Lyft’s driver wage lawsuit in NYC continues

As Lyft gears up to list its stock on the NASDAQ, the transportation company is facing ongoing litigation regarding driver wages in New York City. Today, a judge denied Lyft’s motion for an injunction blocking the recent ruling that sets a minimum wage for drivers. Still, the judge said she’ll think it over and file a written ruling in the next 30 days. This comes shortly after a number of drivers protested Lyft’s lawsuit against the city of New York earlier this morning.

“We are pleased the judge denied Lyft’s motion to block the wage protection rules for now and we hope she will uphold the city’s rules in her written decision.” Independent Drivers Guild member and Lyft driver Tina Raveneau said in a statement. “Eighty thousand New Yorkers serve as professional drivers for apps like Lyft and we deserve the protection and the dignity of a livable minimum wage. It is like a punch in the gut to us, the drivers who helped build this company, that Lyft stood in court suing to block higher wages at the same time as they moved toward an IPO at a $23 billion valuation. We are finally making more than we have in years thanks to the new pay rules, but Lyft wants to bring it back to the way it was before, poverty wages.”

Lyft filed the lawsuit earlier this year, arguing the new rules give an advantage to Uber, will reduce driver earnings and exacerbate congestion. At the time, Lyft said its suit was “not directed at the law passed by New York City Council, but rather at the TLC’s complex formula for implementation.” Lyft is a proponent of a weekly pay standard but argues the TLC’s approach does not take into account things like drivers who use multiple apps and fluctuating demand.

“We support the New York City Council’s minimum earnings goal, but oppose the TLC’s specific rules because they actually hurt earning opportunities for drivers, and provide advantages to certain companies over others,” Lyft spokesperson Campbell Matthews said in a statement. “We appreciated the opportunity to make our case in court today, and look forward to the judge’s forthcoming ruling.”

The suit came after the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission in December approved new rules to offer a minimum hourly wage of $17.22 (after expenses) to drivers who work for ride-hailing companies like Uber, Lyft, Via and Juno. The two-year-long campaign for minimum wage was spearheaded by The Independent Drivers Guild, a labor organization that advocates for drivers. The rules require companies to pay drivers according to a formula based on mileage, time and utilization rate (average percentage of time drivers have passengers in their cars),

Lyft has recently said that it is committed to increasing the earnings of drivers and supports the NYC council’s minimum earnings goal. But it filed the lawsuit, Lyft said in a recent blog post, “to correct the flawed implementation of the law by NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission.”

These rules legally went into effect in February. Since then, Lyft says there has been a negative impact on driver earnings. That’s because, Lyft says, the cost for passengers increased 24 percent, which led to rides dropping 26 percent and driver earnings dropping 15 percent. Lyft had to then take “action to stabilize the market largely through the use of passenger discounts. We won’t do this forever, but knew it was important for both the driver community and Lyft while the lawsuit progressed.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Kevin Tsujihara is stepping down as Warner Bros CEO

Kevin Tsujihara is leaving his role as chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment.

He joined Warner Bros. back in 1994 and took charge of the film and TV studio in 2013. As part of broader leadership changes at WarnerMedia — which is now under the ownership of AT&T — his role was recently expanded to include Turner Classic Movies, digital-focused Otter Media and a new business unit that includes Warner’s properties for kids and young adults.

However, Tsujihara was also the subject of an exposé in the Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, which described his text messages with actress Charlotte Kirk. The two were apparently in a sexual relationship, and the messages show Kirk asking for Tsujihara’s help in landing film roles.

She was eventually cast in two small parts in two Warner Bros. films — “How to be Single” and “Ocean’s 8.” Tsujihara’s attorney insisted that he had “no direct role” in Kirk’s hiring on these films.

In a memo to sent to Warner Bros. staff, Tsujihara said, “After lengthy introspection, and discussions with John Stankey over the past week, we have decided that it is in Warner Bros.’ best interest that I step down as Chairman and CEO … The hard work of everyone within our organization is truly admirable, and I won’t let media attention on my past detract from all the great work the team is doing.”

The company has not yet announced a replacement.

Source: Tech Crunch

Trump’s views about ‘crazy’ self-driving cars are at odds with his DOT

President Donald Trump is an automated-vehicle skeptic, a point of view that lies in stark contrast with agencies within his own administration, including the U.S. Department of Transportation .

According to a recent scoop by Axios, Trump has privately said he thinks the autonomous-vehicle revolution is “crazy.” Trump’s point of view isn’t exactly surprising. His recent tweets about airplanes becoming too complex illustrates his Luddite leanings.

The interesting bit — beyond a recounting of Trump pantomiming self-driving cars veering out of control — is how his personal views compare to the DOT.

Just last week during SXSW in Austin, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the creation of the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council, an internal organization designed to resolve jurisdictional and regulatory gaps that may impede the deployment of new technology, such as tunneling, hyperloop, autonomous vehicles and other innovations.

“New technologies increasingly straddle more than one mode of transportation, so I’ve signed an order creating a new internal Department council to better coordinate the review of innovation that have multi-modal applications,” Chao said in a prepared statement at the time.

Meanwhile, other AV-related policies and legislation are in various stages of review.

The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced Friday that automated-vehicle petitions from Nuro and General Motors are advancing to the Federal Register for public review and comment.

The parallel viewpoints have yet to collide. There’s no evidence that Trump’s personal views on autonomous-vehicle technology has been inserted into DOT policy. Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t.

AV companies are hip to this eventuality and are taking steps now to educate the masses — and Trump. Take the Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) coalition, as one example. PAVE launched in January with a founding group that included a number of major automakers, technology companies and organizations with a stake in autonomous vehicles, including Audi, Aurora, Cruise, GM, Mobileye, Nvidia, Toyota, Waymo and Zoox to spread the word about advanced vehicle technologies and self-driving vehicles. Their message: This tech can transform transportation and make it safer and more sustainable.

Waymo has also teamed up with AAA on a public education campaign to spread the word about autonomous-vehicle technology and how it could impact safety and help people get around. The partnership, announced recently, is with AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah (AAA NCNU), a regional organization that oversees operations in seven markets, including well-known hubs of autonomous vehicle development such as Arizona and California.

Source: Tech Crunch

Y Combinator bets on the booming podcast industry

Podcasts are exploding in popularity and Y Combinator, the startup accelerator known for its long list of unicorn graduates, is throwing its support behind a business tackling the podcast monetization problem. Among its latest and largest-ever cohort is Brew, a subscription-based app complete with original content.

Though Brew’s founders, Jijo Sunny, Madhavan Ramakrishnan, Aleesha John and Joseph Sunny, call Brew the “Netflix for podcasts,” the app differs from Luminary, which made headlines with the same tagline and a $100 million round earlier this month. Luminary, which hasn’t yet launched, will similarly operate under a subscription model, charging $8 a month for access to its podcasts. Instead of opening its platform to creators of any stature, the business is striking deals with established voices in the podcast industry, like Guy Raz of “How I Built This,” Adam Davidson of “Planet Money” and celebrities Trevor Noah and Lena Dunham.

Brew, on the other hand, charges listeners $5 per month for access to a different demographic: upstart podcasters and rising stars alike. In other words, if you and your mom wanted to start a podcast — and get paid — you can sign up on Brew and instantly start raking in cash. That is, if you’re garnering an audience of listeners; Brew pays its creators based on their number of unique listens.

The founding team behind Brew, a startup tackling the podcast monetization problem.

“Podcasts, by nature, have a low barrier to entry and that’s the best thing about podcasts, right?,” Brew chief executive officer Jijo Sunny tells TechCrunch. “Anyone anywhere can set up a podcast. To be a Netflix for audio, it has to be for all creators, not celebrities like Trevor Noah.”

The app officially launched in the app store last week with several original ad-free shows, including original content from YouTubers Boogie2988 and Jack Vale, who boast a 4.5 million and 1.5 million following on YouTube, respectively. Next month, Brew will make its platform available for all podcasters to upload shows.

“Our vision is to help millions of creators earn a living doing what they love,” Ramakrishnan tells TechCrunch.

The startup’s long-term vision includes incorporating a tipping feature, much like Himalaya, another podcasting business that recently secured a $100 million check. Himalaya allows listeners to send micro-payments to creators to help subsidize their ad-based income.

Later, Brew plans to allow podcasters to operate online stores within the app, so they can earn additional money through merchandise sales. Live podcasts, publishing and production tools are also on the roadmap.

Podcast startups are taking off thanks to support from venture capitalists, but the people behind the content still struggle to earn a solid paycheck. Justine and Olivia Moore of CRV, an early-stage venture capital firm, say podcasts monetize at only a penny per listener hour, on average. Podcasting, in other words, makes 10x less money per hours consumed than radio, TV, magazines or any other major content medium. Meanwhile, 73 million people are enjoying podcasts every month, per Edison Research, and some 15 billion episodes are downloaded each year.

It’s clear there is an untapped opportunity to help content creators get rich. The Brew team’s experience — they previously built, a tipping platform for artists that has funded 40,000 people to date — coupled with VCs excitement for the growing medium puts Brew on a solid path for growth.

Brew’s team is originally from Kerala, India but plans to permanently set up shop in San Francisco. They’ve raised a total of $400,000, including Y Combinator’s $150,000 check. CrunchRoll founder Kun Gao and Teachable CEO Ankur Nagpal are amongst its early backers.

Brew, alongside some 200 other startups, will pitch to investors at YC Demo Days later today and tomorrow.

Source: Tech Crunch

Targeting payday lenders, Branch adds pay-on-demand features for hourly workers

Branch, the scheduling and pay management app for hourly workers, has added a new pay-on-demand service called Pay, which is now available to anyone who downloads the Branch app.

It’s an attempt to provide a fee-based alternative to payday lending, where borrowers charge exorbitant rates to lenders on short-term loans or cash advances. Borrowers can often wind up paying anywhere from 200 percent to more than 3,000 percent on short-term payday loans.

The Pay service, which was previously only available to select users from a waitlist at companies like Dunkin’, Taco Bell and Target (which are Branch customers), is now available to anyone in the United States and gives anyone the opportunity to get paid for the hours they have worked in a given pay period.

Branch, which began its corporate life as Branch Messenger, started as a scheduling and shift management tool for large retailers, restaurants and other businesses with hourly workers. When the company added a wage-tracking service, it began to get a deeper insight into the financially precarious lives of its users, according to chief executive, Atif Siddiqi.

“We thought, if we can give them a portion of their paycheck in advance it would be a big advantage with their productivity,” Siddiqi says. 

The company is working with Plaid, the fintech unicorn that debuted five years ago at the TechCrunch Disrupt New York Hackathon, and Cross River Bank, the stealthy financial services provider backstopping almost every major fintech player in America.

“Opening Pay and instant access to earnings to all Branch users continues our mission of creating tools that empower the hourly employee and allow their work lives to meet the demands of their personal lives,” said Siddiqi, in a statement. “Our initial users have embraced this feature, and we look forward to offering Pay to all of our organic users to better engage employees and scale staffing more efficiently.”

Beta users of the Pay service have already averaged roughly 5.5 transactions per month and more than 20 percent higher shift coverage rates compared to non-users, according to the company. Pay isn’t a lending service, technically. It offers a free pay-within-two-days option for users to receive earned but uncollected wages before a scheduled payday.

For users, there’s no integration with a back-end payroll system. Anyone who wants to use Pay just needs to download the Branch app and enter their employer, debit card or payroll card, and bank account (if a user has one). Through its integration with Plaid, Branch has access to almost all U.S. banks and credit unions.

“A lot of these employees at some of these enterprises are unbanked so they get paid on a payroll card,” Siddiqi said. “It’s been a big differentiation for us in the market allowing us to give unbanked users access to the wages that they earn.”

Users on the app can instantly get a $150 cash advance and up to $500 per pay period, according to the company. The Pay service also comes with a wage tracker so employees can forecast their earnings based on their schedule and current wages, a shift-scheduling tool to pick up additional shifts and an overdraft security feature to hold off on repayment withdrawals if it would cause users to overdraw their accounts.

Branch doesn’t charge anything for users who are willing to wait two days to receive their cash, and charges $1.99 for instant deposits.

Siddiqi views the service as a loss leader to get users onto the Branch app and ultimately more enterprise customers onto its scheduling and payment management SaaS platform.

“The way we generate revenue is through our other modules. It’s very sticky… and our other modules complement this concept of Pay,” Siddiqi says. “By combining scheduling and pay we’re providing high rates of shift coverage… now people want to pick up undesirable shifts because they can get paid instantly for those shifts.”

Source: Tech Crunch

Doorport wants to make your apartment building’s front door smarter

If you live in a big city, you’ve probably had your fair share of battles with apartment intercom systems. Those electronic gatekeepers with their tiny screens, sticky buttons, and seemingly endless lists of names to tap through in search of a friend who can buzz you in.

Doorport wants to make those existing systems a bit smarter. They’ve built a device that can be wired into existing buzzer systems, allowing you to use your smartphone to unlock your building’s door for yourself and your guests with a quick tap. Once installed, the existing intercom system works just as it did before — just now with a bit more smarts.

The company’s current prototype hardware is about the size of a deck of cards, and is meant to be tucked into the empty space within an already in-place intercom system. The company’s founders tell me it takes about 5 to 10 minutes to install. You clamp the device onto the inside of the intercom box with a magnet, run two wires for power, and two wires to let the device control the door lock mechanism.

When you open Doorport’s app, it uses Bluetooth to search for nearby doors you have access to. Tapping the on-screen padlock will unlock the door as if you’d scanned your key fob or punched in your code. If a friend arrives with Doorport’s app setup, they’re able to ping you through the app so you can buzz them through the door. When a resident moves out of the building, the property manager just removes that resident’s profile via the admin panel to prevent future access.

The company initially set out to build a full-fledge hardware replacement for existing intercoms, with things like video calling and temporary, single-day access codes. In testing the market, however, they found that landlords weren’t interested in something quite so intense. A whole new system meant ripping out the old hardware, re-training employees, giving all of the residents new key fobs, etc. So they shifted focus to something that sits on top of existing systems, instead.

It’s still pretty early days for the 3-person team. It’s iterating on prototypes, each unit contained within a 3d-printed shell. Just months ago, when the company first got into Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 class, co-founder Reggie Jean-Brice tells me “the hardware was literally on a breadboard.” The device I saw recently, meanwhile, was a sleek little package with “Mark II” emblazoned across the side.

As with most new companies, Doorport is still figuring out exactly how much their product will cost, and are testing different pricing models. Through one model, they’d charge landlords about $350 up front for install, then $1.50 per apartment unit per month. Another model shifts the cost (about $30 a year per unit) to residents, allowing landlords to pitch it as an optional amenity. Co-founder Ben Taylor tells me that the company currently has prototype devices being tested in San Francisco, Oakland, and New York.

Source: Tech Crunch

Nala has built a hassle-free, offline mobile money payment platform for Africa

Benjamin Fernandes, the Tanzanian co-founder chief executive of Nala, spent hundreds of hours talking to local Tanzanians about their frustrations with mobile money payment services before he launched his new payment platform.

While at least a hundred million Africans hold mobile money accounts, the process of transacting over the services is difficult, so Tala made an application that acts as an interface on top of the unstructured supplementary service data layer to make money transfers and payments much easier.

Mobile payment services have swept across the African continent in the 12 years since the wireless carrier Safaricom launched M-Pesa in 2007. As of 2017, roughly half of the 282 mobile money services operating worldwide were in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to a McKinsey report. Nala’s founder estimates that there around 420 million Africans holding mobile money accounts, making the continent the leader in mobile money adoption by a wide margin. 

In Tanzania, making one send money payment requires a user to enter somewhere between 39-46 digits, a hard enough task for anyone, let alone someone who may be newly adjusting to mobile phone service.

Using Nala, users can make payments to anyone on any device, and it only requires a one-time download to start transacting, according to the company.

Think of Nala has taken all of the short codes from all of the transaction providers and created a router system that users can operate without having to memorize the different underlying coding. Currently live in Tanzania, with over 100,000 users, Fernandes says that his company has plans to expand to at least two other African countries over the course of 2019.

It’s been a long road for Fernandes, a former national television host of youth talk shows and sports shows in Tanzania, to financial services entrepreneur.

Fernandes moved to the U.S. for university, doing his undergrad degree at the evangelical Christian University of Northwestern in St. Paul. At the university, Fernandes developed an interest in economics and excelled. Encouraged by his business professor to apply to Harvard and Stanford for business school, Fernandes briefly returned home and did just that.

He received a full ride to Stanford through the school’s Africa MBA Fellowship in 2014 and moved back to America.

“I took the two years at Stanford to learn everything i can about fintech,” Fernandes recalled. “In the summer i started working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and that’s where i met Sam Castle. He was a PhD student at Washington doing research in mobile payments in MENA and Sub Saharan Africa.

Castle and Fernandes stayed in touch while the Tanzanian wrapped up his studies at Stanford, and when Fernandes graduated and received the Frances and Arjay Miller Prize for Social Entrepreneurship along with its attendant $20,000 bounty, he returned home and started working on Nala.

“It was such a hard decision to make to go home,” Fernandes recalls. “Most Africans don’t go home. We stay in the States. But I was 24 at the time and thought ‘We’ll figure this out.’”

As he began working on different prototypes and as the work progressed, he was able to convince Castle to come on board.

Now the company is generating some revenue from airtime sales and bill payments, although down the road Fernandes sees value in the data that the company collects across the multiple accounts that Nala services.

Eventually there’s a possibility for the company to get into other financial services like lending and savings.

What’s clear is the massive opportunity that exists in simplifying a transaction mechanism that’s wildly popular across the continent but also massively tricky for consumers to use.

Mobile payments have already revolutionized financial transactions in Africa, by building a simpler interface, Nala could take that revolution one step further.

Source: Tech Crunch

Facebook failed to block 20% of uploaded New Zealand shooter videos

Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos from its site within the first 24 hours after a shooter livestreamed his attack on two New Zealand mosques, killing 50 people.

In a series of tweets, Facebook’s Mia Garlick said a total of 1.2 million videos were blocked at the point of upload. Videos that included “praise or support” from the attack were also removed, she said, using a mix of automated technologies — like audio detection — and human content moderators.

Facebook did not say why the 300,000 videos were not caught at upload, representing a 20 percent failure rate.

The cherry-picked “vanity” statistics only account for the total number of uploaded videos that Facebook knows about. TechCrunch found several videos posted to Facebook more than 12 hours after the attack. Some are calling on Facebook to release the engagement figures — such as how many views, shares and reactions — were made before the videos were taken down, which critics say is a more accurate measure of how far the videos spread.

The attack on Friday targeted worshippers during morning prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. Police said they apprehended the shooter about half an hour after reports of the first attack came in.

The 28-year old suspected shooter, charged with murder, livestreamed the video to Facebook using a head-mounted camera, typically used to record sporting events in first-person. Facebook closed the attacker’s account within an hour of the attack, but the video had already been shared across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The shooter described himself as a self-professed fascist, according to a “manifesto” he posted shortly before the attacks. The tech companies have faced criticism for not responding to the emerging threat of violence associated with white nationalism, compared to actions taken against content in support of the so-called Islamic State group and the spread of child abuse imagery,

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday that social media giants like Facebook had to face “further questions” about their response to the event. Facebook second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg reportedly reached out to Ardern following the attacks.

When reached, Facebook did not comment beyond Garlick’s tweeted comments.

Source: Tech Crunch

A huge trove of medical records and prescriptions found exposed

A health tech company was leaking thousands of doctor’s notes, medical records, and prescriptions daily after a security lapse left a server without a password.

The little-known software company, California-based Meditab, bills itself as one of the leading electronic medical records software makers for hospitals, doctor’s offices, and pharmacies. The company, among other things, processes electronic faxes for healthcare providers, still a primary method for sharing patient files to other providers and pharmacies.

But that fax server wasn’t properly secured, according to the security company that discovered the data.

SpiderSilk, a Dubai-based cybersecurity firm, told TechCrunch of the exposed server. The exposed fax server was running a Elasticsearch database with over six million records since its creation in March 2018.

Because the server had no password, anyone could read the transmitted faxes in real-time — including their contents.

According to a brief review of the data, the faxes contained a host of personally identifiable information and health information, including medical records, doctor’s notes, prescription amounts and quantities, as well as illness information, such as blood test results. The faxes also included names, addresses, dates of birth, and in some cases Social Security numbers and health insurance information and payment data.

The faxes also included personal data and health information on children. None of the data was encrypted.

Two leaked documents found on the fax server, redacted. (Image: TechCrunch)

The server was hosted on an subdomain of MedPharm Services, a Puerto Rico-based affiliate of Meditab, both founded by Kalpesh Patel. MedPharm was spun out as a separate company in San Juan to take advantage of tax breaks for those who set up businesses on the island.

TechCrunch verified the records by contacting several patients who confirmed their details from the faxes.

When reached about the security lapse, Patel said the company was “looking into the issue to identify the problem and solution,” but deferred comment to the company’s general counsel, Angel Marrero.

“We are still reviewing our logs and records to access the scope of any potential exposure,” said Marrero in an email.

We asked if the company planned to inform regulators and customers. Marrero said the company “will comply with any and all required notifications under current federal and state laws and regulations, as applicable.”

It’s not immediately known if anyone else discovered the exposed server, or how long the data was exposed.

Both Meditab and MedPharm claim to be compliant with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which governs how healthcare providers properly manage patient data security.

Companies that expose data or violate the law can face hefty fines.

Last year was a year of “record” fines — some $25 million for several exposures and breaches, including $4.3 million in fines to the University of Texas for an inadvertent disclosure of encrypted personal health data, and a settlement by Fresenius was for $3.5 million following five separate breaches.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not comment.

Source: Tech Crunch

Welcome to the hub of all hubs: Cosmos has launched

Last week the Cosmos Network launched, which I believe to be a major event. Yes, it’s a blockchain initiative — but definitely not just another one. If I’m right, its repercussions will one day reach your life too, though it’s sufficiently bleeding-edge that those ripples probably won’t hit you for a decade. Maybe five years, for a cutting-edge TechCrunch reader like you.

(Yes, those are bold words, but if I do say so myself, my track record is pretty good with this sort of thing. The last blockchain launch I wrote about was Ethereum, which you may have since heard of … and I was the only non-specialist commentator / journalist to cover it at the time.)

This launch is an abstruse and extremely technical achievement, currently only important to those who already live amid that tiny, weird subculture of humanity which reveres blockchains as the path to a better, decentralized, fairer future. (Not to be confused with the much larger number of who view cryptocurrencies primarily as an opportunity to get rich quick, never mind how sketchily.) But it’s a highly impressive technical feat, with every chance to ultimately become important to many more people.

Cosmos calls itself “the Internet of Blockchains,” and it is that, but it’s also something else important: it is one of the first major decentralized Proof-of-Stake networks to launch. (No, EOS doesn’t count.) In this model, instead of being secured by “miners” who solve computationally hard problems at the cost of gigawatts-and-counting of electricity, blockchains are verified by “validators” who purchase (or are delegated) cryptocurrency which they “stake.”

These validators, per the name, then ensure that the chain’s transactions are valid, knowing that they will earn rewards if honest and accurate … but if they are dishonest, or in error, or offline, their stakes will be “slashed” i.e. they will lose money. (At present there are 100 validators; this number is due to triple.) It has been shown, at least in theory, that even if validators dishonestly collude, as long as at least two-thirds of them remain honest, the chain remains secure.

This is a very big deal because the enormously better efficiency and speed of Proof-of-Stake open a pathway to decentralized systems which support many many more actions than Proof-of-Work chains like Bitcoin or (today’s) Ethereum, with a vastly vastly smaller ecological footprint. If Proof-of-Stake succeeds in the harsh, cruel real world — admittedly a big if; its implementation is complicated, and has a much larger attack surface, both social and technical, than Proof-of-Work — then blockchains may finally be able to seriously scale, with acceptable security, without consuming a noticeable fraction of the world’s electricity.

Cosmos’s ambitions go much further, though. Cosmos isn’t intended as Just Another Blockchain. We have more than enough of those already. It’s intended as a hub which connects other blockchains to one another — hence “The Internet of Blockchains.” What’s more, it provides tools which, in theory, make it far easier for any software engineer to build a brand-new, custom-designed blockchain … which in turn can interoperate with an arbitrary number of others.

Why does this matter? Because if blockchains are to matter at all beyond cryptocurrencies — if they are to be used for applications such as namespaces, file storage, digital collectibles, supply chains, self-sovereign identities, and decentralized social media, to trot out the usual laundry list of desirable decentralized apps — those applications would benefit greatly from being able to interact with one another.

To a certain extent they can already. One can perform “atomic swaps” which trade Bitcoin for Zcash in a single indivisible transaction. But this kind of interoperability is difficult and restricted by the host chain’s limitations, whatever they may be. Cosmos offers a compelling alternate vision: instead of a single “world computer” chain on which all decentralized applications run, it proposes many blockchains, one for each application, speaking to one another, and passing assets, collectibles, data, and cryptocurrencies to and from one another, via agreed-upon “hubs.”

This week’s actual launch was the first of those, the Cosmos Hub. In principle, in the future, anyone can run a hub, A lot of the Cosmos vision remains “in principle, in the future.” At present no other blockchains are connected; in principle, in the future, Cosmos’s validators will vote to start interoperating with them. (Cosmos also includes built-in “governance,” in the parlance of blockchainers, i.e. on-chain voting.)

Even then, only certain kinds of blockchains, those with an architecture similar to Cosmos itself — with “fast finality,” to be precise — can connect via a hub. In principle, in the future, adapters for other chains, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and ZCash, can be constructed; this arguably makes Cosmos a Bitcoin “sidechain,” and/or a competitor / coopetitor to the Lightning Network, as if it wasn’t wearing enough hats and offering enough futures already.

Do I sound skeptical? Not moreso than usual: I’m just cautious about making pronouncements before vaporware becomes software. The Cosmos Hub which launched last week, though, is very much the latter not the former, and even if I’m wrong about its eventual real-world importance, it remains a major, significant technical achievement. Congratulations and kudos to its team. It may seem to investors and speculators that we remain in the grip of a seemingly endless crypto winter; but to engineers, the launch of Cosmos is a strong sign that spring is en route.

Source: Tech Crunch