India, which blocked 59 apps developed by Chinese firms late last month on the grounds that they pose a threat to nation’s security, today banned an additional 47 apps.
The nation’s Ministry of Electronics and IT’s new ban is aimed at those apps that were facilitating access to previously banned services such as TikTok and Cam Scanner. The new apps to be banned includes Cam Scanner Advance. An official statement from New Delhi is expected shortly.
The ban on 59 apps that impacted TikTok, WeChat, ShareIt, and UC Browser late last month by India was seen as the latest standoff between the world’s two most populated nations.
Anti-China sentiment has been gaining mindshare in India in recent months, and things escalated when more than 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in the Himalayas last month. TikTok, Club Factory and UC Browser and other apps put together had more than 500 million monthly active users in May, according to one of the top mobile insight firms.
The move today comes as the Indian government contemplates restricting access to several more Chinese apps and services. Local media outlets including The Economic Times and India Today reported on Monday that New Delhi was reviewing an additional 275 Chinese apps including ByteDance’s Resso music streaming service and popular game PUBG — though it has not reached a decision yet.
More to follow…
Well, this isn’t a story you see every day.
Less than two years after German software giant SAP snatched experience management platform Qualtrics for $8 billion days before the startup’s IPO debut, it has now decided to spin out the company in a brand new IPO.
In a press statement released Sunday, SAP said that Qualtrics had seen cloud growth “in excess of 40 percent” in a quote attributed to SAP CEO Christian Klein. The company will continue to be run by founder and former CEO Ryan Smith, who joined SAP with Qualtrics and led the organization within the German conglomerate.
SAP’s press statement is vague, but the implication is that the move will offer Qualtrics more flexibility to engage with customers and partners outside of its parent company’s dominion.
I am sure my Equity colleague Alex Wilhelm will have much more to analyze tomorrow with his The Exchange column, but SAP’s rapid about-face on the acquisition is a major surprise. While private equity firms will take a company private and sometimes quickly turn it around in an IPO, it is rare to see a large company like SAP make such a dramatic last minute bid for a company only to reverse that decision just months later.
Given the heated market for SaaS markets these days though, the path seems clear for Qualtrics’ return to the public markets, particularly if the soon-to-be independent company’s metrics have held up since we last saw its financials. As Wilhelm and his Crunchbase news team wrote back during its S-1 filing:
Qualtrics, unlike most companies going public this year, isn’t a trash fire of losses incurred under the name of growth. It shows that you can grow, and not lose every one of the dollars you have at the same time.
“Isn’t a trash fire” was a high bar back then, but Qualtrics was indeed an outperformer of its peer group. Assuming those fundamentals haven’t changed, it looks like a real win for Qualtrics and Smith, and a save by SAP from whatever strategic plan they decided to change midstream.
If your phone takes amazing photos, chances are its camera has been augmented by artificial intelligence embedded in the operating system. Now videos are getting the same treatment.
In recent years, smartphone makers have been gradually transforming their cameras into devices that capture data for AI processing beyond what the lens and sensor pick up in a single shot. That effectively turns a smartphone into a professional camera on auto mode and lowers the bar of capturing compelling images and videos.
In an era of TikTok and vlogging, there’s a huge demand to easily produce professional-looking videos on the go. Like still images, videos shot on smartphones rely not just on the lens and sensor but also on enhancement algorithms. To some extent, those lines of codes are more critical than the hardware, argued Andreas Lifvendahl, founder and chief executive of Swedish company Imint, whose software now enhances video production in roughly 250 million devices — most of which come from Chinese manufacturers.
“[Smartphone makers] source different kinds of camera solutions — motion sensors, gyroscopes, and so on. But the real differentiator, I would say, is more on the software side,” Lifvendahl told TechCrunch over a phone call.
Imint started life in 2007 as a spin-off academic research team from Uppsala University in Sweden. It spent the first few years building software for aerial surveillance, just as many cutting-edge innovations that find their first clients in the defense market. In 2013, Lifvendahl saw the coming of widespread smartphone adaptation and a huge opportunity to bring the same technology used in defense drones into the handsets in people’s pockets.
“Smartphone companies were investing a lot in camera technology and that was a clever move,” he recalled. “It was very hard to find features with a direct relationship to consumers in daily use, and the camera was one of those because people wanted to document their life.”
“But they were missing the point by focusing on megapixels and still images. Consumers wanted to express themselves in a nice fashion of using videos,” the founder added.
The next February, the Swedish founder attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to gauge vendor interest. Many exhibitors were, unsurprisingly, Chinese phone makers scouring the conference for partners. They were immediately intrigued by Imint’s solution, and Lifvendahl returned home to set about tweaking his software for smartphones.
“I’ve never met this sort of open attitude to have a look so quickly, a clear signal that something is happening here with smartphones and cameras, and especially videos,” Lifvendahl said.
Vidhance, Imint’s video enhancement software suite mainly for Android, was soon released. In search of growth capital, the founder took the startup public on the Stockholm Stock Exchange at the end of 2015. The next year, Imint landed its first major account with Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment giant that was playing aggressive catch-up on smartphones at the time.
“It was a turning point for us because once we could work with Huawei, all the other guys thought, ‘Okay, these guys know what they are doing,’” the founder recalled. “And from there, we just grew and grew.”
The hyper-competitive nature of Chinese phone makers means they are easily sold on new technology that can help them stand out. The flipside is the intensity that comes with competition. The Chinese tech industry is both well-respected — and notorious — for its fast pace. Slow movers can be crushed in a matter of a few months.
“In some aspects, it’s very U.S.-like. It’s very straight to the point and very opportunistic,” Lifvendahl reflected on his experience with Chinese clients. “You can get an offer even in the first or second meeting, like, ‘Okay, this is interesting, if you can show that this works in our next product launch, which is due in three months. Would you set up a contract now?’”
“That’s a good side,” he continued. “The drawback for a Swedish company is the demand they have on suppliers. They want us to go on-site and offer support, and that’s hard for a small Swedish company. So we need to be really efficient, making good tools and have good support systems.”
The fast pace also permeates into the phone makers’ development cycle, which is not always good for innovation, suggested Lifvendahl. They are reacting to market trends, not thinking ahead of the curve — what Apple excels in — or conducting adequate market research.
Despite all the scrambling inside, Lifvendahl said he was surprised that Chinese manufacturers could “get such high-quality phones out.”
“They can launch one flagship, maybe take a weekend break, and then next Monday they are rushing for the next project, which is going to be released in three months. So there’s really no time to plan or prepare. You just dive into a project, so there would be a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up in four or five weeks. You are trying to tie hundreds of different pieces together with fifty different suppliers.”
Imint is one of those companies that thrive by finding a tough-to-crack niche. Competition certainly exists, often coming from large Japanese and Chinese companies. But there’s always a market for a smaller player who focuses on one thing and does it very well. The founder compares his company to a “little niche boutique in the corner, the hi-fi store with expensive speakers.” His competitors, on the other hand, are the Walmarts with thick catalogs of imaging software.
The focused strategy is what allows Imint’s software to enhance precision, reduce motion, track moving objects, auto-correct horizon, reduce noise, and enhance other aspects of a video in real-time — all through deep learning.
About three-quarters of Imint’s revenues come from licensing its proprietary software that does these tricks. Some clients pay royalties on the number of devices shipped that use Vidhance, while others opt for a flat annual fee. The rest of the income comes from licensing its development tools or SDK, and maintenance fees.
Imint now supplies its software to 20 clients around the world, including the Chinese big-four of Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo as well as chip giants like Qualcomm and Mediatek. ByteDance also has a deal to bake Imint’s software into Smartisan, which sold its core technology to the TikTok parent last year. Imint is beginning to look beyond handsets into other devices that can benefit from high-quality footage, from action cameras, consumer drones, through to body cameras for law enforcement.
So far, the Swedish company has been immune from the U.S.-China trade tensions, but Lifvendahl worried as the two superpowers move towards technological self-reliance, outsiders like itself will have a harder time entering the two respective markets.
“We are in a small, neutral country but also are a small company, so we’re not a strategic threat to anyone. We come in and help solve a puzzle,” assured the founder.
Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7am PT). Subscribe here.
The easy startup ideas have all been done — the ones that just required some homebrew hardware hacking or PHP dorm-room coding to get off the ground. These days, you might need multiple advanced technical degrees to accomplish something significant. At least that’s what Danny Crichton muses grimly this week, in an essay entitled “The two PhD problem of startups today.” Here’s one newsy example:
Take synthetic biology and the future of pharmaceuticals. There is a popular and now well-funded thesis on crossing machine learning and biology/medicine together to create the next generation of pharma and clinical treatment. The datasets are there, the patients are ready to buy, and the old ways of discovering new candidates to treat diseases look positively ancient against a more deliberate and automated approach afforded by modern algorithms.
Moving the needle even slightly here though requires enormous knowledge of two very hard and disparate fields. AI and bio are domains that get extremely complex extremely fast, and also where researchers and founders quickly reach the frontiers of knowledge. These aren’t “solved” fields by any stretch of the imagination, and it isn’t uncommon to quickly reach a “No one really knows” answer to a question.
Even when you try to build teams with the right combinations of knowledge, he argues, each domain is now so complex that the mesh of skills required is that much harder to achieve than previous efforts.
I partly disagree, because innovation does not map on to existing domains in such a simple way. Computer scientists in the ’60s did not expect personal computing to be a thing until the homebrewers at Apple proved it. Enterprise software industry experts last decade did not expect consumer app developers to apply their bottoms-up growth skills and beat sophisticated offerings from incumbents. I expect all sorts of arcane academic ideas to be fused with market demand in unexpected ways that break apart the models we have to day, led by people who might not check all of the boxes in traditional fields.
That includes the PhD itself and the education industry. Which is where Danny and I agree. The application of software to education has been a struggle because success requires understanding two disciplines, and he concludes that the way we learn will itself have to be broken down and reformed:
“We can’t wait until 25 years of school is complete and people graduate haggard at 40 before they can take a shot at some of these fascinating intersections. We need to build slipstreams to these lacuna where innovation hasn’t yet reached.”
Almost to prove Danny’s first point, some of the biggest companies in edtech today were founded by technical experts who were also university professors. Companies like Coursera are today raising their late-stage funding rounds on top of a pandemic-fueled boom for online higher learning.
But this generation of edtech unicorns already looks pretty different from anything that previous generations of education experts had imagined, as you can read an overview of from Natasha Mascarenhas on Extra Crunch. For example, Udemy was founded by a group of serial entrepreneurs, and they focused on practical skills from the start (long-time TechCrunch readers may recall our startup-focused CrunchU program with them circa 2013).
Of course, this generation of so-called MOOCs is widely seen as a limited success. In a column for Extra Crunch, Rish Joshi writes about the declining “graduation” rates that many show from students over the past decade. Instead, he sees a new wave of trends, including deeper gig-based expertise and automated niche learning, that will help anyone acquire more complex skills more quickly, at every stage of the education process. Here’s more, about the gig approach:
A potential gig economy for education created via small-group learning online would have a large impact on both the supply and demand sides of online education. Giving educators the ability to teach online from their own home opens up the opportunity to many more people around the world who may not have otherwise considered teaching, and this can greatly increase the supply of teachers worldwide. It also has the ability to mitigate the discrepancy that’s existed between quality of teaching in urban and rural areas by enabling students to access the same quality of teachers independent of their location.
Companies in this space like Outschool and Camp K12, are pre-college. But take a look around at everyone trying to teach data science, product management and other concepts that traditional industries need to incorporate to innovate more quickly, and you can see the solution that Danny hopes for starting to emerge. One day soon, you might be able to school up quickly on a new skill that you need to get a job — or a medical breakthrough.
For more on the latest in the space, be sure to check out Natasha’s second part of her survey with top edtech investors.
Do you think your unicorn employer is the next Amazon or Google? Are you ready to hold on to the stock of a potential winner through all of the ups and downs that happen to any company? If you haven’t already, consider diversifying sooner rather than later, writes startup financial advisor Peyton Carr in a series on the topic this week:
We consider any stock position or exposure greater than 10% of a portfolio to be a concentrated position. There is no hard number, but the appropriate level of concentration is dependent on several factors, such as your liquidity needs, overall portfolio value, the appetite for risk and the longer-term financial plan. However, above 10% and the returns and volatility of that single position can begin to dominate the portfolio, exposing you to high degrees of portfolio volatility.
The company “stock” in your portfolio often is only a fraction of your overall financial exposure to your company. Think about your other sources of possible exposure such as restricted stock, RSUs, options, employee stock purchase programs, 401k, other equity compensation plans, as well as your current and future salary stream tied to the company’s success. In most cases, the prudent path to achieving your financial goals involves a well-diversified portfolio.
In addition to the popular Equity podcast and regular appearances across TechCrunch and Extra Crunch, my colleague Alex Wilhelm is launching a new newsletter called The Exchange. It’s his weekly summary of the week, based on his daily writing for Extra Crunch and TechCrunch about tech and startup finance. You can sign up for it here. As a taste of Alex’s work if you’re not familiar, in one article this week, he took a look at the explosion in the still-new area of no code software, compiling investment activity in a space that is poorly understand and coming away with this analysis:
From this we can tell that at the very minimum, Q1 2020 VC totals for no-code/low-code startups were north of $80 million, though the real figure is likely far higher. In Q2 we can see at least $140 million in money, just among rounds that I was able to dig up this morning.
That puts low-code/no-code startups on pace to raise around $500 million at the very least in 2020. The real number is larger, and can swell sharply depending on how expansive your definition of the space is. That means that the startup world isn’t waiting for venture dollars to make their vision come true. The capital is already flowing in great quantity.
The next question is whether the startup and larger software world can make the no-code services of the world easy enough that lots of folks are willing to train themselves. The more power and capability that can be offered in exchange for learning a new way of interacting with software will likely help determine how much adoption is had, and how soon.
And don’t forget to nominate your favorite investor for The TechCrunch List
Up top the crew this week was the regular contingent: Danny Crichton, Natasha Mascarenhas and myself. As a tiny programming note, we’re going back to posting some videos on YouTube in a few weeks, so make sure to peep the TechCrunch channel if that’s your jam.
The Equity crew tried something new this week, namely centering our main conversation around a theme that we’re keeping tabs on: The resilience of tech during the current pandemic-led recession.
Starting with the recent economic news, it’s surprising that tech’s layoffs have slowed to a crawl. And, as we’ve recently seen, there’s still plenty of money flowing into startups, even if there are some dips present on a year-over-year basis. Why are things still pretty good for startups, and pretty good for major tech companies? We have a few ideas, like the acceleration of the digital transformation (more here, and here), and software eating the world. The latter concept, of course, is related to the former.
After that it was time to go through some neat funding rounds from the week, including:
All that and I have a newsletter launching this weekend that if you read, you will automatically be 100% cooler. It’s called the TechCrunch Exchange, and you can snag it for free here.
An ongoing global outage at sport and fitness tech giant Garmin was caused by a ransomware attack, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident.
The incident began late Wednesday and continued through the weekend, causing disruption to the company’s online services for millions of users, including Garmin Connect, which syncs user activity and data to the cloud and other devices. The attack also took down flyGarmin, its aviation navigation and route-planning service.
Portions of Garmin’s website were also offline at the time of writing.
Garmin has said little about the incident so far. A banner on its website reads: “We are currently experiencing an outage that affects Garmin.com and Garmin Connect. This outage also affects our call centers, and we are currently unable to receive any calls, emails or online chats. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and apologize for this inconvenience.”
The two sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the press, told TechCrunch that Garmin was trying to bring its network back online after the ransomware attack. One of the sources confirmed that the WastedLocker ransomware was to blame for the outage.
One other news outlet appeared to confirm that the outage was caused by WastedLocker.
WastedLocker is a new kind of ransomware, first discovered by security researchers at Malwarebytes in May, operated by a hacker group known as Evil Corp. Like other file-encrypting malware, WastedLocker infects computers, and locks the user’s files in exchange for a ransom, typically demanded in cryptocurrency.
Malwarebytes said that WastedLocker does not steal or exfiltrate data before encrypting the victim’s files, unlike other, newer ransomware strains. That means companies with backups may be able to escape paying the ransom. But companies without backups have faced ransom demands as much as $10 million.
The FBI has also long discouraged victims from paying ransoms related to malware attacks.
Evil Corp has a long history of malware and ransomware attacks. The group, allegedly led by a Russian national Maksim Yakubets, is known to have used Dridex, a powerful password-stealing malware that was used to steal more than $100 million from hundreds of banks over the past decade. Later, Dridex was also used as a way to deliver ransomware.
Yakubets, who remains at large, was indicted by the Justice Department last year for his alleged part in the group’s “unimaginable” amount of cybercrime during the past decade, according to U.S. prosecutors.
The Treasury also imposed sanctions on Evil Corp, including Yakubets and two other alleged members, for their involvement in the decade-long hacking campaign.
By imposing sanctions, it’s near-impossible for U.S.-based companies to pay the ransom — even if they wanted to — as U.S. nationals are “generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” per a Treasury statement.
Brett Callow, a threat analyst and ransomware expert at security firm Emsisoft, said those sanctions make it “especially complicated” for U.S.-based companies dealing with WastedLocker infections.
“WastedLocker has been attributed by some security companies to Evil Corp, and the known members of Evil Corp — which purportedly has loose connections to the Russian government — have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury,” said Callow. “As a result of those sanctions, U.S persons are generally prohibited from transacting with those known members. This would seem to create a legal minefield for any company which may be considering paying a WastedLocker ransom,” he said.
Efforts to contact the alleged hackers were unsuccessful. The group uses different email addresses in each ransom note. We sent an email to two known email addresses associated with a previous WastedLocker incident, but did not hear back.
A Garmin spokesperson could not be reached for comment by phone or email on Saturday. (Garmin’s email servers have been down since the start of the incident.) Messages sent over Twitter were also not returned. We’ll update if we hear back.
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.
In this series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.
* This Week in Apps was previously available only to Extra Crunch subscribers. We’re now making these reports available to all TechCrunch readers.
Let’s dive in.
Ahead of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s testimony before Congress, Apple on Thursday again took to the press to fight back against claims of anti-competitive practices on its App Store.
Last month, the company detailed the results of a commissioned study that showed how Apple wasn’t receiving a cut of revenue on the majority of App Store transactions — $519 billion in commerce. This time, Apple is touting the results of another study by the same analyst group that is meant to demonstrate how Apple’s App Store commission rate is similar to those of other app stores and digital content marketplaces.
The study exhaustingly compares the App Store’s 30% commission to all other forms of storefronts, online and off. This includes other app stores, game stores, e-commerce marketplaces, digital platforms and even brick-and-mortar retail. Apple’s conclusion is that it’s not doing anything different from the others, so what’s the big deal?
Of course, this misses the point. The antitrust issues surrounding Apple’s App Store are not about whether Apple is charging more than other digital marketplaces. It’s about whether that commission structure is hindering competition, given Apple’s size, wealth and power.
To an app on the App Store it might mean being able to lower prices — or hire a designer or a couple junior developers. It might be the difference between abandoning an app and getting into a virtuous circle where the app thrives.
Quality costs money, and profitability is just simple arithmetic: anything that affects income — such as Apple’s cut — goes into that equation.
To put it in concrete terms: the difference between 30% and something reasonable like 10% would probably have meant some of my friends would still have their jobs at Omni, and Omni would have more resources to devote to making, testing, and supporting their apps.
Apple’s opening of ‘Find My’ to third-parties isn’t as nice as it seems
Apple announced at WWDC 2020 that third-party developers, like Tile, would be able to tap into Apple’s “Find My” technology platform to locate lost items and gadgets that aren’t made by Apple. The move was meant to counteract Tile’s ongoing complaints and testimony to U.S. antitrust investigators that Apple favored its first-party services at the expense of competitors’ businesses.
Tile was particularly concerned over Apple’s plans to announce a direct competitor, AirTags, which would be allowed to leverage the “Find My” technology at a deeper level. The move could potentially have wiped out Tile’s business with a better product — at least from a consumer standpoint.
The Washington Post reported this week that Apple’s opening of “Find My” is not the olive branch it seems, however. The publication acquired the 50-page confidentially agreement that all developers would have to sign, which indicates there are a lot of restrictions on how this integration works. For instance, Apple customers using “Find My” to locate a device will be barred from using competing services simultaneously, the document said. This is an unusual restriction — and one that makers of Bluetooth devices and smart home products don’t have to agree to for their own products.
Amazon turns Alexa into a mobile app launcher
How often do you think Amazon kicks itself over its smartphone failures? Given that the company hasn’t been able to compete directly on mobile, it’s finding another angle by way of Alexa. Amazon this week announced a bevy of new developer tools for its Alexa virtual assistant, including one that will allow the digital helper to launch iOS and Android apps using voice commands.
For example, you’d be able to say things like, “Alexa, start recording a TikTok,” or “Alexa, ask Twitter to search for #BLM.”
It’s unclear how many developers would adopt just a feature, outside of those that already offer one of the more popular Alexa skills. After all, Siri and Google Assistant can already launch and control your apps.
While Amazon is likely hoping that tying Alexa to the world of mobile apps could give it some momentum in terms of building an app ecosystem of its own, consumers so far have seemed to largely prefer using Alexa for first-party activities, like playing music, listening to news, controlling the smart home, asking random questions, making lists, setting reminders and more.
The move, however, may hint that Amazon is thinking about building out a mobile app ecosystem for its Alexa devices with a screen, like forthcoming versions of its Echo Show, for example.
Apple releases beta 3 builds of iOS 14, iPadOS 14
Testers this week received their third set of iOS 14 developer betas, as the software moves closer to its fall launch date. Beyond the usual bug fixes and performance improvements, only small changes were spotted this time around. This includes a new Music app icon, widget and the ability to share music to Snapchat; a new widget from the Clock app; a new pop-up when organizing the home screen that explains how to hide pages; a new pop-up when you use widgets for the first time; an updated design for Memoji masks; and more.
Facebook takes on Zoom with its latest Messenger Rooms update
Facebook this week announced a new feature that it hopes will give it a better shot at challenging Zoom’s dominance on web conferencing that came about due to the pandemic. The company upgraded its Messenger Rooms group calls platform to support the ability to live broadcast calls to platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitch — a move that effectively combined Facebook’s live-streaming capabilities with group video chat. Facebook turned around the feature in a relatively short time, given it has only been a matter of months since Zoom has really taken off. That indicates Facebook understands the threat of online chat and socializing exiting its platform.
The goal with the new addition is to make it simpler to broadcast to social platforms, to encourage users to return. Even if they arrive in order to broadcast to competitors’ sites, like YouTube, the company understands that adding Facebook to the list of destinations will increase the output of live broadcasts on its own platform.
In addition, Facebook also this week announced that Messenger now lets you secure your chats with Touch ID or Face ID on iOS. Why don’t more apps offer this feature?
TikTok unveils a $200M fund to back U.S. creators, as it scrambles for a “Plan B”
As the U.S. government weighs a ban on the Chinese-headquartered app over privacy concerns, the company announced plans to hire 10,000 employees across the U.S. over the next three years and launched a $200 million fund to invest in new creators. The new fund is aimed at helping top creators in the U.S. supplement their earnings, and potentially find the next big TikTok star in the process. The platform will begin accepting applications from U.S.-based creators starting next month and will then distribute the capital over the coming year.
Meanwhile, TikTok parent company ByteDance continues to discuss a range of other options to keep its popular and profitable app alive in the U.S. The latest, according to The Information, is one that would have a small group of the company’s U.S. investors joining forces to buy a majority stake in TikTok.
The U.S government — and particularly the Trump administration — continues to be skeptical about TikTok’s China ties. This week, the U.S. House voted to ban federal employees from using the app on government-issued devices. The vote passed 336-71, as part of a package of bipartisan amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Robinhood ends plan for a U.K. launch
Mobile investing app Robinhood said this week it would not be launching in the U.K., as planned. The company said it was now going to hold off on its global expansion plans to instead focus its efforts in its home market, the U.S. The company had already received over 250,000 sign-ups on its U.K. waitlist, which it says will now be deleted in line with local privacy laws. The company said it will transfer 10 U.K. employees to the U.S., but others will be let go.
The app has been more recently facing criticism in the U.S. for how it lures in young, inexperienced traders who then buy and sell some of the riskiest financial products on the market — at rates higher than other retail brokerage firms. With its hip and youthful design and social app-like features, such as confetti and emoji, Robinhood can make investing feel more like a game, The NYT reported in a recent feature. But the reality is that these inexperienced users are taking more speculative risks, sometimes with devastating results. One Robinhood user killed himself after seeing his balance drop to negative $730,000 — a figure that was higher, in part, due to some of his incomplete trades.
Google has its own ‘Onavo’
Google today already allows Android app developers to collect usage data from devices where their app is installed, so it comes as no surprise that Google was doing this itself, too. The Information revealed Google’s program that allows it to access usage data on any device that has its Google apps pre-installed. Similar to Facebook’s Onavo, the data wasn’t just used to make improvements to Android, but was also used as a competitive advantage.
According to the report, Google had used the data to show how Google’s own services compared to rivals. This is what Facebook had used Onavo for, too — even leveraging those learnings to inform its acquisition strategy. APIs aren’t the only way large tech companies collect data on smartphone user habits. App intelligence firms like App Annie and Sensor Tower provide similar data to customers, obtained through a number of apps that downplay their true purpose, but really serve as data collection machines.
Data collection like this has been underway for years, but with the antitrust investigations now underway, the time may have come for regulators to actually do something about it.
This beautifully designed indie iOS app called Dilims lets you display different time zones on one screen, and even name them with aliases or view them as a widget. The simple single-purpose utility is useful for anyone who has to work with teams or clients across time zones, and wants an easier way to see what time it is and where. For $2, that’s kind of a steal, too.
Dark Noise 2
If you like to play ambient noise to help you focus, sleep or just relax, you’ll want to check out Dark Noise 2. This ambient noise app for iOS just got a big update, which adds new sounds, new icons and introduces iCloud syncing. Plus, it now allows you to create your own custom mix of ambient sounds so you can chill to the sounds of rain at the beach, for example, or whatever else you want to blend. The app is $5.99 on the App Store.
Welcome back to Tech at Work, a bi-weekly roundup and analysis of labor, and diversity and inclusion in tech.
This week, we’re looking at Uber’s anti-racism commitment, Shipt shoppers walking off the job, Facebook’s diversity report and Black gig workers organizing against tech companies. Also, hear from CODE2040 CEO Karla Monterroso on tech’s response to the recent racial justice uprising in the U.S.
“There are a lot of really well-intentioned people, but they’re like, ‘Hey, put me in touch with all your Black and Latinx people,” Monterroso told me. “We have definitely gotten requests for free access to our talent pool. What we are talking through with people is even if you had access to that, your ability to make something of that is incredibly limited because the competencies needed to get people into the workforce, promote and retain them are not had by tech companies at this moment.”
Uber’s track record with diversity and inclusion was especially rocky in the days of former CEO Travis Kalanick. The company’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi seems to recognize that, saying “you’re probably thinking that Uber is not exactly the company you’d expect to be speaking up on this front.” Still, Uber has made a number of commitments on its journey to being an anti-racist company.
But first, let’s define anti-racist. From Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be An Antiracist:
To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right — inferior or superior — with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races do.
Here are some of the most notable of Uber’s commitments:
Related: This past year marked the most interest in anti-racism in the last five years, according to Google Search Trends.
A customer advisory board (CAB) can be an invaluable resource for startups, but many founders struggle with putting together the right group of advisors and how to incentivize them. At our TechCrunch Early Stage event, Saam Motamedi, a general partner at Greylock Partners, talked about how he thinks about putting together the right CAB.
“We encourage all of our early-stage companies to put this in place,” Motamedi said. The goal here is to speed up the process to get to product/market fit since your CAB will provide you with regular feedback.
“The idea here is [that] you have this feedback loop from customers back to your product where you build, you go get feedback, you iterate — and the tighter this feedback loop is, the faster you’ll get to product-market fit. And you want to do things structurally to make this feedback loop tighter, starting with a CAB.”
Motamedi said a CAB should consist of about three to six customers. These should be “luminaries or forward thinkers” in the market you are serving. “You add them to the CAB — you might give them small advisory grants — and they become stakeholders and give you feedback as you work through the early stages of product development.”
As for the people who you put on the CAB, Motamedi suggests first setting the right expectations for the board.
“There are three components. Number one, the most valuable thing you can get from these customer advisors is their time. So the first piece is you want them to commit to a monthly cadence, that could be 60 minutes, it could be 90 minutes, where you’re going to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to come to the meeting, I’m going to bring two of my teammates, we’re going to show you the latest product demo, and you’re going to drill us with feedback. We’re going to do that once a month.’ […] And then piece two is this notion of customer days, you could do quarterly, you could also do twice a year.
“The idea is you want to bring the customers together. Because if you and I are both CIOs at Fortune 500 companies and we independently react to a product, that’s one thing, but if we sit in a room together, we all look at the product together, there’s going to be interesting data amongst us as customers and the founder is going to learn a lot from that.[…] And I think the third piece is just an expectation that as the company progresses and product maturity increases, that folks on the CAB are going to be advocates and evangelists for the company with their customer networks.”
Motamedi recommends outlining those expectations in a short document.
Earlier this year, the oft-mocked but actually pretty important new branch of the military, the Space Force, revealed an image that was suspiciously reminiscent of Star Trek. Now the Space Force has revealed a new, sharper graphic that is the force’s actual logo — and a motto to go with it: “Semper Supra,” or “always above.”
To be clear, the image revealed in January, which everyone thought looked quite a bit like Starfleet’s, is the seal for the Space Force branch of the military. The new, simpler one is the logo for the organization as a whole, which is the one we’ll see communications and recruiting branded with.
In a series of tweets, the Space Force explained the various elements of the logo. It’s not exactly esoteric stuff, but it’s nice to know the chrome is there for a reason and not just because it looks cool.
The silver border of the skyward-pointing delta shape, they said, “signifies defense and protection from all adversaries and threats emanating from the space domain.”
The middle part is black because it “embodies the vast darkness of deep space. Some feel fear and dread but we prefer to be inspired and stand up to the challenge.”
And in the very center is a star. It’s Polaris, the north star, which “guides. That’s why it is in the center of our logo.”
The “beveled elements,” being quadpartite, symbolize the four armed forces supporting the branch: Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines. They’re spiky because it makes them look a bit like rockets shooting into space.
As for the motto: “Semper Supra,” meaning “always above,” could be construed as either reassuring or menacing, depending on which end of the Space Force you’ve got pointing at you. It represents “establishing, maintaining, and preserving” the U.S. presence in space, and of course to a soldier on the ground, it’s nice to think that they have operational support from the always-above Space Force. For others, it brings to mind spy satellites or orbital lasers.
Expect to see this logo a lot over the next for years as this new branch matures and recruits.
More importantly, the Space Force has horses:
Congratulations to the Space Force on their new logo, and to Ghost for being beautiful and strong.