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Racial bias observed in hate speech detection algorithm from Google

By Devin Coldewey

Understanding what makes something offensive or hurtful is difficult enough that many people can’t figure it out, let alone AI systems. And people of color are frequently left out of AI training sets. So it’s little surprise that Alphabet/Google -spawned Jigsaw manages to trip over both of these issues at once, flagging slang used by black Americans as toxic.

To be clear, the study was not specifically about evaluating the company’s hate speech detection algorithm, which has faced issues before. Instead it is cited as a contemporary attempt to computationally dissect speech and assign a “toxicity score” — and that it appears to fail in a way indicative of bias against black American speech patterns.

The researchers, at the University of Washington, were interested in the idea that databases of hate speech currently available might have racial biases baked in — like many other data sets that suffered from a lack of inclusive practices during formation.

They looked at a handful of such databases, essentially thousands of tweets annotated by people as being “hateful,” “offensive,” “abusive” and so on. These databases were also analyzed to find language strongly associated with African American English or white-aligned English.

Combining these two sets basically let them see whether white or black vernacular had a higher or lower chance of being labeled offensive. Lo and behold, black-aligned English was much more likely to be labeled offensive.

For both datasets, we uncover strong associations between inferred AAE dialect and various hate speech categories, specifically the “offensive” label from DWMW 17 (r = 0.42) and the “abusive” label from FDCL 18 (r = 0.35), providing evidence that dialect-based bias is present in these corpora.

The experiment continued with the researchers sourcing their own annotations for tweets, and found that similar biases appeared. But by “priming” annotators with the knowledge that the person tweeting was likely black or using black-aligned English, the likelihood that they would label a tweet offensive dropped considerably.

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Examples of control, dialect priming and race priming for annotators

This isn’t to say necessarily that annotators are all racist or anything like that. But the job of determining what is and isn’t offensive is a complex one socially and linguistically, and obviously awareness of the speaker’s identity is important in some cases, especially in cases where terms once used derisively to refer to that identity have been reclaimed.

What’s all this got to do with Alphabet, or Jigsaw, or Google? Well, Jigsaw is a company built out of Alphabet — which we all really just think of as Google by another name — with the intention of helping moderate online discussion by automatically detecting (among other things) offensive speech. Its Perspective API lets people input a snippet of text and receive a “toxicity score.”

As part of the experiment, the researchers fed to Perspective a bunch of the tweets in question. What they saw were “correlations between dialects/groups in our datasets and the Perspective toxicity scores. All correlations are significant, which indicates potential racial bias for all datasets.”

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Chart showing that African American English (AAE) was more likely to be labeled toxic by Alphabet’s Perspective API

So basically, they found that Perspective was way more likely to label black speech as toxic, and white speech otherwise. Remember, this isn’t a model thrown together on the back of a few thousand tweets — it’s an attempt at a commercial moderation product.

As this comparison wasn’t the primary goal of the research, but rather a byproduct, it should not be taken as some kind of massive takedown of Jigsaw’s work. On the other hand, the differences shown are very significant and quite in keeping with the rest of the team’s findings. At the very least it is, as with the other data sets evaluated, a signal that the processes involved in their creation need to be reevaluated.

I’ve asked the researchers for a bit more information on the paper and will update this post if I hear back. In the meantime, you can read the full paper, which was presented at the Proceedings of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Florence, below:

The Risk of Racial Bias in Hate Speech Detection by TechCrunch on Scribd

Another day, another reversal in stock fortunes as recession fears grow

By Jonathan Shieber

U.S. stock markets plummeted today as recession fears continue to grow.

Yesterday’s good news about a reprieve on tariffs for U.S. consumer imports was undone by increasing concerns over economic indicators pointing to a potential global recession coming within the next year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 800 points on Wednesday — its largest decline of the year — while the S&P 500 fell by 85 points and the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped 240 points.

The downturn in the markets came a day after the Dow closed up 373 points after the U.S. Trade Representative announced a delay in many of the import taxes the Trump administration planned to impose on Chinese goods.

In the U.S. it was concerns over the news that the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes had dipped below the yield of two-year notes. It’s an indicator that investors think the short-term prospects for a country’s economic outlook are worse than the long-term outlook, so yields are higher for short-term investments.

China’s industrial and retail sectors both slowed significantly in July. Industrial production, including manufacturing, mining and utilities, grew by 4.8% in July (a steep decline from 6.3% growth in June).  Meanwhile, retail sales in the country slowed to 7.6%, down from 9.8% in June.

Germany also posted declines over the summer months, indicating that its economy had contracted by 0.1% in the three months leading to June.

Globally, the protracted trade war between the U.S. and China are weighing on economies — as are concerns about what a hard Brexit would mean for the economies in the European Union .

The stocks of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Salesforce were all off by somewhere between 2.5% and 4.5% in today’s trading.

Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

By Darrell Etherington

Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps, with a broader launch that will be available to all iOS and Android devices that have system-level support for AR. On iOS, that means ARKit-compatible devices, and on Android, that means any smartphones that support Google’s ARcore, so long as ‘Street View’ is also available where you are.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone (this might take a couple weeks depending on when you actually get pushed the update). We took a look at some of the features available with the early version in March, and it sounds like the version today should be pretty similar, including the ability to just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the ‘Directions’ button and then navigating to ‘Walking,’ then tapping ‘Live View’ which should appear newer the bottom of the screen.

Live View
The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk – instead, in provides quick, easy and super useful orientation, by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Google Maps is also getting a number of other upgrades, including a one-stop ‘Reservations’ tab in Maps for all your stored flights, hotel stays and more – plus it’s backed up offline. This, and a new redesigned Timeline which is airing on Android devices only for now, should also be rolling out to everyone over the next few weeks.

Tech stocks walloped as China retaliates in the latest salvo of its trade war with the US

By Jonathan Shieber

All U.S. stock markets were down severely today, and tech stocks were hit especially hard, as China retaliated to increasing U.S. tariffs by halting imports on U.S. agricultural goods and finally acceded to market pressures by letting the yuan slide in value against the dollar.

At one point, the Dow was down nearly 900 points before staging a late afternoon rally to close off by roughly 760 points. The Nasdaq, the marketplace which is home to a number of technology stocks, saw its value drop by 3.4%, or 277.10 points.

Shares of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Twitter were all down for the day. Indeed, as CNBC reported, the biggest tech stocks — Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet — lost a combined $162 billion in market value.

Declines came as China allowed its currency to fall below what was once considered to be a red-line in the country’s currency peg against the dollar. That means that Chinese goods start to look more attractive globally as their prices decline in relation to the dollar. It could also trigger a wave of currency devaluations and protectionist measures across the globe — further putting downward pressure on global economic growth.

Stocks also continued to feel the pinch from the threat that President Donald Trump would make good on his threat to impose new tariffs on goods from China beginning September 1, 2019. Those tariffs are expected to take a bite out of every-day consumer goods and clothing, which adversely affects tech companies.

The big concern for these tech companies is the looming threat of that tariff expansion from the U.S. If those tariffs go into effect it would have significant consequences in these companies’ home market. 

“Assuming smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and computer systems are not categorically excluded from the final $300B tranche, we expect there will be material impact to Apple hardware product earnings,” analysts from Cowen & Co. wrote in a note quoted by CNBC .

Google says it doubled Pixel sales year-over-year

By Frederic Lardinois

It looks like the mid-range Pixel 3a is the hit Google surely hoped it would be.

Alphabet reported some pretty good earnings today, but the company’s report tends to be pretty generic, given that it doesn’t provide details for its different business units inside of Google and its other segments. That’s not to say there isn’t good news there for Google. On today’s call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared some new stats for the company’s phone line.

“With the launch of Pixel 3a in May, overall Pixel unit sales in Q2 grew more than 2x year over year,” Pichai announced. Part of this growth, he noted, is due to Google greatly expanded its distribution network beyond its own store and Verizon to also include T Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular, Spectrum Mobile and others. He also stressed that the Pixel 3a received Google’s highest Net Promotor Score rating yet.

It surely helps that the Pixel 3a is relatively affordable and compares well to flagship phones without any major tradeoffs. When it launched, reviews were generally very positive, too, which surely helped as well. Unlike previous Pixel launches, the first batch Pixel 3a phones also didn’t face any major hardware problems, something that regularly plagued Google’s earlier efforts.

Microsoft and the second SoftBank Vision Fund as another play for corporate cloud dominance

By Jonathan Shieber

It looks like the return of SoftBank’s Vision Fund may be less reliant on murder money and more reliant on Microsoft’s money-making machine for its backing.

The rumored involvement of Microsoft in financing SoftBank Vision Fund II (electric boogaloo?) is interesting for what it may indicate about how the relationship between venture investors, startups and the large corporations that dominate the tech industry are changing.

If the name of the game is platform and services, then corporate behemoths like Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Apple are in interesting positions to invest in startups as a flywheel for growth in some of their most profitable and strategic business units.

To some extent this has always been true, but it’s becoming more important now as web services become larger slices of the corporate balance sheet at these three companies (particularly — although IBM is also playing in this game). Basically, like corporate accelerators and venture arms, investing in SoftBank is another service that’s being potentially offered to lock in startups to corporate cloud ecosystems.

While there are no guarantees that a nudge from an investor to use one tech platform for web services over another would make any difference, it’s clear that big tech companies like Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft are all over startups to use one web stack over another.

Amazon has tied itself ever more tightly to the Techstars ecosystem of incubators for new tech companies, Microsoft has its own corporate accelerator programs and investment arm and Alphabet does the same.

As technology continues to advance, the big companies have more services they can offer to tech companies that will be increasingly more compelling and drive increasing revenue.

All three big companies mentioned above (and even IBM, bless its big blue non-existent heart) have machine learning tools that they’d love to provide as a service to startups as well. And even as IBM sunsets Watson as a balance sheet item (an event that was an elementary conclusion to anyone who has tracked its long, slow spiral), machine learning services are going to become a larger slice of revenue for the providers who can effectively tie startups into those services.

Most entrepreneurs pay lip service to the fact that enhanced algorithms are going to become table stakes in new product offerings so observers can watch that become another engine of growth for the big companies that can get it right.

Also, startups are going to increasingly become a sales channel for big tech, even as big tech has traditionally been a sales channel for startups.

Software as a service businesses using a freemium business model have an easier time getting into a corporate environment than Microsoft or Google . And even as the productivity suites from these companies battle it out (Verizon, FWIW, is team Google for now), some of the money flowing to a SaaS company’s coffers from a big corporate entity will ultimately wind up in either Microsoft, Amazon or Alphabet’s returns.

This model also helps venture investors, who now have more assurance that there will be late-stage capital to bolster their businesses (including really, really bad ones), although most traditional firms have a love-hate relationship with Masayoshi Son’s gargantuan investment vehicle.

Finally, there’s the simple fact that divorcing SoftBank from Saudi Arabia’s journalist-killing murder money is a good thing for the firm and the larger technology industry, which has enough moral conundrums to consider without adding to the mix another problematic geopolitical relationship.

Techstars Detroit announces first class after major refocus

By Matt Burns

At the beginning of 2019, Techstars Mobility turned into Techstars Detroit. At the time of the announcement, Managing Director Ted Serbinski penned “the word mobility was becoming too limiting. We knew we needed to reach a broader audience of entrepreneurs who may not label themselves as mobility but are great candidates for the program.”

I always called it Techstars Detroit anyway.

With Techstars Detroit, the program is looking for startups transforming the intersection of the physical and digital worlds that can leverage the strengths of Detroit to succeed. It’s a mouthful, but makes sense. Mobility is baked into Detroit, but Detroit is more than mobility.

Today the program took the wraps off the first class of startups under the new direction.

Techstars has operated in Detroit since 2015 and has been a critical partner in helping the city rebuild. Since its launch, Serbinski and the Techstars Mobility (now Detroit) mentors have helped bring talented engineers and founders to the city.

Serbinski summed up Detroit nicely for me, saying, “No longer is Detroit telling the world how to move. The world is telling Detroit how it wants to move.” He added the incoming class represents the new Detroit, with 60% international and 40% female founders.


Airspace Link (Detroit, MI)
Providing highways in the sky for safer drone operations.

Alpha Drive (New York, NY)
Platform for the validation of autonomous vehicle AI.

Le Car (Novi, MI)
An AI-powered personal car concierge that matches you to your perfect vehicle fit.

Octane (Fremont, CA)
Octane is a mobile app that connects car enthusiasts to automotive events and to each other out on the road.

PPAP Manager (Chihuahua, Mexico)
A platform to streamline the approval of packets of documents required in the automotive industry, known as PPAP, to validate production parts.

Ruksack (Toronto, Canada)
Connecting travelers with local travel experts to help them plan a perfect trip.

Soundtrack AI (Tel Aviv, Israel)
Acoustics-based and AI-enabled Predictive Maintenance Platform.

Teporto (Tel Aviv, Israel)
Teporto is enabling a new commute modality with its one-click smart platform for transportation companies that seamlessly adapts commuter service to commuters’ needs.

Unlimited Engineering (Barcelona, Spain)
Unlimited develops modular Light Electric Vehicles as a fun, cheap and convenient solution to last-mile trips that are overserved by cars and public transportation.

Zown (Toronto, Canada)
Open up your real estate property to the new mobility marketplace.

Alphabet’s Wing launches OpenSky, a safety app for Australian drone operators

By Sarah Perez

Drone delivery service Project Wing (or just Wing as it’s now called) graduated from Google X last year to become an independent Alphabet business, and recently won governmental approval to operate in the suburbs outside the Australian capital, Canberra. There, its service delivers food, coffee, pet supplies and more to area residents. Related to these efforts, Wing this week launched a new app for drone flyers, OpenSky, to help them find safe places and times to fly their drones or drone fleets.

The app quietly launched on the iOS App Store and Google Play on Tuesday, and is targeted at both recreational drone owners as well as commercial drone operators.

As the Wing website explains, OpenSky wants to make it easier to find out when and where you can fly, whether you’re a “hobbyist who loves to fly” or a business that “uses unmanned aircraft to survey land or deliver goods.”

Screen Shot 2019 07 05 at 11.34.12 AM

CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) says it’s retiring its own “Can I fly there?” app in favor of a remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) digital platform to which app developers can connect their own drone safety apps. OpenSky is the first third-party app to be approved that uses this new system.

In addition to its launch on the app stores, OpenSky is also available on the web.

The new app itself is straightforward to use. From a menu, you select what type of drone operator you are — either recreational, commercial (flying drones commercially less than 2kg) or ReOC (flying drones commercially with an operator certificate issued by CASA).

Screen Shot 2019 07 05 at 10.49.25 AM

You can then enter addresses in the map’s search box to look up information about the no-fly zones and other restrictions that may be in place, as well as view the related CASA compliance maps for guidance. There are also features to help you identify flight hazards and a link to report unsafe drone operations directly to CASA.

In June, Wing published a blog post explaining that it would assist CASA with launching an ecosystem of apps to support safe drone flight. However, it hadn’t yet said what sort of apps it was launching or when they would arrive.

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“Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is taking an innovative approach to giving drone operators information to enable safe and predictable flight,” wrote Wing Project Manager Reinaldo Negron, in the post. “By allowing the drone industry to implement a diverse ecosystem of apps and services which drone flyers can use to obtain flight-related information, CASA is creating space for innovation while ensuring a strong baseline of public safety and regulatory oversight,” he said.

In addition to the drone safety apps, Wing said it also is developing tools for CASA to communicate with drone flyers during major events such as sporting matches, concerts and emergency response incidents.

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“Over time, a CASA-approved ecosystem of apps and services will enhance drone operator choice, public safety, and spur further innovation in the drone industry. By enabling this ecosystem, CASA and the Australian Government provide a compelling example to other countries seeking to safely integrate drones into their national aviation system, and we’re excited to help support the future of Australian drone flight with them,” said Negron.

We reached out to Wing for more information, and will update if the company comments further.

Vertical market networks, effective startup names, Libra, Carbon, and Sidewalk Labs

By Danny Crichton

The next service marketplace wave: Vertical market networks

B2B service marketplaces (think translation as a service) are an extraordinarily lucrative startup category. But despite the incredible potential of these platforms to generate outsized returns, many fail. Why?

Ivan Smolnikov, the CEO and founder of translation service startup Smartcat, investigates why certain marketplaces seem to grow while others stall. His conclusion is that unlocking value for both sides of the marketplace is much more challenging than it appears, and the most successful, next-generation marketplaces are going to come from highly networked, efficient platforms for complex projects targeting specific verticals.

Smolnikov then gives a step-by-step guide to optimizing marketplace growth.

One reason is that several service providers must often work together to complete a single job for a buyer, requiring a complex workflow from end to end. As a result, it’s difficult for marketplaces to not only mediate service delivery but also make it significantly more efficient for buyers and suppliers. If both the buyer and suppliers don’t see a significant efficiency gain other than being initially matched, why would they continue using the marketplace?

What startup names are most effective?

Perhaps the first step in building a company is just figuring out what to call it. Adam Zelcer, who founded Adboy, explores some tactics on how to optimize a startup’s name.

Huawei says two-thirds of 5G networks outside China now use its gear

By Rita Liao

As 5G networks begin rolling out and commercializing around the world, telecoms vendors are rushing to get a headstart. Huawei equipment is now behind two-thirds of the commercially launched 5G networks outside China, said president of Huawei’s carrier business group Ryan Ding on Tuesday at an industry conference.

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms gear, has nabbed 50 commercial 5G contracts outside its home base from countries including South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland and more. In all, the Shenzhen-based firm has shipped more than 150,000 base stations, according to Ding.

It’s worth noting that network carriers can work with more than one providers to deploy different parts of their 5G base stations. Huawei offers what it calls an end-to-end network solution or a full system of hardware, but whether a carrier plans to buy from multiple suppliers is contingent on their needs and local regulations, a Huawei spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In China, for instance, both Ericsson and Nokia have secured 5G contracts from state-run carrier China Mobile (although Nokia’s Chinese entity, a joint venture with Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, is directly controlled by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission).

Huawei’s handsome number of deals came despite the U.S’s ongoing effort to lobby its allies against using its equipment. In May, the Trump administration put Huawei on a trade blacklist over concerns around the firm’s spying capabilities, a move that has effectively banned U.S. companies from doing businesses with the Shenzhen-based giant.

Huawei’s overall share in the U.S. telecoms market has so far been negligible, but many rural carriers have long depended on its high-performing, cost-saving hardware. That might soon end as the U.S. pressures small-town network operators to quit buying from Huawei, Reuters reported this week.

To appease potential clients, Huawei has gone around the world offering no-backdoors pacts to local governments of the U.K. and most recently India.

Huawei is in a neck and neck fight with rivals Nokia and Ericsson. In early June, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said in an interview with Bloomberg that the firm had won “two-thirds of the time” in bidding contracts against Ericcson and competed “quite favorably with Huawei.” Nokia at the time landed 42 5G contracts, while Huawei numbered 40 and Ericsson scored 19.

Huawei’s challenges go well beyond the realm of its carrier business. Its fast-growing smartphone unit is also getting the heat as the U.S. ban threatens to cut it off from Alphabet, whose Android operating system is used in Huawei phone, as well as a range of big chip suppliers.

Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei noted that trade restrictions may compromise the firm’s output in the short term. Total revenues are expected to dip $30 billion below estimates over the next two years, and overseas smartphone shipment faces a 40% plunge. Ren, however, is bullish that the firm’s sales would bounce back after a temporary period of adjustment while it works towards self-dependence by developing its own OS, chips and other core technologies.

Sidewalk Labs’ blueprint for a ‘mini’ smart city is a massive data mine

By Kirsten Korosec

Sidewalk Labs, the smart city technology firm owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, released a plan this week to redevelop a piece of Toronto’s eastern waterfront into its vision of an urban utopia — a ‘mini’ metropolis tucked inside a digital infrastructure burrito and bursting with gee-whiz tech-ery.

A place where high-tech jobs and affordable housing live in harmony, streets are built for people, not just cars, all the buildings are sustainable and efficient, public spaces are dotted with internet-connected sensors and an outdoor comfort system with giant “raincoats” designed to keep residents warm and dry even in winter. The innovation even extends underground, where freight delivery system ferries packages without the need of street-clogging trucks. 

But this plan is more than a testbed for tech. It’s a living lab (or petri dish, depending on your view), where tolerance for data collection and expectations for privacy are being shaped, public due process and corporate reach is being tested, and what makes a city equitable and accessible for all is being defined.

It’s also more ambitious and wider in scope than its original proposal.

“In many ways, it was like a 50-sided Rubik’s cube when you’re looking at initiatives across mobility, sustainability, the public realm, buildings and housing and digital governance,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said Monday describing the effort to put together the master plan called Toronto Tomorrow: A New Approach for Inclusive Growth.

Even the harshest critics of the Sidewalk Labs plan might agree with Doctoroff’s Rubik cube analogy. It’s a complex plan with big promises and high stakes. And despite the 1,500-plus page tome presenting the idea, it’s still opaque.

Step raises $22.5M led by Stripe to build no-fee banking services for teens

By Ingrid Lunden

The smartphone revolution has well and truly disrupted the world of banking. A wide range of startups have cropped up that have completely removed the need to make visits to physical branches to open accounts, make deposits, pay for things, and ask for loans: you can now do all of these on the go by way of a simple tap on an app.

Now, in the latest development, a new startup is leveraging that progress to create a new service targeting one of the most avid demographics when it comes to smartphone usage. Step, which builds mobile-based banking services for teenagers, is today announcing a round of $22.5 million led by Stripe.

“Schools don’t teach kids about money,” CJ MacDonald, the CEO and co-founder, said in an interview. “We want to be their first bank accounts with spending cards, but we also want to teach financial literacy and responsibility. Banks don’t tailor to thism, and we want to be a solution teaching the next generation of adults to be more responsible with money in the cashless era. It was easy with cash to go to the mall but now everyone is using their phone for Uber and more.” (MacDonald has a track record in mobile commerce applications: his previous startup, mobile loyalty card app Gyft, got acquired by First Data.)

Step’s first market will be the US, where it’s estimated that there are just under 50 million teenagers in the population.

MacDonald said the aim with the funding will be to use it to bring Step’s first product — banking accounts with payment cards attached — to market, in partnership with Mastercard and Evolve.

Step actually launched in January this year (when its card partner was actually Visa) but only to unveil a waitlist. Since then, it has amassed 500,000 names of interested would-be users — likely one reason why it attracted this funding, and the attention of a pretty high-profile set of investors, including several who know a thing or two about the youth market.

In addition to Stripe, the round includes Will Smith’s Dreamers fund, Nas, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Wndrco, Ronnie Lott, Matt Rutler, Kevin Gould, and Moat founders Noah and Jonah Goodhart. Previous investors Crosslink Capital, Collaborative Fund and Sesame Ventures also participated. (It’s raised just under $30 million to date. Valuation is not being disclosed.)

Step is not wading into unchartered territory by building a banking service targeting teens. Banks have been offering people the ability to open accounts for their kids under the umbrella of their accounts for many years. And other startups that have built banking services for this age group, who already have products out in the market, include teen debit card and bank app Current, and Greenlight, which makes a debit card for kids. (And that’s before you consider the likes of Chime, which don’t target teens specifically but might be used by them.)

And nor will Step be the last: there have also been rumors that Amazon has been working on its own service offering bank accounts to teens.

MacDonald said there are differences between what Step and these others are offering. First and foremost, its primary point of engagement is the teenager him/herself, with the aim being to give the account holder full autonomy (or at least the feeling of it: parents can still monitor and put controls on an under-18 account, as well as pay funds into it).

To that end, Step has been marketing directly to its future users, doing viral things like incentivizing sign-ups by giving users a dollar towards their bank accounts (when they come online) for each person that gets referred and also signs up using a person’s code. Teenagers under 18 will even be able to sign up for accounts without parental or guardian consent — although these accounts with be very limited in their functionality.

Another key difference will be the business model around which Step is built. There will be a fee collected on any card transactions, but unlike others in this space (and unlike most banks), Step is launching with a no-fee model for the basic account. This is because the idea will be to grow with the users, and over time to offer them services that will collect fees, when they are needed.

“As teens grow up we want to grow with them,” MacDonald said. “We will start offering products when they go to college, for example lending money to get books or computers.”

Stripe’s investment for now appears to be mainly a financial one in terms of the services that will be coming in the first wave of Step’s rollout this year. Behind the scenes, it’s actually strategic, too: the company has been quietly building interesting inroads into developing services for card issuers, alongside the services for merchants that you might already know. That’s included the acquisition of Touchtech earlier this year.

Step’s service will be very dependent on building out, and using, robust APIs to let parents and companies pay into their accounts, and for people to be able to use their Step accounts to pay for things, and part of that will involve using and implementing card issuing APIs.

“We are working with Stripe on its issuing API and on developing the issuing side of its business,” MacDonald said. “That is something that we are excited about.” More generally, he said their goals are aligned. “They want to grow the GDP of the internet and grow businesses online. Part of what we are trying to do is to make young people participate responsibly in the online economy, and I think that mission is in line with Stripe’s.” (Stripe declined to provide a comment for this story.)

The bigger opportunity also seems to be that much larger and more incumbent organizations will tap into what Step is building so that it can make sure to remain relevant and a part of whatever shape financial services take for so-called “generation alpha.”

“Today’s young people are digitally savvy, having grown up with technology as a mainstay in their day-to-day lives. As a result, we also need to ensure that they become familiar with the unique aspects of digital payments including providing education about the various finance and payment products available,” said Sherri Haymond, EVP Digital Partnerships, North America for Mastercard, in a statement. “Step has taken a thoughtful approach to developing an offering for teens and families that provides that first step in educating and acclimating today’s youth to help them gain confidence and awareness around their finances.”

The Slack origin story

By Kate Clark

Let’s rewind a decade.

It’s 2009. Vancouver, Canada.

Stewart Butterfield, known already for his part in building Flickr, a photo-sharing service acquired by Yahoo in 2005, decided to try his hand — again — at building a game. Flickr had been a failed attempt at a game called Game Neverending followed by a big pivot. This time, Butterfield would make it work.

To make his dreams a reality, he joined forces with Flickr’s original chief software architect Cal Henderson, as well as former Flickr employees Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov, who like himself, had served some time at Yahoo after the acquisition. Together, they would build Tiny Speck, the company behind an artful, non-combat massively multiplayer online game.

Years later, Butterfield would pull off a pivot more massive than his last. Slack, born from the ashes of his fantastical game, would lead a shift toward online productivity tools that fundamentally change the way people work.

Glitch is born

In mid-2009, former TechCrunch reporter-turned-venture-capitalist M.G. Siegler wrote one of the first stories on Butterfield’s mysterious startup plans.

“So what is Tiny Speck all about?” Siegler wrote. “That is still not entirely clear. The word on the street has been that it’s some kind of new social gaming endeavor, but all they’ll say on the site is ‘we are working on something huge and fun and we need help.’”

Maybe I make a terrible boss, but at least I know it. Work with me: http://tinyspeck.com/jobs/cptl/

— Stewart Butterfield (@stewart) July 10, 2009

Siegler would go on to invest in Slack as a general partner at GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet .

“Clearly this is a creative project,” Siegler added. “It almost sounds like they’re making an animated movie. As awesome as that would be, with people like Henderson on board, you can bet there’s impressive engineering going on to turn this all into a game of some sort (if that is in fact what this is all about).”

After months of speculation, Tiny Speck unveiled its project: Glitch, an online game set inside the brains of 11 giants. It would be free with in-game purchases available and eventually, a paid subscription for power users.

Waymo is bringing its self-driving trucks back to Arizona

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo, the autonomous vehicle company under Alphabet, is bringing its self-driving trucks back to Arizona.

The company’s autonomous Chysler Pacifica hybrid vehicles, which are used in its Waymo One ride-hailing service, are a common sight on public streets in Chandler and other suburbs of Phoenix . But its self-driving Class 8 big rig trucks haven’t been in Arizona for more than year.

Waymo integrated its self-driving system into Class 8 trucks and began testing them in Arizona in August 2017. The company stopped testing its trucks on Arizona roads sometime later that year.

Those early Arizona tests were aimed at gathering initial information about driving trucks in the region, according to Waymo. This new round of testing is at a more advanced stage in the program’s development.

Testing will be conducted on freeways around the metro Phoenix area and will expand over time, according to Waymo. The company wouldn’t share details of how many autonomous trucks it has in its total fleet, how many will be in Arizona or when it will broaden its testing area outside of metro Phoenix.

The company said it will be testing with both empty trucks and with freight. However, the freight will be for testing purposes only and not part of a commercial business.

The self-driving trucks have two trained safety drivers who can takeover if needed.

Waymo has been testing its self-driving trucks in a handful of locations in the U.S., including Arizona, in the San Francisco area and Atlanta. In 2018, the company announced planned to use its self-driving trucks to deliver freight bound for Google’s data centers in Atlanta.

Waymo self-driving trucks will be sharing Arizona freeways with at least one other company — TuSimple, which runs an autonomous route (with safety drivers) between Tucson and Phoenix along Interstate 10.

Self-driving trucks part of Waymo’s broader business strategy that also includes launching a ride-sharing service and one day even licensing autonomous technology to vehicle manufacturers.

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