Daily Crunch: Facebook cancels F8 over coronavirus concerns

Coronavirus fears prompt even more event cancellations, controversial facial recognition software is being used widely and DocuSign acquires Seal Software. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 28, 2020.

1. Facebook cancels F8 conference, citing coronavirus concerns

Facebook has confirmed that it has canceled its annual F8 developers conference over growing concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. More specifically, the company says it’s canceling the “in-person component” — there may still be video presentations, along with live-streamed and local events, under the F8 umbrella.

At the same time, companies, including Microsoft, are pulling out of the Game Developers Conference over similar concerns. And the Geneva Motor Show was just canceled.

2. Clearview said its facial recognition app was only for law enforcement as it courted private companies

After claiming that it would only sell its controversial facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies, a new report in BuzzFeed News suggests that Clearview AI is less than discerning about its client base, and has in fact shopped its technology far and wide.

3. DocuSign acquires Seal Software for $188M to enhance its AI chops

Seal Software was founded in 2010, and, while it may not be a mainstream brand, its customers include the likes of PayPal, Dell, Nokia and DocuSign itself. (DocuSign previously invested in the company, too.) These businesses use Seal for its contract management tools, but also for its analytics, discovery and data extraction services.

4. Senate passes ‘rip and replace’ bill to remove old Huawei and ZTE equipment from networks

Written as a response to recent concerns around Chinese hardware manufacturers, the bill would ban purchase of telecom equipment from embattled Chinese manufactures like Huawei and ZTE. It also includes $1 billion in funding to help smaller rural telecoms “rip and replace” existing equipment from specific manufacturers.

5. The world Bob Iger made

The Disney executive has been openly thinking about retirement and searching for a successor — a search that culminated in this week’s announcement that he’d be stepping down from the CEO role immediately. But Iger’s succession planning hasn’t stopped him from solidifying Disney’s dominance of the entertainment business, a position designed to last long after his departure. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. ‘Robot’ was coined 100 years ago, in a play predicting human extinction by android hands

Published 100 years ago, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Czech writer Karel Čapek is best remembered for bringing the word “robot” to sci-fi — and English, generally.

7. Catching up with Startup Battlefield

We’re trying out something new: As you (hopefully) know, TechCrunch hosts a number of Startup Battlefield events, and afterwards, those startups often go on to do interesting and newsworthy things. But there are so many Battlefield alumni at this point that we can’t cover every announcement. So occasionally, I’ll be rounding them up here.

This week, we’ve got news from Berlin 2019 competitor Nodle.io, which is crowdsourcing the connectivity of smart sensors by offloading the task to smartphones. And Nodle announced this week that it has acquired Internet-of-Things security company Brickchain.com.

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.

Source: Tech Crunch

Tinder’s video series ‘Swipe Night’ gets a second season

Following a successful debut for Tinder’s first foray into original content, the company is giving its interactive video series “Swipe Night” another run. The company confirmed today it’s renewing “Swipe Night” for a second season that will launch this summer, again as an in-app experience within Tinder’s dating app.

Variety first reported the news of “Swipe Night’s” return. Tinder further confirmed the details to TechCrunch.

“Swipe Night,” as you may recall, first launched in October 2019 within Tinder. The experience introduced a first-person adventure played in-app, where users would make choices at key turning points to progress the narrative — like a choose-your-own-adventure story.

The series was designed to increase user engagement and help the app’s young users better connect.

Today, half of Tinder is Gen Z (ages 18-25) — a demographic that’s embracing their single lifestyle and more casual relationships compared with those on other dating apps, like Tinder parent company Match, for example, or its newer acquisition Hinge. These younger users connected with the idea of starting conversations based on a shared experience, says Tinder.

However, the reality is that “Swipe Night” had also arrived at a time when users were opening Tinder’s app less on a daily basis, even as monthly usage climbed. Though “Swipe Night” only ran on specific dates in October 2019, users’ choices within the interactive experience were added to their profiles. This allowed users to see who else agreed with their decisions and who took the opposite path. That made launching Tinder and swiping through profiles more compelling — even for those who may have been tiring Tinder before the series’ arrival.

The experiment worked. Tinder said millions of users tuned in to “Swipe Night” and matches and conversations increased by 26% and 12%, respectively. With “Swipe Night,” it seemed, Tinder finally gave users something to talk about.

The returning second season of “Swipe Night” will again be directed by Karena Evans, who directed Coldplay’s music video “Everyday Life” and Drake’s “In My Feelings” and “God’s Plan.” This time, it will be written by Jessica Stickles (“Portlandia,” “Another Period”) and Julie Sharbutt (“3 Days”).

“Working on Swipe Night was such a fulfilling experience for me. I got to do something that had never been done before and innovate with storytelling to bring a generation of people together. I’m in search of projects that impact, shift or curate a culture and couldn’t be more excited to return for more,” said Evans, in a statement.

“Swipe Night’s” second season may see Tinder tweaking the formula a bit, and may even introduce new mechanics to keep it feeling fresh.

In addition to the Season 2 launching in the U.S., Match previously confirmed that 10 international markets across Europe and Asia will get “Swipe Night” this year. Tinder said today that Season 1 would be launching internationally on March 14th, but declined to say when those users would receive Season 2.

Source: Tech Crunch

Google Cloud’s newest data center opens in Salt Lake City

Google Cloud announced today that its new data center in Salt Lake City has opened, making it the 22nd such center the company has opened to date.

This Salt Lake City data center marks the third in the western region, joining LA and The Dalles, Oregon with the goal of providing lower latency compute power across the region.

“We’re committed to building the most secure, high-performance and scalable public cloud, and we continue to make critical infrastructure investments that deliver our cloud services closer to customers that need them the most,” said Jennifer Chason, director of Google Cloud Enterprise for the Western States and Southern California said in a statement.

Cloud vendors in general are trying to open more locations closer to potential customers. This is a similar approach taken by AWS when it announced its LA local zone at AWS re:Invent last year. The idea is to reduce latency by moving compute resources closer to the companies that need them, or to spread workloads across a set of regional resources.

Google also announced that PayPal, a company that was already a customer, has signed a multi-year contract, and will be moving parts of its payment systems into the western region. It’s worth noting that Salt Lake City is also home to a thriving startup scene that could benefit from having a data center located close by.

Google Cloud’s parent company Alphabet recently shared the cloud division’s quarterly earnings for the first time, indicating that it was on a run rate of more than $10 billion. While it still has a long way to go to catch rivals Microsoft and Amazon, as it expands its reach in this fashion, it could help grow that market share.

Source: Tech Crunch

Vice President Pence bulks up Coronavirus Task Force with medical and economic experts

The point person for the government (who will be reporting to Vice President Pence) is Deborah Birx, a longtime leader in the U.S. government’s efforts to contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

From her position within the State Department as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Policy, Birx coordinated the Army, Navy and Air Force in their HIV/AIDS efforts and led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global HIV/AIDS program.

In addition to Birx, the vice president also appointed to the task force Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow and Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams.

The appointments emphasize the importance the White House is placing on controlling the economic impact of the crisis.

Stock markets have declined significantly over the past week as economists and investors weigh the prospects of much slower growth in 2020 as a result of the global spread of coronavirus.

Tech companies like Microsoft have already issued warnings over the effect coronavirus will have on earnings, and large technology events, including (most recently) Facebook’s developer conference and the Mobile World Congress (which was slated to begin this week) have been cancelled.



Source: Tech Crunch

Quick notes on the DoorDash IPO filing

Earlier today, during an eye-popping market selloff, DoorDash announced that it has privately filed to go public. The decision to file privately will allow the high-valued startup to get its S-1 documents in good order with the SEC before showing the rest of us what it has up its sleeve.

The move to announce its private filing is more interesting and could be related to prepping demand for its shares, providing some PR-cover for backer SoftBank, which could use the assist, or, perhaps, to dampen investor excitement for rival companies, in the face of DoorDash’s implied success and maturity.

Whatever the reasons behind the timing — some of which must deal with the capital requirements of long-running cash burn — the filing is a new milestone for the on-demand and gig economies. And how well DoorDash’s filing is received, predicated in no small part on its recent financial performance, will help set sentiment for a number of other, richly backed startups.

So let’s remind ourselves of what we know about DoorDash’s financial history. This will give us a workable foundation heading into its eventual S-1, and, we presume, old-fashioned IPO. (It’s hard to imagine the cash-fired engine that is DoorDash looking toward a direct listing.) We’ll dig through its fundraising, unearth what we know about its revenue over time and turn over some data concerning its hiring efforts in recent months to better understand its IPO prep.


DoorDash’s fundraising history is well-known but worth recalling sequentially.

Source: Tech Crunch

Microsoft withdraws from GDC gaming conference over coronavirus concerns

Xbox-maker Microsoft announced today that it will not have a presence at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this year, highlighting concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

The company made the announcement on its Game Stack Blog:

After a close review of guidance by global health authorities and out of an abundance of caution, we’ve made the difficult decision to withdraw from participating at Game Developers Conference 2020 in San Francisco.

Instead of holding a physical event at the conference, Microsoft says it will be holding an online-only event that week.

Microsoft is just the latest company to pull out from the conference, which is being held March 16-20. Other companies backing out include Facebook, Unity and Sony. Epic Games announced it would also be pulling out of the event Thursday.

Earlier this week, city officials in San Francisco declared a state of emergency.

The COVID-19 outbreak has already affected several large industry conference. Facebook also announced Thursday morning that it would be canceling its F8 conference. With such major players exiting GDC, one wonder whether the conference could face a similar fate to GSMA’s Mobile World Congress which eventually had to cancel the mobile event outright after its major exhibitors all bowed out.

We’ve reached out to the folks behind GDC for comment.

Source: Tech Crunch

Chicago’s M1 Finance, a consumer-focused fintech platform, reaches $1B under management

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that we mentioned M1 Finance earlier today in our look at a few trends in the fintech industry. We’re back with the firm this afternoon as it has a bit of news that’s worth discussing.

Chicago-based M1 Finance announced today that it has reached the $1 billion assets under management mark, or AUM. Reaching AUM thresholds provides useful milestones that we can use to track the progress of various players in the fintech and finservices worlds.

M1 is an interesting company, bringing together a number of products to form a single platform. Its hybrid nature makes comparing its AUM to other companies’ histories a bit dicey. Still, for reference, Wealthfront, a roboadvisor, announced that it started 2013 with AUM of $100 million, and closed that year with $538 million. By mid-2014, Wealthfront had $1 billion AUM. Today it has over $20 billion.

So, the numbers matter, and reaching thresholds can help us understand where a company is in its maturity cycle.

Let’s talk about M1 Finance’s AUM growth, its revenue growth and its product model. It’s a neat company with a history of efficient growth.

Growth, product

We’ll start with product, as how the company approaches its feature-set helps explain how the service is priced, which in turn helps us grok the company’s growth.

M1 is not a roboadvisor, or a simple neobank, or a lending product; it’s all three at once, providing effectively the digital equivalent of a full-service bank, admittedly in the form of an online experience instead of a brick-and-mortar outlet. M1 users can open investment accounts, checking accounts, get a debit card and borrow money against their investment portfolios; it’s a cohesive feature set.

And one that lets M1 price its products lower as a group than it could individually. During a call with M1’s CEO Brian Barnes about the company’s AUM milestone, the executive connected the company’s long-term vision to its ability to price aggressively. (All fintechs are expanding their platforms, it’s worth noting, meaning that, in time, nearly every fintech player will offer an array of services; Wealthfront, famous for its work in roboadvising, now also offers savings and borrowing capabilities.)

Barnes said that M1 has long wanted to “manage the bulk of [its users’] financial assets, not create a sort of low-friction acquisition hook” to bring in smaller-dollar accounts. This, in turn, means that M1 can have higher per-user sums on its books, which, it appears, helped the company reduce prices on a per-product basis.

Here’s Barnes connecting per-account totals to pricing:

Managing more of someone’s financial assets, and financial life, is going to be more economical. What it allows us to do is maintain lower margins per product, but have enough margin on the entire financial relationship that we can build a very sustainable durable, long-lasting business.

That’s neat! And folks with lots of money expect low fees, especially in the Robinhood-era, so the setup probably helps with attracting users.


Summing so far, M1 runs a broad set of financial products, attracting more dollars-per-user than other companies, perhaps, which lets it charge, in its view, lower prices.

How low? Barnes told TechCrunch that his company is “building [its] business model to make 1% of assets we manage [into] top line. So every billion bucks on the platform will be 10 million dollars in recurring revenue. And it is a relatively linear relationship.” The CEO later extended the point, saying that when his firm has $10 billion in AUM, it will generate $100 million.

This means that as M1 scales, we’ll be able to know with reasonable confidence how much revenue it’s driving.

The company charges in the manner you’d expect, with incomes from loaning money, interchange and a SaaS-product called M1 Plus that lowers some fees and provides interest on checking accounts, costing $125 yearly.

Now that M1 is big enough to matter, it has to double, and then double again. We’ll know how well that’s going based on how quickly the company reaches the $2 billion mark.

Source: Tech Crunch

‘Konami Code’ creator Kazuhisa Hashimoto has died

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, then start. Sound familiar? The Konami Code, as this sequence came to be known, is one of the most recognizable artifacts of an earlier era of gaming. Kazuhisa Hashimoto, its creator, has used up the last of his 30 lives.

Hashimoto was a programmer at Konami, and created the code during the development of one of Konami’s best-known games of the 8-bit era: Gradius. Anyone who played it will remember the crushing difficulty of this iconic side-scrolling shooter.

Even the the developers, it turns out, found it a bit of a hassle to get through repeatedly for testing purposes. That’s why during the porting process from arcade to NES, Hashimoto made himself a bit of a shortcut to make things a bit easier for himself.

He created a special command that would award the player the most crucial items for surviving the game’s challenges. The sequence to activate it needed to be easy for him to remember during his many playthroughs, but extremely unlikely for a player to input by accident. And so he settled on the well known “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A” — after which is usually appended “start,” since the code is often entered while paused or at the title screen.

Fate intervened here and the code, which was meant to be removed before the team wrapped up, was forgotten about and ended up in the shipping product. Somehow word got out about the code (who knows how such things transpired in the ’80s — probably it was published in Nintendo Power) and, given the extreme difficulty of the game, its necessity led to the code being adopted by pretty much everyone who bought Gradius.

And so millions of kids who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s learned the Konami code by heart, though its effects differed from game to game it generally made things considerably easier. For instance in the infamous (and still amazing) Contra for NES, the code gives the player 30 lives, which honestly is about the bare minimum necessary to complete that brutal game.

The code persisted for many years and across generations, though it also began to mutate — in Gradius III for SNES the code cause the player’s ship to self-destruct, as if telling them that cheaters never prosper. Even games by other publishers used the code, as a joke or in earnest.

Soon the Konami code was a staple of geek culture. I myself owned a shirt with the code on it, and listened to a band by that name. It showed up in TV, movies, anywhere an ’80s kid had a chance to slip it in. Even if it wasn’t used by name or with the exact sequence, the code became shorthand for all other cheat codes. Hashimoto had unknowingly created a proto-meme that infiltrated gaming culture worldwide, becoming one of the most widely recognizable aspects of it for decades to come.

All because he found his own game too hard to play.

Those were the days when development teams were on the order of 10-20 people, and the choices of a single person could change everything. These days a cheat code would probably have to be approved and playtested during alpha and beta, and shared with strategic partners for the printed strategy guides well ahead of release.

Hashimoto’s contribution to the gaming world was an accident, but on no account does that downplay his or the code’s importance. He represented the lasting power of an earlier era of gaming and game creation, and accident or not, his legacy is a powerful one.

Source: Tech Crunch

Cartesiam helps developers bring AI to microcontrollers

Cartesiam, a startup that aims to bring machine learning to edge devices powered by microcontrollers, has launched a new tool for developers who want an easier way to build services for these devices. The new NanoEdge AI Studio is the first IDE specifically designed for enabling machine learning and inferencing on Arm Cortex-M microcontrollers, which power billions of devices already.

As Cartesiam GM Marc Dupaquier, who co-founded the company in 2016, told me, the company works very closely with Arm, given that both have a vested interest in having developers create new features for these devices. He noted that while the first wave of IoT was all about sending data to the cloud, that has now shifted and most companies now want to limit the amount of data they send out and do a lot more on the device itself. And that’s pretty much one of the founding theses of Cartesiam. “It’s just absurd to send all this data — which, by the way, also exposes the device from a security standpoint,” he said. “What if we could do it much closer to the device itself?”

The company first bet on Intel’s short-lived Curie SoC platform. That obviously didn’t work out all that well, given that Intel axed support for Curie in 2017. Since then, Cartesiam has focused on the Cortex-M platform, which worked out for the better, given how ubiquitous it has become. Since we’re talking about low-powered microcontrollers, though, it’s worth noting that we’re not talking about face recognition or natural language understanding here. Instead, using machine learning on these devices is more about making objects a little bit smarter and, especially in an industrial use case, detecting abnormalities or figuring out when it’s time to do preventive maintenance.

Today, Cartesiam already works with many large corporations that build Cortex-M-based devices. The NanoEdge Studio makes this development work far easier, though. “Developing a smart object must be simple, rapid and affordable — and today, it is not, so we are trying to change it,” said Dupaquier. But the company isn’t trying to pitch its product to data scientists, he stressed. “Our target is not the data scientists. We are actually not smart enough for that. But we are unbelievably smart for the embedded designer. We will resolve 99% of their problems.” He argues that Cartesiam reduced time to market by a factor of 20 to 50, “because you can get your solution running in days, not in multiple years.”

One nifty feature of the NanoEdge Studio is that it automatically tries to find the best algorithm for a given combination of sensors and use cases and the libraries it generates are extremely small and use somewhere between 4K to 16K of RAM.

NanoEdge Studio for both Windows and Linux is now generally available. Pricing starts at €690/month for a single user or €2,490/month for teams.

Source: Tech Crunch

Twitter opens its ‘Hide Replies’ feature to developers

Last November, Twitter rolled out its Hide Replies feature to all users worldwide. The feature, largely designed to lessen the power of online trolls to disrupt conversations, lets users decide which replies to their tweets are placed behind an extra click. Today, Twitter is making Hide Replies available to its developer community, allowing for the creation of tools that help people hide the replies to their tweets faster and more efficiently, says Twitter.

These sorts of tools will be of particular interest to businesses and brands who maintain a Twitter presence, but whose accounts often get too many replies to tweets to properly manage on an individual basis. With Hide Replies now available as a new API endpoint, developers can create tools that automatically hide disruptive tweets based on factors important to their customers — like tweets that include certain prohibited keywords or those that score high for being toxic, for example.

Ahead of today’s launch, Twitter worked with a small number of developers who are now releasing tools that take advantage of the added functionality.

Jigsaw, an Alphabet-owned company tackling the worst of the web, has integrated Twitter’s new endpoint with its Perspective API, which uses A.I. to score tweets based on their toxicity. The integration will automatically hide replies that exceed a certain toxic threshold (.94), freeing up the time it would otherwise take to comb through replies manually.

A scripting platform for business workflows, reshuffle, has used the endpoint to develop scripts that detect and hide replies based on keywords or even by user.

Dara Oladosu, the creator of the popular app QuotedReplies, also used the endpoint to build a new app called Hide Unwanted Replies. The app today automatically hides replies by keywords or Twitter handles. Soon, it will add support for hiding replies from likely troll or bot accounts — including tweets from user accounts created too recently or from accounts with few followers.

Hide Replies has been one of Twitter’s more controversial launches to date, as it could potentially allow users to silence critics or stifle dissent even when warranted — such as in the case of refuting misinformation or propaganda, for example. Others argue it’s not really helping address online abuse; the abuse still occurs, but in the shadows. One organization even recently leveraged Hidden Replies for a clever online campaign about how domestic violence goes unseen which further illustrates this problem.

Nevertheless, adoption of Hide Replies is growing, with organizations like the CIA even leveraging it on some tweets.

The new Twitter API endpoint for Hide Replies is available today to all developers in a production-ready form, Twitter says, initially through Twitter Developer Labs. This program launched last year to serve as a way for developers to try out Twitter’s latest APIs ahead of their wider release and offer feedback. Participation in Twitter Developer Labs is free, but interested developers have to sign up using an approved developer account. Twitter is also inviting developers building with the new endpoint to collaborate with the company by way of the community forums.

Based on early feedback from the first testers, Twitter says it’s already making a few changes to the endpoint including support to unhide replies via the endpoint, a higher rate limit to support high-volume use cases, and a way to retrieve a list of replies that indicate if they’re hidden or not.

Source: Tech Crunch