Human Capital: Uber Eats hit with claims of ‘reverse racism’

With less than one week left until the election, DoorDash made a late contribution of $3.75 million to try to ensure California’s gig worker ballot measure Prop 22 passes. Meanwhile, Coinbase is looking for a head of diversity and inclusion and Uber was hit with claims of reverse racism.

All that and more in this week’s edition of Human Capital, a weekly newsletter where we unpack all-things labor and D&I. To receive this in your inbox every Friday at 1 p.m. PT, be sure to sign up here.

Let’s jump in.

Employees at surveillance startup Verkada reportedly used tech to harass co-workers

Oof. Just when we thought we were safe from surveillance, we’ve found yet another reason not to trust people with facial recognition tech. Just to be clear, the first part of that was sarcasm. Anyway, Vice reported earlier this week that some Verkada employees used the startup’s tech to take photos of their female colleagues and then made sexually explicit jokes.

When other employees reported the incident to human resources, Verkada CEO Filip Kaliszan simply gave the offenders a choice of leaving the company or having their share of stock reduced. After the Vice story went out, however, Verkada fired the three employees in question.

Coinbase is looking for a head of D&I

Coinbase is on the hunt for a director of belonging, inclusion and diversity. It’s worth noting Coinbase previously had a head of D&I, Tariq Meyers, but he began focusing on an employee support task force role as a result of COVID-19 in April, according to his LinkedIn page. Meyers later left the company in August, which was before Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong took a stance about not speaking out about social issues.

That stance led to 5% of Coinbase’s employees opting to take a severance package to leave the company. Two of those employees were Coinbase Global Head of Marketing, John Russ and Coinbase VP Dan Yoo.

“We believe that it’s possible to be 100% committed to an inclusive workplace that values diversity where everyone is safe and belongs (and as part of that, working to root out and eliminate any intolerance or bias that exists at the company), and simultaneously maintain laser focus on our mission,” the job posting states. “To this end, we have made a public stance that Coinbase won’t issue external statements on topics beyond the scope of our mission of building a more open financial system and expanding economic freedom, while also redoubling our commitment to making the company an amazing place to work for all employees, regardless of background.”

Precursor VC promotes Sydney Thomas to Principal

Image Credits: Precursor Ventures

Sydney Thomas, who started her career at Precursor Ventures as an intern, was promoted to Principal. That means she’s able to deploy capital to startups on behalf of the fund.

“This is a promotion that has been earned through hard work, aptitude and a clear demonstration that Sydney embodies all of the values we hold dear here at Precursor,” the firm wrote in a blog post. “She has already made a number of investments on behalf of the firm and will continue to do so going forward.”

Indian engineers allege caste bias in tech industry

The Washington Post’s Nitasha Tiku shed some light on caste-based discrimination in the tech ecosystem. Specifically, 30 female Indian engineers who are part of the Dalit caste and work for companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Cisco, say they have faced caste bias. As Tiku explains, those in the Dalit caste are part of the lowest rank castes within India’s social hierarchy.

PayPal puts money into Black and Latinx-led VC funds

PayPal is investing $50 million in a handful of early-stage funds led by Black and Latinx venture capitalists. The investment is part of PayPal’s $530 million commitment to support Black-owned businesses.

The funds receiving money include Chingona Ventures, Fearless Fund, Harlem Capital, Precursor Ventures, Slauson & Co, VamosVenturs, Zeal Capital Partners and another undisclosed fund.

Reddit elevates its VP of people and culture

Nellie Peshkov, formerly Reddit’s VP of People and Culture, is now Chief People Officer. Her appointment to the C-suite is part of the much-needed, growing trend of tech companies elevating employees focused on diversity and inclusion to the highest leadership ranks.

Uber Eats hit with claims of “reverse racism”

Uber said it has received more than 8,500 demands for arbitration as a result of it ditching delivery fees for Black-owned restaurants via Uber Eats.

Uber Eats made this change in June, following racial justice protests around the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. Uber Eats said it wanted to make it easier for customers to support Black-owned businesses in the U.S. and Canada. To qualify, the restaurant must be a small or medium-sized business and, therefore, not part of a franchise. In contrast, delivery fees are still in place for other restaurants.

In one of these claims, viewed by TechCrunch, a customer says Uber Eats violates the Unruh civil Rights Act by “charging discriminatory delivery fees based on race (of the business owner).” That claim seeks $12,000 as well as a permanent injunction that would prevent Uber from continuing to offer free delivery from Black-owned restaurants.

Uber driver claims rating system is racially biased
Uber is no stranger to lawsuits, so this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Uber is now facing a lawsuit regarding its customer ratings and how the company deactivates drivers whose ratings fall below a certain threshold. The suit alleges the system “constitues race discrimination, as it is widely recognized that customer evaluations of workers are frequently racially biased.”

In a statement to NPR, Uber called the suit “flimsy” and said “ridesharing has greatly reduced bias for both drivers and riders, who now have fairer, more equitable access to work and transportation than ever before.”

Yes on Prop 22 gets another $3.75 million influx of cash
DoorDash put in an additional $3.75 million into the Yes on 22 campaign, according to a late contribution filing. Proposition 22 is the California ballot measure that aims to keep gig workers classified as independent contractors.

The latest influx of cash brought Yes on 22’s total contributions north of $200 million. As of October 14, the campaign had raised $189 million. But thanks to a number of late contributions, the total put toward Yes on 22 comes out to about $202,955,106.38, or, $203 million.

Prop 22 hit the most-funded California ballot measure long ago, but it’s now surpassed the $200 million mark.

TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is back

I am pleased to announce TechCrunch Sessions: Justice is officially happening again! Save the date for March 3, 2021.

We’ll explore inclusive hiring, access to funding for Black, Latinx and Indigenous people, and workplace tools to foster inclusion and belonging. We’ll also examine the experiences of gig workers and formerly incarcerated people who are often left out of Silicon Valley’s wealth cycle. Rounding out the program will be a discussion about the role of venture capital in creating a more inclusive tech ecosystem. We’ll discuss all of that and more at TC Sessions: Justice.

Source: Tech Crunch

Is Wall Street losing its tech enthusiasm?

This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

Over the past few months the IPO market made it plain that some public investors were willing to pay more for growth-focused technology shares than private investors. We saw this in both strong tech IPO pricing — the value set on companies as they debut — and in resulting first-day valuations, which were often higher.

One way to consider how far public valuations rose for tech startups, especially those with a software core in 2020, is to ask yourself how often you heard about a down IPO this year. Maybe a single time? At most? (You can catch up on 2020 IPO performance here, if you need to.)

IPO enthusiasm exposed a gap between what many venture capitalists and private investors were paying for tech shares, and what the public market was doing with its own valuation calculations. Insurtech startup Hippo’s $150 million private round from July is a good example. The company was valued at $1.5 billion in the round, a healthy uptick from its preceding private valuation. But if we valued it like the then-newly-public Lemonade, a related company, at the time, Hippo was priced inexpensively.

This week, however, the concept of private investors being more conservative than public investors in certain cases (some eight-figure private rounds happened this year at valuations that were even more bullish than public investor treatment of IPOs, to be clear) took a ding as most big tech companies lost ground, SaaS stocks sold off, and other tech firms struggled to keep up with investor enthusiasm.

Not only tech companies took a beating, but as I write to you on this Friday afternoon, the American stock markets were on a path for their worst week since March, CNBC reported, “led by major tech shares.”

A change in the wind? Perhaps. 

Notable is that it was just in September that VCs seemed resigned to having startup valuations pulled higher by public markets’ endless optimism for related companies. Canaan’s Maha Ibrahim told me during Disrupt 2020 that it was a time when VCs had to “play the game” and pay up for startups, so long as companies were being “rewarded in the public markets for high growth the way that Snowflake” was at the time. A16z’s David Ulevitch concurred.

Perhaps that dynamic is changing as stocks dip. If so, startup valuations could decline en masse, along with the more exotic areas of startup-related finance. The SPAC boom, for example, may wane. Chatting with Hippo’s CEO Assaf Wand this week, he posited that SPACs were a market-response to the public-private valuation gap, an accelerant-cum-bridge to help startups get public while demand was hot for their equity.

Without the same red-hot demand for growth and risk, SPACs could cool. So, too, could private valuations that the hottest startups have taken for granted. Whether what we’re feeling in the wind this week is a hiccup or tipping point is not clear. But the public market’s fever for tech equities may have broken at a somewhat awkward time for Airbnb, Coinbase, DoorDash and other not-quite-yet-IPOs.

Market Notes

It started to snow this week where I live, putting a somewhat sad cap on an otherwise turbulent week. Still! There’s lots from our world to get into. Here’s our week’s market notes:

  • Remember when we dug into how quickly startups grew in Q3? Another company that I’ve covered before, Drift, wrote in. The Boston-based marketing software company reported to The Exchange that it grew more than 50% in Q3 compared to the year-ago quarter, with its CEO adding that June and Q3 were the strongest month and three-month periods in its history.
  • The fintech boom continued with DriveWealth raising nearly $57 million this week, with the startup being yet another API-driven play. That a company sitting in-between two key startup trends of the year is doing well is not surprising. DriveWealth helps other fintech companies provide users access to the American equities markets. Alpaca, which also recently raised, is working along similar lines.

This week featured two IPOs that we cared about. MediaAlpha’s debut, giving the advertising-and-insurtech company a $19 per-share IPO price, quickly exploded out of the gate. Today the company is worth nearly $38 per share. Why? On its IPO day MediaAlpha CEO Steve Yi said that he had chosen the current moment because public markets had garnered an appreciation for insurtech. His share price growth seems to concur.

Until we look at Root, to some degree. Root, a neo-insurance provider focused on the automotive space, priced at $27 when it debuted this week, $2 above the top-end of its range. The company is now worth less than $24 per share. So, whatever wave MediaAlpha caught appears to have missed Root. 

I honestly don’t know what to make of the difference in the two debuts, but please email in if you do know (you can just reply to this email, and I’ll get your note).

Regardless, I chatted with Root CEO Alex Timm after his company went public. The executive said that Root had laid down plans to go public a year ago, and that it can’t control market noise around the time of its debut. Timm stressed the amount of capital that Root added to its coffers — north of $1 billion — is a win. I asked how the company intended to not fuck up its newly swollen accounts, to which Timm said that his company was going to stay “laser focused” on its core automotive insurance opportunity.

Oh, and Root is based in Ohio. I asked what its debut might mean for Midwest startups. Timm was positive, saying that the IPO could highlight that there are a lot of smart folks and GDP in the middle of the country, even if venture capital tallies for the region remain underdeveloped.

  • I know that by now you are tired of earnings, but Five9 did something that other companies struggled to accomplish, namely, beat expectations and bolstered its forward guidance. Its shares soared. The Exchange got on the phone with the call center software company to chat about its latest acquisition and earnings. How did it crush expectations as it did? By selling a product that its market needed when COVID-19 hit, the accelerating digital transformation more broadly, and rising e-commerce spend, which is driving more customer support work onto phone lines, it said. A lot of stuff at once, in other words. 
  • Five9 took on a bunch of convertible debt earlier this year, despite making gobs of adjusted profit. I asked its CEO Rowan Trollope how he was going to go about investing cash to take advantage of market tailwinds, while not overspending. He said that the company takes very regular looks at revenue performance, helping it tailor new spend nimbly. It’s apparently working.
  • What else? Peek this week at big, important rounds from SimilarWeb, PrimaryBid and EightFold, a company that I have known for some time. Oh, and I covered The Wanderlust Group’s Series B and Teampay’s Series A extension, which were good fun.

Various and Sundry

  • What’s going on in the world of venture debt as VC gets back to form? We dug in.
  • For the Europhiles amongst us, here’s what’s up with the continent’s VC receipts.
  • Here are 10 favorites from recent Techstars demo days.
  • And here’s some mathmagic about Databricks, after it was rumored to have an H1 2021 IPO target.
  • We’re way out of space this week, but I have some fun stuff in the tank for later, including a Capital G investor’s take on RPA, a call with the CEO of Zapier about no-code/low-code growth and notes from a chat about developer ecosystems with Dell Capital. More on all of that when the news calms down.

Stay safe, and vote.


Source: Tech Crunch

MG Siegler talks portfolio management and fundraising 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic

This week, GV General Partner (and TechCrunch alum) MG Siegler joined us on Extra Crunch Live for a far-ranging chat about what it takes to foster a good relationship between investor and startup, how portfolio management and investing has changed as the COVID-19 crisis drags on, and what Siegler expects will and won’t stick around in terms of changes in behavior in investment and entrepreneurship once the pandemic passes.

We last caught up with Siegler on the heels of his investment in Universe, a mobile-focused, e-commerce business-building startup. The coronavirus pandemic was relatively new and no one was sure how long it would last or what measures to contain it would look like. Now, with a few months of experience under his belt, Siegler told me that things have relatively settled into a new normal from his perspective as an investor – sometimes for worse, sometimes for better, but mostly just resulting in differences that require adaptation.

This select transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Aside from section headers, all text below is taken from MG Siegler’s responses to my questions.

Business impacts of coping with the pandemic six months on

Just talking about the business side of the equation, I do think that things have sort of stabilized in the day-to-day world here. For us, certainly, I think it’s it’s just as much of a factor though, of just learning how to operate in this in this weird and surreal environment, and knowing how to do remote meetings better. Knowing how to hop on quick Zoom calls, Hangouts, and phone calls, with portfolio companies, to help put out fires, and doing all board meetings remotely, and all that sort of stuff.

That seems like it’s pretty straightforward on paper, but in day-to-day operations, these are all different little learning things that you have to do and come across. I do feel like things are operating in a pretty streamlined manner, or as much as they can be at this point. But, you know, there’s always going to be some more wildcards – like we’re a week away, today, from from the US election.

Source: Tech Crunch

The 2020s promise better tech solutions to humanity’s biggest problems

Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

Let’s think beyond Monday, for a minute, to the trends playing out in technology this coming decade. While humanity’s problems have never been greater, our tools have never been better. Here’s more, from Danny Crichton:

The 2010s were all about executing on the dreams of mobile, cloud, and basic data. Those ideas had historical antecedents going back in some cases decades or more (Vannevar Bush’s description of the internet dates to the 1940s, for instance). But for the first time, we had the infrastructure and the users to actually build these products and make them useful. It was quite possibly the most extensive greenfield opportunity in the history of technology.

Yet, that greenfield is increasingly fallow. Business has cycles and seasonality as much as media reporting does. The easy stuff has been done. Building an app to text people has been done by dozens before. There are a multitude of analytics packages, and payroll providers, and credit card issuers, and more. What’s required this decade is to start to encroach on the harder questions, topics like how we build a better society, make people more empowered to do deep and creative work, and how we can build a more resilient and sustainable planet for all.

None of these topics have pure point solutions — but that is what is going to make this coming decade so damn interesting. It’s going to take intense collaboration, multiple inventions and products, as well as legal and cultural changes, to realize these next improvements. If you have grown sick (as I have) of the latest apps and SaaS products du jour, this decade is going to be an amazing one to experience and build.

In a companion article for Extra Crunch, he explores five key areas of the future, that he calls: Wellness, Climate, Data Society, Creativity and Fundamentals. Here’s an excerpt from the Data Society part:

Data may be ubiquitous, but it’s amazing how much work it can still be to calculate an LTV, or the return on an advertising campaign. No-code tools solve some of these problems, but what we need is a whole revolution in our data tools. We need to be able to sketch out lines of inquiry and have our tools augment our thinking from data. What are we missing? What gaps in our thinking should we be filling in? What data am I lacking to make a fully-formed decision? Am I overly biased toward one statistic versus a more holistic depiction of my situation? From personal decisions to business strategy, we need better tools to abstract the complexity of today’s modern society.

We also need better thinking around how to network knowledge. Roam Research and some other tools are starting to get better at helping users think in terms of a knowledge graph, but there is an incredible amount of potential if these ideas can be democratized and packaged into easier-to-use interfaces. How do we handle the increasing depth of most fields of knowledge and allow more people to get to the frontiers as quickly as possible?

Finally, we need to further our understanding of complexity and chaos and build those theories into the fundamental structures of our society. How do we make governance more adaptable and resilience, so that when massive crises like COVID-19 happen, we don’t see a complete breakdown in our society? Can we create more flexible systems around ownership and property that can create more diverse housing, or material ownership, or intellectual property? Empowering technology (“blockchain!” but could be all kinds of things) coupled with legal changes could dramatically evolve these core elements of our society.

Even today, we are still locked into a mental model built around paper, titles, and maybe if you are lucky, an Excel spreadsheet. There is so much work to be done to empower each of us through data this decade.

Data education

The building blocks of the Data Society concept are getting remade faster than ever this year, as the pandemic has shuttered traditional commerce and education, and forced open alternative approaches. For example, somebody starting a small business today basically has to use a lot of software. But crossing this initial barrier means they can do things like automatically track the lifetime value of each customer. Previous generations of small businesses simply did not have the resources and skills to do such things with the low-tech options available.

That’s the generational power of no-code, as Danny detailed separately on TechCrunch:

In business today, it’s not enough to just open a spreadsheet and make some casual observations anymore. Today’s new workers know how to dive into systems, pipe different programs together using no-code platforms and answer problems with much more comprehensive — and real-time — answers.

It’s honestly striking to see the difference. Whereas just a few years ago, a store manager might (and strong emphasis on might) put their sales data into Excel and then let it linger there for the occasional perusal, this new generation is prepared to connect multiple online tools to build an online storefront (through no-code tools like Shopify or Squarespace), calculate basic LTV scores using a no-code data platform and prioritize their best customers with marketing outreach through basic email delivery services. And it’s all reproducible, as it is in technology and code and not produced by hand.

There are two important points here. First is to note the degree of fluency these new workers have for these technologies, and just how many members of this generation seem prepared to use them. They just don’t have the fear to try new programs, and they know they can always use search engines to find answers to problems they are having.

Second, the productivity difference between basic computer literacy and a bit more advanced expertise is profound. Even basic but accurate data analysis on a business can raise performance substantially compared to gut instinct and expired spreadsheets.

How do we realize this future? Zooming in from the generational perspective, Natasha Mascarenhas takes a closer look at how school teachers are adapting to the pandemic — and the emerging online education world they are entering. Some, at least, seem to be moving into supplemental part-time teaching. While the educational experience is not the same as in-person, it clearly has its own value. Here’s one company as an example:

Outschool is a platform that sells small-group classes led by teachers on a large expanse of topics, from Taylor Swift Spanish class to engineering lessons through Lego challenges. In the past year, teachers on Outschool  have made more than $40 million in aggregate, up from $4 million in total earnings the year prior.

CEO Amir Nathoo estimates that teachers are able to make between $40 to $60 per hour, up from an average of $30 per hour in earnings in traditional public schools. Outschool itself has surged over 2,000% in new bookings, and recently turned its first profit.

Outschool makes more money if teachers join the platform full-time: teachers pocket 70% of the price they set for classes, while Outschool gets the other 30% of income. But, Nathoo views the platform as more of a supplement to traditional education. Instead of scaling revenue by convincing teachers to come on full-time, the CEO is growing by adding more part-time teachers to the platform.

Maybe one day soon, a class about online business will be a graduation requirement for a high school diploma. And we’ll see that sort of education drive more success in the next generation of your local Main Street.

The problems of the coming decade might be harder than ever, but the solutions are there for the making.

Isometric Business data analytics process management or intelligence dashboard showing sales and operations data statistics charts and key performance indicators concept. (Isometric Business data analytics process management or intelligence dashboard

Image Credits: Intpro / Getty Images

How to execute a bottom-up SaaS growth plan

The combination of consumer tech product skills and enterprise revenue models fueled this decade’s explosion of SaaS success stories. This week, Caryn Marooney and David Cahn of Coatue management distilled the lessons of this model into a popular how-to article for Extra Crunch. Here’s an excerpt, showing how market leaders approach key metrics and pricing:

The MAP customer value framework:

Metrics: What are the key metrics the customers care about? Is there a threshold of value associated with this metric? Metrics can include things like minutes, messages, meetings, data and storage. Examples:

  • Zoom — Minutes: Free with a 40-minute time limit on group meetings.
  • Slack — Messages: Free until 10,000 total messages.
  • Airtable — Records: Free until 1,200 records.

Activity: How do your customers really use your product? Are they creators? Are they editors? Do different customers use your product differently? Examples:

  • Figma — Editors versus viewers: Free to view, starts changing after two edits.
  • — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $30+/month.
  • Smartsheet — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10+/month.

People: How do your customers fit into a broader organization? Are they mostly individuals? Groups? Part of an enterprise? Examples:

  • Superhuman — Individuals only: No free version, $30/month.

  • Asana — Small team versus bigger teams: Teams of <15 people can use the product free.

  • Atlassian — Free versus team versus enterprise: Pricing scales with size of team.

Root keeps the IPO market warm

The stock market was off this week, but not entirely. Root Insurance was the big IPO this week, ending at $24 per share. That’s a bit below its aggressive $27 opening price per share, but is still in the range of its target pricing from the other week. It is, in other words, a success already for the company  — and we’ll see what happens when the entire market stops gyrating around the elections.

“For the Midwest, Ohio-based Root’s IPO is a win,” Alex Wilhelm wrote for Extra Crunch. “The company shows that it is possible to build high-growth technology companies worth billions of dollars far from coastal hubs. For the broader insurtech space, Root’s IPO is a win. The company follows Lemonade to the public markets, setting a strong valuation mark again for the neo-insurance startup market. For similar companies like Clearcover, MetroMile and all startups that related to Root and Lemonade, it’s a good day.”

It’s still looking good for any software company with a growth story, as Alex goes on to say, and it’s looking good for more IPOs this year. Like Airbnb.

But enough about IPOs this year — Alex also built on previous coverage to explore Databricks going public next year, which sounds quite likely at this point.

Across the week


Why you have to pay attention to the Indian startup scene

Yale may have just turned institutional investing on its head with a new diversity edict

Cloud infrastructure revenue grows 33% this quarter to almost $33B

We need new business models to burst old media filter bubbles

Former Facebook and Pinterest exec Tim Kendall traces ‘extractive business models’ to VCs

Extra Crunch

Good and bad board members (and what to do about them)

New GV partner Terri Burns has a simple investment thesis: Gen Z

As venture capital rebounds, what’s going on with venture debt?

In the ‘buy now, pay later’ wars, PayPal is primed for dominance

Dear Sophie: Any upgrade options for E-2 visa holders interested in changing jobs?


From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

A few notes before we get into this. One, we have a bonus episode coming this Saturday focused on this week’s earnings reports. And, second, we did not record video this week. So, if you like watching the show on YouTube, this is not the week for that!

Right, here’s what NatashaDanny and your humble servant got into this week:

We capped off with the latest from r2c, and then got the hell off the mics. Catch you all Saturday, and then back to regular programming on Monday morning.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Source: Tech Crunch

This Week in Apps: Facebook Gaming skips iOS, TikTok goes shopping, Apple One bundles arrive

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the TechCrunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019. People are now spending three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

Top Stories

Here Comes Apple One

Thanks for all the market research, app developers.

Image Credits: Apple

Apple issued a slight beat on earnings this week, despite the COVID pandemic and a 20% decline in iPhone sales year-over-year, including a drop in China.

But for app developers who already have a large install base to serve across Apple’s mobile devices, it’s Apple’s expansion into the services market that may draw more attention. Apple continues to edge its way into nearly every category that has proven popular on mobile devices. Streaming music? Apple Music. Streaming TV and movies? Apple TV+. Paid news and magazine subscriptions? Apple News+. Cloud storage? iCloud. Payments? Apple Card and Apple Pay. Gaming? Apple Arcade. And so on.

Its latest effort, launching on October 30, is Apple One — a way for users to pay for multiple Apple services in a single bundle.

At launch, the $14.95 per month Individual bundle includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, 50GB of iCloud storage and Apple Arcade. The same thing as a Family Plan (up to six people) is $19.95 per month and ups the iCloud storage to 200GB. And for $29.95 per month on the Premier plan, you get 2TB of iCloud storage, and add in Apple News+ and the new Fitness+, which arrives later this quarter.

Image Credits: Apple

While each plan saves a little money than if paying individually, the most value can be found at the higher end. Which means Fitness+ could immediately gain an influx of new subscribers, even if the user primarily opted for the Premier plan because of its access to News+. That means Fitness+ doesn’t even have to try that hard to compete with third-party membership-based fitness apps. Instead, Fitness+ acquires users by its association with other known and valued Apple services.

As Apple stretches itself into new services markets — say, AirTags subscriptions, or something we haven’t thought of yet — like subscription medications (Health+?), financial news (Stocks+?), ridesharing (Car+?) social (FaceTime+?) — it will have a head start on user acquisition.

For app developers finding themselves having done the job of proving the market for a subscription-based business in their category, they’ll then be thrust into the role of trying to value add on top of a baseline product that offers a deeper integration with the iOS operating system than they’re allowed.

Cloud gaming’s unknown future on iOS

Image Credits: Facebook Gaming featuring Asphalt Legends

Speaking of services…this week Facebook launched its cloud gaming service that offers free-to-play games that Facebook users can play without leaving the social app.

The games are streamed from the cloud (meaning, Facebook’s servers), instead of requiring users download the titles locally.

This format for mobile gaming makes sense in mature markets that are now steadily moving to 5G. However, Facebook’s new service is only available on desktop and Android — not on iOS.

Facebook excluded Apple devices from the launch, citing Apple’s “arbitrary” policies around third-party apps. Though Apple recently updated its guidelines, it still doesn’t allow applications to act like third-party app stores where games are bought, used and streamed from within the main app directly. Instead, it’s permitting the model GameClub pioneered as a means of working around Apple’s rules last year. That is, there is a main app where users can subscribe and browse a catalog, but each individual game has to be listed on the App Store individually and be playable in some way — even if it’s just a demo.

There’s one school of thought (a point Facebook keeps pushing) that says Apple’s rules here are losing it money.

After all, Facebook says its avoidance of iOS is not about the 30% commission — it’s paying that on Android, in line with Google Play policies. Oh, why oh why doesn’t Apple want its 30%, too?, Facebook cries.

The answer is because Facebook’s iOS snub is part of its long-term strategy. To say it’s not about the money is disingenuous. Facebook at launch is already taking the 30% when in-app purchases are made on the web version of its cloud gaming services.

What’s really happening is that Facebook is making a calculated risk. It’s betting that regulators will ultimately force Apple to permit third-party app stores on iOS and maybe even end Apple’s requirements around in-app purchases, allowing alternative payments. If that comes to pass, the 30% goes back in Facebook’s own pocket.

Even if regulators only push Apple to allow third-party payment systems in addition to the Apple Pay requirement, Facebook could still make money when users picked the Facebook payment option. And it’s ready. Facebook has already built out Facebook Pay infrastructure and it’s now encouraging Facebook Pay usage by redesigning Facebook and Instagram as online shopping platforms.

This all makes the near-term loss of cloud gaming users on iOS worth the risk. Instead of catering to the iOS base, Facebook is raising a stink about “Apple’s rules” to make it look like Apple is harming the market and stifling competition. In reality, Facebook could very easily list its handful of gaming titles separately, if it desired, as per Apple’s current rules — especially because many are more casual games than those found on xCloud or Stadia.

But that wouldn’t help its larger goal: to see Apple’s App Store regulated.

It’s not even like Facebook is being shy about its motives here. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated that Apple’s control of the App Store “deserves scrutiny.”

“I do think that there are questions that people should be looking into about that control of the App store and whether that is enabling as robust of a competitive dynamic,” he said in an Axios interview. “…I think some of the behavior certainly raises questions. And I do think it’s something that deserves scrutiny.”

TikTok Goes Shopping

Image Credits: Shopify

Remember how Walmart angled in on that TikTok acquisition (whose status is still unknown) and everyone was wondering what the heck Walmart was doing? Well, it was thinking ahead.

TikTok this week partnered with Shopify on a social commerce initiative. The deal aims to make it easier for Shopify’s moer than 1 million merchants to reach TikTok’s younger audience and drive sales, by creating and optimizing TikTok campaigns from their Shopify dashboard.

The ad tools allow merchants to create native, shareable content that turns their products into In-Feed video ads that will resonate with the TikTok community. Merchants will be able to target their audiences across gender, age, user behavior and video category (see, TikTok does have SOME data on you!), and then track the campaign’s performance over time.

As a part of this effort, Shopify merchants can also install or connect their “TikTok Pixel” — a tool that helps them to more easily track conversions driven by their TikTok ad campaigns.

The campaigns’ costs will vary, based on the merchant’s own business objectives and how much they want to spend.

The partnership will eventually expand to include other in-app shopping features, as well.

The TikTok-Shopify partnership could help the video platform better compete against other sources of social commerce, including the growing number of live stream shopping apps as well as efforts from Facebook and its family of apps.

Weekly News Round-Up


  • Epic says Apple has “no right to the fruits of Epic’s labor” in its latest court filing. “Consumers who choose to make in-app purchases in Fortnite pay for Epic’s creativity, innovation and effort—to enjoy an experience that Epic has designed,” the filing said. The company is making the point that it did the work to create an in-game marketplace for its players to use. The App Store and its payments system are not necessary — they’re forced upon Epic so Apple can ” maintain its monopoly,” Epic’s lawyers said.
  • Adoption of iOS 14 reaches 46.36% six weeks after launch, according to Mixpanel data.
  • Apple releases App Store server notifications into production. The notifications provide developers with real-time updates on a subscriber’s status, allowing app makers to create customized user experiences.
  • Facebook provides new guidance for partners on iOS 14 SKAdNetwork. The company said it will release an updated version of the Facebook SDK by early Q1 to support the upcoming iOS 14 privacy feature requirements, noting that “guidance from Apple remains limited.” The new version of the Facebook SDK will provide support for Apple’s SKAdNetwork API and conversion value management.
  • Google tests a new “app comparison” feature on Google Play that lets you analyze multiple apps across metrics, like ease of use, features, downloads and star rating. Google confirmed the test was live, but downplayed it saying it was “small” and the company had no plans for a broader rollout at this time.
  • Apple search crawler activity could be pointing to Apple’s plans to build its own search engine to rival Google. In iOS 14, Apple can now display its own search results when users type in queries from its home screen, bypassing Google.
  • ExxonMobile embraces Apple’s App Clips. The fuel company will bring the lightweight App Clips and Apple Pay to more than 11,500 Exxon and Mobil gas stations across the U.S., allowing consumers to scan a QR code on the pump to pay via an App Clip version of the ExxonMobil app.


  • Search engine app makers tell the European Commission that the Android choice screen isn’t working to remedy antitrust issues. Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Lilo, Qwant and Seznam signed the letter to the Commission.
  • Big technology platforms asked the E.U. to protect them from legal liabilities over removing hate speech and illegal content, reports Bloomberg, citing a paper from Edima, an association representing Alphabet’s Google, Facebook, ByteDance and others.


Image Credits: Sensor Tower

  • U.S. home improvement brand app adoption doubled over 2019 since March, per Sensor Tower. As COVID stuck people at home, first-time installs of top home improvement brand apps in the U.S. from March to September 2020 doubled year-over-year, climbing 103%. MAUs grew 35% during that time.
  • U.S. Adoption of Food & Drink apps climbed 30% during COVID-19, also per Sensor Tower. Worldwide, these apps saw a slowdown in download growth in Q3 with a +14% growth rate — slower than other previous third quarters.
  • Samsung reclaims the No. 1 spot in the Indian smartphone market, beating Xiaomi. The new data from marketing research firm Counterpoint conflicts with a report last week from Canalys, making it a close race.
  • Facebook is losing users in the U.S. and Canada. The company reported during its Q3 earnings that user growth in these key markets was slowing after the COVID surge. The company now has 196 million users in North America, down from 198 million in Q2, and it expects the decline to continue. DAUs and MAUs in these markets were also flat or down slightly in the quarter.



  • True, a social networking app that promised to protect user privacy, found to be exposing private messages and user locations.
  • A massive analysis of the COVID-19 tracing app ecosystem tracks the permissions the apps require, SDKs in use, location-tracking abilities and more.
  • PUBG Mobile to terminate all service and access to users in India on October 30, after the country banned the game from the world’s second largest internet market over cybersecurity concerns due to its China ties. PUBG already tried cutting ties with its Chinese publishing partner, Tencent Games, but critics called this a Band-Aid if Tencent still had a hand in game development.

App News

  • Sony’s PlayStation app gets an upgrade before the PS5 launch on November 12. The updated app introduced a completely redesigned interface, with a home screen where you can see what friends are playing, voice chat support for up to 15 people, integrated messages and PS Store and news. When, the PS5 arrives, the app will allow users to remotely launch their games, manage storage and more.
  • Instagram extends time limits on live streams to four hours, the same as Facebook live streams on mobile. It will also soon support archiving of live video content.
  • YouTube revamps its mobile app with new gestures, video chapter lists and others changes. The video chapter lists expand the feature introduced in May, and now turn chapters into scrollable lists, each with their own video thumbnail.
  • Tinder roll outs Face To Face, its opt-in video chat feature, to users worldwide. The dating company was pushed to accelerate its virtual options due to the pandemic.
  • Microsoft Office apps add mouse and trackpad support for iPadOS, meaning you can now use Apple’s new Magic Keyboard with apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is launching a debit card in the U.S. later this year. The Visa debit will work with Visa-compatible payment terminals, online checkout interfaces and ATMs. A mobile app will allow you to control how you want to spend your cryptocurrencies.
  • Eko asks court to freeze Quibi assets related to its turnstyle tech. Even though Quibi is shutting down, Eko’s case against the mobile streaming service continues. Eko wants a payout of at least $96.5 million for infringing on its intellectual property.
  • Netflix engineers detail the studio apps shift to Kotlin Multiplatform in new blog post.
  • TikTok countersues Triller. The China-based, ByteDance-owned video app asks a U.S. judge to rule on Triller’s patent infringement allegations. Triller had filed a suit in late July,
  • TikTok parent ByteDance launches a smart lamp with a camera, display and virtual assistant. The device works with a mobile app and its aimed at helping kids with homework, in an education push.
  • TikTok expands its in-app Election Guide to include Election Day resources like information about polling locations and hours, services that can help people having voting difficulties and those offering other details how the voting process works, as well as live election results from the AP.

Funding and M&A

  • Corsair acquires EpocCam. Gaming peripheral maker bought smartphone app EpocCam, a top video app that lets users turn their iPhone or iPad into a high-def webcam for their Windows or Mac PC. The app grew in popularity due to the pandemic, and its wide support for major video apps includes Zoom, Skype, OBS Studio, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. Under Corsair’s Elgato subsidiary, the app has been relaunched to fit into the company’s expanded ecosystem of content creation tools.
  • Digital health startup Nutrium raises $4.9 million led by Indico Capital for its service and app which links dietitians and their patients.
  • Bay Area-based Jiko raises $40 million Series A from Upfront Ventures and Wafra Inc. for its mobile banking startup.
  • Helsinki-headquartered app management startup AppFollow raises $5 million Series A led by Nauta Capital. The company now has 70,000 clients on its platform, including McDonald’s, Disney, Expedia, PicsArt, Flo, Jam City and Discord.
  • Mobile device management startup Kandji raises $21 million Series A in a round led by Greycroft. The startup’s MDM solution helps larger companies manage their fleet of Apple devices and keep them in compliance.
  • SimilarWeb raises $120 million for its AI-based market intelligence platform for websites and mobile apps. The company counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, including Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google.
  • Phone forensics company Grayshift, a startup that helps feds break into iPhones, raises $47 millionThe round was led by PeakEquity Partners, for the company that claims to have doubled adoption, revenues, and employees in the last year.
  • Intelligent visual assistance startup TechSee raises $30 million to automate field work with AR and computer vision.
  • Betty Labs, parent company to Locker Room, a new social audio app connecting sports fans for live conversations, raised $9.3 million in seed funding led by Google Ventures.
  • Mobile gaming company Scopely raises $340 million at a $3.3 billion valuation. Scopely had just raised $200 million last year. Unlike other gaming giants, Epic and Unity, the company doesn’t make tools for gaming, it focuses on keeping players engaged. Today, those users spend 80 minutes per day on games like its Star Trek Fleet Command, MARVEL Strike Force, Scrabble GO and YAHTZEE with Buddies.

Recommended Downloads


Image Credits: Lightricks

From the makers of Facetune, this new iOS app lets influencers create custom filters that can be shared across social media along with their photos, allowing fans to snap a screenshot of the photo — which includes a QR code on a banner — into order to import the custom preset photo filter into the app’s library. The filter can then be used to edit photos, and further personalized by the end user.

Clips 3.0 eyes TikTok with its biggest update ever

Image Credits: Apple

Apple rolled out an updated version of its casual video creation app, Clips. Before, the app only supported Instagram-like square video, but the new version, Clips 3.0, expands to include support for vertical and horizontal video, making it easier to export videos to apps like TikTok.

The new app also features a refreshed interface on iPhone and iPad, HDR recording with iPhone 12, support for a mouse, trackpad and keyboard cases on iPad, along with other smaller changes, like new stickers, sounds and posters. There are eight new social stickers (like “Sound On” for Instagram Stories), 24 new royalty-free soundtracks (bringing the total library to 100), and six new arrows and shapes, as well as a set of poster templates to use within videos.


Image Credits: Backbone

The Backbone app works with the new $99 Backbone One mobile gaming controller for iPhone that lets you play games like Call of Duty: Mobile, Minecraft, Asphalt 9: Legends, hundreds of Apple Arcade titles and other iPhone games that support game controllers.

The controller also includes a Capture Button that lets you record gaming clips to share directly to social platforms like Instagram Stories and iMessage.

Read the TechCrunch review here.

New Releases in iOS 14 Widgets

Image Credits: Pinterest

  • Pinterest: The pinboarding app jumps into widgets with an update that lets you put either a small or large widget on your home screen that pulls photos from a Pinterest board — either one you follow or one you created. This allows you to set up a widget that rotates through a set of photos from an online resource, instead of requiring you to keep an on-device photo gallery.
  • TikTok: The short form video app updated this week to include three different widgets from small to large that allow you to easily access trending videos and sounds right from your iOS home screen.
  • Widgit: This new widget lets you put GIF-like animated images on your iOS 14 home screen (in-app purchases).

Source: Tech Crunch

The scooter battle for New York City is on

New York City, one of the most coveted shared micromobility markets in the industry, has released its request for interest in its electric scooter pilot, officially kicking off what promises to be a competitive battle among companies vying for a chance to operate their businesses in the city.

The city also released a request for expressions of interest, or “RFEI,” for companies that provide ancillary services to the electric scooter industry, such as data aggregation and analysis, on-street charging and parking vendors, safe-riding training courses as well as scooter collection and impound services.

New York is on the brink of providing a new way for residents to get around and supporting a burgeoning industry in the process. Just about every major e-scooter company — a list that includes Bird, Lime, Spin and Voi — as well as a number of other lesser-known players — are planning to apply for the permit, each one attempting to win over the city with promises of best practices and their own special brand of operations. Statements emailed to TechCrunch provide a forecast of how these competition will shake out. Companies like Lime and Voi touted their experience.

“We’re excited about working with the city to craft a world-class e-scooter program that prioritizes safety, accessibility and equity,” Phil Jones, senior director for government relations at Lime, said in an emailed statement. “As we’ve learned from operating in global cities like LA, Chicago, Paris and Rome as well as more than one hundred cities around the world, e-scooters can help New York build a more resilient and adaptable transportation system. As New Yorkers look for new ways to get around, e-scooters will provide an ideal option for those looking to travel around the City while remaining socially-distant.”

Voi specifically pointed to its know-how scaling in Europe as proof that it was a worthy choice.

“From its growing cycling infrastructure to its recent reimagination of public space into open streets and outdoor dining, New York is leading a nationwide transformation of city streets,” Voi co-founder and CEO Fredrik Hjelm said. “After helping more than 50 European cities rethink their relationship with the car, we’re hoping to make NYC our base in the U.S.”

Bird promised to prioritize equity, safety, access and effective parking solutions. Spin went even further and made recommendations of what the program should look like; a tactic aimed at rooting out some possible contenders.

Spin said it suggested the NYC’s transportation agency require scooter companies to deploy in so-called equity zones and reduce fare for low-income residents by at least 50% and provide a means to rent the devices without a smartphone. Spin also says the program should place a 2,000 scooter cap per vendor with only three to four companies receiving a permit. It also suggests the city require adaptive scooter devices, lock-to tech that ensures scooters are affixed to bike infrastructure and that companies use a W-2 workforce with requirement to hire locally.

The backstory

The New York City Council approved in late June a bill that required the New York Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for the operation of shared electric scooters in the city. The DOT had until October to issue a request for proposals to participate in a shared e-scooter pilot program.

The pilot program must launch by March 1, 2021. The New York City Council will continue to work with DOT on determining where to set up the pilot. If the pilot program limits the service area it could prove a failure, several e-scooter companies and advocates previously told TechCrunch.

Manhattan is off limits, leaving four other boroughs, including the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Proposed legislation to allow scooters was first introduced more than two years ago. However, a pilot program wasn’t technically feasible until April 2020 when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to legalize the use of throttle-based electric scooters and bikes in the state. Under the state law, shared scooters will not be allowed in Manhattan and a pilot program must be approved by the New York City Council before shared scooter services can operate in the remaining boroughs.

The proposed local law places some requirements on how the pilot program is structured. Neighborhoods that lack access to existing bike-share programs will be given priority in determining the geographic boundaries of the pilot program. Companies that receive permits will be required to meet operating rules, such as providing accessible scooter options.

Other battlegrounds

New York City isn’t the only important market in the world for shared electric scooter companies. Several other large cities, notably Chicago, Seattle and Paris, have completed the application process for pilot programs and been granted permits. Paris had as many as 16 companies vying for a permit to operate scooters there. The city, following a seven-month tender process, granted Lime, Dott and Tier Mobility permits. Bird, which just a year ago made a big bet on the French market and announced plans to open its biggest European office in Paris, lost its bid. Bird said at the time that it wanted to hire 1,000 people by mid-2021. Bolt, Comodule, Spin, Voi and Wind were also denied permits to operate in Paris.

In August, Chicago issued permits to Bird, Lime and Spin for its second pilot program. This time around Chicago is limiting scooter use to 15 mph between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. And there are a few areas, like the Lakefront Trail, where scooters are prohibited. Each scooter company is limited to no more than 3,333 devices, 50% of which must be deployed with an equity priority area. New to the second pilot is a requirement that all e-scooters must have locks that require riders to secure the scooter to a fixed object to end their trip.

With so many large markets now decided, just a couple of big targets remain, notably London along with New York. London’s transportation agency announced this summer that it would allow scooter companies to operate in the city. However, permits have yet to be granted. Bird, Bolt (the ridesharing startup out of Estonia), Lime, Neuron Mobility, Tier, Voi and Zipp Mobility have all expressed interest in the London scooter program.

Source: Tech Crunch

Logistics and truck rental giant Ryder joins the businesses making the jump into venture capital in 2020

While the launch of a $50 million venture capital fund by the shipping, logistics, and truck rental company Ryder System may have seemed like an odd strategic move, it’s actually the culmination of roughly three years of investment activity from the Florida-based company.

Ryder’s push to create its own venture fund is actually part of a broader trend among corporations who have used the COVID-19 epidemic in the US as an opportunity to start investing in startups — even as a large portion of the population struggles to find work.

And it’s one that is vital for a company like Ryder, which has seen investments into new technology in its once sleepy little industry top $6 billion, according to company executives. That’s a massive figure promoting new tech development in a business where Excel spreadsheets used to be considered state of the art.

Ryder’s not alone in recognizing the need to get in front of technological innovations before an upstart comes along and puts well-established businesses in the rearview mirror.

Over the first half of 2020, 368 corporations made their first investments into startup companies, according to data from the industry analytics provider, Global Corporate Venturing. It’s a broad shift from the last corporate investment boom and bust period twenty years ago where large corporations were some of the last investors in the tech industry and the first to pull their capital out.

And the amount of first time investors into corporate venturing is nearly double the previous surge in corporate backing in the third quarter of 2019, when 177 new companies made their first investments in venture capital.

Ryder has worked with the venture firms Autotech Ventures and the corporate innovation and accelerator Plug and Play as a limited partner, but the new $50 million fund is its first direct investment vehicle for venture.

“We had a strategic directive from our board of directors and our CEO to begin to look at the disruption confronting our industry and to understand better how to navigate those waters,” said Karen Jones, the executive vice president and head of new product development at the logistics company. “Everybody was reading all about blockchain and automation and electric vehicles ad autonomous vehicles and asset sharing.” 

Transportation and logistics historically didn’t cross paths much with the tech industry — but the advent of globally connected mobile devices; improved, miniaturized sensing technologies; increasing vehicular automation; and accelerating delivery demands from customers have pushed the “sleepy little industry” as Jones called into a period of hyper-adoption.

“There’s just been a ripe opportunity in our particular industry to disrupt it with the technology that’s available,” said Jones. “[And] if we’re going to be disrupted let’s get in front of it and turn it into an opportunity instead of a threat.”

At Ryder, the emphasis seems to be on creating an investment structure with as much flexibility as possible.

The venture firm doesn’t have a cap on its commitments to deals. The only real solid commitment is that it’s looking to spend $50 million over the next five years.

The company will likely invest in technologies like: last-mile deliveries, asset sharing, electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and next generation data, analytics, and machine learning technologies, Jones said. But even there, Ryder doesn’t want to limit itself.

We want to entertain other thoughts. Maybe we haven’t thought of everything,” Jones said. 

There are four people on the company’s investment team working alongside Jones: Rich Mohr, the chief technology officer for fleet management; Kendra Philips, the chief technology officer for the company’s supply chain business; Bob Brunn, the vice president of investor relations and corporate strategy; and Mike Plasencia, the director of finance for the company.

They’ll report up to the CEO and CFO and confer with presidents of different business units on potential portfolio investments, Jones said.

Companies in the portfolio will be judged both on their potential strategic value to the company and on their potential for economic returns, said Jones.

For startups, that potentially means access to Ryder’s 50,000 customers. “The ability to help a startup test out and prove their technology and help us improve efficiencies is a great benefit to both sides,” Jones said. 


Source: Tech Crunch

Nestlé acquires healthy meal startup Freshly for up to $1.5B

Nestlé USA just announced that it has acquired Freshly for $1.5 billion — $950 million plus potential earnouts of up to $550 million based on future growth.

Founded in 2015, Freshly is a New York City-based startup that offers healthy meals delivered to your home in weekly orders, then prepared in a few minutes via microwave or oven,  So you get the benefit of fresh, healthy meals but — unlike signing up with a meal kit startup — you don’t have to spend a lot of time cooking them yourself.

If anything, this sounds even more appealing now, as so many of us are spending most of our time at home, doing our best to cook for ourselves. According to Nestlé’s press release, Freshly is now shipping more than 1 million meals per week across 48 states, with forecasted sales of $430 million for 2020.

The startup raised a total of $107 million from investors including Highland Capital Partners, White Star Capital, Insight Venture Partners and Nestlé itself, which led the Series C in 2017. Today’s announcement describes the earlier investment as giving the food and beverage giant a 16% stake in Freshly and serving as “a strategic move to evaluate and test the burgeoning market.”

“Consumers are embracing ecommerce and eating at home like never before,” said Nestlé USA Chairman and CEO Steve Presley in a statement. “It’s an evolution brought on by the pandemic but taking hold for the long term. Freshly is an innovative, fast-growing, food-tech startup, and adding them to the portfolio accelerates our ability to capitalize on the new realities in the U.S. food market and further positions Nestlé to win in the future.”

In a note to customers, Freshly co-founder and CEO Michael Wystrach said that as a result of the acquisition, his team has plans to triple the number of menu items offered each week. Beyond that, however, he suggested that things won’t change too dramatically:

I can assure you that your meals, pricing, and subscription will remain just as you know them. Freshly will continue to operate as a standalone business to accomplish our core mission to remove the barriers to healthy eating with convenient, nutritious and delicious meal solutions, backed by the power of Nestlé to open new doors for a fresher, faster food delivery to your door. We will continue to maintain our own strict standards and maintain complete control of our products. Our meals will not be changing, and there are no plans to change ingredients or integrate Nestlé products into Freshly meals, but we are excited about potential opportunities for the future.


Source: Tech Crunch

Big tech’s ‘blackbox’ algorithms face regulatory oversight under EU plan

Major Internet platforms will be required to open up their algorithms to regulatory oversight under proposals European lawmakers are set to introduce next month.

In a speech today Commission EVP Margrethe Vestager suggested algorithmic accountability will be a key plank of the forthcoming legislative digital package — with draft rules incoming that will require platforms to explain how their recommendation systems work as well as offering users more control over them.

“The rules we’re preparing would give all digital services a duty to cooperate with regulators. And the biggest platforms would have to provide more information on the way their algorithms work, when regulators ask for it,” she said, adding that platforms will also “have to give regulators and researchers access to the data they hold — including ad archives”.

While social media platforms like Facebook have set up ad archives ahead of any regulatory requirement to do so there are ongoing complaints from third party researchers about how the information is structured and how (in)accessible it is to independent study.

More information for users around ad targeting is another planned requirement, along with greater reporting requirements for platforms to explain content moderation decisions, per Vestager — who also gave a preview of what’s coming down the pipe in the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act in another speech earlier this week.

Regional lawmakers are responding to concerns that ‘blackbox’ algorithms can have damaging effects on individuals and societies — flowing from how they process data and order and rank information, with risks such as discrimination, amplification of bias and abusive targeting of vulnerable individuals and groups.

The Commission has said it’s working on binding transparency rules with the aim of forcing tech giants to take more responsibility for the content their platforms amplify and monetize. Although the devil will be in both the detail of the requirements and how effectively they will be enforced — but a draft of the plan is due in a month or so.

“One of the main goals of the Digital Services Act that we’ll put forward in December will be to protect our democracy, by making sure that platforms are transparent about the way these algorithms work – and make those platforms more accountable for the decisions they make,” said Vestager in a speech today at an event organized by not-for-profit research advocacy group AlgorithmWatch.

“The proposals that we’re working on would mean platforms have to tell users how their recommender systems decide which content to show – so it’s easier for us to judge whether to trust the picture of the world that they give us or not.”

Under the planned rules the most powerful Internet platforms — so-called ‘gatekeepers’ in EU parlance — will have to provide regular reports on “the content moderation tools they use, and the accuracy and results of those tools”, as Vestager put it.

There will also be specific disclosure requirements for ad targeting that go beyond the current fuzzy disclosures that platforms like Facebook may already offer (in its case via the ‘why am I seeing this ad?’ menu).

“Better information” will have to be provided, she said, such as platforms telling users “who placed a certain ad, and why it’s been targeted at us”. The overarching aim will be to ensure users of such platforms have “a better idea of who’s trying to influence us — and a better chance of spotting when algorithms are discriminating against us,” she added. 

Today a coalition of 46 civic society organizations led by AlgorithmWatch urged the Commission to make sure transparency requirements in the forthcoming legislation are “meaningful” — calling for it to introduce “comprehensive data access frameworks” that provide watchdogs with the tools they need to hold platforms accountable, as well as to enable journalists, academics, and civil society to “challenge and scrutinize power”.

The group’s set of recommendations call for binding disclosure obligations based on the technical functionalities of dominant platforms; a single EU institution “with a clear legal mandate to enable access to data and to enforce transparency obligations”; and provisions to ensure data collection complies with EU data protection rules.

Another way to rebalance the power asymmetry between data-mining platform giants and the individuals who they track, profile and target could involve requirements to let users switch off algorithmic feeds entirely if they wish — opting out of the possibility of data-driven discrimination or manipulation. But it remains to be seen whether EU lawmakers will go that far in the forthcoming legislative proposals.

The only hints Vestager offered on this front was to say that the planned rules “will also give more power to users — so algorithms don’t have the last word about what we get to see, and what we don’t get to see”.

Platforms will also have to give users “the ability to influence the choices that recommender systems make on our behalf”, she also said.

In further remarks she confirmed there will be more detailed reporting requirements for digital services around content moderation and takedowns — saying they will have to tell users when they take content down, and give them “effective rights to challenge that removal”. While there is widespread public support across the bloc for rebooting the rules of play for digital giants there are also strongly held views that regulation should not impinge on online freedom of expression — such as by encouraging platforms to shrink their regulatory risk by applying upload filters or removing controversial content without a valid reason.

The proposals will need the support of EU Member States, via the European Council, and elected representatives in the European parliament.

The latter has already voted in support of tighter rules on ad targeting. MEPs also urged the Commission to reject the use of upload filters or any form of ex-ante content control for harmful or illegal content, saying the final decision on whether content is legal or not should be taken by an independent judiciary.

Simultaneously the Commission is working on shaping rules specifically for applications that use artificial intelligence — but that legislative package is not due until next year.

Vestager confirmed that will be introduced early in 2021 with the aim of creating “an AI ecosystem of trust”.

Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook is limiting distribution of ‘save our children’ hashtag over QAnon ties

Facebook today confirmed that it will be limiting the distribution of the hashtag “save our children.” Over the past several months, the phrase — and ones like it — have become associated with QAnon. These terms have served to provide a kind of innocuous cover for the popular online conspiracy theory.

A spokesperson for the social network confirmed the move today, noting that child safety resources will be prioritized in search above those potentially tied to QAnon.

“Earlier this week, we stepped up how we enforce our rules against QAnon on pages, events, and groups,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Starting today, we’re limiting the distribution of the ‘save our children’ hashtag given we’ve found that content tied to it is now associated with QAnon. When people search for it, they will now see the credible child safety resources.”

The company finally took action to remove the constellation of dangerous conspiracy theories with a ban on QAnon content across both Facebook and Instagram. It  had previously announced a ban on QAnon groups that “discussed potential violence” but the expanded ban evinced a deeper understanding of how conspiracies draw in and radicalize regular users. The ban has actually proven quite successful so far, making it more more difficult for QAnon-related posts and accounts to be discovered and amplified.

Over the summer, the service began to crack down on QAnon-adjacent hashtags like SaveTheChildren. It even went so far as temporarily blocking the phrase, which, for around a century, has been associated with nonprofit youth organizations. “We temporarily blocked the hashtag as it was surfacing low-quality content,” Facebook told the press at the time. “The hashtag has since been restored, and we will continue to monitor for content that violates our community standards.”

By then, however, the movement had already gained life beyond social media, with several well-attended rallies being held across the U.S. and in different locations across the globe. Organizers have broadly purported to be protesting child exploitation, ranging from accusations of pedophilia among the Hollywood elite to outrage over the Netflix film “Cuties.”

In August, the U.S.-based Save the Children Federation, Inc. released a statement seeking to clarify and distance itself from the trend. “Our name in hashtag form has been experiencing unusually high volumes and causing confusion among our supporters and the general public,” the org wrote. “In the United States, Save the Children is the sole owner of the registered trademark ‘Save the Children.’ While people may choose to use our organization’s name as a hashtag to make their point on different issues, we are not affiliated or associated with any of these campaigns.”

Facebook’s crackdown on QAnon and adjacent #SaveTheChildren content come after the company allowed the dangerous conspiracy theory group to thrive on its platform for years, moving from the fringes of online life into its center. While President Trump and a handful of QAnon-friendly Republican political figures have given the conspiracies a boost, mainstream social networks allowed adherents to ferry the revelations of so-called “Q drops” from the obscure and often extreme message board 8chan into the center of American political life.

Some users happen upon conspiracy content organically, but algorithmic recommendations on platforms like Facebook and YouTube are known to usher users from the edges of conspiracies like QAnon into their often more extreme core ideas. Dedicated QAnon believers are responsible for a number of real-world violent actions, including an armed occupation of the Hoover Dam. Matthew Wright, the man who pled guilty to a terrorism charge for blocking the bridge, explained in a video that his agitation stemmed from President Trump’s failure to arrest his political enemies, which disappointed QAnon believers. Last year, a 29-year-old QAnon adherent shot and killed a mob boss who he believed was part of the “deep state” — a frequent preoccupation of Q followers.

Source: Tech Crunch