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Zoom reaches $85M settlement in ‘Zoombombing’ lawsuit

By Carly Page

Zoom has agreed to pay $85 million to settle a lawsuit that accused the video conferencing giant of violating users’ privacy by sharing their data with third parties without permission and enabling “Zoombombing” incidents.

Zoombombing, a term coined by TechCrunch last year as its usage exploded because of the pandemic, describes unapproved attendees entering and disrupting Zoom calls by sharing offensive imagery, using backgrounds to spread hateful messages, or spouting slurs and profanities.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2020 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, also accused the firm of sharing personal user data with third parties, including Facebook, Google and LinkedIn.

In addition to agreeing to an $85 million settlement, which could see customers receive a refund of either 15% of their subscription of $25 if the lawsuit achieves class-action status, Zoom has said it will take additional steps to prevent intruders from gatecrashing meetings. This will include alerting users when meeting hosts or other participants use third-party apps in meetings and offering specialized training to employees on privacy and data handling.

“The privacy and security of our users are top priorities for Zoom, and we take seriously the trust our users place in us,” Zoom said in a statement. “We are proud of the advancements we have made to our platform, and look forward to continuing to innovate with privacy and security at the forefront.”

The settlement requires approval from US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, to be finalized.

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube now supports Zoom calls on your TV

By Sarah Perez

Late last year, Amazon launched support for two-way calling that worked with its Fire TV Cube devices. The feature allowed consumers to make and receive calls from their connected TV to any other Alexa device with a screen. Today, the company is expanding this system to enable support for two-way calling with Zoom.

Starting today, Fire TV Cube owners (2nd gen.) will be able to join Zoom work meetings or virtual hangouts via their Fire TV Cube.

To take advantage of the new feature, you’ll need Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, its hands-free streaming device and smart speaker that has Alexa built in, as well as a webcam that supports USB Video Class (UVC) with at least 720p resolution and 30fps. But for a better experience, Amazon recommends a webcam with 1080p resolution and a 60-90 degree field of view from 6 to 10 feet away from the TV. It doesn’t recommend 4K webcams, however.

Amazon suggests webcams like the Logitech C920, C922x, C310, or the Wansview 101JD, for example.

You’ll then connect your webcam to your Fire TV Cube using a Micro USB to USB adapter.

For best results, you’ll want to attach the webcam above the TV screen, Amazon notes.

Once everything is set up and connected, you’ll need to download and install the Zoom app from the Fire TV Appstore. When joining meetings, you can either sign in as a guest or use an existing Zoom account, per the on-screen instructions.

Thanks to the Alexa integration, you can join your meetings hands-free, if you prefer, by way of a voice command like “Alexa, join my Zoom meeting.” Alexa will respond by prompting you for the meeting ID and passcode. Alternately, you can choose to use the remote control to enter in this information.

An optional feature also lets you sync your calendar to Alexa to allow the smart assistant to remind you about the upcoming meetings it finds on your calendar. If you go this route, Alexa will suggest the meeting to join and you’ll just have to say “yes” to be automatically dialed in.

Amazon first announced it was bringing video calling support to its Fire TV platform last fall — a significant update in the new era of remote work and schooling, driven by the pandemic. However, it’s not the only option on the market. Google also last year brought group video calls to its Hub Max devices, and later added support for Zoom calls. Meanwhile Facebook Portal devices have offered video calling of a more personal nature, and last year updated to support Zoom, too.

In other words, Amazon is playing a bit of catch-up here. And its solution is a little more unwieldy as it requires consumers to buy their own webcam, while something like Portal TV offers a TV with a smart camera included.

To use the new feature, you’ll need the latest Fire TV Cube software update to get started, Amazon notes.

Startups and investors are turning to micromobility subscriptions

By Rebecca Bellan

Amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murky path to profitability for shared electric micromobility, an increasing number of companies have turned to subscriptions. It’s a business model that some founders and investors argue hits the profit center sweet spot — an approach that appeals to customers who are wary of sharing as well as paying upfront to own a scooter or e-bike, all while minimizing overhead costs and depreciation of assets.

Many investors think the subscription model will broaden the micromobility market, positioning it essentially as a software-as-a-service business, which achieves a higher multiple.

Across the United States, Europe, some of Canada and at least one Middle Eastern city, existing mobility companies are adding a subscription business line to their repertoire, and entirely new companies are being formed on the basis of the hardware-as-a-service model. But will this new playbook push the unit economics of micromobility in a positive direction? And what will determine which companies win at the subscription game?

In general, subscriptions for everything from groceries and streaming video to exercise equipment and clothing are on an upward slope. Subscription businesses are expected to grow at a rate of 30% this year, according to a 2021 study by digital services monetization company Telecoming.

Micromobility vendors keen to follow other industries into this model are focused on several factors, according to experts following the industry: the ease of scaling, return on investment and cost-per-mile to operate.

“Subscription services for a single vehicle are far more interesting and scalable than the subscription model that was trialed by the shared mobility services,” Oliver Bruce, angel investor and co-host of the Micromobility Podcast with Horace Dediu, told TechCrunch. “The cost per kilometer is just an order of magnitude smaller, and it’s not constrained by citywide caps.”

Shawn Carolan, managing director at Menlo Ventures, is also bullish on the micromobility subscription model because it makes more sense for the consumer, as most people will prefer to pay a low monthly fee rather than a higher upfront fee.

“The best customers are repeat customers, commuters or local neighborhood trips,” Carolan said. “Repeatedly paying per ride is both expensive and cognitively taxing. People want low friction in transportation. Getting from here to there shouldn’t require a lot of thought.”

The key players: E-bikes

Bird and Lime might dominate the shared micromobility space, but they’re not leading the subscription market, largely because their bikes and scooters are built to be heavier and more robust in order to handle city usage. Their operating systems are also designed to manage fleets and keep the vehicles in specific territories within a city. Bird and Spin have announced intentions to offer subscriptions, but so far there’s only been a chance to sign up for a waitlist.

Meanwhile, subscription services tend to offer lighter-weight vehicles that can be carried up flights of stairs or even folded down.

Swapfiets, the bike-sharing company with the distinctive blue front wheel, is one of the pioneers in the world of bike-sharing. In 2015, Richard Burger, Martijn Obers and Dirk de Bruijn started the Dutch company as university students in Delft when they realized that owning a bike could be somewhat of a hassle. The Netherlands is renowned for having more bicycles than people, but that doesn’t make it any easier to buy, sell and maintain them, especially with such high fees at bike shops.

“We asked how we could shift this and get only benefits from using a bike to go from A to B and not have all this hassle,” Burger told TechCrunch. “And for us, the subscription model was really the realization that would fix that.”

The Zoom-Five9 deal is a big bet for the video conferencing company

By Alex Wilhelm

Zoom, a well-known video conferencing company, will buy Five9, a company that sells software allowing users to reach customers across platforms and record notes on their interactions. As TechCrunch noted this morning, the deal is merely “Zoom’s latest attempt to expand its offerings,” having “added several office collaboration products, a cloud phone system, and an all-in-one home communications appliance” to its larger software stack in recent quarters. Both companies are publicly traded.

But the Five9 deal is in a different league than its previous purchases. Indeed, the $14.7 billion transaction represents a material percentage of Zoom’s own value. That tells us that the company is not simply making a purchase in Five9, but is instead making a large bet that the combination of its business and that of the smaller company will prove rather accretive.

Zoom is worth $101.8 billion as of the time of writing, with the company’s shares slipping just over 4% today; the stock market is largely off this morning, making Zoom’s share price movements less indicative of investor reaction to the deal that we might think. Still, it doesn’t appear that the street is excessively thrilled by news of Zoom’s purchase.

That perspective may be reasonable, given that the Five9 transaction is worth nearly 15% of Zoom’s total market cap; the company is betting a little less than a sixth of its value on a single wager.

Not that Five9 doesn’t bring a lot to the table. In its most recent quarter, Five9 posted $138 million in total revenue, growth of 45% on a year-over-year basis.

Still, as Zoom reported in an investor deck concerning the transaction, the smaller company’s growth rate pales compared to its own:

Image Credits: Zoom investor deck

This is where the deal gets interesting. Note that Five9’s revenue growth rate is a fraction of Zoom’s. The larger company, then, is buying a piece of revenue that is growing slower than its core business. That’s a bit of a flip from many transactions that we see, in which the smaller company being acquired is growing faster than the acquiring entity’s own operations.

Why would Zoom buy slower growth for so very much money? One thing to consider is that Five9’s most recent quarterly growth rate is quicker than the growth rate that it posted over the last 12 months. That implies that Five9 has room to accelerate growth compared to its historical pace, bringing its total pace of top-line expansion closer to what Zoom itself manages.

Equity Monday: Zoom buys Five9 as Robinhood sets IPO price range

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

It was a big damn morning, so we had to cut some stuff. Here’s what we got into:

  • Stocks and cryptos are off this morning, as inflation and COVID-19 concerns rise.
  • Zoom is buying Five9. The deal is not super expensive, nor is it cheap. But given the huge percentage of Zoom’s market cap that it represents, it’s a serious wager from the video conferencing startup.
  • Carlyle is buying LiveU for around $400 million. TechCrunch broke this news. The deal shows that private equity is interested in startups that aren’t unicorns.
  • Robinhood dropped a new SEC filing this morning! That means we have a price range and valuation target to play with. More from TechCrunch on the matter shortly.
  • From India: A huge round for Lenskart, and a big Series A for GlobalBees.
  • And we covered this round from Nigeria. A smaller transaction, but one that could prove to be quite neat, we reckon.

Ok! Chat Wednesday!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Zoom buys cloud call center firm Five9 for $14.7 billion

By Manish Singh

Zoom is taking advantage of the impressive rise in its stock price in the past year to make its first major acquisition. The popular video conferencing firm, which was valued at about $9 billion at its IPO two years ago, said Sunday evening it has agreed a deal to buy cloud call centre service provider Five9 for about $14.7 billion in an all-stock transaction.

20-year-old Five9 will become an operating unit of Zoom after the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of 2022, the two firms said.

The proposed acquisition is Zoom’s latest attempt to expand its offerings. In the past year, the video conferencing software has added several office collaboration products, a cloud phone system, and an all-in-one home communications appliance.

The acquisition of Five9 will help Zoom enter the “$24 billion” market for contact centers, the company said.

“We are continuously looking for ways to enhance our platform, and the addition of Five9 is a natural fit that will deliver even more happiness and value to our customers,” said Eric S. Yuan, founder and chief executive of Zoom, in a statement.

Joining forces will offer both firms “significant” cross-selling opportunities in each other’s respective customer bases, the two firms said.

“Businesses spend significant resources annually on their contact centers, but still struggle to deliver a seamless experience for their customers,” said Rowan Trollope, chief executive of Five9.

“It has always been Five9’s mission to make it easy for businesses to fix that problem and engage with their customers in a more meaningful and efficient way. Joining forces with Zoom will provide Five9’s business customers access to best-of-breed solutions, particularly Zoom Phone, that will enable them to realize more value and deliver real results for their business. This, combined with Zoom’s ‘ease-of use’ philosophy and broad communication portfolio, will truly enable customers to engage via their preferred channel of choice.”

The two firms will do a joint Zoom call Monday to share more about the transaction.

ZoomInfo drops $575M on Chorus.ai as AI shakes up the sales market

By Ron Miller

ZoomInfo announced this morning it intends to acquire conversational sales intelligence tool Chorus.AI for $575 million. Shares of ZoomInfo are unchanged in pre-market trading following the news, per Yahoo Finance data.

Sales intelligence, Chorus’s market, is a hot space that uses AI to “listen” to sales conversations to help improve interactions between salespeople and customers. ZoomInfo is mostly known for providing information about customers, so the acquisition expands the acquiring company’s platform in a significant way.

The company sees an opportunity to bring together different parts of the sales process in a single platform by “combining ZoomInfo’s historic top-of-the-funnel strength with insights driven from the middle of the funnel in the customer conversations that Chorus captures,” it said in a release.

“With Chorus, the entire organization can make better decisions by surfacing insights and analytics that you would only get if you sat in on every sales or customer success call,” ZoomInfo CEO and founder Henry Schuck said in a blog post announcing the deal.

Ahead of the transaction, ZoomInfo was valued at just under $21 billion.

Chorus looks for what it calls “smart themes” in sales calls, which help managers steer sales teams towards the types of conversation and tone that is likely to drive more revenue. In fact, Chorus holds the largest patent portfolio related to conversational intelligence, according to the company.

Chorus was founded in 2015 and raised over $100 million along the way, according to Pitchbook data. The most recent round was a $45 million Series C last year.

Crunchbase News reports that at the time of its Series C round of funding, Chorus had “doubled its headcount to more than 100 employees and tripled its revenue over the past year.” That’s the sort of growth that venture capitalists covet, making the company’s 2020 funding round a non-surprise.

Notably PitchBook data indicates that the company’s final private valuation was around the $150 million mark; if accurate, it would imply that the company’s last private round was expensive in dilution terms. And that its investors did well in the exit, quickly more than trebling the capital that was last invested, with investors who put capital in earlier doing even better.

But we’re slightly skeptical of the company’s available valuation history given the growth that it claimed at the time of its Series C; it feels low. If that’s the case, the company’s exit multiple would decrease, making its final sale price slightly less impressive.

Of course a half-billion dollar exit is always material, even if venture capitalists in today’s red-hot, and expensive market are more interested in $1 billion exits and larger.

Chorus.ai will likely not be the final exit in the conversational intelligence space. Its rival Gong (often known by its URL, Gong.io) is one of the hotter startups in this space, having raised over $500 million. Its most recent raise was $250 million on a $7.25 billion valuation last month.

The implication of the Chrous.ai exit and Gong’s enormous private valuation is that the application of AI to audio data in a sales environment is incredibly useful, given the number of customers the two companies’ aggregate valuation implies.

The SPAC trash ticker is counting down

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week had the whole crew aboard to record: Grace and Chris making us sound good, Danny to provide levity, Natasha to actually recall facts and Alex to divert us from staying on topic. It’s teamwork, people — and our transitions are proof of it.

And it’s good that we had everyone around the virtual table, as there was quite a lot to get through:

  • The team felt all kinds of ways about the Amazon-MGM deal. Some of us are more positive than the rest, but what gists out from the transaction is that for Amazon, the purchase price is modest and the company is famously playing a supposedly long-game. Let’s see how James Bond fits into it. Alex receives four points for not bringing up F1 thanks to the Bond-Aston Martin connection.
  • Turning to the SPAC game, we chatted through the recent Lordstown Motors earnings results, and what we can parse from them regarding blank-check companies, promises and reality.
  • After launching last June with just $2 million, Collab Capital has closed its debut fund at its target goal: $50 million. The Black-led firm invests exclusively in Black-led startups, and got checks from Apple, PayPal, and Mailchimp to name a few. We talk about this feat, and note a few other Black-led venture capital firms making waves in the industry lately.
  • We Resolved our transition puns and eventually spoke about the Affirm spin-out, which raised $60 million in a funding round for BNPL for businesses. There’s bigger questions there around the accessibility and point of BNPL, and if its really re-inventing the wheel or just repackaging it with simpler UX.
  • Next up, we got into a can of worms about the future of meetings thanks to Rewatch, which raised a $20 million Series A this week led by Andreessen Horowitz. The startup helps other startups create internal, private Youtubes to archive their meetings and any video-based comms. We could only spend a second on this, so if you want our longer thoughts in the form of text, check out our 3 views on the topic on Extra Crunch! (Discount Code: Equity)
  • From there we had Interactio and Fireflies.ai, two more startups that are tackling the complexities of meetings in the COVID-19 era, and whatever comes next. Both recently raised new funding, and Alex brought up Kudo to add one more upstart to the mix.
  • Noom, a weight loss platform, bulked up with $540 million in funding after nearly doubling its revenue from 2019 to 2020. The pandemic has made many people gain weight, but we chew into why Noom’s moment might be right now after a decade in the works.

Thanks for hanging out this week, Equity is back on Tuesday with our usual weekly kickoff, thanks to the American holiday on Monday. Chat then, unless you want to follow us on Twitter and get a first-look at all of Chris’ meme work. 

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Otter.ai’s new assistant can automatically transcribe your Zoom meetings

By Sarah Perez

A.I.-powered voice transcription service Otter.ai wants to make it even easier for its business users to record their meetings. The company is today introducing a new feature, Otter Assistant, which can automatically join the Zoom meetings on your calendar, transcribe the conversations, and share the notes with other participants. Though Otter.ai is already integrated with Zoom, the assistant is designed to make using transcription something you don’t have to constantly remember to enable at the meeting’s start or stop at the end, while also serving as a place where participants can collaborate by asking questions, sharing photos and more, as the meeting is underway.

The feature also works around the earlier limitation with Zoom, where only the meeting host could use the Otter.ai integration directly.

The idea to automate meeting transcription makes sense for the remote work environment created by the pandemic, where people have been splitting their time between work, parenting, homeschooling and other duties. This can often lead to meetings where users are pulled away and miss things that had been said. That’s one area where Otter.ai can help. But it can also help with issues like overlapping meetings, or larger meetings were only a few topics are directly relevant to your work — but where you’d like to be able to review the rest of the meeting discussion later, instead of in real-time.

To use the new Otter Assistant, users first synchronize their Google Calendar or Microsoft Calendar with Otter’s service. The assistant will then automatically join all Zoom meetings going forward, where it appears as an additional meeting participant, for transparency’s sake.

The assistant also posts a link to the transcription in the Zoom chat for everyone to access. In other words, this is not a feature to use to skip meetings without your boss knowing — it’s designed for those times when everyone has already agreed the meeting will be transcribed.

As the meeting continues, attendees can use Otter’s live transcript to highlight key parts, add photos, and make notes. They can also ask questions via the commenting feature, as opposed to speaking up — which may be helpful if you’re in a noisy place at the time of the meeting.

Once the assistant is enabled, you don’t have to remember to turn on Otter.ai for each meeting, and you can even use your headphones to listen to the meeting in progress. The Otter Assistant will still be able to record both sides of the conversation.

However, you are able to turn Otter Assistant off on a per-meeting basis via the “My Agenda” section on the Otter website, which will include new toggles next to each meeting you have scheduled.

When meetings wrap, you can also have Otter.ai configured to automatically share the meeting notes with all the attendees.

The Otter Assistant is available to Otter.ai Business users, which are upgraded plans that start at $20 per month, and include features like two-factor authentication, SOC2 compliance, advanced search, export, custom vocabulary, shared speaker identification, centralized data and billing, and more.

To date, Otter.ai says it has transcribed over 150 million meetings, up from 100 million in the beginning of 2021 . The company doesn’t provide details on its total subscriber base, but did note earlier it saw a sizable 8x increase in revenues in 2020, leading up to its $50 million Series B, announced in February.

The WFH Exodus Creates an Opportunity for Small Cities

By Aarian Marshall
Workers from urban centers will continue to work from home, at least part-time. Officials and developers are planning the shops and services they'll want.

How to Make the Most of a Tiny, Cramped Laptop Screen

By Whitson Gordon
Small screens don’t mean small accomplishments. Here’s how to get big things done.

How to Design a Supersonic Plane for the (Fairly Rich) Masses

By Eric Adams
Boom Supersonic's sleek prototype craft rolled out this week; the final production model will be quieter than previous supersonics, and a novel fly-by-wire system will keep it stable at low speeds.

How to Beat Zoom Fatigue—and Set Healthy Boundaries

By Quinisha Jackson-Wright
This new era of constant video chats means we're all in front of cameras more than ever before. Here's how to cope.

What Teaching Online Classes Taught Me About Remote Learning

By Susan Shapiro
After teaching for 25 years, yes, moving my classes online has been weird. But then I found moments of gratitude.
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