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Yesterday — June 5th 2020Your RSS feeds

Silicon Valley can fight systemic racism by supporting Black-owned businesses

By Walter Thompson
Will Walker Contributor
Will Walker is a JD candidate at Harvard Law School, and a contributing author to "Incomprehensible!: A Study of How Our Legal System Encourages Incomprehensibility, Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It".

As the United States sees its second week of large-scale protests against police brutality, it’s painfully clear that the country’s racial divide requires significant short- and long-term action. But most of these calls for change gloss over the role Silicon Valley can and should play in mending the racial divide.

Right now, activists are rightfully urging the public to take two crucial steps: vote out state and local government leaders and support Black-owned businesses. Both steps are necessary, but the importance of the latter has been largely overshadowed. Leaders can enact policy change, but much of the structural racial disparity in the U.S. is economic. Black workers are vastly overrepresented in low-paying agricultural, domestic and service jobs.

They’re also far more likely to be unemployed (in normal economic circumstances, and especially during the pandemic). A Stanford University study found that only 1% of Black-owned businesses receive loans in their first year. That’s seven times lower than the percentage for white businesses.

Put simply, enacting new laws and overturning old ones won’t suddenly reverse decades of biased investment decisions. That’s why all over social media, there are grassroots pushes to shop Black. Apps like WeBuyBlack and eatOkra collate businesses and restaurants into one centralized database, while organizations like Bank Black encourage investment in Black-owned funds or Black-owned businesses.

But what happens when the hashtags stop trending, the protests stop attracting crowds, and the Twitter feeds return to celebrity gossip and reality show reactions? Many organizers worry that, after the media cycle of the George Floyd protests expire, widespread interest in fixing systemic racism will go away too. Apps may be helpful in propping up Black businesses, but they rely on customers fundamentally changing their purchasing and consumption habits. Perhaps the perfect storm of COVID-19 and Mr. Floyd’s death will result in a wide-scale transformation of consumer behavior. But that’s not a given, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be enough.

To systematically fix underinvestment in Black businesses, we need big tech to step up. Now.

In particular, while there’s been a lot of recent talk about “algorithmic bias” (preventing algorithms on sites like Facebook or Google from implicitly discriminating on the basis of race), there hasn’t been enough talk about proactively demanding “algorithmic equality.” What if, for instance, tech companies didn’t just focus on erasing the entrenched bias in their systems, but actually reprogrammed algos to elevate Black businesses, Black investors and Black voices?

This shift could involve deliberately increasing the proportion of Black-created products or restaurants that make it onto the landing pages of sites like Amazon and Grubhub. Less dramatically, it could tweak SEO language to better accommodate racial and regional differences among users. The algorithmic structures behind updates like Panda could be repurposed to systematically encourage the consumption of Black-created content, allowing Black voices and Black businesses to get proportional purchase in the American consumer diet.

There’s also no compelling reason to believe that these changes would harm user experience. A recent Brookings study found that minority-owned businesses are rated just as highly on Yelp as white-owned businesses. However, these minority-owned businesses grow more slowly and gain less traction than their white-owned counterparts — resulting in an annual loss of $3.9 billion across all Black businesses. To help resolve this glaring (and needless) inequality, Yelp could modify its algorithms to amplify high-performing Black-owned businesses. This could significantly increase the annual income of quality Black entrepreneurs, while also increasing the likelihood in overall investment in Black small businesses.

At the very least, giving Black business a short-term algorithmic advantage in take-out and delivery services could help stem the massive economic breach caused by the coronavirus and could help save the 40% of minority-owned businesses that have shut down because of the pandemic.

Nothing can undo the losses of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or the countless other Black Americans who unjustly died as a result of this country’s broken system. What we can do is demand accountability and action, both from our political leaders and from the Silicon Valley CEOs who structure e-commerce.

With thoughtful, data-based modifications, online platforms can give Black entrepreneurs, creators and voices the opportunity to compete — an equality that has been denied for far too long.

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms to sell $1.2 billion stake to Mubadala

By Manish Singh

Abu Dhabi-based sovereign firm Mubadala has become the latest investor in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, joining five American firms including Facebook and Silver Lake that have secured stakes in India’s biggest telecom operator at the height of a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

Mubadala said it had agreed to invest $1.2 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms for a 1.85% stake in the firm. The deal valued the Indian telecom operator, which launched in the second half of 2016, at $65 billion.

A subsidiary of Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India whose core businesses are in oil refining and petrochemicals, Reliance Jio Platforms has raised $11.5 billion in the last seven weeks.

“Through my longstanding ties with Abu Dhabi, I have personally seen the impact of Mubadala’s work in diversifying and globally connecting the UAE’s knowledge-based economy. We look forward to benefitting from Mubadala’s experience and insights from supporting growth journeys across the world,” Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, said in a statement.

The announcement today further shows the appeal of Jio Platforms to foreign investors that are looking for a slice of the world’s second-largest internet market. Media reports have claimed in recent weeks that Amazon is considering buying stakes worth at least $2 billion in Bharti Airtel, India’s third-largest telecom operator, while Google has held talks for a similar deal in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator.

India has emerged as one of the biggest global battlegrounds for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms that are looking to win the nation’s 1.3 billion people, most of whom remain without a smartphone and internet connection.

Khaldoon Al Mubarak, managing director and group chief executive of Mubadala Investment Company, said, “We have seen how Jio has already transformed communications and connectivity in India, and as an investor and partner, we are committed to supporting India’s digital growth journey. With Jio’s network of investors and partners, we believe that the platform company will further the development of the digital economy.”

The new capital should help Ambani, India’s richest man, further solidify his commitment to investors when he pledged to cut Reliance’s net debt of about $21 billion to zero by early 2021 — in part because of the investments it has made to build Jio Platforms, said Mahesh Uppal, director of Com First, a communications consultancy.

Its core business — oil refining and petrochemicals — has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Its net profit in the quarter that ended on March 31 fell by 37%.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Facebook adds labels identifying state-controlled media

By Devin Coldewey

Facebook will soon add labels to news outlets owned or otherwise controlled by a government, marking that information as, if not necessarily false or unreliable, at least worth considering the origin of. Those so labeled will also be banned from buying ads starting this summer.

The company announced its plan to do this a few months ago as one part of its ongoing “election integrity efforts,” along with such things as requiring a confirmed owner for pages and banning anti-voting ads.

Under the new policy, which should roll out to all users over the next week, news organizations “that may be under the influence of a government” will have a subtle but clear label as such, as will their posts. You can see what one of those labels looks like in the top image, and here’s how it would look in the “about” and details pages:

The warning reads: “This publisher is wholly or partially under the editorial control of a state. This is determined by a range of factors, including but not limited to funding, structure and journalistic standards.”

These organizations have immense reach even outside the countries they’re based in: Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project has tracked this engagement and the strategies used to accomplish it closely in an ongoing series of papers.

The process of identifying state-run news is not quite as straightforward is it may seem. Certainly there are many openly state-run news organizations in many countries, like China Daily, Sputnik and so on. But governments may be pulling the strings behind far more, either by funding (or defunding) them, interfering with or directing editorial coverage, or operating a whole news organization via unacknowledged means.

Facebook turned to experts to analyze and classify the many news organizations on the platform, which seems to have clearly advised that there are many factors that should be considered. As a result, Facebook bases its “state-controlled” label based on official statements, ownership structure and stakeholders, editorial leadership and guidelines, policies and oversight, and last but not least the state of media freedom in the host country. Outlets can appeal the label if they think it has been applied in error.

Notably the label will not be applied to news posts or organizations that merely reference or base their reporting on state-controlled media. Nor is the information published by these labeled organizations subject to special scrutiny or fact-checking.

“Nevertheless,” writes the company’s cybersecurity policy head Nathaniel Gleicher in a blog post, “later this summer we will begin blocking ads from these outlets in the US out of an abundance of caution to provide an extra layer of protection against various types of foreign influence in the public debate ahead of the November 2020 election in the US.”

Outside the U.S. those ads will not be blocked but they will be labeled.

All Facebook users can now access a tool to port data to Google Photos

By Natasha Lomas

Facebook’s photo transfer tool is now available globally half a year on from an initial rollout in Europe, the company said today.

The data portability feature enables users of the social network to directly port a copy of their photos to Google’s eponymous photo storage service via encrypted transfer, rather than needing to download and manually upload photos themselves — thereby reducing the hassle involved with switching to a rival service.

Facebook users can find the option to “Transfer a copy of your photos and videos” under the Your Facebook Information settings menu.

This is the same menu where the company has long enabled users to download a copy of a range of information related to their use of its service (including photos). However there’s little that can be done with that data dump. Whereas the direct photo transfer mechanism shrinks the friction involved in account switching.

Facebook debuted the feature in Ireland at the back end of last year, going on to open it up to more international markets earlier this year and grant access to users in the US and Canada come April.

Now all Facebook users can tap in — though the choice of where you can port your photos remains limited to Google Photos. So it’s not the kind of data portability that’s of any help to startup services (yet).

Facebook has said support for other services is being built out. However this requires collaborating developers to build the necessary adapters for photos APIs. Which in turn depends on wider participation in an underpinning open source effort, called the Data Transfer Project (DTP).

The wider context around the DTP — which kicked off in 2018, backed by a number of tech giants all keen to hitch their wagon to the notion of greasing platform-to-platform data portability — is the fact regulators in the US and Europe are paying closer attention to the deleterious impact of platform power on competition and markets.

Putting some resource into data portability looks like a collective strategy by powerful players to try to manage and fend off antitrust action that might otherwise see dominant empires broken up in the interests of rebalancing digital markets.

If platforms can make a plausible case that their users aren’t locked into their walled gardens because network effects force them to stay but can simply push a button to move their stuff and waltz elsewhere, they will hope to shrink their antitrust risk and water down the case for sweeping reforms of digital regulations.

Europe is certainly looking closely at updating its rulebook to tackle platform power — with legislative proposals wrapping digital services slated before the end of the year.

EU lawmakers are also specifically consulting on whether the bloc needs a new tool in its antitrust arsenal to tackle the problem of tipping markets in the digital sphere — where a dominant player consolidates a market position to such an extent that it becomes difficult to reverse. The proposed new power would enable European antitrust regulators to speed up interventions by letting them impose behavioural and structural remedies without needing to make a finding of infringement first.

Given all that, it would be interesting to know how many Facebook users have actually made use of the photo porting tool in the half-year since it launched to a sub-set of users.

A Facebook spokesman told us he did not have “specific numbers to share at this time” — but claimed it’s seen “many” users making photo transfers via the tool.

“We’ve received some positive feedback from stakeholders who have been giving feedback on the product throughout the rollout,” the spokesman added. “We hope that will continue to increase as more people are aware of the tool and new destinations and data types are added.”

Amazon reportedly considering $2 billion stake in Indian telecom operator Bharti Airtel

By Manish Singh

Amazon .com may follow its American peer Facebook in securing a slice of India’s booming telecom market.

The e-commerce giant is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth at least $2 billion in Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters.

Amazon’s interest in Bharti Airtel comes as Google is said to be in separate talks to buy stake in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator in India. In April, their fellow rival Facebook bought a 9.99% stake in the nation’s top telecom operator, Reliance Jio Platforms. According to local media reports, Microsoft is also in talks with Reliance Jio Platforms and could invest as much as $2 billion.

Facebook’s investment shows India is a major new battleground for Big Tech, said Amit Pau, a former Vodafone Global Group MD and now COO and Partner at Accloud. “Facebook’s focused attack on Amazon in Indian e-commerce through its partnership with Jio Platforms is the firing gun of an epic showdown between the world’s biggest companies that will see Indian consumers win better services through digitization and boost the economy.”

Google and Walmart establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

By Manish Singh

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch. More than 10 million users transact on SoftBank -backed Paytm’s app everyday, according to internal data seen by TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India.

The company is facing an antitrust probe in India over allegations that it is abusing its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country, Reuters reported last month.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Paytm had over 50 million monthly active users on its app in May, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users (MAU), or daily active users (DAU) that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startup Swiggy, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. The company, which invested $5.7 billion in the nation’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms in April, declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month. UPI itself has over 117 million users.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

How to attract more than 10 million TikTok followers in 5 months

By Walter Thompson
Adam Guild Contributor
Adam Guild is a growth marketing expert and the founder of Placepull.

Imagine going from zero followers to 10,000,000+ followers in less than five months. I have watched somebody do exactly that.

My brother Topper Guild is already reaping the benefits of fame: People stop him in the street for photos and he’s been offered thousands of dollars to promote brands and befriend celebrities.

In less than 150 days, he went from being a high school sophomore to earning more than a Harvard MBA and working with his idols like boxer Ryan Garcia. In time, he also leveraged his following to score more than 100,000,000 views for direct-to-consumer brands like FashionNova and NUGGS.

How did he do it? And how would he advise you?

Consumer startups can apply these same strategies, tactics and ideas to grow quickly on TikTok, which is not nearly as saturated as Instagram and offers faster growth rates.

Let’s dive right into the principles he used to grow (that you can use too).

Do what works

Facebook to verify the identities of some user profiles behind viral posts

By Sarah Perez

Lost in the news of the George Floyd protests against police brutality and racism in the U.S., Facebook last week quietly noted it will now require Facebook Profile pages with large followings in the U.S. to verify their identity. The company said that profiles with sizable audiences, who also have a pattern of inauthentic behavior and whose posts rapidly go viral will be asked to verify their identity or the distribution of their posts will be impacted.

If the profile’s owner chooses not to verify their identity or the ID provided does not match the linked Facebook account, the distribution of the profile’s viral post will continue to be reduced so fewer people will see it, the company explains.

In addition, if the Profile that’s posting is also a Facebook Page admin, they’ll need to complete the Page Publishing Authorization and won’t be able to post from their Page until the account is verified through Facebook’s systems.

The company said the move to verify profiles is about transparency.

“We want people to feel confident that they understand who’s behind the content they’re seeing on Facebook and this is particularly important when it comes to content that’s reaching a lot of people,” Facebook said in a Thursday announcement.

Identify verification is not new to Facebook but the company’s use of the process has increased in recent months, following the revelation that Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on Facebook’s platform during and after the 2016 presidential election.

To address the issue, Facebook in August 2018 rolled out a new process that involved having Facebook Page managers secure their accounts and verify their locations. In December 2018, the resulting “People Who Manage This Page” section had rolled out to all Facebook Pages with a large audience. Also in 2018, Facebook began demanding ID verification for political “issue” ad buyers on debated topics of national legislative importance

Similar authentication and verification tools also rolled out to Instagram in 2018. And this April, both Facebook and Instagram began to display the location of the Facebook Page or Instagram account with a large audience on every post it shares. The company believes this transparency will allow users to better determine the reliability and authenticity of the accounts.

The timing of Facebook’s announcement about profile verification is worth noting. It arrived on the same day that Trump signed an executive order taking direct aim at social media companies, which targeted the legal structure they rely on to shield themselves from legal liability for their user-created content. It was also the same day that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Fox News to explain why it didn’t take the same action as Twitter did when it fact-checked Trump.

In a way, the change is an attempt for Facebook to showcase that it does in fact moderate its platform, by reducing the spread of viral posts from unverified sources. And that’s something the company can later point to when questioned by regulators as to how it’s addressing problems with bots and others who try to conceal their identity as they manipulate Facebook to spread their viral content.

 

 

India’s richest man built a telecom operator everyone wants a piece of

By Manish Singh

As investors’ appetites sour in the midst of a pandemic, a three-and-a-half-year-old Indian firm has secured $10.3 billion in a month from Facebook and four U.S.-headquartered private equity firms.

The major deals for Reliance Jo Platforms have sparked a sudden interest among analysts, executives and readers at a time when many are skeptical of similar big check sizes that some investors wrote to several young startups, many of which are today struggling to make sense of their finances.

Prominent investors across the globe, including in India, have in recent weeks cautioned startups that they should be prepared for the “worst time” as new checks become elusive.

Elsewhere in India, the world’s second-largest internet market and where all startups together raised a record $14.5 billion last year, firms are witnessing down rounds (where their valuations are slashed). Miten Sampat, an angel investor, said this week that startups should expect a 40%-50% haircut in their valuations if they do get an investment offer.

Facebook’s $5.7 billion investment valued the company at $57 billion. But U.S. private equity firms Silver Lake, Vista, General Atlantic, and KKR — all the other deals announced in the past five weeks — are paying a 12.5% premium for their stake in Jio Platforms, valuing it at $65 billion.

How did an Indian firm become so valuable? What exactly does it do? Is it just as unprofitable as Uber? What does its future look like? Why is it raising so much money? And why is it making so many announcements instead of one.

It’s a long story.

Run up to the launch of Jio

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani gave a rundown of his gigantic Indian empire at a gathering in December 2015 packed with 35,000 people including hundreds of Bollywood celebrities and industry titans.

“Reliance Industries has the second-largest polyester business in the world. We produce one and a half million tons of polyester for fabrics a year, which is enough to give every Indian 5 meters of fabric every year, year-on-year,” said Ambani, who is Asia’s richest man.

Mark Zuckerberg commits Facebook to $10 million donation to ‘groups working on racial justice’

By Jonathan Shieber

Even as Facebook continues to take a hands-off approach to monitoring violent rhetoric and disinformation on its platform, the company will make a $10 million donation “to groups working on racial justice” in the U.S., according to a late Sunday night post from chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

The commitment from Facebook follows a week of protests around the country challenging police brutality — spurred by the dissemination of a video on Facebook showing the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by police officers in Minneapolis.

Zuckerberg’s pledge comes after several prominent Facebook employees expressed their frustration with their company’s response on Twitter and only a few hours before a number of the company’s workers staged a virtual walkout.

“I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up,” Jason Toff, a director of product management at Facebook, wrote on Twitter. “The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voices heard.”

I work at Facebook and I am not proud of how we’re showing up. The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.

— Jason Toff (@jasontoff) June 1, 2020

Zuckerberg’s statement comes as several technology companies have issued their own messages of solidarity with the protests and the systemic injustices they are challenging.

In his Facebook message, Zuckerberg calls attention to the fact that the video capturing George Floyd’s murder was posted on his platform.

“… it’s clear Facebook also has more work to do to keep people safe and ensure our systems don’t amplify bias,” wrote Zuckerberg. “The organizations fighting for justice also need funding, so Facebook is committing an additional $10 million to groups working on racial justice. We’re working with our civil rights advisors and our employees to identify organizations locally and nationally that could most effectively use this right now.”

The commitment from Facebook is in addition to roughly $40 million that Zuckerberg has invested “annually for several years” in organizations working to combat racial injustice.

For critics like Anand Giridharadas, the commitments from Facebook’s coffers don’t outweigh the problems with the company’s business model and its inability to adequately address the ways in which the company’s service amplifies disinformation.

“And so the giving back that he’s doing isn’t just a negligible contribution that won’t really make much difference,” Giridharadas writes. “It actually helps to make things worse, by buying his toxic business model a little more breathing room and political capital.”

And so the giving back that he’s doing isn’t just a negligible contribution that won’t really make much difference. It actually helps to make things worse, by buying his toxic business model a little more breathing room and political capital.

— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) June 1, 2020

Facebook employees stage virtual walkout in protest of company’s stance on Trump posts

By Megan Rose Dickey

Some Facebook employees are virtually walking out today to challenge the company’s lack of response to President Donald Trump’s posts pertaining to protests in light of the murder of George Floyd. Employees participating in the protest requested time off and then added an out-of-office response to their emails notifying senders they are protesting, The New York Times reports.

Last week, amid protests in Minneapolis against the police killing Floyd, and unarmed black man, Trump posted on both Twitter and Facebook that, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

As The Washington Post reported, there is a racially charged history behind that phrase. In the sixties, a white police chief used that same phrase during civil unrest in black neighborhoods in Miami. Trump, however, claims to have not known that.

Twitter’s response was to apply a notice to his tweet, stating that it violated Twitter’s rules about glorifying violence.

Facebook, however, took a different approach. Its response was to do nothing.

On Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that the company’s policy “allows discussion around state use of force, although I think today’s situation raises important questions about what potential limits of that discussion should be.” Additionally, Zuckerberg said “we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force.”

In addition to the protest today, employees have circulated petitions that call for Facebook to add more diversity to its ranks, while others have threatened to resign if Zuckerberg does not reverse his stance.

“We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership. As we face additional difficult decisions around content ahead, we’ll continue seeking their honest feedback.”

Developing…

Tech companies respond to George Floyd’s death, ensuing protests and systemic racism

By Brian Heater

On Sunday, a fourth night of protests erupted around the country, spurred on by the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The movement is a response to wide-ranging and systematic inequality that has seen a disproportionate number of black Americans suffer a similar fate, with Floyd’s desperate gasping “I can’t breathe” echoing Eric Garner’s death some six years prior.

Violence broke out over the weekend, with photos and videos emerging of bloodied protesters, bystanders and journalists tasked with covering the events. It takes a lot for an event to dominate headlines in a country suffering from far and away the world’s largest number of COVID-19 deaths, but wide scale movements in Minneapolis, New York, D.C., L.A., Chicago and beyond seem destined to remain top of mind in an already deeply divided nation.

Tech companies and CEOs have begun to weigh in on what amounts to a rather delicate topic for corporations not accustom to rocking the boat on these manner of social issues. Tim Cook, who has a history of publicly addressing social issues, said the company draws strength from its diversity. He also told staff that now is the time to listen,

This is a moment when many people may want nothing more than a return to normalcy, or to a status quo that is only comfortable if we avert our gaze from injustice. As difficult as it may be to admit, that desire is itself a sign of privilege. George Floyd’s death is shocking and tragic proof that we must aim far higher than a “normal” future, and build one that lives up to the highest ideals of equality and justice.

The Apple CEO says the company will be making unspecified donations to the Equal Justice Initiative and other non-profits. It will also be matching two-for-one on all employee donations for June.

Racism does not adhere to social distancing.

Amid the already growing fear and uncertainty around the pandemic, this week has again brought attention to something perhaps more pervasive: the long-standing racism and injustices faced by Black and Brown people on a daily basis. 🧵pic.twitter.com/8zKPlDnacY

— Twitter Together (@TwitterTogether) May 29, 2020

Twitter, meanwhile, swapped its standard logo for a black and white version, adding a Black Lives Matter hashtag to its bio. Its diversity account Twitter Together offered the following statement (via tweet, naturally),

Racism does not adhere to social distancing. Amid the already growing fear and uncertainty around the pandemic, this week has again brought attention to something perhaps more pervasive: the long-standing racism and injustices faced by Black and Brown people on a daily basis.

Amazon also took to Twitter, offering the following statement,

The inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country must stop. Together we stand in solidarity with the Black community — our employees, customers, and partners — in the fight against systematic racism and injustice.

AWS head Andy Jassy added on his own account,

*What* will it take for us to refuse to accept these unjust killings of black people? How many people must die, how many generations must endure, how much eyewitness video is required? What else do we need? We need better than what we’re getting from courts and political leaders.

Many were quick to condemn Amazon for perceived hypocrisy. Among the issues here are longstanding complaints over worker treatment, as well as Amazon Web Service’s technologies like facial recognition, which have been utilized by law enforcement.

Cool tweet. Will you commit to stop selling face recognition surveillance technology that supercharges police abuse? https://t.co/DfnAhyw2PW

— ACLU (@ACLU) May 31, 2020

The ACLU responded rather bluntly,

Cool tweet. Will you commit to stop selling face recognition surveillance technology that supercharges police abuse?

Amazon does not appear to have responded to this most recent question from the organization.

The pain of the last week reminds us how far our country has to go to give every person the freedom to live with dignity…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday, May 31, 2020

Facebook’s response has also been a mixed bag. Staff have began vocal about their anger around Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to break with Twitter by leaving Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” statement in tact. More recently, however, the CEO commitment $10 million to relevant non-profits, adding in a post,

To help in this fight, I know Facebook needs to do more to support equality and safety for the Black community through our platforms. As hard as it was to watch, I’m grateful that Darnella Frazier posted on Facebook her video of George Floyd’s murder because we all needed to see that. We need to know George Floyd’s name. But it’s clear Facebook also has more work to do to keep people safe and ensure our systems don’t amplify bias.

Remarks from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella posted to LinkedIn briefly touch upon the events in Minneapolis, as well as the recent problematic encounter in Central in which the police were called on birder Christian Cooper,

Our identity, our very existence is rooted in empowering everyone on the planet. So, therefore, it’s incumbent upon us to use our platforms, our resources, to drive that systemic change, right? That’s the real challenge here. It’s not just any one incident, but it’s all the things that have led to the incident that absolutely need to change.

Meanwhile, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel sent a lengthy letter to staff on Sunday, writing,

Of course, the same Founding Fathers who espoused the values of freedom, equality, and justice for all – were predominantly slave owners. Their powerful vision of a nation created by the people, for the people was built on a foundation of prejudice, injustice, and racism. Without addressing this rotten foundation and its ongoing failures to create opportunity for all, we are holding ourselves back from realizing our true capacity for human progress – and we will continue to fall short of the bold vision of freedom, equality, and justice for all.

Spiegel’s letter focuses on his work to understand the struggles as a “young, white, educated male [who] got really, really lucky,” as well as proposals for financial methods for addressing inequality. Specifically, he calls for the establishment of a non-partisan Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations, as well as an investment in housing, healthcare and education.

Facebook takes on Twitter with Venue, a ‘second screen’ companion for live events

By Sarah Perez

Facebook’s R&D group, NPE Team, is launching a new app for engaging fellow fans around live events, Venue. This is the third new app to launch just this week from Facebook’s internal team focused on experimenting with new concepts in social networking. With Venue, the company aims to offer a digital companion for live events, starting with this Sunday’s NASCAR race.

The new app appears to be a challenge to Twitter, which today serves as the de facto “second screen” for commenting on live events and engaging with fellow fans. On Twitter, fans often use hashtags to add their commentary to live events that can range from TV show premieres to sports competitions to major political happenings, like live-streamed congressional hearings or the “State of the Union” presidential address, for example.

Twitter’s in-house curation team also rounds up the highlights from major events (e.g.), which are quick summaries featuring notable tweets, video clips, photos, comments and more about an event or related news story.

While there are some similarities with Twitter, Facebook’s Venue takes a different approach to the second screen.

Instead of having everyone viewing the event constantly chiming in with their own thoughts and reactions, the commentators for a given event hosted in Venue will only include well-known personalities — like journalists, current or former athletes, or aspiring “fan-analysts.” The latter could include popular social media personalities, for example.

These commentators will provide their own takes on the event and pose interactive questions and polls for those watching. The event host may also open up short, constrained chats around specific moments during the event — but fan commentary isn’t the main focus of the app.

In addition, fans don’t stay glued to their phone during the entire event when using Venue. Instead, the app sends out a notification to users when there’s a new “moment” available in the app. These “moments” aren’t like Twitter’s summaries. They’re one of the short, digital opportunities where fans can participate.

Facebook will first test Venue with NASCAR’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 race on Sunday, May 31, 2020. Social media personality, nascarcasm, will host the in-app “venue.”

Future NASCAR races will also be hosted in Venue, with commentators including nascarcasm, FOX Sports NASCAR reporter Alan Cavanna, and NASCAR driver Landon Cassill.

“As NASCAR makes its return to action over the coming weeks, Venue will provide users with a unique and exciting way to connect with fellow race fans from around the globe – all from the safety and comfort of their own homes,” said Tim Clark, NASCAR SVP and Chief Digital Officer, in a statement. “NASCAR was built on innovation, and we couldn’t be more excited to help a great partner like Facebook’s New Product Experimentation team innovate around new platforms,” he added.

Facebook believes the new app will give viewers the chance to better engage with live events and fellow fans.

“Live broadcasts still offer the rare opportunity for millions of people to consume content simultaneously,” Facebook explained in its announcement. “Despite drawing large concurrent viewership, live broadcasts are still a mostly solo viewing experience,” it noted.

That’s a bit of stretch. Fans certainly engage with one another when chatting about live events on Twitter. And when Twitter streams the video from a live event — something Venue doesn’t do, by the way — Twitter will offer a dedicated space where users can easily see the tweets from fellow viewers. Other live video platforms, including Facebook’s own Facebook Live and Instagram Live, also include chat experiences as do YouTube Live and Twitch.

The real difference between Venue and Twitter is that it shifts the balance of power. On Twitter, everyone’s comments are given equal footing. In Venue, it’s the expert hosts leading and curating the conversation.

Facebook hasn’t announced what future events Venue may host beyond NASCAR but it sounds like it has plans to expand Venue further down the road as it refers to NASCAR as its “first” sports partner.

The Venue app is live today on iOS and Android.

Twitter screens Trump’s Minneapolis threat-tweet for glorifying violence

By Natasha Lomas

After applying a fact-checking label Tuesday to a misleading vote-by-mail tweet made by US president Donald Trump, Twitter is on a roll and has labeled another of the president’s tweets — this time screening his words from casual view with what it calls a “public interest notice” that states the tweet violated its rules about glorifying violence. 

Here’s how the tweet appears without further interaction:

The public interest notice replaces the substance of what Trump wrote, meaning a user has to actively click through to view the offending tweet.

Engagement options are also limited as a result by this label, meaning users can only retweet the offending tweet with a comment; they cannot like it, reply to it or vanilla retweet it.

Twitter’s notice goes on to explain why it has not removed the offending tweet entirely — and this is where the public interest element of the policy kicks in — with the company writing: “Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” 

Twitter appears to be shrugging off the president’s decision yesterday to sign an executive order targeting the legal shield which internet companies rely on to protect them from liability for user-created content — doubling down on displeasing Trump who has accused social media platforms generally of deliberately suppressing conservative views, despite plenty of evidence that ad-targeting platform algorithms actually boost outrage-fuelled content and views — which tends, conversely, to amplify conservative viewpoints.

In the latest clash, Trump had tweeted in reference to violent demonstrations taking place in Minneapolis sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer — with the president claiming that “THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd” before threatening to send in the “Military”.

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Trump added — making a bald threat to use military force against civilians.

Twitter has wrestled with the issue of how to handle world leaders who break its content rules for years. Most often as a result of Trump who routinely uses its platform to bully all manner of targets — from rival politicians to hated journalists, disobedient business leaders, and even actors who displease him — as well as to dispense direct and sometimes violent threats.

Since being elected, Trump has also used Twitter’s global platform as a foreign policy weapon, firing military threats at the likes of North Korea and Iran in tweet form.

Back in 2018, for example, he teased North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un with button-pushing nuclear destruction (see below tweet) — before going on to “fall in love” with the dictator when he met him in person.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018

Twitter’s go-to defence for not taking offending Trump tweets down in the past has been that, as US president, the substance of what the man tweets — however mad, bad and dangerous — is inherently newsworthy.

However, more recently, the company has created a policy tool that allows it to intervene — defining terms last summer around “public interest” content on Twitter.

It warned then (almost a full year ago, in June 2019) that it might place a public interest notice on tweets that would otherwise violate its rules (and therefore merit a takedown) — in order to “to provide additional context and clarity”, rather than removing the offensive tweet.

Fast forward a year and the tech giant has started applying labels to Trump’s tweets — beginning with a fact-check label earlier this week, related to the forthcoming US election, and following up now with a public interest notice related to Trump glorifying violence.

So, finally, the tech giant seems to be inching towards drawing a limit-line around Trump in near real-time.

Explaining its decision to badge the US president’s threat to order the military to shoot looters in Minneapolis, the company writes: “This Tweet violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”

We have placed a public interest notice on this Tweet from @realdonaldtrump. https://t.co/6RHX56G2zt

— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) May 29, 2020

“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” Twitter goes on.

It also links to its policy against tweets that glorify violence — which states unequivocally [in bold]: “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.”

Back in June, when Twitter announced the ‘abusive behavior’ label, it also warned that tweets which get screened with a public interest notice will not benefit from any algorithmic acceleration, writing: “We’ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets.”

However the newsworthiness of Twitter’s decision to finally apply its own rules vis-a-vis Trump will ensure there’s plenty of non-algorithmic amplification.

We reached out to the company with questions about its decision to apply a public interest screen on Trump’s latest tweet but at the time of writing it had not responded.

On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, put out a series of tweets defending its decision to apply a fact-check label to Trump’s earlier misleading tweets about vote-by-mail.

“This does not make us an “arbiter of truth”,” wrote Dorsey. “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.

— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020

Dorsey’s remarks followed pointed comments made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Fox News, seeking to contrast Facebook’s claimed ‘neutrality’ when policing its platform with Twitter’s policy of taking a stance on issues such as political advertising (which Twitter does not allow).

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told the conservative news station. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

It’s notable that Dorsey used Zuckerberg’s exact turn of phrase — “arbiter of truth” — to reject Facebook’s attack on Twitter’s policy as a straw man argument.

German federal court squashes consent opt-outs for non-functional cookies

By Natasha Lomas

Yet another stake through the dark-patterned heart of consentless online tracking. Following a key cookie consent ruling by Europe’s top court last year, Germany’s Federal Court (BGH) has today handed down its own ‘Planet49’ decision — overturning an earlier appeal ruling when judges in a district court had allowed a pre-checked box to stand for consent.

That clearly now won’t wash even in Germany, where there had been confusion over the interpretation of a local law which had suggested an opt-in for non-functional cookies might be legally valid in some scenarios. Instead, the federal court ruling aligns with last October’s CJEU decision (which we reported on in detail here).

The ‘Planet49’ legal challenge was originally lodged by vzbz, a German consumer rights organization, which had complained about a lottery website, Planet49, that — back in 2013 — had required users to consent to the storage of cookies in order to play a promotional game. (Whereas EU law generally requires consent to be freely given and purpose limited if it’s to be legally valid.)

In a statement today following the BGH’s decision, board member Klaus Müller said: “This is a good judgment for consumers and their privacy. Internet users are again given more decision-making authority and transparency. So far, it has been common practice in this country for website providers to track, analyze, and market the interests and behaviors of users until they actively contradict them. This is no longer possible. If a website operator wants to screen his users, he must at least ask for permission beforehand. This clarification was long overdue.”

In case brought by our 🇩🇪 member @vzbv, Court confirms companies which use #cookies to track consumers' behaviour need to ask for prior informed consent. Pre-ticked boxes are not valid. Pending #ePrivacy Regulation must at least maintain this level of protection. #planet49 https://t.co/20NqWlN5rh

— The Consumer Voice (@beuc) May 28, 2020

There is one looming wrinkle, however, in the shape of Europe’s ePrivacy reform — a piece of legislation which deals with online tracking. In recent years, European institutions have failed to reach agreement on an update to this — with negotiations ongoing and lobbyists seeking ways to dilute Europe’s strict consent standard.

Should any future reform of ePrivacy weaken the rules on tracking consent that could undo hard won progress to secure European citizens’ rights, under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which deals with personal data more broadly.

vzbz’s statement warns about this possibility, with the consumer rights group urging the EU to “ensure that the currently negotiated European ePrivacy Regulation does not weaken these strict regulations”.

“We reject the Croatian Presidency’s proposal to allow user tracking in the future on the legal basis of a balance of interests,” added Müller. “The end devices of the consumers allow a deep insight into complex emotional, political and social aspects of a person. Protecting this privacy is a great asset. We therefore require tight and clear rules for user tracking for advertising purposes. This may only be permitted with consent or under strict conditions defined in the law.”

In the meanwhile, there will be legal pressure on data controllers in German to clean up any fuzzy cookie notices to ensure they are complying with consent requirements.

“As the implementation of these new requirements are easily visible (and technically identifiable) on the website, incompliance bears a high risk of cease-and-desist and supervisory procedures,” warns law firm TaylorWessing in a blog post commenting on the BGH decision.

Separately today, another long running legal challenge brought by vzbz against the social networking giant Facebook — for allegedly failing to gain proper consent to process user data related to games hosted on its app platform, back in 2012 — is set to get even longer after the BGH sought a referral on a legal question to Europe’s top court.

The German federal court is seeking clarification on whether consumer protection organizations can bring a lawsuit before the country’s civil courts seeking redress for data protection breaches. “This question is controversial in the case law of the instance courts and the legal literature,” the court notes in a press release.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the CJEU referral.

Google and Microsoft reportedly considering stakes in telecom firms in India after Facebook deal

By Manish Singh

Weeks after Facebook acquired a 9.9% stake in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, two more American firms are reportedly interested in the Indian telecom market.

Google is considering buying a stake of about 5% in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator in India, according to Financial Times. Separately, Microsoft is in talks to invest up to $2 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms, Indian newspaper Mint reported Friday.

According to Financial Times, Google has also held talks with Reliance Jio Platforms, a three-and-a-half-old telecom operator that has raised $10.3 billion in the last couple of weeks from Facebook and U.S. privacy equity firms Silver Lake, KKR, General Atlantic, and Vista.

Buzz about Microsoft’s interest in Reliance Jio Platforms, the top telecom operator in India with more than 388 million subscribers, has been swirling in the market for more than a month, though both the companies have declined to comment. A spokesperson of Google declined to comment today.

India has emerged as the one of the latest global battlegrounds for American and Chinese firms that are looking for their next billion users. About half a billion Indians came online in the last decade, with just as many still living offline.

In the last decade, Facebook and Google have launched connectivity efforts in India to bring more people online. While Facebook maintains one such effort, called Express Wi-Fi, in India, Google discontinued a project that allowed millions of Indians to access mobile internet for free at more than 400 railway stations earlier this year.

Both the companies have traditionally struggled to make much money from these users in India, the world’s second largest internet market with more than 600 million users.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said last month that the company would work with Jio Platforms to help small merchants and businesses come online. The two companies have already kick-started their collaboration.

Already struggling to improve their profits because of Jio’s aggressive expansion, Vodafone Idea and nation’s third largest telecom operator Airtel are also scrambling to pay India billions of dollars that they owe to the government because of a decade old case.

Executives at Vodafone Idea, a joint venture between UK-headquartered Vodafone and India’s Aditya Birla Group, said earlier this year that they may have to shut the telecom operator if the government did not provide them some relief.

The American giants have formed multiple partnerships with telecom operators in the key overseas market over the years to expand their reach in the nation. Microsoft has a partnership with Reliance Jio to bring Office 365 to millions of small businesses at subsidized cost. Google maintains a similar partnership with Airtel for its Google Cloud suite.

A 12 year journey ends as Skimlinks is acquired by retail marketing platform Connexity

By Mike Butcher

Connexity, a lead-gen platform for online retailers, has acquired Skimlinks, a UK platform for publishers to make money through affiliate links. Terms of the deal were undisclosed. According to Crunchbase, Skimlinks had raised a total of $25.5M and reached a late a Series C stage of funding, the final round coming from Frog Capital which invested $16M.

An early Seed investor was Sussex Place Ventures way back in 2009. For context, San Francisco-based competitor VigLink, which has raised a total of $27.3 million, remains an independent company.

Sources in the VC industry indicate that the acquisition was a “decent one” that may even have hit three figures, with a possible a large-ish earnout and equity component. Certainly, this was not a ‘firesale,’ by any means.

Although coy on the price of the acquisition, co-founder and President Alicia Navarro said: “Every party, including many staff, has made money out of this deal and is very happy.”

Cofounded in 2007 by Navarro and Joe Stepniewski, Skimlinks rode the wave of online activity as publishers struggled to monetize their ballooning online operations in the mid-teens of the last decade. Affiliate programs allow publishers to get a cut of the revenue when their link drives a purchase on an e-commerce site. Skimlinks makes the process easier through automation.

Originally spinning out of an idea Navarro had about consumer online commerce habits — a startup called Skimbit which resembled Pinterest in some respects — it had scaled to the US by the time I interviewed Navarro in 2012.

In 2013 it took on a growth financing round led by Greycroft Partners.

A couple of years later the platform was driving more than $500 million in e-commerce sales for publishers.

By 2016 editorial content from its publisher network of 1.5M domains had driven nearly $1 billion of ecommerce transactions and the company said it was on a path to profitability.

In 2018 Navarro stepped away from the CEO position, taking on the role of President, and handed the reigns to Sebastien Blanc, previously Chief Revenue Officer.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Navarro said the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the growth of the business as more publishers in its network monetized the massively increased online traffic, brought about by global lockdown policies.

Bill Glass, CEO of Connexity said in a statement: “Our solutions help retailers acquire new customers and sales while enabling ecommerce-oriented publishers to monetize engaged shopping audiences. Combining the companies creates more scale on both sides of the marketplace.”

Sebastien Blanc, CEO of Skimlinks said: “By marrying Connexity’s CPC search budgets with the broad CPA affiliate monetization coverage of Skimlinks, we provide best-in-class monetization for publishers. Our combined scale will fortify Connexity as a critically important customer acquisition channel for retailers and will strengthen publisher monetization solutions.”

And what of the founders? Stepniewski has taken on a senior role with Facebook UK. Navarro is now working on a fresh startup she bills as “AirBnB-meets-Calm as a service” allowing founders or executives to unplug and get into what is known as ‘Deep Work’.

She is now in the process of early-stage fundraising, so her entrepreneurial journey is clearly going to continue.

Why localized compensation in a work-anywhere world isn’t so simple

By Connie Loizos

Last Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook’s 48,000 employees that he expects upwards of 50% of the company will be working remotely within 10 years. After outlining many of the advantages that remote work confers — including to “potentially spread more economic opportunity around the country and potentially around the world” — he added that those who choose to move to other places in the U.S. or elsewhere will be paid based on where they live.

“We’ll localize everybody’s comp on January 1,” Zuckerberg said. “They can do whatever they want through the rest of the year, but by the end of the year they should either come back to the Bay Area or they need to tell us where they are.”

Facebook isn’t pioneering something entirely new. The concept of localized compensation has been around for some time, and it’s used by tech companies like GitHub that have primarily distributed workforces. Still, questions about whether it’s fair to pay employees based on their location are sure to grow as more outfits adopt remote-work policies.

Despite Facebook’s uncharacteristic transparency about its thinking, not everyone thinks the tactic makes sense.

One longtime Bay Area recruiter who typically focuses on executive searches calls “disparate pay for the same work” a “dangerous place to be.” Explains the recruiter, Jon Holman, “Even if you invoke the geographic disparity arithmetic based almost entirely on housing costs, what if a new openness to telecommuting means that more women or people of color can aspire to some of these jobs? Are you going to pay them less than the mostly white and Asian-American engineers in the Bay Area? I doubt it.”

Facebook rebrands Libra wallet Calibra to Novi

By Romain Dillet

When Facebook unveiled Libra, its cryptocurrency project, there were two distinct entities — the Libra Association, a not-for-profit that oversees all things Libra, and Calibra, a Facebook subsidiary that is building a Libra-based wallet with integrations in WhatsApp and Messenger. Today, Facebook announced that Calibra has a new name, Novi.

By rebranding Calibra to Novi, Facebook is trying to make it super clear that the Libra project isn’t a Facebook project per se. Facebook is just a member of the Libra Association with dozens of other members, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase, Iliad, Lyft, Shopify, Spotify, Uber, etc.

The Libra blockchain is supposed to operate independently from Facebook, while Novi is a pure Facebook project headed by David Marcus. According to the company, Novi comes from the Latin words “novus” (new) and “via” (way).

Novi’s first product will be a cryptocurrency wallet. You’ll be able to download a standalone Novi app on your phone. While you don’t need a Facebook or WhatsApp account to create a Novi account, it will also be accessible directly in Messenger and WhatsApp — you’ll be able to tap on a button to launch a Novi menu to send and receive money through the Novi wallet.

The Facebook subsidiary wants to be reassuring when it comes to money laundering and know-your-customer regulation. When you sign up to Novi, you’ll have to take a photo of a government-issued ID. Novi isn’t a way to send money anonymously.

Instead, Novi promises instant transactions and “no hidden fees” for cross-border money transfers and local payments. It’s unclear whether Novi means there won’t be any fees or there will be fees but the company will be transparent about them.

The Libra Association recently updated its white paper to make important changes to the cryptocurrency protocol. The association is no longer building a global stablecoin tied to a basket of fiat currencies and securities.

When Libra launches, there will be several stablecoins — each of them will be backed by a single fiat currency, such as USD, EUR, GBP or SGD. Novi users as well as people using other Libra-enabled wallets will be able to send and receive LibraUSD, LibraEUR, LibraGBP or LibraSGD. Novi will also act as a ramp to convert fiat money to crypto assets and cash out your cryptocurrencies to traditional fiat currencies.

Novi plans to launch its wallet when the Libra network goes live. Only a limited set of countries will be able to access the service at first.

Equity Morning: Remote work startup fundings galore, plus a major court decision

By Danny Crichton

Good morning and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a brief jumpstart for your week.

This is a messed-up edition, because we are both hosting Equity Monday on Tuesday (because that makes sense) and our normal host Alex Wilhelm is on vacation, leaving (editor’s note: poor and massively underpaid) managing editor Danny Crichton to wake up early on the first day of the workweek to talk to himself in front of a microphone.

Here’s what we (okay I) talked about this morning:

Equity will be back Friday morning with more. Welcome to the week!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

❌