News & Press

Drip Capital helps exporters access working capital

Drip Capital is raising a $20 million funding round from Accel, Wing VC and Sequoia India. The company is helping small exporters in emerging markets access working capital in order to finance big orders.

The startup also participated in Y Combinator back in 2015. Many small companies in emerging markets have to turn down orders because they can’t finance big orders. Even if you found a client in the U.S. or Europe, chances are companies will end up paying for your order a month or two after signing a contract.

If you’re an importer or an exporter, capital is arguably your most valuable resource. You know where to source your products and how to ship many goods. But you still need to buy goods yourself.

And in many emerging markets, you have to pay right away. It creates a sort of capital gap.

At the same time, local banks are often too slow and reject too many credit applications. Drip Capital thinks there’s an opportunity for a tech platform that finances exporters in no time.

The startup is first focusing on India because it meets many of the criteria I listed. This could be particularly useful for small and medium businesses. Large companies don’t necessarily face the same issues as they can access capital more easily.

So far, Drip Capital has funded more than $100 million of trade. After signing up to the platform, you can submit invoices and open a credit line to finance your next orders. Family offices and institutional investors can also invest some money in Drip Capital’s fund and get returns on investment.

This isn’t the only platform that helps you get paid faster. But larger companies tend to do it all and optimize the supply chain for the biggest companies in the world. Drip Capital is focusing on a specific vertical.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to get more customers and expand to other countries.

Official near-earth object plan will look into nuking asteroids and other ‘planetary defense missions’

Space is a big place, and mostly empty — but there’s no shortage of objects which, should they float our direction, could end life as we know it. A new national plan for detecting and handling such objects was proposed today, and it includes the possibility of nuclear strikes on the incoming asteroids and other “planetary defense missions.”

The plan, revealed and discussed this morning, is far from a joke — it’s just that the scales these threats operate at necessarily elevates the discourse to Hollywood levels.

It’s not so much “let’s do this” as “let’s figure out what we can do.” As such it has five major goals.

First, improve our ability to detect and track near-earth objects, or NEOs. We’ve been doing it for years, and projects like NEOWISE have captured an incredible amount of these objects, ranging in size from the kind that will safely burn up in orbit, to those that might cause serious damage (like the Chelyabinsk one), to proper planet-killers.

But we often hear about NEOs being detected for the first time on near-collision courses just days before approach, or even afterwards. So the report recommends looking at how existing and new programs can be utilized to better catch these objects before they become a problem.

Second, improve our knowledge of what these objects can and have done by studying and modeling them. Not just so that we know more in general, but so that in the case of a serious incoming object we know that our predictions are sound.

Third, and this is where things go a little off the rails, we need to assess and develop NEO “deflection and disruption” technologies. After all, if a planet-killer is coming our direction, we should be able to do something, right? And perhaps it shouldn’t be the very first time we’ve tried it.

The list of proposed methods sounds like it was sourced from science fiction:

This assessment should include the most mature in-space concepts — kinetic impactors, nuclear devices, and gravity tractors for deflection, and nuclear devices for disruption — as well as less mature NEO impact prevention methods.

I wasn’t aware that space nukes and gravity tractors were our most mature concepts for this kind of thing! But again, the fact is that a city-sized object approaching at a significant fraction of the speed of light is an outlandish problem that demands outlandish solutions.

And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather we tried a space nuke once or twice on a dry run rather than do it live while Armageddon looms.

At first these assessments will be purely theoretical, of course. But in the medium and long-term NASA and others are tasked with designing actual “planetary defense missions”:

This action includes preliminary designs for a gravity tractor NEO deflection mission campaign, and for a kinetic impactor mission campaign in which the spacecraft is capable of either functioning as a kinetic impactor or delivering a nuclear explosive device. For the latter case, the spacecraft would contain all systems necessary to carry and safely employ a nuclear explosive device, but would carry a mass simulator with appropriate interfaces in place of an actual nuclear device. Designs should include reconnaissance spacecraft and methods to measure the achieved deflection.

Actual flight tests “would not incorporate an actual nuclear device, or involve any nuclear explosive testing.” Not yet, anyway. It’d just be a dry run, which serves its own purposes: “Thorough flight testing of a deflection/disruption system prior to an actual planetary defense mission would substantially decrease the risk of mission failure.”

Fourth the report says that we need to collaborate on the world stage, since of course NEO strikes don’t exactly discriminate by country. So in the first place we need to strengthen our existing partnerships with countries sharing NEO-related data or studies along these lines. We should all be looking into how a potential impact could affect our country specifically, of course, since we’re the ones here — but that data should be shared and analyzed globally.

Last, “Strengthen and Routinely Exercise NEO Impact Emergency Procedures and Action Protocols.”

In other words, asteroid drills.

But it isn’t just stuff like “here’s where Boulder residents should evacuate to in case of impact.” As the document points out, NEO impacts are a unique sort of emergency event.

Response and mitigation actions cannot be made routine to the same degree that they are for other natural disasters such as hurricanes. Rather, establishing and exercising thresholds and protocols will aid agencies in preparing options and recommending courses of action.

The report recommends exploring some realistic scenarios based on objects or situations we know to exist and seeing how they might play out — who will need to get involved? How will data be shared? Who is in charge of coordinating the agencies if it’s a domestic impact versus a foreign one? (See Shin Godzilla for a surprisingly good example of bureaucratic paralysis in the face of an unknown threat.)

It’s strange to think that we’re really contemplating these issues, but it’s a lot better than sitting on our hands waiting for the Big One to hit. You can read the rest of the recommendations here.

Lyft makes it easier to track business travel expenses

Lyft announced today that taking a business trip and then actually turning in your travel receipts just got a whole lot easier. A new feature for business profiles will allow employers to create a direct connection between employee trips and travel managers in charge of their reimbursement.

While this integrated functionality is not new for the ridesharing company, it is the smoothest it has ever been. In 2016, Lyft launched its business profiles to allow users the ability to easily share receipts via their work emails. Then, in the summer of 2017, the company announced in-app integration with expense management partners like Concur and Expensify to expedite the process further.

Now, instead of emailing a receipt, people can choose from a pre-selected list of expense codes before their ride even begins to ensure that receipts are sent along to their company and its business management system. This feature will also use the trip data to provide travel managers with access to monthly reports that keep track of employees’ costs, rides and routes.

With the task of chasing down receipts off their plates, Lyft hopes this will allow companies the opportunity to fine-tune their travel processes instead.

Truepic raises $8M to expose Deepfakes, verify photos for Reddit

How can you be sure an image wasn’t Photoshopped? Make sure it was shot with Truepic. This startup makes a camera feature that shoots photos and adds a watermark URL leading to a copy of the image it saves, so viewers can compare them to ensure the version they’re seeing hasn’t been altered.

Now Truepic’s technology is getting its most important deployment yet as the way Reddit will verify that Ask Me Anything Q&As are being conducted live by the actual person advertised — oftentimes a celebrity.

But beyond its utility for verifying AMAs, dating profiles and peer-to-peer e-commerce listings, Truepic is tackling its biggest challenge yet: identifying artificial intelligence-generated Deepfakes. These are where AI convincingly replaces the face of a person in a video with someone else’s. Right now the technology is being used to create fake pornography combining an adult film star’s body with an innocent celebrity’s face without their consent. But the big concern is that it could be used to impersonate politicians and make them appear to say or do things they haven’t.

The need for ways to weed out Deepfakes has attracted a new $8 million round for Truepic. The cash comes from untraditional startup investors, including Dowling Capital Partners, former Thomson Financial (which become Reuters) CEO Jeffrey Parker, Harvard Business school professor William Sahlman and more. The Series A brings Truepic to $10.5 million in funding.

“We started Truepic long before manipulated images impacted democratic elections across the globe, digital evidence of atrocities and human rights abuses were regularly undermined, or online identities were fabricated to advance political agendas — but now we fully recognize its impact on society,” says Truepic founder and COO Craig Stack. “The world needs the Truepic technology to help right the wrongs that have been created by the abuse of digital imagery.”

Here’s how Truepic works:

  1. Snap a photo in Truepic’s iOS and Android app, or an app that’s paid to embed its SDK in their own app
  2. Truepic verifies the image hasn’t been altered already, and watermarks it with a time stamp, geocode, URL and other metadata
  3. Truepic’s secure servers store a version of the photo, assigned with a six-digit code and its URL, plus a spot on an immutable blockchain
  4. Users can post their Truepic in apps to prove they’re not catfishing someone on a dating site, selling something broken on an e-commerce site, or elsewhere
  5. Viewers can visit the URL watermarked onto the photo to compare it to the vault-saved version to ensure it hasn’t been modified after the fact

For example, Reddit’s own Wiki recommends that AMA creators use the Truepic app to snap a photo of them holding a handwritten sign with their name and the date on it. “Truepic’s technology allows us to quickly and safely verify the identity and claims for some of our most eccentric guests,” says Reddit AMA moderator and Lynch LLP intellectual property attorney Brian Lynch. “Truepic is a perfect tool for the ever-evolving geography of privacy laws and social constructs across the internet.”

The abuses of image manipulation are evolving, too. Deepfakes could embarrass celebrities… or start a war. “We will be investing in offline image and video analysis and already have identified some subtle forensic techniques we can use to detect forgeries like deepfakes,” Truepic CEO Jeff McGregor tells me. “In particular, one can analyze hair, ears, reflectivity of eyes and other details that are nearly impossible to render true-to-life across the thousands of frames of a typical video. Identifying even a few frames that are fake is enough to declare a video fake.”

This will always be a cat and mouse game, but from newsrooms to video platforms, Truepic’s technology could keep content creators honest. The startup has also begun partnering with NGOs like the Syrian American Medical Society to help it deliver verified documentation of atrocities in the country’s conflict zone. The Human Rights Foundation also trained humanitarian leaders on how to use Truepic at the 2018 Freedom Forum in Oslo.

Throwing shade at Facebook, McGregor concludes that “The internet has quickly become a dumpster fire of disinformation. Fraudsters have taken full advantage of unsuspecting consumers and social platforms facilitate the swift spread of false narratives, leaving over 3.2 billion people on the internet to make self-determinations over what’s trustworthy vs. fake online… we intend to fix that by bringing a layer of trust back to the internet.”

Bag Week 2018: Waxed canvas bags from Filson, Ona, Croots and more

If you’re looking for a good jacket or bag, you have your choice of materials: leather, heavy nylon, waterproof synthetic weaves like Gore-Tex… but for my money (and not a little of it either) the king of them all is waxed canvas. Pliant yet protective, wind and water–resistant but breathable, handsome to start but grows a character of its own, waxed canvas strikes, for me, the perfect balance of attributes. I drape myself in it, and in the case of bags, drape it from myself.

The main caveat is that it is not is cheap — sure, you can get a bag for $30 or $40 on Amazon, but if you want something that will live for years and years and get better with age, you’re going to be spending quite a bit more than that.

The bags here are expensive, but like leather the craftsmanship and material quality matter a great deal in whether you end up with an item that deteriorates steadily or comes into its own. Like so many things, you get what you pay for — up to a certain point, of course.

I’ve collected bags from a variety of producers and tried them all for the last few months during everyday use and trips out of town. I focused on the “fits a medium-size laptop with room for a couple books and a camera” size, but many of these makers have plenty of variety to choose from.

Check the galleries under each bag to see examples of anything I pick out as nice or irritating. (The galleries are all really tall because of a bug in our system. Don’t worry about it.)

ONA Union Street ($299) and Brixton ($289)

Pros: Rigidity and padding, customizable dividers, nice snaps

Cons: Cheap-feeling interior, bulky, could be waxier

Ona’s bags, at least these, are aimed more at the laptop-camera combo than others, with extra padding and internal dividers for bodies and extra lenses.

I reviewed the Union Street years and years ago during a previous bag week and liked it so much that I decided to buy one. It’s the larger of these two bags, fitting a 15-inch laptop and a DSLR with an extra lens or two small ones.

Not only is the whole interior lined with padding, but the dividers are padded and the main flap itself has a sturdiness that has helped protect my gear against drops and kicks. The bottom, although it is also padded and feels soft, has lived through years of scooting around and placement on rough terrain.

I like the spring-powered self-locking snaps, though when I first got the bag I was convinced they’d be the first thing to fail. Seven years and thousands of snaps later, they’re still going strong, and when I was worried one was failing (it didn’t), Ona gladly sent me a replacement.

It was my standby for a long time, and I still have it. It has aged well in some ways, not so well in others — its waxed front has survived years of scratches and slides along the floor and is marvelously smooth and still water resistant. I don’t know how they did it. On the other hand, some areas have worn holes and the magnet that holds the back flap shut (a smart idea) eventually burrowed its way out.

The newer one feels very lightly waxed, but I know it’s in there. That said, if you want the full waxy look and feel, it could use a bit more. It’s really a matter of taste.

The inside is the weakest link. The fuzzy plush interior feels cheap to me (though it’s undeniably protective), there are no internal pockets, and repeated sticking and unsticking of the Velcro dividers wears the material down in places. Although being able to customize the interior space is invaluable for photographers specifically, a couple strong decisions inside would make it a better all-purpose bag, in my opinion.

The Brixton is the Union Street’s smaller sibling, fitting a 13-inch laptop and a bit less camera-wise. They share many qualities, including price (only a $10 difference) and ultimately the decision is one of what you need rather than which is better.

For me it’s a toss-up. I like the open, separate pockets on the exterior of the Brixton for things like filters and cables, but the zippered front pocket of the Union Street is better for pens, phones, and more valuable stuff. Personally I like the look of the Union better, with its riveted straps and uninterrupted waxed canvas flap.

If I had to choose, I’d go with the Union Street again, since it’s not so much larger that it becomes cumbrous, but the extra space may make the difference between having to pack a second bag or not.

Filson 24-Hour Tin Briefcase ($395)

Pros: Versatile, well made and guaranteed, spacious

Cons: Lighter material and wax, floppy handles, storm flap nitpick

Filson has been a Seattle standby for a century and more, with its signature waxed-canvas jackets covering the bodies of the hip, the outdoorsy, and the tourists alike. Their most practical bag is this one, the 24-Hour Tin Briefcase, which as the name indicates is a little more on the overnight bag side of things.

This bag has a large main compartment with a padded laptop area that will hold a 15-incher easily, and a couple pockets on the inside to isolate toothbrushes and pens and the like. On the outside is a pair of good-size zippered pockets that open wide to allow access from either the top or side; inside those are organizer strips and sub-pockets for pens and so on.

This is definitely the best generalist out of the bags I tried — it’s equally at home as a daily driver or at the airport. Essentially it’s the perfect “personal item” carry-on. When I’m leaving for a trip I invariably grab this bag because it’s so adaptable. Although it looks a bit bulky it flattens down well when not full, but it doesn’t look weird when it’s packed tightly.

A bonus with Filson is that should it ever rip or fail — and I mean ever — you can take it in and they’ll fix or patch it for free. I’ve done this with my jackets and it’s 100% awesome. The scars where the tears were make for even more character.

On the other hand, unlike many Filson products this one feels only lightly waxed. If you want more protection from rain you’ll want to add some wax yourself, not something everyone wants to do. You’ll eventually re-wax any of these bags, but this one just seemed to need it right off the bat. The material is a little lighter than some of the other bags, but that could be a plus or a minus. I wouldn’t mind if it was a bit more heavy-duty, like their “rugged twill.”

The handles are nicely made and thick, but tend to sort of flop around when not needed. And the storm flap that covers the top zipper, while welcome, feels like it has the snap on the wrong side — it makes attaching or detaching it a two-hand affair. When it isn’t full, the bag can be a bit shapeless — it’s not really boardroom ready. For that you want Croots or Ernest Alexander below.

Ernest Alexander Walker and Hudson – $385

Pros: Great texture and color, nice style details, low-profile

Cons: Impractical closure on Hudson, Walker has limited space, looks compromise utility a bit

Note: I tried two bags from this maker and unfortunately in the meantime both have sold out. I’ve asked when they’ll be back on the market, but for now you can take this review as a general indicator of the quality of EN bags.

The one I took to from the start is the Walker; it has a pleasantly sleek, minimal look on the outside, the material a handsome chocolate color that has started to wear well. But open up the flap and you have this lovely blue fine canvas inside (there’s a reverse scheme as well). To me this was the most refined of all the bags in this roundup. I like that there are no snaps, clips, or anything visible on the outside — just a wide expanse of that beautiful material.

It’s slim bag but not restrictively so; if what you need to carry isn’t awkward or bulky, there’s room for a good amount in there. Books, a mirrorless with a pancake lens, laptop — sure. But you’re definitely not fitting a spare set of clothes or some groceries.

The small zippered exterior pocket is great for a phone or cables, while the deep interior and exterior pockets are easily accessed and relatively spacious. If you control your loadout, there’s room for lots of stuff in here.

Unfortunately, if you don’t control it, the bag gets bent out of shape easily. Because the top flap attaches to the bottom at the center, if it gets too full the whole thing bulges awkwardly and the tips flip out. And the carry strap, alas, tends to tug on the flap in a way that draws its sides up and away from the clip. And don’t even try to pick it up with the flap detached.

Placing the clip underneath the flap also makes for a fiddly procedure — you have to lift up one side to get at it, and because the loop flips down when not in use, it becomes a two-handed operation to put the two pieces together. A sturdier, more fixed loop would make this easier. But it’s all in the name of style, and the sleek exterior may make up for these fussy aspects.

The cross-body strap has a lot of extra material but I made it into a neat little knot. I think it works pretty well, actually.

The larger Hudson messenger I was prepared to like but ultimately just can’t recommend. Theoretically it’s fantastic, with magnetic pocket closures, tons of room, and a cross between the simplicity of the Walker and the versatility of the Filson bag. But the closure system is just too much of a hassle.

It’s two straps in a simple belt style, which are a huge pain to do over and over if you’re frequently opening and closing the bag. Compared to Ona closures, which combine speed with the flexibility of belt-style adjustment, it just takes forever to access the Hudson. If they make a revised version of this bag that addresses this, it will have my hearty recommendation.

Croots England Vintage Canvas Laptop – $500

Pros: Handsome, well padded, excellent craftsmanship and materials

Cons: Flappy handles, uneven wear, laptop compartment, expensive

Having encountered a Croots bag in the wild one time, I knew I had to include this long-time waxed canvas player in the roundup. Croots waxed canvas is less oily than Filson or ONA, more like a heavy sailcloth. It feels very strong and holds its shape well. It is however on the high end of the spectrum.

That said, because of its stiffness, the Vintage Canvas Laptop bag seems to want to wear prematurely in areas that stick out a bit, like corners or folds near stitching. The wear process shifts the material from the smooth, almost ballistic nylon texture to a rough fuzzy one that I’m not so sure about. The aging from just a couple weeks of use already has me a little worried but it’s also very thick canvas.

The design is a bit more busy than the Ernest Alexander bags, but very handsome and mostly practical. I love the olive color, which contrasts beautifully with the red backing for the zippers. It doesn’t look Christmas-y at all, don’t worry.

The straps are a standout feature. The thick leather handles are attached below the zipper and rear pocket to D-rings, which in turn attach to separate leather straps that go under the entire bag. First this means that the handles flip down easily out of the way, since the D-rings rotate in their loops. The riveted construction also means that there’s no stitching to worry about in the whole strap assembly. And the bottoms of the loops do a little basic protection of the canvas down there.

It also means that when you’re walking, the outside handle tends to flap rather ungracefully against the side; the inner one, up or down, will be rubbing against your flank or back. You can however stow them in the side pockets with a bit of effort, which is a thoughtful touch.

The interior is a lovely shade of red, with several large loose pockets and some stiff leather ones for notebooks and so on. Unfortunately the laptop pocket is poorly proportioned: it’s hugely spacious, enough for three or four laptops to slide in, but the button to snap it shut is so low that I can’t get it fastened over a single 13-inch MacBook Pro. The idea that it could hold a 15-inch is ludicrous.

There’s lots of padding, though, so I wasn’t worried about anything banging around. There’s also the option for a separate camera insert, though large SLR users will likely want to size up.

There isn’t a heck of a lot of room in there but this is definitely meant to be a daily driver briefcase and not an overnight bag — a “personal item” on the plane perhaps but I would take the Filson or ONA over it for space reasons. However as a bag to take to work, the cafe, or the bookstore it’s a great option and a striking one. The Flight Bag is a slightly more expansive and unique option.

S-Zone – $30

Pros: Price, magnetic closures, leather edge details

Cons: Cheap-feeling interior and leather, little padding for laptop

To balance out the admittedly very expensive bags in this review I decided to grab a cheap one off Amazon as well. As I expected, it isn’t up to the quality level of the others, but for $30 it’s a bargain. If you want to experience how waxed canvas evolves and wears, an inexpensive bag like this is a great way to try it out.

The S-Zone’s fabric is a little thin but solid, rather stiff to begin with, but that’s fine — it’ll loosen up as you use the bag. The interior is a cheap-feeling synthetic, however — it’ll work, but you won’t feel like royalty using it.

There’s leather detailing all over, and in some places it feels solid, like the attachments for the shoulder strap and at the corners, where there are big patches that will scuff up nicely. But the handle feels like trouble waiting to happen.

Instead of a D-ring to allow it to flip down, the leather itself has been loosened up so that it’s extra bendy just above where it attaches. When it’s down, the thin rope around which the handle leather is wrapped is exposed; I can just see this getting soaked, bent, soaked again, bent, and getting weaker and weaker.

The front pockets are a little tight, but I like the little magnetic snaps — they make it easy to open and close them without looking. Just be careful not to stuff too much in there or the snaps won’t hold against the pressure. There’s a good deal of room inside, more than the Croots or Ernest Alexander, but less than the ONA or Filson.

But then there’s the curious design choice to put padding in the divider defining the laptop section, rather than on the outside. And the leather corner pieces stop just short of it! That means the only thing between the corner of your laptop and the ground is the nylon and canvas — and they don’t make for much of a cushion. Though the other bags don’t all have dedicated padding in this area, they do all seem to mitigate it better, and the S-Zone bag puts your laptop in the most danger of hitting the ground.


Hopefully the high prices of these won’t turn you off — watch for sales and you can get even these high-end options at huge discounts (it’s how I’ve been able to afford them myself).

Do you have any recommendations for more bags along these lines that we should check out for the next time we do Bag Week? Tell me in the comments!

bag week 2018

StreetCred is building a blockchain-based marketplace for location data

While applications like Google Maps and Yelp seem to provide an inexhaustible source of information about local restaurants, stores and other points of interest, they also can come up short — moments when you arrive somewhere only to discover that the hours you had were wrong, or the store is closed for a holiday, or it’s just shut down altogether.

The team at StreetCred is trying to build a better system for gathering and selling that data. And it’s raised $1 million in seed funding from Bowery Capital and Notation Capital.

CEO Randy Meech explained that if someone wanted to build the next Uber or the next Pokémon GO, they’d need location data to make it work. And while they could buy that data now, it’s “very difficult, very expensive.”

Plus, he sees room for lots more data — while Foursquare has data about 105 million points of interest and Google has 100 million, Meech estimates that there are more than 1 billion POIs across the world, many of them in developing nations where the data is more spotty.

So StreetCred is building a marketplace where users should be rewarded for collecting this data, while interested companies should be able to buy the data more easily.

Randy Meech headshot

Meech has been working on mapping for years, serving as the CTO at MapQuest (which, like TechCrunch, is owned by Verizon/Oath) and then as CEO at Mapzen, an open-source mapping subsidiary of Samsung. That’s where Meech met his StreetCred co-founder Diana Shkolnikov — he said StreetCred was created partly in response to the disappointment of shutting down Mapzen earlier this year.

“If we can get this protocol and data economy right, it can’t be shut down,” Meech said. That means leveraging blockchain technology: “It’s a very natural way to open up and decentralize the data and also to build a payment mechanism around that.”

StreetCred is just starting to test the system out around New York City. The idea is that users can download an app and then collect location data around the city, earning crypto tokens as they do. (They take photos to validate their location, and the data is also verified by other users.) Then companies that want to buy the data can do so by purchasing tokens.

Meech drew parallels to Foursquare, which started as a location-sharing app before building a business around its data. StreetCred, on the other hand, won’t have any social component — Meech said the app will be “completely anonymous” and focus entirely on the collection of location data.

The team is still experimenting with the specific details of how contributions are incentivized and compensated, but Meech said users will be paid through an “anonymized wallet mechanism.” And while it’s important to make sure StreetCred’s tokens can be converted into “fiat currency” (i.e. regular money), Meech said this approach should also mean users are more invested in StreetCred’s success: “We want to build an asset where the value of the currency is tied to the value of the data,” Meech emphasized.

“Our thesis is that if you make the data much more accessible, much cheaper to buy … you’re going to make things a lot easier and enable things that don’t exist today,” he said.

New $71.3 billion Disney bid for Fox tops Comcast’s

In a (perhaps not so shocking) turn of events, the Walt Disney Company has reentered its tug-of-war with Comcast over the acquisition of Fox’s film and TV divisions with a new $71.3 billion bid today. This bid is not only $18.9 billion higher than its original bid in December but it has also changed its terms, which had originally offered only stock, to offer a 50/50 split between a cash and stock payout. Importantly, this also is $6.3 billion more than Comcast’s all-cash offer earlier this month.

This new bid puts Disney back on firm footing in its battle to acquire Fox’s film and television assets, including Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, FX Productions, National Geographic Partners and a majority stake in Hulu. But, if we’ve learned anything from these updates, it’s that nothing should be set in stone just yet.

In case you’re not caught up on the twists and turns of this acquisition, here’s what you missed:

In December, Disney bid to buy Fox’s film and television assets — excluding Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and a few others that will branch off to form the “New Fox” channel — for an all-stock offer of $52.4 billion. According to Disney’s release in December this was a “definitive agreement” between the companies, but that was shaken up this summer by an offer from Comcast.

In May, Comcast announced that it was considering a “superior” all-cash bid on the Fox assets and made good on that statement last week with a $65 billion offer.

Today, that scale tips once more in Disney’s favor. In response to the news, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, told Variety “We remain convinced that the combination of 21CF’s iconic assets, brands and franchises with Disney’s will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world.”

However, despite this praise, Fox’s board has stated that it retains the rights to weigh competing bids. So buckle-up, it looks like this ride isn’t over yet.

California legislators stealthily ‘eviscerate’ state’s net neutrality bill

A group of legislators in California have sneakily but comprehensively “eviscerated” the state’s imminent net neutrality bill, removing a huge amount of protections in a set of last-minute amendments. State Senator Scott Wiener called the hostile rework of the bill “outrageous.”

California’s net neutrality bill has been cited as an excellent example of what states can do to protect their citizens now that the 2015 rules have been officially rolled back and weaker ones substituted. And in some ways it actually went further than the FCC’s popular rules, which were a bit more conservative on, for example, the practice of zero rating.

While the FCC found that zero rating practices could basically be pursued up to a certain point, the California bill would essentially render the ones that exist today illegal.

The California rules (SB 822) would allow zero rating to happen, but prohibit the part where an ISP could prioritize certain apps or businesses over others. So they could allow all music, or medical data, or indeed video advertising traffic to be free to consumers — but not just Spotify, or just this insurance provider, etc. Consumers get the benefits and are protected from most of the quiet but substantial ill effects.

But late last night the chair of the committee through which the bill must pass, Miguel Santiago, proposed some “suggested amendments” that completely removed the zero rating rules and several other important protections.

Now, disagreements on proposed laws are perfectly ordinary and that’s what committees like this are for, to balance different viewpoints and ostensibly produce a better law. And Sen. Wiener has indicated that he and the others behind the bill are willing to negotiate.

“We attempted to work with the committee and made clear we were willing to make amendments, but we also made clear what our bottom lines were, and what we couldn’t remove from the bill,” he told me. “The way the committee went about doing this is pretty outrageous.”

Normally the amendments would be proposed and the author of the bill would work with them on how to integrate them — if they can’t reach an agreement, the bill doesn’t pass the committee. But in this case the committee literally proposed the changes late last night and forcibly injected them first thing this morning.

“It’s not common to force hostile amendments into the bill, and it’s particularly uncommon to force amendments before the hearing even starts,” Wiener said.

To be clear, the amendments aren’t minor changes: pages of rules and definitions are entirely removed or reduced to far simpler versions.

“These amendments eviscerate the bill,” Wiener said. “They remove critical protections on interconnection, paid access fees, anti-consumer zero rating.”

Naturally these are issues that broadband and mobile providers are very concerned about. Since many already zero-rate lots of services, they would have to bring their offerings into line with the law, the process of which would probably remove any competitive benefit they derive from them.

Why couldn’t these decisions wait until the bill is formally heard and public opinion formally sought? The bill as it was written had received plenty of support, but substantive changes could still be made in the months before it is voted on.

Wiener was frustrated but not defeatist. “We’re all professionals,” he said. “These are my colleagues. I’m sure we’ll have lots of discussions over the next few weeks, or even the next few months.”

That said, it’s clear from this ambush on the bill that there are powerful forces at work opposing it. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but we’ll know more in the coming weeks as more hearings and committees consider the now deeply compromised law.

Automakers are burning through billions in EV, AV race

The race to develop autonomous and electric vehicles could be a race to the bottom for the automotive industry — at least in the near-term.

A new global study by consulting firm AlixPartners paints an ominous forecast for automakers in the next few years, a toxic cocktail of big spending and lots of competition mixed with softening sales in some markets and an unwillingness of consumers to fork over money for the tech. AlixPartners’ Global Automotive Outlook is based on an analysis of data from public and proprietary sources and two online consumer surveys of Americans age 18 and older possessing driver’s licenses.

Last year, automakers spent $226 million — a 47 percent increase from 2012 — on electrification and autonomous vehicle technology. And AlixPartners predicts companies will spend $255 billion in R&D and capital expenditures globally by 2023 on electric vehicles. Some 207 electric models are set to hit the market by 2022.

That’s good news for prospective EV consumers. But AlixPartners predicts many of those impending EVs will be unprofitable due to currently high systems costs, low volumes and intense competition. For instance, automakers will likely offer high incentives to buy EVs, which would depress used-vehicle residual values and allow the spiral of lower new-vehicle sales to continue.

The situation is just as tenuous on the AV front. Some 55 percent of the 175 mergers and acquisition deals in the past two years have been related to electric and autonomous vehicles, with another pileup in AVs coming.

“A pile-up of epic proportions awaits this industry as hundreds of players are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on electric and autonomous technologies as they rush to stake a claim on the biggest change to hit this industry in a hundred years,” said John Hoffecker, global vice chairman at AlixPartners, adding that “billions will be lost by many.”

An additional $61 billion has been earmarked for autonomous-vehicle technologies, according to the study. However, a separate survey conducted by AlixPartners found consumers are only willing to pay $2,300 for autonomy, compared with the industry costs of around $22,900 to provide that technology in a vehicle. That’s a 10-fold misalignment on cost.

Of course, there is evidence that consumers, such as Tesla fans, are willing to pay more than $2,300 for a system far short of fully autonomous. An enhanced version of Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which promises to match traffic speeds, keep within a lane, change lanes and exit the freeway, costs $5,000. For another $3,000, Tesla sells “full self-driving” packages for even more automation sometime in the future. This feature doesn’t yet exist for public use, although customers can — and have — purchased it in advance.

Meanwhile, the AlixPartners study predicts weakening vehicles sales. The study forecasts that the global auto market will grow at an annual rate of 2.4 percent through 2025, lagging expected worldwide GDP growth of 3.3 percent. The U.S. market will continue its cyclical downturn this year, absorbing 16.8 million units, down from 17.2 million in 2017, the study predicts. U.S. sales will hit a trough of around 15.1 million in 2020, in part because autonomous ride-hailing fleets will cannibalize traditional sales.

Amid the chaos and lost billions, there are some rosier outlooks in the AlixPartners study. Full battery-electric vehicles will reach about 20 percent of the U.S. market, about 30 percent of the European market and about 35 percent of the Chinese market by 2030, the study predicts. A separate AlixPartners’ consumer survey found 22.5 percent of Americans are “likely” to purchase a plug-in electric vehicle as their next car. And autonomous vehicles will account for 3 million in sales in the U.S. by 2030.

Trump signs an executive order to detain families together at the border indefinitely

President Trump has signed an executive order to reverse a practice recently enacted by his own administration that resulted in the separation of children from their families at the border.

The language of the executive order, titled “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” points blame at Congress, echoing Trump’s previous statements demanding that this issue be resolved through legislation although it was not implemented through legislation.

The meat of the order:

“Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of this Administration to rigorously enforce our immigration laws. Under our laws, the only legal way for an alien to enter this country is at a designated port of entry at an appropriate time. When an alien enters or attempts to enter the country anywhere else, that alien has committed at least the crime of improper entry and is subject to a fine or imprisonment under section 1325(a) of title 8, United States Code. This Administration will initiate proceedings to enforce this and other criminal provisions of the INA until and unless Congress directs otherwise. It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources. It is unfortunate that Congress’s failure to act and court orders have put the Administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law.”

The executive order proposes a “temporary detention policy” that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to detain families attempting to enter the United States at the southern border “during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.”

That portion of the order suggests that DHS would indefinitely detain a family, together while any of its members await prosecution and potential deportation, a policy that looks likely to violate an existing court decision, Flores v. Reno. Because that legal precedent forbids the indefinite detainment of children at the border, the administration is likely gearing up for a clash in the courts.

Through the executive order, the president makes his plan to challenge the decision, known as the Flores agreement, plain:

“The Attorney General shall promptly file a request with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Sessions, CV 85-4544 (“Flores settlement”), in a manner that would permit the Secretary, under present resource constraints, to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”

As controversy around the southern border erupted in recent days, many major tech companies weighed in with vocal opposition to the Trump administration’s recent practice of separating adults who enter the U.S. illegally from the children they bring with them. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella also denounced the policy, though the company is facing both internal and external criticism over its previously announced intentions to supply deep learning and facial recognition software to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through a lucrative federal contract.

Scroll to top