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Yesterday — January 14th 2021Your RSS feeds

Home services platform Porch acquires four companies

By Frederic Lardinois

Only a few weeks after its SPAC IPO, Porch today announced that it has made four acquisitions, worth a total of $122 million. The most important here is probably the acquisition of Homeowners of America for $100 million, which gets Porch deeper into the home insurance space. In addition, Porch is also acquiring mover marketing and data platform V12 for $22 million, as well as home inspection service Palm-Tech and iRoofing, a SaaS application for roofing contractors. Porch did not disclose the acquisition prices for the latter two companies.

You may still think of Porch as a marketplace for home improvement and repair services — and that’s what it started out as when it launched about seven years ago. Yet while it still offers those services, a couple of years after its 2013 launch, the company pivoted to building what it now calls a “vertical software platform for the home.” Through a number of acquisitions, the Porch Group now includes Porch.com, as well as services like HireAHelper, Inspection Support Network for home inspectors, Kandela for providing services around moving and an insurance broker in the form of the Elite Insurance Group. In some form or another, Porch’s tools are now used — either directly or indirectly — by two-thirds of U.S. homebuyers every month.

Porch founder and CEO Matt Ehrlichman. Image Credits: Porch

As Porch founder and CEO Matt Ehrlichman told me, he had originally planned to take his company public through a traditional IPO. He noted that going the increasingly popular SPAC route, though, allowed him to push his timeline up by a year, which in turn now enables the company to make the acquisitions it announced today.

“In total, we had a $323 million fundraise that allows us now to not only be a public company with public currency, but to be very well capitalized. And picking up that year allows us to be able to go and pursue acquisitions that we think make really good fits for Porch,” Ehrlichman told me. While Porch’s guidance for its 2021 revenue was previously $120 million, it’s now updating that guidance to $170 million based on these acquisitions. That would mean Porch would grow its revenue by about 134% year-over-year between 2020 and 2021.

As the company had previously laid out in its public documents, the plan for 2021 was always to get deeper into insurance. Indeed, as Ehrlichman noted, Porch these days tends to think of itself as a vertical software company that layers insurtech on top of its services in order to be able to create a recurring revenue stream. And because Porch offers such a wide range of services already, its customer acquisition costs are essentially zero for these services.

Image Credits: Homeowners of America

Porch was already a licensed insurance brokerage. With Homeowners of America, it is acquiring a company that is both an insurance carrier as well as a managing general agent..

“We’re able to capture all of the economic value from the consumer as we help them get insurance set up with their new home and we can really control that experience to delight them. As we wrap all the technology we’ve invested in around that experience we can make it super simple and instant to be able to get the right insurance at the right price for your new home. And because we have all of this data about the home that nobody else has — from the inspection we know if the roof is old, we know if the hot water system is gonna break soon and all the appliances — we know all of this data and so it just gives us a really big advantage in insurance.”

Data, indeed, is what a lot of these acquisitions are about. Because Porch knows so much about so many customers, it is able to provide the companies it acquires with access to relevant data, which in turn helps them offer additional services and make smarter decisions.

Homeowners of America is currently operating in six states (Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia) and licensed in 31. It has a network of more than 800 agencies so far and Porch expects to expand the company’s network and geographic reach in the coming months. “Because we have [customer acquisition cost]-free demand all across the country, one of the opportunities for us is simply just to expand that across the nation,” Ehrlichman explained.

As for V12, Porch’s focus is on that company’s mover marketing and data platform. The acquisition should help it reach its medium-term goal of building a $200 million revenue stream in this area. V12 offers services across multiple verticals, though, including in the automotive space, and will continue to do so. The platform’s overall focus is to help brands identify the right time to reach out to a given consumer — maybe before they decide to buy a new car or move. With Porch’s existing data layered on top of V12’s existing capabilities, the company expects that it will be able to expand these features and it will also allow Porch to not offer mover marketing but what Ehrlichman called “pro-mover” services, as well.

“V12 anchors what we call our marketing software division. A key focus of that is mover marketing. That’s where it’s going to have, long term, tremendous differentiation. But there are a number of other things that they’re working on that are going to have really nice growth vectors, and they’ll continue to push those,” said Ehrlichman.

As for the two smaller acquisitions of iRoofing and Palm-Tech, these are more akin to some of the previous acquisitions the company made in the contractor and inspection verticals. Like with those previous acquisitions, the plan is to help them grow faster, in part through integrating them into the overall Porch group’s family of products.

“Our business is and continues to be highly recurring or reoccurring in nature,” said Porch CFO Marty Heimbigner. “Nearly all of our revenues, including that of these new acquisitions, is consistent and predictable. This repeat revenue is also high margin with less than 20% cost of revenue and is expected to grow more than 30% per year on our platform. So, we believe these deals are highly accretive for our shareholders.”

2020 was one of the warmest years in history and indicates mounting risks of climate change

By Jonathan Shieber

It’s official. 2020 was one of the warmest years on record either edging out or coming in just behind 2016 for the warmest year in recorded history according to data from US government agencies.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had the year just tied with 2016, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put the figure just behind 2016’s totals.

No matter the ranking, the big picture for the climate isn’t pretty according to scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York and the Washington, DC-based NOAA.

“The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt, in a statement. “Whether one year is a record or not is not really that important – the important things are long-term trends. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken.”

That’s a dire message for the nation considering the cost of last year’s record-breaking 22 weather and climate disasters. At least 262 people died and scores more were injured by climate-related disasters, according to the NOAA.

And the combination of wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, tornados, tropical cyclones, and severe weather events like hail storms in Texas and the derecho that wrecked the Midwest cost the nation $95 billion.

Homes are engulfed in flames in Vacaville, California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire on August 19, 2020.

Homes are engulfed in flames in Vacaville, California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire on August 19, 2020. – As of the late hours of August 18,2020 the Hennessey fire has merged with at least 7 fires and is now called the LNU Lightning Complex fires. Dozens of fires are burning out of control throughout Northern California as fire resources are spread thin. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Both organizations track temperature trends to get some sort of picture of the impact that human activities — specifically greenhouse gas emissions — have on the planet. The image that comes into focus is that human activity has already contributed to increasing Earth’s average temperature by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the industrial age took hold in the late 19th century.

Most troubling to scientists is that this year’s near record-setting temperatures happened without a boost from the climatic weather phenomenon known as El Niño, which is a large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming.

“The previous record warm year, 2016, received a significant boost from a strong El Niño. The lack of a similar assist from El Niño this year is evidence that the background climate continues to warm due to greenhouse gases,” Schmidt said, in a statement.

The warming trends the word is experiencing are most pronounced in the Arctic, according to NASA. There, temperatures have warmed three times as a fast as the rest of the globe over the past 30 years, Schmidt said. The loss of Arctic sea ice — whose annual minimum area is declining by about 13 percent per decade — makes the region less reflective, which means more sunlight is being absorbed by oceans, causing temperatures to climb even more.

These accelerating effects of climate change could be perilous for the world at large, Katharine Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech University wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

“What keeps us climate scientists up in the dead of night is wondering what we don’t know about the self-reinforcing or vicious cycles in the Earth’s climate system,” Hayhoe wrote. “The further and faster we push it beyond anything experienced in the history of human civilization on this planet, the greater the risk of serious and even dangerous consequences. And this year, we’ve seen that in spades… It’s no longer a question of when the impacts of climate change will manifest themselves: They are already here and now. The only question remaining is how much worse it will get.”

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Chris Krebs and Alex Stamos have started a cyber consulting firm

By Zack Whittaker

Former U.S. cybersecurity official Chris Krebs and former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos have founded a new cybersecurity consultancy firm, which already has its first client: SolarWinds .

The two have been hired as consultants to help the Texas-based software maker recover from a devastating breach by suspected Russian hackers, which used the company’s software to set backdoors in thousands of organizations and to infiltrate at least 10 U.S. federal agencies and several Fortune 500 businesses.

At least the Treasury Dept., State Dept. and the Department of Energy have been confirmed breached, in what has been described as likely the most significant espionage campaign against the U.S. government in years. And while the U.S. government has already pinned the blame on Russia, the scale of the intrusions are not likely to be known for some time.

Krebs was one of the most senior cybersecurity officials in the U.S. government, most recently serving as the director of Homeland Security’s CISA cybersecurity advisory agency from 2018, until he was fired by President Trump for his efforts to debunk false election claims — many of which came from the president himself. Stamos, meanwhile, joined the Stanford Internet Observatory after holding senior cybersecurity positions at Facebook and Yahoo. He also consulted for Zoom amid a spate of security problems.

In an interview with the Financial Times, which broke the story, Krebs said it could take years before the hackers are ejected from infiltrated systems.

SolarWinds chief executive Sudhakar Ramakrishna acknowledged in a blog post that it had brought on the consultants to help the embattled company to be “transparent with our customers, our government partners, and the general public in both the near-term and long-term about our security enhancements.”

Kanarys raises $3 million for its data-driven platform to assess diversity and inclusion efforts

By Jonathan Shieber

Mandy Price was already a highly successful lawyer in private practice before she took the jump into entrepreneurship alongside two co-founders to launch Kanarys a little over one year ago.

The Harvard Law School graduated didn’t have to start her company, which helps businesses measure the efficacy of their diversity and inclusion efforts using hard data, but she needed to start the company.

Now, a year after its launch, the company counts companies like Yum Brands, the Dallas Mavericks, and Neiman Marcus among the dozen or so companies using its service and has $3 million in seed funding to help it expand.

For Price, the drive to launch Kanarys came from her own experiences working in law. It wasn’t the microagressions, or the lower pay, or casually dismissive attitude of colleagues toward her well-earned success that led Price to start Kanarys, but the knowledge that her experience wasn’t unique and that thousands of other women and minorities faced the same experiences daily.

I have had many things happen to me in the workplace that is similar to what many other women and women of color have dealt with and didn’t want to have my children have to go through similar issues,” Price said. 

So alongside her husband, Bennie King (himself a serial entrepreneur in the Dallas area), and her University of Texas at Austin and Harvard classmate, Star Carter, Price launched Kanarys in late 2019.

The company uses Equal Employment Opportunity reports and assessments of various policies involving promotion, recruitment, and benefits to track how a company is performing in relation to its industry peers.

“A lot of the inequities we see are from a structural and systemic standpoint. That is where Kanarys can see how they’re perpetuating inequity,” Price said. 

Kanarys starts with an independent assessment of a company’s policies and practices and then conducts quarterly surveys with employees of its customers to see how well they are meeting their stated goals and objectives. They also integrate with existing human resources systems to track things like pay equity and promotions.

The service has attracted the attention of the Rise of the Rest fund, Morgan Stanley, Jigsaw Ventures, Segal Ventures and Zeal Capital Partners, which led the company’s $3 million seed round.

“Organizations have typically tried to address this with individual interventions,” said Price. “What we’re saying is we have to address it on both fronts. So much of the inequities that we see are based off of institutional and systemic policies and practices.”

Not only does Kanarys track information on diversity and inclusion efforts for customers, but for job seekers there’s a database of about 1,000 companies which operates like Glassdoor . The focus is not just on worker satisfaction, but on how employees view the diversity efforts their employers are undertaking.

Notably, Kanarys founders join the (far-too-few) ranks of Black entrepreneurs launching businesses and raising venture capital. In 2017, studies showed that 98 percent of venture capital raised in the U.S. went to men, according to data provided by the company. Black entrepreneurs in general receive less than one percent of venture capital, and Black women founders make up only 0.6 percent of venture capital funding raised. 

“We know that a focus on DEI in business is not just the right thing to do for employees, it also makes good business sense,” said Price, CEO and co-founder of Kanarys, in a statement. “Kanarys’ DEI data arms companies, for the first time, to make precise, immediate, and informed decisions using real, intersectional metrics around their diversity goals and inclusion programs that ultimately drive bottom-line business objectives.”

 

Elon Musk says SpaceX to double launch pad usage for Starship tests, Super Heavy flights coming in a ‘few months’

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is set to significantly ramp up its Starship development program in the new year, in more ways than one. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk noted on Twitter on Thursday that the company will seek to make use of both of its two launch pads at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas with prototype rockets set up on each, and that it will begin flight testing its Super Heavy booster (starting with low-altitude ‘hops’) in as few as “a few months” from now.

Recently, SpaceX has set up its SN9 prototype of Starship (the ninth in the current series) at Pad B at its Texas testing facility, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. SN9 will be next to undergo active testing, after SpaceX successfully flew its predecessor SN8 to an altitude of around 40,000 feet, and then executed a crucial belly flop maneuver that will be used to help control the powered landing of the production version. SN8 was destroyed when it touched down harder than expected, but SpaceX still achieved all its testing goals with the flight – and more.

SN9 will now undergo ground tests before hopefully doing its own flight test later on. That’ll provide the team with even more valuable data to carry on to further tests – with the ultimate goal of eventually achieving orbit with a Starship prototype vehicle. Musk’s tweet that two prototypes will be stood up next to each other on both Pad A and Pad B at the Boca Chica site could indicate the pace of these test flights might speed up, to match the fast clip at which SpaceX is constructing new rocket iterations.

Meanwhile, news that Super Heavy could be undergoing testing soon is also reason to get excited about 2021 for SpaceX and Starship. Super Heavy is the booster that SpaceX will eventually use to fly Starship for orbital launches, and to eventually help propel it to deep space – for destinations including Mars. Super Heavy will be around 240-feet tall, and will include 28 Raptor engines to provide it with the lift capacity needed to break Earth’s gravity well when it’s stacked with a Starship loaded down with cargo.

Watch SpaceX fly its Starship spacecraft during its first high-altitude test live

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX is all set to conduct a high-altitude test of its Starship rocket – a first for the spacecraft prototype design. The test will see Starship serial number 8 (SN8) fly from SpaceX’s development site in Cameron County, Texas, climb to a max height of around 41,000 feet, and then return to Earth during a controlled landing using its Raptor engines, if all goes exactly to plan. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has noted that things likely won’t go exactly to plan with this test, saying he anticipates they’ll achieve maybe 1/3 of their goals with this attempt.

This is the first time that Starship will be flying with three Raptor engines on board – prior short hop tests of earlier prototypes used just one. It’ll also involve a key maneuver that the Starship will ultimately be required to get right in order to achieve its reusability goal and return safely through Earth’s atmosphere when landing – a mid-air belly flop of sorts to orient it correctly to avoid burning up during re-entry.

SpaceX has flown Starship prototypes to a height of just under 500 feet, and successfully landed both with a controlled descent. This attempt will also include an attempt to relight Starship’s engines and return it to Earth in a vertical orientation, but those are much less likely to be successful at this stage vs. the earlier stage goals just reaching that max altitude and then ideally completing that ‘belly flop’ maneuver. Conducting tests like this with low likelihood of successful outcomes is absolutely par for the course for rocket development programs, but SpaceX is one of the few companies that conducts these out in the open – and perhaps the only that does so with live-streamed access for all.

Ultimately, Starship will prove the central component of a new generation of launch vehicle that SpaceX hopes to use to reach Mars – and to replace all of its current launch activities with Falcon vehicles, as well as to provide high-altitude point-to-point flights between destinations on Earth for hyper-fast travel. The production Starship will be paired with a Super Heavy rocket for additional thrust for high mass cargo missions and long-duration deep space trips.

The test launch today could happen anytime between roughly 9 AM EST (6 AM PST) and 6 PM EST (3 PM PST), and SpaceX says that it will begin the livestream shortly before the actual launch attempt, so stay tuned to the video above and our Twitter account for updates.

PrimaHealth Credit offers a buy-now, pay-later lending service for elective procedures

By Jonathan Shieber

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based healthcare lending service PrimaHealth Credit  is now pitching point-of-sale lending services for elective medical procedures.

Taking the kinds of financial lending services that have been popularized by companies like Klarna and Affirm, PrimaHealth Credit is bringing them into elective surgical space for things like cataract surgery, orthodontic work, dental care, or LASIK.

“For many dental, orthodontics, LASIK, and cataract surgery patients, our BNPL product is a ‘last resort’ – the difference between getting the treatment they need, or not,” said Brendon Kensel, founder and CEO of PrimaHealth Credit, in a statement.

The company expects that patients will pay somewhere between 25% and 50% of the cost of their treatment up front with repayment durations for the loans ranging between two and four months.

Rates for the loans will range from 19.99% to 24.99% APR with average loan sizes coming in at around $1,800 across dental, orthodontics, and LASIK, according to the company.

“Until now, when providers couldn’t approve patients for an existing payment plan, they’d either forego providing them care or take them on anyway, exposing themselves to significant liability as they struggle with adequately assessing creditworthiness and properly servicing and collecting loans,” Kensel said.

The program not only handles loan origination for healthcare practices, but handles the back-office tasks for payment and servicing.

“Our goal as a company is to remove barriers to patient acceptance and help people who have the means but not necessarily the credit score to get the quality care that everyone deserves,” Kensel said.

Using the PrimaHealth Credit mobile app, patients can receive instant credit decisions and choose the payment plan that works best for them. The company said the service is currently available in Arizona, California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas and will be expanded to all 50 states by 2021.

 

Elon Musk says SpaceX will attempt uncrewed Mars flight in two years, human landing in four to six

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was given an award from media giant Axel Springer on Tuesday, and he sat down to provide a wide-ranging interview that covered topics including space, Tesla, AI and even underpopulation. Musk addressed SpaceX’s Mars ambitions first, providing current timelines he’s working towards for reaching the red planet with SpaceX’s Starship, the next-generation spacecraft it hopes to fly in a new high-altitude test sometime later this week.

Musk said that he expects humans will land on Mars in around six years, and that he’s “fairly confident” in that timeline. That’s based on the fact that Earth and Mars are in sync in terms of their relative orbits around the Sun around every 26 months, and plans to do an uncrewed launch and landing on Mars hopefully at the next opportunity in about two years from now. He added that with luck, a first human landing could happen during the next Mars-Earth synchronization after that, so in four years instead of six.

Asked when Musk’s own first trip to orbit would happen, he answered possibly two or three years,” though he qualified that his primary focus is to ensure the technology is in place to enable “a lot of people to go to Mars and make life interplanetary, and to have a base on the Moon,” downplaying his own personal spaceflight goals.

He also reiterated his ambition to eventually be buried on Mars (though not due to accidental death on impact in a spacecraft crash) and talked about how while he believes that becoming a spacefaring society is existential in his opinion, and will ultimately be necessary for human survival, he also hopes to make it fun, exciting and attractive rather than a necessary risk.

Starship is gearing up for its first big high-altitude flight test, as mentioned. It’ll be flying at SpaceX’s Texas development facility, and that test launch could happen as early as later this week, though the company still has to conduct a key static engine test fire of its prototype ahead of an actual flight.

Recycling robotics company AMP Robotics could raise up to $70M

By Jonathan Shieber

AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.

The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.

Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.

That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.

That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.

The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.

As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics  worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.

Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.

 

As TechCrunch reported at the time, recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries.

The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively. At the time, unemployment rates put the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where trash was sorted. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on those recycling and waste handling facilities, despite their identification as “essential workers”.

Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.

And, the power of AMP’s technology to identify waste products in a stream has other benefits, according to chief executive Matanya Horowitz.

“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” Horowitz told TechCrunch last year. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”

AMP Robotics declined to comment for this article.

 

Sequoia-backed recycling robot maker AMP Robotics gets its largest purchase order

By Jonathan Shieber

AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.

The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.

The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.

The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.

Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs  would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.

For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.

Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.

At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.

AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital,  BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures  and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.

SpaceX launches 60 more satellites during 15th Starlink mission

By Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has launched another batch of 60 Starlink satellites, the primary ingredient for its forthcoming global broadband internet service. The launch took place at 11:31 AM EDT, with a liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the fifteenth Starlink launch thus far, and SpaceX has now launched nearly 900 of the small, low Earth orbit satellites to date.

This launch used a Falcon 9 first stage booster that twice previously, both times earlier this year, including just in September for the delivery of a prior batch of Starlink satellites. The booster was also recovered successfully with a landing at sea aboard SpaceX’s ‘Just Read the Instructions’ floating autonomous landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier this week, Ector County Independent School District in Texas announced itself as a new pilot partner for SpaceX’s Starlink network. Next year, that district will gain connectivity to low latency broadband via Starlink’s network, connecting up to 45 households at first, with plans to expand it to 90 total household customers as more of the constellation is launched and brought online.

SpaceX’s goal with Starlink is to provide broadband service globally at speeds and with latency previously unavailable in hard-to-reach and rural areas. Its large constellation, which will aim to grow to tens of thousands of satellites before it achieves its max target coverage, offers big advantages in terms of latency and reliability vs. large geosynchronous satellites that provide most current satellite-based internet available commercially.

Security testing firm NSS Labs ceases operations, citing coronavirus

By Zack Whittaker

Security testing company NSS Labs “ceased operations” last week, the company said in a notice on its website, citing impacts related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Austin, Texas-based company was quietly acquired by private equity firm Consecutive last October. But last week, the company was reportedly preparing for layoffs, according to Dark Reading, which first reported news of the company’s shuttering.

In a brief post on LinkedIn, NSS Labs’ chief executive Jason Brvenik hinted at layoffs, adding: “If you are in need of excellent people that exceed my high standards, please get in touch.” (Brvenik listed himself as a former chief executive on his LinkedIn profile.)

Former employees told TechCrunch that they had been laid off as a result of the company’s closure.

NSS Labs, founded in 2007, was one of the most well-known product security testing companies, allowing customers to use real threat data to stress-test their products and discover potential vulnerabilities and security issues.

But the last few years have been rocky. NSS Labs retracted its “caution” rating for CrowdStrike’s Falcon platform in 2019, after the two companies confidentially settled a lawsuit challenging the results. NSS Labs also dropped its antitrust suit against the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO), Symantec and ESET, after the testing giant claimed it had discovered evidence of the companies allegedly conspiring to make it harder to test their products.

Spokespeople for NSS Labs and Consecutive did not immediately return requests for comment.


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The Justice Department has filed its antitrust lawsuit against Google

By Jonathan Shieber

The Justice Department said it has filed its long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Google, confirming an earlier report from The Wall Street Journal.

In the suit, the Justice Department is expected to argue that Google used anticompetitive practices to safeguard its monopoly position as the dominant force in search and search-advertising, which sit at the foundation of the company’s extensive advertising, data mining, video distribution, and information services conglomerate.

It would be the first significant legal challenge that Google has faced from U.S. regulators despite years of investigations into the company’s practices.

A 2012 attempt to bring the company to the courts to answer for anti-competitive practices was ultimately scuttled because regulators at the time weren’t sure they could make the case stick. Since that time Alphabet’s value has skyrocketed to reach over $1 trillion (as of today’s share price).

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, holds a commanding lead in both search and video. The company dominates the search market — with roughly 90% of the world’s internet searches conducted on its platform — and roughly three quarters of American adults turn to YouTube for video, as the Journal reported.

In the lawsuit, the Department of Justice will say that Alphabet’s Google subsidiary uses a web of exclusionary business agreements to shut out competitors. The billions of dollars that the search giant collects wind up paying mobile phone companies, carriers and browsers to make the Google search engine a preset default. That blocks competitors from being able to access the kinds of queries and traffic they’d need to refine their own search engine.

It will be those relationships — alongside Google’s insistence that its search engine come pre-loaded (and un-deletable) on phones using the Android operating system and that other search engines specifically not be pre-loaded — that form part of the government’s case, according to Justice Department officials cited by the Journal.

The antitrust suit comes on the heels of a number of other regulatory actions involving Google, which is not only the dominant online search provider, but also a leader in online advertising and in mobile technology by way of Android, as well as a strong player in a web of other interconnected services like mapping, online productivity software, cloud computing and more.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, UNITED STATES – 2020/02/23: American multinational technology company Google logo seen at Google campus. (Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A report last Friday in Politico noted that Democrat Attorneys General would not be signing the suit. That report said those AGs have instead been working on a bipartisan, state-led approach covering a wider number of issues beyond search — the idea being also that more suits gives government potentially a stronger bargaining position against the tech giant.

A third suit is being put together by the state of Texas, although that has faced its own issues.

While a number of tech leviathans are facing increasing scrutiny from Washington, with the US now just two weeks from Election Day, it’s unlikely that we are going to see many developments around this and other cases before then. And in the case of this specific Google suit, in the event that Trump doesn’t get re-elected, there will also be a larger personnel shift at the DoJ that could also change the profile and timescale of the case.

In any event, fighting these regulatory cases is always a long, drawn-out process. In Europe, Google has faced a series of fines over antitrust violations stretching back several years, including a $2.7 billion fine over Google shopping; a $5 billion fine over Android dominance; and a $1.7 billion fine over search ad brokering. While Goolge slowly works through appeals, there are also more cases ongoing against the company in Europe and elsewhere.

Google is not the only one catching the attention of Washington. Earlier in October, the House Judiciary Committee released a report of more than 400 pages in which it outlined how tech giants Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Facebook were abusing their power, covering everything from the areas in which they dominate, through to suggestions for how to fix the situation (including curtailing their acquisitions strategy).

That seemed mainly to be an exercise in laying out the state of things, which could in turn be used to inform further actions, although in itself, unlike the DoJ suit, the House report lacks teeth in terms of enforcement or remedies.

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