We are leaving older adults out of the digital world

May is national Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is Connect, Create, Contribute. One area in particular threatens to prevent older adults from making those connections: the digital divide.

Nationally, one-third of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve never used the internet, and half don’t have internet access at home. Of those who do use the internet, nearly half say they need someone else’s help to set up or use a new digital device. Even in San Francisco – the home of technology giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google – 40% of older adults do not have basic digital literacy skills, and of those, more than half do not use the internet at all.

Mastering digital technology has become a key component of what it means to fully participate in society. If we do not provide technology access and training to older adults, we shut them out from society, worsening an already worrisome trend of isolation and loneliness among the elderly.

As a researcher working directly with isolated older adults to provide low-cost internet, tablets, and digital training through the Tech Allies program, led by the non-profit Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, I regularly hear this sentiment from seniors.

I visit Tech Allies participants – whose ages range from 62 to 98 – both before and after their eight weeks of one-on-one technology training. We talk about their experiences with and perspectives on technology today. In reflecting on why he and other older adults would want to learn to use the internet, one elder told me, “We feel like we’re standing outside a building that we have no access to.”

Another woman shared that because she doesn’t have internet access or know how to use technology, she feels, “I’m just not part of this world anymore. In certain facets of society, I just can’t join…. Some [things] just are not possible if you are not in the flow of the internet.”

In contrast to concerns about technology use increasing isolation among younger populations, the communication and connection possible online can be especially valuable for older adults who are homebound, live far away from family, or have lost the loved ones they relied on for social support in their younger years. Elders can use online tools to connect with friends and family via messaging platforms, video chat, and social media even if they can no longer physically visit them.

Older adults can find online support groups for people who share their medical conditions. And they can engage with the outside world through news, blogs, streaming platforms, and email, even if they are no longer able to move about as easily as they once could. As one elder told me, “I can’t really move that easily without a caretaker and I only have her a few hours a day so [the tablet] … has been a great companion for me and it gets me connected with other people.”

Image courtesy of Getty Images

For older adults in particular, the risks associated with social isolation are profound. Loneliness among older adults has been associated with depressioncardiovascular disease,functional decline, and death. Technology can serve as an important tool to help reduce these risks, but only if we provide older adults with the skills they need to access our digital world.

But we can close this gap. Our research shows that Tech Allies measurably improves older adults’ use of technology and confidence in key digital skills. Programs like this, which embed technology training in existing community-based organizations, should be expanded, with increased funding prioritized at local, state, and federal levels and with greater involvement of technology companies and investors. If we spent even a fraction of the $8 billion invested in digital health companies alone last year on tailoring these tools for older adults, we could drastically expand usability, training, and access to broadband and devices.

Support from technology companies could take many forms. Beyond expanding device donation programs, technology companies should design devices specifically for older adults (when your hand is shaky, swiping can be tough…) and should have tech support call lines tailored to older adults less familiar with the internet (cache and cookies and clouds, oh my!).

Furthermore, broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T should streamline the enrollment process for their affordable internet programs and expand eligibility. Partnerships between service providers and community-based organizations focused on older adults will be key in ensuring that these efforts actually meet the needs of older adults.

To be sure, many older adults also express a lack of interest in technology. For some, this reflects a true lack of desire to use digital tools. But for others it reflects an underlying fear of technology and lack of skills. Appropriate training can help to quell those fears and generate interest. In particular, great care must be paid to online safety training. Older adults are more likely to fall victim to online scams, putting their personal information at risk, but with tailored digital literacy training, they can learn to navigate the internet safely and securely.

The importance of digital inclusion is not going to disappear with the generational changes of the coming decades. Technology is continuously evolving, and with each new digital innovation come challenges for even younger adults to adapt.

With greater investment in providing accessible devices, broadband, and digital training, technology has the potential to become a powerful tool for reducing loneliness among older adults, empowering them to connect, create, and contribute online. As one elder put it, “It’s time to catch up, you know, and join the world.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Week-in-Review: the iPhone fades and SpaceX confirms an explosion

After a dozen years of riding high, the iPhone is showing signs of weakness in a struggling smartphone market where Apple is still managing to be the biggest loser.

Here’s a snapshot of where things are at…

Apple hasn’t been broadcasting its quarterly unit sales the past few quarters so we’ll have to lean on external researchers, but even the rosiest portrayal from Canalys suggests that the Cupertino giant saw a 23% drop in year-over-year iPhone unit sales, selling 40.2 million iPhones in Q2 of this year compared to 52.2 million iPhones a year ago.

That egregious drop takes Apple to its lowest Q2 unit sales since 2013, though the company has been solidly been bumping up the average selling price in a move that has largely been working, though iPhone revenue was down 15% year-over-year as well.

It’s not Apple’s cross to bear alone, the broader smartphone market has been in decline, down 6.8% year-over-year, according to the same report. But the iPhone’s decline contributed to roughly half of the global market’s missing units while China’s smartphone triumvirate of Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi managed to buoy the broader sector from diving even lower.

Huawei’s unit sales shot up over 50%.

Apple wasn’t the only non-Chinese phone maker wallowing in misery. Google cited a rough market for smartphones after delivering disappointing earnings, while Samsung saw a 10 percent decline in unit sales this quarter according to Canalys.

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on Twitter @lucasmtny or email

The smartphone market has had 6 straight quarters of year-over-year sales declines. This was the lowest quarter of smartphone unit sales in nearly 5 years. Whether Apple can better perform might be a question of how they can seek to differentiate themselves in China while still managing to squeeze consistent revenues from markets where it leads.

More doom-and-gloom from my buddy Brian Heater here:

iPhone hard hit as global smartphone shipments nosedive

Onto the cheerier topic of dead robots…


Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.

  • Zuckerberg tries again
    Facebook is dead as you know it, or at least that what CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants you to think after his audacious relaunch of the company as a lover of privacy. The company gave its Facebook app and desktop site a major facelift and spoke at length about being better. Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help but think that Zuckerberg was spinning for extra credit with decisions that had long been made. More from my colleague Josh Constine.
  • SpaceX cops to an explosion
    Elon Musk’s space company may have to push back its timeline for a manned launch after the company confirmed that its Dragon crew capsule exploded during testing. The disappointing development suggests SpaceX has some more work ahead of it before it’s ready to safely transport humans into space.
  • Another dead robot
    Cozmo won’t be scooting into any new homes, the startup behind the cute little robot is dead after the dissolution of a new funding round. Anki had raised a staggering $182 million over the course of its life and had sold 1.5 million of the curious, little wheeled bots, but now it seems to face the same lonely death as Jibo, which similarly perished a couple months ago.
  • Palantir not so nice after all
    Peter Thiel’s Palantir has long held onto this very nefarious reputation as an evil company that’s working with government agencies and screwing over progressive ideals in the process. It wasn’t always super clear how true this was because it kind of seemed like Alex Karp and company was just scrambling to get private sector customers so it could justify its private valuation ahead of an IPO. Well, turns out the company is shitty after all.
  • Headset hullabaloo
    The VR market may be dead, but don’t tell that to the companies making VR headsets. Yes, the new headsets are still all bulky and weird but they are undoubtedly better. Oculus’ introduction of the Quest (reviewed here by me) and Rift S (review from me, again) next month might just add a little life to the dead VR dreams, and if that doesn’t work Valve has a $1,000 option it’s now hocking.

Forward-looking statement

What’s coming up next week? Well, you can expect a bunch of Microsoft news at its Build developer conference and there will also assuredly be a lot emerging from Google I/O where I’ll be spending a couple days next week. Here’s what we think is coming…

What to expect from Google I/O 2019

“…It’s shaping up to be a biggie, too, if this week’s Google earnings call was any indication. Sundar Pichai teased out a number of upcoming offerings from the company that we can expect to see on full display at the show…”

HVEPhoto/Getty Images

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw-up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness: (This week was admittedly a little light on the gaffes, but don’t be too disappointed, that’s good!)

  1. Googlers aren’t happy about workplace retaliation:
    [Google employees are staging a sit-in to protest reported retaliation]
  2. Researchers studying Facebook’s ad platform aren’t getting the access, they say they need:
    [Facebook accused of blocking wider efforts to study its ad platform]
  3. Apple wades into anti-competitive criticism with latest app bans:
    [Apple defends its takedown of some apps monitoring screen-time]

Horacio Villalobos//Corbis/Getty Images

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service roars ahead. We had a fascinating piece go up this week diving into Slack’s financial filings that discovered some discrepancies in the VC funding that was reported versus what was actually raised:

The curious case of Slack’s missing $162 million

“…Given that most of the stories covering Slack derived from the company’s own announcements, you would expect that those stories and the data in the S-1 would match. In short: they do, somewhat…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers — you should catch up with our full Niantic deep-dive if you have’t already, this list is a nice primer though…

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Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook is pivoting

“The future is private,” said Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook’s roadmap, after conceding “we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly.” But it’s easy to see why he would genuinely want that … now. Facebook’s seemingly endless series of privacy debacles have been disastrous for the company’s reputation.

Not its revenue, mind you; but revenue is famously a lagging indicator in the tech industry. Companies which, like Facebook, effectively become utilities, tend to maximize their income just as their use becomes ubiquitous — not because people especially like them any more, but because there seems to be no better alternative. (See also: Craigslist. PayPal. An obscure little company called MySpace which you may have heard of once.)

But “the future is private,” the vision of Facebook as a platform for groups and individuals sharing end-to-end-encrypted messages, the content of which it cannot be criticized for because it is literally incapable of knowing, sounds like a pretty gargantuan shift in business model, too. “Senator, we sell ads,” is another famous Zuckerberg quote. Won’t end-to-end encryption, and the de-emphasis of the continuously scrollable News Feed in favor of more discrete communications, strip Facebook of both valuable ad space and valuable ad-targeting information?

Probably. But it’s already painfully clear that Facebook wants to do far more than just sell ads against News Feed attention to make money. That got them where they are, but it has its limits, and of late, it’s also attracted a volcano of furious attention, and a fake-news firestorm. So don’t look where their puck is; look where it’s going. Look at Facebook Marketplace; look at Facebook’s cryptocurrency plans; look at their purchase of WhatsApp and how Facebook Messenger was broken out into its own app.

It seems clear that what Facebook really wants next is for Messenger to become WeChat for the rest of the world. An impregnable walled garden, used for business communications as well as personal. One which dominates not just messaging but commerce. A platform capable of transcending — and replacing — credit cards.

That would be enormously lucrative. That would also immensely reduce public and regulatory scrutiny and outrage: when outrages and atrocities are plotted and performed over Messenger, as they inevitably will be, Facebook will point out, quite correctly, that it is mathematically impossible for them to monitor and censor those messages, and that by keeping it mathematically impossible they are preserving their users’ privacy.

Does that sound hypocritical? What a narrow, short-sighted view. The irony is that it’s now entirely possible to envision a thriving future for Facebook which does not really include — well — Facebook. One in which Instagram is the king of all social media, while Messenger/WhatsApp rule messaging, occupy the half-trillion dollar international-remittances space, and also take basis points from millions of daily transactions performed on them …

…while what we used to know as “Facebook,” that once-famous app and web site, languishes as a neglected relic, used by a diminishing and increasingly middle-aged audience for event planning and sporadic life updates, yet another zombie social medium like LiveJournal and MySpace and so many others before. But one which birthed new, stronger, more evolved, corporate titans before it withered away: online gardens not merely “walled” but “domed like Wakanda,” more resistant to regulation, less prone to unpleasant emergent properties and summons to testify to the Senate. Love or hate this idea, you have to concede that it would be, if it succeeded, the mother of all pivots.

Source: Tech Crunch

Great teams, UBI, data retention policies, and Amazon HQ2

3 key secrets to building extraordinary teams

David Cancel, the CEO and founder of Drift, wrote a deep dive on how to think about finding and recruiting the kinds of people who build incredible startups. Among the factors he looks at:

Scrappiness (Importance: 35%)

The four most telling words a new hire can say: “I’ll figure it out.” If you find someone who says that (and can follow through on it), you know you’ve found someone with drive — someone who will plunge headfirst into any challenge and help move the company forward. But to clarify, the type of drive I look for in new hires is different from traditional ambition. Because traditionally ambitious people, while hard workers, tend to obsess over their own personal rise up the corporate ladder. They always have an eye on that next title change, from manager to director, director to VP, or VP to C-suite, and that influences how they perform. That’s why a decade ago, while running my previous company Performable, I added a new requirement to our job descriptions: “Scrappiness.” Today, it’s one of our leadership principles at Drift.

Scrappy people don’t rely on titles or defined sets of responsibilities. Instead, they do whatever it takes to get the job done, even when no one is looking, and even if the tasks they’re performing could be considered “beneath their title.”

Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

We had a greatly informative conference call with our very own Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois, who were checking in from Facebook’s F8 conference in San Jose this week. In case you weren’t able to join us, the transcript and audio have been posted for Extra Crunch members:

Source: Tech Crunch

Original Content podcast: The battle of opinions over ‘Game of Thrones’ and the Battle of Winterfell

This post and podcast contain spoilers for “Game of Thrones” and  “Avengers: Endgame.”

“The Long Night,” the much-anticipated “Game of Thrones” episode where the living and the dead meet in a desperate, epic battle, wasn’t entirely embraced by the show’s fans. Instead, many have complained about the episode’s (literal) darkness, while others were disappointed by the apparent disappearance of the show’s old ruthlessness.

But your hosts at the Original Content podcast (joined this week by our original co-host Darrell Etherington) were pretty happy with the episode, as revealed in an appropriately super-sized discussion.

Yes, the darkness was an issue, but the creative team used that darkness to eerily beautiful effect. On the right screen, everything in the episode was a grand and terrifying spectacle. And while we quibbled with some of the storytelling choices, we also screamed with surprise at the episode’s ending.

The other big question is what the death of the Night King means for the final three episodes of the show. Time will tell, but for now we’re hoping for a return to the initial focus on political scheming and moral compromise.

As if that wasn’t enough for one podcast, we also review the other big pop cultural event of the past week “Avengers: Endgame” — and in doing so, we capture the exact moment when Jordan realized that “Endgame” won’t be the last Marvel movie.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

Source: Tech Crunch

Former YouTube star sentenced to ten years in prison for child porn

Former Youtube star Austin Jones has been sentenced to ten years in a US federal prison after pleading guilty to persuading underage girls to send him explicit videos of themselves.

Jones, who made a name for himself online singing covers of songs, was arrested and charged in 2017 with two counts of producing child pornography.

He later pled guilty to one charge of receiving child pornography — admitting in a plea agreement that in 2016 and 2017 he enticed six girls to to produce and send explicit videos to “prove” they were his “biggest fan”, per Buzzfeed.

“Production and receipt of child pornography are extraordinarily serious offenses that threaten the safety of our children and communities,” it quotes assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Neff Welsh writing in a sentencing memo. “Jones’s actions took something from his victims and their families that they will never be able to get back.”

At the height of his YouTube fame Jones had around 540,000 subscribers to his channel and more than 20M video views.

In a 2015 apology vlog, after reports emerged of Jones asking young fans to send him twerking videos, he claimed it never went further than that. “There were never any nudes, never any physical contact, it never happened,” he said then.

But in his plea agreement Jones admitted to attempting to persuade more than thirty underage fans to send him explicit photos or videos.

YouTube removed Jones’ channel after he pled guilty in February — saying it had violated its community guidelines. But the Google -owned company initially refused to shutter it, telling the BBC a few days earlier that while it does have a policy of removing content when a person is convicted of a crime “in some cases” it does so only if the content is closely related to the crime committed.

Describing her experience in a vlog also posted to YouTube, one former fan she had received messages from Jones asking her for twerking videos prior to his 2015 apology video when she was 14-years-old.

“I just don’t understand how these people can let the fame get to their heads that much that they think it’s alright to do something to people like this,” she said. “It’s so messed up. But the fact that his fanbase was these vulnerable, insecure young girls makes it so much worse than it already is… He knew that that was his fanbase and he took advantage of that.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Startups Weekly: Will the Seattle tech scene ever reach its full potential?

Greetings from Seattle, the land of Amazon, Microsoft, two of the world’s richest men and some startups.

I’m always surprised the Seattle startup ecosystem hasn’t grown to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley — or at least Boston and New York City — since the dot-com boom. Today, it’s the strongest it’s has been due to the successes of companies like the newly minted unicorn Outreach, trucking business Convoy and, of course, the dog walking startup Rover. But the city still lags behind, failing to adopt the culture of entrepreneurship that defines San Francisco.

I spent a lot of time wondering why it hasn’t reached its full potential. Is it because Microsoft and Amazon pay their employees so well they don’t have the same urge to build something from the ground up? Is it a lack of access to capital? Is the city not attracting top talent? If you have thoughts, send them my way.

“We think part of the issue is a lack of capital and a lack of help,” Rover and Pioneer Square Labs co-founder Greg Gottesman told TechCrunch earlier this year. “If we can provide a little bit of both of those things, we can really put Seattle where it deserves to be, should be and will be.”

Despite its shortcomings, there is still some action in the city I want to highlight this week. A same-day delivery business, Dolly, is on the rise. The startup told me on Thursday it had raised a $7.5 million round from Unlock Venture Partners, Maveron and Jeff Wilke, the chief executive officer of Amazon Worldwide Consumer. Maveron, if you remember, is the VC fund co-founded by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz.

In other Seattle news, Madrona Venture Group, a well-regarded fund, raised an additional $100 million this week. Typically, Madrona focuses on companies based in the Pacific Northwest, but this fund will deploy capital throughout the entire U.S. Hmmm, that’s not necessarily a good sign for Seattle founders, but great progress for the ecosystem nonetheless.

If you’re interested in learning more about Seattle tech, I’ve covered it a bit because it’s my hometown! Start with this story, which dives deep into a Seattle accelerator that’s working hard to encourage entrepreneurship in the city. Alright, on to other news.

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IPO corner!

WeWork: The co-working giant now known as The We Company submitted confidential IPO documents to the SEC, the company confirmed in a press release Monday. Is this the next massive startup win or a house of cards waiting to be toppled by the glare of the public markets? TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton investigates.

Slack: The business is in its final steps toward a much-anticipated direct listing, with one source telling TechCrunch the listing will be complete within 45 days. The WSJ reported this week that Slack will make an online presentation to potential shareholders on May 13. This week, we dug deep into Slack’s S-1 and decided to evaluate just how well the tech press, us included, did in covering the company. For the most part, the tech press did decently well, except for one curious, $162 million gap.

Uber: Finally! That ride-hailing company is going public next week. That latest news? Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick won’t be ringing the opening bell. Uber would not be where it is today without Kalanick, but him being there would surely be a reminder of Uber’s rocky past.

Beyond Meat: Shares of the company surged up 135 percent in their market opener last week, valuing the company as high as $3.52 billion. Volatility was so high on the company’s stock that the Nasdaq had to pause trading of “BYND” shares.

Micro-mobility instability:

Ofo has run into its fair share of issues, laying off hundreds of workers, shutting down its international division and more. Now, you can buy a piece of the startup’s history.

In other micro-mobility news, Lyft’s head of scooter & bikes Liam O’Connor, who was hired to help transportation company Lyft build its bike and scooter operations, has left after seven months with the newly-public company. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden has the scoop. Plus, Bird, the electric scooter unicorn doing its best to overcome regulatory barriers, has made its way back to San Francisco. Bird is using its business license in San Francisco to introduce monthly personal rentals in the city. The program enables people to rent a scooter for $24.99 a month with no cap on the number of rides. We’ll how that goes.


For some reason, people are giving Magic Leap more money. The company has secured another $280 million in a deal with Japan’s largest mobile operator, Docomo. Do you know what that means? The developer fo AR/VR headsets has raised a total of $2.6 billion. We’re just as confused as you.

Brand new venture capital funds:

Unshackled Ventures raised $20 million. 

Jungle Ventures closed on $175 million.

And Toyota AI Ventures launched a $100 million fund.

Startup Capital

Uber investors exit

I have the inside story on Menlo Ventures early Uber stake and TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos goes deep with early Uber backer Bradley Tusk.

Extra Crunch!

This week, we offer TechCrunch Extra Crunch subscribers exclusive tips on building extraordinary teams. Plus, the final piece in TechCrunch’s Greg Kumparak’s series on Niantic, the fast-growing developer of Pokemon Go. If you recall, we’ve captured much of Niantic’s ongoing story in the first three parts of our EC-1, from its beginnings as an “entrepreneurial lab” within Google, to its spin-out as an independent company and the launch of Pokémon GO, to its ongoing focus on becoming a platform for others to build augmented reality products upon.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton chat about updates at the Vision Fund, Cheddar’s big exit and more of this week’s headlines.

Source: Tech Crunch

Uber is facing Australian class action suit alleging ‘unlawful conduct’

As it gears up to go public Uber is facing legacy baggage down under: A class action lawsuit has been filed in Australia on behalf of around 6,000 taxi and hire car drivers and license owners, Reuters reported Friday.

The suit was filed Friday at the Victoria Supreme Court by personal injury and compensation law firm, Maurice Blackburn. It’s seeking compensation on behalf of thousands of taxi and hire car drivers and operators who believe they lost income or saw a fall in the value of their licence as a result of what it dubs “Uber’s unlawful conduct”.

The firm is still registering additional participants online — specifically those who were licensed to operate in four states, Victoria, Western Australian, New South Wales and Queensland, between a selection of dates spanning 2014 to 2017.

The argument behind the case is that Uber started operating illegally in the four states in 2014, by offering its UberX service which used vehicles and drivers without “the proper licences, accreditations and authorizations”, as it puts it — thereby leading to a drop in income and licence value for the plaintiffs in the class action. 

State laws were subsequently changed to put ride-hailing on a lawful footing so the case is focused on Uber’s past business conduct, with Maurice Blackburn alleging it operated unlawfully in each of the states for a period of time — hence the varying dates for registering participants. 

In a press release the firm writes that the case has been about 18 months in the making, noting too that the ‘no win, no fee’ class action is being underwritten by “one of the world’s largest litigation funders, Harbour”.

“Make no mistake, this will be a landmark case regarding the alleged illegal operations of Uber in Australia and the devastating impact that has had on the lives of hard-working and law-abiding citizens here,” said Maurice Blackburn’s national head of class actions, Andrew Watson, in a statement.

“It is not acceptable for a business to place itself above the law and operate illegally to the disadvantage of others. We’ve got a strong case, a strong team and substantial support from thousands of drivers, operators and licence owners nationwide,” he added.

The firm takes the view it has a better chance of winning compensation for plaintiffs by suing Uber, rather than the government for failing to enforce relevant regulations — pointing, for example, to Uber’s use of the controversial ‘Greyball’ software, which it describes as a “devious program”.

In 2017 the New York Times reported that Uber was using the software to identify members of code enforcement authorities or city officials trying to gather data about it offering service in areas where it’s prohibited and block their access to prevent their ability to enforce local rules.

“Uber sells the idea that it does things differently, but in reality and as we allege, this has meant operating unlawfully, using devious programs like ‘Greyball’. All of this caused extensive loss and damage to law-abiding taxi and hire car drivers, operators and licence holders across the country,” said senior associate at Maurice Blackburn, Elizabeth O’Shea, in another supporting statement.

“Uber came in and exploited people by operating outside of regulations and it was Uber’s conduct that led to horrible losses being suffered by our group members. For those reasons, we are targeting the multi-billion dollar company Uber and its associated entities to provide redress to those affected.”

The firm’s PR also includes a statement from lead plaintiff, Nick Andrianakis, a taxi driver, operator and licence owner from Brunswick, Melbourne, describing the impact of “a life’s work being stripped away from you”.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on the class action suit.

In a statement given to Reuters the company says it has not yet been served with a class action claim and denies it operated illegally, telling the news agency: “Uber denies this allegation and, if a claim is served making it, the claim will be vigorously defended.”

The law firm told the news agency that the level of damages being sought could run into “hundreds of millions of dollars” — while emphasizing that any compensation would be determined as part of the case or via settlement negotiations.

While Uber’s statement to Reuters implies it has no intention of seeking a settlement to make this latest legacy legal headache go away, two months ago it did just that in the case of a separate US class-action focused on driver pay and benefits.

In that case Uber agreed to pay $20 million to settle a suit, brought six years ago, which had claimed Uber classified its drivers as contractors to avoid paying them a minimum wage and providing benefits.

Though $20M is considerably less than Uber might have been on the hook for had an appeals court not overturned an earlier decision to grant class-action status to hundreds of thousands of drivers in California and Massachusetts — ruling instead that its arbitration agreements were valid and enforceable.

That decision reduced the number of drivers in the suit to around 13,600.

Source: Tech Crunch

Trump’s tariffs could knock Tesla’s Autopilot off course

The White House has refused to exempt the “brain” of Tesla’s Autopilot technology from punitive import tariffs, a decision that could endanger the company’s self-driving ambitions, TechCrunch has learned.

At a special “autonomy day” event last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled advanced Autopilot 3.0 hardware, including a new custom chip intended to enable full self-driving (FSD) operation for all of its new vehicles. This hardware is now standard in all new Model 3, S and X vehicles. Customers pay an additional $6,000 for the software upgrade called FSD.

The self-driving hardware lives within the Autopilot ECU (or engine control unit), a module that Tesla describes as the “brain of the vehicle.” This module is assembled in Shanghai, China, by a company called Quanta Computer.

Tesla’s plans could be affected by a previously unreported decision last month by the White House not to grant the automaker an exemption from 25% tariffs. President Trump imposed these tariffs last year on a range of imports, including electronics, in an effort to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China.

Tesla has suggested that the tariffs could force it to cease making its self-driving computers in China, thus delaying their introduction and even reducing vehicle safety.

“The imposed tariffs are forcing us to either source a new supplier, pass the cost increase to the end customer, or reduce operational costs within our internal operations, all having a reverse impact for what [we believe] to be the intention of the tariff,” the company wrote in an application to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) on November 16, requesting relief from the tariffs.

But on March 15, the USTR’s general counsel informed Tesla that it was denying the company’s request because it “concerns a product strategically important or related to ‘Made in China 2025’ or other Chinese industrial programs.” The USTR also rejected a retroactive exemption request for legacy Autopilot 2.5 hardware, for the same reason.

Made in China

Made In China 2025 is China’s strategic plan to move away from manufacturing to produce higher value goods, particularly in the areas of AI, electric vehicles and robotics. The White House sees the effort as a direct threat to U.S. domestic technology and automotive companies.

However, U.S. firms have long been among the largest beneficiaries of Chinese manufacturing expertise. Tesla’s Autopilot manufacturing partner in Shanghai, Quanta, has also worked with Apple, Amazon and Verizon.

“Tesla was unable to find a [U.S.] manufacturer with the requisite expertise to produce the Autopilot ECU 3.0 with the required specifications, at the volume requested and under the timelines necessary for Tesla’s continued growth,” the company wrote.

Tesla claimed that using Quanta would not help China reach a goal for 80 percent of domestic EV sales to come from Chinese companies by 2025. “To the contrary, if granted, the exclusion request would ensure that Tesla is able to maintain its technological and competitive advantage gained by manufacturing EVs and finished lithium-ion batteries in the United States,” it wrote.

Tesla also pointed out that more than 75 percent of the value of the new computer’s printed circuit board actually originates from outside of China. For instance, Tesla’s new cutting-edge neural network chips, which are a critical piece of Autopilot 3.0, are being made by Samsung in Austin, Texas.

The Tariff Effect

But the White House wasn’t buying it, and the USTR’s rejection is likely to hit Tesla hard. The company has already told investors that it could not guarantee hitting its gross margin targets now that it has begun selling the lowest-priced Model 3 variant.

“These tariffs detract from our continuous growth and sustainability in a very difficult industry,” wrote Tesla.

Last week, the automaker posted a $702 million loss in the first quarter of 2019, on the back of lower than expected deliveries, and it just announced its intention to raise about $2.7 billion by selling a mix of debt and equity. The company originally said it intended to raise $2.3 billion in convertible notes and equity, then upped the total offering just a day later, according to regulatory filings.

Tesla is selling 3.1 million shares at a price of $243 per share through underwriters Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and boosted its convertible notes offering to $1.6 billion, according to filings. Musk is also doubling down on his own investment and now intends to buy up to 102,880 shares in stock worth $25 million.

With limited ability to increase prices or reduce costs, Tesla’s other option would be to relocate manufacturing to the United States. But that comes with its own difficulties, according to the company.

“Tesla’s decision to begin production [of the new Autopilot computer took] six months from development to production,” it wrote in its application. “With condensed timelines such as this, there is no leeway to test out a supplier that does not already have considerable experience … Choosing any other supplier would have delayed the program by 18 months with clean room setup, line validation, and staff training.”

Safety concerns

Even more critically, given that Tesla’s existing Autopilot technology has been linked with multiple crashes and several deaths, the company believes that such a move would also have safety implications: “Sourcing a new supplier increases the risk of poor part quality leading to possible quality issues that would impact the safety of our vehicles and the final product… We cannot risk our customers’ lives due to a defect from a supplier.”

The tariffs could even disrupt Tesla’s ongoing research into artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision, it fears.

“Tesla’s leadership position is contingent on our ability to deploy these advancements and components at volume, which we would be unable to do under the current tariff structure,” stated its application. Musk told investors yesterday that autonomy would eventually make Tesla a $500 billion company, a more than ten-fold increase to its valuation today.   

Despite its strong wording to the USTR, Tesla has only mentioned the tariffs in investor filings in passing, where it focused on their impact on its bottom line: “Recently increased import duties on certain components used in our products that are sourced from China may increase our costs and negatively impact our operating results.”

Tesla declined to comment on this story.

Greg Linden is an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, specializing in the global supply chain for electronics. “For speed and high-volume, China is the place,” he told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “U.S. companies headed down the China road for board assembly about 25 years ago and never looked back. Component suppliers followed, and now China has a heft for high-volume electronics that no country can match.”

Linden has calculated that a U.S.-assembled Apple iPhone could add up to $40 per unit in cost, and estimates that building Autopilot 3.0 hardware in the U.S. would result in an increase of the same order of magnitude.

Lingering exemption requests

Tesla has several more tariff exemption requests outstanding with the U.S. government. A request to exempt the Model 3’s car computer, including its media control unit, connectivity board and advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) hardware, was filed at the end of December. Most recently, Tesla last week asked to be excluded from tariffs for specialized aluminum sheets from Japan, needed for lithium-ion battery cell manufacture at its Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.

But it is not all bad news for Musk on the trade front. Last July, The Boring Company requested relief from tariffs on Chinese-made tunneling machinery. It claimed that an inability to source tunnel boring machine parts from China would cost jobs and delay its proposed underground Loop transit system between Baltimore and Washington DC by up to two years.

On March 19, the USTR granted a retroactive exemption for imports of tunneling machinery.

Ironically, the autonomous electric vehicles intended for the Baltimore to DC Loop are based on Tesla cars that will likely rely on new Autopilot systems being built, at least for the moment, in China.

Source: Tech Crunch

Dear Hollywood, here are 5 female founders to showcase instead of Elizabeth Holmes

There’s a seemingly insatiable demand for Theranos content. John Carrerou’s best-selling book, Bad Blood has already inspired an HBO documentary, The Inventor, an ABC podcast called The Dropout, a prestige limited series starring SNL’s Kate McKinnon was just announced, and Jennifer Lawrence is reportedly going to star in the feature film version of this tawdry “true crime meets tech” tale. That’s before getting started on the various and sundry cover stories and think pieces about her fraud.

I think it’s fair to say the Theranos story has been sufficiently well-documented and I’m worried that this negative perception may be reinforced now that UBiome founder Jessica Richman has been placed on administrative leave. While it’s hard to pass on a chance to stoke startup schadenfreude, perhaps we could focus less on these rare, unrepresentative, and dispiriting examples? Instead, Hollywood could put the spotlight on women who pioneered the bleeding edge of tech and actually produced billion-dollar successes. Here are a few candidates ready for their close-ups:

Judith Faulkner, founder and chief executive officer, Epic Systems

Judith Faulkner – Founder/CEO, Epic Systems

In the late 1970s, the picture of a working woman in Wisconsin was likely Laverne or Shirley. Little did anyone know that in the basement of a Victorian manse in Madison, the future of healthcare was being coded by Judith Faulkner, the founder and CEO of what would become Epic Systems. Epic is arguably the most impactful startup in the history of health software, and Faulkner was building medical scheduling software before most people could even picture a PC. Her efforts established the Electronic Medical Records market as we know it and today, her company manages records for over 200 million people, employs nearly 10,000, and generates around $2.7B per year in revenue — not bad for a math graduate who never raised any venture capital.

One might argue that the origins of medical software are too tepid to make for exciting TV, but something tells me the kind of CEO who hires Disney alums to design her corporate campus and dresses up like a wizard to address her employees might make for a compelling subject.

SANTA BARBARA, CA – FEBRUARY 09: Lynda Weinman speaks onstage (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Lynda Weinman – Founder/CEO, Lynda.com

Lynda Weinman might have the most esoteric path to becoming a billion-dollar entrepreneur in history. After getting a humanities degree from Evergreen College, where she was classmates with Simpsons creator Matt Groenig, Lynda opened up a pair of punk rock fashion boutiques on LA’s Sunset Strip.

After those folded in the early 1980s, she taught herself enough computer graphics to become a freelance animator on movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which in turn led to her becoming a teacher at the prestigious Art Center College of Design. Her academic pedigree provided the launching pad to write an influential textbook, that in turn gave her the star power to strike out on her own as one of the first web celebrities.

Keep in mind; this dramatic arc only covers the time before she started the eponymous Lynda.com, and bootstrapped it to a $1.5B exit in EdTech — an industry most VCs and entrepreneurs fear to tread. In terms of material for a memoir, Hannah Horvath has nothing on Lynda Weinman.


FRAMINGHAM, MA – MAY 30: Shira Goodman, former chief executive at Staples, poses for a portrait in Framingham, MA on May 30, 2017. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Shira Goodman – CEO, Staples.com

Shira Goodman has arguably done more for online shopping in the US than anyone not named Bezos. She didn’t found Staples, but she did start and scale its “delivery business,” as she humbly calls it, to the point where it became the 4th largest ecommerce company in the US.

At a time when more nimble startups were disrupting big-box retailers, Shira did what few of her contemporaries could do — rapidly shifted a multi-billion dollar legacy company in an ancient industry into the future, and eventually became CEO of the entire enterprise. She did this while also raising three children and supporting her husband when he decided to change careers and go to Rabbinical school. Sitcoms have been premised on less, and since two versions of The Office have captivated audiences, perhaps it’s time to provide the perspective from the CEO of Dunder-Mifflin HQ?

Helen Greiner, co-founder, iRobot

Helen Greiner – Co-founder, iRobot

From C. A. Rotwang in Metropolis to Tony Stark in the Marvel movies, there have been plenty of cinematic explorations of robot builders, but the story of iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner might be more interesting than anything yet committed to celluloid. As a recent grad from MIT, Greiner spent a substantial chunk of the 1990s applying her mechanical genius to everything from a mechatronic dinosaur for Disney to a store cleaning robot with the potential for mass destruction for SC Johnson.

Far from an ivory tower academic, Grenier helped the government deploy search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero after 9/11, cave-clearing ‘bots in Afghanistan, and the bomb-disposing Packbot she developed has saved the lives of thousands of service members. Grenier, at age 38, took her company public and made the Jetson’s vision of a robot housekeeper a reality in the form of the Roomba.

CAMBRIDGE, MA – MARCH 15: Kelsey Wirth, who has a grassroots organization called Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing For A Livable Climate (Photo by Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kelsey Wirth – Co-founder, Align Technologies

While the original startup bros were inflating the tech bubble in the late 1990s, Kelsey Wirth was pioneering 3-D printing, which at the time was as fantastical as anything Theranos promised. Wirth’s story as the co-founder of Align Technology is especially compelling in the way it shares some surface similarities with Holmes’ narrative. Prominent skeptics of Invisalign cast doubts on the company in its early days, noting that the startup’s PR had outstripped its clinical validation. Wirth had to solve seemingly intractable technical challenges including scanning misaligned incisors, developing algorithms to overcome underbites, pioneering new manufacturing process, convincing the FDA to clear the product, and then selling it across the country — armed only with an English lit degree and an MBA. Despite the long odds of curing crossbites with software, Wirth started what has become a publicly-traded business that is currently worth over 20 billion dollars.

Most of these founders faced setbacks, including external obstacles and those of their own making. There were layoffs, bad deals, and few of these stories had perfectly happy endings. Still, while a contemporary startup can earn plaudits for simply repackaging CBD and pushing it on Facebook, these entrepreneurs demonstrated a level of ambition rarely seen among modern upstarts.

The sensational focus on Elizabeth Holmes’ misdeeds steal focus from a group of landmark female entrepreneurs and waste a tremendous opportunity to inspire the next generation with heroic tales instead of fables of fabrication. None of these accounts have the black and white morality of the Theranos debacle, but these founders cleared hurdles both scientific and social. They flipped the script and made history, surely Hollywood can find some drama in that.

Thanks to Parul Singh, Elizabeth Condon, and Alyssa Rosenzweig for reviewing drafts of this post.

Source: Tech Crunch