A California court weighs in as Prop. 22 looms, Google removes popular apps over data collection practices and the Senate subpoenas Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg. This is your Daily Crunch for October 23, 2020.
A California appeals court ruled that yes, a new state law applies to Uber and Lyft drivers, meaning that they must be classified as employees, rather than independent contractors. The judge ruled that contrary to the rideshare companies’ arguments, any financial harm does not “rise to the level of irreparable harm.”
However, the decision will not take effect for 30 days — suggesting that the real determining factor will be Proposition 22, a statewide ballot measure backed by Uber and Lyft that would keep drivers as contractors while guaranteeing things like minimum compensation and healthcare subsidies.
“This ruling makes it more urgent than ever for voters to stand with drivers and vote yes on Prop. 22,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The tech giants
Google removes 3 Android apps for children, with 20M+ downloads between them, over data collection violations — Researchers at the International Digital Accountability Council found that a trio of popular and seemingly innocent-looking apps aimed at younger users were violating Google’s data collection policies.
Huawei reports slowing growth as its operations ‘face significant challenges’ — The full impact of U.S. trade restrictions hasn’t been realized yet, because the government has granted Huawei several waivers.
Senate subpoenas could force Zuckerberg and Dorsey to testify on New York Post controversy — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of issuing subpoenas for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Quibi says it will shut down in early December — A newly published support page on the Quibi site says streaming will end “on or about December 1, 2020.”
mmhmm, Phil Libin’s new startup, acquires Memix to add enhanced filters to its video presentation toolkit — Memix has built a series of filters you can apply to videos to change the lighting, the details in the background or across the whole screen.
Nordic challenger bank Lunar raises €40M Series C, plans to enter the ‘buy now, pay later’ space — Lunar started out as a personal finance manager app but acquired a full banking license in 2019.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Here’s how fast a few dozen startups grew in Q3 2020 — This is as close to private company earnings reports as we can manage.
The short, strange life of Quibi — Everything you need to know about the Quibi story, all in one place.
(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
France rebrands contact-tracing app in an effort to boost downloads — France’s contact-tracing app has been updated and is now called TousAntiCovid, which means “everyone against Covid.”
Representatives propose bill limiting presidential internet ‘kill switch’ — The bill would limit the president’s ability to shut down the internet at will.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, an appellate court ruled yesterday evening. However, the decision will be stayed for 30 days after the court issues the remittitur, which has not happened yet. That means depending on how ballot measure Proposition 22 goes, this case may not end up being the deciding factor in how Lyft and Uber classify their drivers in California.
Throughout the case, Uber and Lyft have argued that reclassifying their drivers as employees would cause irreparable harm to the companies. In the ruling today, the judge said neither company would suffer any “grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law” and that their respective financial burdens “do not rise to the level of irreparable harm.”
Additionally, there is nothing in the preliminary injunction, according to the judge, that would prevent Uber and Lyft from offering flexibility and independence to their drivers. Lastly, the judge said Uber and Lyft have had plenty of time to transition their drivers from independent contractors to employees, given that the key case in passing AB 5, the gig worker bill that spurred this lawsuit, was decided in 2018.
“This ruling makes it more urgent than ever for voters to stand with drivers and vote yes on Prop. 22,” Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood said in a statement to TechCrunch.
Prop 22 is a ballot measure in California that seeks to keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors. The measure, if passed, would make drivers and delivery workers for said companies exempt from a new state law that classifies them as W-2 employees. If passed, app-based transportation and delivery workers would be entitled to things like minimum compensation and healthcare subsidies based on engaged driving time.
Meanwhile, Lyft says it’s exploring all of its legal options, which may include appealing to the California Supreme Court. Uber, similarly, is considering its appeal options.
“Today’s ruling means that if the voters don’t say Yes on Proposition 22, rideshare drivers will be prevented from continuing to work as independent contractors, putting hundreds of thousands of Californians out of work and likely shutting down ridesharing throughout much of the state,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re considering our appeal options, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for drivers—72% of whom support Prop 22—and for the California economy, where millions of people are jobless and another 158,000 just sought unemployment support this week.”
The judge’s decision comes after California Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman granted a preliminary injunction in August to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify its drivers as employees. Uber and Lyft appealed the decision, but the appeals court has now affirmed the decision from the lower court.
The lawsuit was brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco in May. They argued Uber and Lyft gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. Then, in June, the plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction seeking the court to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify their drivers. In August, Judge Schulman granted it.
“While this legal victory today is directed at two companies, this fight is far broader,” Gig Workers Rising said in a statement. “This is about the future of work in this country. This is about securing good jobs with real benefits for generations to come. If Uber and Lyft are successful in passing Prop. 22 and undo the will of the people, they will inspire countless other corporations to adapt their business models and misclassify workers in order to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of their workforce.”
Uber is facing a class-action lawsuit over Proposition 22 that alleges the company is illegally coercing its drivers to support the ballot measure that seeks to keep workers classified as independent contractors. The suit was brought forth by two Uber drivers, Benjamin Valdez and Hector Castellanos, as well as two California nonprofit organizations, Worksafe and Chinese Progressive Association.
“Let’s be absolutely clear,” David Lowe, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “Uber’s threats and constant barrage of Prop 22 propaganda on an app the drivers must use to do their work have one purpose: to coerce the drivers to support Uber’s political battle to strip them of workplace protections.”
“Uber’s solicitations have the purpose and effect of causing drivers to fear retaliation by Uber if they do not support Uber’s political preference and may induce many drivers to falsely state that they support being deprived of the rights that California law guarantees to statutory ’employees,’ ” the suit states.
“This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts,” Uber spokesperson Matt Kallman said in a statement to TechCrunch. “It can’t distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22, and have for months, because they know it will improve their lives and protect the way they prefer to work.”
Prop 22 is the most-funded campaign in California’s history. To date, the Yes on 22 side has put north of $185 million into the initiative. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are the biggest contributors on the yes side. Meanwhile, the No on 22 campaign has contributed $12,166,063.
California’s Proposition 22 is the most funded and perhaps one of the most contentious ballot measures in the state’s history.
To date, the Yes on 22 side has put north of $185 million into the initiative. The proposition, funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, would ensure workers remain independent contractors. A Prop 22 defeat would reconfigure fully how gig-working companies classify their workers.
On the first episode of Season 3 of Mixtape, we talked to two gig workers, one on each side of the proposition.
Vanessa Bain is an Instacart shopper who is opposed to Proposition 22. Earlier this year, she co-founded Gig Workers Collective, a nonprofit to fight for fair pay and better treatment for gig workers.
She says the future of labor is at stake.
“I would argue the future of our democracy as well. The reality is that it establishes a dangerous precedent to allow companies to write their own labor laws,” Bain continues. “There’s an obvious conflict of interest there … This policy was created to unilaterally benefit companies at the detriment of workers.”
Surprising exactly no one, Doug Mead, an Uber Eats and Postmates driver who lives in Palm Springs and sits squarely in the Yes on 22 camp, feels differently.
“It’s really the government — their intent to remove a person’s control over how they want to be compensated. And that to me just makes no sense whatsoever,” Mead told us. “I should be in control of how I want to be compensated and by who.”
Uber, which was one of the three original companies (along with Lyft and DoorDash) to fund the proposition with $30 million, would see its business model change drastically if the proposition is defeated.
Earlier this month, Megan spoke with Shin-pei Tsay, Uber’s director of policy, cities and transportation, about a number of topics, including Proposition 22. She says she understands the dilemma that drivers grapple with on both sides but ultimately believes that the flexibility drivers currently have is worth protecting.
“But it isn’t perfect,” Tsay says. “We should be supporting workers more than the existing system enables currently, and so this is sort of a middle way of, you know, protecting that flexibility but also offering some benefits.”
The benefits Tsay is referring to is the 120% of minimum wage, 30 cents per engaged mile and healthcare subsidies dependent upon the number of hours worked if Prop 22 passes.
And if it doesn’t pass? Or if the company is forced to devise some magical hybrid classification that benefits all drivers, whether they want to be full employees or independent contractors?
“I think it’d be really challenging in our analysis. Essentially, we would have to start to ensure that there’s coverage, to ensure that there’s the necessary number of drivers to meet demand. There would be this forecasting that needs to happen — we would only be able to offer a certain number of jobs to meet that demand, because people will be working in set amounts of time.”
Tsay says that the matter at hand is to make the situation better rather than trying to “tinker around with two kinds of imperfect definitions.”
“This is something that a lot of companies have to look at. And what we’re trying, what we’re going up against is [that the] current system in place is very binary. And so I think it has to be, again, in partnership with cities, with states, with the federal government — we have to solve this together. This is not something that we just can come up with. And I don’t think the private sector should just come up with it on its own.”
Both Bain and Mead are also thinking about the potential impact the proposition will have on the future of labor outside of your Ubers and Lyfts. They both invoked Starbucks of all places and for very different reasons.
“I understand the other side’s point of view in terms of, there are apparently some drivers out there who don’t feel like they’re making enough money,” Mead told us. “But they’re asking for things, to me, that are just ridiculous. They want to get paid for waiting for a ride? Really? Who gets paid to wait on a job?
“If I’m a barista at Starbucks, there are going to be times when there are no customers in the store. However, I’m also taking that time to present the product that’s being sold to the customers, to set up the displays in the stores, to help clean the store. So I’m still working, even if there’s no customers. Now all of that work has already been done, and there are still no customers. Guess what? The manager is going to send me home. They’re not going to allow me to stay there while there’s nothing to do. So I’m not going to get paid to wait. Why should I get paid to wait now as an independent contractor? That makes zero sense to me.”
Bain uses the same example but in a drastically different way. And one that takes the labor movement head on.
“I have no doubt that … if Prop 22 were to succeed, we would see similar types of maneuvers from companies like Starbucks or Walmart, where we’re gonna end up with piece rate work in all of the service industry. Where we’re going to be paid per transaction that we bring up if we’re a cashier. Or we’re going to be paid per latte that we craft, if we’re a barista.
“If all it takes is putting the hiring process and the bossing into an app on your phone to rewrite labor laws, every company on the planet is going to be doing that. There’s so much more, unfortunately, at stake here than just Uber and Lyft and ride share and grocery delivery and how you’re going to get your DoorDash orders. Literally the future of labor is at stake.”
Lyft riders will soon have the option for paying and splitting fares using Venmo, the company said in a blog posting this morning. Venmo joins Lyft’s other payment methods of PayPal, credit cards, debit cards, Lyft Cash and more.
To enable the payment method, users need to authorize Venmo in the Lyft app.
Lyft says this feature is rolling out this month and will be available across its network in the coming weeks.
This feature comes to Lyft several years after first hitting Uber in 2018. Through Venmo users are able to create a financial social network of sorts where users share transactions including ridesharing charges. For services like Uber and Lyft, this unlocks a new form of marketing where users note their ridesharing service of choice. And, in theory, if your closest friends use a particular service for rides, you’re more likely to follow in kind.
Splitting fares happens in the Venmo app. After the ride is complete, users need to find and select the Lyft transaction in their Venmo payment feed. From there the Venmo user can select the person they want to split the charge. However, Lyft offers a native fare splitting service that does not require Venmo.
Opponents of California’s Proposition 22, the measure that seeks to continue classifying rideshare drivers and delivery workers as independent contractors, filed a complaint this morning with the United States Postal Service. The No on 22 campaign alleges the Yes side is not eligible for a nonprofit postal status and is asking USPS to revoke its permit.
It’s much cheaper to send campaign mailers as a nonprofit organization. For example, sending between 1 – 200,000 small mailers to every door normally costs $0.302 per piece. As a nonprofit, that costs $0.226 per piece, according to USPS. To be clear, the Yes on 22 campaign confirmed it was formed as a nonprofit organization under IRS section 501(c)(4), which pertains to social welfare organizations. But the No on 22 side says USPS erred in approving the Yes on 22 campaign.
“The Yes on 22 nonprofit permit was unlawfully issued,” a lawyer for No on 22 wrote to USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. “[…] This misuse of the nonprofit permit coming from a corporate backed $200 million campaign is unprecedented and should be remedied by the Postal Service immediately.”
According to USPS, any organization that wants to send mail as a nonprofit must first be authorized by the postal service as being eligible. Those that are eligible for nonprofit privileges, according to USPS, include “some political committees” but not “certain political organizations.” The political committees that may qualify for nonprofit prices regardless of nonprofit status, according to USPS, are the national or state committees of a political party, and the Democratic or Republican congressional or senatorial campaign committees.
To date, the Yes on 22 campaign has contributed $185,096,892 to its cause. The Yes on 22 committee consists of companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash, as well as drivers, small businesses and public safety and community organizations. The bulk of its funding has come from Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. In comparison, No on 22 has contributed $12,166,063.
“It’s outrageous but not surprising that the app companies that are going to the mat to keep shortchanging workers would shamelessly rip off the postal service,” No on Prop 22 spokesperson Mike Roth said in a statement. “This is just more evidence of the kind of greed we are dealing with from these companies who are spending $186 million in their selfish quest to buy themselves a new law but refused to buy their workers PPE in a pandemic.”
TechCrunch has reached out to USPS and will update this story if we hear back.
The goal of Sight Tech Global, a virtual, global event on December 2-3, 2020, is to gather the world’s top experts who are applying advanced technologies, notably AI, to the future of accessibility and assistive tech for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Today we’re excited to roll out most of the agenda. There are another half-dozen sessions and breakouts still to come, notably sessions on AI bias and civil rights. What we’ve discovered over the many weeks of research and conversation is a consistent, strong interest on the part of researchers, technologists and product and design thinkers to convene and talk over the future — its promises, challenges and even threats.
We’re delighted to have top-level talent from virtually every leading technology company, many research universities and some startups ready for fireside chats and small panel discussions with expert moderators. Some sessions will take questions from our audience as well.
When the event dates are closer, we will add dates and times to each of these sessions as well as announce additional speakers. Register today to get a free pass and please browse the first edition of the Sight Tech Global agenda below.
With ever more powerful computer and data resources available in the cloud, Microsoft’s Seeing AI mobile app is destined to become a steadily better ally for anyone with vision challenges. Co-founder Saqib Shaikh leads the engineering team that’s charting the app’s cloud-enabled future.
Saqib Shaikh, co-founder of Seeing AI, Microsoft
Moderator: Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch
As AI-based computer vision, voice recognition and natural language processing race ahead, the engineering challenge is to design devices that can perceive the physical world and communicate that information in a timely manner. Amnon Shashua’s OrCam MyEye is the most sophisticated effort yet to merge those technologies in a seamless experience on a dedicated device.
Amnon Shashua, co-founder of OrCam and Mobileye
Moderator: Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch
If people who are blind or visually impaired find Uber and Lyft liberating, imagine how they will feel summoning a self-driving ride from an app on their mobile phones. But wait, how exactly will they locate the cars and what happens when they climb in? Presenter Clem Wright is responsible for the self-driving taxi’s accessibility, and he will be joined by leadership from two organizations closely involved in that effort: The Lighthouse for the Blind SF and the Foundation for Blind Children.
Clem Wright, Accessibility product manager, Waymo
/> Marc Ashton, CEO, Foundation for Blind Children
Bryan Bashin, CEO, Lighthouse for the Blind
Moderator: Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch
Whether it’s Alexa, Tesla or Facebook, AI is already deeply embedded in our daily lives. Few understand that better than Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, a scientist who developed the first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system as a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, led Google in China and held senior roles at Microsoft and Apple. Today, Dr. Lee runs Sinovation Ventures, a $2 billion fund based in China, is president of the Sinovation’s Artificial Intelligence Institute and has 50 million followers on social media.
Dedicated devices versus accessible platforms? Victor Reader Stream versus iPhones and Alexa? How will AT companies take advantage of a world with cloud data and edge computational power, AI algorithms and more demanding customers than ever? Humanware, eSight and APH are already looking far into that future.
Gilles Pepin, CEO, Humanware
Greg Stilson, head of Global Innovation, APH
Charles Lim, CTO, eSight
Moderator: Betsy Beaumon, CEO, Benetech
The screen reader is arguably the most consequential digital technology ever for people who are blind or visually impaired. At the same time, screen readers depend on a dizzying array of keyboard commands, and — when it comes to reading websites in a browser — they struggle with the ugly reality of poor website accessibility. New technologies may lead the way to better outcomes.
Glen Gordon, Software fellow, Vispero; architect, JAWS
James Teh, Accessibility engineer, Mozilla; co-founder, NVDA
Léonie Watson, director, TetraLogical
Moderator: Matt King, Accessibility technical program manager, Facebook
When Alexa launched six years ago, no one imagined that the voice assistant would reach into millions of daily lives and become a huge convenience for people who are blind or visually impaired. This fall, Alexa introduced personalization and conversational capabilities that are a step-change toward more human-like home companionship. Amazon’s Josh Miele and Anne Toth will discuss the impact on accessibility as Alexa becomes more capable.
It’s one thing for an AI-based system to “know” when it’s time to turn left, who came through the door or how far away the couch is: It’s quite another to convey that information in a timely fashion with minimal distraction. Researchers are making use of haptics, visual augmented reality (AR), sound and language to figure out the right solutions.
Amos Miller, Product strategist, Microsoft AI and Research
Ashley Tuan, VP Medical Devices, Mojo Vision
Sile O’Modhrain, associate professor, Performing Arts Technology, University of Michigan
Moderator: Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine
Map apps on mobile phones are miraculous tools accessible via voice output, but mainstream apps don’t announce the detailed location information (which people who are blind or visually impaired really want), especially inside buildings and in public transportation settings. Efforts in the U.S. and U.K. are improving accessible navigation.
Tim Murdoch, founder and CEO, Waymap
Nick Giudice, professor of Spatial Informatics, University of Maine
Moderator: Mike May, chief evangelist, GoodMaps
For an AI to interpret the visual world on behalf of people who are blind or visually impaired, the AI needs to know what it’s looking at, and no less important, that it’s looking at the right thing. Mainstream computer vision databases don’t do that well — yet.
Danna Gurari, assistant professor and director of the Image and Video Computing Group, University of Texas
Patrick Clary, product manager, AI and accessibility, Google
/> Moderator: Roberto Manduchi, professor CS and Engineering, UC Santa Cruz
Keep an out for more sessions and breakouts later this month. In the meantime, registration is open. Get your pass today!
Sight Tech Global is eager to hear from potential sponsors. We’re grateful to current sponsors Amazon, Ford, Google, Microsoft, Mojo Vision, Waymo, Wells Fargo and Humanware. All sponsorship revenues go to the nonprofit Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which has been serving the Silicon Valley area for 75 years.
Special thanks to the Sight Tech Global advisors — Tech Matters Jim Fruchterman, UC Santa Cruz’s Roberto Manduchi, Verizon Media’s Larry Goldberg, Facebook’s Matt King and Be My Eyes’ Will Butler — who are playing an invaluable role on this project.
TC Sessions: Mobility is back and we’re excited to give the final look of what and who is coming to the main stage.
Before we get into who is coming, let’s tackle one important change from our 2019 inaugural event: this year, TC Sessions: Mobility will be virtual. Never fear, the virtual version of TC Sessions: Mobility will bring all of what you’d expect from our in-person events, from the informative panels and provocative one-on-one interviews to the networking and this year, even a pitch-off session.
While virtual isn’t the same as our events in the past, it has provided one massive benefit: democratizing access. If you’re a startup or investor based in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America or another region in the U.S., you can listen in, network and connect with other participants here in Silicon Valley. Plus, you’ll be able to meet all of the attendees through our matchmaking platform, CrunchMatch.
This year, we’re also holding a pitch-off competition for early-stage mobility companies, but you’ll need to make sure you have your ticket to join us at the event online. Prices start at just $25 for an Expo Ticket and only $195 for a General Admission Ticket to experience the whole event. We also offer a $50 tickets for students.
TechCrunch reporters and editors will interview some of the top leaders in transportation to tackle topics such as scaling up an electric vehicle company, the future of automated vehicle technology, micromobility, building an AV startup and investing in the industry. Our guests include Argo AI co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky, Waymo COO Tekedra Mawakana, Lucid Motors CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson, Ike Robotics co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Formula E race car driver Lucas di Grassi, Cruise’s director of global government affairs Prashanthi Raman, Hemi Ventures managing partner Amy Gu, Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath as well as TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit.
Tuesday, October 6
Waymo Chief Operating Officer Tekedra Mawakana is at the center of Waymo’s future, from scaling the autonomous vehicle company’s commercial deployment and directing fleet operations to developing the company’s business path. Tekedra will speak about what lies ahead as Waymo drives forward with its plan to become a grownup business.
Small startups and logistics giants alike are working on how to use automated vehicle technology and robotics for delivery. Matthew Johnson-Roberson, co-founder of Refraction AI and Ali Kashani, the VP of special projects at Postmates will talk about the challenges and opportunities of using robots for delivery.
Reilly Brennan, Amy Gu and Olaf Sakkers will come together to debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.
With our virtual platform, attendees can network via video chat, giving folks the chance to make meaningful connections. CrunchMatch, our algorithmic matching product, will be available to ensure you’re meeting the right people at the show, as well as random matching for attendees who are feeling more adventurous.
Argo AI has gone from unknown startup to a company providing the autonomous vehicle technology to Ford and VW — not to mention billions in investment from the two global automakers. Co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky will talk about the company’s journey, what’s next and what it really takes to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.
Worldwide, numerous companies are operating shared micromobility services — so many that the industry is well into a consolidation phase. Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Danielle Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator, Dmitry Shevelenko, founder at Tortoise will discuss, and VP of Strategy and Policy at Superpedestrian.
Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun will share her experiences in the world of automation and robotics, a ride that has taken her from Apple to Otto and Uber before she set off to start a self-driving truck company. Sun will discuss what the future holds for trucking and the challenges and the secrets behind building a successful mobility startup.
Uber’s operations touch upon many aspects of the transportation ecosystem. Whether its autonomous vehicles, food delivery, trucking or traditional ride-hailing, these products and services all require Uber to interact with cities and ensure the company is on the good side of cities. That’s where Shin-pei Tsay comes in. Hear from Tsay about how she thinks through Uber’s place in cities and how she navigates various regulatory frameworks.
Just weeks after Lucid Motors unveils its long-anticipated all-electric luxury Air sedan, we’ll sit down with Peter Rawlinson to discuss the challenges of building a car company and assembling that first production vehicle as well as plans for the future.
Wednesday, October 7
Formula E driver Lucas Di Grassi is part of a new racing series, in which riders on high-speed electric scooters compete against each other on temporary circuits in cities. Think Formula E, but with electric scooters. The former CEO of Roborace and sustainability ambassador of the EsC, Electric Scooter Championship, will join us to talk about electrification, micromobility and a new kind of motorsport.
TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit, will discuss the business and the technical challenges of autonomous trucking.
The Electrification of Porsche with Detlev von Platen (Porsche AG)
Porsche has undergone a major transformation in the past several years, investing billions into an electric vehicle program and launching the Taycan, its first all-electric vehicle. Now, Porsche is ramping up for more. Porsche AG’s Detlev von Platen, who is a member of the company’s executive board, will talk about Porsche’s path, competition and where it’s headed next.
Autonomous vehicle developers face a patchwork of local, state and federal regulations. Government policy experts, from Nuro, Aurora, Lyft and Cruise, discuss the progress that’s been made, the challenges that remain and how startups can navigate the jumble of regulations and deploy their autonomous vehicle technology at scale.
Margaret Nagle, head of policy and public affairs at Wing, will talk about how drones used for delivery could reshape cities and improve accessibility.
Polestar is less than four years old and already has two vehicles on the market and more on the way. In this fireside chat with CEO Thomas Ingenlath, we’ll discuss the company’s focus, strategy and sleek design.
Although dockless scooters first hit the streets of the U.S., there’s plenty of scooter activity going on abroad. And thanks to different regulatory landscapes and players, the state of scooters looks different depending on where you are. Scooters have taken off in Europe, with a number of players operating across the continent, as well as in South America. Now, shared scooters and ebikes are popping up in Africa. Hear from Spin CEO Euwyn Poon about bringing his U.S.-centric company abroad, VOI co-founder Fredrik Hjelm about the state of scooters in Europe and Tony Adesina, the founder and CEO of micromobility startup Gura Ride about opportunities and challenges in Africa.
Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their companies.
JB Straubel might be best known as Tesla’s co-founder and former CTO who was responsible for some of the company’s most important technology, notably around batteries. But Straubel is hardly finished. He launched his own recycling startup called Redwood Materials that is focused on creating a circular supply chain and recently named Amazon and Panasonic as customers. We’ll sit down with Straubel to talk about his latest venture, time at Tesla and of course, battery technology and the state of the electric vehicles.
Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology for Panasonic Energy of North America, and JB Straubel, co-founder and CEO of Redwood Materials, will dig into the state of battery tech, what it will take to meet growing demand while minimizing the environmental impact, and how their respective companies are working together.
Welcome back to Human Capital, where we unpack the latest in tech labor and diversity and inclusion. This week, we’re looking at the latest developments in the battle over the classification of gig workers, the rise of labor unions in tech and and Instagram’s latest move to be woke.
Human Capital will soon be available as a newsletter. Be sure to sign up here.
Both sides of Prop 22 are going full steam ahead in their efforts to sway California voters. Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash each committed another $17.5 million to Yes on Prop 22 last Friday, according to a late contributions filing.
As of August 24, the Yes on 22 campaign had contributed just north of $110 million, while the No on 22 campaign had put $4.6 million into its efforts. The latest influx of cash brings Yes on 22’s total contributions to more than $180 million. Of all the measures on this November’s ballot, Yes on Prop 22 has received the most contributions, according to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
Bastian Lehmann, CEO of Postmates, also penned an op-ed on CNN about gig workers and how there needs to be a third classification of workers, which is essentially what Prop 22 is pushing.
Meanwhile, rideshare drivers took to the streets of Oakland, California to protest Uber’s ads and Prop 22.
— Gig Workers Rising (@GigWorkersRise) September 9, 2020
All this Prop 22 activity comes amid a lawsuit brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a handful of local city attorneys that seek to force Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees. In Lyft’s sworn statement addressing how Lyft would go about transitioning its drivers from independent contractors to employees, CEO Logan Green said the company might cease operations in all or parts of California if forced to reclassify drivers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
This year has marked a new wave of organizing among tech workers. Unions, which act as a sort of intermediary between workers and their employers, advocate on behalf of employees for better wages, working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining. Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had weekly earnings of $1,095, compared to $892 for non-union members in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In February, Kickstarter employees voted to form a union after months of what appeared to be union busting at the hands of Kickstarter leadership. In September 2019, Kickstarter fired two people who were actively organizing the union. Now, the National Labor Board has found merit that Kickstarter unlawfully fired those two people.
Kickstarter’s successful organizing made it become the first major tech company in the U.S. to unionize and join OPEIU Local 153. Then, one month later, collaborative coding platform Glitch voted to unionize with Code-CWA.*
Now, at least 10 tech companies are actively trying to unionize, according to Grace Reckers, the lead northeast union organizer of OPEIU, told TechCrunch. Part of what’s driving this increased interest in unions is the abuse of data and privacy by tech giants.
“Employees are seeing that they don’t actually have control of how the products they make are being used,” she said. “Even though most of the messaging in Silicon Valley is about creating a better world for us, making our lives easier and innovating, it also moves under the philosophy of move fast and break things.”
And “breaking things” can lead to things like employee layoffs, misuse of data or separation of families, Reckers said.
“Workers want control over how products are being created, and control of how those tools are being used,” she said. “People are realizing it’s not just about their immediate workplaces but also their impacts on local communities or global communities.”
Instagram announced a new Equity team to work on “better understanding and addressing bias in our product development” the experiences people have on Instagram, Adam Mosseri, Instagram lead, wrote. Part of the responsibilities of that team include creating fair and equitable products, as well as ensuring algorithmic fairness. According to a job posting for an equity and inclusion product manager, the team will be fully focused on equity and inclusion, and “creating the most equitable experience for our global communities.”
Instagram desperately needs an effective team in this area. In June, some Instagram influencers posted photos of themselves in Blackface in a misguided attempt to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile, Black people have reported harassment on the platform and fears of being shadowbanned.
Instagram is also looking to hire its own diversity lead. According to the job posting, the director of diversity and inclusion will be responsible for increasing and retaining people from diverse backgrounds, among other things. Facebook has had a head of diversity in place since 2013, but given how big of a company Facebook has become, it seems worthwhile to have a diversity leader specifically focused on Instagram.
*Disclosure: My partner works at Glitch.
The U.S. government rolled out a new online tool Wednesday designed to give the public insight into where and who is testing automated vehicle technology throughout the country.
The official name of the online tool — Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative tracking tool — is a jargony mess of a word salad. Fortunately, its mechanics are straightforward. The online tool gives users the ability to find information about on-road testing of automated vehicles in 17 cities throughout the United States. The public can find out information about a company’s on-road testing and safety performance, the number of vehicles in its fleet as well as AV-related legislation or policy in specific states.
The AV tracking tool is part of the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative, called AV TEST for short, that was announced in June. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is overseeing the AV TEST Initiative.
The online tool is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a start, and continues to expand. The tool currently shows data in 17 cities, including Austin, Columbus (Ohio), Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The data might include testing activity as well as dates, frequency, vehicle counts and routes, NHTSA said.
The information on the interactive web page is based on information that companies have volunteered. In other words, companies testing automated vehicle technology are not required by the federal government to provide data.
However, a growing number of AV founders and engineers understand that public education and acceptance will be necessary if they ever hope to commercially deploy their technology. Ten companies and nine states have already signed on as participants in the voluntary web pilot. The participating companies, to date, are Beep, Cruise, EasyMile, FCA, LM Industries, Navya, Nuro, Toyota, Waymo and Uber Advanced Technologies Group. The online tool also contains voluntarily submitted safety reports from Aurora, Ike, Kodiak, Lyft, TuSimple and Zoox.
NHTSA has limited the number of companies submitting data during the pilot phase, Dr. Joseph M. Kolly, the agency’s chief safety scientist said during a briefing earlier Wednesday.
“The more information the public has about the on-road testing of automated driving systems, the more they will understand the development of this promising technology,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens said in a statement. “Automated driving systems are not yet available for sale to the public, and the AV TEST Initiative will help improve public understanding of the technology’s potential and limitations as it continues to develop.”
Autonomous vehicles have yet to become mainstream, but companies like Lyft, Cruise, Nuro and Aurora are still fighting the good fight. The AV space has always faced its share of regulatory and development hurdles, but this year brought a new set of hurdles with the COVID-19 pandemic.
At TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility, we’ll hear from Cruise, Lyft, Nuro and Aurora about where they are in their respective journeys to public deployment and how they’ve navigated the year.
Cruise Director of Government Affairs Prashanthi Raman
Earlier this year, before the world blew up, Cruise received a permit in California to begin transporting passengers. Cruise also began focusing more on hardware earlier this year. That all came after Cruise had already scrapped its plans to launch a robotaxi service in 2019. In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cruise laid off 8% of its workforce in May in an attempt to cut costs. As part of the restructuring, Cruise said it would double down on its engineering efforts.
Meanwhile, Cruise still has its eyes set on public deployment, which is where the expertise of Raman comes in. It’s her job to help Cruise navigate the murky regulatory waters of autonomous vehicles.
Nuro Chief Legal & Policy Officer David Estrada
Nuro, an autonomous delivery startup, takes a slightly different approach to autonomous vehicles. Instead of transporting people, Nuro transports goods. In April, Nuro received a permit to begin driverless testing in California. The startup, which raised $940 million from SoftBank’s Vision Fund last year, aims to deliver groceries and other goods to customers at scale.
Estrada, who previously led legal and policy operations at Bird and government relations at Lyft, is no stranger to playing ball with regulatory agencies. It’s up to him to ensure Nuro gains the trust of the public by proving the company’s commitment to safety and the law.
Lyft Self-Driving Platform Director Jody Kelman
Lyft first began testing its autonomous vehicles in California in late 2018. The company had to pause those operations earlier this year as a result of the pandemic, but resumed testing in late June.
That same month, Lyft began using data from its ride-hailing app to build 3D maps, better understand human driving patterns and improve simulation tests for the company’s autonomous vehicle program.
As part of Lyft’s go-to-market strategy, it has partnered with a number of companies. A key partner for Lyft has been Aptiv, which as of February, provided 100,000 paid rides on the Lyft app.
“We’ve got something here,” Kelman said at the time to TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec. “This is really a blueprint for what future mobility partnerships can look like.”
Aurora Senior Manager of Government Relations Melissa Froelich
Aurora, which launched back in 2017, had been developing a full-stack solution for self-driving vehicles that prioritized robotaxis. That changed in October 2019, when Aurora began focusing more on trucks and logistics and declared trucks would be the company’s first commercial product.
Trucking comes with its own bag of worms, but folks seem to believe that AV trucking has a clearer path to profitability. In July, Aurora expanded into Texas to test commercial routes. At TC Sessions: Mobility, Froelich will discuss how Aurora is navigating the autonomous trucking space and the challenges it faces.
Get your tickets for TC Sessions: Mobility to hear from these thought-leaders from Nuro, Lyft, Cruise and Lyft, along with several other fantastic speakers from Porsche, Waymo, Lyft and more. Tickets are just $145 for a limited time, with discounts for groups, students and exhibiting startups. We hope to see you there!
California Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman heard arguments from Uber and Lyft, as well as lawyers representing the people of California regarding the request for a preliminary injunction that seeks to force Uber and Lyft to immediately reclassify their drivers as employees. Schulman did not make a ruling today but said we could all likely expect one to come within a matter of days, rather than weeks.
In the hearing, Schulman expressed how hard it is to determine the impact of a preliminary injunction in this case. For example, how Uber and Lyft would comply with the injunction is unknown, as are the economic effects on drivers, such as their ability to earn income, the hours they would be able to work and their eligibility for state benefits, Schulman said.
“I feel a little bit like I’m being asked to jump into a body of water without really knowing how deep it is, how cold the water is and what’s going to happen when I get in,” Schulman said.
Today’s hearing was the result of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco filing a preliminary injunction in an attempt to force Uber and Lyft to comply with AB 5 and immediately stop classifying their drivers as independent contractors.
The new law codifies the 2018 ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test (more on that a bit later) and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors based on the presumption that “a worker who performs services for a hirer is an employee for purposes of claims for wages and benefits…”
In the hearing today, lawyers on behalf of the people of the state of California, and Uber and Lyft, discussed the classification of workers as independent contractors versus employees, gig worker protections bill AB-5, the definition of a “hiring entity,” unemployment benefits, paid sick leave, workers’ compensation insurance and more.
Uber and Lyft maintained that an injunction would require them to restructure their businesses in such a material way that it would prevent them from being able to employ many drivers on either a full-time or part-time basis. Uber and Lyft’s argument, effectively, is that classifying drivers as employees would result in job loss.
“The proposed injunction would cause irreparable injury to Lyft and Uber, and would actually cause massive harm to drivers and harm to riders,” Rohit Singla, counsel for Lyft, said at the hearing. For example, Lyft estimates it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars simply to process the I-9 forms, which verify employment eligibility. It doesn’t cost anything to file that form, but it would require Uber and Lyft to further invest in their human resources and payroll processes.
Additionally, Singla argued that a preliminary injunction at this stage of the case would be drastic. His argument resonated with the judge.
“It’s not every day that a judge is asked to issue an injunction on a preliminary basis, as he emphasizes, that could potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people. And that’s what we’re dealing with here.”
But the plaintiffs disagreed. That vast number of people affected is a key reason to issue the injunction, Matthew Goldberg, Deputy San Francisco District Attorney argued. Additionally, Goldberg argued it would be quite feasible for Uber and Lyft to reclassify its drivers.
“It’s very doable,” he said. “[…] Both of these businesses already have very large, white-collar workforces at their corporations. I can assure you that every one of those workers is getting workers’ compensation insurance” and other benefits.
He added, “extending this set of benefits to more workers, administratively, is not as difficult as they allege given they already do this for thousands of workers.”
Additionally, there are elements of Uber- and Lyft-backed Prop 22 (details below) that are similar to what AB 5 requires, so plaintiffs argue there would not be irreparable harm for Uber and Lyft to comply with AB 5. Uber and Lyft, however, disagree.
In Uber’s opening arguments, Uber counsel Theanne Evangelis pointed to a number of product changes that should remove “any doubt about the compliance and demonstrate Uber is a technology platform” that operates a multi-sided marketplace she said. For example, Uber began allowing drivers in June to set their own prices.
Still, Judge Schulman pressed on Uber’s ability to satisfy Prong B of the ABC test. According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove (A) the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, (B) performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and (C) is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.”
“If you look at Uber or Lyft, they’re not in the business of maintaining an online app by itself,” Schulman said. “That’s the technology by which they perform. Their business is providing rides to people for compensation. In plain English, that’s what they do? Isn’t it?”
Evangelis quickly replied, “No.” She argued that what Uber and Lyft do is simply connect drivers and riders through their technology platform. She also pointed to the variety of services Uber offers, such as Uber Eats and Freight. Evangelis went on to ask the judge if he would put this on pause until November, when Californians will vote on Prop 22, which is backed by Uber, Lyft and others.
The ballot measure looks to implement an earnings guarantee of at least 120% of minimum wage while on the job, 30 cents per mile for expenses, a healthcare stipend, occupational accident insurance for on-the-job injuries, protection against discrimination and sexual harassment and automobile accident and liability insurance. Most notably, however, it would keep drivers classified as independent contractors.
Judge Schulman, however, seemed flummoxed by the basis of the argument to wait until November to see what voters decide.
“It seems to me that’s not my role,” he said. “And more significantly, it seems to me, if any of us learned anything from the 2016 election, is many of us are unable to predict the outcome of elections…I just wonder about the legitimacy of an argument like that.”
Evangelis closed her time by saying that Uber believes it passes the ABC test today.
The motion for a preliminary junction was filed as part of the suit filed in May, which asserted Uber and Lyft gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. The suit argues Uber and Lyft are depriving workers of the right to minimum wage, overtime, access to paid sick leave, disability insurance and unemployment insurance. The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of San Francisco, seeks $2,500 in penalties for each violation, possibly per driver, under the California Unfair Competition Law, and another $2,500 for violations against senior citizens or people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft are both facing another lawsuit from the office of the California Labor Commissioner alleging wage theft. Filed yesterday in Oakland, the suits similarly aim to enforce the labor practices set forth by AB 5.
Uber and Lyft are both facing another lawsuit from the office of the California Labor Commissioner alleging wage theft. Filed today, the suits argue both Uber and Lyft are misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors and aim to enforce the labor practices set forth by AB 5.
“The Uber and Lyft business model rests on the misclassification of drivers as independent contractors,” California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in a statement. “This leaves workers without protections such as paid sick leave and reimbursement of drivers’ expenses, as well as overtime and minimum wages.”
The goals of the separate suits are to recover the money that is allegedly owed to these drivers. By classifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, both Uber and Lyft have not been required to pay minimum wage, overtime compensation, nor have they been required to offer paid breaks or reimburse drivers for the costs of driving.
AB 5, which went into law earlier this year, outlines what type of worker can and cannot be classified as an independent contractor. The law codifies the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors.
According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in work of some independently established trade or other similar business.
These suits are seeking for the court to order Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees and provide them with all the protections that come with being a W-2 employee.
“For years Uber and Lyft have been stealing wages and exploiting every legal loophole they can to avoid paying drivers what they deserve,” Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen said in a statement. “It was shameful before and it is even more shameful now, during the middle of a pandemic, that we have allowed wealthy companies to get away with this. This lawsuit is an essential part of holding these companies accountable and protecting drivers’ rights.”
These new lawsuits come just months before Californians are set to vote on Prop 22, a ballot measure backed by Uber, Lyft and others. The ballot measure looks to implement an earnings guarantee of at least 120% of minimum wage while on the job, 30 cents per mile for expenses, a healthcare stipend, occupational accident insurance for on-the-job injuries, protection against discrimination and sexual harassment and automobile accident and liability insurance. Most notably, however, it would keep drivers classified as independent contractors.
“[…]as this lawsuit clearly demonstrates, Sacramento politicians are more interested in the wishes of their special interest donors than the will of the vast majority of drivers and are intent on stripping drivers of the freedom to choose independent work,” the Yes on 22 campaign said in a statement. “This coordinated effort by all levels of government to run a politically motivated campaign will hurt the state at the worst possible time.”
Lyft continues to expand beyond its core ride-hailing business into bikes, scooters, transit and now rental cars. The company said Thursday that it’s taking Lyft Rentals, a pilot program that launched in December, and expanding it through a partnership with Sixt.
Lyft Rentals initially gave folks in Los Angeles and San Francisco the ability to rent vehicles through its app, which might be traditionally used to hail a ride or grab a shared scooter. The pilot was successful enough to warrant an expansion, but with one notable change. Lyft owns and operates the rental fleet in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The new partnership will shift that responsibility to Sixt, a global rental car company with more than 70 locations in the United States. Lyft said it will continue to own and operate the rental fleet in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The car rental option via the Sixt partnership will initially expand to Las Vegas, Miami and Seattle. Lyft said it plans to expand to all cities within the Sixt rental network in the U.S. in the coming months.
Customers can open the Lyft app to find a selection of cars that can be rented directly from the “Rentals” tab. From here, users can select their vehicle class, reservation dates, location and an option to add insurance coverage. Customers also have the option to select the exact make and model of their vehicle. Lyft said it will provide a $10 credit to be used to hail a ride after dropping the car back at the Sixt lot.
Lyft Rentals shouldn’t be confused with the company’s Express Drive program, which gives people who want to drive on the Lyft ride-hailing app a way to gain access to a vehicle. Express Drive, which is in partnership with Hertz, is aimed at drivers. Lyft Rentals is a consumer product.
Lyft is betting that the partnership with Sixt will allow it to scale quickly without taking on the high capital costs of buying, owning and maintaining the actual vehicles, not to mention the burden of managing the various permits required to operate a rental car company in cities and at airports.
Lyft will receive a commission from each rental made through the app, according to the company.
Founders pitch venture capitalists at every available chance, which is why most of them quickly develop the skills required to identify whether someone is offering them an opportunity or wasting their time.
At TechCrunch Early Stage, I chatted with NFX Managing Partner James Currier about how founders can find the right investors and what they need to show to win an investment. Currier has been on both sides of the deal table and founded several startups before devoting himself to early-stage investing, where he has backed companies like Lyft, Houzz and Houseparty .
“One of the ways that investors are similar is that whenever they look at all the companies coming to them, most of them get into a quick ‘no’ situation, some of them get into the ‘maybe’ and very few get into the quick ‘yes,’ ” Currier says.
He shared six reasons investors might give a founder the rare and highly coveted “quick yes,” an effort to lock down a deal that’s either perfect for them or too enticing to pass up. Realizing what exactly investors are seeking can help founders understand how to pitch at the first meeting and what they should leave for follow-ups. For those who couldn’t virtually attend TechCrunch Early Stage, check out the link below.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
“So the first thing that they’re looking for is traction. Look, even if they don’t like you, if they don’t like the market, but you’re making a ton of money, what are they going to say? Like if it’s growing really quickly and you’re profitable, you’ve got high margins and everyone wants to work for you, and there’s this buzz around you. What are they going to say? They’re gonna have to invest because you’ve got traction.”