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Layoffs reach 23andMe after hitting Mozilla and the Vision Fund portfolio

By Alex Wilhelm

Layoffs in the technology and venture-backed worlds continued today, as 23andMe confirmed to CNBC that it laid off around 100 people, or about 14% of its formerly 700-person staff. The cuts would be notable by themselves, but given how many other reductions have recently been announced, they indicate that a rolling round of belt-tightening amongst well-funded private companies continues.

Mozilla, for example, cut 70 staffers earlier this year. As TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois reported earlier in January, the company’s revenue-generating products were taking longer to reach market than expected. And with less revenue coming in than expected, its human footprint had to be reduced.

23andMe and Mozilla are not alone, however. Playful Studios cut staff just this week, 2019 itself saw more than 300% more tech layoffs than in the preceding year and TechCrunch has covered a litany of layoffs at Vision Fund-backed companies over the past few months, including:

Scooter unicorns Lime and Bird have also reduced staff this year. The for-profit drive is firing on all cylinders in the wake of the failed WeWork IPO attempt. WeWork was an outlier in terms of how bad its financial results were, but the fear it introduced to the market appears pretty damn mainstream by this point. (Forsake hope, alle ye whoe require a Series H.)

The money at risk, let alone the human cost, is high. Zume has raised more than $400 million. 23andMe has raised an even sharper $786.1 million. Rappi? How about $1.4 billion. And Oyo? $3.2 billion so farEvery company that loses money eventually dies. And every company that always makes money lives forever. It seems that lots of companies want to jump over the fence, make some money and rebuild investor confidence in their shares.

It’s just too bad that the rank-and-file are taking the brunt of the correction.

Hot off the press: New tickets to the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize

By Emma Comeau

Party on, startuppers. We’ve just printed up a fresh batch of tickets to our 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize in San Francisco on February 7. If you haven’t snagged yours yet, don’t wait, because tickets to this event fly off the proverbial shelf. Buy your ticket right now.

Our annual winter soiree features 1,000 of Silicon Valley’s brightest minds, makers and visionaries relaxing over passed canapes and delightful libations. It’s the perfect way to meet your colleagues, expand your network, shake off the winter blues and just have some fun.

Let’s face it — networking works better in a relaxed setting. You never know who you’ll meet at a TechCrunch party — it might be a relationship that takes your business to new heights. Our parties have a history of creating startup magic.

We’re not kidding when we say this is a popular event. Case in point: Our demo table packages sold out in a flash. As you swill and chill, be sure to check out the up-and-coming startups showcasing their tech. We have a limited number of tickets left, and they’re going fast.

  • When: Friday, February 7, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Where: Galvanize, 44 Tehama St., San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Ticket price: $85

In addition to networking, comradery and great food and drink, our Winter Party comes replete with party games, activities and photo ops. Bring your best karaoke chops and impress the crowd. Oh, and no TechCrunch party is complete without door prizes, TC swag and a chance to win tickets to Disrupt SF, our flagship event coming in September 2020.

Don’t miss out on the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize on February 7 in San Francisco. Tickets are going fast — get yours now while you still can!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at the 3rd Annual Winter Party at Galvanize? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Tesla calls claims of unintended acceleration in NHTSA petition ‘completely false’

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla pushed back Monday against claims that its electric vehicles may suddenly accelerate on their own, calling a petition filed with federal safety regulators “completely false.”

Tesla also questions the validity of the petition, noting that it was submitted by a Tesla short-seller.

Last week, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration said it would review a defect petition that cited 127 consumer complaints of alleged unintended acceleration of Tesla electric vehicles that may have contributed to or caused 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

The petition, which was first reported by CNBC, was filed by Brian Sparks, an independent investor who is currently shorting Tesla’s stock. Sparks has hedged his bets and has been long Tesla in the past, according to the CNBC report.

At the time, Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. Now, in a blog post, the company said that it routinely reviews customer complaints of unintended acceleration with NHTSA.

“In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly,” Tesla wrote in a blog post on its website.

The automaker argued that its vehicles are designed to avoid unintended acceleration, noting that its system will default to cutting off motor torque if the two independent position sensors on its accelerator pedals register any error.

“We also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional,” the company wrote.

Here is the complete response from Tesla:

This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.

While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car. Unique to Tesla, we also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we’re confident the driver’s input was unintentional. Each system is independent and records data, so we can examine exactly what happened.

We are transparent with NHTSA, and routinely review customer complaints of unintended acceleration with them. Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.

What we know (and don’t) about Goldman Sachs’ Africa VC investing

By Jake Bright

Goldman Sachs is investing in African tech companies. The venerable American investment bank and financial services firm has backed startups from Kenya to Nigeria and taken a significant stake in e-commerce venture Jumia, which listed on the NYSE in 2019.

Though Goldman declined to comment on its Africa VC activities for this article, the company has spoken to TechCrunch in the past about specific investments.

Goldman Sachs is one of the most enviable investment banking shops on Wall Street, generating $36 billion in net revenues in 2019, or roughly $1 million per employee. It’s the firm that always seems to come out on top, making money during the financial crisis while its competitors were hemorrhaging. For generations, MBAs from the world’s top business schools have clamored to work there, helping make it a professional incubator of sorts that has spun off alums into leadership positions in politics, VC and industry.

All that cache is why Goldman’s name popping up related to African tech got people’s attention, including mine, several years ago.

23andMe co-founder’s new startup, Precise.ly, brings genomics to India through Narayana partnership

By Jonathan Shieber

Precise.ly, the new genomics startup launched by 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey and Aneil Mallavarapu, is taking its spin on direct to consumer personalized genomics to India through a partnership with Naryana Health, one of India’s leading specialty hospital networks.

Narayana, a company that operates a network of 24 hospitals serving 2.5 million patients, is one of the most fascinating stories in healthcare. By emphasizing efficiencies and cost savings, the hospital network has managed to bring costs down dramatically for many procedures — including providing cancer surgeries for as little as $700 and heart bypass surgeries for $3,000 (as this fascinating article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek illustrates).

Precise.ly’s mission — to collect and analyze genetic data from populations that typically haven’t had access to the services — is one that resonates in a world where the majority of research has been conducted on wealthier populations in wealthy countries. Other startups, like 54Gene, are trying to bring a similar message to the African continent.

“To date, most human genetics research has focused on European populations. But genetic insights need to be tuned to the rest of the world,” said Mallavarapu, in a statement. “We’ve assembled a team of experts who are pioneering advances in genetic analysis and its application to the huge populations of people in south Asia and beyond.” 

Some of that work is being done in concert with Narayana health, the hospital network founded by Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty nearly twenty years ago. Dr. Shetty is initially hoping that Precise.ly’s genetic database will be able to help his hospitals build out a stem cell donor registry that could help hundreds of thousands of Indians who need transplants.

“Personal genetic testing is recognized by the U.S. FDA to test genetic risk for Parkinsonism, late onset Alzheimer’s disease and celiac disease. It is only a matter of time before most diseases get added to the list,” Dr. Shetty said in a statement. “Because of the simplicity of genetic testing from saliva samples, it’s possible to conduct large-scale population screening at a reasonable cost. We are working with Precise.ly’s team of researchers to add HLA typing, which has the potential to transform cancer and other disease treatments in India.”

The path to entering the Indian market was slightly circuitous for Precise.ly. When Avey first left 23andMe, she went to RockHealth (an investor in the company’s $1 million seed round), and began exploring ways to organize and store more of a patient’s quantified health data.

As that company failed to gain traction, Avey took another look at the genetics market and found that there were significant opportunities in underserved markets — and that India, with its rising middle class and burgeoning healthcare industry would be a good target.

“We decided we would build on this Helix platform all kinds of apps for people who had specific diagnosis,” says Avey. But the market was already chock full of startups (including 23andMe), so an early investor in the company from, Civilization Ventures, and its founder Shahram Seyedin-Noor suggested that they begin to look globally for growth.

“Precise.ly’s mission is to deliver validated genetic insights to the billions of people living outside the western world. We’re initially focused on India where there are urgent health issues readily addressable through access to personal genomic data,” said Avey, the chief executive officer of Precise.ly, in a statement. “Our partnership with Narayana is vital to delivering on the promise of precise, data-driven health.” 

Formlabs CEO on the state of 3D printing and its remaining challenges

By Greg Kumparak

3D printing isn’t the buzzy, hype-tastic topic it was just a few years ago — at least not with consumers. 3D printing news out of CES last week seemed considerably quieter than years prior; the physical booths for many 3D printing companies I saw took up fractions of the footprints they did just last year. Tapered, it seems, are the dreams of a 3D printer in every home.

In professional production environments, however, 3D printing remains a crucial tool. Companies big and small tap 3D printing to design and test new concepts, creating one-off prototypes in-house at a fraction of the cost and time compared to going back-and-forth with a factory. Sneaker companies are using it to create new types of shoe soles from experimental materials. Dentists are using it to create things like dentures and bridges in-office, in hours rather than days.

One of the companies that has long focused on pushing 3D printing into production is Formlabs, the Massachusetts-based team behind the aptly named Form series of pro-grade desktop 3D printers. The company launched its first product in 2012 after raising nearly $3 million on Kickstarter; by 2018, it was raising millions at a valuation of over a billion dollars.

Tesla to begin delivering China-built Model 3 cars next week

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla will start making the first deliveries of its Shanghai-built Model 3 sedans on Monday, Bloomberg reports. The cars are rolling off the assembly line at the new Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory, which is operational but which will also be expanding in future thanks to a fresh $1.4 billion injection in local funding reported earlier this week.

The Shanghai gigafactory’s construction only began earlier this year, and its turnaround time in terms of construction and actually producing vehicles is impressive. The Model 3 vehicles built in China will provide a price break vs. imported vehicles, since cars made in-country enjoy exemption from a 10% tax applied to imported cars. Tesla Model 3s build in China will also get a government purchase incentive of as much as $3,600 per car, which should drive even higher sales.

Tesla’s Shanghai factory is its first manufacturing facility outside of the country, though there’s also a gigafactory in the works in Germany just outside of Berlin, and Tesla has teased plans for at least a fifth gigafactory with a location to be revealed later.

Tesla’s production capacity in Shanghai probably isn’t ver high-volume to begin with, although the company has said previously it was targeting a production rate of around 1,000 cars per week by year’s end, with potential to ramp up to around 3,000 cars per week. Tax breaks and incentives have helped demand for the Model 3 in China grow significantly in 2019, so any progress on production in-country is bound to help lift global vehicle sales.

Micro-angelo? This 3D-printed ‘David’ is just one millimeter tall

By Devin Coldewey

3D printing has proven itself useful in so many industries that it’s no longer necessary to show off, but some people just can’t help themselves. Case in point: this millimeter-tall rendition of Michelangelo’s famous “David” printed with copper using a newly developed technique.

The aptly named “Tiny David” was created by Exaddon, a spin-off company from another spin-off company, Cytosurge, spun off from Swiss research university ETH Zurich. It’s only a fraction of a millimeter wide and weighs two micrograms.

It was created using Exaddon’s “CERES” 3D printer, which lays down a stream of ionized liquid copper at a rate of as little as femtoliters per second, forming a rigid structure with features as small as a micrometer across. The Tiny David took about 12 hours to print, though something a little simpler in structure could probably be done much quicker.

As it is, the level of detail is pretty amazing. Although, obviously, you can’t recreate every nuance of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, even small textures like the hair and muscle tone are reproduced quite well. No finishing buff or support struts required.

Of course, we can create much smaller structures at the nanometer level with advanced lithography techniques, but that’s a complex, sensitive process that must be engineered carefully by experts. This printer can take an arbitrary 3D model and spit it out in a few hours, and at room temperature.

The CERES printer.

But the researchers do point out that there is some work involved.

“It is more than just a copy and downsized model of Michelangelo’s David,” said Exaddon’s Giorgio Ercolano in a company blog post. “Our deep understanding of the printing process has led to a new way of processing the 3D computer model of the statue and then converting it into machine code. This object has been sliced from an open-source CAD file and afterwards was sent directly to the printer. This slicing method enables an entirely new way to print designs with the CERES additive micromanufacturing system.”

Much smaller than that doesn’t work, though — Micro-David starts looking like he’s made of Play-Doh snakes. That’s fine, they’ll get there eventually.

The team published the details of their newly refined technique (it was pioneered a few years ago but is much better now) in the journal Micromachines.

Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s next-gen console, arriving late-2020

By Brian Heater

If you didn’t watch last night’s Game Awards, you may of missed it. But Xbox Series X is the company’s  next generation console, and will be arriving in late 2020. Thankfully, Microsoft has kindly catalogued all of the images, media and even a little information online. Oh, and we’ll almost certainly be hearing a LOT more about the Xbox Series X before it arrives holidays 2020.

Xbox Head Phil Spencer has a pretty long break down over on the the official blog. But let’s start with the obvious here. The Series X looks…different. Surely the meme makers are already working overtime on this one, but to my mind, it looks a more traditional PC or maybe even a router.

It’s tall (around three times as tall as its predecessor), it’s rectangular, it’s black. It’s fairly minimalist. A lot of people seem to be comparing it to a refrigerator, which, fine. Honestly, I think it’s got that working for it. Surely plenty of people are looking for something that more seamlessly blends in with its surroundings.

The last few generations have found consoles transforming from specialty items into catchall media players, and there’s something to be said for a product that can sit on your shelf, largely undetected. Notably, the blocky design means that the console can be oriented either vertically or horizontally, depending on your spacing needs.

The latest version of the Xbox Wireless Controller arrives alongside the new system, because, well, you’re going to need something to control it with. It’s a bit smaller than the previous version, “refined to accommodate an even wider range of people,” per Spencer.

The buttons are largely in tact, with the addition of a Share button for taking screenshots and game clips. The new controllers ship with the system and will be capable with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 systems.

Speaking of older systems, the Series X is set up to support backward compatibility for all older systems, along with Xbox One accessories. Per Spencer,

Building on our compatibility promise, with Xbox Series X we’re also investing in consumer-friendly pathways to game ownership across generations.

Leading the way with our first-party titles including Halo Infinite in 2020, we’re committed to ensuring that games from Xbox Game Studios support cross-generation entitlements and that your Achievements and game saves are shared across devices.

Spec information is still pretty light for this first pass, but Spencer promises 4K playback at 60FPS (with potentially up to 120FPS) and support for both Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and 8K capability.

Powered by our custom-designed processor leveraging the latest Zen 2 and next generation RDNA architecture from our partners at AMD, Xbox Series X will deliver hardware accelerated ray tracing and a new level of performance never before seen in a console. Additionally, our patented Variable Rate Shading (VRS) technology will allow developers to get even more out of the Xbox Series X GPU and our next-generation SSD will virtually eliminate load times and bring players into their gaming worlds faster than ever before.

The Series X will also, naturally, have an eye on cloud gaming, in addition to native hardware. Tonight’s unveil also featured a sneak preview of the upcoming Ninja Theory title, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II.

Carbon’s new CEO discusses local manufacturing, funding and a potential IPO

By Brian Heater

Last month, Carbon announced its first new CEO in the company’s history. With $260 million worth of investments and a $2.5 billion, it’s a big job. But Carbon’s 500-person headcount is small potatoes compared to Ellen Kullman’s last gig.

For six years, Kullman headed up DuPont, the culmination of a nearly 30-year career at the chemical giant. After leaving the role in 2016, she joined a number of different boards, including Goldman Sachs and Dell. It was, however, a three-year-old Bay Area-based 3D printing company that ultimately drew her interest.

After six years at the helm of the company, co-founder Joe DeSimone stepped aside in November and became Executive Chairman of the Board. His background as a chemist helped birth the startup, while Kullman’s experience leading a Fortune 500 clearly indicate a company looking to take the next steps.

As several substantial funding rounds can attest, there’s clearly massive interest in Carbon’s potential. Over the past few years, the company has formed partnerships with Adidas, Ford, Ridell and a number of other manufacturers. As its newly-minted CEO, Kullman’s job will be following through on those deals and proving the company’s potential as a key player in the future of manufacturing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When was it clear that your time [at DuPont] had kind of run its course?

It was a proxy contest, and we won the proxy contest, but the activists made it clear that he was going to keep coming after the company. I really was the lightning rod, right? It became personal to him that DuPont beat him, right? The only thing that was going to get that settled down, I decided, was me leaving. I’d been there 27 years. I’d run seven years as the CEO. I had a great track record on gross, and on TSR, versus the S&P and things like that.

It was just the right time to exit. Basically the decision came up in the middle of ’15 and you know, I stepped down in late October, I think it was. That was pretty quick for a transition and so that’s why I took a couple of years to figure out what I wanted to do. Actually the first thing I took on was agreed to come on Carbon’s board about four months after I left DuPont.

You’ve been on a number of boards. What attracted you to Carbon, specifically?

Being a mechanical engineer and running a company like DuPont with polymers, I understood injection molding pretty well. I understood how we at DuPont were helping customers try to optimize what they were doing with pure material science. What hit me when I came out here is that digitization, technology, had impacted everything we do. Supply chain, our ERP, our HR systems. Everything around the manufacturing have been touched except, manufacturing itself. Yeah, we might have smarter DCS systems that are running the lines and things like that, but injection molding hasn’t changed for hundreds… the fundamentals. And this has an opportunity to fundamentally change it at a scale and a cost that was relevant. My big thing at DuPont is we could do amazing things with creating new materials, new ecosystems for those materials.

As someone who is familiar with manufacturing and injection molding, you’ve surely known about 3D printing/additive manufacturing for a long time now. To your mind, what is Carbon’s differentiator?

An iOS bug in AirDrop let anyone temporarily lock-up nearby iPhones

By Zack Whittaker

Apple has fixed a bug in iOS 13.3, out today, which let anyone temporarily lock users out of their iPhones and iPads by forcing their devices into an inescapable loop.

Kishan Bagaria found a bug in AirDrop, which lets users share files from one iOS device to another. He found the bug let him repeatedly sent files to all devices able to accept files within wireless range of an attacker.

When a file is received, iOS blocks the display until the file is accepted or rejected. But because iOS didn’t limit the number of file requests a device can accept, an attacker can simply keep sending files again and again, repeatedly displaying the file accept box, causing the device to get stuck in a loop.

Using an open source tool, Bagaria could repeatedly send files again and again to not only a specific target in range, but every device set to accept files in wireless range. 

A demonstration of an ‘AirDoS’ attack. (Image: Kishan Bagaria/supplied)

Bagaria calls the bug “AirDoS,” the latter part is short for “denial-of-service,” which effectively denies a user access to their device.

Devices that had their AirDrop setting set to receive files from “Everyone” were mostly at risk. Turning off Bluetooth would effectively prevent the attack. But Bararia said that the file accept box is so persistent it’s near-impossible to turn off Bluetooth when an attack is under way.

The only other way to stop an attack? “Simply run away,” he said. Once a user is out of wireless range of the attacker, they can turn off Bluetooth.

“I’m not sure how well this’d work in an airplane,” he joked.

Apple fixed the bug by adding a rate-limit, preventing a barrage of requests over a short period of time. Because the bug wasn’t strictly a security vulnerability, Apple said it would not issue a common vulnerability and exposure (CVE) score, typically associated with security-related issues, but would “publicly acknowledge” his findings in the security advisory.

Microsoft announces public preview of Microsoft Teams for Linux

By Ron Miller

Today, Microsoft announced a public preview of Microsoft Teams for Linux, the first Office 365 tool that’s available for the open source operating system.

The hope is that by making it available for preview, the company can get feedback from the community and improve it before it becomes generally available. “Starting today, Microsoft Teams is available for Linux users in public preview, enabling high quality collaboration experiences for the open source community at work and in educational institutions,” the company wrote in the blog post announcing the release.

The goal here ultimately is to help get Teams into the hands of more customers by expanding the platforms it runs on. “Most of our customers have devices running on a variety of different platforms such as Windows 10, Linux and others. We are committed to supporting mixed environments across our cloud and productivity offerings, and with this announcement, we are pleased to extend the Teams experience to Linux users,” the company wrote in the blog post.

This announcement significant for a couple of reasons. For starters, Microsoft has had a complicated history with Linux and open source, although in recent years under Satya Nadella it has embraced open source. This shows that Microsoft is willing to put its tools wherever customers need them, regardless of the platform or operating system.

Secondly, since it marks the first Office 365 app on Linux, if there is positive feedback, it could open the door for more apps on the platform down the road.

The announcement also comes against the backdrop of the company’s on-going battles with Slack for enterprise collaboration platform users. In July, Microsoft announced 13 million daily active users on Teams. Meanwhile, Slack has 12 million DAUs. It’s worth noting that Slack has been available on Linux for almost two years.

Tesla all-electric ATV makes a surprise debut at Cybertruck event

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla CEO Elon Musk definitely didn’t have the most issue-free presentation during last night’s Cybertruck unveil, but he did pull off a pretty impressive ‘one more thing moment’ – revealing a surprise all-electric all-terrain vehicle (ATV) that Tesla created to pair with its futuristic pickup.

The Tesla electric ATV didn’t get a lot of time to shine on its own, and instead was used primarily to demonstrate how the Tesla Cybertruck bed and active suspension works for loading up cargo, but it’s a real enough thing that Tesla made sure to point out that you can charge the electric four-wheeler right from the Cybertruck while the ATV is loaded in the bed.

Musk didn’t reveal anything about pricing or availability regarding the ATV, but a demo drive did actually drive it up on stage and load it into the bed, so it’s real enough to be functional. Like the Cybertruck itself, it also featured a body design with a lot of intersecting flat planes and angels, and it was done up in matte black, which makes it look like the ATV version of a stealth bomber.

In the past, Musk has discussed the idea of electric motorcycles, dismissing Tesla’s interest in the category in favor of electric bikes. Musk said that a motorcycle was not in the cards at a Tesla shareholder meeting in 2018, and also floated the idea of doing an e-bike instead that same year.

An ATV is a very different kind of vehicle – designed more for utility and recreation than for road use, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of consumer launch Tesla has in mind for such a vehicle. A ‘Cybertruck: ATV Edition’ would probably incur a lot of demand.

Sonos acquires voice assistant startup Snips, potentially to build out on-device voice control

By Darrell Etherington

Sonos revealed during its quarterly earnings report that it has acquired voice assistant startup Snips in a $37 million cash deal, Variety reported on Wednesday. Snips, which had been developing dedicated smart device assistants that can operate primarily locally, instead of relying on consistently round-tripping voice data to the cloud, could help Sonos set up a voice control option for its customers that has “privacy in mind” and is focused more narrowly on music control than on being a general-purpose smart assistant.

Sonos has worked with both Amazon and Google and their voice assistants, providing support for either on their more recent products, including the Sonos Beam and Sonos One smart speakers. Both of these require an active cloud connection to work, however, and have received scrutiny from consumers and consumer protection groups recently for how they handle the data they collect form users. They’ve introduced additional controls to help users navigate their own data sharing, but Sonos CEO Patrick Spence noted that one of the things the company can do in building its own voice features is developing them “with privacy in mind” in an interview with Variety.

Notably, Sonos has introduced a version of its Sonos One that leave out the microphone hardware altogether – the Sonos One SL introduced earlier this fall. The fact that they saw opportunity in a mic-less second version of the Sonos One suggests it’s likely there are a decent number of customers who like the option of a product that’s not round-tripping any information with a remote server. Spence also seemed quick to point out that Sonos wouldn’t seek to compete with its voice assistant partners, however, since anything they build will be focused much more specifically on music.

You can imagine how local machine learning would be able to handle commands like skipping, pausing playback and adjusting volume (and maybe even more advanced feature like playing back a saved playlist), without having to connect to any kind of cloud service. It seems like what Spence envisions is something like that which can provide basic controls, while still allowing the option for a customer to enable one of the more full-featured voice assistants depending on their preference.

Meanwhile, partnerships continue to prove lucrative for Sonos: Its team-up with Ikea resulted in 30,000 speakers sold on launch day, the company also shared alongside its earnings. That’s a lot to move in one day, especially in this category.

Microsoft announces changes to cloud contract terms following EU privacy probe

By Natasha Lomas

Chalk up another win for European data protection: Microsoft has announced changes to commercial cloud contracts following privacy concerns raised by European Union data protection authorities.

The changes to contactual terms will apply globally and to all its commercial customers — whether public or private sector entity, or large or small business, it said today.

The new contractual provisions will be offered to all public sector and enterprise customers at the beginning of 2020, it adds.

In October Europe’s data protection supervisor warned that preliminary results of an investigation into contractual terms for Microsoft’s cloud services had raised serious concerns about compliance with EU data protection rules and the role of the tech giant as a data processor for EU institutions.

Writing on its EU Policy blog, Julie Brill, Microsoft’s corporate VP for global privacy and regulatory affairs and chief privacy officer, announces the update to privacy provisions in the Online Services Terms (OST) of its commercial cloud contracts — saying it’s making the changes as a result of “feedback we’ve heard from our customers”.

“The changes we are making will provide more transparency for our customers over data processing in the Microsoft cloud,” she writes.

She also says the changes reflect those Microsoft developed in consultation with the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security — which comprised both amended contractual terms and technical safeguards and settings — after the latter carried out risk assessments of Microsoft’s OST earlier this year and also raised concerns.

Specifically, Microsoft is accepting greater data protection responsibilities for additional processing involved in providing enterprise services, such as account management and financial reporting, per Brill:

Through the OST update we are announcing today we will increase our data protection responsibilities for a subset of processing that Microsoft engages in when we provide enterprise services. In the OST update, we will clarify that Microsoft assumes the role of data controller when we process data for specified administrative and operational purposes incident to providing the cloud services covered by this contractual framework, such as Azure, Office 365, Dynamics and Intune. This subset of data processing serves administrative or operational purposes such as account management; financial reporting; combatting cyberattacks on any Microsoft product or service; and complying with our legal obligations.

Microsoft currently designates itself as a data processor, rather than data controller for these administrative and operations functions that can be linked to provision of commercial cloud services, such as its Azure platform.

But under Europe’s General Data Protection framework a data controller has the widest obligations around handling personal data — with responsibility under Article 5 of the GDPR for the lawfulness, fairness and security of the data being processed — and therefore also greater legal risk should it fail to meet the standard.

So, from a regulatory point of view, Microsoft’s current commercial contract structure poses a risk for EU institutions of user data ending up being processed under a lower standard of legal protection than is merited.

The announced switch from data processor to controller should raise the bar around associated purposes that Microsoft may also provide to commercial customers of its cloud services.

For the latter purpose itself, Microsoft says it will remain the data processor, as well as for improving and addressing bugs or other issues related to the service, ensuring security of the services, and keeping the services up to date.

In August a conference organized jointly by the EU’s data protection supervisor and and the Dutch Ministry brought together EU customers of cloud giants to work on a joint response to regulatory risks related to cloud software provision.

Earlier this year the Dutch Ministry obtained contractual changes and technical safeguards and settings in the amended contracts it agreed with Microsoft.

“The only substantive differences in the updated terms [that will roll out globally for all commercial cloud customers] relate to customer-specific changes requested by the Dutch MOJ, which had to be adapted for the broader global customer base,” Brill writes now.

Microsoft’s blog post also points to other global privacy-related changes it says were made following feedback from the Dutch MOJ and others — including a roll out of new privacy tools across major services; specific changes to Office 365 ProPlus; and increased transparency regarding use of diagnostic data.

Consumer Reports puts Tesla Model 3, Model S back on its recommended list after reliability improves

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla gained ground and moved up four spots in in the latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey from Consumer Reports, thanks largely to improvements with the Model 3.

Reliability has improved in the Model 3 and Model S enough that Consumer Reports can now recommend the two models.

Consumer Reports announced Thursday the results of its Annual Auto Reliability Survey, which is based on data collected from the organization’s members about their experiences with more than 400,000 vehicles. The survey covers more than 300 models.

CR does not recommend the Model X. The Model X continues to rank among the least reliable models in the survey.

The reversal is good news for Tesla. In February, Consumer Reports said it could no longer recommend the Model 3 because issues with the paint, trim and body hardware raised reliability questions.

Lexus took the top spot, followed by Mazda, Toyota, Porsche and Genesis. Tesla is still ranked in the bottom third of the survey. It now is ranked 23 out of 30 brands reviewed in the annual survey.

“The Tesla Model 3 struggled last year as the company made frequent design changes and ramped up production to meet demand,” Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR said in a statement. “But as the production stabilized, we have seen improvements to the reliability of the Model 3 and S that now allow us to recommend both models.”

While Tesla has improved, Fisher said he expects Tesla’s reliability rankings will fluctuate, given its track record to date.

Cadillac came in last place by . Audi, Acura and Volkswagen are among the brands that saw sharp drops, following the introduction of troublesome redesigned vehicles. Volkswagen, which is ranked 27th, dropped nine spots from last year due reliability issues with the Atlas and Tiguan. The Consumer Reports survey noted that the two SUVs had problems with power equipment, in-car electronics and emissions/fuel system.

 

Consumer Reports-reliability 2019

Dodge posted one of the best improved reliability scores in the annual survey, gaining 13 places to round out the top 10 after years as a lower ranked brand.

Audi also fell seven spots in its ranking. CR said the number of new or redesigned 2019 models that shared similar powertrains and the new infotainment system caused the fall in ranking. The A6 and Q8 had well below average reliability, CR said.

Rocket Lab’s new ‘Rosie the Robot’ speeds up launch vehicle production — by a lot

By Darrell Etherington

Rocket launch startup Rocket Lab is all about building out rapid-response space-launch capabilities, and founder/CEO Peter Beck is showing off its latest advancement in service of that goal: A room-sized manufacturing robot named “Rosie.”

Rosie is tasked with processing the carbon composite components of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle. That translates to basically getting the rocket flight-ready, and there’s a lot involved in that — it’s a process that normally can take “hundreds of hours,” according to Beck. So how fast can Rosie manage the same task?

“We can produce one launch vehicle in this machine every 12 hours,” Beck says in the video. That includes “every bit of marking, every bit of machining, every bit of drilling,” he adds.

Meet Rosie. She processes Electron's composite stages in just 12 hours. pic.twitter.com/NcC34Ylg66

— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) November 13, 2019

This key new automation tool essentially takes something that was highly bespoke and manual and turns it into something eminently repeatable and expedited, which is a necessary ingredient if Rocket Lab is ever to accomplish its goal of providing high-frequency launches to small satellite customers with very little turnaround time. The company’s New Zealand launch facility recently landed an FAA license that helps sketch out the extent of its ambition, as it’s technically cleared to launch rockets as often as every 72 hours.

In addition to innovations like Rosie, Rocket Lab uses 3D printing for components of its launch vehicle engines that result in single-day turnaround for production, versus weeks using more traditional methods. It’s also now working on an ambitious plan for rocket recovery, which should help further with providing high-frequency launch capabilities as it’ll mean they don’t have to build entirely new launch vehicles for every mission.

Wayfair’s app adds 3D visualization tools, including interactive photos & a room planner

By Sarah Perez

Home furnishing retailer Wayfair was among the first to adopt AR technology as a means of helping people better visual furniture and accessories in their own home, ahead of purchase. Today, the company is expanding its feature set to allow for more visualization capabilities — even when you’re shopping out in the real world and aren’t able to take a photo of your room to use AR.

Instead, shoppers will be able to leverage a new feature called “Interactive Photo,” which lets shoppers take a photo of their room then visualize multiple products within it, even when they’re not home in their own space. The feature itself uses technology to understand the spatial information of the room in the image to give you an AR-like experience using your photo.

Alongside this addition, Wayfair has updated its app to put its camera tools more at the forefront of the app experience. Similar to how you can click a camera icon next to the Amazon app’s search bar, you can now do the same in Wayfair. You can also then toggle between the various camera-based features with swipe gestures, in order to move between Wayfair’s visual search and its “View in Room” AR feature, which is also where you’ll find the new “Interactive Photo.”

The retailer has also launched its room design tool, Room Planner 3D, on the mobile shopping app. This allows shoppers to create an interactive room 3D room that they can view from any angle, while testing out different layouts, styles, room dimensions and more.

The update follows Amazon’s launch earlier this year of its own visual shopping experience called Showroom, which let online and mobile shoppers try out furniture and other décor in a customizable virtual room where they pick the wall color, flooring, carpet and more.

“With the latest updates to the Wayfair app, we continue to push the limits of what’s possible by iterating on advanced AR and machine learning capabilities, and introducing new and innovative spatial awareness techniques to an e-commerce experience, bridging the gap between imagination and reality,” said Matt Zisow, Vice President of Product Management, Experience Design and Analytics at Wayfair, in a statement.

The new feature set comes shortly after Wayfair’s third-quarter earnings, where the company reported a wider-than-expected loss of $2.33 per share, adjusted, versus the expected $2.10 per share. Revenue was up 35% year-over-year to $2.3 billion, above the anticipated $2.27 billion, however. The company attributed the miss to “short-term headwinds from tariffs.”

However, as the holiday shopping season heats up, Wayfair still needs to unveil enticing features that will encourage consumers to redownload its app and shop — especially given that smartphones alone drove $2.1 billion in U.S. online sales last Black Friday.  

The new Wayfair app is out now on iOS and Android, but the new features — Interactive Photo, Integrated Camera and Room Planner 3D — are only on iOS.

Facebook says a bug caused its iPhone app’s inadvertent camera access

By Zack Whittaker

Facebook has faced a barrage of concern over an apparent bug that resulted in the social media giant’s iPhone app exposing the camera as users scroll through their feed.

A tweet over the weekend blew up after Joshua Maddux tweeted a screen recording of the Facebook app on his iPhone. He noticed that the camera would appear behind the Facebook app as he scrolled through his social media feed.

Several users had already spotted the bug earlier in the month. One person called it “a little worrying”.

Today, while watching a video on @facebook, I rotated to landscape and could see the Facebook/Instagram Story UI for a split second. When rotating back to portrait, the Story camera/UI opened entirely. A little worrying… pic.twitter.com/7lVHHGedGf

— DFC (@neo_qa) November 2, 2019

Some immediately assumed the worst — as you might expect given the long history of security vulnerabilities, data breaches and inadvertent exposures at Facebook over the past year. Just last week, the company confirmed that some developers had improperly retained access to some Facebook user data for more than a year.

Will Strafach, chief executive at Guardian Firewall, said it looked like a “harmless but creepy looking bug.”

The bug appears to only affect iPhone users running the latest iOS 13 software, and those who have already granted the app access to the camera and microphone. It’s believed the bug relates to the “story” view in the app, which opens the camera for users to take photos.

One workaround is to simply revoke camera and microphone access to the Facebook app in their iOS settings.

Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen tweeted this morning that it “sounds like a bug” and the company was investigating. Only after we published, a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the issue was in fact a bug.

“We recently discovered that version 244 of the Facebook iOS app would incorrectly launch in landscape mode,” said the spokesperson. “In fixing that issue last week in v246 — launched on November 8th — we inadvertently introduced a bug that caused the app to partially navigate to the camera screen adjacent to News Feed when users tapped on photos.”

“We have seen no evidence of photos or videos being uploaded due to this bug,” the spokesperson added. The bug fix was submitted for Apple’s approval today.

“I guess it does say something when Facebook trust has eroded so badly that it will not get the benefit of the doubt when people see such a bug,” said Strafach.

Updated with Facebook comment.

China’s news and data site 36Kr tumbles in its stock market debut

By Manish Singh

36Kr, a Chinese news and data website that tracks startups, fell 10% in its Nasdaq debut on Friday.

The disappointing debut followed 36Kr’s decision to slash the size of its offering from 3.6 million shares to 1.4 million and pricing its shares at $14.5, the bottom of marketed range. This meant that the firm, which had initially aimed to raise as much as $100 million, settled for $20 million. A company top executive said that even as the offering is smaller, it has great confidence in its stock’s future performance.

The nine-year-old Chinese company’s decision to list in the U.S., instead of Hong Kong especially considering the ongoing trade war between the two nations also surprised many.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance on Friday, 36Kr founder and co-chairman Cheng-Cheng Liu said the company decided to go public on Nasdaq because “our team thinks the U.S. stock market is one of the most matured markets in the world. Also, we have business outside of China.”

36Kr provides financials on companies, market updates, and commentaries. It maintains an English website as well and makes money through ads and multiple subscription offerings. The company could look to expand its business in North America in the future, said Liu. He also said that the company is betting that “the U.S. and China will be friends again.”

Liu said the recent instances such disappointing debut of Uber and tremendous fall of We, which postponed its public debut, should not affect 36Kr’s performance because unlike other companies 36Kr is “not cash burning” and has been profitable. In the first half of 2019, 36Kr generated a revenue of $29.4 million, a 179% year-over-year increase

The company, often called “Crunchbase* of China,” counts Ant Financial, Matrix Partners China, e.ventures, and Infinity Ventures among its investors and has raised over $100 million in venture fund. Crunchbase, which late last month raised $30 million, started as part of TechCrunch and has since spun out.

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