posted less than an hour ago on techcrunch
Rocket Lab is launching a rideshare mission today which includes seven small satellites from a number of different companies, including primary payload provider Canon, which is flying a satellite equipped with the camera-maker’s Earth imaging technology, including high-res photo capture equipment. The Electron rocket that Rocket Lab is flying today will also carry five Planet SuperDove Earth-Observation satellites, as well as a CubeSat from In-Space missions. The launch, which is named ‘Pics or It Didn’t Happen’ is set to take place during a window which opens at 5:19 PM EDT (2:19 PM PDT) and extends until 6:03 PM EDT (3:03 PM EDT), lifting off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. To check it out live, tune in directly via Rocket Lab’s website here – the live stream should begin around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window. This is Rocket Lab’s third flight this year, and while the company is still in the process of developing and testing its rocket booster recovery program, this mission won’t include any booster recovery attempt. This is the company’s 13th Electron flight, and the next planned test in that system’s development is set for flight 17.

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posted about 1 hour ago on techcrunch
Hundreds of tech-oriented startups worth a billion or more dollars had envisioned successful public offerings before the pandemic hit. But new tech listings slowed to nearly nothing this spring as companies have tried to adjust to the profound changes sweeping the world. Today, more and more companies are back to their previous plans, with Lemonade and Accolade finding an enthusiastic public this week, following Agora’s pop last Friday, as Alex Wilhelm has been covering. The first big tech IPO this week was in online insurance, the second in health, and despite both being in promising markets, the valuations are quite a bit higher than their business realities to date. Here’s more, from his analysis on Extra Crunch: Lemonade is being valued at more than 15x the value of its annualized Q1 revenue despite not sporting the gross margins you might expect investors to demand for it to merit that SaaS valuation. And Accolade only expects to grow by about 20% in Q2 2020 compared to its year-ago results while probably losing more money. But who cares? The IPO market is standing there with open arms today (there’s always another IPO cliché lurking). The read of this is impossibly simple: However open we thought that the IPO market was before, it is even more welcoming. For companies on the sidelines, like Palantir, Airbnb, DoorDash and Asana, you have to wonder what they are waiting for. Sure, you can raise more private capital like Palantir and DoorDash have, but so what; if you want to defend your valuation, isn’t this the market that was hoped for? He also takes a look at a few more companies getting ready to file, including banking software company nCino and GoHealth, an insurance portal that was bought by a private equity firm last year, as well as gaming company DoubleDown Interactive. The general trend seems to be that initial stock pricing has stayed more conservative than how public markets are feeling. Startup survey shows remote is new normal already “Early-stage startups are confident of re-opening their offices in the wake of the COVID-19 within the next six months,” writes Mike Butcher for TechCrunch this week. “But there will be changes.” Here’s more from our UK-based editor-at-large: An exclusive survey compiled by Founders Forum, with TechCrunch, found 63% of those surveyed said they would only re-open in either 1-3 months or 3-6 months — even if the government advises [sic] that it is safe to do so before then. A minority have re-opened their offices, while 10% have closed their office permanently. The full survey results can be found here. However, there will clearly be long-term impact on the model of office working, with a majority of those surveyed saying they would now move to either a flexible remote working model (some with permanent offices, some without), but only a small number plan a “normal” return to work. A very small number plan to go fully “remote.” Many cited the continuing benefits of face-to-face interaction when trying to build the team culture so crucial with early-stage companies. Title insurance is getting the tech competition it deserves A lot of people are thinking harder about homeownership as they wait out quarantines — but real estate is still an old-fashioned industry, layered with complexities and surprising costs that can keep a dream purchase out of reach. Title insurance is a great example. A one-time cost to protect buyers and sellers during the closing process, it can extend the purchase process by a month or two, in addition to potentially adding thousands of dollars in costs. But various new regulations and rulings have combined with the larger trends in SaaS to open up the market. Here’s more, in a detailed guest post for Extra Crunch from Ashley Paston of Bain Capital Ventures: In a very short period of time, we’ve seen startups take advantage of this new, more competitive landscape by offering solutions to streamline the task of getting title insurance. Qualia, for example, offers an end-to-end platform that connects all parties involved in a real estate transaction, so title agents can manage and coordinate all aspects of the process in real time. San Francisco-based States Title, for example, uses a predictive underwriting engine that produces nearly instantaneous title assessment, dramatically reducing the cost and time required to issue a policy. Qualia and States Title are among several companies hoping to revolutionize title insurance and they reflect the two emerging meta-trends. The first trend, enablement, consists of companies developing technology designed to integrate with incumbent real estate businesses… The second trend, disruption, consists of companies displacing incumbent real estate business altogether. Image Credits: Black Innovation Alliance Tech diversity stays in focus The tech industry has talked about making its opportunities available to all for many years, and struggled to deliver. But more than a month after George Floyd was killed, this time is still feeling different. One example is .fm, a viral sort of insidery prank from last weekend that a diverse small group of friends in tech created and turned into a successful grassroots fundraiser for racial justice organizations (it was not a VC fundraising stunt). “In one fell swoop,” veteran product leader Ravi Mehta wrote for TechCrunch, “the team chastised Silicon Valley’s use of exclusivity as a marketing tactic, trolled thirsty VCs for their desire to always be first on the next big thing, deftly leveraged the virality of Twitter to build awareness and channeled that awareness into dollars that will have a real impact on groups too often overlooked.” Meanwhile, a group of Black startup founders and the Transparent Collective created a public spreadsheet to provide a comprehensive list of every VC who has backed a Black founder in the US, and the umbrella Black Innovation Alliance launched to help hundreds of related Black-focused tech and entrepreneurship organizations connect and support each other. Efforts like these, combined with a real generational willingness to address the structural problems, are what can make the difference finally. Why AR has mostly failed (so far) Augmented reality concepts may become a core part of how people live in the future, but the first wave of companies in the space have not fared well. Here’s why, from Lucas Matney on Extra Crunch: The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption. Instead, he says success will come from nailing the use-cases first, and not messing around with complex developer platforms and expensive hardware. Around TechCrunch Hear Charles Hudson explain how to sell an idea (without a product) at Early Stage Get your pitchdeck critiqued by Accel’s Amy Saper and Bessemer’s Talia Goldberg at Early Stage Pioneering CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna is coming to Disrupt One week only: Score 4th of July discounts on Disrupt 2020 passes Sale: Save 25% on annual Extra Crunch membership Extra Crunch is now available in Greece, Ireland and Portugal Extra Crunch expands into Romania Across the week TechCrunch Global app revenue jumps to $50B in the first half of 2020, in part due to COVID-19 impacts Let’s stop COVID-19 from undoing diversity gains Strap in — a virtual Tour de France is coming this weekend US suspends export of sensitive tech to Hong Kong as China passes new national security law India bans TikTok, dozens of other Chinese apps Extra Crunch Top LA investors discuss the city’s post-COVID-19 prospects 13 Boston-focused venture capitalists talk green shoots and startup recovery How $20 billion health care behemoth Blue Shield of California sees startups From napkin notes to term sheets: A chat with Inspired Capital’s Alexa von Tobel Where to open a game studio Are virtual concerts here to stay? #EquityPod From Alex: Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. Before we dive in, don’t forget that the show is on Twitter now, so follow us there if you want to see discarded headline ideas, outtakes from the show that got cut, and more. It’s fun! Back to task, listen, we’re tired too. But we didn’t let that stop us from packing this week’s Equity to the very gills with news and notes and jokes and fun. Hopefully you can chuckle along with myself and Natasha and Danny and Chris on the dials as we riffed through all of this: Journalism, venture capitalists, and not being a colossal jerk: Listen in for more, but there’s once again a brouhaha in the world of technology twitter and media twitter concerning whether journalists should write more positive things about tech companies (no), and if venture capitalists are a bit too thin-skinned for their net worth (yes). Lemonade’s IPO went kaboom out of the gate, more than doubling in value. But the CEO isn’t too worried. I spoke with him before we recorded and he was more interested in getting a bedrock of solid, long-term investors than extracting every possible dollar in their raise. And Lemonade had a bunch of money already, so it wasn’t a huge concern. We also spent a minute on the possible Uber-Postmates deal, that could get announced early next week. That or Postmates really is serious about going public. We’ll see. Next up we had to talk about Mirror, Lululemon, and what’s up with home fitness. Is the trend here to stay? Natasha thinks so, and the rest of the crew are pretty bullish as well. Especially as it is not like we are going to get back to life anytime soon. After that it was time to get to a few funding rounds, including the latest from Neo.Tax, and a check-in on the early-stage Lessonbee, which sounds really cool. We also crammed in a quick word on Contrary Capital and startup mafias, the Envision accelerator, Discord’s latest $100 million round, and we closed with the Final Luckin Letdown. Whew! Right, that’s our ep. Hugs from the team and have a lovely weekend. You are all tremendous and we appreciate you spending part of your day with the four of us. Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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posted about 3 hours ago on techcrunch
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis. This week, we’re tracking the continued ramifications of the in-app purchases incident ignited by Basecamp, which has emboldened more developers to voice their gripes with Apple publicly in the past few days. The app stores are also this week enmeshed in world of politics, ranging from the India-China border dispute to apps impacted by China’s big brother-esque regulations to the latest with Apple’s antitrust probe. HEADLINES Dozens of Chinese apps banned in India In a major upset to mobile app businesses competing on a global stage, India this week blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms, due to concerns that the apps were engaging in activities that threatened the “national security and defense of India,” according to the Indian government. The ban itself is a political power move as it follows deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along the disputed Himalayan border in June, which led to the death of at least 20 Indian soldiers on June 16. (China didn’t disclose its casualties.) Indian government officials claimed they had received reports of the apps stealing and transmitting user data in an unauthorized manner to servers outside the country. This is what necessitated the ban, they said. India’s move could prove to have larger repercussions, as it sets the stage for a world where Chinese internet companies are excluded from key markets. This isn’t something that’s limited to apps, of course. For instance, the  U.S. is rallying its allies to stop using Huawei technologies for 5G. But China’s policies could mean its more successful apps, like TikTok, will lose key markets and therefore, forfeit revenue and power. India’s ban threatens TikTok’s growth in a key market  The move to ban the Chinese apps in India most notably impacts TikTok. To date, India had been the app’s largest overseas market until now, with some 200M+ users across around 611M lifetime downloads. In the most recent quarter, TikTok and the 58 other banned apps combined, had been downloaded around 330M times. The ban is estimated to impact roughly one in three smartphone users in India, according to research firm Counterpoint. Google and Apple began to comply with New Delhi’s order on Thursday, to prevent Indian users from accessing the banned apps. In addition, India’s Department of Telecommunications ordered telecom networks and ISPs to block access to those 59 apps immediately. Kevin Mayer, the chief executive of TikTok, said on Wednesday his app was in compliance with Indian privacy and security requirements and he was looking forward to meeting with various stakeholders in the Indian government to discuss.

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posted about 22 hours ago on techcrunch
Tesla has opened up reservations for its all-electric Cybertruck to customers in China, a move that will test the market’s appetite for a massive, futuristic truck. The reservations page on Tesla’s China website was first posted in Reddit channel r/teslamotors by user u/aaronhry. Electrek also reported on the Reddit post. The Cybertruck, which was unveiled in November at the Tesla Design Center in Hawthorne, Calif., isn’t expected to go into production until late 2022. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of U.S. consumers to plunk down a $100 refundable deposit for the truck. Just weeks after the official unveiling, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that there were 250,000 reservations for the vehicle. Tesla is now testing potential interest among Chinese consumers. It’s impossible to predict how many of these reservations — in China and the U.S. — will convert to actual sales. It will be more than a year before there are any answers. Tesla hasn’t even finalized its decision of where it will build the vehicle. Musk tweeted in March that Tesla was scouting locations for a factory that would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market as well as the Cybertruck.  At the time, Musk said that the factory would be located in the central part of the United States. Initially, Tesla was eyeing Nashville and had been in talks with officials there. The company has since turned its attention to Austin and Tulsa. Talks in Austin have progressed rapidly and it appears likely that the factory will end up in a location just outside of the city. Although Tulsa officials have been quick to note that talks with Tesla have continued there as well. Tesla has said it will offer three variants of the Cybertruck. The cheapest version, a single motor and rear-wheel drive model, will cost $39,900, have a towing capacity of 7,500 pounds and more than 250 miles of range. The middle version will be a dual-motor all-wheel drive, have a towing capacity of more than 10,000 pounds and be able to travel more than 300 miles on a single charge. The dual motor AWD model is priced at $49,900. The third version will have three electric motors and all-wheel drive, a towing capacity of 14,000 pounds and battery range of more than 500 miles. This version, known as “tri motor,” is priced at $69,900.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Computer vision summit CVPR has just (virtually) taken place, and like other CV-focused conferences, there are quite a few interesting papers. More than I could possibly write up individually, in fact, so I’ve collected the most promising ones from major companies here. Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft all shared papers at the conference — and others too, I’m sure — but I’m sticking to the big hitters for this column. (If you’re interested in the papers deemed most meritorious by attendees and judges, the nominees and awards are listed here.) Microsoft Redmond has the most interesting papers this year, in my opinion, because they cover several nonobvious real-life needs. One is documenting that shoebox we or perhaps our parents filled with old 3x5s and other film photos. Of course there are services that help with this already, but if photos are creased, torn, or otherwise damaged, you generally just get a high-resolution scan of that damage. Microsoft has created a system to automatically repair such photos, and the results look mighty good. Image Credits: Google The problem is as much identifying the types of degradation a photo suffers from as it is fixing them. The solution is simple, write the authors: “We propose a novel triplet domain translation network by leveraging real photos along with massive synthetic image pairs.” Amazing no one tried it before!

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Gary M. Shiffman Contributor Share on Twitter Gary M. Shiffman, Ph.D., is the author of "The Economics of Violence: How Behavioral Science Can Transform our View of Crime, Insurgency, and Terrorism". He teaches economic science and national security at Georgetown University and is founder and CEO of Giant Oak, the creator of Giant Oak Search Technology. Since widespread protests over racial inequality began, IBM announced it would cancel its facial recognition programs to advance racial equity in law enforcement. Amazon suspended police use of its Rekognition software for one year to “put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology.” But we need more than regulatory change; the entire field of artificial intelligence (AI) must mature out of the computer science lab and accept the embrace of the entire community. We can develop amazing AI that works in the world in largely unbiased ways. But to accomplish this, AI can’t be just a subfield of computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE), like it is right now. We must create an academic discipline of AI that takes the complexity of human behavior into account. We need to move from computer science-owned AI to computer science-enabled AI. The problems with AI don’t occur in the lab; they occur when scientists move the tech into the real world of people. Training data in the CS lab often lacks the context and complexity of the world you and I inhabit. This flaw perpetuates biases. AI-powered algorithms have been found to display bias against people of color and against women. In 2014, for example, Amazon found that an AI algorithm it developed to automate headhunting taught itself to bias against female candidates. MIT researchers reported in January 2019 that facial recognition software is less accurate in identifying humans with darker pigmentation. Most recently, in a study late last year by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), researchers found evidence of racial bias in nearly 200 facial recognition algorithms. In spite of the countless examples of AI errors, the zeal continues. This is why the IBM and Amazon announcements generated so much positive news coverage. Global use of artificial intelligence grew by 270% from 2015 to 2019, with the market expected to generate revenue of $118.6 billion by 2025. According to Gallup, nearly 90% Americans are already using AI products in their everyday lives – often without even realizing it. Beyond a 12-month hiatus, we must acknowledge that while building AI is a technology challenge, using AI requires non-software development heavy disciplines such as social science, law and politics. But despite our increasingly ubiquitous use of AI, AI as a field of study is still lumped into the fields of CS and CE. At North Carolina State University, for example, algorithms and AI are taught in the CS program. MIT houses the study of AI under both CS and CE. AI must make it into humanities programs, race and gender studies curricula, and business schools. Let’s develop an AI track in political science departments. In my own program at Georgetown University, we teach AI and Machine Learning concepts to Security Studies students. This needs to become common practice. Without a broader approach to the professionalization of AI, we will almost certainly perpetuate biases and discriminatory practices in existence today. We just may discriminate at a lower cost — not a noble goal for technology. We require the intentional establishment of a field of AI whose purpose is to understand the development of neural networks and the social contexts into which the technology will be deployed. In computer engineering, a student studies programming and computer fundamentals. In computer science, they study computational and programmatic theory, including the basis of algorithmic learning. These are solid foundations for the study of AI – but they should only be considered components. These foundations are necessary for understanding the field of AI but not sufficient on their own. For the population to gain comfort with broad deployment of AI so that tech companies like Amazon and IBM, and countless others, can deploy these innovations, the entire discipline needs to move beyond the CS lab. Those who work in disciplines like psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience are needed. Understanding human behavior patterns, biases in data generation processes are needed. I could not have created the software I developed to identify human trafficking, money laundering and other illicit behaviors without my background in behavioral science. Responsibly managing machine learning processes is no longer just a desirable component of progress but a necessary one. We have to recognize the pitfalls of human bias and the errors of replicating these biases in the machines of tomorrow, and the social sciences and humanities provide the keys. We can only accomplish this if a new field of AI, encompassing all of these disciplines, is created.

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Earlier this week, GGV Capital’s Jeff Richards and Hans Tung joined TechCrunch for an Extra Crunch Live session. During our hour-long chat, we touched on startup profitability, the global venture capital scene, why GGV doesn’t have an office in Europe, how the venture industry is responding to its stark lack of diversity and other issues. When it comes to useful bits of information, this was perhaps the most useful Extra Crunch Live discussion in which I’ve participated. One moment that stood out came early in the chat when we were talking about COVID-19-driven headwinds and tailwinds and how many startups might be in trouble. Richards said the following (emphasis via TechCrunch): “You know, the one thing that’s been remarkable for me — I was in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur in the ’99, 2000 dot-com bubble, and 9/11. I was here in ’08, ’09 — I think there is a level of resiliency in Silicon Valley that we did not have 10 years ago and 20 years ago. I don’t have data to point to that. But we have been saying now for a few months that we’ve been blown away at the level of maturity, calmness, perseverance [and] resiliency that our companies and the founders and management teams have. On an emotional level, it’s been very heartwarming, because you hope to back the kind of people that are building real companies that can withstand challenges. I think the corollary to that is you’ve seen companies that raised a ton of money and were burning a ton of cash and weren’t building very good businesses, a lot of those frankly went under in Q1 or are going under now. They haven’t been able to raise more cash and they’re just kind of dead.” Both Richards and Tung were positive about their own portfolio companies’ recent performance and financial health (cash position, really). But it appears that not only are their portfolios doing well, but other startups are a bit more solid than in previous downturns. On the flip side, however, there is a separate cohort of startups that were running inefficiently before and are now perhaps unfundable. Reading both points in unison, it appears that the startup market is bifurcating between the companies that will come out of the COVID-19 era unwounded, and those that are suffering. And the companies that weren’t the most cash hungry probably have the highest chance of being in the first bucket. There’s a lot more to get to. So hit the jump for the full video and audio, and a few more of the best bits from the transcript. (You can snag a cheap Extra Crunch trial here if you need one.) Oh, and don’t forget to stay up to date on coming chats. There’s still a lot to do. The full chat Here’s the full video rewind. Our favorite bits of the transcript follow:

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posted 1 day ago on techcrunch
Welcome back to our $100 million annual recurring revenue (ARR) series, in which we take irregular looks at companies that have reached material scale while still private. The goal of our project is simple: uncovering companies of real worth beyond how they are valued by private investors. The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription. It’s all well and good to get a $1 billion valuation, call yourself a unicorn and march around like you invented the internet. But reaching material revenue scale means that, unlike some highly valued companies, you’re actually hard to kill. (And more valuable, and more likely to go public, we reckon.) Before we dive into today’s new companies, keep in mind that we’ve expanded the type of company that can make it into the $100M ARR club to include companies that reach a $100 million annual run rate pace. Why? Because we don’t only want to collect SaaS companies, and if we could go back in time we’d probably draw a different box around the companies we are tracking. $100M ARR or bust If you need to catch up, you can find the two most recent entries in the series here and here. For everyone who’s current, today we are adding Snow Software, A Cloud Guru, Zeta Global and Upgrade to the club. Let’s go! Snow Software Just this week, Snow Software announced that it has crossed the $100 million ARR mark, according to a release shared with TechCrunch. The Swedish software asset management company has raised a few private rounds, including a $120 million private equity round in 2017. But, unlike many American companies that make this list, we don’t have a historical record of needing extensive private capital to scale.

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When Troy Hunt launched Have I Been Pwned in late 2013, he wanted it to answer a simple question: Have you fallen victim to a data breach? Seven years later, the data-breach notification service processes thousands of requests each day from users who check to see if their data was compromised — or pwned with a hard ‘p’ — by the hundreds of data breaches in its database, including some of the largest breaches in history. As it’s grown, now sitting just below the 10 billion breached-records mark, the answer to Hunt’s original question is more clear. “Empirically, it’s very likely,” Hunt told me from his home on Australia’s Gold Coast. “For those of us that have been on the internet for a while it’s almost a certainty.” What started out as Hunt’s pet project to learn the basics of Microsoft’s cloud, Have I Been Pwned quickly exploded in popularity, driven in part by its simplicity to use, but largely by individuals’ curiosity. As the service grew, Have I Been Pwned took on a more proactive security role by allowing browsers and password managers to bake in a backchannel to Have I Been Pwned to warn against using previously breached passwords in its database. It was a move that also served as a critical revenue stream to keep down the site’s running costs. But Have I Been Pwned’s success should be attributed almost entirely to Hunt, both as its founder and its only employee, a one-man band running an unconventional startup, which, despite its size and limited resources, turns a profit. As the workload needed to support Have I Been Pwned ballooned, Hunt said the strain of running the service without outside help began to take its toll. There was an escape plan: Hunt put the site up for sale. But, after a tumultuous year, he is back where he started. Ahead of its next big 10-billion milestone mark, Have I Been Pwned shows no signs of slowing down. ‘Mother of all breaches’ Even long before Have I Been Pwned, Hunt was no stranger to data breaches. By 2011, he had cultivated a reputation for collecting and dissecting small — for the time — data breaches and blogging about his findings. His detailed and methodical analyses showed time and again that internet users were using the same passwords from one site to another. So when one site was breached, hackers already had the same password to a user’s other online accounts. Then came the Adobe breach, the “mother of all breaches” as Hunt described it at the time: Over 150 million user accounts had been stolen and were floating around the web. Hunt obtained a copy of the data and, with a handful of other breaches he had already collected, loaded them into a database searchable by a person’s email address, which Hunt saw as the most common denominator across all the sets of breached data. And Have I Been Pwned was born. It didn’t take long for its database to swell. Breached data from Sony, Snapchat and Yahoo soon followed, racking up millions more records in its database. Have I Been Pwned soon became the go-to site to check if you had been breached. Morning news shows would blast out its web address, resulting in a huge spike in users — enough at times to briefly knock the site offline. Hunt has since added some of the biggest breaches in the internet’s history: MySpace, Zynga, Adult Friend Finder, and several huge spam lists. As Have I Been Pwned grew in size and recognition, Hunt remained its sole proprietor, responsible for everything from organizing and loading the data into the database to deciding how the site should operate, including its ethics. Hunt takes a “what do I think makes sense” approach to handling other people’s breached personal data. With nothing to compare Have I Been Pwned to, Hunt had to write the rules for how he handles and processes so much breach data, much of it highly sensitive. He does not claim to have all of the answers, but relies on transparency to explain his rationale, detailing his decisions in lengthy blog posts. His decision to only let users search for their email address makes logical sense, driven by the site’s only mission, at the time, to tell a user if they had been breached. But it was also a decision centered around user privacy that helped to future-proof the service against some of the most sensitive and damaging data he would go on to receive. In 2015, Hunt obtained the Ashley Madison breach. Millions of people had accounts on the site, which encourages users to have an affair. The breach made headlines, first for the breach, and again when several users died by suicide in its wake. The hack of Ashley Madison was one of the most sensitive entered into Have I Been Pwned, and ultimately changed how Hunt approached data breaches that involved people’s sexual preferences and other personal data. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File) Hunt diverged from his usual approach, acutely aware of its sensitivities. The breach was undeniably different. He recounted a story of one person who told him how their local church posted a list of the names of everyone in the town who was in the data breach. “It’s clearly casting a moral judgment,” he said, referring to the breach. “I don’t want Have I Been Pwned to enable that.” Unlike earlier, less sensitive breaches, Hunt decided that he would not allow anyone to search for the data. Instead, he purpose-built a new feature allowing users who had verified their email addresses to see if they were in more sensitive breaches. “The purposes for people being in that data breach were so much more nuanced than what anyone ever thought,” Hunt said. One user told him he was in there after a painful break-up and had since remarried but was labeled later as an adulterer. Another said she created an account to catch her husband, suspected of cheating, in the act. “There is a point at which being publicly searchable poses an unreasonable risk to people, and I make a judgment call on that,” he explained. The Ashely Madison breach reinforced his view on keeping as little data as possible. Hunt frequently fields emails from data breach victims asking for their data, but he declines every time. “It really would not have served my purpose to load all of the personal data into Have I Been Pwned and let people look up their phone numbers, their sexualities, or whatever was exposed in various data breaches,” said Hunt. “If Have I Been Pwned gets pwned, it’s just email addresses,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen, but it’s a very different situation if, say, there were passwords.” But those remaining passwords haven’t gone to waste. Hunt also lets users search more than half a billion standalone passwords, allowing users to search to see if any of their passwords have also landed in Have I Been Pwned. Anyone — even tech companies — can access that trove of Pwned Passwords, he calls it. Browser makers and password managers, like Mozilla and 1Password, have baked-in access to Pwned Passwords to help prevent users from using a previously breached and vulnerable password. Western governments, including the U.K. and Australia, also rely on Have I Been Pwned to monitor for breached government credentials, which Hunt also offers for free. “It’s enormously validating,” he said. “Governments, for the most part, are trying to do things to keep countries and individuals safe — working under extreme duress and they don’t get paid much,” he said. “There have been similar services that have popped up. They’ve been for-profit — and they’ve been indicted.” Troy Hunt Hunt recognizes that Have I Been Pwned, as much as openness and transparency is core to its operation, lives in an online purgatory under which any other circumstances — especially in a commercial enterprise — he would be drowning in regulatory hurdles and red tape. And while the companies whose data Hunt loads into his database would probably prefer otherwise, Hunt told me he has never received a legal threat for running the service. “I’d like to think that Have I Been Pwned is at the far-legitimate side of things,” he said. Others who have tried to replicate the success of Have I Been Pwned haven’t been as lucky. “There have been similar services that have popped up,” said Hunt. “They’ve been for-profit — and they’ve been indicted,” he said. LeakedSource was, for a time, one of the largest sellers of breach data on the web. I know, because my reporting broke some of their biggest gets: music streaming service Last.fm, adult dating site AdultFriendFinder, and Russian internet giant Rambler.ru to name a few. But what caught the attention of federal authorities was that LeakedSource, whose operator later pleaded guilty to charges related to trafficking identity theft information, indiscriminately sold access to anyone else’s breach data. “There is a very legitimate case to be made for a service to give people access to their data at a price.” Hunt said he would “sleep perfectly fine” charging users a fee to access their data. “I just wouldn’t want to be accountable for it if it goes wrong,” he said. Project Svalbard Five years into Have I Been Pwned, Hunt could feel the burnout coming. “I could see a point where I would be if I didn’t change something,” he told me. “It really felt like for the sustainability of the project, something had to change.” He said he went from spending a fraction of his time on the project to well over half. Aside from juggling the day-to-day — collecting, organizing, deduplicating and uploading vast troves of breached data — Hunt was responsible for the entirety of the site’s back office upkeep — its billing and taxes — on top of his own. The plan to sell Have I Been Pwned was codenamed Project Svalbard, named after the Norweigian seed vault that Hunt likened Have I Been Pwned to, a massive stockpile of “something valuable for the betterment of humanity,” he wrote announcing the sale in June 2019. It would be no easy task. Hunt said the sale was to secure the future of the service. It was also a decision that would have to secure his own. “They’re not buying Have I Been Pwned, they’re buying me,” said Hunt. “Without me, there’s just no deal.” In his blog post, Hunt spoke of his wish to build out the service and reach a larger audience. But, he told me, it was not about the money As its sole custodian, Hunt said that as long as someone kept paying the bills, Have I Been Pwned would live on. “But there was no survivorship model to it,” he admitted. “I’m just one person doing this.” By selling Have I Been Pwned, the goal was a more sustainable model that took the pressure off him, and, he joked, the site wouldn’t collapse if he got eaten by a shark, an occupational hazard for living in Australia. But chief above all, the buyer had to be the perfect fit. Hunt met with dozens of potential buyers, and many in Silicon Valley. He knew what the buyer would look like, but he didn’t yet have a name. Hunt wanted to ensure that whomever bought Have I Been Pwned upheld its reputation. “Imagine a company that had no respect for personal data and was just going to abuse the crap out of it,” he said. “What does that do for me?” Some potential buyers were driven by profits. Hunt said any profits were “ancillary.” Buyers were only interested in a deal that would tie Hunt to their brand for years, buying the exclusivity to his own recognition and future work — that’s where the value in Have I Been Pwned is. Hunt was looking for a buyer with whom he knew Have I Been Pwned would be safe if he were no longer involved. “It was always about a multiyear plan to try and transfer the confidence and trust people have in me to some other organizations,” he said. Hunt testifies to the House Energy Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) The vetting process and due diligence was “insane,” said Hunt. “Things just drew out and drew out,” he said. The process went on for months. Hunt spoke candidly about the stress of the year. “I separated from my wife early last year around about the same time as the [sale process],” he said. They later divorced. “You can imagine going through this at the same time as the separation,” he said. “It was enormously stressful.” Then, almost a year later, Hunt announced the sale was off. Barred from discussing specifics thanks to non-disclosure agreements, Hunt wrote in a blog post that the buyer, whom he was set on signing with, made an unexpected change to their business model that “made the deal infeasible.” “It came as a surprise to everyone when it didn’t go through,” he told me. It was the end of the road. Looking back, Hunt maintains it was “the right thing” to walk away. But the process left him back at square one without a buyer and personally down hundreds of thousands in legal fees. After a bruising year for his future and his personal life, Hunt took time to recoup, clambering for a normal schedule after an exhausting year. Then the coronavirus hit. Australia fared lightly in the pandemic by international standards, lifting its lockdown after a brief quarantine. Hunt said he will keep running Have I Been Pwned. It wasn’t the outcome he wanted or expected, but Hunt said he has no immediate plans for another sale. For now it’s “business as usual,” he said. In June alone, Hunt loaded over 102 million records into Have I Been Pwned’s database. Relatively speaking, it was a quiet month. “We’ve lost control of our data as individuals,” he said. But not even Hunt is immune. At close to 10 billion records, Hunt has been ‘pwned’ more than 20 times, he said. Earlier this year Hunt loaded a massive trove of email addresses from a marketing database — dubbed ‘Lead Hunter’ — some 68 million records fed into Have I Been Pwned. Hunt said someone had scraped a ton of publicly available web domain record data and repurposed it as a massive spam database. But someone left that spam database on a public server, without a password, for anyone to find. Someone did, and passed the data to Hunt. Like any other breach, he took the data, loaded it in Have I Been Pwned, and sent out email notifications to the millions who have subscribed. “Job done,” he said. “And then I got an email from Have I Been Pwned saying I’d been pwned.” He laughed. “It still surprises me the places that I turn up.” Related stories: Have I Been Pwned is looking for a new owner 1Password nets partnership with ‘Have I Been Pwned’ After account hacks, Twitch streamers take security into their own hands Oracle’s BlueKai tracks you across the web. That data spilled online We found a massive spam operation — and sunk its server

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The pandemic hasn’t slowed down dating app S’More — at least according to CEO Adam Cohen-Aslatei, who said that the app’s daily active user count doubled in March and hasn’t gone down since. “When people are working form home, they have much more time to dedicate to their relationships,” Cohen-Aslatei told me. The app (whose name is short for “something more”) launched last fall and has supposedly attracted nearly 50,000 users. The goal is to move beyond the superficiality of most dating apps, where you first learn about another user and then unlock visual elements (like a profile photo) as you interact. Cohen-Aslatei said the team has also spent more on marketing to attract a diverse audience, both in terms of racial diversity (something S’more reinforces by not allowing users to filter by race) and sexual orientation, with 15% of users identifying as LGBTQ. Of course, dating someone new can be challenging when meeting up in-person poses real health risks, but Cohen-Aslatei said S’More users have gotten creative, like remote dinners where they order each other takeout from their favorite restaurants. And now that things are reopening (though some of those reopenings are getting pulled back), users are asking, “How do we transition these virtual relationships into IRL?” Image Credits: S’More To give users more ways to interact, the S’More team recently launched a video calling feature. But Cohen-Aslatei noted, “We had to to create it in a way that was really fitting for our app … Women actually don’t want to see a guy right away, when you don’t know if they’re a creep.” So in S’more’s video calling, the video is blurred for the first two minutes, which means you’ve got to actually start an interesting conversation before you can see who you’re talking to, and before they see you (a concept that may be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s dating show “Love is Blind”). S’More has also expanded geographically, launching last week in Los Angeles (it was already available in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago). And it recently started its a video series of its own on Instagram’s IGTV — the S’More Live Happy Hour, where celebrities offer dating advice. “There’s this negative history of dating apps perpetuating negative online behaviors, fake images, catfishers,” Cohen-Aslatei said. “But now we’re going into a new era of authenticity, where we’re going from super vain to super authentic. S’more is one of those apps that’s going to lead you in that direction.” S’More is a new dating app that looks to suspend physical attraction for something more

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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. Before we dive in, don’t forget that the show is on Twitter now, so follow us there if you want to see discarded headline ideas, outtakes from the that got cut, and more. It’s fun! Back to task, listen, we’re tired too. But we didn’t let that stop us from packing this week’s Equity to the very gills with news and notes and jokes and fun. Hopefully you can chuckle along with myself and Natasha and Danny and Chris on the dials as we riffed through all of this: Journalism, venture capitalists, and not being a colossal jerk: Listen in for more, but there’s once again a brouhaha in the world of technology twitter and media twitter concerning whether journalists should write more positive things about tech companies (no), and if venture capitalists are a bit too thin-skinned for their net worth (yes). Lemonade’s IPO went kaboom out of the gate, more than doubling in value. But the CEO isn’t too worried. I spoke with him before we recorded and he was more interested in getting a bedrock of solid, long-term investors than extracting every possible dollar in their raise. And Lemonade had a bunch of money already, so it wasn’t a huge concern. We also spent a minute on the possible Uber-Postmates deal, that could get announced early next week. That or Postmates really is serious about going public. We’ll see. Next up we had to talk about Mirror, Lululemon, and what’s up with home fitness. Is the trend here to stay? Natasha thinks so, and the rest of the crew are pretty bullish as well. Especially as it is not like we are going to get back to life anytime soon. After that it was time to get to a few funding rounds, including the latest from Neo.Tax, and a check-in on the early-stage Lessonbee, which sounds really cool. We also crammed in a quick word on Contrary Capital and startup mafias, the Envision accelerator, Discord’s latest $100 million round, and we closed with the Final Luckin Letdown. Whew! Right, that’s our ep. Hugs from the team and have a lovely weekend. You are all tremendous and we appreciate you spending part of your day with the four of us. Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 AM PT and Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit. The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm. OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds. The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus. OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose. Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.

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For two months, the people of Hong Kong waited in suspense after China’s legislature approved a new national security law. The legislation’s details were finally made public yesterday and almost immediately went into effect. As many Hong Kong residents feared, the broadly written new law gives Beijing extensive authority over the Special Administrative Region and has the potential to sharply curtail civil liberties. In response, the United States began the first measures to end the special status it gives to Hong Kong, with the Commerce and State Departments suspending export license exceptions for sensitive U.S. technology and blocking the export of defense equipment. Much remains uncertain. Hong Kong had also previously enjoyed many freedoms that do not exist in mainland China, under the “one country, two systems” principle put into place after the United Kingdom returned control to China. After announcing the new policies, the U.S. government said further restrictions are being considered. Under special status, Hong Kong had privileges including lower trade tariffs and a separate customs and immigration designation from mainland China, but now the future of those is unclear. Equally opaque is how the erosion of special status and the new national security law will impact Hong Kong’s startups in the future. In conversations with TechCrunch, investors and founders said they believe the region’s ecosystem is resilient, partly because many companies offer online services — especially financial services — and have already established operations in other markets. But they are also keeping an eye on further developments and preparing for the possibility that key talent will want to relocate to other countries.

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Jump bikes are returning to London — this time through its new owner Lime . London is the first city in Europe to see Jump bikes return since Uber offloaded the company to Lime in a complex deal that unfolded in May. Lime raised $170 million in a funding round led by Uber, along with other existing investors Alphabet, Bain Capital Ventures and GV. As part of the deal, Lime acquired Jump, the electric bike and scooter division that Uber acquired in 2018 for around $200 million. When the deal closed with Lime, thousands of Jump bikes were scrapped in the United States and the entire Jump team — some 400 employees — lost their jobs. Lime closed the acquisition of Jump in Europe several weeks after the transaction closed in the U.S. Until now, it was unclear if the Jump bikes in Europe would suffer the same fate as their counterparts in the United States. Thousands of Jump bikes were pulled off the streets in European cities such as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Malaga, Munich, Paris, Rome and Rotterdam. It’s unlikely that Lime will put Jump bikes back in all of these cities. Sources have said Lime plans to redeploy Jump scooters and bikes in London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. Today’s announcement appears to be the first step. For now, the Jump bikes will be available in the Uber app in London. The Jump bikes will be added to the Lime app at a later date as a result of ongoing systems integration, the company said. The fleet size will start at around 100 e-bikes and will grow based on demand. Pricing will be £1 unlock and 15p per minute thereafter. Bikes will be deployed in Camden and Islington, Lime said. Demand for bikes appears to have prompted Lime to bring Jump back into service. The company said that since lockdown restrictions have eased, Lime’s e-bike rental service has seen record usage. The micromobility company said users are taking longer journeys and the bikes are being used more frequently. Lime also recorded its highest-ever usage in a single day over a weekend in mid-June with more than 4,000 new users. Lime said its e-bike network has now facilitated over 1.5 million journeys across London. The reintroduction of Jump bikes in London is part of a broader plan by Lime to increase its presence in the city. Earlier this week, the UK announced that an e-scooter pilot program would begin Saturday. Lime said it has partnered with global insurance giant Allianz to provide coverage for Lime e-scooter riders in the UK. Lime said it co-designed a two-year safety campaign with Allianz that will run until March 2022.

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Intel said on Friday it will invest $253.5 million in Jio Platforms, joining a roster of high-profile investors including Facebook and Silver Lake that have backed India’s top telecom operator in recent months. The chipmaker’s investment arm said it is acquiring a 0.39% stake in Jio Platforms, giving the Indian firm a valuation of $65 billion. Intel Capital is the 12th investor to buy a stake in Jio Platforms, which has raised nearly $15.5 billion by selling a 25% stake since April this year. “Jio Platforms’ focus on applying its impressive engineering capabilities to bring the power of low-cost digital services to India aligns with Intel’s purpose of delivering breakthrough technology that enriches lives. We believe digital access and data can transform business and society for the better. Through this investment, we are excited to help fuel digital transformation in India, where Intel maintains an important presence,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel Capital President, in a statement. More to follow…

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You could be excused for thinking that German robotics company Festo does nothing but put together fabulous prototype robots built to resemble kangaroos, jellyfish, and other living things. They do in fact actually make real industrial robots, but it’s hard not to marvel at their biomimetic experiments; Case in point, the feathered BionicSwift and absurd BionicMobileAssistant motile arm. Festo already has a flying bird robot — I wrote about it almost 10 years ago. They even made a flying bat as a follow-up. But the BionicSwift is more impressive than both because, in an effort to more closely resemble its avian inspiration, it flies using artificial feathers. Image Credits: Festo “The individual lamellae [i.e. feathers] are made of an ultralight, flexible but very robust foam and lie on top of each other like shingles. Connected to a carbon quill, they are attached to the actual hand and arm wings as in the natural model,” Festo writes in its description of the robot. The articulating lamellae allow the wing to work like a bird’s, forming a powerful scoop on the downstroke to push against the air, but separating on the upstroke to produce less resistance. Everything is controlled on-board, including the indoor positioning system that the bird was ostensibly built to demonstrate. Flocks of BionicSwifts can fly in close quarters and avoid each other using an ultra wideband setup. Festo’s BionicMobileAssistant seems like it would be more practical, and in a way it is, but not by much. The robot is basically an arm emerging from a wheeled base — or rather a balled one. The spherical bottom is driven by three “omniwheels,” letting it move easily in any direction while minimizing its footprint. The hand is a showcase of modern robotic gripper design, with all kinds of state of the art tech packed in there — but the result is less than the sum of its parts. What makes a robotic hand good these days is less that it has a hundred sensors in the palm and fingers and huge motility for its thumb, but rather intelligence about what it is gripping. An unadorned pincer may be a better “hand” than one that looks like the real thing because of the software that backs it up. Not to mention the spherical movement strategy makes for something of an unstable base. It’s telling that the robot is transporting scarves and not plates of food or parts. Of course, it’s silly to criticize such a machine, which is aspirational rather than practical. But it’s important to understand that these fascinating creations from Festo are hints at a possible future more than anything.

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A day after formally completing the sale of Boost, Virgin and other Sprint prepaid networks to Dish, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on Sprint 5G. The move is one in a long list of issues that need sorting out in the wake of April’s $26.5 billion merger. And like a number of other moves, it’s set to leave some customers in the lurch. The end of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz 5G comes as T-Mobile opts to focus on its own network. T-Mobile already started the process in New York City, a few weeks after the merger and has since completed it in a handful of other cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. As CNET notes, while most existing Sprint 5G customers won’t be able to make the transition with their existing device, Samsung Galaxy S20 5G users are in the clear here. For everyone else, T-Mobile is offering up credits on leases for new 5G handsets. T-Mobile officially completes merger with Sprint, CEO John Legere steps down ahead of schedule T-Mobile told TechCrunch in a statement, “We are working to quickly re-deploy, optimize and test the 2.5GHz spectrum before lighting it up on the T-Mobile network.” Along with the sale of Boost, 5G was a big selling point for T-Mobile’s Sprint acquisition. The carriers argued that the deal was necessary to keep them competitive with first and second place carriers AT&T and Verizon when it came to the next-generation wireless technology. At the time FCC chairman Ajit Pai agreed stating, “This transaction will provide New T-Mobile with the scale and spectrum resources necessary to deploy a robust 5G network across the United States.” Earlier this week, OpenSignal awarded T-Mobile the top spot in availability, noting, “In the U.S., T-Mobile won the 5G Availability award by a large margin with Sprint and AT&T trailing with scores of 14.1% and 10.3%, respectively.”

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Uber has a new, independent board member, shows a new SEC filing: CEO Revathi Advaithi of 51-year-old Flex, which is among the world’s largest electronic manufacturers and competes against Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology. Advaithi, a mechanical engineer who grew up in India with four sisters, was appointed to the top job in February of last year after spending roughly 10 years with the electronic manufacturing company Eaton, where she was COO and oversaw its global electrical business. Before that, Advaithi spent six years as a VP at Honeywell. She came to the job at a tough time. Specifically, Flex once counted among its biggest customers the Chinese company Huawei, for which it provided contract services for products like smartphones and 5G base stations. But the U.S. government last year banned U.S. firms — and non-U.S. firms with more than 25% American components in their products — from doing business with Huawei after it was deemed a national security risk. Indeed, Flex, which today enjoys a market cap of $5 billion, saw its shares trading in the high teens in 2018 but they’d fallen to around $10 a share before Advaithi was brought aboard and they have largely stay there since. Advaithi is currently Uber’s third female director. In February, it announced that Mandy Ginsberg had been appointed to the board.  GInsberg was CEO of the dating app company Match Group until January of this year, reportedly stepping down from the role after a tornado hit her home in Dallas and she underwent surgery. (Publicly traded Match Group was already expected at the time to be spun away from its majority shareholder, IAC, a maneuver that was completed yesterday.) In 2017, Uber also appointed then Nestlé executive Wan Ling Martello to its board. Martello left Nestlé in 2018. Entrepreneur Arianna Huffington was the first woman brought into Uber’s boardroom back in 2016 by then CEO Travis Kalanick. She left her seat last year, citing the growth of her media company, Thrive Global, as the reason for her departure. Advaithi began her career in the U.S. decades ago as a shop floor supervisor in Shawnee, Oklahoma. She took over as Flex CEO last year when its longtime chief, Michael McNamara, resigned to join the venture capital firm Eclipse.

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“Fallout,” the post-apocalyptic video game franchise published by Bethesda Softworks, is being turned into a TV series by Kilter Films, the production company of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. The series, which began in 1997, takes place in an alternate future with a retro tone, after a nuclear war has turned most of the world into a wasteland. The games have continued in the two decades since, most recently with the release of “Fallout 76.” The series — currently in development, with a series commitment from Amazon Studios — is part of Nolan and Joy’s overall deal with streaming service, which they signed last year for a reported $150 million. The husband-and-wife team is best known for creating HBO’s new version of “Westworld” (based on a Michael Crichton film from the 1970s). They’re also working on an adaptation of William Gibson’s novel “The Peripheral.” “Fallout is one of the greatest game series of all time,” Nolan and Joy said in a statement. “Each chapter of this insanely imaginative story has cost us countless hours we could have spent with family and friends. So we’re incredibly excited to partner with Todd Howard and the rest of the brilliant lunatics at Bethesda to bring this massive, subversive, and darkly funny universe to life with Amazon Studios.” HBO’s Westworld is the robotic cowboy headtrip that you didn’t know you were waiting for  

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Hundreds of alleged drug dealers and other criminals are in custody today after police in Europe infiltrated an encrypted chat system reportedly used by thousands to discuss illegal operations. The total failure of this ostensibly secure method of communication will likely have a chilling effect on the shadowy industry of crime-focused tech. “Operation Venetic” was reported by various police agencies, major local news outlets, and by Motherboard in especially vibrant form, quoting extensively people apparently from within the groups affected. The operation involved hundreds of officers working across numerous agencies in France, the Netherlands, the U.K., and other countries. It began in 2017, and culminated two months ago when a service called EncroChat was hacked and the messages of tens of thousands of users exposed to police scrutiny. EncroChat is a step up in some ways from encrypted chat apps like Signal and WhatsApp. Rather like Blackberry once did, EncroChat provided customized hardware, a dedicated OS, and its own servers to users, providing an expensive service costing thousands per year rather than a one-time purchase or download. Messages on the service were supposedly very secure and had deniability built in by letting conversations be edited later — so theoretically a user could claim after the fact they never said something. Motherboard’s Joseph Cox has been following the company for some time and has far more details on its claims and operations. Image Credits: EncroChat / Needless to say those claims were not entirely true, as at some point in early 2020 police managed to introduce malware into the EncroChat system that completely exposed the conversations and images of its users. Because of the trusted nature of the app, people would openly discuss drug deals, murders, and other crimes, making them sitting ducks for law enforcement. Throughout the spring criminal operations were being cracked open with alarming (to them) regularity, but it wasn’t until May that users and EncroChat managed to put the pieces together. The company attempted to warn its users and issue an update, but the cat was out of the bag. Seeing that its operation was now exposed, the Operation Venetic teams struck. Arrests across the several countries involved (there were numerous sub-operations but France and the Netherlands were the primary investigators) total near a thousand, but exact numbers are not clear. Dozens of guns, tons (metric, naturally) of drugs and the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in cash were seized. More importantly, the chat logs seem to have provided access to people higher up the food chain than ordinary busts would have. That the reportedly most popular of encrypted chat companies focused on illegal activities could be so completely subverted by international authorities will likely put a damper on its competition. But like other, more domestic challenges to encryption, such as the perennial complaints by the FBI, this event is more likely to strengthen the tools in the long run.

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Velodyne Lidar, the leading supplier of a sensor widely considered critical to the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, said Thursday it has struck a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. The company said it able to raise $150 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, from new institutional investors as well as existing shareholders of Graf Industrial. Through the transaction, Velodyne will have about $192 million in cash on its balance sheet. Velodyne’s founder David Hall along with backers Ford, Chinese search engine Baidu, Hyundai Mobis  and Nikon Corp. will keep an 80% stake in the combined company. Hall will become executive chairman and Anand Gopalan will keep his CEO position. The merger is expected to close in the third quarter of 2020. The combined company will remain on the NYSE and trade under a new ticker symbol VLDR following the close of the business combination, Velodyne said. The agreement marks the latest company to turn to SPACs in lieu of a traditional IPO process. Earlier this week, online used car marketplace startup Shift Technologies announced an agreement to merge with SPAC Insurance Acquisition Corp. The newly combined company will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol. Nikola Motor also went public via a SPAC earlier this year. Velodyne will become a publicly traded company amid a period of consolidation in the broader autonomous vehicle industry. Startups, automakers and tech giants have extended their timelines in the capitally intensive pursuit of developing and deploying AVs. Some startups have been swallowed up by larger companies, while others have become defunct. It has also prompted automakers in the past 18 months to shift more resources and attention towards advanced driver assistance systems in passenger cars, trucks and SUVs. As autonomy stalls, lidar companies learn to adapt Lidar is perhaps one of the most crowded sub categories in the autonomous vehicle industry. Lidar is a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. The sensor is considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robotaxis and other autonomous vehicles. Velodyne is best known for its “KFC bucket” spinning-laser lidar. The design was inspired by sensor failures in vehicles competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004. Hall developed the spinning laser lidar and sold the sensors to teams competing in a future autonomous vehicle DARPA competition. The KFC buckets were the go-to lidar sensors for companies working on autonomous vehicles. Waymo, back when it was just the Google self-driving project, even used Velodyne LiDAR sensors until 2012. However, Spinning lidar units are expensive and mechanically complex. It spurred a new generation of lidar startups to try new approaches. Today, there are dozens of lidar companies — some counts track upwards of 70 — trying to convince automakers and AV developers to use their sensors. And they’re all aiming for Velodyne. This new generation of companies has prompted Velodyne to evolve as well. The company announced at CES 2020 in January new sensors, including a tiny $100 lidar unit called Velabit as well the VelaDome and a software product called Vella. “There’s no argument about the market opportunity for lidar,” Gopalan told TechCrunch reporter Devin Coldewey back in January. “I think the right conversation is about what you want to do with it. Others are focused on level 2+ or 3 [autonomy, i.e. above simple driver assistance] — what we want to do is short-circuit that approach. The only reason it’s not being adopted at lower levels is price. If I say you can have lidar for a hundred dollars, of course you’re going to use it. Under a hundred dollars, you can’t even imagine the applications you open up: drones, home robotics, sidewalk robots.” The company has spent the past several years focused on reducing the cost of its lidar as well as diversifying its portfolio. The Velabit is just one example of the company’s efforts to lock in customers outside of the AV industry. The small sensor doesn’t have the capabilities needed for autonomous vehicles. Instead, Velodyne sees an application for the sensor to be used on smaller industrial robots.

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Matt Saincome knows that compared to many of the startup acquisitions that we write about on TechCrunch, selling a website for a little over $1 million (mostly cash, with a little stock) isn’t a huge deal. “But in the world of punk comedy media? Whoo boy!” he said. Saincome is happy to poke fun at himself — he is the co-founder and CEO of a satirical punk news website, after all — but he also sounded genuinely proud of what he’s built with The Hard Times. He never raised outside funding, and while there have been acquisition offers in the past, he was always afraid that they might threaten the site’s voice. “I had always been the financial backstop,” Saincome told me. Still, at a certain point, “That started to become irresponsible.” So he’s happy that there will be a bit of a financial windfall (not to mention health care and benefits) for himself, his co-founder and editor in chief Bill Conway and their editorial staff, plus a pay bump for freelancers. He also suggested that the acquisition will allow The Hard Times to invest more seriously in its editorial strategy, for example by building out its podcast network. “If you like The Hard Times, it’s just going to be The Hard Times on steroids,” he said. “It’s very much the same direction, but better and secured.” The acquiring company is Project M Group, a digital media and e-commerce company founded in 2016 that has also acquired Revolver Magazine and Inked Magazine. Here’s how founder and CEO Enrique Abeyta laid out the Project M model: “We go out and acquire existing media properties with an audience, and we reinvigorate or relaunch or put some capital behind them to grow those audiences. Then we tie that into a vertically integrated e-commerce platform.” After all, it’s no secret that many online publishers have struggled to make the digital advertising model work. And given Revolver’s focus on heavy metal and rock, and Inked’s focus on tattoos, there are some natural commerce opportunities — for example, if you’re reading an article about Metallica, you might also want to buy a Metallica T-shirt. At the same time, Abeyta emphasized the importance of authenticity in the publications that Project M acquires, and he said that post-acquisition, they don’t become any more corporate. “I’m a tattooed, mohawked guy running this company out of my house in Cave Creek, Arizona,” he said. “We’re the least corporate thing on Planet Earth … Our whole vibe when we partner with these entrepreneurs is, we want to work with the entrepreneur and the brand.” So the entire Hard Times team, including Saincome, will remain involved. At the same time, the site’s old parent company will continue to own and operate the related gaming and technology site Hard Drive. Saincome said he’ll also continue running OutVoice, a separate startup building freelancer payment tools. In fact, one of the results of the deal is that all of Project M’s publications will be using OutVoice. “My role at Hard Times is going to be the visionary, brand-builder sort of guy,” he said. That should free up a lot of his time and energy from worrying about day-to-day business concerns, and he promised, “I’m going to take that energy and pump it back right into OutVoice .” OutVoice officially launches its freelancer payment tools

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2020 may feel so far like the year of living dangerously, but for many of us it has also been the year of working remotely. Led by the stick of COVID-19 rather than the carrot of the benefits of more flexible work life, a lot of organizations, and the people who power them, have only relatively recently started to get to grips with this concept. But some have had their finger on the pulse of cloud computing and how that relates to enterprise productivity for years. Come join us on Thursday, July 9, at Extra Crunch Live to hear from Jason Green of Emergence Capital, one of the leading investors (and VC firms) promoting and funding some of the biggest startups in this space. Extra Crunch Live is open exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers. If you’re not already an Extra Crunch member, you can join here. For the uninitiated, the EC Live format is at once direct and wide-ranging, an hour-long conversation that not only covers some of the biggest issues in tech, building startups and investing today — and boy do we have a lot of issues right now — but gets to the heart of them, in a lighter format that’s actually fun to watch — as you can see from past talks with Sequoia’s Roelof Botha and Homebrew’s Hunter Walk.  (See the whole schedule of Extra Crunch Live talks here.) July 9 should be an especially good one because, well, Green is full of beans. That is to say, he’s been very outspoken in the last few months, leading the (reassuring? alarming?) charge for startups to just write off the last quarter and focus on the future. Sounds flippant? Not really. Green has years of experience to draw on — a long track record backing some of the most game-changing and successful startups of the last decade+ in the areas of cloud computing, enterprise and enterprise productivity, and specifically in how they cross over. They include Box, SalesLoft, ServiceMax, SteelBrick, SuccessFactors, Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll) and Yammer, with Emergence itself also an early backer of Zoom, Salesforce, Crunchbase and Clearbanc. For founders, other investors and anyone involved in any aspect of deal-making, especially for enterprise startups, it’s a must-watch. Join Jason and me next week. We’re looking forward to it. Extra Crunch Live is open exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers, and so if you want to watch, join here. You can find the full details of the call below the jump! Details:

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Rachel Sheppard Contributor Share on Twitter Rachel Sheppard is the director of global marketing at global pre-seed accelerator Founder Institute and co-founder of the Female Founder Initiative. Any disaster will have its harshest repercussions on people who were already marginalized. It’s unsurprising, then, that when it comes to jobs and businesses, the COVID-19 lockdown is impacting women and ethnic minorities more than anyone else. In April, unemployment shot up to 15.5% among women, 2.5% higher than for men. The rate was also higher among African Americans and Latinx people than for white people, with Latinx reaching a record 18.9% unemployment. Women, especially from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are going to be taking the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities at home during the pandemic, making them more vulnerable to job cuts. At the same time, underrepresented employees in general may feel more marginalized than ever as job security is put on the line. It’s been hard to get to where we are on diversity and inclusion. Slowly but surely, diversity and inclusion have become a highly visible element of any company. But as COVID-19 turned up the pressure for businesses around the world, that progress came under threat as D&I initiatives took a back seat. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests reignited D&I efforts in magnitude, but how can we ensure that, as time passes, those efforts are maintained with energy and determination? This may be the shock to the system that will make business leaders realize that diversity is not an accessory or PR stunt — it is an integral part of the daily lives of each and every member of your team. Today’s consumers and your co-workers demand socially conscious companies, which is why D&I is vital to making any startup a well-rounded business. It’s also imperative for supporting economic recovery on a larger scale. Forgetting to preserve and improve D&I as we battle through COVID-19 will not only set us back years in terms of equality, it will worsen our collective chances of getting through this turbulence unscathed. D&I matters to your business’ survival It’s understandable that most startups today will be in survival mode. But D&I cannot be cast aside as a nonessential part of your business. It’s quite the opposite. More diversity is a known indicator for better economic performance and improves a business’ chances of thriving through a recession. We often hear about how diversity means more innovation in a company. Consider just how important this is today. Facing a crisis with no precedent, weighing up a variety of insights and solutions is vital to finding an intelligent lockdown strategy. As business leaders, we need to know what the world around us looks like right now, and that means knowing what people of all backgrounds are experiencing. We also can’t afford to not take into consideration the long-term effects of today’s actions. Survival can’t mean usurping what your company stands for. If you sacrifice diversity now, you might retain employees for the time being, because they’re scared of being jobless. But you will have undermined the trust that your workers place in you and you will be sure to lose them far more easily once the situation eases. This is very true for customers too — the crisis is driving the public to support purpose-driven and diverse businesses more than ever, and you will be left out if you don’t meet those values. Even if you’re not hiring, work on diversity and inclusion So how can a startup keep diversity a priority in this strange new world? Sure, you may not be hiring, but that’s not the only way to improve diversity. Take this time to revisit your internal culture. The virus is forcing us to see our business from different angles — we’re looking into the homes of our co-workers, hearing about the personal issues affecting their work lives and about the work issues affecting their personal lives. Let’s make sure your company culture is not part of the problem. You need to be accessible. Are some of your employees scared to speak up about their issues? Is there a big morale problem that you haven’t been able to alleviate? If so, then you need to work on making your workspace more inclusive, open and friendly. This is more than building up team spirit with morning coffee Zoom get-togethers and after-work networking. It’s about weeding out any systems that bring repercussions to people who voice their concerns; it’s about encouraging them to do so; it’s about recognizing every member of a team and every person in a meeting, not just the executives present. The lockdown has shown that many people can work remotely, effectively. Can you use this in future to give employees a greater chance of success — perhaps those who live far from the office, or who have children or elderly relatives to care for? Many HR departments are probably focusing efforts away from hiring at the moment and could instead be put in charge of employee success, which means identifying and addressing the unique concerns of each of your staff (you might even consider assigning a full-time staff member to this role). This is key to making your company a welcoming place for underrepresented employees who are often more wary of their circumstances than their co-workers, both now and in the future. It will help them grow and want to stay in the company, as well as attract a more diverse employee pool in the future. In case you are hiring, there are innovative solutions to help you attract more diverse applicants to your company. Joonko’s technology integrates to your applicant tracking system to boost the visibility of underrepresented potential hires. Pitch.Me aims to tackle bias by presenting candidate profiles anonymously, including only relevant information about experience and skills but with no information regarding gender, age or ethnic background. Services like DiTal help tech businesses connect with potential employees from diverse backgrounds. Reassess what internal success looks like Before COVID-19, the key performance indicators for your business might have been the number of sales per rep, or the number of leads generated in a week. Those quotas are now unrealistic, and more importantly, they’ll be tougher to reach for employees with less time on their hands. That means people with more caregiving responsibilities — often women — or with less disposable income, and statistics show that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be affected by the virus. You have to create a work environment in which people with less time and resources can still achieve their professional goals. We typically hear that 80% of the most valuable work takes up 20% of a team’s time; well, let’s make sure your staff is focusing most of their efforts on that 20% of valuable energy. Build a new business plan that reassesses what the company needs to achieve in the near future, and set new metrics that hyperfocus on that bottom line. Think about how important it is to each of your co-workers’ morale to be able to meet their goals day in day out, despite today’s challenges. Furthermore, being adaptable for the benefit of your staff is an admirable quality that will not easily be forgotten. An important note — helping everyone reach success means giving everyone the resources to do so. No one in your company should be unequipped to this “new normal,” which means good laptops or devices and speedy internet. Don’t hesitate to invest in people who need it. Prioritize career development Career development is vital for underrepresented employees, for whom upward mobility is always harder. People from minority backgrounds tend to have less robust business networks, exactly because they are the minority in the business world. We can never stop fighting this vicious cycle. So take a look at your team and think about who you can help ascend in their career. Prioritize underrepresented people now because they are more likely to get hit harder by the lockdown and have a tougher recovery. Even if you don’t see it from an altruistic perspective, including underrepresented employees in your leadership now will lead to better economic local recovery and improved outcomes for your company. One option is sponsorship programs in which you or other senior leaders advocate on behalf of selected employees (as well as acting as their mentors). Think of it as equally distributing the networks and influence accumulated by business leaders among a more diverse pool of people. Bring diversity into your brand We’ve looked inward, now let’s look outward. How can you change how your industry looks, even in times of crisis. To reach the huge visible changes we’ve seen in, for example, branding in the fashion industry, took influential people making decisions at powerful tables. But it would be ironically easy to see things regress to a more heterogeneous state. Stopping this from happening means making those big decisions yourself, and uniting others in joining you. Leverage your brand and bring your internal diversity to the forefront of everything you do — the mentors who give their time to startup organizations, the speakers you put forward for online events. Make a conscious push for your external marketing to display as much diversity as possible, especially amid fears that the advertising space will compromise its diversity standards in response to COVID-19. Support other underrepresented founders If you have the resources, help struggling founders get through the lockdown. There may be small or mid-sized women or minority-led companies within your community that need your support. If you’re sending employees care packages and gifts, make the extra effort to source them from underrepresented local businesses. It’s not hard to do — there are organizations that can help you connect to such companies around the United States, such as Women Owned’s business directory and Help Main Street. Large companies can work with Hello Alice to directly fund smaller companies founded by every underrepresented group in the United States, from veterans to LGBTQ+. IFundWomen is a large network of women-founded businesses you can choose to fund — or join — and it has a wing specifically for businesses owned by women of color. As a business leader you can always be seeking out diverse founders to collaborate with; For example, check out this amazing list of Latinx founders catering to the United States’ enormous Latinx markets, as well as finding solutions to improve diversity in business. The NAACP has fought for equal rights for people of color for over a century. You can support them and their ongoing work, which ranges from campaigning for crucial reforms to spotlighting emerging Black-owned businesses. Now’s not the time to slack on diversity. As tempting as it might be to think of it as an accessory, it’s just as vital now for your business to get through the pandemic and to stop your entire industry from losing decades of hard-earned progress in building a more equal society.

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India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which recently concluded a $15.2 billion fundraise run, is ready to enter a new business: Video conferencing. On Thursday evening, the firm — backed by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man — formally launched JioMeet, its video-conference service. Like Zoom and Google Meet, JioMeet offers unlimited number of free calls in high definition (720p) to users and supports as many as 100 participants on a call. But interestingly, it’s not imposing a short time limit on a call’s duration. Jio Platforms says a call can be “up to 24 hours” long. The service currently has no paid plans and it’s unclear if Jio Platforms, which has a reputation of giving away services for free for years, plans to change that. Jio Platforms, which began beta testing JioMeet in May this year, said the video conferencing service offers “enterprise-grade” host controls. These include: password protection on each call, multi-device login support (up to five devices), and ability to share screen and collaborate. Other features include the ability to switch “seemingly” from one device to another, and a ‘Safe Driving Mode’ for when a participant is in commute. Hosts can also enable a ‘waiting room’ to ensure participants have to ask for permission to enter a call. Reliance Jio Platforms is taking on Zoom with JioMeet, which looks a lot like Zoom JioMeet is available for use through Chrome and Firefox browsers on desktop, as well as has standalone apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. It also has an Outlook plugin. In a call with analysts earlier this year, Jio executives had described JioMeet as a platform that they think would some day have features to enable doctors to consult their patients, prescribe them medicine, and have a system in place to let them buy medicines online and get test results digitally. Similarly, they said JioMeet will allow teachers to host virtual classrooms for their students, with the ability to record sessions, assign and accept homework, and conduct tests digitally. JioPlatforms, which is India’s top telecom operator with about 400 million customers, operates a number of digital services including JioMusic, a music streaming service; JioCinema, which offers thousands of TV shows and movies; and JioTV, which allows users to watch more than 500 TV channels. All of these services are available at no additional charge to Jio Platforms subscribers. It costs less than $2 a month to be a Jio subscriber. The launch of JioMeet today comes as tens of millions of Indians are working from home and using video conferencing services for work and to stay in touch with friends. Zoom app, currently the most popular video conference service in India, on Android had about 35 million monthly active users in the third week of July, up from about 4 million users during the same period in March, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. (Android powers nearly 99% of smartphones in India.)

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