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Facebook rebrands Libra wallet Calibra to Novi

By Romain Dillet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crypto Startup School: How to scale companies using crypto

By Henry Pickavet
Zoran Basich Contributor
Zoran Basich is the crypto editor for Andreessen Horowitz.

Editor’s note: Andreessen Horowitz’s Crypto Startup School brought together 45 participants from around the U.S. and overseas in a seven-week course to learn how to build crypto companies. Andreessen Horowitz is partnering with TechCrunch to release the online version of the course over the next few weeks. 

In week two of a16z’s Crypto Startup School, three company-builders provide real-world advice on using the qualities of crypto to create new business models and networks.

Coinbase founder and CEO Brian Armstrong walks us through “Setting Up and Scaling a Crypto Company,” explaining how crypto can help startups raise money, acquire customers and build a global profile. The issuing of tokens, for example, can align the incentives of early users and reinforce network effects, helping solve the “cold-start” problem that can derail many startups.

Armstrong also outlines the disadvantages of crypto that entrepreneurs must watch out for, including regulatory uncertainty. On balance, he thinks crypto is where the internet was in the early days.

“In five or 10 years, pretty much every startup that gets created, it’s going to use the internet, it’s going to use AI and it’s also going to use some form of cryptocurrency somewhere in that product.”

In the next lecture, Balaji Srinivasan, an angel investor and co-founder of multiple companies, including Earn.com and Counsyl, gives an overview of “Applications: Today & 2025.”

Srinivasan starts off by tracing the history of crypto from Bitcoin and Ethereum to the present. He highlights the crypto applications that have already gotten traction — infrastructure providers such as exchanges, wallets and miners; decentralized finance (DeFi) apps; and stablecoins that eliminate the volatility of early cryptocurrencies — and looks ahead to the ones that are likely to emerge in the next five years. These include personal tokenization, new financial instruments, decentralized autonomous organizations and gaming.

Finally, Forte co-founder and CEO Josh Williams does a deep dive on “Opportunities for Crypto and Gaming.” Williams explains that blockchain technology could have an even bigger impact on gaming than the internet because it’s not just connecting people, but potentially changing business models by aligning the incentives of developers and players. It can do this by allowing players to truly own the assets in games and verify their provenance, and by enabling developers to code rich incentive systems and rewards into games.

By incorporating these mechanisms, Williams believes, an already exploding gaming industry will grow and create multi-billion-dollar marketplaces within games that will truly benefit players and developers.

Buzzy Ethereum wallet app Argent comes out of stealth

By Romain Dillet

Argent is launching the first public version of its Ethereum wallet for iOS and Android. The company has been available as a limited beta for a few months with a few thousand users. But it has already raised a seed and a Series A round with notable investors, such as Paradigm, Index Ventures, Creandum and Firstminute Capital. Overall, the company has raised $16 million.

I managed to get an invitation to the beta a few months ago and have been playing around with it. It’s a well-designed Ethereum wallet with some innovative security features. It also integrates really well with DeFi projects.

Many people leave their crypto assets on a cryptocurrency exchange, such as Coinbase or Binance. But it’s a centralized model — you don’t own the keys, which means that an exchange could get hacked and you’d lose all your crypto assets. Similarly, if there’s a vulnerability in the exchange API or login system, somebody could transfer all your crypto assets to their own wallets.

At heart, Argent is a non-custodial Ethereum wallet, like Coinbase Wallet or Trust Wallet. You’re in control of the keys. Argent can’t initiate a transaction without your authorization for instance.

But that level of control brings a lot of complexities. Hardware wallets, such as Ledger wallets, ask you to write down a seed phrase so that you can recover your wallet if you lose your device. It requires some discipline and it’s hard to understand if you’re not familiar with the concept of seed phrases.

Even Coinbase Wallet tells you to back up your seed phrase when you first create a wallet. “We see them as advanced tools for developers,” Argent co-founder and CEO Itamar Lesuisse told me.

That’s why a new generation of wallets tries to hide the complexity from the end user, such as ZenGo and Argent. Creating a wallet on Argent is one of the best experiences in the cryptocurrency space. Your wallet is secured by something called ‘guardians’.

Trust your friends

A guardian can be someone you know and trust, a hardware wallet (or another phone) or a MetaMask account. Argent also provides a guardian service, which requires you to confirm your identity with a text message and an email. If you lose your phone and you want to recover your wallet on another phone, you need to speak to your guardians and get a majority of confirmations. If they can all confirm that, yes, indeed, your phone doesn’t work anymore and you want to recover your crypto assets, the recovery process starts.

Let’s take an example. Here’s your list of guardians:

  • Argent’s own guardian service
  • Two friends who are also using Argent
  • A Ledger Nano S hardware wallet

In total, there are five different factors involved, you including. If you lose your phone, you can recover your wallet by downloading Argent on another phone (factor #1), asking Argent’s guardian service to send you a text and an email to confirm your identity (factor #2) and confirming your identity with the Ledger Nano S (factor #3).

You have reached a majority and the recovery process starts. You’ll get your funds in 36 hours so that you have enough time to cancel it it’s a hijacking attempt.

But you could also have downloaded the Argent app on another phone (factor #1) and pinged your two friends (factor #2 and #3) directly. If they can confirm the same sequence of characters (emojis in that case), the recovery process would start as well.

“I’m interested in social recovery, multi-key schemes,” Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin said in a TechCrunch interview in July 2018. It’s not a new concept as social media apps already use social recovery systems. On WeChat, if you lose your password, WeChat asks you to select people in your contact list within a big list of names.

In Argent’s case, social recovery adds an element of virality as well. The experience gets better as more people around you start using Argent.

In addition to wallet recovery, Argent uses guardians to put some limits. Just like you have some limits on your bank account, you can set a daily transaction limit to prevent attackers from grabbing all your crypto assets. You can ask your guardians to waive transactions above your daily limits.

Similarly, you can ask your guardians to lock your account for 5 days in case your phone gets stolen.

Betting on Ethereum

Argent is focused on the Ethereum blockchain and plans to support everything that Ethereum offers. Of course, you can send and receive ETH. And the startup wants to hide the complexity on this front as well as it covers transaction fees (gas) for you and gives you usernames. This way, you don’t have to set the transaction fees to make sure that it’ll go through.

The startup plans to integrate DeFi projects directly in the app. DeFi stands for decentralized finance. As the name suggests, DeFi aims to bridge the gap between decentralized blockchains and financial services. It looks like traditional financial services, but everything is coded in smart contracts.

There are dozens of DeFi projects. Some of them let you lend and borrow money — you can earn interest by locking some crypto assets in a lending pool for instance. Some of them let you exchange crypto assets in a decentralized way, with other users directly.

Argent lets you access TokenSets, Compound, Maker DSR, Aave, Uniswap V2 Liquidity, Kyber and Pool Together. And the company already has plans to roll out more DeFi features soon.

Overall, Argent is a polished app that manages to find the right balance between security and simplicity. Many cryptocurrency startups want to build the ‘Revolut of crypto’. And it feels like Argent has a real shot at doing just that with such a promising start.

Alternative assets are becoming mainstream

By Walter Thompson
Anthony Zhang Contributor
Anthony is co-founder and CEO of Vinovest, a platform for investing in fine wine. He has previously founded and sold two companies (EnvoyNow & Know Your VC), and is also a Thiel Fellow.

The way we invest is changing. Technology makes investing easy and more accessible than ever. Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen Z are gravitating away from public equity investments.

These changes have led to the rise of alternative assets. People are increasingly looking for new and innovative ways to approach investing. But are alternative assets truly the new frontier of modern investing?

What is an alternative asset?

As the name suggests, alternative assets are an alternative to traditional assets, like stock, bonds and cash. The term usually describes unconventional investments. That can include anything from a Honus Wagner baseball card to bottles of fine wine. However, it can also apply to more familiar investments, like real estate and private mortgages.

Simply put: alternative assets are the things that probably wouldn’t come up when you meet with your financial advisor. They are not easily categorizable, which makes them more difficult to manage. Often, people invest in alternative assets because of a passion for the asset rather than the immediate ROI.

What makes alternative assets an attractive investment?

Investors will go wherever there is money to be made. That includes alternative assets. In addition to higher potential returns, alternative assets have distinct characteristics from traditional assets. Here are a couple of factors to consider when looking at alternative assets:

Portfolio Diversification

Coinbase Wallet lets you earn interest with deeper DeFi integration

By Romain Dillet

Coinbase’s mobile wallet app Coinbase Wallet puts you in control of your crypto assets. The app already lets you access decentralized crypto apps (dapps) using a dapp browser. But Coinbase is going one step further, with deep integrations with some of the most popular DeFi projects.

DeFi means “decentralized finance,” and it has been a hot trend in the cryptocurrency space. DeFi projects try to reproduce traditional financial products in the blockchain. For instance, you can lend and borrow money, invest in derivative assets and more.

A popular category of DeFi projects has been lending protocols, such as Compound and dYdX. Those protocols work pretty muck like LendingClub, but on the blockchain. Some users send money to a DeFi lending project to contribute to liquidity pools. Other users borrow money from that pool. Interest rates go up and down depending on supply and demand.

With today’s update, you can contribute to lending protocols much more easily. Coinbase Wallet lets you pick a cryptocurrency, compare interest rates across multiple DeFi protocols, interact with those protocols and view your balances in a unified dashboard, you don’t have to use Coinbase Wallet’s dapp browser.

Interest rates will change over time. At any time, you can check the current interest rate, see how much you’ve earned already and withdraw your crypto assets.

Those protocols rely on collateralized borrowing in order to avoid default payments. It means that borrowers have to lock crypto assets as collateral. You often have to provide a bigger collateral than what you’re trying to borrow with those DeFi protocols — that’s the downside of not relying on credit history and external financial data.

Again, this isn’t a traditional finance product. Your deposits are not insured and there could be some bugs in DeFi protocols. For instance, bZx recently suffered from a “flash loan” attack. But it’s an interesting crypto use case.

Brave partners with Binance to let you trade crypto assets from your browser

By Romain Dillet

Web browser Brave is expanding its cryptocurrency features with an integration with cryptocurrency exchange Binance. Brave users will be able to buy, trade and receive crypto assets directly on the new tab page.

In addition to a particular focus on privacy, Brave has been playing around with cryptocurrencies for a while. The company launched its own cryptocurrency, the Basic Attention Token (BAT).

Partner websites receive BAT every month based on the amount of time you spend browsing those websites. Users can also receive BAT if you choose to view Brave ads on the new tab page or in your notifications.

In an upcoming release, Brave will support many other cryptocurrencies beyond BAT, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and others. When you open a new tab, there will be a new Binance -branded widget below the Brave Rewards widget. It integrates directly with Binance.com and Binance.us in the U.S.

By default, if you don’t interact with the widget, Brave doesn’t load any data from Binance’s server. It isn’t just a web embed — it’s a native widget that takes advantage of Binance’s API. Of course, when you connect Brave to your Binance account, your browser will fetch data from your Binance account so that you can view your balances and addresses for instance.

If cryptocurrencies aren’t your thing or if you believe web browsers are designed to browse the web, you can disable the widget entirely in the browser settings.

You can try out the new widget in Brave’s nightly release. The stable version will be released at some point in April.

Twitter CEO’s weak argument why investors shouldn’t fire him

By Josh Constine

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey might not spend six months a year in Africa, claims the real product development is under the hood, and gives an excuse for deleting Vine before it could become TikTok. Today he tweeted, via Twitter’s investor relations account, a multi-pronged defense of his leadership and the company’s progress.

The proclamations come as notorious activist investor Elliott Management prepares to pressure Twitter into a slew of reforms, potentially including replacing Dorsey with a new CEO, Bloomberg reported last week. Sources confirmed to TechCrunch that Elliott has taken a 4% to 5% stake in Twitter. Elliott has previously bullied eBay, AT&T, and othe major corporations into making changes and triggered CEO departures.

…Focusing on one job and increasing accountability has made a huge difference for us. One of our core jobs is to keep people informed. We want to be a service that people turn to… to see what’s happening, to be a credible source that people learn from.

— Twitter Investor Relations (@TwitterIR) March 5, 2020

Specifically, Elliott is seeking change because of Twitter’s weak market performance, which as of last month had fallen 6.2% since July 2015 while Facebook had grown 121%. The corporate raider reportedly takes issue with Dorsey also running fintech giant Square, and having planned to spend up to six months a year in Africa. Dorsey tweeted that “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!)”, despite cryptocurrency having little to do with Twitter.

Rapid executive turnover is another sore spot. Finally, Twitter is seen as moving glacially slow on product development, with little about its core service changing in the past five years beyond a move from 140 to 280 characters per tweet. Competing social apps like Facebook and Snapchat have made landmark acquisitions and launched significant new products like Marketplace, Stories, and Discover.

Dorsey spoke today at the Morgan Stanley investor conference, though apparently didn’t field questions about Elliott’s incursion. The CEO did take to his platform to lay out an argument for why Twitter is doing better than it looks, though without mentioning the activist investor directly. That type of response without mentioning to whom it’s directed, is popularly known as a subtweet. Here’s what he outlined:

On democracy: Twitter has prioritized healthy conversation and now “the #1 initiative is the integrity of the conversation around the elections” around the world, which it’s learning from. It’s now using humans and machine learning to weed out misinformation, yet Twitter still hasn’t rolled out labels on false news despite Facebook launching them in late 2016.

On revenue: Twitter expects to complete a rebuild of its core ad server in the first half of 2020, and it’s improving the experience of mobile app install ads so it can court more performance ad dollars. This comes seven years late to Facebook’s big push around app install ads.

On shutting down products: Dorsey claims that “5 years ago we had to do a really hard reset and that takes time to build from… we had been a company that was trying to do too many things…” But was it? Other than Moments, which largely flopped, and the move to the algorithmic feed ranking, Twitter sure didn’t seem to be doing too much and was already being criticized for slow product evolution as it tried to avoid disturbing its most hardcore users.

On stagnanation: “Some people talk about the slow pace of development at Twitter. The expectation is to see surface level changes, but the most impactful changes are happening below the surface” Dorsey claims, citing using machine learning to improve feed  and notification relevance

Yet it seems telling that Twitter suddenly announced yesterday that it was testing Instagram Stories-esque feature Fleets in Brazil. No launch event. No US beta. No indication of when it might roll out elsewhere. It seems like hasty and suspiciously convenient timing for a reveal that might convince investors it is actually building new things.

On talent: Twitter is apparently hiring top engineers “that maybe we couldn’t get 3 years ago”. 2017 was also Twitter’s share price low point of $14 compared to $34 today, so it’s not much of an accomplishment that hiring is easier now. Dorsey claims that “Engineering is my main focus. Everything else follows from that.” Yet it’s been years since fail whales were prevalent, and the core concern now is that there’s not enough to do on Twitter, rather than what it does offer doesn’t function well.

On Jack himself: Dorsey says he should have added more context “about my intention to spend a few months in Africa this year”, including its growing population that’s still getting online. Yet the “Huge opportunity especially for young people to join Twitter” seemed far from his mind as he focused on how crypto trading was driving adoption of Square’s Cash App

“I need to reevaluate” the plan to work from Africa “in light of COVID-19 and everything else going on”. That makes coronavirus a nice scapegoat for the decision while the phrase “everything else” is doing some very heavy lifting in the face of Elliott’s activist investing.

Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On fighting harassment: Nothing. The fact that Twitter’s most severe ongoing problem doesn’t even get a mention should clue you in to how many troubles have stacked up in front of Dorsey

Running Twitter is a big job. So big it’s seen a slew of leaders ranging from founders like Ev Williams to hired guns like Dick Costolo peel off after mediocre performance. If Dorsey wants to stay CEO, that should be his full-time, work-from-headquarters gig.

This isn’t just another business. Twitter is a crucial communications utility for the world. Its absence of innovation, failure to defend vulnerable users, and an inability to deliver financially has massive repercussions for society. It means Twitter hasn’t had the products or kept the users to earn the profits to be able to invest in solving its problems. Making Twitter live up to its potential is no sidehustle.

Arweave’s permaweb stops coronavirus censorship, raises $8M

By Josh Constine

The Chinese government has been removing criticism of its coronavirus response from apps like Weibo, the local equivalent of Twitter. But before it can, that content is being saved, decentralized, and highlighted thanks to Arweave’s permaweb. Today it’s announcing another $8.3 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures, and Coinbase Ventures.

Arweave has developed a new type of blockchain based on Moore’s Law of the declining cost of data storage. Users pay up front for a hundreds of years of storage at less than a cent per megabyte, and the interest that accrues will cover the dwindling storage cost forever. Over one million pieces of data are now stored on the permaweb and nearly 200 apps have been developed.

That includes perma-apps like WeiBlocked, which crawls Weibo for content likely to be censored. It indexes these posts and decentralizes them in the storage of hundreds of Arweave nodes operated around the world. WeiBlocked later checks back to see if the content has been censored, and then highlights them on its permaweb site you can access from a standard web browser. “By censoring it, it puts it out of the control of the censor”, says Arweave founder Sam Williams. 

It’s like the Streisand Effect in product form. The act of censorship actually causes the sensitive content to become increasingly visible. The more the Chinese government tries to hide information about Dr Li Wenliang, an early coronavirus whistleblower who was pressured into silence by Chinese police and later died of the sickness, the more attention it receives. Williams tells me he’s excited that WeiBlocked is “Putting the censorship protection of the network into practice.”

Funding The Immutable Future

The potential to become the unmutable layer of the internet attracted the new $8.3 million in funding just four months after Arweave raised its last $5 million from Andreessen Horowitz, USV, and Multicoin Capital. Along with video chat apps, Arweave is of the startups benefitting from the unfortunate ripple effects of the tragic coronavirus.

Rather than providing traditional equity in exchange for cash, Arweave sold investors some of its cache of its blockchain’s tokens. These are what users spend to store data on the Arweave permaweb. There’s only a finite number in the market, so as demand for everlasting storage increases, so does the value of the tokens. Investors could later sell their stake to generate returns.

Arweave founder Sam Williams

But what’s especially interesting is how Arweave is employing these token economics to build out its developer ecosystem. “We can invest fiat dollars into developers, increasing usage of the network, thereby increasing the value of the tokens” Williams explains. “That makes it sustainable so we can do it in the future, endlessly investing in the ecosystem.” As long as investments in developers cause Arweave’s token stash to accrue more value than the size of the investment, it will always have more to deploy. “We can make it recurring, indefinitely.”

Regarding the new $8.3 million, the startup writes “This money is for you, the Arweave community. The founding team now sees it as our primary role to dispense these funds carefully to the community.” Specifically, it will dispense Arweave Grants to fund proposals for startups, projects, organizations, and marketing initiatives that will grow permaweb usage. It’s also launching Arweave Boost, which gives $50,000 worth of free storage to startups and projects trying to build on the permaweb. Both resources come with technical guidance and mentorship from Arweave and its investors.

With over 500 nodes in operation, Arweave supports decentralized blogging platforms, indestructible documents, a social network called Feedweave, and apps that can keep running even if their owners go out of business. Unlike Bitcoin where miners are rewarded for storing or verifying just the latest block, Arweave’s blockchain incentivizes storage of old blocks on unused server space.

“WeiBlocked maintains an up-to-date list of politically sensitive search phrases and hashtags that are being censored in Weibo searches” its creators Aidan O’Kelly and Sam Rahini tell TechCrunch. “Weiblocked makes use of the ‘permaweb’ capabilities of the Arweave blockchain . . . This makes it impossible to block users within China from viewing the content in the Weiblocked archive, as there is no one host or IP that can be blocked by the firewall (or attacked by CCP hackers).”

Williams believes Arweave has hit a tipping point, with a functioning economy that means the network will keep running even without his company’s involvement. “I find it increasingly easy to sleep at night. We’re just focused on pushing adoption and the question is ‘how fast’ not ‘if’. It’s a truly decentralized network now.”

There’s always the risk of some yet-undiscovered code problems, or another permanent approach to the web undercutting Arweave. But with countries like Russia pushing new attempts to wall themselves off from the outside internet, there’s increasing need for Arweave’s network. “Activity is exploding, expectably around where censorship resistance can be valuable.”

Next, the permaweb community wants to safeguard itself from even a disruption of Internet connectivity itself. There’s an initiative to make Arweave work over high-frequency radio. Through a morse code-like system, sensitive content could be smuggled out of a country via radio, indexed, and kept accessible forever.

South Korea passes one of the world’s first comprehensive cryptocurrency laws

By Danny Crichton

The South Korean National Assembly passed new legislation today that will provide a framework for the regulation and legalization of cryptocurrencies and crypto exchanges.

In a unanimous vote during a special session of the legislature convened amidst the country’s worsening novel coronavirus situation, the representatives passed an amendment to the country’s financial services laws that would authorize Korea’s financial regulators to effectively oversee the nascent industry and develop rules around anti-money laundering among other processes.

South Korea has been on the forefront of the cryptocurrency boom and bust over the past few years, and it’s one of the few countries with wide-scale adoption of the technology. Surveys at the height of the crypto craze in 2017 showed that more than a third of the country’s workers were active investors in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other systems. The country’s largest city Seoul led a government initiative to introduce its own cryptocurrency — S-coin — that was designed to capture the zeitgeist of the frenzy.

During that period, South Korea’s government moved quickly to push new regulations and clamp down on the spread of blockchain, which caused large gyrations in the price of Bitcoin as investors observed how the country’s investors would react.

Today’s vote in the legislature just a few years later is a relatively quick turnaround for regulators, and shows the increasing acceptance of blockchain and more specifically cryptocurrencies in the context of financial services both locally and across the world. One of the country’s largest technology companies, Kakao, has continued to invest in blockchain initiatives, and the local ecosystem remains relatively robust in innovation in the sector.

The passage of the cryptocurrency legislation is a victory for the Korean startup ecosystem, but other major questions remain about the sector.

Among the most heated topics today is the fate of Tada (타다), the indigenous ride-hailing startup that competes with the traditional and regulated taxi industry. Since the company’s launch in late 2018, the company has faced constant threats of shut down by regulators, before a reprieve a few weeks ago by the country’s top constitutional court approved its operations.

Yet, in the same special session that saw the cryptocurrency bill pass, the National Assembly a day ago approved in committee a bill that would effectively ban Tada and mandate that it receive an operating license from the government. Expect further action on Tada in the weeks ahead.

As for the cryptocurrency law, it’s passage and presumed signing by South Korean president Moon Jae-in starts a months-long rulemaking process that will also provide time for existing startups and exchanges to transition into the law’s new regulatory apparatus.

Korea’s parliamentary elections are coming up in just a few weeks on April 15th, and while the situation around the novel coronavirus is taking a lion’s share of the local headlines, votes on tech measures are a way for representatives to position themselves on other salient issues before voter’s decide.

Daily Crunch: Coronavirus prompts more conference cancellations

By Anthony Ha

Google cancels its big developer conference, Justin Kan’s legal startup shuts down and Robinhood offers more details about a recent outage. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 4, 2020.

1. Google cancels its 2020 I/O developer conference

After Facebook canceled its F8 developer conference and Google itself moved its Cloud Next event in April to a digital-only conference, this wasn’t a huge surprise, but it provides another sign of how the COVID-19 coronavirus is clearing the 2020 industry calendar.

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg has outlined some of the steps that Facebook and his family’s nonprofit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, are taking to respond to the pandemic. Facebook’s response focuses on three areas: providing accurate information, stopping misinformation and providing data for research.

2. $75M legal startup Atrium shuts down, lays off 100

Justin Kan’s hybrid legal software and law firm startup Atrium is shutting down today after failing to figure out how to deliver better efficiency than a traditional law firm. The startup has now laid off all its employees; it will return some of its $75.5 million in funding to investors, including Series B lead Andreessen Horowitz . The separate Atrium law firm will continue to operate.

3. Robinhood offers $15 discount, blames outage on record trades

It wasn’t the leap year, a coding blip or a hack that caused Robinhood’s massive outages earlier this week that left customers unable to trade stocks. Instead, the co-CEOs write that “the cause of the outage was stress on our infrastructure — which struggled with unprecedented load. That in turn led to a ‘thundering herd’ effect — triggering a failure of our DNS system.”

4. India lifts ban on cryptocurrency trading

India’s Supreme Court has overturned the central bank’s two-year-old ban on cryptocurrency trading in the country in what many said was a “historic” verdict. The Reserve Bank of India had imposed a ban on cryptocurrency trading in April 2018 that barred banks and other financial institutions from facilitating “any service in relation to virtual currencies.”

5. The future of gig work could involve unions and co-ops

Behind the scenes, an alternative approach to California’s AB 5 worker protection law has been picking up steam. Called the Cooperative Economy Act, the draft legislation is designed to accomplish much of what AB 5 aims to achieve, such as worker protections and benefits. But it also brings unions and co-ops into the mix. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. VSCO’s new editing tool Montage lets you edit and layer both photos and video

VSCO already allowed users to apply photo-like edits to their videos by doing things like applying filters or adjusting the exposure. But Montage is an entirely different sort of video editing experience.

7. Uber sold its food delivery business in India to Zomato for $206M

In January, Uber announced that it had sold the India business of Uber Eats to Zomato for a 9.99% stake in the loss-making Indian food delivery startup. In a regulatory filing, the company has now disclosed that the deal was worth $206 million.

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.

India lifts ban on cryptocurrency trading

By Manish Singh

India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down central bank’s two-year-old ban on cryptocurrency trading in the country in what many said was a “historic” verdict.

The Reserve Bank of India had imposed a ban on cryptocurrency trading in April 2018 that barred banks and other financial institutions from facilitating “any service in relation to virtual currencies.”

At the time, RBI said the move was necessary to curb “ring-fencing” of the country’s financial system. It had also argued that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot be treated as currencies as they are not made of metal or exist in physical form, nor are they stamped by the government.

The 2018 notice from the central bank sent a panic to several local startups and companies offering services to trade in cryptocurrency. Nearly all of them have since shut shop.

In the ruling today, the bench, headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman, overruled central bank’s circular on the grounds of disproportionality.

A group of petitioners including trade body the Internet and Mobile Association of India had challenged central bank’s circular, in part, arguing that India should look at most other nations that not only allow cryptocurrency trading, but have moved to launch their own virtual currencies.

Nitin Sharma, a tech investor, said the top court’s ruling was “historic” and it finally brings some clarity to the matter.

“Historic day for Crypto in India. We can now innovate. The entire country can participate in the Blockchain revolution,” said Nischal Shetty, founder and chief executive of Bitcoin exchange platform WazirX.

Robinhood offers $15 discount, blames outage on record trades

By Josh Constine

It wasn’t the leap year, a coding blip, or a hack that caused Robinhood’s massive outages yesterday and today that left customers unable to trade stocks. Instead, the co-CEOs

write that “the cause of the outage was stress on our infrastructure — which struggled with unprecedented load. That in turn led to a “thundering herd” effect — triggering a failure of our DNS system.”

Robinhood was offline from Monday at 6:30am Pacific to 11pm Pacific, then had another outage this morning from 6:30am Pacific until just before 9am Pacific.

The $912 million-funded fintech giant will provide compensation to all customers of its Robinhood Gold premium subscription for borrowing money to trade plus access to Morningstar research reports, Nasdaq data, and bigger instant deposits. It’s offering them three months of service.

A month of Robinhood Gold costs $5 plus 5% yearly interest on borrowing above $1,000, charged daily. Before a pricing change, the flat fee per month could range as high as $200. However, compensated users will only get the $5 off per month, for a total of $15. That could seem woefully insufficient if Robinhood users missed out on buying back into stocks like Apple that went up over 9% on Monday. Robinhood is calling it a “first step”.

Impacted Robinhood users can contact the company here to ask for compensation. Below you can see the email Robinhood sent to custoemrs late last night.

Robinhood’s email to customers late last night

Robinhood is also working to contact impacted customers on a individual basis, and it’s looking into other forms of compensation on a case by case basis, company spokesperson Jack Randall tells me. It’s unclear if that might include cash to offset what traders might have lost by having their money locked in inaccessible Robinhood accounts during the outage.

Compensation could become a significant cost if the startup assesses that many of its 10 million users were impacted. The markets gained a record $1.1 trillion yesterday, but some Robinhood traders may not have been able to buy back in as the rebound occurred following mass selloffs due to fears of coronavirus.

Now the startup, valued at $7.6 billion, will have to try to regain users’ trust. “When it comes to your money, we know how important it is for you to have answers. The outages you have experienced over the last two days are not acceptable and we want to share an update on the current situation . . . We worked as quickly as possible to restore service, but it took us a while. Too long” wrote co-founders and co-CEO Baiju Bhatt and Vlad Tenev [disclosure: who I know from college].

As for exactly what triggered the downtime, the founders write that “Multiple factors contributed to the unprecedented load that ultimately led to the outages. The factors included, among others, highly volatile and historic market conditions; record volume; and record account sign-ups.” There’s been a frenzy of retail trading activity in the wake of coronavirus. There’s also been sudden spikes in stocks like Tesla amidst mainstream media attention. 

Robinhood Schwab ETrade Ameritrade

Going forward, Robinhood promises to “work to improve the resilience of our infrastructure to meet the heightened load we have been experiencing. We’re simultaneously working to reduce the interdependencies in our overall infrastructure. We’re also investing in additional redundancies in our infrastructure.” However, they warn that “we may experience additional brief outages, but we’re now better positioned to more quickly resolve them.”

The outage comes at a vulnerable time for Robinhood as oldschool brokerages like Charles Schwab, Ameritrade, and Etrade all recently moved to eliminate per-trade fees to match Robinhood’s pioneering zero-comission trades. Though some of those brokerages experienced infrastructure troubles recently, Robinhood massive outages could push users towards those incumbents that they might perceive as more stable. 

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