in order to miniaturize the technology. Integrating their tech into a virtual reality headset is the nearest-term target for the company, though they have ambitions to integrate into lightweight AR headsets within the next several years.

Startups building tech like Creal may be particularly at risk to a global recession, when investment in frontier technologies typically takes a big hit. A prolonged period of economic instability will almost certainly tilt the scales in the favor of big tech companies like Facebook, as startups approaching the same advances will likely be forced to push out roadmaps and cut costs in order to survive.

While Oculus has seen some recent success in expanding the VR market niche, augmented reality hardware has been an incredibly tough sell for startups. A number of companies in the space shut down last year, including Meta, ODG and Daqri. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Magic Leap was positioning itself for a sale after raising billions of dollars in funding.

Game downloads will be throttled to manage internet congestion

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 01:34 PM PDT

For the billions stuck at home during the global effort to flatten the curve, gaming is a welcome escape. But it’s also a bandwidth-heavy one, and Microsoft, Sony and others are working to make sure that millions of people downloading enormous games don’t suck up all the bandwidth. Don’t worry, though, it won’t affect your ping.

A blog post by content delivery network Akamai explained a few things it is doing to help mitigate the tidal wave of traffic that the internet’s infrastructure is experiencing. Although streaming video is of course a major contributor, games are a huge, if more intermittent, burden on the network.

Akamai is “working with leading distributors of software, particularly for the gaming industry, including Microsoft and Sony, to help manage congestion during peak usage periods. This is very important for gaming software downloads, which account for large amounts of internet traffic when an update is released,” the post reads.

Take the new “Call of Duty: Warzone” battle royale game, released last week for free and seeing major engagement. If you didn’t already own the latest CoD title, Warzone was a more than 80-gigabyte download, equivalent to dozens of movies on Netflix . And what’s more, that 80 gigs was likely downloaded at the maximum bandwidth home connections provided; streaming video is limited to a handful of megabits over the duration of the media, nowhere close to saturating your connection.

And Warzone isn’t alone — there are tons of high-profile games being released at a time when many people have nothing to do but sit at home and play games — PC game platform Steam posted a record 20 million concurrent players the other day, and one analysis saw a 400% increase in gaming traffic. So gaming is bigger than ever, while games are bigger than ever themselves.

As a result, gaming downloads will be throttled for the foreseeable future, at least in some markets. “Players may experience somewhat slower or delayed game downloads,” wrote Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan in a brief blog post. I’ve asked Microsoft, Nintendo and Valve for comment on their approach as well.

It’s important to note that this should not apply to the rest of the gaming experience. Unlike downloading games, playing games is a remarkably low-bandwidth task — it’s important for packets to be traded quickly so players are in sync, but there aren’t a lot of them compared with even a low-resolution streaming video.

The best thing to do is to set your games to be downloaded overnight, as local infrastructure will be less taxed while everyone in your region is asleep. If you have downloads or updates coming during the day, don’t be surprised if they take longer than usual or are queued elsewhere.

Control each other’s apps with new screensharing tool Screen

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 01:33 PM PDT

It’s like Google Docs for everything. Screen is a free interactive multiplayer screensharing app that gives everyone a cursor so they can navigate, draw on, and even code within the apps of their co-workers while voice or video chatting. Screen makes it easy and fun to co-design content, pair program, code review or debug together, or get feedback from a teacher.

Jahanzeb Sherwani sold his last screensharing tool ScreenHero to Slack, but it never performed as well crammed inside the messaging app. Five years later, he’s accelerated the launch of Screen to today and made it free to help all the teams stuck working from home amidst coronavirus shelter-in-place orders. 

Sherwani claims that Screen is “2x-5x faster than other screen sharing tools, and has between 30ms-50ms end-to-end latency. Most other screen sharing tools have between 100ms-150ms.” For being built by just a two-person team, Screen has a remarkable breadth of features that are all responsive and intuitive. Sherwani says the startup iis making due with “no funding, 100% bootstrapped, and I'd like to keep it that way” so he can control his destiny rather than being prodded for an exit by investors.

A few things you can do with Screen:

  • Share your screen from desktop on Mac, Windows and Linux while chatting over audio or video calling in a little overlaid window, or join a call and watch from your browser or mobile
  • Use your cursor on someone else’s shared screen so you can control or type anything just like it was your computer
  • Overlay drawing on the screenshare so you can annotate things like “this is misspelled” or “move this there”, with doodles fading away after a few second unless your hold down your mouse or turn on caps lock
  • Post ephemeral text comments so you can collaborate even if you have to be quiet
  • Launch Screen meetings from Slack and schedule them Google Calendar integration
  • Share invite links with anyone with no need to log in or be at the same company, just be careful who you let control your Screen

Normally Screen is free for joining meetings, $10 per month to host them, and $20 per person per month for enterprise teams. But Sherwani writes that for now it’s free to host too “so you can stay healthy & productive during the coronavirus outbreak.” If you can afford to pay, you should though as “We're trying this as an experiment in the hope that the number of paid users is sufficient to pay for our running costs to help us stay break-even.”

Sherwani’s new creation could become an acquisition target for video call giants like Zoom, but he might not be so willing to sell this time around. Founded in 2013, Screenhero was incredibly powerful for its time, offering some of the collaboration tools now in Screen. But after it was acquired by Slack after raising just $1.8 million, Screenhero never got the integration it deserved.

“We finally shipped interactive screen sharing almost three years later, but it wasn't as performant as Screenhero, and was eventually removed in 2019” Sherwani writes. “Given that it was used by a tiny fraction of Slack's user-base, and had a high maintenance cost, this was the correct decision for Slack .” Still, he explains why a company like Screen is better off independent. “Embedding one complex piece of software in another imposes a lot more constraints, which makes it more expensive to build. It's far easier to have a standalone app that just does one thing well.”

Screen actually does a lot of things well. I tried it with my wife, and the low latency and extensive flexibility made it downright delightful to try co-writing this article. It’s easy to imagine all sorts of social use cases springing up if teens get ahold of Screen. The whole concept of screensharing is getting popularized by apps like Squad and Instagram’s new Co-Watching feature that launched today.

The new Co-Watching feature is like screensharing just for Instagram

Eventually, Screen wants to launch a virtual office feature so you can just instantly pull co-workers into meetings. That could make it feel a lot more like collaborating in the same room with someone, where you can start a conversation at any time. Screen could also democratize the remote work landscape by shifting meetings from top-down broadcasts by managers to jam sessions where everyone has a say.

Sherwani concludes, “When working together, everyone needs to have a seat at the table”.

Stocks blast higher on expectation of sweeping federal action

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 01:21 PM PDT

There are no free market fanatics on corporate boards the moment the economy wobbles. Today makes the point, with stocks shooting higher on the back of news that a sweeping federal package of aid and stimulus should soon pass Congress. The goal of the financial package is to blunt the impact of COVID-19-related market disruptions that have led to mass layoffs, and an economy expected to slip into recession.

Today in regular hours the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) led American indices by climbing over 10%. It was the best day for the venerable Dow since the 2008 crisis in percentage terms, though the index has posted sharper declines in percentage terms in recent days.

Its kin also rose, if less. Here’s the day’s results:

  • DJIA: rose 11.37% to 20,704.91
  • S&P 500: rose 9.38% to 2,447.33
  • Nasdaq composite: rose 8.12% to close at 7,417.86

SaaS shares, as tracked by the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index, rose about 7.2% on the day. Bitcoin saw its value jump by 5% in the last 24 hours, and is worth about $6,600 as of the time of writing. The day may not meet the criteria for a market melt up, but it certainly was a welcome respite from recent weeks’ declines.

The next test for the American public markets comes tomorrow. After posting huge gains today, can they be retained? In the past dozen trading sessions, there has been a market habit worth noting in which any sharp action — up or down — was met with a similar, opposite result the following day. Call it Newton’s third law of stonks.

Ride-hailing get a boost

Lyft and Uber were lifted by the broader gains across all major indices. Lyft rose 19.68% to $27.06, while Uber shares increased 17.81% to $27.38. The companies saw increases even as the ride-hailing industry faces continued pressure amid the spread of COVID-19. Both companies have seen a decline in demand, prompting a shift towards delivery and partnerships with non-profit organizations to provide transportation services to health care workers and others who need it during the pandemic.

On Monday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sent a letter to the White House, asking lawmakers to include protection and financial support for gig workers in the COVID-19 stimulus packages. Khosrowshahi also argued that there needs to be a third employment classification for gig workers that "would update our labor laws to remove the forced choice between flexibility and protection for millions of American workers."

Motion website blocker aims to improve your focus online as you WFH

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 12:26 PM PDT

Y Combinator’s latest class of startups arrived to a fairly lukewarm public reception last week as the world melted down in the midst of the accelerator’s virtual demo day. While the startups didn’t anticipate launching into mid-pandemic markets, some seem more poised to succeed in this new environment than others.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been playing around with one of those startups’ tools. Motion, a free Chrome productivity plugin, tries to lead you away from visiting sites that you feel aren’t great for your productivity. It was a nice-to-have tool for the weeks preceding SF’s shelter in place mandate, but since I’ve started working from home full-time, all-the-time, forever, the tool has become a welcome way to separate my for-work online browsing and the for-boredom online browsing after 6pm.

A plugin that blocks websites you don’t want to visit is hardly revolutionary. There are plenty of these plugins already, but as is the case with all software, sometimes a few UX advances make all the difference. With Motion, the differentiation is the underlying psychology of the product, which eschews the central focus on black lists and white lists, instead promoting the idea of helpful pushes more in spirit with OS-level screen-time apps.

After installing Motion, you can set your productive hours and designate the sites you deem as beneficial and harmful to your productivity. For instance, I wanted to cut out Reddit, Facebook and YouTube from my work-hours browsing. Now, going forward, any time that you type in the URL of an offending website, the plugin will throw you a full-page alert that you can dismiss or temporarily hush.

Telling it that you need a minute will actually toss a countdown timer onto the screen, pushing you to get what you “need” out of Facebook or Reddit. Once that timer runs out, you can extend your abbreviated binge or take the preferred route — clicking a button that closes out the tab. The UX of the app makes room for exceptions, but still pushes users to reduce time on those sites, a big differentiator from more absolutist options.

One of Motion’s best features offers a diagnosable snapshot of your web browsing habits when you first open your browser each day. The screen shares the time you spent on each site during the previous day, allowing you to track how the tool has reduced your browsing time on certain sites and identify other URLs that you may also want to block.

Motion as a product is still in its early stages of evolution, and I’ve seen a number of improvements over my few weeks of usage, what I’ll be most curious to see is how the founding team shapes the product into a viable business moving forward. The free Chrome plug-in as a service model hasn’t proven itself yet, but the founding team has ambitions for creating paid tiers and enterprise products down the road, once the core product has been built out a bit more.

Motion co-founders Omid Rooholfada, Ethan Yu and Harry Qi


Former founders of SocialRank have launched a job board for COVID-19 layoffs

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 12:23 PM PDT

The COVID-19 pandemic has already triggered a number of layoffs across industries, from travel companies to scooter startups. But, as a gray footnote to all tragedies, we're starting to see innovation pop through the cracks — and hopefully help some people, as well.

Back in November, Alexander Taub and Michael Schonfeld launched Upstream, a social media platform for professionals, to a small group of roughly 800 beta testers. The goal was to give folks a place to network and ask for introductions in a more digitally friendly, mobile-first platform than LinkedIn groups. The company counts Hunter Walk of Homebrew, Olivia Benjamin of Bain Capital Ventures and D’Arcy Coolican of Andreessen Horowitz as beta users. The plan was to launch publicly this summer. 

However, as companies have cut staff, the co-founders are launching Upstream to the public earlier than expected, with a specific goal to discuss layoffs from COVID-19. 

"When the coronavirus hit, we were like, oh my god we’re gonna have crazy unemployment," Taub tells me. "It's one thing to have a recession depression, but there's also going to be a zero demand curve because like, we can't go outside. So this is going to be bad."

As a result, Taub decided to double down on something he was already seeing happen organically on the platform: job hiring and role recommendations. 

Once a user signs up to the platform, they can join the COVID-19 group. They can then choose what they want to post: looking to hire; looking for a job; or looking to help. Being able to only originate these three types of posts, noted Taub, is part of the reason Upstream is different from a Slack group or LinkedIn.

Once a note is posted, users can directly message other users in the group to follow up on a job posting or warm intro. When I asked Taub how he's preparing for a potential uptick in usage, he said that "if this blows up…we will put up a gate" to limit the amount of posts that go live each minute. 

Other groups on the platform that are not yet open to the public include Jews in Tech, Business Development and Earlybirds.

Taub said he and Schonfeld launched Upstream with a view to focus on individuals in tech. But in recent months, Taub says he’s noticed group members outside of tech have used it, including small business owners and teachers. 

There has been little innovation in support for layoffs. Most layoff solutions exist in the form of job searching groups on Facebook, communities on Slack and even a plain-old spreadsheet that includes a list of people to hire. Taub is betting that "people want a dedicated place to be more vulnerable…because it's a little uncomfortable asking for help on Facebook." 

SF supervisors push for more gig worker protections during the coronavirus pandemic

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 12:00 PM PDT

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is pushing a number of legislative bodies to offer more protections and benefits for gig workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As gig workers are still out delivering food to people and providing rides, supervisors are asking the SF Office of Labor Standards Enforcement to establish enforcement procedures in compliance with Assembly Bill 5, which outlines what types of workers can be legally classified as independent contractors.

This resolution, which Gig Workers Rising and We Drive Progress advocated for the board of supervisors to adopt, comes after Gig Workers Rising urged California lawmakers to enforce AB 5. Earlier this month, Gig Workers Rising sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials asking them to step in and protect workers during this pandemic.

“These companies have been putting drivers and passengers at risk during the coronavirus era and long before,” rideshare driver and Gig Workers Rising member Edan Alva said on a press call today. “These large corporations are preying on the most vulnerable populations.”

He added that drivers often work paycheck to paycheck and therefore have no ability to save money.

“Without health insurance and sick days, we are left with the impossible choice when we get sick,” Alva said. “Drive sick and put ourselves and passengers at risk or stay at home and lose the roof over our heads, our car and our livelihood.”

The supervisors are also asking for both SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to seek injunctive relief to prevent misclassification of workers as they seek paid sick leave and unemployment insurance.

Additionally, the board of supervisors wants the Department of Public Health to implement minimum health and safety guidelines for ride-hail drivers and delivery workers. Lastly, they want California Labor Secretary Julie Su to offer guidance around accessing benefits for gig workers during this time.

The supervisors outline how, without help, gig workers “face many uncertainties, including housing and food insecurity, no access to health care, exposure to COVID-19 without safety training, sanitation and protective equipment…” Meanwhile, gig economy companies “continue to flout our state and city laws, leaving their misclassified employees without access to unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, medical benefits, workers’ compensation, and other crucial benefits…,” the resolution states.

On a press call today, Supervisor Gordon Mar said denying workers their rights during a public health crisis is “immoral.” Fellow Supervisor Matt Haney added that it’s critical every measure is taken to protect public health.

“Many of us are being told to have your food delivered, have your food dropped off,” Haney said on the press call. “Having workers at these companies is actually becoming essential for us to operate during this time, but at the same time we are not treating these folks fairly…we are putting them in even more marginalized and vulnerable positions economically.”

In many ways, Haney said, gig workers are performing emergency response jobs during this crisis — delivering food to people who can’t go out to the store or driving people from point A to point B.

It’s not that companies like Uber, DoorDash and Instacart have done nothing. Some have offered up to two weeks’ worth of sick leave, for example. But it’s that they’re not doing enough.

“TNCs were designated by Governor Newsom as an integral part of critical transportation systems necessary to deliver essential services during this national emergency,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement. “Lyft is playing a crucial role in delivering essential services during this pandemic by connecting people with vital services and goods. Attempting to force TNCs to adopt an employment model in the midst of this crisis would result in the widespread elimination of work for hundreds of thousands and the immediate interruption of essential services for vulnerable populations. It will hurt drivers and at-risk communities at a time when they need our services most.”

On the press call, however, driver Mekela Edwards expressed some concern about Lyft’s healthcare initiatives. Edwards pointed to how drivers are not properly equipped with the skills or training patients might need on their way to the hospital.

“And we definitely don't have protections such as masks or gloves or things in case we have to help a passenger get in and out of the car,” Edwards said. “As a driver, it really should be something that is looked at closely before a company touts that that's what they're offering.”

Meanwhile, there are reports from Uber drivers that their requests for paid sick leave are getting rejected. TechCrunch has reached out to Uber to learn more about that. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2 are a great-sounding pair of $300 earbuds

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 11:56 AM PDT

They're doing construction in my apartment building right now. I live on the first floor and can hear the distinct sound of jackhammering on concrete coming from the basement below. There's also the sound of a generator and a far higher-pitched drilling noise. It's all happening with the perfect combination of frequency and randomness completely designed to drive this work-from-homer completely nuts.

Honestly, I'm generally not a headphones-at-home guy, unless it's a meeting or a podcast. But being under house arrest with heavy machinery is really wearing on me, and providing an unexpectedly ideal scenario for trying out Sennheiser's latest fully wireless earbuds.

The landscape has changed considerably since the audio company announced the original Momentum True Wireless models in summer of 2018. Honestly, the speed with which the category has taken off in recent years seems pretty remarkable, both in terms of quality and user adoption.

One key thing that hasn't changed with the arrival of the True Wireless 2 is Sennheiser's pricing. For many or most, the earbuds are still prohibitively expensive at $300 a pair (compared to the $230 Sony 1000XM3 or the $240 AirPods Pro). For the majority of folks, the pricing is already going to be a deal breaker. It's a shame, honestly, because there's a lot to like.

The presentation is great. I mean, look at that fabric-covered case. It's certainly on the bulky side, compared to a number of cases, but it's quite handsome. The earbuds themselves are nothing to sneeze at. They're also surprisingly comfortable. They don't have added support like the Powerbeats Pro, but unlike the Sony models, they're not heavy enough to cause ear strain. As for how they stay in place while exercising — I'm going to have to get back to you on that.

Like the Sony headphones, the sound is really excellent on the True Wireless 2. In fact, it's among the best and most balanced audio I've experienced on a pair of fully wireless earbuds — as one would expect from Sennheiser. Thankfully, the active noise canceling is also quite excellent, accessible with a triple tap on the right ear bud, while a double will toggle Transparent mode, for added ambient sound.

The tapping controls feel a bit convoluted on first use, but you'll get the hang of it fairly quickly. The biggest complaint I have thus far (beyond pricing) is the spottiness of the wireless connectivity. The Momentums start to lose signal when I walk from my living room to my kitchen. That's about 30 feet — a distance a majority of other headphones I've tried out have had little to no issue with. Not the end of the world for most users, but I'd hope for a more consistent experience at that lofty price point. 

Amazon warehouse workers organized to demand PTO, and coronavirus clinched it

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 11:02 AM PDT

Amazon never tires of explaining how great it is to work at one of its warehouses, but as usual the actual employees tell a different story. This particular group of Chicago workers was fed up with the company failing to provide paid time off or vacation it promised to part-time workers. They organized; Amazon resisted — and at last, the coronavirus acted as tiebreaker.

It’s an interesting first-hand story from workers being exploited by a business and working to change that —  I say exploited not because the work is hard and the pay low, though that’s true too, but because they had to fight to get basic considerations and resources from a company claiming to value their health and welfare.

The group is not a union, but it’s the seed from which unions sprang long ago: workers with a common grievance acting in unison to force management to come to the table. Originally the group formed to make a petition for access to clean water to drink. You read that right! After complaining individually to no effect, they got 150 people to sign the petition, presented it and soon there were pallets of bottled water available and new water stations being installed.

From this we learned that we get the changes we need by getting organized and taking action together. Since there was still plenty of bullshit to address, we met up again and after some brainstorming decided to name ourselves DCH1 Amazonians United. There's no union or nonprofit backing us up, it's just us workers, full of dignity, trying to make ends meet. When we found out that Amazon was denying us the PTO we were supposed to have, we were ready to do something about it.

Amazon promised in writing that workers putting in more than 20 hours would accrue PTO and vacation time, but that simply wasn’t happening. Somehow, the people at the warehouse were a special class of employee that worked more than 20 hours and didn’t accrue PTO and vacation. One way or another something had to change.

After pulling together 251 signatures to a petition demanding PTO and a meeting with their regional manager, they presented it on three separate occasions so each shift could hear management’s response. One manager accepted the petition, another refused to take it. The site lead started isolating workers, telling them they could meet one on one but not as a group with the regional manager. This is labor organization shutdown 101, by the way.

The group heard that a similar group to theirs in Sacramento had walked out, and clearly management did too, as they began acting nervous about collective action. There was an international meeting of Amazon workers to compare notes and techniques.

Then the coronavirus hit, and across multiple Amazon labor groups petitions were passed demanding protective measures against infection, increased hazard pay and childcare subsidies, and that the company cease withholding sick leave.

In the middle of these growing efforts, Amazon decided to grant PTO to all workers above 20 hours.

Image Credits: DHC1 Amazonians United

In a statement to TechCrunch, the company said that it “has implemented a broad suite of new benefits changes for employees in our operations and logistics network throughout this unprecedented pandemic event,” and that this decision was not due to the agitations of Amazonians United or any other single group. Indeed, it sounds like groups all over the world had to combine and protest these policies together in order for Amazon to take notice. I asked why the PTO was not being given in the first place and have yet to hear back.

The Chicago group was far from alone in its plight, but it took organization and communication for them to find the courage and means to make the changes necessary. Here’s hoping the 100,000 workers Amazon plans to hire benefit from the work of their peers.

Twitter is donating $1M across two foundations to support journalism during the coronavirus pandemic

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 10:51 AM PDT

Social media companies have been hard at work to make sure they play a helpful rather than harmful role in disseminating news and information about the coronavirus pandemic. Today, Twitter took an extra step beyond its own platform to put its efforts into the wider, already under-pressure world of journalism. Twitter announced that it would be donating $1 million equally between two organizations, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Women's Media Foundation, to further their work specifically related to supporting those reporting on COVID-19.

Organizations like the IWMF and the CJP always play a vital role — respectively in supporting the work of female journalists and in defending all journalists who are working in complicated environments or with tricky subject matter. But it’s in times of crisis that you can especially see how vital their existence is. If you look now on the CJP site, for example, there are a number of stories shedding light on how journalists covering coronavirus news are under threat, particularly in countries where governments are trying to suppress too much negative information passed to the public. It’s a role that is especially urgent to play now, given just how much people are turning to the news and the public service that journalists are playing in getting information out.

The fact is that journalists are in no way immune from the wider theme of the world right now, which is that this global pandemic has drastically altered nearly every aspect of our lives. As Vijaya Gadde noted when announcing the grants, “Right now, every journalist is a COVID-19 journalist.” And given Twitter’s deep link with news, this means journalists’ plights — with some risking their health if not their lives to report stories — are Twitter’s plights. “Journalism is core to our service and we have a deep and enduring responsibility to protect that work.”

Indeed, the larger economic pressures of this public health crisis are a huge blow to journalism, which was already under a lot of financial pressure as a business. To that end, Gadde noted that the funds will be used in some way to help with that, “to ensure these organizations can continue their work in the face of new economic strains and to directly support journalists.”

Twitter is not the first social media organization to donate to journalism. Last week, Facebook also announced two tranches of $1 million each that it was donating respectively to news organizations for coronavirus reporting, and to fact-checking organizations to make sure the content shared on Facebook remains on the straight and narrow when it comes to being accurate.

"We are grateful for Twitter's generous support. Our efforts at CPJ are focused on ensuring that journalists around the world have the information and resources they need to cover the COVID-19 pandemic safely. And we are pushing back against governments that are censoring the news, and restricting the work of the press. We need timely, accurate information flowing within countries and across borders so that political leaders, health policy experts, and the public at large can make informed decisions at this critical moment,” said Joel Simon, executive director, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement.

"Right now, there is a great need to support our community of journalists covering, and dealing with, this global pandemic. Based on our decades of work with journalists who operate in dangerous and difficult environments, the IWMF understands the critical role that safety and security plays in the industry. Thanks to the incredible support of Twitter, the IWMF will be able to address the needs of our community of journalists more deeply and robustly. By supporting journalists from diverse communities, together we can support the most representative news possible in this evolving time,” added Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director, International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF), in her own statement.

Apple releases iOS and iPadOS 13.4 with trackpad support

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 10:39 AM PDT

Apple has released software updates for the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch, the Apple TV and the Mac. The biggest changes are on the iPad. Starting today, you can pair a mouse or trackpad with your iPad and use it to move a cursor on the display.

Apple unveiled trackpad support for iPadOS when it announced the new iPad Pro last week. While the company plans to sell a new Magic Keyboard with a built-in trackpad, you don't need to buy a new iPad or accessory to access the feature.

When you pair a trackpad and start using it, Apple displays a rounded cursor on the screen. The cursor changes depending on what you're hovering over. The cursor disappears and highlights the button you're about to activate. It looks a bit like moving from one icon to another on the Apple TV.

If you're moving a text cursor for instance, it becomes a vertical bar. If you're resizing a text zone in a Pages document, it becomes two arrows. If you're using a trackpad, iPadOS supports gestures that let you switch between apps, open the app switcher and activate the Dock or Control Center.

In addition to trackpad support, iOS and iPadOS 13.4 add a handful of features. You can share an iCloud Drive folder with another iCloud user — it works pretty much like a shared Dropbox folder.

There are nine new Memoji stickers, such as smiling face with hearts, hands pressed together and party face. Apple has tweaked buttons to archive/delete, move, reply and compose and email in the Mail app.

Additionally, Apple added the ability to release a single app binary on all App Stores, including the iOS and Mac App Store. It means that developers can release a paid app on the Mac and the iPhone — and you only have to buy it once.

Also, macOS 10.15.4 adds Screen Time Communication Limits, a feature that already exists on iOS. It lets you set limits on Messages and FaceTime calls.

When it comes to watchOS, version 6.2 adds ECG support for users in Chile, New Zealand and Turkey. Apple now lets developers provide in-app purchases for Apple Watch apps, as well.

All updates include bug fixes and security patches. Head over to the Settings app on your devices to download and update your devices if you haven't enabled automatic software updates.

Pinterest launches a ‘Today’ tab featuring daily recommendations and trending topics

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 10:36 AM PDT

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to record Pinterest usage as people stuck at home have increased their searches for things like lesson plans, kids’ crafts, new recipes and gardening ideas. Last weekend, for example, Pinterest saw more searches and saves globally than any other weekend in its history. And in the U.S., it saw record numbers of Pin sharing, as messages from the “Send a Pin” feature jumped 34%. In light of the increased demand, Pinterest has moved up the launch of its Today tab — a new feature designed to offer a source of daily inspiration.

The Today tab will feature curated topics and trending Pins, making it easier to explore timely ideas, Pinterest explains. That means, right now, you might find something like “Inspiring Work from Home Workspaces” rather than one focused on vacation ideas, for instance.

At launch, the Today section is pulling from trending searches — like kid-friendly baking ideas, self-care tips, family-favorite movies and comfort food recipes, among other things. These recommendations will be curated by Pinterest’s team, but further down the road, some may come from guest editors.

The company will also soon use the Today tab to offer expert information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on topics like hand washing, mask usage and other safety tips during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Today tab will be found at the top of your Home Feed on the app on both iOS and Android in the U.S. and U.K. As it’s just now rolling out, you may not see it right away — but should soon. The plan is to bring it to more countries in time.

Some of the more active countries include France, Spain and Germany, which all saw record rates of user engagement last weekend. France also saw a 30% month-over-month increase in saves, Pinterest says. While Pinterest didn’t offer a timeline for its next countries to get the new tab, these would be likely candidates.

In addition to the Today tab, Pinterest is also now rolling out what it’s calling “compassionate searches” on the web.

That means when you search for terms like “stress relief” or “calming quotes,” you’ll see options that point you to a collection of well-being activities designed to help you relax that come from expert sources.

Pinterest also says it’s prohibiting ads claiming to offer COVID-19 cures and treatments, or those looking to exploit the crisis. Instead, it has a banner across the site directing users to WHO facts, and offers an easy way to report health misinformation on Pins. The company says all misinformation on COVID-19 is removed as it’s in violation of its health misinformation policy, established in 2017.

The Today tab on mobile apps and compassionate search on the web are rolling out today in the U.S. and U.K., with more countries to follow.

Flexport, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others launch a fund to get supplies to front-line responders

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 10:36 AM PDT

There’s a global shortage of available protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies for use by front-line responders working to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the Frontline Responders Fund wants to channel donations to help address that shortage. The fund, which is seeking public donations via GoFundMe, will use all proceeds to cover the costs of transportation of these crucial supplies to the hospitals, clinics and public agencies that need them most.

Flexport is facilitating the deliveries via their supply chain management platform and services, and is receiving donations via their grant-making partner Charities Add Foundation of America (CAF), which facilitates the acceptance of charitable donations for, Flexport’s NGO for social good projects.

Already, Flexport has been taking steps to get equipment where it’s needed most: last week, it got 60,000 surgical masks, 34,000 gloves, 2,000 surgical gowns and 50 thermometers from MedShare to San Francisco’s Department of Public Health. But the organization wants to do more, both for SF and for other cites in that are looking for ways to shore up their own supplies.

“My neighbor is on the board of supervisors and she told me the city really needed help,” Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen said via email earlier this week. “Naturally our team stepped in and applied our knowledge of supply chains and logistics plus a long standing partnership with to get them PPE quickly. Now we’re scaling that effort to get more supplies for SF as well as other cities and hospitals that are also in desperate need.”

The funds made available through this fundraising effort will go to securing not only PPE, but also “testing kits, thermometers, ventilators and medicines,” according to the project’s GoFundMe page, based on what medical service providers deem to be highest priority in terms of need.

Petersen says that effectively all of his time now is focused on logistics to support these ongoing efforts, and it looks like it’ll remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Other organizations, including Apple, and now SoftBank, have been donating large volumes of N95 respirators, a key piece of front-line protective equipment. Flexport’s work could facilitate continued supply, leveraging their supply chain relationships, to ensure that equipment makes its way to front-line staff as fast as it’s able to be produced.

Donations can be made directly through the fund’s GoFundMe page, and the total raised is sitting at just under $3 million as of this writing — helped in large part by sizable donations from Silicon Valley leaders including Paul Graham, Jack Dorsey and Ron Conway, as well as celebrities including Edward Norton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Snapchat’s Zenly launches shelter-in-place leaderboard

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 10:23 AM PDT

Snapchat’s location sharing app acquisition Zenly has gamified shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 outbreak. Today the app launched its Stay At Home challenge that shows a leaderboard of which friends have spent the most percentage of the last three days in their homes. Users can see who’s social distancing the best and share stickers of the scoreboard and coronavirus prevention tips to Snapchat, Instagram, and other apps.

Location apps like Zenly typically encourage users to go out and explore the world suddenly lost most of their purpose due to widespread order for people to self-quarantine. They even might have incentivized people to disobey those orders. But by building a game around isolation, Zenly could make it cool to show off how you’re NOT grabbing coffee, visiting friends, or taking a walk down Main St.

Zenly’s CEO Antoine Martin announced the feature this morning, and credited a tweet I posted on March 15th calling for developers to build a gamified quarantine app as the inspiration. The quick work and rapid deployment was spearheaded by Danny Trinh, the renowned designer of Path who joined the company last year. TechCrunch broke the news back in June 2018 that Snapchat had acquired Zenly for $213 million plus retention bonuses.

Beyond Zenly’s version of “Pokemon No Go”, the app is also offering up tips for containing coronavirus and a link to World Health Organization info. You can also attach a surgical mask to your profile pic to let your friends know you’re taking social distancing seriously.

What could really make a difference in convincing people to do their part to fight this worldwide pandemic, though, is Zenly’s coronavirus lens for its map that it released last week. It lets you look around the world and see the number of confirmed cases and recoveries in each country or state. Zenly is update the data three times per day based on the The John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The map also overlays info from the WHO, the Netherlands’ BNO News, China’s DXY, and this crowdsourced GitHub.

We’ve asked if there’s any plans to launch similar features on Snap Map, which was inspired by Zenly. To date, Snapchat has mostly allowed its acquisition to operate independently from its existing headquarters in Paris.

“During these tough times, millions of people are turning to Zenly as a source of information and connection, so that they can feel close to friends and family even when social distancing is keeping them apart” says Martin. “While spending too much time at home could be perceived as uncool, we wanted to flip the narrative to make it something that our community would be proud of and do our part in stopping the spread.” Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley had told me his company was looking for a way to build its own quarantine gamification, and now has complimented Zenly on its execution, calling it “clever and awesome and beautiful”.

Knowing what’s happening around the globe might reinforce the gravity of our situation and that people can’t just go about their normal routine. We all have to battle this together, even if we’re stuck apart. Thanks to Zenly, social distancing just got a lot more social.

Apple Card gets updated privacy policy on new data sharing and more transaction detail

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 10:07 AM PDT

Apple is updating its privacy policy for Apple Card to enable sharing more anonymized data with Goldman Sachs, its financial partner. Apple's reasoning here is that this will make it able to do a better job of assigning credit to new customers.

The data is aggregate and anonymized, and there is an opt-out.

Three things are happening here:

  • Apple is changing the privacy policy for Apple Card with iOS to share a richer, but still anonymized set of data with Goldman Sachs in order to allow the creation of a new credit assignment model which could expand the group of users that may be able to secure credit.
  • There is also a beefed up fallback method in the works that will allow users to share more personal data on an opt-in basis with Goldman Sachs if you do not at first get approved. Things like purchase history of Apple products, when you created your Apple ID and how much you spend with Apple. This has always existed and you may have seen it if the default modeling rejected your Apple Card application — but it may have a few more data points after the new modeling. It will still be very clearly opt-in with a large share button as it is now.
  • Apple is also finally adding detail to its internal transactions. You no longer have to wonder what that random charge labeled Apple Services is for, you'll get detail on the Hillary Duff box set or Gambino album you purchased right in the list inside Wallet.

As a side effect of the Apple Card policy evolving here it's also being split off from the Apple Pay privacy policy. Much of the language is either identical or nearly so, but this allows Apple to make changes like the ones above to Apple Card without having to interleave that with the Apple Pay policy — as not all Apple Pay customers are Apple Card customers.

The new policy appears in iOS 13.4 updates but the opt-in sharing of data points will not immediately roll out for new Apple Card users and will begin appearing later.

Here is the additional language that is appearing in the Apple Card privacy notice related to data sharing, with some sections highlighted by us:

"You may be eligible for certain Apple Card programs provided by Goldman Sachs based on the information provided as part of your application. Apple may know whether you receive the invitation to participate and whether you accept or decline the invitation, and may share that information with Goldman Sachs to effectuate the program. Apple will not know additional details about your participation in the program.

Apple may use information about your account with Apple, such as the fact that you have Apple Card, for internal research and analytics purposes, such as financial forecasting. Apple may also use information about your relationship with Apple, such as what Apple products you have purchased, how long you have had your Apple ID, and how often you transact with Apple, to improve Apple Card by helping to identify Apple metrics that may assist Goldman Sachs in improving credit decisioning. No personally identifiable information about your relationship with Apple will be shared with Goldman Sachs to identify the relevant Apple metrics. You can opt out of this use or your Apple relationship information by emailing our privacy team at with the subject line "Apple Relationship Data and Apple Card." Applicants and cardholders may be able to choose to share the identified metrics with Goldman Sachs for re-evaluation of their offer of credit or to increase their credit line. Apple may share information about your relationship with Apple with our service providers, who are obligated to handle the information consistent with this notice and Apple instructions, are required to use reasonable security measures to protect any personal information received, and must delete the personal information as soon as they have completed the services."

Some thoughts on all of this.

The fact that Apple is sharing a new anonymized, non-personally identifiable information (PII), customer model with Goldman likely engenders two valid responses.

First, there is more data being shared here than there was before, which is always something that should be examined closely, and all of us should be as cognizant as possible about how much information gets traded around about us. That said, your average co-branded card offer (say an airline card or retailer card) is controlled nearly entirely by the financial services side of that equation (basically the credit card companies decide what data they get and how).

Apple's deal with Goldman Sachs is unique in a lot of ways, not the least of which is that Apple has controlled the flow of data from customers to Goldman very tightly from the beginning. Evidenced by affordances it continues to offer like skipping your March payment to Apple Card without incurring interest. This new arrangement outlined in the privacy policy does not share any PII unless there is an opt-in, and even allows an opt-out of the anonymized model share.

I cannot stress enough how rare that is in financial products, especially credit cards. Most cards take all of the above information and much more in their approval process, and they don't do any work beyond what is required by regulatory law to inform you of that. Apple is doing more than most.

THAT SAID. I do wish that the opt-out of the anonymized data model was presented in the flow of normal signup, rather than existing as an email address in the privacy policy. I know why this is, because the model is likely to be far more effective and a lot more people will likely get approved for an Apple Card using it.

But in keeping with the stated Apple goals of protecting user privacy and making the policy as transparent as possible I would prefer that they find a long-term solution that communicates all of those factors to the user clearly and then offers them the ability to risk non-approval by limiting data share.

The idea behind the new data sharing and eventual modeling, as well as the secondary opt-in disclosure of 9 key bits of actually personal information about your purchase history and other things is that Apple will be able to offer credit to people who may be automatically rejected under the old way of doing things. And, out beyond that, it will be able to build tools that help customers to manage debt and credit more accurately and transparently. Especially those new to credit.

Any time an agreement changes to enable more data to flow my eyebrows arch. But there is a pretty straight line to be drawn here between the way that Apple transparently and aggressively helps users to not pay interest on Apple Card and the potential for more useful financial product enhancements to Apple Card down the line.

If you've ever looked at a credit card statement you know that it can often be difficult to ascertain exactly how much you need to pay at any given time to avoid interest. In the Apple Card interface it's insanely clear exactly how and when to pay so that you don't get charged. Most of the industry follows practices that prey on behavioral norms — people will pay the minimum payment by default because that's what seems logical, rather than paying what is most healthy for them to pay.

My hope here is that the additional modeling makes room for more of these kinds of product decisions for Apple Card down the line. But, my eyes are up and yours should be too. Check the policy, opt-out if it makes sense to you and always be aware of the data you're sharing, who with and what they plan to use it for.

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