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Yesterday — June 1st 2020Your RSS feeds

Twitter restricts Republican lawmaker’s Antifa tweet for ‘glorifying violence’

By Taylor Hatmaker

Twitter placed a tweet from a close political ally of the president behind a warning label Monday, citing its policy prohibiting content that promotes violence.

The tweet, from Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, suggested that the U.S. government “hunt down” anti-fascist activists in the country like it would pursue international terrorists.

“We have placed a public interest notice on this Tweet from @mattgaetz,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch, linking its platform policy page. Twitter users can still share the tweet with comment, but regular retweets, likes and replies have been deactivated.

Consistent with its previously announced policy concerning tweets from public figures that violate its rules, Twitter left the post up but placed it behind a note.  “We want to make it clear today that the accounts of world leaders are not above our policies entirely,” Twitter wrote in the policy, released last year. “… We will err on the side of leaving the content up if there is a clear public interest in doing so.”

This story is developing.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Daily Crunch: Trump takes aim at social media companies

By Anthony Ha

President Trump follows through on his threat to challenge the legal protections enjoyed by social media and internet companies, Magic Leap’s CEO is stepping down and China sees its biggest autonomous driving round yet.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 29, 2020.

1. Trump signs an executive order taking direct aim at social media companies

Yesterday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting the legal shield that internet companies rely on to protect them from liability for user-created content. Next, we’ll almost certainly see a court battle over whether the order is legal and enforceable.

While Trump and Attorney General William Barr have expressed interest in undermining Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act before, this week’s action was prompted by Twitter’s decision to add a fact-checking link to the president’s tweet about voting by mail. That conflict isn’t going away either, with Twitter adding a “public interest notice” to another of Trump’s tweets for glorifying violence.

2. Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz is out

Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony Abovitz announced that the company has secured a new bout of funding — but that Magic will be attempting a major turnaround without him at the helm.

3. SoftBank led $500M investment in Didi in China’s biggest autonomous driving round

As China’s largest ride-hailing provider with mountains of traffic data, Didi clearly has an upper hand in developing robotaxis, which could help address driver shortages in the long term. But it was relatively late to the field.

4. Cisco to acquire internet monitoring solution ThousandEyes

Cisco’s Todd Nightingale, writing in a blog post announcing the deal, said that the kind of data that ThousandEyes provides around internet user experience is more important than ever as internet connections have come under tremendous pressure.

5. Fintech regulations in Latin America could fuel growth or freeze out startups

Promoteo co-founder Ximena Aleman looks at what impact regulation has had so far in Latin America, and what needs to happen to strike a balance between sector growth and public trust. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Uber UK launches Work Hub for drivers to find other gig jobs during COVID-19

The ride-hailing giant rolled out a similar feature in the U.S. back in April, offering drivers the ability to respond to job postings from around a dozen other companies, as well as the ability to receive orders through other Uber units: Eats, Freight and Works.

7. Join us June 3 for a contact-tracing and exposure-notification app development and deployment forum

We’re working with the COVID-19 Technology Task Force, as well as Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, Betaworks Studios and Hangar. We’ll be playing host to their live-streamed discussion around contact-tracing and exposure-notification applications, including demonstrations of some of the cutting-edge products that will be available in the U.S. to tackle these challenging, but crucial, tasks.

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Twitter, Reddit challenge US rules forcing visa applicants to disclose their social media handles

By Zack Whittaker

Twitter and Reddit have filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging a U.S. government rule change compelling visa applicants to disclose their social media handles.

The lawsuit, brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice and law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, seeks to undo both the State Department’s requirement that visa applicants must disclose their social media handles prior to obtaining a U.S. visa, as well as related rules over the retention and dissemination of those records.

Last year, the State Department began asking visa applicants for their current and former social media usernames, a move that affects millions of non-citizens applying to travel to the United States each year. The rule change was part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand its “enhanced” screening protocols. At the time, it was reported that the information would be used if the State Department determines that “such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”

In a filing supporting the lawsuit, both Twitter and Reddit said the social media policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that the rules violate the First Amendment rights “to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

Twitter and Reddit, which collectively have more than 560 million users, said their users — many of which don’t use their real names on their platforms — are forced to “surrender their anonymity in order to travel to the United States,” which “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” the brief said.

“That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”

Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s policy chief for the Americas, said the social media rule “infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.” Reddit’s general counsel Ben Lee called the rule an “intrusive overreach” by the government.

It’s not known how many, if any, visa applicants have been denied a visa because of their social media content. But since the social media rule went into effect, cases emerged of approved visa holders denied entry to the U.S. for other people’s social media postings. Ismail Ajjawi, a then 17-year-old freshman at Harvard University, was turned away at Boston Logan International Airport after U.S. border officials searched his phone after taking issue with social media postings of Ajjawi’s friends — and not his own.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told TechCrunch at the time that Ajjawi’s case was not isolated. A week later, TechCrunch learned of another man who was denied entry to the U.S. because of a WhatsApp message sent by a distant acquaintance.

A spokesperson for the State Department did not immediately comment on news of the amicus brief.

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.

Going to war with Twitter, Trump threatens critical social media legal protections

By Taylor Hatmaker

Accusing Twitter of censorship for adding a contextual label to false claims he made about the 2020 election process, President Trump has again declared war on social media companies.

After the White House told reporters that the president would soon announce an executive order “pertaining to social media,” the draft of that order is out in circulation. We’ve reviewed the draft, and while its contents are somewhat shocking by the standards of a normal administration, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Trump administration lash out at social media companies over accusations of political bias. In fact, we may be seeing the same executive order now that circulated in draft form last year.

A draft of an executive order is just that: a draft. Until the administration actually introduces or signs an order, its wishes — and threats — should be taken with a grain of salt. But we can get an idea of what this White House has in mind for punishing social media companies for ongoing unfounded claims of anti-conservative censorship.

The president’s draft order tries to exert control over social media companies in a few ways. The most ominous of those is by attacking a law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That law, often regarded as the legal infrastructure for the social internet, shields online platforms from legal liability for the content their users create. Without the law, Twitter or Facebook or YouTube (or Yelp or Reddit or any website with a comments section, including this one) could be sued for the stuff their users post.

Whether you think they should be held more accountable for their content or not, in a world without Section 230, social media companies would never have been able to scale into the services we use today.

The draft order attacks this legal provision by claiming that that part of the law means that “an online platform that engaged in any editing or restriction of content posted by others thereby became itself a ‘publisher,'” implying that a company would then be legally liable for things its users say. This is a misleading interpretation at best and one that seems specifically intended to let the White House intimidate companies like Twitter into moderating platforms even less.

This interpretation is a willful inversion of what the law really intends. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who co-authored Section 230, often says that the law provides companies with both a sword and a shield. The “shield” protects companies from legal liability and the “sword” allows them to make moderation decisions without facing liability for that either.

While Trump is trying to intimidate social media companies into doing even less moderation — such as Twitter labeling the falsehood he tweeted — the consensus beyond this politically expedient viewpoint is that social media should actually be removing and contextualizing more of the potentially harmful content on their platforms.

“Members across the spectrum, including far-right House and Senate leaders, are agitating for government regulation of internet platforms,” Wyden wrote in a prescient TechCrunch op-ed two years ago calling for tech companies to step up or face an existential threat.

“Even if the government doesn’t take the dangerous step of regulating speech, just eliminating the [Section] 230 protections is enough to have a dramatic, chilling effect on expression across the internet.”

Beyond attacking Twitter’s moderation decisions through Section 230, the draft executive order says the White House will reestablish a “tech bias” reporting tool, presumably so it can unsystematically collect anecdotal evidence that he and his supporters are being unfairly targeted on social platforms. According to the order, the White House would then submit those reports to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The order would further rope in the FTC to make a public report of complaints and “consider taking action” against social media companies that “restrict speech.”

It’s not clear what kind of action, if any, the FTC would have legal ground to take.

The order also asks the Commerce Secretary to file a petition that would require the Federal Communications Commission to “clarify” parts of Section 230 — a role the commission isn’t likely eager to embrace.

“Social media can be frustrating. But an executive order that would turn the FCC into the president’s speech police is not the answer,” Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted on Thursday morning.

The order also calls for the U.S. Attorney General William Barr to form a working group of state attorneys general “regarding the enforcement of state statutes” to collect information about social media practices, another presumably legally unsound exercise in partisanship. Barr, a close Trump ally, has expressed his own appetite for dismantling tech’s legal protections in recent months.

While Trump’s executive order may prove toothless, there is some appetite for dismantling Section 230 among tech’s critics in Congress — a branch of the government with much more power to hold companies accountable.

The most prominent of those threats is currently the EARN-IT Act, a Senate bill introduced in March that would amend Section 230 “to allow companies to “‘earn’ their liability protection” under the guise of pressuring them to crack down on enforcement against child sexual exploitation. The executive order doesn’t directly connect to that proposal, but sounding the war drums against the tech industry’s key legal provision will likely signal Trump’s Republican allies to double down on those efforts.

In response to the circulating draft executive order, Twitter declined to comment when reached by TechCrunch, and Facebook and Google did not respond to our emails. The Internet Association, the lobbying group that represents the interests of internet companies, was out with a statement opposing the president’s efforts on Thursday morning:

“Section 230, by design and reinforced by several decades of case law, empowers platforms and services to remove harmful, dangerous, and illegal content based on their terms of service, regardless of who posted the content or their motivations for doing so.

“Based on media reports, this proposed executive order seems designed to punish a handful of companies for perceived slights and is inconsistent with the purpose and text of Section 230. It stands to undermine a variety of government efforts to protect public safety and spread critical information online through social media and threatens the vibrancy of a core segment of our economy.”

The group also pointed to the fact that political figures rely on social media to successfully broadcast their thoughts to millions of followers every day—80 million, in Trumps’ case.

The ACLU also weighed in on the executive order Thursday morning. “Much as he might wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane. “This order, if issued, would be a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president.”

“Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230. If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation, and threats.”

Daily Crunch: Twitter vs. Trump

By Anthony Ha

Tensions escalate between President Trump and his favorite social media platform, Google and Microsoft considering investing in the Indian telecom market and the Raspberry Pi foundation announces a new Raspberry Pi.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 28, 2020.

1. Jack Dorsey explains why Twitter fact-checked Trump’s false voting claims

After Twitter flagged a pair of President Trump’s tweets with a fact-checking label on Tuesday, White House officials denounced a specific Twitter employee and said that the president will soon sign an executive order “pertaining to social media.”

Meanwhile, in a series of tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey resisted the idea that the platform is becoming an “arbiter of truth” and instead said, “Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves.” He also said, “There is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this.”

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

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.

3. Raspberry Pi Foundation announces Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB of RAM

As always, you get a single-board computer that is the size of a deck of cards. It has an ARM-based CPU, many ports, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a big community of computer enthusiasts. The 8GB model costs $75, which makes it the most expensive Raspberry Pi out there.

4. Providing card services to fintech companies around the world gives Marqeta a $4.3 billion valuation

This could have been Marqeta’s year to list as a public company on a major American stock exchange. Instead, in the wake of an American economy pushed over the edge by a global pandemic, the company has turned to an undisclosed financial services firm for another $150 million in equity funding.

5. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg shares his COVID-19 strategy and tactics

Hans Vestberg, CEO of TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon, joined us for an episode of Extra Crunch Live. In our discussion, he spoke about how he’s managing the organization during this global crisis, his thoughts on work-from-home, acquisition strategy and the ways in which 5G will change the way we work and live. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. SpaceX’s first astronaut launch is scrubbed due to weather – next attempt set for Saturday

SpaceX and NASA made the call to scrub the launch since there were a couple of weather issues that prevented the attempt from taking place. The next window for the launch is Saturday, May 30 at 3:22 PM EDT.

7. Netflix, Disney+ or HBO Max? The best streaming service for your watching habits

Don’t waste any time arguing! These recommendations are 100% objectively correct.

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Jack Dorsey explains why Twitter fact-checked Trump’s false voting claims

By Taylor Hatmaker

After Twitter flagged a pair of President Trump’s tweets with a fact-checking label on Tuesday, tensions between the president and his favored social media platform are running high.

On Wednesday night, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—rarely one to pick a political fight—took to his own platform to clarify the company’s decision.

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

Per our Civic Integrity policy (https://t.co/uQ0AoPtoCm), the tweets yesterday may mislead people into thinking they don’t need to register to get a ballot (only registered voters receive ballots). We’re updating the link on @realDonaldTrump’s tweet to make this more clear.

— jack (@jack) May 28, 2020

In the statement, Dorsey referenced comments Mark Zuckerberg made to Fox News contrasting Facebook’s obsessively neutral approach to policing its platform with Twitter’s present situation. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said. “Private companies… especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Dorsey also denounced Trump’s online supporters and surrogates for going after the company’s executives, asking the Twitter’s newly energized critics, inspired by Trump’s own ire toward the company, to “please leave our employees out of this.”

On Dorsey’s own account and the official Twitter Safety account, the company clarified that its decision to add a fact-checking link to two of Trump’s tweets stemmed specifically from the possibility that they might “confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.”

We added a label to two @realDonaldTrump Tweets about California’s vote-by-mail plans as part of our efforts to enforce our civic integrity policy. We believe those Tweets could confuse voters about what they need to do to receive a ballot and participate in the election process.

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) May 28, 2020

In the tweets the company added a label to—but did not hide or remove—the president states falsely that California’s governor is “sending ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state no matter who they are or how they got there.” In reality, the state is only sending the ballots to registered voters. Trump also made fear-mongering false claims about the integrity of mail-in voting, a system already widely used around the country in the form of absentee ballots.

With his clarification, Dorsey linked to what Twitter calls its “civic integrity policy,” a set of rules prohibiting certain kinds of “manipulative behavior” on the platform. Per those rules, misleading information about how to vote, the documents required to vote or the date and time of an election of other civic process are prohibited. Under the policy, broader claims about elections “such as unsubstantiated claims that an election is ‘rigged'” are not prohibited.

Twitter’s list of possible enforcement actions includes forcing users to delete the tweets, locking their account if the misinformation is present in a bio or permanent suspension “for severe or repeated violations of this policy.”

Though the timing might be coincidental, Tuesday’s move by Twitter came on the heels of a series of tweets from Trump promoting a baseless conspiracy theory that MSNBC host and political rival Joe Scarborough was responsible for the death of a Congressional intern almost two decades prior.

On Wednesday evening, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president would soon sign an executive order “pertaining to social media,” widely expected to be a shocking though likely unsubstantial strike back at Twitter’s policy enforcement choices this week. The order may rehash the White House’s previous stalled efforts to threaten Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a vital legal provision underpinning the modern internet—and wield power against social media companies through the FTC and FCC.

Alluding to the expected retaliation, Trump tweeted “Stay Tuned!!!” to his more than 80 million followers.

Twitter adds a warning label fact-checking Trump’s false voting claims

By Taylor Hatmaker

On the heels of a furor over his tweets accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of murder, Twitter has quietly begun to fact-check the president.

A new warning label encouraging Twitter users to “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” appeared on a series of tweets in which the president baselessly claimed ballots received through mail-in voting methods are “fraudulent.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, a Twitter spokesperson said the pair of tweets from the president “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”

“This decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month,” the spokesperson said, linking to the company’s recent blog post on its misinformation policies.

Trump has railed against vote-by-mail efforts in recent weeks, in spite of the consensus view by experts that voting through the mail is a safe process—so safe that it’s already widely used for absentee ballots and relied upon in five states that use mail-in ballots as their primary method for voting.

Clicking through the new prompt from Twitter brings users to a fact-checking page highlighting a CNN story debunking the president’s false claims. The page also offers a summary with bullet points providing useful context for the misleading tweets, including the fact that vote-by-mail is already widely in use around the country.

Twitter plans to expand its misinformation labels — but will they apply to Trump?

By Taylor Hatmaker

President Trump is again testing Twitter’s stomach for misinformation flowing from its most prominent users.

In a flurry of recent tweets, Trump floated conspiracy theories about the death of Lori Klausutis, an intern for former congressman Joe Scarborough who was found dead in his Florida office in 2001—a freak accident a medical examiner reported resulted from a fall stemming from an undiagnosed heart condition. Scarborough, a political commentator and host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, is a prominent Trump critic and a frequent target for the president’s political ire.

The medical evaluation and lack of any evidence suggesting something nefarious in the former intern’s death has not been enough to discourage Trump from revisiting the topic frequently in recent days.

“When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder?” Trump tweeted in mid-May. A week later, Trump encouraged his followers to “Keep digging, use forensic geniuses!” on the long-closed case.

A blow to her head? Body found under his desk? Left Congress suddenly? Big topic of discussion in Florida…and, he’s a Nut Job (with bad ratings). Keep digging, use forensic geniuses! https://t.co/UxbS5gZecd

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020

In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Twitter expressed that the company is “deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family.”

“We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

When asked for clarity about what product and policy changes the company was referring to, Twitter pointed us to its blog post on the labels the company introduced to flag “synthetic and manipulated media” and more recently COVID-19 misinformation. The company indicated that it plans to expand the use of misinformation labels outside of those existing categories.

Twitter will not apply a label or warning to Trump’s recent wave of Scarborough conspiracy tweets, but the suggestion here is that future labels could be used to mitigate harm in situations like this one. Whether that means labeling unfounded accusations of criminality or labeling that kind of claim when made by the president of the United States remains to be seen.

In March, Twitter gave a video shared by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted by Trump its “manipulated content” label — a rare action against the president’s account. The misleadingly edited video showed presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden calling to re-elect Trump.

According to the blog post Twitter pointed us to, the company previously said it will add new labels to “provide context around different types of unverified claims and rumors as needed.”

Even within existing categories — COVID-19 misinformation and manipulated media — Twitter has so far been reluctant to apply labels to high profiles accounts like that of the president, a frequent purveyor of online misinformation.

Twitter also recently introduced a system of warnings that hide a tweet, requiring the user to click through to view it. The tweets that are hidden behind warnings “[depend] on the propensity for harm and type of misleading information” they contain.

Trump’s renewed interest in promoting the baseless conspiracy theory prompted the young woman’s widower T.J. Klausutis to write a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey requesting that the president’s tweets be removed.

In the letter, Klausutis told Dorsey he views protecting his late wife’s memory as part of his marital obligation, even in her death. “My request is simple: Please delete these tweets,” Klausutis wrote.

“An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.”

Apple’s handling of Siri snippets back in the frame after letter of complaint to EU privacy regulators

By Natasha Lomas

Apple is facing fresh questions from its lead data protection regulator in Europe following a public complaint by a former contractor who revealed last year that workers doing quality grading for Siri were routinely overhearing sensitive user data.

Earlier this week the former Apple contractor, Thomas le Bonniec, sent a letter to European regulators laying out his concern at the lack of enforcement on the issue — in which he wrote: “I am extremely concerned that big tech companies are basically wiretapping entire populations despite European citizens being told the EU has one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. Passing a law is not good enough: it needs to be enforced upon privacy offenders.”

The timing of the letter comes as Europe’s updated data protection framework, the GDPR, reaches its two-year anniversary — facing ongoing questions around the lack of enforcement related to a string of cross-border complaints.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) has been taking the brunt of criticism over whether the General Data Protection Regulation is functioning as intended — as a result of how many tech giants locate their regional headquarters on its soil (Apple included).

Responding to the latest Apple complaint from le Bonniec, the DPC’s deputy commissioner, Graham Doyle, told TechCrunch: “The DPC engaged with Apple on this issue when it first arose last summer and Apple has since made some changes. However, we have followed up again with Apple following the release of this public statement and await responses.”

At the time of writing Apple had not responded to a request for comment.

The Irish DPC is currently handling more than 20 major cross-border cases, as lead data protection agency — probing the data processing activities of companies including Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter. So le Bonniec’s letter adds to the pile of pressure on commissioner Helen Dixon to begin issuing decisions vis-à-vis cross-border GDPR complaints. (Some of which are now a full two years old.)

Last year Dixon said the first decisions for these cross-border cases would be coming “early” in 2020.

At issue is that if Europe’s recently updated flagship data protection regime isn’t seen to be functioning well two years in — and is still saddled with a bottleneck of high-profile cases, rather than having a string of major decisions to its name — it will be increasingly difficult for the region’s lawmakers to sell it as a success.

At the same time the existence of a pan-EU data protection regime — and the attention paid to contravention, by both media and regulators — has had a tangible impact on certain practices.

Apple suspended human review of Siri snippets globally last August, after The Guardian had reported that contractors it employed to review audio recordings of users of its voice assistant tech — for quality grading purposes — regularly listened in to sensitive content such as medical information and even recordings of couples having sex.

Later the same month it made changes to the grading program, switching audio review to an explicitly opt-in process. It also brought the work in house — meaning only Apple employees have since been reviewing Siri users’ opt-in audio.

The tech giant also apologized, but did not appear to face any specific regulatory sanction for practices that do look to have been incompatible with Europe’s laws — owing to the lack of transparency and explicit consent around the human review program. Hence le Bonniec’s letter of complaint now.

A number of other tech giants also made changes to their own human grading programs around the same time.

Doyle also pointed out that guidance for EU regulators on voice AI tech is in the works, saying: “It should be noted that the European Data Protection Board is working on the production of guidance in the area of voice assistant technologies.”

We’ve reached out to the European Data Protection Board for comment.

Daily Crunch: Twitter tests limiting replies

By Anthony Ha

Twitter is giving users tools to avoid abusive or annoying replies, MakeSpace raises $55 million and Sphero gets a new CEO and a new spinoff.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 21, 2020.

1. Twitter is testing a feature that limits who can reply to your tweets

Users can pick from one of three options: Everyone, People You Follow and Only People You Mention. If you opt for either of the latter, the reply function will be greyed out for all who don’t fit the description. They can view, like and retweet the thing, but they won’t be able to reply directly to the sender.

After all, one of Twitter’s greatest benefits and downsides is its openness relative to platforms like Facebook. Anyone and everyone can reply directly to a tweet — and that’s not always ideal for the sender.

2. On-demand storage startup MakeSpace picks up another $55M

On-demand storage startups have sprung up all over the world, hopeful that their new take on an antiquated, fragmented and valuable market would lead to big returns in a brave, new, Uberified world. But the industry has seen a lot of ups and downs, with various startups merging, closing, transferring and trying to pivot in the process. That’s left a consolidated space with fewer — hopefully better capitalized and better organized — competitors remaining.

3. Sphero appoints new CEO, spins off robotics startup for first responders

While still a robotics company at its heart, the underwhelmingly named Company Six will create robotic systems designed for first responders and other humans whose work requires them to put themselves in harm’s way — allowing its parent company to continue its focus on education-related products.

4. Salesforce Commerce Cloud releases four quick-start pandemic business packs

Salesforce decided to build four packages of services for customers, specifically designed to help conduct business during COVID-19. The company even has systems integration partners who will run everything for the first three months.

5. Why VCs say they’re open for business, even if they’re pausing new deals

This week, former TechCrunch editor Alexia Bonatsos of Dream Machine and Niko Bonatsos of General Catalyst swung by Extra Crunch Live to discuss where they are investing today and what the future might look like. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Facebook introduces new Messenger safeguard aimed at combating scams and fake friends

The social network scans accounts for suspicious activity, leveraging machine learning to pick up anomalies like accounts sending a large number of requests in a short timespan or numerous message requests to users under 18.

7. Amazon launches food delivery service in India

The e-commerce giant, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in India, today launched its food delivery service Amazon Food in select parts of Bangalore. The company had originally planned to launch the service in India last year.

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Twitter is testing a feature that limits who can reply to your tweets

By Brian Heater

Twitter today acknowledged that it has begun testing a new setting that lets users limit who can reply to tweets. The setting was first noted earlier this year. Similar to Facebook’s post view settings, the current implementation features a small glove icon in the corner. Tapping on it brings up a “Who Can Reply?” window.

Testing, testing…

A new way to have a convo with exactly who you want. We’re starting with a small % globally, so keep your 👀 out to see it in action. pic.twitter.com/pV53mvjAVT

Twitter (@Twitter) May 20, 2020

From there, users can pick from one of three options: Everyone, People You Follow and Only People You Mention. If you opt for either of the latter, the reply function will be greyed out for all who don’t fit the description. They can view, like and retweet the thing, but they won’t be able to reply directly to the sender. The thread itself will also acknowledge that replies are limited. 

Only a “limited group” can use the test feature right now, though anyone with a Twitter account can view the conversations. Because it’s in testing mode, there’s no guarantee that this will become a universal feature, but Twitter says the rollout is designed to “give people more opportunities to weigh in while still giving people control over the conversations they start.”

Director of Product ManagementSuzanne Xie  mentions the phenomenon of “Reply Guys” in a post announcing the feature. One of Twitter’s greatest benefits and downsides is its openness relative to platforms like Facebook. Anyone and everyone can reply directly to a tweet — and that’s not always ideal for the sender. Replies can often devolve into a sea of abusive responses, regardless of subject matter. Until now, the only way to limit them was to lock an account.

The move follows other recent attempts to revamp replies, including threaded responses. It’s clear the issue has become a top priority for the service in recent years. Reaction so far is…mixed. At least judging from the replies to the tweet announcing the new feature.

UK angels still active during lockdown, but startups need to be quick

By Mike Butcher

A survey of UK angel investors regarding their investment strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic has found that over 65% of angels investors are continuing to invest in startups during Lockdown, but with predominantly new deals. Many are completing more deals and increasing their cheque size by as much as 18%.

However, the pandemic has reduced their total capital to invest in 2020 by just over 61%, while just under 60% think the effects of COVID-19 will negatively affect their ability to invest for the rest of 2020. Over 250 angels completed the full survey in the last two weeks, after TechCrunch exclusively published it.

These are the findings of new UK initiative Activate our Angels (AoA). The initiative comes just as the UK government’s “Future Fund” for startups, which has been criticized as being inadequate for the needs of Angel and Seed-stage startups, is poised to be launched some time this week.

AoA was started by Nick Thain the former CEO and co-founder of GiveMeSport, which was acquired last year and includes representatives from 7percent Ventures, Forward Partners, Portfolio Ventures, ICE, Foundrs, Punk Money, Humanity, Culture Gene, Barndance, Bindi Karia and Stakeholderz.

Activate our Angels started its campaign just under two weeks’ ago with the goal to give founders actionable data to help them make funding decisions, during and post-lockdown.

The survey shows that while angels are currently investing, founders will need to lock this funding down fast, as 59% of angels surveyed says their future investing will be negatively affected the longer the lockdown goes on.

This becomes more important if a startup has raised under £250,000.

Furthermore, the survey concluded that angels are investing 18% more per deal and have increased the frequency of deals in Lockdown by over 122% from 0.27 deals per month in 2019 to 0.6 deals per month in the last 3 months.

Angels are looking for increased runway and revenue generative businesses, and they’re seeing reduced valuations and smaller rounds.

Additionally, angels are told the survey that they have 61% of the capital to invest in 2020 compared to 2019. This suggests that angels are “making hay while the lockdown-sun is shining” said the survey.

Consequently, angels will have significantly less money for the rest of 2020.

For start-ups that have not raised yet, the findings suggest they should do their first round as soon as possible.

For start-ups who have already raised, this impending angel capital crunch makes initiatives such as the forthcoming government-backed Future Fund as important as ever, says the survey.

“If angels are not investing in Lockdown, they are holding cash and waiting to be confident that COVID-19 is over. The best way to contact them is via an introduction/recommendation, email or linkedIn, not via Social Media,” it added.

The results from the survey have been summarised below.

●  66.7% of Angel investors are still investing during Lockdown

○  77% of those are investing in new deals

○  23% of those in existing portfolio deals

●  33.3% of angels are not investing in lockdown

○  71% of those are reviewing deals
○  29% of those are not investing at all
●  17.6% more is being invested per deal during Lockdown.
○  £23,071 invested per deal in Lockdown
○  £19,620 invested per deal in 2019
●  Angels completed an average of 1.81 deals during lockdown, angels completed an average of 3.24 deals in the whole of 2019
○  1 deal every 3-4 weeks (approx.), since Lockdown on 23rd March 2020
○  1 deal approximately every 7-8 weeks (approx.), in last 1-3 months
○  1 deal every 3-4 months (approx.) in last 4-12 months
○  1 deal every 3-4 months (approx.) in 2019
●  58.1% of angels believe that Covid-19 will have a negative impact on their ability to invest in 2020, 27.2% No Change and 14.7% said it would have a positive impact
●  51.4% of angels surveyed said they would be investing Less in 2020
○ of those angels said they would invest 61% less capital in 2020 compared to
2019.
●  33.3% of angels are not investing in Lockdown
○  of those 47.6% are only going to invest again when they are confident Covid- 
19 crisis is over
○  of those 28.6% are not planning to invest again.
●  64.9% of angels are changing the business sectors they’re looking at including; Healthcare, Fintech and gaming
●  54.1% of angels have changed their investment requirements, with longer runway, revenue generative and recurring revenue being the most important factors.
○ 46.9% of angels had no change in investment requirements
●  68% of angels have seen deal terms with reduced valuations as a result of Covid-19 and 35% have seen smaller Investment rounds.
●  When it comes to getting in contact with angels, 72% want to be contacted via recommendations/introductions. 
○ 54% via email
○ 32.6% LinkedIn
○ 30.9% Angel network.
○ Facebook and Twitter being the least effective way to contact angels with 
less than 3% of respondents selecting this.
●  70% of angels said SEIS/EIS was important, very important or critical to their investment decisions, of those 58% said they would not invest more if the SEIS allowance was increased to the £200k from the current £100k cap.

Users say Robinhood is down as stocks soar

By Zack Whittaker

Users are reporting that trading platform Robin is down on a day that’s seen stock markets soar.

Some users said Etrade was also experiencing problems. A spokesperson for Etrade said its platform is “fully operational” but declined to comment further.

Robinhood’s status page says all systems are “operational,” but its website crashed on loading, stating: “An internal error occured! [sic].”

Robinhood did not immediately comment.

After weeks of turbulent markets largely driven by coronavirus concerns, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is up 3% in early morning trading.

Users quickly turned to Twitter to complain.

Robinhood, which earlier this month raised $280 million pushing its valuation to $8.3 billion, took heat in March after several days of outages saw users unable to trade on the platform. Users were left furious after the outage prevented access to the platform on what was one of the busiest trading days of the year so far.

The financial startup said it would offer case-by-case compensation to its 10 million users for their troubles. Months earlier, the company admitted a glitch that let users borrow more money than they were allowed.

Morgan Stanley bought Etrade earlier this year for $13 billion. Last year Etrade reported record revenue of $2.9 billion.

Facebook to acquire Giphy in a deal reportedly worth $400 million

By Darrell Etherington

Facebook will acquire Giphy, the web-based animated gif search engine and platform provider, Facebook confirmed today, in a deal worth around $400 million, according to a report by Axios. Facebook said it isn’t disclosing terms of the deal. Giphy has grown to be a central source for shareable, high-engagement content, and its animated response gifs are available across Facebook’s platforms, as well as through other social apps and services on the web.

Most notably, Giphy provides built-in search and sticker functions for Facebook’s Instagram, and it will continue to operate in that capacity, becoming a part of the Instagram team. Giphy will also be available to Facebook’s other apps through existing and additional integrations. People will still be able to upload their own GIFs, and Facebook intends to continue to operate Giphy under its own branding and offer integration to outside developers.

Facebook says it will invest in additional tech development for Giphy, as well as build out new relationships for it on both the content side and the endpoint developer side. The company says that fully 50% of traffic that Giphy receives already comes from Facebook’s apps, including Instagram, Messenger, the FB app itself and WhatsApp .

Giphy was founded in 2013, and was originally simply a search engine for gifs. The website’s first major product expansion was an extension that allowed sharing via Facebook, introduced later in its founding year, and it quickly added Twitter as a second integration. According to the most recent data from Crunchbase, Giphy had raised $150.9 million across five rounds, backed by funders including DFJ Growth, Lightspeed, Betaworks, GV, Lerer Hippeau and more.

Twitter rolls out changes to threaded conversations following tests in its prototype app, twttr

By Sarah Perez

Twitter announced today it’s introducing a new layout for replies that will use lines and indentations to make it easier to understand who you’re replying to and how the conversation is flowing. The company will also test putting engagement actions — including likes, Retweet, and reply icons — behind an extra tap to make replies to conversations easier to follow.

These features have been in testing for just over a year in Twitter’s prototype app, twttr, affectionally dubbed “little T” internally at the company.

The app was first introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2019, as a way for Twitter to try out new ideas in space outside its public network. Twitter wanted to understand if an updated user interface would help people to better follow the conversations taking place on its platform — particularly those longer threads where the original poster also participates in the back-and-forth, and users end up replying to the wrong comment.

In its prototype app twttr, Twitter tried out a variety of styles including, at one time, a design where the individual responses were more rounded — similar to chat bubbles.

The design that’s stuck around the longest, however, is the one that’s now making its public debut on Twitter.com and Twitter’s iOS app.

Your conversations are the 💙 of Twitter, so we’re testing ways to make them easier to read and follow.

Some of you on iOS and web will see a new layout for replies with lines and indentations that make it clearer who is talking to whom and to fit more of the convo in one view. pic.twitter.com/sB2y09fG9t

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) May 5, 2020

It involves branching lines that connect the different parts of the conversation threads together. The lines are more subtle than the chat bubbles had been, appearing as a lighter gray when Twitter’s default white theme is applied. Extra replies are also hidden beneath the “Show replies” label, which you have to tap to continue to read through a given thread.

The overall experience is something that’s more akin to a discussion board site, like Reddit.

In addition to the branching lines, the idea to hide Twitter’s engagement buttons was also something originally tested in twttr.

We’re also experimenting with placing like, Retweet, and reply icons behind a tap for replies. We’re trying this with a small group on iOS and web to see how it affects following and engaging with a convo.

We'll keep you updated as the conversation experience evolves!

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) May 5, 2020

The company said in January 2020 that it intended to soon bring twttr’s experiments in threaded conversations to its main app.

“We’re taking all the different branches — all the different parts of the conversation — and we’re making it so it’s all in one global view,” explained Suzanne Xie, Twitter’s head of Conversations, speaking to reporters at CES 2020 earlier this year. “This means you can easily understand, and get a pulse of what’s happening in the conversation,” she added.

Twitter says the features will initially roll out to a portion of Twitter users on iOS and the web.

Twitter runs a test prompting users to revise ‘harmful’ replies

By Taylor Hatmaker

In its latest effort to deal with rampant harassment on its platform, Twitter will look into giving users a second chance before they tweet. In a new feature the company is testing, users who use “harmful” language will see a prompt suggesting that they self-edit before posting a reply.

When things get heated, you may say things you don't mean. To let you rethink a reply, we’re running a limited experiment on iOS with a prompt that gives you the option to revise your reply before it’s published if it uses language that could be harmful.

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) May 5, 2020

The framing here is a bit disingenuous—harassment on Twitter certainly doesn’t just happen in the “heat of the moment” by otherwise well-meaning individuals—but anything that can reduce toxicity on the platform is probably better than what we’ve got now.

Last year at F8, Instagram rolled out a similar test for its users that would “nudge” them with a warning before they post a potentially offensive comment. In December, the company offered an update on its efforts. “Results have been promising, and we’ve found that these types of nudges can encourage people to reconsider their words when given a chance,” the company wrote in a blog post.

This kind of thing is particularly relevant right now, as companies conduct moderation across their massive platforms with relative skeleton crews. All of the major social networks have announced an increased reliance on AI detection as the pandemic keeps tech workers away from the office. In Facebook’s case, content moderators are among the employees they’d like to bring back first.

We’ve reached out to Twitter for more information about the kind of language that triggers the new test feature and if the company will also consider the prompt for regular tweets that aren’t replies and will update the story if we receive additional info about what this experiment will look like.

Oxwash bags $1.7M for a cleaner spin on laundry

By Natasha Lomas

Oxwash, a UK-based laundry startup that’s aiming to disrupt traditional but environmentally costly washing and dry-cleaning processes by using ozone to sterilize fabrics at lower temperatures, along with electric cargo bikes for hyper local pick ups and deliveries, has bagged a £1.4 million (~$1.7M) seed.

Backers in the funding round include TrueSight Ventures, Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter), Paul Forster (founder of Indeed.com), Founders Factory and other unnamed angel investors.

Prior to this, Oxwash was working with a £300k pre-seed round — which it used to fund building its first washing hubs (which it calls “Lagoons”) and to test its reengineered washing process.

The startup’s pitch is that its applying “space age” technology to clean dirty laundry, burnished by the claim that its co-founder and CEO, Kyle Grant, is a former NASA engineer — having spent two years as a systems engineer where he researched the use and effect of microorganisms for extended space travel.

That said, it’s packing its reengineered cleaning system into standard (but “massively” modified) industrial washing machines. Just add coronavirus-safe ‘space suits’ (er, PPE)….

“Washing still has crazy carbon emissions, pollution and collection/delivery services cause large amounts of congestion. We saw a way to re-engineer the laundry process from the ground up and to be the first truly sustainable, space-age laundry company in the world,” says Grant, discussing the opportunity he and his co-founder spied to rethink laundry.

“We’re developing processes to have zero net carbon emissions for the whole laundry process — from collection to washing and back to delivery.”

The team is developing “chemistry that works at 20˚C better than at 40˚C or higher, integrating ozone disinfection to remove microorganisms by oxidation rather than using heat and developing water recycling and filtration systems to reduce water consumption and remove microfibre pollution at the same time”, per Grant.

It’s also structuring business operations to locate washing hubs in city centres, where its customers are based, so it can make use of electric bikes for moving the laundry around — allowing for a next day service with 30 minute collection and delivery windows.

“Traditional washing processes use huge amounts of water, energy to heat said water, harsh chemicals and normal petrol/diesel vans for the collections and deliveries. These process warehouses are usually located outside of cities and there are large lags in when items are returned to the customers (up to two weeks),” he further claims.

While ozone itself is a pollutant that degrades air quality, and can even be dangerous if released, Grant says the ozone used in its cleaning machines — which is produced from oxygen in the atmosphere — degrades back to oxygen “within minutes and is therefore inert and safe”.

“After extensive analysis ozone is far safer to use in commercial laundry processes than heat and harsh chemicals such as peroxides (bleach),” he suggests.

On safety, he also says their washing machines are modified to be sealed whilst “washing and disinfecting”, and can only be opened after the ozone has degraded. “Our lagoons are also fitted with ozone sensors that will cut off our generators if the ozone concentration in the air ever goes over the safe limit,” he adds. “Thankfully this has never occurred. The risks to our staff are far lower than when working with boiling water tanks, harsh chemicals and manual handling, the usual work flow in commercial laundries.”

Oxwash launched in the UK in early 2018 and now has more than 4,000 individual customers, per Grant, along with “several hundred” business customers — including the Marriott Hotel Chain, NHS GP practices, London Marathon and Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

It’s executed a slight pivot of focus over the past two months — spying an opportunity to target risks related to the coronavirus. “We’ve developed a service in the last 2 months that is available to provide coronavirus disinfection,” he says in a statement. “We are working closely with [the UK’s National Health Service] NHS and vulnerable groups to provide support when needed.”

“We have adopted laboratory-grade PPE [personal protective equipment] processes, heavily inspired and adapted from my time working at NASA but also from guidelines from the NHS and HSE England,” Grant adds. “For example, we now perform contactless collections and deliveries whereby the customers pre-bag their items in supplied dissolvable bags. Our rider then has gloves, goggles and a respirator to perform the transfer back to the lagoon where a member of our team in full hazmat gear will load and unload the machines where disinfection is performed.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he says the startup was getting traction from customers wanting to remove allergens that caused them allergic reactions.

“We were confident of moving into the healthcare market in the years to come but usually the tender process for such contracts is not conducive to a startup,” says Grant. “However since the advent of COVID-19 and our ongoing healthcare certification, we have seen a huge increase in the value of proper hygiene to both the individuals and businesses we serve. The Marriott Hotel chain and Airbnb have both expressed serious intent to work on a non-healthcare hygiene rating much like that of the Food Standards Authority. We are working with CINET (the international textile committee) to bring this to market with our technology and processes.”

The seed funding will be used to expand to more cities within the UK and Europe — with London and other European hubs, such as Paris and Amsterdam, in its sights. Its initial two locations are Oxford and Cambridge.

It’s also going to spin up on the hiring front, planning to add a head of growth and head of tech, as well as new operational roles in London.

Ploughing more resource into software dev is another focus, with funding going to expand the tech stack and the software systems which run its logistics and integrate with its digitised washing process. More work on its app is also planned. 

Asked what makes Oxwash a scalable business, Grant points to the development of this proprietary software alongside the reengineered washing service. “This iteration of technology and service allows us to develop our washing technology rapidly and get real-time feedback on the end-product and service from our customers,” he says. “The scalable technology element is the proprietary washing process driven by our bespoke software stack and process algorithms.”

On the labor side, Grant says Oxwash is “working towards a B Corp accreditation”.

“[We] have long held that our team should be properly reimbursed for their work but also as ambassadors for our brand out on our bikes. To that end all of our riders (couriers) are fully employed and like the rest of the team they are paid in excess of the national living wage,” he adds.

Tesla shares fall on Elon Musk ‘stock price too high’ tweet

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Friday that the company’s stock price was “too high” in his opinion, immediately sending shares into a free fall and in possible violation of an agreement reached with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year.

Tesla shares fell nearly 12% in the half hour following his stock price tweets — just one of many sent out in rapid fire that covered everything from demands to “give people back their freedom” and lines from the U.S. National Anthem to quotes from poet Dylan Thomas and a claim that he will sell all of his possessions.

Tesla shares rebounded later in the day to close at $701.32 a share, a 7.17% decline from the opening.

The SEC declined to comment on whether this was a violation of a settlement agreement. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. Musk did tell The Wall Street Journal in an email that he was not joking and that his tweets were not vetted in advance, a condition in the prior agreement reached with the SEC.

The meltdown on Twitter occurred as SpaceX — Musk’s other company — participated in a live press conference on one of its most important missions ever.

Tesla stock price is too high imo

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2020

Musk’s tweet comes almost exactly a year after he reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that gave the CEO freedom to use Twitter — within certain limitations — without fear of being held in contempt for violating an earlier court order.

Under that agreement, Musk can tweet as he wishes except when it’s about certain events or financial milestones. In those cases, Musk must seek pre-approval from a securities lawyer, according to the agreement filed in April 2019 with Manhattan federal court.

Musk is supposed to seek pre-approval if his tweets include events regarding the company’s securities, including his acquisition or disposition of shares, nonpublic legal or regulatory findings or decisions.

He’s also supposed to get pre-approval on any tweets about the company’s financial condition or guidance, potential or proposed mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures, sales or delivery numbers, new or proposed business lines or any event requiring the filing of a Form 8-K, such as a change in control or a change in the company’s directors.

His scuffle with the SEC stretches back to Musk’s now infamous August 7, 2018 tweet that had “funding secured” for a private takeover of the company at $420 per share. The SEC filed a complaint in alleging that Musk had committed securities fraud.

Musk and Tesla settled with the SEC in 2018 without admitting wrongdoing. Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million fine; Musk had to agree to step down as Tesla chairman for a period of at least three years; the company had to appoint two independent directors to the board; and Tesla was also told to put in place a way to monitor Musk’s statements to the public about the company, including via Twitter.

But the problems between the CEO and federal agency re-ignited after Musk sent a tweet on February 19, 2019 that Tesla would produce “around” 500,000 cars this year, correcting himself hours later to clarify that he meant the company would be producing at an annualized rate of 500,000 vehicles by year end.

Stay-at-home order for 7 million Bay Area residents extended to end of May

By Kirsten Korosec

A stay-at-home order for seven San Francisco Bay Area counties will be extended through the end of May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that affects 7 million residents and thousands of businesses.

The Public Health Officers of the Counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara as well as the City of Berkeley said in a joint statement issued Monday that it will issue revised shelter-in-place orders later this week. The new order will ease some specific restrictions for what the health officers from the seven counties described as a “small number of number of lower-risk activities.”

The stay-at-home orders were set to expire May 3. Details regarding this next phase will be shared later in the week, along with the updated order.

The seven counties are home to thousands of startups and technology companies that includes Apple, Facebook, Google, Salesforce, Twitter, Tesla and Uber.

“Thanks to the collective effort and sacrifice of the 7 million residents across our jurisdictions, we have made substantial progress in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, ensuring our local hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, and saving lives,” the health officers said in a joint statement. “At this stage of the pandemic, however, it is critical that our collective efforts continue so that we do not lose the progress we have achieved together.”

The public health officials said Monday that hospitalizations have leveled, but more work is needed to safely re-open communities and warned that “prematurely lifting restrictions could lead to a large surge in cases.”

The health officers plan to also release a set of broad indicators used to track progress in preparedness and response to COVID-19, in alignment with the framework being used by the rest of the state.

❌