posted 5 days ago on techcrunch
Research papers come out far too rapidly for anyone to read them all, especially in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company. This column aims to collect the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in but not limited to artificial intelligence — and explain why they matter. This week, a startup that’s using UAV drones for mapping forests, a look at how machine learning can map social media networks and predict Alzheimer’s, improving computer vision for space-based sensors and other news regarding recent technological advances. Predicting Alzheimer’s through speech patterns Machine learning tools are being used to aid diagnosis in many ways, since they’re sensitive to patterns that humans find difficult to detect. IBM researchers have potentially found such patterns in speech that are predictive of the speaker developing Alzheimer’s disease. The system only needs a couple minutes of ordinary speech in a clinical setting. The team used a large set of data (the Framingham Heart Study) going back to 1948, allowing patterns of speech to be identified in people who would later develop Alzheimer’s. The accuracy rate is about 71% or 0.74 area under the curve for those of you more statistically informed. That’s far from a sure thing, but current basic tests are barely better than a coin flip in predicting the disease this far ahead of time. As Alzheimer’s costs soar, startups like Neurotrack raise cash to diagnose and treat the disease This is very important because the earlier Alzheimer’s can be detected, the better it can be managed. There’s no cure, but there are promising treatments and practices that can delay or mitigate the worst symptoms. A non-invasive, quick test of well people like this one could be a powerful new screening tool and is also, of course, an excellent demonstration of the usefulness of this field of tech. (Don’t read the paper expecting to find exact symptoms or anything like that — the array of speech features aren’t really the kind of thing you can look out for in everyday life.) So-cell networks Making sure your deep learning network generalizes to data outside its training environment is a key part of any serious ML research. But few attempt to set a model loose on data that’s completely foreign to it. Perhaps they should! Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden took a model used to identify groups and connections in social media, and applied it (not unmodified, of course) to tissue scans. The tissue had been treated so that the resultant images produced thousands of tiny dots representing mRNA. Normally the different groups of cells, representing types and areas of tissue, would need to be manually identified and labeled. But the graph neural network, created to identify social groups based on similarities like common interests in a virtual space, proved it could perform a similar task on cells. (See the image at top.) “We’re using the latest AI methods — specifically, graph neural networks, developed to analyze social networks — and adapting them to understand biological patterns and successive variation in tissue samples. The cells are comparable to social groupings that can be defined according to the activities they share in their social networks,” said Uppsala’s Carolina Wählby. It’s an interesting illustration not just of the flexibility of neural networks, but of how structures and architectures repeat at all scales and in all contexts. As without, so within, if you will. Drones in nature The vast forests of our national parks and timber farms have countless trees, but you can’t put “countless” on the paperwork. Someone has to make an actual estimate of how well various regions are growing, the density and types of trees, the range of disease or wildfire, and so on. This process is only partly automated, as aerial photography and scans only reveal so much, while on-the-ground observation is detailed but extremely slow and limited. How to access ‘America’s Seed Fund,’ the $3 billion SBIR program Treeswift aims to take a middle path by equipping drones with the sensors they need to both navigate and accurately measure the forest. By flying through much faster than a walking person, they can count trees, watch for problems and generally collect a ton of useful data. The company is still very early-stage, having spun out of the University of Pennsylvania and acquired an SBIR grant from the NSF. “Companies are looking more and more to forest resources to combat climate change but you don’t have a supply of people who are growing to meet that need,” Steven Chen, co-founder and CEO of Treeswift and a doctoral student in Computer and Information Science (CIS) at Penn Engineering said in a Penn news story. “I want to help make each forester do what they do with greater efficiency. These robots will not replace human jobs. Instead, they’re providing new tools to the people who have the insight and the passion to manage our forests.” That night, a forest flew Another area where drones are making lots of interesting moves is underwater. Oceangoing autonomous submersibles are helping map the sea floor, track ice shelves and follow whales. But they all have a bit of an Achilles’ heel in that they need to periodically be picked up, charged and their data retrieved. Purdue engineering professor Nina Mahmoudian has created a docking system by which submersibles can easily and automatically connect for power and data exchange. A yellow marine robot (left, underwater) finds its way to a mobile docking station to recharge and upload data before continuing a task. (Purdue University photo/Jared Pike) The craft needs a special nosecone, which can find and plug into a station that establishes a safe connection. The station can be an autonomous watercraft itself, or a permanent feature somewhere — what matters is that the smaller craft can make a pit stop to recharge and debrief before moving on. If it’s lost (a real danger at sea), its data won’t be lost with it. You can see the setup in action below: https://youtu.be/kS0-qc_r0 Sound in theory Drones may soon become fixtures of city life as well, though we’re probably some ways from the automated private helicopters some seem to think are just around the corner. But living under a drone highway means constant noise — so people are always looking for ways to reduce turbulence and resultant sound from wings and propellers. It looks like it’s on fire, but that’s turbulence. Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology found a new, more efficient way to simulate the airflow in these situations; fluid dynamics is essentially as complex as you make it, so the trick is to apply your computing power to the right parts of the problem. They were able to render only flow near the surface of the theoretical aircraft in high resolution, finding past a certain distance there was little point knowing exactly what was happening. Improvements to models of reality don’t always need to be better in every way — after all, the results are what matter. Machine learning in space Computer vision algorithms have come a long way, and as their efficiency improves they are beginning to be deployed at the edge rather than at data centers. In fact it’s become fairly common for camera-bearing objects like phones and IoT devices to do some local ML work on the image. But in space it’s another story. Image Credits: Cosine Performing ML work in space was until fairly recently simply too expensive power-wise to even consider. That’s power that could be used to capture another image, transmit the data to the surface, etc. HyperScout 2 is exploring the possibility of ML work in space, and its satellite has begun applying computer vision techniques immediately to the images it collects before sending them down. (“Here’s a cloud — here’s Portugal — here’s a volcano…”) For now there’s little practical benefit, but object detection can be combined with other functions easily to create new use cases, from saving power when no objects of interest are present, to passing metadata to other tools that may work better if informed. In with the old, out with the new Machine learning models are great at making educated guesses, and in disciplines where there’s a large backlog of unsorted or poorly documented data, it can be very useful to let an AI make a first pass so that graduate students can use their time more productively. The Library of Congress is doing it with old newspapers, and now Carnegie Mellon University’s libraries are getting into the spirit. Millions of historic newspaper images get the machine learning treatment at the Library of Congress CMU’s million-item photo archive is in the process of being digitized, but to make it useful to historians and curious browsers it needs to be organized and tagged — so computer vision algorithms are being put to work grouping similar images, identifying objects and locations, and doing other valuable basic cataloguing tasks. “Even a partly successful project would greatly improve the collection metadata, and could provide a possible solution for metadata generation if the archives were ever funded to digitize the entire collection,” said CMU’s Matt Lincoln. A very different project, yet one that seems somehow connected, is this work by a student at the Escola Politécnica da Universidade de Pernambuco in Brazil, who had the bright idea to try sprucing up some old maps with machine learning. The tool they used takes old line-drawing maps and attempts to create a sort of satellite image based on them using a Generative Adversarial Network; GANs essentially attempt to trick themselves into creating content they can’t tell apart from the real thing. Image Credits: Escola Politécnica da Universidade de Pernambuco Well, the results aren’t what you might call completely convincing, but it’s still promising. Such maps are rarely accurate but that doesn’t mean they’re completely abstract — recreating them in the context of modern mapping techniques is a fun idea that might help these locations seem less distant.

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This year has shaken up venture capital, turning a hot early start to 2020 into a glacial period permeated with fear during the early days of COVID-19. That ice quickly melted as venture capitalists discovered that demand for software and other services that startups provide was accelerating, pushing many young tech companies back into growth mode, and investors back into the check-writing arena. Boston has been an exemplar of the trend, with early pandemic caution dissolving into rapid-fire dealmaking as summer rolled into fall. We collated new data that underscores the trend, showing that Boston’s third quarter looks very solid compared to its peer groups, and leads greater New England’s share of American venture capital higher during the three-month period. For our October look at Boston and its startup scene, let’s get into the data and then understand how a new cohort of founders is cropping up among the city’s educational network. A strong Q3, a strong 2020 Boston’s third quarter was strong, effectively matching the capital raised in New York City during the three-month period. As we head into the fourth quarter, it appears that the silver medal in American startup ecosystems is up for grabs based on what happens in Q4. Boston could start 2021 as the number-two place to raise venture capital in the country. Or New York City could pip it at the finish line. Let’s check the numbers. According to PitchBook data shared with TechCrunch, the metro Boston area raised $4.34 billion in venture capital during the third quarter. New York City and its metro area managed $4.45 billion during the same time period, an effective tie. Los Angeles and its own metro area managed just $3.90 billion. In 2020 the numbers tilt in Boston’s favor, with the city and surrounding area collecting $12.83 billion in venture capital. New York City came in second through Q3, with $12.30 billion in venture capital. Los Angeles was a distant third at $8.66 billion for the year through Q3.

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“All that is left now is to offer a profound apology for disappointing you and, ultimately, for letting you down,” Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman wrote, closing out an open letter posted to Medium. “We cannot thank you enough for being there with us, and for us, every step of the way.” With that, the founding executives confirmed the rumors and put Quibi to bed, a little more than six months after launching the service. Starting a business is an impossibly difficult task under nearly any conditions, but even in a world that’s littered with high-profile failures, the streaming service’s swan song was remarkable for both its dramatically brief lifespan and the amount of money the company managed to raise (and spend) during that time. A month ahead of its commercial launch, Quibi announced that it had raised another $750 million. That second round of funding brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million. “We concluded a very successful second raise which will provide Quibi with a strong cash runway,” CFO Ambereen Toubassy told the press at the time. “This round of $750 million gives us tremendous flexibility and the financial wherewithal to build content and technology that consumers embrace.” Quibi’s second funding round brought the yet-to-launch streaming service’s funding up to $1.75 billion — roughly the same as the gross domestic product of Belize, give or take $100 million. From a financial perspective, Quibi had reason to be hopeful. Its fundraising ambitions were matched only by the aggressiveness with which it planned to spend that money. At the beginning of the year, Whitman touted the company’s plans to spend up to $100,000 per minute of programming — $6 million per hour. The executive proudly contrasted the jaw-dropping sum to the estimated $500 to $5,000 an hour spent by YouTube creators. For Whitman and Katzenberg — best known for their respective reigns at HP and Disney — money was key to success in an already crowded marketplace. Indeed, $1 billion was a drop in the bucket compared to the $17.3 billion Netflix was expected to spend on original content in 2020, but it was a start. Following in the footsteps of Apple, who had also recently announced plans to spend $1 billion to launch its own fledgling streaming service, the company was enlisting A-List talent, from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott to Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez and LeBron James. If your name carried any sort of clout in Hollywood boardrooms, Quibi would happily cut you a check, seemingly regardless of content specifics. Quibi’s strategy primarily defined itself by its constraints. In hopes of attracting younger millennial and Gen Z viewers, the company’s content would be not just mobile-first, but mobile-only. There would be no smart TV app, no Chromecast or AirPlay compatibility. Pricing, while low compared to the competition, was similarly off-putting. After a 90-day free trial, $4.99 got you an ad-supported subscription. And boy howdy, were there ads. Ads upon ads. Ads all the way down. Paying another $3 a month would make them go away. Technological constraints and Terms of Service fine print forbade screen shots — a fundamental understanding of how content goes viral in 2020 (though, to be fair, one shared with other competing streaming services). Amusingly, the inability to share content led to videos like this one of director Sam Raimi’s perplexingly earnest “The Golden Arm.” It features a built-on laugh track from viewers as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan lies in a hospital bed after refusing to remove a golden prosthetic. It’s an allegory, surely, but not one intentionally played for laughs. Many of the videos that did ultimately make the rounds on social media were regarded as a curiosity — strange artifacts from a nascent streaming service that made little sense on paper. Most notable of all, however, were the “quick bites” that gave the service its confusingly pronounced name. Each program would be served in 5-10 minute chunks. The list included films acquired by the service, sliced up into “chapters.” Notably, the service didn’t actually purchase the content outright; instead, rights were set to revert to their creators after seven years. Meanwhile, after two years, content partners were able to “reassemble” the chunks back into a movie for distribution.

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OnePlus continues its twice-yearly smartphone cycle with today’s arrival of the 8T. The latest device isn’t a huge upgrade over April’s OnePlus 8, but continues the company’s longstanding tradition of offering some of the most solid Android handsets at a reasonable price point. The cost has edged up a bit in recent years, but $749 is still pretty good for what the 8T offers. The big updates this time out are the 120Hz refresh rate for its 6.55-inch display and super-fast charging via the Warp Charge 65. That should get the 4,450 mAh of battery capacity up to a full day’s charge in 15 minutes, with a full charge taking a little less than 40 minutes. Nord is OnePlus’s sub-$500 5G handset There are an abundance of cameras here — four in total. That includes a 48-megapixel main (with built in optical image stabilization), 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle and, more surprisingly, a macro and monochrome lens. The handset joins the even more affordable Nord, which is set to arrive in the U.S. in the near future at a sub-$500 price point. OnePlus has been undergoing some corporate changes in recent weeks, as well. Co-founder Carl Pei recently announced he will be leaving the company. “These past years, OnePlus has been my singular focus, and everything else has had to take a backseat,” he told TechCrunch. “I’m looking forward to taking some time off to decompress and catch up with my family and friends,” he wrote. “And then follow my heart on to what’s next.” OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei confirms he has left the company

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Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, an appellate court ruled yesterday evening. However, the decision will be stayed for 30 days after the court issues the remittitur, which has not happened yet. That means depending on how ballot measure Proposition 22 goes, this case may not end up being the deciding factor in how Lyft and Uber classify their drivers in California. Throughout the case, Uber and Lyft have argued that reclassifying their drivers as employees would cause irreparable harm to the companies. In the ruling today, the judge said neither company would suffer any “grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law” and that their respective financial burdens “do not rise to the level of irreparable harm.” Additionally, there is nothing in the preliminary injunction, according to the judge, that would prevent Uber and Lyft from offering flexibility and independence to their drivers. Lastly, the judge said Uber and Lyft have had plenty of time to transition their drivers from independent contractors to employees, given that the key case in passing AB 5, the gig worker bill that spurred this lawsuit, was decided in 2018. “This ruling makes it more urgent than ever for voters to stand with drivers and vote yes on Prop. 22,” Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood said in a statement to TechCrunch. Prop 22 is a ballot measure in California that seeks to keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors. The measure, if passed, would make drivers and delivery workers for said companies exempt from a new state law that classifies them as W-2 employees. If passed, app-based transportation and delivery workers would be entitled to things like minimum compensation and healthcare subsidies based on engaged driving time. Meanwhile, Lyft says it’s exploring all of its legal options, which may include appealing to the California Supreme Court. Uber, similarly, is considering its appeal options. “Today’s ruling means that if the voters don’t say Yes on Proposition 22, rideshare drivers will be prevented from continuing to work as independent contractors, putting hundreds of thousands of Californians out of work and likely shutting down ridesharing throughout much of the state,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re considering our appeal options, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for drivers—72% of whom support Prop 22—and for the California economy, where millions of people are jobless and another 158,000 just sought unemployment support this week.” The judge’s decision comes after California Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman granted a preliminary injunction in August to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify its drivers as employees. Uber and Lyft appealed the decision, but the appeals court has now affirmed the decision from the lower court. The lawsuit was brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco in May. They argued Uber and Lyft gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. Then, in June, the plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction seeking the court to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify their drivers. In August, Judge Schulman granted it. “While this legal victory today is directed at two companies, this fight is far broader,” Gig Workers Rising said in a statement. “This is about the future of work in this country. This is about securing good jobs with real benefits for generations to come. If Uber and Lyft are successful in passing Prop. 22 and undo the will of the people, they will inspire countless other corporations to adapt their business models and misclassify workers in order to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of their workforce.” Mixtape Podcast: Proposition 22 and the labor divide

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Scott Purcell Contributor Share on Twitter Scott Purcell is the CEO and Chief Trust Officer of Prime Trust, an innovative API-enabled B2B open-banking financial solutions provider. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected the financial outlook for millions of people, and continues to cause significant fiscal distress to millions more, but such challenging times have also wrought a more resilient and resourceful financial system. With the ingenuity of crowdfunding, considered to be one of the last decade’s greatest “success stories,” and such desperate times calling for bold new ways to finance a wide variety of COVID-19 relief efforts, we are now seeing an excellent opportunity for banks and other financial institutions to partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns, bolstering their efforts and impact. COVID-19 crowdfunding: A world of possibilities to help others Before considering how financial institutions can assist with crowdfunding campaigns, we must first look at the diverse array of impressive results from this financing option during the pandemic. As people choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, and countless other despairing circumstances, we must look to some of the more inventive ways businesses, entrepreneurs and people in general are using crowdfunding to provide the COVID-19 relief that cash-strapped consumers with maxed-out or poor credit do not have access to or the government has not provided. Some great examples of COVID-19 crowdfunding at its best include the following: Consider Woks for Washington, in which a pair of sisters set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds that contribute to paying local restaurants to provide meals for essential workers, the homeless, and others in need, inspired by World Central Kitchen’s own programs. Or look at Kingston Mines, the historic and famous blues club in Chicago, where a similar crowdfunding campaign literally kept the lights on and the hot water running. Then, of course, there is the most obvious COVID-19 relief solution out there: A more functional face mask (or a more fashionable face mask) to improve protection for everyone from contracting the coronavirus. The possibilities presented by crowdfunding in this age of the coronavirus are endless, and financial institutions can certainly lend their assistance. Here is how. Two Screens for Teachers will outfit all educators in Seattle Public Schools with a second monitor 1. Acknowledge that crowdfunding is not a trend Crowdfunding is a substantial and ever-so relevant means of financing all sorts of businesses, people and products. Denying its substantive contribution to the economy, especially in digital finance during this pandemic, is akin to wearing a monocle when you actually need glasses for both of your eyes. Do not be shortsighted on this. Crowdfunding is here to stay. In fact, countless crowdfunding businesses and platforms continue to make major moves within the markets globally. For example, Parpera from Australia, in coordination with the equity-crowdfunding platforms, hopes to rival the likes of GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo. 2. Be willing to invest in crowdfunded campaigns This might seem contrary to the original purpose of these campaigns, but the right amount of seed-cash infusions to campaigns that are aligned with your goals as a company is a win-win for both you and the entrepreneurs or causes, especially now in such desperate times of need. 3. Get involved in the community and its crowdfunding efforts This means that small businesses and medium-sized businesses within your institution’s community could use your help. Consider investing in crowdfunding campaigns similar to the ones mentioned earlier. Better yet, bridge the gaps between financial institutions and crowdfunding platforms and campaigns so that smaller businesses get the opportunities they need to survive through these difficult times. 4. Enable sustainable development goals (SDG) Last month, the United Nations Development Program released a report proclaiming that digital finance is now allowing people from all over the world to customize and personalize their money-management experiences such that their financial needs have the potential to be more readily and sufficiently met. Financial institutions willing to work as a partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns will further these goals and set society up for a more robust rebound from any possible detrimental effects of the COVID-19 recession. 5. Lend your regulatory expertise to this relatively new industry Other countries are already beginning to figure out better ways to regulate the crowdfunding financing industry, such as the recent updates to the European Union’s handling of crowdfunding regulations, set to take effect this fall. Well-established financial institutions can lend their support in defining the policies and standard operating procedures for crowdfunding even during such a chaotic time as the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so will ensure fair and equitable financing for all, at least, in theory. While originally born out of either philanthropy or early-adopting innovation, depending on the situation, person or product, crowdfunding has become an increasingly reliable means of providing COVID-19 economic relief when other organizations, including the government and some banks, cannot provide sufficient assistance. Financial institutions must lend their vast expertise, knowledge and resources to these worthy causes; after all, we are all in this together. Entrepreneurship and investing as social good

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Virtual meetings are a fundamental part of how we interact with each other these days, but even when (if!?) we find better ways to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, many think that they will be here to stay. That means there is an opportunity out there to improve how they work — because let’s face it, Zoom Fatigue is real and I for one am not super excited anymore to be a part of your Team. mmhmm, the video presentation startup from former Evernote CEO Phil Libin with ambitions to change the conversation (literally and figuratively) about what we can do with the medium — its first efforts have included things like the ability to manipulate presentation material around your video in real time to mimic newscasts — is today announcing an acquisition as it continues to hone in on a wider launch of its product, currently in a closed beta. It has acquired Memix, an outfit out of San Francisco that has built a series of filters you can apply to videos — either pre-recorded or streaming — to change the lighting, details in the background, or across the whole of the screen, and an app that works across various video platforms to apply those filters. Like mmhmm, Memix is today focused on building tools that you use on existing video platforms — not building a video player itself. Memix today comes in the form of a virtual camera, accessible via Windows apps for Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams; or web apps like Facebook Messenger, Houseparty and others that run on Chrome, Edge and Firefox. Libin said in an interview that the plan will be to keep that virtual camera operating as is while it works on integrating the filters and Memix’s technology into mmhmm, while also laying the groundwork for building more on top of the platform. Libin’s view is that while there are already a lot of video products and users in the market today, we are just at the start of it all, with technology and our expectations changing rapidly. We are shifting, he said, from wanting to reproduce existing experiences (like meetings) to creating completely new ones that might actually be better. “There is a profound change in the world that we are just at the beginning of,” he said in an interview. “The main thing is that everything is hybrid. If you imagine all the experiences we can have, from in person to online, or recorded to live, up to now almost everything in life fit neatly into one of those quadrants. The boundaries were fixed. Now all these boundaries have melted away we can rebuild every experience to be natively hybrid. This is a monumental change.” That is a concept that the Memix founders have not just been thinking about, but also building the software to make it a reality. “There is a lot to do,” said Pol Jeremias-Vila, one of the co-founders. “One of our ideas was to try to provide people who do streaming professionally an alternative to the really complicated set-ups you currently use,” which can involve expensive cameras, lights, microphones, stands and more. “Can we bring that to a user just with a couple of clicks? What can be done to put the same kind of tech you get with all that hardware into the hands of a massive audience?” Memix’s team of two — co-founders Inigo Quilez and Jeremias-Vila, Spaniards who met not in Spain but the Bay Area — are not coming on board full-time, but they will be helping with the transition and integration of the tech. Libin said that he first became aware of Quilez from a YouTube video he’d posted on “The principles of painting with maths”, but that doesn’t give a lot away about the two co-founders. They are in reality graphic engineering whizzes, with Jeremias-Vila currently the lead graphics software engineer at Pixar, and Quilez until last year a product manager and lead engineer at Facebook, where he created, among other things, the Quill VR animation and production tool for Oculus. Because working the kind of hours that people put in at tech companies wasn’t quite enough time to work on graphics applications, the pair started another effort called Beauty Pi (not to be confused with Beauty Pie), which has become a home for various collaborations between the two that had nothing to do with their day jobs. Memix had been bootstrapped by the pair as a project built out of that. And other efforts have included Shadertoy, a community and platform for creating Shaders (a computer program created to shade in 3D scenes). That background of Memix points to an interesting opportunity in the world of video right now. In part because of all the focus (sorry not sorry!) on video right now as a medium because of our current pandemic circumstances, but also because of the advances in broadband, devices, apps and video technology, we’re seeing a huge proliferation of startups building interesting variations and improvements on the basic concept of video streaming. Just in the area of videoconferencing alone, some of the hopefuls have included Headroom, which launched the other week with a really interesting AI-based approach to helping its users get more meaningful notes from meetings, and using computer vision to help presenters “read the room” better by detecting if people are getting bored, annoyed and more. Vowel is also bringing a new set of tools not just to annotate meetings and their corresponding transcriptions in a better way, but to then be able to search across all your sessions to follow up items and dig into what people said over multiple events. And Descript, which originally built a tool to edit audio tracks, earlier this week launched a video component, letting users edit visuals and what you say in those moving pictures, by cutting, pasting and rewriting a word-based document transcribing the sound from that video. All of these have obvious B2B angles, like mmhmm, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, the huge amount of IP out there is interesting in itself. Yet the jury is still out on where all of it would best live and thrive as the space continues to evolve, with more defined business models (and leading companies) only now emerging. That presents an interesting opportunity not just for the biggies like Zoom, Google and Microsoft, but also players who are building entirely new platfroms from the ground up. mmhmm is a notable company in that context. Not only does it have the reputation and inspiration of Libin behind it — a force powerful enough that even his foray into the ill-fated world of chatbots got headlines — but it’s also backed by the likes of Sequoia, which led a $21 million round earlier this month. Libin said he doesn’t like to think of his startup as a consolidator, or the industry in a consolidation play, as that implies a degree of maturity in an area that he still feels is just getting started. “We’re looking at this not so much consolidation, which to me means marketshare,” he said. “Our main criteria is that we wanted to work with teams that we are in love with.”

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TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities. Our survey of VCs in Brussels will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again). We’d like to know how Brussels’ startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here. Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey. The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better. You can fill out the survey here. Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles. What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors. https://techcrunch.com/extra-crunch/investor-surveys/ For example, here is the recent survey of London. You are not in Brussels, but would like to take part? Or you are in another part of the country? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics. The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor). Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email [email protected]

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Earlier this week I asked startups to share their Q3 growth metrics and whether they were performing ahead of behind of their yearly goals. Lots of companies responded. More than I could have anticipated, frankly. Instead of merely giving me a few data points to learn from, The Exchange wound up collecting sheafs of interesting data from upstart companies with big Q3 performance. The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday. Naturally, the startups that reached out were the companies doing the best. I did not receive a single reply that described no growth, though a handful of respondents noted that they were behind in their plans. Regardless, the dataset that came together felt worthy of sharing for its specificity and breadth. And so other startup founders can learn from how some of their peer group are performing. (Kidding.) Let’s get into the data, which has been segmented into buckets covering fintech, software and SaaS, startups focused on developers or security and a final group that includes D2C and fertility startups, among others. Q3 performance Obviously, some of the following startups could land in several different groups. Don’t worry about it! The categories are relaxed. We’re here to have fun, not split hairs! Fintech Numerated: According to Numerated CEO Dan O’Malley, his startup that helps companies more quickly access banking products had a big Q3. “Revenue for the first three quarters of 2020 is 11X our origination 2020 plan, and 18X versus the same period in 2019,” he said in an email. What’s driving growth? Bank digitization, O’Malley says, which has “been forced to happen rapidly and dramatically” in 2020. BlueVine: BlueVine does banking services for SMBs; think things like checking accounts, loans and payments. The company is having a big year, sharing with TechCrunch via email that has expanded its customer base “by 660% from Q1 2020 to” this week. That’s not a revenue metric, and it’s not Q3 specific, but as both Numerated and BlueVine cited the PPP program as a growth driver, it felt worthy of inclusion. Harvest Platform: A consumer-focused fintech, Harvest helps folks recover fees, track their net worth and bank. In an email, Harvest said it “grew well over 1000%+” in the third quarter and is “ahead of its 2020 plan” thanks to more folks signing up for its service and what a representative described as “economic tailwinds.” The savings and investing boom continues, it appears. Software/SaaS Uniphore: Uniphore provides AI-based conversational software products to other companies used for chatting to customers and security purposes. According to Uniphore CEO Umesh Sachdev, the company grew “320% [year-over-year] in our Q2 FY21 (July-sept 2020),” or a period that matches the calendar Q3 2020. Per the executive, that result was “on par with [its] plan.” Given that growth rate, is Uniphore a seed-stage upstart? Er, no, it raised a $51 million Series C in 2019. That makes its growth metrics rather impressive as its implied revenue base from which it grew so quickly this year is larger than we’d expect from younger companies. Text Request: A SMS service for SMBs, Text Request grew loads in Q3, telling TechCrunch that it “billed 6x more than we did in 2019’s Q3,” far ahead of its target for doubling billings. A company director said that while “customer acquisition was roughly on par with expectations,” the value of those customers greatly expanded. I dug into the numbers and was told that the 6x figure is for total dollars billed in Q3 2020 inclusive of recurring and non-recurring incomes. For just the company’s recurring software product, growth was a healthy 56% in Q3. Notarize: Digital notarization startup Notarize — Boston-based, most recently raised a $35 million Series C — is way ahead of where it expected to be, with a VP at the company telling TechCrunch that during “the first week of lockdowns, Notarize’s sales team got 3,000+ inquiries,” which it managed to turn into revenues. The same person added that the startup is “probably 5x ahead of [its] original 2020 plan,” with the substance measured being annual recurring revenue, or ARR. We’d love some hard numbers as well, but that growth pace is spicy. (Notarize also announced it grew 400% from March to July, earlier this year.) BurnRate.io: Acceleprise-backed Burnrate.io hasn’t raised a lot of money, but that hasn’t stopped it from growing quickly. According to co-founder and CEO Robert McLaws, BurnRate “started selling in Q4 of last year” so it did not have a pure Q3 2019 v. Q3 2020 metric to share. But the company managed to grow 3.3x from Q4 2019 to Q3 2020 per the executive, which is still great. BurnRate provides software that helps startups plan and forecast, with the company telling TechCrunch with yearly planning season coming up, it expects sales to keep growing. Gravy Analytics: Location data as a service! That’s what Gravy Analytics appears to do and apparently it’s been a good run thus far in 2020. The company told TechCrunch that it has seen sales rise 80% year-to-date over 2019. This is a bit outside our Q3 scope as it’s more 2020 data, but we can be generous and still include it. ChartHop: TechCrunch covered ChartHop earlier this year when it raised $5 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz. A number of other investors took part, including Cowboy Ventures and Flybridge Capital. Per our coverage, ChartHop is a “new type of HR software that brings all the different people data together in one place.” The model is working well, with the startup reporting that since its February seed round — that $5 million event — it has grown 10x. The company recently raised a Series A. Per a rep via email, ChartHop is “on-target” for its pre-pandemic business plan, but “far ahead” of what it expected at the start of the pandemic. Credo: Credo is a marketplace for digital marketing talent. It’s actually a company I’ve known for a long-time, thanks to founder John Doherty. According to Doherty, Credo has “grown revenue 50% since June, while only minimally increasing burn.” Very good. Canva: Breaking my own rules about only including financial data, I’m including Canva because it sent over strong product data that implies strong revenue growth. Per the company, Canva’s online design service has seen “increased growth over both Q2 and Q3, with an increase of 10 million users in Q3 alone (up from 30 million users in June).” 33% user growth from 30 to 40 million is impressive. And, the company added that it saw more team-based usage since the start of the pandemic, which we presume implies the buying of more expensive, group subscriptions. Next time real revenue, please, but this was still interesting. Developer/Security

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When it comes to apps, Android leads the pack with nearly 3 million apps in its official Google Play store. The sheer volume also means that sometimes iffy apps slip through the cracks. Researchers at the International Digital Accountability Council (IDAC), a non-profit watchdog based out of Boston, found that a trio of popular and seemingly innocent-looking apps aimed at younger users were recently found to be violating Google’s data collection policies, potentially accessing users’ Android ID and AAID (Android Advertising ID) numbers, with the data leakage potentially connected to the apps being built using SDKs from Unity, Umeng, and Appodeal. Collectively, the apps had more than 20 million downloads between them. The three apps in question — Princess Salon​, Number Coloring and ​Cats & Cosplay — have now been removed from the Google Play app store, as you can see in the links above. Google confirmed to us that it removed the apps after IDAC brought the violations to its attention. “We can confirm that the apps referenced in the report were removed,” said a Google spokesperson. “Whenever we find an app that violates our policies, we take action.” The violations point to a wider concern with the three publishers’ approach to adhering to data protection policies. “The practices we observed in our research raised serious concerns about data practices within these apps,” said IDAC president Quentin Palfrey. The incident is being highlighted at a time when a lot of attention is being focused on Google and the size of its operation. Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice and 11 States sued the company, accusing it of monopolistic and anticompetitive behavior in search and search advertising. To be clear, the app violations here are not related to search, but they underscore the scale of Google’s operation, and how even small oversights can lead to tens of millions of users being affected. They also serve as a reminder of the challenges of proactively policing individual violations on such a scale, and that those challenges can land in a particularly risky area: how minors use apps. At least in the cases of two of the publishers, Creative APPS and Libii Tech (whose apps are built around the cast of characters illustrated at the top of this story), other apps are still live. And it also appears that versions of the apps are also still downloadable through APK sites (like this one). There are also versions on iOS (for example here), but Palfrey said it had not assessed iOS versions so it’s not clear if they are similarly leaking data. The violation in this case is complex but is an example of one of the ways that users can unknowingly be tracked through apps. Pointing to the behind-the-scenes activity and data processing that gets loaded into innocent-looking apps, IDAC highlighted three SDKs in particular used by the app developers: the Unity 3D and game engine, Umeng (an Alibaba-owned analytics provider known as the “Flurry of China” that some have described also as an adware provider), and Appodeal (another app monetization and analytics provider) — as the source of the issues. Palfrey explained that the problem lies in how the data that the apps were able to access by way of the SDKs could be linked up with other kinds of data, such as geolocation information. “If AAID information is transmitted in tandem with a persistent identifier [such as Android ID] it’s possible for the protection measures that Google puts in place for privacy protection to be bridged,” he said. IDAC did not specify the violations in all of the SDKs, but noted in one example that certain versions of Unity’s SDK were collecting both the user’s AAID and Android ID simultaneously, and that could have allowed developers “to bypass privacy controls and track users over time and across devices.” IDAC describes the AAID as “the passport for aggregating all of the data about a user in one place.” It lets advertisers target ads to users based on signals for preferences that a user might have. The AAID can be reset by users. However, if an SDK is also providing a link to a users Android ID, which is a static number, it starts to create a “bridge” to identify and track a user. Palfrey would not get too specific on whether it could determine how much data was actually drawn as a result of the violations that it identified, but Google said that it was continuing to work on partnerships and procedures to catch similar (intentional or otherwise) bad actors. “One example of the work we are doing here is the Families ad certification program, which we announced in 2019),” said the spokesperson. “For apps that wish to serve ads in kids and families apps, we ask them to use only ad SDKs that have self-certified compliance with kids/families policies. We also require that apps that solely target children not contain any APIs or SDKs that are not approved for use in child-directed services.” IDAC, which was launched in April 2020 as a spinoff of the Future of Privacy Forum, has also carried out investigations into data privacy violations on fertility apps and Covid-19 trackers, and earlier this week it also published findings on data leakage from an older version of Twitter’s MoPub SDK affecting millions of users.

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Huawei announced earnings results today showing that its growth has slowed significantly this year as the Chinese telecom equipment and smartphone giant said its “production and operations face significant challenges.” While Huawei did not specify trade restrictions in its brief announcement, the company has been hit with a series of commercial trade restrictions by the U.S. government. The full impact of those policies haven’t been realized yet, because U.S. government has granted Huawei several waivers, including one that will delay the implementation of a ban on commercial trade with Huawei and ZTE until May 2021. Trump adds another year to Huawei/ZTE ban During the first three quarters of 2020, the Chinese telecoms and smartphone giant reported revenue of 671.3 billion yuan (about USD $100.7 billion), an increase of 9.9% year-over-year, with a profit margin of 8%. The company said those results “basically met expectations,” but it represents a huge drop from its performance during the same period last year, when Huawei reported 24.4% growth with a profit margin of 8.7%. Huawei is a privately-held company and its announcement did not break down its results in terms of smartphone or telecoms equipment sales, or other detail. The company wrote that “as the world grapples with COVID-19, Huawei’s global supply chain is being put under pressure and its production and operations face significant challenges. The company continues to do its best to find solutions, survive and forge forward, and fulfill its obligations to customers and suppliers.” Other U.S. restrictions include one that would ban Huawei from using U.S. software and hardware in certain semiconductor processes, forcing it to find other sources for chips. Huawei admits uncertainty following new US chip curbs In addition to the U.S., Huawei is also facing scrutiny by other countries, including the United Kingdom, which is planning to implement a new poicy that will bar telecoms from buying new 5G equipment from Huawei to ZTE and require them to remove any parts from those companies that’s already been installed in UK 5G networks by 2027. UK U-turns on Huawei and 5G, giving operators until 2027 to rip out existing kit Replacing Huawei equipment also presents costly challenges for telecoms, because Huawei is one of the biggest suppliers in the world. Last month, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said it would cost $1.837 billion to replace Huawei and ZTE networking equipment, with rural telecom networks facing the most financial pressure. But 2020 has had a few bright spots for Huawei. In July, a report from Canalys found that Huawei overtook Samsung as the leader in global smartphone shipments during the second quarter of 2020, a major milestone because it marked the the first time in nine years that Apple and Samsung didn’t take the top spot on Canalys’ charts. This was partly because smartphone shipments in general have been hurt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Huawei was helped by sales within China, its domestic market. Huawei overtook Samsung in global smartphone shipments for Q2

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Lunar, the Nordic challenger bank that started out life as a personal finance manager app (PFM) but acquired a full banking license in 2019, has raised €40 million in Series C funding from existing investors. The injection of capital follows a €20 million Series B disclosed in April this year and comes on the back of Lunar rolling out Pro paid-for subscriptions — similar to a number of other challenger banks in Europe — personal consumer loans, and the launch of business bank accounts in August. The latter appears to have been an instant success, perhaps proof there is — like in the U.K. — pent up demand for more accessible banking for sole traders. Just months since launching in Denmark, Lunar Business claims to have signed up more than 50% of all newly founded sole trader businesses in the country. Nordic challenger bank Lunar adds €20M to its Series B I’m also told that Lunar has seen “best-in-class” user engagement with users spending €1,100 per month versus what the bank says is a €212 EU average for card transactions. Overall, the bank has 5,000 business users and 200,000 private users across Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Meanwhile — and most noteworthy — after launching its first consumer lending products on its own balance sheet, Lunar has set its sights on the “buy now, pay later” market, therefore theoretically encroaching on $10.65 billion valued Klarna, and Affirm in the U.S. which just filed to go public. Other giants in the BNPL space also include PayPal. Affirm files confidentially to go public Lunar founder and CEO Ken Villum Klausen says the “schizophrenic” Nordic banking market is the reason why the challenger is launching BNPL. “It’s the most profitable banking landscape in the world, but also the most defensive, with least competition from the outside,” he says. “This means that the traditional banking customer is buying all their financial products from their bank”. It is within this context that Lunar’s BNPL products are built as “post-purchase,” where Lunar will prompt its users after they have bought something (not dissimilar to Curve’s planned credit offering). For example, if you were to buy a new television, the app will ask if you want to split the purchase into instalments. “This does not require merchant agreements etc, and will work on all transactions both retail and e-commerce,” explains Klausen. “We do not view Klarna as a direct competitor as they are not in the Nordic clearing system,” he adds. “Hence, you cannot pay your bills, get your salary and use it for daily banking. Klarna is enormous in Sweden, but relatively small in Denmark, Norway and Finland”. In total, Lunar has raised €104 million from investors including Seed Capital, Greyhound Capital, Socii Capital and Chr. Augustinus Fabrikker. The challenger has offices in Aarhus, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, with a headcount of more than 180 employees. It plans to launch its banking app in Finland in the first half of 2021. Klarna raises $650 million at a $10.6 billion valuation

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Don’t call it StopCovid anymore. France’s contact-tracing app has been updated and is now called TousAntiCovid, which means ‘everyone against Covid’. The French government is trying to pivot so that it’s no longer a contact-tracing app — or at least not just a contact-tracing app. Right now, TousAntiCovid appears to be a rebranding more than a pivot. There’s a new name and some changes in the user interface. But the core feature of the app remains unchanged. StopCovid hasn’t been a success. First, it’s still unclear whether contact-tracing apps are a useful tool to alert people who have been interacting with someone who has been diagnosed COVID-19-positive. Second, even when you take that into consideration, the app never really took off. Back in June, the French government gave us an update on StopCovid three weeks after its launch. 1.9 million people had downloaded the app, but StopCovid only sent 14 notifications. French contact-tracing app StopCovid has been activated 1.8 million times but only sent 14 notifications Four months later, StopCovid/TousAntiCovid has been downloaded and activated by close to 2.8 million people. But only 13,651 people declared themselves as COVID-19-positive in the app, which led to 823 notifications. Even if you’re tested positive, in most cases, no one is going to be notified. Hence today’s update. If you’ve been using the app, you’ll receive TousAntiCovid with a software update — the French government is using the same App Store and Play Store listing. When you first launch the app, you go through an onboarding process focused on contact-tracing — activate notifications, activate Bluetooth, etc. France is using its own contact-tracing protocol called ROBERT. A group of researchers and private companies have worked on a centralized architecture. The server assigns you a permanent ID (a pseudonym) and sends to your phone a list of ephemeral IDs derived from that permanent ID. Like most contact-tracing apps, TousAntiCovid relies on Bluetooth Low Energy to build a comprehensive list of other app users you’ve interacted with for more than a few minutes. If you’re using the app, it collects the ephemeral IDs of other app users around you. If you’re using the app and you’re diagnosed COVID-19-positive, your testing facility will hand you a QR code or a string of letters and numbers. You can choose to open the app and enter that code to share the list of ephemeral IDs of people you’ve interacted with over the past two weeks. The server back end then flags all those ephemeral IDs as belonging to people who have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus. On the server again, each user is associated with a risk score. If it goes above a certain threshold, the user receives a notification. The app then recommends you get tested and follow official instructions. But there are some new things in the app. You can now access some recent numbers about the pandemic in France — new cases over the past 24 hours, number of people in intensive care unit, etc. There’s a new feed of news items. Right now, it sums up what you can do and cannot do in France And there are some new links for useful resources — the service that tells you where you can get tested and a link to the exemption certificate during the curfew. When you tap on those links, it simply launches your web browser to official websites. Let’s see how the app evolves as the government now wants to actively iterate on TousAntiCovid to make it more attractive. If TousAntiCovid can become a central information hub for your phone, it could attract more downloads. Hundreds of French academics sign letter asking for safeguards on contact tracing France’s Inria and Germany’s Fraunhofer detail their ROBERT contact-tracing protocol

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Flipkart is acquiring a 7.8% stake in Aditya Birla Fashion as the Walmart-owned Indian e-commerce firm makes further push into the fashion category in one of the world’s largest retail markets. The e-commerce group will pay $203.8 million for its stake in Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, a conglomerate that operates over 3,000 stores including the Pantaloons brand. As part of the “landmark partnership,” Flipkart will also sell and distribute various Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail’s brands products. “This partnership is an emphatic endorsement of the growth potential of India,” said Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group, which operates the fashion retail firm in a filing to the stock exchange. “It also reflects our strong conviction in the future of the apparel industry in India, which is poised to touch $100 billion in the next 5 years.” Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart Group, said the two companies will work toward “making available a wide range of products for fashion-conscious consumers across different retail formats across the country. We look forward to working with ABFRL and its well established and comprehensive fashion and retail infrastructure as we address the promising opportunity of the apparel industry in India.” In July, Flipkart also invested $35 million in $35 million in Arvind Fashions, one of the decades-old Indian firm’s subsidiaries. More to follow…

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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of issuing subpoenas for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Thursday, meaning that there might be two big tech CEO hearings on the horizon. Republicans in the committee declared their interest in a hearing on “the platforms’ censorship of New York Post articles” after social networks limited the reach of a dubious story purporting to contain hacked materials implicating Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, in impropriety involving a Ukrainian energy firm. Fox News reportedly passed on the story due to doubts about its credibility. Tech’s decision to take action against the New York Post story was bound to ignite Republicans in Congress, who have long claimed, with scant evidence, that social platforms deliberately censor conservative voices due to political bias. The Senate Judiciary Committee is chaired by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close Trump ally who is now in a much closer than expected race with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. According to a motion filed by Graham, the hearing would address: (1) the suppression and/or censorship of two news articles from the New York Post titled “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad” and “Emails reveal how Hunter Biden tried to cash in big on behalf of family with Chinese firm,” (2) any other content moderation policies, practices, or actions that may interfere with or influence elections for federal office, and (3) any other recent determinations to temporarily reduce distribution of material pending factchecker review and/or block and mark material as potentially unsafe. Earlier in October, the Senate Commerce Committee successfully leveraged subpoena power to secure Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai for testimony for their own hearing focused on Section 230, the critical law that shields online platforms from liability for user created content. The hearing isn’t scheduled yet, nor have the companies publicly agreed to attend. But lawmakers have now established a precedent for successfully dragging tech’s reluctant leaders under oath, making it more difficult for some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men to avoid Congress from here on out. Section 230 will be on the chopping block at the next big tech hearing

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A pair of U.S. Representatives — one from each party — are proposing a law that would limit the president’s ability to shut down the internet at will. That may not strike you as an imminent threat, but federal police disappearing protestors into unmarked vans probably didn’t either, until a couple months ago. Let’s keep an open mind. The president has the power under the Communications Act’s Section 706 to order the shutdown of some communications infrastructure in an emergency. While this was likely intended more for making sure official phone calls could get through in a national emergency, it’s possible that today it could be used as a measure to tamp down on protests and civil unrest, as we’ve seen in authoritarian regimes around the world. The Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act, from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), doesn’t remove this ability, but adds several layers of accountability to it. In the first place, the bill would limit Section 706 use to when there is an “imminent and specific threat to human life or national security.” This prevents it from being put into play when there is a more general “threat” such as a major protest that might be too much for local police to handle. The bill would also require the president to inform the top layer of government officials, including opposition leaders, of any shutdown. Ideally before, but it could be up to 12 hours later (and is illegal if not by then). Any shutdown ends automatically after 48 hours unless 3/5 of Congress vote to continue it. The U.S. government would also be obligated to compensate providers and customers for the monetary value of the shutdown’s impact. This could end up being quite expensive depending on how it’s calculated. Russia starts testing its own internal internet Lastly, a General Accountability Office report is required after every use of Section 706, and they get to the bottom of everything. Whether this bill has any chance of becoming law is, like practically everything these days, anyone’s guess. But bipartisan laws limiting potential curtailments of civil rights by the White House are probably going to be fairly popular after the feds’ shenanigans over the summer. At the very least it has some heavy hitters offering glowing blurbs: FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: “In the United States our laws are dated and they offer virtually unchecked power to the president over our wired and wireless communications when we face peril or national emergency. So kudos to Congresswoman Eshoo for legislation to modernize our laws and put in place safeguards to ensure that the internet stays on when we need it most.” Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff: “A long overdue check and balance on a President’s authority to shut down or significantly curtail internet communication under the guise of an emergency.” Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: “in a time of emergency, how the internet operates is in the hands of one person. Defining that authority in a focused manner and adding congressional oversight would bring an old statute into the digital age.” Cybersecurity mainstay Bruce Schneier: “The Internet is critical infrastructure, and needs to be protected from politically motivated shut-downs. This bill helps ensures that the communications censorship that is increasingly common in other countries doesn’t happen in the US. It adds process, and checks and balances, to what is currently an ad hoc authority.” You can read more about the bill and read the full text here. PACT Act takes on internet platform content rules with ‘a scalpel rather than a jackhammer’

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Quibi is shutting down — we know that much for sure. But when? If you’re looking to blast through all 25 episodes of the Reno 911 revival series before Quibi calls its quits, how long do you actually have? While it seems even Quibi isn’t 100% certain yet, they’ve at least now given users a rough idea of when they expect the plug to be pulled: early December. As spotted by Variety, a newly published support page on the Quibi site says streaming will end “on or about December 1, 2020.” The ‘about’ suggests that the shutdown date isn’t fully locked quite yet, but it should be sometime around then. Will any Quibi shows find their way over to Netflix, Hulu, etc? That’s still up in the air, too. “At this time we do not know if the Quibi content will be available anywhere after our last day of service,” the company writes in a note on the same page.

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We’re excited to announce an update to the Extra Crunch Partner Perk from Zendesk. Starting today, annual and two-year Extra Crunch members that are new to Zendesk, and meet their startup qualifications, can now receive six months of free access to Zendesk’s Sales CRM, in addition to Zendesk Support Suite, Zendesk Explore and Zendesk Sunshine. Here is an overview of the program. Zendesk is a service-first CRM company with support, sales and customer engagement products designed to improve customer relationships. This offer is only available for startups that are new to Zendesk, have fewer than 100 employees and are funded but have not raised beyond a Series B. The Zendesk Partner Perk from Extra Crunch is inclusive of subscription fees, free for six months, after which you will be responsible for payment. Any downgrades to your Zendesk subscription will result in the forfeiture of the promotion, so please check with Zendesk first regarding any changes ([email protected]). Some add-ons such as Zendesk Talk and Zendesk Sell minutes are not included. Complete details of what’s included can be found here.

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Facebook’s dating feature expands after a regulatory delay, we review the new Amazon Echo and President Donald Trump has an on-the-nose Twitter password. This is your Daily Crunch for October 22, 2020. The big story: Facebook Dating comes to Europe Back in February, Facebook had to call off the European launch date of its dating service after failing to provide the Irish Data Protection Commission with enough advanced notice of the launch. Now it seems the regulator has given Facebook the go-ahead. Facebook Dating (which launched in the U.S. last year) allows users to create a separate dating profile, identify secret chats and go on video dates. As for any privacy and regulatory concerns, the commission told us, “Facebook has provided detailed clarifications on the processing of personal data in the context of the Dating feature … We will continue to monitor the product as it launches across the EU this week.” The tech giants Amazon Echo review: Well-rounded sound — This year’s redesign centers on another audio upgrade. Facebook adds hosting, shopping features and pricing tiers to WhatsApp Business — Facebook is launching a way to shop for and pay for goods and services in WhatsApp chats, and it said it will finally start to charge companies using WhatsApp for Business. Spotify takes on radio with its own daily morning show — The new program will combine news, pop culture, entertainment and music personalized to the listener. Startups, funding and venture capital Chinese live tutoring app Yuanfudao is now worth $15.5 billion — The homework tutoring app founded in 2012 has surpassed Byju’s as the most valuable edtech company in the world. E-bike subscription service Dance closes $17.7M Series A, led by HV Holtzbrinck Ventures — The founders of SoundCloud launched their e-bike service three months ago. Freelancer banking startup Lili raises $15M — It’s only been a few months since Lili announced its $10 million seed round, and it’s already raised more funding. Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch How unicorns helped venture capital get later, and bigger — Q3 2020 was a standout period for how high late-stage money stacked up compared to cash available to younger startups. Ten Zurich-area investors on Switzerland’s 2020 startup outlook — According to official estimates, the number of new Swiss startups has skyrocketed by 700% since 1996. Four quick bites and obituaries on Quibi (RIP 2020-2020) — What we can learn from Quibi’s amazing, instantaneous, billions-of-dollars failure. (Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.) Everything else President Trump’s Twitter accessed by security expert who guessed password “maga2020!” — After logging into President Trump’s account, the researcher said he alerted Homeland Security and the password was changed. For the theremin’s 100th anniversary, Moog unveils the gorgeous Claravox Centennial — With a walnut cabinet, brass antennas and a plethora of wonderful knobs and dials, the Claravox looks like it emerged from a prewar recording studio. Announcing the Agenda for TC Sessions: Space 2020 — Our first-ever dedicated space event is happening on December 16 and 17. The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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The third-quarter earnings cycle is just getting underway, but we’ve already seen a few companies post numbers that investors did not like. Netflix missed on several metrics yesterday and was punished, and today Intel is joining the video streaming giant in stock-market purgatory. Intel shares are off around 10% in after-hours trading after the chip company reported its Q3 data. Investors had expected Intel to report an adjusted $1.11 in per-share profit, off around 22% from the year-ago period. They also expected it to report revenues of $18.26 billion in Q3, down a more modest 5% compared to the year-ago Q3. Notably, Intel beat revenue expectations with top line of $18.3 billion, and met earnings-per-share estimates of $1.11, on an adjusted basis. Here’s why Netflix shares are off after reporting earnings So, why are Intel shares sharply lower? Quick consensus appears to point to weakness in the company data-focused business unit, the smaller of Intel’s two halves (the other focuses on PC chips). Inside the data-side of Intel, its Data Center Group (DCG) had mixed results, including cloud revenue growth of 15%. However, at the same time, the DCG’s “Enterprise & Government” business shrank 47% compared to the year-ago period, following what Intel described as “two quarters of more than 30 percent growth.” Off that weakness, the resulting top line miss was sharp, with the market expecting $6.22 billion in revenue and DCG only delivering $5.9 billion. Intel blamed COVID-19 for the weak economics conditions at play in the result. The company also highlighted COVID-19 when it discussed results from its internet of things business and memory operation, which declined 33% and 11% on a year-over-year basis, respectively. Perhaps due to COVID-19’s recent resurgence in both North America and Europe, investors are concerned that the macroeconomic issues harming Intel’s growth could continue. If so, growth could be negative for a longer period than anticipated. That perspective could have led to some selling of Intel’s equity after the earnings report. Could guidance have a part to play in Intel’s share price decline? Probably not. Better than what it reported for Q3 2020, Intel’s forward guidance shows a small revenue beat versus expectations, and a small profit beat as well. Intel forecasts revenues of $17.4 billion for Q4 2020 and adjusted earnings per share of $1.10, while the street was looking for $17.34 billion in top line and adjusted earnings per share of $1.06. Given that Intel is prepped to best expectations in Q4, it’s hard to pin its share-price declines on guidance. That leaves the weakness in its data business as the most obvious culprit. It is dangerous to over-describe why a stock or a group of stocks move at any given time. But in this case, it seems plain that the revenue miss inside Intel’s data business was at least a portion of why it shed value. As to whether the company’s COVID-19 notes are valid is up to you and how you handicap the broader economy. Intel has invested $132M in 11 startups this year, on track for $300M-$500M in total

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. Myself, along with Danny and Natasha had a lot to get through, and more to say than expected. A big thanks to Chris for cutting the show down to size. Now, what did we get to? Aside from a little of everything, we ran through: The fall of Quibi, and who lost money in the mix. TechCrunch has a bit more on the video service’s downfall here. The Netflix quarter, and why its shares lost ground after its report. The Quibi-Netflix stories show that it’s not smooth sailing in the market for online video. If Netflix stumbled, Snap soared with stronger-than-expected growth. The company still loses lots of money, but it’s getting closer to reasonable results, and has lots of cash. Then we turned to a few media startups that raised, including $4 million for Stir and $2.5 million for Quake. Quake the podcasting company, mind, not the excellent FPS. Next was a handful of housing rounds, including the very neat Abodu and the somewhat controversial RVshare, which split the three of us about whether or not it was going to work out. Then we had some great reporting from Natasha to parse through, including her piece on startup hacker houses, and her report on a new women-focused accelerator class. Whew! It was a lot, but also very good fun. Look for clips on YouTube if you’d like, and we’ll chat you all next Monday. Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the casts.

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
AT&T painted a rosy picture of HBO Max adoption during the company’s earnings report on Thursday. Despite not being available on Roku, one of the top streaming platforms in the U.S., AT&T said new HBO Max activations more than doubled from second-quarter levels, reaching 8.6 million in Q3. In total, 28.7 million customers were eligible to stream their HBO Max subscription by the end of the quarter, the company said. Of these, 25.1 million came from “wholesale” agreements — meaning a pay TV provider of some kind, like Comcast, Charter, Verizon [TechCrunch’s parent], or AT&T’s own DirecTV, for example. But only 3.625 million were direct “retail” subscribers. Combined, both HBO and HBO Max topped 38 million subscribers in the U.S. and 57 million worldwide. The 38 million figure put the company ahead of its previously announced year-end target of 36 million, the report said. However, AT&T’s numbers alone don’t paint a true picture of who’s really watching HBO Max content. AT&T touts its quarterly “activiations” without clarifying that only a small portion of customers are choosing to sign up for HBO Max directly by paying $15 per month for a subscription. A larger portion are simply becoming eligible to watch the streaming service through their existing HBO subscriptions — but many haven’t yet signed in and actually streamed. In fact, some significant portion of these 8.6 million new “activations” may not yet even know that HBO Max exists — especially if the service is unavailable on their favorite streaming platform, like Roku. Or they may know it exists but can’t find it on Roku, so they think it just hasn’t launched. Roku finally took this issue into its own hands, and is now working around the stalled negotiations by adding support for AirPlay 2 on its newer devices. This will give Apple customers a way to stream from apps that haven’t launched on the Roku platform itself. AT&T also said it’s continuing to invest in HBO Max, having poured around $600 million in the service during Q3, bringing its investment to $1.3 billion for the year so far. And it’s on track for an estimated investment of $2 billion by year-end. The company also said consumer engagement on the new platform was doing well, up nearly 60% from HBO Now levels. But it offered few other metrics of success, other than saying its “library” titles have been “performing incredibly strong” with its customer base. In addition, only 1 or 2 pieces of leased content have made it into the HBO Max top 10, but AT&T admitted it could have launched with a stronger slate of original programs. On the product side, AT&T said it would be pushing out software updates every 45 days to improve the user interface and usability of the app. And it’s still on track to launch an advertising-supported version of the service (AVOD)  in 2021, as planned, and expand internationally. “AVOD not only allows us to broaden the offering [and] the amount of content we put on the platform,” explained AT&T CEO John Stankey, “it allows us to hit a different price point and attract different segments of the market and as a result of that we think that will be an important market expansion capability for us,” he said.        

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posted 6 days ago on techcrunch
Uber is facing a class-action lawsuit over Proposition 22 that alleges the company is illegally coercing its drivers to support the ballot measure that seeks to keep workers classified as independent contractors. The suit was brought forth by two Uber drivers, Benjamin Valdez and Hector Castellanos, as well as two California nonprofit organizations, Worksafe and Chinese Progressive Association. “Let’s be absolutely clear,” David Lowe, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “Uber’s threats and constant barrage of Prop 22 propaganda on an app the drivers must use to do their work have one purpose: to coerce the drivers to support Uber’s political battle to strip them of workplace protections.” In the suit, provided by The New York Times reporter Kate Conger, the plaintiffs argues Uber has encouraged its drivers and delivery workers to support Prop 22 via the company’s driver-scheduling app. “Uber’s solicitations have the purpose and effect of causing drivers to fear retaliation by Uber if they do not support Uber’s political preference and may induce many drivers to falsely state that they support being deprived of the rights that California law guarantees to statutory ’employees,’ the suit states. Prop 22 opponents say Yes on 22 should not be able to mail flyers as nonprofit This group says it also plans to file legal claims against Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash with the California Labor Commissioner. “This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts,” Uber spokesperson Matt Kallman said in a statement to TechCrunch. “It can’t distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22, and have for months, because they know it will improve their lives and protect the way they prefer to work.” Prop 22 is the most-funded campaign in California’s history. To date, the Yes on 22 side has put north of $185 million into the initiative. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are the biggest contributors on the yes side. Meanwhile, the No on 22 campaign has contributed $12,166,063. Mixtape Podcast: Proposition 22 and the labor divide

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posted 7 days ago on techcrunch
Jason Morgese Contributor Jason Morgese is the founder and CEO of Leavemark, the first ad-free, data storage and social media hybrid. “The Social Dilemma” is opening eyes and changing digital lives for Netflix bingers across the globe. The filmmakers explore social media and its effects on society, raising some crucial points about impacts on mental health, politics and the myriad ways firms leverage user data. It interweaves interviews from industry executives and developers who discuss how social sites can manipulate human psychology to drive deeper engagement and time spent within the platforms. Despite the glaring issues present with social media platforms, people still crave digital attention, especially during a pandemic, where in-person connections are strained if not impossible. So, how can the industry change for the better? Here are three ways social media should adapt to create happier and healthier interpersonal connections and news consumption. Stop censoring On most platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, the company determines some of the information presented to users. This opens the platform to manipulation by bad actors and raises questions about who exactly is dictating what information is seen and what is not. What are the motivations behind those decisions? And some of the platforms dispute their role in this process, with Mark Zuckerberg saying in 2019, “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” Censorship can be absolved with a restructured type of social platform. For example, consider a platform that does not rely on advertiser dollars. If a social platform is free for basic users but monetized by a subscription model, there is no need to use an information-gathering algorithm to determine which news and content are served to users. This type of platform is not a ripe target for manipulation because users only see information from people they know and trust, not advertisers or random third parties. Manipulation on major social channels happens frequently when people create zombie accounts to flood content with fake “likes” and “views” to affect the viewed content. It’s commonly exposed as a tactic for election meddling, where agents use social media to promote false statements. This type of action is a fundamental flaw of social algorithms that use AI to make decisions about when and what to censor as well as what it should promote. Don’t treat users like products The issues raised by “The Social Dilemma” should reinforce the need for social platforms to self-regulate their content and user dynamics and operate ethically. They should review their most manipulative technologies that cause isolation, depression and other issues and instead find ways to promote community, progressive action and other positive attributes. A major change required to bring this about is to eliminate or reduce in-platform advertising. An ad-free model means the platform does not need to aggressively push unsolicited content from unsolicited sources. When ads are the main driver for a platform, then the social company has a vested interest in using every psychological and algorithm-based trick to keep the user on the platform. It’s a numbers game that puts profit over users. More people multiplied by more time on the site equals ad exposure and ad engagement and that means revenue. An ad-free model frees a platform from trying to elicit emotional responses based on a user’s past actions, all to keep them trapped on the site, perhaps to an addictive degree. Encourage connections without clickbait A common form of clickbait is found on the typical social search page. A user clicks on an image or preview video that suggests a certain type of content, but upon clicking they are brought to unrelated content. It’s a technique that can be used to spread misinformation, which is especially dangerous for viewers who rely on social platforms for their news consumption, instead of traditional outlets. According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of adults get their news from social media “often” or “sometimes.” This causes a significant problem when clickbait articles make it easier to offer distorted “fake news” stories. Unfortunately, when users engage with clickbait content, they are effectively “voting” for that information. That seemingly innocuous action creates a financial reason for others to create and disseminate further clickbait. Social media platforms should aggressively ban or limit clickbait. Management at Facebook and other firms often counter with a “free speech” argument when it comes to stopping clickbait. However, they should consider the intent is not to act as censors that are stopping controversial topics but protecting users from false content. It’s about cultivating trust and information sharing, which is much easier to accomplish when post content is backed by facts. “The Social Dilemma” is rightfully an important film that encourages a vital dialogue about the role social media and social platforms play in everyday life. The industry needs to change to create more engaged and genuine spaces for people to connect without preying on human psychology. A tall order, but one that should benefit both users and platforms in the long term. Social media still creates important digital connections and functions as a catalyst for positive change and discussion. It’s time for platforms to take note and take responsibility for these needed changes, and opportunities will arise for smaller, emerging platforms taking a different, less-manipulative approach.

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posted 7 days ago on techcrunch
Netflix is going back to school. Working with Norfolk State University, the alma mater of one of the company’s senior software engineers, and the online education platform, 2U, Netflix is developing a virtual boot camp for students to gain exposure to the tech industry. Starting today Netflix will open enrollment for 130 students to participate in a 16-week training program beginning in January. That program will be divided into three tracks — Java Engineering, UX/UI Design and Data Science. Experts from Netflix will work with 2U to design each track and all courses will be led by faculty from Norfolk State University and feature guest lecturers from the tech industry, the company said. Members from the company’s data science, engineering, and design teams will serve as mentors — including Norfolk State alumnus Michael Chase. Netflix will foot the bill for students accepted into the program, and they’ll get course credit for completing the boot camp, the company said. “The goal is for participants to come away better equipped with industry-relevant skills to enter today’s workforce and with valuable, long-lasting relationships,” Kabi Gishuru, the company’s director of Inclusion Recruiting Programs wrote in a statement. “As we continue to invest in building the best service for our members, we want to invest in the best team to support it. Creating space in the industry for all voices will only make it stronger.”

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