Daily Crunch: Twitter will delete dormant accounts

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Twitter will free up handles by deleting inactive accounts

“As part of our commitment to serve the public conversation, we’re working to clean up inactive accounts to present more accurate, credible information people can trust across Twitter,” the company said.

Sounds like a smart move, with one big catch: If someone with a Twitter account died more than six months prior and no one else has their login, their account will be deleted. So hopefully, Twitter will come up with a way to memorialize these accounts.

2. Facebook buys VR studio behind Beat Saber

Virtual reality doesn’t have many hit games yet, but Facebook is buying the studio behind one of the medium’s biggest titles. It says Beat Games will join Oculus Studio but will continue to operate independently.

3. Indian scooter rental startup Bounce raises $150M

Bounce, formerly known as Metro Bikes, allows customers to rent a scooter for as little as Rs 1 (0.1 cents) per kilometer and Rs 1.5 per hour. Sources told us the new financing round values the startup “well over $500 million.”

4. Netflix leases New York’s Paris Theatre

Netflix is expanding its theatrical presence by signing a long-term lease for a historic single-screen venue in New York City. This follows reports that the streaming company is also working to buy the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles.

5. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince is coming to Disrupt Berlin

Back in 2010, web performance and security company Cloudflare launched on-stage at our Disrupt SF Battlefield. And as Prince loves to remind us, the company came in second.

6. Gift Guide: STEM toys for your builders-in-training

Yep, it’s gift guide season. Here’s our updated roundup of the latest wares clamoring to entice and inspire kids with coding tricks and electronic wizardry.

7. We’re democratizing information about startups with Extra Crunch

The Daily Crunch includes links to Extra Crunch stories just about every day. But if you’re still wondering what exactly TechCrunch’s premium membership program offers, here’s a 45-second video explaining everything you need to know.

Source: Tech Crunch

Google is giving away 3 months of Disney+ to new Chromebook owners

Google is hoping to juice holiday sales of Chromebooks by tacking on a subscription to the hot new streaming service, Disney+. The company on Monday announced it would give Chromebook buyers three, free months of Disney+ with the purchase of new devices.

Specifically, the deal is valid for Chromebooks bought between November 25, 2019 and January 21, 2020, or while supplies last. And the free streaming offer has to be redeemed by January 31, 2020, Google tells us.

Customers will need to redeem the offer by way of the Chromebooks Offers Site, where they’ll receive a promo code. After downloading the Disney+ app from the Play Store on their Chromebook, users will then create an account, accept the Disney+ Subscriber Agreement, then click “Redeem Code” at checkout.

Note that you’re agreeing to an ongoing subscription here — if you only want the three, free months, you’ll need to cancel before the subscription auto-renews.


The promotion isn’t just a nice perk for Chromebook owners, however.

Marketing partnerships like this are helping Disney quickly get its new streaming service into customers’ hands. And giveaway deals like this also helps consumers to get over their initial hesitation about adding on yet another subscription to their monthly expenses. For now, it’s free. And Disney, of course, hopes you’ll forget to cancel later on and start paying — or see the value in the subscription after the free period ends.

This isn’t the first big promo for Disney+ following its debut. Disney already partnered with (TechCrunch parent) Verizon on a broader deal, which gave new and existing Verizon Wireless customers on unlimited plans a full year of Disney+ for free.

These partnerships are already paying off.

Disney said it signed up 10 million customers for Disney+ within the first day of its broad international launch. That’s more than other streamers — including CBS All Access + Showtime, ESPN+, HBO NOW, and others — have signed up in their entirety, noted CNBC at the time.

According to new figures from Apptopia, the Disney+ app has been downloaded 15.5 million times since its launch earlier this month — meaning it’s been averaging around 1 million sign-ups per day. The firm estimated it had generated $5 million through in-app purchases, after app store fees.

Google is selling a wide range of Chromebooks on its site ahead of the holidays, starting with sub-$200 basic models, all the way up to its high-end Pixelbook at $999. It’s worth noting that only new Chromebooks qualify for the Disney+ deal — if you’re picking up a refurb or buying used from an online classified ad, you’re out of luck.

Disney+ is $6.99 per month when the promo ends.

Source: Tech Crunch

Daily Crunch: Google fires employee activists

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 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Google employee activist says she’s been fired

Employee activist Rebecca Rivers (who was involved in a campaign pressuring Google to end its contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection) said yesterday that she’d been fired. Google declined to comment but confirmed an internal note published by Bloomberg, which said the company fired a total of four employees for repeatedly violating its data-security policies.

Earlier this month, Google put Rivers and Laurence Berland on leave for allegedly violating company policies. Ahead of an employee rally last week, however, organizers said the “attack” on Rivers and Berland “is an attack on all people who care about transparency and accountability for tech.”

2. Facebook Viewpoints pays users for well-being surveys & tasks

People in the U.S. who are over 18 can now download Viewpoints and participate in a survey to help Facebook can learn to “limit the negative impacts of social media and enhance the benefits.” Other opportunities include completing online chores on behalf of Facebook or trying out new apps or devices ahead of launch so Facebook can refine them.

3. Announcing the complete Disrupt Berlin agenda

Join us December 11 and December 12 as we sit down with CEOs from big-name companies such as UIPath, Samsung and Naspers, as well as leading investors from Atomico, SoftBank and Index.

4. Leavy.co, the app for millennials who want to rent out their room while traveling, discloses $14M funding

The Leavy.co app is described as a “travel community and marketplace” that wants to help millennials travel more for less. At the heart of its offering is a way for travelers (dubbed “Happy Leavers”) to rent out their room or apartment when they are away to help fund their trip.

5. NASA’s second free-flying assistant robot gets to work

NASA activated a free-floating autonomous robot called ‘Bumble’ earlier this year, and now Bumble has a new companion called Honey. Both are Astrobee robots, cube-like “robotic teammates” for ISS astronauts, that are designed to help with experiments, day-to-day activities and more.

6. Argentine fintech Ualá raises $150M led by Tencent and SoftBank

Founder and CEO Pierpaolo Barbieri, a Buenos Aires native and Harvard University graduate, says his ambition was to create a platform that would bring all financial services into one app linked to one card. As it exists now, Ualá is linked to a prepaid, global Mastercard and allows users to transfer money, invest in mutual funds, request loans, pay bills and top-up prepaid services.

7. The herd sours on unprofitable unicorns again

Wasabi CEO David Friend looks at why venture and private equity funds have been chasing unprofitable unicorns, and why they’ve soured on those unicorns lately. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Source: Tech Crunch

Disney’s cringe-worthy Baby Yoda merch goes on sale

Who could have guessed an adorable, big-eyed baby Star Wars alien would have generated a ton of demand for toys? Apparently not Disney, which today started to sell merchandise based on The Child from new Disney+ show The Mandalorian, commonly known as “Baby Yoda”. The shirts, bags, mugs, and phone cases all feel…forced, like Disney rushed to print them on CafePress.

“The laziest merch ever” one TechCrunch staffer said. “If only there was 40 years of Star Wars Merchandise as a precedent. They would sell ten billion yoda beanie babies” quipped another. The lack of a plush doll, baby clothes, chew-safe rubber toys for tots and dogs, or original artwork indicate Disney was so busy getting its streaming service off the ground that it didn’t realize it already had a mascot. Yoda backpacks have been a hit for decades. Where’s the Yoda baby bjorn chest pack?

Just because the little green bundle of joy isn’t technically ‘Baby Yoda’, since The Mandalorian is set after the real Yoda’s death in Return Of The Jedi, doesn’t mean Disney isn’t exploiting the term for SEO. “He may look like a ‘Baby Yoda,’ but this lovable creature is referred to as ‘The Child’” Disney notes on all the product pages.

The Disney entertainment empire has suffered these failures to predict demand before. Frozen 1 merchandise sold out everywhere as tykes around the world screamed “Let It Go”. And Guardians Of The Galaxy 2’s Baby Groot also saw demand outstrip supply until Disney started sticking the tiny tree on everything. Hopefully it won’t be long until we can get a magnetic The Child shoulder buddy so he can ride around with us like we’re his Bobasitter.

Source: Tech Crunch

FedEx robot sent packing by NYC

FedEx’s autonomous delivery bot got a cold reception from New York City officials.

After the company’s SameDay Bots — named Roxo — popped up on New York City streets last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and transportation officials delivered a sharp response: Get out.

FedEx told TechCrunch that the bots were there for a preview party for its Small Business Saturday event and are not testing in New York. Even this promotional event was too much for city officials concerned with congestion and bots taking jobs from humans.

After reports of the bot sightings, the mayor tweeted that FedEx didn’t receive permission to deploy the robots; he also criticized the company for using a bot to perform a task that a New Yorker could do. The New York Department of Transportation has sent FedEx a cease-and-desist order to stop operations the bots,  which TechCrunch has viewed.

The letter informs FedEx that its bots violate several vehicle and traffic laws, including that motor vehicles are prohibited on sidewalks. Vehicles that receive approval to operate on sidewalks must receive a special exemption and be registered. 

FedEx has been experimenting with autonomous delivery bots. Postmates and Amazon also have been testing autonomous delivery robots.

FedEx first unveiled its SameDay Bot in February 2019. The company said at the time it planned to work with AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut,  Target, Walgreens and Walmart to figure out how autonomous robots might fit into its delivery business. The idea was for FedEx to provide a way for retailers to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day.

FedEx said its initials test would involve deliveries between selected FedEx Office locations. Ultimately, the FedEx bot will complement the FedEx SameDay City service, which operates in 32 markets and 1,900 cities.

The company has tested the bots in Memphis, Tennessee as well as Plano and Frisco, Texas and Manchester, New Hampshire, according to a spokesperson.

The underlying roots of the SameDay Bot is the iBot. The FedEx bot was developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp. and its founder Dean Kamen who invented the Segway  and iBot wheelchair.

DEKA built upon the power base of the iBot, an FDA-approved mobility device for the disabled population, to develop FedEx’s product.

The FedEx bot is equipped with sensing technology such as LiDAR and multiple cameras, which when combined with machine learning algorithms should allow the device to detect and avoid obstacles and plot a safe path, all while following the rules of the road (or sidewalk).

Source: Tech Crunch

New Amazon tool helps machine learning models identify unique objects

Amazon announced a new capability today called Amazon Rekognition Custom Labels to help customers train machine learning models to understand a set of objects when there is a limited set of information.

Typically, machine learning models have to work on large data sets to learn something like what’s a picture of a dog, as opposed to some other animals. Amazon Rekognition Custom Labels can work with a limited data set to teach the algorithm a group of objects specific to a given use case.

“Instead of having to train a model from scratch, which requires specialized machine learning expertise and millions of high-quality labeled images, customers can now use Amazon Rekognition Custom Labels to achieve state-of-the-art performance for their unique image analysis needs,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

For example, you may want to teach the model to identify a set of engine parts, a limited set of information, which has a lot of meaning to a specific use case. Less information like this actually poses a problem for most machine learning models, but this feature has been designed specifically to learn from a smaller amount of data. Instead of hundreds or thousands of images, Amazon Rekognition Custom Labels can work with as few as ten images to learn to identify the object.

Amazon has gotten flack from the ACLU and shareholders in the past for selling Amazon Rekognition to law enforcement to help identify faces. This feature offers a more benign use of similar technology.

The new feature goes live next week on December 3rd, right in time for AWS re:Invent, the company’s customer conference taking place in Las Vegas.

Source: Tech Crunch

CBS All Access launches kids’ programming, soon to include Nickelodeon shows

CBS’s over-the-top streaming service, CBS All Access, is the latest to counter the threat from Disney+ by investing in children’s programming. Today, the company is launching a kids’ programming lineup including original shows and other library content. Plus, in one of the first major content integrations ahead of the ViacomCBS merger, the CBS streaming service will soon add a selection of Nickelodeon children’s TV shows to its catalog.

The first Nickelodeon titles will roll out in January, the company says.

In August, CBS had announced plans to launch children’s programming on its service by way of deals with WildBrain (formerly DHX Media) and Boat Rocker Studios. From WildBrain, CBS licensed the kids’ TV series “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” produced with Sony Pictures Animation. And from Boat Rocker, CBS licensed the new “Danger Mouse,” produced with BBC Children’s Productions.

The two shows are the first original children’s series on the service, which today is better known for its original programming aimed at adults, like “Star Trek: Discovery,” “The Good Fight,” “The Twilight Zone,” and soon “Star Trek: Picard.”

Today, the two originals are now live for subscribers alongside a library of kids’ content that includes “Bob the Builder,” “Inspector Gadget,” “Madeline,” “Heathcliff,” “The Adventures of Paddington Bear,” and the original “Danger Mouse.”

Over the next several weeks, CBS says it plans to grow its kids’ library to over 1,000 episodes as more TV series are added.

“Bringing children’s programming to CBS All Access is a significant step toward providing even more value for our subscribers and now for their children as well,” said Marc DeBevoise, President and COO, CBS Interactive, in a statement. “We’re bringing to market a fantastic roster of exclusive originals along with a library of marquee series for families, and we look forward to continuing to expand our children’s programming offering, especially with the future addition of incredible programming from Nickelodeon.”

The company did not specify which titles from Nickelodeon would come to CBS All Access, but it’s possible the lineup could include shows like “SpongeBob SquarePants” or “Dora the Explorer,” which went over to Amazon Prime Video after Viacom pulled them off Netflix back in 2013. Today, some of the early seasons of those shows and others are available as part of Amazon Prime’s free streaming perk, while later seasons can only be rented or purchased.

“Spongebob,” “Dora,” and other classic Nickelodeon kids’ shows are not included in Nickelodeon’s new agreement with Netflix, which is focused on new, original content using both well-known characters and all-new IP. According to The NYT, that deal was valued at $200 million.

It would make sense for CBS All Access to eventually absorb Viacom’s kids’ streaming service Noggin, which is where you can today find “Dora,” along with other shows like “PAW Patrol,” “Peppa Pig, “Team Umizoomi,” “Wallykazam,” “Bubble Guppies,” “Rusty Rivets,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Blaze,” “Shimmer & Shine,” “Max & Ruby,” “Wonder Pets,” “Nia Hao, Kai-Lan,” and several others. This would round out CBS All Access as a more family-friendly streaming service with a wide catalog, which would help it to better compete with Netflix, Hulu and of course, Disney+.

As a combined entity, it doesn’t make sense for ViacomCBS to ask its customer base to subscribe to both services or choose between them. And Noggin, in particular, doesn’t make sense given the higher churn rate for a service which only appeals to families with younger kids — who age out of the service after a few years. It would be better to put these shows in front of the larger CBS All Access audience, helping it to tout a larger catalog in marketing materials and attract a wider group of cord-cutting consumers.

Source: Tech Crunch

Apple releases holiday ad

Apple has released its annual holiday ad, just in time for Thanksgiving. Named “The Surprise,” the ad focuses on two young girls who spend a lot of time playing with an iPad.

The ad focuses on a family that travels across the country to visit the mother’s father. Like many families, the parents hand them an iPad when their daughters start to fight…

When they arrive at the grandfather’s house, we realize that the grandfather’s wife recently passed away. Both the grandfather and the mother are still mourning.

While their parents tell the kids to watch something on the iPad, they end up using the iPad to build a touching slideshow using old family photos.

Source: Tech Crunch

In wake of Sprint/T-Mobile deal, Ryan Reynolds has an announcement

In other news, Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds has invested an undisclosed amount in a company selling prepaid phone plans called Mint Mobile.

It all sounds like a weird sponsored Instagram post, but a source tells TechCrunch that Reynolds now owns more than 25% of the company with this recent investment. What he invested is thoroughly unclear and a Mint Mobile spokesperson did not comment on the company’s valuation.

Mint Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator, meaning the company does not actually own the network infrastructure it operates on. It uses T-Mobile’s cellular infrastructure. The MVNO launched beneath Costa Mesa, California-based Ultra Mobile in 2016 and the brand was only recently incorporated as its own entity. Ultra Mobile CEO David Glickman is also the CEO of Mint Mobile. 

MVNOs are vehicles to create a new carrier brand without having to worry about most structural barriers of entry. As the T-Mobile and Sprint deal wraps up and T-Mobile’s scrappy “uncarrier” marketing slows down, there may be more attention being paid to these smaller MVNO entities.

Ultra Mobile has carved out a niche focusing largely on prepaid plans for low-income immigrants in the United States. The company’s online-only Mint Mobile brand seems to have been an effort for the company to bring a younger demographic onto its service. The company sells 3, 6 and 12-month prepaid blocks of wireless service, their cheapest regular-priced option being a $15 per month plan (billed annually).

Bringing Reynolds onboard certainly seems to be an effort to bring a star with a substantial social media following into the fold. Celebrity deals where recognizable names put up some cash and supply a big PR boost for the startup are far from rare. Andreessen Horowitz has built an entire fund around getting celebrities into startup deals. Retired NFL running back Marshawn Lynch is the public face of Beast Mobile, another MVNO.

“Celebrities generally invest in high-end products like skincare brands or delicious gin companies,” Reynolds said in a press release. “Yet Mint is making wireless way more affordable at a time when the average American is paying 65 dollars a month.” Reynolds is also an owner of Aviation Gin.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Wireless.

Source: Tech Crunch

AWS expands its IoT services, brings Alexa to devices with only 1MB of RAM

AWS today announced a number of IoT-related updates that, for the most part, aim to make getting started with its IoT services easier, especially for companies that are trying to deploy a large fleet of devices. The marquee announcement, however, is about the Alexa Voice Service, which makes Amazon’s Alex voice assistant available to hardware manufacturers who want to build it into their devices. These manufacturers can now create “Alexa built-in” devices with very low-powered chips and 1MB of RAM.

Until now, you needed at least 100MB of RAM and an ARM Cortex A-class processor. Now, the requirement for Alexa Voice Service integration for AWS IoT Core has come down 1MB and a cheaper Cortex-M processor. With that, chances are you’ll see even more lightbulbs, light switches and other simple, single-purpose devices with Alexa functionality. You obviously can’t run a complex voice-recognition model and decision engine on a device like this, so all of the media retrieval, audio decoding, etc. is done in the cloud. All it needs to be able to do is detect the wake word to start the Alexa functionality, which is a comparably simple model.

“We now offload the vast majority of all of this to the cloud,” AWS IoT VP Dirk Didascalou told me. “So the device can be ultra dumb. The only thing that the device still needs to do is wake word detection. That still needs to be covered on the device.” Didascalou noted that with new, lower-powered processors from NXP and Qualcomm, OEMs can reduce their engineering bill of materials by up to 50 percent, which will only make this capability more attractive to many companies.

Didascalou believes we’ll see manufacturers in all kinds of areas use this new functionality, but most of it will likely be in the consumer space. “It just opens up the what we call the real ambient intelligence and ambient computing space,” he said. “Because now you don’t need to identify where’s my hub — you just speak to your environment and your environment can interact with you. I think that’s a massive step towards this ambient intelligence via Alexa.”

No cloud computing announcement these days would be complete without talking about containers. Today’s container announcement for AWS’ IoT services is that IoT Greengrass, the company’s main platform for extending AWS to edge devices, now offers support for Docker containers. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. The early idea of Greengrass was to have developers write Lambda functions for it. But as Didascalou told me, a lot of companies also wanted to bring legacy and third-party applications to Greengrass devices, as well as those written in languages that are not currently supported by Greengrass. Didascalou noted that this also means you can bring any container from the Docker Hub or any other Docker container registry to Greengrass now, too.

“The idea of Greengrass was, you build an application once. And whether you deploy it to the cloud or at the edge or hybrid, it doesn’t matter, because it’s the same programming model,” he explained. “But very many older applications use containers. And then, of course, you saying, okay, as a company, I don’t necessarily want to rewrite something that works.”

Another notable new feature is Stream Manager for Greengrass. Until now, developers had to cobble together their own solution for managing data streams from edge devices, using Lambda functions. Now, with this new feature, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to build a new solution for connection management and data retention policies, etc., but can instead rely on this new functionality to do that for them. It’s pre-integrated with AWS Kinesis and IoT Analytics, too.

Also new for AWS IoT Greengrass are fleet provisioning, which makes it easier for businesses to quickly set up lots of new devices automatically, as well as secure tunneling for AWS IoT Device Management, which makes it easier for developers to remote access into a device and troubleshoot them. In addition, AWS IoT Core now features configurable endpoints.

Source: Tech Crunch