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Today — September 27th 2020TechCrunch

This is how police request customer data from Amazon

By Zack Whittaker

Anyone can access portions of a web portal, used by law enforcement to request customer data from Amazon, even though the portal is supposed to require a verified email address and password.

Amazon’s law enforcement request portal allows police and federal agents to submit formal requests for customer data along with a legal order, like a subpoena, a search warrant, or a court order. The portal is publicly accessible from the internet, but law enforcement must register an account with the site in order to allow Amazon to “authenticate” the requesting officer’s credentials before they can make requests.

Only time sensitive emergency requests can be submitted without an account, but this requires the user to “declare and acknowledge” that they are an authorized law enforcement officer before they can submit a request.

The portal does not display customer data or allow access to existing law enforcement requests. But parts of the website still load without needing to log in, including its dashboard and the “standard” request form used by law enforcement to request customer data.

The portal provides a rare glimpse into how Amazon handles law enforcement requests.

This form allows law enforcement to request customer data using a wide variety of data points, including Amazon order numbers, serial numbers of Amazon Echo and Fire devices, credit cards details and bank account numbers, gift cards, delivery and shipping numbers, and even the Social Security number of delivery drivers.

It also allows law enforcement to obtain records related to Amazon Web Services accounts by submitting domain names or IP addresses related to the request.

Assuming this was a bug, we sent Amazon several emails prior to publication but did not hear back.

Amazon is not the only tech company with a portal for law enforcement requests. Many of the bigger tech companies with millions or even billions of users around the world, like Google and Twitter, have built portals to allow law enforcement to request customer and user data.

Motherboard reported a similar issue earlier this month that allowed anyone with an email address to access law enforcement portals set up by Facebook and WhatsApp.

Yesterday — September 26th 2020TechCrunch

Is your startup the next TikTok?

By Eric Eldon

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

And I don’t mean building an app that gets the world addicted to short-form videos. I mean, where you build a huge company that spans the world and then get turned into a political football.

The Bytedance-owned app developer still appears headed for a shutdown in the US, after the already convoluted talks stalled out this past week. Each national government appears to require local ownership of a new entity, as Catherine Shu details, and the business partners are each claiming ownership. It’s a zero sum global game now for control of data and algorithms.

On the other side of the world, Facebook was quick to state that it would not be pulling out of the European Union this week even if it is forced to keep EU user data local, as Natasha Lomas covered. The company was clarifying a recent filing it had made that seemed to threaten otherwise — it doesn’t want to get TikTok’d.

For startups with physical supply chains, existing tensions are squeezing business activity from Chimerica out into other parts of the world, as Brian Heater wrote about the topic for Extra Crunch this week. Here’s what one founder told him:

Many [companies] are considering manufacturing in areas like Southeast Asia and India. Vietnam, in particular, has offered an appealing proposition for a labor pool, notes Ho Chi Minh City-based Sonny Vu, CEO of carbon-fiber products manufacturer Arevo and founder of deep tech VC fund Alabaster. “We’re friendly [with] the Americans and the West in general. Vietnam, they’ve got 100 million people, they can make stuff,” Vu explains. “The supply chains are getting more and more sophisticated. One of the issues has been the subpar supply chain … it’s not as deep and broad as as other places like China. That’s changing really fast and people are willing to do manufacturing. I’ve heard from my friends trying to make stuff in China, labor’s always this chronic issue.”

Danny Crichton blamed nationalistic US policies for undermining the country’s long-term commitment to leading global free trade and threatening its competitive future, in a provocative rant last weekend. There’s truth to that, but the underlying truth is that globalization worked, it just hasn’t work as well as hoped for a lot of people in the US and some other parts of the world. In addition to phenomenon like China’s industrial engine, for example, those cross-border flows of money and technology have helped nurture the startup ecosystem in Europe.

Mike Butcher, who has been covering startups for TechCrunch from London since last decade, writes about a new report from Index Ventures about this trend.

It used to be the case that in order to scale globally, European companies needed to spend big on launching in the U.S. to achieve the kind of growth they wanted. That usually meant relocating large swathes of the team to the San Francisco Bay Area, or New York. New research suggests that is no longer the case, as the U.S. has become more expensive, and as the opportunity in Europe has improved. This means European startups are committing much less of their team and resources to a U.S. launch, but still getting decent results…. Between 2008-2014, almost two-thirds (59%) of European startups expanded, or moved entirely, to the U.S. ahead of Series A funding rounds. However, between 2015-2019, this number decreased to a third (33%).

The report also highlights the economic problem of dividing up markets into political blocks. “European corporates invest three-quarters (76%) less than their U.S. counterparts on software,” Butcher adds about the report. “And this is normally on compliance rather than innovation. This means European startups are likely to continue to look to the U.S. for exits to corporates.”

The pain from failing to trade will come home sooner or later to each government, as Danny observes. But that could be longer than your current company exists. Instead, now is the time to pick the markets you can win, and plan for a world where success has a lower ceiling. And hey, if you’re lucky, your national government could pick you as its winner!

Want $100m ARR? Fix your churn

We’ve been recapping key moments from the Extra Crunch Stage at Disrupt this week, here’s a key segment from a panel Alex Wilhelm hosted about how to achieve the $100m ARR dream, featuring Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain:

After explaining that in the early stages of building a SaaS company it’s common to focus more on adding new revenue than “plugging the holes at the bottom,” [Jain] added that as a company matures and grows, more focus has to be paid to managing churn and retention. He said that dollar-based retention is a key metric in the SaaS world that startups are valued by, meaning that after securing a customer, your ability to upsell that same account over a “defined window of time” really matters.

Noting the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that bonuses at Egnyte are tied to retention, “I say, managing churn is the new revenue,” he added. “Focus on that disproportionately more than you would focus on just top-line growth” … . Egnyte, Jain added, drives to just one or two metrics (net new MRR, or gross MRR adds and churn). “Everything that we’re doing, all of us [at Egnyte] have to be measured with that number to say, ‘How are we doing as a company?’” So if your startup is post-Series A, listen to what Jain says on managing churn. After all his company reached $100 million ARR, has a few dozen million in the bank, grew 22% in Q2 and is EBITDA positive.

Summer of tech IPOs continues with Root, Corsair Gaming and of course, Palantir

While public markets have waffled on tech stocks lately, the overall momentum of unicorn IPOs has continued.

Except, Danny may have slowed things down a bit for Palantir? Here are the key headlines from the week:

As tech stocks dip, is insurtech startup Root targeting an IPO? (EC)

Chamath launches SPAC, SPAC and SPAC as he SPACs the world with SPACs

Palantir publishes 2020 revenue guidance of $1.05B, will trade starting Sept 30th

Following TechCrunch reporting, Palantir rapidly removes language allowing founders to ‘unilaterally adjust their total voting power’

In its 5th filing with the SEC, Palantir finally admits it is not a democracy

How has Corsair Gaming posted such impressive pre-IPO numbers? (EC)

Even more info about the best investors for you

We’re making another big update to The TechCrunch List of startup investors who write the first checks and lead the scary rounds, based on thousands of recommendations that we’ve been receiving from founders. Here’s more, from Danny:

Since the launch of the List, we’ve seen great engagement: tens of thousands of founders have each come back multiple times to use the List to scout out their next fundraising moves and understand the ever-changing landscape of venture investing.

We last revised The TechCrunch List at the end of July 30 with 116 new VCs based on founder recommendations, but as with all things venture capital, the investing world moves quickly. That means it’s already time to begin another update.

To make sure we have the best information, we need founders — from new founders who might have just raised their VC rounds to experienced founders adding another round to their cap tables — to submit recommendations. Thankfully, our survey is pretty short (about two minutes), and the help you can give other founders fundraising is invaluable. Please submit your recommendation soon.

Since our last update in July, we have already had 840 founders submit new recommendations, and we are now sitting at about 3,500 recommendations in total now. Every recommendation helps us identify promising and thoughtful VCs, helping founders globally cut through the noise of the industry and find the leads for their next checks.

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch Live: Join Index Ventures VCs Nina Achadjian and Sarah Cannon Sept 29 at 2 pm EDT/11 am PDT on the future of startup investing

TC Sessions Mobility 2020 kicks off in two weeks

Announcing the final agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Explore the global markets of micromobility at TC Sessions: Mobility

Don’t miss the Q&A sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling Helsinki VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

The highest valued company in Bessemer’s annual cloud report has defied convention by staying private

Human Capital: The Black founder’s burden

Thanks to Google, app store monopoly concerns have now reached India

Free VPNs are bad for your privacy

Extra Crunch

The Peloton effect

Edtech investors are panning for gold

3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures

How Robinhood and Chime raised $2B+ in the last year

Dear Sophie: Possible to still get through I-751 and citizenship after divorce?

Equity: Why isn’t Robinhood a verb yet?

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s VC-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week Natasha MascarenhasDanny Crichton and your humble servant gathered to chat through a host of rounds and venture capital news for your enjoyment. As a programming note, I am off next week effectively, so look for Natasha to lead on Equity Monday and then both her and Danny to rock the Thursday show. I will miss everyone.

But onto the show itself, here’s what we got into:

Bon voyage for a week, please stay safe and don’t forget to register to vote.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

This Week in Apps: Redesigning the iOS 14 home screen, app makers form ‘fairness’ coalition, latest on TikTok ban

By Sarah Perez

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

Top Stories

iOS 14 Home screen Customization Craze

The release of iOS 14 included one of the biggest updates to the iPhone’s user interface in years. Apps can now be stored off screen in the new App Library where they’re organized for you, as opposed to you being forced to categorize apps yourself into various folders. And Apple finally allows for home screen widgets — a development that left Android users snickering about how “behind” their iPhone-using counterparts have been all this time.

But as with iOS apps, Apple’s design constraints and rules around widgets mean there’s a standard that all widgets have to meet to be approved. As a result, widgets have a consistent look-and-feel, thanks to things like size limitations and other design guidelines. They can’t be stretched out indefinitely or moved all over the screen, either.

Apple may have originally envisioned widgets as a way for existing iOS apps to gain a larger presence on users’ home screens, while delivering key information like news, weather or stock updates, for example. But a handful of iOS developers instead built apps that allowed users to design widgets themselves — by selecting colors, fonts, sizes, backgrounds and what information the widget would display.

Meanwhile, TikTok users and other Gen Z’ers began teaching each other how to create custom icons for their apps using Apple’s Shortcuts app. These tutorials were starting to trend even before iOS 14’s release, but the addition of the App Library and widgets meant users could now finally customize their entire home screen. That prompted a more enthusiastic adoption of the icon customization technique.

On the Twitter hashtag #iOS14homescreen, users shared their creations — a showcase of creativity where home screens looked fully themed at last, with custom icons, widgets, decorative photos, matching wallpapers and more. The results have been fantastic.

And at the top of the App Store, there now sit a trio of must-have tools for this new era: Widgetsmith, Color Widgets and Photo Widget today continue to claim the top three spots on the free apps chart.

Users are also now demanding Apple to change how app shortcuts open. Currently, an app shortcut first launches Apple’s Shortcuts app, which then opens the target app. With the popularity of custom icons, users want that intermediate step cut out.

Apple is aware of the customization craze as it has in the days since iOS 14’s release run App Store editorial features about iOS 14’s design changes, suggested widgets to try, creative tools and more. It also featured apps at the top of the App Store, which are benefiting from the trend, like apps offering great widgets, like Fantastical, or those that are booming, like Pinterest — which recently broke its daily download record.

App makers team up to take on Apple and Google

A number of top app makers have banded together to fight against Apple’s control of its App Store and, to a lesser extent, Google’s control of the Play Store — a topic of increased regulatory scrutiny in recent months. Today, 13 app publishers, including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, have launched the Coalition for App Fairness.

The new organization formalizes efforts the companies already have underway that focus on either forcing app store providers to change their policies, or ultimately pushing the app stores into regulation.

On the coalition’s website, the group details its key issues, which include anti-competitive practices, like the app stores’ 30% commission structure, and the inability to distribute software to billions of Apple devices through any other means but the App Store, which the group sees as an affront to personal freedom.

Google allows apps to be side-loaded, so it’s not as much of a target on this front. In fact, much of the focus of the coalition’s efforts have to do with Apple’s business, given its stricter guidelines.

The group has also published a list of 10 “App Store Principles” it would like to see enacted industry-wide. These include the ability to distribute apps outside of app stores, protections from having their own data used against them to compete, timely access to developer documentation, the right to communicate with users through its app for legitimate business purposes, no requirements to use the app store’s payment systems, no requirements to pay unfair fees and more.

The website is also aiming to recruit new members to join the coalition. App makers who feel similarly oppressed by Apple’s practices are able to fill out a form to request to join.

Apple responded to the hardball tactics with a barrage of new material and data meant to highlight the benefits of its App Store platform. The company on Thursday revealed the number of rejections it enforces is quite low compared to the number of submissions. It said it rejected 150,000 apps in 2020 but sees 100,000 submissions per week. It also has removed more than 60 million user reviews it believed to be spam.

The company noted its Developer program has over 28 million developers worldwide, whose apps have seen over 50 billion promotions — meaning when a user sees an app Apple has promoted on the App Store, in emails, on social media or in other general advertising.

However, the backlash has also forced Apple to be more transparent about some of its until-now fairly secretive programs. For example, Apple has now published a page that clarifies how its Video Partner program works — a program that had before only been detailed via background conversations with reporters who then relayed the information to readers. The page reveals the program’s requirements and that over 130 premium subscription video entertainment providers have since joined. If the guidelines are followed, these providers can pay only a 15% commission to Apple instead of 20%.

Current members include Amazon Prime Video, Binge, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Claro, C More, DAZN, Disney+, Globo, HBO Max, Joyn, Molotov, MUBI, myCanal, STARZ and Viaplay, the website said.

TikTok deal chaos continues

No, seriously, what is going on with the TikTok deal? (We feel you, Walmart.)

The deal that Trump was poised to approve solved some but not all concerns by making Oracle a trusted technology partner responsible for hosting U.S. user data and ensuring other security requirements were in place. But issues around how the TikTok algorithm could be used to influence U.S. users or censor content were not addressed.

The ban got a week’s extension as a result of promising progress and the announcements that seemed to indicate the parties were in agreement on terms.

But this week, China jumped in to say it won’t approve a TikTok sale. In China Daily, an official English-language newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, an editorial slammed the deal that would see Oracle and Walmart effectively taking over TikTok in the U.S. as one based on “bullying and extortion.”

At the same time, TikTok is chasing a legal means of preventing its ban in the U.S.

TikTok filed a motion to stop the Commerce Department from enforcing the Trump administration’s ban that would otherwise be set to start this weekend. The move came shortly after WeChat users were granted an injunction in a federal court last week that blocked the app from being banned. TikTok’s filing asks the court to set a hearing before the rules take effect at 11:59 PM on September 27, 2020. But unlike the WeChat case, TikTok is the one asking the court to stop the ban, not its users.

A federal judge said Thursday that the Trump administration must either delay the ban on U.S. app stores or file its legal response to defend the decision by 2:30 PM Friday. The Justice Department filed its opposition Friday, saying that U.S. user data being stored outside the country is a “significant” risk.  The judge will still need to rule on the injunction — that is, whether the ban should go into effect Sunday, as planned.

Stay tuned to TechCrunch for the latest on this never-ending saga.

Weekly News Round-up

Platforms

  • Google will increase its push for apps to give it a cut of in-app purchases. Following Apple’s lead, Google will begin to push harder to demand a cut of transactions on Android by enforcing a requirement for apps to use Google’s billing service, Bloomberg reports.
  • New Google Play Console arrives on November 2, 2020. Over 350K developers now use the new Play Console today. On November 2, it exits beta — meaning you’ll be redirected to the updated experience when you log in. The console features reorganized navigation, speed and performance improvements, personalized messaging, a new Publishing overview page, acquisition reports and more.
  • Apple temporarily waived App Store fees for Facebook’s online events. Facebook last month launched paid online events to help businesses impacted by the pandemic. But at the time, Apple wouldn’t waive its own fees. The company has now changed its mind, and will waive fees until December 31, but says this won’t apply to gaming creators.
  • Apple and Facebook fight over messaging. But all is not well between the two tech giants on other fronts. Now that Apple has lifted its rules over default apps for email and web browsing, Facebook is pushing the company to allow Messenger to become a default messaging app too.
  • iOS 14.0.1 and iPadOS 14.0.1 released. The update patches the bug that reset web browser and email apps back to Apple’s defaults after a restart, and other fixes.
  • iOS 14 adoption surpasses 25% in five days after release. According to data from Mixpanel, iOS 14 (including iPadOS 14) reached 25% of active devices by Monday, September 21. As of the time of writing, it has reached 30.7%.
  • Apple’s Swift comes to Windows. The programming language is available on Windows for the first time, six years after its debut on Apple platforms.
  • Schoolwork 2.1 beta released. The updated iPad app for teachers and students is now in beta. Apps that use the latest ClassKit will be more discoverable by teachers in Schoolwork.

Services

  • Amazon announces a gaming streaming service, Luna. A competitor to Microsoft xCloud and Google Stadia, Luna will allow gamers to stream titles to play across PC, Mac and iOS mobile web. Over 50 titles will be included at launch, including a Sonic game and Remedy Entertainment’s Control. Ubisoft titles will be available on subscription. Twitch integration will be a key selling point.
  • Microsoft launches Xbox remote play streaming on Android. This is not xCloud, but rather a rebrand of the service previously called Console Streaming. The games stream directly from your Xbox One console to your Android courtesy of Microsoft’s new Xbox app for Android.
  • UK launches a COVID-19 exposure notification app for England and Wales. Northern Ireland and Scotland had already launched official apps. All apps use smartphones’ Bluetooth radios to generate alerts of potential exposure to COVID-19.
  • Samsung TV+ comes to phones. Free, ad-supporting streaming service makes the leap to Samsung devices.
  • Adobe rolls out new ‘Liquid Mode’ in Adobe’s Acrobat Reader app for iOS and Android. The feature uses Adobe’s AI engine, Sensei, to analyze a PDF and automatically rebuild it for mobile devices. Adobe says it’s working on an API that will allow similar functionality for non-Adobe apps in the future.

Trends

  • Fintech apps top 1.2B installs worldwide in Q2 (report).
  • Time spent in education apps was up 90% year-over-year during the week of September 6, 2020, compared to last year, on a global basis. The numbers, via App Annie, were calculated on Android devices online. In the U.S., time spent was up 30%.
  • Home screen customization apps top the App Store. Top 20 iOS home screen customization apps reached at least 13.7 million installs and more than $1 million in consumer spending in the seven days following the iOS 14 release. Pinterest also broke its daily download record as users sought new inspiration.

Other News

  • Telepath launches a “kinder” social networking app. It aims to promote quality conversation and ban harassment and fake news. Easier said than done on today’s internet.
  • Child tips off security researchers about scam apps with 2.4 million downloads. The scam involved apps posing as entertainment, wallpaper images or music download apps targeting young users. Some served intrusive ads even when the app wasn’t active. Others charged users, gaining revenues of over $500K. The apps were available across iOS and Android.
  • Epic rejects Apple’s attempts to disparage its business. Apple tried to claim that interest in Fortnite declined 70% from October 2019 to July 2020. Epic said, no actually, daily active players grew 39% during those dates. The two sides are fighting over Apple’s right to commission Epic’s business in a continuing legal battle.

Funding and M&A (and IPOs)

  • Apple acquires Scout FM. Apple bought a startup called Scout FM that turns podcast listening into more of a traditional radio-like experience by leveraging the user’s listening history to know what sort of programming they like. Deal terms are unknown.
  • Epic Games acquires SuperAwesome. Epic acquired the kidtech pioneer whose digital engagement tools are used by 500 million kids per month across thousands of apps, including those from Lego, NBCU and Hasbro. Deal terms were not disclosed.
  • IRL app raises $16 million. Event discovery network IRL raised $16 million in Series B funding after refocusing its social calendar on virtual events during the pandemic. The move made the app, now with 5.5 million MAUs, accessible by a wider audience.
  • GoodRx IPO raises $1 billion+. GoodRx, an app that helps users comparison shop prices for prescription drugs, sold roughly 34.6 million shares at its IPO price to raise $1.14 billion at a valuation of $12.67 billion, sending its stock up 50%.
  • Robinhood raises $660 million. Stock trading app Robinhood raised $660 million in an extension of its Series G round announced last month when D1 Capital Partners invested $200 million. Robinhood is now valued at $11.7 billion.
  • Class for Zoom raises $16 million. Class for Zoom from ClassEDU is designed to make online teaching more engaging. The company was founded by former Blackboard CEO and former PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen.
  • Mobile Premier League raises $90 million. Indian mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) raised $90 million as the company looks to expand its esports and gaming platform outside India.
  • Rappi raises over $300 million. Colombian delivery app Rappi raised over $300 million in a round from T. Rowe Price Associates and others.

Downloads

How could you not be customizing your iOS 14 home screen this week? The launch of the new mobile OS has delivered an entirely new category of apps — widget design tools. And alongside these apps, there are others that can help you get started creating a whole new look for your home screen. These could be creative tools, those for sourcing inspiration or those for building custom icons. Want a weekend project? These apps below can get you going:

  • Pinterest: Search for ideas and inspiration to get your motivation. Download wallpapers and other photos you may want to use with your icons.
  • Widgetsmith: The current No. 1 app lets you build all sorts of customized widgets in a range of colors and sizes.
  • Color Widgets: The current No. 2 app offers a customizable widget that can feature the date, time, day of the week and battery percentage for the top of your home screen.
  • Photo Widget: Simple: Another top app that lets you pick a single photo for placement on your home screen.
  • Motivation – Daily Quotes: A top 30 app lets you pin some daily inspirational quotes to your home screen.
  • Launcher and Launch Center Pro: these two apps include tools for creating custom icons.
  • PicsArt: For more creative types, PicsArt is great for sourcing photos and designing backgrounds and icons either from scratch or by remixing those others have already made.
  • Canva: The DIY design tool has added a collection of iOS home screen templates.
  • TuneTrack: If you want a Spotify widget, this app is your best option for now as no official widget is available.
  • Fonts: Why stop at the home screen? customize your keyboard theme to match your new design.
  • Fantastical: Now includes a dozen widgets for date, weather, calendar, events and more.
  • Etsy: Can’t DIY? Designers are turning to Etsy to sell packs of icons and widget cover photos that will let you create a beautiful home screen without doing all the creative work yourself.

 

Before yesterdayTechCrunch

Postmates cuts losses in Q2 as it heads towards tie-up with Uber

By Danny Crichton

Popular food delivery service Postmates is in the process of merging with Uber in a blockbuster $2.65 billion deal that would see it join forces with its food delivery competitor, Uber Eats. The deal remains under antitrust scrutiny, and has not yet been approved for closing. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2021.

However, a new SEC filing posted after hours this Friday gives us a glimpse on how Postmates is faring in the new world of global pandemics and sit-in dining closures across the United States.

Postmates posted a loss of just $32.2 million in Q2, compared to a loss of $73 million in Q1, nearly cutting its cash burning in half. That compares to Uber Eats’ results, which showed a loss of $286 million in the first quarter of 2020 and a loss of $232 million in the second quarter — an improvement of roughly 20%, according to Uber’s most recent financial reports.

Altogether, Postmates lost $105.2 million in the first half of 2020, compared to a loss of $239.0 million in the same period of 2019.

Uber through its filing today also disclosed the cap table for Postmates in full detail for the first time. On a fully-diluted basis, the largest shareholder in Postmates is Tiger Global, which owns 27.2% of the company. Following up is Founders Fund with 11.4%, Spark Capital with 6.9%, and GPI capital with 5.3%. At Uber’s $2.65 billion all-stock deal, that nets Tiger Global roughly $720 million and Founders Fund roughly $302 million, not including some stock preferences and dividends that certain owners of the company hold.

While the companies continue to go through the antitrust review process at the federal level, the companies also face legal pressures in their own backyards. Uber noted in its filing today that it and Postmates face headwinds due to California’s AB5 bill, which is designed to give additional employment protections to freelance workers. However, the company notes that such litigation “may not, in and of itself, give rise to a right of either party to terminate the transaction.”

Daily Crunch: Reviewing the new Apple Watch

By Anthony Ha

We’ve got an in-depth review of the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple gives Facebook a temporary break on App Store fees and Alexis Ohanian is raising a new fund. This is your Daily Crunch for September 25, 2020.

The big story: Reviewing the new Apple Watch

Brian Heater has already been writing about the Apple Watch Series 6, but now he’s published his full review.

His verdict? Well, the core product hasn’t changed dramatically, but he notes that the biggest new feature, blood oxygen monitoring, requires a good fit, which makes sizing issues with the Solo Loop extra awkward. He also suggests that what we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to monitoring functionality.

The verdict:

Taken as a whole, the Series 6 isn’t a huge leap forward over the Series 5 — and not really worth the upgrade for those who already own that recent vintage. But there are nice improvements throughout, augmented by good upgrades to watchOS that make the best-selling smartwatch that much better, while clearly laying the groundwork for Apple Watches of the future.

The tech giants

Apple is (temporarily) waiving its App Store fee for Facebook’s online events — This arrangement will last until December 31 and will not apply to gaming creators.

Twitter warns developers that their private keys and account tokens may have been exposed — Twitter has emailed developers warning of a bug that may have exposed sensitive data.

Google Meet and other Google services go down — Yesterday was a rough day for Google’s engineers.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Alexis Ohanian files for a new $150M fund, with a nod to his Olympian family — According to an SEC filing, Ohanian is raising a new fund, named 776 (the first Olympics were supposedly held in 776 B.C.E.).

Indonesian cloud kitchen startup Yummy gets $12 million Series B led by SoftBank Ventures Asia — Launched in June 2019, Yummy Corporation’s network of cloud kitchens now includes more than 70 facilities in Jakarta, Bandung and Medan.

HumanForest suspends London e-bike sharing service, cuts jobs after customer accident — The service suspension comes only a few months after HumanForest started the trial in North London.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Want to hire and retain high-quality developers? Give them stimulating work — With demand for developers on the rise, companies are under pressure to do everything they can to attract and retain talent.

Privacy data management innovations reduce risk, create new revenue channels — A new generation of infosec tools is needed to address the unique risks associated with the management of privacy data.

4 things to remember when adapting AI/ML learning models during a pandemic — New machine learning and AI-powered tools highlight a few pervasive challenges faced by both machines and the humans that create them.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cambridge Analytica’s former boss gets 7-year ban on being a business director — Alexander Nix signed a disqualification undertaking earlier this month, which the U.K. government said yesterday it had accepted.

NASA commissions report to show its economic impact: $64B and 312K jobs — Perhaps anticipating budget pushback from the federal government, NASA has released its first-ever agency-wide economic report.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Black founders face a unique set of challenges

By Megan Rose Dickey

The notion that Black people in America need to work twice as hard as others to succeed may be a depressing sentiment, but it has been deeply ingrained into the psyches of many African-Americans.

At TechCrunch Disrupt, several Black founders spoke about some of the burdens that come along with being a Black person in tech. Many of us are familiar with imposter syndrome, where one feels like they’re a fraud and fear being “found out.” But another idea that came up was representation syndrome.

Representation syndrome centers around this idea that because there are so few Black people in tech, being one of the only ones comes with this added pressure to be successful. Otherwise, one may feel that if they fail as one of the only Black people in tech, they will inadvertently make it harder for other Black people to be embraced by this homogeneous industry. That’s a heavy load to carry. 

As Jessica Matthews, founder and CEO at Uncharted Power said:

When we raised our Series A, the immediate thing I thought was, ‘Oh, man. I can not lose these people’s money.’ This is huge and if we don’t work, it’s not even about us, it’s about every other person who looks like me.

Matthews said she hopes for a world where her daughter “can be mediocre as hell and still raise funding.”  In 2016, she launched the Harlem Tech Fund, a nonprofit organization focused on STEM. 

“You know, we would tell people we’re going to be the first billion-dollar tech company in Harlem, but we do not want to be the last,” she said.

NASA commissions report to show its economic impact: $64B and 312K jobs

By Devin Coldewey

Perhaps anticipating budget pushback from the federal government, NASA has released its first ever agency-wide economic report, documenting the agency’s impact on the nation’s jobs and cash flow. Everyone knew NASA was impactful, but now we know exactly how impactful it is, some $64 billion and over 300,000 jobs worth in FY2019.

It seems clear that the 2,670-page report is meant to show just how valuable the agency is to the country, and how it’s very much an investment in the economy and not, as some suggest, a hole we throw money into and pull science out of. The major points it makes are these:

  • NASA itself employs more than 18,000 civil servants, but 17 additional jobs in the economy are “supported” (of this later) for every full-timer at the agency, for a total of around 312,000 total jobs.
  • NASA supports almost $24 billion in labor income yearly, as well as a total economic output of $64.3 billion.
  • $6.9 billion in additional tax revenues can be attributed to the agency’s work.
  • About 22 percent of this overall effect is due to the “Moon to Mars” program, the current 10-ish year plan to return to those locations.
  • Moon to Mars programs within NASA account for only 2.4 percent of the overall employment impact, but related procurement makes up almost 20 percent of it. (In other words, the “M2M” programs are hugely weighted towards contractors.)

“Support” is interpreted broadly, though not necessarily overly so. Essentially, NASA’s direct payroll and procurement budgets are one thing, but they may lead to increased demand for goods and services in general, and increased spending by companies, consumers, and local governments. So a NASA contractor doing $5M worth of composites work also produces demand in the city it’s based in for logistics work, business services, food and other everyday needs — perhaps to the tune of twice the money actually spent by NASA.

The report goes into remarkably fine detail on the thousands of industries it supports in direct and indirect ways. For instance, on page 138 of the appendix (page 493 overall), we find that NASA supports 66 jobs in the sheet metal manufacturing world, worth about $4M in labor, adding nearly $6M in value itself, and producing a total positive economic impact of about $14M. Then there’s the 91 jobs in fabricated metal structures, the 13 in heavy gauge metal tank manufacturing, 7 in cutlery, utensil, pot and pan manufacturing… and so on, for many pages.

Sometimes these connections seem a bit tenuous. How does NASA support small arms manufacturing and produce a $4M economic impact, or support the tortilla industry to a similar degree? No doubt there’s a perfectly good explanation, but I’ve asked NASA for a bit more context on how some these numbers might be arrived at.

The final picture is simple enough, however: NASA is a huge force in our economy and one that repays its investment several times over even when you don’t account for the “value” of exploring and understanding our universe.

It’s also broken down by state, a convenient way for members of Congress to justify NASA’s budget to their constituents, should they need convincing. When some of those billions could be spent on PPE and pandemic response rather than what some may perceive as research and programs with no immediate practical benefit, it’s important to be able to show how the agency is more than just an expense.

4 things to remember when adapting AI/ML learning models during a pandemic

By Walter Thompson
Pedro Alves Contributor
Pedro Alves is the founder and CEO of Ople.AI, a software startup that provides an automated machine learning platform to empower business users with predictive analytics.

The machine learning and AI-powered tools being deployed in response to COVID-19 arguably improve certain human activities and provide essential insights needed to make certain personal or professional decisions; however, they also highlight a few pervasive challenges faced by both machines and the humans that create them.

Nevertheless, the progress seen in AI/machine learning leading up to and during the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be ignored. This global economic and public health crisis brings with it a unique opportunity for updates and innovation in modeling, so long as certain underlying principles are followed.

Here are four industry truths (note: this is not an exhaustive list) my colleagues and I have found that matter in any design climate, but especially during a global pandemic climate.

Some success can be attributed to chance, rather than reasoning

When a big group of people is collectively working on a problem, success may become more likely. Looking at historic examples like the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, there were several analysts credited with predicting the crisis. This may seem miraculous to some until you consider that more than 200,000 people were working in Wall Street, each of them making their own predictions. It then becomes less of a miracle and more of a statistically probable outcome. With this many individuals simultaneously working on modeling and predictions, it was highly likely someone would get it right by chance.

Similarly, with COVID-19 there are a lot of people involved, from statistical modelers and data scientists to vaccine specialists, and there is also an overwhelming eagerness to find solutions and concrete data-based answers. Following appropriate statistical rigor, coupled with machine learning and AI, can improve these models and decrease the chances of false predictions that arrive from too many predictions being made.

Automation can help in maintaining productivity if used wisely

During a crisis, time-management is essential. Automation technology can be used not only as part of the crisis solution, but also as a tool for monitoring productivity and contributions of team members working on the solution. For modeling, automation can also greatly improve the speed of results. Every second a piece of software can perform automation for a model, it allows a data scientist (or even a medical scientist) to conduct other more important tasks. User-friendly platforms in the market now give more people, like business analysts, access to predictions from custom machine learning models.

Human Capital: Moving away from ‘master/slave’ terminology

By Megan Rose Dickey

TGIF, am I right? Welcome back to Human Capital, where we explore some of the latest news in labor, diversity and inclusion in tech.

This week, we’re looking at the use of “master/slave” terminology in computer programming and the current state of gig workers in California.

Human Capital will soon be available as a weekly newsletter. You can sign up here.


Stay Woke


GitHub to sunset master/slave terminology 

This probably isn’t news to developers, but it was news to me when I found out many tech companies still use slave-master language. Now, Microsoft-owned GitHub is gearing up to remove these references to slavery by naming primary code repositories “main” instead of “master.” These changes will go into effect on October 1.

GitHub talked about making these changes as early as June, when CEO Nat Friedman tweeted that it was something the company was already working on. But GitHub is by no means the first company to consider and make these changes. In 2014, open-source platform Drupal moved to replace “master/slave” with “primary/replica.” 

One of its reasons for making the change was, “The word ‘slave’ has negative connotations (although this might or might not be relevant in the naming of a technical term) including multi-century history of slavery to benefit European colonial powers, prison laborers today forced to work in conditions at times resembling that slavery, young girls sold into sex slavery in many parts of the world today.”

Then, in 2018, programming language Python ditched the racist terminology. Meanwhile, Twitter began taking steps to replace those terms earlier this year and hopes to finish replacing that terminology by the end of 2021, according to CNET

What’s wild is that these terms ever existed in the first place and are just now being addressed. While Los Angeles city officials way back in 2003 asked its manufacturers and suppliers to stop using the terminology, they did not require it.

So perhaps it’s no wonder why some tech companies struggle to retain Black employees. In 2019, for example, Google reported its attrition rates of Black and Latinx talent — which indicate the rate at which employees leave on an annual basis — were higher than the national average. When racism is built into the technical framework of a company, it perpetuates a false idea that white people are superior to Black people. 


Gig Work


The latest in the battle over Prop 22 and AB 5

Two big things are happening pertaining to gig workers: Prop 22, the California bill backed by Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash that seeks to keep workers classified as independent contractors and lawsuits rooted in AB 5, the California law that went into effect earlier this year that lays out how to properly classify gig workers.

Let’s start with Prop 22. A new poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that it’s going to be a close election. In a survey of 5,900 likely voters, UC Berkeley’s IGS found that 39% of voters would vote yes on Prop 22 while 36% said they would vote no. The other 25% are undecided.

As we mentioned last week, the Yes on 22 campaign has put in about $180 million into the campaign while the No on 22 side has put in about $4.6 million. Meanwhile, we’re seeing ads for Yes on 22 inside on-demand apps.

Image Credits: Screenshot of DoorDash app via TechCrunch

On the AB 5 side of things, Uber and Lyft are still in court after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco sued the companies, alleging they are misclassifying their workers. In the appeals court, which granted a stay on the preliminary injunction that would force Uber and Lyft to immediately reclassify their drivers, a number of amicus briefs have been filed.

In a brief filed by the National Employment Law Group, the ACLU and other civil rights groups, they say Uber and Lyft harm workers of color by classifying them as independent contractors:

Many poor workers of color and immigrants are stuck in a separate and unequal economy where they are underpaid, put in harm’s way on the job, and left to fend for themselves without access to paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and other protections. By insisting that their drivers are not employees, Lyft and Uber further distance workers of colors from the bedrock workplace rights that provide real flexibility and economic security. Instead, their business models trap poor workers into intractable cycles of poverty and economic exclusion.

In the event Uber and Lyft are forced to reclassify their drivers, both Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Lyft CEO Logan Green filed sworn statements earlier this month that confirmed they both have plans to comply with an order requiring them to reclassify their respective workforces.

In Khosrowshahi’s statement, he simply said “Uber has developed implementation plans” to comply with an order within no more than 30 days. In Green’s statement, he said “such an implementation may include ceasing rideshare operations in all or some parts of California.”


Don’t Miss


Have tips? Comments? Send me an email at megan@techcrunch.com 

Alexis Ohanian files for a new $150M fund, with a nod to his Olympian family

By Natasha Mascarenhas

According to an SEC filing, Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit and early-stage VC firm Initialized Capital, is raising a new fund, named 776, with a target of $150 million. The filing comes three months after the entrepreneur left Initialized Capital and a month after The Information first reported on his plans. Ohanian declined to comment on details regarding the fund due to general solicitation restraints.

Along the filing, the fund launched an intentionally cryptic new website: sevensevensix.com. It appears that the name of the fund is a reference to when the first Olympics were held, in 776 B.C.E.

The website reads: “The first Olympics brought the best athletes from all over the known world to determine who was the greatest. The first competition was a 192m footrace; it was won by a cook from a nearby village. We’re going back to that very first starting line.”

If I had to guess, I’d say Ohanian’s investing in pre-seed and seed startups. And he’s likely not investing in startups solely run by cooks in villages all over Olympia, Greece.

His tie to the Olympics is personal. Ohanian is husband to tennis superstar and champion Serena Williams, who has four Olympic gold medals to her name. (Williams invests too, and joined Bumble’s investment fund a few years ago). In fact, the couple has a daughter, Alexis Olympia Williams. 776 is a likely nod to his gold medalist family, not just the games. 

Further details on Ohanian’s new fund, and what it plans to focus on, remain opaque.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Initialized Capital said that Ohanian left the firm, which raised a $230 million fund in August, to work on a “a new project that will support a generation of founders in tech and beyond.”

Earlier this year, Ohanian left his board seat at Reddit following protests of police brutality. The co-founder urged Reddit to fill the seat with a Black board member. Reddit ultimately selected Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel to fill the position.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

By Brian Heater

When it comes to smartwatches, it’s Apple against the world. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of other products to choose from — it’s more that the company has just utterly dominated the space to such a point that any other device is relegated to the realm of “Apple Watch alternatives.”

The company has been successful in the space for the usual Apple reasons: premium hardware with deeply integrated software, third-party support, a large cross-device ecosystem play and, of, course, simplicity. Taken as a whole, the Watch just works, right out of the box.

Five years after launch, the line is fairly mature. As such, it’s no surprise, really, that recent updates have largely amounted to refinements. As with most updates, the watch has gotten a processor boost up to the A14 processor, which the company claims is 20% faster than the last version. Perhaps the biggest hardware upgrade, however, is the addition of a blood oxygen sensor, an important piece in the company’s quest to offer as complete an image of wearer health as is possible from the wrist.

I wrote a pretty lengthy piece about the watch last week after wearing it for a few days. As I mentioned at the time, it was an odd kind of writeup, somewhere between hands-on and review. A week or so later, however, I’m more comfortable calling this a review — even if not too many of my initial impressions have changed much in the past several days. After all, a mature product largely means most of the foundations remain unchanged.

The Series 6 certainly looks the part. The Watch is tough to distinguish from other recent models — and for that matter, the new and significantly cheaper SE. The biggest visual change is the addition of new colors. In addition to the standard Gray and Gold, Apple’s added new Blue and (Product)Red cases. The latter seems to be the more ostentatious of the pair. The company sent me a blue model, and honestly, it’s a lot more subtle than I expected. It’s more of a deep blue hue, really, that reads more as black a lot of the time.

It’s tough to imagine the product undergoing any sort of radical rethink of the device’s design language at this point. We may see slight tweaks, including larger screen area going forward, but on the whole, Apple is very much committed to a form factor that has worked very well for it. I will probably always prefer Samsung’s spinning bezel as a quick way to interface with the operating system, but the crown does the job well and scrolling through menus even feels a bit zippier this time, perhaps owing to that faster silicon.

The new Solo Loop bands hit a bit of a hiccup out of the gate. I’ve detailed that a bit more here, but I suspect that much of the problem came down to the difficulty of selling a specifically sized product during a strange period in history where in-person try-ons aren’t really an option. In other words, just really bad timing on that front.

Personally, I quite like the braided model. I’ve been using it as my day to day band. It’s nice and blends in a lot better than the silicone model (I’ve frankly never been much of a fan of Apple’s silicone bands). But I do need to mention that Apple sent me a couple different sizes, which made it much easier to find the right fit. I recognize that. Especially when the braided Solo Loop costs a fairly exorbitant $99. The silicone version is significantly cheaper at $49, but either way, you’re not getting off cheap there. So you definitely want to make sure you get the right fit.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

This is doubly important given the fact that the Series 6’s biggest new feature — blood oxygen monitoring — is highly dependent on you getting a good fit. The sensor utilizes a series of LEDs on the bottom of the watch to shine infrared and red light through the wearer’s skin and into their blood vessels. The color of light that reflects back gives the watch a picture of the oxygen levels in the blood. The whole thing takes about 15 seconds, but only works if your fit is right. Even with the right Solo Loop on, I found myself having to retake it a few times when I first started wearing the watch.

Beyond the on-demand measurements, the watch will also take readings throughout the day and night, mapping these trends over time and incorporating them into sleep readings. The overall readings will give you a good picture of your numbers over time. Honestly though, I get the sense that this is really just the tip of the iceberg of future functionality.

For now, there’s really no specific guidance — or context — given as far as what the numbers mean. Mine are generally between 90-100%. The Mayo Clinic tells me that’s good, but obviously there are a lot of different factors and variations that can’t properly be contextualized in a single paragraph — or on a watch. And Apple certainly doesn’t want to be accused of attempting to diagnose a condition or offer specific medical guidance. That’s going to be an increasingly difficult line for the company to walk as it gets more serious about these sorts of health tools.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the combination of sleep tracking in watchOS 7 and the on-board oximeter opens the door pretty nicely for something like sleep apnea tracking (again, more focused on alerts of irregularity versus diagnosis). We’ve seen a small handful of companies like Withings tackle this, so it seems like a no-brainer for Apple, pending all of the regulatory requirements, et al. There are all sorts of other conditions that blood oxygen levels could potentially alert the wearer to, if not actually diagnose.

Sleep was probably the biggest addition with the latest version of watchOS. This was probably the biggest blind spot for the line, compared to the competition. At the moment, the sleep tracking is, admittedly, still pretty basic. Like much of the rest of the on-board tracking, it’s mostly compared with changes over time. The metrics include time in bed versus time asleep, as well as incorporating heart rate figures from the sensor’s regular check-ins. More specific breakdowns, including deep versus light versus REM sleep haven’t arrived yet, but will no doubt be coming sooner than later.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The door is also wide open for Apple to really get mindfulness right. The company has incorporated a mindfulness reminder for a while now, but it’s easy to imagine how the addition of various sensors like heart rate could really improve the picture and find the company going all-in on meditation, et al. The company could partner with a big meditation name — or, more likely, disrupt things with its own offering. The forthcoming Fitness+ offering could play an important role in the growth of that category, as well.

The other issue that sleep brings to the front is battery life. I was banking on the company making big strides in the battery department — after all, a big part of sleep tracking is ensuring that you’ve got enough charge to get through the night. Apple really only briefly touched on battery — though a recent teardown has revealed some smallish improvements on battery capacity (perhaps owing, in part, to space freed up by the dropping of Force Touch).

The company has also made some improvements to energy efficiency, courtesy of the new silicon. Official literature puts it at a “full-day” of  battery life, up to 18 hours. I found I was able to get through a full day with juice to spare. That’s good, but the company’s still got some ground to make up on that front, compared to, say, the Fitbit Sense, which is capable of getting nearly a week on a charge. I think at this point, it’s fair to hold wearables to higher standards of battery life than, say, handsets. More than once, I’ve found myself intermittently charging the device — 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there — in order to have enough juice left by bedtime.

If you can spare more time than that, you should be able to get up to 80% in an hour or 100% in an hour and a half, courtesy of faster wireless charging. All told, the company has been able to shave significant time off of charging — a definite plus now that you’re not just leaving it overnight to charge. The latest version of watchOS will also handily let you know before if you don’t have enough charge to make it through a full night.

Other updates include the addition of the always-on Altimeter, which, along with the brighter screen doesn’t appear to have had a major impact on the battery. I’ll be honest, being stuck in the city for these last several months hasn’t given me much reason to need real-time elevation stats. Though the feature is a nice step toward taking the Watch a bit more seriously as an outdoor accessory in a realm that has largely been dominated by the likes of Garmin.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Of course, the company now has three watches on the market — including the Series 3, which just keeps on ticking, and the lower-cost SE. The latter retains the design of the Series 6, but drops a number of the key sensors, which honestly should be perfectly sufficient for many users — and $170 cheaper than the 6’s $399 starting price ($499 with cellular).

Taken as a whole, the Series 6 isn’t a huge leap forward over the Series 5 — and not really worth the upgrade for those who already own that recent vintage. But there are nice improvements throughout, augmented by good upgrades to watchOS that make the best-selling smartwatch that much better, while clearly laying the groundwork for Apple Watches of the future.

Nikola chairman, VectoIQ CEO Steve Girsky eyes his next transportation investment

By Kirsten Korosec

Steve Girsky, the former GM vice chairman, consultant and investor whose special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merged with hydrogen electric startup Nikola this summer, is in talks to back self-driving trucks startup TuSimple, according to four people familiar with the deal.

The capital would come from Girsky’s VectoIQ LLC, a consulting and investment company he runs with managing partner Mary Chan, and would be part of a consortium of investors, according to one unnamed source who requested anonymity because the deal had yet to be finalized. The deal could close as early as mid-October.

TuSimple as well as Girsky declined to comment.

It’s no secret that TuSimple has been seeking new capital. TechCrunch reported in June that TuSimple was in search of $250 million in fresh capital from investors. The company hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise funds, according to multiple sources familiar with the effort. Since then, TuSimple, which already has backing from Sina, UPS and Tier 1 supplier Mando Corp., has announced a partnership with Navistar and most recently, the Traton Group.

Girsky has most recently captured headlines because of Nikola, where he is now the executive chairman. Girsky took over as chairman in September after Nikola’s founder, Trevor Milton, stepped down following fallout from a scathing report by short-seller firm Hindenburg Research that accused the company of fraud. VectoIQ Acquisition Corp., the SPAC that Girsky formed in 2018, announced a merger with Nikola in March, and Girsky oversaw its public listing this past June. He shepherded an introduction between Nikola and his former boss, GM CEO and chairwoman Mary Barra, according to one source familiar with the deal. By mid-September the automaker had announced a partnership valued at $2 billion with Nikola.

Girsky may be Nikola’s new chairman and certainly has executive experience, but his focus in recent years has been as an advisor, investor and matchmaker. Girsky has long had an interest in mobility-related companies. His firm VectoIQ LLC specializes in advising companies and connecting large companies with startups working on autonomous vehicle technology, electrification, connected, cybersecurity and mobility-as-a-service.

VectoIQ invested in lidar startup Luminar, which recently announced it was going public through a SPAC merger with Gores Metropoulos Inc., at a post-deal market valuation of $3.4 billion. Girsky also sat on the board of autonomous vehicle startup Drive.ai, which was acquired by Apple as the company prepared to shut down.

Girsky’s investment in TuSimple is separate from his interests in Nikola, which has yet to begin production of its Class 8 trucks, according to sources.

TuSimple, which launched in 2015 and has operations in China, San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, is focused on the autonomous vehicle technology stack that will allow Class 8 trucks to operate without a human driver. TuSimple operates a fleet of 40 self-driving trucks in the U.S. that are used for testing and to carry freight between Arizona and Texas.

TuSimple announced in July plans to develop and begin producing autonomous semi trucks by 2024 in partnership with Navistar. In September, Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck business Traton Group said it took a minority stake in TuSimple as part of an agreement between the two companies to develop self-driving trucks. Neither company disclosed the financial terms of the partnership or the percentage of the minority stake. Traton did make a direct capital investment into TuSimple, according to one unnamed source familiar with the deal. It’s unclear if it also included in-kind contributions.

Privacy data management innovations reduce risk, create new revenue channels

By Walter Thompson
Mark Settle Contributor
Mark Settle is a seven-time CIO, three-time CIO 100 award winner and two-time book author. His most recent book is "Truth from the Valley: A Practical Primer on IT Management for the Next Decade."
Tomer Y. Avni Contributor
Tomer Y. Avni is an MBA/MS student at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Privacy data mismanagement is a lurking liability within every commercial enterprise. The very definition of privacy data is evolving over time and has been broadened to include information concerning an individual’s health, wealth, college grades, geolocation and web surfing behaviors. Regulations are proliferating at state, national and international levels that seek to define privacy data and establish controls governing its maintenance and use.

Existing regulations are relatively new and are being translated into operational business practices through a series of judicial challenges that are currently in progress, adding to the confusion regarding proper data handling procedures. In this confusing and sometimes chaotic environment, the privacy risks faced by almost every corporation are frequently ambiguous, constantly changing and continually expanding.

Conventional information security (infosec) tools are designed to prevent the inadvertent loss or intentional theft of sensitive information. They are not sufficient to prevent the mismanagement of privacy data. Privacy safeguards not only need to prevent loss or theft but they must also prevent the inappropriate exposure or unauthorized usage of such data, even when no loss or breach has occurred. A new generation of infosec tools is needed to address the unique risks associated with the management of privacy data.

The first wave of innovation

A variety of privacy-focused security tools emerged over the past few years, triggered in part by the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) within the European Union in 2018. New capabilities introduced by this first wave of innovation were focused in the following three areas:

Data discovery, classification and cataloging. Modern enterprises collect a wide variety of personal information from customers, business partners and employees at different times for different purposes with different IT systems. This data is frequently disseminated throughout a company’s application portfolio via APIs, collaboration tools, automation bots and wholesale replication. Maintaining an accurate catalog of the location of such data is a major challenge and a perpetual activity. BigID, DataGuise and Integris Software have gained prominence as popular solutions for data discovery. Collibra and Alation are leaders in providing complementary capabilities for data cataloging.

Consent management. Individuals are commonly presented with privacy statements describing the intended use and safeguards that will be employed in handling the personal data they supply to corporations. They consent to these statements — either explicitly or implicitly — at the time such data is initially collected. Osano, Transcend.io and DataGrail.io specialize in the management of consent agreements and the enforcement of their terms. These tools enable individuals to exercise their consensual data rights, such as the right to view, edit or delete personal information they’ve provided in the past.

Want to hire and retain high-quality developers? Give them stimulating work

By Walter Thompson
Phil Alves Contributor
Devsquad founder and CEO Phil Alves is an expert entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in the tech industry leading product development teams for multiple clients.

Software developers are some of the most in-demand workers on the planet. Not only that, they’re complex creatures with unique demands in terms of how they define job fulfillment. With demand for developers on the rise (the number of jobs in the field is expected to grow by 22% over the next decade), companies are under pressure to do everything they can to attract and retain talent.

First and foremost — above salary — employers must ensure that product teams are made up of developers who feel creatively stimulated and intellectually challenged. Without work that they feel passionate about, high-quality programmers won’t just become bored and potentially seek opportunities elsewhere, the standard of work will inevitably drop. In one survey, 68% of developers said learning new things is the most important element of a job.

The worst thing for a developer to discover about a new job is that they’re the most experienced person in the room and there’s little room for their own growth.

Yet with only 32% of developers feeling “very satisfied” with their jobs, there’s scope for you to position yourself as a company that prioritizes the development of its developers, and attract and retain top talent. So, how exactly can you ensure that your team stays stimulated and creatively engaged?

Allow time for personal projects

78% of developers see coding as a hobby — and the best developers are the ones who have a true passion for software development, in and out of the workplace. This means they often have their own personal passions within the space, be it working with specific languages or platforms, or building certain kinds of applications.

Back in their 2004 IPO letter, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote:

We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. [This] empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.

At DevSquad, we’ve adopted a similar approach. We have an “open Friday” policy where developers are able to learn and enhance their skills through personal projects. As long as the skills being gained contribute to work we are doing in other areas, the developers can devote that time to whatever they please, whether that’s contributing to open-source projects or building a personal product. In fact, 65% of professional developers on Stack Overflow contribute to open-source projects once a year or more, so it’s likely that this is a keen interest within your development team too.

Not only does this provide a creative outlet for developers, the company also gains from the continuously expanding skillset that comes as a result.

Provide opportunities to learn and teach

One of the most demotivating things for software developers is work that’s either too difficult or too easy. Too easy, and developers get bored; too hard, and morale can dip as a project seems insurmountable. Within our team, we remain hyperaware of the difficulty levels of the project or task at hand and the level of experience of the developers involved.

HumanForest suspends London e-bike sharing service, cuts jobs after customer accident

By Natasha Lomas

UK-based startup HumanForest has suspended its nascent ‘free’ e-bike service in London this week, after experiencing “mechanical” issues and after a user had an accident on one of its bikes, TechCrunch has learned. The suspension has also seen the company make a number of layoffs with plans to re-launch next spring using a different e-bike.

The service suspension comes only a few months after HumanForest started the trial in North London — and just a couple of weeks after announcing a $2.3M seed round of funding backed by the founders of Cabify and others.

We were tipped to the closure by an anonymous source who said they were employed by the startup. They told us the company’s e-bike had been found to have a defect and there had been an accident involving a user, after which the service was suspended. They also told us HumanForest fired a bunch of staff this week with little warning and minimal severance.

Asked about the source’s allegations, HumanForest confirmed it had suspended its service in London following a “minor accident” on Sunday, saying also that it had identified “problems of a similar nature” prior to the accident but had put down those down to “tampering or minor mechanical issues”.

Here’s its statement in full: “We were not aware that the bike was defective. There had been problems of a similar nature which were suspected to be tampering or minor mechanical issues. We undertook extra mechanical checks which we believed had resolved the issue and informed the supplier. We immediately suspended operations following the minor accident on Sunday. The supplier is now investigating whether there is a more serious problem with the e-bike.”

In an earlier statement the startup also told us: “There was an accident last week. Fortunately, the customer was not hurt. We immediately withdrew all e-bikes from the street and we have informed the supplier who is investigating. Our customers’ safety is our priority. We have, therefore, decided to re-launch with a new e-bike in Spring 2021.”

HumanForest declined to offer any details about the nature of the defect that caused it to suspend service but a spokeswoman confirmed all its e-bikes were withdrawn from London streets the same day as the accident, raising questions as to why it did not do so sooner — having, by its own admission, already identified “similar problems”.

The spokeswoman also confirmed HumanForest made a number of job cuts in the wake of the service suspension.

“We are very sorry that we had to let people go at this difficult time but, with operations suspended, we could only continue as a business with a significantly reduced team,” she said. “We tried very hard to find a way to keep people on board and we looked at the possibility of alternative contractual arrangements or employment but unfortunately, there are no guarantees of when we can re-launch.”

“Employees who had been with the company for less than three months were on their probation period which, as outlined in their contract, had one week’s notice. We will be paying their salaries until the end of the month,” she said, reiterating that it’s a difficult time for the startup.

The e-bikes HumanForest was using for the service appear to be manufactured by the Chinese firm Hongji — but are supplied by a German startup, called Wunder Mobility, which offers both b2c and b2b mobility services.

We contacted both companies to ask about the e-bike defect reported by HumanForest.

At the time of writing only Wunder Mobility had responded — confirming it acts as “an intermediary” for HumanForest but not offering any details about the nature of the technical problem.

Instead, it sent us this statement, attributed to its CCO Lukas Loers: “HumanForest stands for reliable quality and works continuously to improve its services. In order to offer its customers the best possible range of services in the sharing business, HumanForest will use the winter break to evaluate its findings from the pilot project in order to provide the best and most sustainable solution for its customers together with Wunder Mobility in the spring.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot provide any information about specific defects on the vehicles, as we have only acted as an intermediary. Only the manufacturer or the operator HumanForest can comment on this,” it added.

In a further development this week, which points to the competitive and highly dynamic nature of the nascent micromobility market, another e-bike sharing startup, Bolt — which industry sources suggest uses the same model of e-bike as HumanForest (its e-bike is visually identical, just painted a more lurid shade of green) — closed its e-bike sharing service in Paris this week, a few months after launch.

When we contacted Bolt to ask whether it had withdrawn any e-bikes because of technical issues it flat denied doing so — saying the Paris closure was a business decision, and was not related to problems with its e-bike hardware.

“We understand some other companies have had issues with their providers. Bolt hasn’t withdrawn any electric bikes from suppliers due to defects,” a spokesperson told us, going on to note it has “recently” launched in Barcelona and trailing “more announcements about future expansion soon”.

In follow up emails the spokesperson further confirmed it hasn’t identified any defects with any e-bikes it’s tested, nor withdrawn any bikes from its supplier.

Bolt’s UK country manager, Matt Barrie, had a little more to say in a response to chatter about the various micromobility market moves on Twitter — tweeting the claim that: “Hardware at Bolt is fine, all good, the issues that HumanForest have had are with their bespoke components.”

“The Paris-Prague move is a commercial decision to support our wider business in Prague. Paris a good market and we hope to be back soon,” he added.

We asked HumanForest about Barrie’s claim that the technical issues with its hardware are related to “bespoke components” — but its spokeswoman declined to comment.

HumanForest’s twist on the e-bike sharing model is the idea of offering free trips with in-app ads subsidizing the rides. Its marketing has also been geared towards pushing a ‘greener commute’ message — touting that the e-bike batteries and service vehicles are charged with certified renewable energy sources.

Apple is (temporarily) waiving its App Store fee for Facebook’s online events

By Anthony Ha

Last month, Facebook introduced support for paid online events — and because many of the businesses offering those events have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic, the company also said it would not collect fees for the next year. At the same time, it complained that Apple had “dismissed” its requests to waive the App Store’s customary 30% fee on in-app purchases.

Today, Facebook is announcing a reversal on Apple’s part: Online event fees will be processed through Facebook Pay, without Apple collecting its 30% cut, meaning businesses will receive all of the earnings from their online events, minus taxes. This arrangement will last until December 31 and will not apply to gaming creators.

The news comes after Facebook publicly pressured Apple to change its stance. It even submitted an iOS app update stating that “Apple takes 30% of this purchase” in the events payments flow. (Facebook said Apple rejected the update for including information that’s “irrelevant” to users.)

And while the two companies appear to have come to an agreement, today’s statements from Facebook are still a bit barbed.

“This is a difficult time for small businesses and creators, which is why we are not collecting any fees from paid online events while communities remain closed for the pandemic,” said Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne. “Apple has agreed to provide a brief, three-month respite after which struggling businesses will have to, yet again, pay Apple the full 30% App Store tax.”

Similarly, in discussing the exception for gaming creators, Facebook Gaming Vice President Vivek Sharma said, “We unfortunately had to make this concession to get the temporary reprieve for other businesses.”

When asked about the change, Apple provided the following statement: “The App Store provides a great business opportunity for all developers, who use it to reach half a billion visitors visitors each week across 175 countries. To ensure every developer can create and grow a successful business, Apple maintains a clear, consistent set of guidelines that apply equally to everyone.”

More specifically, Apple said it’s giving Facebook until the end of the year to implement in-app payments for these events and bring them into compliance with App Store rules.

This also comes as Fortnite-maker Epic Games is waging a legal battle and publicity campaign against Apple’s App Store fees, with Fortnite removed from the iOS App Store. Epic is also part of a just-announced group of publishers called the Coalition for App Fairness, which is pushing for app store changes or regulation.

Don’t miss the Q&A sessions at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

By Alexandra Ames

It’s nearly October, startup fans and that means TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is right around the corner. On October 6 & 7, you’ll experience an incredible two-day agenda packed with the top leaders, visionaries, makers and investors, and they’re ready to drop serious knowledge about crucial trends, issues and challenges related to mobility and transportation tech.

Attendees tell us there’s only one problem with all these great interviews and panel discussions. They generate a lot of follow-up questions and the desire for even more conversation. We hear you loud and clear, and that’s why we’re excited to offer several different Q&A breakout sessions featuring speakers who presented on the TC Sessions: Mobility main stage. They’re the perfect place to get answers to your burning questions.

And there’s nothing that prevents you from initiating a whole new conversation. You never know what opportunity might arise when you engage and interact with some of the top minds in the business.

Here’s the answer to burning question #1. Which top minds are heading up the Q&A breakout sessions? Here are just a few with more to come!

Fresh from their main stage discussion, Investing in Mobility, Reilly Brennan (Founding General Partner, Trucks Venture Capital), Amy Gu (Managing Partner, Hemi Ventures) and Olaf Sakkers (Partner, Maniv Mobility) will take your questions related to VC investment.

Do you have questions about micromobility? This is your moment. First, check out the main stage presentation, The Next Opportunities in Micromobility with Danielle Harris (Director of Mobility Innovation, Elemental Excelerator) and Dmitry Shevelenko (Co-founder & President, Tortoise). Second, head to their Q&A for a deeper understanding of this timely topic.

Finally, don’t miss Peter Rawlinson’s Q&A. It’s a chance to follow up on his main stage discussion, The Road to the All-Electric Air. How often do you get the opportunity to get answers to specific questions on this — dare we say it — electrifying topic?

There’s so much to do and experience — more than 40 early-stage startups exhibiting in our expo, networking made simple with CrunchMatch and live pitching from the main stage.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 takes place October 6-7. Buy your pass today — prices increase on October 5. Don’t miss your chance to learn, explore ideas and new trends, to meet and connect with the people who can help you build your business and launch your dreams.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Twitter warns developers that their private keys and account tokens may have been exposed

By Zack Whittaker

Twitter has emailed developers warning of a bug that may have exposed their private app keys and account tokens.

In the email, obtained by TechCrunch, the social media giant said that the private keys and tokens may have been improperly stored in the browser’s cache by mistake.

“Prior to the fix, if you used a public or shared computer to view your developer app keys and tokens on developer.twitter.com, they may have been temporarily stored in the browser’s cache on that computer,” the email read. “If someone who used the same computer after you in that temporary timeframe knew how to access a browser’s cache, and knew what to look for, it is possible they could have accessed the keys and tokens that you viewed.”

The email said that in some cases the developer’s access token for their own Twitter account may have also been exposed.

The email sent by Twitter to affected developers. (Screenshot: TechCrunch)

These private keys and tokens are considered secret, just like passwords, because they can be used to interact with Twitter on behalf of the developer. Access tokens are also highly sensitive, because if stolen they can give an attacker access to a user’s account without needing their password.

Twitter said that it has not yet seen any evidence that these keys were compromised, but alerted developers out of an abundance of caution. The email said users who may have used a shared computer should regenerate their app keys and tokens.

It is not immediately known how many developers were affected by the bug or exactly when the bug was fixed. A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately comment when reached by TechCrunch.

In June, Twitter said that business customers, such as those who advertise on the site, may have had their private information also improperly stored in the browser’s cache.

The highest valued company in Bessemer’s annual cloud report has defied convention by staying private

By Ron Miller

This year’s Bessemer Venture Partners’ annual Cloud 100 Benchmark report was published recently and my colleague Alex Wilhelm looked at some broad trends in the report, but digging into the data, I decided to concentrate on the Top 10 companies by valuation. I found that the top company has defied convention for a couple of reasons.

Bessemer looks at private companies. Once they go public, they lose interest, and that’s why certain startups go in and out of this list each year. As an example, Dropbox was the most highly valued company by far with a valuation in the $10 billion range for 2016 and 2017, the earliest data in the report. It went public in 2018 and therefore disappeared.

While that $10 billion benchmark remains a fairly good measure of a solidly valued cloud company, one company in particular blew away the field in terms of valuation, an outlier so huge, its value dwarfs even the mighty Snowflake, which was valued at over $12 billion before it went public earlier this month.

That company is Stripe, which has an other worldly valuation of $36 billion. Stripe began its ascent to the top of the charts in 2016 and 2017 when it sat behind Dropbox with a $6 billion valuation in 2016 and around $8 billion in 2017. By the time Dropbox left the chart in 2018, Stripe would have likely blown past it when its valuation soared to $20 billion. It zipped up to around $23 billion last year before taking another enormous leap to $36 billion this year.

Stripe remains an outlier not only for its enormous valuation, but also the fact that it hasn’t gone public yet. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden pointed out in article earlier this year, the company has remained quiet about its intentions, although there has been some speculation lately that an IPO could be coming.

What Stripe has done to earn that crazy valuation is to be the cloud payment API of choice for some of the largest companies on the Internet. Consider that Stripe’s customers include Amazon, Salesforce, Google and Shopify and it’s not hard to see why this company is valued as highly as it is.

Stripe came up with the idea of making it simple to incorporate a payments mechanism into your app or website, something that’s extremely time-consuming to do. Instead of building their own, developers tapped into Stripe’s ready-made variety and Stripe gets a little money every time someone bangs on the payment gateway.

When you’re talking about some of the biggest companies in the world being involved, and many others large and small, all of those payments running through Stripe’s systems add up to a hefty amount of revenue, and that revenue has led to this amazing valuation.

One other company, you might want to pay attention to here, is UIPath, the robotic process automation company, which was sitting just behind Snowflake with a valuation of over $10 billion. While it’s unclear if RPA, the technology that helps automate legacy workflows, will have the lasting power of a payments API, it certainly has come on strong the last couple of years.

Most of the companies in this report appear for a couple of years as they become unicorns, watch their values soar and eventually go public. Stripe up to this point has chosen not to do that, making it a highly unusual company.

Calling Helsinki VCs: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

By Mike Butcher

TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.

Our survey of VCs in Helsinki will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled out the survey already, there is no need to do it again).

We’d like to know how Helsinki’s startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19 and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.

Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.

The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.

You can fill out the survey here.

Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.

What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?

This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.

For example, here is the recent survey of London.

You are not in Helsinki, but would like to take part? European VC investors can STILL fill out the survey, as we will be putting a call out to your city next anyway!

The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).

Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email mike@techcrunch.com

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