posted about 6 hours ago on techcrunch
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the hospitality industry especially hard, and hotels around the world are looking for ways to regain revenue. Today, Marriott International and Grab announced a partnership that will cover the hospitality giant’s dining businesses in six Southeast Asian countries: Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. Instead of room bookings, Marriott International deal with Grab focuses on about 600 restaurants and bars at its properties in the six Southeast Asian countries, which will start being added to GrabFood’s on-demand delivery platform in November. A joint announcement from the companies said the deal represents Marriott International’s “first extensive integration with a super app platform in Southeast Asia and Grab’s most comprehensive agreement with a hospitality group to date.” Marriott International is the world’s largest hotel company. During the second quarter, as the pandemic curtailed travel and in-person events, it reported a loss of $234 million, compared to the profit of $232 million it had recorded a year earlier. Chief executive Arne Sorenson called it “the worst quarter we have ever seen,” even though business is gradually recovering in China. Ride-hailing was hit hard by COVID-19 — Grab’s Russell Cohen on how the company adapted The Marriott-Grab integration means the two companies will link their loyalty programs, so GrabRewards points can be converted to Marriott Bonvoy points, or vice versa. Marriott International’s restaurants and bars that accept GrabPay will also have access to Grab’s Merchant Discovery platform, which will allow them to ping users about local deals and includes a marketing campaign platform called GrabAds. Other hospitality businesses that Grab already partners with include Booking.com and Klook. Klook is among several travel-related companies that have recalibrated to focus on “staycations,” or services for people who can’t travel during the pandemic, but still want a break from their regular routines. COVID-19 pivot: Travel unicorn Klook sees jump in staycations

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Ford plans to reveal in November an all-electric version of its Ford Transit cargo van, the company said Wednesday as part of its broader third-quarter earnings report. The unveiling will showcase an electric van for all of the company’s global addressable markets. The company has been talking about producing an electric Transit van for more than a year now. Ford announced in April 2019 plans to sell an all-electric Transit for the European market by 2021. Then this spring, Ford said it would also produce and sell an all-electric version of the cargo van for the North American market starting with the 2022 model year. The electric Transit cargo van is part of Ford’s more than $11.5 billion investment in electrification through 2022, and more specifically, a strategy to go after commercial customers. The decision to include commercial vans in its EV strategy is linked to sales in North America and the company’s outlook on future growth. The Transit van and the Ford F-150 are the two most important, highest volume commercial vehicles in our industry, CEO Jim Farley said during an earnings call Wednesday with analysts. “We own ‘work’ at Ford and these electric vehicles will be true work vehicles, extremely capable and with unique digital services and over-the-air capabilities to improve the productivity and uptime of our important commercial customers,” he said. “We believe the addressable market for a fully electric commercial van and pickup — the two largest addressable profit pools and commercial — are going to be massive and we’re going straight at this opportunity.” Ford is building an all-electric Transit cargo van for the US market The announcement was tucked inside the company’s third-quarter earnings, which crushed Wall Street expectations. Ford reported Wednesday net income of $2.4 billion on $37.5 billion in revenue. Ford said it expects a positive full year 2020 adjusted earnings before interest and taxes, reversing a dimmer outlook it had previously provided.

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posted about 9 hours ago on techcrunch
Today’s Senate hearing on immensely important legal protections for online platforms quickly proved to be little more than an excuse for Senators to accuse the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google of partisan interference with next week’s election. The actual law being considered for revision was mentioned only a handful of times in the nearly four-hour hearing, the balance being taken up by partisan bickering and, ironically, misinformation. The hearing, assembled and convened with naked haste in order to get ahead of the election, was dominated by Republican bullying and bloviating and Democratic expressions of distaste. Section 230, a law which is under serious and justified consideration for revision, was barely a footnote. That the hearing, which promised “legislative proposals to modernize the decades-old law,” was thrown together at the last minute was evident from a lack of focus or coordination. Senators asked redundant questions, presented scant and conflicting evidence of the practices they accused the companies of, and generally used the time to mint sound bites with little substance. An excellent example of all this was the case, brought up three separate times by Republican Senators, of tweets by the Iranian Ayatollah Khameini calling for war and questioning the Holocaust, which were not taken down, while Trump’s tweets regarding COVID-19 had warnings placed on them. Why, they asked again and again, does this not constitute a double standard and a clear example of bias against Trump? Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained what should be a well known fact by now, especially by legislators who purport to have an interest in this topic: that there is no policy for general misinformation and that world leaders get special consideration anyway, and that the policies that resulted in warnings placed on tweets lately relate specifically to public health and election-related misinformation. This issue has been raised before, you see, and the explanation is quite simple. Appeals court rules in favor of Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter in anti-conservative bias suit The Republican Senators avoided Section 230 altogether, using their time to berate Dorsey, Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: An irritable Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shouted over the hearing’s guests, calling those three specifically “the greatest threat to free speech in America.” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) accused the companies of not having sufficient “ideological diversity” in their leadership, and others asked the CEOs to report the party affiliations of their employees. (The CEOs said they don’t ask, though Pichai admitted to Thune’s obvious pleasure that it the young, highly educated tech sector  skews left.) Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said Twitter had “censored Donald Trump 65 times,” and Biden zero times, though as Dorsey pointed out none of Trump’s tweets have in fact been removed. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) asserted that the companies were committing false advertising in saying they were not politically motivated. He then asked the CEOs to provide “examples of censoring liberals.” They bridled at being asked to tacitly admit what they do is censoring, but with that reservation did provide examples — which Lee dismissed as insufficient. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WS) accused the platforms of deliberately exerting influence on elections, citing as misinformation and political bias Twitter declining to take down a tweet that was obviously satirical. Despite repeatedly claiming that the platforms were biased towards the left, the Republican contingent did not produce any examples of material from Democrats that should, in their estimation, have been taken down but was not. This seems an important part of making the argument, or it leaves open the distinct possibility that Republicans simply break the rules more. Only Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) didn’t get the memo, and proffered constructive, informed questions relating to Section 230. She asked the tech leaders whether they thought the law’s use of the phrase “otherwise objectionable” as a catch-all was too expansive. They replied unanimously (and predictably) that it was not, and that, as Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai put it, the wording “is the only reason we can intervene with certainty” in cases like the dangerous “Tide pod challenge” and other situations that aren’t covered specifically by the law. Sen. Capito, to all appearances, took their answers seriously. Who regulates social media? The Democratic Senators, for the most part, cannot be said to have addressed Section 230 substantively either, but a few took the opportunity to address the issue ostensibly at hand. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) asked about the failure of Facebook to take down the Kenosha Guard group, which was actively fomenting violence against protestors, despite hundreds of complaints. She managed to extract from Zuckerberg that Facebook had stopped making group recommendations based on political preferences, while it has worked to clean up its private groups, now notorious for conspiracies and violent militias. Facebook removes ‘Kenosha Guard’ militia account after shooter kills two at protest Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) had a timely reminder about what free speech actually is: “Maybe we need to have a history lesson from high school again — yes, free speech means that people can make outrageous statements about their beliefs. What the CEOs are telling us here is what their process is for taking down health care information that’s not true, that is a threat to the public, and information that is a threat to our democracy.” The others primarily used their time to register their discontent with the obvious election-related motivations of the hearing. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) led the pack by declaring he would not take part. “I’ve never seen a hearing so close to an election on any topic, let alone on something that is so obviously a violation of our obligation under the law and the rules of the Senate to stay out of electioneering,” he said. “We never do this, and there’s a very good reason that we don’t call people before us to yell at them for not doing our bidding during an election. This hearing is a sham. I will be happy to participate in good faith, bipartisan hearings when the election is over.” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) derided the “false narrative about anti-conservative bias,” saying “the issue is not that the companies before us today are taking too many posts down, the issue is they are leaving too many dangerous posts up, in fact amplifying harmful content.” Out of context this may seem an endorsement of censorship, but it’s clear that he was referring to things like deliberate disinformation campaigns, conspiracy theories, and public health hazards. Though Republicans had tried to downplay the idea that they were “working the refs” by saying that Facebook et al. shouldn’t be refs in the first place, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) explained that “when we say ‘work the refs,’ the U.S. government is the referee. The FCC, Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court are the referees.” He warned of the danger of federal laws aimed at actions, such as restricting the reach of the NY Post’s highly suspect story, that were in his opinion the right thing to do, if difficult to get exactly right the first time. Suspect provenance of Hunter Biden data cache prompts skepticism and social media bans Sen. Tester (D-MT), clearly out of patience with his colleagues across the aisle, deplored the double standard he believed he saw: “We’ve heard a lot of information out here today where when you hire someone you’re supposed to ask them their political affiliation. If that business is run by a liberal, we’re gonna regulate em different than if they’re run by a conservative outfit,” he said. “That reminds me a lot of the Supreme Court, where you have two sets of rules, one for a Democrat president, one for a Republican. This is baloney, folks.” If he could have dropped the mic, no doubt he would have. As for the CEOs themselves, they hardly had a chance to get a word in edgewise except in their opening statements. When they did speak it was mainly to acknowledge that they need to work on transparency, but that they were doing their best in unprecedented circumstances with policies that must be reworked on a daily basis. Reserve your sympathy for these poor captains of industry, however, until those companies answer for their role in producing the problems of mass disinformation in the first place. This isn’t the last we’ll hear of this issue by a long shot, but with the election looming, unbelievably, in less than a week, the next time a hearing like this is held it will be under altered circumstances.

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posted about 10 hours ago on techcrunch
New Zealand launch provider Rocket Lab has put its 15th commercial payload into space, delivering ten Earth observation satellites each to their own orbit. The company is getting back into its stride after an upset in July dampened plans to set a record for launch turnaround time. Aboard the latest Electron launch vehicle to leave the Earth were nine of Planet’s “SuperDove” satellites, the newer generation of observation craft that allow that company to provide frequently updated imagery of an increasingly large proportion of the surface. Canon’s CE-SAT-IIB is a demonstration craft, showing off “a middle-size telescope equipped with an ultra-high sensitivity camera to take night images of the Earth,” along with some smaller ones for more ordinary observation. The rideshare with Planet was organized by launch rideshare specialists Spaceflight. The launch was originally scheduled for last week but stood down at the time because “some sensors are returning data that we want to look into further.” Fortunately there was no shortage of backup launch dates, and today was set for the new attempt. Everything proceeded nominally and the satellites were on their way and able to be reached about an hour after takeoff. Payload deployment confirmed! https://t.co/4fik8laG7o — Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) October 28, 2020 This is the second launch since Rocket Lab was briefly grounded following the loss of a payload in July — not to any flashy explosion but to a rather graceful shutdown due to an electrical fault before it could reach the desired orbit. Rocket Lab clear to launch again after first mission failure attributed to electrical fault Fortunately the company’s quick investigation meant they were ready to fly less than a month later. Incidentally, all that and more will be on the table for discussion at TC Sessions: Space 2020 in December, where Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck will be joining us.

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posted about 10 hours ago on techcrunch
Apple might be building a Google competitor, Audible adds more podcasts and an ad measurement company raises $350 million. This is your Daily Crunch for October 28, 2020. The big story: Apple seems pretty interested in search Apple has a growing interest in search technology and might even be working on a product to compete with Google, according to The Financial Times. The most visible change is the fact that in iOS 14, Apple is now showing its own results when you type queries in the home screen. In addition, there seems to be an increase in activity from Apple’s web crawler. There may be more of an opportunity here as the U.S. Justice Department has sued Google over what it claims are anticompetitive behaviors around search. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean Apple and Google will soon be going head-to-head in search — it could just be a sign that Apple’s Siri voice assistant is getting more search queries. The tech giants Joe Rogan, Alex Jones and Spotify’s illusion of neutrality — Spotify is facing criticism after Joe Rogan brought Alex Jones of InfoWars onto his show. Audible further expands into podcasts — Audible is adding approximately 100,000 podcasts. Apple eyes the TikTok generation with an updated version of Clips — The update brings much-needed support for vertical videos, allowing for sharing to TikTok and the “Stories” feature in other social apps. Startups, funding and venture capital DoubleVerify, a specialist in brand safety, ad fraud and ad quality, raises $350M — DoubleVerify’s technology can detect fraud, viewability and brand safety. Outrider raises $65M to bring its autonomous tech to distribution yards — The startup has built a three-part system that includes an autonomous electric yard truck, software to manage the operations and site infrastructure. Lunchbox raises $20M to help restaurants build their own ordering experiences — CEO Nabeel Alamgir said that if restaurants can handle more online orders themselves (rather than just relying on delivery apps), they’ll make more money while also maintaining a direct relationship with their most loyal customers. Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch As venture capital rebounds, what’s going on with venture debt? — While venture capital is back setting new records, it appears that its lesser-known sibling won’t be able to match the past few years’ results. Current and upcoming trends in Latin America’s mobile growth — Latin America is home to one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world. Dear Sophie: Any upgrade options for E-2 visa holders interested in changing jobs? — Another edition of Sophie Alcorn’s column answering immigration questions about working at technology companies. (Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.) Everything else Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith is buying majority stake in the Utah Jazz for $1.6B — Smith sold Qualtrics to SAP for $8 billion in 2018. US online holiday sales to reach $189B this year, up 33% from 2019 — That’s according to a new forecast from Adobe Analytics. 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 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Nik Milanovic Contributor Share on Twitter Nik Milanovic is a fintech and financial inclusion enthusiast, with a decade of work across mobile payments, online lending, credit and microfinance. The opinions expressed in his articles do not reflect those of his employer(s). More posts by this contributor Now more than ever we need fintechs to lead on consumer transparency Who will the winners be in the future of fintech? Access to information in the United States is fragmenting along social lines. This goes beyond the fuzzy, qualitative feeling many of us have that people can’t agree on key issues anymore — data show that people are increasingly breaking into disconnected ideological camps. While this is commonly viewed as a left/right issue, the reality is much more pernicious: It is a rich/poor issue. Americans today are exposed to fundamentally different facts based on their news sources. Data are often arranged to fit narratives rather than the other way around. This effect spans the political spectrum: It is as relevant to The New York Times as it is to Fox News. One of the contributors to this information split is the rise of site-wide paywalls, which divide access to information along socio-economic lines. As one magazine editor eloquently puts it, “The truth is paywalled but the lies are free.” It’s time for us to think critically about how we can build business models that reunite information bubbles, so that people consistently get access to all sides of the story. Ringing the division bell Media polarization is not a new phenomenon. Studies have shown for over a decade that, when it comes to news, people have been dividing themselves into information camps. Social media platforms — quickly replacing publishers as the “front end” of news — act as an accelerant, using likes and reads to pattern-match content to readers. However, these studies often address the left-right split; little is said about the more fundamental difference in beliefs driven by a difference in ability and willingness to pay for news. The pivot by major publishers to erect site-wide paywalls is a recent phenomenon, an answer to the “grand ad-supported content bargain.” These paywalls have grown in popularity, driving people to subscriptions as an alternative to ads revenue. In doing so, they have undoubtedly helped stem (and maybe reverse?) the decline in news revenues driven by the internet. How bad has this decline been? Just see this OECD visualization of how circulation, titles and revenues have dropped over time. As Rupert Murdoch said, “… sometimes rivers dry up.” From 2007-2009 alone, the U.S. saw a 30% decline in newspaper publishing. Staff layoffs have become the norm for smaller and midmarket news services, which find themselves driven to consolidate into larger news orgs in order to bring down prices and expand the reach necessary to attract ad spend. The message is clear: If people want to continue consuming news, they and media companies need to work together to develop a business model that can support it. Yet, as news bookmarking service favor.it notes, “There is now a real cost to the user associated with acquiring accurate, insightful and well-produced news. [ … ] Exacerbating the problem is the fact that there is now serious competition to real news. Free, less-reliable news sources and aggregators that can push articles into a [F]acebook Newstream that go viral in a matter of seconds whether they are completely true, or properly researched, or not.” The data bear this out: an MIT study across 126,000 stories found that fake stories proliferate on average 6x quicker than true ones. The new iron curtains Across six European countries and the United States, the average price for paywalled news is about $15.75 per month. In a time where half of Americans are working low-wage jobs and many are experiencing a severe savings crisis, most don’t have the available funds to shell out for a $15 monthly news subscription — much less a subscription for each outlet they want to access. Free news and clickbait headlines on social media, much like fast food, are the easiest and most freely available options to a swathe of people who have neither the resources nor the energy to do the fact-checking for themselves. A perennial suggestion is that outlets syndicate their content into a “Netflix for news” bundle. Indeed, aggregator initiatives like Apple News have grown to over 100 million users. Yet this still doesn’t solve a fundamental problem, which is that, in an age of instantly available free online media, most people are not willing to pay even for bundled news. As Don Richard, senior PM at Shopify, puts it, “I just don’t think the mass appeal for a text-content bundle is as high as many tech folks believe it is [ … ] most people view text content as a less-valuable medium than TV and music  —  valuable being defined as worth paying for based on your personal needs and preferences. And when people have other expenses they have to pay for, paying for a text-content bundle will be hard to justify. Since a text-content bundle doesn’t exist today, the money for a text-content bundle has to come from somewhere else in the monthly budget for most people. That means the bundle price has to take share-of-wallet over something else. Basic needs (food, shelter, utilities) aren’t being reduced for a text-content bundle.” So we end up with two fundamentally different types of media: On the one hand, free media, supported by independent journalists, freelancers and threadbare content teams; on the other, paywalled media, supported by more robust fact-checking teams and editors. As Robinson puts it, “It costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.” Coming back to the accelerating polarization of the American public, this media divide is not without consequence. People can always reasonably disagree about beliefs and ideas, so long as they have the shared context of facts. They cannot have productive debates if the facts are in-question. This is where claims of “fake news” originate: Dividing the world into free facts versus paywalled facts means we are increasingly talking past each other. As favor.it puts it, we’re “moving toward a situation where there will be haves and have-nots in the very critical area of having basic, accurate information about what is going on in the world.” Where do we go from here? It is clear that the internet media model predicated on paywalls needs to be revisited due to these shortcomings. But what are the alternatives? Targeted ads have been shown to have their own disadvantages and provoke reader ire. While this is not a comprehensive answer, here are a few suggestions: Free facts, upsold details. Pull the key facts out of news stories and make them freely available to people, upselling the deeper and richer storylines. TechCrunch has found an elegant middle-ground of this format: The core news stories on the website are free, while the value-added analysis, investigative deep-dives and richer opinion content are available to subscribers. The New Paper is another, newer service experimenting with a condensed version of news headlines to combat newsletter and information fatigue (albeit one that still plans to charge $5 monthly). This is something being spearheaded by the rise of platforms like Substack today for independent journalists; content producers with a good following or smart coverage can create self-sustaining businesses. The New Paper offers a ‘fact-first’ news digest in text message form Could newspapers take a page from Scandinavian ticketing practices and charge based on income? A tiered subscription price adjusted to payroll could allow wealthier readers to create a public good for poorer ones. Yet, when people pay for news, they should not just be paying for stories — they should be paying for the knowledge that an army of editors, fact-checkers and investigative journalists uncovered the truth behind a story. That is a good that Substack likely cannot provide. Develop a publicly available, consensus-driven score for fact-based news outlets and prioritize this score in algorithms. The way we access information has changed; aggregators now sit at the top of the news funnel. This has created a significant user surplus — people are able to locate information by story, without being constrained by outlet. However, it has also created an ad-revenue-driven model that prioritizes unique views, which are in turn driven by people’s search for sensationalism and confirmation bias in media. Search engines, social media platforms, and aggregators should come together to develop a public, transparent scoring mechanism for information quality in news and implement that to drive more viewers to more trustworthy sources. An independent rating for factuality that becomes a key input into search and social rankings could significantly help curb the virality of fake news stories, but it would need to take into account the sometimes long half-life of the truth. Public initiatives. The government needs to re-enter the business of protecting the quality of journalism. One step is for the FCC to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine, which required journalists to represent both sides of a given story. Another is to increase funding for public news sources of all stripes: liberal, conservative, etc., and for those sources to submit to routine information quality audits. Every area in which we’ve taken public institutions and allowed people to pay their way out of the default option — healthcare, education — has led to wild underinvestment in the public option; news is no different. The library model is surprisingly effective for those who select it as an option: well-funded and maintained public libraries still provide an amazing, information-rich resource to those who avail of their services. Digitizing library resources and allocating partial budget to make information not just available, but also surfaced at the right contextual moment could combat misinformation. A last option would be to implement information quality scores, similar to public health and safety standards. A score could be as simple as an A-F grade on a restaurant or a calorie count on a fast food menu. Micropayments and stories a la carte. As long as news media has been dealing with internet-related pressure, technologists have proposed micropayments as the answer. The desire to read an individual news story is stochastic, while media subscriptions are continuous. Few people, myself included, have the willingness to submit to a monthly or annual news subscription just to access the content in one article. Publishers should offer individual stories, sold in exchange for micropayments of, for example, $0.10 per story (10x the payout of some publishers to their content creators). Digital wallets embedded into browsers (see Metamask and Brave Browser as examples) can support these micropayments fluidly, either with opt-ins for each story or working in the background, to allow readers to move seamlessly around the internet, so that readers aren’t asked to pay for each story. As futurist Jaron Lanier noted 10 years ago, “Digital technology … unsettled the so-called ‘creative class’ — journalists, musicians, photographers” when access to information became free; micropayments (and royalties) could help rebuild that class of jobs. With that said, there’s a discrepancy between the amount that periodicals spend to publish a story (e.g., $100) and people’s propensity to pay (e.g., $0.10); unlike songs and movies, people only consume news stories once. Alternative revenue streams. Media companies should again explore whether events, classifieds, paid editorials, in-depth research and other information-related services could allow them to offer “just the facts” as a loss leader. The New York Times, famously, launched The Daily podcast and spun off its cooking and crossword products into standalones. Publications should reinvest in hyperlocal journalism with local sponsorship. The truth is that, as site-wide paywalls continue to be erected, there will be a real divide of news into haves and have-nots. There is no silver bullet solution to this problem. The public benefits from open news; factual reporting creates positive externalities. Yet we have not found a commercial structure to support these organizations. The answer is probably a combination of the above along with other revenue streams (including, yes, ads). But it is paramount to the strength of our social fabric that we continue to search for that answer. We should ask ourselves what surplus is created by good news coverage, by deep investigative research and honest reporting? Who benefits? At this critical juncture when the stress fractures in our fragile democracy are beginning to show, it is obvious that all of us benefit from that surplus as a society. So let’s work together to support it, for the sake of society. Thank you to Danny Crichton, Danny Zuckerman, Jason Wardy and Orion de Nevers for reviewing this piece. News-reading app Flipboard expands local coverage, including coronavirus updates, to 12 more US metros Facebook threatens to block news sharing in Australia as it lobbies against revenue share law

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posted about 11 hours ago on techcrunch
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Mike Manley confirmed Wednesday the automaker’s Ram brand will bring an electric pickup truck to market. The remarks, made in response to an analyst question during the company third-quarter earnings call, puts to rest rampant speculation, which was fueled by previous comments from Manley, that the automaker was planning to join what promises to become a crowded new category. The Detroit Free-Press was the first to report the comments. “I do see that there will be an electrified Ram pickup in the marketplace, and I would ask you just to stay tuned for a little while and we’ll tell you exactly when that will be,” Manley said without providing additional details. Fiat Chrysler reported Wednesday adjusted earnings of 2.28 billion euros ($2.7 billion) on 25.8 billion euros of revenue in the third quarter, driven by strong sales in North America and putting the company back in the black after struggles earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Electric pickup trucks aren’t available to consumers today. That will change in the next 18 months as a number of startups and legacy automakers such as GM and Ford begin to produce and deliver electric trucks to consumers. Rivian, the electric automaker backed by Amazon, BlackRock, Cox Automotive, T. Rowe Price Associates Inc., is aiming to become the first to bring an EV pickup truck to market. The company started in July to run a pilot production line at its factory in Normal, Illinois, in preparation to bring its pickup truck and SUV to market in summer 2021. Rivian has said deliveries of its R1T electric pickup truck will begin in June 2021. Deliveries of the R1S electric SUV will start in August 2021. Meanwhile, legacy automaker Ford is going to produce an electric version of its top-selling F-150 at a new $700 million plant at the Rouge complex. Startup Lordstown Motors, which went public through its merger with special-purpose acquisition company DiamondPeak Holdings Corp., revealed a pickup truck prototype in June. Electric pickups from GM and Tesla won’t arrive until 2022. GM revealed in October an electric GMC Hummer pickup truck that will be available for pre-ordering in 2021. The GMC Hummer pickup will be available for delivery in 2022. The futuristic-looking electric Tesla Cybertruck, which was unveiled in November at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, California, isn’t expected to go into production until late 2022. GMC reveals the Hummer EV: 1,000 HP, 350-mile range and 0-60 in ‘around 3 seconds’      

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
The accelerated shift to e-commerce due to the pandemic will have a significant impact on U.S. online holiday sales, according to a new forecast from Adobe Analytics. Adobe Analytics predicts that U.S. online sales for the months of November and December 2020 will reach $189 billion, representing a 33% year-over-year increase and setting a new record. The forecast is also equal to two years of growth in one season, Adobe says, noting that the increase in 2019 was just 13%. Image Credits: Adobe Analytics If consumers receive another round of stimulus checks and physical stores are again shut down in large parts of the country to address further coronavirus outbreaks, the figures could go even higher. In that case, consumers would then be expected to spend an additional $11 billion online, bringing total sales to more than $200 billion, or a 47% year-over-year increase. Image Credits: Adobe Analytics The way consumers shop this season may look different too. Typically, the online shopping season began with Black Friday sales — a digital counterpart to the offline sales events taking place in physical stores. This would then bleed into Cyber Monday sales, as consumers looked online for the items they couldn’t find deals on when shopping in person. COVID-19 pandemic accelerated shift to e-commerce by 5 years, new report says Over the years, the lines between the individual sales events began to blur. Online shopping shifted to Thanksgiving Day, for example, and then stretched past Cyber Monday. This year, Adobe Analytics expects the so-called “Cyber Week” (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) to turn into “Cyber Months.” Image Credits: Adobe Analytics This will be driven, in part, by significant holiday discounting that begins the first two weeks of November, building up to the deepest price cuts over the Black Friday holiday weekend and Cyber Monday. Adobe Analytics also predicts online sales will surpass $2 billion every day from November 1 through November 21, and will then increase to $3 billion per day from November 22 through December 3. Black Friday online sales are projected to climb 39% year-over-year, to $10 billion, while Cyber Monday becomes the biggest online shopping day of the year, with $12.7 billion in sales, a 35% year-over-year jump. Image Credits: Adobe Analytics The best deals for TVs and appliances will continue to be on Black Friday, while the best deals for toys and furniture will arrive on Sunday, November 29 — the day before Cyber Monday. Sporting goods will see their best deals on December 13 and electronics on December 18, Adobe says. As in previous years, mobile will claim an ever-larger contributor chunk of e-commerce spending, with U.S. consumers spending $28.1 billion more on their smartphones in 2020 than in 2019, a 55% year-over-year increase. Smaller retailers ($10 million-$50 million in annual online revenue) will also benefit from the increased online activity. They’ll see a larger (107% increase) boost to their online revenue than larger retailers with $1 billion-plus in revenue, which will see an 84% increase. As some U.S. consumers may not be traveling to see family this year, compared with pre-pandemic years, Adobe Analytics predicts Americans will spend 18% more on gifts that are directly delivered from the retailer to people they would have otherwise seen in person. But consumers are not interested in paying more for expedited shipping — 64% said they won’t pay for a speedier service. That means retailers will need to continue to clearly communicate about their free shipping cut-off dates. Image Credits: Adobe Analytics The trend toward buying online and picking up in store (BOPIS) will surge, too. With the addition of curbside pickup options from many retailers, BOPIS will see 40% more orders than last year and will grow to represent 50% of all orders from retailers offering the option in the week before Christmas. Due to the pandemic, Adobe Analytics expects 9% of all holiday customers to be net new online shoppers. Conversion rates will increase as well, at +13%, while revenue will increase +33%. Average order value, however, will remain flat. Why e-commerce startups aren’t raising more funding during this historic boom One factor that could complicate these predictions is the U.S. election. In previous election years, online sales were impacted after the outcome was known. They dropped 14% the day after the 2016 election, and 6% the day after the 2018 midterms. According to Adobe Analytics, 26% of consumers said the election’s outcome would impact their holiday spending. The data used to make these predictions is sourced from Adobe Analytics, which today analyzes one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites. This includes 100 million SKUs and 80 of the 100 largest retailers in the U.S., the company says.

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posted about 12 hours ago on techcrunch
True bills itself as the social networking app that will “protect your privacy.” But a security lapse left one of its servers exposed — and spilling private user data to the internet for anyone to find. The app was launched in 2017 by Hello Mobile, a little-known virtual cell carrier that piggybacks off T-Mobile’s network. True’s website says it has raised $14 million in seed funding, and claimed more than half a million users shortly after its launch. But a dashboard for one of the app’s databases was exposed to the internet without a password, allowing anyone to read, browse and search the database — including private user data. Mossab Hussein, chief security officer at Dubai-based cybersecurity firm SpiderSilk, found the exposed dashboard and provided details to TechCrunch. Data provided by BinaryEdge, a search engine for exposed databases and devices, showed the dashboard was exposed since at least early September. More on Extra Crunch How to respond to a data breach How to decode a data breach notice How you shouldn’t handle your data breach Read this week’s Decrypted After we reached out, True pulled the dashboard offline. Bret Cox, chief executive at True, confirmed the security lapse but did not answer our specific questions, including if the company planned to inform users of the security lapse or if it planned to disclose the incident to regulators under state data breach notification laws. The dashboard contained daily server logs dating back to February, and included the user’s registered email address or phone number, the contents of private posts and messages between users, and the user’s last known geolocation, which could identify where a user was or had been. The dashboard also exposed the email and phone contacts uploaded by the user, which True uses to match with known friends in the app. None of the data was encrypted. TechCrunch confirmed the dashboard was returning real user data by creating a test account and asking Hussein to provide data that only we would know, such as the phone number used to register the account. Hussein said that the dashboard was also leaking account access tokens, which could be used to hack into and hijack any user’s account. These account access tokens look like a line of random letters and numbers, but keep the user logged into the app without having to enter their login details every time. Using our test account, Hussein found our access token from the dashboard, and used it to access our account and post a message on our feed. The dashboard also exposed one-time login codes, which True sends to an account’s associated email address or phone number instead of storing passwords. True says deleting an account “will immediately remove all of your content from our servers,” but deleting our test account did not remove our private messages, posts and photos, and could still be searched from the dashboard. “This is another example of how mistakes can happen at any organization, even those that are privacy-centric,” Hussein told TechCrunch. “It highlights the importance of not only building secure applications and websites, but also ensuring that proper data security measures are embedded within their internal procedures.” A spokesperson for Hello Mobile could not be reached. Last year, Hussein found an exposed database dashboard belonging to Blind, the “anonymous social network,” favored by employees to publicly disclose malfeasance and wrongdoing at their companies. You can contact the author with tips securely using Signal and WhatsApp to: +1 646-755-8849. Decrypted: How Twitter was hacked, GitHub DMCA backfires

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posted about 13 hours ago on techcrunch
Sophie Alcorn Contributor Share on Twitter Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives. More posts by this contributor Dear Sophie: What visa options exist for a grad co-founding a startup? Dear Sophie: I came on a B-1 visa, then COVID-19 happened. How can I stay? Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column from a practicing attorney that answers immigration questions about working at technology companies. “Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.” Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off. Dear Sophie: I’m currently here in the U.S. on an E-2 visa. My employer, a company based in Slovakia, moved me to the U.S. to help establish our U.S. operations. What are my options if I want to look for other job opportunities here in the U.S. with a different company? Is there a feasible process to upgrade my E-2 visa to another type, like an L? Thank you! —Restless in Redwood City Dear Restless, Thanks for your questions. Nonimmigrant (temporary) visas that allow you to work in the U.S. require an employer to sponsor you for the visa, and those visas remain tied to the employer sponsor and the position for which you were hired. We recently launched the Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp (promo code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off enrollment) — this is a class that can help you strengthen your credentials if you end up pursuing an O-1A visa, which I’ll discuss more about below. There are a few visa options available if you find a U.S. company willing to sponsor you such as J-1, O-1A and H-1B, and various green card pathways. You had asked about an L Visa, but this would only be an option if you had worked for the new company abroad for at least one year during the past three years. Both the L-1A visa and the L-1B visa enable multinational companies to transfer a manager, executive or specialized knowledge employee from an office abroad to a U.S. office — or to open an office in the U.S. — from an office abroad. The L-1A visa for intracompany executive or manager transferees is similar to the E-2 visa in that both allow the visa holder to come to the U.S. to set up a new office for the sponsoring company.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Encouraged by the spate of antitrust activity brewing in both the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill, Apple may be developing a search competitor to Google, according to a report in the Financial Times. That would be a move ripe with irony as the push for an end to anti-competitive practices is seemingly creating greater competition among the largest companies which already dominate the technology industry rather than between those established companies and more nimble upstarts. Signs of Apple’s resurgent interest in search technologies can be found in both a subtle but significant change to the latest version of the iOS 14 iPhone operating system and increasing activity from Apple’s spidering tools that are used to scour the web and refine search functionality, the Financial Times reported. Apple is now showing its own search results and linking directly to websites when users type queries from its home screen in iOS 14. For context, this is a behavior that has been known for a while as people have seen the feature pop up in beta versions of iOS. And the search volume being up on Apple’s crawler is something that Jon Henshaw of Coywolf had noted back in August. Sources cited by the Financial Times said that the change marked a significant step-change in Apple’s in-house search development and could be the basis for a broader push into search. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company certainly has the expertise. A little less than three years ago it nabbed Google’s head of search, John Giannandrea in what was widely seen as an attempt to shore up Apple’s foundations in artificial intelligence and voice search via Siri. Because of the way that Apple is organized internally, it’s unlikely that Giannandrea will be devoting full-time effort to both a potential “search product” and Siri . But it’s within the realm of possibility that he could be lending his expertise to a team working on a separate feature. Any development of a search tool would be a third way for Apple, which now uses Google as its default search service thanks to a lucrative contract between the two (one that’s also at the heart of a Justice Department inquiry into Google’s purported anti-competitive activities around search). The only other major search services on the market rely on Microsoft’s Bing to power their results. While the signs do point to an actual uptick in activity, there could be an explanation for Apple’s crawler activity that’s less heavy on corporate skunkworks skulduggery and more in line with goals that Apple’s stated pretty clearly. While the story about Apple getting into direct competition with Google on search makes for a great headline, the uptick in activity could be explained equally as rationally by Siri getting more search queries and being more of an interlocutor between Apple and search services like Google or Microsoft’s Bing. This disintermediation is something that Google began years ago and has even modified and expanded over the years to combat the same kind of behavior from Siri. Some of this comes down to semantics. By “search engine” do we mean “a web site that people type queries into” or do we mean a voice assistant that steps in to white-label web results with its own sourcing. Cutting down on the brand presence of a monster like Google on your own platform is a powerful motivator for any competitor, no matter the space. Making Siri a one-stop-shop could inoculate Apple in the scenario where they are forced to enable a search provider choice in the iOS onboarding flow by regulation. It won’t do anything to help Google though, who pays Apple billions because iOS users are worth way more than any other mobile web users to its business. Google, for its part, says that when people have a choice they still pick Google anyway. Perhaps another reason why making Siri the search equivalent of an overtalker is the strong play for Apple. TechCrunch has reached out to Apple for comment and will update when we hear back.    

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have taken a messy beating from critics unhappy with how they handle questionable content on their platform, with some complaining they don’t do enough to rein in misinformation, and others decrying censorship. But what about Spotify? The company is never mentioned in this context, and with its traditional business couched in streaming recorded music, you might understand why its biggest controversies over the last few years have been over how little musicians get paid. That position, however, is being jolted into quite different territory now with its move into podcasting, which is raising lots of questions over what role Spotify should and could play in overseeing the content on its platform. Now people are in an uproar of who, essentially, gets a platform on its platform. That issue was highlighted in the last day, when Joe Rogan — the highly paid podcaster with a libertarian bent — brought on Alex Jones (of InfoWars fame, whose own podcast was removed from Spotify, along with YouTube and others, in 2018) on to his show for a meandering three hours, leading to an uproar over how Spotify is giving a spotlight and microphone to an infamous purveyor of misinformation. The conversation, which also featured comedian Tim Dillon, covered a pretty wide range of topics, with the common themes being today’s most controversial topics, unproven (or disproven) stories behind them presented as fact, and of course the dastardly Dems. Rogan made a few attempts at refuting or standing up some of the stories and claims that they covered. Early on, for example, when Jones started to talk about how the Democrats are in the pocket of the lobbyists (while Trump was not, according to him), Rogan called up web links in real time, showing that this isn’t quite so clear, with AT&T admitting to paying Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen fees, to help advance its own position with Trump and his administration. “I was just trying to give you a Gestalt analysis,” Jones growled in response… He then went into a defense of Jared Kushner. “Everything he touches he turns to gold.” (Except, it seems, this, this, and well, maybe many other things, actually.) The conversation veered on to a number of other topics, such as how the Democrats were intentionally trying to crash the economy to make Trump look bad, and a discussion, very the foggy on details, of the effectiveness of vaccines (foggy, but probably enough strands of which, in the hands of a person already skeptical, may well be the tipping point to dismissing Covid-19 public health initiatives altogether). Letting Alex Jones spread anti-vaxxer conspiracies during a pandemic is indefensible. If you want to understand how the polio vaccine works, talk to an actual fucking expert @joerogan not some sociopath with no medical background who tortured Sandy Hook families. https://t.co/NceSDUwwXa — Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) October 28, 2020 For now, Spotify is not saying anything in response to this publicly. We’ve tried to reach out to the company to get a response to questions about the show, and we will update if we hear back. We’ve had nothing for hours, and a colleague who asked the same questions months ago never heard back either. So we’re not holding our breath. Notably, while Spotify has detailed how to report illegal musical tracks or explicit lyrics on its platform, it has never outlined its content policies when it comes to podcasting. And from the looks of it, the company has been using some delaying tactics in facing up to the problem more directly. BuzzFeed today has published a leaked memo from the company’s legal officer Horacio Gutierrez, from today, which appears to defend the company’s position on publishing controversial podcasts (not this one in particular), giving hosts the freedom to have whichever guests they want, and not responding to public outcry but to refer issues to Trust & Safety to investigate. “If a team member has concerns about any piece of content on our platform, you should encourage them to report it to Trust & Safety because they are the experts on our team charged with reviewing content,” he wrote. “However, it’s important that they aren’t simply flagging a piece of content just because of something they’ve read online. It’s all too common that things are taken out of context.” Bulleted talking points about controversial content seem to underscore how Spotify is sticking to a position of being a neutral platform, not a proactive curator: “Spotify has always been a place for creative expressions,” Gutierrez wrote. “It’s important to have diverse voices and points of view on our platform.” He then noted that if a podcast complies with Spotify’s content policies — it doesn’t make clear what those are — then guests are not banned: “We are not going to ban specific individuals from being guests on other people’s shows, as the episode/show complies with our content policies.” He noted in closing that “we appreciate that not all of you will agree with every piece of content on our platform. However, we do expect you to help your teams understand our role as a platform and the care we take in making decisions.” People were upset back when Rogan came to Spotify in an exclusive, reportedly $100 million, deal earlier this summer — an event that first introduced the question of how Spotify would handle content controversies. No surprise there, since Rogan was already courting controversy over, for example, how he uses slurs considered to be transphobic by members of the LGBQT community (an issue that has not gone away). Now those questions are coming up again, along with boycotting threats. Hi @Spotify @SpotifyUSA I am a super-user and I will absolutely cancel and spend all my time online encouraging other people to cancel if you keep backing Joe R*g*n while he invites Alex Jones on to spread conspiracy theories. https://t.co/OVnc0x5dmm — Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) October 28, 2020 Whether this actually makes a dent in its user base, it does raise lots of questions about how the profile of the company is changing, and that Spotify has been given a relatively easy break when it comes to content on its platform up to now. It’s been optimising for exclusive names and speed to market in getting them (and paying big bucks for the bragging rights), over considering what those names are actually doing, and what impact that could have. One interesting angle to ponder is whether other high-profile hosts might bail if they feel strongly about Spotify’s editorial position. Another is whether (or when) this will catch the eye of the Powers That Be. Just today, executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google are being brought before the Senate with questions about bias on their platform and how their staff approaches content moderation, and whether they are liable for that content. I don’t know how effective or impactful today’s testimony will be, but for a start, maybe it’s time they start including Spotify in that list, too.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
AppFollow, an app management startup, has raised a $5 million Series A round led by Barcelona’s Nauta Capital, alongside existing investors Vendep Capital and RTP Global participating. The Helsinki-headquartered company says benefitted during the pandemic and even in April 2020 as the desire for automation and apps exploded. It says it now has 70,000 clients on its platform globally including McDonald’s, Disney, Expedia, PicsArt, Flo, Jam City and Discord. CEO Anatoly Sharifulin said in a statement: “AppFollow helps teams understand sentiment, both for your users and competitor’s, figure out how your potential customers search for apps and use this knowledge to make your app more visible and, of course, follow on your KPIs like downloads and revenues to be sure that all is under control.” Eugene Kruglov of Nauta Capital said: “We are extremely delighted to partner with Nauta Capital on this round. And having both of current investors and as well some of our customers to participate in the round proves that we are on the right direction to become the market standard for effective app management.” The company, which employs 65 people across 9 countries, all working remotely, will use the investment to strengthen its presence in the US and Europe, hire VP-level executives in sales, marketing and diversify their platform.

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posted about 14 hours ago on techcrunch
Outrider, a startup aiming to bring its autonomous technology to the nerve center of the supply chain, has raised $65 million in funding just eight months after coming out of stealth. The Series B round was led by Koch Disruptive Technologies and brings its total funding raised to $118 million. Other existing investors increased their investments, including NEA, 8VC, and Prologis Ventures, according to the company. New investors included Henry Crown and Company and Evolv Ventures. The company’s aim to automate distribution yards doesn’t get the same kind of attention as the more public-facing robotaxis that other companies are pursuing. But it could be as impactful and potentially lucrative to the company that pulls it off. Distribution yards are where goods make the transition from long-haul trucks to warehouses, and eventually the consumer. These hubs of economic activity rely on humans to make repetitive, manual tasks using diesel-powered yard trucks. There are some 400,000 distribution yards located in the United States, a number that provides an idea of the potential size of the opportunity. Image Credits: Outrider The Golden, Colo. startup previously known as Azevtec developed a three-part system that includes an autonomous electric yard truck, software to manage the operations and site infrastructure. The total system automates the manual aspect of yard operations, including moving trailers around the yard as well as to and from loading docks. The system can also hitch and unhitch trailers, connect and disconnect trailer brake lines, and monitor trailer locations. Waymo and TuSimple autonomous trucking leaders on the difficulty of building a highway-safe AI Outrider touts the dual benefits of its electric and autonomous system. The company notes that its electric yard trucks are ideal for autonomy due to their reduced maintenance, lower operating costs and reliable clean power. Andrew Smith, the company’s founder and CEO, says disruptions caused by COVID-19 has highlighted the need for this kind of automated distribution yard technology. Outrider, which now employs 110 employees, has completed “multiple” pilot programs, including one with Georgia-Pacific and expanded its customer base since coming out of stealth in February.

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
The Utah Jazz, an NBA basketball team based in Salt Lake City, announced today that Qualitrics CEO and co-founder Ryan Smith was buying a majority stake in the team along other properties. ESPN is reporting the deal is worth $1.6 billion. Smith can afford it. He sold Qualtrics, which is based in Provo, Utah, in 2018 to SAP for $8 billion just before the startup was about to go public. Earlier this year, SAP announced plans to spin out Qualtrics as public company. In addition to The Jazz, he’s also getting Vivint Arena, the National Basketball Association (NBA) G League team Salt Lake City Stars and management of the Triple-A baseball affiliate Salt Lake Bees. Smith is buying the properties from the Miller family, who have run them for over three decades. SAP agrees to buy Qualtrics for $8B in cash, just before the survey software company’s IPO Smith was over the moon about being able to buy into a franchise he has supported over the years. “My wife and I are absolutely humbled and excited about the opportunity to take the team forward far into the future – especially with the greatest fans in the NBA. The Utah Jazz, the state of Utah, and its capital city are the beneficiaries of the Millers’ tremendous love, generosity and investment. We look forward to building upon their lifelong work,” he said in a statement. The deal is pending approval of the NBA Board Governors, but once that happens, Smith will have full decision making authority over the franchise. Qualtrics, which makes customer survey tools, was founded in 2002 and raised over $400 million from firms like Accel, Insight Partners and Sequoia before selling the company two years ago to SAP. Smith is not the first tech billionaire to buy a basketball team. He joins Mark Cuban, who bought the Dallas Mavericks in 1999 after selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion that same year. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 for $2 billion. SAP will spin out its $8B spin-in Qualtrics acquisition

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
Apple is today rolling out an update to its video creation app, Clips, which brings much-needed support for vertical videos, allowing for sharing to TikTok and the “Stories” feature in other social apps. The addition is one of several arriving with the release of Clips 3.0, which also introduces support for horizontal video, as well as HDR for iPhone 12 users, along with other smaller changes, like new stickers, sounds and posters, for example. Apple’s Clips was first launched in 2017 with an eye on being a first stop for video creation before publishing to Instagram. But the app’s support for only square-formatted video has since become outdated. Casual social videos today are often now published to newer video-centric social media networks, like TikTok and its short-form rivals, including Triller, Dubsmash, Instagram Reels, and others. Meanwhile, Stories — like those found on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and soon, Twitter — have become a key way that today’s users publish content to social media. Apple, in fact, says that support for vertical video had become its No. 1 request from users since Clips launched. Clips 3.0 introduces supports both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, in addition to the square format. When the app is opened on iPad, it will default to the landscape format, which can be particularly useful in educational scenarios where teachers are using the app in the classrooms with students. On iPad, Clips users can also interact with the app when their iPad is in a case, like Magic Keyboard for iPad and others. It also supports use with a mouse or trackpad, and allowing users to write text in text fields using Apple Pencil. Image Credits: Apple The new app will also now support recording HDR video footage with the rear-facing camera on iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. Clips’ overall user interface has been refreshed, too. You’ll notice a redesigned record screen that floats on top of the viewer when shooting vertically or horizontally, which could help to address some user complaints of the app feeling “slow.” Users will also be able to more easily view and access the various Effects options, their Clips Projects and other media. The tweaks to the user interface also feel a bit like a nod to TikTok. For example, you can now swipe up on the Effects to see a full-height card that shows you the available stickers and text labels to add to your videos. This format of a pop-up card filled with effects is similar to TikTok — though there it’s opened with a button tap and not a gesture. Image Credits: Apple The update also brings more content options, including 8 new social stickers (like “Sound On” for Instagram Stories), 24 new royalty-free soundtracks (bringing the total library to 100), and 6 new arrows and shapes. From the new Media browser in Clips, you can pull in your own photos and videos or toggle over to a Posters section to pick from 70 customizable, animated full-screen title cards that can be added to your video. There are also updated filters, Live Titles and Selfie scenes available. When your project is complete, you can easily share the resulting video to social networks from an updated sharing screen that includes quick access to destinations like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat, in addition to standard options like iMessage or saving the file locally. Though Clips hasn’t had as much attention as some of Apple’s other apps — its last update was 6 months ago, for instance — it has gained a following. Apple says that users create “millions” of Clips projects per day, and it sees higher usage in the U.S., U.K., and China. This year, Clips usage increased by 30%, Apple noted — a change that could have been brought about by the shift to virtual schooling which saw teachers in need of tools for creating digital content. Image Credits: With its expanded focus on vertical video, Clips has the potential to reach a much broader audience. Today, many users prep videos for Stories or TikTok on third-party apps, like InShot, Prequel, Splice, PicCollage, Canva, VSCO, Funimate, KineMaster, Magisto, CapCut and others topping the App Store charts. But Clips, until now, couldn’t compete because it didn’t include vertical video support at all. The new version of Clips is rolling out today to users worldwide.

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
Robust.AI today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A, led by Jazz Venture Partners. Existing partners Playground Global, Liquid2, Fontinalis, Jaan Tallinn and Mark Leslie also participated in the round, which brings the Bay Area-based robotics AI startup’s funding up to $22.5 million. Founded mid-2019, the company counts Rodney Brooks among its C-level executives. The iRobot co-founder serves as the startup’s CTO, following the unexpected closure of the promising (but financially untenable) Rethink, which gave the world the Baxter and Sawyer robots. (Fellow iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner also notably landed at a new venture in recent months). CEO Gary Marcus, meanwhile, is also the co-founder of Geometric Intelligence, which was acquired by Uber, back in 2016. At the core of Robust.AI are plans to build “the world’s first industrial-grade cognitive engine for robots,” essentially providing collaborative robots sufficient problem-solving capacity to effectively work alongside humans. Robust.AI launches to build an industrial-grade cognitive platform for robots The company is still quite new, but many robotics and automation investments have seemingly been fast-tracked by a pandemic that has hamstrung much of the human workforce. Robust’s stated mission is to overhaul the software stack that runs many of these machines, in order to to make them function better in often complex environments. “Finding market fit is as important in robots and AI systems as any other product,” Brooks said in a statement. “We are building something we believe most robotics companies will find irresistible, taking solutions from single-purpose tools that today function in defined environments, to highly useful systems that can work within our world and all its intricacies.” Rethink Robotics closes after acquisition plans fall through

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
After announcing its latest data center region in Austria earlier this month and an expansion of its footprint in Brazil, Microsoft today unveiled its plans to open a new region in Taiwan. This new region will augment its existing presence in East Asia, where the company already runs data centers in China (operated by 21Vianet), Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. This new region will bring Microsoft’s total presence around the world to 66 cloud regions. Similar to its recent expansion in Brazil, Microsoft also pledged to provide digital skilling for over 200,000 people in Taiwan by 2024 and it is growing its Taiwan Azure Hardware Systems and Infrastructure engineering group, too. That’s in addition to investments in its IoT and AI research efforts in Taiwan and the startup accelerator it runs there. “Our new investment in Taiwan reflects our faith in its strong heritage of hardware and software integration,” said Jean-Phillippe Courtois, Executive Vice President and President, Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing and Operations. “With Taiwan’s expertise in hardware manufacturing and the new datacenter region, we look forward to greater transformation, advancing what is possible with 5G, AI and IoT capabilities spanning the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge.” Image Credits: Microsoft The new region will offer access to the core Microsoft Azure services. Support for Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform. That’s pretty much Microsoft’s playbook for launching all of its new regions these days. Like virtually all of Microsoft’s new data center region, this one will also offer multiple availability zones. Microsoft Azure announces its first region in Austria

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posted about 15 hours ago on techcrunch
Deep learning has made tremendous strides in recent years, with new systems and models like GPT-3 offering higher quality interpretations of human language, empowering developers to use these concepts in more diverse applications. We can see these developments in our text-to-speech voice recorders and dual language translation apps, which have gotten shockingly good these days. But what is the next wave of functionality that this AI infrastructure can empower? Hebbia wants to find out. Hebbia today is a startup but really a product studio, a sort of sketchpad for AI ideas founded by George Sivulka, a PhD student from Stanford (currently on leave) and a mélange of three other Stanford AI researchers and engineers. The group, using the new deep learning techniques and models available today, is trying to push the boundaries of what knowledge graphs, semantic analysis, and AI can ultimately do for human productivity. Sivulka was inspired to focus on this domain from witnessing his friends’ experiences working in the knowledge economy. “A lot of my peers … everyone goes into these white-collar jobs where they’re sitting down and just reading immense quantities of information all day,” Sivulka said. “People become banking analysts and dig through SEC forms for one or two lines of information, or go to law school or become legal analysts and do the same thing… [They’re] just bogged down by these walls of text, by this like avalanche of information that is impossible to make sense of.” (Tell me about it). What he and his team want to do is supercharge human productivity by building search, analysis, and summarization tools that can help you make sense of your own, personal universe of knowledge. “The idea is that Hebbia is building these productivity tools for thought that augment the way that you do work. They’re things that actually control the information input and outputs that you have to deal with every day,” Sivulka said. It’s an ambitious vision, so they had to start somewhere. Their first product, which is what got me excited about the vision, is a Chrome plugin that’s been in private beta and is being released to the world more broadly today (note: it’s still unlisted in the Chrome Store for now). The plugin upgrades the search functionality in Chrome to go beyond mere text pattern matching to begin to comprehend what your query actually is and how it might be answered given the text on a page. Here’s a demo of the plugin on TechCrunch: Hebbia’s Ctrl-F product on TechCrunch. Photo via Hebbia. So, for instance, you could Ctrl-F on a Wikipedia page and ask “Where did this person live?” and the plugin can determine that you are asking for locations and begin to highlight text on that page with relevant information. It’s AI, and pretty beta AI at that, so of course, your experience can and will be inconsistent right now. But as Hebbia tunes its models and improves its understanding of text, the hope is that browser search can be completely transformed and become a massive productivity boost. Sivulka is something of an early wunderkind. He worked at NASA as a teenager, and graduated from his bachelor’s at Stanford in 2.5 years, finishing his master’s a bit more than a year later, and started a PhD before getting waylaid by Hebbia. Hebbia’s vision has already attracted the notice of VCs in just its early months. Ann Miura-Ko at Floodgate led a $1.1 million pre-seed round that was joined by Naval Ravikant, Peter Thiel, Kevin Hartz, Michael Fertik and Cory Levy. Sivulka notes that their Ctrl-F product is the main focus for the company right now, and acts as a sort of gateway into the larger potential that knowledge graphs and personal productivity offer. “This is one of the final frontiers of what computers can do,” Sivulka said, noting that computation has already revolutionized many fields by digitizing data and making it easier to process. With Ctrl-F, “this is a baseline technology, [we’re] just scratching the surface of what we can do with this.”

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Portable power is a very convenient thing to have on hand, as proven by the popularity of pocket power banks for providing backup energy for smartphones and tablets. Jackery’s lineup of battery backups offer an entirely different, much greater level of portable energy storage, and when combined with the company’s durable and portable solar panels, they add up to an impressive mobile solar power generation solution that can offer a little piece of mind at home for when the power goes out, or a lot of flexibility on the road for day trips, camping excursions and more. The basics Jackery sells the Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station and SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels I reviewed separately, but it also bundles them together in a pack ($1,599.97) with the power station and two of the panels in a ‘Solar Generator’ combo, which is what I tested. The Portable Power Station retails for $999.99, though it’s the top of the line offering and there are more affordable models with less capacity. The station itself offers a 1002Wh internal lithium battery, and 1000W rated power with 2000W surge power rating. IT has two USB-C outputs, one standard USB, one DC port like you’d find in your car dash, and three standard AC outlets. It has an integrated handle, a tough plastic exterior and a built-in LCD display for information including battery charge status and output info. The Explorer 1000, on a full charge, can provide up to 100 chargers for your standard iPhone, or up to 8 charges of a MacBook Pro. It can power an electric grill for 50 minutes, or a mini fridge for up to 66 hours. It can be recharged via a wall outlet (fully charges in 7 hours) or a car outlet (14 hours), but it can also be paired up with the 2x SolarSaga panels for a full recharge in around 8 hours of direct sun exposure – almost as fast as you’d charge it plugging git into an outlet at home (it takes double the time, or around 17 hours, when using just one). As for the solar panels, they each retail for $299.99, and fold in half for greater portability, and feature integrated pockets and stands for cable storage and easy setup anywhere. Each ways less than 10 lbs, and they offer both USB-C and USB-A direct output for charging up devices without any battery or power station required. It’s worth noting that they’re not waterproof, however, so you should exercise some caution when using them in inclement weather. Image Credits: Jackery Design and features The Jackery Portable Power Station is a perfect blend of portability, practicality and durability. Its internal powerhouse will keep you going for days in terms of mobile device power, and it weighs only a relatively portable 22 lbs, despite packing in a massive battery. The range of output options built-in mean you can connect to just about any electronically-powered device you can think of, and three AC outlets mean you can power multiple appliances at once if you want to spend your juice on running a lightweight outdoor kitchen – albeit not for a super long time at that kind of power draw. Jackery’s Explorer series features durable and attractive (insofar as any utility device is ever that attractive) exterior impact-resistant plastic housings, and they definitely feel like they don’t need to be treated with kid gloves. The display is legible and clear, and provides all the info you need at-glance in terms of reserve power, and power expenditure for connected devices, as well as charging info when plugged in. The many charging options are also super convenient, and that’s where the SolarSaga 100W panes come in. These fold up to roughly the size of a folding camp side table, and have integrated handles for even easier carrying. They’re also protected outside by a tough polycarbonate shell, and the panels are resistant to high temperatures for max durability. They come with included output converter cables for connecting to USB A and USB C devices, and can be used with the adapter included with the Power Station to charge that either in tandem with one another, or on their own. Around back you’ll find an adjustable kickstands, which allow you to angle the panels towards the sun across a range of positions for maximum energy absorption. Between these and the Explorer power stations, you have everything you need to set up your own fully mobile solar energy power generation station in just a few minutes and with minimal effort. Image Credits: Jackery Bottom line In actual use, the Jackery Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station provides so much backup power that it was hard to expend it all through general testing. You really do have to plug alliances like my Blendtec blender in to make a dent, and even then I got roughly 12 hours of usage or more out of it. This is a great solution for taking some selective on-grid equipment off-grid while on camping trips, like a TV, small fridge or a projector, and it’s an amazing thing to have at home just in case of power outages, where having your own backup options can make the difference between getting through a productive workday or staying in touch with family. The SolarSaga panels are an amazing complement to the Explorer, and truly turn this into your own mini green energy power generation station. Even if you’re not convinced on the expense and necessity of converting your home to solar power, using something like Tesla’s Powerwall, for instance, this is a nice way to power a cooler in the backyard effectively for ‘free’ when it comes to energy costs, or to extend the useful life of the Explorer on trips when you’re away from the grid over the course of multiple days.

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Dr. Will Roper, the man in charge of the purse strings for the Air Force’s $60 billion research and development and acquisition budget, oversees some 550 programs for the Air Force. It’s a huge responsibility that has massive implications for the future of the American military, and as the priorities for the military’s air and space command shift, Roper says that acquisitions will require an emphasis on working “at a pace that today’s technology, trends and threats require.” The keys to the future of Air Force acquisitions will be agility and flexibility, Roper told an audience last month at the Air Force Association 2020 Virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference, according to an Air Force report. “If you look at the world in which we live today, we must be agile,” Roper told the audience. “There are too many possible futures for us to pick one and build a force that’s geared to defeat it.” That sentiment should give developers of new technologies $60 billion worth of reasons to pay attention when Roper joins us at TechCrunch’s Sessions: Space event this December 16-17. Roper has placed an emphasis on what he calls digital engineering to create internal manufacturing capabilities within the Department of Defense and develop new defensive capabilities and offensive weaponry for a 21st century battlefield. As the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics — and principal adviser to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force for R&D, test, production and modernization efforts within the Air Force — Roper has a view into where the military is racing ahead to meet the challenges of the battlefield of the next millennium. In Roper’s view that could encompass the presence of weaponized artificial intelligence, persistent drones, or even genetically edited bioweapons or human augmentation, he told his virtual audience in that September presentation. For Roper, the first order of business is to find a way to get the military innovating faster than consumer technologies — a task made that much more complicated by the lack of bureaucratic constraints private companies enjoy compared to their military counterparts. “The last area that we have to have strategic agility is in being able to computerize or virtualize everything about our development and production, assembly, even sustainment of systems, so that we can finally get past the tyranny of the real world and take learning and feedback into the digital one,” Roper said in his September address. The Air Force is already turning to digital-first design with its eSeries of hardware, which has already notched a huge win with the design, assemblage and testing of its Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft — designed to replace the FA-18 Hornet. Roper comes to his position in the Air Force after what has already been a long and storied career in the military. He previously served as the founding director in the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. First created in 2012, the SCO was designed to imagine new applications for existing government and commercial systems. During his tenure, Roper. grew the budget of the SCO from $50 million to $1.5 billion. Under the program Roper developed new concepts like hypervelocity artillery, multi-purpose missiles, autonomous fast-boats, smartphone-navigating weapons, big-data-enabled sensing, 3-D printed systems, fighter avatars, and fighter-dispersed swarming micro-drones. The breadth of Roper’s vision about the capabilities that the U.S. will need to compete in a 21st century combat scenario will likely be one of the subjects we discuss — as well as the role Roper sees for startups in developing those technologies. Those contributions could come through participation in programs like AFVentures, which paid out nearly $800 million to companies for programs like the Air Force’s flying car program, as well as the nation’s space launch program. “This is how we provide our forces the capabilities they’ll need to win on the unpredictable, rapidly evolving innovation battlefield in this century by fundamentally changing how we build and acquire systems and with whom we build them, so that no matter what our adversaries do in the future, we will have the agility to overmatch and win,” Roper told his audience in September. “Then we will innovate faster, we will adapt quicker and ultimately stay ahead to disrupt and win.” To hear Roper’s thoughts on the future of the Air Force’s technological innovations, you can grab a ticket to get exclusive access to watch this session (along with many others) live (with access to video on demand), network with the innovators changing the space industry, discover the hottest early-stage companies, learn how to score grants for your space company, recruit talent or even find a job. Get an early-bird ticket for just $125 until November 13. And we have discounts available for groups, students, active military/government employees and for early-stage space startup founders who want to give their startup some extra visibility. 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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
The American venture capital world has staged an impressive comeback from the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. For a moment, there was worry that startups would struggle to raise for quarters, leading to layoffs, slowed hiring and budget cuts. But as the pandemic accelerated plans to shift operations online, many startups wound up more popular than expected. Those tailwinds helped the venture capital world get back into its own game in a big way, leading to Q3 being an outsized quarter for domestic venture capital activity. The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday. Today, in a first, we have two editions of The Exchange for you. Get hype. As The Exchange reported last week, “How much money was raised by U.S.-based startups in Q3 2020? $36.5 billion, according to CBInsights, $37.8 billion according to PitchBook. [The former data provider] calls the number a seven-quarter high, up 22% from the Q3 2019 number and 30% from the Q2 2020 result.” This lends itself to a question: What’s up with venture debt during all of this? Venture debt, in various forms, is a type of capital provided to startups that may or may not have raised equity-based funds, like venture capital. One variety comes from institutions like Silicon Valley Bank, which might provide a growing startup with well-known backers an additional fraction of its last raise in debt, allowing the young company to take on more total capital than it otherwise might without greater dilution. Other forms of venture debt, like revenue-based financing, share startup income streams to repay borrowings. And there are other, more exotic forms of the capital source. I’ve been curious about the space for a few quarters now. So, when some survey data on the venture debt market from Runway Growth Capital came in, I started collecting my notes into a single entry. Venture debt has a place in today’s market, but while venture capital is back to setting records, it appears that its less-known sibling won’t manage to match its last few years’ worth of results, according to new PitchBook data. Let’s talk about it. Venture debt in 2020 Runway Growth is a venture debt player that did $41.5 million in “funded loans” in Q3 2020, it told TechCrunch. That’s for your own reference. Its new survey of 493 entrepreneurs who had raised venture capital, and 50 providers of startup capital from the VC and lending worlds, noted that 60% of founders felt that “venture debt has become more founder-friendly,” which you might think would imply that more venture debt was being used, overall. That was my read, at least. From the same survey, two related data points explain why venture debt has a place in the market: 86% of providers felt that “venture debt was key to extend the company’s runway to reach an important milestone,” while just over a quarter of founders agreed. Regardless of who is right on that point, venture debt has seen impressive growth in recent years. Via PitchBook, here are updated venture debt metrics for the United States through 2019:

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Jen Laloup Contributor Jen Laloup is CEO of Mobile Growth Association. Latin America (LATAM) is home to one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world. In 2018, there were 326 million mobile internet users in the region, and that figure is anticipated to increase to over 422 million users by 2025. Part of the reason for such exponential growth is that mobile is the main tool for internet access in Latin America, providing a portable way for people living in rural areas to get online. The social media boom and rise in messaging platforms in recent years have also spurred demand for optimized mobile services. As mobile penetration continues in LATAM, it is facilitating innovative apps that promote opportunities for social mobility, financial control, access to overseas markets and societal development. And while a difference in maturity levels and local regulations dictates the mobile landscape for individual countries, there are visible trends throughout the region. These trends are both reactions to LATAM’s unique mobile conditions and broader international influences, so can be telling of future mobile user expectations and behaviors. By recognizing and assimilating these trends, new mobile apps and services can disrupt the market in a more meaningful way. Here are the current and upcoming trends of mobile growth across Latin America: Digital wallets Approximately 70% of Latin America’s population is unbanked or underbanked, meaning there is a huge opportunity to improve financial access. One emerging solution is digital wallets, which work via top-ups and don’t require a bank account with a physical company or branch to set up. Digital wallets, therefore, bypass the mistrust that many Latin Americans have around official banking institutions. COVID-19 has certainly contributed to the heightened demand for mobile wallets in LATAM. As a predominantly cash-driven location, concerns about handling paper money have been confirmed as new studies reveal that the virus can survive on physical currency for 28 days. In turn, masses of citizens and consumers have begun looking for safer alternatives to cash. In Mexico, digital wallets are thought to occupy a 27.7% share of the business-to-consumer e-commerce payments market by 2021, while Argentina has also been showing high in-store use of digital wallets during the pandemic. Over in Venezuela, AirTM’s digital wallet has been processing funds promised by interim President Guaidó to essential workers. The company has been instrumental in delivering the money to healthcare staff after the Maduro regime blocked the provider operating in the country. Beyond financial aid, digital wallets in Venezuela and other countries with high inflation rates mean locals don’t have to carry large amounts of bills and coins with them.

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posted about 16 hours ago on techcrunch
Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is launching a debit card in the U.S. this winter. Customers can join the waitlist and get the Coinbase Card whenever it is available. Coinbase already launched the Coinbase Card in the U.K. and Europe. The Coinbase Card is a Visa debit card that works with any Visa-compatible payment terminal, online checkout interface and ATM. It works with a mobile app that lets you control how you want to spend your cryptocurrencies. In the U.S., customers get a virtual card immediately after signing up, and a plastic card within two weeks. You don’t need to liquidate your cryptocurrencies in order to spend them in a store. Coinbase can do that for you when the transaction occurs. That’s why you can select between all your crypto balances for your upcoming transactions in the app. The Coinbase Card should support many cryptocurrencies currently available on Coinbase, including USDC. While Coinbase has released a separate app for European customers, you’ll be able to manage the card from the main Coinbase app in the U.S. The card withdraws money from your Coinbase account directly. You don’t need to transfer your tokens to another wallet. In the U.S., Coinbase Card users will also earn rewards. The company says that you could earn up to 4% back in Stellar Lumens or 1% back in Bitcoin. You can select one reward at a time and rewards will be refreshed regularly. Unlike in Europe, you won’t have to pay any issuance fee in the U.S. But there will be some fees. The company charges 2.49% in crypto liquidation fees. There’s one exception to the crypto liquidation fees. If you’re using your USDC balance, there’s no fee to spend your USDC using the card. There are some foreign transaction fees and ATM limits on top of that as well. But some customers might be focusing on convenience. And it’s true that a debit card is much more useful than a bitcoin wallet when you want to shop in-store. Coinbase becomes a Visa Principal Member to double down on debit card Coinbase launches debit card in the UK

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posted about 17 hours ago on techcrunch
Musicians have taken issue with Spotify’s artist compensation for about as long as there’s been a Spotify. Making a living as a musician is difficult enough for the vast majority of those who are brave — or perhaps foolish — enough to attempt such things, but being thrown in a seemingly endless global pandemic has made it near impossible for many. This week the Music Workers Union (UMAW) launched a campaign aimed at highlighting some of the issues around the streaming giant’s model. There are demands, as well. At the top of the list is a seemingly small one: one cent per stream on the service. Justice at Spotify has its own site, along with a petition, asking artists to sign on. “With the entire live music ecosystem in jeopardy due to the coronavirus pandemic, music workers are more reliant on streaming income than ever,” the org writes. “We are calling on Spotify to deliver increased royalty payments, transparency in their practices, and to stop fighting artists. Organization rep Damon Krukowski told TechCrunch that the reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive among artists. And, as anticipated, less so among some in the industry. “Response to our Justice at Spotify campaign from musicians has been quick and positive — we are about to hit 10,000 signatures by artists in only the first 48 hours,” Krukowski writes. “At the same time, response from certain corners of the industry has been as cold as we expected: ‘you’re just musicians and don’t understand business,’ is the basic gist of it. To which I would say: the problem we are calling attention to is precisely that musicians have been left out of the conversation! We always come last in payment, and in consultation — even though our work is what the streaming business is built on.” The growing list of signees includes a number of prominent names — including, unsurprisingly, many in indie music who have been disproportionally hurt by changing models and the current lockdown. Names include Thurston Moore, Saul Williams, Ezra Furman, New Bomb Turk, Frankie Cosmos, Guy Picciotto, Speedy Ortiz and Mary Lattimore. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek caused a storm of controversy in July with seemingly callous comments about artist compensation as live shows have all but completely dried up during the pandemic. “Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape,” he told Music Ally, “where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” Meanwhile, the service has poured millions into content and startup acquisitions to gain a foothold in the podcast industry. That includes a $100 million acquisition of the Joe Rogan Experience, which continues to cause controversy among the public and, reportedly, Spotify’s own staff. We’ve reached out to Spotify for comment and will update accordingly when we hear back. Krukowski says the next steps for the organization will largely depend on the response from Spotify and the will of its members. “We have ideas for next steps in this campaign but that will depend on how it is received by both our fellow musicians, and Spotify,” he says. Spotify signs ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ to an exclusive multi-year deal

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